Michael Dolan: Journal of Wonders

I do not, as a rule, take kindly to shoppers who only look, never buy. But in this case, I studied this customer as much as he studied my wares. Fair skin is no common sight in Hormuz, and I wanted an opening to engage him.

Young, barely a man, if that. It showed in more than appearance. He gawked and stared like a beggar in a sultan’s treasury. His clothes were foreign, but simple. He picked up a small tiger statue and turned it over.

“Looking for something, boy?”

The klutz nearly dropped the figurine. His panicked eyes darted around before finding me. He set the tiger back and approached. We looked one another over—he, the pale-faced gawker, and I, the shrewd Persian merchant.

“I was just looking around.”

“Yes, I can see that. Where are you from?”

“Europe.”

I gave him my best glare. “Well, I can see that. Where in Europe?”

“Italy.”

Now we were getting somewhere. “Italy? That’s quite a distance. And what brings you all the way from Italy—from Rome perhaps? —to my humble shop in Hormuz?”

“Venice, actually. I’m traveling with my father and uncle. They’re searching for a ship to take us to Cathay. I wanted to explore the city before we left.” His eyes couldn’t seem to leave my shop’s walls.

I’m traveling with my father and uncle. They’re searching for a ship to take us to Cathay.

“How do you like our simple port city?” I asked.

“It’s incredible.” He looked back toward the smudged window up front, where colorful but indistinct shapes shuffled from one side to the other. “So many strange people, animals, and goods funneling through one place. I don’t think I would’ve believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

“If you think things are strange here, you should see Cathay.”

That brought his attention back to me. “What do you mean?”

I paused, remembering the tales I’d heard as a boy younger even than him—and how they had expanded my mind. “Hormuz is truly beautiful. Our architecture, treasures, and people are beyond compare. But Cathay … it is a land of wonders. If I had not heard the stories on good authority, I would not have believed them.”

“What kind of stories?”

I leaned in and lowered my voice, drawing him closer. “They speak of eye pieces that give even the oldest of men the sight of a youth. Stones you can light on fire and burn for hours. And they pay for these wonders not with coins or gold, but with paper.”

“Paper?”

“Paper.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“It’s true!” I exclaimed, vexed that he would question my honesty. “And there is a great wall that runs the length of the land, built generations ago and still standing today.”

My gaze stayed locked on him as I leaned back. His eyes betrayed a war between doubt and belief. If my shop could make him gawk like a child, Cathay would surpass his wildest dreams.

“Do you have any of these wonders here?”

I shook my head. “Their merchants rarely travel this far, so it would be difficult to buy their goods for my own shop.” I gestured around. “But if you wish to purchase a reminder of your visit to Hormuz, I would be more than happy to assist.”

Even as I asked, he picked up a nearby empty ledger and leafed through. “I was wondering if I could buy this.”

He looked around again. “Thank you. I’ll see if I can find anything.”

I nodded and let him resume his search. Five minutes later, he returned to my counter empty handed.

“Can I help you with something?”

Even as I asked, he picked up a nearby empty ledger and leafed through. “I was wondering if I could buy this.”

“A ledger?”

He nodded. “If everything you’ve said is true, I’d like to have a journal with me. To record stories to share when I come back.”

I couldn’t help smiling. “As you wish. But a journal is no good without a pen.” I handed him one within arm’s reach. “Consider it a gift.”

“Thank you.”

He paid and slipped both items into his bag. Even as he left, his eyes still explored my stock. Just before he stepped outside, I called, “Boy! I don’t believe you gave me your name.”

He turned around. “Marco. Marco Polo.”

“Thank you, Marco. I wish you a journey greater than your grandest dreams.”

“Thank you.” And with that, Marco stepped out to discover what wonders the world held in store.

 

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Meet the Author

Michael Dolan writes marketing materials for a global nonprofit. When he’s not doing that, he hikes, reads, games, and occasionally writes some more. He and his wife live with a library full of YA and fantasy books in Seattle, WA. You can find him on Twitter @DolanWrites.