The merchant reached into a drawer beside him and removed a small device, comprised of two straight resin slats attached to a hinge and a pulling thread.
“Now I know you’re a spy,” Boudicca asserted, eyeing the device. “There is your torturingmethod.”
“It does look frightful, but there is really nothing to be afraid of. This is a facial muscle exerciser for those afflicted with facial paralysis. It began as a medical device, but when people discovered that it toned and lifted the muscles in the face, a beauty manufacturer made one suitable for those who wanted to use it for jowl prevention.”
He put it in his mouth, to demonstrate how the device was to be properly used, molding his lips around the resin slats, holding the device in place with the pulling thread hanging down. He pressed down against the pressure of the hinge, and once his lips were folded together with the slats between them, he pulled on the thread, moving it from side to side, looking in the opposite direction of his movements. He took it from his mouth and offered it to the commander. “Would you like to try it?”
Here was a chary look. “I think I like my cheeks where they are,” said Boudicca, but the construction of the device held a charm for her as a budding curiosity. She took it from his hand, followed his direction, and where the merchant had been perfectly at ease with pressing the device between his lips and pulling it about, she winced once and immediately plucked it from her mouth. “That is extremely unpleasant,” she said, grimacing and passing on the device to the party.
“It’s painful at first, but once your facial muscles are well toned, your skin firms and the apparatus is used more for maintenance.”
“It certainly does an excellent job at dislocating jaws.” Boudicca rubbed her face and looked askance. “And women actually use that to give themselves a more shapely face? Teague, have you ever seen such a thing like that?”
“Not for beauty purposes, no,” said Teague, examining the device. He held it up, the two resin slats in opposition of one another suspended by a tight hinge, playing at resistance in an unmoving O. “This could easily be used for something else,” said he, with a suggestive grin.
Boudicca caught his meaning and laughed. “It will certainly keep the mouth well open. It might be more effective for your cubicular games than it would as a beauty contrivance. I daresay Qwynlyn will have sculpted cheeks by sunrise.”
“I’m buyin’ one,” said Sheamas instantly, with a fervent look.
“As am I,” said Teague.
The merchant sighed and shook his head. “You know,” said he, smiling, “it had never occurred to me that it might be used that way.”
Here was a look of grim suspicion. “Never?” said Teague.
“Well, no one has ever come here looking for that sort of thing, so I never had to consider it. Now that you put it into my head, however, I might market it as a dual beautification device and pleasure enhancement apparatus.”
“You had best make sure that hinge holds up against any unwanted pressure,” said Boudicca, “or there will be more than one man walking about with his knees bent and legs closed.”
There was an anxious laugh, thighs locked together, and as the merchant wrapped two of the devices for Teague and Sheamas, the former only too pleased with his purchase and the latter somewhat embarrassed, Teague sidled the commander and murmured, “Please don’t tell Mureadh.”
“Oh, never,” she replied, the glint in her eye smouldering. “The horror of him finding out on his own is too wonderful. You must tell Connors, however. I am very sure he should want one of those items for Nerri.”
“And you, commander? Are you not interested?”
“Knowing my mate’s astonishing history with mechanical objects, to you really believe he would allow himself to be besieged by one?”
Teague surrendered to a quiet mirth, and Little Jaicobh skipped over from the chemist’s table, to meddle in his father’s business and ruin all his peace.
“Whadya get, Da?” said he, hovering around Sheamas.
The colour in Sheamas’ cheeks heightened. “Oh, just somethin’ for yer Ma.”
Little Jaicobh looked coy. “Didya get her a cream ‘cause you think she’s lookin’ old?”
This, Sheamas knew, was a dangerous question, designed for gleaning information in exchange for silence: should he say yes, his son would hasten home and sing out how his father thought his mother was grown old, and should he say no, the ceaseless tumult of questions should begin. To subvert shame and allay culpability, Sheamas stared at the back wall and said, in a restrained voice, “…Go ask yer Grandda.”
Going to Grandda Jaicobh was always the surest way of quieting any qualms. There was a shoulder ride to be had, a candy to be aet, a story to hear, and without any consciousness in the business, Little Jaicobh ran to his namesake and began asking him the same question he had asked his father, the sound of which was suppressed under a flurry of kisses. An embraced turned into a tossing over the shoulder, and ended in an attack of tickles, ending in a fit of giggles along the floor, quieting all questions and suppressing all memory of having asked anything at all.