Magic’s Pawnshop

I had stopped to window-shop, then come in to price a bit of cheap jewellery. The proprietor must have liked the look of me, for he trusted me enough to take a display box of rings and gewgaws out from under glass and let me rummage through them on my own. While I was amusing myself with that, another customer came in, a bulging canvas bag over his shoulder. He was one of these adventurers by the look of him, and not an experienced one; he had on a lot of shiny new armour and other rubbish, more stylish than practical, probably sold to him by some huckster who spotted him for a rube and told him the yarn about how this stuff was just what he needed. This fellow was the counterpart to the first-time camper who goes ‘roughing it’ with six carts full of gear and all the discomforts of home.

Your true hero goes out with a flint and steel and a case-knife, and comes back with a hoard of treasure and a rescued princess – if he wants them. I knew one once, such an old hand that he didn’t even trouble with the flint, and only bothered with princesses if he could score a brace of them. He said it was no more trouble to rescue two at a time, and a lot more sporting to try and bring them back without having them scratch each other’s eyes out. Princesses are a jealous lot, and give the lie to the old yarn about breeding equating to good manners. If you want to see worse manners than wildcats fighting, just stir up two princesses with the same dress on, and set them down in a room together. It needn’t even be dresses; your more particular sort will start up if they both have the same colour of eyes. Jade-green and violet are the worst; especially the ones with tip-tilted noses—

But I digress. This raw young kid with about a hundred pounds of gear on his person, not counting the bag, sauntered in as if he was somebody and heaved the bag up on the counter. I kept still and listened. It is always good to see a skilful tradesman at work, even if he is only a pawnbroker; and this one was a master. He said:—

‘Can I help you?’

‘It says Cash for Treasures, Old and Rare,’ said the kid, referring to the sign outside. ‘If you’ve got the cash, I’ve got the treasures.’

The pawnbroker put on his best shop smile. ‘Well, let’s see what you’ve got.’

The kid puffed his chest up about three sizes and started taking junk out of the bag. ‘For starters, here’s a genuine magic dagger, gold-wrapped hilt, cabochon ruby pommel—’

‘What power is it?’

‘Power? Uh, third, I think. Maybe fourth.’

The broker picked up the dagger as if it were a dead rat, and gave it the fishy eye. ‘I’ll give you threepence for it.’

‘Threepence! You must be mad! The ruby alone is worth—’

‘Never mind the ruby. I’ve got a whole drawer full of these things. Can’t sell ’em. Can’t use ’em. Wouldn’t pare my nails with one. What else have you got?’

The kid looked like he was going to argue, but he stifled it and reached into the bag again. ‘Your loss,’ he grumbled. ‘Well, here’s something you don’t see every day – a singing sword.’

The pawnbroker shook his head. ‘Look over there.’ He jerked a thumb to indicate a display cabinet in a corner. Three swords of various sizes and a dirk, glittering with magic, were laid out on a bed of green baize. ‘Go on, open it.’

The kid went over to the cabinet and opened the glass doors. The swords began to sing, largest one first, climbing the scale by arpeggios:

‘Longsword!’ – ‘Broadsword!’ – ‘Short sword!’ – ‘Dagger!’

Then all together, in four-part harmony: ‘I… ain’t got no bodkin! No bodkin cares—’

‘Enough of that!’ snapped the broker, slamming the doors. The blades fell silent.

The kid gaped and goggled. ‘A barbershop quartet of swords?’

‘Yes, and a complete nuisance. The last owner couldn’t keep ’em quiet for five minutes. Said they kept him awake at night; and if he wanted to sneak past something, and dead silence was worth forty gold pieces a second—’

‘I get the picture,’ the kid said glumly. ‘Well, how about a genuine leprechaun’s crock? Straight from the end of the rainbow. Put any old metal in, get fairy-gold out—’

‘Really!’ The broker let on to be shocked. ‘This is a respectable establishment. Do you think I want that kind of business?’

‘I didn’t mean any harm,’ said the kid. ‘I didn’t think it would—’

‘That’s right, you didn’t think. Counterfeit is counterfeit, no matter what art it’s made by. Consider yourself lucky I don’t call the Watch on you.’

The kid mumbled out three apologies and a grovel. ‘Anyway, I know you’re going to love this next piece.’

The broker folded his arms on his chest. ‘Saving the best for last, eh?’

‘Well, yes, I hope so. Hang on, I’ve got it in here somewhere.’ The kid picked through a number of small pockets on the inside of his money belt. ‘Ah, here it is. A genuine Ring of Power!’

He fished out a wee gold ring, set with a square-cut amethyst bordered with diamonds. ‘This came straight from a dragon’s hoard, and of old from the King of the Eastern Dwarves. Only seven ever made of this type. It was the heirloom of their house from the—’

‘Yes, yes. No good to me.’

‘I suppose you’ve already got one?’ the kid said acidly. He was beginning to lose his temper.

‘Three the Dark Lord has recovered, and the rest are in my inventory. Nobody’s looking for cursed gear, my boy. Have you got anything without a curse on it?’

The kid reached for the bag again. ‘How about Excalibur?’

‘With or without scabbard?’

‘Uh, without.’

‘You sap! The scabbard is worth ten of the sword. That’s what makes it collectible. The finest named and pedigreed sword isn’t worth scrap metal unless it’s in the original packaging.’

The kid looked positively downcast. ‘Then you won’t be wanting Durendal or Sacnoth, either.’

‘Not without the dust jackets.’

The young adventurer heaved a mournful sigh. ‘Well,’ he said gamely, ‘I do have one other item. This is something I know you haven’t got.’ He reached deep into the bag and pulled out the very last thing in the bottom: a solid gold chalice, encrusted in jewels, shining of its own light so brightly that it was almost painful to look at. ‘Behold the Holy Grail!’

The pawnbroker gave a sour little laugh. ‘The Holy Grail? You mean a Holy Grail.’

‘What do you mean, a Holy Grail? There’s only one—’

‘Look, clearly you don’t know how reseeding works around here. There’s a factory that turns these things out in case lots. Look here, this is one of theirs.’ The broker turned the Grail upside-down and pointed at the inscription on the bottom:

Patent pending

The adventurer’s crest was well and truly fallen by this point. ‘Look, can’t you give me anything for it? You could use it as an ashtray or something.’

The broker shook his head, not unkindly. ‘Do yourself a favour, my boy. Take it outside and smash it with a hammer. It will make you feel better, and save you the trouble of putting that trash back in the bag. No, young fellow, if you want treasures to pawn, you’re going to have to come up with something I don’t see twenty times a day. You could try— Pardon me.’

Another customer had come in, an old man with a scraggly white beard, dressed like a tramp. ‘What have you got for us today, old-timer?’ the shopkeeper asked jovially.

‘Shaving kit and comb,’ said the old man, putting a small leather-wrapped bundle on the counter.

The broker untied the strings and examined the contents. ‘Any enchantments?’


‘Not even a self-sharpening blade? Elf-made styptic for magic healing of shaving cuts? Magic hand mirror?’

‘Not a sausage.’

‘Well, well, well! Useful and non-magical. Old man, you’ve come to the right place. Will you part with the whole kit for its weight in gold?’

The old tramp chewed the end of his beard a moment, thinking. ‘Make it triple.’



The pawnbroker’s fat, prosperous hand clasped the tramp’s lean and calloused one. ‘Keep an eye out for more of this stuff, will you? Bring it by any time. We’re always looking for honest rarities.’

The kid could not watch this and keep quiet. ‘Oh, this is ridiculous! Razors and combs?’

‘My boy,’ said the broker, ‘you must understand the kind of clientele we get around here. These parts are positively stiff with young fellows like you. They are always out gathering weapons and armour and enchantments, and tawdry stuff with nasty gemstones stuck all over. Just look at this!’ Reverently he held up the simple tortoiseshell comb. ‘You can’t fight with it, you can’t cast spells with it, you can’t barter it with dragons or decipher it for ancient lore. The only thing you can do with this, my boy, is comb your hair. And I’ve never seen an adventurer yet who cared a plus-five fig about his hair. This, my honest young fool, is a treasure old and rare. And it will stay that way, as long as tenderfoots like you go on mistaking shiny for valuable.’

The pawnbroker turned to the old tramp again, beaming. ‘My dear fellow, this is the best find I’ve had all week. You’re welcome here any time; any time, you hear me? Now see if you can scrounge up some more where this came from, and next time I’ll give you a better price. And if you bring me a ball of plain old unenchanted string, why, you can marry my daughter.’


  1. Fantastic! I love it so much. I really needed a smile this morning, so thank you for sharing.

  2. ‘Don’t mistake shiny for valuable.’ That’s a pretty valuable lesson.

    • One notes that he could have noticed — if they were all so wonderful, why was he selling them?

      • Because he tripped over an even shinier sword with better stats in the last low-level bandit cave he visited. Note: this story came out of a conversation Tom and I had about the silliness of the “hero economy” in fantasy games (video and tabletop), where magical swords are more dirt-common than farm tools.

  3. RandyJJ says

    “Three the Dark Lord has recovered, and the rest are in my inventory.”

    Funny, funny, funny. Thank you for this post.

    • Jay Allman says

      Agreed, that was the high point of an already fun story.

      Story as a whole reminded me a little of John Collier’s “Bottle Party.” Very nice.

  4. applause

  5. This was fun! Very nice.

  6. Bravo!

Speak Your Mind