Excerpt: The Entertainer

*** Author’s Note: These excerpts aren’t in chronological order, in case you’re trying to follow the story-line…I’m just posting some of the revisions I’ve made since NaNoWriMo ended! It helps me with the editing.

Sepultur’a sits at a small vanity, holding a mudcrab-shell powder-case, eyeing her reflection in the tiny mirror. She touches the puff to her nose and cheeks, delicately removing any gleam of sweat or oil. Her eyes are accented by black liner, while her lips look full and pouting with a glistening rouge applied to them. A beaten-silver collar adorns her neck, matching the tiara that holds back her hair from her face. She is clad in a harem-outfit of diaphanous, iridescent material; the hue mimics the shifting colours on the wings of a butterfly she had seen in the manor garden at home.

Cuffs of silver clasp her biceps and wrists, and belled anklets adorn her slender ankles. Bangles and baubles accentuate the slim girdle encasing her waist, and matching beads have been threaded intricately throughout her braided hair, cleverly attaching to the tiara and weaving a gleaming pattern that is caught by the firelight.

Taking a final, appraising look at her appearance, she closes the powder-case and sets it aside. She stands gracefully and stretches, loosening her muscles and relieving any final tension. This will be her first performance, and she is incredibly nervous. She won’t be performing solo, over which she feels great relief, but the attending crowd will be larger than any she has seen to date. The crowd will mainly consist of soldiers, as well: most of whom are battle-hardened, grown men.

She wanders to the privacy curtain and peeks out at the stage and the gathering people milling about beyond. Onstage, a jester in a jaunty hat and a brightly-coloured outfit is juggling knives. Out in the audience, two serving-girls make their way through the throng and top off empty tankards with sweet mead or foamy ale wherever needed.

She backs away from the curtain and moves to a small table lined with snacks for the performers. A stout keg rests next to the table – they have been given excellent refreshments, here; the soldiers have spared no expense for this night of respite. Succulent cuts of meat, fresh bread, aged cheeses, and ripe local fruits have been served. The keg is filled with the best mead in the lands, shipped directly from the brewer’s private stock. It has been fermenting slowly for ten years, she’d heard from a couple of the women who had been chatting in the dressing-area, and is rumored to be of fine vintage. The keg will be tapped at the culmination of the performance, and the entertainers will mingle with the audience and serve them the heady brew.

Sepultur’a nibbles on a bit of bread with a slice of meat and cheese folded on top, snacking to ease her anxiety. She tries not to overthink the moves of the sword-dance she will be performing – instead, she visualizes the motions in her mind, feeling her innate fire blossoming in her core. She can conjure flames at will, having learned how to control her inborn gift – and this fire enhances her dancing performance, earning her this place of honour at the center of the stage on this night.

The other performers begin stretching, going through their warm-up exercises as well, and Sepultur’a watches them with a smile, enjoying the camaraderie and easy-going atmosphere of her fellow caravaneers. There is Rocklin, the Nord strong-man, who conjures great balls of stone and hurls them to incredible distances. Shimmer-Scales, the lizard-man sorcerer, who does a fantastic lightning show which has a notable finale: the calling forth of a storm-golem. Tsuri-daro, a lithe cat-woman who is a fantastic contortionist: she bends her supple body into the most unbelievable postures, doing cart-wheels and back-flips, delighting and amazing even the most sour-faced observer.

Last but not least, is Sepultur’a’s tutor: the fire-breathing sword-dancer known only by her stage-name: Flame-Heart. She is a dark elf with a trim, muscular figure, skin the hue of the midnight sky, and blazing red eyes and hair to match. She wears a bra-top and tiny skirt of fine chain, exposing an intricately-designed, full-body tattoo which scrolls and spirals from her neck to her ankles – only her face, hands, and feet are bare of the adorning ink. Her hair is pulled up into a tight, severe ponytail that is wrapped and secured with leather laces. The loose hair of the ponytail flutters about as she goes through her pre-performance exercises. She sees Sepultur’a eating, smiles, and walks over to her protégé and enfolds her in a warm embrace. “Are you ready for this, dear?” She enquires, taking up a slice of meat and nibbling it delicately. “I think that you will do splendidly. Just remember what I said – don’t overthink things. Just move with the music and concentrate on your inner fire, and all will be well.” She smiles encouragingly, nodding at her own words.

Sepultur’a looks down at the filmy material she’s wearing. “I hope that I don’t burn my clothing off!” she laughs. Flame-Heart joins her with her own throaty laughter. She hugs Sepultur’a once more for luck, then meanders off. Flame-Heart always does the finale; her mastery of fire is well-known throughout the land, and she draws a great crowd even in the smallest communities. She never stays with any one caravan for long, nor does she have to – she travels until she runs into a caravan that is heading in whichever direction her heart and whims desire – then she will be off with them; perhaps only for a day or so, perhaps a week, and sometimes two or three months pass by before she is off again.

Sepultur’a checks her reflection in the mirror once more, affixing the veil over her face that completes her costume, then prepares to take the stage. As always, she hopes that there will be at least once man in the audience who reminds her of Endymion. Her performances are much better when she imagines him at the front of the crowd; with a crowd of tall, burly soldiers present, the odds are that much greater. The drums begin their steady beat, and she hears the caravan-master’s loud voice announcing her. Swaying her hips, she sidles through the gap in the curtain, undulating sensually forward. She scans the crowd through slitted eyes as she turns and bends. There – she sees an older man with wild, white hair and war-paint on half of his face. He is standing off to the side, holding a large tankard of ale. His intense blue eyes remind her of Endymion’s, and his tall, sturdy frame is massive in spite of his apparent age. He looks her over appreciatively and moves closer to the stage. He doesn’t move to sit. His armour is a shade of black that she has never seen before, and is a mixture of intricate leatherwork, chain-mail, and tooled plate. His legs are clad in tight leather and fastened with cunning bits of silver. The sleeves of his chain-and-leather jack are short, showing off well-muscled, tattooed arms. More than a few scars are evident on his biceps and forearms.

Sepultur’a smiles under her veil and sways closer. If all goes well, she might earn more coin than usual this evening…his interest is apparent. She is secretly glad that Flame-Heart is the final performer. This man might be here to see Flame-Heart, after all, and any coin that he tips to Sepultur’a will be hard-earned. She hopes that he likes her performance well enough to spend more of his coin on. She relaxes, smiles and breathes a deep calming breath, and allows some of her inner flame to come forth. A ball of fire puffs from her nostrils and floats about her twirling form, orbiting slowly but not so close that her clothes smolder as they did the first few times she’d attempted the trick.

She dances away from the large man, giving her attention to the rest of the crowd, doing a series of back-flips across the stage. The drums keep a steady rhythm for her hips to bounce and roll to; she extends her arms above her head, laces her fingers, and undulates to furious applause and stamping feet. She spins slowly back towards the man with war-paint on his face, sinking to the floor of the stage and writhing sensually, moving her body as she imagines Endymion before her, enraptured and captivated. She conjures a whip of flame and flicks it out, taking the man’s empty tankard from his hands and sending it sailing expertly into the waiting hands of the keg-tender. He fills it and takes it over to the large man, handing it to him with a low bow. “Compliments of the young lady,” says the keg-tender as he returns to his post. The large man looks even more impressed and raises the tankard to Sepultur’a in a toast before taking a healthy swig. He drops her a sly wink – he is very much intrigued by this sultry dancer. His eyes follow her as she completes her performance and skips off the stage. He wants to know who she is…

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