Saturday, September 2, 2017
1st 5 Pages September Workshop- Politano
Name: Nora Politano
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Witch's Way
Torches light the growing darkness, dancing to the beat of furious drums. The air is alive with it, with color and music and shadows that weave to match me every move. Faces blur into one, into nothing, and nothing matters but the music. I am the flute, high and clear as a brook running over sand. I am the fiddle, leaping across the strings faster than the eye can follow. I am the drums, pounding against the stones with a force that makes the earth shake.
And then the music stops.
I sway slightly on me feet, breathing heavily, as the crowd erupts into cheers. Me feet and hands burn from trying to keep time with the song, and the world is still spinning despite the fact that I’m no longer moving with it.
Dizzy and breathless, I curtsy as politely as I can to the crowd and collapse on the flagstones next to the musicians in an untidy heap of red skirts.
“Well done,” I rasp, scooping a cupful of water out of our bucket.
“Ye as well.” Fergus hands me a rag to mop me face with, blue eyes twinkling. “I could ha' sworn ye were seconds away from taking flight.”
“I could've sworn she was trying to open up the earth to swallow us,” Kagen says cheekily, storing away his flute. I smack him upside his sandy head.
“Good earnings,” Aiden observes, rattling the coins in the tin cup. They slide against each other with clinks and shinks—the sounds of a generous audience. “What say we take the rest of the night off, do a little celebrating?”
“Aye, that sounds like an excellent plan,” Fergus grins.
“You'd better get your share quick, Gwyn,” Kagen tells me, jostling Aiden with an elbow to the ribs and grabbing a handful of coins himself. “Before these louts cheat you blind.”
I roll me eyes. He’s lucky Aiden’s a good sport, because the much-stockier man could break Kagen’s skinny arm in one blow.
“Mind your tone, laddie,” Fergus says indignantly. “I was an old man before ye were born.”
“Yea, a drunk old man, and you haven't changed since.” Kagen dodges as Fergus swings at him, then disappears into the crowd, laughing.
Aiden holds the cup out to me, but I shake me head.
“I have me own ways of earning money,” I say with a wink.
“Yer not up t’ trouble again, are ye Gwyn?” Fergus asks, frowning.
I kiss his wrinkled cheek. “None more so than usual.” And with that, I follow Kagen into the crowd, shouting, “Don't drink all your money at once!”
I don't hear his reply, being entirely swallowed up in the masses of people. The Lunster Spring Festival brings visitors from all over Gaelfre, come to see the gypsies perform. The rich and poor spill over the lines that separate our ways of life, united by the common desire for entertainment. At any second, I might be brushing elbows with a fisherman's wife or a priest from the castle temple. It's a pickpocket’s paradise.
Me hands are quick and feather-light, barely touching on one person before moving to the next. I slip a heavy pouch of coins and several thick golden rings off a nobleman and into me cloak. A girl runs past in a hairnet studded with seed-pearls, and I'm gone with the thing in hand even as her hair tumbles over her shoulders. A woman whose veil marks her as a member of the king’s harem makes the mistake of flashing her golden bangles, and I purposefully stumble into her, sliding them off her arms under the pretense of steadying her. Another pouch of coins from a baker and a jeweled necklace from his wife are tucked into me skirts as I duck behind them to avoid the harem girl's angry shouts of, “Thief! Give my jewelry back, diabhal!”
Fat chance of that.
Humming contentedly, I follow the flow of people about me as they drift from sight to sight, with the gypsies like rocks in the river. I see the fire-breathers, Niall and Devlin, up to their usual tricks, and tiny dark-skinned Rafi walking the tightrope far above our heads. Ronan draws mostly men to his little slab of wood on the ground, all determined to be the only one who can follow the golden coin that he flashes from cup to cup, and occasionally, from sleeve to sleeve. Fair-haired Elin sits outside her tent, decked in gold-trimmed robes and with her eyes lined in kohl, claiming to be able to speak to the gods and the dead. I raise a hand in greeting to all of them, but I'm too busy to stop and talk.
The tantalizing smell of spices and sweet cakes pulls me towards the vendors, where merchants are selling every imaginable ware from ribbons to brass pots to magic cures. I slide a handful of roasted nuts up me sleeve at one cart and nab a silver brooch from another. A shell from the Aralesian Sea catches me eye, and I pick that up too, just for the fun of it.
I’m pretending to admire a dull green cloth whilst eyeing the nearby jewelry display when someone says, “You’re not welcome here.”
Looking up, I see the speaker is the woman behind the table of fabrics, a middle-aged matron with slightly pronounced wrinkles and fading brown hair. Her expression is noticeably hostile.
I narrow me eyes. “I’m sure you can’t be talking to me. I’ve done nothing to offend.”
“I don’t sell to your lot.” Her gaze goes from me face to me hair, resting long enough to make it unmistakable what ‘lot’ she means. Glory, someone woke up on the wrong side of the pasture.
Planting me hands on me hips, I say, “Don’t tell me you’ve got standards, you old cow. I saw you selling to the whorehouse owner, and he doesn’t even have hair.”
“Get on, witch,” she spits. “Before I call the guards.”
“Oh boo.” I thumb me nose at her in case she has any doubts about which lot she’s in, and then flounce away. The woman calls a foul name after me, which I promptly return over me shoulder. As if I hadn’t heard it all before.
“Well aren’t you sweet,” Aidan says in me ear.
I jump, and then smack him. “Ye gods, don’t sneak up on me like that! I thought you were drinking with Fergus.”
“I got interrupted.” He grabs me by the arm. “Dance with me.”
Deaf to me protests, he drags me to the center of the square, where someone's cleared space away for dancing. They've coaxed some musicians to play for them, and dozens of couples have lined up. It's a boisterous tune, not quite a jig but close, and I soon recognize it as a folk song commonly known among the markets.
Keep your daft wages,
I ha'nt the time
T’ grapple and bargain
For pickled pork rinds
I told you me price
Now you've kept me too long
So take your half brass coin
And blast you, be gone!
I scowl at Aidan as he pulls me through the first steps of the dance. “What’s this about?”
“Why are there soldiers watching the market, Gwyn?” His voice is remarkably calm, but his blue eyes are steely.
I stiffen. “Soldiers? What? Where?”
“Don’t look.” His grip on me tightens. “What have you been up to?”