Monday, September 11, 2017
1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Politano Rev 1
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.
In me sixteen years, I’ve heard a thousand things called “magical”, but dancing is its own magic completely. I should know.
Dizzy and breathless, I curtsy 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, the old fiddler, hands me a rag to mop me face with, 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 head.
“Good earnings,” our drummer Aiden observes, rattling the coins in our 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?”
I roll me eyes and tune out the rest of their conversation. I’ve worked with them long enough to know that Aiden and Fergus will make plans to drink every copper they’ve earned, Kagen will call them old drunks, and then they’ll all make vague, empty threats that serve only to bolster each one’s pride. Men.
I, on the other hand, have more important things to do. Tonight is the first time I’ve been in any town since winter, and every daft sheep from here to Baile Gaelu is flaunting their finery. I intend to take full advantage of it.
“I’ve had a night,” I announce, getting to me feet. Aidan offers me the cup, but I wave it away. I have me own ways of earning money.
Tying me hair up, I wrap a square of plain cloth about it and tuck any errant curls away. Then I offer them a sailor’s salute, and plunge into the crowd.
The Lunster Spring Festival brings visitors from all over the valley, come to see the gypsies perform. Rich and poor spill over the lines that separate our ways of life, crushed together by the desire for entertainment. In the vast outdoor square, with the night air unable to chill us and the smell of sweet cakes and roasted nuts tempting us forward, I might be brushing elbows with a fisherman 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 a thick ring 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 guise of steadying her. Another pouch of coins is tucked into me skirts as I duck behind the fat old cow of a butcher to avoid the harem girl's angry shouts of, “Thief! Give my jewelry back, diabhal!”
I’m lost in the shuffle before anyone bothers to notice.
The rule is never to be seen. It may seem obvious for anyone in this line of work, but I have to be especially careful. One slip, one look at me hair, and I’d be done for. There aren’t many witches in Gaelfre. It’d take less than a day to round us up. But I am practiced now, in the way that only the threat of an empty stomach and sleeping on the street can teach a person.
Not that I’m under the delusion that I steal solely what I need. Half measures never got anyone anywhere, if you ask me.
Humming contentedly, I follow the flow of people past the firebreathers and mentally tally up me treasures. I’ll have to sell to a jeweler, one of the kind that don’t mind where the things come from so long as they get it at a low price, and they’ll most likely haggle me to ten silvers less than the worth. Still, I’ve only just started, and already I’ve earned double what would have been waiting for me in that cup. I’ll eat well tonight.
At Fests like these, dancing is merely for fun. The wages aren’t enough to even feed me year round, and I want much more than food. However, it has the added benefit of providing me a way of slipping in without a fuss. On me own, the guards would likely find a reason to throw me out. But people are strangely accepting of oddities if you offer a bit of diversion.
I eye the flock of brightly colored market stalls at the end of the square, where vendors sell every imaginable ware from ribbons to pots to magic cures. Me pockets are getting full, but I wonder if I could fit a dagger….
“Gwyn.” Aidan’s voice is a hiss in me ear.
I jump, and then smack him. “Ye gods, don’t sneak up on me like that! I thought you were drinking.”
“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 musicians play a boisterous market song and dozens of couples have lined up. With anyone else as handsome as Aidan, I might be pleased. But he’s ten years me senior, and the old boy is desperately in love with me friend Faolan. They’ve been sweethearts for ages. I’d never be able to stand him that long.
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? Where?” How did I miss them?
“Don’t look.” His grip on me tightens. “They’re not in armor. I only noticed because one of them drew his sword, and he had the king’s seal on his hilt.” Aiden glares down at me. “What trouble have you made?”
“Nothing!” I protest. Then, when he gives me an all-too-knowing look, I amend, “Nothing more than usual.”
He’s unconvinced. “Think.”
Huffing, I cast me mind back over the past couple weeks. The last few days have been occupied with non-stop traveling to Lunster, which meant no time for anything other than picking up a few odds and ends in towns we stopped over. Before that… well, there was the incident in Sian, but I’d worked that out. Besides that, I draw up a blank.