To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.


Though the wares for sale reminded him of Ilahee’s poverty, much of the pleasure of the fair was the entertainment. That, fortunately, could be enjoyed for free, though he had set aside a few small coins of his own to drop in the various hats passed around by the entertainers.

First he joined a crowd gathered round a juggler who tossed three blue wooden balls along with two bright red apples, occasionally taking a bite from one of the fruits, to the roar of the crowd. Further on a dozen people clapped while a jester cavorted with a trained bear cub that wore a red ruff around its neck and stood on its hind legs to dance.

But the largest crowd, as usual, was drawn by two men who were trying to knock each other off a log with weighted sacks. It was the first contest of the day, and the booth keeper himself, dressed as a buffoon in baggy orange pantaloons, had enticed a burly young farmer into accepting his challenge. There were whoops of laughter and calls of encouragement from the crowd as the sack of one contender connected with a dull “thwump” on his opponent’s back or thigh, then one or the other teetered back and forth before miraculously regaining his balance.

Most of the onlookers had placed their bets on the farmer, even though they knew that the booth keeper, who mad his living at this sport, would most likely win. So the yelped with pleasure when, with a solid “thwack!” the farmer knocked him off the log. With a hearty laugh, the defeated buffoon picked himself up, paid off the bets from the purseful of coins collected in the betting, pocketed his own share, and handed the farmer his winnings.

“Are you game for a round with a challenger?” he asked, and when the farmer nodded the booth keeper began bouncing across the log on his tiptoes, challenging the men in the audience: “Who will try our winner? You? Don’t be shy!” Soon a challenger – a middle-aged tinker – was found to do battle with the farmer, and the next round of the contest began. He would com e back to see more of this later, Taraval decided, and then walked on to take in more of the sights.

But as the panorama of the fair was played out around him, he once again heard someone call “M’lord!” and again felt the prickling at the back of his neck, as if he were being watched. The feeling was so strong that he whirled around, but the only face that stood out from the swirling throng of fairgoers was that of the same black-haired gypsy woman. Was she following him? Could it be she who had called him?

If she wanted to speak with him, all she had to do was come forward, yet she made no move toward him. She did not even look in his direction, which made it easy for him to take in what she wore – a silken gown of rose and gold bordered with sparkling silver crescents; it was like nothing he had ever seen.

So engrossed was he in the gypsy woman’s dress tha the started when a light hand touched his shoulder. He turned to face a young firl carrying a tray of hair ornaments made from rosettes of silken ribbons. “Good morning, noble sir,” she addressed him with a curtsy, for although his clothing was old and worn, the fabric and style of it marked him as royalty. “Would you care for some ribbons for your lady’s hair? They’re fine silk. Any color you wish, my lord.” Her own pale blond hair was pinned up with pink rosettes, and long tendrils of hair and streamers of ribbon hung softly to her waist.

The sight of his sister Alisoun with pink ribbons in her wheat-gold hair would be worth giving up his lunch for, Taraval decided. “How much?” he asked the girl, and was dismayed when she told him a figure that would mean forfeiting Terwilliger’s lunch as well as his own. He thought of the sixth wagon, filled with treasures the families of Ilahee – including his own – had given up to be sold at the fair. In light of that sacrifice, handing his sister some foolish ribbons he had bought with their scant funds would be more insult than compliment.

The girl was still looking at him expectantly when Taraval pulled himself from his reverie. “Don’t they please you, sir?” he asked.

“They are beautiful, Miss,” he said, “… but my lady does not care for ribbons.” And drawing and from his pocket the smallest of his coins, he pressed it into her palm.
As he walked away, once more the sense of being watched made his spine tingle, and when he turned it was again the gypsy woman he saw. This time her eyes met his, and he stared back at her, taking in her honey-colored skin and long black hair. She did walk toward him then, her dress shimmering in the sunlight and her hand held out to him, palm up.

“I must tell your fortune for you, young man,” she said. Her accent was strange, but the tone of her voice seemed familiar. A heavy, sweet fragrance surrounded her.

“No, thank you,” he answered, polite but firm. “I do not believe in fortunes.”

She gave him a long look, and the prickling sensation in his spine spread upward across his shoulders. Her eyes were topaz, and when he looked into them, the reflection of a golden prince gazed back at him.

She held up a gold coin. “For this much I will read the cards for you,” she said, “for I can see you are a young many who needs his fortune told.”

“No,” he replied again, shaking his head.

The topaz eyes met his and a smile played across the woman’s lips as she spoke. “Then you will never find out why you dream of the woman in the green dress.”


Post a Comment

<< Home