Khoreia and the Ringmaster

She would not have called Medved the ringmaster a pig, for it would insult pig-kind. He was some quite unnatural kind of animal Khoreia had yet to name. But he paid her – no fortune, and for doing work any thug might competently do – and her position, acquiring exhibits for his far-ranging circus kept possibly complicating questions about her to manageably few, because the crew, the performers, the ringmaster’s mole-eyed wife, who delighted in the nightly counting of shiny takings in their wagon treasury, all beheld Khoreia with awe enough in their eyes which let her be at the work of Medved's circus. And that also made less complicated her secret work.

Not badly accomplished for a girl of the landless Vagari, subject people of King Alastor, Ruler of All!

She found Medved where he should be early this day, conditioning the new dancing bear on open ground by the river, away from the wagons, just on the unlikely chance the gangly cub did not take to the incessant stick training. Medved liked any kind of audience and this bright morning he had the three acrobat sisters chattering open-legged along a log, and mending their tiny costumes they nightly flew overhead in torchlight. Vagari themselves, at least, and the featherlight trio knew enough how to appear disinterested in the affairs of others, so that Khoreia tolerated their presence.

Atulus, the Strong Man, prodding with his iron-tipped staff, circled the blackhaired cub chained to the ground, which brayed at him, and swatted the ground ineffectually.

Hardly busy, Medved: really just performing. Poking his green twig he had certainly just picked up. Now and again whipping it. And not even bothering to liven himself and caper around the old bear that towered over him.

Marron, the old silverback with iron ring through his nostrils, showed the cub by his seasoned example how he would be expected to perform. To stand, frightening, and dance with the man fighting him. To roar when he is whipped. To swat with his blunted claws and miss.

“Where’s my beargirl?” – Medved not bothering to look at Khoreia.

“Snoring in a small bed – along with the drunkard who imagined her.”

“HAH!” – and Medved’s poke under Marron’s great hairy chin called up the veteran’s leveled sustained roar and all his sharp teeth showing.

“Then bring me one to fit the part. Bring one wild enough in the head. Pay her people only enough to take her. Simple.”

“Simple, and done.” Khoreia replied, bowing elegantly, and suggestively, because it amused her.

Medved’s sly glance exposed his left boot to Marron’s swatting paw, but the old bear only struck the ground beside it and puffed in the ringmaster’s face.

And simply done! – And, quite satisfied with her morning’s business, Khoreia strolled like a high-summer tourist. She even batted her pretty eyes at one of the King’s shining soldiers that she or her brother might kill in ambush some other time. But not this fine morning. Not now that she could keep the beargirl for herself.

But. Not even midday. Upstairs at the Pig and Bee. Exercising a restraint she did not guess she possessed, rather than shrieking, Khoreia sat on the edge of the reeking bed, for the moment merely surveying the small room empty but for herself.

The End

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