The bird, barely more than a puffy ball of feathers curled up in sleep, slowly began to roll. A loud thump! shook the wispy willow, the vibrations rolling up the thin trunk and shaking the even thinner limbs. The bird rolled a little more. Another great thump! rocked the tree, the branches waving much too vigorously to be attributed to the weak breeze. The bird rolled a little more.
The bird rolled, his nest sliding down a crook in the willow’s branches.
The nest flipped off the crook, flopping over in midair as it fell towards the ground. A brown missile darted beneath the nest just before it crashed, zipping back up towards the branches. The sparrow squawked indignantly as the willow shook again, prompting the little brown bird back into flight. Considerably annoying, the bird swooped up and away, catching the warm updrafts and soaring above the lone willow tree. Stretching his wings to the extreme, the sparrow glided away from the willow and over a short clearing, leaving the forest of trees to fly over a forest of a different kind. A hundred poles flying a dozen pinions each stabbed into the sky, the gentle summer breeze whisking through the colorful banners in spastic gusts. Scattered between the garland-strung poles were a myriad of tents; round tents, square tents, tents of all colors and sizes. More flags hung from the canvas abodes, some proclaiming the goods or services offered within each, and others identifying the masters within.
The sparrow flapped down to land on a flag-strewn line hung between two poles, eyeing the source of his annoyance bitterly. A huge square platform dominated the center of the festival grounds, ringed by burning lanterns—though it was barely noon—and even more flag-flying poles. Several dozen dancers romped around the stage, milling about in little eddies and every so often stamping their feet against the wooden boards with a great thump! The little bird squawked his displeasure at the dancers, but the band—a large number, with several of everything—easily drowned out his protests. Disgruntled, the sparrow pointedly turned its back on the dancers and took off again.
It soared over the colorful grounds in a zigzagging pattern for several minutes, the sounds of the stage gradually dimming. But the bird couldn’t escape the noise, for where the stage’s music and dancing diminished, sounds of hammering, clanging, twanging, cheering, yelling, laughing, whistling, and booming took rise. The bird flew over the hoards of people enjoying the festival. There were shows of martial and acrobatic feats, entertainers wandering the crowd and plying their skills, competing for the audiences’ attentions. A dozen different styles of “art” were put on display, and less awe-inspiring but more practical wares as well.
Flapping his wings to gain altitude as the wind died, the sparrow zipped between the tents. As he flew, the bird began to notice the rising sound of music. Not the loud boisterous music of the stage, but a simpler, sweet series of crisp, cheery notes. Settling to the ground, the sparrow followed the music to a small but handsomely decorated tent. The bird hopped through the open flap, spying a man sitting cross-legged at the back of the tent playing a mandolin. The man wore a large, floppy hat, with a feather the sparrow thought might be from one of his predators stuck in the band. An eye-patch covered the man’s left eye, his right gazing down serenely at the instrument in his hands. And how his hands flew over the wooden thing, plucking and strumming at the strings with deft ease. The song ended, and the man swept off his hat with a great flourish, turning it over before him as the small audience erupted from their state of almost hypnotized awe to cheer and pull out handfuls of coin. Seeing the man set aside the mandolin, the crowd gradually dispersed, wandering out of the musician’s tent to see what other entertainment they might garner from the festival. When the last patron disappeared through the flap, the man pulled his hat back towards him, his nimble fingers sifting through his profit.
“All the world comes to the Kingsford Fair,” the man spoke, glancing up wolfishly at the sparrow. “With half the world spending everything they’ve got, and the other half eagerly taking it.” The sitting man set his arm out over his leg, with his palm turned up. The sparrow nipped at his fingertips for a moment, but seeing no more music forthcoming, hopped back out the tent and took to the skies again. Tired, perhaps, of the noise of the festival, the bird swooped towards more serene areas, spotting a huge cathedral of gray stone set off away from the jagged edge of the fairgrounds. The sounds of the people died away as the bird soared up, alighting on an arched window sill near the peak of the cathedral’s tower.
“—filthly heathens.” The bird peered into the room as it landed, turning its head back and forth to regard the two men within.
“My lord Bishop, everything is in place.” A great man, tall and broad, bowed respectfully, his full set of brilliant armor clanking from the movement. His steely gray eyes were focused on the other man as he straightened.
“You’re sure?” the other man asked, turned back to the armored man with a swish of his bright red robes. The sparrow was genuinely concerned for the red-robed man, for he was deathly thin, his sacred cloth bound loosely to his meager frame. “I don’t want any mishaps.”
“Everything will go smoothly, I assure you.” The armored man brought a fist to his chest plate, placing it over the great cross etched there. “The Lord has brought a most impressive force to the church’s aim for this holy undertaking.” The bishop did not look convinced, though. He strolled to a wooden desk set back in the room, absently shifting about the contents littering it.
“Every year, those damn heathen gypsies invade our holy ground, encroach upon our Lord’s holy laws with their demonic magic.” He slammed his open palm against the desk. “The so-called king’s law has offered them protection, but no more!” The bishop quick-turned and marched on the armored man. “Issue the edict. Any and all gypsies and those suspected of dealing with them are to be arrested. Kill any who resist.” The robed man stormed towards the door and yanked it open. “And try not to kill too many too soon. The church will only protect you so far against the king’s anger.” The clergyman slammed the door behind him, leaving the armored man alone. He continued to stare at the closed door, his gray eyes burning into the wood as he ran a gauntleted hand through his short-cropped blonde hair.
“I promise nothing,” he finally said, gripping the handle of a great mace hanging at his side, opposite of another similar to it. With lightning quickness, the man slipped the mace free and slammed it down on the windowsill, cracking the stone. Slowly, he lifted the huge weapon and brought it back to his side, leaving a bloody mess of broken bones and feathers upon the window as he left the room.
Coins rained down into their upturned hats, amidst cheers and whistles and cries for encores. Their bodies were already studded with sweat, however, and the men playing the alluring, flamenco melodies were begging for a break first to rest and refresh. They promised the audience a repeat performance in about an hour, and appeased, the crowd began to disperse, leaving the dancers to their own devices. One in particular felt disappointed about the intermission, but she took the chance to have a drink of water and check the phone she kept concealed for a few messages.
"Mommy, r u havin fun?" She smiled at the text from her daughter. She was getting to be such a good speller, but she always insisted in typing those trendy abbreviations for words whenever sending a message. What, Cadenza had always said, was the point of learning the right way to write things in school if you were just going to ignore it anyway? Still, Kate was too young, and often forgot that her mother wouldn't have minded if she took the extra time to type a "y" and an "o". She always told her little girl that a message from her was worth the wait.
"Yes, sweetie, but we're taking a break for now. I miss you. <3" she sent back, closing the Motorolla after it beeped once to say it'd finished sending. She glanced around at the other performers, all gathered in little groups, chatting and sharing small canteens of water and treats wrapped in cloth napkins. Lots of carbohydrates. The baile of flamenco was a demanding dance, physical and expressive, and very intensive. Every part of your body moved to make the music, to live it, to follow the rhythms and sometimes even dictate them yourselves. Cadenza herself had been dancing it since she was a little girl, and loved every minute of it. It was passion, pure and fiery, and kind of cathartic for her. Whenever she needed to blow off some steam, there was the dance, and her other love, the music. They didn't have fairs quite like this back home anymore.
Barefoot, she made her way over to the tent where she'd kept her spare clothes, toweling off her toned stomach and sweat-beaded arms. Her red costume was drenched, her long dark locks hanging over it in silky, slick curls, every inch of her curvy, tan body glistening. The summer breeze felt wonderful on her skin. She closed up the front of her tent and undressed, basking in its cool touch and breathing in. Our gypsies could've still been like this... travelling wherever the wind and the stars took them. Wherever opportunity did. This must have been how Sonya's tribe was. It's definitely a different life. Really... free...
Her nude silhouette drew stares and gaping from those nearby the tent. They drew in breaths, smiles growing, watching as the sensuous form stretched and shook out her hair, and sighed in disappointment when they saw shapes of clothing being pulled on. A few swallowed hard when they saw that weapons also followed, being strapped to belts and hidden in sleeves. Men quickly shuffled away, back to their groups and food stands as Cadenza exited her tent, smirked a little, and started wandering through the rest of the fair.
Most of the tents and stalls were much of the same she remembered as a kid. Fortune telling, tricks, things done with sleight of hand skills she'd learned before she even began schooling. She briefly paused at one card game to outsmart a younger gypsy with much less experience in swindling, and gave him a predator's sly grin when she raked in her winnings. The smells of cooking lured her to one food stand with kabobs and chicken and nopales like her sisters used to make. She even humored a few of the trinket sellers and bought souvenirs for Kate and Jessi, after a long, amusing round of haggling that left two of the men crying and the third begging her to take however many beaded necklaces she wanted so long as she left them be afterward. Cadenza chuckled and obliged them, collecting up her loot in a bag, half-considering to leave the fair before a few sweet notes of a stringed instrument caught her ears.
Hey there... hold on a sec...
Off between the trees, there was one more tent. Colorful, but lonely looking, so far from all the others at the fair. The beautiful music was coming from there.
They're pretty damn good...
As one musician to another, Cadenza felt she had to go and meet him. Talk music, playing styles. Maybe he even played some guitar. He sure played a mean mandolin. Smiling to herself, she set off through the crowd to go and meet this virtuoso. He might not mind some company...
"Hi," she called at the closed entrance to his tent, a musical voice somewhere between an alto and a soprano, trying first in Romani. "Mind some company?"
If he peeked out, he'd find a petite, slender, and curvaceous Latina woman garbed in clothes that looked distinctively gypsy in nature, but somehow more modern, a little more practical. She wore the colorful peasant blouse, and bangles, and feathered earrings, but her pants were cropped short and tucked into good leather boots, and her fingerless gloves were studded with hard metal like she expected to get into a fight, her ruby engagement ring on her finger. Her loose, black curls were tied back into a ponytail with a colorful band, with three peacock feathers--looking like charms of some sort--pinned into it. Her dark blue eyes, between the long, black lashes, were alight with a kind of private humor, and a bit of admiration, too, for she'd very much enjoyed his playing. She had a smirky kind of smile that made her wine-red lips curve up appealingly. And weapons. Boy did she have weapons. A gun was fixed to a holster at her hip, beside a silvery dagger, and another large, adamantine sword rested on her back, fixed with a strap across her buxom chest. She gave off a sense that there were perhaps other weapons about her person, if you crossed her. Like her fists.
She tapped a foot a little impatiently and waited for a response, hands on her hips.
A grin stretched across Kestrel’s face as he heard the words, spoken in the language of the People. His heart swelled with warmth, excited as he was to see whom he’d meet first this year. It’d been some time since he’d seen any of his own. Quickly brushing himself off and replacing his great hat atop his head, the gypsy hurried to the tent flap and lifted it, sliding his body half off to greet his visitor. And what a visitor it was! The woman’s indomitable aura drew in the gypsy man’s gaze to the point of exclusion, his single uncovered eye being drawn uncontrollably over the curves of her body, the vibrancy of her hair and eyes, the smooth fullness of her face. Even the way she stood, like a great feline ready to pounce and tear a man’s heart to pieces. Kestrel’s grin grew wider.
“Welcome, fair lady! How can my humble self assist you?” The gypsy swept a low bow, sweeping his hat from his head and replacing it as he straightened again.
“Was that you playing just now…?” she asked, amused.
“I’m afraid it was. I pray that I didn’t disturb you too much?” he asked, his expression overly and playfully concerned.
“Not at all, you’re actually pretty damn good.” She flashed him a disarming smile. “Is the mandolin your… instrument of choice?”
“You praise flatters me, fair lady. And while the mandolin is sweet, it just doesn’t feed my soul as fully as the violin.” Kestrel grinned.
“Ever dabble in a little … guitar?” Her eyes lit up as she smiled coyly, stretching out the end of the question.
“Ah, surely.” Kestrel’s eyes twinkled as he caught on to the game and embraced it with gusto. “My fingers have a habit of wandering quite often. They do like to fiddle around with whatever they might encounter.”
“I would’ve guessed you were good with your hands,” she replied with a smirk. The gypsy woman cocked her head and pouted just the slighted bit. “Aren’t you going to invite me in…?”
“Ah, but you steal the words from my mouth!” Kestrel reared up tall, clutching his heart as if wounded before stretching his arm out to the side and holding the tent flap wide open. “Would you care to grace my humble abode? I would be honored if your ladyship allowed me to demonstrate my fingerings.”
“On your mandolin, of course,” came the coy reply, the woman striding in boldly.
“Of course.” Kestrel swept in behind the attractive woman, quickstepping around the perimeter of the tent to grab a pair of small chairs and place them on either side of a large flat-topped chest. Pulling out one of the chairs, the gypsy bowed and gestured to the lady. The woman smiled and sat herself, looking over the gypsy, her expression hard to read.
“Your accent’s a bit different from some of the other gypsies here . . . you’ve done some traveling?”
“Well, it is the nature of a gypsy to travel, is it not? My feet carry me further west than here, but the lure of the Kingsford Fair draws me back every year.” Kestrel seated himself opposite his visitor, grabbing the neck of his mandolin.
“I mean, beyond that … I recognized your song … a friend at the Dome used to play it.” The woman watched the musician carefully as she spoke, her eyes flashing as the man’s face lit up at the mention of the Dome. “So I was right…” The woman smiled and held out her hand across the trunk. “Cadenza Madrigal. Former teacher.”
“Oh, a teacher?” Kestrel remarked with genuine surprise. “I truly am honored then.”
“Oh, don’t bother… I left on bad terms. What were you there?”
“I assisted a couple of teachers during my stay, but I was primarily working to broaden my musical horizons. And I found a couple of interesting instruments, too.” He cocked his head curiously. “But that aside, how did you leave such a high position on bad terms?”
“… It’s a long, long story,” she spoke up after a minute. “And not my best moment, either.”
“I see. Well, as hard as I find it to believe that you could have an unfavorable moment, I must apologize for stirring up any ill memories.” The gypsy lifted the mandolin, cradling it in both hands.
“No worries . . . was a nice song, and still is a nice song. Nice to meet a fellow musician.” She smiled again, as if to laugh at herself. “Better yet one who doesn’t call me crazy when I bring up other worlds.”
“Then perhaps you might find it tolerable to grace myself with some of your own playing?” Kestrel asked, pouncing on the moment eagerly.
“On the mandolin? Not my best, but…” Cadenza reached for the instrument.
“Ah, it’s not too different from the guitar. I have faith that you’ll perform quite wonderfully.” Kestrel happily handed over the mandolin, reaching down to take up a harp as the woman took it. Cadenza held the mandolin for a minute, working her fingers over the strings as she thought of a song. Smiling as she decided, the woman launched into a fast-paced flamenco piece. Tilting his head back as he listened, Kestrel let the music wash over him. Waiting for just a minute, he joined in, picking over the harps strings as a pleasant undertone to the mandolin. Cadenza smiled as the man played, and began slapping the instrument carefully for a bit of percussion.
He played wonderfully, perfectly in harmony. It was flamenco the way it was meant to be played, improvised, fast-paced, filled with vigor and soul and the burning fire of the heart of the gypsy people. Other fair-goers gathered outside the tent to listen, some cheering or clapping, even a few tossing coins to the ground. Cadenza and Kestrel shared a smile, the woman gesturing an "after you" after many polite back-and-forth offerings of the money, and finally the gypsy man raked in the gold pieces and tucked them away somewhere unseen.
"With your musical skills, it would be a shame to keep your talent cooped up in this tiny tent," he complimented.
"Then what do you say to a little trip outside the tent?" Cadenza smiled back, offering him his mandolin. He graciously took it and stowed it away for him to carry, never considering leaving the burden of hauling instruments to the lady. With a pleasant grin, he swept back the closing flap of his temporary abode and watched with immense appreciation as she drew herself up and swayed and sallied out of his tent.
Hips, back and forth, back and forth. It was a great view from the back. He'd would've paid all his gold to see it again.
"You coming?" she called back, laughing when she saw him.
Kestrel quick-stepped to Cadenza’s side with great reluctance; following in her wake was truly an incredible experience. Her movements were not only visually pleasing, but audibly and odorously as well, each shake accompanied by a jingle of jewelry and whiff of perfume.
“Distracted, were you?” she asked, clearly amused.
“Lost in thought,” Kestrel clarified. “Pondering why such a lady would carry weapons,” the gypsy couldn’t stop a grin from creeping up as he continued, “ when her walk alone could reduce a man to rubble.”
“So I suppose my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard?” The woman gave a curt laugh, but frowned when met with Kestrel’s blank look. “Ah, after any time you’ve visited I suppose?” The pair shrugged, and pushed through the thick crowd. Cadenza did not seem to be walking with any real purpose, so Kestrel took the lead, steering the woman across the festival. They arrived at the great wooden stage several minutes later, the “one-eyed” gypsy bringing his companion to the stairs at the back. But they were not the only ones moving for the stage, Kestrel noticing a current in the crowd as a five-piece back rolled towards them. He frowned slightly, the imposing threat to his fun steadily gaining ground. He inconspicuously switched his violin and bow to his other hand, motioning with his freed hand and hissing under his breath. A line of pinions unraveled from the top of a pole to whip around the approaching band. The colorful flags and thin line tangled in their instruments and limbs, bringing the group to an abrupt and stumbling halt. Grinning, the gypsy turned back to Cadenza, hoping his magic was a discreet as he thought it was.
“An idea strikes me,” he said, propping a foot up on a step and lifting his instruments. “Would you care to show these square-dancers a real dance?”
Something was going on out in the crowd, but the performance progressed on stage. And show them a dance they did.
With Kestrel on his mandolin, and another couple of gypsies recruited on the various drums, traditional beats filled the air, the beating and thumping of bongos, of kickdrums, and of old, trusted drums passed down through generations that had seen many a ceremony. The mandolin rose high above the percussive rhythm, serenading the audience, whipping them up into a rush of feeling and energy and dance. A crowd couldn't have asked for a better player than Kestrel. When the dancer finally came out on stage, into the third measure, the people were already swept up in the excitement.
Her shirt was tied back to free her midriff, her tan, toned stomach that would glisten when the sweat started, where the muscles would flex and ripple with the reverberations of her motions. No one was sure where she'd found the gauzy, thin, flowing and colorful cloth she accented the mesmerizing gestures of her graceful arms and steps and hands with, but after watching it swirl about, they could hardly remember to care. Nimble hips swiveled and swayed until it almost seemed like no mere human could’ve kept up that kind of fluid and rhythmic motion, hypnotic and alluring and musical all by their own. From the moment she entered on stage, until the song reached its end, Cadenza's body and her dance commanded the eyes and attention of the whole audience, held them spellbound until they could scarcely remember a time when they hadn't been standing there, enraptured by watching her. Feet tapped and bodies swayed and tried to match the music the way she did, dancing to the heart of flamenco.
The Kingsford Fair goers would remember that show for quite some time. When the music finally ended, and the fairgrounds erupted into applause, Cadenza breathed out and focused her eyes, finding that she was panting again. The song was done? It had come so quickly she hadn't realized. She'd been lost in what felt like that long moment, free and expressive and detached from anything else. Like soaring. But you had to come back down to earth sometime... and there, trouble awaited.
Kestrel let his soul pour into his instrument, his fingers dancing across the strings. His body shivered and flushed as the excitement of the ending crescendo washed over him. His music was building, the notes flying more rapidly and Cadenza’s dance speeding up to match it. The performance reached its climax and came to a sudden trilling stop, Kestrel slapping his hand on the strings and Cadenza snapping her heel out in a held pose. Both were short of breath, more because of excitement than effort. The gypsy laughed and caught Cadenza’s eye with a grin. She smiled back, but her attention was focused on the crowd. Kestrel followed her gaze, and a lump caught in his throat. Armored men were driving through the crowd, a small collection of people in chains trapped in their midst. The lead soldier read from a scroll as they marched, and Kestrel caught most of the words over the clamor of the crowd. Church . . . imprisonment . . . gypsy folk . . . never a good combination of words. Not everyone at the King’s Ford fair were gypsies, but a good deal were. And as the company marched, these were the ones they pulled from the crowd, often hitting a couple of times before chaining the up with the rest of the prisoners.
The color drained from Kestrels face and he leapt to his feet. His natural instinct was to escape, but more than being people in need, these were his people in need. The gypsy folk were practically one big family, and he couldn’t abandon family. But there were at least a dozen soldiers. And these were soldiers of the church. There was no telling if and which of them might have divine magic. Kestrel let out a puff of air, palming his sword. He had to help his people, but he needed to make sure Cadenza got to safety first. He turned to the woman, and was practically scorched by her rage.
OoC: I assumed she would be in a rage. Tell me if I need to change it.
It seems like the same f***ing intolerant pricks live on every damn world! the thoughts seethed in Cadenza's mind, as her hands moved swiftly to a spot on the shadows at her hip, and memories of old words flitted through her mind.
It had been a research journal clipping in a diary in the library of an old, venerated gypsy's house. The woman had warned her before she'd read it. But nothing could have prepared her for the surge of acid and anger in her gut when she'd read for the first time the accounts of people during the Gypsy Purge in her world, over 250 years ago.
"Sociological Research of Subject 'Gypsies' - Kingsborough University of Behavioral Sciences"
"...They are a superstitious, subhuman culture, with many strange and unreasonable ways. They do not raise livestock, nor grow crops. They have no doctors; instead, they believe "magic" can cure them. They do not have weapons; they believe, also, that "magic" can protect them. They claim not to reject science, but seem to think they can defy the laws of it. They do not trade their gold, but rather hoard it away from generation to generation and display it garishly on their brides. They are akin to witches, and have many scrolls of "spells" and odd talismans they believe to possess power. They travel from place to place, infecting it with their "traditions" and selling their beads and other worthless trinkets of illogical belief. They speak of "Spirits", and renounce any ideas of Heaven or Hell. They idle away their days and nights in dance and song and strange rituals, only further spreading the plague of their superstitions by having more and more children. They are a pox on this land. We must rid ourselves of them, as other great civilizations have done of their burdensome groups in the past...."
--written by Friedrick Samuel Taylor, of Kingsborough, Rochester, 12 May 1750"
She hadn't remembered it word for word, but on that day she had committed the horrible sentiments that first journal clipping had contained to memory. This sort of hatred was going on all across countless other worlds still. Such emotions were the very reason her people still struggled in the deserts of Rubato in the aftermath generations and generations later, and no longer called the plains of Castile or the rest of Airopa home. As she swallowed down the first wave of rage and the memories, shadows writhed and shivered in her hands, telling her of the strength and number of the forces, even as she began to put them to work holding the men in their place. If a riot broke out, the armored forces were sure to open fire with whatever weapons they had brought. She couldn't just free all the gypsies and hope they could run fast enough. There was even a hint of some kind of faith-based magic about in the foes.
Her cutlass, which went by its own name, the Conquistatore da Luz, appeared in her gloved hand. And then the shadows rose, ensnaring the soldiers' feet in their grasp.
"No one move a muscle!" she shouted, jumping down from the stage. Several startled soldiers rummaged for their weapons, finding their movements impaired by their own shadows. "Let them go, no one here's guilty of any crime!"
"They are guilty of sin against the Church, gypsy woman!" one soldier yelled back, "And just who on earth do you think you are?"
"I'm someone who's going to drop you all right where you stand if you don't release them! Take me if you've gotta report back with something other than empty hands, but don't harass these innocent fair-goers!"
OoC: Background stuff taken from this gypsy-related short story of mine. ^^
If there had still been any color left in Kestrel’s face, it would have drained. This woman was full of constant surprises. Clearly, taking her away to safety was out of the picture. God’s breath, he didn’t think he could take her away by force, even if he used all of his power. So instead, he turned his attention to the more needful. Cadenza had the soldiers occupied for the moment, but if a fight broke out, a lot of innocent bystanders would get hurt. The bard slowly lowered himself, sitting cross-legged on the stage as he readied his fiddle. Slowly, quietly, the gypsy began to play. Light, trilling notes lifted from his instrument, as did his magic. If Cadenza could play with shadows, then Kestrel would play with light. The entire area gradually grew lighter, translucent light coalescing—inconspicuously, he hoped—around the chained gypsies, and around the area, separating the already scattering crowd from the soldiers.
The lead clergyman was seething with pious rage, but Cadenza obviously wasn’t backing down. Kestrel sighed, already certain of what would transpire in the next few moments. The armored man would refuse to release the gypsies, grab at Cadenza, and then he would be dead. Then things would get ugly. Of course, he could always hope the man would acquiesce to Cadenza’s demands and release the prisoners. Yeah, he could hope. The minstrel quietly played on, his fingers tense on his bow, ready to fully activate the magic in place, turning the hopefully unnoticed sheets of light into magical barriers.