“I see no reason to strike an agreement with vagabonds and swindlers,” said an old naga who sat languidly in a large carriage. To either side of him sat his wife and daughter, both elegantly dressed for the evening’s events. Across from them, a naga was scribbling onto a stack of papers.
“My liege,” the naga said calmly, “A pact with the humans could prove useful should there be another war here.”
“There hasn’t been a war in our land for generations,” the king huffed. “That’s what this blasted festival is all about. Those sniveling geckos don’t want a war any more than we do.”
Queen Sathira laid a hand on her husband’s. “My dear, I’m sure he wouldn’t bring this up unless he had a reason.”
The king looked at his wife with an expression that made the advisor sweat, then gave a great sign and said to both of them, “I’m aware that there have been murmurs of uprising. Believe it or not, I do pay attention in the council meetings.” This garnered smirks from the queen and advisor. “However, that’s all that they are, and all they will ever be. I’ve had Vlailor instruct his spies to talk down any nay-sayers and to report anyone conspiring. And Telian is reinforcing the guard’s postings and patrols around the castle.” He placed a hand on his wife’s. “Everything is under control.”
Sathira made a face implying that she doubted that, but said nothing. Meanwhile Nadine had drifted to staring out the window of the carriage and daydreaming. She watched as the elegant buildings of the upper city slowly gave way to the plain brick of the mid-city; gown and jewelry shops were replaced with tanners, butchers, and weavers. The princess wondered if she might find some worthy suitor at the evening parties. Finally even the basic middle city dropped off suddenly to reveal the cluttered stretch of park that hosted the festival. She eyed the sea of people, picking out the costumed patrons who would likely be attending the evening festivities. Beautiful gowns and colorful masks were like jewels in a treasure trove, adding a shine and pop of life into an already amazing image. The rounded a corner and were gifted with the sight of fire spinners and parlor magicians, jugglers and dancers. It was like being a child again, and Nadine was finally filled with the excitement of the event. When the carriage pulled up to the large, brightly colored tent that they would inhabit she had to keep herself from bursting out onto the plush grass. She was inwardly proud of herself that she patiently waited for the footman to open the door and offer a hand to help her down. At once an entourage of hand maids and guards surrounded her, and subsequently her parents once they descended from the carriage. The royal family was led to their tent and offered a variety of refreshments. The king and queen settled into comfortable seats and accepted the pampering of the servants, but Nadine shifted impatiently and peered out the tent flaps. “Father,” she asked “May I have an escort? I want to see the festival.”
The king smiled at his daughter as though she were still a small girl. “Of course, sunshine.” He clapped his hands and a well-armed naga male came forward and offered his hand to the princess.
Nadine took the guard’s hand and let him lead her out of the tent and into the sea of people. The sights and sounds enveloped them, and Nadine took in every moment with a wide-eyed wonder. While some of the stalls and shows provided the same things they had every year, she took comfort in the familiarity, rather than finding them cliché. Meanwhile, she gravitated toward every new vendor or performer, making sure their services were well compensated and applauding every new experience. She was admiring an exceptionally pretty clockwork doll when she felt someone watching her. She turned to look for who it might be, but the crowd was thick, and picking out one person seemed impossible. With a growing sense of unease she beckoned her escort to take her back to her tent. They were passing through a row of human booths and tents when they were stopped by a human woman.
“Care to hear your fortune?”