Jack was turning the medallion over and over in his hands. The weight of what the woman had said was heavy on him, and though he smiled and chatted and made an effort to interact with those around him, his hand was often holding the strange object as if he might glean answers from it. Meanwhile his ruse of enjoyment seemed to be working on Cathy, who had finally stopped glancing at him with worried eyes when she thought he wouldn’t notice. Around the time the sun was beginning its descent, they made it back to their tent, their bellies full of food and drink and their eyes full of marvelous sights. Charles was inside, looking over offers and contracts from his presentation while jotting numbers and calculations onto scraps of paper. A pile was forming next to the table made up of crumpled and torn sheets.
“I take it this is the loser’s pile,” Jack commented on the heap.
“That it is,” Charles replied. “Losers who seem to think that I just wave a magic wand and can make them a hundred units in a week or two. They want magic, they can go to Pathia. Gods help them if they do.”
“How fitting,” Cathy said. “That kind of thing is exactly what Jack has, some Pathian god-magic.”
Charles looked up at Cathy, then turned to Jack and said, “Jack, what has my sister been drinking?”
“I’m not drunk, Charles.”
“I didn’t ask you.”
“Any why not?”
“Because you’re a terrible liar when you’re drunk.”
“I’m not drunk!”
“See there, you twitch your nose when you lie.”
Jack limped away from the quarrel and sat back on the settee. He pulled the medallion out again and traced the symbol on it. Magic? Not likely. But he had to admit that everything the human had said made him rather uneasy. Before he could slip too deep into thought, Charles finally noticed the medallion and said, “Is that what she’s going on about?’
Charles came over, and Jack handed him the object of interest. Charles examined the piece of metal for a long moment before saying, “I believe this particular symbol belongs to the god of knowledge. However,” he glanced at Cathy, “Even the humans don’t believe that the symbols themselves hold any magical properties. At the end of the day, it’s a nice trinket and nothing more.”
He handed the medallion back and returned to his papers.
But it is more, Jack thought. And if the human was right, it’s more than any of us can imagine.
As the sun made its descent, the crowds of the festival began to dissipate, leaving mainly the costumed patrons who had the fortitude to stay for the nightly ball at the grounds. Workers came through to clear out a section of the park and begin setting up stages for musicians and tables for food. Meanwhile the humans were settling down in their camps around their fires, preparing their own small feasts and playing their music for no one but themselves. The occasional naga or dragonian was scattered on the edges of the campsites, but non showed bravery enough to infiltrate into the inner circles. Electric lamps came alive along the street, and oil burning torches were lit across the grounds, until finally the last hints of twilight had slipped under the horizon.
In the royal family’s tent a swarm of servants buzzed around; powdering, sincing, preening, and otherwise preparing their lieges for their appearance at the first of the evening’s balls.
Nadine excitedly chatted with anyone and everyone who was in hearing range. “Do you know how many nobles will be there? I wonder if one of them will ask me to dance. Whoever it is, I hope he’ll be nice. I’m sure he’ll be handsome. Even if he’s not, as long as he’s nice.”
In one corner, two dragonians were preparing the princess’s wig and mask.
“You’d think she’d never been to a festival before,” one said under her breath.
The other one leaned over and muttered, “It’s because she’s got that baby now. She’s gotta pin someone down soon to be the father.”
“But that… thing already has a father.”
“And you see what good that’s done him, being locked up and all.”
“Yeah, but you don’t hear her asking about him. She’s got responsibility too.”
“You haven’t heard? King’s made a decree that no one speaks of him”
The two looked over at the princess.
“Do you think she knows?”
“She does not,” said a voice behind them. “And you will do well to keep it that way.”
The two servants jumped and spun to face Queen Sathira. They bowed low to her, apologizing profusely and blushing. Sathira placed her hands on the shoulders of the two girls and had them stand straight.
“You must understand, girls,” she said gently, “we can’t allow someone who would take advantage of an innocent woman to roam free. People like him are a threat to all of us women.”
The girls looked at each other. Neither of them really knew the man in question, but they did remember hearing that he was a their. They nodded, a little less than sure.
“Good. I’m glad we have an understanding.” Sathira left the two girls to their unease and moved next to her daughter. The queen joined the servants in fussing with the princess’s hair and ribbons. “This truly is a wonderful gown, isn’t it dear?”
Nadine fluffed the layered skirt. It was full and layered with sheer gossamer over silk over more layers of slips and petticoats. The color was a deep violet with the gossamer adding extra blue, and accented with a powder pink. “It is quite lovely,” Nadine said.
Sathira took her daughter’s hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. “There are many noble men coming out tonight for the dance. I’m sure you’ll be the center of all their attentions, my beautiful girl.”
Nadine smiled at her mother, but Sathira saw that there was still a sadness in her eyes. Regardless, the princess put as much excitement as she could into her voice when she said, “I look forward to it.”