(chapter continued from previous post)
The showmaster returned.
“In far-off Enodia, where the gods walk and humans can create devices to do anything imaginable, each woman dances only once in public in her entire life, though they prepare for it from childhood. That day is on her wedding day. Our beautiful Lysandra was to be wed, but her betrothed died tragically and suddenly on the morning of their greatest day. Not wed, not unwed, not widowed, she dances each day in his memory and for their interrupted marriage. It’s our good fortune that she does so here, for us to marvel at.”
It sounded very tragic and romantic.
The woman who stepped onto the stage had thick straight glossy-black hair down to her waist; she wore full ankle-length skirts of brilliant fiery scarlet and a close-fitting top of scarlet and sky-blue that bared arms and chest and even her belly with its dark snake tattoo. She danced with a long filmy white veil fluttering around her. How could anyone have such control, apparently over every individual muscle? The dance itself was full of passion… in a way that made Nomusa swallow hard, in fact, thoughts of her own anticipated wedding night creeping into her head. She snuck a look at Sipho, and frowned: he was watching the red-clad woman with entirely too much rapt attention, his breathing just a bit faster than it should be.
“Candy?” she murmured, offering the box, and was rather annoyed that he groped for one without looking away from the stage.
It was something of a relief when the dancer left.
In between acts, and when equipment needed to be changed, two men in gaudily-coloured versions of everyday clothes appeared, bantering back and forth with jokes—often a bit on the racy side—and visual gags that typically sent theaudience into howls of laughter. The showmaster did further tricks, some of them with the assistance of a dark-skinned curly-haired woman in a strikingly white dress that fit very closely around her torso, with a skirt that reached barely to her knees. Those tricks were no easier to figure out than the initial ones.
One way or another, there was constantly something interesting happening on that stage.
Three people in spangly tight-fitting clothes did things that defied belief while balancing on a head-height slack rope strung between two tripods.
The actors did another skit, one from an old legend.
The dark-haired man who had fought the barbarian pair reappeared, now with a lot of shiny throwing knives. The stripe-haired woman who had performed with the rope and glass balls took her place calmly in front of a sturdy-looking wooden backboard made of multiple planks. She was more brightly dressed now, in deep wheat gold and greenish-blue that matched parts of his costume, but there was absolutely nothing on hers that was loose, all of it clinging so tightly it left nothing to the imagination. The showmaster had said that was for safety reasons, that loose clothing could be dangerous.
The woman did a handstand up against the board, face outwards, and stayed quite still while he threw two knives, one to each side of her; she let her legs part until her ankles were resting against the knives. The next two knives went in the inside of her ankles, and each subsequent pair was farther up, or rather down, edging towards, well, territory that no one would want a knife thrown at! He finally pulled all the knives out of the wood and backed up, putting more distance between himself and the board. This time, the woman turned so her shoulder was against it, and leaned back, her spine bowed in an arch. The thrown knives crept up the line of her body, barely above her at all, right up to her throat. Not once did she move, or show the slightest apprehension with those sharp pieces of metal coming at her.
The dancer returned, in the same top but now her skirts were a deep sky blue, and this time she did things with a pair of collapsing fans that had fluttery blue and white scarves trailing from the outer edges. Rather annoyingly, she captivated Sipho all over again.
All in all, Nomusa applauded enthusiastically when the announcer finally declared an end to the show.
“That was wonderful!” she said happily, tucking a hand around Sipho’s arm so they wouldn’t get separated while filing out with the rest of the audience.
“Definitely,” he agreed. “It must take a long time to learn to do most of what they do.”
“I’d like to stop and see the fortune-teller. I mean, our future is about to take a very large step, after all. Wouldn’t you like to hear what she has to say?”
“It’s sure to be a trick, too,” Sipho said, “but if you want to, I think that’d be okay.” He glanced at his sister and her husband. “Wouldn’t it?”
“I hardly think you can get into trouble just talking to a fortune-teller,” she said. “We’ll get a drink and wait for you.”
“Don’t listen to anything about curses,” her husband added. “Some will use stories like that to scare you into giving them a lot of extra money to remove it. Anything like that, just leave.”
“We will,” Sipho said.
A boy, freshly scrubbed but his clothes had seen better days, sat with his legs crossed on the grass outside the fortune-teller’s tent; he nodded to them. “She’s alone, it’s safe to go in.”
“Thank you,” Nomusa said politely.
The inside of the tent was shadowy. Some light filtered through the thin walls and roof but otherwise, there was only the single stocky candle in a glass holder, resting on the table in the centre.
By its glow, they could only really see the fortune-teller herself. She wore black—her pale-skinned arms and chest were bare, but her face and dark hair were shrouded by a black veil. Through it, Nomusa could make out her eyes and her lips, both probably darker than natural, but nothing more. Behind her, there were a few stray glints of light off glass bottles full of colourful liquids.
“Come in,” said the fortune-teller, and gestured to a pair of stools across from her. “You wish to know whether your marriage will be blessed with good fortune?” Her voice was pleasant, and fairly young, with a perceptible accent.
Nomusa blinked. “Yes, but how…?”
“I’d be a poor teller of futures if I could not see what lies before me in the present. Sit, and give me your hand.”
Bemused, they obeyed, and Nomusa offered her hand. That of the fortune-teller, curving around it to turn it towards the light, was cool and smooth.
“Let us see what fate intends for you…”