This one turned out to be a story set in the world of my fantasy trilogy, SAGE. The Traveling Players are only in a couple of chapters, but I just love them. I’ve written two stand-alone short stories (those of you who chose that level of contribution to the SAGE Kickstarter campaign will be receiving them) featuring the Players.
by Marian Allen
“Time’s up,” the stableman announced, although Silvin knew Lumpkin had been stalled half the time paid for. Fortunately, his time touring with The Festival Players had taught him to groom and inspect their massive horse with lightning speed, just as it had taught Lumpkin to eat with a concentration seldom found among horses.
The landlords at the inns were always glad to sell them some feed for Lumpkin – at inflated prices, of course. The taverners were always glad to sell them food and drink, or to give them others’ leftovers in exchange for a bit of free entertainment for the other diners.
No respect, though. Not from anybody. Their only sop to respectability was Maida, the only woman in the troupe. Everyone assumed that Florian, the troupe’s leader, was her husband, and that Cristoval and he, Silvin, were her heart-husbands, brought along for the sake of convenience.
None of them had much of a social life, either, since that fiction put off the locals, and they all spent too much time together to feel any romantic or physical attraction for any of the other players.
Which brought his mind to another group of people who were always glad to sell them something.
He led Lumpkin back out onto the grassy town common where their wagon was parked. The others had let down one side, using sawhorses to prop it parallel to the ground, making a stage and revealing the shabby curtains behind it. They’d need to replace those, soon, or the customers would be able to see backstage.
Florian waved a hunk of bread at him as he approached. “Hurry, lad! It’s all I can do to keep Cristoval from eating it all!”
Cristoval growled and snapped like the dog he would portray in that night’s production.
A giggle from his right made Silvin stop and cock an eyebrow at Lumpkin. The woman who passed by on Lumpkin’s other side put the player’s mind at rest. He patted the horse’s neck in apology.
The woman made for Florian as a bee makes for its hive. Although it was just past lunch (Silvin took the bread from Florian), she was dressed in the richer fabric of evening. Florian looked her up and down in open approval.
Silvin settled down to eat his lunch and watch. Florian and the woman traded sultry looks and thinly veiled bawdy remarks. The woman and two of her friends would certainly be in the audience that night, with no expectation that they’d pay so much as a copper penny for the pleasure. They would have shown their appreciation later that afternoon, this being one of the towns that didn’t want the sun to set with vagabonds and actors inside the city limits. As for Maida: she preferred to make her own, more discrete, arrangements, as befitted the status of a woman.
The play was well received. Stories with dogs in them always did well in this part of Layounna. It amused Silvin to see Florian play so broadly to the giggling woman. It was seldom that Florian’s attention was engaged by anything other than troupe business.
After the show, Cristoval collected the coins tossed on stage by satisfied patrons, and Silvin and Maida returned the stage to its position as one side of the show-wagon. Silvin backed Lumpkin into the wagon shafts and harnessed him. Florian was deep in an animated conversation with the giggling woman.
With a final flirty flounce, she turn from him and swayed away.
Brow thunderous, Florian mounted the wagon and took up the reins. It was his and Silvin’s turns to ride, the other two walking behind until they camped for the night.
Silvin said nothing. It was better to let Florian cool down after a disappointment. Get him talking too soon, and he’d declaim at the top of his voice half the night.
By the time they stopped to build a fire and cook a bit of stew, the troupe’s leader had eased into a gentle melancholy.
Maida laid a comforting hand on his shoulder as she passed behind him.
Florian had eaten half his stew before he spoke. “She didn’t have to stay with us, if she didn’t like the life. She could at least have given it a week.”
Cristoval tapped a spoon on the side of his plate and said, “Well tried, Florian. The woman has no soul, to resist the picture you must have painted her of the glories of traveling theater.”
“Settled,” Florian snarled, as if that were a capital crime. He swallowed another bite of stew. “Did you see that dress she was wearing?” He sighed deeply. “What curtains it would have made!”
~ * ~
MY PROMPT TODAY: “Inevitably, this put playwrights and actors at the bottom of the male hierarchy.”
Taken at random from Shakespeare’s London on 5 Groats a Day.