I’m working on a story for another anthology, using some minor characters from my upcoming fantasy trilogy, SAGE. Here is the beginning of it in its rough draft form. I think it starts a little slow. What do you think?
Command Performance – excerpt
copyright 10/21/2012 by Marian Allen
The Festival Players’ wagon creaked as Lumpkin pulled it up the steep hill. The huge, unlovely horse puffed and grunted, even though four of the troupe’s five members pushed. Silvin, against his usual protests, held the reigns and led the horse along the upward track, murmuring sullen encouragement.
“The faster you go, the sooner we’ll be at the top. The sooner we’re at the top, the sooner we can camp.” He cursed as he stepped over a stone deeply embedded in the packed earth, right where the road narrowed to one wagon’s width. Lumpkin lifted his massive hooves over the stone, but the wagon stopped there, with Silvin’s curses echoed and amplified by the players at the rear.
The baritone bellow of Florian, the Players’ leader, shook the nearby trees:
“Silvin! COME. HELP. PUSH.”
Silvin draped Lumpkin’s reins over the horse’s back and scurried back to add his limited strength to the crew. The front wheel bumped over. A breath or two and another heavy shove, and the rear wheel followed.
“Up front,” Florian said.
“Why can’t Maida lead and I’ll stay back and push?”
“Why should I?” Maida demanded. “Because I’m female?”
Florian, one shoulder to the wagon, patted Silvin’s face with audible paks. “Maida has power, boy. Physical oomph! You have other strengths.”
“Juggling isn’t one of them,” said Cristoval.
“It will be,” Florian boomed, drowning out laughter, protest, and any other possible vocalization. “He’s first-rate at the simple stuff, and he’s the best-looking of all of us, including Maida. Don’t sell the man short.”
Now at the front of the horse, Silvin heard nothing more except laughter, then grunts and groans as pushing recommenced.
“I can’t even feel put upon,” he grumbled to the horse. His years in the troupe primed him to cast himself as the hero of a grand fiction, but he knew he was neither a gallant nor an abused underling destined for surprising greatness. Good at dancing, fair at playing the lute, competent at elementary juggling, excellent mimic, quick of wit, delicately handsome, broad-shoulders disguising the weakness of his joints, he was a valuable member of the troupe. “I’m just lonely up here, with nobody but a horse for company.”
The wagon topped the hill, and the city of Bahari rose from the plain ahead. Silvin lead the horse slowly forward until the rest of the players joined them.
Florian clapped and rubbed his hands together, his brilliant smile breaking through his black beard. “We have time to set up and give them a matinée. Then we’ll have a bang-up supper, do a late show, and sleep at an inn tonight.”
A city supper and beds in an inn were rare treats. The laborious ascent of the hill was forgotten. Forgotten, until they found the city gates closed.
A lone guard atop a wooden watchtower shouted down,”Who goes there?”
“The Festival Players!” Florian didn’t merely say it, he announced it. “We’ve played Bahari many a time. They love us here! Why the closure? Are you in quarantine?”
“No,” said the guard. “It’s just for today. Because it’s … today.”
“Ah, of course! Naturally,” said Florian. He turned to Cristoval and asked, “What’s today?”
Cristoval shrugged an eyebrow, keeping their mutual cluelessness private.
The guard called, “If you’ll wait a moment, the Town Council is on its way to greet you and apologize.” It had the sound of a speech learned by heart and with great effort.
“This is intriguing,” said Florian.
A small door set into the watchtower opened, and a richly gowned man squeezed through, followed by four other equally well-dressed men and women.
When he was certain these five were all the audience he could expect, Florian gave them an elaborate bow.
With a sweep of his arm to indicate the wagon and troupe, he said, “My lords and my ladies, I present to you The Festival Players! What could do more honor to this most special of days than a performance to mark it?”
The Council whispered, inspected the Players from a distance, and whispered again.
The first man out said, “An excellent idea, but tomorrow would be more appropriate. Here is what must happen, if you’ll agree: When it’s full dark, we’ll put a light in the watchtower. Then you –” He pointed to Florian, “– come to the gate. You’ll find it unbolted. Push it open and come in. We’ll discuss your performance then.”
Florian said nothing.
After a long moment, the man cleared his throat and said, “Agreed?”
“This is most irregular,” Florian said grandly. “Light your lamp, and we’ll see.”
The Council smiled and nodded and squeezed back through the small door.
Maida slapped the still-silent Florian on the arm with her cap. “What was that about?”
Florian shrugged. “Some sort of local symbolic ceremonial,” he said. “We’ll get the story of it tonight or tomorrow. It might make a good play. Meanwhile, I’m afraid it’s camp cooking and the stars as bed curtains again tonight, my children.”
I’m also posting today at The Write Type on the subject of writing a memoir or family history.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Invent a local symbolic ceremonial.