Here’s a sample from one of the stories in my forthcoming collection, SHIFTY: A BAKER’S DOZEN OF STORIES FROM THE WORLD OF SAGE. This one is from “Command Performance,” featuring The Festival Players.
Because It’s Today
excerpt from “Command Performance”
by Marian Allen
The Festival Players’ wagon creaked as Lumpkin pulled it up the steep hill. The huge, unlovely cart horse puffed and grunted, even though three of the troupe’s four members pushed. The muscles under the horse’s silver-mottled hide bulged and strained. Silvin, against his usual protests, held the reins 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 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 the only female?”
Florian, one shoulder to the wagon, patted Silvin’s face with audible paks. “Maida has power, boy. Physical oomph! You have other strengths.”
Silvin returned to the front of the horse, and pushing recommenced.
“I can’t even feel put upon,” he told the dapple gray. “I don’t think that’s fair, do you?”
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, his broad shoulders disguising the weakness of his joints, he was a valuable member of the troupe. Valuable enough, at any rate.
The wagon topped the hill, and the city of Bahari rose from the plain ahead. Silvin led the horse slowly forward until the rest of the players joined them. The first order of business was to water Lumpkin and check him for signs of serious strain. Players besides these founding four had come and gone, but Lumpkin was the troupe’s fifth core member, and the one they could least afford to lose.
That done, Florian clapped and rubbed his hands together, his brilliant smile breaking through his energetic 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?”
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: What are your main character’s strengths?