Dragon Magic(3)

By: Megan Derr

The Great Lake stretched on for miles in all directions, an ocean in the middle of the surrounding valleys and mountains. The royal city was built right in the middle, with ships and the Compass Bridges the only access.

Even on a normal day, the city was crowded. It was so much more fun when it was flooded with more people than could easily be contained.

Mahzan launched into a series of backward tumbles, ending with a flourish at the far end of the long, narrow stage that had been set up in front of the main gates of the Queen's Courtyard. There was another, larger stage set up closer to the castle proper, where two jesters performed. Mahzan performed alone, privilege and price of being King's Jester.

As applause sounded, he moved in twists and turns and spins back to the center of the stage, bowing in all directions. The applause increased, mingled with cheers and cries for more, the sound of coins striking the stage as the more generous expressed their pleasure with currency. Mahzan beamed at the milling crowds, then reached into one of his pouches and withdrew the colorful crystal orbs he used for juggling.

The sun beat down, making him sweat all the more, but it was worth it. City natives were used to jesters, barely saw them anymore. When they were drunk, they loved to throw food and other substances at whatever unfortunate jester they could locate. Being the King's Jester spared Mahzan most of that, but not all of it—and the nobility who watched him perform each night could be far worse than the people on the streets.

Visitors, on the other hand, loved the jesters of the royal city. Smaller cities might have jesters, but they were not of the same quality as those found in the Heart of the Dragon. It had taken Mahzan most of his thirty-one years to attain his skill, his position; the piddling jesters of smaller cities and towns would never compare to him and his fellows in the Heart. People knew it, and were excited to see the best of the best when they visited the Heart. They threw coins, flowers, trinkets, lavished him with praise and adulation. The clapping and cheering and cries for more were all he wanted, the only thing he truly craved. They were the only love he needed. Everything else was distraction.

He loosed his magic slightly, just enough to feel the fringes of the crowd's emotion. If he felt too much, he would give himself a headache that would last the better part of a week. Great Dragon forbid he ever wind up mad like so many mind mages.

What he felt was promising: joy, pleasure, anticipation, excitement. Negative emotions were buried beneath the positive. People were happy to be there, spilling into the castle to be counted, to indulge in the food and drink set out for them.

He could not ask for a better audience. Catching the crystals up as he finished his juggling routine, he swept another series of graceful bows, lapping up the adoration, thriving on the attention. It had been worth the trouble and expense to commission a new outfit for today—the first day of the Festival of Counting for the Royal Census, conducted every twenty-five years. It brought thousands of citizens to the royal city so that every person in the kingdom could be properly counted. During the first three days when everyone began pouring in, the king held a festival to celebrate the health and vitality of his people.

Indulging in a new wardrobe for the festivities had been the right decision. Kuzey had always mocked him for being 'much too fond' of his clothes. Not that he cared any longer what that worthless bastard thought. One year was more than enough time to stop caring about him. So what if Mahzan was too fond of his clothes? As the saying went, a dragon without scales was dead.

The leggings were his favorite part—one leg teal, the other a diamond pattern of teal, green, orange, and white. They had cost him a goodly sum, for his stipend from the throne only went so far, but he was not sorry for it. The jacket was equally smart, dyed teal and embroidered in green, orange, and white, flashing with bits of crystal. It was short, stopping right at his hips, but he had received no complaints so far.

His thick, dark hair, falling just past his shoulders, was woven into numerous braids that had been heavily decorated with beads, tokens, charms, jewels, and bells; weaving them all in had taken his hairdressers hours. It would take them even longer to undo it all when he was sore and tired later. He would be lucky if he did not simply fall into bed with his hair still decorated and his face still painted.