Dragon Magic(4)

By: Megan Derr

Of course, sun and sweat would soon ruin all the effort he had put into his clothes, and if he stayed out here long enough, even his face paint, which took special soap to remove, would begin to suffer. He would need time before dinner to clean up and make himself suitable for a royal performance. His face paint especially would need attention. Presently, half his face was painted white. The other half was a pattern of orange, teal, and white flowers, and a tangle of green leaves and vines.

He was the King's Jester, the best in the city, because he did nothing half-measure. Any who doubted him had only to see how the crowds screamed his name, how fondly the king indulged him.

When their cheering began to wind down, he skimmed the crowds for a suitable target—it was time to tease someone. Then he would get the crowd to sing with him, and then finally he would move back into acrobatics and sleight of hand.

His eyes landed first on a dark figure standing just beyond the main flush of the crowd. Tall, broad-shouldered, but spare and trim. As Warlock, magic advisor to the king, Lord Binhadi Morlock was one of the few permitted to wear costly full black robes. The fabric fit close to his chest, all the way down to his hips, where it flared out in a full skirt, split in the middle to show the deep violet under robe. Hanging from his hips was a series of jewels, circle cut and set in gold, linked together to form a belt. He had light brown skin and blue-black hair neatly pulled back to reveal a set of six jewel studs in each ear.

Mahzan had never properly met him, but it was impossible to live in the royal castle and not recognize Warlock Binhadi, last remaining member of the Morlock family and greatly feared for his power, skills, and sordid family history. The rest of his family had been killed off for one reason or another, from robbery to arson to treason. A more dangerous family had never existed.

Teasing him was not a good idea.

Shifting his gaze, he landed on a group of soldiers, recognizing the handsome man with black-brown skin and hair shaved close to the scalp who stood in the center of the group. He was large, well-muscled, and more than a little imposing. Mahzan had performed when the man had been promoted some months ago. North Captain Sule Ekrem, responsible for the northern quadrant of the city. No small responsibility to be a quadrant captain, and people had gossiped for weeks over whether so young a man—only thirty-two, by Dragon!—was truly fit for the duty.

Soldiers had no sense of humor, though, save when they were mocking those they considered beneath them. If Mahzan dared to mock a soldier, he would find himself facing a sword later, and he did not want such an annoyance spoiling his night.

Dismissing the soldiers, he searched the crowd—and smirked briefly when he saw a small group of priests. Most of them were novices and acolytes, but a few in the cluster were of higher rank, and he recognized one of them as a priest he nearly always saw laughing and smiling. And if he didn't find Mahzan amusing, people would find his ire amusing, and that was good enough.

"G'day, holy men!" he called out, pitching his voice to be heard over the din. The priests drew up short, and the one in front that looked familiar, and who by his marks had been a priest for many years, grinned and lifted a hand in acknowledgement. "You must be frustrated, surrounded by so much merriment and yourselves so austere."

The priest held out a hand, palm up. "It is never a chore to do the Great Dragon's work. At least He does not make me dance beneath the hot sun. My duties compel me to find a dark room and a cold drink."

"Better songs than prayers," Mahzan replied. "The only part of prayer I ever mastered was getting on my knees." He sank to his knees and leered, causing the crowd to burst out laughing and shout bawdy comments of their own.

The priest threw his head back and laughed, brushing aside the other priests when they frowned and tried to draw him back. He was handsome, for a priest—pinkish-white skin, which was unusual even in the Heart, pale gold hair shaved very close to his head, his eyes the green of the seas rather than the more common brown or amber. A child of the Outer Isles, then; it was rare they came so far inland—even rarer they took up the priesthood. "You're supposed to bow your head after kneeling, Jester! That's where you get tripped up."