Dragon Magic(5)

By: Megan Derr

"I've never had any complaints!"

"And no one complains of my ability to pray," the priest replied. "We each have our skills, bestowed by the Great Dragon. Enjoy your stage!"

"Enjoy your dark room!" Mahzan replied, and pulled out his panpipes to begin a song while the crowd still laughed and exchanged dirty jokes. He glanced again at the priest, who waved at him with a genuine smile before he finally let his brothers drag him off amidst scowls and warnings.

He entertained the crowds for another hour, then traded off with another jester and slipped away to clean up and dress for dinner. A servant had left a tray of food in his room, for which Mahzan was extremely grateful. Though he was the King's Jester, a fool was a fool, and generally ignored when not performing. It was too easy to forget that the entertainers needed food and rest the same as anyone else.

Stripping off his clothes, he stepped into the bathing tub he always kept in one corner of his little room. He scrubbed off quickly, then retrieved the special soap he kept on a shelf high on the wall over the tub. The soap was costly, but the only thing that effectively removed his face paint.

Mahzan dried off hastily and sat to eat a quick meal before dressing again. His ensemble this time was a brilliant concoction of purple, pink, and white. He painted his face to match, one half purple, the other half a checkered pattern of pink and white. He painted his lips a beautiful dark purple that shimmered ever so faintly.

Ready, he picked up his marotte and twirled it idly, then lifted it to admire the head: a horned dragon wearing the mask of the jesters. The priests had been furious when they learned of it, the sacrilege involved. But the king had permitted it because didn't tradition dictate that jesters offend the church? Was it not the job of the jesters to disrespect everything?

The decree of the king was the end of the matter, though it had not ended the church's resentment. But if the church was not resenting something, they would lose all sense of purpose. Mahzan smirked, remembering the priest who had played with him earlier in the Great Courtyard. Handsome, pretty, possessed of a sense of humor—not a very good priest at all.

He looked up as the bells began to ring, twirling his marotte as he left his room and strode through the halls of the royal castle. In the Hall of Kings, tables were arranged and hundreds of guests enjoyed the best that the king had to offer—and King Yavuz the Fourth was very generous to his guests.

Personally, Mahzan thought Yavuz was overcompensating after having barely won the throne from his brother, Prince Seda, who'd been greedy, violent, and unworthy. But Yavuz tended to try too hard to show he was not Seda—something Mahzan occasionally pointed out to him, when Yavuz was in the mood to be playfully criticized.

Tonight was not one of those nights, but if it was, even Mahzan would not find fault with his king publicly when he was going to so much trouble for his people. Mahzan lingered in the doorway of the servants' entrance, listening as the priests concluded their evening songs—formal prayers were always sung, rather than simply recited, and the priests performing were skilled. Fires, he could even feel sincerity coming off some of them, and wasn't that a rarity. He had never met anyone as insincere as a pious priest, but he supposed there must be exceptions.

His eyes strayed over them, landing briefly on the handsome Isles-born priest from before. He daydreamed a moment of seduction, dirty deeds in a dark hall, the noises the priest would make, skin flushed with exertion and the fear of being caught. How he would taste? Would he be shy or eager? Fun either way. And a priest would be in a hurry to return to his temple, with no desire to linger or become attached.

As the prayers wound down, Mahzan put his full attention back on his task.

Drawing a breath, summoning up his performance calm, he moved—somersaulting in a long series of tumbles into the middle of the room, stopping directly in front of the choir of priests. "You've sung long enough," he said imperiously, and waved his marotte toward the door. "You are dismissed, dragonets. Run along back to your cave now."

The Isle priest laughed, ignoring the looks his brothers sent him. He tossed his head and smirked, "La la la, Fool. I was promised bread and milk before I was sent to bed."