Behold! This piece actually was supposed to be finished by midnight Thursday past (July 11), but I got a pardon from my fellow thieves. I hope my readers will extend me the same courtesy.
This first line was thieved from Gwen of Apprentice, Never Master. Her original story, “Only If You Let It,” was posted in a timely fashion despite my negligence. Links to all legal theft pieces can also be found via Gwen.
The girls spent the week mocking the Rarity Show advertisements, but come Saturday afternoon they lined up to see the six-legged cow with everyone else in town. In a small town like theirs, there was little more to do, and they knew the Rarity Show would be all that was talked about for the next several weeks, and if they didn’t go, Gwyneth and Emira agreed that the next several weeks would be a kind of torture as they wondered if they should have gone and were bombarded by others’ descriptions of the sword-swallower and the winged man and boasts that they’d seen a woman who was part fish.
The Rarity Show set itself up just outside of the village, below the fields in a ring of wooden caravans. It announced itself with drum and fiddle and crumhorn. The music mingled with the villagers’ babble and the Showmen’s hawking of his wares as the girls came down the hill towards the corral, part of a flock of villagers following the song. The Show’s men had set up fires between all but two of the caravans so that the villagers wanting to see the attractions had to come through that way alone and pay their dues—two coppers. It was a lot of money in a village run primarily on trade. Gwyneth parted with the coins reluctantly, and frowned to see a few of their neighbors grinning as the coppers disappeared into a sack that one of the Showmen, gaudily dressed in patchwork of red and blue, held out to the line.
This was frivolity that none of them could easily afford—and yet frivolity was such a rare gift, usually accompanying a marriage, a birth, or a coming-of-age—which often came at the expense of the celebrated persons. At least the Showman demanded an equal tax from each person attending rather than thrusting the bill towards a single man or family.
Gwyneth tried to relax as they passed into the glade between the wagons. Already it was packed tightly with villagers and rarities, and the crumhorn buzzed in her ears like a swarm, and the drum tried to get inside her head with its rat-a-tat-tat.
A small boy ran up to her. He had a thick thatch atop his head, a crooked grin, and eyes that sparkled like gems on a king’s saddle.
“Want to see me do a trick?” he asked. He didn’t wait for their answer but held up a hand and set it alight with a steady glow like a second sun beamed from his palm. Emira stumbled away from the boy with a squeak. Gwyneth raised a hand to shield her eyes.
“Put it away,” Gwyneth told him coolly.
“They keep me to do that,” the boy grinned, setting fire to his second hand and wiggling his fingers. “Other people can’t do it.”
“You shouldn’t be able to,” Emira snapped. “Put it away. It’s demon’s work.”
“It’s not,” the boy said, but he skipped away.
Emira, watching him, said to Gwyneth, “It is. Magic.”
“Or a trick,” Gwyneth reminded.
Emira looked at her, doe-eyed. “What could be the trickery in that? His hands glowed.”
“Maybe he was holding matches,” Gwyneth hoped.
Emira complained, “I saw no matches.”
“Maybe he hid them well.”
Emira pulled her arms around her and looked across at the crowd. She stomped away, and Gwyneth followed after her. Emira caught the boy by the wrist as he lifted a hand to show his trick to Thir Alaric. He didn’t fight her, but turned his head to regard her with surprisingly patient eyes.
“What’s the trick?” Emira demanded. “Where’re your matches?”
“No matches,” the boy said. “My hands just glow.”
The boy shrugged. “Master calls me a freak, an abomination. Dunno what that means, but he keeps me here, feeds me, and gives me these clothes to keep warm,” he gestured with his free hand at the red wool tunic and trousers.
Thir Alaric tilted his head. “Can you only make your hands glow or have you other tricks?”
“No other tricks.”
“Do strange things often happen around you?” Thir Alaric asked.
The boy shrugged again.
“Do you have a name?”
“Master calls me Runt.”
Alaric wondered, “Have you been here long?”
Runt nodded. “Master took me in as a babe. Says my parents didn’t want me. Too odd. Didn’t know what to do with me.”
Gwyneth frowned. “No parent thinks like that.”
Runt shrugged once more.
“Hey, Runt!” A thin man with a long, curved sword in one hand gestured to the boy to shoo, and raising his eyebrows, the swordsman wiggled his fingers. Runt quickly set his hands alight, and Emira dropped his wrist. “Your hand—it got so warm.”
“It feels cold to me, the fire,” Runt told her. “I’ve gotta go entertain more people. They’ll give me the bones tonight if they don’t think I’ve earned any meat.”
Thir Alaric stepped near them as Emira and Gwyneth watched the boy weave away between the crowds, his hands bright as suns. “He’s a Vatrin,” Thir Alaric guessed. “Or part Vatrin. Only no one seems to have told him.”
Emira started. “The Vatrins are all gone—aren’t they?”
“Apparently,” Thir Alaric muttered, “not.”