Beyond Price, a short story, part 1 of Many

Authors who blog well--you have my unabashed envy. Those of you who can craft life's little observations into poignant and reflective articles, you truly have a gift I do not. I update this blog out of a personal obligation: I created it, and it deserves to have some sort of continuing life because of that.
But I suck at articles.
And so, today, I bring you a bit of an experiment--the first part of a short story. The whole thing is about 50 pages in all, so if I maintain a steady installment size, this will take between 8 and 10 posts to offer you the whole thing. If people want it, sure, I'll keep posting it. If not, we'll chalk it up as a placeholder until I figure out how to write decent articles or con someone else into doing them for me.

For now, I hope you enjoy Beyond Price, the tale of a half-elven adolescent gypsy and her search for freedom.
Beyond Price, part 1
The singing tone of viol and lyre swelled with a driving tremor of tambourine, and at their
command, Veranna spun on the ball of her bare foot, her arms poised with flourish and her ornamental coin belt jingling. She swayed within the music’s rhythmic embrace, at once lost deep within herself and soaring on ethereal heights. Expression poured though limbs and motion.
A hazy-edged presage filled her mind, and within it, a svelte maiden leapt toward the night sky. The dancer’s ensemble covered only the barest minimum of her curves. A jeweled bodice that left midriff and shoulders bare glittered with every shift of position; a sheer, slit skirt flared from her waist like beams of light. When the dancer cast a flirtatious glance to the roaring crowd of men that filled the showgrounds beyond the stage lip, Veranna snatched a clear glimpse of the performer’s face. Her breath caught. This was no scantily-clad stranger—she watched herself!

The audience’s hoots faded to a muffled thrum, drowned by the throbbing in Veranna’s ears. Torches guttered around the perimeter of the crowd. Stage lanterns burned with a blinding glare.

Beyond their orbs of brightness, Veranna’s full focus came to rest on a cloaked man who paced purposefully along the front of the crowd. His silvery hood obscured most of his face, but what Veranna could see of his fair features, his nose, lips, and chin, was narrow and sculpted. He eased his hand from beneath his cloak with unnatural slowness. When his fingers opened, he revealed a jewel—an emerald the size of an almond. A gem likely beyond price.
A collision jarred Veranna from the vision. Her left shoulder glanced from the dancer beside her in a riotous clash of miniature bells. Veranna’s eyes snapped open. Gone was the crowd, the hooded man, and the emerald. Just the empty showgrounds in morning sun spread beyond the stage’s edge.
“Ow! Clumsy, pixie-pointed freak,” a bony, fourteen-year-old gypsy girl shrilled as she clutched her elbow. “Maybe if you’d keep your eyes open—”
Veranna stumbled out of the turn and took a halting step farther from the dancer’s rage. What was her name again? Meri?
“Merina!” A burly, bearded man with a fez perched atop his bald head stomped up the groaning wood steps on stage right. “Is you who moved off your mark. If you could learn to spin in your own place, then you would not get in way of my little enchantress.” He grinned at Veranna with cheeks that rounded until they pushed his lower eyelids to a deeply-creased squint. With a thick-fingered hand, he grasped Veranna’s chin and tipped her face higher. “And you, my exotic bloom, keep your head up. My audience wants to see this face.”
Veranna swallowed and readjusted the ruffle that had slipped too low on her shoulder, but not before the caravan master’s glance lingered on her neckline a little long for her comfort. “Yes, Master Bodini. My apologies.”
Bodini threw his arms up. “No! You are brightest star now. You don’t apologize—you make right. And crowds, they will fall at your feet.” He turned for the wings. “All of you. Again. No breakfast until this shines.”
Veranna pressed her lips together. Somehow, it did not seem right to mug to an audience when she danced. There was something inexplicably spiritual that coiled its way through her body every time she moved to music, even when fought the compulsion sink into the other world that sometimes infiltrated her mind. But there was no disobeying Bodini. She glanced around the troupe of ten dancers assembled on the stage behind her. They shuffled to resume their opening positions for the routine.
“Brightest star,” Merina whispered behind Veranna. “Funny how she wormed right into that spot now that she’s finally got something to push up with her corset. How long did that take?”
“Thirty years is the rumor,” another member of the troupe whispered back, her voice laced with a catty giggle.
More like forty. Veranna sighed and pulled her long waves of raven hair over the slight points on her ears. Perhaps the bloom of womanhood had been long in coming, but now that it had, it thrust her into a whole new circle of gypsies to hate her. As if it had not been bad enough to spend decades as a perpetual child, her peers either mocking or fearing her because of it, but now to face the sudden, acerbic ire of every young woman in the caravan . . .
The tambourine jangled to life. Veranna snapped to her opening pose, one arm arced across her body and the other curved high over her head. For now, there was the dance, and that remained her one companion, no matter what anyone behind her said.

“Look up.” Mamá dipped a tiny paintbrush into a pot of ebony face paint and lifted the bristles to Veranna’s eye. With a deft swipe, she traced the wet bristles along Veranna’s lower lash line.
Veranna tightened her cheeks against the urge to flinch away from the cold paint. Better to not have to redo this eye a third time. “Mamá, can I have some tea before the performances? I’m so nervous I have the shakes.”
Mamá frowned. “Rehearsal did not go so well?”
“No,” Veranna stammered. “It was fine. One little mishap, but no harm done. Really.”
“You . . . drifted off again, didn’t you?”
Veranna glanced away from her mother, but no, she would not lie. “It doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, it’s strange now. I liked it better when I was a little girl—beautiful daydreams of tall cities, forested mountains, sailing ships . . .”
“Contrary to popular belief, even you could not stay a little girl forever,” Mamá fanned Veranna’s freshly-painted eyelid. “They say visions come when change is on the horizon. People don’t like change—even less those who warn of it.”
Veranna refused to entertain the worries that came with the prospect of being a seer. These ‘driftings’ were just the product of her mind’s eye, nothing more. “But what about the tea?”
“The tea’s expensive,” Mamá replied.
A pleading look puckered Veranna’s brow before she could intercept it. Her shoulders tightened against Mamá’s inevitable disapproval.
Mamá dipped the brush back into the pot. “You must be brilliant, tea or no tea. How else will we get by? Here, I get old and lose my looks, and you stretch on and on, the beautiful child and now a sudden young woman with every asset a girl could hope for.”
Veranna took appraising stock of her mother. Too many years of dying hair that should have gone white left it frizzy and brittle, and too much make-up filled the lines of age and care that deepened in her face. Why could she not simply accept her advancing years and look the part of the sixty-plus woman she was? There was a dignified beauty in that, if only Mamá would allow it to show, and there were still trades a matriarch could ply in the caravan that did not depend on youthful features. It had been years since Mamá was fooling anyone anyway.
Mamá lined Veranna’s other eye.
“It’s not that I don’t want to earn my keep,” Veranna said once the brush was clear. “But Bodini’s choreography . . . well, it seems like a misuse of my gifts.”
A derisive laugh erupted from Mamá’s rose-coated lips. “He uses your talent, and the talents of all those other girls, in the way the crowds pay for. Work it while it lasts, my sweet, because some day you’ll look like me, and you’ll be fit for nothing.” Though her voice carried the sharp edge of scorn, Mamá could not hide the pain that flickered in the depths of her eyes. Not from Veranna, who sensed pain with frightening acuity.
“I didn’t mind so much when I was smaller, when it was all about ribbons and smiles and handing flowers to the old men.”
Mamá blew a cloud of mauve powder from the rounded bristles of a larger brush, then dusted what remained onto Veranna’s cheeks. “Enough of your pining for what’s passed. Now that you look like a woman, you’ll work like one.”
A sickening heat welled in Veranna’s stomach and tightened her throat. She was certain, even without looking in the glass, that the only color in her face was that which her mother had applied.
Mamá’s features softened. “Bodini won’t let anyone touch you, if that’s what you’re afraid of. He’s got other, talentless tarts for that kind of thing.”
Veranna glared at the floor. It was just this type of thinking that kept so many gypsies as Bodini’s thralls—that no one had any value that he did not impart upon them with his assignment of caravan roles. A pity she had not shown the sense to hide her dancing from him when she was just a little child wooed into motion by the constant, contagious music that surrounded her at all times. But perhaps it was for the best. With her mother’s wary disposition toward Veranna’s other uncanny abilities, being a dancer seemed far preferable to scrying, or whatever it was that sometimes happened when she abandoned herself to motion.

“No time to be sullen, Veranna,” Mamá said. “Get your costume on and let’s go. And mind you don’t smear my work in the process.”
Veranna rose and headed to the folding screen standing in the far corner of their tent, where her tiered skirt, ruffled blouse, corset, scarves, and countless belts, bracelets, and strings of bells hung. Shining star. Exotic enchantress. It would be hard to feel like either so laden in chains.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this, Rebecca! I eagerly await more installments. :D

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    1. Thanks for letting me know! I have to decide on a schedule. Maybe I'll do Monday-Wednesday-Friday for a couple weeks. Stay tuned! :)

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  2. This is a great idea! Back story!! Love getting this glimpse into Veranna's life. :-)

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    1. Thanks for dropping in, Jennette. Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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  3. Oh boy, this is a fascinating look into her inner life! Love it!

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    1. Thanks for the good word and for reading. I think I will have a much better ability to write her in future Windrider stuff, having fleshed out her origin a bit. More to come!

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  4. I just finally got around to reading this (I've been saving it) and now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long! I'm really enjoying this - thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thank YOU for coming back to reading it. I'm glad it's off to a good start for you. Thanks for the comments--it's always a pleasure to discover people are indeed taking a look at the stories. :)

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