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Now for the next chapter in "Threat of the Fire Demon."
“I swear I never saw such huge tomatoes,” Sam exclaimed. “One is as big as a softball and it ain’t even ripe yet. Your new woman is a wizard.”
Even though he wasn’t doing the work of filling the barrel he took off his hat and wiped his brow with his sleeve. Today was actually a warm August day for The Realms.
“Not a wizard, but she does have a great concoction.” Charles beamed at the man. He was so proud of what Azur had done for the community. There would be no hunger this winter.
“Martha says she even likes the smell of the stuff, like wood smoke she says,” Sam went on.
He whacked at his pant leg with his hat to remove some dirt he’d rubbed against getting down from the wagon.
“Martha wants to know when we’re all going to get to meet her,” Sam asked. “You been keeping her out here all to yourself. The ladies' all been talking about her.”
Almost as though Azur could hear what the men were talking about she waved at them in greeting from the clothesline up by the house. Sam and Charles waved back. The boys kept loading.
“She’s kind of shy Sam and we’ve been really busy.”
“I bet you have.” Sam grinned and thumped Charles in the side with his elbow.
Charles’ lip raised in a shy lopsided grin. “Well, yes, but with produce mostly and putting up stores for the winter.”
“Ain’t that the truth? My Martha and some of the other ladies been taking turns going from garden to garden helping each other can. I heard town’s run out of jars. Had to order some from the mundane world.”
Sam’s eye cast down and he remembered Saul at their feet. He was so used to seeing him upright at Charles side that he completely forgot the cat-man was there.
“How you feeling, Saul?” he asked and actually bent down in front of the cat.
Saul was in a bit of a surly mood this morning. He’d slept well enough after Azur’s administering his nightly massage, but after breakfast he was playing with Simone and accidently bumped into the leg of the dining room table with his bad hip. It ached now, just standing.
“Doing better,” he replied, “but getting damn tired of looking at people’s crotches.”
“Well, you’re looking lots better. Even your ear has grown back.” Sam commented. As he rose he put his hand out and stroked Saul on the head.
He couldn’t see the cat’s look of disgust. Saul knew it was an innocent jester. He liked Sam and the boys normally, but just because he was on four feet didn’t give them the right to treat him like the family dog.
“My people have amazing recuperative powers,” he said. “I think I’ll go up to the house,” he added and started to limp off.
“Take care of yourself,” Sam called from behind, totally unaware of the cat’s mood.
“Pa, don’t forget the flyer,” Bard said from the back of the wagon. “We’re almost done here.”
“Oh yeah.” Sam reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He unfolded it and handed it to Charles. “Circus is coming to town. The missus thought you might bring your wife and we could use the time to introduce her around. They always have the beach by the lake full of food stalls. Some of us thought we might see if we could barter some of our produce for tickets. Lord knows we have enough of it.”
Charles looked at the flyer with all the colorfully dressed entertainers spread out under the outstretched wings of two dragons.
“Simone has never seen a dragon,” he said idly.
“All the more reason to come,” Sam said patting Charles on the shoulder. “Nothing like the face of a child the first time they see a dragon.”
Clyde went to hand another bucket full up to Bard, but he waved him away. “We’re finished here, Pa.”
“Well, then, we’re off, I guess,” Sam said, “gotta get this stuff spread before the full moon tomorrow night. You tell your lovely wife thank you and you bring her around to the circus. We’re all anxious to thank her in person.”
“I think I will,” Charles said and clasped the hand Sam was offering. “I think I will.”
Charles walked beside the wagon part way up the hill then waved goodbye and headed across the meadow to the clothesline where Azur and Simone were playing ball. The child never got tired of tossing the ball and running after it. She would sometimes collapse to the grass like an exhausted puppy and just fall asleep after playing too hard. However, today she was just getting wound up.
“Look what Sam gave me,” Charles said waving the flyer. “The circus is coming to town.”
Saul’s head rose up off his arms where he laid on the bench. “Really?” The announcement of a circus could even change his out-of-sorts mood. Charles saw the pain in his friend’s face and the pronounced limp as he went up the slight incline to the house earlier.
Brela stuck her horned head out the door. “A circus?” She bleated in excitement.
They hadn’t had one come through town in years. It would be the high point of the summer.
“Yep, and we’re all going to go,” Charles said.
He bent down to show Simone the flyer. The child backed up between his bent legs and leaned against his chest as they looked at it together.
“There are going to be dragons, see,” he pointed, “and it says here there is a shape-shifter among them. You are going to see things you have never seen before, Simone. Some of the true wonders of The Realms.”
He reached up and took Azur’s hand. He rubbed her knuckles gently with his thumb. “And I am going to take pride in introducing you to everyone we meet.”
Simone sat on her father’s shoulders with a pinwheel in one hand and a candy stick in the other. She pointed with the pinwheel.
“There.. Daddy! What’s that?”
“That is a Shedu. They are from a land called Persia in the mundane world,” Charles said, as they gazed at the winged lion roaming the circus freely.
“But I think that is really the shape-shifter we saw earlier,” Saul commented.
He sniffed the air. It was hard to catch a scent among all these humans and other animals, but he didn’t smell a Shedu in the mix and he was sure he would have if the beast was really there. They had a very powerful scent of musk and urine. A male as big as the one before them would have blocked out all other scents for the cat-man.
Sure enough, a shimmer filled the air around the Shedu and it morphed instantly into a young man, then within seconds he was a Pegasus. The shifter obviously liked creatures with wings. A young woman came up beside him. She was dressed in the ringmaster’s costume of black tight fitting leather britches, soft black over-the-knee boots and red thigh length coat with bright brass buttons. The Pegasus bent one leg to allow her easy access to his back. She climbed aboard. When he regained his footing she stood up on his back and through some unseen ability her voice carried out over the crowd. They all stopped to listen.
“Hear ye, HEAR YE! The performance is about to begin. Please make your way to the main tents. No need to shove there,” she cautioned a group of young men with a wave of her baton. “There is not a bad seat in the house and the performance will not begin until all of you are in and comfortably seated. Please avail yourselves of the refreshments being offered by our vendors.”
People moved along headed for the colorful cloth tent. It was huge, with three main peaks and massive opening to allow any kind of creature full access. There were trolls, centaurs and a pair of visiting Minotaur that appreciated the large tent flaps. Bleachers were set on three sides and the fourth was an area covered with tarps and then strewn with pillows for the creatures or folks who wants to lounge. Charles and his family took their places among the cushions so Saul could be comfortable and not have to sit alone.
There was so much going on in the three rings of the performance that Simone’s head bounced around on her shoulders like a piñata at a birthday party. There were fairies doing an elaborate flying display in one ring - their dust shimmering in the spotlights, a band of dwarves with a combination tumbling and axe throwing exhibition in another, and in the middle were centaurs, satyr, and the Pegasus with the ringmaster aboard jumping through hoops of fire and sheets of confined rain, yet coming through dry and unscathed.
The center ring’s performers changed and the Pegasus shape-shifter morphed back into the Shedu to perform a very well choreographed battle with two Manicore, Asian forest beasts with lion bodies, human looking faces, with three roses of razor sharp teeth and scaly tails tipped with a ball of poison darts which the Shedu evaded masterfully to win the fight.
Simone hid her face in Saul’s furry side while he assured her it was all right and the ‘kitty with wings’ was going to win.
There was also a rehearsed battle between Minotaur and humans dressed up in customs of Greek soldiers. The Minotaur got to win that battle too. The circus definitely leaned toward the magical beings as the superior fighters.
A wizard came out for the final act and the fairies were back to join him. He created an assortment of pyrotechnic displays including a triple, iridescent rainbow which the fairies danced through changing color with each band. Fireworks popped and exploded overhead without fear of fire, due to the magical substance involved in the process.
Once again, the ringmaster swooped in, but on the back of the Shedu this time.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will all now proceed down to the beach the food stalls are overflowing with the bounty of your community, graced with the talents of our chefs. And, for those of you who are brave enough, the dragons will be offering rides for a penny and performing the Thunder-Dance over the lake just before dusk. We’ll have the performance all wrapped up in time for you all to get home before dark.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon eating, drinking, and talking to their neighbors. Charles felt like he introduced his new wife to everyone in The Realms by the end of the day.
They were lucky that Sam, Martha and the boys joined them toward dusk, because Saul was obviously not up to the walk home and Sam offered them a ride in his wagon. Charles actually boosted the big cat up in the bed before lifting the now sleepy Simone up to Azur. Brela hopped in and Charles took a place up front with Sam as they made their way home.