Balleck had carried his poi—chains with the weighted ends tightly wrapped wicking–with him all the way from the circus caravan. “You never know when you might need a diversion,” he winked, holding the poi while I used the flint from my daggers to light them. He had soaked them in kerosene from a lamp in the day laborers’ hall and the poi sprang to life with a gentle froosh. Most of the circus women, and the girls from Gillenwater, had followed us from the hall to watch.
Picking up the slender chains Balleck spun the weights till the fire looked like golden wheels. The wheels danced, interlaced, twisted and came apart again. I could see the world falling away from him; he seemed to forget about me as he moved with the fire, bending and turning and leaping like a flame himself. The rest of the circus people trickled out of the hall. Olena came to stand beside me, I put an arm around her shoulders. Balleck spun the flames in a fury of motion, between his hands like a potter’s pot, then arching around himself until it looked like he would be consumed.
Balleck ended with a backflip, the fire trailing from his hands stilled and, as if waking from a stupor, he noticed just how large his audience had gotten. He bowed deeply while his colleagues clapped. Seeing Olena with me, he came over and offered Olena the poi.
Hesitantly, Olena accepted them. With Balleck’s encouragement, she stepped out and gave the poi a test spin. The weights performed. She spun the other poi, then took another step or two and sunk into a deep lunge. Now the poi swept up in an arc and the red haired Olena followed them into a leap. The other circus women gave hoots of delight as Olena, too, threw herself into the fire dance. All her considerable skill came out as the poi danced at her bidding, as she danced, too. I stole a look at Balleck and noticed tears in his eyes as he watched his cousin. I wondered if he felt as I did—torn by a thousand emotions. Our parting, Olena’s ordeal, and even this bright moment of restoration all threatened to overwhelm. Balleck caught me looking at him—my ears turned red and he reached out and squeezed my hand. I quickly looked away before tears could escape my eyes, too.
Olena finished with her back to us, the poi spinning slower and slower until they stilled. The circus women cheered. I could feel the hope in their cheer—Olena had found herself again, so there was hope for each of them. Olena drew a deep breath and then faced us. She dipped her head shyly, like a child who has been caught singing when she was alone. Balleck walked out to her and folded her into his arms.
The crowd dissolved, some went back into the laborers’ hall, others lingered in clusters outside—a few started stretching. I imagined they were testing themselves, to see if they still were who they remembered.
That would suffice for my fire spinning lesson. Turning to go, I smiled my goodbyes to the few who noticed my departure and hurried off to find my brothers. There were preparations to be made, not the least of which finding something along the lines of armor. Our plan was on the wilder side, but at least this time there was a plan.
I hadn’t gone far down the lane when Jemin fell in step beside me. I looked at him in surprise, “Jemin! Hasn’t Quill got you busy?”
The bearded soldier laughed, “He has, he told me to watch over you.”
“Oh, of course,” I felt silly. Naturally. “Well, it’s good to see you again.”
“Thank you, milady,” replied Jemin, still smiling.
“Do you know where they are?” I asked, gesturing vaguely at the little dirt road and the surrounding fields and trees.
“I have an idea.” Jemin picked up the pace and I followed him at a trot along the dirt path until we came a large barn which had an entire side open to the air. Inside were huge wooden crates, stacked neatly. Also inside were ten of Quill’s men, along with Quill and my brothers. My brothers were outfitted with whatever bits of armor Quill’s men had spare, and were openly wearing their swords. They had one of the crates open and were pulling swaths of gauzy white material out of it.
They greeted me as I approached.
“Ironsides has taken his sons and gone to survey his fields and orchards,” said Namal, “Most of his servants have been given the day off or instructed to teach the circus women some tasks around the grounds so he can explain their presence if he has to.”
“That explains why I haven’t seen hardly anyone around.” I stepped closer to the crate to finger the cloth, though it was so thin it scarcely deserved the word.
“It’s for protecting fruit trees from pests,” explained Quill, sensing my question.
“It’s perfect,” I replied.
“Zare, try these on,” Ayglos tossed me a handful of hard leather.
Catching the bundle, I examined it, finding a pair of bracers, boots, leather breeches, and a leather jerkin that looked as though it had been folded for a very long time and just recently oiled. “Thank you.”
“I think the jerkin belonged to Ironsides when he was a boy,” said Ayglos apologetically. “Do you want to go back to the house to try them on?”
“I can just go around the crates to that corner,” I pointed with my chin. Months of living on the road had done much to change my sensibilities. Ayglos didn’t argue and I ducked around the corner between some crates and began shucking my shoes and trousers. I slipped into the leather breeches with some difficulty. They were newly oiled, but still a touch stiff with age like the jerkin. They fit well enough, and I was grateful to have them. Next were the boots. They were a little too big so I stuffed grass in the toes. The jerkin and bracers I applied over my blue shirt and it took a bit of fussing to get everything arranged properly. The final touch was belting on my daggers again. I twisted and kicked, testing out the motion of my new garb. That would do. I felt a smile. It was not as nice an ensemble as I’d had in Galhara, but it was closer than I’d been in a long while. The leather gear would offer more protection than the cotton, and every little bit helped. Gathering up my trousers and shoes I headed back to join the men.