Lord Desomprey watched the colorful cloaks and fanciful garb with both amusement, and some trepidation. The traveling troupe juggled, danced, and performed acrobatic feats across the bailey of Gurtenhold, passing yellow hats for donations through the gaggle of residents.

Spring had finally bloomed. With it, came the back-break of plowing and planting, the digging out of new cesspits and clearing of irrigation channels. With the better weather, more travelers made appearances before the hold's gates. Some would stay on, to take up fealty with Desomprey, cultivating new fields, and building up the village that swelled beyond the gates.

A baker, cart loaded with the pans, salts, and sacks of milled flour had sought refuge and fealty this week, looking for a fresh start. Desomprey had accepted easily, offering up an abandoned village building. The building was badly in need of restoration, due to damage from a winter end raid, courtesy of the new masters of Cornet, the nearest holding. Still, better than starting from scratch for the baker. Disomprey felt happy that the hold was attracting more than simple farmers finally. The holding was not of such a size that entertainers like these would settle. Most of them would move on to other Steadings. The trepidation came from the sheer volume of new, unknown faces this all caused. The Galactic Council's agents still searched for him. He had finally completed the assembly of a movable type printing press, and wished to introduce it in safety from discovery.

Guerre De Temps, who captained the hold's guard, motioned at one small actor, clothed in motley, at the yard's side. "Interesting, that one, my Lord."

A clot of residents gathered there, guffawing and hooting while flowers seemed to magically bloom behind a surprised guard's ears. The capering fool issued a continuous stream of limericks and jokes in a novel affected high falsetto. Ass-ears decorated the performer's skullcap, ending in bells that tinkled endlessly since the figure never seemed to stand still.

"How so?"

"Makes cunning comment of several residents quite insightfuly, but how be that, when this troop is only recently arrived?"

Disomprey shrugged, but his eyes narrowed. "I'd guess sharp eyes for details of dress and manner, scars and comportment, and a fair grasp of human nature. People in the main, suffer the same slings and arrows in life. The trick is to make the apparent seem special knowledge, or encourage people to drop clues as to their personal lives. A skill I have seen practiced before."

The fool had since moved on to juggling some colored balls.

Across the yard, a man with tosseled dark hair cast knives through a tunnel of four inch metal rings, suspended from hooks, pegging a thin wand behind them with astonishing accuracy. The black iron knives, flat and handle free, turned only once in the air, then arrowed through the rings like lightning, perhaps even sped up, before spitting the rod, all to the applause of onlookers. More betting on the act seemed to be taking place than hat passing. The display of skill seemed to bother Desomprey. "Master Guerre', Do we have any iron hoops like that?"

Detemps snorted. "Of course, Lord. But we use 'em to guide rope and such, Not practice dagger work. The chief mason has a chest full of them."

"Could you quietly ask to borrow a few, and bring them hence?" De Temps did so immediately, returning with a half dozen, which Desomprey pocketed without comment.

Meantime the Fool caused a older woman to shriek, as the jester pulled what seemed to be the woman's wedding ring out from behind her ear, then handed it back to the matron.

"I have seen that skill before as well," noted Disomprey, but mostly from pick-pockets and street thieves."

"The Fool did return the jewelry, Lord," noted Guerre De Temps, "t'were not theft, though perhaps over-clever."

Desomprey frowned, noting a pouch hanging from the Fools robe seemed to fatten over the performance, although the performer was not passing a hat. "Have the jester approach me, Guerre."

"Lord!" Guerre slammed a fist over his heart, bowed, and trotted off towards the entertainer. Ensued a few short words, during which the fool seemed everywhere around the Captain, who's scabbard belt fell inexplicably about his knees, much to the crowds delight. In retrieving it, the captain's short cape ended around the fool's shoulders. Eventually though, the two returned to Desomprey. Detemps a bit red faced in the fore, the entertainer cartwheeling behind him.

The entertainer made a sweeping bow. "My Lord?"

Desomprey smiled down at the heavily powdered face beaming before him. "From where does your troupe hail, little girl?".

The entertainers face fell. Young girls did not travel the roads of Corrant B as entertainers, or without family. "How did you guess, Lord? Please, my Lord, I only mean to make my own way in this world. I'd not wish to labor in a workhouse, or service travelers at the inns of Cornet!"

"A boy of your height and apparent age would be an uncoordinated mess, not a fluid acrobat with a gilded tongue. Also, your calves are tapered too high. Other things. I am not inexperienced with disguise. But I am not concerned with that. Answer the question."

Her shoulders tightened, "From Cornet, Lord."

"And before that?"

"I do not know, Lord, exactly. I joined the troupe in Cornet. We performed there for most of the winter."

"Not the troope, but you, personally."

"Just Cornet, please your Lord."

Jack Desomprey had not always been a resident of Corrant B, one of many lost colonial worlds that had degenerated during the isolation of the Great Hiatus. Corrant B was now classified a four, as a medieval level colonial world. Jack was a wanted man elsewhere, wanted for unsanctioned exportation of culture and technological contamination of class six through class three colonies. A non-intervention policy of the Galactic Council, with which Jack took actionable exception. The trick was, to get technology out, and circulating widely enough that it couldn't be traced back to any one person, especially Jack. The printing press would be a big help with that, and its safety from Legates of the Empire, paramount. Which meant out of sight of Imperial agents, and Desomprey had word that yet another one had come to Corrant B.

"You did not learn your trade in a few months while entertaining the bored gentry of Cornet."

A smile returned to her mask, and another even more theatrical bow followed. "Even the least of us had parents at one time, Lord, though I may be alone in the world now. The Georges were not always the rulers of Cornet. Nor is the court there healthy for all it's former denizens."

Desomprey nodded. "Well might I imagine, knowing Giffen Georges. He attacked my steading here, last winter. I thought that might be the case. I won't ask why you are fleeing, or who your sires were, but I can appreciate a person able to mask their origins, who have skills. What of the knife thrower?"

"He joined in Cornet also. Came not with the original troupe. Snoops about the taverns when not plying his act."

"Ever see him practice? Use other equipment save those rings?

"No. Nor are his skills broad in the use of cutlery, he even dines clumsily, I have seen. A one trick pony, he is, with a profound disinterest in his fellows, for all his rooting about the local's taverns for gossip, Lord. He does seem to do well making bets on his throws at the taverns howsoever."

"I see. I would challenge you to perform a small slight of hand for me."

The iron rings reappeared from Desomprey's pocket. "Were you to juggle these close to the knife-man's rings, might a few be substituted for those hanging on his line? - And bring those you change out to me?"

The girls face twisted sideways and a new grin spread there. "Would require a bit of subterfuge, and slight of hand, as well as my juggling skills Lord, but possible. What might such an act of foolery be paying?"

"A permanent position in my court until you tire of it, for one. Part of my retinue. Not necessarily as an entertainer either. I have manifold use for your skills, but for purposes of position, call it Court Fool, a sort of advisory, or devil's advocate position. No more seeking the road to escape what persecutes you."

The girl made a sober and quick nod. "I could accept that, Lord." The rings passed to her, she made her way juggling as she skipped, to where the knife thrower collected side-bets between his throws. She squatted beneath the line of rings, hers arcing high above, around and through them. Noticing, the dark haired man tried to run her off, which ended in a buffoon's chase up and down the line much to the crowds amusement.

Guerre looked on frowning. "Are you certain about this, Lord? What is the purpose of such a contretemps?"

"The Fool is more than she seems. Obvious to me, well familiar with Cornet's court. Probably a daughter of the former Jester there." Desomprey passed a small purse to Guerre. "Distribute this among your men. Have them place bets on the knife-thrower's missing his mark. The odds should be good by now."

Guerre De Temp shook is head. "As you will, my Lord."

The performer had completed his betting and returned to line up on his target when the girl returned, passing back a set of six rings.

"You were successful?"

"Oh yes, these be not the hoops you passed to me, Lord."

Jack noted a slight vibration from the rings, and putting his ring hand through the center of one, noted his heavy signet tugged to center and pulled forward. An agent of the Galactic Council. The show is a cover while he scouts for odd arrivals teaching forbidden skills, or introducing more advanced technology. Desomprey had an arrest warrant on him for such illegal introductions, and had become more careful in his work.

Things went badly for the performer, who missed his target consistently, and even the rings.Several throws bounced off them with clangs, even injuring one onlooker with a deflected cast. Eight burly guards hustled up, demanding payment at three-to-one odds, along with others of the crowd. More, apparently, than the performer had to pay out. The guards emptied his purse anyway, and cast him out of the yard, where he took to his heels followed by several angry residents waving markers.

Gurere rocked on his feet, hands behind his back. "Shame, that. A man shouldn't dice with money he doesn't have."

"Indeed. See that word travels about this luckless, unskilled fellow. Wouldn't want to find him employed by one of our unwary serfs. Oh, and if you will, have the blacksmith turn these rings into a set of horseshoes. - And procure a couple of long stakes. I've a game to show you."

Turning to the young girl, he smiled. "Welcome to Gurtenhold. I didn't ask your name, did I? You are called? --The truth now."

"Mazzy Cornet, may it please, Lord."

Despomprey nodded to himself,then leaned down near her ear. " I will see you are known just as Mazzy. I would not use Cornet, were I you. Have Gurere set you a room in the keep."



About the author


Bio: So, I write largely science fiction and fantasy, and fantasy/humor. I do novels, short stories, Serial short stories, Novellas, all that. If all goes well, I expect to be posting a good deal of both here. What else can I say? I like walks in the rain and ice cream? I sketch, play blues harp, have been known to program for fun. Gamer? Yeah, I'm a slacker. Ran Plotters of Dreams for writers before it was virtually shut down save in title by Yahoo cuts in service, for ten years and counting. Ive moderated other groups, and obviously, writing is a passion. -Want to make peoples day, send them on vacation, make them chuckle occasionally.

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