Casket of Souls
the black ships, a caul-shrouded babe was born deep in the wilderness of the eastern mountains,” he intoned, his voice deep and resonant. On the stage behind him, a girl in a tattered gown and veil writhed and cried out on the boards, then pulled a painted doll from beneath her skirts, its face covered with a veil.
“There aren’t any eastern mountains in Mycena,” Alec whispered.
“Dramatic license,” Seregil murmured back with a smile.
The narrator continued. “And when the caul was lifted,eyes like gems of ice did steal the very breath from his mother’s lips before she could give suck.”
The girl expired with a groan. Someone offstage did a credible job mimicking a baby’s crying. Then an older actress draped in a fusty bearskin shuffled out and gathered up the doll, rocking it in her arms.
“A she-bear found the babe and suckled it as her own until a huntsman struck her down.”
An older man with grizzled grey curls leapt onstage with a crude lance and mimed running the bear through. When she expired, the man peeled the skin off her and wrapped the doll in the edge of it.
“The huntsman wrapped the child in the pelt of the she-bear that had nursed him and took him back to his wife,” the narrator went on. There was no chorus, but he already had the crowd spellbound.
Despite the raggedness of his costume, the tall narrator commanded the stage as well as any player Seregil had seen at the Tirari this season.
The hunter walked around the edge of the stage, while the woman who’d played the bear took her place on the far side in a different veil and held out her arms to the child. Together the couple walked offstage.
“The baby grew to child, and child to youth, known to all as Auron the Bear’s Child.”
The narrator disappeared; apparently this pantomime had only been a prelude. Now the actors took over, and they were indeed very good—far too good for a place like this.
The young Auron soon revealed an unfortunate power to kill his playfellows with an angry look. At the end of the first act, ill-starred Auron reached manhood, in the form of a strikingly handsome man with wavy auburn hair.
“Well, well, who do we have here?” Kylith murmured, leaning forward for a better look at the newcomer. Her tastes ran to actors as well as officers and nobles.
Over the course of the next two acts, Auron’s fortunes rose to great heights due to his dark powers and prowess with his sword. He ended up as a tyrant king, but in the end he slew his beloved and very beautiful wife and children in a fit ofjealousy, turning the fatal gaze on them, then ended his own life by looking at his own image in the polished surface of a shield belonging to a younger hero—the actor who’d played the young Auron—who’d come to avenge them. Somehow, even with their ragged costumes and overlapping roles, the cast managed to maintain a veracity that impressed Seregil, who knew a thing or two about working in costume.
When it was over, people were weeping and applauding and tossing handkerchiefs and coins to the actors as they assembled to take their bows.
“I must say, I’m impressed!” said Malthus.
“Come along,” Kylith said, standing and smoothing her skirts. “I want to speak with the players before that fool Nyanis gets to them.”
The crowd parted for them as Kylith led the way down to the stage. Two little boys who’d played Auron’s sons were still picking up the favors thrown by the crowd.
“Lady Kylith would like to speak with the master of the company,” Duke Malthus told them, distributing a few coins of his own.
One of the boys made them a bobbing bow and ran backstage. A moment later the entire cast came back and bowed to them again. There were ten in all: the handsome auburn-haired lead actor, the grey-haired man and older woman, the lovely black-haired woman who’d played Auron’s wife, the tall narrator, a teenage boy and girl who appeared to be twins, and three young children—two boys and a red-haired little girl—who rode on the narrator’s shoulder.
Up close, their costumes looked even more threadbare, their stage paint little more than chalk and charcoal. Still, to Seregil’s practiced eye, they’d made skillful use of what they had.
Kylith smiled up at the tall man. “My compliments to you and your fine company.”
But it was the man who’d played Auron who bowed with an elegant gesture. His eyes were the same dark blue as Alec’s. “You are most kind,
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