Casket of Souls
gracious lady. Master Atre, lately of Nanta, at your service. May I present the company?”
“This tall fellow is Brader, and this is Merina, his wife.” The black-haired beauty who’d played Auron’s wife curtsied to them.
“My daughter Ela,” Brader told them, patting the little girl on the leg. “And those two rascals are ours, as well: Kalin and Van.” The two youngest boys who’d played Auron’s sons made them expert bows, with an actor’s poise even at their ages. They had their mother’s dark hair and eyes.
“And this is Master Zell and his wife, Mistress Leea.” The old hunter and his wife bowed. “They are Merina’s parents and actors of great renown in Mycena. Our twins complete our little company: Teibo and Tanni.” The boy had played both young Auron and the young hero who’d killed Atre at the end of the play. Tanni had been Auron’s mother. Both were lithe and shared the same high cheekbones and brown hair and eyes.
Seregil made the introductions for his friends.
Atre’s eyes widened. “We are honored to have such nobles attend our humble performance! I must apologize for our lowly state and poor showing.”
“You’re far too modest,” said Seregil. Behind the man’s fawning smile he sensed a sharp mind already wondering how to best capitalize on this bit of luck.
“It pains me to see great talent in such poor estate.” Taking out her silk purse, Kylith gave it to the actor unopened and Seregil heard the mellow clink of gold. She gave Merina a ring from her finger and a kiss, then turned to the rest of her friends. “Come along now, talent must be rewarded! You, too, Nyanis.” She waved over the other lord and his guests.
Seregil and the others could hardly refuse, and Brader and his wife had to help collect the money—quite a bit of it gold.
“And how did you fare in Nanta, Master Atre?” she asked. “I suppose you had your own theater?”
“We did, my lady, until the soldiers burned it to the ground. As you can see, we lost everything. Four of our players were killed. The rest of us barely escaped.”
“I hope our contributions tonight help you. I look forward to seeing more of your performances.”
Atre took her proffered hand and kissed it reverently. “You will always have a place of honor in our theater, my lady.”
“That was a more expensive evening than I’d anticipated,” Seregil murmured, pretending to be piqued as they took their leave of Malthus and his wife, and followed Kylith and Ysmay out to find their carriage. “I think, between us, we gave him enough to buy the wretched place.”
“You can certainly afford it,” Kylith said with a laugh. “And admit it, you were transfixed.”
“They were very good,” said Alec.
Seregil glanced around as they waited for the carriage to make its way to them through the departing crowd. There wasn’t a link boy in sight, what street lanterns there were in this part of town were only sporadically lit, and the hazy gold half-moon didn’t cast much light. Emboldened, a knot of ne’er-do-wells lurked on a nearby dark corner like wolves waiting to pick off stragglers from the herd. Their numbers had increased over the summer—thieves, footpads, even gate runners emerging from their sewer kingdoms at night—and they were becoming more brazen. It was getting to be an annoyance.
The carriage rumbled up at last. The page followed behind, leading Cynril and Windrunner. The footman jumped down and held the carriage door open for his mistresses. Kylith held out her hand to Alec and Seregil.
“Are you sure you two won’t join us at Duke Laneus’s for supper? He’ll be so disappointed. He’s been wanting to meet the handsome young men I talk so much about.”
“Please give him our regrets,” Seregil replied, kissing her cheek. “We have a long journey tomorrow.”
“But we’ll see you all at my party in a few weeks, won’t we?” asked Alec, kissing her good-bye.
“I hope before that!” she exclaimed. “Perhaps you could ask Atre and his players to be part of the entertainment.”
Seregil laughed. “So you’re already their patron?”
She settled back on the velvet seat and winked at him. “I know talent when I see it. Perhaps not all of them, but that fellow Atre, at least, could go far in this city.”
Mounting their horses, he and Alec rode beside the carriage down the Street of the Sheaf, the broad thoroughfare that bisected the city, and bade her and her
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