Chap. 152 The Gatha at Ruatha-the Lizard show
The air was redolent with the scent of roasting meat and fresh baked pies. The lanes between booths were crowded with people, their accents telling K’ndar they were from all over the planet.
They stopped in front of a magician, a young man semi-circled by children and adults.
“Pick a card, any card,” he said, flourishing a spread hand of cards. A young boy hesitantly pulled a card from the spread deck in his hand.
“Like this?” the boy cried, showing the card to the man. The magician laughed and accepted the card. “No, laddie, next time, DON’T let me see the card, aye? But show it to everyone else. Just not me,” he said, as he shuffled the deck. “Now let’s try again,” he said.
The child pulled a card from the proffered deck and showed it to the crowd behind him.
“The five of hammers,” K’ndar thought.
“Now put it back into the deck, lad, anywhere, I’m not going to watch,” the magician said, closing his eyes. He shuffled the deck after the card had been replaced and compacted it. Making a dramatic show of running his free hand over the back of the deck, he pulled out…the five of hammers.
“Is this your card?” he asked. The boy cried yes, yes! and the crowd clapped.
“How did he do that?” Glyena asked.
“I don’t know, Glyena,” K’ndar said, just as amazed. Something whispered in his mind, don’t ever play cards with this man.
“Come on, let’s see more!” she said, tugging on his arm.
They heard children laughing, and K’ndar caught a glimpse of a fire lizard hovering in the air.
It was Francie’s lizard show. She was in costume, of course. He could see she’d added several tricks to her performance.
Her three fire lizards wore bells with Landing’s colors and their names on them. They were lined up perpendicular to a slalom course of tall, regularly spaced pegs.
“Now, children, Keeso, Sisi and Coora are going to race each other on the pole bending race, just like we do on horseback. Ready to see them race?” she asked.
“Yes!” the children cried.
“Okay then…are you ready, my lizards?”
Coora and Keeso chittered. Sisi looked grumpy.
“Ready, set…go!” Francie cried. Coora and Keeso flew through slalom course. Sisi didn’t budge from her platform. Keeso, having completed first, landed atop the winner’s platform. Francie slipped her a treat as she turned to the other green.
“What? Sisi! Why didn’t you race?”
Francie turned her head as if hearing a tiny voice.
“What? You’re HUNGRY?”
The children watched, enthralled.
“Mebbe give her a treat!” one cried.
“But she didn’t race!” another child protested, “She just sat there!”
“Now, Sisi, you must race, the WINNER of the race gets a treat. Do you understand?” Francie said to the green.
Sisi raised her wings and shook them.
“Does she understand you?” a child asked, enchanted.
“Yes, she does, fire lizards are very intelligent,” Francie said.
“Now then, we’re going to try this again. Line up, and this time you must race, Sisi,” Francie admonished.
Turning to the children, she said, “You know what? I might need your help. I’m going to count to three, on three, I want you all to shout, “go!” Can you do that?”
One child cried, “Go!”
“Not yet, not yet, lassie!” a man cried, laughing along with the rest of the crowd.
“You hafta wait ’til she says “three”,” chided the girls’ older brother. The girl blushed.
The laughter quieted.
“Okay, now, the winner is the one who flies the course twice and lands here first. So, are you all ready to help?”
The kids all shouted, Yes!
Francie, working hard to keep from grinning, called, “One—two…THREE!”
The children shouted “GO!”
Coora and Keeso dutifully flew through the slalom course.
Sisi arrowed straight past the course, turned at the end and flew back even faster to land on the winner’s platform. She raised her wings in triumph as the others returned.
The adults in the crowd roared, the children shouting “She cheated! Ma’am, she didn’t go through the course, she just flew right past!”
Francie put her hands on her hips. “Sisi?”
“What do you mean, where’s your treat? Yes, I KNOW you got here first but you didn’t go through the course! That wasn’t fair.”
Sisi popped up into the air, then flew the course by herself. She then returned to the winner’s platform and looked expectantly for her treat.
“What am I going to do with you, you naughty little green?”
Sisi chortled at her cleverness.
Francie looked at the crowd.
“Well, now I’m perplexed, children. What should I do? Does Sisi deserve a treat?”
The children were dumbfounded. They chattered to each other and called out solutions.
“No! She didn’t race!”
“Make ’em race again!”
“But…Keeso and Coora are tired now,” Francie said, “and Sisi didn’t race fairly.”
“Hold the green back, like a handicap,” a man yelled.
“That’s a good idea,” Francie said, smiling at the man. She’d planned on saying it herself but it was always better when a member of the audience brought it up.
“Okay, we’re going to try this one more time,” she said to her fire lizards.
She held onto Sisi, and said, “Okay, children, you know what to do, now. One. Two. Three!”
The children shouted “Go!”
Coora and Keeso flew through the course. Francie released Sisi, who flew straight up. She vanished, going between and reappeared just as suddenly to land on the winner’s platform.
The crowd could not contain themselves. They roared, K’ndar and Glyena with them. So clever, Francie, so clever.
Francie shook her head.
Sisi crowed, proud of herself. Treat?
“Okay, I give up. Sisi, you go sit on your platform. No treats for cheats. We’ll go on to something else,” she said, as Coora and Keeso returned to their platforms.
“That were right clever of her, ma’am, she’s smarter than she looks,” a woman called out.
Francie nodded her head in agreement.
“They’re like kids, you know,” she said.