Welcome to the fourth short story in this collection. These are fun little peeks into the background of Mystery of the Golden Shells, which comes out on August 15th. If you missed the first three stories, you can find them here: The Scribe and the Rug, The Dresser and the Color, and The Shellfish and the Cook.
The Performer and the Faux Pas – A Mystery of the Golden Shells Short Story
Marissa kept the scarf over her face despite the stuffiness in the dining hall while she carefully lifted the scarf to sip at her water. No wine tonight, as one of the High Coast delegates stringently told them it would be insulting to be served any type of alcohol. Their negotiations for a peace deal had gone well. It was a simple matter to keep the peace.
Marissa winced as her glass touched her tender lips. After her bout with hives earlier in the day, her face still bore heavy red splotches and even the light touch hurt her skin.
She was sure the story had circulated through the castle, but it was easier to watch the performer tossing colorful balls than to notice the glances people kept shooting her. Even the High Coast delegation, two men and a woman with the green eyes common of their nation, sent sidelong looks down the table from their seats of honor on Ashwin’s far side.
Marissa stayed focused on the performer. He vaulted a chair someone had left too far out from the table and tossed one of his balls high into the air. As he landed, he held out his left leg and the ball dropped into a green-patched pocket on his thigh. For an older man, he was surprisingly agile.
His other two balls disappeared into various pockets and next he pulled a string of scarves from behind a woman’s hair. She giggled and her partner rolled his eyes.
“Did you hire him from a circus?” Vivian, the woman in the delegation, asked.
Marissa couldn’t tell if she was just curious or condescending, not without looking at her, but it sounded simply curious.
Ashwin gave a soft chuckle. “No, he’s a well-known performer who happened to be in town. My steward hired him to add variety to our evening.”
The woman hummed.
The performer came closer, his scarves whirling in a rainbow of blues and purples until he stood before the head table, close enough Marissa could smell him…and the liquor on his breath. At the same time, Ashwin grasped her hand below the table and she glanced over. He’d never looked to her for help in public before, but the look on his face now was clear.
Marissa just barely kept from glancing past him at their guests. She had to keep the performer from moving down the table, but how?
The performer suddenly reached out and snatched her scarf from her face. He probably intended to add it to his mix of blues and purples but Marissa caught his bony wrist before he could return to his performance.
She shot to her feet, still holding his arm. “How dare you!” she said, “I think we’ve seen enough from you.” And she snatched her scarf back. A gesture from Ashwin had two guards escorting the man away.
Marissa took the moment to replace her scarf, although at this point it didn’t matter, everyone had seen her. But to keep up her indignation, it seemed like the right thing to do.
“How very presumptuous of him,” Lilianna, the female delegate, muttered as conversation returned to the hall.
“Indeed,” Ashwin agreed. “We’ll have a storyteller later who might suit us all a bit better.”
He glanced at Marissa and winked as he spoke and, although he couldn’t see it, Marissa smiled, a flush warming her cheeks.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’re enjoying these stories. We’ll post the fifth one next Thursday.
P.S. Pre-orders for Mystery of the Golden Shells will open this coming Monday, August 1st!