The mid-heat festival was in full-swing, the press of people in the streets almost unbearable, vendors shouting about their wares, people singing off-tune, water-bearers pumping small portable fountains, dousing the finely-decked crowd with water to cool it off.
Around the legs of the crowd, under the tables of the vendors, behind the backs of the water-bearers, Toka darted, her darting its own dance, her steps in rhythm with the heavy drums in the center square.
“Rub a coin,” she heard a boy tell his sister, and while they were distracted, she stole the rest of his purse. Too light. She dropped it at his feet and kept going. Throw the little fish back… and she was in a hurry, anyway. She had to see the priests.
The drum beat sped up. Bum-bum, bum-bum-bum-bum. Toka sped up. Over the water-sprayer, under the table. Around the rich man, behind the constable. Bum-bum-bum-bum, bada-bada-bada-bada. She landed in a slick patch of water and skidded, turned the skid into a controlled slide, and slipped under a goat-carriage, landing at the edge of the square, between a very rich-looking woman and her very handsome bed-warmer.
“Your honors.” She bowed, and wiggled to the ground in front of them. The nice things about the mid-heat festival was that even the finest and richest sometimes stripped down to their undertunic. One more girl in her linens was not all that remarkable – and Toka’s linens had been stolen off a very posh clotheline.
Bada-bada-bada-bada, ba-Dum-ba, ba-Dum-ba, ba-Dum-ba, ba-Dum-ba! The Priestess of Reiassanon stomped out the beat with heavy-soled shoes on the cobblestones, ending with a flourish, head bowed, arms out, green robes flapping. The priests of Tienebrah turned their buckets and fountains on the crowd, dousing the first few rows. The Priest of Veignevar stepped forward, fire in both hands, his eyes raking the crowd. He was reading the síra. He was reading the crowd. He was reading her, Toka, Gotokoya of the South Dock.
His red-tinged eyes met hers, and he nodded. A heartbeat, nothing more, and the drums thudded to their conclusion, the Red priest tossing fire in the air like juggling balls. But it had been enough. It had been what she’d come here for.
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