“One learns there is a hook in most gifts, a binding in many benefits. One day, the line from the hook to the benefactors will be reeled.”
-Ahfoot Clairendon, of the Guild of the Platinum Wyvern
Ramsay blew out his breath, played with his amulet of good fortune, and tried not to feel too nervous. He knew that the girl could sing and that she evidently didn’t suffer from any measure of stage fright. They had already agreed that Yaz would go out on stage with Taja and start her portion of the performance together to be sure that the child knew what was going on and would start on cue. Nevertheless, something in the air was making him tense.
“Stop fidgeting,” Yasmine whispered, as the act before them performed on stage. She shot a stern look at Ramsay but extended her hand to his to calm him as they stood behind the curtain.
“Something just feels different,” Ramsay sighed, stroking his thumb over her knuckle.
She looked at him, brows rising. “Something is different than usual. We have a child performing with us today.”
“That’s not what I mean,” he muttered, feeling stupid for his worry but unable to shake the feeling, nevertheless.
Yasmine studied him briefly, her brows drawing down again. “Well, try not to fret too much. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it. Won’t we?”
He knew she didn’t just mean the performance and smiled wanly at her. “Yes, we will.” A noise outside the tent caused him to look up. “I think it’s nearly time, dear.”
“I think you’re right.” She put some finishing touches on her face paint and smiled up at him. “Aren’t you looking forward to hearing her sing again?”
“I’m looking forward to hearing both of you sing together.” Ramsay went to kiss her, paused at her lip color which he feared he might smudge, and kissed her hand instead. “All blessings, my love.”
“All blessings,” she murmured back, and squeezed his hand before rising and climbing onto the stage.
Ramsay, the odd feeling of foreboding still resonating in his brain, listened from behind the curtain as his wife’s beautiful voice intertwined with the child’s enchanting one. After a little while Yasmine dropped out, but the melody continued, the child’s voice shimmering in the air.
“Her song reminds me of sitting outside of my mother’s house as a boy,” Ramsay leaned in close to one of the performers, who was listening. “It’s as if I can smell my mother’s turtle soup.”
He glanced down to see the performer weeping at the child’s performance, wiping a tear from her own eye, and not minding his whispers. By the time the notes faded away, to the uproarious applause of the crowd, he could almost taste the soup and smell the sea breeze, and it was a shock to open his eyes to the familiar surroundings of the tent. He stirred, then opened the curtain in time to see Taja’s beatific smile as she listened to the response of the audience. He strode out to close the performance, smiling as wide as she.
Sometime later, after the last notes of the final number had echoed away, a tall, dark-haired woman stepped away from the few onlookers who were still milling about and strode toward Ramsay. He stopped closing the tent and watched her come, aware that Yasmine had also stopped working and seemed tense. The woman stopped in front of him, lifting her chin and attempting to make eye contact.
“Are you Ramsay Flynne?” she inquired. “Am I correct that you and the lady singer her are the guardians of the little girl?”
Ramsay stilled, trying not to tense up. “And who told you that?”
“One of the dancers,” she replied, an innocent ease in her voice.
Ramsay knew it had to have been Uli and cursed her for being so loose-tongued. He took a deep breath and glanced over his shoulder at Yasmine. She raised one eyebrow, shrugging. He nodded, then turned back to the woman and forced a smile. “Well, how may we help you?”
The woman’s eyes filled with tears. “You understand, don’t you, how incredible she is? The moment her song touched my ears, my heart opened, and I remembered, clear as day, the very hour I met my late husband by the sea.” Her chin quivered, a tear trickling down her cheek. “I had not been able to recall his face for years, and yet there it was, hanging in the air before me. As if he, himself, were standing there!”
Ramsay swallowed, allowing himself a faint nod. “I felt something similar. I was at mother’s house, eating turtle soup…” The sound of Yasmine’s stepping beside him brought him up short.
“I don’t mean to disrespect, milady,” Yasmine’s voice had a sharp, hard edge to it that made Ramsay flinch, “but may we ask your name?”
Ramsay frowned at his wife, blinked at the expression on her face, then looked closer at the stranger. Sure enough, there were subtle signs of wealth on her person that he had miss – real wealth, the kind that didn’t need to show off. Small expensive baubles accented clothing of visibly high quality.
A bangle flashed as the woman ducked her head slightly before tucking some hair behind her ear. “Oh – I’m sorry. My name is Ranseur, Tarot Ranseur.”
Yasmine’s expression softened, a faint smile starting across her face. “And how is it we may be of assistance, Lady Tarot Ranseur?”
Taja interrupted the lady’s response by erupting out of a nearby tent, dashing over to Yasmine and flinging her arms around her waist, her face wreathed with a happy smile. She hugged Yasmine tightly, then smiled up at Tarot who was staring down at her in amazement.
“Hello,” Ranseur cooed as she knelt, and briefly petted the girl’s hair. “Thank you so much for singing for us tonight, little angel.”
Taja’s entire face lit up as she beamed a joyous smile back.
Ranseur straightened abruptly, tears flowing down her face. “I…I cannot let his opportunity go. I wish to offer my help. As a benefactor to the Symphony of Dreams. This little one’s talent cannot go unheard by the world.”
Ramsay’s eyebrows shot up. “My lady, we haven’t had a true patron since before the days of my father.” He looked at Yasmine – she, too, appeared stunned.
“Are you sure, milady?” Yasmine asked, with an unsure look. “All for Taja, when you’ve only heard her sing one time?”
“Yaz,” Ramsay turned a stern eye to his wife. Part of him could have kicked her for looking a gift horse in the mouth.
“One time was all I needed,” Ranseur replied, smiling down at Taja. She looked away from Ramsay and to Taja again. With a few words in a language that Ramsay did not understand, the woman hands began to glow.
He gasped. Magic!
The golden wisps of light from Ranseur’s fingertips swirled, followed by a slight crackle in the air. The conjuration spun quickly and within a second, a live golden bird appeared in her hand.
Taja’s eyes widened, and the lady offered her the bird. The bird jumped from her hand into the awaiting palm of Taja, whose smile only broadened.
“Milady,” Ramsay said, his voice quivering. “What manner of person are you? I’ve seen many acts, many performers in my day. But your trick seemed like real magic.”
“My dear Ramsay, it is,” she replied.
He smiled, still not sure of what he’d seen, and couldn’t help but giggle. “We accept,” came out of his mouth before he realized what he was saying. “Thank you, milady. We, and Taja, and the whole Symphony, would be grateful for your help.”
“Wonderful!” cried Ranseur and clapped her hands.