Petra, the Great

Petra of the Shazastar is a thief on the run from an unforgettable past. But, like all thieves, her luck cannot last forever. When she is caught, she’s given a choice: either face execution or become the fortune teller to the Mad Queen.

Not surprisingly, Petra chooses to live. But life as a fortune-teller is not easy, especially when those fortune telling abilities are virtually nonexistent. To ensure her continued survival Petra puts on show after convincing show. So focused on predicting the future, she does not see her past creeping up on her.

With her life threatened once more, Petra is faced with a choice worse than the one she made with the Queen –

And a fate worse than death.

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1. 'A Dance in the Piazza'

Chapter One

"Hang him, swaggering rascal!"

-Henry IV

 

WHAT IS A RAINBOW, BUT a deception of the mind; here but not really here, there but not really there. I am an honest liar, just as a rainbow is an honest lie. It must deceive in order to exist as I must deceive in order to survive.

As I walk about the market towards the piazza, I too am here but not really here. Disguised by crowds of market goers, I too am there but not really there. With a quick hand I steal the bag of earnings from the fruit man. He does not notice my sleight of hand, too distracted by my smile and the coin I pay into his outstretched palm. He thinks me an honest maiden, paying him for an apple as red as the blood of a freshly slaughtered lamb. Before the fruit vendor could think anything is amiss, I dissolve into the crowds - gone, just like a rainbow when the rains begin to fall.

I bite into my stolen apple and let the waves of eager town's people push me further still, until I stand before the condemned. I recognize the poor fool in front of me as Vanecio, the latest of the Mad Queen's fortune tellers. He is an ugly man and although my Grams has often told me to never trust a beautiful face, I do not think I could trust an ugly one such as Vanecio's either. He quivers as if he is in the midst of winter and not standing beneath the blistering sun and illusionary rainbow. The executioner ties the rope around Vanecio's neck and I cringe as the smell of excrement ripens the air around me.

One would think Vanecio il Magnifico would have seen this coming.

I take another bite of my apple. I do not have to be a magician to stay a few steps ahead of the Mad Queen and her guards, but if I am to ever get caught and executed, I wish it would be on a day in which the weather is miserable, so those who come to see me dance the devil's jig would not enjoy it.

The sky will have to be gray with the tears of all those caught before me. The clouds will pour down the sadness of every fraud, thief and criminal, for I - Petra of the Shazastar- was to die and never thieve another day.

"Execute the fraud!" come the calls from those around me and for a moment I believe they are shouting at me.

"Farlo ballare! Make him dance!"

My heart steadies and I laugh. Only in the kingdom of Florentia are people thirsty for the blood of non-witches.

"No! No! I am not a fraud! Idiots! I do have magic!" Vanecio cries.

What is the use of magic if not to aid in situations such as these? I shrug and turn away from Vanecio's losing battle.

"Then disappear!"

"I cannot just disappear!" Vanecio exclaims, his voice dripping with despair.

"And neither can you tell fortunes."

The cool comment comes from up high in the palazzo balcony where the Mad Queen Meridian de Luca sits with her nephew, Giovanni de Luca.

Swarthy with sharp features, he is the sort of man my Grams has warned me to stay away from. Not only because de Luca is the captain of the guard, but according to my Grams trusting a beautiful face is like believing in a mirage.

Giovanni shrugs. "I will give you one more chance to prove yourself. Tell us what is to happen next."

I turn around to face Vanecio. The shamed fortune teller's face blanches, yet he has enough hope to sheepishly ask, "You will set me free, Signore?"

Silence flows throughout the piazza, stilling the air with gleeful anticipation. Will Giovanni de Luca, the orneriest man on the face of the land- will he let poor Vanecio go?

It does not take a fortune teller to know that answer. I turn and walk away from the execution stand. The collective gasp from those around me is more than enough to let me know that Vanecio met his fate.

And as I run straight into the meaty potbelly of Fat Pete, I know that I have met mine.

It is far too crowded for me to run away before the simpleton recognizes me. I hate the feeling of too many people around me. It disorients me and I cannot think clearly enough to get away. I keep my head low as I back away from Fat Pete, but fortune is not on my or Vanecio's side this day, for he grabs my hood and pulls me up to his face.

"'Ello, Poppet." His pudgy face is even more disgusting up close and his breath - I would rather turn myself in to De Luca and dance alongside Vanecio a thousand times. "Fancy seeing you here."

I try to wiggle out of my cloak, but the fat man has an unrelenting grip on me, as if I am his midafternoon meal.

"A girl cannot enjoy a good execution, Fat Pete? I was coming by your shop by the way."

The agreement I have with Fat Pete is that he pawns my stolen goods and I pay him for keeping his mouth shut. The only problem is that I have fallen back on my payments and Fat Pete is as greedy as he is hungry.

He shakes his ginormous head and smiles a horrid rotting yellow grin.

"No, Love. See this?"

He unfurls a parchment and points at the drawing and the number figure below it.

It is a picture of me: dark hair, dark eyes, and an overconfident smirk.

Wanted. Alive. Award 500 Florentines.

Only five-hundred? I am unimpressed by the amount, but then another thought hits me. I have only been in Florentia a few months - how did the guard get such a detailed picture of me? Word must travel faster than I do. I scroll down to the bottom of the parchment and what I read makes me go cold.

Wanted for trans-Kingdom espionage.

Espionage? As in spy?

The Florentian guards believe I am a spy? I slowly look up from the paper to Fat Pete's face. I do not believe that anything could be worse than looking at that horrid man but at this moment as I look up from the parchment, I would have kissed him for my freedom.

He smiles even wider and says, "Looks like we're getting two executions this fine morning."

No.

I cannot be caught. I am illusive like the rainbow. I look up to the sky. Grey and somber, a sky filled with heavy clouds. Frantically I search for the sun, but it is as if it was never there.

Fat Pete throws me to the ground and I know that it is all over for me; for if the Florentians hang people for being fortune telling frauds, I do not want to think of what they do to spies.

 

 

 

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