Sorry about the pun. It was inadvertent.
And so I danced for them. I’d been a little nervous about dancing in public – I think it’s called ‘stage-fright’ by professional performers – but once I began to dance, the nervousness translated itself into a heightened excitement, and I danced far better than I had during those long hours of practice. There’s nothing like an audience to encourage one to do one’s best. I may not have turned their bones to water, but I’m sure I softened a few.
There was a stunned silence when I concluded my performance with that outrageous strut. I owned this crowd! The applause and cheering were absolutely deafening, and Rasak didn’t even bother to put the question to a vote. He paid up without so much as a whimper.
I danced frequently after that. Gallak, who always kept his eye on the main chance, saw a way to use my gifts during his business dealings. ‘Why don’t we have Polanna dance for us while you mull over my offer?’ began cropping up rather frequently during assorted negotiations.
It was probably inevitable, given the fact that most of my performances took place in taverns, that sooner or later I’d have to demonstrate my willingness to actually use my knives to remind some spectator that he was supposed to keep his hands to himself. Gallak had been negotiating with a wall-eyed fellow named Kreblar, and their haggling had reached an impasse. That’s when Gallak drew his weapon of choice – me. He’d grown very skilled at inserting me into his business negotiations by then, so his suggestion that I dance for them and the other patrons of the tavern where they’d been negotiating was smoothly slipped into the conversation. Kreblar had drunk a few too many tankards of the fruity Nadrak ale by then, and he seemed to assume that I was dancing for him alone.
It was at the conclusion of my dance when I was strutting back to the table where the three of us were seated that he stepped across the line. His off-center eye was gleaming in the general direction of the far wall, and he roughly seized my arm. There’s a good girl!’ he half-bellowed. ‘Come on now, give us a kiss!’ and he began to paw at me.
My training as a surgeon was very helpful at that point. I brought my knee up sharply and caught him on the point of the chin with it even as I drew my knife out of my boot-top. His head snapped back, but I ignored his exposed throat and neatly sliced him across the chest instead, reasoning that his ribs would keep my knife edge from going too deep.
His squeal was piercing, and he gaped down in horror at the blood gushing through the neat gash I’d just sliced through his shirt. ‘You mustn’t do that, you know,’ I chided him, not even bothering to raise my voice. I wiped my knife clean on his shirt collar, slipped it back into its sheath, and then I looked around at the other tavern patrons. ‘Does anybody here happen to have a needle and thread?’ I asked them. ‘We’ll all be wading in blood if I don’t sew poor Kreblar here back together.’
A cobbler provided what I needed, and I had Gallak and three or four others stretch Kreblar back over the table and hold him down. Then, humming softly to myself, I neatly stitched up the gash that ran from armpit to armpit across Kreblar’s chest, ignoring his squeals.
I’m not sure exactly why, but I think the sewing chilled the blood of the onlookers far more than the gashing had. People are funny sometimes.
In time, my fame spread in Yar Nadrak, and as I’d more or less anticipated, Gallak finally received an invitation to ‘stop by the palace, and bring Polanna with you’. My hours of practice and those public performances had finally paid off.
King Drosta’s palace was in the center of Yar Nadrak, and as closely as I was able to determine, it was the only stone building in the entire city. Nadraks, however, aren’t very good at working with stone, so the palace was as lopsided as were all the other buildings in town. When Gallak and I entered the throne-room, I saw there the only Grolim I encountered during my entire stay. I warily sent an inquiring thought toward his mind and discovered that he didn’t really have one. He was a Grolim, right enough, but he was only marginally talented, and as nearly as I could determine, he hadn’t drawn a sober breath in the past ten years. Torak’s hold on the Nadraks was tenuous, to say the very least.
King Drosta was rather young to be occupying a throne, and he appeared to feel that his major responsibility was to enjoy himself. He was thin to the point of emaciation, and his face was splotched with angry purple eruptions and deeply indented scars. His hair was coarse, black, and rather sparse, and his obviously expensive yellow clothing was none too clean.
Since being presented at court is a formal occasion, I was wearing my chain, and Gallak led me around by it in the socially approved manner. I wore my dancing costume, which was more or less concealed beneath a blue outer dress. Gallak led me up to the foot of the throne, and when we got there, he bowed to his king. ‘My name’s Gallak, your Majesty,’ he said. ‘You sent for me?’
‘Ah, there you are, Gallak,’ Drosta replied in a shrill, almost hysterical voice. ‘We’ve been waiting for you.’ Then he eyed me up and down, and his look was insultingly obvious. ‘So this is the famous Polanna,’ he said. ‘She’s a looker, isn’t she?’ He giggled nervously. ‘Would you like to sell her, Gallak?’
‘Ah – no, your Majesty,’ Gallak replied. ‘I don’t think so.’ I thought that was a wise decision, since Gallak was only a chain’s length away from my daggers.
‘Maybe you might want to rent her to me then.’ Drosta seemed to think that was funny because he laughed uproariously.
That would be my decision, Drosta,’ I told him coldly, ‘and I doubt that you’ve got enough money.’
‘Proud of yourself, aren’t you?’ he said.
‘I know how much I’m worth,’ I said, shrugging.
They tell me you’re a dancer.’
They weren’t wrong.’
‘Are you a good dancer?’
The best you’ll ever see.’ Modesty’s not a Nadrak virtue, but that remark probably even exceeded ordinary Nadrak boastfulness.
‘You’ll have to prove that to me, Polanna.’
‘Whenever you wish, Drosta. Before we start, though, maybe you should look at these.’ I reached inside my dress, drew out my daggers, and showed them to him.
‘Are you threatening me?’ he demanded, his eyes bulging out even further.
‘It wasn’t intended as a threat, Drosta – just a statement of fact. This is what’ll happen to you if your appreciation gets the better of you.’