30 January 2015 at 17:19:49 MST
And here's the result of my first group commission auction! It was a total success and I had a lot of fun working on this! Definitely there will be more in the future!
My deepest gratitude to everyone who bid for a spot in this pic!
Characters here, from left to right:
WanderingPariah's Kayin, Amethystine, Purplecat's Purplecat, Nae, Oukamiyoukai's Yerlin, LordVictor's Lord Victor and a little cameo for PlayPossum's Miska!
Amethystine was amazing enough to write a little story for this pic, which you can just read below:
The Poor Little Snake Charmer - by Amethystine
In another time, in another place, there was a city.
An ancient site of life and an age-old settlement, it is walled and it is mighty, but in this long-ago time, it is presently open and free to visitors from all walks of life, all corners of the known world.. and all species.
It is a hub of travel that sits astride a great golden harbour, the borders of this burgeoning crossroads of commerce stretching across both banks of the deep, ship-worthy waters, buildings of stunning architecture climbing the sandy hills that lay on either side of the life-bringing and livelihood-providing inlet.
Our tale takes place here, for where else could it transpire?
In a modest plaza, off the beaten path, away from the grander squares where the busiest bazaars bustle and buzz with buying and selling, we find a tree. While trees are common enough in squares like this one, this one stands out, in one way. It is a particularly large tree, valued by those who know it for its cool shade.
Today, though, someone who seems a stranger to the city, has gotten there first, and claimed a spot for herself. If the passers-by who barely noticed her seemingly snoozing form had stopped to reason out her presence, they would have realized it was far too early for one to be napping in the shade. The day was not yet nearly hot enough to require one to retreat to the leaf-roofed sanctuary of a tree such as this. Perhaps she slept there the whole night through? No matter the reason, she was there before all others, and no one thought to bother her or to join her. The sight of someone napping under a tree seemed regular enough and did not warrant investigation.
On the day went, people passing in and out of that pint-sized plaza, heading to larger attractions and markets, or simply on a daily stroll, wandering aimlessly, to see what could be seen in their fair, storied city. The humble courtyard of sorts slowly gained a few vendors, here and there, and an assortment of people chatting or relaxing in the relative coolness and quiet of that little corner of the city. People leaned on walls in the shade of buildings, sat on benches; the variety of the citizenry of the subtly sandy city was in evidence therein, as were the styles of dress. Fine silks, leather-work, cloth of all colours and kinds, textiles of any texture and tint. Flowing, breezy, light garments, for the hot, arid atmosphere of their dry landscape; outfits, which could be wound and tied tighter, cinched in the night against the cooling of their climate.
Into this variety stepped the small girl from under the tree, the most unique of all.
A mantis: crowned with antennae, covered in vaguely segmented skin, and in possession of a bulbous, sectioned 'tail' and an added pair of arms, the characteristic 'scythes' atop those uppermost limbs.
While she wore the clothes of any other young female of lesser standing and equally lesser money, her appearance was not of that region. She was starkly pale, save for pinkening around some of her extremities, such as the fingers and petal-like protrusions upon her legs and the forearms which bore her dainty hands. Otherwise, she was nearly white as snow, that crystalline substance which a great many people in this city will not have heard of, save from visitors who have come from the farthest afield. Upon her face were red markings that seemed appropriate for her aesthetic, but did not fit with the expected norms of female fashion, at least those that were known locally. Her hair was the most outlandish of all, audaciously long and flowing, and so dark, despite her fairness of skin.
She looked around appraisingly, glanced back at the tree with a slight hint of an upward look at the shade-making canopy, nodded to herself.. and set about her business.
Whatever that might come to be.
Quickly and quietly, she set about clearing people politely away from the tree, discreetly telling them she was a performer and that she would be much obliged for their cooperation in moving away and keeping the area around the tree clear; as if she had not yet had sufficient time to herself with it! She moved benches and pots, attracting attention with how this tiny girl shifted such sizable stuff. She struggled, but waved off help, almost as if making a humorous show of her efforts before what it was she would actually do in the roughly circular space around the tree that she created. Some almost thought that her vaguely clownish antics in moving the large planter-pots constituted her actual performance. They almost laughed, but had seen much richer comedies and would not be swayed by a single, strangle little lady.
Not yet, anyway.
The mantis, equally ignoring the expectant looks and the outright disregard of her presence, stepped forth to what seemed to be the head of the space, what amounted to the front of the tree, given the construction of the square around it.
Taking a deep breath, she launched into a clearly practised and honed announcement speech, for herself.
"Greetings, one and all, gentlemen and ladies, old and young, furred and scaled and feathered, horned and tailed, neither or both; I come to you from far away: from the other side of the horizon! I have travelled far and wide: to the other side of the opposite horizon! In my travels, I have honed my craft from one side of this world to the other, to ensure that what I am about to perform for you is worthy of your attention right now, and your time going forward. It will be something you have never seen before, I guarantee! Lend me naught but your ears and perhaps your eyes for the next scant few moments, and I promise you will wish to continue to share in what I have to show to you fine people of this grand city."
As she spoke, her speech garnered the usual attention: those who would always spare a moment for those brave enough to present themselves to the public at large, those who were not jaded to such speeches, and those who glanced and would have normally looked away in disinterest.. but did not, for her appearance was odd enough, sufficiently noteworthy to lend credence to her claims. She was an insect, which were not native to that region of the world. They were not unheard of, as visiting bugs had come and gone before. This mantis, though.. she was positively alien, singular, out of the ordinary.. perhaps the only orchid mantis to ever set foot within that old city's centuries-old walls.
Upon ending her proclamation, she turned sharply on her toe and marched briskly but smoothly to the tree and struck a pose that seemed to signify that the real show had, or was about to, begin.
Her position included both of her hands upon a single spot on the tree, a hole in the trunk. Smoothly, her body uncurled and one of her arms fanned out across herself in a steady, slow pace.. the speed of it measured easily by the eye, as with her moving hand came a long, thin, cylindrical implement. It seemed to grow from between her hands, as if she conjured it from nothing, betwixt her palms. It, of course, came from a space in the tree's trunk, but the effect was impressive, none the less. Those who watched were convinced, at least, to see what she might do with said pole-like item.
They did not have to wait long, as it was immediately against her lips, and she began to play what all in attendance came to know was an instrument.. a type of flute, one quite well known to them. How odd that a foreigner would choose to use such a thing. Was she making an effort to perform with something they were accustomed to, to better fit in, to join in their culture? Most believed it to be commendable, if they noted it at all.
The song began as she stepped forward, returning to the place she had made her announcement. The music swelled from a quiet dignified beginning to an enticing, curious collection of notes that drew the ear, as she entered the light at the edge of the tree's shade.
After a moment of stillness, displayed unmoving in the spot of stark sun, she began to dance to her own tune. Her hand-tipped arms were always on the flute, of course, but her legs, tail and other arms - those with the spike-lined ends - were free to flex, to twist and twine, moving to the rhythms she herself produced, in utterly perfect synchronicity.
Her hair streamed behind her in her swayings, the dark river of ink running freely from the back of her turning, slowly shaking head. The long white veil she wore under the gargantuan ponytail framed the black tresses, providing contrast for the cascading midnight silk that was her hair.
In addition to the slim and unassuming nature of the girl that made one wonder how such grand sound could be contained within; she was shapely, and dressed in a manner that - while leaving the deeper mysteries of her form intact - gave just enough clues, to entice the eye.
Regardless of the visual display, it was the music that truly amused and beguiled, made one wish to listen, to hear its next trick, slowly, seamlessly swelling to a solid sequence of sweetness, a sweeping, surging song in full soaring swing.
In from near by streets and alleyways, more came. She drew a fair crowd, given her humble stage and less than centralized venue.
The strange foreigner - this nigh unseen, unheard of bug - stunned those who focused upon the flow of her form and that which floated from her flute.
As the song went on, the gathered audience had begun to sincerely evaluate the talents of the girl. For those who had listened long enough, the pull of her performance had lost that initial spark of novelty and allure. It was unchanged, still just as sweet, but given time to stand and watch, the average citizen had time to think about what drew them close, a moment to recognize they had been mesmerized and to recover. Though the song and the songstress herself had a certain intangible power, it was not magic, after all.
Despite their realizations, the assemblage remained out of courtesy and curiosity, and considered the busker. Some of those who had been present to hear her original oratory about her act began to remember the guarantee of something they had never seen before. The more troublesome of those who remembered the aforementioned promise might have then commenced to heckle and demand to see something more, or point out that they had all seen a girl dance and play an instrument before. If such shouts had begun, the more ribald among them may have called out that her bared body would be something they had never seen before, and would rudely suggest that she show them that. The hush over the space, save for the mantid's music, saved her from such a rude and escalating interruption, if only for a short time.
Luckily, that time was enough for the potential querulous instigators to be quelled due to a new movement spotted by the more attentive attendees.
Many fingers pointed and many hands grasped nearby arms, to get the attention one's neighbour in the crowd, to show one another that the tree rustled in no winds, trembled without anyone shaking it.
The large, leaf-lined plant was seen to quiver, here and there.. branch to branch, now and again. Starting and stopping. Many eyes peered and strained to see if there was something inside it. Could there be more performers waiting to join the girl, to all play and dance in step with one another? Some monkeys awakening, or thieves stirring, having coincidentally hidden in the well known voluminousness of the tree?
Any of the assemblage who had perhaps been near to leaving, rather than listening to the whole song through, now stayed, out of curiosity for the enigma of the tree.
All the while, more people arrived, drawn in by the music, as it was still pleasantly novel. Still others came to see what had drawn such a crowd in that small square, able to see a growing throng from down adjoining alleys.
As the song neared its end, the puzzle of the tree solved itself as it quaked one last time and disgorged its unseen cargo.
Or rather, that cargo crept out, silently, but in full view of all who watched.
Even while still in the shade of the tree, the shape was unmistakeable, even though it was many times larger than the usual dimensions said shape would have been associated with.
There were numerous gasps and some shrieks, wordless utterings of alarm, and a great shuffling backward of all those closest to the 'stage' the girl utilized.
A giant serpent descended from the dark, leafy canopy, branches creaking under its obvious enormity. After surveying the area with its tongue, it crawled its hands down the trunk of the tree, winding down in a spiral to reach the ground, remaining flat on the circular small patch of dirt allotted to the tree and its roots. Some of its thick, bulky coils were gathered behind it as it flicked its dark forks in the direction of the girl who continued to play, mere feet away.
Though it had the arms that a civilized species would possess, the crowd knew that snake-people were wild tribes of primitives that could only ever be survivably contacted by other reptiles. Even then, it was risky. Moreover, the nagas they had seen or heard of were much smaller, shorter of neck, lesser of snout. All together, every person there knew in their hearts, seeing the way this massive monster moved and comported itself, it was a beast, with no knowledge of the world or people or law, nor society at large.
How was it here? What would it do?
Most of the audience was rooted to the spot in fear, or in wonder, or both. They could not look away from what seemed to be a tragedy unfurling as the grand reptile uncurled more of its mass from the tree. Its head and upper body, connected by sinuous neck, slid nearer to the ney-playing performer.
Even those who had fled backwards had not departed outright. All wished to bear witness to the possible, unthinkable misfortune of who or what might fall victim to the unfeeling, savage scaled beast. All eyes were on the girl.
Most were petrified into immobility and made mute. Those who retained control of their vocal chords tried to shout warnings, but their words died in their throats as they imagined a wall of scales lunging at them if they spoke up. Many waving hands and quiet alerts went seemingly unnoticed by the girl, her eyes closed and her song drowning out all else.
Creeping forward, the snake's progress was so gradual as to be without sound, hard to see without keeping a watchful eye upon it. The thick, dark, reddish-brown river of body behind it, dappled with gold, bunched up around the trunk as it slid soundlessly closer to the mantis. Her dance took her both farther away and once again closer to the advance of the monster, its unblinking eyes locked upon her, its head following her movements. Its snout was lifting slowly, long neck curving to have its questing, wretched tongue twisting in the air, always in her direction.
Now and then, its tooth-filled maw opened, innumerable needles lining its immense jaws. The monstrous maw did not yawn open fully, but seemed to be preparing to do so, whenever it would lunge forward, for lunch.
It did not hiss. Those who knew the nature of snakes would have been able to tell you that snakes hiss to scare or warn off unwanted attention. They do not hiss when stalking prey, lest the poor victim be alerted.
Little by little, the primitive pressed itself upward, thick, scuted chest lifting as its hands remained planted on the ground like an animal's paws. More of its body coiled up and it began to rise into the air, tight curves of its form holding it up, an obvious ophidian offensive about to occur. Its arms hung, slightly bent, clawed fingers flexed up and outward. On the girl danced and the serpent swayed to follow her, track her, seemingly waiting for her to be still, so it could strike.
By then, half the crowd had found their voices and were imploring the girl to stop, to look behind her, to run away. All of it was a chaotic clatter, a cacophony through which she played. Perhaps she was used to tough crowds?
Finally, her song and her dance ended.
Maybe much more of her would end, just then, as well.
All sound stopped as, collectively, the crowd held its breath - and the girl bowed.
She turned sharply on her toe, as if to march back to the tree as her finishing exit from her makeshift stage. The audience worried about a more final sort of exit and end, for the girl.
The mantis was face to face with the snake.
Those far enough to the side could see that they locked eyes.
Calmly, the girl closed her eyes.
A woman who was able to see as much, fainted.
The mantis, though, was not simply and serenely accepting some strange fate; she raised her instrument once more, and began a new song, and a new dance.
The snake swayed once more, with her. Its tongue flicked and the wide snout followed her flute, now that it faced the fearsome brute. Its hands lowered and its body - the portion that held its torso up, tense and ready to spring forth - relaxed. The serpent slowly settled and seemed to watch with an increasing sense of appraisal and appreciation. Its girthy loops shifted and formed for him a place to rest and watch the girl.
With the lightening of the snake's apparent demeanour and the fading of his tight predatory stance, so too did the tension of the crowd diminish. Murmuring spread swiftly through the audience.
'Is she mad?' ~ 'What's happening?' ~ 'Did her music bring out this beast?' ~ 'Did her music then also tame it?' ~ 'When she began, I was lured to listen.. but then I came to my senses.' ~ 'Much the same happened to me.' ~ 'And me!' ~ 'But the monster, the snake, it was also drawn to her!' ~ 'And.. this beast.. simple-minded as it is, her music enthrals him, utterly..?' ~ 'Yes, he cannot break free as you or I!' ~ 'It must be so, look at how he has been tamed.'
Similar conversations among groups of gathered acquaintances and total strangers occurred all over the square, all coming to the conclusion that this poor little girl had charmed the snake with her song.. and perhaps her dance, or her beauty.
Furthermore, many people noted that the space she had cleared around the tree was perfect for the beast's size and accumulated length. Had she not only confronted a monster that had appeared.. but prepared for it as well?
The way she was not shocked or scared, the people reason, was not due to her bravery alone, but because she intentionally drew down the demon from its rest in the branches, perhaps?
More and more, people realized that this tiny performer must know this serpent, must have planned it all.. it must be part of her performance.. the spectacle she had promised! The citizens who made that square their habitual hang out and who had been there from before the beginning said that she was indeed there, under the tree, since before all else had arrived.
Any and all information and speculation spread through the crowd like wildfire, all coming to know the same thing, that she had certainly tamed the beast and almost certainly had brought it there!
A new idea appeared and spread, though; the notion that she would tire soon enough and stop playing, and then what might the beast do?
As if on cue, the girl's second song came to an end, and she - who had been facing and charming the snake with a more intimate and personal show, just for it - turned her back on the feral naga.
"Fear not, fair people, you face no threat from this winding hulk. It is under my thrall, I subdue its urges and calm its heart, for I am a snake charmer, a time-honoured tradition in other lands. Of course, it is normally lesser serpents who are thus charmed, and my contemporaries are usually lizards, reptiles themselves who commune with their cousins. I was told I had a gift for music, and in my travels, I discovered this charming practice.. of charming!"
A few nervous titters from the crowd, as things settled. The snake merely lay upon its own coiled body and watched the pipe that the girl swung and gestured with as she spoke. The tail of the beast twitched as did its tongue flit, watchful as ever, perhaps waiting for another song, such was its fascination with the girl. The gathered people could only hope as much, in any case!
"I made cobras dance and vipers swing, but I was not satisfied. I sought a larger prize. As you can see, I found the largest there is. Let it be known that this serpent is known as a python, and so too is this one thus named: Python. And now I travel the world, for the country this tradition comes from tired of me, and the other charmers grew jealous of my talent.. even though it is merely what I was given, as we all are blessed with one boon or another, by the universe."
Many heads nodded, fascinated, sympathetic, curious.
"Nevertheless, I will continue, both my performance now-- and my life of taming. I hope to make a home here, if you and your lovely city will have me."
She raised the pipe to her lips once more and turned half back to the enormous and expectant serpent. Then she stopped and turned back, teasing all, people and beast alike, with the un-started song. Smiles faded slightly, the crowd did not wish to see the snake displeased..!
"Oh, and you may approach, a few at a time, slowly, if you wish to get a closer look. One person at a time may approach fully and touch and stroke the smoothest scales you will ever feel-- just do it in full view of me, and of him. Otherwise.." she trailed off.
Suddenly, pursuant to her lingering suggestive word, she rose a foot then stamped it down, both with shocking speed, surprising several in the crowd. The tiny tip of her toe caught the edge of a large basket that had been seemingly neglected in front of her, and it flipped up in front of her chest, to where she could catch it deftly with one hand. The low, dish-like basket came to rest perfectly atop her outstretched and splayed fingers, making her look like a server with no food to present.
"And finally, I wish I didn't have to mention this, but I do," she proclaimed loudly, but still hesitantly, "When you approach to see this fair Python, you might consider leaving some small token of your potential praise for my performance. Any small amount, anything you can spare, nothing is too small. I will humbly accept any offerings, so I can continue to live and entertain.. and keep my mighty monster here tamed.. and..!"
The girl paused in her plea for pennies to turn from the crowed and bend gracefully at the waist, tail curved ever-so-slightly up while she placed the basket on the ground next to the naga's coils, a short distance from its tail. As she stood once more, she played a joyful little line of notes, and seemingly by command, the serpent wound its tail around the wide, shallow, straw saucer to hold it up off the ground, tilted lightly forward with the very tip of its tail over the lip of the side that faced outward.
There was a scatted murmur of amazement at the beast's compliance with the offering basket, and a smattering of applause as the Charmer continued: "..and keep him fed. It would be all the wilder on an empty stomach, I assure you!" She ended her speech with a sweet but smirking and subtly suggestive smile about the serpent's needs and the townsfolk's need to help her fill them. Said grin vanished behind the end of her pipe as she twirled around to begin properly again.
A performer asking for tips was nothing new to the assemblage, and many were more than willing to oblige, they needed only to be reminded of the age-old ebb and flow of busking itself, for they had been so shocked as to forget that this mantis, this strange, enchanting little charmer, was at her core, still a street musician in need of patronage.
There was little encouragement needed to make one imagine that they should and would donate to the cause that was her and her Python: Such a talent! Such a show! Such an impressive beast, and made so docile! It was extraordinary, astounding!
The only problem was the actual giving.
Groups huddled together and asked one another who among them was going to give some small amount of coins.. and therefore, who would approach the beast? It became a game (as it always did), as they quickly realized that they should nominate one of their number to do the deed for all of them, and face the serpent, to give their pooled offerings.
The foolhardy or brave volunteered and did their best to look unafraid as they strode toward the snake. Meanwhile, those groups with less forthcoming members had individuals pressed into service, which were thusly pressed out in front of the crowd by their peers.
Still others dared each other to touch the serpent. Or cajole, coerce; 'I have nothing to give, but I so wish I could!' ~ 'I will give you something to donate.. if you touch it!' ~ 'No no! Just go up and give it to them, on my behalf.' ~ 'No, you!'
After the end of the initial wave of well-wishers and donation-depositors died down, a violet-furred feline female approached, bashfully asking the Charmer if she could feel the beast. Still in the midst of a song (the fourth of the performance), the mantis gently gestured with her raptorial limbs, in what seemed to be an inviting and welcoming way.
The purple cat blushed and apologized for her foolishness, asking a flutist a question while they played! She seemed flustered to be so near to the naga.
Nevertheless, she padded cautiously closer and reached out to make contact with a coil to the serpent's left. To the left of his torso, at least, which faced the Charmer, as ever.
"Oh, he IS smooth!" she murmured, blushing further, a look of wonder on her face.
There was a small break in the music as the Charmer stopped, just to tell the other girl, "They are all smooth, where he comes from.. unlike the rough sand-dwelling sorts nearer to here."
She went back to playing quickly. With the stoppage, the feline had frozen in place, frightened that she had done something wrong, or that -- wrong-doing or not -- no music would mean she would lose her hand upon the snake.
As it was, the snake's snout had swayed to be ever-so-slightly turned in the feline's direction, and his blank stare seemed like it was closer to perhaps landing upon her. She imagined, though, that unless his head turned all the way to face her, and unless his tongue lashed at her, she was being ignored in favour of the Charmer.
When nothing further happened as the song continued, the purple-furred one calmed down once more and returned to stroking the silky smoothness of the serpent.
"Such a handsome creature," the cat cooed, quietly, before adding, almost to herself, but also to the beast. "I wish I could take you home and keep you, fair Python, if I knew you to be docile at all times, and not just when under the sway of your charmer's song."
She spoke softly to the snake, knowing he would not and could not understand, as her hand ran over his golden, geometric patterning.
Gradually, the great snout swung to the left, and the searching, bifurcated tongue scented in the direction of the suddenly distressed damsel. His eyes seemed to focus on her body, which was slightly more on display than that of the Charmer's, and larger, in some aspects aside from the immediately apparent height disparity. Again, the girl froze, as she was gazed at, dumbly, by the monster.
She wasn't sure if it would be better or worse if it looked her in the eye, but it was not as a person was, it did not study faces, or gaze into eyes. It sensed heat and tasted scents and probably thought very little of the things it saw through its relatively weak eyes.
The purple pussy clung to the idea that it only moved its head, while its body and hands remained unmoving, resting haphazardly upon the coils in front of its chest.
There was a stronger trill of music and a larger flourish of movement from the Charmer-girl, and slowly the snake settled back in to gazing at her, turning once again away from the fez-clad feline. The mantis spared a kind, sympathetic look for the cat, as if to apologize for the beast's behaviour. The admirer stepped back and gazed once more at the breadth of the beast, his scales. She saw then, how in the light - which crept forward from behind her, with the angle of the sun - the Python's scales gleamed with an amethyst sheen, a subtle iridescence. She smiled at that, taking it as an omen from above. She had stared death in the face, she had seen beauty and beast at the same time, and she felt changed for it.
Feeling aflutter from her experience, the violet cat stepped carefully back around the coils of the serpent and dropped her whole money pouch into the basket with a heavy shifting of many dense coins inside. She stood nearby and pondered asking how to get to the land where snake charming was a common practise.
Just to her left, though, there was a cry and a commotion, and a white-furred form brushed past her, dancing around the mantis and causing another heavy clinking entry into the straw-lined money collection and into the economic well-being of the small girl and her snake.
Almost falling back on her slinky-tailed rump, the violet girl yelped and staggered back.. then jumped back again as ANOTHER white-furred blur rushed in front of her. She hadn't seen it coming, with her eyes trained, as ever, on the snake; both due to her fascination and her worry that the beast would be disturbed.
'What was that about?' she mused, before feeling all the more committed to travelling away from the often-times too crowded city.
Moments earlier, while the feline had cooed and caressed..
Two nobles - easily spotted from their manner of dress and how they carried themselves - had been discussing the act while walking closer.
One of the two, a cream-scaled, white-haired dragon with horn of ivory was reaching out to give his own hefty coin purse in its entirety to the girl, a magnanimous smile upon his lightly bearded muzzle. The other, a white-furred jackal in a dark tunic and light vest, was in the middle of his protest, advising his contemporary, the dragon, to desist in his donation.
"He is sure to be as smart as any of us, this is an act, a charlatan’s charade!" the jackal persisted, frowning at the over-full velvet sack smacking home loudly in the basket as the dragon dropped it.
"Yes, it IS an act, my persnickety peer: a performance!" replies the smiling scaly, still watching the nearby girl.
"No! I mean.. they are highwaymen! Rogues!" cried the frowning canine, adjusting his spectacles in annoyance. If he got much more mad, he would surely whip them off to clean them vigorously, as an outlet for this consternation.
"Highwaymen? One is clearly not a man.. and the other is certainly a girl," chuckled the big spender, who was large in size as well as in expenditure, taller than his argumentative companion.
"Argh!" grumbled the slender, blue-eyed mammal. He considered not keeping the company of the dragon any longer. He needed an entourage of servants. Short ones! He considered himself tall, and above the majority of people, and the drake he had been standing near all day long that day was annoyingly greater in stature than he. The winged reptile would not listen to reason.
"For all we know, he's from a place where all serpents are well educated, and the head of their own cities, unlike the nomadic naga tribes we know," reasoned the lordly jackal.
"Oh pish posh! Snakes in our deserts are simple because they have more body for the same amount of brain. Look at this poor Python-beast; he has all the more body and only a slightly larger head than you or I. Clearly, he is as monstrous as this fine girl says, with no brain to make him mindful as you or I, and she, is therefore deserving of a modicum of your respect," rebutted the ivory-horned noble, adding: "..and gratuity!" He eyed and subtly gestured to the other high-born's tightly sashed waist, where the white-furred one kept his daily finances. "Surely you could afford more than even I!"
Nearby, a lupine looked on, watching both the performance and the two nobles bickering.
He smirked to himself and swept his long silver hair behind his shoulder, setting out on a circuitous route around the square. He kept an eye on the snake, mantis, jackal and dragon.
This white wolf walked onward, wandering with practised aimlessness, overtly casual while stepping away from his intended destination, then silent and swift as he headed toward his target.
Arriving behind the jackal and standing a healthy, respectful distance behind the noble, the wolf listened.
The dragon was speaking, and seemed to be coming to a conclusion, what sounded like he was putting his foot down, attempting to end the tiresome argument with the disagreeable canine. "My point is, dear friend, that even if this performance lacked a true veracity, the truth of it, in the realm of theatre, was enough to be pleasing. We pay to see plays, do we not? They do not need to remind us that they are all actors and their sets not true locations. The imagined danger of this beast and the beauty who charms him, is that not a drama, in and of itself?"
The jackal, as ever, had his arms crossed, and a judgemental eye on his cohort. He looked to the snake and mantis many times.
Restless eyes, the wolf observed. He would need a distraction..
Then, as if god-granted, the cat of purple fur produced a pouch much larger than one might have expected from the simply-dressed female, and deposited it into the open-faced offering basket.
The naysayer, having been agonizing over each donation he witnessed being given, had not been able to stop himself from paying close attention to them all, no matter how it aggravated him. He saw the cat's contribution.
The jackal gawked.
The wolf moved in.
In the blink of an eye, the well-built lupine was dancing and stumbling away from 'bumping' into the nobleman, all apologies and muzzle-stretching smiles. In his haste, he bumped into the violet feline, or perhaps he wished to further sell himself as a clumsy oaf.
Then he stumbled-danced around the charmer, who was only vaguely aware of it all, focused on her beast. In the wolf's swaying path, he deposited his own pouch, and that of the jackal, whispering to the girl. "Good show, my dear.. this is courtesy of me, my friends, and all those around here who were too scared.. and a few who were too skeptical to know they should give you something."
With that, the thief twirled away, leaving behind money from perhaps half the audience, willingly given or not.
As luck would have it, the jackal felt a difference to his garments not long after the seemingly foolish wolf's passing. He cried out and ran forth to see his distinctively patterned pouch.
"Treachery!" he grumbled to himself, and reached to retrieve his riches.
There was a sour note in the still onward marching song of the charmer, just then. The jackal smirked, self-satisfied at the imperfection in the performance he had been deriding for so long.. but still focused on his bulging sack at his fingertips.
Suddenly, a loud, fearsome sibilance rang out and a heavy, huge hand landed squarely on the jackal's paw. The scaled, brown, wickedly claw-tipped extremity had impacted with the force of a stomp, the fingers splayed and unused. It was the imprecise use of a hand that a beast would engage in, the arm used like a foreleg more than anything else. The jackal reconsidered a number of things in that moment, chief among them the idea that the serpent was just acting as a massive, monstrous creature.
The lord had been so sure of himself, that he failed to make allowances for the possibility of being wrong. What might happen if you tried to innocently remove something that was yours from a basket guarded by a barely tamed and less-than-trained beast?
He was finding out, that was certain.
The jackal looked up and was treated to a harsh wind of hot, stagnant air that issued from the snake's maw, as he hissed angrily at him.
His spectacles fogged over.
Still, over the top of the lenses, the trapped noble could see a widely stretched maw, full of fang-like teeth, and behind that, an angry naga, who's body was returning swiftly to the bunched up mid-air coil that would launch the deadly strike of entwining and suffocation.
The music returned, in full force, the pipe dancing into the jackal's field of view, swinging about swiftly, but smoothly, enticing the python's eyes once more.
Slowly, the maw closed and the stomped-down hand relaxed and withdrew. Eventually, the coiled spring that was the beast's potential lunge also relaxed and re-settled, once again. The 'thief' had been spared, thanks to the Charmer. The jackal fell back onto his rear and skittered away on his hands and footpaws and ass, scuffing his fine silks and looking generally terrified.
Once he had reached what he deemed to be a safe distance away over the flat brickwork of the plaza's ground, he stood and pointed at the snake and charmer. The girl was half turned toward him, one large amber eye peering at him as she played. The ruffled rich-boy appeared ready to rant and rage, recriminations and insults bubbling up inside him.
But he just growled and spat out a wordless, grunting utterance of disgust and resignation at his defeat. There was no way he could match the monster.
Not presently, in any case.
He stalked off, much to the relief and delight of those who had been hearing him complain, and then also witnessed his misfortune and confrontation with the constrictor.
There was more murmuring and someone put forth the idea that the snake had no idea about money, so why would he have attacked. A sharp-eared viewed countered with theory that the sour note had been a signal from charmer to snake, to strike. She had apparently trained him to hold the basket, after all.
The charmer smiled subtly to herself, hearing more than one thought she might, but almost never addressing what was said. She was just a poor little snake charmer girl, after all.
As another song came to an end, there was applause, and more tips from those who had arrived late and who had been informed by others in the square as to the proper etiquette.
I would like to close, now, on the scene as it was, wherein the Charmer and her Python were a successful mainstay of that square for many months, or even years onward from that day. I would like to say that people came from all over the city.. from all over the country to see the girl perform, playing and dancing for audiences, and one particular, beastly audience, in particular.
Alas, I cannot.
For there is more story to tell, and it also happened that very same day, mere hours later.
During a break, where the girl merely swung her pipe to keep the already-subdued serpent amused, there was a great shuffling of booted feet, and clanking of armour, from all around the square. All entrances filled guards, blocking off all exits. Loud, ominous clunks were heard from the doors leading into the buildings that lined the plaza. All doors and windows locked, one had to assume.
Through the line of thickly muscled guards that held the main entrance, squeezed the slim jackal. He crossed his arms with a smug smile on his face and bellowed, "Everyone stay where you are, this is a routine seizure of stolen funds and the termination of an unsafe.. performance!"
The charmer took a step forward and seemed about to protest, but her python was already acting on his own. He 'stood' upright - as much as a naga can stand - and pointed at the jackal, who went wide-eyed behind his glasses.
"I knew he would have too many political connectionsss to treat him like a normal sssucker! That's the Sssultan'sss persssonal guard!"
Quickly, the snake - who was clearly intelligent after all, scooped up the basket with hands he plainly knew how to use as you or I, and dumped all the money into the charmer's rucksack.
The girl groaned and stomped back to the massive snake's side, reaching out to smack his coil with her ney-pipe. "Why don't you follow your own rules?" she hit him once, then once with each following, quoted word. "Don't! Break! Character! It's what you always say!"
"Alright, alright! But the game is over, little one. And besssidesss.. it'sss a bit late to go back to faking it now."
The jackal laughed and cried in triumph about how he was right all along, and how he had them trapped.
The pair ignored him.
"Come along, little lady," said the serpent, bowing to her to offer a huge hand.
With a sigh, the girl shrugged and nodded, "Fine.. this place is too hot, anyway." She laid her tiny fingers upon the gentle giant's wide palm, and he lifted her to swing her onto his back with practised ease. She wrapped her raptorial limbs around his neck and her hands held his shoulders, her legs straddling him below the chest.
"Fools! All exits are covered. You will be run through!" cried the jackal. On cue, all the guards drew their swords.
At that, the serpent vanished up the tree.
After a moment of rustling, all was still.
It was as if the pair had vanished. No eyes of the hundreds could see into the thick darkness of the canopy and say for certain if they saw the brown of branch of or fugitive.
There came a creaking, and then a great rush of motion and shaking of leaves as the coiled strike that the naga had prepared twice before that day was finally actually used, to great effect.
But did he lunge out at the lord who had brought that misfortune and military might upon them, or vengeance? Did the naga nab a random citizen, as a hostage?
He launched upward and out, toward the top of one of the shorter, nearest buildings; his charmer firmly affixed to his back - their proceeds tightly tied to her own back in her bag.
The jackal cursed and raced forward, which would have been futile at the best of times. In that particular moment, though, it was worse than useless, as he tripped over something underfoot as his eyes were locked on the image of the great snake landing with his forequarters on a roof, his long body slapping against the facade and being drawn up, rapidly.
He landed muzzle-first on the dirty stonework and had the wind knocked out of him, unable to give any order to pursue to his clueless - and somewhat bemused - troops. He rolled over, groaning and wheezing, and looked for what he might have tripped upon.
He failed to notice the glances in the direction of the smirking possum-girl who was striding away casually, moving with a few others who were already trying to go about their business.
"Ah well, I guesss that'sss it for thisss city, hmm?"
"No way! We have to try the other side of the harbour, at least!"
"What? The whole town'sss going to have heard about usss by now. Word travelsss fassst."
"Yes, and word of us being delightful rogues might help our standing."
"I don't know, I bet that noble has every guard looking for usss."
"Maybe, but they didn't seem all too quick to follow. They probably like us more than him, too. - Speaking of guards following us or not, would you please check to see if we ARE being chased, next time..? Preferably before you throw us off a rooftop into a huge bale of hay? I'm STILL picking it out of my hair."
"Oh, shush, come here and let me check your precious hair. - It looksss fine to me. And, honesstly, the bale? How could I not? It wasss jusst ssso.. conveniently placed."
"Your hair ISss free of hay, little one. ..but maybe you'd like me to check.. sssomewhere elssse? In your pantsss, perhapsss..?"
"My.. what? Oh no.. don't you dare..! What kind of a line was that?! You used to have such charming flirtations for me."
"And here I thought YOU were sssupposssed to be the charming one, dear."
"Well! I can still make your.. the snakes that you keep.. I can make them dance with just a look, can't I?"
"Hrmm.. I don't know, can you? Maybe you should try right now. I'll jussst get comfortable, you ssstart whenever you're ready."
"That'sss not exactly an alluring look you're giving me, my sssweet. You'll have to try again."
"Oh you! You're insufferable."
"You say that, but I see your smile. In any case, that's why we play at me being a mute beast, isssn't it? So you don't have to lisssten to me all day?"
"It's because you look so sweet when you're silent. - And not pretending to stalk me as prey."
"Oh? And isss there anything elssse about me when I'm quiet..?"
"Hmm, yes, you're sexy when you just watch me the way you do. And I like your beast act."
"Mmm, just like that! Keep that up and I'll try to make your snakes dance for real this time."
"Very good. I think it's just about feeding time for the beast, don't you?"
"I knew you'd agree."