A/N: I know this story has been told many times here on fanfiction, but it's such a great tale that I had to write my own version. I have strayed from some of the details given in Inkspell (Roxane doesn't take Dustfinger to the fairies, etc.), but I hope you enjoy it.- SG
There Could be Few Men
by Sauron Gorthaur
There could be few men whose love for a woman had been written on his face with a knife.
– Inkspell –
Chapter 1: Minstrel and Fire-eater
It was the colors she loved the most, the brilliant colors that cascaded over her as she stepped through the castle doors. Banners, tablecloths, and, of course, the costumes of the Motley Folk surrounded her, each shining with its own beautiful color. They mingled with the music and delicious smells, making Roxane want to lose herself in the glory of that hall.
She stepped out from the doorway and wound her way through the people, allowing all her senses to soak in the gaiety. The nobles of Ombra were sitting at the tables, talking loudly and laughing while the Motley Folk who would perform were practicing their individual skills. Roxane stopped to watch a tightrope walker dressed in sky blue balancing on a pole. The man smiled at her when he noticed her watching and she smiled back. She always received lots of smiles, especially from the men.
Her eyes darted to and fro, trying to take everything in. A fire-eater in traditional red and black was making flames dance on his fingers and a minstrel woman like herself was singing softly to the sound of a lyre. Every once in a while she saw a familiar face, but most were strangers, so she did not stop to talk, but meandered towards the opposite end of the huge main hall in Castle Ombra.
There were less people over on that end away from the long tables were the nobles sat. She would seek out her own private nook where she could practice the dance and song she would perform tonight. However, before she reached the corner, something caught her eye.
Evidently, she was not the only one who preferred room to practice, away from the pushing bodies and loud voices. A single man had stowed himself away in the corner and was warming up for his performance. Literally. For the man was a fire-eater, dressed in red and black, juggling five lit torches. In itself there was nothing at all noteworthy about it – Roxane had seen fire-eaters who could juggle twice as many torches – but the ease with which the man tossed up the torches and caught them again was what made her stop. And the man was catching them, not by the wooden side, but by the lit side. The fire streaked up his arms, but showed no signs of harming him in any way. His head was slightly bent, so that his long, gingery hair fell over his face and she could not see it.
As she stood, entranced by the strange sight, a small, furry animal popped out of the fire-eater's bag and chattered at her loudly. The fire-eater looked up and his eyes met Roxane's, but he never missed a single torch. He smiled at her, but his smile was different than all the others. It was mysterious and full of secrets. Roxane blushed and quickly turned.
The Motley Folk were scorned in some lands, but no one could put on a performance such as theirs. Roxane waited for her turn and watched with admiration as various performers did their assorted tricks. However, her eyes kept scanning the crowd, looking for that one fire-eater and hoping that he would be performing tonight. Her own turn came and she dazzled the nobles with her graceful dancing and lovely singing. A storm of applause greeted the end and she sat down well pleased.
Finally, a lull came in the performances and for one disappointing moment, Roxane thought it was over, but then a murmur ran through the crowd. "Fire-dancer. The Fire-dancer is going to perform." And then, she felt her heart beat wildly as the fire-eater stepped up onto the platform.
No words could describe that dance. Roxane thought that it was the most wild and dangerous thing she had ever seen for the man seemed to be wreathed in fire constantly, but it never harmed him. Instead, it obeyed him, leapt with him, allowed him to shape it. The fire-eater spoke to it with strange words and it answered with coiling flames. Roxane had seen many fire-eaters, but not one came even close to comparing with this one.
At one word, the flames vanished and the man stood in the middle of the hall, unharmed, without even a singed hair. He bowed and the people went wild, cheering and clapping madly. Roxane joined in, clapping as hard as she could to show her admiration for the Fire-dancer.
His was the last act of the night and the Motley Folk went about the business of packing up, although many stopped to eat and talk with the people of Ombra. Winding once more through the crowd, Roxane headed for the door although now she kept glancing around, hoping to see the fire-eater. At last she spotted him, standing near the door with his backpack over one shoulder. The Black Prince, whom any of the Motley Folk would recognize on sight, was standing by him and both were laughing at some private joke. The Black Prince put a hand on the fire-eater's shoulder and spoke quietly but merrily, obviously telling some story.
Roxane had not realized she was gaping until the Black Prince looked up and saw her. He grinned and pulled his companion's sleeve, purposefully speaking in a voice that Roxane could hear. "Well, look you here, Dustfinger. I think you have an admirer, for surely it is not I whom she has come to stare at."
Roxane stood rooted to the spot, blushing at having been so caught, as Dustfinger stepped towards her, smiling that impenetrable smile. His voice was warm as if his fire had somehow got into it. "Ah, the minstrel. You are quite the dancer, I must say, and your voice would charm birds, I think."
Roxane glanced down, but smiled. "It is a good thing you went last. Otherwise, our poor acts would have been put to shame. I have never seen one of your trade who was so skilled."
This caused Dustfinger to laugh. "Oh, it's just that I know some secrets, and have befriended fire. Most fire-eaters merely try to tame it, but it will do so much more for you if you treat it like a friend, not like a performing animal." As he spoke, a small flame appeared on his palm, but then he closed his hand and it was gone. "But," he went on, "fire does not sing. It may whisper secrets and murmur dark words, but it does not sing. Fire can be a lonely companion and it is not nearly as beautiful as a dancing minstrel. What is your name?"
Dustfinger made an elaborate bow. "And might I have the pleasure of Roxane's company for this evening?"
The furry animal poked its head over Dustfinger's bent shoulder and hissed balefully at Roxane before returning to the backpack. The fire-eater gave the pack a tap. "That is if Gwin doesn't object."
Roxane returned the bow with a sweeping curtsy. "I would be honored."
It was a night that Roxane never would have wanted to end. The food was excellent and the people of Ombra were both friendly and cheerful, but Roxane barely remembered the dinner or the nobles. She had eyes for only one man in that great crowd, and he in turn, seemed uninterested in anything but her. The Black Prince joined them some time later to tease his friend about that matter. "Well, well, who would have thought it? The Fire-dancer seems to have forgotten his crimson friend for once. But then flames do not have long black hair, fluttering eyelashes, or enchanting eyes, now do they?"
Dustfinger ignored him, but Roxane looked over into the black face as the knife-thrower leaned close to her. "I can guarantee that you will be the talk of the Motley Folk for weeks to come. It's not everyday a woman steals the Fire-dancer's heart." He turned and strode back into the crowd, humming the snatches of an old traveler's tune.
However much Roxane wished the night would go on, she knew it would have to end. But it seemed to come so dreadfully soon. The nobles began leaving and the Laughing Prince began to call to his servants to take down the tables. Many of the Motley Folk would be staying in Ombra for the night before moving on to other towns, but Roxane was heading south with a small group of the traveling entertainers. Dustfinger, who was one of those staying, showed her to the door. "My evenings will be too quiet without your voice," he said. "Perhaps you will sing for me again one day."
"And you can weave flames in the sky," she answered. "Yes, I'll make sure we meet again. I am to go south, but I will come back north soon. Will you be waiting?"
"Of course," he answered. From inside the backpack came a muffled chatter. "See, even Gwin is saying goodbye," he said. "Or perhaps he just wants to be let out so he can hunt. Yes, Roxane, I'll be waiting." He leaned forward and kissed her lightly before turning to disappear in the hall. For a moment Roxane stood there spellbound, but finally she turned and followed her companions, feeling so happy she could have laughed aloud.
There were seven in her group, not including herself, two women, Lastina and Lark, a knife-thrower, two tightrope walkers, and two minstrels. Roxane helped build a fire as the men set up a few makeshift tents. Lastina leaned over to Roxane. "Is it true? Lark tells me that the Fire-dancer is in love with you."
Roxane felt a small blush in her cheeks. "I don't know," she answered. "I can't read his mind."
"He kissed you at the door. I saw," Lark cut in.
Lastina watched Roxane's face. "Do you love him?"
Roxane laughed. "Of course, I love him. He enchants fire and hearts, and someday I'll go back to him." As she spoke, she rummaged through the simple bag that contained all her belongings, but her hand suddenly felt an unfamiliar shape. She pulled out the object – a glass ball the size of her fist filled with swirling fire that burned without fuel. As she watched the flames formed letters – ROXANE. The letters changed and spelled DUSTFINGER before returning to shapeless flames. Roxane stared at it, entranced, until she heard Lark chuckle. "Oh, he loves her alright. Don't they say that love is like fire, that it burns the same way? She's a lucky one for sure."
For a long time after the others had gone to sleep, Roxane lay on her simple bed holding the orb and watching it spell out her own name and the name of the man who had captured her heart with fire and a mysterious smile.