The Sought After Smile

The small bells sewn to his boots jangled as he hopped from one foot to the other. Beads of cold sweat trickled down his face. They disappeared into the ruff at his neck, spreading outwards in a wet map of his nerves. He risked a peek into the throne room.

The Queen sat on her throne, her chin resting in her cupped left hand. Her right hand fiddled with the beads on her black dress. A young boy pleaded with a brown dog to follow his commands. The dog refused to comply, and its stubborn antics drew titters from the assembled courtiers. The tall man in red behind the throne caught the boy’s eye. His gaze fell to the floor and his shoulders sagged as he slunk out of a side door. The boy didn’t even look to see if the dog followed.

“You’re on next, Gadd.”

The jester looked across at Peele, the Queen’s administrator. The old man peered out from under his shock of white hair. He gestured to the doorway with a trembling finger. The scratch of a pencil crossed out the young boy’s name.

Gadd took a deep breath and plunged into the throne room. He tumbled the length of the room in a series of flips and cartwheels. His agility drew gasps of appreciation from the courtiers, but the Queen was unmoved. Gadd finished with a flourish, and caught sight of courtiers in the front room trying to encourage her to applaud. Instead, she gazed at a spot about three feet in front of Gadd, her eyes unfocused.

Gadd steeled himself against the waves of sorrow emanating from the Queen. A lady-in-waiting dumped the brown dog from the previous act in her lap. It pawed at her bodice, licking her face. Her eyes flickered toward the dog, but returned their attention to the floor. Gadd’s heart sank.

Though at least I still have my heart. My poor Queen’s heart has been broken, he thought.

He threw himself into his routine, leaping and flipping around the space cleared by the courtiers. He sang a bawdy song about goblins, and launched into his comedy routine about happy pigs and Cardinal Chunder. The courtiers roared, their laughter battling the sombre shroud surrounding the Queen. He juggled with bunches of flowers and produced tarnished coins from behind the ears of the ladies-in-waiting. Even the Queen’s guard broke into a grin.

Gadd finished his performance with a one-handed cartwheel. He basked in the thunderous applause of the Court. A flame of pride burned in his heart that he could still hold the thrall of a room. The Court held its breath as the Queen brought her gaze up from the floor. She fixed Gadd with a look. The sheer weight of her melancholy crashed over him like a wave, extinguishing the proud flame. Deflated, he brought his fingers to his mouth and let out a piercing whistle.

A loud caw broke the awkward silence. A large raven flew into the room, riding the currents of the castle draughts. It swooped low to land on Gadd’s outstretched arm. He scratched the bird’s head. Summer always did know how to make an entrance. She dropped a leather pouch into Gadd’s hand.

“Your Majesty, I know that my turn is over, but would you permit me just a little more time?”

“Do whatever you want, Gadd.” The Queen’s voice lacked any tone or warmth. She sounded mechanical.

“Go on, Gadd. What did you have in mind?” asked a duke in the front row.

“You’ve all seen me do magic before. You know, the coin tricks, and guessing your cards. Well, that’s not the only kind of magic I do.” Gadd paused. He stole a sidelong glance at the Queen. She looked at him now.

I’ve caught her interest, at least. That’s something, he thought.

Gadd rummaged in the leather pouch. He pulled out a piece of red chalk. He dropped to his knees and drew a series of symbols on the wooden floor. He found a bottle of purple oil in the pouch, and sprinkled it over the symbols. Preparing for this took three whole days, and completely exhausted him.

“For my next trick…I will need the help of…His Majesty, the late King of Wyrven!”

The Court gasped as one, and the Queen’s jaw dropped. Gadd threw a vial of assorted herbs to the floor. The door flew open when the glass shattered. A figure stood in the gloom just beyond the doorway.

“Oh, Gadd, can it be true?” asked the Queen.

She stood up, and the Court dropped to their knees. She swept down the wide steps to stand beside Gadd. The figure lurched through the door. Dust from the vault clung to his brown hair, and dirt streaked his white skin. Despite his moth-eaten appearance, the King’s strong face was unmistakeable. Exhaustion clouded his blue eyes. Gadd wasn’t surprised – bringing a soul back to its body was a tiring business.

The Queen ran the length of the throne room and threw herself into the King’s waiting arms. The Court bowed their heads in respect. Gadd tried not to hear the words of love that they murmured to one another.

“It’s only for a day, your Majesty,” he called.

The Queen turned to him, her pale face wet with tears. Gratitude shone in her grey eyes. She smiled at him, and nodded.

The Court filed out of the throne room. Gadd gave the King and Queen one last look before he closed the doors. Raising the King damn near killed him, but putting a smile on his Queen’s face was worth it.