circus tent at night

The might, the magic, the majesty…

One Girl, wishing and wanting

Three Mistresses, of power and pride

One mother, too afraid to choose

One Master, unwilling to lose

Twelve years ago, a prince visited Grimmfay’s performance and fell in love with one of its mistresses. At his side, she escaped, but before that, he had to learn the circus was magic. “The Heights” is that story…

The Heights

Prince Torrick shuffled along the circus’s grounds. All right, so the colors were magical, and the shows, so far, were entertaining—fascinating, even. But Grimmfay was still just a circus. A circus that did some outstanding things, but a circus all the same.

“Where to next, Your Highness?” Jenera asked, her eyes alight with wonder. As one of the many guards who served his family, Jenera was typically serious, more serious than most of the other royal family’s protectors. It was interesting and perhaps a bit unsettling that she was mystified by the circus while he remained aloof. For her eyes to gleam at the splendor of the circus—perhaps there was something to this show.

“I don’t know.” Torrick halted beside a tent of silvery-green, letting a family of five pass. Lilting music swirled around his ears, coming from everywhere and nowhere. He had seen no band of players or other means of producing the music, and he had to admit, however Grimmfay did it, the music’s existence was intriguing. Paths stretched to either side of the silvery-green tent. He eyed them both, using an old game of rhyme to flip between them. The final syllable landed him on the left path. Left it was. “This way.”

Jenera fell into step beside him. His footfalls felt oddly soft here, as if the grass were enlivened by some sort of magic. It didn’t crunch beneath his boots like grass did elsewhere, and whenever he glanced back, it stood straight and verdant with no sign of being flattened by the many who tread upon it. It was impressive. He was surrounded by wonders, and he found grass and playerless music impressive.

“A glimpse at your future?” A melodic voice punctured Torrick’s bubble of thought. A person stood in the middle of the path. Many scarves of every shade draped over their form. A silver circlet ringed ebony hair, and the shifting layers of fabric made it impossible to tell if they wore a skirt or trousers. Deep blue eyes ringed with smokey powder peered from a face of alabaster flesh. They held up a ring around which silver crystals hung. Their swaying added a tinkling tone to the air that almost matched the playerless music. “Choose one, and see.”

Why not? Torrick halted and peered at the crystals. They all appeared the same. So what was the point of choosing one? If they were all the same, would they not all produce the same results?

“Appearances can be deceiving,” the melodic voice intoned.

A shiver ran up Torrick’s spine. Had this teller of fortunes or seer, or whatever they were read his mind? Best to pick one, get it over with, and move on. He pointed to a crystal at random. “That one.”

The blue eyes sparkled. “Ah, an excellent choice.” The seer plucked the crystal from the ring and tossed it through the center. It fell to the ground, and the seer peered through the ring, eyes focused and watching. But there was nothing. “Gold and dark. A height to be conquered. But if it is won, the prize shall be great.”

Torrick waited, but no more was forthcoming. That was it? What a waste of time. “I see. Thank you.”

The seer smiled. “Of course, Your Highness. Enjoy the show.” They turned away. “A glimpse at your future?”

“A prize,” Jenera said, her voice thoughtful. “I wonder what it is?”

Probably nothing but the work of a charlatan who found their calling telling pretend futures for the circus. “I don’t know, but I see no reason to dwell on it. Let’s move on.”

He continued down the path, Jenera steadfastly at his side while still managing to grin at every attraction. A height. A great prize—such nonsense. Why had he come to this show? As his father had said when Torrick protested, “Because you are the prince, and it is customary for royalty to make an appearance when such shows grace the land.” Why, Torrick didn’t know, but such was decorum. He rounded an orange tent and drew up short.

A glittering tent of gold and ebony filled the path before him. Its colors were not the most vibrant of the circus, but he could not pull his eyes away. A sign beside its open flap proclaimed “The Heights.”

Torrick’s heart missed a beat. It was a coincidence—it had to be. Gold and dark and height. The seer was a fake. This only seemed like fate.

“The Heights,” Jenera said beside him. “Gold and dark. Just like your reading. Do you wish to see the show, Your Highness?”

The rejection stuck to his tongue. He shouldn’t want to see the show, shouldn’t even care about the coincidence. But something about the tent called to him. He couldn’t explain it, but he needed to see what secrets it held. And, really, what was the harm in attending the performance? It would likely turn out to be nothing related to the seer, and he needed something to do. “Why not.”

Jenera grinned—truthfully, what spell had bewitched her—and practically bounced at his side as they entered the tent. With one foot in and out of the open flap, a chill passed over Torrick’s flesh. There was something about this place. Not the circus itself, this exact spot. This tent held something that would change his life. He could feel it. Even trying to shake off the foolish thoughts proved fruitless. Something waited for him here.

Inside, the temperature of the air dropped a few degrees. Torrick gazed around and came to a slow halt, Jenera pausing at his side with her mouth agape. Rather than a match for the outside colors, the inner tent walls were somehow decorated like a forest. But decorated was not even the right word. The tent seemed to expand in space so the forest felt real. Above, tree branches hung from the tent’s top, but even as Torrick searched for the fabric, he could not find it amidst the greenery. A blue bird, no larger than his hand, alighted on a leaf. Its little beak moved, and a real trill followed before the creature spread its wings and was gone.

Fantastic… He shook himself. It was illusion. The birds were on wires, and the decorations gave the appearance of expansion. As with the feeling of his life about to change, though, the rationalizations would not stay. Straight ahead, the forest seemed to open into a clearing where such real-looking grass glittered in patches of convincing sunlight. At the center of the tableau, a boulder, pail white like bone, sat, the only thing out of place.

“It’s so realistic,” Jenera said in barely more than a whisper.

He couldn’t disagree. “Let us find somewhere to sit.” He led Jenera toward the front of the benches, pausing when a girl and boy with brown hair ducked beneath an arm Jenera had lifted to scratch her ear. One of the front-row benches had just enough room for two, and Torrick wasted no time sitting and scooting over for Jenera. The chatter of the audience hummed beneath chirps, rustling, and other woodland sounds, lulling him into an expectant stupor. Come on, already. What did this show have for him?

“Guests.” As if in answer to his silent question, the announcer voice from other shows filled the tent. “Children and children-at-heart of all ages. We give you…The Heights!”

Cheers and applause came, but they ended quickly as the sunlight pattern upon the grass flickered. But how? There was no breeze. The flickering grew faster. Birdsong came from above and behind him, the notes forming something almost like a melody but still with the unpredictable tune of nature. The flickering sunlight fell into pattern with the song. The shrubs in the clearing area swayed back and forth, getting closer to the ground each time they leaned away from the center of the ring and the white boulder. The birds held a note, high and clear. Stillness rained, and then the shrubs flattened on their sides. Above, tree branches moved aside, pealing back in layers until they revealed the white stone was taller than it initially looked. Higher and higher the branches pulled away, revealing the rock was not a rock but—

“A tower.” Torrick blinked, but the performance did not lie. It was an ivory tower like those in storybooks of old where princess waited for handsome knights upon valiant steeds.

A height to conquer… Torrick ran his gaze up the tower wall. Up and up and up until he knew he gazed far past the tent’s height but could not bring himself to care. Darkness and nothingness stretched forever, and then…sunlight.

No, not sunlight, but gold.

It was so far away, but gradually, it grew closer, closer. The top of the tower came down toward the ground, and at its peak, a young woman with hair like spun gold stood. She flicked one wrist, and a thick ebony-colored rope shot downward.

Dimly, Torrick was certain his attention was supposed to follow the rope, but he could not move his gaze. She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Her hair, and her eyes—green like the circus’s magical grass. Those eyes cast downward, finding his. She continued her descent, growing closer, but at the same time, she stilled. Everything stilled. Every inch of Torrick’s body felt on fire. Something like sunlight mixed with lightning arced between them. He felt its jolt and saw the reaction mirrored in those gorgeous green pools. Somehow, she saw through him, into his soul. And her eyes offered something new, something amazing.

She descended to the ground. Torrick stared, transfixed. Within the performance ring, the show proceeded, but Torrick saw none of it but for green eyes and golden hair. Finally, the girl wound her ebony-colored rope around and around herself, all the way up to her chin. Her gaze found his again, so open, so curious and wanting and asking. And then in a flash, she was gone.

“Wow!” Jenera leaped to her feet, applauding in time with the rest of the audience.

Torrick remained seated, remained still. A prize. A height to conquer, and the greatest reward of all. It was not a coincidence. The circus did hold magic. It did call to him, offer him something he could find nowhere else. The memory of those green eyes hunkered deep in his heart. He had not known it until this moment, but the girl with the golden hair and the eyes like meadows was what he had come to find. Before eventide was through, he would see her again.

Twelve years later, Grimmfay enters Torrick’s life once more, putting his love and daughter in danger.

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