The fires bring them. Light blossoms into the sky, brighter than the stars, red as the flowers that grow along the roadside, and the people gather towards its flames as if we’d spent our throats and our lungs calling for them.

We’re dancing already when arrive. My skirts billow around my bare legs, and I lift my hands to the skies, the song the men beat on the drums thrumming in my blood like a second heartbeat. Tonight, we dance for the stars.

The villagers come from every direction to watch us. We’re not allowed inside the city, within the walls were the soldiers walk, but out here we may pitch our tents and light our fires as we please. They gather from the city, from the village, from outlying hamlets and solitary huts, and our light warms their cold hearts.

The children love it best. Their little faces are lit up with joy, and they shove through the crowds to watch the dances, to watch the jugglers and the firebreathers, to see the bears and the jackals we bring with us. I watch them as they come, searching for the ones with bruises on their faces and their thin arms, the ones that flinch when an adult touches them. Those are the ones we’ll take, spiriting away into the night as if they’d never been. They’ll learn to juggle, to tame the animals, to do tricks and make people laugh, and for once they’ll be free of the abuse that fills their world.

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