|The Fair, Laudanum and Passion by Madeleine Swann|
Ettie visits a funfair with her bullying husband in Victorian London. When a sword-swallowing sideshow performer grabs her attention, she finds herself drawn into a new world of strangeness, freedom and passion. (F/M)
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” announced the barker, “for you the Great Ra-mi shall perform this act so dangerous, so terrifying, I must ask you to leave if you are at all faint of heart.” Despite ripples of concern, everyone stayed put.
“And now, in front of your very eyes, The Great Ra-mi will attempt to swallow this very sword!”
Ettie’s lilac-gloved hand flew to her mouth in shock; she heard a dismissive snort from Gabe.
“These people have been rehearsing and performing such acts for many years. The likelihood of his death is rather minimal,” he muttered.
The Great Ra-mi pulled an apple from his pocket, offering it to the crowd to touch.
“As you can see,” he said with a warm smile, “this is a regular apple.” With that he placed it onto the floor and sliced downwards, chopping it in two. The crowd gasped. He raised the sword above his head, sharpened tip pointing downwards. Silence spread through the crowd and even Gabe was transfixed. The Great Ra-mi opened his gullet and allowed the thick steel to slide down into his gullet.
“Oh my,” wailed the chattering lady. The crowd was mesmerised. Down and down it went and was removed with a flourish, his eyes barely watering. Ettie applauded with the others, a strange sensation tickling her hardening nipples and the secret crevices between her legs. The oddness of him, the contrast between him and Gabe’s staid pompousness intrigued her.
To her dismay The Great Ra-mi didn’t pay Ettie any special attention, and as they filed out she tried to ignore the disappointment weighing on her chest.
“Well, that was better than expected,” Gabe said. “Now, please can we make our way out of this place?”
“Yes, Gabe,” said Ettie.
They wandered towards the exit only to be confronted with a clown selling candy floss, his eyes black crosses and his mouth a humourless grin.
“Right,” muttered Gabe, his mouth pinched and eyebrows rigid. Ettie was silent as they tried another way, no street signs visible.
“Why do we not ask somebody?” Ettie suggested gently as they almost knocked into a man thrusting swords into a tiny box.
“I come to London every day. I have no need to ask for directions like some fresh-faced apprentice.”
“Yes, I am aware,” soothed Ettie, “but it is quite impossible for us to know where we are amongst this mayhem.”
“Of course it is difficult,” Gabe smiled reassuringly, “my little muffin barely knows what’s at the end of the road. Take my arm; we can’t have you getting frightened.” Ettie reached out as a large family crashed between them. She wandered past them, hoping to reach the end of their group and re-join her husband. When she arrived at the expected spot, however, he wasn’t there.