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"Everything seemed to have been set up by the gods and I was soon before the Court in my best attire…" he glanced down, "not like these sad rags I wear nowadays, no the finest clothing the village could afford – nothing was too good.

"And there I was at the Court, before the Emperor himself, during the annual festival. I gave him my best stuff, pronounced with such fire and passion," he waved his arms about to demonstrate, "many were cowed before the thunder of my words."

He discontinued his reminiscence for awhile, struggling with some demon inside him, coming to grips with the fickle ways of the gods. "Though the applause was deafeningly and the response was hopeful, the Emperor chose others who had done as well. I was told he thought I carried the performance through with bombast rather than content and suggested I become an actor on the stage."

"Oh, that's horrible!"

The Smoke glanced sidewise and sighed again. "I thought so too. Imagine, me: an actor! I was so very full of myself that I went to the market and publicly displayed my poetic gifts in an effort to prove the Emperor wrong."

"And what happened?" he asked in the extended silence.

"They loved me. They cheered me and carried me on their shoulders and showered me in coins." His smile as quickly faded. "The Imperial Court responded saying that since they so loved me in the marketplace, perhaps I should remain there."

"Oh!"

"Yes, and there I have remained." He seemed to grow a bit larger with that prideful statement. "And I have done fairly well there."

The lad thought a moment. "But what has that to do with the Hook?"

"Oh, yes…" He deflated again. "After several years, I realized that I would have to start preparing for my future. I began to set aside a little bit here and there – all of us did – but highwaymen have descended on us a couple of times and cleaned us out. Other times have found drought or famine has constricted the pocketbooks of the locals." He shrugged. "It has not been easy to plan or save for the time when I shall no longer be able to live on the road like this. If I even survive." He looked at Anaboraxus. "Life on the road is not entirely safe, not even in the heartland of the Empire. Or, I should say, especially not as one nears the capital. I should imagine thieves have found easier pickings with all the comings and goings of the big city."

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