Our cue to the stage rang through the beat of Wasp’s drum and with utmost surprise, my legs ceased to quake and as if no thought was required, I stepped in front of the crowd. For the first time in my life I was a performer and here, now, under a full moon, my strength would be proven to all who could see. Crow played a jolly jig, accompanied by Wasp beating loudly, drumming rhythmically, as Strong-Man and I lifted a wagon high in the air. I lifted a large wooden wheel with one hand above my head whilst Strong-Man swung an enormous iron ball at the end of a short chain, round and around his head. I was really starting to enjoy myself, in fact it is true to say that I had not had as much fun in years and the applause seemed to make it even better.
Energy coursed as a fast flowing river through every cell of my small body. This small body, in such a state of concentration, and yet not, showed strength equivalent to that of three full-sized men. Our combined strength, phenomenal as it must have been to watch, seemed easy to us and required little real effort, simply concentration with ease. Our finale of strength was near. Wasp crashed the drum as smoke washed across the stage. Strong-Man stepped into the centre and bellowed at the audience, requesting six volunteers to step forward. Well, between them there was every shape and size imaginable standing with us on the stage. All six of them waited, fidgeting and twitching, perhaps wondering what sort of experience to be remembered for many years to come was about to take place.
Strong-Man took hold of two of the men by the scruff of their necks in his left hand. One was as round as a barrel, the other well-built and muscular. In his right hand, he held two very plump men, bloated by ale and pie, faces flushed purple. I knelt with arms outstretched, laying my palms uppermost on the ground, beckoning the remaining men. Each stepped onto my hands and I felt their weight, heavy at first, as indeed they were. In my mind, I could see feathers floating and I began to feel their lightness. Wasp and Crow began a merry tune and together Strong-Man and I lifted our charges. He lifted his, their feet dangled helplessly. One man lifting four! I took a breath and raised my arms with a man precariously balanced on each hand. Straightening my back and legs while standing up, I took them higher. The audiences were wild with excitement and the drum beat resounded in our ears.
Our finale over, we stepped back into the smoke, leaving the volunteers, now with feet back on the ground, seemingly lost and forlorn. Pale-Man quickly helped the shaking men off the stage, urging them away into a waiting crowd of back-slapping friends and family.
Circus Master stepped forward. The applauding audience clapped louder, almost frantically, encouraging more of the same. Raising his arms, gesticulating a need for quiet, slowly the audience responded and became calmer, settling in for the main finale about to unfurl. He raised his arms as high as it was possible, waving at the audience, golden ring on gloved hand glistening in the moonlight.
“Friends, parents, children, people of Shrewsbury. We, the ‘Magic Travelling Circus’, invite you all to join in song and dance!” The audience cheered and screamed for more. “Dwarves, strike up the music!”
He waved towards Crow who, beating his drum three times in succession, began to dance as Wasp tootled his flute. Music filled the air and the audience began to sway from side to side in time with the melody. The performers sang from behind the stage as the music became louder and louder.
‘All of us here in dark of night
Have seen magic dancing in light
Mystery of fire, truth of arrow, standing tall
Wonder of Wolves, strong men big and small
We wish you well in all you do
In grace we bid farewell to you’
Sounds of joy filled the night as, one by one, performers stepped onto the stage. Fire-Eater, spinning rings of fire around his head, bowed as he stepped forward. Clapping and screaming, the audience thanked him for his part in the spectacular. Before the applause could subside, Blaze leapt onto the stage, spinning his long bow, somersaulting and landing on his feet to stand erect next to Fire-Eater. Hands clapped, feet stamped and the audience danced on. Smoke fluttered across the stage, fogging all, as Wasp and Crow played on. Wolf-Woman, with Black-Wolf and White-Wolf at her side, stepped daintily to centre stage and curtsied. The wolves raised their huge heads to the moon and howled loudly, deeply filling the night with their haunting voices. Frantic dancing sent clouds of dust into the air, ale swilling from jugs splashed on unsuspecting neighbours lost in their own dreams, children laughed, screamed, folk wanted more. Crow and Wasp played on as we, the cast, sang.
Now it was my turn. Strong-Man lifted me up onto his broad, muscular shoulders. We stepped out proudly in front of all gathered and both bowed, me being very careful not to tumble off! I laughed loudly at my near fall and Strong-Man, feeling my anxiety, straightened to balance himself, and me too! Circus Master raised his arms and the music and singing ceased abruptly. He addressed the audience, thanking all for coming, expressing gratitude, bowing low. The audience cheered for one last time as we all bowed and left the stage.