I noticed out of the corner of my eye a girl who looked about my age. A wild look filled her deep green eyes as she slowly sharpened a short sword. She was staring hard at Mandrel, I fought to keep myself from laughing. Though I did wonder just how many women he had angry with him. I turned my head to look at her. Sitting next to her, was a boy who may have been just slightly younger. Both of them had the same flaming red hair that Waien had. Except the boy’s hair was neat and tidy, the girls was wild, like Waien’s. Her hair was adorned with several feathers. The boy whispered calmly to the girl, and she seemed to relax a little. As I continued to study them silently, I felt Mandrel tug me forward. For reasons unknown to me, I was apprehensive about going near the two. It might’ve had something to do with the large sword that was shouldered on the boy.
“Villith,” Mandrel said. Both looked up when he spoke. “Sylith.”
Villith’s eyes fell on me and I was fairly certain that if looks could kill, I would have been six feet under.
“This is Lyssa,” he told them while motioning to me. “She’s Waien’s girl.”
The color of my cheeks matched my hair and the look of death lingered in Villith’s eyes. She stood up, moving to Mandrel with grace unfitting to someone who looked so wild. I watched, inching away as she drew closer.
“It’s been a while,” she growled softly to Mandrel, her hand resting on his shoulder. “Maybe ya should learn ta leave yer trinkets at home next times ya come visit.”
She stalked off leaving me dumbfounded and confused. What had I done to her to make her hate me so much. I looked to Mandrel questioningly, he simply shrugged.
“That’s Villith for ye,” he said as if it explained it all.
“It’s a bad day today,” Sylith commented. Mandrel nodded. There was something they weren’t telling me, though I was curious, I didn’t pry.
Lyssa looked to the wall clock and sighed at the late hour; Pania would be home any minute.
“Mr. Wallock,” she stated. “It’s quarter to three in the morning. Perhaps it would be wise if you left this recorder with me, and I will return it to you in three days, full. Unless you have more little tapes, at which point I will fill them all.”
Xavier nodded, and stifled a yawn.
“Very well, Ms. Stormwater,”
There was something suspicious about this man. Lyssa didn’t know what it was it, perhaps the way he looked at her. His eyes seemed glazed over in awe, though intently focused on her like he was burning the image of the red-haired elf to his memory. In any case, Xavier Wallock made Lyssa feel uncomfortable in her own skin.
Pania returned home that night with a sack full of groceries. Lyssa was passed out on the couch, with an empty glass in her hand. Sighing softly, she covered the small elf and took the glass from her hand. As she quietly straightened up the sitting area, Pania noticed the small recorder. Her curiosity piqued, she rewound it and pressed play.
Pania put away groceries as she listened to the recorder. It was then that Pania made up her mind to retrieve the first part. She knew Lyssa would never write the story herself. Pania would do it for her. Pania stared at the recorder when she heard Lyssa’s voice says Wallock’s name. A frown forming on her lips.
“This is no’ good,” Pania said softly. “No’ good t’all.”
The next day, we arrive at the festival. Mandrel helped me from the carriage and my eyes lit up with excitement. Bright tents were pitched all over the massive field. Flags and drapes decorated the stalls. Music filled the air from various stages, magicians and other entertainers worked the streets, pulling crowds around them to watch their act. There were hundreds of people milling about the stalls. Some contained pouches and bags made from the finest leather. Blankets, saddles, shoes, everything you could think of was there.
Towards the back was a grand palace. It was the sort of place that are only read about in children books. It had gold bricks and stained glass windows. Turrets reached towards the heavens caped with green slate.
“The castle o’ illusions,” Waien’s gruff voice said behind me. He chuckled when I jumped slightly having been pulled from my thoughts. “It’s not a real castle. Just painted canvas. It’s fer the royalty that comes ta the festival.”
“Waien are you going to be entering the brawler’s tourney this year?” Sywyn asked quizzically.
“Aye, and archery,” he said. “Someone else is gonna be tryin’ their hand at the archery too. She can consider it a final test ta see if she’s ready fer the next level.”
My eyes widened as I stared at him.
“You’ll be enterin’ the archery contest. You’re not required ta win. Just prove yerself to those that will distract, and jeer. Myself included.”
“Perhaps that is a bit much, Waien.” Sywyn interjected. “She’s never preformed before.”
“Like hell she hasn’t! I’ve seen what she can do, an’ I know she’s got it in her.”
“Mate, she’s ‘ere ta ‘ave fun,” Mandrel stated, coming to my defense.
“No, no,” I said. “It’s alright, I’ll do it. If only to beat my teacher.”
“Oh ho! Do I smell a challenge?” Waien said laughing at my brazenness.
“Damn right,” I replied.
A pale woman approached us. She wore a hat that I had never seen before. Her black hair pulled back into a pony tail at the nape of her neck. Down her back flowed a long coat, and her clothes seemed out-of-place. The cut and style very different from what I was used to seeing. She wore a sturdy pair of trousers and a white cotton shirt that laced in the center. On her feet were the most curious looking boots. They had odd little bells on the heels that clanked when she walked.
While I stared at her odd appearance, Mandrel, Waien and Sywyn grinned. The woman walked right up to Sywyn and punched him in his left arm.
“Ow!” Sywyn shouted while rubbing the spot. “What was that for?”
“Thet’s fer callin’ me a girl,” she said. She pulled her arm back again and released another strike that was doubly hard. “And thet’s for saying I hit like one.”
Sywyn laughed as he rubbed his other arm. I continued to stare incredulously at the women. Confused as to why she had hit Sywyn in the first place. He had seen my expression and chuckled more. The pale elf turned and eyed Waien and Mandrel who were biting their knuckles to hold back laughter.
“You want some too?” She growled at them. Both shook their heads but still kept up with their silent giggles.
“Lyssa, I’d like you to meet my sister, Shani,” Sywyn started as her eyes fell to me.
“Well, ain’t you a purty lil thing,” Shani said extending her hand. “Which one of these dogs dragged you along?”
“I’m L-Lyssa,” I told her. “Mandrel is the one who twisted my arm and held a blade to my throat,”
“Oh really now,” she smirked as she turned to Mandrel. “Well he’s the worse o’ ‘em. Ain’t ya Mandrel.”
“C’mon now Shani,” Mandrel chuckled, holding his hands up. “Ye dunna really think that I would force ‘er ta come, would ye. It was completely optional.”
“Uh-huh,” Shani nodded, unconvinced. “You think I’mma believe thet?”
“No, but it was worth a shot,” he grinned at her. “Actually, she wanted to come, it was just a matter of ‘er keeper allowing her. If ‘e didn’t, we were just going to take ‘er anyway.”
Shani turned to look at me once more. I nodded in agreement to Mandrel story.
“They give you any hassle,” she told me pointing to each of them. “You come find me and I’ll take care of ‘em.”
I giggled and nodded. Watching as she walked off with a short wave. After a moment I lost her in the crowd. Behind me Waien, Mandrel and Sywyn were laughing.
“She still hits like a girl, only a little harder now,” Sywyn commented.
“I but I doubt you’d say that ta her face though,” Waien chuckled.
Sywyn gave him a wry grin. The idle chatter continued as we walked into the festival. My stomach growled slightly as we passed by a food stall. The scent of salted meat and hot bread made my mouth water. As much as I wanted to gorge myself on food, I didn’t want to risk spilling something on my dress. Waien seemed uneasy as we drew closer to a small glade on the eastern part of the grounds. Sywyn and Mandrel picked up on his mood and fell somber.
“Is there something wrong?”
“Aye,” he replied nodding towards the grove. “That’s the problem.”
“It’s just a bunch of trees,”
“Ye’ll have to see ‘im, mate,” Mandrel said softly.
“Ye think I don’t know that?”
“See who?” I asked not wanting to be left out or confused.
“His father,” Sywyn explained. “He’s the Arch-Druid.”
“Oh, oh!” I exclaimed as it dawned on me. “Wai-”
Mandrel tapped me on my shoulder and shook his head. I closed my mouth and nodded somberly. I didn’t know what fully went on between Waien and his father, but I knew that it was family matters and none of my business. Waien parted from us and went to the grove with his head hanging slightly. Mandrel and Sywyn ushered us over to a small grouping of tents not far from the grove of trees.
“You really should look your best at all times, Shani,” a woman told her as she fussed with Shani’s shirt. Tying the laces. “I really think this would lovely if you wore your vest and took that ridiculous hat off.
“Momma!” Shani huffed, trying to make her mother stop fidgeting with her clothes. “Momma stop it.”
“Honestly, I don’t see why you don’t wear dresses anymore. You always looked so pretty in a dress.” Shani’s mother continued as if Shani’s pleas fell upon deaf ears.
Sywyn laughed boisterously and went to greet his mother and sister. Kissing his mother on her cheek, catching her by surprise. The woman then made an excited noise and turned to hug her son. I looked around the small make-shift campsite. There were six large, nondescript tents and in the middle of the camp was a fire pit. A large pig roasted over a spit above the bright orange flames.
“Lyssa,” Mandrel called. He pointed to a dark brown tent. ”Over here.”
I followed quietly, my eyes going back to taking everything in. I watched two little girls, playing with a tea set. One little girl had the face of a cherub with white blonde hair and cerulean blue eyes. She wore a dress of the most delicate shade of blue. Around her neck was a small amulet of a full moon. She proved to be quite the chatter box as the other little girl said nothing.
“And that’s the sort of man I want to grow up and marry.” She said, her eyes looking towards Sywyn. The little girl next to her nodded, before her head turned towards Mandrel and I. As we approached the other little girl clapped her hands and stood up, flying to Mandrel who in turn scooped her up and spun her in a circle. I smiled at the interaction.
“Guess what?” Mandrel said to the small child.
I studied the little girl curiously. It was quite clear she was related to Mandrel. She had the same platinum white hair that he did, and very similar facial features. She wore a buckskin dress with intricate beading around the collar. There was also a fringe at the hem of her dress, and on her two small feet, she wore slippers made of buckskin. It was completely different from what I was used to seeing. However, I said nothing to the oddities in dress styles. For all I knew they could have been costumes.
The little girl signed to Mandrel, who laughed and pointed to me.
“This is me friend, Lyssa,” he told her pointing to me and then motioning me over. “And no, I didna marry ‘er, ‘r anyone else and no’ tell ye. See?”
He held up his left hand to prove there was no ring on his finger. Once again the little girl signed something I didn’t understand. When I moved closer, Mandrel set the child down.
“Lyssa this is my youngest sister, Pylia,” he said.
“Hello Pylia,” I said slowly. I assumed she needed to read my lips to understand what I was saying.
Pylia gave a silent giggle and waited for Mandrel to explain.
“Pylia, can ‘ear jus’ fine, Lyssa. She’s mute, ‘as been since birth. But that dunna stop ‘er from getting her point across.”
The small girl beamed happily and motioned to her friend in the blue dress.
“Oooh, is that who she is?” Mandrel said. I wrinkled my nose slightly. Pylia just nodded. “That girl there, is one o’ Unia’s most promising students. ‘Er name is Vindy.”
Vindy looked up, smiling brightly. “We’re playing tea party, want to join us?”
“Mmm very temptin’, but per’aps ‘nother day?” Mandrel replied.
“Okay,” she giggled. Pylia ran over to join her again for their tea party and once more she started babbling. Mandrel laughed as the girls began to play again.
I woke before the sun on the morning of the festival. Toeryn was passed out in his usual drunken slumber. Careful not to wake him, I slipped from my bed and dressed quickly. The coin purse I left sitting on the table the night before, remained in the same spot. Toeryn hadn’t left me any coins to take with me. He probably didn’t even know that I left money on the table. I clasped my hand around the full of the purse to prevent it from jingling and left. I wouldn’t return for several days and felt no need to inform Toeryn of this.
The streets were quiet, with only a few sounds of the early risers leaking through shuttered windows. Excitement and apprehension filled my chest as I got closer to the main square. I looked up to the sky; the colors fading from black, to indigo, to cerulean. And it was cloudless. It seemed that it would be a perfect day to travel. How we were traveling, I did not know, though I had told myself if it was by horse, I would walk. When I finally reached the center of town, stalls and shops were beginning to open. My stomach gave a grumble informing me that I was not providing it with food and that I should soon. My nerves were set on edge that I had forgotten to take a piece of fruit. Opening my coin purse, I had planned that I was going to eat a decent meal and made my way to a tavern that had just opened.
It was one of the cleaner ones. The barman behind the counter took one look at me and smiled.
“A bit earlier for a drink, isn’t luv?”
“Maybe, but I’m not here for a drink. I was actually hoping you might have something decent to eat before I begin my travels.”
“Aye,” he said. “What can I get for ye?”
“I’d like something filling, that isn’t fruit or porridge.”
He gave a hearty laugh. “I see ye ain’t of them for nuts and berries. Well lass, I’ll tells ye what, I just got a few eggs and a slab of pork fresh this morn. Hows about that, a cup of coffee and a glass of milk?”
While he busied himself, I counted out three coins and set them on the counter. After he brought my food, out and placed the coins in his coin box, he attempted to make small talk. Commenting on anything from weather to if I had ever been to the festival. The food was very tasty and filling. The eggs were just right amount of cooked and the pork was a golden pink color. He also had given me potatoes and fried bread. I dipped the bread in the yolks of the eggs and cleaned the entire plate of food. It had been such a long time since I had anything so delicious. I thanked him for the meal, and left three more silver coins on the counter for him.
Once outside again, it was time for me to find Mandrel and pray that he waited long enough for me. I didn’t have an exact time he wanted me to meet him. Or place for that matter. So I stood in front of the dress shop, which allowed me to see the square clearly. Many people were gone, having left for the festival days before. I didn’t know how long it would take to get to the festival grounds, but many more people were leaving today.
It didn’t take long for me to spot Mandrel. His lithe body moved smoothly down the stairs of the theater building. He was speaking animatedly to Waien, whose eyes scanned the crowd, probably looking for me. I watched impatiently, waiting to see if they would indeed head towards the stay house, or if they would leave without me. Waien started off towards the street to where Toeryn and I stayed. I took that as my signal to start running to the carriage that Mandrel had just stepped into.
Cutting through the square, taking care not to run into people, I ran to the carriage. It was rather plain looking on the outside. A simple brown wood box with wheels, a driver and two horses. On the back was a few trunks strapped tightly to the carriage. The top had several boxes and other crates that undoubtedly contained things for festival living.
“Wait for me!” I shouted. “Mandrel! I’m here.”
The carriage slowed to a stop as Mandrel’s face appeared in the window. He looked relieved for a brief second, then looked quite smug. Swiftly, he opened the door to allow me into the carriage. Judging my expression, he just smirked. I sat down across from him, panting heavily from my speedy catch-up. It was lush on in side. Soft cushions made of burgundy velvet. Curtains hung open against the door, tied back with gold cords. My eyes drank in everything about the carriage. I was much more comfortable in that then on a horses back.
“Yer late,” he stated in a playful tone.
“I was early, had second thoughts. But when I saw Waien headed in the direction of the stay house, those thoughts were quickly banished.”
“Good thin’ too. I’m quite certain tha’ Waien woulda removed ye from the premises regardless o’ wha’ yer brother said or did. Waien can be very persuasive when necessary.”
“I know,” I laughed knowing full well how Waien was.
“He’s worried about you, Lys,”
I gazed out the window, nodding slowly. The sound of more hooves reached my ears and I leaned a bit more to see who it was. A massive white horse came trotting along us, the rider was all too familiar. His black hair pulled neatly in the back. A white tunic hung loosely over his muscled torso and form fitting trousers along with riding boots on his lower half. At first, it was hard to recognize him, without all his armor on, he looked very different.
“Good day, Lyssa,” Sywyn greeted me with a smile and a wave. His horse whinnied under him.
“Hello, Sywyn, off duty?” I replied in kind.
“Aye, I am. It will be a week of fun, that’s for sure,” he chuckled
“An’ booze, an’ women!” Another voice rang out.
Mandrel chuckled as Waien caught up with the carriage. His hair flowed wildly behind him. He wore earthen shades of brown, and greens. He looked as if he had been raised in a saddle with the way he rode the chestnut brown horse. A faint green glow came from with in his flame-like hair. As I looked hard enough, there she was, a small fey sitting in the mess of tangles. She was holding on for dear life.
“As much as I’d love ta partake of your savagery, Waien,” Mandrel started. “I have a task to keep me lady ‘ere comp’ny.”
“Who’re you foolin’ Mandrel, she drinks like the rest of us.” Waien teased.
“Have you never been to the Brockton Festival, Lyssa?” Sywyn asked me as we rode along.
“No, but I’ve always wanted to go.” I replied looking down. I had realized how childish I sounded as I said that.
“Righ’ then mates,” Mandrel said. “If ye’ll excuse us, I need ta make me pure intentions clear ta Lyssa here.”
“Pure my arse,” Waien said while Mandrel grinned and I turned as red as the seats we sat on. “If yer intentions ‘re pure, then I’ll become Arch-Druid.”
The laughter that flowed around us was warm. I truly felt like I had known them all my whole life. They never asked any questions about where I was from. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, they were just too kind to inflict that sort of pain upon me. As Mandrel pulled the curtain shut over the windows, Waien’s laugh boomed, Sywyn’s joining him a second later.
“Don’t ya two do nothin’ I wouldn’t do!” Waien called out.
After a moment, the laughter died down and the extra hooves took off ahead of the carriage. Mandrel rolled his eyes while lifting part of the bench seat up. Inside was the small package that contained the blue dress he attempted to give me a few nights ago.
“’Ere,” he said offering it to me. It explained why the curtains were drawn. Though, I blushed deeply at the thought of him being there while I changed into it. It was part of the unspoken agreement. I would wear the dress for him while I accompanied him to the Brockton Festival.
Carefully, I took the dress and put it on my lap, gently pulling back the layer of brown packaging. I was keenly aware of his eyes watching me and fought to keep my eyes down on the dress. It was more beautiful than I remembered. The fabric flowed over my fingers, making a soft rustle as I pulled it out of the package. I held it out in front of me, admiring its gold filigree trim. The dark blue satin balancing with the light blue. I allowed my eyes to flicker over to Mandrel momentarily, he sat with a simpering smirk on his lips.
“Thank you, but how do you expect me to change with you sitting here?” I asked him quietly.
He said nothing and placed his hands over his eyes while turning his head. I giggled softly and set the dress next to me. Quickly, I pulled the tunic over my head and dropped it on the seat next to me. I blinked a few times realizing that my body had blossomed and I didn’t even know it. It had taken me by surprise to see that my body was becoming less gangly and more curvy. I ran my hands over my body, exploring the new curves. A shiver ran down my spine when my hands moved over my breasts. It wasn’t a bad feeling, just one I didn’t completely understand.
Difficult wouldn’t come close to how hard it was to change into that dress. I kicked my boots off, and then finally pulled the dress over my head. It fit perfectly, albeit a bit tight around my newly discovered bosom. I reached under the dress and removed the trousers as well. And even though I was dressed, I still felt quite naked.
I stole a gaze at Mandrel to make sure his eyes were still covered. I blushed slightly, thinking I had seen his fingers move. His lips curved slightly into his signature smirk.
“Well?” I asked, trying to balance carefully in the moving carriage.
Mandrel looked at me with an appraising eye. After a moment, he fiddled with the laces loosening it a bit. I felt a relief against my chest like I could breath again.
“Would it be wrong o’ me ta offer a pair o’ shoes ta go ‘long with the dress?”
My eyes fell on my own boots. Not that they would be seen, but they hardly fit with the dress I wore. I shook my head.
“No, I suppose it would be fine.”
He pulled another box out of the compartment and handed it to me. Inside were a pair of soft shoes, made to match the light blue of the dress. When I slid my feet into them, it was like stepping on to a cloud. I had never felt a shoe like this. I looked at Mandrel with a bright smile.
“Thank you, for everything.”
“Think nothin’ o’ it, luv.”
Once everything settled down, and the curtains were opened again, Mandrel and I chatted idly about the festival. He told me elaborate stories about the on goings there. At times I felt as though I was there. Mandrel made the stories come to life and I listened raptly, eager to hear his voice continue on with more tales.
As the miles passed, we made stops to eat, or get something from the trunks. Sometimes Sywyn and Waien joined us in the carriage. Both of them commented on how the dress flattered me. It was an uneventful ride. When I asked how long it would take, I was told that we would arrive late the next day. I later discovered that the benches would fold out to become one bed. Mandrel laughed when I blushed again and assured me that he would do nothing to spoil my virtue. Not that I would have minded.
Once I started the bath, I found my favorite scent of bubbles; rose and poured some under the running water. While it filled, I went to the curtained window and peeked into the streets below. I watched for several moments, a set of Patrollers walked down the street. My eyes followed them a moment and then fell on to a shrouded figure standing under a street light. I felt his eyes on me and felt the smirk to go along with it. Giggling softly I waved to him and he began to lower his hood. Sure enough it was Mandrel. I opened the window and leaned out while he walked across the street.
“What are you doing here?”
“Babysitting, my dear.” He replied with a flourishing bow. “But what a poor sitter I am, seeing as you caught me in my first night of duty.”
“You weren’t exactly hiding, now were you,”
“No, no I guess not. Might I impose on your hospitality for a little while?”
“Um,” I felt a blush rising to my cheeks. “Well the room is only covered for me”
Chuckling, Mandrel began to scale the drain pipe with ease. Within seconds he was sitting eye level with me in the window.
“What the keep doesn’t know won’t hurt,” He said with a wink.
I moved away from the window to allow him to enter and turned off my bath water.
“If I get caught–”
“You won’t my dear, I shall be gone momentarily. As it happens I have a gift for you.”
I stared at him blankly for a moment, then shook the cobwebs from my head.
“A gift for me?”
“Mhmm,” he said smiling as he pulled a small brown parcel from behind his back.
The lumpy parcel took me by surprise as I took it gingerly from his hands. Cautiously I opened it, seeing two tones of blue fabric, along with the gold trimmings. It fell from my hands as I gasped loudly,. Mandrel had bought me the dress I spotted in the window.
“Like I said, that dress would look splendid on you,”
“I can’t accept it.”
“Because– because it’s far too expensive.”
“Pitiful excuse, Lyssa.” He said picking the half opened parcel off the floor. “It’s something you can wear to the festival.”
“I don’t even know if I’m going or not. It’s still up to Toeryn. And besides, he’ll want to know where I got the money for a dress that expensive and then make me take it back to the get the money back. So you must understand why I cannot accept this dress. I thank you so much for buying it, and I appreciate the thought–”
His hand covered my mouth quickly while he looked into my eyes.
“I’m not interested in your excuses. I want you to wear the dress to the festival. Since you won’t take it now, I shall take it with me and it will be waiting in the carriage for you should you come. Deal?”
I nodded silently, looking into his eyes, drinking them in. My heart raced faster, sending my mind reeling. Mandrel pulled away from me with an impish smirk on his lips and made his way to the window.
“Enjoy your bath,” he said, looking me over. I felt my ears redden on the tips as his face disappeared below the window. Though when I went to the window, he was already gone. Smiling, I went back to the bath, turned the water off and slid into the bubbles.
The next morning I work and retrieved my clothes. They had been cleaned and made to fit my body better. Quietly, I crept down the stairs and returned the key, then made my way back to mine and Toeryn’s room. He was awake, sitting at the table looking paler than normal. When he realized I was there, he stared at me for a moment, before looking back down at the glass of brown liquid.
“You can go to the festival,”
My head snapped slightly to look at him.
“You mean it?”
“Mhmm. Penelope talked me into it. So long as you come back, we won’t have any problems. I’ll even toss in a few coins to buy yourself something nice. Ain’t going with you since I got work to do. So I’m trusting you. Got it, Ana?”
I didn’t say anything, I was still slightly dazed from the fact he said that I could go to the festival. He looked up at me again. I could tell it had been a while since his last bath, his hair was grimy and hung limply over his eyes. However, I could make out the sharpness of his crystalline blue eyes.
“Remember what I said to you. So you better come back.”
“I will, thank you.”
Nothing he said or threatened put a damper on my good mood. He was allowing me to go to the Brockton Festival. He didn’t need to know all the details of who I was traveling with. So long as I returned and did his dirty work for him, he would simply let me alone. That was good enough for me.
Two years passed. We stayed in Stonebridge. Toeryn thought that it was big enough that we could just disappear in the crowd. He had warned me that he had eyes everywhere, and that if I got away, he would hunt me down. Keeping true to his promise, he often gave me reports of what I had done through the day, as proof that he was always watching. At night he locked our door, preventing me from getting away. This isn’t to say I didn’t try. Toeryn had forbidden me contact the knights, or anyone I knew. I felt scared, alone and desperate to escape my prison.
My chance for freedom came one late morning when I stood in the main square. I was careful to blend in with the crowd, not to be noticed as I nicked coin purses of the townsfolk. That’s when I saw him. It was a smile I knew I would never forget. Mandrel. He was feet away from me, chatting with some people as he made his way down the stairs. My heart did flip-flops in my chest as I stared at him. Happy to see that he was safe and untouched by Toeryn’s goons as far as I could tell. For a split second, he looked directly at me, I could have sworn he winked at me. Adverting my gaze, I stared at one of the tailor’s displays. The most beautiful dress of blue and gold sat on a dummy. The deep blue satin shone in the sunlight. The light blue satin overcoat had a delicate gold filigree pattern. A gold border trim wove along edges of the light blue fabric and corset lacing on either side of the bosom. Never had I wanted something so badly, yet knew I would never be able to claim it for my own.
I was poor in all sense of the word. My clothes baggy, and hid my girlish figure. My hair constantly kept short to add to the boyish appearance I was portraying, was dirty and very tangled. My heart sank as I realized that I would never see myself in that dress.
“Why the long face?” A familiar voice said behind me.
I shrugged slightly, not wanting to turn towards the voice.
“I think it would look splendid on you,” He told me.
Words caught in my throat, my voice cracking softly as I realized it was Mandrel standing behind me. My eyes darted around, knowing this would be reported to Toeryn.
“How did you know it was me?” I whispered, careful to not move my lips.
“Who else do I know with flaming red hair that stands out over a crowd of people?” Mandrel countered.
I snorted softly still not looking at him.
“What happened to you?” Mandrel asked, obviously sensing my hesitation. “Waien was livid when you weren’t there. Everyone was worried. We all thought you had just runaway.”
“I can’t about it here,” I replied. “He’s watching and I don’t know where he is.”
“Alright, then answer me this,” he started, “Are you in some kind of trouble? Just nod or shake your head in response.”
I nodded slowly. I could sense the wheels in his head turning.
“Look at me,” he said. Slowly I turned to look to Mandrel. My heart beat against my chest threatening to break through.
As I looked at him, I kept my expression neutral. His eyes searched mine for the truth, but there was nothing to explain my situation other than I was scared.
“The festival is coming up. Do you think that you can go?” He asked with a smirk.
“Probably not,” I replied softly.
“Well…” he paused to look around before he leaned down to whisper in my ear. “I’ll hope that you can make the carriage leaving the south gate early morning in three days time.”
“I’ll talk to Toeryn,” I said noncommittally. When he didn’t pull away I became nervous. I heard a soft clink of coins in my pocket and frowned.
“We’ll get you out of this.”
I watched him walk away with a flourish. Sighing heavily, I looked at my purse. It was easy to spot the coins Mandrel gave her. Three platinum coins gleamed up at her along with a small handful of gold. Without realizing he had done it, Mandrel made himself a future target. But perhaps this was his intention in the first place. I chuckled and shook my head as I wove my way through the crowd and back to the little hovel of a room Toeryn and I shared. My spirits were visibly lifted as I threw the coin pouch on the table, less the three platinum.
I smelled Toeryn before he walked through the door. As he clambered up the steps, I remained motionless on my bed. When I heard the giggle of a female with him, I rolled to my side and sighed heavily. It was going to be a long night. If I was lucky, I would get some sleep. This wasn’t the first time he came home with a woman. Usually she was too drunk to care who was in the room. The door squealed when he opened it.
“’oo’s that then?” The woman said. I rolled my eyes and forced myself to sit up.
“I’m his sister,”
“Oh. Well why ain’t ‘choo in yer own room then?”
“My brother doesn’t trust me,”
As she stood there and took this in, I threw the coin pouch to Toeryn. His eyes widened with the weight of the coins and he grinned.
“I want to go to the Brockton Festival,” I told him, while his companion wrapped her arm around his waist.
“Why?” He asked with a cocked brow. “You ain’t never wanted to go before.”
“Well I want to go this year. I’ve done everything you asked of me. I might of been mean and spiteful and downright hateful but I did it. The least you could do for me is let me go to the festival.”
“Ah, let ‘er go love.” his companion crooned. One good thing about her, she was on my side. “Then we can ‘ave the room to ourselves and I’ll show you what I can really do.”
My insides turned as my dinner wanted to march it’s way back up my throat. Swallowing it back, I forced a weak a smile on to my lips.
“I have a way there, and I don’t need money.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Inwardly I cheered. Excited that he said he would at least think about it.
“But,” He said, opening the coin pouch and tossing me a gold coin. “Get your own room for tonight.”
“Would you mind if I went to the pub?”
He waved me off as the woman began to drown him in kisses, telling him how compassionate and kind he was to look after me. Not taking a second glance back, I bolted out of the stay house and into the darkening streets. With a rush walk, unable to hold back my excitement, I moved through the small crowds.
When I reached my destination, I peeked in the window of the pub. Mandrel, Waien and Sywyn sat at the table. Waien was drinking his preferred ale, Mandrel and Sywyn both drinking from wine goblets. Giggling slightly, I fought hard to contain my excitement. Quietly, I entered the pub, Mandrel looked at me for a second with a smirk on his lips. Waien was distracted with his mug and Sywyn had his back to me. I walked to the counter and ordered a bottle of rum. Setting the gold coin on the counter. Once I got my change and bottle, I sauntered over to their table and just plopped down in the fourth empty chair.
“Who the hell…” Waien’s words froze on his tongue as he stared at me in disbelief.
“I was just telling them that I had seen you today lo-,” Mandrel said.
“Where in the hell have you been?!” Waien screamed. The bar fell silent as his voice rose. I knew it was going to be a long night as I explained my disappearance.
Waien listened and asked questions, Mandrel sat and listened, a smirk on his lips every time my eyes met his. But the one who concerned me the most was Sywyn. His face was stony; cold and hard. He didn’t ask many questions, and I danced around some to protect myself. All three of them knew that I was hiding things, but none of them pushed me into telling them.
“Do you need help to get away?” Waien asked.
“Not at the moment. He’s told me that he’ll think about allowing me to go to the festival.” I replied, my eyes falling on Mandrel once again. He gave me an award-winning smile and a wink.
“He gonna let you start your lessons up again?”
“No and that isn’t something I’m going to push.”
“What we need is a plan,” Sywyn said. “A plan to get her out of there and get Toeryn out of Stonebridge once and for all.”
Everyone looked at the knight. It shocked us all that he would suggest something like this.
“Look I understand I am part of the law here, but I refuse to sit back and watch someone innocent become broken and corrupt from her living station. If I can help just one person change, then I will know I have done my job.”
“Spoken like a true knight,” Mandrel chortled.
“Unfortunately, Lyssa, I will have to exclude you from the discussion,” Sywyn said pointedly.
“Simply because we will need the element of surprise on your part,” he explained. “To put it quite simply, we have to create something that will make you and your brother become prisoners. For that to happen, we’ll need to know all we can about what you and Toeryn do throughout the day. Mandrel, after the festival, I want you to follow Lyssa around.”
The smirk that formed on Mandrel’s face made me turn a deep shade crimson. All he could do was chuckle.
“With pleasure,” he said after a moment, raising his glass in my direction. “I would go to the end of the block for this fine lass.”
Waien lifted a brow and gave a sidelong glance to Mandrel. “That’s the tenth woman you’ve said that ’bout in the past week.”
Mandrel gave Waien a playful shove, causing a small amount of ale to dribble on to his shirt.
“‘ey! Watch it!” Waien said in response. Sywyn chuckled before taking a small sip of wine and then turned to me. I giggled softly, but it still felt a bit awkward, like I was standing outside looking in.
“Pay them no heed,” Sywyn said softly, in hopes of easing my anxiety. “Now, why don’t you tell me what I need to know, so we can plan accordingly.”
Several hours passed and the pub grew rowdier, then began to quiet down. I didn’t pay attention the darkness filling the streets, rather I kept telling the three men exactly what Toeryn had me doing. I could see in Sywyn’s eyes that he was becoming tense with each passing moment. I had my guard up the entire time ready to run at a moments notice should Sywyn be ready to clap my wrists in irons.
“Sywyn,” Waien called several times. “Ease up a bit, yer makin’ my girl a bit nervous.”
“Your girl?” Mandrel chuckled.
“Well I teach her don’t I?”
“More like taught, it’s all past tense.”
There was a few more minutes of bickering, but Sywyn seemed to take his old friends advice and relaxed a little.
“Is there anything else we should know?”
“Nothing that I can think of.”
“This will all take place after the festival. You won’t know when, just be ready and on guard. I will not be the guard to interact with you. I will make apologies now, just in case he’s a little too rough.”
“Can’t be any worse than my slave driver teacher and whacking me with an arrow shaft.”
Sywyn chuckled and looked to Waien. “Oh really? Child abuse mate?”
“Huh? What?” Waien stammered.
“Well it would seem that your girl said you were whacking her with arrow shafts.”
The expression on Waien’s face was priceless, it was a mix of shock, fear, and maybe a dash of humor. “I did not. I only made her word twelve hours a day without food or water.”
As Waien spoke his pitiful defense, everyone laughed, including the barmaid who heard us talking.
“Aye! The dog does the same thin’ to me,” she commented playfully. Waien lifted his fist jokingly and shook it at her.
“Back in the kitchen wench and fetch me some meat!” He jested.
“Well I think it’s time for me to head back before my brother realizes that I’ve been gone too long. It was great to see you all.” I said with a hint of hesitation. I didn’t really want to leave, but I didn’t have much of a choice. “Hopefully, it will end soon.”
“I could give you a lift if you’d like,” Sywyn offered.
I shook my head. “No, I don’t like horses, they’re usually associated with trouble and that doesn’t have a hard time finding me. I’ll be alright. Remember. I grew up on the streets.”
I left them sitting there looking after me as I carried what was left of my rum bottle. The streets were practically devoid of life as I walked down them. There was the occasional cat call, or panhandler asking for any spare coin, but I kept going until I reach the stay house. Once there, I took the steps two at a time, I hit the door and turned the knob. Lock.
I could hear snoring from Toeryn and the rustling of his companion next to him. Remembering that he told me to get my own room, I retreated down the steps and looked for the inn keeper. He was a tall man with long blond hair. It was often loose, but neat looking. His arms were
“Lyssa, vhat can I do for you?”
“Toeryn’s got company, and locked me out. Again.”
“Got a spare for me?”
“Yah, I do have a spare room. Many in fact. Vhat you say to the special suite?”
“Really? How much?”
“For tonight, since you were so helpful to me, I give you free.”
I beamed happily and jumped on to the counter giving him a kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you so much.”
“Is nothing really. Just make sure you clean it up.”
I took the keep and flitted up the steps. I loved the special suite, it was an entire floor. The red velvet drapes blocked the sun from the window. The goose down mattress was covered with soft linens and every thing was spotless. My favorite feature of this room was the bath tub that was as large as a pool. I opened the door and found a warm cloth robe sitting on the bed. Immediately I stripped down, leaving my dirty clothing outside the door. Picking up the robe, I slid it on to my arms with ease and tied the belt.
Waien showed me everything there was to know about a bow. He was a strict, but good teacher. He would correct my form, posture, and positioning. Over the next few weeks, I would learn how to correctly shoot an arrow, how much to pull back, and how to keep my arms from getting archers burn.
Put this on yer bow arm,” He told me handing me an pliable leather arm guard. “It’ll keep your sleeve from getting in the way, protect your arm when you release of the bow string.”
I examined it for a few moments. It was soft, but still stiff. Three little knots of leather had been placed along the edge and three other strips were placed along the other edge to act as fastenings for the guard. Carefully, I wrapped it around my arm, Waien helped me to secure it to my arm.
Did you make this?” I asked, taking up the bow again. Once more he had adjusted my position.
Aye,” he replied. “A Simple thing to make, but damn useful.”
Over the past several weeks, I’ve never once seen Waien lose his temper with me. There were times I had pushed his limits, but he just sighed heavily and grunted his displeasure. I didn’t see much of Mandrel, since my night at the bar. Not that I didn’t want to, but I was ashamed of myself for making a fool of myself. When I asked Waien about him, I usually got an annoyed look and told that I shouldn’t bother with Mandrel, because it was pointless. Yet I couldn’t put him from my mind.
“When you can have any distraction,” He murmured into my ear, one day during our lessons. He was standing close to me, an arrow in hand. “Not bother you. That’s when you know you’ve become a true archer.”
My arrow flew away from the target when I felt the feathers of an arrow flick against my ear. My head moved slightly, away from the feathers, Waien chuckled.
Again,” he told me.
Waien kept this up. Flicking my ear when I least expected, throwing my form and aim off completely. I would growl with frustration and take up the bow again. On the times he didn’t flick my ears, I would hit my target perfectly. But when he did, my arrow would fly in random directions. Maglor would often chuckle as he watched the lessons from the shop. He even took some of the advice Waien had given to me.
Weeks past and I was getting better at not being distracted. I learned to keep my guard up around Waien. It was soon after that his feathers no longer bothered me. Having finished my work early one afternoon, I started practicing in the yard. I took aim of the bulls-eye, the wind was perfectly still.
“Both eyes open,” I murmured to myself.
“Well, well, well,” A voice mused from the wall. My arrow flew into a wall, the arrowhead breaking as it made contact.
I turned my gaze to look at who it was and nearly fell over. Toeryn.
“W-what are you doing it?” I asked while he hopped off the wall.
“Is that anyway to greet your big brother?” He said. Toeryn looked different, his eyes darker, his skin paler. “And I’ve come to claim back my littler sister. We have work to do.”
“No,” I said firmly. “I’m not going with you. I don’t need you.”
Toeryn stepped behind me, his breath smelled of cheap rot gut whiskey.
“No my dear Ana,” He said darkly, stroking my hair before he grabbed the plait and pulled hard. “That is where you are wrong. You do need me. And here’s why.”
“Ow!” I cried out, trying to wrench my hair from his grip.
“You will come with me, or I will tell the knights that you were also responsible for the pickpocketing,” He growled into my ear. “And I won’t even tell you what they do to little girls in those places.”
My whole body shook with fear, if I pulled away he yanked back; sending pain shooting through my scalp and down through my body. I heard the familiar sching of his dagger being pulled from its sheath and then felt the cold metal against my throat.
“Do I make myself clear, Anarar’ithil?” he asked darkly.
“Y-yes,” I replied, afraid to move my head and almost too frightened to speak. I had no choice but to do as he said. If I didn’t, he would surely kill me.
Toeryn pulled the blade away from my throat and against my hair. I felt my hair fall away in a swift movement and then heard the dull thump as it landed in the dirt.
We left Malgor’s without a word of notice, Toeryn dragging me forcefully along by my arm. We moved down the streets quickly, I hadn’t been in this far away from the main streets. Try as I might, I would struggle to break free, futile at best, but I had to try. If I could get away from Toeryn long enough to find Waien, or even Mandrel, I might have had a chance. But Toeryn’s grip was strong. Silently I prayed someone I knew would recognize me and told Waien. Secretly I prayed he would save me.
No one came though.
I had left the Diplomacy, confused. My mind was reeling at what Waien had told me. There was so much I wanted to ask him, but never would. Waien wasn’t the sort to blab about his business, he told you what he wanted you to know and nothing more.
When I finally returned to the shop, Maglor was fanning himself with a bit of parchment. He looked up and smiled when he seen me enter the door.
“Hot out there,” he said. “Too hot to do any work. C’mon we’re going to go swimming.”
“Swimming?” I asked. “Isn’t that a little inappropriate?”
“Maybe so, but it’s too hot for propriety,” he told me. “You’ll see what I mean.”
I follow Maglor down to the river just past the west gate bridge. . The banks were covered with people who were in nothing more than their under clothes. Maglor and I spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the river. It looks as if we weren’t the only ones who gave up the ideas of propriety that day. Delila and several other girls from the house, joined us. All of us screamed and laughed happily as we splashed each other with water. Maglor and Delila sat on the banks watching us with smiles on their faces. There were other townspeople, and children who join us in the splashing game. Maglor and Delila joined us moments later to get revenge for all of us splashing them while they sat on the hot stones.
Ten days passed, I had stayed up all night to make sure that I had finished Waien’s arrows. I was looking forward to being able to see the inside of the Diplomacy again. The air had cooled a great deal and the shop wasn’t nearly as stuffy as it had been the previous week. Maglor came to the shop early in the morning and began working on a bow almost immediately.
“Lyssa,” he said. “I have to make a delivery to the Ministry of War. They are training new recruits with bows and need some blunted arrows. I expect to be gone most of the day.”
“Okay,” I said while boxing up Waien’s arrows.
“I need you to break this bow in,” He explained, motioning to longbow that he worked on the previous day. “Work on it until it feels slightly loose.”
“I don’t know-” I began.
“You’ll do fine Lyssa,” Maglor said. “You’ve seen me do it a million times.”
“Alright,” I said. “I do it. How many arrows do you want me to fletch today?”
“Just cut the feathers to size today,” He said. “It’ll take you most of the afternoon to shoot that bow.”
Maglor left when the sun was up high enough to burn off the mist. I took the bow and a basket of arrows to the back yard. Carefully, I nocked the arrow, pull back and release. For a few short seconds, it flies through the air and then speared the ground. I repeated this process over and over again, each time the arrow fell short of the target.
“Yer late,” The arrow that released whistled through the air, as I jumped from the voice that startled me. “An’ yer holdin’ the bow all wrong.”
A few feet away stood Waien with his arms folded over his chest. He would a plain brown tunic and brown trousers. Judging by the smirk on his face, Waien had been standing there for a while watching me make a fool of myself with the bow.
“I lost track of time,” I explained. “Maglor asked me to break the bow in.”
“Yeah well,” he said as he stepped behind me. “That’s Mag fer ya. Didn’t have the time ‘r patience ta teach ya how ta do it correctly b’fore he left. That’s a bad thing fer a bow. Could snap in half, then he’d have ta start all over again.”
Silently, he kicked my feet apart . He placed his hand on my back and forced me to stand straight. Then he took my left hand and placed it correctly on the bow. Taking an arrow from the basket, he put it in place and stood so close behind me, I could taste the musky fragrance he gave off.
“Lift yer arms, keep your right arm in line with yer jaw,” He whispered. “Look down the shaft o’ the arrow an’ mark yer target.”
His hand wrapped around mine, my breathing increased as he did so. While there was nothing between Waien and I, this was the closest a man had ever been to me.
“Relax yer shoulders,” Waien told me. Easier said than done. “Let the arrow be yer guide.”
I tried to relax, taking a deep breath as I looked down the shaft of the arrow at the target thirty feet away. Waien drew my arm back, the bow tightened under my hand, creaking slightly with the pressure.
“Release,” He breathed into my ear.
His hand unwrapped from mine at the same my fingers released the bowstring. The arrow flew towards the target fast, and the bowstring made a resounding twang upon letting go. When it hit the target, it made a dull thump. I cried out in delight when it met the target. Waien stood back and smiled roguishly before taking his own bow off his back and loading an arrow. Without a word, he nocked an arrow, and released it. It hit dead center. Chuckling he nocked another arrow and fired it at the first one. I stood there amazed as the first arrow was split in two by the second.
“Whoa,” I said, very much impressed. “That was awesome.”
“I know,” he said smugly. “Takes years o’ practice.”
Waien spoke to Maglor about him giving me some time during the afternoon to practice. I would be able to get off work two hours early to practice learning how to use and care for a bow properly. It would seem from the way Waien explained, there was no room for discussion, he had wanted it to happen and made sure that it did. I learned about this agreement that evening when Waien show up to Delila’s and thrust a bow into my hands.
“Yer job to take care o’ it,” He told me. “You won’t get another for a long time if you break that one, you hear.”
I stared at the bow in awe then at Waien.
“You’re going to teach me?” I asked.
“Somethin’ like that,” He replied, running his fingers through his hair.
Delila had made her appearance down the steps, smiling at Waien, who openly stared at her heaving bosom. I rolled my eyes hard at the display.
“Going out Del,” I said, taking my hat off the peg and tucking my hair under it. “Shouldn’t be too late.”
“I’ll keep the door open for you, dear,” She said breathlessly.
“C’mon, before you get drool on her carpet, then she’ll have to beat you senseless,” I told Waien, taking his arm and pulling him out of the house.
“She can beat–” He started.
“Don’t finish that,” I finished. “I don’t want to know what sort of life my house mother has with my mentor.”
“Uptight ’bout such things are we?” Waien said jokingly. “Worried about yer own virtue?”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” I said firmly. “but no, I ain’t worried about my own virtue, thank you very much. Where are we going that we can speak without you drooling over Delila’s breasts?”
Waien sobered up immediately.
“I’m supposed to meet my mate at the pub ’round the corner,” He said taking my arm, leading me down the street.
“So you can get even more drunk?” I asked smartly. “How many have you had so far?”
Waien didn’t answer my question as we walked down the road. When we entered the door, we were greeted with loud chatter and clanking glasses when we entered the pub. The smell of ale and whiskey filled my nostrils as we walked through. Waien’s eyes looked around the pub for his mate. There were some men who were singing off key, painted women who draped themselves over those who were dressed richly. It was their goal to get the money before the client was too drunk.
“Waien!” A voice shouted above the crowd. “Over here!”
I recognized the man who was waving Waien over. He was the man that Toeryn and I had staked out. There was no mistake about it, his white hair glittered in the lamplight and his teeth showed with a cheerful smile that sparkled like pearls.
“Ah ha mate, got a date do you?” He said when we approached. I know that he recognized me. The amused expression on his face as he looked me over told me so.
“No, Lyssa, this is Mandrel,” Waien growled. “Mandrel, Lyssa.”
“Enchanted,” Mandrel said in a suave voice while he kissed my hand. “The pleasure is mine, seeing as I didn’t catch your name during our last meeting.”
I must’ve turned a deep crimson, for both Mandrel and Waien let out hearty laughs. I did catch Waien as he rolled his eyes and shook his head with a sigh. I was certain that Waien didn’t know about my brief run in with Mandrel and he had probably taken our exchange as something entirely different. I slumped into a chair and looked to my hands. This caused Mandrel to chuckle, and Waien leaned towards me whispering something, his eyes never leaving Mandrel.
“Watch yerself ’round tha’ one” He told me. His words would fall on semi-deaf ears as I watched Mandrel looking between the two of us. A red tint filled my cheeks when his eyes locked on mine for a moment.
I was grateful the barmaid had come over to get our orders. She was rather plain looking. Mousy brown hair that hung limply around her unremarkable face. Her apron was stained and turning an unsavory shade of gray, and the brown dress she wore look as though it had seen better days.
“Ale, an’ milk for th’ girl,” Waien told her. Once again he wasn’t staring at her face. His eyes were glued to the generous amount of cleavage the woman exposed.
“Bottle of rum and a glass,” I corrected. Mandrel looked at me somewhat impressed. “I’ll pay for my own drinks.”
“Did ya wan’ a never endin’ Waien?” The woman asked him as she leaned down just a bit to give him a better view of her assets.
I looked away from the table, Mandrel seemed used to this sort of behavior from Waien and thought nothing of it while he took a drink from his glass. I noted some people who looked familiar to me, people I had seen in the city center. A man who had argued with his wife on the street after she had discovered his mistress in bed. A young girl who spent her days money in the pub, Delila had pointed her out to me. A lost girl as she put it, sells herself to the night, and drinks it away to forget.
When the barmaid returned with our order. I took the stopper from the bottle and poured me a glass of the rum. The spice burn filled my nose as I brought the rim of the glass to my lips. My eyes never once coming off the girl at the counter. You can only help them, if they want it themselves. Delila’s words lingered in my head a moment before I swallowed a mouthful of the rum .The strong oaky flavor lingering for a moment until the sweetness of caramel of it overcame it, the spices played lightly with my taste buds. Finally the burn, the one that scorched my throat all the way down before it settled in my stomach and the warm feeling that followed behind.
“Bloody hell girl,” Mandrel exclaimed. “Slow down a bit. You’ll be sorry in the morning you keep that up.”
I looked down to my glass and realized that I had just drained it completely without stopping.
“Sorry,” I said setting down the glass. “Lost my thoughts.”
“I’ll say,” Mandrel said with an impish smirk playing with the corners of his mouth.
To say he was good looking would be an understatement. Mandrel had a flare about him that made him radiate more. His well groomed appearance may have had something to do with that. Mandrel sat with his hand resting under his chin as he looked around the pub. I wasn’t listening to his and Waien’s conversation, rather lost in my thoughts with the stories my mind weaved around the people who came into the pub.
“What do you mean your her teacher?” Mandrel said, his voice pulling me back to reality.
“Just what I said,” Waien said taking a long drink from his ale stein. “Going to teach her how to shoot a bow.”
“I think you’ve been tapping into the keg a little to hard there, mate,” Mandrel said with a laugh.
“He’ll learn that I am a quick pupil,” I piped up in Waien defense. “He’s a brilliant teacher.”
“Oh ho, I bet he is,” Mandrel jested. Waien’s hand shoved Mandrel playfully and they both laughed.
“Mind yer manners,” Waien told him in a firm voice that dripped with sarcasm. “Missy here is very much worried about her virtue.”
My skin flushed again. Heat raising to my cheeks as Waien made yet another comment on a topic I wasn’t quite ready to discuss with either of these two.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Mandrel said patting my hair gingerly. “It’s good for woman to have something to worry about.”
Being this close to him, I realized just how beautiful he really was. His sharp features softened with his eyes. I stared into them for a brief moment. They were the softest blue I had ever seen, gentle and playful at the same time. Mandrel’s skin was pale in comparison to Waien’s, giving him an almost ethereal glow. His lips were two thin pink lines that were permanently curved into a half smirk. I looked away from him before had a chance to notice.
“How long have you and Waien been friends?” I asked, forgetting to pour the rum into the glass and drinking directly from the bottle.
“Since we were kids,” Mandrel replied. Waien was busy downing another pint of ale. He eyed me carefully as I drank deeply from the bottle.“What made you want him as a teacher?”
“I didn’t,” I replied, when I set the bottle down. Both of them were looking at me with a shocked expression. “I don’t mind though, it will help me with work.”
“Which is what exactly?” Mandrel said, taking a drink from his glass. His voice was smooth, it left me feeling light headed. Though it could have been the rum. It would be hard to deny that I was very much attracted to Mandrel in a way that I wasn’t to Waien. Waien and I had more of a professional relationship, with Mandrel it was different.
“I fletch arrows and recently started to learn to break bows in,” I replied, suddenly I felt self conscious and took another drink. “I fletch the arrows for Waien’s orders too.” I continued trying to make it sound important.
“That’s impressive,” he said stroking my bruised ego. “Even the smallest menial job needs someone to work it. Take Waien for example.”
“Hey!” Waien piped up. “My job isn’t menial.”
“And just what exactly is your job title this week oh great one?” Mandrel said sarcastically. Though his tone was still playful. Something told me that this banter was common between these two old friends.
“What exactly is yer job this week?” Waien countered, draining his glass. I laughed as these two went back and forth.
As the night moved forward, my bottle of rum got lower and lower. The stories Mandrel told became more funny with each passing word. I was feeling loose, relaxed, perhaps a bit too much. I was becoming brave, bold even. Moving my chair closer to Mandrel, my fingers lightly pushing a few locks of his white hair away so that I could better see his face.
“Yer very pretty ya know tha’?” I said to Mandrel slurring my words, batting my eyes at him. A dopey smile on my lips. My face was only inches from his. Closing my eyes for a moment I inhaled his sweet smell. A scent that was very different from Waien’s. It was warm and sweet, with a hint of spice. And oh did it smell good.
When I opened my eyes again, Mandrel smiled, leaning over to whisper something to Waien. His response was a somber nod of his head. My brow furrowed slightly as I watched the exchange. “Tha’s s’not nice ya know”
“I think you had enough to drink, girl,” Waien said, reaching for my bottle. I quickly snatched it away and glared at him.
“Mmf I’m fine,” I replied I. “I’m not drunk.”
“M’dear, I think you are,” Mandrel chuckled, motioning with his hand for the bottle. There wasn’t that much of the dark brown liquid left in it when I placed it in his hands. He looked at Waien and laughed softly. “Only took her the whole bottle to get this way.”
They murmured back and forth for a few moments. I watched them, though I could barely make out a word they were saying. I did hear my name a few times, though.
“I’m schtill here you know,” I slurred, I looked at them out of the corners of my eyes. “An’ I’m not deaf.”
“We see that girl,” Waien said with snort. “We’re tryin’ to figure out what do to with you.”
“I’ll sit here,” I said, “At least until Mandrel agrees to-”
I don’t remember what happened after that, I barely remember someone lifting me up. I stirred slightly with a cool breeze. Footsteps on the cobbles filled my ears. My arms were wrapped around someones neck, and my head resting on their chest. Their hands were strong, cradling my back and just behind my knees as they carried me. I felt safe and protected. Two voices spoke softly, neither of them sounded winded.
“She can drink, aye?” I recognized the voice a Mandrel’s. It was clearer and I could make out his accent better.
“Don’t you start thinkin’ that way,” A more gruff voice said.
“Waien, whaddya take me for?” Mandrel said defensively. I’m no’ thinkin’ tha’. Jus’ merely she slammed back tha’ rum fas’ is all.”
“She could probably drink more, but I ‘xpect it were nerves.” Waien replied.
“Nerves ’bout wha’?” Mandrel asked. My body shifted slightly and I groaned a bit, wrapping my arms tighter around my personal carrier.
“Yer the one carryin’ ‘er.” Waien responded. His voice seemed far away as I sank back into the darkness of sleep. I didn’t have time to be self-conscious about Mandrel carrying me.
I stirred slightly as I was placed on something soft. My arms were unwrapped from around Mandrel’s neck, while someone worked wordlessly to remove my boots. I heard them hit the floor with a dull thump.
“How much did she have?” A woman’s voice rang out in a sweet soft voice.
“Almost a whole bottle of rum,” Waien replied. “If she doesn’t feel this in the morning, she’ll be one lucky little girl.”
A blanket was pulled over me and a soft hand lightly grazed my cheek, before soft footsteps retreated from my bedside.
“Should be careful of tha’ one, aye?” Mandrel’s voice said softly as the door clicked shut.
It’s been a very crazy three months. Preparations for this holiday have been ridiculous. But somehow, I magically managed to make it through the season of hope and joy with little blood shed.
Last night was the final Christmas gathering. So without further ado allow me to recap.
Each year since I have moved out here, I end up having to appear at several different places for Christmas. This year first on the list was Donella’s house. Donella is my other mother, she my mom away from mom. Someone I can go to get a mom hug when I really need one.
Mid-morning on Christmas eve, we bundled up and went to her house. Which is all of 1000 feet from my apartment. Yeah she lives that close. Zachery, myself, Rhys, my brother and my dad pitched in to get her a a really nice candle and a candle warmer. She bought Zachery and I a seven piece hamper and storage set, and a collage style picture frame. My father received a foot massage pillow and my brother got a bed pillow and some other little items from her.
After that it was off to work. Yes, even though I requested off, I went in to make up hours I had missed. After five hours of work, it was back home to spend some time in front of my computer playing my game and then wrap gifts. I didn’t realize I had so many gifts left to wrap. I was up until 3:30 am wrapping gifts. Fun. Not.
Now my dad was in town and that was great having him around for the holidays, it almost felt normal. Dad’s girlfriend and her daughter stayed over. LGIB is the daughter. She was excited and had a hard time falling asleep.
So morning rolled around, and my son was ecstatic. Christmas had arrived, but I just didn’t feel it. A feeling I was used to, since I hadn’t felt it in several years, this one was no different. Except it started with an argument between between BF and I. Pffft. Lovely. Not wanting to discuss yet another argument between me and him, I’ll end this part and leave it with it lasted almost the whole day.
Once we got the webcam set up, so that Momma and Grams could tune in to watch us all open gifts, the wrapping paper started to fly. Rhys made out like bandit with the amount of gifts that he received, LGIB and her mom did as well.
The final gift was one for me. A sterling silver key pendant necklace. Boyfriend got it for me and I was crying because of it. He had told me that they were sold out and that he got me something else that he was sure I would like. Meanwhile, I thought to myself, you don’t know what I like in jewelry. Well the joke was on me. The store had sold out; he had gotten the last one.
The other favorite gift was a small glass Tinker Bell whose base says “May all your dreams come true.” Anyone who knows me knows I love faeries, pixies, and Tink. It was another gift that made me tear up as I opened it.
After all the presents were opened, Boyfriend and I had to get ready for Christmas number three. We arrived there late, as per tradition and had some food. Knowing full well that dad was home cooking Christmas supper, I didn’t eat too much. Once food was done, we trooped into the living room and the present opening began again.
From here I received, money, gift cards, Charmed seasons four and five and a few other little things that I am far to lazy to turn around and look at to list off. It was an enjoyable time. A few hours later, it was time to head home again for more food. Christmas dinner food. I was super excited about this.
It wasn’t as big as the meals that I’ve been to for Christmas before, but it was still a meal I was proud to be apart of because my family was together. We had ham, green beans, corn, homemade mashed potatoes, candied yams (yuck,) and of course pumpkin pie. The food was delicious, the ham was literally falling to pieces but it was just cooked perfectly.
It was a very enjoyable to sit and have my family with me, new and old.
The day after, was filled with watching Charmed and doing returns for the few items that we did have to return. After all of that was said done and over with, we had to venture out to boyfriend’s Aunt’s house for the final Christmas.
While at this house I am not a mom, I’m just another person and my son is free to do as he pleases. I try to be a mom and they undermine me, but I’m powerless to say anything. Why? Because they look down on me already and rather then goad them into getting pissy with me even more I just grin and bear it.
We had tons of gifts. Rhys of course made out like a bandit here too. The hottest gift of the night was the Bat-cave he got from Nan Nan. I received clothes, the damnable gift of underwear, which amused me to no end since they were three sizes too big for me. Socks, and candy a Tinker Bell keepsakes ornament and a gift card; which I used to purchase The Tudors Season Three.
So now that’s it’s over I’m looking forward to ending this year as it has been rough, but all in all not too bad.
With that I will leave you with this.
Keep it real and rockin’
Needless to say, I didn’t have as many stops this Christmas as I did in the past. Christmas Eve, I drove to the city and spent time with Pearce, Gene, Val, Teresa, Jess and even Carol and a few others popped over. We exchanged a few gifts, which means I have a whole slew of new movies to watch. I love me some DVD’s. There was also a large amount of food. Over a year ago, I described one summer when Pearce and I devoured “a stupid amount of shrimp”. Well, this was close. It was amazing how much there was.
After the evening began to go past midnight, I crashed over at Pearce’s place after parking and plugging the car in behind Pearce’s BRAND NEW CAR, I had a good sleep. I was extremely tired, and though I did want to see if I could connect the laptop to the wi-fi network at Pearce’s, I just fell into a blissful slumber.
The next day, Christmas day, to be precise, I drove over to mom and dad’s place. And more food. Festive conversation and a great meal (my folks are vegetarian, but can put on a really good spread, even without turkey or ham). As the day went on, and I had a nap, it came time to say good bye and head back home.
This Christmas has been a lot more relaxing than Christmas in the past. The car was a big help (though, the timing belt issue was scary). I’m just glad I had the opportunity to spend it with friends and family.
So, in the words of the second official language of the nation in which I live…
Ayez Joyeux Noël et tout le meilleur dans le nouvel an.
Oh, and as always, until next time…
Gardez-les en volant!
It took day and night for me to complete the arrows. On the third day, when Maglor came into the shop, he sat next to me and helped me finish the last fifty. For a while we sat in silence, I think he understood how grateful I was for his assistance. When the sun came up, he left me to finish the last arrow and went to retrieve two long boxes for me to place the arrows in.
“Maglor?” I called out. “Tell me about Waien.”
“Depends on what you want to know,” he replied.
“Well, what does he do?” I asked. “I mean he buys the specialty arrows, so does he hunt?”
“Waien, turns those arrows in to something more than just specialty arrows, Lyssa,” Maglor explained. “He imbues them with magic.”
“Wait,” I said. “You mean he’s a mage?”
“Something like that,” he said. “He’s the son of the Arch Druid.”
“Son of the Arch Druid?” I asked with my eyes wide in shock. “That means he’s-”
“He still a customer, Lyssa,” Maglor said interrupting me. “He prefers to be treated as such, so don’t go opening your mouth about it, you hear?”
“Yeah,” I said dully. “So why is he in Stonebridge?”
“If you want to find out,” he said handing me the two boxes of arrows, roughly. “Ask him yourself.”
Maglor gave me the direction on where to find Waien in the Diplomacy of the Garden. I had seen the building, but I had never been inside. I walked down the brown cobbled street, crossing the bridge. It was very hot, unpleasantly so. The sun made shimmers on the cobbles and blinded me with its reflection on the water. There was a slight breeze that followed the river but it gave very little relief.
As I approached the market place, I slowed down to look over the wares. Fabric, spices, trinkets and jewelery covered the surfaces of the shaded stalls. Merchants eyed me curiously, pointing out their wares and telling me how good of a deal I would be getting if I bought it that day. Some of the merchants knew me and waved in greeting, others looked at me in disdain since I wasn’t purchasing anything. Strangely enough, the heat seemed subdue the market place. It was even hotter here with all the people, their wares and the blistering sun whipping us with its rays.
I finally arrived at the Diplomacy. Two guards stood on either side of the doors, they didn’t move. The strong wooden doors were intricately designed, each one depicted a giant oak tree with its branches spreading out across the door. There were symbols carved into it, one for each element, and another for the spirit. Perhaps it was my mind playing tricks on me in the heat, but I thought that branches on the tree rustled a bit as my fingers traced over the carving. I blinked a few times before going into the building.
I was greeted with lush greenery, falling water and the sound of birds. Several people were milling about, a few stopped to look at me and my expression. A woman dressed in a several shades of green gossamer cloth laughs softly. I looked around wide eyed and amazed. To my left was a large pool with rocks that surrounded the edge, water fell into it from a ledge that jutted from the ceiling. All sorts of trees, and plants covered the floor. Which even that was spongy grass and moss. I felt as though I stepped into an entirely different world. A place that was magical and natural all at once.
“Is there something I can help you miss?” A soft woman’s voice said to me.
I was more interested in staring at the flowers that looked like pin cushions. There was so much to take in. The smell of wet dirt, and the fragrant flowers that grew everywhere.
“Oi think she’s lost,” A tiny voice said. Bringing my attention back to reality. “Betcha one in ten she’s not where she’s suppose to be.”
“Mayrina, that’s enough out of you,” The other voice said sweetly. Her voice was like a bell. “She’s never been here, that much is apparent.”
“No, I’ve never been here,” I said dreamily. I felt as if a spell had been cast over me. “But this is where I am supposed to be. I have a delivery for Waien.”
“Oh yes, he said he was expecting someone,” the woman said. “I can take you to him.”
The woman had rich brown skin, waist length hair in a deep golden yellow, and eyes that reminded me of embers in a dying fire. Her clothing were made of rich browns, warm yellows and crisp green layers that flattered her full and lush body. It was clasped at one shoulder and draped down across her front. She was easily the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life.
“Ooh but I wanted to show her,” The tiny voice cried out. “You always take the guests to their hosts, when’s it going to be my turn?
I turned my head slightly to see a small figure no bigger than my whole hand. She wore a skirt that looked like an upside down flower and on her head, was luminous green hair twisted into two buns on either side of her head. A bright glow surrounded her body and two iridescent wings. Never in my life had I seen something tiny. I laughed a little when her tiny face turned into a pout.
“When you grow up,” the woman giggled. “Please follow me and mind the willows, they tend to be a bit grabby.”
The woman lead me through the halls, each step took me deeper and deeper into the Diplomacy. Each room was more lush and full than the last. Birds flew by me, playing their own little game of tag. People looked at me curiously for a moment then went back to their conversations, or caring for the massive garden. Animals gazed at me too, calmly, with the same dreamy look that I felt. It baffled me how these animals were able to stay here and not go on instinct to kill each other. A tiger lounging in a ray of the hot sun while a stag and a doe stood grazing near by.
When we approached the center of the building I took a deep breath in. In the center of the room stood the largest oak tree I had ever seen. It’s branches reach towards the glass domed roof, which was intricately designed to resemble a golden web. The area was lower than the ground we walked on, the separation shown by the labyrinthine fencing. Step stones were placed to act as stairs to reach the tree. Along the flagstone wall of the fence were curved stone benches. Another woman who resembled the one who followed me lounged idly on one of them. The whole room took me off guard, sure I had heard stories of what the inside looked like. It was something one had to experience to fully understand the beauty that was literally hidden in the stone.
I didn’t even realize that we had made our way to Waien, until he spoke.
“Yer late,” he said in a gruff voice. “I ‘xpected these arrows this morning.”
“Sorry,” I replied distractedly.
Waien sighed heavily as he leaned against a tree. My eyes still wandered around the room, as big as saucers.
“Ye’ve never been here b’fore.” Waien said. It wasn’t a question.
“No, it’s so beautiful, why would anyone give this up?” The words flew from my mouth before I could catch them.
“Sometimes, we have different paths that we wanna go,” he said scratching his chin. “It only takes one choice ta make a whole new direction, but the question remains, where will ya go from there.”
“Is that why you…” I trailed off. My nose wrinkled slight at the questions I wanted to ask him.
“Me father’s the Arch Druid,” he said staring at the massive oak tree. “Being the oldest o’ three children, I was ta follow in me father’s footsteps an’ b’come his successor. Except that’s not what I wanted fer me. I wanted ta b’come a mage. Me father told me no, that my job was ta care for the Keeper of the Glade. She’s the only keeper. Her tree is almost as old as time itself. But it wasn’t for me, I didn’t wanna to spend me life lookin’ over her, I wanted me freedom. After months of fightin’ an’ arguin’ with me father, I left. I came ta Stonebridge ta study magic. End o’ story”
I listened to his story silently. Only for a moment did I feel any sympathy for Waien. It lingered only for a moment before I realized that he didn’t want sympathy, he wanted me to understand where he came from. Waien took the boxes from my hands and carefully inspected the arrows. His slender fingers moved along the shaft, with care and experience.
“Ya did a fine job,” He told me while his fingers touched the fletching. Waien held the arrow up and looked down it’s shaft. “A work of art, a great deal o’ attention ta the finer details.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I should… I should be going.”
“I’ll see ya in ten days,” Waien said gathering up the boxes and disappearing behind some hanging vines.
Delila had helped me obtain a job with a bowyer named Maglor. She had called in a favor from him. Seeing as he was one of her former clients, he was more than happy help her out in giving me work. When we arrived at his shop, he took my hands immediately in his and examined them.
“Tiny,” he said softly. “Perfect for detail. She’s a good find Delila.”
“I figured as much,” Delila replied with a purr in her voice. “Are you willing to teach her?”
“She can start tomorrow,” He smiled.
Maglor was a kind man, though very strict when it came to his craft. For the most part, I clipped feathers to the right size for the arrows that Maglor made. He showed me the perfect size and made me do it over and over and over again until I had it perfect. Maglor showed me the difference between specialty arrow shafts and common every day shafts. He also showed me how to mount the fletching to arrow with a sinew from a deer. At first, one arrow took me three or four hours. Maglor was patient, never raised his voice and always showed me how to correct mistake I had made.
“If the fletching isn’t set right,” he explained on day. “The arrow will not shoot straight or it will whistle. The only time they should whistle is when they are to become signal arrows. Also make sure the threading is tight. You don’t want the feathers to fall out.”
I followed his instructions and with in a few weeks I was able to make a half dozen arrows in an hour or two. Impressed with my speed and learning ability, Maglor taught me how to fletch the specialty arrows. I took a bit more care in binding process, they were a higher quality of wood, and expensive. I watch Maglor make arrow heads. The tiny amount of molten metal was poured into a small cast and left to cool. They were then shaped to a smooth edge and set aside to be mounted onto the arrows. The left over shavings went into make more arrowheads. Fresh metal was used on all the specialty arrows, though their shavings were often reheated and used for the common arrows.
The most interesting thing to watch was when Maglor had an order for a bow. Watching him create a beautiful bow from a staff never failed to amaze me. He would start with a stave of wood, usually Oak or Maple, and in just a few short hours he would have a longbow ready to be strung. Maglor made it look simple. There were always lengths of wood tied to something, these were bow making woods that were seasoning.
“You’ve heard the old saying a branch that doesn’t bend, breaks right?” Maglor said to me one afternoon when he was making a simple long bow.
“Yes, it means as people and things change you should change too,” I replied not looking up from the threading I was doing.
“Correct,” he said. “Do you realize that it was probably a bowyer who came up with phrase?”
“I wouldn’t put it past one,” I said with a chuckle. “It’s probably the reason that bowyer can’t use extremely dried wood. The wood would snap and you’d have nothing but kindling.”
Maglor laughed softly as he worked the string onto a bow. This process took him hours to do. Bending a bit, then letting go, sometimes taking a bit of wood off to help shape the bow better. Once it was strung, he would leave it strung to break in the wood. The next day he would take the bow outside and shoot arrows at the target. Some would fall short, others used the entire pull of the bow. Finally, when he was satisfied with it, he would rub it down with animal fat to keep it from drying out or becoming too damp.
Some time later, I was working on an order of specialty arrows. Carefully threading the sinew through the feather. This wasn’t first time I had filled this particular order, the man who ordered them always ordered them with turkey feathers and linen threading. Maglor, explained to me, that he was one of the few customers who ordered the specialty arrows frequently.
“Ahh, Waien,” Maglor said. “Good to see you.”
“Mag,” Waien replied. “Gonna need more arrows. The last batch you gave me was bloody amazin’.”
“Oh?” Maglor said curiously, casting a gaze my direction for a moment as I worked on the fletching.
“I never had an arrow fly so smooth,” Waien said. “What did ya use ta hold the feathers in place? It weren’t the usual linen thread.”
I lifted my head and then looked at what I working on. Specialty arrows with sinew instead of thread. Damn it, I though to myself.
“Deer sinew,” I said without looking back at him. “I learned that it shrinks to the shaft when it dries out and makes an even tighter grip on turkey feathers.”
“Who’s the lass?” He asked Maglor.
“My apprentice,” Maglor replied. “Lyssa, come here.”
Taking a deep breath, I slid back my chair and made my way to the front counter of the shop. Waien had bright red hair like mine, his deeply tanned skin proved that he spent too much time in the sun. He gave off a feeling of being rough and rugged but a little more refine. Waien carried himself differently from the other woodsmen that I had seen in the shop. The expression on his face was one of recognition. He knew who I was.
“So, this is the wee one who’s been workin’ on me arrows,” Waien said, smirking. His eyes had a laugh to them. “I remember you. You were at the bathhouse a few months ago. Really caught the eye for me mate.”
“Waien, this is Lyssa,” Maglor said tensely. “My apprentice.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. I shrugged off the comment about the bathhouse. I recalled him and his mate, I also recalled him and his mate talking about me. “I apologize for the mistake I made with your arrows.”
“No, dunna worry ’bout it,” he told me. “In fact, I want ya ta continue that mistake with me arrows, and I’ll expect them ta be d’livered in three days time. All two-hundred of ‘em.”
Maglor nodded grimly, knowing that I was the one who was going to fletch every single arrow.
“And next time Miss Lyssa, you’ll pay careful attention to which arrows you are working on,” Waien told me while he counted out and handed several coins to Maglor.
“Thank you, Waien,” Maglor said as Waien walked out of the shop. Then he turned to me. “Do you realized you could have cost me one of the biggest customers of this shop?”
“I… I’m sorry Maglor,” I said. “I just wasn’t paying attention, it was late when I started Waien’s arrows and didn’t even realize that I was using the sinew.”
“Well you should consider yourself extremely lucky, girl,” He told me. I honestly think I would have preferred him to scream and yell at me than continue in a his calm voice. “Because you are going to fletch every single one of those arrows. I don’t care how long you are here for. You made this mess, you fix it.”
Yep, it’s that time of year again.
You know what I’m talking about.
It’s that magical time of year, when people lose their fucking minds in the name of Christmas cheer and holiday spirit.
I hate this holiday.
Why? Because things changed so much that it no longer became a fun holiday. Reason for this is simple. I grew up. Scary ain’t it?
When I was a kid, I used to get so excited about getting dressed up in my tights and shiny tip-tap shoes and the standard fancy holiday dress, then going to Grandmom’s house Christmas eve.
Grams’ place was the awesome place. She would go all out for decorating. Lights, tree, ornaments. Now Grams’ house was small, it was only her and Grampy there except on Christmas eve. Then it was Grams, Grampy, Uncle Mike, Mom, dad, Me and then later on there was my brother, Aunt Jen, and my two cousins. With everyone there, all the gifts, and all the food, plus furniture it was cramped. But we loved doing this every year.
The year I was considered no longer a kid, was kind of a shock. The living room was usually packed with the kids’ gifts. Four or five of us kids at times. When I turned 18, my gift pile got smaller, and my stuff was moved to the adult stuff. Now I loved all of my gifts that I got and was thankful them but I couldn’t help feeling like the fun of Christmas was over.
No longer was I asked for a Christmas list, I was an adult.
There was also the year my family started to fall apart. That was a painful. Thankfully there was enough of a facade of a happy family to make it through one last Christmas together. Opened up presents in the morning, Dad got to smile to see his family happy because they had things they wanted. But… when January rolled around, and the power was shut off, we knew why.
It wasn’t until recently that I explained to both my parents that I knew how much they did for us, and how much the sacrificed to make sure we had everything we wanted for Christmas. Many people see me ditzy and unobservant, but that’s just a mask. I knew what issues my parents were having, but it didn’t matter to me at the time. I was a kid, and it was Christmas. Mind you this was all after I stopped believing Santa.
Now I have a kid of my own and I would do anything to see him smile. Including watching my accounts go negative for the millionth time, paying the NSF fees, letting my rent and other bills lapse just so I can make sure that he has a great Christmas.
In doing this it’s made me realize I understand what it means to give up everything for someone just to make them smile. I understand why my dad never gave us a Christmas list. All I want for Christmas is to see my family smile.
However, it doesn’t make me like the holiday anymore. I’m just better at hiding it. Every year I drag out my decorations, tree, and make 3d paper snowflakes. And every year I smiles and pretend to be cheerful so my son doesn’t worry. But I know in my heart one year he’s going to know I’m faking it. I just hope by then he’ll be old enough to understand.
A big reason I dislike Christmas is the fact it cost so much money. Gifts. Now I don’t have a lot of money, I never have. So when my family sends money for their gifts, I take one and make it the to so and so; from some family member. Everything comes from Santa. Mom told me this is the way it should be, and it probably is. But really it’s more like easing my conscious for being so poor I can hardly afford gifts. Santa is a good scapegoat.
I do hope that one year I do get my Christmas spirit back, but for now, I’ll just keep wearing the mask.
Keep it real and rockin’
It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted anything that I almost feel guilty. Almost.
It’s been very busy for me with prepping for my son’s birthday party, now the holidays. Balancing game time with my new friends and old ones, as well slotting in time to actually make money by working.
So much has happened over the past few weeks that I’ve been sort of out of it. So much so that I have been a horrible friend, less than dedicated player and an even worse worker.
I think right now that I’ve got it all sorted out in cracking down. I’ve one more issue to jump over and if I survive this then I’m sure I will be just fine.
You see the other day I had a thought collision in the most epic sort of way. I was thinking one thing and blurted something else out. The result was I was sent home early, but this was a bad enough comment that it could affect my job. So we shall see when I go back in tomorrow.
Now that the party is over and done with, and I only need to worry about party, I’m much calmer and slowly coming to terms with the fact I may not be able to do this without a helping hand.
However I am trying first, to see if i tread water just enough to keep from sinking. I do know when I need to reach for help that there will be more than enough people to help pull me out.
With that being said. I’d like to share with you what I have been writing. I do hope you enjoy it.
Until It’s Too Late
The Sanctuary was quiet except for the whirring and whizzing of the machines and other technologies that filled the massive structure. The soft click of a woman’s boots tapped against the flooring softly as she made her way through the halls of the still new base. She was still learning her way around and jokingly thought they should invest in map kiosk like those at a mall.
The defenses of the base were of no danger to her. Deactivating once they recognized the coding that was laced inside her small Codex Cross. They wouldn’t notice. No one would. Not until it was too late. Even the woman wouldn’t know.
“Good evening, Grey Kestrel,” a smooth robotic voice called out. “Did all go well with the soul crystals?”
“Hello GENI,” Kestrel replied in a confident voice. “Could you assist me in some paperwork for CSIS please?”
Kestrel wanted to avoid the topic of their narrow escape from the swarm of demons that appeared when they discovered the last crystal’s box. Nine out of ten were in a secure location, for the moment. Or at least until Azuria became clumsy again. The mission had been a failure, everyone had been disappointed by it, some even angered.
This included a Valkyrie named Avalona who Kestrel had to talk down from storming back in to finish them off. Avalona, now spent her evening house sitting; playing hide and seek with the snipers that had found her location out quicker than normal. The plan was simple; instead of stealth attacks to protect the apartment, why not instill fear in enemies. And nothing spoke fear louder than a seven foot tall elven Valkyrie
“Will you be uploading to the mainframe?” GENI replied waiting instruction.
“Yes,” she replied.
Niaomi made her way to the comforting surrounding of the lounge. It was thankfully empty for the moment. She smiled faintly and produced a small laptop and placed on the counter. After plugging it in and powering up, she moved behind the fully stocked bar to the coffee maker. Eying the pot, she grimaced wondering just how long it was sitting for.
“It’s fresh, Lieutenant Running Cloud,” GENI called out. “I just made it moments before you walked in. Is it going to be a long work night?”
“I think so. Thank you GENI,” Niaomi replied, pouring herself a cup. Two creams and two sugars later, she leaned on the counter scrolling through her files.
Niaomi stopped at the one titled BATTLE SUIT DATA RETRIEVAL. Carefully, she opened a small port on her wrist gauntlet and removed the tiny disc within, she then replaced that disc within the laptop. As the reports uploaded, her eyes grew wide.
“This can’t be right,” she said out loud. “This– Baz is going to have a field day over this. GENI please send this to Baz immediately. Priority high.”
“Very well,” the intelligence unit stated “Done.”
While Niaomi’s fingers flew over the keys of her laptop, her comm crackled and a slew of swear words momentarily deafened her. Fyrewalker Montrenne had made her presence and dislike for the circle of thorn that much more known.
“My sentiments exactly,” She replied over the comm with a slightly chuckle. “Allison King can kiss my Native American ass, after that flop.”
“And a damn nice one it is, too. So. Whose ass are we kicking in the interim” Fyre replied jovially.
“Been flashing that ass around an awful lot lately, no?” Another voice chimed in.
“I don’t know yet Fyre,” Niaomi replied, choosing to ignore the playful banter from Mercy.
“Well give me your GPS anyway,” Fyre said, “And wait ’til you hear what Niaomi has planned for your frontage, Mercy.”
“Dead horse,” Kestrel replied. The last thing she wanted to do right now was rag on Mercy about her breasts again.
“But you said it!” Fyre kept going. “Something about crystals, as I recall. Glitter? Ring a bell?”
“Yeah something about beating the shit out of DE enough to make you some glitter for your boobs Merce,” Kestrel replied with snort of a laugh. Her fingers still flew over the keyboard of her lap top.
“Glitter?You must have me confused with Crysta,” Mercy said in her usual sarcastic manner.
It was doubly sarcastic as Mercy entered the base. Niaomi noted that her top looked much more secure than the night previously, but said nothing as she went back to looking the screen. It was only a moment later that Fyre walked in. The banter started and Niaomi shook her head at some of the retorts that were made.
“GENI upload this to CSIS file 93278,” Niaomi said.
Even though she wasn’t feeling it, Niaomi made a weak attempt to tell Mercy that boys would be the only ones interested in. The joke fell through, and Kestrel once again studied the screen.
So much for paper work getting done. She sighed as she told GENI to upload the last file. The banter around her was becoming to distracting. It was clear more people were going to show up, not that she minded. If she wanted silence, she should have went home. Niaomi opened the suit file again as she listened to Mercy tell Shizaru where they were at. He might be interested in this.
“We’re in the lounge, looking at Facespace or some shit,” Mercy commented over the comm. To who, Kestrel didn’t know.
The warping noise of Shizaru teleporting made her look over her glasses to where he stood, leaning against the wall.
“Shiz!” Mercy said with a cheerful grin. “What up, Squid?”
“Hey Mercy,” he replied back to her just as cheerfully.
“Thank you for saving my ass in those caves,” Niaomi said as she looked over the top of her glasses to Shizaru.
“It’s no big deal,” the Warshade told her modestly. “You would have gotten out with or without my help.”
“ I think I might’ve stayed in there just to avoid the Void who kept blowing holes into my suit,” she said with a faint chuckle.
Twice she had to be ported back by him after a Void went after her. Twice she ended up in a crystal cell. The first time, he worked on one side and she the other until the crystal door shattered. The memory was still quite fresh in her mind and the oddities that were affecting her suit gave her a cause for alarm, but also aroused a decent amount of curiosity.
“What the–?” Niaomi said staring at her screen.
The ratings were off the chart, she didn’t understand what was going on. Her laptop beeped, letting her know that it had finished uploading the stats from the disc. Popping it out she placed it back into her wrist gauntlet. She turned the screen so that Shizaru could see it, hoping that maybe he could translate what exactly she was looking at. The way she read it, the plasma from the Void’s rifle was eating away at the liqavar.
“Jeez, what’s making it do that?” He asked her.
“Whatever the shit is that they shoot,” she explained. “Essentially making me just as vulnerable as you.”
By this time, Niaomi noted the new presence in the lounge. Had she been listening to her comm, she would have known he was coming, along with a stack of books. She didn’t say much to him as she continued looking over the screen.
“It seems liqavar and void goo don’t mix,” she stated.
“Liqavar?” Shizaru asked.
“’Void goo’” Mercy commented with a chuckle.
“It’s the material that my suit is made of,” Niaomi explained, not taking her eyes off the screen. “It’s literally liquid Kevlar.”
Mercy had returned to her conversation about books with the new comer. Niaomi just then realized that Fyre had wondered off. Fyre was an enigma to Kestrel, spilling most of her life story in a matter of minutes to she and Max. Niaomi didn’t feel pity for Fyre, though she did feel rather motherly towards the girl. She saw a lot of good in Fyre’s eyes, it was just buried deep under the history of her past. With a little work, Niaomi might be able to assist her even further.
She had learned while standing there, that the newcomer’s name was Zen and that he was currently researching something in the vast pile of books that surrounded him. The comm had crackled to life again; this time it was Westford.
“GENI, see if you can reverse the effects of the Void plasma,” Niaomi said calmly.
Watching the screen of her laptop she noted the fusion between the plasma and the liqavar. The possibilities of it making a new substance that was stronger and sturdier than just the liqavar alone set the gears into motion.
“Ah ha!” Niaomi exclaimed, popping the disc out of the laptop. She replaced it back in the gauntlet and took off to the teleport bay.
I’m really proud of my dad. It’s one of the few times I have actually told him. Usually it’s the parents telling the child how proud they are due to some success in life. Things such as graduation from high school or getting into a great college. So for me to tell my dad I’m proud of you means so much to him simply because it’s something that is rarely said daughter to father.
Today my father passed his DOT physical, which now allows him to go over the road and drive trucks like he’s wanted to do for years now and has done in the past. There was so many roadblocks preventing him from getting this before he moved out here.
Firstly, he worked for US Food Service for five years before he had to take a family medical leave of absence on account his back looked like a C from sitting so much. Several weeks of physical therapy and time expired from family leave and the job was considered abandoned. So they let him go.
After that it was all down hill for my dad. Recovering still and working at a dead end delivery job that he did for so many years while still working for the food company was awarding him next to nothing for pay, and barely enough to live on. He tried to get back to work driving trucks and getting more than just the little amount of pay from the pizza place. Don’t get me wrong, there were nights when he would bring home a few hundred dollars, only if it was busy.
Once I moved out of dad’s house, I should have kept up on him and made sure things were paid for. Unfortunately, I was expecting and really could do much. When I did ask him if things were paid up, he told me yes they were. When I moved to Bloomington after my divorce, it only got worse from there. I received a phone call from my brother informing me that my father had been toss in prison. When I discovered the reason why I was really let down.
Dad called me not so long after he got out and he explained to me what was going on. He promised me that things would get better and that things would go up from there. However, things didn’t go the way he wanted. He moved in with his mother and brother, having no where else to go. It was painful to listen to the crap that went on there. They tried to control his money, and tell him how to live. Dad is very independent and that was working to well for him.
He was looking for work but only coming up with dead end minimum wage jobs. Fast food and grocery stores. Nothing spectacular. This isn’t to say that Dad wasn’t looking for better. It was just nothing was available where he was that he could get to easily. See when Dad got out of jail, they suspended his license for a year and he had to rely on his feet to get him around. Then when he got his license back, he didn’t have a car and relied on his mother and brother for use of their vehicles when it convenienced them.
Finally, Dad came out to visit me the end of July, shortly after Tim left. While he was out here, he began to look for work. I had no issues for it. I’m pleased that he was planning for the future. I knew how much he didn’t like living with his mother and brother, and I knew how much better he could do out here.
That job came about a week later. They processed the paperwork, played phone tag and pushed for my dad to get into this trucking company. It wasn’t the only one he applied for. He did reapply for US Foods and was told he didn’t meet the criteria of what they wanted. Even though he had five years experience.
A road block came early last week with my father’s blood pressure. it was upwards of 180/101 which is really really bad. Stage 2 hypertension. They had him come back the next morning and sure enough it was still very high. So they set him up with a doctor in a nearby town and he went there. The doctor there helped him get the meds he would need, as well as a new inhaler. As it turned out a big reason my father’s blood pressure was so high was due to the fact he was using Primatine Mist.
Thankfully everything went well. I’s were dotted and T’s were cross. Hopefully by the start of next week, dad will have a truck under his but and I can go back to worrying about him normally rather than excessively.
The last time Dad was out on the road doing over the road trucking, he had a list of rules. When he pulled in for his evening meal, he was required to call us at home. That rule still applies. This time he’ll have a cell phone so that if we need to get a hold of him we can. But he’ll also be packing a phone card so he doesn’t waste his minutes calling us.
Dad getting this job has made me extremely proud. I’m ecstatically happy that he is finally getting his life together and back to where he was before all these dead ends hit him. I hated seeing my Dad down in the dumps and would go out of my way to help him anyway I could. I also seen the toll it took on him when it came to raising us kids as well as not being able to help us whenever us kids needed it. It made him feel less than himself and took a slice out of his pride each time.
Him getting this job will give him so much more freedom. And for that I am most thankful.
Keep it real and rockin’
According to wikipedia being bisexual means that there is a physical or sexual attraction to both sexes. This is very true. I like both men and woman. I have a preference for men, but still desire women at the same time.
Coming to terms with this and understand who I am wasn’t something I just decided to do when I was in high school. It goes way back to before I even knew what bisexual, or homosexual meant. I knew growing up that I was attracted to the female and male body. There was always something about it that made me want to explore more. I remember being little and one of my friends coming over and we would pretend we were strippers, or we played doctor. It’s human nature to be curious and want to see what is different between two peoples bodies.
My first girlfriend was Rachel. Granted we were thirteen, and nothing more than hold hands or the light kiss here and there. We were exclusive to each other. It was hard outside of school for us to see each other and of course back then people weren’t really keen on the LGB lifestyles as they are now. Two girls being with each other, well that was almost unheard of in middle school. So Rachel and I drifted apart.
I first told my mother I was bisexual when I was fourteen. She didn’t believe me. I still don’t think she does. But that’s probably my fault since I didn’t really bring my girlfriends home with me as anything more than girlfriends to hang out with. My mom met most of my girlfriends, but she assumed we were just close friends. At least that’s what I think.
The second girl I fell in love with, I am still in love with until this day. But her life choices have affected our friendship and we are no longer on speaking terms. She was my first “lesbian experience.” We were both scared. I’d like to think that she enjoyed herself as much I enjoyed being with her in such an intimate experience. She and I were on again off again over several years.
I had a few boyfriends, I can count on one hand how many of them lasted more than 2 weeks. The one that left me scorn the most was when I was dating a guy, told him I was bi, and introduced to him to my girlfriend. It was two short months after that that they both left me, for each other.
I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be bisexual anymore and I was only going to date guys. I was lying to myself and I knew it, but I didn’t want to be hurt the way the BF/GF relationship had hurt me. However, even though I swore I was only going to date guys, is when another girl waltzed into my life and left me breathless.
I wanted her in the worse way, and as it turned out I was technically single since my relationship was on line with a man who I eventually married and had a child with. She informed me she was bisexual and interested in me. Though, as it turned out, she was mentally unstable and single-handedly left my family life in ruins. Her father was just as unstable and had her committed for a while. It doesn’t make the experience with her any less special. It’s probably the only thing I still like her about. I won’t go into details about what she did to destroy the family life, but I will say that Jerry Springer would have had a field day.
Then I was back with female lover, by this time I was married and she just didn’t seem as into it. The feeling had changed for me as well. I loved her, but it was more of a sisterly bond so being intimate with her was just awkward. Eventually we just became good friends and now well now we just are.
These relationships never lasted more than a few months, something always seemed to get in the way. I had one person tell me “You aren’t bisexual, you are just bicurious.” I don’t believe this for the simple fact that I am attracted to both genders. I guess I just haven’t found “the one.” I will happily date a woman in place of a man and vice versa. Just never at the same time.
I told Tim a few nights ago that I thought the bisexual chapter of my life would be closed and never looked at again. This is only because it’s taking my heart a long time to repair itself from the lover I lost. Only with time will it heal, but I’m impatient, headstrong, and free spirited. I wear my heart on my sleeve and have a desire to be wanted and loved by everyone. Even though I know that it will never happen. So I put myself in places where I know people will like me and my personality.
Being bisexual isn’t a state of mind, I can’t just turn the page and forget it happened. It’s apart of who I am and I should be proud of that. But seeing what happens to Gays and Lesbians and their constant fight to just be accepted, I tend to stay in the shadows with my sexuality. There are things I just don’t want in my life. For example: “Uh hey, your bi, go hook up with that girl.” Yes I’m bi, no I’m not a toy.
I tell my boyfriends that I am bisexual, and every single one has told me “cool does that mean we get to have a threesome?” When I explain to them No, it doesn’t, that I only date one or other, they get sort of pouty and bummed about it. Does this rule a threesomes? For the most part yes, but this doesn’t mean it’s not possible in the future.
Relationships mean something to me, I don’t want or need one night stands. I also don’t want the ridicule of being bisexual. People freaked out when they discovered I practiced Wicca and called me a devil worshiper and all sorts of other names. Told me I was going to hell, and had a blast tormenting me when I told them I didn’t believe in heaven or hell. I learned real fast how to keep my mouth shut and become one of the silent children of the moon.
I could only imagine what they would have said if they discovered I was bisexual as well.
I’m still coming to terms with the fact, that yes I am bisexual and I always will be. But it’s something I want to deal with in my own way. This isn’t something I need a support group for, because frankly, some the LGB support groups out there, are scary in your faces type. I’m open, but not that open. I live in the start of the Bible belt of America, so it’s better for me to keep my mouth shut on certain things. Especially since my boyfriend’s father, grandfather and grandmother are all pastors. Talk about irony.
Keep it real and rockin’
The Part Time Lesbian
Let me introduce you to the three year old terror that drives me up the wall and forgets I’m too poor to pay the gas.
Don’t let that smile fool you. I know you might be tempted to pinch those cheeks, but I digress, he’s evil.
Now I’m sure you are sitting there thinking “What does this little, cute and innocent child do that leaves Zodi stressed and aggravated?”
Well… Lets go back six months when he fell out of the window. I think it may have triggered something that is making him worse than any three year old I’ve known.
I’m known to have insomnia, and be up all night long. I’ll get a few hours sleep and then wake up and stay up for eighteen some hours before collapsing in exhaustion. My son wakes up, gets out of his room and then destroys my house.
You see that fish tank in the background of that picture? Well those fish are dead. One died a few days after getting it. This is because I thought the tank would be good for a goldfish. Nope. Ten gallons of tank is needed for one stupid little stomach-less fish. ‘Kay one fish down, other one doing alright, cleaned the tank, and all that jazz. Next day I wake up fish is dead. WTF. Blue nail polish in the damn tank. My child had escaped from his room and killed the fish off, my cats had cat food cereal, and there was stuff all over the floor.
I have an alarm on his door, but hardly set it because of the annoying sound that comes from it. These screamer alarms give a 120 decible shriek from them and believe me at 5:30 in the morning, you’d come unglued too.
Now repeat this every morning for a week and tell me you wouldn’t be ripping your hair out one strand at a time.
DCS (Department of Children Services) has been helping me, taught me discipline techniques that worked for a month and then stopped. Asking my family for advice is next to impossible since both my parents raised us with the count to five and if you don’t do what we tell you to, you’ll get your ass smacked. I’m not allowed to hit my child. Why? DCS is involved, that’s why. I have to explain every single little bruise, cut, scrap that the boy gets. I give my son a spanking and DCS finds out, I’d lose him.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my son, most of the time. But some days I just want to strangle him and beat him senseless. I’ve been told that this is normal, actually do it is not.
This morning my darling little hellion got out of his room, didn’t wake me up and proceeded to play with the wall repair stuff. Thankfully it wasn’t all over the floor, but rather on the wall. My own fault because 1. didn’t set the alarm, and2. I left the wall repair stuff out where he could get it. Sure he got yelled out for messing with it but that was that.
An hour later, boyfriend gets up and says “what the hell happened in the kitchen?” my eyes narrow and I go to see the mess. My coffee maker has brown water in it with powdered coffee creamer in it, there’s powdered creamer all over the floor and in the cats water bowl. Rhys got swatted and sent to his room where he stayed for a 20 minute time out. Did he learn his lesson? Not a chance in hell.
Again let me show you the hellion. This way you can be warned about his sneaky and conniving ways that would make any parent cringe in fear.
Don’t let the goofy face fool you either. This is something he learned from my boyfriend. “Ha ha you smiled, I’m off the hook.” My son has learned that if he does something bad, he’ll just smile or make a goofy face and mommy will let him off the hook because she smiled. My child is not stupid, he’s extremely smart and while he doesn’t have the best speaking skills in the world, his mind is understanding things at an alarming rate.
Add this child to the stress I have with packing and moving in 3 short weeks, and it’s a recipe for an anxiety attack waiting to happen.
That’s right, Zodi is moving. To the other end of the apartment property, into a bigger apartment. Three bedrooms, one bath, and a dishwasher. I will be bending over backwards to get in there by the first of the month and then dealing with the move and all that stuff that goes along with that. I have to make sure my apartment here is clean before they’ll give me a new one. Carpets here need to be replaced and walls need to be repainted. I’m also late on rent for April. No big deal, I’ll get that to them Friday along with the late fee and then start getting them rest of the money for the deposit on the new apartment.
All in all, I am really excited that I am going to have more room to breathe. The big bonus is my brother will be in his own room and off my couch.
Now I have to put rules in place for this new place. No food in the bedrooms, no shoes in the house. That sort of thing. I’ll even take pictures once I’m moved in and everything is set up.
Keep it real and rockin’
Ps: It’s pictures like this that make it all worth while in the end.