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.