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.