Summary: She was prize jewel of the Aitanian Gypsies, known for her bewitching beauty and mesmerizing dance. He was the exiled Prince of Estelle, hunted down by his brother. She was the captive. He, the captor. In an effort to save the people he swore to protect, he whisked her away from her people and took her on a journey through Aeloria that she'd never forget. She should have hated him, should have loathed him for doing so. But, she didn't expect to feel attracted to this hardened man.

Chapter I

Damas, Estelle – Aeloria

Sometimes, during those sleepless nights under dark, star speckled sky, Sobrina Deorein wondered.

She thought not of the shallow thoughts that seemed to plague the people of Aeloria: vanity, fortune, and alcohol. They meant nothing to her – meaningless in comparison to her precious loved ones.

No, it wasn't material objects that Sobrina pondered over but rather, life. Or really, in the present situation of the Gypsies, of nature and death.

It was darkly intriguing how the beauty of their world – from the lush abundance of moss carpeting the Cylinth Forest to the jagged peaks of the Mykos – obscured their menacing secrets, the destruction by the hands of man. Had they fallen under a wretched spell, cured only by the flick of the wrist and a swipe of a saw?

Sobrina wanted to defend her people, her race, but the reasoning eluded her. How could she defend those so conceited? Maybe nature favored the animals after all. They knew who the true ruler of them was, and it wasn't the mortals, like men wanted to believe. It was the earth: the damp dirt and the emerald shoots, the clean air and the wisping clouds, the running streams and babbling brooks.

They, the animals, adapted themselves to their surroundings – unlike man who adapted their surroundings to themselves – and in return for their reverence, they were gifted. Thick coats to protect them from harsh winters, naturally sharpened claws to make hunting more efficient and better senses for survival. But the humans were doomed by nature, marked by its vengeful wrath, regardless of whether they did wrong or not... Or so she liked to believe. Why else would her beloved mother and the other Aitanian Gypsies – her unit – perish under its harsh elements?

It wasn't as if her people didn't know the land. It was far from it. Her clan had traveled through the Mykos since the creation of their society decades earlier, and the elders knew the mountain land by heart. They could conjure the taste of the sparse, edible yulnip berries dangling from the evergreen shrubs. They could recall the biting winds from beneath the shadows of the dense, towering pines. They could walk the narrow, treacherous paths blindfolded, each step imprinted in their keen memories. It was all familiar to them: the steep slopes, the thin air, the blanketing snow, and occasional scurry of small animals. They knew exactly what supplies they needed to last the journey.

But the younger clan members – Sobrina often thought bitterly – were headstrong, impulsive, and under the impression they were never wrong. A deadly combination. They refused to listen to the experienced advice of the old and so, the once month long preparation condensed to a week. It was hasty. An ill planned endeavor. And now, the mistake was apparent.

The elderly had fallen ill; their worn, leather skins bloomed to a bright red, and, for some of the less fortunate, paled to a deathly white. Children's smooth cheeks flushed from fevers that refused to relinquish their burning heat. Even the able bodied couldn't fight past the persistent sickness looming over their people, including Sobrina's mother, Cristina, who had passed early in the journey. And, from the rushed departure, there were not enough warm blankets, nor satisfying foods, nor lifesaving medicines for all. The hopes of leaving the mountain labyrinth alive were rapidly declining, like the sheer bluffs of the precipices that they traveled upon.

However, there was a turn in their fortune. The crude path that they had followed for some time curved around the mountainside and began to slope downwards, greeting them with a familiar view below.

Farmhouses, made of solid brick foundations and thatched roofs, dotted the vast green landscape – seemingly clear of the recent heavy snow, and no more than a mile away from the multitude of homesteads, laid a midsized town in the midst of the farmlands. Damas, their original destination.

Curious heads poked outside of each of the caravans, eagerly awaiting the change of scenery that each curve of the rough road brought. With the town in sight, the sickly grew strong in a matter of mere seconds, and happy chatter erupted, showing signs of life that died alongside the grass in the winter. In minutes, children jumped out of the wagons, prancing alongside the horses and exuberant to finally be able to stretch their legs.

Not all towns accepted their trades, which ranged from selling trinkets, to fortunetelling, to dancing, and to other, more obscene professions. Aldwyn, the country that they had occupied before they passed though the Mykos, had been numerous with their discriminating parishes, barring the Gypsies from even entering the surrounding lands.

As luck would have it, Damas was more open minded than most – intrigued by the romantic lifestyle of their people – and welcomed them. The Gypsies, for once, were more than willing to settle for a few weeks there. Cracking their whips, they urged their stocky horses faster, desperate to leave the distressing time in the mountains behind them.

Inside one of the many decorated wagons, Sobrina fidgeted in her seat, impatiently awaiting the wagons to circle. Chewing on her lower lip, she gently pushed the thick canvas with her fingers, poking her head outside just barely enough to see how far they were. Trying to be conspicuous, she let the heavy cloth fall gently back into place, hoping that her sister – who was sleeping comfortably in the seat across from her – hadn't noticed.

The pace that they traveled at was dreadfully slow. Why couldn't time pass by faster?

But, she reminded herself, she had waited two years. Another few minutes wouldn't hurt... much.

She could easily recall the roads of Damas in her head – it was there after all her mother had been most popular when she had been alive.

Cristina had been well-known throughout the northern half of the Mortal Realm for her dancing abilities as well as her exquisiteness: her forest green eyes, tilted exotically, her smooth skin, her deep burgundy tresses, so rich in color that it seemed black, and, of course, her sensual body, fair and beckoning. More than just attractive, she was magnetic – eyes drawing to her like magic. In comparison to those around her, she was a glimmering butterfly in the midst of dull moths.

Graced with such ethereal loveliness, the folk of her realm couldn't help but speculate. Why was she so beautiful? What made her so compelling? Whether it was genuine curiosity or bitter envy, they tried to name the reason. Mermaid, Nymph, Elf – whatever glorious creature they could think of from the northern islands, they called her. But she was no rare creature, only mortal, as her death in the mountains proved.

Besides the rumors of her mother's origin, speculations of her children also circulated: hushed whispers rolled their way across the countryside. Under inquisitive ears, they spoke of her kin, all sired by different fathers and taken under their mother's maiden name – a repelling thought in this day and age.

Mentions of the youngest daughter, Lleana, being a deadly witch caused children to fear and avoid her. Word of Sobrina, the middle child, being the daughter of a deceased lord brought a snooty upturn of the nose on the faces of the gossiping women who had nothing better to do than form opinions about the lives of others. Remarks of the eldest, Adrian, and his sire, hung for murder, brought drinking men together, sharing their own exaggerated tales with one another. The line between admiration and jealousy blurred and from the indistinctness, lies erupted, pleasing to those too ugly to bear the truth.

The talks that were untrue were always believed and those that were real were scorned. Lleana was certainly not a witch, though she was occasionally known to have a devilish personality and was wonderful at fortunetelling. Adrian's father was a simple black smith, laidback and friendly with women. Sobrina had met him once before and loved the man instantly for his easy going nature. But the lies said about her siblings often ruined their chances of forming lasting friendships in the many places they traveled. It saddened her, it really did. Her family – although they had their faults at times – were wonderful people.

The 'rumor' about her though was true. She was the daughter of Axiom, the Lord of Osment in Aitana: before King Henric claimed the land by siege of course. She had inherited his blue eyes, as deep as the ocean, and his golden hair, a clear indication of the truth but, as a Gypsy, she was too low class – oh, howshe despised that term – to have such a powerful man as her father.

Those rumors, though they held little significance, along with her mother's elusive nature and striking features, brought large audiences to her performances.

Sobrina's eyes flitted over to the small gap between the tarp and the wooden edges of the entrance. A thin stream of cold air froze her cheeks. This awful winter needed to end soon. Shifting her position once more, tried to avoid the icy blast while at the same time trying to get a keep a view outside. She sighed at herself. She knew her impatience was childish, but there was no helping it. Two years ago, in Damas, she met the man who had stolen her heart and kept it till this day.

An enormous crowd, like always, gathered to witness Cristina's dancing. They pushed, they shoved, they trampled, and the flash flood of people carried the poor girl away from her mother and their settlement and towards the outskirts of their makeshift circle. It wasn't a new situation – her mother was rather popular after all – and all she would have done anyway was watch her perform something she would perform herself one day... for the thousandth time! She was bored of her situation – simple as that – and at the tender age of sixteen, the boredom was often hard to cure. Damas offered her a chance to explore, to travel through its simple town, just as her bubbling Gypsy blood enticed her to do.

Letting her feet guide her, she meandered aimlessly through the streets, peeking over every corner and petting every stray animal she came across. The change of pace of activity was nice for her. It felt like they had been in Damas for ages, though in actuality it had only been a few days. And besides, Hallindar had more exciting things to do in contrast to Damas.

Eventually, and without meaning to, she found herself in the stables, behind the mayor's office.

No one was there, not surprising though since she figured that many people would be watching her mother, and she took the time to pet the mares staring curiously back at her.

As an animal lover, Sobrina admired most forms of life. The horses, lazily crunching on their oats, were by far her favorite – powerful and lovely. Though, of course, not in comparison to Ryssa. But then again, nothing could compare to her.

She brushed her fingers over their foreheads, pushing away the bangs tickling their inquisitive eyes. Once the interest of the equines dwindled however, they returned to their previous affairs, eating.

They day had been long indeed, increased by her wanderings, and fatigue hit the girl like a wave, the crunching oats becoming a lullaby. From her half closed lids, the pile of hay in the furthest most stall seemed heavenly, and, with no hesitation, she laid herself upon it, letting sleep overtake her.

She didn't know how long she slept, but when she awoke – unwillingly if she remembered correctly – a frantic beating greeted her, bursts of wind blowing against her skin.. Wings?

She swatted her hand at the sound impulsively, thinking it was only a fly bothering her, but the agile creature swerved away fast enough to avoid impact. Her brows furrowed as the hay began to tickle her nose.

Blinking a couple of times as she sat up sleepily, she was mildly surprised to find a small, yellow hummingbird near her face. Its small, black eyes radiated intelligence as it gave cocked its head to the side, confused at the reason why she was here of all places.

It landed on her shoulder, careful not to dig its talon too deep into her shoulder, and with its beak, it pulled the stay, gold strands behind her ear. The gypsy giggled. It was smart, smarter than the average bird, and she knew right from that moment, it was one a companion from The Wilds – just like Ryssa.

"Who do you belong to?" she cooed as the feathered wings grazed her cheek.

A voice, scaring her slightly at the abruptness, called out in response "Me."

Sobrina's head instantly shot up and blue met gold. Crisp brown, like autumn leaves, and layered with honey gauze, they enchanted her instantly. When she finally willed herself to look beyond the strangers eyes, she was pleased to find that it was not much of a loss. The handsome face had a strong, masculine jaw line, the diminishing light from the stable skylights highlighting the planes on his face. From the thickness of his wavy hair, she could vaguely make out the pointed tips of his ears. Elf? No, he couldn't be. The man was too tanned. Half-elf then since most of the fair folk rarely traveled beyond their realm.

"Good morning to you sweet" he rumbled with a gentle lithe in his voice, confirming her suspicions. He was Elrosian – she could tell by the accent – from the northern elf island of Elros, the heart of elvendom.

She often regretted her reaction to his appearance. She supposed she may have look like a cross between a love struck child and a scared rabbit, but for two years, her response would haunt her. No, she didn't anything too embarrassing of the sort nor did she make a fool of her self, the only thing that consoled her.

Sobrina did nothing. Just stared in awe at the half-elf before her. And he chuckled at her, as if he knew her very thoughts.

He offered her his large hand and helped her up. The calluses of laborious work rubbing against her soft, woman hands, she savored the feeling. But as quickly as he came, he flashed one last heart-wrenching smile at her before turning away, taking his companion, and leaving without a single glance behind.

Even thinking about the memory brought back a pang of longing. He was perfect – the mysterious man who entered and left her life within seconds.

She leaned her head against the wood, taking a deep, cleansing breathe to calm her rapidly increasing heart rate and scatter the butterflies pitting together in her stomach. She wanted to say that she was fine, just flustered by the memory replaying in her mind, but it was more than that. It was love. Or at least her idea of love, since she was more so infatuated. Her thoughts were interrupted when a little voice chided at her.

"Sobrina, don't be obsessive this time."

Automatically, she turned her head towards the sound – her loosely woven hair splaying against her cheek – as shock came across her delicate features.

"Obsessive?" she snorted indignantly, "I was never obsessive."

The younger girl giggled at her sister's blatant lie – Sobrina's face was tinged pink, a tell tale sign.

"You're such a horrible liar," Lleana managed to say through giggles, "I remember when you couldn't stop talking about the half-elf the last time we came to Damas."

Sobrina retorted, annoyed that her sister knew exactly what she was thinking. "And you hardly older than a toddler, you little minx. You wouldn't remember a thing even if you wanted to."

The smooth face of the child melted into a pout, her doe-eyes flashing with youthful mischief, and her pink lips puffing in response.

"Way to ruin the fun Rina. Adrian told me."

Of course her brother would find it amusing to see his sister at the mercy of the younger one.

"You know he over exaggerates, and yet you still believe him? It was so long ago Lleana, I barely remember him."

Lies, a voice reprimanded from the back of her head.

So what if she lied? It was for the better good. Lleana was notorious for immersing herself into other's business.

Still, she couldn't help but mentally contradict her statement. She could remember the handsome yet nameless half elf with ease, each feature burned into her memory: his easy smile, his laughing eyes, his corded muscles, and his unruly, brunette hair. Desire wrapped itself around her heard and squeezed tightly – to the point of acute pain. Sobrina was a strong believer in fate. They were fated to have met, so couldn't they be fated to love as well?

The younger Gypsy, with the attention span similar to that of a rabbit's, quickly grew bored with the conversation on hand that her sister tried to end, and changed it to something she hoped would receive a more satisfying reaction from her sister.

"Since you're over him, then you wouldn't mind your marriage to Demetrius anymore now would you?" She sent a sly look towards her, eyes twinkling with mirth. "I want to be an aunt soon – Afina just became one you know – and you're more likely to have a child then Adrian is."

Sobrina chocked on air.

"I'm only eighteen!" she exclaimed. "I don't want to have children just yet!"

Lleana lowered her voice to a more serious tone in her voice, acting as if she was the adult and the elder Gypsy, a child.

"You're a woman by our people's standards. And besides," mischief rushed crossed her fair features and her voice assumed its normal sound, "Adrian said that its fun."

She loved him dearly –he was such a wonderful brother after all – but sometimes she had to compulsive urge to strangle him. He wasn't talking to a pub buddy, or another male member of their unit, but to his sister. Adrian shouldn't even be mentioning such things in front of her, and yet, he still chose to share his endeavors with his information-absorbing sister. As wonderful as he was, he could be downright awful at times. As well as aggravating.

"Lleana lets just... let's just stop talking. Mention one more thing about children, and I won't hesitate to throw you off the mountain."

Her little lips sealed themselves in response – though the mischief refused to fade in her eyes. At least she was silent though, enough of a consolation to give Sobrina some relief.

But Lleana brought up and reminded her of another painful subject, Demetrius Petri.

With a crooked nose too large for his square face, and bushy eyebrows jutting out from the ridge over his sunken eyes, Demetrius was – quite frankly – not the most handsome of men. But despite his outward appearance, he had a large heart and excellent husband material, a rarity in her community where abuse was normal. Nice, loving, caring, he put the others in her clan to shame with his sweet nature. Even Ryssa like him, a feat in itself since she didn't care for the company of anyone other than Sobrina.

She should have felt honored to be betrothed to such a good man – or, at least, that was what the women in her unit told her. She would have been respected and well taken care of, and not demeaned like most were after marriage, solely there for the purpose of childrearing and house chores. She'd be content... if she could settle with contentment.

Sobrina needed passion in her life – something she had discovered at a young age – and love was no exception. She wanted a passion that ripped through her insides and set her on fire, consuming her and burning her with its intensity. She wanted someone who felt the same, to be able to share her zeal for life, for living, and for, most importantly, for love. Her relationship with Demetrius was dull. Stagnant. He was similar to a stranger, or at best, an acquaintance, but not a future husband. And there was no choice in the matter. They were due to marry at the end of month, whether she like it or not.

She leaned against the side of the wagon once more, the stray strands falling free from her braid and tickling her cheeks. Blowing them away, she closed her eyes, tucking the thoughts of Demetrius and her bleak, but not horrible, future away in the back of her mind. Sobrina concentrated on the half-elf.

Even if the Elrosian – another name for the half-elf along with stable boy since his name was unknown – returned her feelings, they'd only have a week or so of each other's company before her people more eastward, towards Hallindar. And that was only considering her situation.

The elves were secretive of their lifestyles – being rather isolate on Elros and numerous other isles – but a few facts were confirmed. They believed in marriage within their own kind, scorning the mortals for their way of life. Even though the half-elf was the product of this exception, she doubted that he would break the rules of his kin. He had probably felt firsthand himself of the haughty discrimination of the elves. If they could even kiss, it would be nothing short of a miracle. But she didn't care. Being near him would please her enough. Demetrius would understand if Sobrina couldn't give him her heart – he would have to.

Her wandering thoughts came to an abrupt halt she felt a curious warmth on her wrist. Upturning the neatly folding hand, she saw her tattoo emitting a gentle, white glow.

Ryssa, Sobrina thought happily.

The untamed animals of The Wilds, a vast and mysterious forest on the northeastern edge of Aeloria, had their own share of small magic, said to be gifted by a magical pool. If they ever found a mortal they were willing to be companions with – offering their company for the rest of their lives – they would, bond themselves to their counterpart in the form of a tattoo, having the freedom to come and go on whim. It was rare to see a companion animal since many revered their undomesticated lifestyle but every once in a while, someone would be lucky enough to come across a companion. Sobrina and Ryssa happened to be that pair.

As a child, Ryssa kept her company, following her like a chick to a mother hen, and she had grown used to the comfort of her presence, but her little one hadn't emerged all winter, choosing to hibernate instead. Sobrina terribly lonely without her, especially after the death of Cristina, but now, she was back.

The tattoo began peeling itself off her skin, the intricate design fluttering in the air without the support behind it. Floating into her lap, the glow grew into a brilliant light, almost blinding, and in a heartbeat, a little Nurix curled up in Sobrina's lap, little paws tucked beneath its furry body, and eyes closed in a peaceful sleep. As the light diminished, the companion opened its eyes opened its eyes and stared into her own.

Ryssa was similar to a cat in appearance: bright yellow eyes, pointed ears, and fluffy white fur. The only thing that distinguished felines from Nurixes were their three, bushy tails and their mass. About the size an overgrown mouse, she was completely unconscious of it. She was a miniature lion, fearless and always disregarding her body's size.

The Nurix averted her eyes, and placed her paws in front of her, arching her back to stretch after being bound for so long. Sobrina couldn't help but smile. Ryssa was just as adorable as she remembered.

After finished, the companion mewed a greeting, and the Gypsy offered her index finger to Ryssa who sniffed it delicately. Giving a lick with her sandpaper tongue, she scampered up Sobrina's arm and snuggled in the crook of her neck. Her little one was tired of the long winter as well.

Sleep cast its blanket over their vision, and the gentle rocking of the wagon lulled them in and out of consciousness until a sudden lurch awoken them. All the weariness of the darken days in the mountains had worn off and replaced by abundant excitement. The turning of the wagons meant that the group was circling, and that meant that they were right on the outskirts of Damas.

Sobrina pushed the flaps eagerly and, sure enough, the group of wagons had begun to create a closed circle, one that would soon have a bonfire blazing in the middle as well as bustling with merry laughter and dancing. The time required for the process didn't take long but the blistering cold made everyone restless.

When the thudding hooves ceased and the caravans slowed, cheers exploded through their settlement. Safe. They were finally safe – away from persecution, death, and destruction. Relief sliced through the previous despair and smiled bloomed, laughed sounded, and happiness waved its way back to the Gypsies.

Sobrina, pulling the long pleats of her skirt into a clump in her hand, quickly jumped out the wagon as Ryssa pressed her little body into the indent of her collarbone, trying desperately not to fall off. She was so excited to finally be able to stretch her legs – the extended time in the wagon seemed to drain the life out of them. Pointed and flexing one foot then the other, she was pleased to find that it still functioned properly.

She longed to run – to feel the fresh air against her skin – and to, of course, head straight towards the half-elf, but she had to refrain leaving camp. Sobrina was expected to help serve the men food and whisky, and, after that, she had her own job to do.

The Gypsies had arrived midday, and by evening, stalls had been erected for the villagers, varying from fortunetelling booths, complete with tarot cards and crystal balls, to homemade items on sale, created with substances from foreign lands. The Gypsies didn't limit themselves to marketing – money was hard to come by for them. They offered themselves for physical labor at a meager price. A group of young men crowded together, just outside of the Gypsy market, desperate looks in their eyes, hoping that someone would hire them for little jobs during their stay.

Even the woman offered themselves up, though not for labor. Their sole purpose was to accommodate paying men, and dressed in their low-cut dresses, they watching incoming villagers like hawks under their fluttering lashes, in hopes of a profit for the night.

Sobrina wasn't one of these women – thank god. She was repulsed to be, even though she knew that most of them had good soul, simply unfortunate in their upbringing. Sobrina herself didn't fortune tell nor did she sell trinkets in the market. Her 'job' – if it could even be considered that – was to be the Gypsy Sun.

The Gypsy Sun was the nickname her mother earned, and through the passing of miraculous abilities from generation to generation, Sobrina had inherited her title. To be the Gypsy Sun was to be renowned across the Mortal Realm for a skill that only heredity could produce and to earn more money than the profits of the Aitania Gypsies combined. It was to take all the burning passion and the brilliantness of the Sun and capture its essence physically. To twirl with its flickering fires and skip to its gentle warmth. It was a dance of smoldering seduction and fiery bravery. The dance to contradict all forms of singular dance. Her clan was well-known for their Gypsy Sun. For Cristina and now, Sobrina.

It was when the bottom edge of the golden orb in the sky touched the shadowed tops of the trees when she finally decided to begin the preparation for her performance. Glancing around the settlement – taking in the curious villagers entering their campsite and examining the items out on display – she found that most of the stalls were beginning to fill with prospective buys, and, deciding not to disrupt the sales just to let someone know she was going for a bath, she settled with M'Gama, the fortune-teller standing aloof from the crowd.

M'Gama was an eccentric character, even to those who knew her best. Perhaps it was age that made her mental? Or maybe her horrid experiences as a child – rendering her blind? No one knew what made the woman so delusional. The elderly woman had sunken, black eyes covered in a thin film and surrounded by dark circles. A single, yellowed tooth permanently remained on top of her chapped lips; often muttering unintelligible and incoherent words, she left those trying to communicate with her confused. Despite the clan's obvious preference to stay away from her, Sobrina found her presence endearing.

"M'Gama, I'm going to take a bath in the river if anyone asks" Sobrina said as she swooped down to speak into the woman's ears – she was a bit hard of hearing.

Ryssa, at this moment, jumped off Sobrina and scurried through one of the gaps between the wagons, probably chasing after an insect or something of the sort. Her gaze followed the Nurix briefly before it returned to the woman.

A distant glaze clouded the cataract film over the older woman's eyes but momentarily, it was replaced with a animalistic, feral look.

"Child," she rasped as she searched for Sobrina's hands with her own with her own, withered ones, "don't fight fate!"

"M'Gama, you know I'm a believer in it," she assured, grasping the woman's palm and squeezing tightly.

Still, the pure fear in the woman's face didn't diminish and seemed to grow more apparent at her words.

"Death is approaching" her eyes shifted side to side nervously, as if something was creeping behind her – though she couldn't see. "The time draws near."

M'Gama was erratic, but she wasn't usually this bad. Her age must have been catching up to her – a plausible reason for her unusual behavior.

"You're going to be fine" Sobrina stated firmly

Yet, the elder didn't seem to agree – remaining silent and shuddering under her touch. Desperate to cheer the woman up, she tried to think of something that would console her.

"M'Gama!" Sobrina exclaimed with what she hoped was excitement as she pointed at a couple of giggling girls approaching them, "someone's coming for a fortunetelling!"

Being a professional fortuneteller – or, at least, as professional a fortuneteller a Gypsy could be – M'Gama took her work serious. The fright faded from the white film over her otherwise coal eyes, and its place, a more cultured look.

It was then Sobrina decided to take her leave – the elder Gypsy seemed to liven at the prospects of customers and looked a lot better than she had before. She didn't take M'Gama's warning too seriously. The woman was known for occasionally exaggerating her visions, if they were based upon them at all. She cajoled her too much, she had been told, but doing so just a little wasn't bad at all.

She weaved around the incoming villagers, careful to avoid bumping into them, and made her way outside of the settlement. Glancing over at the sun, Sobrina noticed that the bottom of the brilliantly flaring orb began to touch the tops of Cylinth Forest. She needed to hurry!

She took longer strides now – trying to quicken her pace. Time wasn't slowing down for her, meaning she had to be faster to catch up. The buildings in the town's central blurred in her vision, the brick edifices becoming indistinguishable figures, but finally, after traveling on the cobblestoned roads for a distance, the path disintegrated into a dirt trail towards the Freir River.

Gnarled trees loomed above, bent down and stretched their branches towards her. Her feet, clad in makeshift, leather shoes, crunched against the leaves of the baelir trees littering the ground – every few steps startling some bird nestled in the canopy of the forest. The crude road she followed was relatively straight, and finally, Sobrina reached the river.

It gurgled and churned gently, the current in this place slower than it would be both up and down stream. The liquid lapped against the edge repetitiously, and the silver-blue leaves floated on its surface, swirling from the clear, drifting water, wedged between the smooth stones of the bank.

Sobrina loved this place: the soft gushing of water, the rustling leaves in the wind, and the calming chirps of birds. But she couldn't take the time today to fully enjoy herself – the sun was getting lower and lower in the horizon.

Her cerulean eyes shifted left, then right. Satisfied with the surveying of her surroundings – making sure that no one was in the area – she began undressing.

The pile of discarded clothing steadily grew until nothing adorned her slender, moonlight body. Her hair, earlier woven into a loose braid, was freed and fell into a cascade of silky, blonde tresses, covering her breasts and ending just before her navel.

She ran her long fingers though her hair, pushing it away from her forehead. Her hair was getting rather long but she couldn't bear to cut it. Cristina loved her long hair.

Placing a foot gingerly into the stream, she was pleased to find that it wasn't too cold from the melting snow. Sobrina entered the flowing stream, shuddering from the sensation of the cool liquid, and found that she was able to walk to center – though swimming was an option as well. The sand encased her feet with each step, the grittiness rubbing against her soles and sticking to the crevices of her toes.

Once she reached place she felt most comfortable with the current, she took a deep a breath, and submerged herself, paddling in the general area. It'd been so long since she'd last gone swimming! Sobrina popped her head out of the water to giggle – the feeling was wonderful.

She spent a few, spare minutes stretching her body underwater, rippling gracefully enough to rival the creatures below. But the declining sunlight reminded her once more of her limited time to bathe. Taking long strokes with her arms and kicking her feet, she returned to the banks of the river to retrieve the soap bar.

When she picked up the slippery object, she returned once more to the river, not traveling as far as she did the last time. Soon after, she lathered the homemade soap between her hands, letting the pale bubbles accumulate a decent amount and, bringing her hands to the top of her head, she began to massage her scalp with her fingertips. Light. Repetitious. The action melted all anxiety and left her feeling calm and prepared.

She made her way through her thick, golden hair, making sure that each strand was coated wit the white residue, all the while thinking of the Elrosian. Would he be there tonight? Would he watch her dance? She sincerely hoped he did.

As the Gypsy approached the end of her locks, her fingers knotted in the mass of hair, she heard a twig snap.

Her heart quickened in response – the gentle thuds becoming frenzied thrumming. Was there something there? While her eyes searching frantically for the sound beyond the tree trunks, she submerged her body in the river.

The water clouded with soap from her hair, forming an opaque sheet that was quickly whisked downstream, leaving her in a futile attempt to remain unseen. Her gaze flickered towards the bank. It was too far away to reach without exposing herself above the water. The drumming of her heart distorted her hearing: the rustle of the baelir leaves were becomes whispers, the trilling of the birds – whistles. Her beautiful melody of the forest – cacophonic.

"Who's there?" she called out shakily.

Sobrina was in on the edges of the forest, the town a good half mile away from her location. If there truly was an attacker, there were no weapons readily available – leaving her with no option but to scream. And even that would only go so far in the densely wooded Cylinth.

A second twig snapped, and options coursed through her mind. She could try mentally calling Ryssa to scurry back to the campsite, but the short journey for Sobrina would seem like miles for the Nurix due to her size. She could swim downstream and hope that whatever was in the woods would leave, but that measure felt too extreme. She didn't even know if she was being paranoid, or if there actually was someone there.

The flowing current brought a sturdy branch, bumping harmlessly into her ankle. A new idea place in her head, she thrust her hand into the gritty sand and picked it up. She would fight – having learned the basics from Adrian. Or, at least, she would attempt to.

Her hands trembled, the stick shaking due to her weak hold, but she firmed her grip. She wouldn't be scared. She couldn't. A third twig snapped and she twisted her head instinctively, her made-shift weapon wielded like a sword.

A small flurry of white fur flashed from the thick bushes, chasing something further into the dense undergrowth, and the breath that she had sucked it released. Her shoulders dropped with relief. It wasn't a peeper nor a rapist, or whatever else her mind had conjured.

"Ryssa," she breathed out in relief.

She released the stick from her grasp, letting the current carry it further down streams. Sobrina was embarrassed – she had been too quick to worry!

The Gypsy quickly finished her bath – running the soap over her body, not reveling in it as she usually did. Her paranoia had cost her some little, but precious time.

Swimming though the water to make sure all the residue came off, she stepped onto the banks of the Frier and wrapped a course fabric around her body, acting as a towel. The cool breeze chilled her exposed skin, making her shiver. She would be freezing tonight if she felt cold now. Her dancing clothes offered very little to the imagination – or so she felt. She thought of herself rather conservative compared to others.

The towel puddle at her feet, and she dressed herself. The material was smooth on her skin, silky yet not quite. It probably helped that it was the most expensive thing she – or all the other Gypsies for that matter – owned. She finished by wrapping a thick, not as comfortable cloth around her shoulders.

Sobrina looked down at the place where she left her anklet, but found that it wasn't there anymore. Slightly worried, she brushed her fingers over a particular pile of stones, searching through each crevice for it. It was her good luck charm – given to her by her mother. She often felt her mother's presence within the silver and whenever she wore it, it was as if Cristina was watching over her. A thin chain came in contact with her skin, wedged between two upturned rocks and she clasped it on her ankle.

The last thing she had to do took less time, hardly longer than a few seconds. Taking her two fingers, she placed them on her lips and softly kissed them. Then, she tapped them on both of her feet. It wasn't for a religious reason she did this; honestly, she didn't know why she did. All Sobrina knew was that it calmed her. And, therefore, it was enough.

Satisfied with her ritual, she gave a low whistle to call Ryssa to her.

The Nurix bounded from the shrubs, prancing when Sobrina came into her range of view. Her little one caught an insect in her mouth – still alive from what she could see. The pride so apparent in her companion made her giggle. She was adorable!

"Good job Ryssa" she said cheerfully, "but I have to perform now.

She dropped the bug – fluttering back to life and into the darkened sky – and a white glow emitted from the animal, blinding but in a flash, Ryssa became a tattoo, floating in the air and awaiting Sobrina to hold her wrist out to her.

She complied, holding the underside of her arm outwards and the tattoo bound itself to her skin.

"Good girl," the gypsy cooed to the embellished symbol.

And with that, she turned once more to the path, taking a quick glance behind her into the dark forest and shuddering before she scurried towards her camp. And so, in her haste, she never noticed the concealed figure crouching with the treetops, his jade green eyes glinting in the shadows, and following her as she left.

~**~

By the time Sobrina had arrived to the settlement, the commotion and the bustling people had increased tenfold – all of whom were most likely there for performance. Her performance.

She sucked in a deep breathed, and thought briefly over the half-elf once more. Oh how she hoped he would watch her! Would he recognize her if he did? Would he know her name?

Forcefully, she pushed her lingering fantasies. She had to concentrate. To uphold a reputation. These people had seen her mother perform and she had to fulfill her legacy, making Cristina's spirit proud.

Sobrina began by stretching, rejuvenating and energizing. She wiggled her toes, and bent down to touch her feet. Satisfied with the feeling of her calf muslces pulling, she raised her hands towards the evening sky, arching her back and heard a faint, but audible pop. There. Now she was ready.

Pulling the edges of the cloak in a way that concealed her clothing beneath, she let herself be carried by the crowd to the bonfire – the place that she would perform in mere minutes.

The first few notes were disjointed, mean simply to tune the instruments. But soon after, the actual music began.

The guitarist, sporting a neatly trimmed goatee, began strumming the strings, his thick fingers striking against them like a sweet torrent of rain. It served as an introduction, enticing and wrapping its gentle notes like a cocoon around the mass of listeners. As the enveloped bunch moved closer, dazed by the melody subtly tugging at their bodies, another man, sitting directly next to the guitarist picked up his well-loved violin and dramatically brought it under his chin, waiting for the right time to begin playing. He swept his long bow slowly, producing clear, crystal notes ringing in the audience's ears.

The two instruments combined were magical, lacing and weaving themselves like a quilt and stretching their tips to the farthest reaches of the settlement, and if one was silent enough, through the town of Damas. The music reiterated the Gypsy's recent journey through the mountains – despair, tragedy, and loss. Emotions mingled, and brought moisture to the eyes of many. Their musical story was heartbreaking; the mourning tune raw with suffering.

At the final decrescendo, Sobrina revealed herself. It was time now.

On the last, elongated note, she pulled the heavy cloth off her shoulders, letting it gather on the floor as she delicately stepped over it and made her way towards the brilliantly burning bonfire in the center of the crowd. Appreciative glances trailed up and down her body, greedily drinking in her beautiful figure and her foreign clothes.

Her lids were rimmed with dark kohl – which she applied conspicuously when the instruments were warming up. They enhanced the bright blue hues of her irises and caused every flutter of her darkened lashes to like a sensual beckoning. Her deep red blouse, embellished with intricate designs of golden thread at the plunging neckline, wrapped enticingly over her breasts and upper body; it ended at her ribs, leaving the expanse of her pale, toned stomach visible to the crowd. Below her navel, a thick band of gold cloth held up the wide, crimson pants that reached her ankles.

Tucking her long hair behind her ear shyly – the silver bracelets adorning her wrists tinkling – she caught the eye of the two men with their silent instruments and gave a small nod. At her queue, their music started once more, lighter than before but still mournful.

The resonating sounds of the violin and guitar were physically represented by each arch of her back as well as each flowing hand motion. The steps she took were carefully placed, each undulation hypnotic. She took her sweet time. Slow and sultry, Sobrina seduced the audience with her smoldering gaze that seemed to lock with those watching her. As if she was dancing only for them and none other.

Shivers of desire coursed through the spines of the viewers, unable to peel their eyes from the dancing temptress. The goddess of seduction was before their eyes, casting her mesmerizing spell over then and refusing the let their senses absorb anything else but her.

She sashayed around the fire, her hips rocking back and forth with each stride until the music came to a sudden halt. Pausing mid-step, she closed her eyes, choosing this moment to brush back the stray hairs – the multitude of jewelry ringing melodically against one another.

It was silent – most of the noise now coming from the roaring fire and the chirping crickets. The audience's breath hitched in their throat for they feared that even a single exhale would shatter the precious scene before them. This was no human, they thought wondrously, it was a god fallen from above.

The music began softly, and Sobrina opened her eyes, the incandescent cerulean glowing to azure flames. Her pale hair billowed from the wind, and her mouth curved into a small smile before she launched herself into fast paced, complex routine.

She was a whirlwind of passion, sweeping each soul with her twirling body and carrying them beyond their wildest fantasies. Even the Gypsies, those who had grown up with her and knew that, at heart, she was an innocent child, couldn't help but be attracted to the sensuality she was so easily capable of producing. Her dancing changed her aura drastically. When Sobrina dawned her dancing clothes, no more was she just another Gypsy girl. She was the Gypsy Sun, and no other entity.

When the performance finally ended – the music coming to soft, closing chord – her chest heaved and sweat poured down her face and body. The crowd didn't seem to mind though. They roared to life, a mingling of claps, whistles, and excited chattering. Instead of graciously accepting their applause right away, she closed her eyes.

At the end of every performance, she felt her mother's spirit engulf her body, enveloping her in a hug that brought a gentle tingle to her nerves. Feeling the sensation once more and knowing that her mother was satisfied by her performance, she opened her eyes, gave a dazzling smile, and curtsied.

Impossibly, the cheering grew louder and the audience parted for her as she made her way back to her wagon. The appreciative whistles went unheard, the degrading catcalls disregard. All she wanted to do was sleep.

Her lids were heavy from the long day, and the indistinct murmuring of the crowd began to make her sleepy. She flopped onto the her bed, consisting of blankets piled upon one another, and shut her eyes. The Gypsy didn't have the strength to summon Ryssa – to tell her that her performance was over – but the little Nurix took matters into her own paws as she flashed herself into a physical form and snuggled herself into position near her counterpart's neck.

Sobrina had hoped that after her performance, she would be able to search out the Elrosian. After all, most people came the first night of their stay. But she didn't take into account the exhausting day and her need for sleep.

Oh well she thought drowsily the Elrosian will just have to wait a bit.

And with his handsome face fixed in her mind, she fell asleep with a smile, succumbing to the happy dreams that slumber offered.

This chapter was kind of slow, as is chapter 2. But I promise it'll pick up. Review?