I had never felt so alive since leaving Little Ivywood. It was the last night of the Harvestmere festival and I was here despite my family's attempts to keep my home.
I abhorred the King's army sometimes.
Maneuvers had to be done before the King's visit which was due next week, so my Lord and Mikael, my adoptive brother, were in the field for the night tending to their men.
I had a rather spirited conversation with them both about wanting to go to the festival. I didn't want to miss the fireworks that the mages from Little Ivywood put on ad the end of the last night. In my ten years with them I had never missed a show.
Nothing, not even a visit from Natrix herself was going to keep me from the sea of quilts on the green fields and the starry night skies as they lit up with every imaginable color.
To be fair, they never told me I couldn't go. They just said I didn't have a chaperone, which just implied I couldn't go. That line of reasoning would come in handy if I got caught. I hoped.
Mikael and my Lord had left the Manor mid morning and weren't due back until the next day. That gave me plenty of time to gather a basket for my quilt, my coin purse, and my engraved silver dagger my Lord had made for me, and head down the road. It was only a couple miles south to Fernsworth.
The forested path on the way to town smelled of apple blossoms. The enormous trees that made up the Droh Grove that surrounded Fernsworth and its fields shaded the path making the chill in the air even more pronounced. In my haste I had forgotten a jacket. However, it was only October, and the chill wouldn't turn into full on cold for at least another moon.
I smiled as I headed through the forest, pleasantly surprised that I had skipped past the kitchen help and my Lady on my way out the side door. If my Lady had seen me leave the Manor after the row I had with my Lord and Mikael I would have been outed for sure.
She never appreciated my presence—not since I had arrived an orphan when I was six. That was the first I had seen a fight between parents, as my birth parents never seemed to fight-at least not in front of me.
My Lord had explained that I was orphaned and had nowhere to go, but my Lady said to let me be an urchin. Something about my breeding not befitting the Manor. My Lord, instead of taking her word, bought me pretty dresses and called me daughter.
His two eldest, a boy a year older than myself, Mikael, and one two years my junior, Rayner took different opinions of me. Mikael was excited to have a sister. Rayner, ever attatched to his mother's skirts followed her direction, as would little Malle when she was born some years later.
As I looked off into the sea of bluebells covering the forest floor, I remembered fondly playing in them with Mikael. Running, climbing trees and playing hide-and-seek. Those were simpler times. Back when I had no figure to speak of and didn't turn my adoptive brother's head in a way that made me sick inside.
As soon as puberty hit, and my Lord designated that I was to start acting like the lady I was supposed to be, Mikael's views of me began to change. As I went through lessons on how to speak properly and address nobility, my dresses that were made for me became more and more ornate, and showed off my growing figure.
Not only did the stable boys take notice, but Mikael did as well. He became awkward at first, as I had developed before him—but as soon as he hit his growth spurt and shot past me in height he became more sure of himself. Buying me intricate gifts from the artisans in Little Ivywood, taking me out for market days so he could walk with me on his arm.
In fact, I rarely left the Manor if I wasn't on Mikael's arm. The thought bothered me now. The townspeople knew we were brother and sister, but I wondered how many suitors had been scared off by Mikael's scowl whenever someone other than a woman neared us.
I hoped that tonight I would have the chance to talk to many people. I hated feeling like a bird in a cage, unable to see the world or experience the outside.
Even with my slowing down to take in the bluebells for as long as I could, I made it to the town limits in under an hour.
It was early afternoon, so the square was packed with throngs of people laughing, talking and spending time with their loved ones. There was food, games, petting zoos, and anything I could want to do on a crisp October afternoon.
I spent the first hour or so getting the lay of the land. There was so much to see, and though I had been at the festival every day this week, getting to see it on my own made it seem new.
I spent much of the time at the petting zoo fawning over the miniature horses. I was glad not to be rushed off after a few minutes because my chaperone got bored. I wondered if my Lord would consider getting me one to keep in the stables.
Every so often I would be stopped by someone and asked where my Lord was, or occasionally where Mikael was. I told them simply they were aiding the King and continued on my way before more questions could be asked of me.
After the third or forth time, I began to get annoyed. Surely there were other things to focus on during the last day of Harvestmere other than who's arm I was on.
After a few hours of seeing nearly all the sights and failing miserably at the ball throwing game, I spotted a cart that was selling wooden roses. This was the kind of thing I loved—mementos that could last a lifetime.
The roses were in all different colors. As I neared the display I could tell they were scented as well.
I wanted one, and I had more than enough to pay for the cart on me. However, one would be easier to keep hidden in my chambers from Mikael's prying eyes.
It was starting to get dark at this point, and the sky was alight with several vibrant hues of orange, pink and purple. I perused the cart slowly, taking my time with each of the colors while I decided which one I was to bring home before I made my way to the fields for the fireworks. They wouldn't be starting for a couple hours yet, but I wanted a good seat.
I thought I heard someone call my name, so I looked off to the edge of the crowd, hoping I hadn't been found. I saw no one familiar, just a rather tall boy a distance off among the sea of people.
The thought crossed my mind that I hadn't ever seen anyone so tall—even a grown man. It was fascinating to think that people came in such varied sizes and shapes.
Not wanting to stare, I turned back to the rose, smiled, and brought it to my nose. Though I liked the fact the wooden rose was true to the name, I decided that I wanted an odd color-something to go with the nature of my evening.
The cold of the evening slipped into the bell sleeves of my chartreuse and white dress as I handed the rose back to the shop owner, and gave me a chill. I shivered, cursed myself for not going back to get a jacket, and continued looking about the cart.
After a few more moments, I decided on a deep teal rose. I set about rummaging through my coin purse for a copper piece among the gold coins when I noticed a swath of blue obscure my slight view of the cart.
"You look a little cold."
I looked up expecting to find the face of another guard wanting to ask me in a veiled manner where my chaperone as, and instead was met by a broad chest.
My cheeks went a shade of pink more befitting the roses on the cart. I wasn't used to being in such close proximity to a male that wasn't in relation to me.
My gaze continued upward to find the face of the boy I had noticed a few minutes before. He had a jacket in his hands and a slightly furrowed brow, as if he smelled something strange. However I couldn't find that to be the case as we were standing not two feet from a cart scented by roses.
His eyes were mesmerizing. An ever-present swirl of white and sky blue. The pigment moved of its own accord and I wondered if the quickened pace of its revolutions was due to the tension he hid in his shoulders and jaw.
"I-I'm Ryker b-by the way."
Ahh, that's what this is.
He was unsure of speaking to me. Still, the fact that he was here showed courage. I admired that.
It is unbecoming, in my opinion, for a lady to dwell too much on her own looks, but to be frank, having grown up all my life hearing of my beauty, I understood this boy's trepidation.
"Good evening Jack Ryker, my name is Lucia Nightbrook."
I left off the rest of my title on purpose. Today I was just Lucia, I had cut ties with Galaren Manor until later this evening when I would have to sneak in through the kitchens.
I looked down to see a jacket in his hand. It was way too small for him, and I wondered where he'd gotten it from. A sister perhaps? Mother? Didn't matter. The chill was bothersome and I greatly wanted to enjoy the fireworks.
"Thank you for the offer, I will take you up on it." I smiled bashfully at the tall boy.
He was a handsome specimen, one that I surely would have noticed on my trips into Fernsworth for previous festivals and market days.
"One moment," I returned to my coin purse and finally found a copper piece. I cinched the drawstring back, closed and tossed the bag into my basket before setting it at my feet to make the transition of the jacket from Ryker to myself easier.
"I uhh, I don't understand. You don't hafta pay me for the jacket, Miss Lucia. I just thought..."
My smile grew along with my blush at the turn of events that lead to such an odd miscommunication. Did he not see me looking through my coin purse as he arrived? Maybe he was too nervous to notice such a detail?
Either way it was an interesting turn of events. This boy was trying extremely hard to talk to me, and I found it rather sweet.
My hand found its wy to his bicep and I giggled:
"Oh my dear, no. I was about to pay for one of these lovely roses when you arrived. I refuse to leave without a memento of my evening and I found these to be perfect."
"Oh," his cheeks reddened a bit, and for a second I thought the embarrassment was going to cause him to leave, but he rallied and asked:
"This might be a little...forward, but I was wondering if you wanted to enjoy the festival with me?"
"I would love to. I seem to have found myself alone for the day and the festival really is more fun with someone to share it with."
I turned, copper piece still in hand and looked over my shoulder coyly for him to help situate the jacket over me. It took him a second and a bit of a startled jump, but he slid the jacket over my shoulders giving me immediate warmth.
I leaned closer to the cart which meant closer to my new companion and held out the copper piece to the shop owner. It was taken, and my teal rose was returned to my hand from the little vase it stood in.
I bent down to pick up my basket and hitched it up to the crook of my elbow. My skirts billowed as I turned, latched my arm through his and grinned:
"Where to, Jack Ryker?"