My rest undisturbed, I did not awaken until the next morning. I made to make ready for the day and went down to the common room for breakfast.
As it was the previous two mornings, the Pony was busy with many patrons. I looked about for Deverell, but she had not yet arrived in town, it appeared. “Today or, at the latest, the day after,” I mused.
I hurried out to poor Dandi, whom I had neglected to take riding the day before due to the revelry.
After a nice ride, I brought Dandi back to the stables near the Pony to rest. On my way back inside, the stage opposite the Pony caught my eye. Memories of the days prior returned to me, memories that I did not yet wish to let go. I walked over and found an empty chair, one amongst many, and settled myself upon it to remember.
…there was no one performing upon the stage, yet the visions played on behind closed eyes. The dulcet sound of harp, of lute and of voice arose once more, joyful and melancholy and all in between. Dancers appeared, twirling within the space between the stage and its audience, making merry, making the day their own…
…how I longed for one more day….
Rustling in the grass behind me put a reluctant end to the imagery of vision and sound that had held me fast.
“Here you are,” I heard Deverell say from behind me, as she lay her hand on my shoulder.
“Here you are,” I answered, emphasizing her part in our late meeting. I looked up over my shoulder at her with a smile, placing my hand upon hers. “Are you just arrived?” I asked. “I was expecting you two days ago.”
She flushed a bit, “I am sorry about that. It took me a bit longer than I had thought to settle things and make myself ready.”
I nodded in understanding.
“But I arrived yesterday just before dusk,” she continued. “The innkeep pointed me to your room, and assured me it was yours once I had returned to him to say that no one stirred within. The two of us tried to wake you but decided you were best left to your rest.” An accusatory smile graced her lips, “He mentioned revelry and free-flowing mead…”
It was my turn to flush.
“Hush, you!” I laughed and sprang from my chair to embrace her. We held each other close for a few moments.
“We both had good reason for our delays,” I offered, once we had stepped back from one another. She accepted the truce with a nod and a smile.
…the thought of there being nothing more to delay us came to me. The thought of what I was asking her to do…
I took hold of her by her wrists, to bring us both back into the moment, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked. “Are you truly sure?”
She took my hands into her own and looked to me. “I don’t know that I want to, Kaleigh. But I think someone needs to. And it may as well be us.”
I embraced her once again, and then put my arm in hers. We started to walk together, toward the flowering plants before the stage. When I noticed her looking about I asked her, “How long has it been since you have visited Bree-town?”
“Oh, about two months or so,” Deverell replied, “when I last brought my curatives and poultices to the market square.”
…a part of me saw an opening. It was asked before I had even thought it through…
“Would you like to see the square again, before we away?” I asked. It was more invitation than question.
She looked toward me, her eyes brightened, “Oh, why don’t we? We can gather supplies and rations for the road.” She paused, looking down for a moment, before looking to me once again with a smile, “We can make a day of it!”
She had met my invitation with one of her own.
“To the market square, then!” I laughed.
Together, arm in arm, we sped off toward the square.
We passed through the Market Gate and into the square. The rest of the morning we spent wandering amongst the merchant shoppes and stalls, perusing any wares on display that drew our interest, whether intended to be of aid in travel or not. A visit to Lalia’s Market kept us very busy, and it was past mid-day when we finally returned to the square.
“We should fetch ourselves something for dinner,” I suggested, as we were about to become lost to the merchant displays once again.
Deverell nodded, finally having decided to hand over the coin for the small leather purse with a shoulder strap she had been admiring, most likely to keep her draughts at the ready. She put the purse over her shoulder and pretended to pose. “What do you think?” she said, smiling.
“I think I will be sneaking a look at whatever you keep in there,” I laughed, “but it looks very nice even now.”
“This will come in handy for our journey,” she said, admiring the purse a bit longer before looking at me, “I think fetching dinner is a good idea now, though.”
We were about to set off, when her eyes widened, and she pointed over my right shoulder, “Look, a sale on jewelry and shinies!”
I looked over my shoulder to see no such thing, but I did hear footsteps racing on the cobblestones and Deverell’s voice trailing off, “Last one to the Pony buys the mead!”
I sighed and ran off after her, fearing how much lighter my purse would be after dinner.
After dinner, we decided to give up our charade and spent the rest of the day touring the town. I brought her to see the Town Hall, and Scholar’s Stair, and most of the other sights worth seeing.
Late in the afternoon, we returned to the merchants for one last round of shopping.
After a time, while we were wandering the square as dusk was approaching, the sound of minstrel play could be heard in the moments when the barkers paused for breath and the din of the square lessened. We both stopped to listen.
“Do you hear that?” Deverell asked. “It sounds lovely.”
I smiled and lay my hand on her arm, “It sounds like there is a concert in the park. Come on.”
We made our way over to the park near the town hall, where we found some minstrels playing for those who passed by or who had stopped to linger. We found a place amidst the flowers to settle and rest, listening to the music until darkness came and the day was ending.
As we made to take the road back up to the Pony, I felt Deverell clutch at my arm. I turned to look at her.
She looked at me for a moment before asking, “We cannot do this again, can we?” She then turned her gaze before her, concluding, “Tomorrow, we must away.”
I looked up into the evening sky. My gaze was met by the soft and subtle beauty of the moonlit realm, and everything one could hope to see in that moment, save for the answer that I wished I could give to her.
I took hold of her hand, “Tomorrow, we must away.”
Together, we took the path leading to the Pony and our rest.
We were up at the dawn of the new day. While Deverell gathered our things, I went out to ready Dandi and Dancer for the road ahead.
I helped Deverell bring out our packs and settle them onto the saddles of our horses. It was time. We mounted up and were away.
The Spirit Gauntlet Saga
Also, the entire saga, with full-sized renderings, can be found here!
(The full renderings make for a completely different experience!)