The flames danced higher and the wild tangle of moving bodies yelled joyfully, bending and twining to the rhythmical music. Colourful bright garments which marked their trade as Gypsies along with their dark, ruddy skin merged with the flames until they were just a blur of movement and colour. The air was heavy with festivities; wine and music flowed.
There were two who did not seem part of the occasion. Despite their clothing, which was of gypsy trait, their hesitation and shyness marked them as outsiders, yet welcome ones, as the gypsies yelled for them to join in passing them rough wooden goblets of wine which they accepted with nodded thanks. Men gathered around the younger, female of the two guests, merrily persuading her to dance. The other, a tall dark man, stood near her surveying this flirtation, not aggressively, just watchfully.
Daine gazed around her in awe. King Jon had needed Numair and her to travel to Pirates Swoop to deliver a voice message to The Baron, the only problem being the woods were swarming with a pirate fleet which had crashed on the East Coast a few days since. Jon had given the order that they may have several days to repair and then leave. Ignoring him, they fled to the woods where, Daine hoped, they had met with a few Immortals. She had no sympathy for pirates; if people who lived to steal and kill met a few of the unfriendlier immortals that she and others had been battling the last two months, they had got what they deserved, in her opinion. However, what with now having to worry about them fighting Immortals and pirates, Numair had decided it would be best to travel in a group. George was friendly with a passing crowd of gypsies and after a quiet word they had been happy for Numair and Daine to tag along. Now she was glad.
At first she had been nervous travelling in such a rowdy bunch, and when the women had given her intensely red skirts to wear along with off the shoulder wraps, (they had teasingly showed her how to drape and tuck these securely around her arms, belly and breasts) looping big golden earrings through her ears, her worst suspicions had been confirmed. After a day she had stopped noticing their loudness, but their kindness had become clear to her. They took turns spending the long rides in the wagons telling her astonishing stories of places they had travelled to and uncanny people they had met. She hadn't known whether to believe them or if they were pulling her leg until she had caught one of the youths watching her in amusement as she looked on rapturously to a story describing a creature which was half seal, half bird. She had caught his gaze and, embarrassed for being so gullible, scowled at her storyteller. The old man had laughed, leathery face crinkling, and tugged her curls, saying, "It was lovely to be taken so seriously. I will stop now, telling you such wonderful lies." His voice had a lilting, heavy accent which had been nice to listen to. Seeing Daines remorseful face at his words, he laughed richly again and slapped his knee. "Or perhaps not, my little friend? You enjoy such tales as I do." Daine told him blushingly that he was a wonderful storyteller and he smiled, resuming his tale. Catching the boys' eyes on her once more, considering, Daine had smiled shyly and returned to concentrate on her story.
Now she glanced up at Numair, who was studying her as three darkly handsome youths crowded around tugging her hands and arms to the fire to dance. She grinned embarrassedly at them and shook her head, whispering, "I don't know how."
"How?" The boy, Olan she remembered his name was, said laughingly, "There is no "how." We will help you." He added softly, seeing her uneasy expression.
Shaking her head again, Daine smiled and said softly, "I don't think I can. Maybe later…" Daine added, fingers crossed behind her back.
With a last glance over their shoulders the drunken gypsies left to dance, Olan calling back, "I will hold you to that, my Daine!"
Daine smiled, his Daine, and sipped from her goblet. The wood was rough on her lips and the wine was sweet, she hadn't even noticed how much she had drunk of it until the cup was drained.
Daine stood still, smiling happily at the atmosphere and as people running past called out greetings or ordered her to dance. Though she had bare feet and wore an unusual skirt and drape (unusual for her anyways, she mused, she supposed her normal clothes to these people would be fair unusual) she was not cold. The enormous fire and the amount of bodies around her kept her skin warm. The wine was making her pleasantly hot in the belly and she had started to feel light-headed.
Feeling a warm pressure at her back Daine looked up to see Numairs familiar face smiling down at her. He was dressed in the gypsy style also, but for him this meant a flowing shirt of vivid crimson and ordinary plain dark breeches. With his own dark skin and graceful movements he could have easily been a gypsy from birth and she told him so.
He laughed, white teeth flashing shyly against swarthy skin. They stood together, watching the wildly moving bodies. Daine was feeling bolder now, not knowing whether because of the wine or that she had noticed there was no step to learn in the dance. You simply moved. Grabbing Numairs large hand Daine twirled and grinned foolishly up at him. "What do you think?" She asked, mischief on her small face, nodding her head towards the fire.
Numair smiled fondly at her, "I think that you've been drinking too much wine, magelet. Perhaps you would prefer to sit somewhere until your feeling more yourself?"
Daine shook her head emphatically and, jumping up to kiss him clumsily on the cheek, ran to the fire, skirts and curls flying behind her, where she was welcomed with great enthusiasm.
Numair watched her leave, face unreadable. One strong hand touched his cheek which still felt the touch of her burning lips. His dark eyes smouldered with emotion as they followed her.
That boy, what was his name? Olan. He seemed to have taken her under his wing. Too close under his wing.
Numair glanced around and located a shady flat site, not far away but where he could watch without being watched himself. Seating himself he watched as Daine was twirled, laughing, her skirts and hair ablaze from the glow of the fire. He noticed as Daine gazed dotingly into Olans own laughing face. He noticed as Olay brushed some stray curls from Daines beautiful face, flushed as it was form dancing. Her eyes were wide, the loveliness of their shade even more apparent as they sparkled with exhilaration. Then she lowered them, thick dark eyelashes brushing her blushing cheeks.
Numair watched, his face dark with all the things he felt. With all the things he wanted. With all the things he couldn't have. His words of consolation flowed familiarly through his troubled mind. Daine cared for him, he knew that. He perhaps, was the closest to her of anyone in the world. For how long, an evil voice whispered in the back of his mind. How long until she finds someone to care more for, a lover, a husband? What will you be to her then?
What would he give to be that lover, that husband? Everything. Anything. Anything except risk her happiness. Her trust in him, he would not give that away. Not throw it away for his own selfish motives. However much he sometimes longed to. Felt he had to. Like right now, as he watched her dance with a young, handsome boy. He did not know how long he could keep it up. She looked on him as a friend, a close friend, and a teacher. She confided in him, loved him he believed. But he felt so much more than that; he loved her. Like nothing he had known before he knew he loved her; an intense, overwhelming love which was so heavy, restrained as it was in his body. He feared one day it would be impossible to deny it any longer. But he would, he must, to live with himself. This ache he could endure. Knowing he may never have her love or company again if he spoke, he could not endure. Nor knowing she may not love him truly, but in illusion, he could not endure. So he had not spoken of it. An older woman, experienced in such matters, may have seen his fleeting looks. His small touches. Thankfully, she had not recognised them for what they were. She knew him as an affectionate friend, teacher. And that was all. And that was enough.
Still he could not tear his eyes away from her moving figure. Her slender body wove through those of men and women around her, he would loose sight of her momentarily in which his heart paused in alarm, and then she would reappear. Laughing, always laughing.
Standing on her tip-toes, back arched, Daine gazed around, searching. For him? She wobbled and Olan was there, steadying her. She smiled and laid a hand gently on his arm, and after speaking softly to him, left.
Instead of calling out to her, Numair sat still and silent. Needing time to get his thoughts and emotions in order, he watched as she walked, nimble and bare-footed, looking. Spotting him and her eyes lit. His heart jolted as her eyes focused warmly on his, but by the time she walked to him his face was clean from expression once again.
She collapsed next to him and, leaning back on her elbows, looked up in his face, concern clouding her eyes. "Why are you sitting here all alone?" She asked, voice husky from drink and dance.
He gave her a small smile, "I'm just not in much of a mood for celebrations, I suppose." His voice was low. He suddenly realized the sight of her with that boy had left him more vulnerable than he would have believed. He wanted reassurance, for what he wasn't exactly sure, but he didn't know how to ask for it.
Sensing his mood Daine sat forward and took his large hand in her own. She met his dark eyes seriously with her own. Sky coloured eyes, Numair had told her once.
"You would tell me if something was wrong?" His hand was lifeless in her own, she looked at him questioningly. "Wouldn't you?"
Finally, he reacted and used his free hand to stroke her cheek. His fingers were cool on her hot face. "Of course I would Daine." He said softly, meeting her eyes solemnly.
He sighed and gently detangled his hand from hers, leaning back against the damp-smelling earth.
Daine felt herself grow melancholy from his mood and lay next to him, arms brushing for the physical contact she required. She felt him shift and turned her head to look at him. Sensing her gaze, Numair raised a long, muscled arm and pointed to the night sky. "Do you see that cluster of stars?" Following his finger, Daine saw amongst the speckles of stars a more solid formation.
He lowered his arm, "It's called Orion. It appears each year at this time, representing the god of crops, growth and so on. I never get sick of watching it."
As Daine watched the stars slowly spun, moving as if in a slow, graceful dance. She murmured admiringly and admitted, "I don't think I would either."
She snuck a look at Numair, only to realize he was already watching her. She smiled, "They are beautiful, your stars."
He nodded, not speaking, but not looking away. Daine wondered at the look on his face and reached out to touch his cheek.
He started back suddenly and she dropped her hand, surprised.
"I'm sorry just- don't." His face was turned away, his hands clenched together.
"Ok." Daine whispered. What had she done wrong?
"What's that star called?" Daine pointed to a star to their left, one which glowed more brightly that the rest. She asked to relieve her confusion at his behaviour as much as to know the answer.
"Ah," Numairs gaze travelled along her arm to the star. "Seisi. A star, which is in fact another planet, millions of miles away."
Daine gazed at it in awe. She had heard from Numair speak about such planets but she had never seen one before.
"Tell me some more." she ordered and Numair laughed. "Of course."
They lay together, night cloaking them from the eyes of the gypsies. Teacher and student, lover and loved; friends.