Festival of the Scythe

Chapter 1: Enchanting

Author's Notes: The song that plays during a certain dance is none other than "Menuett" by Masayoshi Yamazaki.

AN2: This story, and the series it goes with, is now written by Moonlight Minstrel (Bardiche and Deona Lindholm).

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She didn't know why, at first, she had even agreed to it.

A full year had passed since the battle against Saruin…and in all that time, Barbara had not gone into the village of Uso. For that matter, she had been avoiding the Dry Lands all together, much to the chagrin of Aisha in the Taralian village, as well as a pair of brothers, both orphaned, in Northpoint.

Too many memories, she thought, more than once, of the Soulgutter, the Steppes of Galessa…of Sun's Altar and beyond…

It was the Sun's Altar and beyond part that hurt the most. After all, it was there that she learned the truth about the minstrel with white hair and a guitar…and it was beyond anything she had ever imagined.

In the present, she had received an invitation to perform at the Festival of the Scythe, in Northpoint. Apparently, after the incident with the Soulgutter, the event had been moved to the larger city, for reasons of security. When she saw it, she nearly turned it down. The only reason why she decided to do it anyway was because, as the only member of her troupe to survive what had been quickly called Saruin's 2nd Coming, times and expenses had become a little rough. So, when she saw what she was being offered to perform, she couldn't really resist.

As she got closer to the city, though, the dancer felt herself seriously doubting that this was really a wise idea, but only for a few moments. The feelings passed as she entered the pub in the city, wanting to get something to eat while she still could.

As soon as the sun began to set, Barbara was already set up in a large area, just outside of the city, cleared just for the festival. People from different parts of Rosalia, as well as Uso and the Taralian village, had arrived two days prior to the event, and a good number were now in that clearing. Also there were a few booths. A couple had games, while another were fortuneteller's tents, dressed in what seemed like traditional colors of dark blue and purple. A much larger one was actually a place for the people to eat the traditional feast. This very tent more looked like, than anything, the colors of a circus, which caught Barbara's eye for a moment.

In another section of the clearing was where the musicians and she would be performing. Three or four people were already in this section, all setting up their instruments, with spots for three more.

This is gonna be interesting, she thought to herself as she started to do some warm-up exercises. Just as she was about to start, she caught a glimpse of something familiar: a heart-shaped guitar and a brown hat with a white feather. She quickly turned to see who it belonged to, only to see nobody familiar there.

After this festival, I'm gonna take a vacation…working too hard, she thought with a shrug.

In the distance, a man was watching from behind some nearby trees, making sure to stay out of sight. Not that anyone could see who he was, anyway, since he was wearing a gray outfit and a gray face-mask…the normal outfit of a guild that had vanished a year previous.

"That the one?" he asked, gesturing to a woman close to the stage with blonde hair and blue eyes.

"Yes," a voice, another male, replied with a slight hiss, "There will be someone that will…have a bit of fun with her. If he succeeds, you can do whatever you want, as long as she is taken out. If he fails, eliminate both immediately. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Keep yourself out of sight. You are the only one left of your profession. If anything happens to you, it will mean the end of your guild."

"That you don't need to tell me."

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The man with a hiss made an agreeing tone before saying, "If you're as good as you say you are, the only way this will be botched is if Elore himself shows up…which I doubt will happen. Until then, watch and wait."

She had to admit, she was having fun at this.

As soon as the opening speech from the mayor of the city had been given, the music had begun playing from the assembled musicians and Barbara began her first number. Surprisingly enough, it had been something similar to what had been played in Weston that she had danced to a year before. Back then, when she danced, she had put everything into it, lost herself in the music…and had enjoyed it.

In the year since, there had been something…missing to her dances. She still put everything into it, but she wasn't able to completely lose herself in it…and it had seemed very dull to her…even if others had said that there was no such flaw.

This time, though, she found herself getting lost in the music and enjoying the dancing that she was doing, just like before. It was as though coming here had been the thing that she had lost the most.

After her first set was completed, the sun had already finished setting and the moons were beginning to rise. Barbara had gone into the crowd, thinking about sitting and listening to the musicians. Before she could, though, she saw a bit of the crowd part the way…and someone was coming through…straight to her.

That someone was none other than the Minstrel, with flowing white hair, crystalline blue eyes, brown cape with a silver sun-shaped pin on the left side, near the shoulder. That hat was there too, with the feather. This time, though, he did not have the guitar with him, as it was with the musicians, on a stand. As he approached her, the expression on his face was soft and gentle, moreso than the dancer could ever remember seeing before…and those blue eyes seemed to have a fire burning within them now.

He bowed to her and took her hand in his very gently as he said to the dancer very softly, "My, such a beautiful sight you are tonight, Barbara."

She chuckled and could not keep back a little smile, or the blush as he kissed the hand that he held.

I thought I'd have better control over myself than this by now, she thought, but didn't say. What she did tell him was, "It's been a while…E—"

He shook his head and put a finger to her lips for only a moment, before he asked, his voice warm, "I was wondering, my dear lady, if you would dance with me?"

This, she didn't expect. Once before, he had asked her to dance for them, in Weston…and now, it was for them both to dance.

"I…I'd love to," she replied.

He smiled softly and wrapped an arm around her waist as a song began to play. It was a little slow, yet at the same time, it was also upbeat, a guitar and accordion being the lead instruments, although she could also somewhat hear a drum in there, too.

Barbara never told anyone, but she had sometimes imagined the two of them dancing together like this, with an expression in his face that was very close to the way that he was looking at her now. It was so close that for a moment, she thought that she was probably asleep in the Inn, dreaming about this dance.

"What brings you down here?" she asked in a voice low enough for him to hear.

He smiled at her and replied, "Nothing bad, if that is what you're thinking. No, it is for a more…personal reason."

"At least it isn't anything like the Evil Gods returning…or the Assassins' Guild being rebuilt," she replied with a small laugh.

"Oh please, no need to jinx this festival by mentioning them," he replied, "Tonight…all I want is to be here…" In a somewhat lower voice, he added, "As someone in love…"

She raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't ask him to clarify that. I don't want to set myself up for pain, she thought, Just for tonight, I'll imagine that…

Barbara stayed quiet until the beautiful song came to a close and all the dancers in the area stopped and applauded…and a few even cheered the seemingly charming couple.

The Minstrel held her close to him and peered into her eyes, and as he did, a strand of hair fell in front of his face. When Barbara reached up to tuck it away, smiling teasingly, her fingers brushed his cheek lightly. His breath caught in his throat in a light gasp and his eyes slid shut. When he opened them again moments later, there was intensity in his gaze.

"E—Minstrel…?" she asked, curious…and wondered why her heart was beating so loudly in her ears.

I cannot stand it any longer, he thought, feeling so alone…being without…

"Barbara," he whispered low enough for her to hear, his voice changing to include an undertone that she had never heard before from him (Tenderness…? Am I imagining things, or dreaming again…? She thought), "Please…go to the cliff…the one overlooking the ocean. I will be there very soon. I have something to tell you, and only you…"

She nodded and whispered, "I'll be there. Count on it."

He smiled and let go of her, then brushed his fingers across her cheek before turning and going to one of the booths.

Barbara stared after him and touched the spot on her cheek, not knowing what to say or even having an idea what was going on. After a moment, she quickly turned and headed for the cliff.