Chapter Thirteen: The Faerie Dance
Year 1, Spring 23rd (Tuesday)
"And a goooood morning to you from NOIZ Loooowd Radio! This is Dee-Jay Cliff Mason- OW!"
"Getting his own for waking me up at five in the morning.I thought I warned you about that sort of thing, Cliff..."
I merely laughed while I finished packing my stuff up. Cliff and Gray had been at each others' throats every morning I'd been here. Fortunately I was up around the same time Cliff was, so his 'wake-up calls' never bothered me.
I figured I'd better give him some advice before he got himself killed, though...
"Hey Cliff, take this box and follow me."
"Huh? Alright, no problem..."
Once I'd gotten Cliff out into the pre-dawn air, I warned him about letting sleeping dogs lie.
"Oh c'mon, he shouldn't be missing this air and you know it!"
"Cliff, most of us aren't morning people. And if you bother Gray much more, he's going to tear you apart."
"What do you mean most of us? In case you haven't noticed, you're up, you're going, and gee, what time is it again?"
*sigh* Some people you just can't save...
"I run a farm, Cliff. Set hours are before dawn. Gray works for his grandfather, and shop hours for him start around nine."
"And I don't work for anyone, but I'm up like this all the time."
"Because you're a freak of nature. Now shut up, stop bugging Gray when he's most likely to kill you, and help me get this stuff into my house."
Rolling my eyes and muttering about happy fools, I opened the door on my newly-refurbished home.
The paint on the walls wasn't quite dry yet, and I could see where fixtures still needed to be installed, but it actually looked like a house now. As promised, I had a bathroom and kitchen... but there was also a separate bedroom and a comfortable sitting room; complete with a TV nook, a solid-looking bookshelf ensconced in the wall... and an easy chair the size of a small sofa.
Clearly I'd have to see about sending Gotz a tip. I wonder what he'd accept...
"Wow. I'm moving in here with you!"
"Fat chance, Cliff. But I certainly appreciate the upgrade in living conditions!"
And the man of the hour popped up from under my kitchen sink.
"Figured I'd get things started early today, maybe get it done in time for the festival. Not bad for a quick re-paint though, isn't it?"
Re-paint? This!? Ok, I can play that game...
"Sure, looks as if I almost got my money's worth, too..."
Gotz laughed while Cliff backed as far away as he could.
"And you talk to me about courting death..."
"Don't worry, kid. I'm much slower than that in taking offense. Especially since I damn well know the kind of job I did in here! Now, leave those boxes over by the chair, and I'll unpack them when I'm done with the paint."
We nodded, and set my measly two boxes of personal belongings right where he told us.
"Is that it?" Gotz asked. "I think you've been on the road too long, Magnus. Even I've got more junk than that..."
"I don't get too attached to stuff. If I can't carry it with me, I usually don't bother packing it."
Gotz scratched at his beard, and gave out a quiet 'hmph' in response.
"Just wait 'til you're married, kid. You'll learn... ah well. Get out of here, you two. I've got work to finish up, and so do you."
And with that, the two of us nodded and went on our separate ways.
Skipping breakfast had probably been a bad idea, but since I wanted to get my chores done as quickly as I could, I decided I couldn't wait for service to start at the Perch Inn. I got the weeding, watering, and animal work done in record pace (for me, at least), and even got the latest crop of cabbages in.
I almost regretted that they'd be my last of the season...
Ah well. I finished my chores right around the time Gotz finished on my house. Thanking him again for his top-quality work, I headed straight into the shower. For once, I didn't want to head straight from my chores to a local event.
After cleaning up, drying off, and combing out my hair to the best of my ability (a little hard with the wild mane I'd grown lately), I headed for the new bedroom and changed into my better clothes.
When I got to a mirror, I was suitably impressed.
Brown dress shoes, comfortable and stylish, khaki slacks (which actually fit now; all that hard work's starting to pay off), and a button-down shirt in a stunning sapphiric blue. Excellent!
Now for the final touch...
Out of a special box I'd hidden away, I pulled out my dress fedora. A pinch-front crowned, snap-brimmed, wool-felt luxury in Villainous Black. Well worth the 5000G I paid for it; and if there was any time to break it out, it was today.
Now, I've got the work done. I've got my look down. And I've got a little cash to burn.
I think it's time to hit the town, don't you?
The air is perfumed with the scent of flowers as I enter Rose Square. Stalls have been set up again, but this time they mark the border of the event, instead of being the event themselves. Bronze statues of a rather attractive-looking young woman have been set up on the corners of the dancing floor that Harris and Mayor Thomas are currently setting up.
All-in-all, this looks to be the springtime event around here...
Jeff, looking about as stressed as he usually does, beckons me over to a half-constructed stall by the store. I headed over, figuring he probably needed a hand setting things up.
"Karen wanted to get your opinion on something, could you go talk to her please? She's up in her room right now."
Huhwhat? Oh. I guess I should've known that Jeff could handle things without a second pair of hands...
"Um... ok. I'll do that."
Strutting up to Karen's room as manfully as I could, I stopped a moment at the top of the stairs to admire the view. The square looked absolutely idyllic from here, the festival decorations setting the scene for a positively breathtaking landscape piece. It was rather a pity that I'd left my camera at home. Then again, I was out of batteries for it anyway, so it didn't really matter.
Suddenly, the door I'd been leaning on swung inward, and I swung with it. Fortunately, I'd caught myself on the jamb before I swung right into the floor.
Unfortunately, I swung right into Karen's cleavage instead.
After about two seconds of absolute joy, I suddenly found myself making my appointment with the floor after all, since Karen's foot was ever so willing to give me a ride...
"You are not going to ruin that dress with his blood, Karen. Now get off of him before he gets an even better view..."
Sasha, giggling like a woman half her age, picked my hat up off the floor by Karen's slippered feet. Come to think of it, those feet were very nice to look at while out of their usual hiking boots... and maybe if I tried to follow that upward...
Ah, never mind. Somehow, I doubt that I'd get a chance to survive following through such an idea. Keep in mind, I've got an angry Karen glaring down at me. That's kind of a hint, y'know?
With some reluctance, I got up off the floor.
"Sorry about that, I was leaning on the door when you opened it."
Karen, now leaning against the wall, simply rolled her eyes. She didn't really say anything, but then again, she didn't have to. Of course you were was written across her expression as plain as day. Sasha, still laughing in a most inappropriate manner for someone her age, chose this moment to intervene.
"The view from outside that window is quite nice this time of year... but I believe Karen asked you up here for a reason."
Of course, I could guess what the reason was from the moment I dropped in. The dress she was apparently wearing to the festival was quite stunning, a flowery thing of pink silk and white lace that was clearly designed to bring springtime and dancing to mind. She was wearing dancing slippers that matched the dress, and a supercilious smirk that told me she knew exactly how nice she looked in all of this.
Taking my hat back from Sasha, I gave the only honest answer I could while I dusted myself off.
"You look nice, Karen."
She simply rolled her eyes again.
"This dress is the one the girl playing the Harvest Goddess wears every year. I'm glad you think I look good in it, but that wasn't what I asked you up here for."
Oh, wonderful. Now Sasha's laughing at me again...
"I'm sorry, Karen's forgetting that you didn't grow up around here. It's traditional for a young man of the village to formally introduce the Harvest Goddess to the Harvest King at the start of the festival. Who will do so is often left up to the girl playing the role of Goddess that year, and Karen decided she'd like you to play the part."
After absorbing all of this, I simply nodded my head in acceptance and asked for some cue cards.
"Fortunately," Sasha told me, "I happen to have thought of that."
And so, half an hour's practice finds me here, walking toward the square alongside Karen with as much quiet dignity as I can muster. Karen's expression is one of self-confidence and solemn poise, but I can tell it's just a mask. She's simply trying to act the way she feels a Goddess should, and I'm not entirely sure that she's not scared out of her mind that one of us is going to screw this up.
I'm not quite as worried, but that's probably because this isn't too important to me. My role in this little play is a secondary one, and it doesn't seem like that big a deal to me. As far as I can tell, this is just a spring pageant; a small play re-enacting the mythical creation of the land that Mineral Town stands on. These sorts of things are dime-a-dozen in small towns, and I've participated in more than a few of them in some way or another.
And now we've reached Rose Square, having followed the road that leads down from Mother's Hill, and the real ceremony began...
Mayor Thomas, standing on the stage, begins with the narration:
"Three hundred years ago," he intones, "A beautiful goddess and an arrogant king warred for the land that would become our town."
From there, I simply watch and listen to the spectacle. Apparently, the Harvest King had been a mortal who wanted to settle here and cultivate the land, and the Goddess decided that she didn't want him for a neighbor. The end result, of course, is chaos.
"And this is when the Kappa, who is a trickster of considerable merit, chose to intervene."
Ah, that's my cue.
"Goddess," I proclaim, "How fair thou art in countenance and spirit, and how wise thou art in the ways of our land and all around it! Tell me, what is the purpose of such beauty and knowledge if there are none others who may bask within it?"
The Goddess looks downcast, and admits the truth in my words.
"And you, mighty king. Your strength is great, and your heart is true. But what purpose is there to destroying the spirit of the land if thine only purpose is to carve a kingdom for yourself?"
The Harvest King (played rather respectably by Rick) questions what the green imp means.
"The Goddess and the land are one. To defy one is to defy the other. To destroy one is to destroy the other, and likely yourself with it. Though you act with no malice, defeating the Goddess as you intend to will desecrate the land, leaving not a blade of grass nor a creature of the smallest stature alive within her domain. Furthermore, the land will grow barren; and no thing will ever again find sustenance upon this soil."
The king nods in respect, telling the kappa that his points are valid ones.
"Then may I suggest a compromise? My insight is vast, and should you join as one, I see a future both bright and promising for you both."
"And so," Thomas narrates, "upon this day was the Harvest King was wed, to both the Goddess and the land that she held power over, and Mineral Town was founded. Some say that the descendants of the Harvest King live here still, and that even now they rule over the land as its rightful masters.
"Now, let us celebrate the anniversary of that blessed union, and remember always what we owe the land, and what the land owes us in return. For the Goddess is the land, and as long as we honor Her, so shall the land honor us."
I missed the cue for the "Amen" at the end, but then again I wasn't trying for it. With that, the 'King' and the 'Goddess' opened the dancing, and the buffet and party stalls were officially open. Being a man of set priorities, I hit the buffet first.
After I'd gathered a plate of food and headed for a corner, I started wondering about the story that I'd just re-enacted. It sounded like it had a basis in fact, but it also sounded like someone had started this tradition based on a bedside fairy-tale they'd heard a time too often. I got the feeling that the real story was probably a little simpler, and that the 'Goddess' probably wasn't quite so divine...
Well, I figured I probably knew who to ask about it, and made a quick mental note to do just that when I had some time later. Meanwhile, this set's over, and THE PLAN needs to go into action...
The kappa walks along, choosing the partner for his first dance carefully. All eyes in town are upon him, and that's just what he's after...
With unerring confidence, I walk along; making sure that the right eyes see me eyeing the wrong girl. So far, so good: Cliff and Gray have both shifted to a position where they can snatch their chosen partners away. Elli, watching me stride towards her, manages to deftly place herself beside her boss.
And I walk right past her, stopping by a frail old woman in a wheelchair instead.
"Ellen, may I have the honor of this dance?"
Said frail old woman laughed maniacally, and accepted without any further hesitation.
Now, dancing with someone who can't stand under their own power is tricky, but I managed to do a couple of sets with Ellen with a passable grace. Next I danced with May, who was rather thrilled to participate with the 'grown-ups.' As the music continued, I actually made it a point to dance with every girl who was present- that is, every girl except the ones who were around my age.
Oh, I did a round with Popuri, but only because she didn't have a partner and I was getting tired of watching her sulk. I probably should've danced with the others, but each of them had a partner that they alone would dance with... well, except Karen, but unfortunately she seemed to be as busy as I was keeping the unattached men of the town in the festivities...
Karen and I ultimately did a set to close things out, but that was just a festival tradition. After it was all over at sundown, I found a bench and sat down at last.
Of course, by this point my feet felt like I'd walked from here to Arkansas...
"Not bad, Farmboy."
I looked up from my panting, and noticed a glass of water with Karen's hand attached to it.
"I'm rather impressed," she continued. "Not only did you manage to out-maneuver Manna and Anna's little guessing game, but you also managed to get Gray and Mary to start participating in this thing! Honestly, that boy's been here for five years now, has been eyeing Mary not-so-subtly ever since he showed up, and you just-"
"An untrustworthy soul is in possession of the finest tool a manipulative bastard can have," I reply. "Once I knew I had their attention, the rest was a cinch."
Karen laughed, and sat down beside me.
"And asking Ellen of all people-"
"That was a personal obligation. Ellen's helped me adjust here, in ways no one else could have."
"And if Elli should just happen to assume you're going to publicly embarrass her by asking her to dance first..."
"Well, I can hardly control how other people think, now can I?"
The horribly self-satisfied smirk on my face should be noted at this point, as should the fact that Karen has been fighting very hard to keep her laugh down...
"I'm starting to think she's right to distrust you. You'll stoop to anything, won't you?"
I simply continue smiling as I slowly nod the affirmative.
"Well then, I've only got one more thing to do before I head home and change out of these clothes."
"And what's that?" I ask, all-too-innocently.
Karen slapped me hard across the face, called me an arrogant piece of shit, and stormed off for home; laughing all the way.
I snap out a "Fine, then!" and do the same.
All-in-all, it's been a pretty good day...