Here we go, part six! A little short, but it the end seemed the most sensible place to divide up what would have otherwise been a hefty chapter. Considering writing up a (belated) Valentine's fic idea for the holiday prompt in the Moogle's Nest forum. Valentine's never occurred to me.
Anyway. Enjoy :)
~ in which Cirrus writes some songs, and Nell gets a date
The little caravan that had been sent to pick them up was hardly more than an old apple cart, refurbished just enough to make the short distance between Fum and the Jegon and then back again. Two cows, looking oddly small because everyone these days was more accustomed to the bulk of a papoamus, lowed between the shafts. Still, Cirrustralyx appreciated the effort put into their retrieval, particularly since portable crystals were quite rare and most were bound to chalices; to have one sent especially for them was an honour.
Rae Fen climbed aboard first and was about to sit down, when, as if remembering his manners, he turned back and threw out a hand to Nell. The Clavat took it, using the spokes of the oversized back wheel as a ladder to push herself up. Kir looked at the cart dubiously.
"S'falling apart," he said. "And why cows?" He glanced at Nell. "Maybe they're trying to tell us something."
"It must have been difficult for them to get us any other form of transport at such short notice," Cirrustralyx explained patiently. "Be grateful that we aren't walking there through the miasma."
"Yeah, well, either way I can't get up on the stupid thing," Kir muttered. "I'm not tall enough and there's no steps. It's just plain racist."
"I could punch him for you," offered Cirrustralyx. From the apple cart, Rae Fen looked down at the gangly Yuke and grinned.
Kir stared suspiciously between them, not pleased that he was missing out on the joke, but eventually allowed Cirrustralyx to provide him with a foothold onto the cart by way of kicking the Yuke in the shin so that he knelt down and them climbing onto him somewhat haphazardly. Once Cirrus was aboard, eyes watering behind his visor, they set off at a slow roll along the track.
The Clavat who was driving was a male in his late teens, with the brown hair so common to those of his tribe. He kept shooting curious glances back at the mismatched group. Cirrustralyx wasn't surprised – they hardly looked like musicians. And besides, what did the Fum-landers have to go on as testament of their skill apart from the hastily scribbled letter sent via moogle from their referee back in Shella? They probably weren't expecting much.
Nell was humming idly, toying with one of her pigtails. The tune was catchy, and Cirrustralyx found himself reaching for a quill and parchment to create some words for it. The slightly warmer weather of the south was a relief after the chilliness of Shella and, between sunning himself and writing, Cirrustralyx had little cause to think about the time. He was pleasantly surprised when the cart rolled into Fum about noon; the trip had hardly seemed to take any time at all.
"My back aches," Kir complained, stretching.
Rae Fen, who would have been at home on a boulder, got up with the unnatural grace that had drawn Cirrustralyx's attention in the first place. "Well, I'm fine. How long are we here for, Nellie?"
"Don't call me that!" Nell said crossly. "Even my dad stopped calling me that when I was six. And..." She fumbled in her tunic pocket and produced a small, cheaply bound book. A quick leaf through the pages later, she announced, "Eight days. We'll have to wait for the Selkie merchants to pay their annual visit and they should give us a lift back up to Marr's Pass. They get there in late spring and they spend the rest of the year there. Or in Alfitaria. I think they alternate."
"How do you know all this?" Cirrustralyx asked in wonderment.
The Clavat shrugged. "You hear things, being a waitress. It's just about the only perk."
"Excuse me?" This was the driver of the cart. He'd dismounted and was looking up at them expectantly. "The Elder's house is this way, please. We were going to give him a surprise party, but on the whole we thought it would be easier to let him know."
"I imagine it must be hard to hide all the preparations from him," Nell agreed.
Kir sniggered. "Or maybe they thought jumping out at him going SURPRISE! would do his heart in."
The Elder was a kindly man, bent with age in the way that all Elders seemed to be regardless of race. Cirrustralyx cast his mind back to Crysila and tried to remember whether, in the seventeen years he'd been alive, his own Elder had ever looked any younger than a hundred.
He came to the conclusion that no, he had not.
"It's an honour to meet you all. We've heard some wonderful things," the Elder stated pleasantly. "We have set up some accommodation for you. Young Rhys here will show you where it is. If there's anything you need, please don't hesitate to ask."
"Thank you," Nell said, dropping a curtsey. Even Kir and Rae managed little polite nods of the head in the face of so much twinkly charm.
"Are there any questions?" the Elder inquired.
Kir opened his mouth. Instinctively, Cirrustralyx and Rae clamped hands over it.
Rhys, the brown haired youth from the cart, turned out to be the son of the local landlord.
"We've only got the one public house. It's the bottom floor of our inn," he explained. "Fum's big in terms of land space, because of all the farmland, but there aren't many people here really. Maybe near a hundred?"
"That's still a lot of people," Cirrustralyx said, looking around. Fum really was quite scenic, with picturesque little cottages and flowerbeds and miniature fences. It even smelled nice. Must be because of the new apple blossoms, he thought absently. A sudden wave of panic struck; this place was so pretty and unsuspecting. They really didn't deserve the absolute terror of having Kir running around loose.
"Where's Kir?" he asked of Nell, who was walking ahead with Rhys and chatting quite amicably.
"Down here, Leggy McTall-tall," Kir said grumpily. "And I'm not talking to you."
"Why?" asked Cirrustralyx, baffled.
Kir snorted. "Because you practically choked me back in the Elder's house. I was only gonna ask how much they were paying us..."
"Was that going to be before or after you called him a wrinkly old potato with a beard?" Rae Fen riposted. Kir scowled at him. "I'd never say that! Because it's rubbish."
"It's alright," Nell said to Rhys, who was looking bewildered. "They do this all the time."
The inn turned out to be a large affair, a whitewashed building with three floors and rainbow grape vines adorning the lower storey. It was, unsurprisingly, called the Vineyard. This put an end to Kir and Rae's terrible puns about potential names, the nicest of which were "The Crossed Carrots" and "Bumpkin's Rest". This in turn put an end to Nell's threats that, if they didn't shut up, then she would be the next person to pull the racism ace from her frilly sleeves.
Rhys showed them to their rooms. Early spring was quiet, he explained, so they could each have their own room. Accommodation was on the house as thanks, he added brightly, but they would have to pay for meals.
"Would you like a tour of Fum?" Rhys inquired as the group dropped their meagre luggage.
"Here's a field," Rae murmured, "and another field..."
Nell spoke over him. "I would. It'd be nice to get to know my tribal homeland. Coming, you three?"
"Thank you for the offer," Cirrustralyx said, "but I think I'll just stay here for the time being."
"We can tour ourselves tomorrow," Kir added. "When's dinner? Or tea, or whatever you country guys call it."
Rhys shrugged. "Whenever you like. Just let my mother know in advance, she's the cook." He smiled shyly at Nell. "Come on. I've just got to return the cows and then I'll show you round."
Giving a quick bow, he headed for the stairs; Nell followed in his wake, but, when she saw he wasn't looking, she turned back to Cirrustralyx and beamed.
"Isn't he sweet?" she whispered excitedly. Cirrus only had enough time to nod before she'd disappeared.
"Huh," Rae Fen said haughtily. "I think he's pretty dull."
"Cirrus?" Nell's hushed, sleepy voice drifted through the Yuke's half open door. "I know you're still awake in there. It's nearly two in the morning. Aren't you going to bed?"
"In a bit," Cirrustralyx replied distractedly, quill pen slewing ink across the pages all over his lap. Something about Fum's atmosphere had set him off, and now he could barely scribble fast enough. Lyrics were just writing themselves, scrolling through his head in a silver script. Eventually, with three songs finished to his satisfaction and at least half a dozen more crushed and discarded on the floor, Cirrustralyx's mind came to a gentle standstill and the Yuke boy was asleep before he hit the pillow.
Cirrustralyx rarely dreamed in pictures – most Yukes didn't, especially not in colour – but that night his sleep was full of blossom petals, waterfalls and crystals.
They spent the next day outside practising in Fum's unusually warm spring climate. There weren't many secluded places to hide, so the group drew more than a few curious stares as the villagers went about their daily business. A few of the children even ceased their hunt for some imaginary monster –the 'apple thief' or something, Kir said mockingly – to come and watch.
"I don't want them to hear all our songs before we even play tonight!" Rae Fen said, exasperated. "It's supposed to be a surprise. Kind of. Just... tone it down a bit. If we're quieter, maybe they'll get bored and go away."
It was more difficult to do than to say; Cirrustralyx's horn only really had the one volume setting and the word "quiet" wasn't even in Kir's vocabulary. They did their best though, only giving up around lunchtime when one of the very youngest children asked Kir what kind of vegetable he was.
"We'll get some food and reconvene later," Rae suggested wearily as Cirrustralyx restrained the Lilty. "Maybe about three?"
"We're playing at six," Nell pointed out. With no instrument to play, she was really only there for moral support and to make sure she was up to date on any changes to the music. Cirrus had tentatively given her his three new songs that morning and she was perusing them intently, trying to decide on tunes for each of them as Kir was too busy to do it.
"Six?" Rae repeated. "Oh, that'll be okay. We'll just run through a couple to get the feel of it."
"It's just a shame we can't get one of these new ones into the mix," Nell said sadly. "They're so amazing."
Rae stretched. "Well, maybe we can use them in a later show."
"I thought we were going home after this one?" Cirrustralyx said.
"We are," Nell reassured him quickly. "But we can still play in Crysila, right?"
"Nell!" a voice called, and three Clavat boys appeared at a nearby fence. One of them was Rhys, but the other two Cirrustralyx didn't know. Rae Fen gave them a disinterested once over. "Who're they?"
"Rhys is taking me out to lunch today," Nell said, looking a little confused. "I told you yesterday. And the others are his friends. Jack is the tailor's son with the blonde hair and the boy in green is called Adam. He works up in the orchards."
"If it's Rhys taking you out then why do you have three escorts?" Rae Fen asked.
Nell got up and dusted off her blue robes carefully. It was her only other outfit apart from her waitressing uniform, and she'd made an effort to keep them perfectly neat and clean for the show that night. After placing Cirrus' song sheets into one of the deep pockets she shrugged. "I don't know. But it's kind of nice of them. They're all really polite."
Nell frowned. "What, Rae?"
"Lunch time!" Kir yelled abruptly. "Have a nice time Nell, we'll see you at three come on Rae."
"What's the matter with him?" Cirrustralyx asked as the Selkie pulled free from Kir and stormed away.
"I just think Spikey's ego took a teensy knock," replied Kir, amused.
The Lilty's grin was malicious. "Maybe because Nell's pulled three boys without even trying, and he's not got one girl yet!"
Six o'clock arrived faster than everyone expected. Nell had tried to make amends with Rae for whatever she'd done that lunchtime, but the Selkie was uncharacteristically moody and exchanged only monotones with her. She'd given up eventually, and took to the wooden stage that had been set up in the cow field with a little furrow between her eyebrows.
The expectant hush of the Fum villagers smoothed it out almost immediately. As Cirrustralyx crept on behind her and Kir settled himself by his saucepans, Nell approached the front of the platform.
"Happy birthday, Elder Tiberius!" she shouted. "Your town loves you very much! I hope you enjoy our music, because we'd really like to get paid!"
There were a few cheers and whistles from the crowd, and some laughter. Rae Fen waved a hand at Kir; the Lilty began a quiet, echoing beat that silenced the watchers. A chord rippled out from the banjo and the music began.
End of chapter.
Ahaha. Rae is jealoussss. But of what? Ooooooh~
You have no idea how long it took me to come up with silly names for a Fummish tavern. Hope you enjoyed this! The next one will be longer :)