Faye surveyed the gala from the sidelines, one elbow resting on the corner of a pedestal supporting a bust. Archers spoke with prospective employers, town leaders, landowners surrounding Omrya or from the Islands in the south. They carried their new arrows proudly, emblazoned in red and gold. Soon she would have her own clutch of arrows. The smell of candles and people tickled her nose.
She saw Lady Erica moving briskly toward her and knew something was amiss.
“Miss Faye,” she began.
“Lady Erica,” Faye acknowledged.
“You must come tell my friends how you became an Archer.”
Faye smiled to herself. “Surely that is a story you can recount. You have heard it many times.”
Lady Erica smoothed her dress. “My friends don’t believe me. They will only take your word for it.” Faye hesitated. “Many of their fathers are here to find Archers.”
“Lady, my training is not yet complete.”
“It will be in three months! Surely, you can begin looking for squireship or a future position now. You must be able to look that far in the future. These things take time,” she said with a knowing smile and tilt of her head.
Across the room, Faye could see the clutch of young women, Lady Erica’s friends, who peered after their omega socialite. Faye sighed. “Very well. Lead on.”
Lady Erica’s radiant smiled was girlishly adorable, and she spun to lead the way across the room. Faye followed carefully. These young women wore the current fashions in society dress where Faye didn't quite blend in with her boyish trousers and tunic with vest, despite being tailored for the female form.
Erica made a space for Faye in the circle.
“This is Miss Faye. The only female Archer and the best in all the land.”
“Lady—” Faye began.
“Everyone says so,” a young woman across the circle said, leaning forward with a shake of her head. Her delicate lace earrings jangled at the motion.
“Lady Erica has been telling us you caught one of their arrows and turned it in,” another young woman interjected, clearly suspicious by her tone. Her red and gold embroidered blouse sparkled in the light.
“Young Archers are usually scouted, especially by Senior Archers who are seeking a potential squire,” Faye began. She began to see pride dawn on Erica’s face. “However, I was not chosen that way. What Lady Erica says is true.”
Faye took a deep breath. The circle of young women seemed to close in on her, shoulders brushing, eyes eager. At least this retelling would eat up some of the time at the gala. She didn't want to leave too early. “I was in Maze Canyon as my home is just outside Abry. My siblings and I played there often as there is nothing else for children to do in Abry. We heard hoofbeats in the maze and climbed the cliffs to hide. This was a dead end, and the sun shone into the riders faces as it set. They could not see if the canyon provided a way out or not. I asked them if they were lost, but they thought I was the sending of a lost child.”
The women giggled, their attention rapt.
“I climbed down to prove I wasn't, since sendings do not cast shadows. In proving myself, one of them had the gall to shoot me. And instead, I caught the arrow.”
Faye could still remember the way she had simply plucked it out of the air. She had just known where to move and when, and then she had suddenly been holding it in her hand.
The women gasped. “Just like that?” one pressed, squeezing her neighbors arm.
“Skilled even before the Archers,” Erica interrupted. “Isn’t that right?” She looked to Faye.
“One might say that, yes.”
“Why did you help them?” A woman in a green and ivory pleated dress asked.
Faye stared at the young woman. “Because it was the right thing to do. I have given directions in the Canyon before and was not afraid. It was my duty to help.”
“And will you continue to do your helpful duty?” A male voice intoned.
The girls all jumped and fixed their eyes on the man behind Faye.
“Yes Master Warnock,” Faye said without looking. “Until I can find another calling.”
She turned away from the ladies to focus on her teacher. Her head came to his rounded shoulders, and she admired the well fit clothes which covered his considerable, but not obese, girth. His red hair had been pulled back tonight, and his beard cut shorter than she had ever seen it.
He smiled, lips just visible through his mustache, and laid an arm across her shoulders. His weight leaned on her slim frame. She could smell he’d a little too much drink already.
“Faye really is the best Archer. She continues to amaze us all.”
Faye avoided the gazes of the ladies, instead focusing on keeping the swaying Master Warnock on his feet.
“She was just telling us how she came to be in the Archers,” the eager friend said, her arm now linked with her neighbor.
“Yes. I knew that very day she was going to do great things.”
“You were there?” Erica asked, her face astonished.
“No,” Virgel Warnock said. “But when the Archers returned and told us they had given an arrow in such an uncouth manner, I knew whoever had it must be a force to be reckoned with.”
“Master,” Faye nudged. “It is late. Perhaps you will permit me to escort you to your room?”
“Oh dear girl, I am nowhere near needing an escort. However, I believe you have training in the morning.”
“Yes sir,” Faye said.
He lifted his arm off her shoulders and she straightened her over-shirt before nodding goodbye to Lady Erica and the others. Virgel could recount her achievements all night and find new ones to add to the growing rumor mill about her.
She turned and started for the door, weaving through the clusters of guests when someone took a startled step back into her path. She put her hand on his shoulder, catching and steadying him. The smooth, rich cloth told her immediately this was one of the more important attendees.
He turned and said, “Thank you.”
He was a youth about her age with a sharp face, jet black hair and a freckle low on his left cheek almost on the jaw bone. His build was slightly pudgy and skin almost waxen from lack of sunlight; it had a dull appearance. He stood maybe an inch shorter than she, although he might grow into that inch.
When he saw who had steadied him, his eyes widened. “Miss Faye. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. Surely you aren’t looking for a squireship or a position so early? You complete your training in when… another two months?”
“Three months, sir,” she corrected. “And no, but many of my friends in the Archers are here, and they asked that I join them tonight.”
“Oh, excuse my rudeness, I’m Jay Lucai.”
Faye recognized the name. Duke Lucai employed quite a few Archers, sending them to map the unknown lands beyond what was considered Castivas’s southern border. The Duke paid the King handsomely in tithes for use of the Archers as peacekeepers and messengers. Jay was his grandson, although they were much closer than that as Jay’s father had died some years ago.
“How nice to meet you,” Faye said, bowing her head. “If you’ll excuse me.”
She turned away then, the desire to make it to the door ever increasing. But Jay was already on her heels. “Miss Faye, I’ve heard so much about you. Please, perhaps you can dispel some of the rumors.”
A few steps from the door now, she gazed at it longingly before turning around to face the pestering youth. She clasped her hands before her. “Which rumors are those? There are far too many for me to keep track.”
“I have been told you arrived with a bow that supposedly only you can draw.”
Faye remembered very little of her first years in the Archers. But she remembered being asked countless times a day to tell how she had come to be in the training and to show her bow.
“It is true,” Faye answered.
Jay licked his lips. “I have also heard that you always carry it.”
She rolled her shoulders back. “Also true. It does not leave my side.”
His eyes moved across her body as he said, “But I do not see it.”
Before Faye could change the subject, he spoke again, leaning forward as if relaying a secret. “I have heard your bow was carved by an Aborente or the numenara itself.”
“There is much speculation,” Faye said, maintaining the distance between them.
“But you can’t confirm any of it?”
“The only way to know who made it is either to ask the numenara, which cannot answer, or find an Aborente. And they are rare indeed.”
“Surely the person who gave it to you was an Aborente or a collector?”
Faye took a moment to remember the woman who had given her the bow and quiver. Mercedes, she had called herself.
Faye had been in the Canyon alone after a bickering match with her brothers and found the traveler in a dead end, trying to climb a cliff for a better view. Even now, Faye felt certain she had not been an Aborente. Just a lost traveler who had rewarded her helper.
‘This is for you,’ she had said. ‘I want you take good care of it. It is yours and yours only.’
And with that she placed the bow over Faye’s shoulder and it vanished, along with the quiver. Even now, at the gala, she could feel the string on her shoulder.
“I do not think she was an Aborente,” Faye said.
Jay set his drink on a passing tray. “Perhaps you will permit me to see it and inspect it myself?”
“Are you an expert in items of this nature?” Faye asked, fully knowing he was not. Almost every person known to have any knowledge of items crafted by Aborente had visited Omrya in the six years since Faye entered the training. And yet, none had any clues or answers.
Jay seemed taken aback. “Well no, but it might help to dispel the rumors.”
Ah, for the sake of dispelling rumors.
“My apologies young Lord Lucai, but I am not in the habit of bringing it out at galas. Perhaps in the morning at training you will glimpse it. If you’ll excuse me, I must retire. I have training early tomorrow.”
“Oh of course,” he spouted. “I won’t keep you.”
She nodded her gracious thanks and moved out the door. Relived to be out of the stifling room she shook herself, releasing the tension in her shoulders before retreating to her room.
Mila had moved to the basement to escape the arguing, but the voices of her mother and step-father still carried down the stairs and through the floor. She wished she had a door. She glanced at her calendar but both her best friends were busy tonight. There was a burst of noise upstairs; stomping, it sounded like. She glared up before grabbing her pack. She would spend another evening at the studio. Alone.
She packed her dance shoes and a hand towel, along with her MP3 player, water bottle, and phone. She lifted her ancient red and blue windbreaker off the dresser, revealing a silver box about four inches long.
What could it be? She hadn’t looked where she’d thrown her jacket last night when she’d returned from the movie. Another gift from her mom, maybe? The yelling intensified on the main floor, and she shoved the box into the pack. She would open it somewhere quieter.
Slinging the duffle over her shoulder, she popped open her window and closed it behind her. From there, she hopped up the ground-cut for the basement window and made for her street. The gray skies above threatened rain later, but hopefully she would be back by then and their argument would be over.
She saw the bus coming and jogged to catch it, digging in her bag for her change purse. She took a seat and set her pack on her lap, staring out at the billowing clouds and the muted tones of the city. She hated it when they fought. Neither would give in, and they could argue for hours. Many nights they had kept her up.
Thank goodness the studio was open late. She usually couldn’t stay there past ten, but sometimes Devon, the owner, let her. The studio held evening classes and housed many rooms. She didn’t bother anyone and no one bothered her.
Just as the bus was reaching the university, she remembered the mysterious box. She dug it out and looked at it for a moment. Crushed velvet on the outside and unlabeled. Curious now, she snapped it open to find a beaded cuff inside, folded lengthwise along with a strip of paper. It was beautifully made in silver, blue, and white beads. She snapped it shut as the bus came to a stop and shoved it back in before stepping off the bus and starting up the hill.
There was some construction going on at one of the shops, but she barely paid attention to the dirt movers and orange clad construction workers.
The bell rung over her head and Amanda looked up from the desk; Mousy hair bouncing with the motion. Her green eyes looked magnified by red bottle-cap glasses.
“Hey Mandy,” Mila chimed.
“Hey. You have class today?”
Mila shook her head and leaned on the front of the chest high counter. “No. Escaping the storm.”
Mandy understood. “Room twelve is open and will be all night. Helen canceled her class.”
“Not feeling well?” Mila inquired.
Mandy nodded. “Some kind of stomach bug.” The receptionist handed Mila a key.
Mila started down the hall. She passed a few classes already in session. Room twelve was dim, the skylights afforded little light due to the clouds. She remembered her first dance class in this room. She pushed the door open and shut it behind her, turning on the lights as she did. She set her bag on the single folding chair by the stereo box and dug out her MP3 player. As she did, the velvet box toppled onto the floor. She picked it up and opened it, fishing out the note and laying the cuff flat on the top of the stereo box. It had a depiction of a single turtle on it; black background with white beads for the turtle body and blueish purple for the lines. It looked old, although she suspected it had been restrung at least once, as the binding string looked new.
The note was from one of Mila’s pads of paper and she unfolded it to find her mother’s clean handwriting.
Mila, I wanted to give this to you personally, but I guess you’re off dancing or at a movie. I’m sorry I haven’t been around much lately. Work has been busy with the holidays coming up. I miss seeing you and having dinner, or breakfast or lunch. This is an heirloom I’ve had for years. I know you are more interested in movement and it probably won’t work for your dancing, but I thought you might like it. I wore it for many years and I hope you will do the same. It always brought me luck.
Mila smiled. She folded the note and stuck it back in the box before managing, with some trouble, to get the cuff on as the clasp had a pair of ball and loop closures. She turned it around a few times on her wrist and liked the feel of the slinky beads against her skin. Satisfied, she changed shoes and tied back her shoulder length brown hair while the first song played.
She warmed up to the rest of that song, and the second. By the third, she was in dance mode. Mila had been dancing since she was four years old, and always here at this studio. She knew every instructor and they knew her. Thirteen years of dancing in all styles combined with an instinct about music made her incredible to watch, she had been told.
Mila wasn’t sure how long she danced. The music surrounded her and she only stopped to drink water and wipe sweat from her brow before diving back in. It didn’t even matter what played, she had filled her player with all kinds of music: contemporary, classic, instrumental, lyrical, rhythmic, trance, dubstep and traditional. The entire gambit.
Several hours later, she took a break and saw Devon standing outside, watching. Mila waved the African-American woman in.
“It’s past ten, Miss Spellmar,” she said fondly. “All the other classes have finished, and I’m closing up.”
Mila slipped off her shoes and sat to shove her streets on. “Thanks for letting me stay this late.”
“You are so beautiful to watch,” Devon said, fiddling with her highlighted hair growing out at the roots. “Oh, is that a new bracelet?”
Mila held it out for inspection. “Yep. My mom gave it to me.”
“It looks very tribal. Do you want a ride home? The weather has turned something fierce.”
“No, thank you,” Mila said. She was grateful for the offer, but Devon wasn’t the safest driver. Mila learned first-hand the last time she had accepted an offer. “The bus stop isn’t too far away and it is covered.”
“Okay,” Devon said.
They walked out, locked room twelve and headed to the reception area.
“You might want to put on your jacket now,” Devon suggested.
Mila dug it out and slid her arms into it.
Wind ripped at her immediately as she stepped onto the covered porch, and rain splattered her. She turned her back to the elements, pulling the jacket closer and cinching the hood to her chin. Devon waved as she dashed for her car, and Mila started down the sidewalk toward the bus stop.
As she made to cross the street, she saw someone walking, head down, perpendicular to her path, caddy-corner to her. Medium build, a little taller than her, a kind of stomping walk, male maybe. Another person caught out in the rain. Lightning cracked in the sky and thunder boomed. The splashing whir of cars through puddles mixed with the patter of rain on roofs and concrete. She lowered her head and crossed, trying to avoid the largest puddles. When she reached the opposite side, the other person was almost upon her. She started down the sidewalk at a clip, shaking off the rain and taking some relief from the trees overhead.
A few steps later, when she was almost out from under the trees, she glanced back, only to see the other person hadn’t continued down the original path. She was being followed. Her breath caught. Maybe it wasn’t merely someone stuck in the rain.
She picked up her pace a little, fighting the wind and rain buffeting her. She looked down the sidewalk and her heart fell. The sidewalk at the construction site was flooded. She would have to cross, or go through the site. She saw an unsecured gate banging in the wind. She glanced back again. The person was still behind her.
If she crossed, she would lose ground, but the construction site was a shortcut to the bus stop. Turning, she started down the incline at a faster pace.
As she reached the gate, she saw the lock and chain loosely tied. She could easily slip through. The gate swung toward her in a gust and she took a step back, hitting something on the ground with her heel.
Fear shot through her and she lunged for the gate, slipping between the jam and the swinging door with only a slight tug on her bag. On the other side, she looked back to see the follower on the other side, only a few feet away.
Mila turned and sprinted. He would be through in a second, she felt certain. As she ran, she saw a squarish hole in the ground and two steps leading into darkness below. She briefly wondered what that could possibly mean. Did the building that used to stand here have a cellar?
Suddenly, the air pulsed, electrified, and a boom resounded, knocking her to the ground. She rolled once or twice on the hill then sat up. Her ears rang, and she was disoriented. Her hood fell back and she gasped as water drenched her neck.
Hanging in the air, less than a pace from her, shone a line of blinding white light outlined in shimmering rainbow. She blinked a few times and heard someone moan. The panic cleared her head. Whoever had moaned was close by.
Mila scrambled forward. Maybe she could hide in the exposed cellar. Would he think to look there? She did, but she had no other option.
As she reached the stair landing, she heard a grunt and felt a hand brush her back. She lunged forward, pushing with just the tips of her toes on slippery tile or cement.
Then she fell forward, but didn’t feel stairs below her. Instead, she felt wet grass. She glanced up and saw the rip closing. She swayed on the ground and shivered from the bitterly cold rain. Her skin was beginning to sting where she’d scraped it. She felt drowsy; she wanted nothing else than to curl up and sleep.
She shook her head to clear it and saw a grouping of trees nearby. She pushed herself up and swayed a few steps before collapsing onto the wet grass. This looked like the same hill, but there was no earth mover, and no parking garage that she could see through in the rain.
She focused on the trees and crawled forward until she reached drier ground. She was exhausted. She would only rest for a few minutes and then she’d get to the bus stop.
She lay on the grass, chest to ground, head turned to one side and closed her eyes. The rain was making the landscape look different. Maybe she was under the earth mover right now, and it just looked like trees.
She stood on the lower field waiting for the Duke and his grandson to arrive. Whether it was a demonstration or a lesson made little difference to Faye. Both were stuffy, formal events—the worst kind.
Six years of King’s Archer training had come to this? Sharing her proven skill with people she disliked and was obligated to serve? Whom she may have to beg a squireship from? She glanced toward the stairs again, her annoyance growing. They were late—on top of it all.
Hadn't Lord Jay Lucai made her last three months torturous enough with his hovering attempts to win her affection? Now she had to put up with the Duke too. With a lack of a father, Jay took after his grandfather. She did not look forward to two overly attentive Lucais.
She fingered her bow string across her chest, biting her lip and watching the steps to the upper field. Her fingers itched inside the two fingered archer’s glove. She gave in and pulled three arrows from her quiver to lodge in the top of her boot between her pants and boot wall. Three targets waited on the south end of the narrow field. Each one had a different configuration of point scale: three layered triangle, traditional circle and challenge. The challenge was a hand drawn man partially obscured by a quarter pane window. Faye wished there was something more challenging. She’d mastered all three and resorted to inventing harder tasks.
She glanced at the steps once more before pulling arrows. She lodged one in her boot, between sock and lining, the other in her mouth and nocked the third. It took her only a moment to perform this harder task, running parallel to the targets as she fired. She was not yet as accurate as when she was stationary, but no arrows went astray—each striking the colored targets down field. Three more arrows and another stretch of running yielded little improvement. Another anxious glance at the stairs. She didn’t want the haughty Lucais to see her invented task.
Alas, her luck ran out. On the third set of arrows, the recognizable baritone of MasterArcher Nym called out and she stopped. One arrow remained in Faye’s boot.
She turned to face the stairs and saw Nym leading the way, with both Lucais trailing behind and Master Warnock with them. Nym's gray hairs stood out in the long tail down his back. She took up her formal stance, bow in one hand.
Nym stopped beside her and surveyed the three targets. “Been putting in some extra practice?” he teased. She opened her mouth to answer and then closed it.
By now the other three had caught up, and they too surveyed the targets. The thin, but imposing Duke, face scrutinizing and critical, but unreadable beyond that. Jay's stance was that of one seeking approval, but confident in the presence of his grandfather. Faye had secretly hoped Nym would find her during her practices and approve of her task, but she hadn't wanted anyone else to see.
“Faye,” Virgel said, clapping her on the shoulder, “how long have you been practicing this?”
“About six weeks,” she answered.
Nym started toward the targets, confidence in his step and she could see the curiosity in his shoulders. Virgel turned to the Duke and Jay. “This is Faye. She’ll be receiving her arrows in a few days.”
Faye curtsied, despite her lack of skirt. She dug up the proper greetings. “I’m honored to meet you, Duke. Lord Lucai, always a pleasure.”
Nym called Faye away and Virgel began detailing the Archer training to the Lucais. Faye joined Nym at the triangle target, putting her bow over her head as she moved toward him. He indicated the target. One of the arrows was in the tiny triangle at the top. During tests and competitions, this area was worth fifteen points.
“Six weeks?” he asked.
“Maybe longer,” she admitted.
“Why add the motion?”
“You’ve seen me cluster arrows there all day when stationary. I needed more of a challenge.”
Nym made no comment. She retrieved her arrows from the targets and returned them to her quiver, including the one in her boot. She and Nym walked back to the Lucais and Master Warnock. She tried to read Nym's softly chiseled face, tried to determine what the slight scrunch of his dark eyebrows and frown pulling at his mouth could mean.
“I’ve seen Faye shoot far better,” Jay said.
“Perhaps a demonstration of honed ability?” Virgel suggested.
Faye took a deep breath and brought her bow back over her head. She watched the Lucais faces as it shimmered into view. The Duke's didn't change, expect for a slight tilt of the head. Jay's smile cocked his mouth to one side, obviously pleased to see the bow lifted out of nonexistence. She turned then, sliding an arrow out of her quiver and nocked it. Another deep breath and she focused her aim.
Moments later, three arrows clustered in the center of the target, vying for the closest point. She could hear Jay Lucai clapping.
“That was wonderful,” the young man applauded.
“She has made excellent progress,” the Duke said. To Faye, it didn't sound quite like a compliment.
Virgel opened his mouth but Jay interrupted. “No one is as accurate as Faye.”
Faye said nothing.
“Her abilities are unparalleled,” Nym commented. One of only a few compliments Faye had ever received from him.
“I have heard she has a rather remarkable bow,” the Duke commented.
“Faye’s bow has grown with her the last six years. She is the only person who can draw it,” Nym said.
“I wrote to you about it,” Jay reminded the Duke.
“Faye keeps it very close to her,” Virgel said.
“I’ve heard she is never without it,” said the Duke. “May I see it?”
Faye was reluctant to hand over her bow, but obliged. The Duke took it gingerly and examined it.
“Experts of the numenara have come from all corners of Castivas,” Jay gushed. “How did you come by it again, Faye?”
“It was a gift. I do not want to bore you with the details. It is a tale I’m certain Master Nym or Master Warnock can recount at your leisure,” Faye said.
“What have the experts revealed?” the Duke asked. He was completely ignoring Faye and addressed both MasterArchers. He also seemed to be ignoring Jay.
Virgel looked to Nym.
“Clearly it is marked with the numenara, but to what extent is unknown. Faye has used other bows as well with similar success in timed and leisurely practice. It is difficult to find legitimate scholars of the numenara,” the MasterArcher explained.
“Indeed,” the Duke agreed. He held the bow out for Faye to take, but then Jay grabbed it. Faye clenched her fist to keep from knocking it from his hand.
She really wished he had asked. Faye would have liked to tell him no, but his disregard for her belongings made her furious. She felt her breath quicken and chest warm. In response, she clasped her hands behind her back.
Nym caught her eye, and she watched him take a deep breath. She copied him and then took another for good measure.
“Nym,” Virgel said, returning the MasterArcher’s attention to the Duke. “Perhaps Faye can give Lord Jay some tips. I understand he is interested in becoming an Archer.”
Nym smiled gently. “Many young men have the same desire.”
Faye’s thoughts echoed his words.
She watched Jay try to draw her bow. He gave the string an experimental pull. It didn’t budge. He strained against it, biting his lip. Then he handed it back to her with that sickly sweet smile. She took it graciously, returning a polite smile and slipped the bow over her head.
Faye could hear people on the upper field when a set of bells begin to ring. “The afternoon class is about to start. I’m needed elsewhere. Please excuse me.”
She nodded her head to the Duke and Jay as well as the MasterArchers.
“I am also needed elsewhere,” Nym said. “I will accompany you, Faye.”
“Perhaps the two of you would like to join us for dinner,” the Duke invited, gesturing gently with one hand.
Faye did not move. Breakfast once a week with Jay had been stifling enough. She didn’t want to imagine what dinner with both him and his grandfather would be like.
“We would be honored,” Nym said. “Perhaps tomorrow. Faye is on the roster for meal prep tonight.”
“Tomorrow,” the Duke confirmed.
Nym and Faye walked to the stairs as Virgel chatted over the King’s Archer training. It wasn’t until they moved on passing some younger recruits that Faye shook out her shoulders.
“We should practice your dancing again before the gala,” Nym said, all business. “And arrange a refresher meal etiquette for tonight in preparation for the next few days.”
“Just this one meal with them,” she begged.
“After all the freedom you’ve had over the last months? Do you know how many people have been requesting dinner with you? The chats Virgel and I have had to keep you in training? If the Duke requests dinner every night until the gala, you’ll go.” His voice had taken on a slightly bossy and official tone.
“No,” Nym said, firmly. “And any other Lords, Counts and Barons who request you. The Duke won’t be the only one vying for your dinner card, and you’ve only five dinners to attend. Two of which are already taken. Tonight with me for meal etiquette and tomorrow with the Duke. Three other meals will be good practice.”
Faye knew he was right. They walked up the steps to the castle proper.
“Thank you Master Nym,” she said.
“Once you acquire a squireship or employ, you won’t have me around to excuse you or give you cues and reminders.” He ruffled her hair.
She moved off toward her class and he in the other direction.
The next five dinners were just as tortuous as she had imagined. Some she attended with King Kaiden and others with Nym. Master Warnock even accompanied her. Faye was glad of the refresher dinner with Nym. Her dance card for the gala was also filling quickly.
Jay’s gifts did not ebb in the final days. They seemed, in fact, to increase. Every time she went to her room she found flowers, cloth, soap, jewelry, shoes, and other trinkets always with the signature blue and yellow ribbons to denote his affection. She sent them all back with polite response. At least her penmanship had improved.
Then the day of the gala arrived. Her day filled with tasks, and by the end she desperately needed a bath.
Sean walked with her, also not yet ready for the gala. He was accepting arrows tonight, and the two had shared a wall for the entirety of their schooling. Sean had been the one she vented to about Jay, drank pints with in Omrya, studied, trained and laughed with. The dark moles scattered across his thin and paler face somehow added to the charm other girls found in him.
He met her outside the bath as she combed her wet hair and they walked back to her room together. His thick blond hair would take longer to dry than hers. He had his uniform draped over one arm, but was partially dressed already.