“Peyton, sweetie, we’re waiting.” Jolene called over the screen that separated the dressing area from the dorm part of the barn loft. Heidi hid a smile as Peyton huffed.
“I think she knows that, Jo.” Heidi told her. You’ve only reminded her of it three times now.
“I’m sorry I’ve been mourning my sweats they look so much more comfortable than that thing.” Peyton called back.
“It’s called a dress, Pey, girls wear them.” Jolene informed her. This was not the first time that they had had this argument.
“I can’t for the life of me imagine why.” The blonde stepped out from behind the screen to grab the chemise and dress that someone, probably Raquel, it had been her turn to bring in the laundry, had left laying on Peyton’s bed. Jolene humphed. “You may like dresses, Joey, but I don’t. I still don’t see why I have to wear one today.”
“It’s a dress up event, sweats are not dress-up.” Jolene rolled her eyes.
“Wanna bet? I’m pretty sure I have a pair of formal sweats somewhere.” Peyton shot back.
“Guys.” Heidi interjected. She liked them both, but sometimes… “Pey, considering Fox, who doesn’t like to give anything away, specifically made a dress, which is very pretty, just for you, and gave it to you to wear today, I think the least you can do is wear it. Jo, I know Peyton doesn’t like dresses, I know you do, I know you know these things also, give it a rest, please?” Peyton had disappeared back behind the screen and so didn’t see Jolene roll her eyes.
“So, what are we doing today anyway?” Peyton asked over the sound of clothing rustling.
“Apparently there’s a Harvest Faire, which basically sounds like a craft fair, the guys put together a bunch of projects and we’re gonna go browse through what’s there and see what we wanna buy.” Heidi told her.
“Buy how? I doubt they take credit cards.” Peyton said.
“If you don’t stop rolling your eyes, Jo, one of these days they’re going to roll right out of your skull.” Heidi murmured quietly before raising her voice loud enough for Peyton to hear. “From what the king told Kennedy, we’re supposed to barter, we can do something for them in return for the-whatever it is.”
“Oh?” Heidi felt her cheeks under her freckles turn slightly pink at the suggestive tone which Peyton used. Jolene smirked and Heidi swatted her arm.
“I’m fairly certain not that sort of something.” Heidi said.
“You’re blushing, aren’t you? How on earth are you still so innocent?” Peyton asked when Heidi didn’t answer the first part.
“It’s not that sex bothers me, Pey, it’s just how you say it, sometimes, that gets me.” Heidi said. Besides, she’d been told, for a long time actually, that keeping that bit of innocence about her was endearing. She tried to tell herself that the blush was more automatic than heartfelt and sincere. But it probably was somewhere in between.
“Okay, I think I have this stupid contraption on right.” Peyton told them. “I probably look ridiculous.”
“I think you look lovely.” Heidi said.
“Meh.” Peyton said, brushing back a strand of short platinum hair. “Let’s just go.” Kennedy and Tiffany were waiting for them downstairs, Raquel having dashed out the door with scant explanation which had caused more than a few raised eyebrows among the older women. But Raquel, while still firmly a “kid” to most of them, was used to being on her own. Her green eyes would turn dark and distressed when her past was brought up and no one really had the heart to press on it.
There were, after all, more than a few pasts people didn’t want to talk about. In fact, Heidi would lay odds that there were more pasts people didn’t want to talk about than pasts people did here in Shadowcrest.
“So here we are at the bastion of capitalism!” Peyton said as they walked into the open gates of the merchant camp, now that all of the merchants were safely ensconced in houses, the tents had been taken down and replaced with another set of stalls. “It isn’t quite the mall, is it?” Peyton laughed.
“Not quite.” Heidi agreed.
“What would you like to look at?” Peyton asked.
“I think I’ll just look around.” Heidi said. Overtrained, perhaps, but the crowd interested her more than the trays of fish and flowers. Just ahead was Tate and Sawyer talking earnestly about something, every so often Sawyer would break off and turn to look at Jolene who was browsing the flowers and talking with Ren, the blacksmith.
They were all terrible about teasing Jolene about Sawyer’s crush on her, but the young minstrel was so adorable, and it was so endearing to see the way his heart leapt into his eyes when he looked at her. “She’s really beautiful, isn’t she?” Sawyer said as Heidi moved past him.
“Aye.” Tate said with the resigned tone that said this was not the first time that Sawyer had mentioned it.
From there she swung past the cashbox that Blake was manning seemingly more out of habit than out of an expectation that they’d actually be paying for anything. Especially considering he wasn’t paying the slightest mind to the box and more to Raquel, who was talking fastly and excitedly about helping set up the tables for the feast. Blake was watching her with equal indulgence and interest that had nothing to do with table linens.
Beyond Emanuel and Jarrett who were talking about some herbs that Emanuel was growing that might help with an animal cough that tended to crop up in the late autumn, Tiffany was looking at a sofa. But as Heidi slid past the butcher and the apothecary, who for once didn’t carry the smell of wine about him like Pigpen had dirt in the Peanuts comics, Tiffany headed over to where Kennedy stood.
“I like it.” Tiffany said.
“I like this one better, not that anything’ll fit into the barn over the winter, we stick anything more in there and we’ll have to climb over it to get around.” Kennedy gestured to a wrought iron set with two chairs and a bench, softened with warm orange cushions.
“Well, yeah, but come spring, when we can start building again, we’ll probably have our own places to furnish. I’m sure somebody’d probably let us store the furniture for the winter. King Lachlan’s got a barn. And there’s the equipment shed here.” Tiffany pointed out.
“So, see anything?” Peyton asked, coming up behind her.
“Meh, not a lot.” Heidi said, not wanting to admit that she’d been watching the crowd, not the contents of the stalls.
“I think someone’s watching you.” Tiffany said in a sly voice to Kennedy. Heidi kept from stiffening by will alone. Sure it had been a couple of months since she had actually done any crowd watching, but she had always sort of figured it was like riding a bike, not something you were likely to forget all of, even when not practicing.
“Tiff!” Kennedy growled. “I swear you are worse than Jaime Cauldwell in seventh grade when she was sure that Bobby Harris was in LOVE with me.”
“Um, no. He did however like the guy who sat behind me in life science.” Tiffany put a hand over her mouth to cover her snort of laughter. “Will you leave off with me and Emanuel?”
“I told you when I would, you didn’t expect me to lie to you, did you?”
“Oh, look, the king.” Kennedy said using almost the exact same tone that Hugo the gargoyle had, in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when he said “Oh, look, a mime.” But, yes, there was the king, and his entourage.
“See, now, aren’t you glad you wore the dress?” Lachlan, Wesley, Dolph, Camden, even Gray had set aside their utilitarian garb and wore brocade tunics and hose.”You’d be terribly under-dressed in sweats.” Heidi pointed out to Peyton.
Who apparently ignored that because she said only, “The king’s got nice legs.”
“Peyton!” Heidi laughed and smacked the blonde on the arm.
The arrival of the king did sort of signal a change in the afternoon. Apparently, from what Heidi could ferret out, the king most definitely did not usually celebrate the Harvest Faire with the peasants. As for Lachlan, when he’d still been just the nephew by marriage of the king, he’d celebrated the Harvest festival either with his own family or with Wesley, Gray, and Tate.
But what point, really, was there in fixing two feasts when there were all of nineteen people in the country? And perhaps it also was the solidarity, showing that they were all survivors together.
Not long after Lachlan and the nobility arrived, the faire-goers moved away from the crowd and over to where the tables had been set up. Heidi would have to compliment Raquel, you could tell, if you looked closely, that under the slip covers that the chairs were mismatched, probably pulled from every house in the kingdom, (and perhaps even a few magicked up by Lachlan.) And that the long tables were boards set on barrels, but the linens gave the illusion and it looked lovely.
The food was lovely too. Even if half of it Heidi didn’t know what it was, and was somewhat reluctant to ask, she ate more than was really good for her. Not quite as much as Sawyer and Tate who could be excused, being teenaged boys who more than likely needed twice their body weight in food every week to survive, but more than she ate usually.
One thing she noticed though, was that there were no candles on the tables. That didn’t seem the thing that would be overlooked, so-was the feast supposed to be over before it got late? She wished that she could ask. Perhaps later.
The sky was just turning from autumn gold to dusk red, that Ren and Emanuel came to clean up the dishes from the table, sort of indicating that Heidi was right. The king stood, in obvious preparation for leaving soon, but in the general chaos that that caused, Heidi noticed someone else slipping through the crowd.
Jarrett, the solemn-faced butcher, his face even more solemn than usual, had moved from the crowd toward the gates. Heidi, curiosity practically tingling in her limbs, shadowed after him. Sawyer had cornered Jolene by the entrance and whatever it was he was saying, she was-at best-bewildered by.
“Sawyer?” Heidi asked. Jolene smiled in relief. “Where is Jarrett going?” Jolene quirked an eyebrow.
“Huh? Oh, pro’ly to Old Man ‘Liot’s hill. It’s Lost Souls night, after all.”
“That’s where they put the plague cemetery, on Old Man Elliot’s hill, ‘cept nobody puts the El on t’start, it’s just Liot’s, most of the time. I think he’s going to visit his family.”
“His-family?” Jolene asked. Sawyer smiled at her.
“Aye. You-didn’t know? Jarrett’s family died in the plague.” Sawyer looked after the butcher whose blonde hair was barely visible in the waning light. “He had a little boy an’ girl an’ a wife. Twas before my time, so I never knew ‘em, but Emanuel an’ Fox, they told me. I guess he really loved his wife-an’ when she died, an’ he survived, she made him promise not to follow her, e’en though I guess he really wanted to.”
“Oh, that poor man.” Jolene said.
“Anyway, Harvest Faire ended when the sun started to set, now it’s Lost Soul’s night, the night of the dead. I bet he’s heading out to the cemetery t’ see ‘em.” Sawyer finished. Heidi found herself drawn, like a magnet, toward the cemetery. Why one man’s pain was so important, she didn’t know, but it was and it drew her.
It was full dark when she reached the cemetery, Jarrett stopped and looked up at the statue of the Grim Reaper at the gate. Heidi, with Peyton and Jolene in tow, stopped also, just outside of the light cast by the lamps. Most of the streets in Shadowcrest weren’t illuminated, usually just the places where people lived, but there were a lot of lamps here at the cemetery, and tonight they were all lit.
Considering everyone had been at the Faire, and Jarrett was the first to leave, and he had just arrived, Heidi had to briefly stop and wonder who had lit them all. A small tingle ran up her spine as if there were something more going on here than she knew.
But the blonde man didn’t linger long at the gates. He pushed inside and Heidi stopped for a moment and stared at the hill in front of her. The hill obviously wasn’t natural, it was tiered, and each of the ten tiers showed row after row of whitewashed crosses, glittering in the lamplight.
“My god.” Peyton whispered. Heidi looked at her.”Well, I mean I knew that a lot of people had died, I just didn’t-I never pictured this.” Heidi hadn’t either. The sheer magnitude of what had happened in Shadowcrest crashed down on her. And this wasn’t even all of them. The inclusion of only the white crosses more than likely meant that those who were buried here were commoners.
Also, from what Heidi had heard, a lot of times the last person in a family to die was just shut up in their house and the house lit on fire, the home becoming a pyre. She felt staggered.
Jarrett had set a satchel on the ground and took out a few candles also a bouquet of red roses and a pair of patchwork bears. The bouquet went in front of the center cross, the pink bear to the left, the blue to the right.
“He had a little boy.” Sawyer had said. “And a little girl.” Heidi felt her eyes close against the sting of sudden tears.
“Well, Rosie, I finished your bear, ’twasn’t easy, what with the harvest come an’ all, but I made it. Plus I hurt my arm a while back an’ this doctor, she tole’ me to take it easy. Not that I listened-not at first anyway, but then she took your old pa and turned him over her knee like I’da done to you or to Frankie had you done wrong, and paddled me! So I figured, easy mighta been the way to go there after. You’da liked this doctor.” His words carried on the wind, down the hill, suddenly standing there watching him, was very painful.
He really had been going to visit his family. He sat on the grass, clipped short where it was grown longer around those three wooden crosses and talked to them. When the blue bear started to slip to one side, he reached out and righted it once more.
“C’mon.” Heidi whispered to Jolene. Peyton had already wandered off toward the pond that was across the stone street from the cemetery and was skipping stones on it. The two of them wandered up toward the top tier, sadness, seeming in waves, radiated off the very ground around them.
She guessed that, given the name of the hill, the statue at the top had something to do with it. At the base of the statue were candles that seemed very steady considering how the wind blew at them. Heidi stared for a moment at the cross of planted flowers, then looked down the hill.
“What’s wrong?” Jolene asked. “You look white as a-a sheet.” The stammer clued Heidi to the fact that that was not her first choice.
“I dunno, it just feels-weird here.” Heidi murmured.
“You’re the one who wanted to come, Jolene pointed out ruthlessly.
“I know, and I’m wondering why. I guess it seems more real now is all. And that’s not a bad thing.”Jolene was silent as they watched the fireflies flicker and beyond that, the candlelight flicker on a solemn face, the only man living among the dead.