Rey had agreed to the double date, which was why Drake was standing at her door now. It was a little awkward arriving here alone, he had to admit.
Mira had accepted the invitation to be his date for tonight, but said she wouldn’t be at home tonight and that he should worry about picking her up at her house. She said she’d meet him at Rey’s. Judging by the lack of motorcycle in the drive, he realized Chase had not yet arrived. He punched the doorbell, straightened his shirt and wondered where to put the bouquet of flowers he’d brought for Mira.
For a moment, he thought he heard a multitude of tiny voices, but then the door opened to reveal Rey wearing an exquisite gown of deep green silk with wide bands of bejewelled and gold and green embroidery. Her hair was pulled back in a jewelled net under a hat that perfectly matched her gown. She smiled at him, looking all the world like some queen from a bygone era.
“Come in, Drake,” she said and stepped several paces so that he could walk past her into the house.
“You look great,” he said with a smile. He’d chosen a pirate’s style outfit for the Renaissance Dinner out at the fairgrounds tonight. He had chosen a white muslin shirt with a deep V and roguishly open leather jerkin. Black pants were tucked into shiny black leather boots. Although his baldric was empty, his sword being in the car, he carried a pair of flintlock pistol replicas in his wide waist belt. “Am I the first to arrive?”
“The second,” Rey replies with a cheeky smile, “considering I got here first because I live here.” She shut the door behind Drake and followed him into the living room. “You look quite dashing yourself. I think Mira will have a hard time resisting you.” Seeing the way Drake was dressed made her wonder what Chase would be wearing. He hadn’t told her anything, other than he’d be on time.
A smile flickered to life on his face. “You think so?” He looked around for a moment, then said, “Actually I kind of thought she’d be here already. She said she didn’t need a ride so I thought maybe she was already with you.” He didn’t like the idea of Mira walking all over the city alone at night. He knew it wasn’t reasonable, that all kinds of people did that, but it didn’t help.
“I’m not sure where she is,” Rey said with a slight frown. “And she refuses to replace her cell phone.” She sighed. “She did say she’d be here on time, so I’m not too worried.” Her eyes moved to the flowers in Drake’s hand and back to his face. “Would you like a vase for those?”
He looked at the flowers and then said, “Yes, sure. I thought she might like to wear one, though. Do you think she might like a rose? Or that blue one there?” The bouquet had a variety of white roses and blue carnations among others.
“I think she might,” Rey said as she put the only intact vase she had left on the counter. The army had decided to do naval maneuvers and experiment with “depth chargers” a few days ago. She filled the vase half full with water and brought it to Drake for him to put the flowers inside.
He pulled one rose free and carefully began removing the thorns. “The way things happened that night of the Harvest Ball, I never really got enough of a chance to talk with her. I’m hoping we can finally --”
The doorbell rang, interrupting Drake’s remark.
Rey gave him a commiserating smile and went to the door, peeking through the peephole before opening it. There she saw her man dressed in what seemed like nothing but artificial fur. A wide swath of it crossed his chest and an overdone puffy, furry, loin cloth covered his lower parts. He even wore big, furry boots. On his back was a titanic plastic axe and atop his head was a fur helm complete with bull’s horns. He rang the doorbell again.
She closed her eyes and bowed her head for a moment, fighting back a chuckle, before opening the door. “Hello, Chase,” she said with a smile. She didn’t think she’d seen that much fake fur in one place at one time, and she couldn’t decide if he was adorable or if she should shriek for the castle guard.
“Hi! I’m a barbarian,” Chase said with enthusiasm. “Where’s the feast?”
“Come on in,” Rey said, knowing better than to say anything else. “We’re just waiting on Mira, and then we’ll head to the faire.”
“Great!” he said, walking inside. Seeing Drake, he greeted him with a, “Hey.”
“Hello,” Drake returned.
“It won’t be long,” Chase said. “I passed her on the way over. She’s just up the street.”
“The Evil One comes?” cried a small voice. “Man the Cat-pulleds!” Another cried out, “Form up ranks, fairies!” and a smaller voice said, “It’s the Wicked Witch of the … the South by Southwest!”
Drake blinked. “Seems a little dramatic…” The fairies seemed to be everywhere all of a sudden.
“Not for them,” Rey couldn’t help but say. “Stand down, Sergeant Thorn.” Her voice was a regal and authoritative as her costume.
“Actually, your Gooey Ladyship,” piped one fairy (and was Thorn looking a bit … chubby?), “after the last eating contest I was promoted to Commander in Cheese.”
“Eating contest. That would explain your why your uniform and sword belt no longer fit properly.” She couldn’t help but make that little dig, and even as the words came out of her mouth, she remembered Chase could see neither who she and Drake were talking to, nor hear Thorn’s half of the conversation.
She turned to look at her barbarian. “Sorry. I’m being rude.”
“Grah! Barbarian not mind,” Chase said.
“She is here!” cried the petite lookout at the window.
Thorn yelled, “Prepare to fight to the death!” A dozen tiny heads turned and stared at him. “I mean, ambush positions!” That seemed to be code for “run and hide”, which they all did.
Then there was a knock on the door.
Rey sighed. She went through this every time Mira came over. Yes, it was nice to know who was coming to the door, but it was rather overdramatic. She went to the door and opened it for her friend. “Hi, Mira.”
“Hello,” she said. Outfitted tonight in a green dress that was a modern take on a mythical idea of a warrior woman, it came in two parts. The top left her arms and back bare but stretched nicely over her chest and looped around her neck. It was joined to the skirt portion by a thick ring positioned just above her navel. In fantasy style, the skirt portion was cut far up her legs to show the front of her thighs to her ankles. She wore high-heeled shoes tonight (unusual for her), that were strapped and made to look reminiscent of sandals, except the straps ran high up her calves. Like Chase’s choice it showed she’d made a visit to a costume shop but didn’t have a real understanding of period dress. Still, given the typically fantastical view of the Renaissance period, and habit of Faire folks dressing as fantastical people and creatures, they’d both likely fit right in, even if their dates showed them up a little with their choice of attire. At least both Chase and Mira were good looking people to start with; they could make it work for them.
“Come on in.” Rey stepped back out of the way into the doorway to her office. A quick glance behind her reassures her she’d put everything away. While she wasn’t embarrassed about what she used as writing prompts and inspiration, she didn’t want to spend time talking about them - or deflecting questions.
Drake straightened up a bit more, and he tried not to roll the rose’s stem between his fingertips. He hoped tonight would present the opportunity to patch things up with Mira. He missed her terribly.
“Well, it seems we are about ready to go then,” Chase remarked, offering Rey his arm. “I rented a car for us to take tonight. Roomy Dodge Charger.”
Mira took a step to stand closer to Drake. “You look roguishly handsome.” Her smile said she loved rogues, but that she also didn’t seem to have reservations about being here tonight.
“You are ravishing,” Drake replied softly. “These flowers are for you.” He indicated the vase on the table. “I thought, perhaps, you might like to wear this.” He offered her the dethorned white rose, not quite so confident she’d wear it as he was before he saw her costume.
“Flowers?” She took the offered rose then bent to smell the bouquet he brought. “I’ll take them home with me after the dinner,” she said. Then she tucked the rose in her hair above her right ear. She secured it under a head band that was helping to order her loosely braided hair. The white went with anything, and it was an eye-catching contrast with her dark hair. In thanks, she kissed him on the cheek.
As Mira and Drake talked, Rey took Chase’s arm, her vines encircling his forearm even as her fingers did. She knew he couldn’t see it, didn’t want to see it, but she wished he could, because it was as much a part of her body language as how she moved her head or walked. She picked up the handback she had that matched her gown, though it was more a drawstring bag than anything else. She clipped it to the bejeweled belt about her waist.
She let her eyes roam over him and a mischievous little smile curved her lips. “Where are you hiding your wallet in that outfit?”
“Simple,” he said, twisting his belt around. “I got this medieval fanny pack here.” The belt pouch he showed here was meant to go in front, not behind, but he clearly didn’t know that. He glanced at Drake and Mira. “Is everyone ready to go?”
Drake offered Mira his arm with a heart stopping smile. She put her hand in the crook of his elbow. Her eyes shined brightly.
Rey leaned in to whisper in Chase’s ear “The pouch is supposed to be worn at the front, where it won’t interfere if you have to draw your weapon. The one on your back, anyway.”
He turned to check on it, and it caught on the door frame. The entire head of the axe popped off and the handle fell through it’s loop on his back.
“Oops,” he said. He picked it up and stood the pieces in the corner of the entryway. “I don’t need those anyway. I got teeth! And I know when to use them.”
“I have a bra or two that can attest to that,” Rey said with a chuckle. Once everyone was outside, she locked the door behind them, confident her “army” would look after the house while she was gone.
Eating contests, Rey thought to herself. That would explain why they were going through mac and cheese faster than she’d expected.
When Chase unlocked the Charger, Drake handed Mira up into the back seat, and went around to the other side to climb in next to her. He used to opportunity to ensure the bracelet was safe in the pouch tucked under his shirt.
It was only a twenty minute drive to the grounds where the Ren Faire had some permanent buildings constructed. Having already seen heavy use this season, the parking “lot” -- really a large, grassy field -- had obvious spaces where people regularly parked. They were able to stop close to the entry since this event wasn’t general admission and so didn’t have a large crowd coming.
The air was already filled with roasting meats and vegetables when they stepped out of the car. Drake had opened Mira’s door and it was fortunate he was there -- Mira’s heels sunk further into the sandy soil than she expected and she nearly toppled. Given the gravelly path and wood bridge before them, Mira was happy to have his arm and walk slowly behind Chase and Rey, who’d worn more reasonable footwear for the event.
Chase inhaled deeply. “I think I’m going to like this thing. It’s a feast, right? Where you can eat with your fingers?”
“Um, no,” Rey replies.
They had to stand aside while a few couples passed by as they waited for Drake and Mira to catch up. Seeing the rather complicated attire the other guests wore, Chase frowned. “I feel underdressed.”
“I can fix that for you, if you like,” Rey replies softly. “A moment of privacy is all it will take.”
“Nah, I’m fine,” said Chase.
After catching up, Mira paused in the middle of the bridge to look down at the little stream burbling its way over its rocky bed.
“What is it?” Drake asks her.
She turned back to him, tucking away wandering thoughts of a certain bridge troll she knew. That one didn’t live here, but he gave her the creeps so when she crossed bridges she couldn’t help thinking if he was lurking about.
“I was just thinking about my life a little. A passing thought and wishful thinking about there being some larger bodies of water around here. But any significant water sources are tapped for the city, refined, closed off, and secured. So, the thought is a foolish one because the small pools and springs that are here are really the best that could be had.”
She smiled. “And I like to hear the sounds streams and rivers make.”
Drake returned her smile, and began to move along the bridge so they didn’t cause a backup in foot traffic.
When the couple had caught up to Rey and Chase, Rey was getting their tickets out of her handbag. She wanted to have them ready when they got to the gate, but at the same time, she was hesitant to let Chase or Mira see them because the price was printed on them. It was a very expensive date, and she knew Drake wouldn’t have mentioned the cost, just like she’d omitted that bit of information when she talked to Chase about it.
“Ready to head on in?” she asks the others. They weren’t too far from the entrance gate now, and they could hear the faint strains of music coming from inside the walls of the faire.
“Ready,” confirmed Mira.
Along with a small crowd of authentically dressed people, they presented tickets and were swept inside a huge tent that had been set up specifically for the special dinner. “Royalty” was present, and those who had paid for the special treat, were considered high nobility and would sit with the royals.
The couples were led to one of the tables near the “high table”, and with a good view of the area where the dinnertime entertainment would be performed. Drake held Mira’s chair for her before taking his place beside her.
She sat down and looked around her at the many complicated outfits people were wearing. True, many had simply resorted to costume shop fair just as she and Chase had, but people were good natured about it, joking and laughing about their outfit and in some cases, their chosen “persona”. She understood it exactly; playing a role was what the fae did in mortal society all the time. Here, everyone got to play a role and have fun doing it.
Then she had the idea she might drop her mortal guise. Might these folk simply think her true appearance a marvelous and authentic costume? No sooner than she thought it, she had done it. Now the dim evening lighting lit up her pale flesh, making it seem almost to glow in the evening light. Her delicately pointed ears seemed perfectly natural because for her, they were. Her purple eyes and blue-silver streaked hair helped mark her as fae, but she already knew people here would assume it was all makeup.
Already she was collecting long, admiring looks from the table at which they were seated. The woman seated next to her said, “Your makeup is absolutely stunning! It looks so real.”
Mira smiled and looked shyly pleased. It encouraged the woman to ask, “May I touch them?”
Mira said, “Yes that would be okay. I think they are attached pretty well.”
When she touched Mira’s actually very real ears, she made a delighted sound. “That must be silicon. Is it silicon? It’s perfect! I would love to have a set for my vulcan costume. Where did you find them?”
“Well, it’s a bit of a trade secret,” Mira said, “but I could maybe show you.” She threw in a wink and a smile.
“Mira,” Rey interjected before the woman could say any more. “You know you shouldn’t make offers like that.” She looks at the woman Mira was playing with. “I’m sorry. The ears are custom work, and the artist doesn’t take commissions.” Her words were soft and apologetic, with the barest hint of steel behind them.
The woman took it in stride and went on to introduce herself and the friends she had with her. While she prattled on Mira pretended to listen and snuck hand onto Drake’s lap where she knitted her fingers in his.
Across the table Chase was blinking and staring rather openly at Mira. After the woman, named Tiffany, asked his name, he jerked his eyes away. “Hm? Oh! Chase the barbarian!” he said. He was frowning at the candles at the table, which all had blue flames.
“Do what? Oh! Nice to meet you Chase,” said the dark-haired Tiffany with a laugh.
Rey looked at the other tables to see if they were burning blue as well, or if something fishy was going on. They were burning blue, indeed. The saving grace was that the electric lighting, providing more than enough light to drown the harsher light of the candles with it’s falsely flickering, yellow light, was providing most of the light in the tent.
“The color of the candles is an odd choice,” Rey murmurs. “I wonder how they’re managing it?” It was either some specialized candles, or someone was playing around with Glamour.
Chase nodded. “I don’t know,” he said. Then he added with a nod toward the impishly smiling Mira, “Does she normally look like that?”
Cupbearers presented goblets which were then filled with the guests choice of white or red wine, recommending the red to go with the roast or the white for the fish.
“That’s what she looks like without the Mask,” Rey answers softly. “Yes.”
“I had thought she looked like an ice sculpture, like that one time in the park,” he said in a similar voice. “Guess that was different.
Mira chose the white wine tonight and they poured her glass. Chase, Rey and Drake chose red, and when the server moved on, Rey spoke again. “That’s an obvious effect of one of the things she can do. Other than my wolf, most of what I can do isn’t all that flashy.” But her fae form, Rey knew, wasn’t something she could let most mortals see. Not when it would require some serious digital effects to create what she looked like naturally.
“Whatcha talking about?” asked Mira from the other side of the table.
“Other looks you’ve had,” Rey said simply, seeing no point in lying, yet not wanting to share the information with the table at large.
As Rey spoke, Drake started to caress Mira’s hand lightly seductively, with his thumb.
Mira smiled, enjoying the contact and the attention but also knowing why people were looking.
Rey took a sip of her wine, then said “Drake, I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate what you and Angelica did for me a couple days ago. The two of you were a big help.”
“It was nothing,” Drake replied with a little wave of his hand. “If you need us again for that, just ask.”
“Who is Angelica?” Mira asked.
“She’s one of the other fencing instructors,” Drake said. “She teaches the basic classes.” Drake himself taught the intermediate and advanced students.
“So you are taking fencing classes?” Mira asked of Rey.
“Oh heck, no,” Rey replied with a laugh. “I don’t have time for that right now. No, I was having problems visualizing a scene. I asked Drake if he could help me out by looking at the description of what I wanted the characters to do. He and Angelica then kind of acted it out for me, so I could see how their bodies moved, and what was realistic for the scene and what wasn’t.”
“That’s neat,” Mira remarked. “Drake, your outfit looks really pretty authentic. Where do you find good costumes? Or did you make it yourself?” She smiled at Rey. “And of course yours always looks perfect, but I know you have the mad skills to make that.”
“Well,” Drake said, “A friend made the muslin shirt, baldric and jerkin for me, and I often wear them as part of the demonstrations the fencing school does for the schoolkids. I bought my boots and the replica pistols here at the Ren Faire a couple years ago.”
“I have never been to the Faire except for dinners,” Mira remarked.
“Me neither,” Chase said. “With the exception of chasing that one bounty into the jousting field last year.”
“That must have been fun,” Rey said with a wry smile. “Was there a show in progress?”
“Yes. Convict got trampled,” he said. “But survived. It did make catching him a lot easier.”
“I’m glad most of your bounties aren’t that exciting,” Rey said.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “It’s just that I don’t use horses very much in apprehending a jumper or escaped convict. When there is a bounty out, it’s because someone ran from the law. That means they don’t want to get caught and hauled back in where they are sure to face even harsher punishment than what they ran from.”
Tiffany had been eavesdropping, mainly because the conversation with her own friends had dropped off. “Oh, that sounds very exciting. How long have you been a bounty hunter?”
“Seven years,” Chase answered.
“And you’re good at it,” Rey said, with a strange little flare of pride in that, and that emotion showed in her voice. She knew some of the bounties he took, and not all of them were mortal. If he’d survived for seven years going after mortals and the occasional other supernaturals, he had to be good. But for her to feel pride at his accomplishments, that was unexpected.
“He seems to have managed to catch his date tonight, too,” Mira said with a teasing little smile.
Tiffany looked to Rey and remarked, “You’re a lucky woman, then.”
Mira noticed that while Tiffany was here with a couple female friends, she wasn’t on a date. She felt a little sorry for her then because she seemed a little envious of Rey and maybe herself, as well.
“He’s the lucky one, though he doesn’t always seem to remember that,” Rey said with a teasing smile. She reached her hand on his arm, not to claim him, but to establish that bond she felt with him again. And she just wanted to touch him. She’d wanted to since he showed up on her doorstep in that costume that seemed to bare just about everything but his abs and chest.
Tiffany’s smile broadened. “I’m sure he is.”
Courses began to be served then and conversation turned to mundane topics for a while. The dinner was very fine and progressing well despite one person, having asked for milk for the meal, was rather surprised and the staff embarrassed to find it had spoiled. Luckily, it seemed the rest of the food was fine.
“Weird light,” Rey said. “Spoiled milk. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say some naughty brownies are here tonight.” Or that, perhaps, bad luck had come to the dinner. Whether it was deliberate or not, there was no way to know. At least, not yet. She just hoped that it wouldn’t extend to the entertainers, and that nobody got hurt.
Entertainment included musical selections and a few solo dance acts, with a martial display to be put on about the time dessert would be served.
Drake thought he heard something a little odd. It was hard to pick out who among the people around them seated at neighboring tables, but he was sure he heard someone say something about, “she’s got the right look” and “something unnatural here”. Male voices, too.
He looked around, wondering if he could figure out who’d said that, and if it was directed toward any of the women at his table. Everyone seemed to minding their own business, except when he looked all the way behind himself, he saw a man surreptitiously staring at Rey while masticating.
Drake turned back to the table, unsure if he should say anything. He could have misunderstood, and the two men speaking might not have been talking to each other. And there was also the fact that Rey was an attractive woman, who was obviously here with a man, so it would make sense not to be obvious with one’s stares. He decided not to say anything, mainly because he didn’t want to cause trouble if there was no trouble actually to be had.
“I smell sulfur,” someone else said. It was a menacing voice, harsh and male.
“Drake?” Mira was nudging his elbow. His looking around behind them was borderline rude. “What’s up?”
“I heard someone say they smelled sulfur,” he replied. “Like it was a threat, not a worry.”
Mira sniffed, but all she got was a pleasant waft of Drake’s aftershave. “I don’t smell anything. Maybe it’s code for something. Some guys don’t like dressing up in costumes. They could be trying to bail.”
“Perhaps,” he said, and his voice dropped to barely above whisper. “But earlier, I thought I heard someone saying there was something supernatural here, and that ‘she’ had the right look. When I looked behind me, there was a man staring at Rey.” He couldn’t smell sulfur either, at least not over the scent of the food.
Mira smiled to let him know she was joking a little. “Lots of interesting things happen when we go out,” she said with a nod in Rey’s direction. “Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t, but then I might be bored.”
“Are you saying she’s a trouble magnet?” Drake asked, the corners of his mouth twitching slightly.
“I think that might be a little unfair to say. She’s more proactive than that,” she said with a laugh. “But even so I think it would be even ‘’more’’ fair to say that I’m the more guilty party for bringing trouble.”
That Drake could believe. “Let’s keep a quiet eye on things. I don’t want to ruin the evening, but we can’t just ignore the potential problem.”
Chase and Rey had been talking about the historical accuracy or lack thereof of the movie, ‘’The Thirteenth Warrior’’ when he stopped and sniffed the air. He frowned and looked around, breaking off the conversation.
“What’s wrong?” Rey asked, a frown covering her face.
“I smell sulfur,” Chase said quietly.
Mira heard and looked at him with narrowed eyes. Then she looked meaningfully at Drake. “Maybe there is something to it.”
“To what?” Rey looked between Drake and Mira.
Mira leaned forward conspiratorially. “Candle flames burning blue. Milk souring. The scent of sulfur in the air. And someone thinks you are behind it all. I’d say we may be in for a very interesting night! And, may I add, it only reinforces my high opinion of your mastery of the arts of Glamour.” She gave Rey a knowing wink.
“Except,” Rey said. “I’m not doing any of it.”
“If you say so,” Mira allowed. “But behind it or not, someone thinks so. Drake, aren’t all those things classic signs of a witch? That is, a black witch?”
Drake noticed the table behind them got very quiet. On the other side of Mira, Tiffany was taking her time sipping her wine while glancing over at Rey. Her face was worried -- and a bit suspicious.
“Me? A black witch?” Rey could keep from laughing. “You’ve got to be joking. What, because I’ve got red hair?” She shakes her head and looks at Tiffany. “I’m not a witch of any kind. I’m not even Wiccan.”
Mira repeated something she’d heard. “A wiccan is a witch as a carpenter is a christian.”
“Kinda not the point,” Chase said. “I don’t think trickery is happening here.”
“Would you know if it was?” Mira pointed out.
Grudgingly he shook his head. “Not if it’s a good trick, I guess.”
“Well, it’s not me,” Rey insisted. “But if this keeps happening, and the real culprit isn’t found, I’m really not in the mood for being branded a practitioner of dark magic.”
Tiffany couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Wait. Do you guys really think someone is trying to make it seem like there is a for-real witch around here? Like a cackling, broom-riding witch?”
Mira shook her head. “No. As a practical joke maybe. Some of our friends like to play tricks on us sometimes. Part of the game is to figure out what’s going on.”
Tiffany blinked, then smiled broadly. “Practical jokes! Your friends must go all out.”
Mira rolled her eyes. “You have no idea.”
Rey relaxed back in her chair. “I haven’t seen any of them here tonight,” she said. “But then again, I haven’t really been looking.”
“Fun friends you have.” Tiffany seemed like she meant that, maybe.
Rey shrugged. “Some of them can be a bit over the top.” Her left hand, which had been resting in her lap, moved to curl around his thigh. She instinctively wanted to protect him from whatever malevolence the fae here - if it was one of the fae - but there really was nothing she could do without doing “witchy” stuff. And she’d never do it without Chase’s permission, unless it was life or death.