The Gods of Dragons (Vol 1)

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Winter Wonderland - Johnny Mathis, 1958 (and a billion others)

Chapter 9 (v.1) - Winter Wonderland

Submitted: May 15, 2018

Reads: 74

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Submitted: May 15, 2018

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Orn 24, 1103

Lily entered the mess hall with the majority of the squire's for dinner. Shon had decided to shower before eating this time, considering all the work he had done that day. She had spoken with him at length while he waited for his turn in the shower, there being only ten showers and fourteen squires.

She felt like she had come home, and thought she must be glowing with happiness. Lily had enjoyed the trip from Tarorn to Hammerfoss. As much as she enjoyed good company and conversation, it was also nice to be alone with her thoughts for an extended period. It gave her time to put her plans together and to decide, like Shon had said, exactly what she wanted to do.

Picking up her food, she was caring it back to the squires' tables when someone called, “Miss!” craning her neck over the taller men Lily saw the weapon master waving her over at the officers' table. She cocked her head in a silent question but moved towards the officers as his motions indicated. To her surprise, he gestured to an empty chair as he took his own seat.

Lily turned her head to look back at the squires but set her food down when general Davies said, “please, have a seat.” She looked at each of the men in turn, suddenly worried that she was in trouble. There were five men at the table, general Davies, weapon master Daunas, the smith Nurangran, cleric Sahnar, and captain of the guard Nevof. “I trust you remember everyone?” the general asked as he picked up his fork and knife from the table. Lily smiled at each of them and nodded, still nervous.

The cleric Sahnar must have noticed her trepidation because he rested a gentle hand on her forearm and said, “relax my dear, it’s just customary for visitors to sit with the officers at meal times.”

“And check in with them when they show up,” Daunas added, but he was smiling and took a large bite of food.

Lily’s eyes went wide, and she looked at each of them again, realizing her mistake, “Oh. I’m sorry I just thought…” her voice grew quieter as she spoke, “with the winter solstice and everything…” she bowed her head resting her hands on her lap, “I’m sorry.”

Before she could regret coming and possibly causing them trouble, Daunas gave out a bark of a laugh. She looked up to see him grinning at her, his food all crowded into one cheek so he could talk out the other side, “It’s alright missy. It's good to see you again.”

He continued chewing his food, and Smith Nurangran further down said, “y’re just early is all, lass.”

“The guests for the celebrations usually come in the morning of.” general Davies said with a small smile. She didn’t think she had ever seen him smile. He had been so dower last time, maybe it was the holidays.

Her smile firmly back in place Lily picked up her utensils and began cutting up her food, roast chicken, mashed turnips, and grilled potatoes. Before taking her first bite, she said, “I got my sorcerers clearance, so I thought I would come back to thank everyone again before I went back on the road.” she took a bite of chicken with a bit of turnip scooped with it and moaned a little. Trail rations kept one from starving, but that was all they did.

Davies furrowed his brow at her as she ate, but waited for her to swallow before he asked, “back on the road? So you’re not going to stay with the mages in Tarorn?”

Lily shook her head and speared a bit of potato on her fork as she spoke, “No.” she speared another, “They aren’t much better than my old tower.” She picked up the fork but finished before putting the double helping of potato in her mouth, “I’m tired of being poked and prodded all the time.”

Daunas exchanged a look with Davies and shrugged, swallowing his own overly large mouth full before saying, “can’t blame the girl for that.”

“As long as you have your clearance...” cleric Sahnar said slowly, “you didn’t come here alone did you?”

Lily nodded enthusiastically, taking a drink of water after swallowing a little to fast, “ug, excuse me.” she took another drink, then smiled at the cleric lifting her head in a very ‘I’m so proud of myself’ manner reminiscent of a young child who had dressed themselves for the first time, “It wasn’t bad. Well the food was,” she laughed a little and speared more chicken, “some kobolds tried to make off with my pack on the third night, but they ran off quick enough when I tossed fire at one and bopped another with my staff.” she scooped up some more turnip with the chicken while the men exchanged looks again.

Overall dinner with the officers was a rather pleasant fare. Not as exciting as eating with the squires, but Daunas laughed loudly and eventually captain Nerof joined in with some stories of his own time as a caravan guard for the Temple. Lily asked lots of questions and was only distracted once, when Shon first came in with the last few squire stranglers. She caught his eye and waved before going back to her conversation with Nerof. They wouldn’t speak again that night, but they had already made plans to meet the next day for her first sparring match.

***

Orn 25, 1103

Shon woke up as early as always and went for a quick run around the fortress. It wasn’t mandatory, it being a day off for the winter celebrations, but he enjoyed the early morning routine and was joined by two other squires and one enlisted paladin who had similar opinions. After two laps they went their separate ways, the three squires saluting to the paladin, who returned the gesture with a lazy wave, they always become more relaxed around the holidays. The two other squires gave Shon an acknowledging nod then returned to their respective barracks for a change of clothes and breakfast.

Shon stayed in one of the quiet corners of the courtyard and went through each of his kata, first at half speed then at full speed. When he was finished, he broke the top layer of ice on the rain barrel as usual and splashed his face and neck with the frigid water before moving off to find Lily.

He enjoyed having the time to think during his morning routine. He had been surprised to find Lily eating with the officers the previous night, though he didn’t know why, guests always ate with the officers, it was more unusual that she hadn’t done so during her first stay. His fellow squires had taken advantage of her absence and had teased him about the sparring match they had planned for today. It had been a mix of playful mocking about him losing to a girl and poorly veiled threats if he hurt her. The general consensus was that Shon should go easy on her.

Shon approached the sparring rings to find at least six other squires plus Lily waiting for him. The boys were all standing outside the circle speaking quietly to each other while Lily stood in the middle going through the forms he had taught her with her quarterstaff.

She was good. Very good. She definitely hadn’t been exaggerating when she had told him she had practiced every morning and evening. It had only been a year, but the improvement was apparent to anyone with half a mind. She was wearing a sleeveless tunic and loose fitting pants like the day before. Shon could see the muscles in her arms move under her skin and scales as she worked through the twisting motions, and would bet money her legs had filled out with muscle as well. Her long golden hair was braided in a thick plait down her back though strands had already managed to escape around her ears and forehead.

Shon stopped to watch her go through another form, but the other squires had noticed him and called out, “Hey Shon, about time!” Lily ignored them, focused on her form, while Shon took the long way around the squires to the weapons rack and practice weapons. He studied the weapons for a moment, unsure if he should take a quarterstaff like Lily or go with his favored weapon, the bastard sword. He was significantly better with the sword then he was with the staff, and looking over his shoulder to Lily, who was finishing her last form, he made a snap decision and grabbed the wooden sword.

Lily finished her form facing away from him as he approached the edge of the sparring ring, opposite the other squires. From behind he could see her taking slow, steady breaths until she turned just slightly and smiled over her shoulder at him. “Ready?” she asked.

Shon nodded sharply and stepped into the ring, meeting her in the middle with a bow. He was holding the wooden sword in one hand, so he kept his arms at his side and just bent at the waist. She mimicked the motion, and they both took a fighting stance. At the edge of the ring, the six squires had become nine, and they were all cheering Lily with things like, “knock him down a peg or two Lily!” and “don’t hold back Lily!” Shon had a sneaking suspicion that a few of them may still be a little bitter over the hand to hand sparing from the previous few weeks. He blocked them out, focusing past his sword at Lily, who was still grinning.

Lily struck first, swinging the staff down at an angle. Shon deflected the blow, but she pivoted off the sword and swung up from the opposite side with the other end of her staff. She was fast, but so was Shon, who anticipated the move and had countered accordingly. Lily didn’t wait, coming back in right away. Shon countered each of her attacks, but he wouldn’t have said it was easy, she had practiced quite a bit. He waited for an opening in her assault, and when it came, he took it without hesitation, aiming a two-handed swing at her upper arm.

She managed to block some of the force but not all of it. The dull wooden sword smacked hard into her bicep, and she flinched while the watching squires moaned and cried out in anger, “hey Shon take it easy.” and “what the hell man?” but he wouldn’t have been able to pay them any mind even if he wanted to because Lily had countered hard from below hitting him in the thigh with a loud SMACK that would definitely leave a mark.

They separated, Lily, shaking her sore arm and Shon shifting his weight onto his hit leg to check its stability before bringing up his sword again. Lily had done the same with her staff. Shon hadn’t managed to get a good look at her face before she was attacking again, faster even than before.

Shon blocked the first few swings then stepped into them, closing the distance and attempting to trip her up. But just as his sword swept low from behind she bent backward and flipped over the blade. He hadn’t expected her to attempt tumbling on the battlefield and was still recovering from the impressive move when she was back on her feet and pivoting around to strike him from behind.

Without thinking Shon ducked the gab of the staff and letting go of the sword with his left hand spun on the balls of his feet to catch it from the air with his right, returning to a standing position with an upward swing into her ribs. Lily hadn’t been idle when her strike missed, and had stepped forward and brought the far end of the staff up to strike his leg again which also happened to help deflect some of the power of his upward swing.

They both flinched under the strikes, Shon with a small “tch,” and Lily with a gasp and “eh,” as she closed the eye on the side of the strike and folded slightly over the sword. They were both breathing hard with sweat wetting the hair at their temples.

She was only a few inches from his face. Lily opened her closed eye and stared into his icy orbs without blinking. Breathing hard Shon gasped, “Match,” his bladed weapon having made a fatal strike. Lily laughed between gasping breaths, and Shon couldn't help but smile as her eyes twinkled.

“Squire!” Shon and Lily separated at the sound of weapon master Daunas’s angry voice. Marching towards them came not only Daunas but general Davies as well. Neither were smiling. “Tell me I did not just see you go full force on a civilian!” Shon looked from the oncoming officers to the scowling and angry squires then to Lily. She was looking at him with a worried expression, still breathing hard and a large white welt surrounded by puffy red skin forming on her arm where he had hit her.

“Shon?” she whispered. But he didn’t have an answer for the question in her voice.

***

Shon had never seen the weapon master or general so angry. Unhappy and stern, sure, but this time it was definitely anger. He stood in the weapon master's office, staring straight ahead and taking their berating without changing his expression. Lily had tried to defend him, but they had cut her off and left her outside with orders to see the cleric. In the end, he was given dawn duty the morning of the winter solstice, effectively cutting his night in half. Shon was lucky it hadn’t been worse the way they were yelling, and he wondered if Lily’s attempted defense had an effect after all.

Leaving the office, Shon made his way towards the showers. He didn’t go out of his way to avoid any of the squires in the halls, but by the fifth one, he passed he’d wished he had. They were all glaring at him and Brardin, in his final year, blocked the door to the shower, arms crossed. Shon looked past the Sr. squire as he had done for the officers in silence, waiting for him to either speak or move out of the way.

Brardin’s nostrils flared as he glared down at Shon. He let the silence stretch but finally said, his voice calm and quiet, “What the hell were you thinking?”

Shon had already heard enough from the command. Exasperated, he sighed heavily and said just as calmly, “It was a sparring match.”

“Against an inexperienced civilian girl.” Brardin’s voice had gotten louder toward the end of the sentence, and he breathed deeply again, returning his voice to its quite calm, “you’re lucky you didn’t break her ribs.”

Shon’s icy glare snapped into focus on Brardin at that, and the older man took a small step back, his breath could be seen as he exhaled, Shon wasn’t carrying his sword. “I’ve never broken your ribs while sparing,” his voice did not rise as he spoke, staying cold as he glared Brardin down, “I have enough control not to break hers.” but he didn’t have control of the cold permeating the hallway, not while he was so angry.

Pushing past the stunned Brardin Shon pulled the door to the showers open, they were mercifully empty, and slammed it shut behind him, leaving the Sr. squire to shiver in the hallway.

***

Lily stabbed at her food without really thinking about it. She was watching the door to the mess hall, waiting for Shon to come in for lunch. She sat at the squires' table and tried to smile reassurance to each of them as they softly enquired about her health. It seemed the word of her sparring match had circulated even to those few who had not witnessed it.

All heads turned towards the door when Shon entered, and Lily partially stood, wanting to wave him down. But he didn’t look over at them. He had his sword on him, its pomal a shade of navy streaked with sky blue. Lily watched him closely as Shon retrieved his food and made his way towards the tables. The squires had all stopped looking at him and instead focused on their food, giving him the cold shoulder as they stared angrily at their plates. A few glanced her way, trying to judge her reaction. She ignored them.

Shon sat down at the end of the table opposite her, as far away as he could physically get. Lily’s frown deepened. Picking up her plate she moved toward his end and sat down across from him. But he didn’t look up. She took a bite of food, thinking for a moment before smiling wide saying “you got me good on the arm there, I think I’m going to name the bruise Gerry.” he didn’t look up.

Lily kept smiling, and opened her mouth to say something more when Shon interrupted with a quite, “I’m sorry…”

Lily just blinked at him, then glared at him, “Don’t you dare…” she whispered, but he still wouldn’t look up. Slamming her hands down on the table with enough force to rattle the plates she stood. Startled Shon looked up enough to see her hands on the table in front of him but didn’t look up to her face. With a snarl Lily snapped her hand forward and grabbed him by the jaw, forcing his eyes up to hers. Around them the squires were silent, staring at the two of them as she leaned forward the anger in her eyes holding him in place as the candles on the table flared ever so slightly higher than they were before.

“I would never forgive you,” she growled, and Shon blinked at her in confusion looking from one dark blue eye to the other. She moved just a little closer, her hand still holding his jaw firmly preventing him from looking away, “if you went easy on me.” she continued, “I would never forgive you.”

Shon reached up and took her hand off of his chin, she let him, but she didn’t break eye contact. Still holding her hand he sighed, closed his eyes for a moment then opened them again with one of those soft smiles she loved so much. Letting her hand go Shon said, “you got in some great hits. There is a knot the size of my fist on my left thigh.”

Lily laughed out loud and plopped back down in her seat, stabbing some more food and shoving it in her mouth with a smiling bite. Shon chuckled, shaking his head and looking back down at his plate. Spearing some of the meat onto his fork, he added. “I won’t be surprised if it ends up the color of my hair.” which made Lily snort little giggles between chewing.

Down the table, the squires exchanged silent, confused looks, at a complete loss for words.

***

The first set of caravans from the nearby villages arrived in Hamerfoss shortly after breakfast the morning of the Winter Solstice. Though drills were suspended for the training squires do to the holiday, they were still expected to do all of the setup work for the evening celebrations. Lily sat on the sidelines watching the squires scurry back and forth from the wagons to the massive awning being erected in the courtyard, while the villagers tended the horses and chatted happily with each other.

She had offered to help but had been waved down by not only the squires but also by the knights and officers. As she sat on one of the large mead barrels watching them work Lily realized why, their work was so coordinated and smooth it was apparent she would have just gotten in the way. Thom had recommended that she help the villagers with the horses, but she very quickly excused herself from that job. Horses didn’t like her. They always became very skittish, so instead, she sat swinging her legs back and forth on the barrel, her hands propping her up on either side of her hips.

More wagons arrived throughout the day, and soon not only the large shade but also a small stage for the local musicians and long tables for the evenings' feast were erected and ready to go. All that was left now was for the sun to set and that was only a few short hours away.

Lily regretted not having a dress for the celebrations when she saw all the villagers taking turns in a small changing tent and coming out in what must be their finest wear. Even the squires returned to their rooms after the setup to change into their dress uniforms, and here she was, in her cleanest pair of loose pants and another solid color tunic. Though this one was red, short around the waist and long in the sleeve. She had rolled the sleeves up to just below her elbow and tied the neck lose to show off a necklace she had purchased to match the hair sticks holding up her twisted bun.

She was just wondering if she should ask one of the village girls if they had an extra dress when Rerves approached, looking very handsome in his dress uniform.

“Don’t you look fancy,” Lily called out as he came towards her with a smile.

Rerves moved closer and gave a small courtly bow, “and you as well my lady.” to which she rolled her eyes in a very exaggerated manner.

“I’m pretty sure even Nurangran is dressed better than me tonight,” she said, looking over his shoulder to all the celebrants heading towards the awning as the sun started to dip below the west wall.

Rerves turned to lean against the barrel next to her, crossing his arms over his massive chest to also watch the others, “You look fine,” he glanced sideways at her, “beautiful even…”

Lily rolled her eyes again and gave the squire a gentle punch in the arm, “Don’t tease me Rerves, I didn’t think about buying a dress…” all she had ever worn before were dresses. She had been so excited about finally being able to wear pants that she never thought to include dresses in her wardrobe. But seeing all the young ladies her age spinning around in their long simple gowns made her feel a little jealous.

“I’m serious!” Rerves whined and rubbed his arm where she had punched him, it didn’t actually hurt but it was fun to play, and it made her smile. Lily continued to watch the squires and villagers mill around under the awning as it got darker and darker, “He’ll be in the back, by the stage.” Rerves said.

Lily gave a little start, they had been quiet for a few minutes, and she had let her mind wander with her eyes, “What? Who…”

Now it was Rerves turn to roll his eyes with great exaggeration, “Shon,” he chuckled slightly and added, “who else would you be looking for?”

Lily felt herself blush though she wasn’t quite sure why, “Does he always stay on the outside of the celebrations?”

“Yeah. He’s not the only one, not everyone is interested in flirting and dance.” Rerves pointed his chin at two other squires in particular who were standing a little away from the main gathering. Lily tilted her head at them in thought, but turned back when he said, more quietly, “How're your ribs?”

“They are fine.” Lily was exasperated, “and so is my arm. Just because I’m named after a flower doesn’t mean I need to be treated like one.” She loved her squires, and let no one mistake, they were HER squires, but their babying of her physical well-being was growing very tiresome.

Rerves looked her up and down, from top of golden head down to her booted feet, “Sorry,” he spoke at normal volume again, “it's just that we’ve all been hit by Shon before. He doesn’t go easy on anyone.”

“Is he supposed to?” Lily scrunched her face at him, it seemed quite silly to train at half strength. What was there to keep them from forming bad habits and going to easy in a real fight?

But Rerves shrugged, “No. Not really. But it's generally accepted to pull some of the more painful or dangerous hits.” he rubbed the back of his neck in a nervous gesture as he tried to find the right words, “lets just say that most of us had to break the habit of going easy on each other, Shon never had that habit.”

“Hmmm,” She wasn’t sure what to say to that. On the one hand, it made sense to not want to hurt your companions, but on the other sparring and training, in general, was supposed to prepare you for real combat. Finally, she just shrugged. “Well, either way, I’m fine. I would be more hurt if he had taken it easy on me.”

Rerves scanned her up and down again, but she wasn’t looking at him. Instead, she had her eyes fixed on the small band coming onto the little stage with their instruments and smiles. Some of the squires had started lighting little lanterns hung around the outside of the awning, and rigged to dangle on the inside over the dance floor.

“Do you think they would let me help with the lanterns?” she asked suddenly

Rerves was a little taken aback at the abrupt change of topic, but he shrugged again. “Sure, it's one of the more annoying tasks, there being so many…” but Lily had given a little ‘woop’ and had jumped off the barrel before he had finished.

She was halfway to the awning before Lily stopped and spun to face him again, “well come on!” she called, before turning and walking the rest of the way towards the squires lighting the lanterns.

***

The winter lights were always beautiful, but Shon doubted they had ever been lit just as beautifully. He stood silently leaning against a stack of crates near the musicians' stage, glad he hadn’t been assigned to light them when Lily came into view at the edge of the tent. She was speaking animatedly to the squires with the lights, who exchanged looks and shrugged before she clapped her hands in excitement and hugged each of them. Some of the smallest things seemed to make her so happy.

He watched with a curious eyebrow arched. The rest of the attendees had all started to exchange looks when they noticed it wasn’t getting any lighter despite the sun having nearly set and the squires having already started the lantern lighting process. Lily stood at the edge of the tent pointing to each of the lights and mouthing something Shon couldn’t hear from so far away. Was she counting? Finally, she nodded sharply and made a grand sweeping motion with her right hand.

A hundred tiny embers flowed from her palm as she moved, each one hanging in the air for a moment before shooting off to their respective lanterns. The celebrants all ‘ooo-ed’ and ‘ahhh-ed’ then began clapping. Lily blushed a little and gave a small curtsy to the crowd.

Shon clapped with the rest, with slow, strong claps and a shake of the head. He should have known right away. Being able to help, even a little, would make her happiest of all and she had looked so excited when the lighters had seemingly given her permission to do so.

Soon the musicians began to play and the real celebration started in full. Heaping dishes of food were brought out still steaming and the long tables opposite him groaned under their weight as each attendee took turns filling their own plates. The young village girls stood in small huddles, giggling and pointing at some of the village boys and squires, who had also formed small groups a little ways away. Shon watched silently, wondering who would be the first to break the stalemate.

Eventually, an older village boy broke away from his group, who all patted him on the back with little cheers of encouragement, and approached one of the girls' groups with a bow and an outstretched hand. The girls all giggled at each other making Shon feet sorry for the boy, who was left standing with his hand out for a good few moments before one girl finally stepped forward and took it. Together the two walked onto the dance floor as more young men made their way across the no mans land to ask the girls to dance. Some older couples joined the younger ones on the crowded dance floor. All troubles forgotten in the euphoria of the holiday celebrations.

“You’re not going to dance?” Shon started and looked to his right to find Lily standing next to him, her eyes also on the dancers. When had she snuck up on him? She looked sideways at him with a wicked little half grin. “Seems a shame to get all dressed up only to stand on the sidelines.”

Shon snorted, if it were up to him he would have at least the top layer of the uniform off in a heartbeat. He took a moment to really look at Lily as she watched the dancers. Her hair was twisted up again, like it had been the day she had shown up, leaving her long neck exposed, better to highlight the necklace she wore, a gold chain with a polished red stone, the color of her scales, that rested in the hollow between her collar bones and gently tapered in a dewdrop shape that seemed to guide the eyes lower…

Mentally he shook himself and looked again towards the dancers. “I’m no dancer.” he crossed his arms and looked over at her again from the corner of his eye, “What about you? I expected you to be in the thick of it.”

But Lily gave a little shrug and sighed, “I would look silly out there without a dress.” Shon arched a black eyebrow in curious disbelief but she wasn’t looking at him, instead, she gestured towards the dance floor, “they look like blooming flowers with their skirts all poofed up like that when they spin.” Lily looked at him then, smiling brightly despite her previous sigh, “I can see why you like to watch.”

Shon didn’t return the smile though, “I don’t think you would look silly.” she tilted her head to the side, making her neck arch in that smooth line, “If you want to dance you should dance.” he finished, looking back towards the dancers.

They stood in silence a little longer before Lily pushed herself off the crate wall and spun on the ball of her foot to face him with a little hop, “Alright.” she reached her hand out to him, palm up, “Dance with me.” it wasn’t a question.

Shon looked from her hand to her smiling face and back, “I don’t…”

“If you can fight, then you can dance.” she interrupted his protest and moved her hand closer.

He looked at her hand again, and back to her determined face. She tried to mimic his expression by arching a golden eyebrow at him in challenge. Shon took her hand.

Just because he didn’t dance didn’t mean he couldn’t dance. But Shon was still incredibly grateful when she reached the edge of the dancefloor and stopped there rather than leading him closer to the middle. She turned to face him, stepping close, and giggling as they tried to figure out exactly how to stand. It ended with Shon gently holding her hand in the air as his left rested lightly on the small of her back. Lily had her free hand on his shoulder and it felt warm even through the double layer uniform.

Shon smiled as she nodded to the music, counting in a whisper under her breath until the beat that had them spinning on the dance floor with the rest of the dancing couples. They stayed close to the edge, leaving the middle for the more adventurous partners. Shon fell into the rhythm of the music and as he stopped needing to think about the movements, he found his mind wandering towards the smiling Lily moving along with him.

Her hands were warm, bordering on hot, and he knew his must feel cold to her, but she didn’t pull away, she had never pulled away. He could feel the scaled stripes on her left hand and found himself slowly moving his forefinger across them. He kept the touch as light as possible, waiting for her to comment or pull away. But she didn’t.

They spun in rhythmic circles hardly paying the other dancers any mind until one younger girl bumped gently into Lily, pushing her closer to him. Shon could feel her against his chest and his breath caught in his lungs. The girl was apologizing and Lily had partially turned to smile and nod reassurances before facing Shon again with a little laugh, it was all in good fun. She stayed close to him.

Her tunic had pulled up slightly as it shifted under his hand when she had turned, first away and then back. As they found their rhythm again, Shon realized part of his hand was resting on the waistband of her pants with only his fingers still holding her tunic in place. Almost against his will Shon moved his thumb until it brushed against the warm skin of her back. He could feel his pulse race and his hand froze, again waiting for Lily to shift away, or even comment. She didn’t, and he found himself moving his thumb again, ever so softly up and down her back in rhythm with the music.

The song ended and each of the dancers separated, including Shon and Lily, to clap for the players before they started the next song. They were both taking deep breaths and Shon couldn’t tell if it was from the dance or from the proximity to Lily. Turning to him with a smile that made her eyes sparkle Lily took his hand and pulled him away from the dance floor.

“Done already?” he asked, trying to sound teasing.

She laughed but didn’t face him, instead saying loudly, “I thought you didn’t want to dance?” when she reached the edge of the awning by the empty barrels and crates she let go of his hand and turned, hopping up to sit on one of the crates, “that was fun, but also a little embarrassing.” her face was a little pink but she was still smiling wide and laughed again, “I really should have bought a dress.”

Shon gave a little ‘humph’ and turned to lean against the crate next to her, crossing his arms and resuming his watch of the other celebrants. “I think you’re the only one who cares.”

Beside him, Lily shrugged, also watching the dancers, “Maybe, but I also see the appeal of just watching.” they sat in a comfortable silence and watched the others for a while. Shon’s heart had finally returned to a steady rhythm and Lily gave a heavy sigh and reached up to remove the sticks from her bun. Shaking her golden hair free she asked, “So who did you get a gift for this year?”

Shon had turned his head to watch her running her fingers through her hair and hesitated a moment as his brain struggled to decipher her question, “What? Oh.” he looked back towards the dancers finding the person in question standing off to the side with a plate full of food and gestured to him with his chin, “Zihler,”

Lilly followed the gesture with her eyes and nodded, following up with, “And what did you get him?”

“A new deck of cards.” Shon answered, “It's what he asked for and his old deck was frayed to the point where you could tell what someone's hand was by the tares in the corner.” Shon looked over at her and found Lily tilting her head at him, her hair spilling over her shoulder, with an expression that said she was still listening. Shon continued, “I got them early and drew some custom pictures on the aces for him.”

Lily moved her head to the other side, “I thought you weren’t supposed to know who was giving you your winter gift.” she sounded confused, “how did he ask for something?”

“Oh, well, we usually have a big group talk around fall where everyone announces a few things that they want to everyone else.” he shrugged, “that way you know what someone wants without them knowing who will be the one maybe getting it for them.”

“That's smart.” Lily was looking at the crowd again, picking out the squires with her eyes. “I wish I could have given everyone a gift. In the end, I couldn’t give anyone anything.”

Shon was already shaking his head before she had finished the lament, “You came. That was more than any of us expected, or deserved.”

Lily looked down at her swinging feet and smiled sheepishly, before looking back up at the winter sky alight with stars. “Yeah, but I can’t ask for a gift if I don’t give a gift. It wouldn’t be fair,” she said, though her tone sounded more like she was talking to herself.

Shon looked her over again, from the stripes across her cheek down to her swinging feet, “What would you ask for?” he finally asked, quietly planning some way to make sure she got it the following year. He was sure the others would pitch in if asked, assuming she came back anyway.

Lily took a little while to answer, sighing again and turning her head to look him directly in the eye, effectively freezing him in place, “A kiss.”

Shon thought his heart was trying to force its way out of his chest and he choked on his words, “wha… why?”

Lily smiled and shrugging looked away again, “Because I like the way your skin feels, and I wonder how your lips might feel on mine.” her voice was nonchalant, and she continued, “But I don’t have anything to give you in return so it wouldn’t be fair to ask.”

His stomach was doing strange flips and Shon ran his hand through his hair trying to find his words, or wake up from this dream. She looked at him and a little concerned said. “I understand that you don’t want to. I just thought it was best to be honest…” but Shon had pushed away from the crate he had been leaning against and faced Lily fully, his back to the crowd.

“Why do you think I wouldn’t want to?” his mouth was dry. Her blue eyes were flitting back and forth across his face. “You could have anyone,” he whispered.

Her brow furrowed, “I don’t want anyone else,” Lily seemed more confused than upset and Shon searched her face for something, anything that would tell him what he was supposed to do.

Slowly he reached up and pushed her hair behind her ear as he had done on the roof the last time he had seen her. This time she closed her eyes and leaned into his hand before he could pull it away and his breath caught in his chest, “Isn’t it cold?” he asked, but he moved closer to bend his arm without dropping the hand. It was somehow easier to approach her when her eyes were closed.

“Refreshing,” she sighed, with a small soft smile, opening her eyes again to meet his.

She didn’t say anything else and he took another step forward, until her knees were touching his legs. She had stopped swinging her feet. “Are you sure?” he breathed, he was so close, she smelled like cinnamon. Silently Lily reached her hands up between them, resting her palms on his chest. Shon waited for her to gently push him away, but she didn’t. Lily curled her fingers holding his outer shirt and urged him closer.

Blood was pounding in Shon's ears and he couldn’t hear the music behind them anymore. He could feel the warmth radiate from her skin and he rested his free hand on the crate beside her while his other continued to cup her cheek and jaw. He tried to swallow one last time, but his mouth was dry. Their lips touched.

Lily’s lips were hot, hotter than her hands, and smooth as silk against his. He felt her exhale with a sigh through her nose and she leaned further into the kiss. There was nothing else in the world but her, no world, only her. Lily’s hands clenched harder on his shirt, pulling him gently closer. He slid his hand further back on her face, lacing his fingers through the hair at the base of her neck. As one they tilted their faces in opposite ways shifting the angle of their lips without separating.

Every move was slow, careful. He expected to be stopped at any moment and only continued when no protest came. Shon slid his hand from the crate onto her leg and up to her hip. Lily took a deep breath through her nose as if trying to breathe him in. She opened her knees and continued to pull slowly on him until his legs hit the crate. His every muscle was taut and Shon was sure she would be able to feel him so close. Before he could worry, he felt her mouth begin to open her tongue darting out to touch his lips.

Shon’s fingers curled on her hip and in her hair and he breathed deep, breathing in the smell and taste of her as he mimicked her motion and opened his mouth just enough to allow his tongue to touch her. First her lips, then her tongue. She moaned softly into his lips as his hand squeezed her hip and he almost lost it.

“Hey, Shon!”

And it was over. Shon pulled away, stepping back and looking around for the person who had called him. His heart was still pounding and his hands shook as he tried to figure out what to do with them.

Thom came towards them from out of the crowd. Everyone was still dancing and eating as if nothing had happened, as if the world hadn’t just disappeared then reappeared within a few moments. “Shon, Capitan Nevof wanted me to remind you about dawn duty. He said you might want to turn in now, so you don’t fall asleep on watch.” Shon felt like he would never sleep again. But he nodded at Thom anyway, not sure of what else to do.

The squire looked between Shon and Lily, only just noticing who Shon had been standing with. Swallowing as best he could Shon looked at Lily, she was still sitting at the edge of the crate and had resumed swinging her feet. She had reached up and was twisting her hair back into a bun, stabbing it with her hair sticks to keep it in place.

“I’m sorry Shon.” she said, and Shon blinked not sure what she was talking about, “It’s my fault you have dawn watch,” Lily said, bringing her hands down to slap limply in her lap. She took a deep breath and Shon imagined for a moment that he could see her hands shaking too.

“No, it's alright.” he tried to smile at her and must have succeeded at least a little because she returned the look. “Thanks, Thom, I’ll go now…”

“I’ll see you at breakfast?” Lily asked quickly as he moved to turn away. Shon looked back at her and nodded before walking away. He could still feel her warmth on his skin.

***

Lily watched Shon walk away, taking slow breaths but also enjoying the view. She had to shake herself mentally, trying to bring her thoughts in order after the kiss that ended up being significantly more intense then she had expected. Not that she was complaining.

Thom was still looking from her to the retreating Shon and back again. Finally, he muttered, “Um…”

Lily turned her attention fully to him and asked, “Are you enjoying the celebrations?” just trying to make pleasant conversation. He grabbed onto the question like a drowning man to a rope.

“Oh yeah, this is my favorite holiday,” he said and smiled as she beamed at him and hoped down from the crate. Her legs were shaking and she hoped it was slight enough that no one would notice. “What about you? I’m surprised you didn’t dance more.” Thom followed up his answer while she brushed any debris from the box off her pants.

She shook her head and sighed into the night. “I don’t have a dress and I feel weird spinning around as the only girl without one,” she explained, though Thom only shrugged at the excuse.

He looked in the direction Shon had walked and the smile melted slowly from his face. “You should be careful Lily,” he said.

Lily bristled, sure he was going to bring up the sparring match again, but when he looked at her his face was more sad than concerned or upset. “As squires we aren’t permitted to pursue any kind of relationship,” she furrowed her brow at him but he kept going, “and even when we take our oath and officially join the Temple, we don’t know where we will be sent or for how long.” he blushed and looked away from her as Lily tilted her head at him, “it’s against the teachings for paladins to have any… relations, before a temple sanctioned marriage…”

He crossed his arms, resolutely refusing to look at her. Finally, she said, “I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize…” but he looked over at her suddenly, his eyes wide.

“No, not you. I mean,” he ran his hand through his hair in a motion that reminded her of Shon, “I mean you shouldn’t get to attached. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.” She didn’t have anything to say to that.

Thom was looking away from her again, his neck and face red with embarrassment. Gently Lily placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to give a reassuring smile. “Thanks, Thom. But don’t worry about me. Let's go have some fun!” she tugged playfully on his earlobe and walked off to the food table.


© Copyright 2019 Shawn Cameron. All rights reserved.

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