"You're Lord McFiggin's boy!"
After a week with him, I finally figured out why he looked familiar. His family used to come to the castle all the time and we'd play in the garden or inside the servants quarters if it was too cold. We went on many adventures thanks to our imaginations. And one time, I swore he was watching when I at a lesson with Lottie. But the story was never proven and it was assumed that he walked in right after I was done so he never even knew of the secrets of me becoming a bard.
The last time I saw Esteldir was the last time our family actually went to his castle which was when I turned 13. At that point, I barely got to see him because I was training to be a lady and was always at some sort of lesson whenever his family came for a visit. It has been five years since I saw him. And must I say that he has grown to be a handsome young man. And a gentleman at that!
He still didn't know who I was or where he knew me from. I planned to keep it that way.
Esteldir raised his hands in the air as if he was surrendering. "Guilty!" he replied.
I laughed. "What are you doing all the way on Spelloyal property? Don't the McFiggins live about 30 miles from here?"
"They do," he said, "I am here on business matters with the Spelloyals. Did you know their daughter ran away?"
"Yes," I replied, "Sad to hear."
"It is a shame," he said, "I hope she's alright."
This caught my interest. He seemed concerned. "Did you know her?" I asked.
Esteldir smiled and looked ahead. "Yea," he said, "We were childhood friends. Our families would visit each other all the time in business matters. Last time I saw her was five years ago. I stopped seeing her after that. Her parents were preparing her for marriage. And I was actually one of the candidates."
My eyes widened, "You were?"
He nodded. "Yep," he said and looked over at me, "And they were going to tell her about our arranged marriage soon after her 16th birthday but she ran away before they could. So the marriage was off and the alliance between the McFiggins and Spelloyals almost crumbled. But we managed to make a deal with taxes in our lands and the crops. I've been the representative for my family since my father's accident."
For the first time in two years, my heart broke in two. They had arranged for me to marry him? He was a gentleman. Someone who respected me and a wonderful childhood friend. If I had married him, things would have been different. He might have let me live my dream and I wouldn't be on the run. And I could still be with my mother... With Lottie...
I approached the Forest Spirit named Casey. She remained sitting where I left her. Her smile showed innocence yet her eyes showed years of wisdom. "What is your wish?" she asked.
I looked at the ground and thought about it. I could wish for anything. I could wish that my father would let me follow my dream. I could wish that I could be with Lottie. I could wish that my mother would finally follow her dream. I could wish for anything! But the fact that my father was an ass and because of that, I was constantly on the run made my life a bit more exciting. I don't even know if Lottie is alive. She was a very old woman. I wouldn't be surprised if she sadly passed away in these last five years. My mother... She had given up the dream. And that wouldn't stop my father from being a jerk. But there was thing I could figure out... One thing that wouldn't change my life up to today.
"I- Well I-"
I couldn't choke out the words. I wanted to know if he was alright. If he was even still alive. I didn't know if he survived that night or not. If he really did turn me in or for that matter, loved me...
If I could get an answer to this one question, that would determine whether I'd be going back to Spelloyal property once I was done here. And then if I did go, I'd get the rest of my questions answered there. "You're afraid," Casey spoke.
I jumped a bit. I was so lost in my own thoughts that I forgot she was sitting right there. I shook my head. "What?"
"You are afraid of the answer."
I didn't think of it that way but yes. I guess she was right. I was afraid of the answer. "How did you know?" I asked.
"You are not the first to come asking a wish of something you desire to know but of course there's always that answer in which you dread to hear. "
Damn. This girl knows what the hell she's talking about. Good for her! But no matter what, she was right. It was a yes or no question. I wanted to hear one and knew my heart would break if I heard the other. Was I prepared to hear either one?
"You're right," I responded, "I am afraid but at the same time, it's an answer I've been dying to know for the last three years."
"You seem like a loyal woman with a good heart," Casey said, "So I'll make you a deal."
I looked up at her, letting her know she had my attention. "I know you need a place to stay for tonight because the next town is five miles away. I'll let you stay in my little tree house so you don't have to tie yourself to a tree again. This gives you time to prepare yourself for the answer."
It was a lovely idea. And I was thankful for her letting me stay in her cottage. "But what if I am not prepared by then?"
"Then when you are, I will be there for tell you," Casey said.
Casey just gave me a simple, soft smile. She gave a nod and I smiled in return. And then we both headed back to her tree house. It was deep in the woods and for a while, I doubted whether I was going to find my way back by how deep it was but I know Casey would lead me back tomorrow morning. And I tried to pay attention to different landmarks I could look out for too, even though it was getting dark. And when we approached it, there was a HUGE tree house sitting in a beautiful tree. It has five separate little houses sitting in different branches with ladders connecting them. "Welcome to my little home," Casey said walking towards it.
I stopped and stared in awe. "Little?" I asked, "Your definition of little must be different from mine."
Casey laughed. "What were you expecting? A little box in a tree?" she asked.
Actually, that's exactly what I was thinking. But I didn't want to tell her that. But she looked at me, smiled and turned back towards the house, "It's alright, I forgive you," she said.
The expression on my face must have given it away. Or she could read minds. Either way, I didn't care. She was a really nice person, spirit thingy and I was grateful for letting me stay at her place for the night. Even if it did end up being a small little box in a tree.
"So I noticed you play the flute?" I asked as I climbed into the main building of the property.
"Why yes," Casey said turning to face me, "Do you?"
"Yes!" I said with enthusiasm, "What do you normally play?"
"I like to make my own tunes," she said, "And stuff I hear from travelers."
I took my old, broken down flute from my bag. "I got this old thing," I said.
Casey smiled and took out her hand crafted wooden flute. It has designs carved into it of animals and nature. It was simply beautiful. I admired it in awe. "Did you make this?" I asked.
Casey nodded and smiled at me, proud of her work. "And I could make one for you," she said, "With a price of course."
I thought about it. I did need a new flute and I was thinking of buying a masterwork flute here soon anyway. But this would have details and just be a wonderful piece to my collection. So I asked her the usual questions I would ask any vendor. How long does it last? How long will it take to make? What supplies are being used? And of course, how much?
"I'll make you a deal," Casey said, "If you go out and find me a piece of wood fallen from an oak tree and then promise to teach me some more traditional songs on the flute, I will give it to you, no charge."
Was she serious? There had to be some trick. That was not enough to something as beautiful as this. I couldn't believe my ears. "What else?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said, "And if you want, an occasional check in to catch up and learn more songs would be nice as well."
"It's a deal!" I said and we shook hands.
This was great! A new friend (as long as she didn't know my history), a wonderful masterwork flute that would be designed with music notes, moons and stars for a great price and a place to come back and visit. "Thank you," I said.
Casey smiled and said, "I only have my animal friends and as much as I love them, it's nice to have actual company once in a while. It's no problem at all."
She said the flute would be done a week after I got the wood to her. "Perhaps I could go find it tonight?" I asked, "Are there any oak trees around here?"
Casey pointed to her right and said, "There's one about a few hundred feet from here where I think you could find a branch. I don't need a big one. "
I climbed the ladder down and told Casey I would be back in half an hour. She handed me a candle and warned me to be careful with it, not causing any forest fires. I promised and headed towards the direction of the oak tree. And there it was. A big beautiful oak tree. Casey took care of this forest really well.
I looked around and found the perfect branch. It was a little longer and thicker than that actual flute would be but this gave her some room to work with. I started heading back.
I wanted to tell him. I felt I could trust him. I mean, he had been paying for my room in the inn for the last two weeks. He wanted me to stay. But why? I knew why I kept saying yes. But did he feel the same way about me?
I heard a knock at my door. I opened it to find him and his warm smile. "Hello my lovely," he said, "Are you ready?"
"Ready for what?" I asked with a laugh.
"Your surprise!" he said, "I arranged a job for you."
I smiled big. "Where?"
"Well come and find out Belle!" he said.
I hadn't told him my real name. I just told him my name was Belle. When he asked what my last name was, I acted like I didn't hear him. But he seemed fine with that. He grabbed my hand and lead me out. I closed the door behind me. And followed him, eager to find out what job he had arranged for me now. He had been arranging jobs between Spelloyal land and McFiggin land and I've been getting well known around here. A bit ironic how I was rising to fame on own home land. But it was fine with me. As long as no one recognized me or turned me in for the bounty.
He led me to his horse outside. Her name was Majesty. He climbed on and then I did behind him and we rode away toward McFiggin land. Maybe he got me another job at the bar or another party. But we passed all the previous places I had performed. Where was he taking me? I was starting to worry. But I trusted him.
Within a few moments, we were at the gates to McFiggin's castle! What were we doing here? I couldn't tell him no because he might suspect something. But I think his parents might recognize me or least my mother's looks in me. What was I to do? I could only play it out by ear at this point.
Casey put the wood aside and said, "Perfect. I'll start on it tomorrow."
I smiled and sat down. She took out her flute and nudged me to take out my old one. "Teach me a song," she said.
I thought about a song I learned from one of the servants years ago. Right before I ran away actually. It was a song about a lad who loved a woman. He had lost her and it was about his mourning. A sad song yet beautiful all at the same time. I guided her through the notes, one by one, beat by beat and like me, she quickly picked it up with no problem. I knew the harmony to the song and asked if she wanted to play the melody with me. She agreed and we played together. We sounded beautiful! I wish I could take on the road with me. We would be a perfect team! I told her this and she smiled and said thank you. Perhaps one day she could.
I taught her a few more songs and then we sat and chat. I told her of some of and some of the problems I've ran into. She told me of some of the adventures she has had with travelers and wishes. Some of these names I recognized from history lessons when I was younger and she was revealing how old she really was. She looked too young to be that old. I guess that was one of the benefits of being a Spirit.
Finally after a while, I decided to go to sleep. Casey stayed up. I don't know if she needed sleep or not. It was just nice to finally sleep in an actual bed.
"You're simply fantastic!"
Eseldir's parents were impressed with the sample performance I gave them. And they seemed they didn't recognize me from years ago. Which was alright by me. And the best part, was the job Esteldir arranged for me was for his father's birthday celebration. Which meant nobles from all over would be coming. Some might like my performance and ask me to perform for their celebrations and much more. Which meant I could rise to fame which meant I could finally go back and get Lottie and my mother and live my own life without worrying about the bounty anymore. "Thank you," I said taking a bow.
"Ya know," Lord McFiggin said adjusting his limp leg, "You look an awful lot like the Spelloyal's daughter. She ran away a few years ago and I would be surprised if the poor thing survived."
He thought I was dead. This could work out after all. "It is a shame," I responded playing along.
"No matter! I want you to be our the dancer for our musicians at my birthday celebration. And if you sing once in a while, I'll throw in extra payment."
"Of course!" I said with a smile, "I would be honored."
Lord McFiggin clapped his chubby hands in joy. He had gained weight since his jousting incident. He couldn't help it now. But he was still good-looking for a man his age and size. I could see where Esteldir got his looks from. "Splendid!" the lord replied, "I can see why my son has taken such an interest in you!"
I couldn't help but blush at that remark. I think Esteldir blushed some too. "It is a masked ball," Lord McFiggin said, "Do you have a costume?"
I thought about it and shook my head. "I'm sorry," I said, "No."
Lord McFiggin put up his hand as if to stop me from saying anything else. "No worries!" he said, "I will have one made. My wife's maids will measure you and have it to suit your needs! Just come early on the day of the ball and we'll have it ready!"
"Thank you so much for the opportunity," I said with a bow.
"No, thank you! I haven't seen someone dance so beautifully in years!"
Esteldir grabbed my hand and walked me out to the horse barn. We stopped in front of Majesty's stall and we turned to face each other. "Thank you so much," I said through tears.
I was so happy. I couldn't thank him enough for everything he's done for me. He had paid for my stay at the inn. He had arranged countless jobs for me and helped me be recognized on my own home land. And for the first time in three years, he was a wonderful friend and companion to me. I had him to talk to and I trusted him. I've really had no one but him since Lottie. I think... I think I loved him...
"You have a gift," he said, "And it needs to be shared."
He put his hand under my chin and drew my face up to his. Our lips met and the world around us melted away...
I was having a nice slumber until I heard someone yelling. I woke up and stretched. I heard the yelling again but from a different building within Casey's home. And it was Casey yelling. I jumped up and tried to run to the sounds of Casey's yelling but without really knowing what was where, I couldn't navigate easily. But the closer I got, the more voices I heard.
Casey was in trouble and I needed to help her...