Chapter Six

The festival was a few days later, and the whole town was getting ready for it. Caroline was baking hurriedly, all day and all night just to prepare for the festival, as was Miles. It was like the whole town was flipped upside down. There was an excitement that I didn't understand. I wasn't used to the raw emotions that normal peasant people could produce. Royals and people from the courts are always so…dull. So contained. Nothing ever goes wrong. Even if something were to happen, no one would be excited over it; they'd be scared.

So this energy, this vibrant, intense energy that everyone I countered seemed to give off was catching. I began to grow excited over it too. The prospect of a night full of dancing (not dancing ballroom style! Oh, the wonders of it!), laughing, eating, playing, and entertaining. My body began to buzz, hum and glow with anticipation.

Ever since that day in the kitchen, Grady began to hover around me. Not all the time talking, but just being around. When I would be in the kitchen, he would be there too, talking to Miles or getting some water. I would go out to hang up linen, and he would be there taking out a horse to graze. Sometimes I would catch him looking at me with a star-crossed look, and I would blush and turn away from his burning and wonder filled gaze. He would make excuses to talk to me, asking about my life from before. I would normally evade his questions, but sometimes I would answer. "Any boyfriends? Lovers?" He asked one day at the old table in the kitchen. I paused in the middle of washing dishes from breakfast, thinking of an answer.

"Just one." I responded finally, before returning to washing.

"Only one?" He sounded surprised.

"Yes, only one." I began to dry a plate that had been set out.

"Wha' was 'is name?" I gently placed the plate in the cupboard, debating which name to give him.

"Domenic." I told him, "His name was Domenic." I left the room, leaving him to his food that day.

I hadn't heard from Domenic since that day in my room. Either he was embarrassed by what he had said, or finally came to realize that I was nothing more than a job (which is more likely than the first option, if I were to tell myself the truth) and left before he became too involved in the politics that is my life.

Either way, my heart was aching from not seeing him. I had missed him before, when he just didn't visit me. But this was different. It wasn't like he was just gone and would come back soon. This was like he had left, and was never, ever coming back. I used housework to distract myself, letting Caroline become more focused on the things she needed to do for the festival instead.

I could tell she was grateful for my help, and it made me happy knowing that I was at least helping someone during my stay here. In the palace, I did nothing. I tried to make myself as little of a bother as I could, but still. It was hard to miss the irritated looks the maids would share when I asked them to help me dress, or the swift emotionless ways that the kitchen staff would treat you when you asked for food. Here, though, I made a difference.

Caroline insisted on buying me a new gown for the festival, saying the gowns I had were much too modest; much too simple to wear out when a prince would be visiting this lowly town. I tried to refuse for a few days, before simply giving in at her insistence. I refused to go into town with her, however (since the last time, being in public made me anxious, and it would bring up the memory of being with Domenic) so she took my measurements with the promise of bringing back an appropriate dress.

So here I am, staring at the beautiful fabric that Caroline had placed on my bed. It was a royal blue color, made of a fabric I had never seen before. It was shiny, but soft in my hand. I sighed, stowing it away until tomorrow night.

The day of the festival was busy, and I hardly saw Caroline or Miles at all. Grady still lingered around, but I ignored him to do my normal chores. The festival, he informed me, wouldn't start till sunset. I had plenty of time to get ready because I had nothing to do around the house. Caroline had disappeared awhile ago, carrying many trays that I offered to help carry. Miles was in the barn, messing with some horses that people were renting to take to the festival.

The later in the day it became, the more I became anxious. Gabriel, my betrothed, was going to be at this festival. The odds of us meeting were slim to none, but the thought that he might discover me lingered in my mind, making me tense the whole day. I started to get ready earlier than I should've out of boredom and nervousness.

I slipped the coarser, less refined fabric of the dress I was currently wearing off, letting it slip onto the floor. I stepped out of it daintily, picking it up and placing it on the small bed in my room. I opened the cupboard to where the dress I was wearing to the festival was stored, and slowly slid my hand up the silky fabric, then back down, letting the smooth material slide between my fingertips.

I sighed and took it out of the closet, holding it down so I could step in. I pulled it up, placing my arms through each hole respectively. The back needed to be tied, but I figured I would ask Caroline to do that later.

I looked at the dress in the mirror I had looked at only days earlier. The blue fabric was tight around my chest, the neckline plunging lower than most of the dresses I had in the palace had. I flushed, trying to pull it up to no avail. The dress was tight through my torso, then flowed out loosely till my knees. I subconsciously smoothed a hand over the dress. There were no sleeves, only straps less than a finger in width that held the dress up. It was far more revealing than the dresses I was used to wearing.

I slipped on the shoes I had been previously wearing, and wandered out of the room.

"Caroline?" I called out, looking around the corner into the kitchen. She wasn't there. I frowned slightly, making my way around the corner of the hall to the back door. She might have been out with Miles, working on the horses.

I ran into a solid body, and let out a small 'oof' before steadying myself.

"I'm sorry, terribly sorry." I felt a hand on my back, and I shivered from the skin on skin contact. It reminded me that I needed to find Caroline to finish tying the dress together.

"Need some help?" An amused voice came from above me. I looked up at Grady's brown eyes. He had certainly cleaned himself up. And just like I guessed, he was extremely handsome.

His brown hair fell over his forehead and curled around his ears, his skin was clear of the dirt that normally inhabited it, and his clothes were crisp and clean. I blushed when he caught me staring at his strong jaw, which had a shadow from where he hadn't completely shaved.

"Yes, if you could, please." I responded finally, tearing my eyes away to look at the floor. He turned me around slowly, and I pulled my hair away from my back, gathering it on one side in my hand. His warm hands trailed down my back to the laces, lingering on the skin of my lower back. Goosebumps erupted on the trail of where his hand had been.

I cleared my throat, and he tied the laces up expertly. I sighed in relief when he was done, stepping away and turning around to see his work.

"Okay, yeah?" I nodded.

"It will do." His arm came up to tweak my nose.

"Look," Grady said, putting a hand on my lower back where the ribbons came together, "I even put 'em in a small bow for ye." His smile was teasing, but expectant.

I laughed, swatting his hand away. "Thank you, then. I'm sure it's lovely. But," I pointed out to him, "I'm not really going to be the one to be viewing it, am I?" His smile morphed into a smirk.

"No, Sarah. Tha's likely gonna be me, righ'?" I ignored him for the time being, and continued on down the hall.

"Is Caroline down this way?" I pointed down a hall that led to front, "Or is she out back with Miles?" Grady shook his head.

"Caroline 'as already left. She told me tah take ye." I was a bit disappointed she didn't inform me, but I let it slide as Grady escorted me to the front of the house.

"Are ye excited? Nervous?" The butterflies in my stomach acted up. I just realized I was that much closer to maybe, possibly meeting Gabriel. I hadn't seen anyone (but Domenic) from the palace in so long, let alone my betrothed. I shifted uncomfortably, and nodded to Grady's question.

He placed an arm gingerly around my waist, tugging me closer. He looked at my face expecting some sort of reaction before relaxing and nodding with a smile. "Don' worry 'bout tha', yah? I'll take care of ye." I wasn't the least bit reassured, but I smiled at him sufficiently until he was satisfied that I believed him.

It took us a good half hour on horse to get to the entrance of the festival. It looked like a huge clearing of field, with large booths and tents set up. Lanterns were strung with string over the passages, and people were already bustling. The sun was setting, the red-orange glow gave everything an ethereal feel to it. Grady tied the horses to a wooden fence that lined the entrance and grabbed my small hand in his. I followed behind him, noting that the townspeople were half anxious, nervously chattering about the prince that was soon to arrive.

My stomach dropped while Grady kept talking about something rather. I wasn't paying attention, as my focus had now turned to a makeshift throne at the end of the way of the booths. It was well made, from what I could tell. Nothing like what anyone would find in a real palace, but far too ornate to be seen at a lowly peasant festival. I frowned to myself, and reminded myself that this was dangerous of me. I shouldn't even be here. Why didn't Domenic take me back home? I could've fixed things. I really could have.

Grady pointed out the throne a minute later. "An' tha' is where the prince is gonna be." He sent me a teasing look, "Are ya gonna meet 'im?" I shook my head, then smiled at him sweetly.

"I'd much rather spend my time with you, if that's alright." Anything, anything to steer clear of the prince. Gabriel. This was a disaster waiting to happen. I could feel it. Grady looked as if he couldn't have been more pleased. The grip on my hand tightened and he moved almost unnoticeably closer to me. I sighed and squeezed his hand back, hoping that this night would end quickly.

I snuck a look up at Grady. The lights from the lanterns reflected in his brown eyes as he gazed in wonder at all the things to look at.

Which, of course, there were many things that would have been interesting had I not seen them before. Someone was juggling fire, another woman set up a stand that would read your fortune, and another man was even swallowing swords. Grady was so wrapped up in all the sights and sounds that he almost forgot that I was following behind him silently.

As I looked closer at him, I decided that maybe I could do something about leaving early. I blushed, but glanced backward where the throne was behind us. The options weighed heavily on me, and I quickly caught up to walk along side Grady.

It was an hour later, after we had visited most of the attractions, that he wanted to look at all the things for sale.

"C'mon," He smiled crookedly, "I'll even buy ya somethin' pretty for ya hair." He proceeded to tuck my hair behind my ear, and drag me toward another aisle of booths that displayed merchandise. I heard music start up a few moments later, rough violins and other instruments crudely accompanied by hand clapping. Grady was looking over some hunting knifes when I spotted a booth a few places down. Flowers adorned on small looking crowns, with colorful ribbons that flowed behind it. My heart panged in longing for my crown, which used to be my Grandmothers. Although I cared little for the meaning of the crown, the craftsmanship and care that went into the welding and creation of the crown meant a lot to me. I wondered if it was still sitting on my desk where it had been, the diamonds in it probably becoming covered in dust from disuse.

Grady glanced over at me and saw I was looking at them distantly.

He pocketed the knife he had just purchased and dropped my hand. "Wait here, yah? I'll be righ' back." I nodded, looking around and then turning my gaze up to the stars. I wondered what was going on at the palace. If they missed me like I missed them. Or if they just cared that I was about to start a war. I frowned inwardly at the thought, and ran a hand through my blonde hair. Something was placed on my head, and I turned around quickly to see what it was.

Grady smiled at the site of whatever it was he put on me. I reached my hand up and grabbed the object. I stared at it, before looking back up again.

It was one of the flowery crowns I had been looking at a few moments earlier. The craftsmanship was obviously less in comparison to my old one, but I looked at it fondly. The jewels were obviously fake in the front, but the beautiful real blue and purple flowers that were interlaced in the silver made up for the lack of shine. There was blue ribbon that flowed at the end, and I imagined it tangling in my hair as I walked.

"Thank you," I said sincerely, standing on my toes to give him a kiss on the cheek. He flushed and looked away.

"It was nothin', yah here?" I nodded contentedly as I placed it on my head, arranging it so it fit in the center.

"It looks…ah…fittin'… on ye." He blushed even deeper, if it was possible.

"Come on, would you like to dance?" Grady choked on what I presumed to be air, before nodding and leading me back to where we were when we first arrived. The area in which people were using as a dance floor was underneath a large tent, the wooden poles keeping it sturdy. There was a live band at the front, and I suddenly grew excited. No more waltzes! No more ballrooms and fancy dance steps! No more fox trots! I laughed giddily and dragged Grady to the dance floor.

People were doing some kind of line dance, and although I didn't know it, Grady led the dance and guided me, and I caught on quick.

I ran out of breath after a few songs, but refused to quit. Grady laughed but kept going on with me. It seemed as if he wouldn't give up until I did.

The music stropped suddenly, a trumpet sounded. I had almost forgotten what was going to happen tonight. I grabbed Grady's hand quickly and pulled him to the side of the crowd that was making their way to the throne area we had seen earlier.

"Grady," I lowered my voice and maneuvered us into a dark alley between booths. I heard his breath catch, and I cursed myself for being this underhanded. I ignored my conscious and pressed my body closer to his. "Maybe we could head home? Now? Before it gets too late?" I swallowed the knot in my throat, and tried to squish the anxious feeling in my chest. "We could be alone, until Caroline and Miles get home."

I could see his eyes widen in the gleam of the dull light. His arms were shaking, and he balled his hands into fists. I refrained from smiling as I reached and grabbed his hand. We were standing so close that whenever either of us moved our bodies touched. I saw him shiver, and since it was somewhat warm outside, I didn't think it was from the cold.

"Oh…uh," He looked uncomfortable and his cheeks were probably burning, but it was difficult to tell in the dark. "If…ah…if tha's alright wit' you, I s'pose." He cleared his throat and swallowed, staring straight at me. "Don'…don' ye wanna see tha prince?"

I shook my head. "Like I said earlier, I just want to spend tonight with you." He debated between swaying closer or taking a step back.

"Al-alrigh' then. C'mon, we can…we can go this way." He reached for my hand shakily, but once he grabbed on, his grip was steel. I forced a smile away and followed him out of the alley. There was a commotion behind us, but I refused to look back.

"You, girl!" I heard a voice call behind me. My next step was shaky, but I forced Grady to continue. "You, stop!" Grady turned around, forcing me to stop next to him. An older man dressed in finer attire than you would see on a peasant was glancing at me.

"The prince would like to see every maiden in the town. He is looking for his bride, you know." He looked as if he was going to take a step closer to look at me in detail. I tugged on Grady's arm, and he looked down at me, unsure of what to do. I shot him a look and pressed closer to him, squeezing his arm.

"Uh..ah..well, sir. She's…uh…with me, ya see. She's no princess, ya know?" He was nervous and wrapped an arm around my waist. I smirked and pressed closer to him, wrapping my arm around his waist closely. The man's eyebrows shot up curiously, then suspiciously.

"Please," I prayed my accent wouldn't give us away. "We', just like to head home. To be alone." I gave him a look and the old man even blushed.

"I see. Well," He scrutinized our body language before shaking his head slightly. "I suppose if you were the princess you wouldn't have a boy, nor would you present yourself here anyway. I told the prince this was pointless, but he insisted." He was talking, but looked as if not to be talking to either of us. I sighed in relief as the man turned and walked away, still talking.

Grady grinned at me, showing me a set of full white teeth. I smiled back, not really knowing what else to do.

"C'mon, le's head on home, yah?" Grady walked to the entrance of the festival where the horses were, his arm still wrapped around my waist.

Oh, boy.

The things I get myself into.

Hah, well it's been awhile. I finally forced myself to finish this. And I've gotten the ball kind of rolling.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome. And I apologize for any spelling mistakes. I did edit it, but I'm sort of tired. Thank you. :D