The village square was as busy as ever today, but this was not an ordinary day of buying and selling goods. Today was Midsummer Eve, an annual celebration to honor the longest day of the year. Almost everyone was given the evening off to come and celebrate at the festival. It was getting late in the afternoon, and the square was being set up for the celebration. A band of musicians played lively music in an elevated stall, while the usual market stalls were pushed out of the way to allow for dancing. People of every rank danced long into the night on Midsummer Eve, with the air being just cool enough that no one got terribly hot. Meanwhile, if someone was important enough, they would be invited to dine at the castle hall between the festivities. Otherwise, families piled into houses hosting smaller dinners.
Aurora typically locked herself in her dormitory on Midsummer Eve while her fellow ladies-in-waiting would stay out until the early morning. She saw it as an ordeal instead of a celebration; if she hated dealing with the sheer amount of people whenever she had to leave the castle, why would she see something like this as fun? She would only slink down to the kitchen to get some food before disappearing for the rest of the night.
This year, however, Aurora paced in her empty dorm while listening to the festival start. She decided to dress a little nicer than usual for her daily duties that morning; her blonde hair around the crown of her head was tied back in a braid, while the rest of it rippled down to her waist. Instead of her usual tattered dark brown dress, she worse a green corset on top of a short-sleeved white blouse with a light brown skirt. She wanted to see Christopher again, more than she dared to admit, but she did not want to deal with possible remarks from anyone else. What if someone were to point out that her father is completely insane? Or worse, what if she saw him there? She wanted to face her father when she was ready…alone. Definitely not on an evening like this.
“Why am I even considering going in the first place?” she thought to herself. “All because a man gave me a necklace! This goes against every reason why I don’t interact with people unless I have to.” She touched the wooden sun around her neck. It hung underneath her blouse, just out of view. She didn’t dare let anyone see it.
An hour passed, and Aurora felt her stomach rumble. It was time for her annual trip to the kitchen. She slipped out of her dorm and padded down the empty hall to the stairs. It was dead quiet, save for the buzzing of people outside. She stopped to look out the window, and saw the mass of villagers dancing in the square. They all looked so joyful that they could forget their troubles for a night. This made something snap inside Aurora.
“Why not take a risk for once in your life?” she told herself. Instead of going down to the kitchen, she passed through the rest of the castle and outside of its massive gates. The air was cooling down with the setting sun, and the lively music poured into Aurora’s ears. The dances in the center of the square were in full swing, while villagers drank and laughed on the side. She stood in the gate for a moment, too uncertain on how to integrate herself into the crowd and find Christopher. There were probably hundreds of people in the square. The best she could do was start walking along the side, just as she had a few days before. “Just keep moving,” she thought. “Don’t let anyone notice you until you find Christopher.”
Aurora found herself feeling breathless after walking around for a bit, so she decided to take a break in a small alley just on the edge of the square. She was leaning against the wall of a small townhouse that was starting to host their dinner. The smells wafted through a window next to her, and her empty stomach came back to life for a moment, until she heard two women talking in low voices.
“I looked out the back window half an hour ago,” said a woman. “The light is on, and I saw smoke coming from the chimney. He’s definitely home tonight,”
“You don’t think Barnama would actually come to this, do you?” said the other woman. “He rarely leaves his cottage at all. He only comes out to chop firewood. I watched him do it for almost an hour yesterday while I was getting the feast together.”
“I know,” said the first woman. “But I’m curious, I’ve heard he’s got a daughter contracted in the castle. I’ve never seen her though. I wouldn’t want to be known as his daughter, poor thing. I’m sure everyone pities her for it.” Aurora scrunched her hands into fists as she felt hot tears spring to her eyes. She stood up and found a small pebble on the ground. Before she could realize what she was doing, she hurled it through the open window and heard a massive crash and raised voices. She sprinted back through the alley until she reached the square. The crowds didn’t matter anymore; she just wanted to feel the safety of her dorm room again. Once she was back in the square, her run slowed to a brisk walk so she wouldn’t crash into anyone. The castle appeared again, much to her relief as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Aurora!” a voice called out to her. It was probably Christopher, but she didn’t care anymore. “Aurora, wait!” She felt a hand grab her shoulder and whirl her around. She reflexively jerked her shoulder out of his grip, and there he was before her.
His presence blurred out the rest of the world and filled her senses. He was wearing green trousers tucked into tall brown boots, with an open green vest over a white long-sleeved blouse. Although he had a slim frame, his arms filled out his blouse nicely, with especially broad shoulders. In fact, his shoulders were probably the widest part of his body. He towered a whole head above Aurora, and his light brown hair was as wavy as ever. His face was slightly paler than the rest of the villagers, with a long, pronounced chin. What made Aurora freeze, though, was his eyes. They were such a mixture of color, she wasn’t sure what to call them. They were blue on the rims of the iris, but a lovely green color surrounded his pupils. They looked at her with concern.
“Are you alright? I was calling so much I thought you would never hear me.” Aurora snapped into the real world again.
“Yes,” she lied. “I was just heading back for the night.” She hoped there were no more tears left on her cheeks.
“Oh, don’t head back yet, the night has hardly started!” he pleaded. “I bet you haven’t even eaten. Come with me, I want to take you to one of the feasts nearby.” He held out a bent arm for her to take. Aurora tried to think of excuses to get out of this, but she didn’t realize she had taken his arm anyway until they were almost out of the square. He walked her to a humble-looking house, where they were greeted warmly by a small family of about ten people. They seemed to be mutual friends of Christopher’s, and they took to Aurora kindly. Aurora herself remained quiet, and watched Christopher interact with the family. His manner was very calm and reserved, but when someone asked his opinion, he gave it without hesitation. He seemed so sure of himself when he talked, and was stubborn if someone disagreed with him. The meal was very well-prepared, and the family tried their best to spare no expense. Aurora was tense to see if anyone would realize who her father was, but no one brought it up. She felt herself slowly relax, and soon she was talking with her company like old friends.
Once the meal was finished and cleared, everyone stepped outside to see the progress of the festivities. The dancing in the square was still lively, and the sun was just starting to disappear. Aurora breathed in the sweet night air and glanced at Christopher. He caught her glance and looked at her thoughtfully.
“Are you up for a dance?” he said. Aurora shuffled uneasily.
“I haven’t dance in years, I would probably fall and throw everybody off,” she paused. “We wouldn’t want that to happen again, would we?” Christopher smiled so bright that little wrinkles appeared around his eyes.
“Then I’ll make sure you won’t fall,” he grabbed her hand and pulled her into the intricate crowd of dancers. She pulled back but let him lead her anyway. “Don’t worry! Most of them don’t know what they’re doing anyway.” Aurora laughed and melted with him into the crowd.
It was a lot to take in. From remembering how to dance to avoid crashing into another couple, Aurora surprised herself to find it all incredibly thrilling. She picked up the rhythm of the music quickly, and the feeling of dozens of people around her matching their steps felt empowering. The hardest to take in, however, was Christopher himself. The feeling of his energy while his hand clasped hers was so stimulating, that she felt her chest seize up if she thought about it too much. He was a good partner, and prevented them from having quite a few collisions. She would glance up at his face when she was able, and she saw his eyes shine as they wove in and out of the other couples. She tried to avoid his gaze as much as possible, but he met her eyes and the world turned into slow motion. His bright smile was directed only at her, and Aurora felt her chest tighten and her breathing stop, until she saw something bounce up in her peripheral vision. They both looked down to see the little wooden sun necklace fly out of her blouse. Christopher laughed, and Aurora put her head down in embarrassment.
She felt him pull her closer for what she thought was comfort, but when he started to push her backward, she thought otherwise. Aurora looked up to find a couple ramming into Christopher’s back, and he tried to pull her close so he could pivot around to catch her fall. He managed to swing around her so hard that Aurora was launched over him and out of the dancing crowd while he fell to the ground. She nearly stumbled into a closed stall before turning around to look for Christopher. He was nowhere to be seen; she couldn’t even pick him out from the crowd.
“Christopher!” She ran back into the dancers and started to weave through their pattern to look for him. She soon heard his voice, and found him laying flat on the ground hugging his chest in pain. “Christopher!” she yelled again. She ran to him to see if he was hurt. His shoulders were shaking and his eyes were shut tight. But his mouth was fixed open in a smile. He wasn’t hurt at all. He was laughing. He was laughing so hard that his chest was heaving.
“At least I managed to save you!” he said once he calmed down a bit.
“You nearly launched me into the ribbon shop!” she said. They laughed and Aurora helped Christopher up off the ground before weaving back out of the crowd. He looked at her as if to say something, but the thought vanished from his face and he looked at her her with concern.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“What do you mean? I should be asking you that question!”
“No, your chest, it’s bleeding!” Aurora looked down to find a small puncture just below her left collar bone. It was small, but just enough for a trickle of blood to run down. She wiped it away just before it touched her blouse. “The necklace must have hurt you when we ran into each other,” he said. Aurora suddenly felt as if the entire village was watching her.
“Don’t draw attention to yourself,” she thought. She looked around to reassure herself that no one had noticed, and that was mostly true, except for one man that was blatantly staring at her. Judging from the way he was dressed, he was obviously of noble blood, but Aurora didn’t recognize him. Instead of the usual tunic and trousers worn by the villagers, he wore a bright red doublet with matching trousers that came down to his shiny knee-high boots. A black velvet cloak adorned his shoulders, and his brown hair and beard were very well trimmed and shaped. He looked to be in his early 30’s, and he did not change his glance when Aurora made eye contact with him. There was something about him that made her blood run cold.
“Let’s go somewhere quiet and get that cleaned up,” said Christopher. Aurora looked down again to see another trail of blood appear down her chest. She nodded and followed Christopher back to the house where they had their feast. Everyone was still out dancing, and he reassured her that they won’t mind them taking a break in here.
“How do you know them?” she asked. She sat facing outwards on one of the benches at the dining table while Christopher rummaged through a small sewing basket.
“I’ve done quite a bit of carving for them over the years,” he said. He found a rag and dipped it in water. “They almost consider me a part of the family.”
“Do you have a family?” she asked. She wasn’t sure if it was too bold of a question, but he seemed unfazed.
“Yes and no,” he said as he sat down next to her. “They are in another estate about a day’s journey from here. My father is a carpenter there, but I will never truly consider him my father. He likes his beer more than my mother and younger siblings. One day, he got so violent that he beat my mother and threatened the rest of us, so my she managed to get me contracted here so I could learn carpentry in a safe place. Eric, the man who sent you to me earlier, he knew my father when he was a good man, so he goes easy on me out of pity. But I’ve earned a reputation as one of the best carvers, so it’s for the best. Eric is the one who raised me, who I consider my father.” He wiped away the trickles of blood from Aurora’s wound as he spoke.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She put her hand on his arm.
“It’s alright, I’m glad that you came out tonight. I didn’t think you would.” He threw out the wet cloth and gave her a dry one. “Here, press this against the wound until it stops bleeding.”
“Thank you,” she said. “And you’re right, I didn’t want to come, but you weren’t working when I came to pick up the jewelry box. I wanted to thank you in person for the necklace.” She lowered her head. “It’s beautiful.”
“And dangerous, apparently,” he said with a smile. I didn’t think the rays would be so sharp, I must have slammed into you pretty hard.” He saw Aurora blush.
“You have a gift though,” she said. “You’ll make your family proud.” Christopher sighed and stood up.
“That is what I work for every day. I wasn’t here when you stopped by because I was visiting them. My father has only gotten worse over the years, which means that he won’t give up any of my other siblings. They barely get by. He spends what little money they have on drunken nights. When my contract is up, I plan on moving to another estate to start my own shop, and I’ll bring them all with me, whether he likes it or not.” Aurora couldn’t believe he was being so open with her. She wanted to tell him about her own father, but she didn’t want to scare him away. Did he even know about her father? She assumed no, because he hadn’t come up at all, and Christopher never asked. All she could do was stand up and place her hand on his shoulder. He turned around to look at her.
“When can I see you again?” he asked. She put her hand down and turned away.
“I don’t know, life as a ladies maid is time-consuming,” she lied.
“Being a carver is time-consuming as well,” said Christopher. “But I want to make time for you, Aurora. Would you be willing to make time for me?” He put his hand on her shoulder as he said this, and she let him turn her around. She dared to make eye contact, and she lost all of her inhibitions. His eyes were begging her to say yes. She wanted to break free from his gaze, but she couldn’t move.
“I…” was all that she could say. Christopher shifted his hand down from her shoulder to her own hand. She felt herself tense up and drop the cloth from her chest. He took her other hand and held them together as his thumbs stroked her palms.
“Promise me you’ll think about it?” he said. Aurora’s senses reeled; she felt like her heart would beat out of her chest. He raised her hands up to his lips, but it was too much for her. She yanked her hands from his grasp and backed away from him towards the door.
“You wouldn’t want someone like me, I’m sorry.” she said. His face nearly broke her. It was the perfect mixture of pain and pleading. She felt tears in her eyes, so she turned and ran out the door. She didn’t stop when she reached the square, the crowd, or the castle gates. She only stopped when she reached her dorm and flung herself on her cot. Then she let herself cry. She cried because she couldn’t understand why Christopher would want her, and because of all these terrifying new feelings. “What should I do?” she thought. All she could do was cry until she couldn’t make anymore tears, all while holding her most valuable possession; her wooden sun necklace.