“Can I show you anything?” The shop owner looked down at Jade, his patience worn thin by the wave of girls and women who had flowed in and out all day.
Jade did not care. She rested her elbows on the counter and her chin in her hands. “No.”
The man frowned down at the sulking young woman before shrugging and moving off to help someone else who was more likely to spend money.
It took Jade a second, but remembering that that was her, she lifted her head to see who had spoken.
A happy smile lit the Elf’s fair face, and Jade wasn’t sure if it was from having forgotten the lady’s name or the fleeting thought of wanting to look that good in hunting leathers that caused her mind to go blank for a moment. “Oh… Hey. You’re — How are you?”
“Eruviel,” the Elf offered kindly as she set a gloved hand on the counter and looked behind it to the wall covered in gold, silver, and shell necklaces, bracelets and clips. “And I am exceptionally well, thank you. You are here shopping? I should warn you away. I do not think gold is the metal for your husband.”
Jade scoffed, but that brought a little smile to her red lips. “Then maybe a comb for his beard.” She then shook her head. “I’m waiting for the barber to get done”
Eruviel raised her brows. “You are cutting your hair off?”
“Sure am,” she replied, nodding curtly.
“May I ask why?”
Jade glanced side-long at the Elf’s long, intricate braid woven with satin ribbon and pretty winter blossoms. “Feel like being petty,” Jade offered lamely, feeling childish. Lifting her chin, she smirked and tossed her bangs to chase the feeling away. “Don’t tell me you’re cutting yours off. Do Elves lose their powers if they cut their hair?”
The Elf gave an enchanting, silvery laugh. “Not at all! And no, it is one of my most prized possessions. One of the younger members of the guild braided it so nicely and I fear I do not have a clip to keep it from unraveling.”
Jade combed her fingers through her own soft, pale gold hair. “How’s one of your kind end up without anything?”
Eruviel rolled her shoulders nonchalantly. “I gave it away.” Stopping a saleswoman, she motion to a set of combs and clips stuck to a display. “I don’t know what has you in such a mood at Yule, Miss Jade, but I hope you reconsider.”
Jade studied the display with a thoughtful air. “Oh, it’ll backfire. Reason is silly, but it’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”
“Hmm….” Eruviel picked up a delicate filigree comb. “May I?”
Jade blinked in surprise. “Wh — uhh, sure.”
Eruviel caught a pale swoop of the young woman’s hair with the brass comb, spun it and set it securely in place. “Petty reasons do not justify rash action. Neither are the small regrets worth it.” She hesitated, a warm, distant look in her green eyes. Adjusting the chain of a necklace hidden beneath her collar, Eruviel turned her attention back to Mrs. Harlowe. “And you do have lovely hair.”
The sick feeling that came from her feeling sick at the thought that haunted her lessened, and Jade flashed a charming smile up at the strange Elf. She really would regret it. “Can’t argue with that.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“You have a minute?”
Frank’s hammer clanked in an awkward strike against the tin. Hand gripping the handle tighter, he finished pounding the sharp bend in the metal. “What do you want?”
Cotton skirts swished, and he could almost feel her at his back though she remained several feet away. “I wanted to see you.”
You little — “You should go home, Maddie.”
“Frank, I –”
Without turning, Frank stepped away from the work bench and moved to the forge before her reaching hand could touch his arm.
“I heard you signed over the farm.”
“I did. I also signed your papers at the Town Hall,” he replied cooly.
Her silenced weighed down around them. “If… I didn’t know, Frank. Who I was, what I wanted –”
“Now we both do,” Frank interrupted sharply, meeting her soft, sad eyes with a cold, even look. “Go home.”
She looked wounded, sorry, but the now former Maddie Burns ducked her head in defeat. Picking up her cloak, she left the warmth of the barn for the frigid, snowy evening.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The little house was warm. Too warm. But she felt cold, and Feira shivered bodily, curled up in a quilt on the lightly worn couch.
Beside her several gifts sat, perfectly wrapped, bound with perfect little bows… except for Lalaith’s which was ready to be mailed in the morning.
Then there was the tray set on the stool covered with several tea cups and a soup bowl. Torrin had not left her side all day, and his soon to be betrothed had even stopped in to see if you young woman was all right. Feira could feel better in the morning, or it could be a couple days, but she would be fine.
Still Torrin doted on her as if it were her last day on the earth. They played games, and exchanged gifts, and when she fell asleep he sat and read at the foot of the couch to keep her feet warm.
She didn’t think she could have had a better brother.
Staring out the front window, Feira listened to him stumble through the kitchen in an attempt to make supper. The world was not as bright as it had been before. But in a day, or a week, whenever he showed up the two years would be over. She would cry and pretend to be fine, then eventually heal, but while she regretted not telling Torrin more about it, there was nothing, at least in that little moment, that she would have changed.