Warm sunlight filtered through the leaves of the trees that shaded the dirt road that served as the main street for the small town. Every-so-often, the clattering of a cart and the dull thud of hooves interrupted the tranquility of the near-empty stretch of road. A line of small buildings lined one side of the road, and stalls lined the other, creating a small attempt at a bazaar for such a tiny village in the midst of the vast stretch of farmland that led down the slow slope to the nearby coastal town. Here the farmers and fishers traded and bartered the day’s haul, and shared the news from their respective lives. This day was a slow day for business, as everyone was preparing for the harvest celebration.
A set of hooves once again broke the quiet as a small dragonian woman rode down the road with a fervor. She was off her mount before it had come to a full stop in front of one of the small buildings and tried the door. It opened with the sound of a small bell and permitted her entrance to a tiny shop front lined with glass cases in which glittered all manner of gem and jewelry. From the back room the woman could hear the small ting of metal being hammered.
“Jack! What are you doing? You were supposed to be at the Collins’s half an hour ago.”
“I’m almost done, Cathy.” Jack called from the back room. “Charles came by earlier today and brought the most fantastic addition.”
The hammering ended and Cathy crossed the storefront to the door of the workroom. The room itself was plain and sparse, with the only furniture being the workbench, an armchair, a small cast iron stove, and a bed. However, the precious jewels and metals that were strewn about the space made it resemble someone’s prized trophy room. Jack was presently seated at the workbench, his back to his visitor. Suddenly he popped his head up and turned to look at her. “It’s done. Do you want to see it?” Cathy nodded and he picked up the object and presented it. It was an intricate silver tiara, with thread-thin wisps of gold entwined through the spiralling designs. At the center of the design was a polished gem that looked as if it held fire within in.
Cathy put a hand to her mouth. “It’s beautiful, Jack. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Jack nodded and turned back to his workbench. He lovingly placed the product into a plain wooden box, and rose from his seat, taking the box with him. When he reached the door to the workroom, he stopped at a full cane basket that was tucked into the corner and pulled out one that was elegantly carved.
“You’ve got quite the collection going,” Cathy quipped. “I’m starting to feel like it’s less of a help to you and more of an accessory.”
“You know me, Cathy,” Jack responded, “I can’t pass up the opportunity to turn some heads.”
Cathy had noticed that Jack rarely ever leaned on the canes anymore, and in fact he was usually without one when in private. Every so often, though, she caught him gripping the top of the cane tightly, or staggering, just a little bit, as he walked across a room. Today he put just a little more weight on the cane as he traversed the storefront. Cathy waited for him to lock the front door and return to the back room before asking if he wanted her help hooking up the carriage.
“No, I got it hooked up earlier with Charles.” Jack said, and the two made their way through the workroom and out the back door of the building. Waiting out back was a small plain carriage hooked up to a sturdy horse. Jack placed the box and his cane in the small luggage area in the back while Cathy untied the lead, and soon they were loaded up and on their way.
Cathy watched the buildings fall away to the sea of browns and greens that rolled softly with the cool breeze. Autumn was waning, the final crops of the season had been harvested, and the preparations for winter had begun. As she soaked in all the natural beauty around her, she understood why so many city-dwellers wanted to leave. The air was cleaner, the pace was slower, the people were friendlier.
“It’s hard to imagine we ever lived in the city,” she mused.
Jack gave a small noise of agreement, but Cathy caught the distracted tone behind it. She turned her attention to him to try to glean more information from his expression. It had little to offer, but behind the stony mask she saw how his brows were creased together, just a little bit, and his jaw was firmly set. Cathy could only sigh in soft resignation. There was no use dragging out the same tired conversation they’d had nearly every day they’d first arrived in the house Charles had purchased. It was the same conversation that drove Jack to move out of that house and into the back room of his shop months later. So instead she returned her attention to the rolling fields for the remainder of the trip.
Soon enough they arrived at the Collins’ farm, which was moderately decorated in all manner of seasonal fare. Tables were laid out with cornucopia centerpieces that were bursting with various harvest goods. Charles’ Aether lights were strung between poles in preparation of the sunset. The spotlight of the event was at an old, ornate wedding arch that sat atop a small mound at the edge of the clearing, just before the start of the crop land. It was there that Jack and Cathy went after dismounting the cart and securing the lead. An older, plump naga woman rushed up to them before they set even one foot on the mound.
“Jack, deary!” the woman exclaimed as she pulled Jack into a tight hug. “You’re just in time. Krissine is almost done with her preparations.”
“Then you’ll want to make sure she has the final touch,” he replied with a grin and handed her the wooden box.
The woman bounced back, nearly folding over herself with joy. “Oooooh, she’ll be so excited. I’m excited.” She lifted the lid of the box ever so slightly, then snapped it shut again. “No, I shouldn’t. I want to be just as surprised as she is.” And with that, she hurried off to deliver the parcel.
Jack shook his head and made his way to one of the chairs toward the back of the wedding area. Cathy started to sit next to him, but when she got close to him she decided instead to just pat him on the shoulder and say, “Try to have a good time today. There’s still a lot of people around here you don’t know yet.” Then she walked away to find something with which to busy herself. With any luck, if she left him alone long enough, Jack might just find someone to take his mind off Nadine for once. She doubted it, though.