Meanwhile Jack was content to observe the goings-on around him, just as he’d always been. At least, it felt to him that that’s how it had always been. So he sat as a stone in the rippling pond of activity around him as family and friends reunited for the joyous occasion between two people who were barely more than acquaintances to him. Occasionally someone would notice him, but they would leave their interactions at a smile, sometimes a nod. That was perfectly fine. Jack didn’t see the need to fill a deeper role than just the enigmatic jeweler. It was a role he was good at, keeping everyone at arm’s length for, what was it, over a year now?
His silent musings were shattered when a lithe dragonian woman plopped unceremoniously into the chair next to him. “Hi,” she began. “Is this the bride’s side, or the groom’s?” Before Jack could answer, she continued. “Oh, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m friends with both of them. It’s been so long, though. I hope they recognize me. They do say that living in the city changes a person. Ah, but I should still look the same.” She fluffed the high up-do on her head. “At least mostly. Oh, I wonder if I’m overdressed. I just picked out a dress at the shop without any thought. Is it too fancy? You know, they say you should never try to look prettier than the bride.”
On and on she went, without any pause for Jack to interject, or even answer. He let her have her conversation with herself and let his mind wander. If living in the city changes a person, does the same apply to the country? He supposed so, since now he was a respectable businessman, and his days of burglary were left in the high walls of the castle city.
A fiddler started a slow tune, and everyone settled in. The bride came down the aisle, her face beaming almost as much as the intricate tiara that was perched daintily on her head. Delighted murmurs from the crowd hummed as she passed, and Jack felt a quiet pride at his contribution to her ensemble. The ceremony itself was short, but genuine, and afterward the wedding crowd melded into the gathering crowd for the feast. Jack found Cathy and Charles and made himself comfortable at their table.
“So how did it look?” Charles asked.
“You were right,” Jack replied with a grin, “that gem really brought it all together. Thank you for bringing it by.”
“My pleasure,” Charles said. He attempted not to sound smug when he continued, “Now that I know it’s a hit, I can continue production on the little beauties.”
Cathy tapped his arm with her fan. “Could you stop working for once? We’re at a party.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Catherine. Would you rather I waltz around stuffing snuff up my nose and guffawing about the common folk? I could wear a powdered wig, too, while I’m at it.”
“I would pay to see that,” Jack commented.
Cathy pointed her fan at Jack, “Don’t encourage him. I think all that aether stuff is getting to his head.”
“Getting to my head? What about you, miss fancy pants?” Charles gestured to Cathy’s fan and high-coiffed hair.
“This is called looking nice for an event. The biggest event in town, I might add.”
“Every event is a big event in this town.”
The bickering of the two siblings was halted by Mr. Collins, who was standing on a chair in the middle of the eating area and speaking to the crowd with his booming voice.
“I’d like to thank you all for coming,” he began. “This has certainly been an eventful year, for all of us here in Cedarton. We’ve welcomed new friends,” he gestured toward Jack, Charles, and Cathy, “as well as new family,” he gestured to the table at which the bride and groom were seated. “So with a full harvest, full tables, and full hearts, let us also fill our bellies!”
There was a round of huzzah’s and hooray’s, and people began making their way to the serving table, while others contented themselves with picking food out of the cornucopias.
Jack had almost made it to the serving table when he was flagged down by the bride.
“Congratulations, Krissine,” Jack said when he reached her table. “I wish you all the best for your future.”
“Thank you, Jack,” Krissine said, “and I wanted to thank you for the beautiful crown. I felt just like a princess! I’m going to pass it down to my daughter, if I have a daughter, when she gets married.”
Jack smiled, “Well, I’m glad I could make you a family heirloom. I know how important those can be.”
Across the table, the woman who had sat next to him during the ceremony said, “You’re the one who made that?!”
Krissine turned to her and said, “Yes, Janette, this is the jeweler I was telling you about. The one I said you need to visit his shop before you leave.”
“Oh, I definitely will. Will your shop be open tomorrow?”
Jack nodded. “Yes, were you looking for something in particular?”
Krissine’s new husband stepped in, “You can discuss that business tomorrow. Jack, go get yourself a plate before these ladies make you starve.”
Jack smiled and bowed out while Krissine playfully rebuked her spouse.
Word was apparently spreading around the party about Jack’s handiwork with the crown, as he saw more people noticing him than before. It was all pleasant smiles and greetings, but was still more attention at one time than he could ever remember having. Sure, a lot of people had known him in the slums of the city. But they were still wary enough to keep their distance and keep their heads down. Now so many eyes were on him. He felt them burning into him, judging his movements, his attire, his cane. Did any of them know him from his life before? Were there people in the crowd from the city, still looking for him by order of the royal family? Krissine’s friend said she was from the city. Who would she run and tell? Why did he not change his name when he left? Nowhere was safe. Jack’s heart was pounding in his chest; his breath shallow. But he tried to keep control as he moved through the crowd. His midsection ached, and he leaned more onto the cane. He could hear something dripping somewhere, faintly. All those people. They wanted answers. Answers he did not have. Questions he did not understand. Suddenly he was back at the table with Charles and Cathy, and a plate of food was in front of him. He did not remember being at the serving table.
“Are you alright, Jack?” Cathy was asking him.
Jack’s gaze snapped to Cathy, and it was like clinging to a rock in a storm. She was clear, and real, and solid, where the rest of the world was a blur whipping around him.
Cathy was startled by the look in Jack’s eyes. They were frantic, while the rest of his body was stock still. She laid a hand on his, which had an iron grip on his cane. “Jack,” she said in a soft voice, “breathe. Nice and slow. Come on.” Jack shakily inhaled a long breath. “Good,” Cathy encouraged, “now breathe out.”
With the exhalation, Jack’s grip loosened on his cane, and his gaze lost some of its edge. They continued this exercise for a couple more moments before Jack finally came back from the dark place he had gone to. He smiled at her, propped his cane against the table, and began silently picking at his food.
Cathy sighed. Even though they were far away from the city, these episodes seemed to be getting worse. She looked up at the rest of the table, and while many of the guests seemed to have continued their conversation without pause, a couple of people were giving them worried looks. Cathy smiled warmly at them and began a line of small talk to distract them from what had just transpired. She felt something brush against her leg, and realized that Jack’s knee was rapidly bouncing under the table. She slid her hand over to place it on his knee, but he jerked his leg away at the first touch.
He mechanically stood and said to her in a low voice, “I need to leave,” then took his cane and strode briskly to his cart.
Cathy watched him leave in mute confusion, then turned to one of the women near her who said, “He’s a strange one, isn’t he?”
“He… yes,” Cathy admitted. “He lost a loved one not too long ago, and he’s still grieving.”
The woman gave a sympathetic look, and they continued with happier conversations of less substance.