Teasel didn’t need the silence as an excuse to allow his thoughts to wander. They’d been doing nothing else for days. Lakita hadn’t attempted once to get him to take a break from his work since their talk in the garden, and even still his thoughts were distracted.
He glanced out a nearby window, not attempting to stop the circling thoughts that always came, unbidden.
“So these are the tasks to be done to aid the people with their problems? Is this all of them for this week? Teasel?”
Teasel didn’t answer. In fact, he hadn’t even really heard the words Arvense had spoken.
Teasel continued to stare out the window, lost in thought.
“Something on your mind, son?”
This brought Teasel from his circling thoughts. He could hear the smile on Arvense’s face, and it was times like these that he was glad for the elderly man. He’d become like a father to him since his own father had passed away, and Teasel felt he could talk to him about anything. Sighing, he turned to him.
“She’s ignoring me. All these weeks of trying to get me to relax with her, and now all of a sudden she’s ignoring me. Maybe she... Maybe I shouldn’t have... Maybe...” He sighed again, no closer to sorting through his thoughts. “Never mind.”
Arvense nodded as he stood. “Very well, lad. I’ll just pass these tasks along to the others.”
He held up the parchment in his hands. Teasel nodded to him, and Arvense took his leave. With another sigh, Teasel stood and moved to stand before the window he couldn’t seem to stop staring out.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have looked at her that way.” He continued to speak his swirling thoughts aloud, hoping maybe that would unravel them. “Maybe she doesn’t feel the same way I do.”
For all the times he’d wanted her to stop trying to pull him away from his work, now that she had, he wasn’t happy about it. He was sure that if it hadn’t been for their meeting in the garden, it wouldn’t have mattered. But since that meeting, especially with the way she’d left, he was confused. Lakita wasn’t her normal, cheerful, determined self, and he was determined to figure out why, especially since it must have been his fault.
Frowning as an idea struck him, he clenched his fists in determination, unable to stop the grin from spreading on his face. “Maybe I should start pestering her!”
Every time Teasel rode into the valley of Solidago Altissima, it brought old, fond memories back to him. It had been home to him for four years after he’d run away from his own home in Arenaria when he was thirteen. He’d barley survived on his own, and was fortunate that Achillea, a wise old woman from the village of Altissima had found him. Together, she and Lakita had nursed him back to health, and then, without asking any questions, the kind woman had asked him to stay with her.
He stayed with her for four years, and those four years were some of the best years of his life. He’d left only when war from his home threatened Altissima because of him. He helped end the war, and then, reluctantly, returned home to claim his place as king, following the death of his father.
He caught site of Achillea’s house, on a hill beyond the village and couldn’t help but smile. Achillea had become like a mother to him during his stay with her, and that was something he’d sorely needed after the death of his own mother two years prior. Yes, he was glad for his time in Altissima. If he’d not found his way into the valley, he knew he never would have met Lakita, nor any from the village or outlying farms. Their lives would never have crossed at all.
Smiling in thanks that that wasn’t the case, he continued through the large village, taking in the familiar wooden structures, and the pleasant smells wafting through open windows. Children ran through the streets playing tag as their parents either shopped, or worked at those shops or the businesses intermixed.
The business that Teasel was looking for was one that had been in the village since it had started, or so Lakita had told him. He soon stopped before it, looking up at the carved sign above the door, which read: The Pinnata Inn.
Dismounting, Teasel tied Lightning’s reins to a pole holding up a porch above him and stepped across the planked walkway, stopping before the door. He took a deep breath to steady himself. This sort of thing didn’t come near as naturally to him as it did Lakita. Working up his nerve, he opened the door and entered the inn.
A long hall greeted him, with several doors leading off of it on either side. A staircase was at the end of it, leading upstairs. He knew Lakita’s room was up there, but wasn’t sure where he’d find her now. It was around noon, so she’d most likely be eating. If he remembered correctly, the kitchen was within the last door on the left, and as he moved down the hall, he heard movement within, so figured it was a good place to start.
Stepping inside the open door, he glanced around. He’d been correct about the room being the kitchen. Not so much about Lakita being within it. What he’d heard out in the entry hall had been her oldest brother, Acanthus. He was putting away a stack of recently cleaned dishes that was sitting by the sink.
Teasel’s shoe hit a loose board, and it creaked beneath his weight, causing Acanthus to look to him. He smiled pleasantly, but before he could say anything, Teasel spoke first.
“Is Lakita here?”
“She just finished the dishes and stepped outside for lunch,” Acanthus replied, nodding toward a door to his left. “You’ll find her out in the fields.”
“Thank you,” Teasel said, nodding his head in confirmation of his words before he made his way toward the door Acanthus had nodded to.
Acanthus nodded in return and went back to his work.
Teasel found himself in a back alleyway as he stepped from within the building. Seeing a crack between two buildings across from him, he moved toward it and looked beyond, smiling as he saw fields of tall grass waiting on the other side.
He soon found himself wading through the tall grass, which came up almost to his waist. The fields stretched far and wide, and he hadn’t seen Lakita anywhere as he’d studied them. Only knowing that she’d not have gone far if she’d only stepped out for lunch, he took a straight line from the inn.
Soon, his eyes caught on an area of the grass that seemed to be smashed down, as though something had recently been bedding down in it. That, or someone was sitting down within it now, eating lunch. Smiling, he moved toward it, picking up his speed. Sure enough, he saw Lakita within as he neared the area. She was lying down, rather than sitting, her head resting on an arm as she ate her sandwich slowly, seemingly lost in thought. Her bag was lying open on the ground beside her, a canteen of water beside it.
Smiling wide, Teasel stopped and bent over her. “Lakita?”
Lakita’s face contorted in shock as she saw him. It wasn’t the reaction he was expecting.
“What are you doing?” He asked before she could say anything.
Lakita rolled to a sitting position as she answered. “Enjoying Biden’s beauty.”
Teasel heard sadness in her voice, despite the joy that such words should have brought. Growing concerned, he knew they needed to talk.
“Mind if I join you?”
Lakita eyed him suspiciously. “You left your work to join me for lunch?”
Teasel nodded, moving to sit next to her without a word.
“I can see why you like it here,” he said as he looked around. “It’s like you’re cut off from the rest of the world. All alone. Just you and Biden.”
He met her eyes and she nodded, but he still saw discomfort on her face. Realizing that his words were true about such a secluded, intimate spot, he could have kicked himself for sitting down next to her. Of course she was feeling uncomfortable. What had happened in the garden was probably as fresh on her mind as it was on his, and he wanted desperately to forget it, to ignore it completely. This wasn’t helping. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable himself.
Fortunately, Lakita changed the subject.
“Hungry?” She asked as she pulled a wrapped sandwich from her bag and handed it to him.
Teasel looked to the sandwich, relieved. He wasn’t sure if he was hungry or not, but he’d gladly take the excuse to not talk.
“Yes. Thank you.”
The two ate in silence.
It soon became too much for Teasel. Never, in all their years as friends, had there ever been this much silence between them. He wasn’t the most talkative person, but Lakita was, and he hated seeing her this way.
With a sigh, he turned to her. “Lakita, I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable the other day. I certainly didn’t mean to. I just”
“Not uncomfortable,” Lakita said, interrupting him, shaking her head. “Just… confused.”
She looked down, sadly. He studied her for several minutes before looking away, finally admitting even to himself what he’d been trying to ignore.
Shocked, Lakita looked to him, quickly. “Really?”
Teasel nodded, and as he turned to her again, it was as if he didn’t need to ignore it anymore. They were both in the same boat, and it was comforting to know they were both dealing with the same confusing thoughts. He couldn’t help but smile, knowing she’d understand.
“We’ve always just been friends.”
Lakita nodded, looking up to the sky as she thought about something.
“But we’ve slowly been falling in love all along, haven’t we?”
Teasel joined her in looking up at the wispy white clouds floating lazily in the periwinkle blue sky.
“Maybe we just need to spend more time together and see.”
He heard Lakita gasp and could only guess that she was staring at him once more in shock.
“You’d be willing to leave your work to spend more time with me?”
He looked to her with a grin, winking. “It’s important.”
Lakita, too, grinned, lying back on the ground once more. Looking up at the sky, she was clearly already planning their time together.
“Alright, then, we’ll start tomorrow. Meet me here and Maya can take us to Durior.”
Teasel was glad she was suddenly back to her old self, as meddlesome as that could be at times, but he’d meant what he’d said. This was important. So he stood to his feet, nodding his agreement.
“Very well. Durior.”
He started to leave, then stopped, turning back suddenly, a thought striking him. He narrowed his eyes at Lakita, studying her. “Was this another one of your tricks?!”
Lakita shook her head with a smile. “Oh, no. This is divine doing!”
It was her turn to wink as her smile widened. His did, too, as he turned away, leaving her to finally enjoy her lunch. Sighing contentedly, he nodded to himself.
“That’s the Lakita I’ve missed.”
The next day, as promised, Teasel was outside the village of Altissima, waiting for Lakita. He noticed a row of sunflowers nearby and moved to admire their beauty. As he studied them, Lakita’s smiling face suddenly popped up between two of them.
Teasel smiled. She only added to the beauty. He turned to her as she stepped around the sunflowers, carrying a basket. His jaw almost dropped. Lakita was wearing a beautiful Arenarian gown. Where she’d gotten it, he couldn’t say, and he was shocked to see her in it. She never wore gowns, and now that she was, he realized just how stunning she looked in one.
She smiled, obviously excited for their time together. “Ready for a picnic in Durior?”
Shaking himself from his shocked speechlessness, Teasel nodded, her excitement seeming to be contagious. “You bet!”
Maya soon swooped in over the nearby field, blowing the tall grass with her mighty wings. She landed gracefully nearby, and Teasel noticed the double saddle on her back. She didn’t usually wear a saddle, and he knew Lakita had put it on for him. While Lakita had been riding Maya quite often over the last five years, riding a dragon was still quite new for him. He appreciated Lakita’s thoughtfulness.
They moved up to the large dragon as she lowered herself to her belly, and Teasel gave Lakita a leg up. He climbed into the saddle behind her, and, once he was seated comfortably, Maya let out a great bellow, spread her wings, and took to the sky. She circled over the field below as she climbed ever higher, and Teasel marveled at the sight.
Finally, she leveled off, and they were off to Durior.
Maya landed in a courtyard beside the royal castle of Durior, and Teasel slipped from her back to land lightly on the ground. He turned around to help Lakita down. Once she was on the ground, as well, Maya turned to her.
“Come back in an hour. We’ll be finished by then,” Lakita told the dragon, patting her lovingly on the neck.
Maya nodded in response, then left them there, soaring away. Teasel never would have guessed that seeing a dragon interact so closely with his best friend would ever be part of his daily routine. But then, he never guessed he’d fall in love with his best friend, either.
Looking to her, he smiled, glad that they were taking this step together to try to figure things out. She led him into a garden within the courtyard, and they walked through it until they came to a pool of water. The pool was square, clearly carved by hand within the smooth grey stonework it rested within. Across from where they were standing was a large oak tree, its reflection playing upside down on the still water.
Lakita sat down on the grass before the pool and Teasel joined her. She sat the basket next to her and pulled out the food she’d packed within.
“I made my best sandwiches,” she said. “After all, this is a special occasion.”
Teasel took the sandwich she was handing him, eyeing her curiously. “Special occasion?”
Lakita nodded, trying to remain serious. “Yes, you’re not in the castle working!”
She couldn’t hold the ruse any longer, and burst into a grin, laughing. Teasel laughed along, unable to stop it.
“So tell me, why are you so determined to get me to stop working and relax?”
Lakita lost her smile as she glanced to him, shrugging.
“Because I know what it is to live without living. What it is to just go through the motions of life. You’ve got to stop and enjoy yourself once in awhile. It’s what life is all about. You’ve got to stop and enjoy Biden’s goodness and beauty. It surrounds us.”
She looked about her, taking in the very beauty she was speaking of. Teasel studied her, seeing the beauty of Biden’s creation right in front of him. Smiling, he joined her in looking about. Together, they ate lunch, enjoyed Biden’s beauty about them, and enjoyed each other’s company.
Half an hour later, Teasel was on his third sandwich. Lakita had been right, they were her best, and he just couldn’t stop eating them. Still, he was getting full by his last bite.
A family of ducks had wandered in from nearby and now swam in the pool before them. Glancing down to the last bite of bread in his hand, Teasel began to pull it apart into little pieces and throw it to the ducks. They thoroughly enjoyed it. The mother kept a close eye on her ducklings as they ate.
“I always thought that would be me. A mother. That’s all.” Lakita shrugged. “I mean, I always dreamed of adventure… But I never really expected it. I always just thought I’d grow up, get married, and raise a family of my own – just like my mother. Boy, was my life anything but that!”
She smiled, turning to him before continuing. “We’ve had plenty of adventures together.”
Teasel, too, smiled, remembering the good times they’d had together.
Suddenly those memories were filled with more recent ones and a great concern rose within his heart. He looked to the bread in his hand again. Though it was still rather large, he threw the rest of it into the pond for the ducks to consume. He turned back to Lakita.
“And they’re far from over.”
Lakita nodded, watching the ducks in the pool. He studied her, finally deciding to say what was on his mind.
“Lakita, you’ve told me to relax. That it’s important. And I guess I’m starting to see your point, but... Don’t you worry about Ovatus?”
As she turned to him, he shook his head, seriously, deeply concerned for her. “You can’t let your guard down. He’s vowed his revenge.”
“I know. And even when I’m relaxing, I keep my eyes open for him. But I don’t worry about him. Biden is with me. I’m not going to live in fear.”
She was determined and set, as always, and he did understand what she was saying. He nodded his agreement, glad to hear that at least she wasn’t ignoring the matter completely.
Picking up the paper his sandwiches had been wrapped in, as well as the canteen he’d drunk from, he put them back in the basket before turning to Lakita with a smile.
“So, what next? We still have some time left.”
Lakita motioned toward the garden behind them, a smile pulling at her lips as her annoyance of their conversation faded.
“A walk through the gardens?”
Teasel nodded his agreement, getting to his feet as Lakita packed her things in the basket. When she was finished, he extended a hand to her, helping her to her feet, and together they walked down a paved path through the garden.
The garden had become more like a forest as they continued their walk along the path. Trees towered above them on both sides, but they were delicate and thin, their white bark shining in the afternoon sun. Above on their branches, light pink flowers were in full bloom.
Ahead, the trees seemed to fall away as though they would be entering a clearing among them. Just as Teasel noticed this, the soft sound of music drifted to his ears and Lakita stopped abruptly.
She hurried forward, and Teasel quickly followed. Sure enough, the path led into a rather large clearing among the trees. They stopped just before they entered it, taking it in. The floor of the clearing was covered completely in the same flat white stones that the path was made of, and it was completely circular. Paths continued on the other side of the clearing. Directly to Teasel’s right was the source of the music. A group of Elves were playing instruments made of the finest silver.
To the left of the musicians, beyond the clearing, nestled amongst the trees, a small waterfall flowed gracefully into a shallow pond. A small stream flowed out of the pond and away from the clearing, following the course of one of the garden paths. The rush of the water coming down the falls was gentle, and only added to the music filling the clearing, which was unlike anything Teasel had ever heard.
Several Elven men and women were in the clearing, enjoying the music. As Teasel and Lakita watched, several of them took partners and moved to the center of the clearing, where they began to dance together.
Teasel glanced to Lakita. Her eyes were wide and sparkled with excitement. Teasel shifted uncomfortably as he watched the dancers before them. They stepped into the clearing, listening as the beautiful music continued to play around them.
As he watched those dancing in the center of the clearing, Teasel knew Lakita would love nothing more than to join them. He knew what he wanted to do, but getting his mind to agree to it was difficult. He shifted again, then cleared his throat.
Lakita looked to him, curiously. He quickly looked away. After he was sure she’d turned back to watching the dancing, he looked to her again, studying her. He really did want to dance with her. But doing it here, in front of so many people, well, the thought terrified him.
He watched the excitement dance in her eyes, seeing a longing there. Frowning, hoping he could find as much determination as Lakita always seemed to have, he mustered his courage.
She turned to him again. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, stepping further into the clearing and turning about to face her, extending a hand to her and meeting her eye.
“May I have this dance?”
Lakita burst into a wide smile, overjoyed.
“Oh, Teasel! I thought you’d never ask!”
Me, too, he thought to himself, letting out a relieved breath as she took his hand. He turned and led her into the center of the clearing, hoping he’d remember all his dance lessons from childhood.
Stopping among the other couples, they faced each other. Lakita’s smile seemed to ease his nerves, and soon, he’d lost himself in the dance.
As they moved effortlessly about the clearing, in sync with the other couples, a light breeze blew the beautiful light pink blossoms’ petals down upon them. One landed on Lakita’s dark hair, just above her right eye, and to Teasel, it seemed it belonged there, just as she seemed to belong in his arms. If he had to pick a partner to dance with, it would be her.
They continued to dance, and soon, Teasel felt sure he was enjoying it as much as Lakita was. In fact, he almost didn’t want it to stop. A new sound soon reached his ears and he realized that someone was singing. As he listened, more and more voices joined in, singing a majestic song about Biden’s beauty and love.
The song slowly began to build in volume and tempo. Lakita met his eyes and grinned. He knew what she was thinking, and for once, agreed one hundred percent to her crazy thought. He told her this by returning her grin.
As the song continued to build, they picked up speed, adrenaline coursing through them, filling them with joy. They were darting around the clearing now, unaware of anything else around them except the music.
Soon, it stopped. Lakita and Teasel stopped with it, staring into each others’ eyes as they caught their breath. How long they stood there, Teasel didn’t know, but soon movement caught his eye. He saw five young elves leaving the clearing along with the musicians, and guessed that they had been the ones singing. Just like the music of the instruments, their voices had been beautiful.
Everyone else in the clearing had gone, too. He and Lakita were alone, still standing how they’d finished the dance. Teasel didn’t want to move. He didn’t want what he was feeling to end. Looking into Lakita’s eyes once more, he smiled, a sudden thought striking him.
“I think we’ve just found our entertainment for the Winter Celebration.”
Lakita nodded. “Definitely.”
Slowly, still catching their breath, they stepped away from each other. Teasel motioned to the path following the stream and Lakita started down it. He watched her for a minute, then joined her. Hesitantly, he reached for her hand, taking it in his.
She flinched, pulling away. Saddened, Teasel released it. He looked away as they continued walking, feeling embarrassed. A few seconds later, he felt her hand find his. Shocked, he looked to her. She was smiling as she watched the path before them. He smiled, too. This was going to take a lot of getting used to, their being more than friends, but he was glad they were pursuing it.
As they walked down the path together, hand-in-hand, neither one of them noticed an unusually large black bird sitting on the branch of a tree above them, watching them very closely.
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