Today's Reading

"She has a point," Emily said. "The taverns are mostly run by volunteers now, and you know I spent more time working on the Shakespeare skits with the kids than I did serving beer. Maybe the time for tavern wenches has come to an end, and Stacey and I can come up with different characters next summer."

"Perhaps." Simon shifted from one foot to the other as his Faire accent crept back. He didn't like change, especially when it came to Faire. But Emily looped her arm through his, bringing his focus to her again, and the smile returned to his face. "Perhaps," he said again. Fully back in character, his voice was pure pirate now, and he bussed Emily's temple. "For now though, I'm due on the chess field. Would you lasses care to join me?"

"The last human combat chess match of the year? I wouldn't miss it." Emily's devotion was adorable, especially since the chess match was as choreographed as the joust we'd just watched. Twice a day, Captain Blackthorne fought Marcus MacGregor, played by our friend Mitch—a giant of a man wearing little more than a kilt and knee-high boots and carrying a massive sword. And twice a day, Captain Blackthorne lost said fight. But Emily still cheered him on, every time. She was his biggest fan.

I wasn't in the mood to watch the chess. I'd seen it. Many, many times. "I'll walk around a bit more, if you'll forgive me." I was too restless. The last thing I wanted to do was stand still and watch a show I'd seen so often I could probably perform it myself.

Emily peered at me with shrewd eyes. "Everything all right, love?"

"Yes, yes." I waved her off. "I'd simply like to take in the scenery a little while longer."

"Of course." She squeezed my arm in goodbye as Simon doffed his hat and gave me a friendly bow. "Meet you at pub sing, then."

I had to laugh at that. Emily never made it up front for the farewell show of the day. But hope sprang eternal.

Alone now, I stowed my old necklace in my belt pouch, tied the green silk cord around my neck, and set off down the lane again, my long skirts kicking up dust—it had been a dry summer, and Faire lanes were made up mostly of dirt paths that cut through the woods. I took the long way around the perimeter of the site where we held Faire every year.

It was midafternoon and the sun was still high in the sky, but for me the sun was setting on the summer. There was something magical about the last day of Faire. Months of rehearsal and weeks of performance had come to an end, and it all culminated in this day. I always thought the sun coming through the trees looked a little brighter, since it was the last day I'd see it like that for another year. I wanted to catch it with my hands and hang on to it.

Many of the shows had finished, but I passed a children's magic act that was about halfway through its set, so I stopped to listen to the magician's patter for a few moments. The ax-throwing booth was still going strong, and I gave that a wide berth. What were we thinking, letting people who had no idea what they were doing fork over a few bucks to try and hit a target with a deadly weapon? The attendant didn't look too concerned, though, and he waved at me as I walked by. Multicolored banners hung from the trees, glowing in the sunlight as they blew gently in the breeze. A couple kids ran past me, headed for the lemonade stand. The sound of a tin whistle floated from somewhere nearby.

I ducked inside a booth displaying hand-tooled leather items, inhaling the heady scent. Inside, the wire-mesh walls were lined with leather goods of all kinds—vambraces and belt pouches, as well as modern-day accessories like belts and wallets.

"All handmade," the attendant said, not bothering with a faked accent. She was my age, maybe a year or two older, but definitely not more than thirty. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a long plait, and she wore low-key peasant garb: a long, dark green skirt and loose chemise, pulled in with a leather waist cincher.

"Do you make all this yourself?" I touched a soft blue backpack made of buttery leather that hung on the end of one display.

"My husband and I do, yes." She bent down to scoop up a toddler in a long chemise with grubby bare feet. Even the kids dressed period here at Faire.

I pointed at the child. "Made that too, I assume."

She grinned in response and bounced the child on her hip, smoothing the babe's snarled hair. "Oh, yes. Though between you and me, the leatherwork's a lot easier. Do you have kids?"

"Oh, no." I shook my head hard. I didn't have a boyfriend. Kids weren't even on my radar.

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