For the world’s final happy night, the town of Belacqua decide to dress up to the nines.
The building areas had been covered with white linen or cloths, so that looking to the parts of town that still bore the scars of the winter they would look fine and wouldn’t remind them of the horrors they had experienced such a short time ago.
No, everyone seemed to want to forget all about it and leave it all behind. Sadja came out of Arguta’s home twirling in her white linen dress: it highlighted her eyes and her waggling tail, as she laughed raising her arms.
“It feels so good!”
“Put on some shoes, you cursed canine!” Arguta rushed past her holding a pair of boots, but Fortunato laughed and stopped her.
“Come on. It’s her last night here, let her experience it as she likes,” he rebuffed her.
The old woman did not seem to be impressed by his logic.
“Oh, you say that now, but at the end of the day who’s gonna have a dirty girl sleeping on her couch?”
He rolled his brown eyes.
“I’ll make sure she cleans up when we come back home.”
“You better. It’s the last night I can pester you like that and I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can,” the smith mumbled, even though her face was already curling in a grin.
“Whooo! Look at all the lights!” Sadja did not even seem to hear her as she rushed into the crowd, looking up at the strings of lamps and electrical lights taken out for the occasion, hanging from each house and from the tall chimneys of the furnaces, lightning the place up.
“I’ll see you later,” Fortunato waved at her. Arguta rolled her eyes and waved back, still pretending to be annoyed. She watched them go for a bit. Then she came back inside and got ready for the party as well.
“So this is the Rite of Spring,” Sadja mumbled, looking at the crowns of flowers that everyone carried on their head. She had chosen one she made herself, with tiny white and blue forget-me-not, white he had to settle for simple daisies. Families and friend and couples, all of them dressed in white to symbolize the rebirth of the year after winter, chatted and drank and laughed together. As they reached the main square, the rows of tables had already been set up (and this time Sadja had made sure she sat next to Fortunato, there would be no bribing or tail petting involved) and a group of villagers was playing music. An area of the square had been left free for the dances that would follow later in the night.
Sadja remembered this place as a marketplace, a fortress for the assault, and now it had been set up as a place of joy.
She held Fortunato’s hand in her own as they approached the line of stands that offered all kind of sweets and street food, prepared for the occasion.
Fortunato recognized what they sold as little more than hastily-prepared provisions with the few fruits and vegetables they had managed to forage from the forest’s outskirts, and the remainders of what they stored for winter. Last year it had been a far different affair, but then again last year dozens of people did not rest three meters under the grass outside of the wall.
It had been a weird year.
But spending it like that, with this girl at his side – it had been a good one.
He held her hand as Sadja proceeded to eat her way through the stands. He’d recover his finances, sooner or later. One way or another.
Cloria sat at the table already, Bernardo next to her and Marina on the other side.
“Don’t put your feet on the table,” she said the moment her friend lifted her legs.
“Pfft. What are you now, my boss?”
“No, but I can hex your hair. I got practice now,” she replied covering her eyes and snickering.
“You are a terrible friend,” Marina grumbled. “I’m not going to share my tobacco anymore.”
“Look at them,” Bernardo interrupted the friendly banter, pointing at Sadja and the Hunter as they went from stand to stand. The wolfgirl’s tail waggled happily as she held more and more snacks between her arms. “I have never seen Hunter so happy.”
Cloria grinned. The girl looked so happy and carefree. So full of hope she almost glowed.
She’d be free, starting tomorrow. Hunter had told her as much. One last night of dance beneath the moon, celebrating the Rite of Spring, and then they’d be on their way.
A part of her still stung with the knowledge she had wanted to take that girl and sell her to Verna – but a bigger, much bigger part was happy she never came through with it.
And that she had pardoned her.
“I hope they visit soon,” she whispered, pulling Bernardo’s arm in for a hug.
So entwined, they shared a warm embrace.
Marina took the chance to sneak her hand into Cloria’s plate.
Sadja enjoyed the dinner, even though it was nothing special, but she liked the dances, the music, the smiling people, the crowns of flowers and the bonfire, where each of them would, once the dances were over, throw their crown to propitiate the coming year and the new Spring.
She touched her own, passing her fingers through the flowers. She had come to like it very much, but if that was the tradition, she’d follow it just like everyone else.
She leaned on Fortunato as they finished their dinner, looking up at the stars that barely tinkled past the glow of the lamps.
“Tomorrow we sleep in a tent,” she mused. “This is our very last night.”
“I hope it’s special enough,” he replied brushing his hand against her own.
Her ears twitched and a dark patina grew over her cheeks.
“It is. Spirits, it really really is.”
Pic by warhog
Author’s Notes: well, it has taken us more than six months, but here we are. Right on the precipice of the end. I thought about inserting a few more lines at the end to tease the next chapter and everything that’s going to happen, but those of you who read so far, I believe, already know. So I wanted to leave these character one whole chapter where they could be careless and happy.
Thanks for reading.