Solsallan in the Crescent
Maria waited anxiously for the Captain of the ship *Veritas* to come to Thurin’s Thoth. The man was possessed of a love of reading that rivaled even her father’s and his ship had been unloading since dawn. She worked through one of the recent crates of books that had been delivered to Thurin’s Thoth, shelving one and rechecking the time before getting another. *Today,* she thought to herself, *today I’ll ask him.*
Magnus gave a faint smile as he watched his daughter. “You looking at the clock won’t make them finish any faster.”
Setting aside a book that she thought might interest Captain Holy, she asked, “Do you think he already has plans for tomorrow night?”
He sighed uncomfortably at the question, knowing how likely it was that the boy had already been invited elsewhere, but was saved from answering by his wife breezing into the room.
“He’s very popular, darling, but he *has* only been back since last night. So I believe your chances to be fairly decent.” Shishelly perched on her husband’s desk, completely dishelveling his papers. “You’ll never know until you ask.”
“She shouldn’t be asking him to begin with,” Magnus grumbled.
She lightly swatted his shoulder. “Maggie! You grumpy old bear, she is twenty years old and perfectly able to choose with whom she would like to spend the holiday. If she wants to pass time with a merchant Captain-.”
“Not that it stops you from taking his gold or his goods,” Maria sassed.
″- that’s *her* business.” She sniffed derisively and looked down at him. “And the young man has been quite good for *your* business, has he not?”
“Have I come at a bad time?” A new voice sounded from the entrance, soft and rich with a slight seaworn huskiness, and the very subject of their conversation stood framed in the doorway.
“Captain Holy!” Laughing, the woman hopped down from the desk. “We were just talking about you!”
“Mother!” Maria blushed again and busied herself with sorting a box of maps. “Good afternoon, Captain.”
The corner of his mouth crooked up into a smile. “Good afternoon, Miss Thurin.” He turned his attention to the couple and openly grinned. “Shishelly, Magnus. How are my favorite shop owners? Wealthy beyond reason and celebrating with a morning spat?”
The woman embraced him affectionately and the man clapped his arm in a vigorous handshake. “We’re well, dear. Did you bring anything to sell? Or just visiting?” She ran her fingers through his ponytail and worked out a small knot.
“How was your trip, Jimbo?” Magnus pulled his wife away before she could begin mothering the boy in earnest.
He gave a breathy chuckle and rubbed his neck, something that Maria suspected was a nervous tic. “Not the kind of success I’d hoped for, but better and worse in its own way. We gained nothing that would interest your shop. However! In case I don’t get to see you tomorrow...” He rummaged through his bag and pulled out two boxes, squinting at them to make sure they went to the proper recipients. “Solsallan presents.”
Magnus grinned as he opened the box and saw a bottle nestled on a bed of moss.
“Spiced ale made by the owner of The Creaking Jaw in Scyllan Bay. It’s perfect for this cold weather.”
Shishelly’s parcel contained a puzzle box with an assortment of coins. “Oh, Jimmydear! This is lovely!”
He blushed when she hugged him and cleared his throat. “You mentioned once that you wanted to start a coin collection. I tried to find a few different ones, but we only spent time in Decatur...”
“It’s perfect just the way it is.” She glanced to where Maria was shyly shelving books. “Come, Magnus. I need you to help me find the perfect place for it!”
His face twisted in confusion. “Why do you need-?”
“I just *do!*” she groaned, tugging on his hand.
Jimmy watched them go and shook his head at her vast lack of subtlety. Once they were gone, his eyes went to where Maria stood on her toes, haloed in sunlight. He wandered among the books, drifting aimlessly toward her until he stopped at her side and looked intently over the shelf in front of him. “You’ve been quiet today.”
“Have I?” Bright pink crept across her cheeks. “I must have just been distracted. We still have so many new things to register and put away.”
“Ah.” He sounded disappointed. “Well I should be going. We still have a few things to get done before tomorrow.” He began to reach into the inner pocket of his jacket.
*Tomorrow!* “Wait!” She grabbed his sleeve. “About tomorrow.” *Come on, Maria! He’s right here. Just say it!* “After the sun goes down, there are going to be fireworks to celebrate Solsallan. I was wondering if you would like to watch them? Together. With me. It’s the longest night of the year, you know, the Winter Solstice. So the fireworks are supposed to bring light into the long, dark night. I know it sounds silly, but it should be fun. If you like fireworks.” *Great. Now you’re babbling.*
He shifted awkwardly. “I’m sorry. But I can’t.”
She pasted a brittle smile on her face like a mask. “I understand. If you’re too busy or there’s someone else or you just don’t want-.”
“No! It’s not that.” He held up his hands to stop her from going on another ramble. “Rebecca and Tsuria have already invited me to dinner at the palace tomorrow night. One doesn’t turn down a personal invitation by the queens.” Her crestfallen look ate through him and he continued. “They did say that I am welcome to bring a guest. If you would maybe like to join me?”
She gasped. “At the palace? I’ve never even met them before! What do I wear?”
He laughed, finally taking his empty hand out of the pocket. “Anything you’d like. Ancestors know they will be.” The clock in the tower tolled the hour and he frowned. “I really *must* go though. We do still have some unloading to finish before nightfall. Which... It gets dark around, what, seventeen-hundred? So I can be here at about fifteen-hundred to escort you, if you wish. That will give us two hours to mingle, sample the hors d’ourves, and get a feel for the atmosphere before the fireworks and feast.” His eyes clouded with visions of the life he’d left behind. “I hope there’s dancing...” He returned his attention to her. “Do you know how to dance?”
Internally, she loosed a girlish squeak of excitement, but outwardly remained calm. “A little. Mother taught me, but I’ve never been to any proper dance.”
He looked at her kindly and gently stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “As long as you know the basics, you’ll be fine.” With a soft smile, he brought her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. “Until tomorrow then.”
He was gone and down the street by the time she could breathe again and she cradled her hand to her chest with a giddy squeal. *He kissed me!*
Jimmy approached Thurin’s Thoth wearing a black linen tunic with poet sleeves and silver toggles, a sage and silver samite jerkin, soft and supple tan leather breeches, black leather boots, and a fur-lined tan gabardine coat that matched the breeches. His hair was pulled into a neat queue and tied by a sage ribbon criss-crossed with a leather cord. With a smile, he sniffed at the agalloch oud oil that he’d dabbed onto the collar of his shirt. On his way, he’d slipped a silver to a lady selling flowers for a small bouquet of pink stargazer lilies, lilies of the valley, snowdrops, and forget-me-nots. The woman had given him an extra snowdrop for his breast pocket with a wink.
He nearly dropped the bouquet when Maria descended the stairs.
She wore black, beaded slippers that sparkled enticingly in the light as they peeked out from under her dress. The gown itself was an understated work of art. Silver-shot lilac tilsent flowed in smooth, clean lines until she took a step, then the skirt of the gown divided into so many long, flowing strips and showed the ruched black linen shift beneath. He noticed the distinct pattern of corset boning beneath the bodice of the dress, just enough to enhance her figure and give her some support for the long night ahead. It had bishop sleeves that left her shoulders bare, belled along her arm, and came to cuffs at her wrists. Her neck was adorned only by a ribbon that matched the gown and her doll-like golden ringlets were braided into a knotwork bun at the crown of her head, pinned with tiny crystals.
But it was her eyes that captivated him the most. Like staring into the indigo abyss of the night sky.
*She really is a woman then. Not just the girl I met so many years ago. How did I not notice before now? Or is it that I didn’t want to?* He swallowed hard and stepped forward to give her the flowers.
Holding them close, she breathed in their fragrance with a happy sigh. “Thank you so much, Captain. They’re lovely.”
“Not even half so lovely as you.” His voice was gentle as he pulled a snowdrop to match his own from the arrangement and tucked it into her hair, awestruck by the woman who stood in place of the girl he’d expected to see. “Your beauty elevates such paltry trinkets to the stars, but they are still mundane in comparison.”
She hid her blush among the petals and turned to find a vase to put them in, only to be stopped by her parents.
“I’ll take those. They’ll be in your room when you get back.” Shishelly beamed while Magnus teared up. “Have fun, you two.”
He offered his arm to her and she took it with a nervous smile. They strolled in companionable silence, looking around at the other people who bustled to and fro about their lives. Closer to the castle, there was a different kind of urgency to the energy as people set up food and souvenir stands and prepared for the celebration. Occasionally, someone would greet one or the other of them, bowing to or saluting Jimmy and nodding to Maria.
When they reached the palace, marveled up at the elegantly imposing sandstone building. It had great pillars and sweeping arches, shining picture windows, and was accented with intimidating grotesques and gargoyles. The whole thing had an inviting, warm glow in the orange of the setting sun. The doors swung open for them and they entered into a veritable kaleidoscope of colors and sounds, jewel tone gowns swirling to a melodic cacophony of music. At the center was a striking woman with mahogany skin and a clingy gown of golden silk leading her ink-haired wife in a waltz.
“Shall we join them?” He held his hands up in a basic waltz frame and Maria stepped into his arms.
They danced until the sky darkened and the announcement was made for the show to begin. When they stepped out onto the great balcony off of the banquet hall, he pulled her under his coat to share heat as the boats in the cove shot their fireworks into the night sky to push back the darkness, spreading bursts of color across the sky.
“Maria. Reach into that pocket there, would you?” He nodded at where his coat was around her.
She did so and pulled out a small paper-wrapped package. At his nod, she opened it to find a gold chain so thin it was nearly invisible suspending a solitary blue stone nearly the exact color of her eyes.
“Kyanite. I saw it and thought of you.” He kissed her temple and held her tightly against his side as the sky lit like multicolored day. “Happy Solsallan.”