Heladyd 01/01/11804 || New Year’s Eve 11804
This would be the second Longest Night Aria had spent away from home. She banished that word from her mind. She didn’t have a home anymore. She slept here, kept her books here, but it was not home. She couldn’t be herself here. Her friend Gradin was trying to convince her to call his estate home, but she refused to. This place was foreign to her. The people played at politics and intrigue. Even romance was part of the game.
She enjoyed the work she’d found. Translation work was easy and interesting. Most of the time, people sent the books here and she didn’t have to wear dresses to hide her hooves. They didn’t see her out of place Orrish features on an otherwise Falanian face. Gradin’s staff cared for her and gently guided her in how to survive. Well most of them were gentle, Old Mr. Neeme was not at all gentle in teaching her etiquette. he had a switch he used freely to “reinforce the lessons.”
The dress Ms. Neeme, Mr. Neeme’s daughter, had helped her pick out for the New Year’s celebration was shimmering lilac trimmed with vivid purple fur. the entire dress was embroidered with tiny silver snowflakes. Underneath, she wore a warm layer of clothing and pants. The outfit hid her hooves and faun tail with layers of ruffles and silver silk flowers around her hips. She had a pretty scabbard for her hunting knife worked to match the dress. A fur trimmed hood framed wild black and silver curls.
She felt ridiculous until she saw what the nobles staying with Gradin were wearing. Her dress seemed tasteful in comparison. There was no tinsel or massive glass gems adorning her dress. Neeme said that all the nobles would be dressed in even more ornate dresses for the parties.
Gradin put his hand around her waist watching as if she might cut him with her hunting knife. Even though he knew he could be familiar with her, some days she bristled at even his touch.
She smiled and looked back at the guests who had been waiting for him to arrive. “My eyes hurt.”
Gradin wore a dark gray frock coat and pants, but his silk scarf was lilac and the fur trim on his hood was the same purple. He had assured her it only meant they were family. The purple made the light streaks in his blonde hair seem brighter. He eyes had changed from the normal cobalt blue to a playful yellow color. “I’ll delay orders of dye next year. I can almost hear these colors.”
Aria turned into his shoulder and tried to hide her laughter. “I understand the symbolism. Bright colors invite prosperity into the new year, but this is–”
“Lord Gradin, will you lead the procession to the festival?” Lord Seleven Bohenno bowed, flanked by his sister Lady Sovie. Aria recognized them by their freckled faces and red hair. She guessed he was to find his sister a husband, specifically Lord Gradin. More political maneuvering.
“I’d love to be Lady Aria’s escort tonight. I have heard that this is the first New Year’s Celebration she has attended. But that would leave my sister unescorted.”
Gradin tilted his head searching Aria’s face.
“That would be lovely. Last year I was not up to attending the festivities.” She offered her purple-gloved hand. He took it tucked it into his arm. He wore a gray suit with a hood trimmed in green matching his sister’s green dress. It was tasteful and the color suited their hair color.
“I hope I can be suitable company tonight Lady Sovie.” Gradin offered his hand to Sovie. He led her to the bridge where some of his page boys waited with lanterns on poles.
The sun had set hours ago. It was a clear cool night. The weather here rarely got cold. But it did rain in the winter. Gradin led his group of guests over the bridges to the gate and out into the city.
Lord Seleven touched her fingers as the walked. “You are very quiet. Ms. Neeme told me that.”
Aria smiled. “You take your job as Tug Boat very serious.”
“Excuse me?” he looked panicked.
“You researched me so you could guide me away while your sister moved into position.”
He grinned understanding her analogy. “I’d prefer you called me an escort ship.”
They walked the rest of the way in silence. Someone had added candles to the cathedral fountain. When they got to the park, she stopped and stepped out of the line to admire the park.
She’d always wondered why the trees grew in straight lines. Tonight the trees were strung with lanterns below white canopies. It created a shelter as bright as day. There were dance floors and musicians, and sitting areas. Royal guards surrounded one of the sections; someone from the royal family was there.
Seleven pointed down the hill to the harbor where ships were strung with lanterns. Every now and then fireworks lit up the sky.
“Now I know why they wanted a new castle. You can’t see any of this from Gradin’s home.”
Gradin led them to the section he had rented for the night and took up a small table in the center. He liked to be in the middle of everything.
“Do the Falanians have festivals like this?” Seleveninquired trying to make conversation.
“I don’t know.”
“I am half Orrish. I grew up in the southern Wilds.”
“Orrish?” He quickly hid his surprise. “What are their New Years’ festivals like?”
“For us, this is a quiet night. We gather for a bonfire and prayer. We share a feast and the old stories. Then as we wait for the sun to rise, we share family stories meant to inspire thanksgiving.”
“Last year you celebrated in quiet?”
“As much as I could. I normally return home, but– I was homesick.” She tried to blink back tears. “I am afraid I might be horrible company tonight.”
“You and Lord Gradin are close friends?”
“Yes.” Aria braced for the questions about how close.
“I’m glad he convinced you to join us tonight. You should not be alone if this night is emotional for you.”
“That is very kind of you to say.” Aria wasn’t sure what the right response was, but she was grateful he understood why she was out tonight.
“Would you feel better if we stayed near Gradin?”
Aria nodded. “At the very least he can rescue you from me when I bore you.”
Waiters circulated with trays of food. There was shrimp balanced on the rim of tiny glasses of red sauce, miniature polenta cakes with fruit and goat cheese, and cucumber with soft cheese and smoked salmon.
Aria was starving. She only took one piece each time a waiter offered his tray as she learned in etiquette lessons. Aria tilted her head to the server with the wine and he grinned bringing two bottles and glasses for the table.
“Will there be a dance tonight?” Sovie asked inspecting her glass.
“First the dance troupe will perform, then we can join in if you like. Or we can go to another party.” Gradin raised his brows to the other three.
Seleven leaned forward. “You mean this is not the only party?”
“I must rent this spot and help pay for the festivities to keep our title. I have another party down in my dockside warehouse. It’s a bit less formal.”
The end of year liquidation made more sense to Aria. She’d wondered why he had insisted emptying that warehouse the last few weeks. “I would like to see what goes on out in the city.”
Gradin looked at Sovie, “And what would you like to do?”
“I would like to do something new tonight also.”
“Here’s plan: We shall make our exit from the dance floor and meet at Lady Aria’s favorite bakery.”
“Is this what it’s like sneaking out at night?” Sovie asked her brother with a sly smile.
“I tried to get you a few times, but father always had Ms. Clockwright watching over you.”
“Your chaperone?”Aria asked
“She was a dragon. I swear she never slept.” Sovie laughed.
“I had not guessed the people of Stiaja were so protective of their ladies. I thought Stiajian girls were taught to fight and educated much like the boys. Like the Orrish.”
“Most are, but we are cousins to the king. She is a princess and to make sure she was– how do I say this? Of the expected purity of other princesses, father hired the dragon to watch over her.”
“I don’t understand why people value an inexperienced woman. I want to go to my marriage bed knowing exactly how to make the man love me. Especially, since I have little say in who I will marry.”
Aria smirked. “I think I like you.”
“I have read some about the Orrish. Is it true that you’re encouraged to become sexually active as soon as you turn thirteen?”
“Goddess no! Most youths go to military school at the age of thirteen. Things kind of happen without our fathers keeping a close watch over us. Those of us that do not go to military school take a little longer to bloom.”
Sovie looked like she was about to ask Aria something, but Seleven shook his head. He pointed to the dance troupe that had begun their performance.
Seleven led Aria off the dance floor by the hand a few minutes into a dance. They walked down to a fountain and stopped as if looking at the ice sculpture. Then they joined a group of revelers who were going toward the docks.
“Will she be safe with him?”
“She will. The rumors about him are not true at all. Besides it’s a little late to be concerned now.”
He put her hand on his arm again, “Maybe I should ask if he will be ok?”
“He is a big boy and can take care of himself. He doesn’t need me watching over him like an overprotective Orrish father. If it makes you feel better, he likes to make love in a bed and most likely won’t let her seduce him in an alley.”
“You’re a strange one. It’s refreshing.”
The bakery was in a little square near the warehouses. The street was filled with tables of plainly dressed men and women. Some women held small sleeping children, while a few groups of adolescents ran through the streets.
The baker’s son grinned at her. “Se’well, Lady Aria! Honored that you thought to buy a cake from us today! Maybe your gentleman might be gifting ya one?” he winked at Seleven.
“Do you have the longest night cookies? The pretty ones?”
The boy opened a box and held it out. “How many ya be wanting? Two?”
The boy grinned, looking past her, “Lord Gradin found ‘imself a fire dancer too!”
Seleven touched his hair as Aria paid for the large decorated cookies.
“I knew you couldn’t resist!” Gradin laughed.
Aria held out two cookies. “A new years gift. To sweeten the coming year.”
They found a warehouse that was pulsing with drum music giant heart. Gradin walked into the office where several of his dock workers were playing cards.
“Heya boss. Boss lady. Se’well.”
“Any trouble tonight?” Gradin asked as they entered.
“Nah. Just our people coming an’ goin’.”
Aria grabbed a gob of wax from the tray by the door and shoved it in her ears.
“Yes. this will make it easier to hear you.” Aria kept seeing fire flashing up in the darkness, but couldn’t tell what it was as they moved through the crowd. People danced as if every island nation was represented and was competing in dance. Here and there people cheered when they saw Gradin. The people Aria knew waved and smiled their greetings to her.
They reached tables that had been set up in the corner with casks and kegs. Empty mugs sat upside down on the table dripping dry.
Gradin filled two and handed them to Aria and Sovie then filled a pair for himself and Seleven.
It amazed Ari that Gradin could be equally at ease in this chaotic party as he was at the formal event at the park. A woman came by juggling daggers. she wore tight-fitting silk pants and a vest that only covered her breasts. Tattoos covered her skin and she wore a large green gem in her belly button. She smiled and winked.
“She’s lovely,” Seleven said staring.
Ari watched her, “She is the captain of one of our escort ships. I am surprised she wore a shirt tonight. Oh! Let’s watch the fire dancers!” Aria refilled her mug and grabbed Seleven’s hand. She dragged him over to the stage that wasn’t too far from them. There were more women and men dressed in tight silken clothing.
There was one orrish woman with sharp white tusks. Another woman might have Falanian ancestry. Her features looked chiseled as if from stone. The men lifted the women as they spun and tossed torches. Ari thought they might burn themselves on the flames, but they always twisted and bent out of the way in time.
Someone grabbed her from behind and her mug crashed to the floor. She spun and looked at the drunk man who still had his hand on her bottom. She punched him in the face and watched him drop to the floor. His friends dragged him away and tried not to make eye contact with her.
“You know him?”
“No. I think he’s new. Men who work for Gradin should know better than to put their hands on a woman.” She pushed the wax into her ears a little more.
“That’s what it’s like at home.” He watched one of the dancers breathe fire then looked around. “There they are.” He was still the older brother on duty.
Aria followed Gradin to another stage where a pair of contortionists were performing. The man bent backward, almost double with one leg held up. The woman balanced on his foot, back arched, arms and legs reaching out. She was slowly bending back until she held her foot with one hand. Their slow deliberate movements contrasted with the music and dancing. Aria was glad she had lost her drink and would not be drunk tonight. They wandered through the warehouse stopping to watch contests and fights. She even danced with Seleven a few times. There were a few fights, but they ended quickly, and the offenders escorted away. She’d lost track of time but was enjoying herself.
The music stopped and someone rang a great bell a few times. Gradin climbed onto one of the stages on the dockside. The warehouse went quiet. People pulled the great sliding doors open. Over the harbor, the sky was turning a lighter shade of night blue.
“Se’well!” Gradin called out. “Has anyone seen my business partner?”
Seleven waved and delivered her to the stage were Gradin put his arm around her and lifted her. “First, let us take a moment of silence and remember those we lost this year. Some to age, and others to the sea. May they watch over us on our journeys.”
Everyone bowed their heads. gradin recited names. his voice was not steady and she dabbed her own eyes with her dress sleeve. he ended and squeezed her hand.
She offered up a short orrish prayer. “Goddess and Guardians, take their souls. It has been an honor to have them in our lives.” she pounded her fist to her chest and as one the audience did the same.
He cleared his throat again. “It has been a prosperous year. Lady Aria’s investment in our company allowed us to make the needed upgrades on all our ships. Not just for the safety of the crews, but for your comfort too. We have welcomed a few new shipping companies into our brotherhood. Are the Goldcoast crews here?” A cheer when up from the back. “And what about the Northshore crews?” A decidedly female shout rose.
Aria grinned, she had negotiated that merger.
“I want to thank you all for your service. Your dedication. Your sacrifices. I’m impressed with the results you have delivered time and time again. I know that without you I would have nothing. We are shutting down the company for the next two weeks. The bookkeepers need to sort the big numbers into something I can understand. Something like pictures.”
The room chuckled. “We will hold dinner here each night. Bring your families. They have given up much as you worked hard.” He looked over his shoulder. “As the new year begins–” cheers drowned out his words. Gradin kissed Aria’s hand and turned so they could watch the sunrise. Once it was up, they found Seleven and Sovie to make their way back home.
She yawned starting up the stairs. “That was interesting.”
“Which part?” Seleven asked as he stood in the hall.
“The whole thing.” She was ready to start shedding the dress that smelled like mead and stout.
“Time to sleep?” He took her hand when they reached the hall where her room was.
“Yes. My manners deteriorate without proper rest. Maybe come find me later if you don’t want dinner at the warehouse.”
“Happy New Year.” He winked at her. “Sleep well Lady Aria.”
“Se’well, Lord Seleven. Happy New Year.”
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you have a fabulous New years eve and a blessed new year. Share links to your own posts below. Hop on over to check out this one. I look forward to sharing more in the future!
Such a cute story!!!😍
Thank you so much!!! I had fun writing it, and learned a bit about Gradin that I had not guessed. He has been a bit of a puzzle. Happy New Year!🎊