Chapter 1: Canaan Faire
Gideon Nav loves the Renaissance Faire. It’s her second home, and during Faire season it is her only home. She had been performing since she was a child all thanks to her parents. They owned a swordsman shop on the faire grounds where they made swords, knives, scabbards, bows, and arrows. Gideon could recall spending hours as a child watching her father at his blacksmith table welding swords while her mother sewed . After years of childhood begging, she had gotten her first sword on her eleventh birthday. It had been wooden but she carried it like it was the most precious thing in the world. For her seventeenth birthday she had helped her father make her own unique metal sword. The hilt was beautifully carved with diamond patterns and a majestic dragon head, and her mother had stitched a red G on the scabbard. Gideon loved her sword more than she loved food. (And Gideon really loved food.)
A recent high school graduate, Gideon was thrilled to finally work full time at the Faire. She had played minor roles as a knight for the past few years, and had even been part of the joust last season, but getting a major role with lines was her dream . Right next to swinging her sword around for the rest of her life.
It was a blustery November evening as Gideon and her parents arrived at Canaan, the fictional town the faire was set in. Her mother and father had to begin setting up their blacksmith equipment in their store and typically Gideon would help them. Not this year though. This year Gideon had been invited to First Call.
First Call was the major opening event for the Ren Faire. It was there that the owners would unveil the plot and, more importantly, announce who would be playing which roles. Gideon knew she had done a kickass audition, that, plus her status in the faire, had her confident she’d snag one of the big roles. As long as that role involved her sword (and a cute girl perhaps?) she would be over the moon.
Gideon helped carry her mom’s sewing equipment to their shop, then refastened her scabbard around her waist before dashing down the concrete pathways to the hulking Castle Drearburh at the center of the fairgrounds. Her sword hit off her calves as she ran but Gideon had gotten used to the feeling by now. Ever since her graduation she carried her sword everywhere. Did people look at her like she was insane? Yes, definitely yes. Did she care? Not one fucking bit.
As she jogged towards the lit up mansion her phone buzzed in her pocket. Gideon slowed to a brisk walk and pulled it out to look at the text.
JM: Hey where are you? Teach is about to start and you won't BELIEVE who else is here....
Gideon typed out a quick On my way then resumed sprinting, crossing over a field past the tapestry shop and arriving at the back door of Drearburh. She was panting slightly and her legs protested against the jog. Gideon despised running. She pulled open the heavy wooden and metal door before slipping into the dark hallway. The small figure at the end of the hall greeted her with a wave. It was the shy peasant player who had attached herself to Gideon since joining the Faire. “Hey Jeannemary,” Gideon called as she slammed the door and crossed to the girl.
The duo strutted towards the main gathering room where bright lights and loud chatter emitted. “I almost thought you weren’t gonna show up,” the teenager said as she fell in next to Gideon.
Gideon laughed loudly so it bounced off the metal walls. “Oh please, I’ve had this day circled on my calendar since auditions! Now what did you mean by ‘I won’t believe who else is here’?”
They paused at the door to the gathering hall. Jeannemary sucked in a deep breath then shook her head. “Just, just see for yourself.”
The inner gathering hall was brightly decorated with chandeliers, multicolored tapestries, streaks of rainbow paint, and Renaissance style artwork gracing the walls. The gleaming floor had been waxed to an inch of its life and Gideon could see her, very striking, reflection in it. Her golden eyes flashed around the room, surveying the tables filled with mini desserts and horderves, and the mingled faces among the tables.
She recognized most of them, like Judith Deuteros who had held the role of head knight since the beginning of time, or Dulcinea Septimus who gracefully attended the apothecary each year with her sister Cytherea. Gideon’s eyes lingered on Dulcinea who was decorated with a flower crown and a long floral patterned dress. Gold bracelets hung loosely around her wrists and a long charm necklace gently highlighted her chest. Gideon didn’t see Cytherea standing with her sister or prowling around the room, which sucked. Cytherea was the one Gideon had really been dying to see.
“Lots of food and women,” Gideon smirked, “I don’t mind that.” Jeannemary lightly swatted her arm and rolled her eyes, an easy task for a teen.
“No you gay idiot, look at all the new people here!” She pointed to the unfamiliar faces dotted in-between the familiar. “The actors from the Dominicus Faire are joining us this year! Their grounds are being repaired cause some pipe burst or whatever.”
“So we’re getting double the amount of actors?” Gideon’s pulse suddenly started to race. The Dominicus Faire was much larger than Canaan. The actors were twice as good and most had professional acting training. Cause Dominicus is in the rich part of the city, Gideon thought bitterly. Soaring mansions and country clubs and days spent shopping in luxury stores. She hated the rich side of the city. It hadn’t helped that she’d been forced to go to school with some of the rats from that side. It also hadn’t helped that her longtime nemesis happened to be from there too. Now she was competing with trained performers for a role in her own Faire? How was that , well , fair?!
Jeannemary seemed to sense that Gideon was agitated because she stretched to gently tap her shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’m positive the owners are gonna find a way to squeeze everyone into the performance.” The teen’s optimistic grin made Gideon relax a bit as they took a seat near one of the tables stacked with food. Gideon swiped a handful of chocolate from a crystal bowl and started shoving them in her mouth with nervousness.
“Slow down before you choke to death Nav,” the gruff voice of Naberius Tern towered over Gideon’s head.
“Hey Tern,” she greeted back, then angled her jaw to the groups of Dominicus players. “What’s your take on them joining us?”
Naberius stared at the other performers with skepticism dancing in his brown eyes. His square jawline was set roughly as if he was gritting his teeth. “I’m not fond of them being here,” he said tersely, “but I trust that Teacher will find a way to give all of us roles.” Gideon nodded and went back to her sweets. Teacher was the platonic nickname everyone at Canaan had for the elderly man who owned the grounds. He appeared more ancient than the dirt they stood on, but he was very much alive in spirit. His mind was a vault of information about history, literature, science, and more. Gideon had learned more from him than any instructor at school.
Naberius sat down next to Gideon and unwrapped the jacket he had tied around his arm. Underneath was a footlong sub that made Gideon’s mouth water. Naberius chuckled and tore off one of the sections to hand to Gideon. “One of the perks of working in a sub shop,” he grinned. The two young adults had performed as knights for years, and Gideon had been jealous as hell when Naberius had been promoted to a head knight the previous season. A sword fanatic like herself, the two had trained together with various weapons, and once on horses when Gideon had to joust. Naberius still had that stupid video of her being thrown off her horse on his phone.
Jeannemary, ruffled by not being allowed to partake in the sub, got up to pile some mini hot dogs on a flimsy paper plate. As she balanced the meal in one hand and a cup of much-too-sweet fruit punch in the other, a tall and golden figure pushed past her and arrived in front of Gideon and Naberius. The teen narrowed her eyes and growled at the woman, but kept her mouth shut with one look from Gideon.
The sparkling figure standing over them was none other than Coronabeth Tridentarius. The spoiled princess smiled her teeth-so-white-they-blind-birds smile and extended her slender hand to Naberius. “Gideon, Naberius, It’s so lovely to see you both again.” Her voice rose and fell like the rhythm of a song and her long blonde hair swirled in loose curls around her waist. She was beautiful , and it pissed Gideon off something fierce.
Naberius shook her hand tersely with suspicion in his eyes. “I thought you were running off to Hollywood Corona,” he stated dully. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for sticking around on our side for long.”
The goddess laughed and Gideon expected animals to pop out of the walls and start performing as her backup dancers. Instead she just got the amorous looks of almost everyone within earshot. “Oh Babs you are so cute!” Her glowing hand brushed his cheek as he visibly recoiled. “When I heard that Dominicus and Canaan were going to combine for this Faire season I postponed my trip. An aspiring actress never tires of performing, and what better way to go out than with all my friends?” Her gaze then fell on Gideon. “Plus, I am just dying to watch Nav here swing that sword around.” Her long eyelashes fluttered in time with Gideon’s chest before she was gone in a shower of glitter from her dress. Gideon didn’t know what made her more sick: Corona flirting with her or the fact she kind of liked it.
“Of course not a single spirit from John Cohort Prep School decided to graciously leave our presence,” Gideon grumbled as she devoured the last of Naberius’s sub. “It’s like they all have radar equipment built into their brains that tells them when one of us is happy.”
“Not all of them are like that,” Jeannemary whined. “Issac is nice to me. And he says that a lot of his friends are pretty nice too.”
“No offense to your pen pal JM,” Naberius snorted, “but you two are babies compared to us. Wait a year or two then tell me how nice and kind other people are.” Jeannemary looked like he had spit on her so Gideon gave her arm a reassuring squeeze before swiping some hot dogs off her plate.
The small din in the room lulled as an elderly man and woman took to the raised platform in the center of the room. The few people that were still standing quickly took seats and the room was suddenly awash in a sea of brown, blonde, and black hair. The man was Teacher, in his usual white robes that made him look like a preacher, and the woman was Aiglamene, the owner of the Dominicus Faire. She looked just as ancient as Teacher, but without as much life in her eyes. She wore a pressed velvet suit with a tie so black it looked like it could swallow Gideon whole. The ivory cane she gripped in one hand had a golden bulb on top and lines of diamonds running down the sides. It looked like it cost more than Gideon’s entire wardrobe!
“Greetings actors!” Teacher raised his arms as if to embrace all of them as his wrinkled face split open in a smile. “It is so joyous to begin another Faire season with you all! Greetings to faces; new and old!” Next to him Aiglamene obnoxiously rolled her eyes. Gideon wanted to smack her over the head with that bejeweled cane.
“As you have noticed,” Aiglamene started talking as if she were reciting lines in the world’s suckiest monologue, “this year the actors of Dominicus and Canaan are joining together. Due to some unfortunate issues with piping our fairgrounds are not operable. Nevertheless, we will prevail and put on an amazing show as always.” A polite round of clapping followed. Gideon snored.
“Now, the moment I know you’re waiting for!” Teacher happily chirped. “What is the plot of our Faire this year?” He turned and unfurled the banner dangling from the ceiling behind him. The purple lettering read Royal Court Mystery with silver etching that gleamed brighter than Coronabeth’s teeth. Gideon’s interest was piqued.
“This year at Canaan,” Aiglamene drawled, “the royal advisors and their knights will arrive at the King’s behest to confer about his plan to ally with a longtime enemy nation. During this meeting, the King will be murdered and the Royal Court will have to unravel who would do such a thing.” A murmur of delight ran through the group. Gideon had to admit, it was an intriguing plot.
Teacher unrolled a cream colored scroll (always one for flair) from his long robes. His grin was happy enough to make thunderheads break into song and dance. “Now, to unveil the talented young actors who will play our prominent figures!” He dramatically cleared his throat for an excruciating fifteen seconds. Just as Gideon was about to tear that paper out of his hands he took a gulp of air and began to read:
“Our king will be played by our longtime nobility: Magnus Quinn!” Polite applause followed as Magnus gave a fake tip of the hat he wasn’t wearing. Gideon smiled at the man who’d been her mentor since she’d started performing. He always had a kind ear for her troubles and was one of the few people she felt had never seen her as a stupid, sword obsessed, teenager.
“Our glorious queen will be played by Magnus's very patient wife: Abigail Pent!” More polite applause and a few Canaan members laughed at the dig. “And the final royal family member will be the lovely Princess. Played by none other than the beauty queen herself: Coronabeth Tridentarius!” Corona held her hands over her chest like she’d won a prestigious award. Gideon gagged as the golden beauty fake wiped a tear from her face. Next to her Naberius gagged as well.
“Now, our knowledgeable advisors who will hunt for the mysterious murderer!” Teacher cleared his throat again. “Our Royal War Advisor: Judith Deuteros!” Gideon clapped for once as her fellow knight performer stood to accept the thick script Teacher handed her. Gideon desperately hoped she too would get one of those this year. “Royal Art and Music Advisor: Ianthe Tridentarius!” The twin sister to Corona stood stiffly and extended her arm like a preprogrammed robot. If Corona was the sun then Ianthe was the moon. She was ghastly pale with hair so light it looked grey instead of blonde. Her eyes were black pits that swallowed light instead of emitting it. Gideon was deeply thankful she’d never been on the receiving end of that gaze.
“Our Royal Peasant Advisor: Issac Tettares!” The young lanky boy practically skipped up front to take his script. He flashed a quick wave to Jeannemary with excitement engraved on his face. She gave him a thumbs up with a duplicate smile. “Our Royal Medical Advisor: Palamedes Sextus!” Gideon almost spit out the hot dog she’d swiped from Jeannemary. Sextus? The dude’s last name was Sextus ?! Her mind spun with all the different puns she had to make in his presence. The guy in question was already dressed like a doctor with grey rimmed glasses and a white overcoat. He instantly flipped open the script to start reading.
“The Royal Beauty Advisor, because what’s a kingdom without a glorified gardener: Dulcinea Septimus!” Gideon clapped for the second time as the beautiful Septimus twin rose gracefully to accept her role. She fiddled with the heart locket on her necklace as she thanked Teacher quietly. “The Royal Judge: Silas Octakiseron!” Gideon blanched at the mouthful of a name as a young boy who looked like he had perpetual blue balls snatched the script. Gideon wrung her hands together incessantly. Was Teacher really giving the big roles mostly to Dominicus actors?
“And finally, our Royal Death Advisor. A personal favorite position of mine, especially in a time period when death was as common as flies.” The room laughed with Teacher as he paused in his reading. “Harrowhark Nonagesimus!”
Gideon’s heart stopped beating. No exaggeration, her heart stilled so fast her death would have been immediate had Naberius and Jeannemary not grabbed her forearms. “Nav, do you need to go outside? Get some air?” Naberius whispered hoarsely in Gideon’s ear. It was then Gideon noticed she had fallen forward almost off the chair. She sat back up and shook her head, content to bite her lip so hard blood filled her mouth.
Crossing the room in a swirling mass of black was the biggest bitch on the planet. Harrowhark Nona-fucking-gesimus. AKA the gothic demon spawn who had been torturing Gideon since middle school. Her pointed face resembled the rocky cliffs that ships would crash on. Her eyes were the physical embodiment of soulless. When Harrow died and went to hell, Satan would have to hand his throne over to her. She took the script from Teacher and nodded to Aiglamene as if they were longtime friends. That was impossible; Harrow had no friends.
Teacher smiled as if he hadn’t just handed the scum of the Earth a role in what was bound to be the best Faire storyline since ever. “Finally, each Royal Advisor has their loyal knights by their side. Also known as Cavaliers, these fighters will stand by the advisors through their scenes and will also battle each other on the human chessboard and the jousting field. Cavaliers won’t have lines, but you will need to know basic fighting moves, select a personal weapon, and have experience jousting for when we switch up who fights each day. Presenting our cavaliers!” Teacher moved the paper up to the next list of names. Gideon’s blood started pumping again.
“Cavalier to Judith will be Marta Dyas!” Another fellow knight performer. Gideon's head rang with jealousy.
“Cavalier to Ianthe will be Naberius Tern!” Next to her Naberius hung his head with a defeated sigh. At least I’m not stuck with that frozen psycho, Gideon mused.
“Cavalier to Issac will be Jeannemary Chatur!” Jeannemary jumped up and happily clapped her hands like she’d won the fucking lottery. She dashed across to Issac and the two teens instantly began perusing the script together.
“Cavalier to Palamedes will be Camilla Hect!” That was the first name Gideon didn’t know, but from the fist bump the two shared she guessed Sex boy and the girl knew each other.
“Cavalier to Dulcinea will be..” Me , Gideon thought hopefully. “Proteslius Ebdoma!” Gideon stared at the monstrosity of a man who inclined his head courteously to Dulcie. She shuddered.
“Cavalier to Silas will be...” Me . Gideon urged silently. She hadn’t realized how far down the list Teacher had gotten. “Colum Asht!” Another muscled monstrosity.
“And finally, cavalier to Harrowhark will be...” Not me, not me, not me! Please, I’d rather be with Ianthe the Queen of Frostbite! “Gideon Nav!”
Chapter 2: Nope, Nope, Nope
Some angst and depression ensue.
“Dad, you don’t understand! Harrowhark Nonagesimus! Sulfurous witch extraordinaire? Gothic bone bitch? Crazy fucking sadist? Only my worst enemy since the dawn of time?”
“I hear you Gideon, but I still think you’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
Gideon was sprawled out face first on the floor of the store. Her parents, actively walking around her body, were still unpacking and cleaning the place as Gideon whined into the wooden slats. They didn’t seem to sense the gravity of the situation.
“Nothing!” Gideon’s head shot up to look at her dad who was polishing the glass display cases along the back wall. “I’ve been her humiliating play-toy since middle school; how is us getting put together ‘nothing’!” She let her head drop back down to the floor with a thud .
Her dad made an exasperated sigh. “M, you talk to her.” He disappeared into the back workshop as Gideon’s mom appeared and took a seat on the floor next to her daughter.
“I don’t wanna work with her Mom,” Gideon whined again. Dammit, she was starting to sound like a child.
Her mom’s hand came to rest gently on her shoulder blades. “I know hun. I understand why you’re upset, but your dad has a point. You and Harrowhark are adults now. Why-”
“That doesn’t matter!” Gideon’s whine interrupted her. “Are you forgetting all the shit she did to me senior year? We we’re both adults then, why is it different now?”
“Gideon, you two have been at each other’s throats for years now. Maybe this is a chance for you both to set aside your differences and try to be a bit more civil.”
Gideon twisted up into a sitting position across from her mom. “Our differences can’t just be set aside Mom. It’s not that simple. Harrow thinks she’s a princess just because her parents are doctors and she lives in a gazillion story house and all that crap. She looks down on everyone, especially me.” Gideon moved next to her mom and rested her head on her shoulder. Her mom’s arm circled around her back in a comforting hug.
“Do you feel less than Harrow?”
“Of course not!” Gideon scoffed. “Why would you think that?”
Her mom shrugged gently. “Well if Harrow gets under your skin because she has all these big fancy things I can’t help but wonder if it’s more because you wish you were like her. Big house, fancy clothes, expensive life.”
Gideon shook her head. “I have a great life Mom. The last thing I want is to be more like Harrow. I mean I get into enough trouble now, imagine what I’d be like if I had Harrow’s connections!”
She laughed and gave Gideon’s arm a squeeze. “Then why does she bother you so much hun?”
“I don’t like people thinking that I’m beneath them.” The words were out of Gideon’s mouth before she could think about them. “I mean the jokes, the taunting, stealing my stuff, having her friends knock into me in the halls, and that stupid Griddle nickname are all her ways of saying I’m not as good as her. And that’s just not something that I wanna let slide ya know?” Her mom carefully nodded. Gideon kept rambling, “If I ignore her she tries harder to get a reaction and when I give her one she keeps poking till I wanna strangle her! She’s a fucking psycho!”
“Sorry.” Gideon stood up off the ground and flopped into the more comfortable chair by the counter. “I was so ready to get rid of her,” she mumbled. Her mom stood as well and Gideon looked up. To her surprise her mom was smiling . “What?”
She laughed. “I just find it interesting what you said. All Harrow does is try to get your attention. Back when I was in school-”
“A hundred years ago,” Gideon joked. The back of her head got gently smacked.
“ Anyway," her mom continued, "when I was in school if someone kept trying to get your attention by teasing or joking or taking your things, the common consensus was that they had a crush on you.”
Gideon let out an involuntary hiss of displeasure. The thought made her want to crawl inside a hole and spontaneously decompose. Harrowhark? Into her ? Gideon would sooner bang a skeleton than Harrow. A skeleton might actually be less bony than Harrow. Not that Gideon was against bony; Cytherea was slightly bony. Why was she obsessed with the word bony all of a sudden? Harrow was the one who loved bones. She wanted to be a skeleton doctor or something. Maybe a skeleton overlord. Or a skeleton dictator. She’d wear a uniform in all black (like her soul), and maybe the bones of her enemies as jewelry. Carry a bone sword- ooh a bone sword would be awesome -and have everyone chant her name as the national anthem of Skeleton-landia or whatever. Harrow-ville. Nonagesimus Town. If Teacher wants to make the ‘death advisor’ title fit her he should put her in something tight. Really show off those bones...
She would have dwelled on the idea a bit longer had the sub Naberius had given her not been threatening to come up. Gideon went to nonchalantly brush her hair to the side when she became aware of the heat pulsing off her face.
Her mom's grin widened a bit as she covered her laugh. “Thinking about it Gideon?”
“Don’t even joke like that Mom!”
“Mom, Mom! Listen to me! Gideon . Nav . Do you get it now? I’m stuck with Gideon freaking Nav!” Harrow was sitting in her car just off the fairgrounds with her mother on the other end of the phone. Granted it could have been a wall on the other end for as little interaction her mother was giving her.
“Harrow, I don’t have time for this nonsense again!” That tone usually deterred Harrow from speaking to her mother, but right now she didn’t care. She had to vent to someone about this crime against humanity! Even if it was a person who wouldn’t care.
Harrow thonked her head against the steering wheel. “This isn’t nonsense! I can’t work with Griddle in my last Ren Faire. Aiglamene says there’s ‘no switching’ or whatever and I just really want my last year here to be perfect. And perfect means no annoying redheads who don’t know a femur from a tibia!”
The other end of the call was silent. Harrow waited a few seconds more before lifting her head to check if her mother had hung up on her. As usual, she had. Without consulting her common sense, Harrow hit redial.
“Harrow,” the strained voice growled, “a word of advice, if someone hangs up the phone it means they are done listening to you.” Her mother’s tense voice plainly showed her desire to strangle Harrow through the screen.
Harrow flopped back against the leather seat. “Mom please, for once be a parent and listen to me. You always wanted me to open up about my life to you and now I am , so maybe appreciate it a bit more?”
Her mother scoffed. “If I knew how pathetic your life was I would never have wanted to hear it in the first place. You take after your father so well in that regard: not a damn thing interesting about you.”
“At least Dad likes me,” Harrow bit back.
“I wouldn’t make an argument for that but go ahead.” Her mother rose to the challenge as normal. Harrow wasn’t in the mood for another argument about why her parents should love her, so, taking a piece from her mother’s book of tricks, she hung up. Then unceremoniously punched the steering wheel.
With one hand slightly throbbing, Harrow drove home. Her road was silent as per usual. None of the neighbors were ever home; they were all out doing shit. Traveling, doing important jobs, going to fancy parties, meeting new connections: all the stuff Harrow wanted to do.
Instead she had wrongly (in her parent’s opinion) decided to take a gap year before college. So now it was just her and a big empty street. Harrow pulled into the driveway of the renovated Gothic mansion where she lived. It had either three or four floors, Harrow hadn’t been past the second floor in years so she wasn’t sure, and a backyard that spanned from the pool house to the distant treeline. The back windows faced the mountains, the sunrise, and the forest. The front windows faced the street where no lights came on and no cars passed by.
Harrow’s room faced the street.
“No you’re not allowed to switch rooms! For once be happy with something we give you!” Her parents found fault with everything she did, everything she said, everything she thought.
Harrow wanted to go to medical school? She must be trying to prove she’s better than them.
Harrow wanted to travel the world? She must want to get away from them. (That was true but beside the point).
Harrow wanted to be loved? She had the world what did she need love for?
Harrow wanted to like herself? Why should she, she’s a failure, a worthless leech who stole her parent’s dreams.
The seven-foot door groaned in annoyance as Harrow hauled it open and stepped inside. The entry hall had been dusted recently and smelled bitterly like Lemon Zest. She felt around in the dark and put her black cloak in the coatroom. No one was ever home so the electricity stayed off. The only light came from the candles that marched down the hallways and perched on the window sills. Harrow padded down to the kitchen. Her boots made no sound against the thick black carpet underfoot. A faint burnt smell told her the maids had just vacuumed as well.
The kitchen had overhead lights that left small dots on the crystal floor. It was like the world’s suckiest disco. Harrow opened the restaurant sized fridge to find it mostly empty, as usual. She tore off a handful of lettuce and let the door slam shut.
After the half a mile hike up to her room Harrow was out of lettuce. Her room was just as dark as the rest of the house, but more lived in. Her bed wasn’t made (because she was just gonna sleep in it again anyway), medical books were spread across her desk, anatomy posters were taped to the walls (alongside a couple rock bands she listened to when she needed to feel), and her dirty clothes were dropped by the bathroom door. Would it kill the maids to bend over and pick them up?
No, but it wouldn’t kill you to just put them in the laundry either , Harrow’s reasonable brain snapped.
A cold shower, half an hour of staring at the wall, and some cravings for cake later, Harrow tried to call her parents again. Skipping her mother’s contact (which was unapologetically named Nonabitchmus) she went straight to her father’s.
He answered with a curt, “What Harrow?”
“Hey Dad, ca-can we talk?”
“I’m busy Harrow, maybe when I get home.”
Harrow bit her lip to steady her voice a bit. “When’s that gonna be?”
Her father heaved a sigh that punched her in the chest. “I don’t know. I still have two more operations to do here before I catch my flight to Kenya tomorrow evening. It depends how much help they need at the clinic until they hire more doctors. It could be a week or a month, perhaps even more.”
“It’s just that Mom won’t be home until next week and I-”
“Harrow please don’t start this again. You’re mother (he spat the word), and I have very important jobs. Listening to your problems is not one of them.”
Harrow nodded although he couldn’t see her. “Understood.”
“Good.” Harrow waited for him to hang up, but he didn’t. Another gut-rattling sigh. “Fine. You have five minutes Harrow, go.”
A whole five minutes of someone’s attention?! Harrow’s mind spun trying to comprehend it as her mouth started going.
“Well, since I’m taking a gap year until college-I know Dad, I’m a bitter disappointment-I decided to audition for the Ren Faire again. And tonight I found out that I got a role as some royal war advisor to the king. It’s a super big role, and I’m actually excited about it I guess, but they have to pair me with a knight, Cavalier, or whatever.” Harrow took a precious second to steady her next line. “I got Griddle as my Cavalier Dad.”
“The Nav girl!”
His silence on the other end told her he still didn’t get it. “Redhead? Tall? Kinda butch? Inhumanely annoying? Half the grade thinks she’s sooo hot cause biceps are uh attractive, I guess. Sweet and stupid? Makes being a dumbass a sport?”
“Her parents own that cheesy sword shop at the Canaan Faire.”
“I remember them from that dreadful open house gala at the school that your mother dragged me to.” She could hear her father rolling his eyes. “You’re right, their daughter is rather slow-minded.”
Harrow hissed at the comment. “She’s not slow-minded you ass,” she snapped. “She’s just a dumbass about anything other than swords. ”
“No! I still have three and a half more minutes! Now, as you should but probably don’t know, Griddle and I have a long standing antagonistic relationship. So I don’t see how I’m supposed to enjoy my last year at faire when I’m stuck with the one person who makes me remember how much I don’t have.”
Her father laughed on the other end of the phone. He laughed . “And what does Nav have that you don’t?”
“Mental stability, friends, hope, a life, the love and support of her parents to name a few.”
“Those are meaningless things Harrow,” he said through chuckles. “Look how far you’ve come without any of that! Top of your class, scholarship to the best medical school in the country, connections to the biggest names in the business, not to mention a large mansion you live in by yourself most of the time. All those emotional things would have held you back the way they did everyone else at your school.” He stopped talking and Harrow heard the beeping of his pager on the other end. “I have to go Harrow. I believe this was a very productive conversation.”
“But I still have a minute and forty-five seconds!” Harrow protested.
“Another time Harrow. Goodnight.” Her father hung up. Harrow stared at the end of call screen until the phone went to sleep and she was staring back at her reflection. She brushed a strand of her black pixie cut off her forehead and another unpleasant emotion popped into her mind: envy .
Why couldn’t she be pretty? Ianthe was pretty in a snow queen kind of way. Coronabeth was pretty in a gender-bent Ra kind of way. Camilla was pretty in a deadly assassin who seduces people to kill them kind of way. Griddle, well Griddle was effortlessly gorgeous . Just another reason Harrow couldn’t stand her.
Maybe this Faire is actually what I need , Harrow mused. If I spend more time with Griddle maybe I can finally find some flaw. She’s gotta have one! The thing that makes her miserable like me. Eight years I’ve spent trying to find her weak spot, but now I have to truly dedicate myself to it. Study her, watch her, observe the Nav in its natural habitat. There’s no way Griddle is 100% perfect. I mean she already has the perfect life, perfect body, perfect hair, perfect friends, perfect talents, perfect face; she has to have one thing wrong.
Harrow curled up in her monstrous bed and tucked her stuffed skeleton into her chest. The only stuffed toy her parents had permitted her to have because it was ‘educational’ about bones. It had scared her at first, but she had grown to love it over the years.
With a gentle sigh Harrow crashed into a deep sleep. Her mind swam with a hundred thoughts. The lines she had memorized before leaving the fairgrounds, the research paper Sextus had asked her to help him write about ancient medical practices, the pile of unread crime scene analysis books she had bought...
And as usual, she thought of Gideon Nav.
Chapter 3: Opening Day
Eight months. That was how much grueling training Gideon had to endure. Not that it was physically difficult, but standing next to Harrow for hours a day could drain anyone's will to live. Daily training and rehearsals consisted of blocking scenes, listening to endless dialogue by the pompous Dominicus actors, practicing fighting techniques, riding around on her horse in the jousting arena, and standing uncomfortably close to Harrow.
The jousting and fighting practices were Gideon’s favorites. As always, she trained with Naberius and Marta on the chessboard field. Jeannemary joined as well, and Gideon was thankful to no longer be the one the more experienced knights picked on. Jeannemary’s flailing, falling, and exasperated weapon flinging kept Naberius too occupied to notice any of Gideon’s mistakes. He already had a multitude of her embarrassing moments in his camera roll and Gideon was not looking to help him add.
It was a week before the opening day and Naberius, Gideon, and Jeannemary were situated on the human chessboard for final practices. The sun was hanging just over the horizon but the heat hadn’t died down. Gideon dabbed sweat from her forehead after taking a seat on the wooden stage. She was sweating her ass off in just a tank and shorts; she didn’t want to think how she would feel after doing fights in full body black armor.
“This is stupid!” Jeannemary wailed as she lost her grip on her rapier and it went flying across the green platform. “It’s almost opening day and I can only do four moves!”
Naberius ran his hands through his overly gelled hair on the sidelines next to Gideon. He was sweating just as much as she was. “JM, just pick up the sword and try again. If you stop whining you might have five moves by the end of the day.” Jeannemary hung her head but her hair didn’t move. The long brown locks were plastered to her forehead and neck like they’d been painted on.
Essentially, they all looked like shit.
Gideon swatted Naberius’s arm. “Take it easy Tern. It’s her first time being a knight, plus today isn’t the best time to train like this. You ain’t giving her easy moves either.” He just shook his head and went back to talking the teen through the rapier slices. Gideon reclined back on her arm and pulled a sandwich out of her bag. She was starving.
“What are you doing here so late?” The harsh and snobby tone put a damper on Gideon’s appetite as the ghastly form of Harrow stepped onto the board.
“Could ask the same thing about you,” Naberius countered back.
Harrow sniffed in his direction like he was a bad smell in a locker room. “I’m just observing your Faire. It looks much less impoverished when decorated and fully set up.”
“There’s no need to be rude Nonagesimus,” Gideon hissed. “Just say you skulk in empty places because you have no friends and move on.”
Harrow’s eyes narrowed more than physically possible and she drew her black trench coat around her boney body. “I wasn’t speaking to you Griddle,” she said tensely.
Jeannemary spun on her toes and thrust her rapier at an angle towards Harrow. “Her name is Gideon .” The spunky teen held Harrow’s gaze for a few seconds before the abyssal empress rolled her eyes and knocked Jeannemary’s sword out of her hand.
“Get a smaller hilt; you’ll hold it better,” Harrow said as the teen scrambled for her weapon. “Don’t die of heatstroke before the debut you morons” was Harrow’s last declaration before she stormed off the platform in a flurry of black and silver.
“Yeah, she’s one to talk about potential heatstroke,” Naberius huffed. “How is she in long pants, a sweater, and a trench coat when it's been over ninety all week?!”
“Skeletons aren’t affected by heat,” Gideon laughed.
Gideon bounded out of bed before dawn on opening weekend. Everything felt so much more real when her family began to stay on the grounds. She had moved some of her personal items to the small living quarters behind her parent’s store the day before. Now the place would be their weekend home. Gideon hadn’t been able to sleep due to her excitement, which was unsurprising, but Faire's opening day filled her with all the energy she needed.
Gideon tried to be quiet while moving around the back rooms to not disturb her parents. She brushed out her unruly bedhead, but after a few tedious minutes of combing the puffy patch of red hair she gave up. After a quick shower and shoving two pop tarts in her mouth, Gideon unveiled her cavalier outfit.
The outfit was startlingly black. Gideon had expected there to be some, but not the deep, rich, soul sucking abyss before her. The outfit looked like it would swallow her whole. Couldn’t throw any color on this at all? Not even some silver or white? I might as well be Nonagesimu s, Gideon grumbled. She pulled on the thick cargo pants and laced up the calf high combat boots. At least the outfit showed off her ass nicely. Cytherea will definitely appreciate this , Gideon mused as she turned in her mirror.
Next came the short sleeve shirt that clung like a second skin. She tucked it into the waistband of the pants and shifted uncomfortably under the constriction. Now for the cool part. Metaphorically speaking. There was nothing heat resistant about the metal chest plate Gideon had to put on. The shiny black encasement looked like something straight out of a kinky medieval porno, which was to say it was right up Gideon’s alley. She wrapped the plate over her chest and attached the straps under her shoulder blades with only a small amount of difficulty. Gideon ran her hands along the plate from where it started right over her breasts and stopped under the top of her ribs. Time for the final touches: fingerless leather gloves and a crisp leather jacket. They were cool (literally) and gave her skin some breathing room.
Gideon did a girlish spin in the mirror. When she stopped a wide smile was across her face. “Alright, if I’m gonna die of overheating I might as well die in style,” she said quietly.
“Fitting for the Cavalier of Death.” Her mother’s sudden voice made Gideon jump.
“Mom! You trying to give me a heart attack?”
“No of course not.” Her mom laughed at Gideon’s startled expression. She lingered just beyond the doorway of Gideon’s room, waiting for permission to enter. One of the many things Gideon loved about her parents: above all else they respected her space.
“Am I getting a last minute pep talk?” Gideon asked as she motioned with her hand. Her mom took the okay to step into Gideon’s room and wrap her in a hug.
“No, I know you have to get to Muster.” Her mom pressed a gentle kiss to Gideon’s head before using her hand to attempt to smooth the rebellious hair. “What do you do to this poor hair to make it hate you?” She joked while pressing the fluff down flat.
Gideon laughed and brushed the hand away. “I just need to trim it Mom. Or buzz it off.”
Her mom’s eyes widened with humored horror. “Gideon Brianna Nav, don’t even think I’m gonna let you shave your head!”
Gideon grabbed her sword and sheath and left her room while tying the two around her waist. “Ooh whatcha gonna do Mom?” She joked while making shaving motions to her hair.
“Harrison! Tell your daughter she’s not allowed to shave her head!” Gideon’s mom pulled the ultimate trump card by calling to the small kitchenette area where Gideon’s dad was nursing a cup of coffee.
“Gideon, listen to your mom,” the tired man grumbled.
“Hey, we agreed the Dad Card was off limits after the Great Tattoo Debate of 2017,” Gideon whined compliantly.
Her mom planted another quick peck to Gideon’s head and re-ruffled her hair. “What can I say? Us Navs don’t like to follow rules.” Gideon leaned her head on her mom’s shoulder and snorted.
“I know that .” She hugged her mom once more, swiped some toast from her dad’s plate, and whisked herself out the door with a wave goodbye.
“Stop in when you’re on free roam!” Her mom called out the door while her dad stared at the empty plate where his breakfast had just been.
Gideon had fifteen minutes until she had to be at Muster, and she needed to show off her epic outfit to Cytherea before the vengeful sun turned it into a bathing suit for sweat. She strolled by the animal section of the Faire towards the apothecary just past the entrance. Most people forgot the apothecary was there; they’d get too distracted by the “unicorn” exhibit. Gideon believed the apothecary was far more interesting.
The concrete pathway turned to cobblestone and the neatly trimmed grass sprouted into vines and trellises of multicolored flowers. Statues of dragons, fairies, and partially nude angels were speckled in-between the foliage. (Gideon’s favorite statue was the long haired angel at the end whose chest was practically the size of her wings).
She knocked on the apothecary’s wooden door and it creaked open slightly. “Who is it?” A soft voice called from inside.
“Gideon!” She called through the opening.
There was a gentle cry and then the door opened fully to Cytherea Septimus as she threw herself into Gideon’s arms. “Gideon! I knew you’d stop by!” She smelled like freshly cut grass and recently mixed perfume. Gideon sighed and buried her face into the top of Cytherea’s head, drinking in the scents. Damn she loved being tall.
“Am I interrupting a moment?” A slightly anxious voice came from the center of the apothecary. Gideon looked up to see the scrawny nerd with glasses who was the Royal Medical Advisor. He was awkwardly leaning against the circular stone counter that made up the center of the apothecary.
“Hey you’re that Sex dude!” Gideon blurted out the only memory she had of the nerd’s name. He blinked slowly as if his supreme nerdiness couldn’t comprehend her bottom of the barrel words.
“I-it’s Sex- tus . But uh, my name is, um, P-Palamedes,” the poor guy stuttered.
Gideon grinned wickedly. “Sex-tus,” she sounded out the name slowly.
“ Please don’t call me that,” Sextus almost pleaded. He had an assortment of incense sticks laid out in front of him like they were medical tools. Gideon approached and picked a handful up, making him flinch and reach for them.
“So Sextus , what are you doing in here?” Gideon asked as she twirled the incense out of his reach. “Operating on some poor violet? Going to deliver a new set of triplets to the expecting sunflower family? The elderly Ms. Wisteria hasn’t broken her hip again has she?!” Gideon was enjoying the look of pure social awkwardness on Sextus’s face.
“Gideon, stop torturing Palamedes.” Cytherea stroked Gideon’s arm with one hand while her other one took the incense and returned it to Sextus. “He’s here to see Dulcinea. He’s her boyfriend.”
Gideon nodded gently. “Congrats Sextus. Better treat Dulcie right or you’ll find my sword through your throat.” The man gulped and his thin hand reflexively went to his neck.
“The faire hasn’t even begun and already you’ve found a way to get death threats?” A tall woman appeared from the door leading to the storage room. Her outfit was nearly identical to Gideon’s, except it was thunderhead grey. Her black pixie cut was the neater older sister to Harrow’s. “You do work fast,” she smiled as she smacked Sextus hard across the back. Then she extended her hand formally to Gideon. “Camilla Hect. Cavalier to my cousin: the socially anxious, should-really-have-his-name-changed, Royal Medical Advisor.”
Gideon shook Camilla’s hand as her brain recognized her from a couple training days. She was one of the Dominicus brats, same as Sextus. Well, the two of them so far didn’t fit the brat title, but the day was young. Still, Gideon felt like she was going to like Camilla from that introduction alone.
“Gideon Nav. I’m the Cavalier of Death or whatever.”
Camilla’s one eyebrow went up. “Oh, you’re with Harrowhark.” The disdain in her voice enunciated Gideon’s own feelings towards her position.
“I’m not thrilled either.” Gideon felt compelled to prove she also didn’t like Harrow lest Camilla decide she was too insane to hang out with. “Apparently this is God’s punishment for that one time I used a hollowed out version of his sacred book to hide a vibrator from my parents, but even so, this is a bit much. I mean it’s not like I read the damn thing while I uh-anyways, hi, please don’t judge me; I’m not this weird normally.” Gideon finished her babbling as Sextus’s face paled to the color of a rotten corpse. Camilla’s mouth hung open for a second before she burst into laughter.
“Oh you and I are gonna be great friends!”
After saying goodbye to Cytherea, Gideon walked with Camilla and Sextus to Drearburh Castle. The massive seating area around back was where Muster would be held, but first the makeup wizards inside the castle would put the last flairs on their personas.
Within the unassuming castle walls there was a flurry of activity. Colorful outfits hung on every rod, palettes of makeup were spread across counters dappled with face paint, and sparkling jewelry sat on mannequin limbs. Voices, both new and old, echoed around the rooms.
“Has anyone seen my crown? Big? Golden? Labeled ‘king’?
“We need a sewing kit! We have a tear!”
“More eyeshadow down by Augustine’s station!”
“How am I supposed to walk in these things?”
“Does anyone see a white sheath?”
Sextus got yanked off by a makeup artist in seconds so Camilla and Gideon loitered by the back wall. Colors and textures flew past so quickly Gideon was reminded of the time she tripped on acid with Naberius under the bleachers at a football game. The teams and cheerleaders had been flying sparkles while the stands roared with a rainbow chorus. The scene before her was less calming than that recreational outing had been though.
A hand came out from the crowd and yanked Gideon into a chair in front of a disgustingly bright mirror. “Hold still,” the professional voice said as a black dipped brush approached her face. Gideon closed her eyes and waited for it to be over. After an intense amount of brushing the voice said, “Done” and pushed Gideon out of the seat. She found an open mirror and examined her face. Sparkling eyeliner thinly ringed her eyes alongside black paint coating her red eyebrows. Black lipstick had been slapped on with white lines running vertically down her lips. Along her cheekbones and the sides of her face was black and white glitter. She looked like an omen of death.
“Very striking Gideon,” Camilla said approvingly. The other cavalier was wearing simple grey eyeshadow with light peach lipstick. Grey flecks of paint dotted the sides of her forehead and along her jawline.
Gideon snorted. “You look like a monochrome cheetah hybrid Camilla,” she remarked back.
The woman laughed loudly and ogled her reflection for a second. “You’re not wrong, but please Gideon, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of each other. Call me Cam.”
The early morning flurry had settled as the cast took their seats on the wooden benches that made up the audience of the Drearburh stage. The space was large and luscious with dominating oak trees above and smooth pebbles underfoot. Gideon propped her back against the trunk of one tree and stretched her long legs over the bench.
“Move the legs Nav, I’m gonna sit here.” Harrow materialized in front of Gideon like a well done jumpscare. Her Royal Death Advisor outfit was just as richly black as Gideon’s, but instead of a leather jacket she had a billowing cloak with a hood. She didn’t have gloves or a chest plate either, instead her shirt was long sleeved with a leather vest overtop. Her makeup was the same as Gideon’s, plus black eyeshadow that stretched to her painted eyebrows. It was supposed to be intimidating, but on Harrow’s pinched and pointed face it made her a raccoon on steroids.
Gideon said as such. “What is it with the artists and animal hybrids? First Cam with her cheetah dots and now my war advisor is an insomniatic raccoon.” She let Harrow push her legs off the bench.
The bone addict sat gingerly on the seat like it was ready to bite her ass. Harrow arranged her cloak around her as a shield and didn’t respond to Gideon’s comment. Gideon shrugged and pulled her legs in to wait for Teacher to call a start to the Faire day. Just beyond the stone wall surrounding Drearburh stage came sounds of life. Shopkeepers greeted early faire-goers cheerfully while carts, probably filled with snacks and small trinkets, creaked over the uneven ground. Voices of people young and old rose within the grounds.
Gideon couldn’t stop her smile. This was where she felt at home . There was no place greater than being at Faire with her sword and friends. A significant lack of Harrow would be nice too, but Gideon wasn’t going to push her luck.
“What are you smiling about Nav?” Harrow sneered.
Gideon shrugged again. “Just had some thoughts.”
Harrow rolled her eyes. “Well I’m sure they’re tired from the lonely journey across your brain.”
“Jealous I actually know how to smile Nonagesimus?” Gideon countered.
“No Griddle, just pitying you for believing it’s worth it.”
Chapter 4: Scene One
The trumpets blared their annoying entrance sequence as the royal family stepped onto the stage. Magnus and Abigail had their arms looped together lovingly while Coronabeth strutted behind them in a dazzling display of gold. The king and queen wore royal blue with golden accents, which Gideon thought to be much more tasteful than the gleaming atrocity of silk and sparkles that the princess donned. The audience politely ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ at them as Abigail and Corona took seats on the wooden thrones set in the center of the stage.
Gideon couldn’t see the stage but she could count in time with the gentle humming of a harp offstage. The whole Faire ran on counting time with the inconspicuous background music. The hymns of a harp directing their movements, the trill of a clarinet signifying a pause for new lines, the upbeat tapping of a wooden block to keep tempo; it was all a fanfare of song and dance. As the harp changed chords Gideon knew Magnus had stopped on the carved X at the front of the stage and was about to begin his lines.
“Greetings my subjects!” The crowd gave a cheerful greeting back. Gideon estimated about 55 people out front. That was higher than normal. The early shows hardly got any attention; most people came later to see the exciting jousts and they’d figure out the plot along the way. That didn’t bother Gideon; she was more occupied at those times trying not to fall off her horse.
After the group had quieted Magnus took up his lines again, “My loyal followers, today begins a day of glorious celebration! It is today that my prosperous kingdom, which includes your lovely town of Canaan, will ready to join forces with a new ally! The King of France and I, once enemies long at war, will forevermore be brothers in arms. I have asked my loyal court advisors here this day to advise me on how to create a treaty that will benefit both I and the King of France. These advisors are the most trusted in the nation, and I have confidence that their guidance will allow us to make the perfect deal that the King of France cannot refuse!”
The crowd politely clapped for Magnus’s monologue, and the groups backstage readied as the harp cues swelled up. “Put your murder face on Nonagesimus,” Gideon whispered.
“I’ll murder you Nav.”
“Greetings War Advisor!” Abigail’s voice cut through the excited chatter of the crowd as Judith and Marta took the stage. Their blood red uniforms were the most eye catching of all the outfits. They were both dressed like soldiers in black boots, white pants, and long red jackets. Marta carried her own personal sword sheathed at her hip while Judith also donned a floor length red cape. Gideon was kicking herself for not checking out their, probably animalistic but nevertheless awesome, makeup.
“Your Highnesses,” Judith formally greeted. Gideon mouthed the lines to herself as the group onstage continued.
“Knock it off Griddle,” Harrow hissed as she smacked Gideon’s arm.
“Does having fun make you uncomfortable, Death Conductor?”
“ You make me uncomfortable.”
Silas whirled around in front of them and his all white suit blinded Gideon for a second. His sharp cape nearly puncturing her eye as he turned almost accomplished that as well. “Will you both shut up!” His whispering voice was just as stupid sounding as his normal angsty teenager voice.
“She started it.” Gideon pointed at Harrow.
“Really mature Griddle.”
Silas glowered in Gideon’s direction for a few seconds before turning to Harrow. “I would think you’d be above this childishness Harrowhark.”
“I’m a foot taller so that’s impossible,” Gideon instinctively joked.
Silas looked ready to scold her like a dog when Colum gently took his arm and pulled him off. The angry child stomping along with his bodyguard holding onto him made a smile cross Gideon’s face. Harrow looked like she too wanted Silas to scold Gideon. “Your friends are peachy,” Gideon said just to break Harrow’s freezing stare.
“He’s not my friend.” The tone was even more venomous than the way Harrow spoke to Gideon.
“I just assumed, I mean, you both have a lot in common.” Gideon fumbled over herself as her brain processed the shock of Harrow’s bite towards a Dominicus brat.
Harrow turned her glare back to Gideon. “How so?”
She shrugged. “Small, evil, dramatic, hate me; that’s both of your personalities in a nutshell.”
Harrow didn’t respond, just bit her lower lip thoughtfully. After Silas and Colum took the stage and it was just the two of them in the back, Harrow said, “You’re not a foot taller than me Griddle.”
Gideon angled her eyes down where she had an easy view of the top of Harrow’s head. “Oh really? And how tall are you Nonagesimus?”
“I refuse to answer that question.”
Gideon’s next jab was interrupted by their cue and Harrow storming forward onto the stage. Gideon followed a step and a half behind her.
“And of course, the Royal Death Advisor! So glad the entirety of the court could make it here to Canaan today.” Magnus moved across the stage to place a hand on Harrow’s shoulder. Her and Gideon each did a quick bow and took their positions next to Judith and Marta. The advisors and cavaliers were spread in a semi circle around the thrones while the royal family took up the center.
“After the work of making a treaty, the whole of the nation will have a celebration unlike any other!” Corona twirled so the sun glinted off her dress. The massive metallic crown on her head was precariously close to falling off.
All the advisors approached the wooden table that Naberius and Colum lifted to the front of the stage. On it were heaps of important looking papers that Magnus brandished to them. Each advisor had their own tasks of examining certain papers, ‘whispering’ to the king, and ‘talking’ amongst themselves. Gideon enjoyed watching the Canaan players act, not so much the Dominicus players. All the cavaliers stood at attention with hands on their weapons like statues. Not that Gideon didn’t find the simple act of being on stage exciting, but she was internally trying to nudge this scene to be over.
Corona and Abigail were carrying on their expository dialogue about threats on the king’s life just out of the way of the action. They were all incredible in their roles, even Corona. The gentle whistle of a flute alerted a dialogue change and the attention turned back to Magnus and the advisors. He held a long scroll before him while Silas and Judith watched over his shoulders. “It has begun my friends! The official first page of the peace treaty between myself and the King of France!”
The crowd politely ‘oohed’ as Magnus came around the table and to the front of the stage. 30 seconds until the smoke bombs , Gideon noted. “His Highness and I both want what is best for our nations, and with our unification both of our empires will rise to the height of glory across the world! Even the smallest village will benefit from this allyship.” 20 seconds. “Now, dear members of Canaan, I thank you for opening your city to your king and his court as we prepare for such an event. Many blessings upon you all!” The advisors moved away from the table as Magnus spoke and surrounded him closer to the front of the stage. 15 seconds.
“But what can our kingdom possibly give to France that will not put us to the disadvantage?” Abigail called to Magnus from her position. “You have not answered this my dear husband. Are your advisors skilled enough to make sure we are not indebted to France?” 10 seconds.
“My advisors are the most skilled in the realm!” Magnus brandished his arms to the semi-circle of people behind him. 5 seconds. “There is no one else more capable to help me than-”
Bang! The flashbang went off right on cue and smoke filled the stage. All the cavaliers drew their weapons in unison and pulled their advisors behind them. Harrow’s boney forearm dug into Gideon’s palm, but at least Nonagesimus had stopped flinching when she touched her.
As the smoke cleared from the stage the crowd could see Magnus’s crown laying pitifully on the floor, and the dummy dressed in royal robes hanging by its neck from the rafters. Abigail and Corona launched into their wails and cries as Protesilaus and Naberius rushed in to carefully take the dummy down. Gideon held her sword horizontally in front of her as Harrow and the other advisors gathered to ‘speak’.
Abigail turned to the group as Corona ‘wept’ over the body Protesilaus and Naberius were carrying out. “Advisors, someone has slain your king and jeopardized the health and safety of this kingdom! I beg you, as your queen, find the vile creature who has committed this dastardly deed!” Now it was Abigail’s turn to weep and follow the body offstage.
“We must find the murderer in this town!” Ianthe declared loudly. “No one shall rest until our king has been given justice!” Multiple other advisors chimed in with their lines of approval.
Harrow moved from her spot just ahead of Gideon to her next position by Dulcinea. “We should scope out the town for suspects. Scour the area for clues. We shall meet at midday in the Mermaid Tavern and relate our findings.”
“Time is of the essence,” Judith agreed. “We must work fast and not hold back what we see. Our cooperation is of the utmost importance.” The rest of the advisors agreed and with a swish of multicolored fabric the groups disembarked from the stage.
Gideon sheathed her sword backstage as the audience clapped and made their own leave from the arena. “See, it wasn’t that awful standing next to me, was it Nonagesimus?”
“It was vile,” Harrow retorted.
Jeannemary happily bounded up to Gideon in her dark blue cavalier outfit. “That was so exciting!” The teen squeezed Gideon’s midsection as she happily bounced around. “My first time on the stage and I didn’t do anything stupid!”
“Of course you did great JM,” Gideon grinned as she hugged her back, “You’re a natural on the stage.”
Harrow obnoxiously cleared her throat from beside them. “I hate to interrupt,” she said with a tone that meant she actually didn’t, “but don’t you have somewhere to be Chatur?”
Jeannemary shook her head so her dark curls flew around. “Nope! Isaac and I have free roam until the Mermaid Tavern. I get to drink a fake beer!” Harrow’s evil gaze couldn’t disrupt Jeannemary’s happiness thankfully. “I’m sad you won’t be in the scene too Gideon.”
Gideon shrugged. “No offense to the Mermaid Tavern, but I doubt it can fit the advisors alone, much less the few cavaliers they wanna squeeze in.” Harrow was impatiently tapping her foot as the actors cleared out backstage. “Hey JM, why don’t you and Isaac join Nonagesimus and I on free roam? We’d love the company.”
Harrow shook her head furiously as Isaac appeared from the shadows bouncing as excitedly as Jeannemary. “That’d be great!” His too many ear piercings glinted dangerously, but he had the same childlike happiness as JM. Maybe she’s right about him not being a brat, Gideon thought, thrilled by the idea of Isaac being a real friend to Jeannemary.
Harrow’s icy fingers on Gideon’s bicep jolted her from the two teen’s excited chatter. “What are you doing?” She hissed.
“I’m being nice Harrow. I get you don’t have experience with that, but it’s what normal human beings do.” Harrow’s silence and release from Gideon’s arm signified her reluctant agreement.
“Fine,” she huffed. “But they’re your problem.”
Gideon smiled and threw her arm around Harrow’s shoulders to make the bone queen flinch. “ They’re my problem, you’re my problem, hell I’m my own problem! Where does it end, tell me my petite Corpse Hag.”
“Maybe stop being a problem. And don’t call me petite! I’m perfectly average, Griddle. You are a freak of nature!”
Gideon feigned being offended for two seconds before laughing. “You like me being a freak of nature don’t you Nonagesimus? You get a perfect view of these.” Gideon cupped the underside of her boobs in response to Harrow’s horrified expression.
“You’re obscene Griddle!”
“I’m just having fun Harrow.”
Harrow rolled her eyes and marched off with her robes whistling around her thin legs. Gideon was amazed she didn’t trip over them. “Fun isn’t something I do Griddle,” she said over her shoulder.
Gideon bounded ahead and opened the backstage door for Harrow and the chattering teens. “Never fear, my vitamin D deficient recluse. By the time Faire is over I will have taught you everything about the human experience called ‘fun’!”
Jeannemary and Isaac happily bounded ahead of Gideon and the bone worshipper. Their blue capes billowed in the gentle breeze while the sun glinted off the metallic clasps that matched their jewelry. Despite the fanfare of their accessories, they were the least decorated of all the actors. Their faces were bare of fancy makeup and their capes were the only well made parts of their clothes. The rest of the outfits were dirty and unkept with rugged boots decorated in scuff marks. They’re the peasant advisors , Gideon reminded herself. Of course they aren’t as fancy as the rest of us.
“Where do you two want to go first?” Isaac sweetly asked when he and JM stopped at a crossroads. “I heard some other duos had specific places they were going to hang out around.”
“There’s no particular place we need to be,” Gideon jumped in as Harrow’s mouth opened with a most likely bitter response. “C’mon Harrow, it won’t hurt to just wander around aimlessly for a bit.”
“Everything you do is aimless, Nav.”
Isaac and Jeannemary awkwardly glanced back and forth between Gideon and Harrow’s glares. After a couple tense seconds, Harrow huffed, scoured the lanes before them, and pointed with a flourish of her cape to the nearest one. It led to a circle with three shops, the Queen’s Bakery, and the library. “Of course book worm Harrow wants to go to the library,” Gideon joked to lighten Harrow’s stony look. It didn’t work.
The library was not somewhere Gideon typically hung out during roam, mostly because she hated how small it was. Despite its castle-like exterior, the rectangular inside was no bigger than the backroom of her parent's store. There were four rows built of ceiling high wooden shelves against the far wall, and benches sitting under the large windows on the opposite wall next to the door. That, plus the glass counters to the left and the assorted stacks of books, made the place very cramped.
Gideon pushed back the ivy covering the entrance and gave a deep mocking bow to Harrow as she brushed past. JM and Isaac found it amusing at least. Gideon expected Harrow to perch herself in the darkest corner imaginable for the remainder of their time, but instead the secluded crypt keeper chose a bench directly under one of the wall length windows. In front of her was a stone table with a perfectly readied chess set on it.
“Tettares, you know how to play.” Harrow barked out the statement with the confidence of someone who knew what they were talking about.
“I, well yeah, I-I guess,” Isaac stammered with the horror of someone who did not know what they were talking about. “B-but I was only, uh, in the club for like a couple months.”
Harrow shrugged and beckoned Isaac to sit in a wooden chair across from her. The terrified boy did so and a minute later they were playing chess. Gideon and Jeannemary loitered by Isaac’s chair, watching. “I didn’t know you played chess Nonagesimus,” Gideon said.
Harrow scowled at her for the interruption. “Why would you? You don’t exactly run in the same intellect groups as I do.”
“Don’t be mean Harrowhark,” Isaac said quietly. Harrow swiped one of his horses in response.
“It’s fine Isaac.” Gideon gently patted his shoulder. “I’m just amazed Harrow has any interests beyond digging up corpses and inventing new variations of black.” Harrow didn’t rise to the bait and instead focused on chasing Isaac’s pawns away from his king.
Each of Harrow’s moves were perfectly calculated and executed with graceful twists of her bony wrists and fingers. Her eyes constantly surveyed the board with the disinterest of someone re-reading the menu for their favorite restaurant. Opposite her, Isaac was a nervous wreck. His hands trembled as he lifted each piece and he hovered over the squares, undecided on where to go. His eyes couldn’t stay focused on the board and he kept glancing at the dark abyss that was Harrow’s bored look. After three minutes, Harrow held the majority of Isaac’s pieces and had closed in on the three survivors: a noble horse (Gideon was half sure it was actually called a knight), an immovable queen, and a trembling king.
Isaac’s next move took his queen forward and snatched one of Harrow’s castles. Her lack of displeasure made it seem she wanted him to do that. As Harrow’s hand went for her next move Gideon started humming the Jaws theme under her breath.
“Griddle I swear, if you distract me again I will put my king down your throat.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I prefer queens.”
Harrow sucked in a long breath and closed her eyes. “It’s not worth it to strangle her; it’s not worth it to strangle her,” she whispered to herself. After Harrow’s murder instincts subsided she slid her second castle down so it aligned with the king. “Check.”
Isaac was gripping the table like he’d be executed if he lost the game. Instead of trying to work his way out (however he could do that--Gideon wasn’t too sure about the rules of chess), Isaac jumped his horse to a seemingly random square that provided nothing to his floundering king. Harrow slid her castle forward and knocked said king off the board.
Isaac pushed back from the table with a screech from the chair. “Well, that was horrible.”
“I thought you did well,” Jeannemary encouraged. Harrow snorted and rolled her eyes. “I mean, it wasn’t like Harrow went easy on you.”
“I didn’t go easy because that’s not how you win.” Harrow twirled one of the pawns between her flesh and bone fingers. “You’ll learn that some day, Chatur.”
Jeannemary glared back at Harrow, but it was like a puppy glaring at a lion. One was vastly more equipped for the task than the other. “I wanna play,” Jeannemary said confidently. She pushed Gideon out of her way and took a seat across from Harrow.
The joy sucking succubus stifled a laugh. “ You know how to play?”
Jeannemary smiled and leaned her head on her propped up arm. “Of course! My older brother taught me. He was North American chess champion three years in a row.” Her smile got wider as Harrow’s slipped off her face. “He’s in Europe right now. He just became FIDE Master.” She picked the fallen king up and set it on a square with a defiant clunk. “ He taught me how to play.”
The match lasted longer than when Isaac played. Not by much though. Harrow’s pawns were picked off like they were mice in a crow field. Next her castles were toppled and her horses ran off squealing. Gideon had to admit, it was awesome to watch the expressions on Harrow’s face as she floundered for the last of her pieces. Her queen jumped all over the place as her two spiral towers dodged JM’s attacks. Harrow was lucky to get two of JM’s pieces.
After losing one of her towers, Harrow sat for a very long time staring at the board. Her king had been chased to a corner and her queen was corralled by JM’s horses. Her only other piece was stuck between what to do: a suicide mission to save the queen or a different suicide mission to prolong the inevitable death of the king. Harrow opted for the latter and took one of Jeannemary’s castles.
The gleeful teen moved a pawn down so it was closer to the king. “Check.” Harrow’s eyes flew around the board, but she had no angle to move her tower and take the pawn. Jeannemary wouldn’t be distracted by her queen coming out of safety either. Instead, Harrow opted to sit there and come to terms with losing to JM. She didn’t look happy with that realization. Harrow uselessly put her queen in the line of fire of the horses and waited for the sound of JM’s victory. Instead, the teen swiped up the queen and deposited it on her collection of Harrow’s black pieces. “Your move,” she grinned at Harrow’s shocked look.
“W-why? You could’ve won!”
Jeannemary slyly examined the queen she now possessed. “You’re a priss Harrowhark. I want to savor watching you sweat.” She inclined her head to Harrow’s trapped king and useless tower. “Your move.” Harrow bit her lip harshly and slid her tower across the board and away from the doomed king. Jeannemary happily took her time moving the pawn down one square to be diagonal of the king.
It was Harrow’s turn to forcefully push away from the table and skulk off. Jeannemary casually reset the pieces on the board with a shit eating grin on her face. Gideon wrapped her in a giant hug from behind, nearly crushing her chest. “I fucking love you, JM!”
“Th-thanks. Gideon, you-you’re crushing m-me,” Jeannemary coughed out. Gideon released her instantly.
Isaac was excitedly bouncing on his toes. “That was so awesome!” He cheered. “I didn’t know you could play chess!”
“I don’t like to brag,” she whispered shyly. Her normal quiet disposition had returned, but with the afterglow of victory. “I want to play chess like my brother, but I don’t think my parents will approve. They don’t like him playing it either.”
“Well, they need to watch you play then!” Isaac continued praising Jeannemary, and rightly so, but Gideon’s focus fell on the black clothed wraith sitting on the stone bench in front of the library.
Gideon left the teens and stepped outside onto the stone platform where the benches were. Harrow didn't acknowledge her. “You both played well,” Gideon started as she calmly approached Harrow; similar to the way one would approach a hungry tiger.
“The last thing I want to do is talk to you Griddle.”
Ignoring the imminent danger her life was in, Gideon took a seat on the other end of the cold bench. When the onyx predator didn’t move, Gideon slid closer. “I know you don’t enjoy losing so I just thought-”
“Stop thinking Griddle; you might blow a fuse,” Harrow snapped. She pulled her cape tighter around her body and waved Gideon off with a flick of her hand.
Before Gideon could do something stupid (like bite Harrow’s hand), the two teens materialized beside them. “We need to get something from the bakery. Can you believe Isaacs never had a cupcake?!” Jeannemary nudged the embarrassed boy playfully.
“You’ve never had a cupcake? That’s a crime against humanity right there.” Gideon and the teens left Harrow to sulk while they crossed the road to the bakery. It was rather plain compared to most of the buildings, but it held the largest and most delicious cupcakes in Canaan. Isaac marveled at the display cases full of sweets with an expression that could simply be described as a kid in a candy store for the first time.
Jeannemary nudged Gideon to draw her attention from the red and orange cupcake she was marveling. “Is Harrow really mad?”
“Harrow’s always mad.” That didn’t soothe the teen’s worried expression. Gideon sighed, “Look JM, Harrow will always be a sore loser. Don’t let her take away your victory by feeling bad. You beat her fair and square.”
Jeannemary nodded and forced a timid smile. “Alright.” She pointed to two blue colored cupcakes on display. One was navy colored with silver sprinkles, and the other was teal with dark blue glitter. “Now which one should I get?”
Harrow had a bird’s eye view into the bakery from her position, but she was trying dreadfully hard not to look. Not to look at Tettares ogling the various desserts, not to look at Chatur brandishing a cupcake the size of her hand, and especially not to look at Gideon in her gorgeous display of leather.
All of Harrow’s focus was on sustaining her anger of losing to Chatur. She really wasn’t too bothered; she lost to Silas all the time in chess club. Ianthe as well, but she was a notorious cheater so Harrow didn’t count that. How the Tridentarius managed to cheat at chess she couldn’t comprehend, but if it was a game, Ianthe would find a way.
No, what Harrow was truly trying to keep her mind off of was Gideon. The way she so easily invited the teenagers to come along, including Tettares who Harrow could not imagine Gideon enjoying the company of. The way she easily agreed to Harrow wanting to go to the library, despite not having a lexicon above that of a middle school boy. The way she was so eager to make Tettares consume an unhealthy amount of carbohydrates and lipids
Gideon Imperfection Counter: one; thinks cupcakes are a healthy lunch alternative. It wasn’t Harrow’s best work admittedly, but she had no other observations to begin her list with. The redhead that haunted Harrow’s mind appeared at the mental utterance of her name, like an entirely too buff version of the Bloody Mary tale. She was holding something out to Harrow.
“What is this?” Harrow asked as she gingerly took the mass of darkness.
Gideon showed her lopsided grin before taking a bite out of the red and orange confection in her other hand. “It’s called a cupcake, Nonagesimus,” she mumbled with her mouth full.
Harrow examined the cupcake. Both the icing and batter were black along with the small sugary sprinkles decorating the top. “Flavor?”
“Dark chocolate covered in edible charcoal dust.”
Harrow nodded and turned the massive piece of food in her hand, examining it. It seemed harmless enough. She licked a hunk of icing off the top and rolled it in her mouth for a few seconds. It wasn’t dreadfully sweet like one would figure, but it wasn’t bland either. Harrow opened her mouth and took a bite out of the side.
“Is it good?” Gideon was watching Harrow with her deep golden eyes that could melt rocks. She hadn’t taken another bite from her own lump of sugar surprisingly. Tettares and Chatur were mostly through theirs, but Gideon’s remained with one solitary chunk missing.
Harrow took another bite and nodded approvingly. At the confirmation Gideon finished off her own within a couple seconds. Harrow marveled briefly at how fast Gideon’s mouth moved. Nope, nope, bad thought. Abort mission, abort mission! Harrow’s brain screamed. She returned her focus to the cupcake and identifying its various components.
“Cupcakes are delicious!” Isaac’s face was covered in silver frosting and blue sprinkles. Jeannemary handed him napkins from her overflowing pockets as he hurriedly tried to lick the sugar off his fingers. “I can’t believe I waited this long to try one!”
“I can’t believe you never had a chance to try one,” Jeannemary smiled. “I take every opportunity to find the desserts when I go somewhere.”
Isaac tossed his napkins in the trash and shrugged like he was embarrassed. “I mean my parents don’t throw or take me to parties where cupcakes would be distributed. Caviar? Yes. Wine I shouldn’t be having but sneak up to my room anyway? Yes. Weird kabobs with smoked vegetables? Yes. Seaweed? Believe it or not, yes! Cupcakes, cookies, fruit punch, or brownies? Nope.”
Jeannemary gave him a tight side hug. “Don’t worry, Isaac! I’ll find you as many sweet treats as possible to eat during Faire!” She released him from the hug, but kept her hands on his forearms to shake his body back and forth excitedly. “Do you want to see the dragon store? There’s a coffee shop next to it that has giant brownies!” Isaac slowly nodded as Jeannemary pulled him off up the road. Harrow glared at the backs of the annoying teens as they vanished around the corner with a wave.
“I thought they’d never leave,” Harrow growled.
Gideon swatted her shoulder. “Don’t lie, even you need human contact Harrow.”
“Key word being human .”
Gideon huffed and jumped from the top step of the library’s porch to the ground. Her boots made a loud clomp as she landed. “I’m going to check out the blacksmith area. You can either come with or not Nonagesimus.”
As much as Harrow didn’t want to, she had to stick by Gideon. Not just for her research, but also because the rules of Faire said she had to stay by her cavalier. “’I have to follow you Griddle. I look forward to watching you burn yourself though.”
Surprisingly, that made Gideon smile. She did a sweeping bow and held her hand up to help Harrow down the steps. “I’m not that short Griddle,” Harrow snapped. She pushed past the bowed redhead and hurried ahead. The sight of Gideon’s leather clad hand had stirred something inside Harrow’s gut that was better left unexamined and unexplored.
Gideon caught up to her with ease thanks to her long legs. “Do you even know where you’re going, my midnight death witch?” She gently nudged Harrow’s ribs with her hip, which Harrow took as another reference to Gideon’s excessive height.
“I’ve been mapping your Faire since I found out I’d be stuck performing here,” Harrow said coolly. “I wasn’t going to come unprepared.”
Gideon didn’t respond right away. She chewed on her bottom lip like it was a piece of gum while her eyes stared at the ground. If Harrow didn’t know Gideon she’d assume the butch was thinking . Alas, she did know Gideon, and thinking was not something she’d ever caught the annoyingly confident girl doing. After what was probably the longest amount of time Gideon had ever spent not talking, she looked Harrow dead in the eyes and said, “Do you do anything with other people? Isn’t there some activity you enjoy that doesn’t involve a vitamin D deficiency and sociopathic behaviors?” Her tone was so serious it threw all of Harrow’s defenses into a tailspin.
“I, well,” Harrow uncharacteristically stammered on her response. “Yes. I have many interests that involve, what you might call, socialization.”
“Name some.” Gideon called her bluff in seconds.
Harrow’s mind scrambled for some activities she could feasibly do with others. There wasn’t much to pick from. The last time someone had been interested in what Harrow did had been, well, a long time ago. As long as she was breathing and not being hunted by the cops her parents didn’t care what she did, and it wasn’t like the few people she hung around cared where she went after she’d fulfilled her usefulness. Gideon’s incessant interest was, to say the least, unnerving and unexplored territory to her. “Well,” Harrow slowly forced out the words as her broca's area struggled to work, “I do chess club. I play mostly with Silas and the Tridentarius sisters. I also have a study group that includes Sextus and Camilla Hect. Outside of school there’s Teen Mensa meetings and my coding tutor. I-”
“Harrow, none of those sound fun.” Gideon rudely interrupted with an even ruder judgment. “That’s all school stuff; studying and tutoring and all that. What do you do for fun ?”
Harrow sighed and rubbed her eyes until black spots appeared. “Nav, I don’t have time for fun! I need to get scholarships and awards and a public image! I won't go anywhere without those things.”
“You still need to be a kid.”
Harrow laughed. It was a genuine laugh because what Gideon said was hilarious and probably the best joke Harrow had ever heard in her life. “There’s no such thing as childhood. At least not for me.” Harrow couldn’t imagine having spent her life in any other way. What was the point of existing if not to contribute to society? And how was she to contribute to society if she wasted her time doing mind-numbing activities?
Gideon opened her mouth to say something but no words left. Harrow had to force her eyes away from Gideon’s partially opened lips and the weird feeling that reappeared in her gut. They came upon the blacksmith's shop, thankfully, and Harrow was saved from both her feelings and Gideon's useless chatter. They spent an ungodly amount of time watching hunks of metal being hammered into less hunky pieces of metal. Harrow couldn’t picture how the gleaming steel could possibly transform into a sword like what Gideon donned, but she was content to participate in any activity that kept Gideon quiet.
Harrow thanked the mythological beings of the sky when the clock showed quarter of noon. She was itching to get away from Gideon lest she start another dreadful conversation about Harrow’s life. “If I leave you here, will you stay?” Harrow asked Gideon who was examining the selection of intricately carved knives.
“Why don’t you just get me a leash and tie it to a pole?”
Harrow sighed and counted to ten lest she strangle the blood-boiling creature before her. “I just want to be able to find you when my scene is over.”
Gideon flipped the heavy knife she was holding and pointed the curved tip towards Harrow. The metal shone with rainbows as the sun touched it. “If I’m not here, I’ll be at the apothecary. Happy? Or would you like to microchip me first?”
“Don’t give me ideas Nav.”
After Harrow ungracefully departed, Gideon started to enjoy herself again. She couldn’t pinpoint what rubbed her the wrong way about Harrow’s attitude towards fun, but thinking about it was bringing her down during her favorite time of the year. Within minutes of the departure of the constricting stormcloud that was Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Gideon felt back to normal. She renewed her search for the perfect knife with enthusiasm and determination.
Quickly though, she became stuck. Of the two knives she had discovered, one was a simple blade with a rainbow hilt and a curved tip that glowed a soft silver color, and the other was a straight blade with a red and orange hilt that reminded her of the sunset. Gideon was completely prepared to buy both when her attention was captured by a matte black knife sitting in the corner.
It was beyond the definition of gorgeous. Even the blade was a silky black color with two lines of silver running along the curves. The hilt itself was thinner than normal and had an engraved skull at the base. The lines of the engraving were also silver, but under the light the shine moved through the outline like blood through a vein. Gideon snatched up the knife and cradled it like a baby animal, only reluctantly releasing it for one of the employees to wrap it up. Harrow will love this, she thought excitedly. Her excitement over finding something for her death advisor overshadowed the need for a knife of her own, and Gideon was off from the blacksmith’s shop within seconds of getting the knife.
After visiting the store and depositing the gorgeous weapon in the backroom, Gideon went off to one of her favorite places in the Faire: the apothecary. It was mostly empty except for a few families eyeing the floral displays. Inside the actual building was nothing but incense sticks and candles that were dangerously close to melting down.
“Hello?” Gideon called to the empty room. “Cytherea? Dulcie?”
“Hello again.” Gideon jumped at the sudden voice behind her and turned to see Cam leaning against the stone column next to the door.
“Holy shit, I didn’t see you there.”
Cam smiled and pushed off the column. “You weren’t meant to. I’m just watching the place until Cytherea gets back.”
Gideon nodded and eyed the increasingly interesting woman. “Alright. I'm getting some serial killer vibes here; I’m ignoring them but I just think it’s fair you be aware.”
Cam laughed a bit too slowly and brushed past with a flip of her black pixie. “Oh please, if I was a serial killer you’d already be dead.”
“That’s not as comforting as you think it is.”
Cam shrugged and hoisted herself onto the stone and marble counter. She pulled a grey stick from her inner jacket pocket and puffed on it a few times before blowing odd smelling smoke out of her mouth. Gideon waved the cloud away from her face and wrinkled her nose at the odor. Cam noticed and blew the next one away from her.
“What is that thing?” Gideon finally asked after a few awkward seconds of electronic bubbling as Cam sucked on it.
“A fancier way to get high,” she said plainly. She extended the stick to Gideon and coughed out, “I’m open to sharing.”
Gideon shook her head. “I don’t use. We’re not supposed to do that stuff here anyway.”
Cam motioned to the smoke from the candles and burning incense. “Who’s gonna guess?” She took another puff then laughed. “I’d think you’d need this more than me after spending your day with Harrowhark.”
“She’s not-,” Gideon caught the words as they tumbled from her mouth. Was she seriously about to defend Harrow?! What was happening to her? “I mean, it’s easier to claim insanity when I snap and kill her if I’m not under the influence.”
“Who’s giving serial killer vibes now?” Cam joked and slipped the device back in her pocket. “Before you judge, it’s medical. I’m not a stoner or anything.”
Gideon shook her head and tried to smile nonchalantly. “You don’t need to explain stuff like that to me Cam. I don’t have the standing to judge on things of that nature. I mean, I’ve tripped on more drugs than not at this point. Didn’t take to any of them, which I guess I should be thankful about.”
“Facing life while sober is a new kind of hell ain’t it?”
Gideon silently nodded. The sound of flames eating at candle wicks was comforting in the silence. Usually Gideon hated silence. Her house was never quiet; noise was a comfort to her. Harrow, on the other hand--staying true to the antisocial rat she was--seemed to want to do anything to make Gideon shut up. Cam too looked perfectly fine with the lack of noise and Gideon didn’t want to put her outside of her comfort zone, especially when the woman became infinitely more interesting with each meeting.
“So,” Cam broke the noiseless bubble with a gentle leap off the counter, “there’s no nice way to say this, but you are far more tame than Nonagesimus made you out to be.”
Gideon almost bit her tongue from shock. “Harrow sai-wait what?! Are you saying Harrow talks about me ?”
Cam nodded and brushed her hand absentmindedly over the flame of a dying candle. “Yeah. All the time during study group. I guess to normal people it’s complaining, but Harrow’s idea of complaining is far more intense I’ve come to know. So yeah, she talks about you. I wasn’t expecting someone so,” Cam paused and lolled her tongue across her lips in contemplation. “Hot,” she finished.
“Uh, well first of all, thank you. Second, what the hell does Harrow say about me exactly?”
“How annoying you are, how loud you are, how weird you are; among other things. She might as well be writing love poems to you,” Cam laughed like that wasn’t the most horrifying thing Gideon had ever heard.
“Look Cam, I don’t know how well you think you know Harrowhark Nonagesimus, but she’d sooner dip me in honey and leave me in the woods to be gutted alive by bears than put the words ‘I’, ‘love’, and ‘Gideon’ in the same sentence.” Gideon backed away from the definitely insane woman while trying to wipe the odd hot feeling off her face. That’s nausea, her mind helpfully supplied.
God graced her with mercy because at that second Cytherea burst through the doorway with the grace of an angel sent to rescue Gideon from Cam’s horrible insinuations. “Hey Camilla, can you grab these daisies before they eat cobblestone?” Gideon dodged forward first and caught the basket filled with dainty white flowers as it slipped from Cytherea’s fingers. The rest of the fragile girl’s body was overtaken by boxes stacked higher than her head. Said boxes were deposited on the counter and Cytherea rubbed her bicep-less arms in pain. “You wouldn’t think a bunch of small flowers would weigh so much,” she joked.
“Your daisies.” Gideon extended the basket to Cytherea who squealed in joy and latched onto Gideon instead.
“Aw Gideon! I didn’t know you’d be back so soon!” Cytherea placed a gentle kiss on Gideon’s cheek, leaving a light red lip print. Her hand instantly went to wipe it off, but Gideon was in no hurry to lose it and waved the hand away.
“I wanted to surprise you. Harrow’s off doing the Mermaid Tavern scene.” Cytherea nodded but wasn’t listening as she ran her hands over Gideon’s leather jacket and gloves.
She let a gentle breath out and squeezed Gideon’s arms. “Wow, you look even better now than this morning.”
Gideon put her arm around Cytherea’s shoulders and pulled her closer. “That’s one of my superpowers,” she snickered. Cytherea leaned her head against Gideon’s shoulder and laughed the most musical laugh in the world.
“You’re adorable Gideon.”
Cam awkwardly cleared her throat. “I can leave if you two would rather.”
Cytherea shook her head and made the horrible decision to pull away from Gideon. “No Cam, it’s fine. I have other things to do besides ogle Gideon”--she flipped her long brown hair over one shoulder and gave Gideon a breathtaking view of her collarbone and neck--“I have all the time in the world to do that.” She looked at Gideon like she was waiting for her to agree, but her entire system had slammed into Holy Shit Holy Shit Holy Shit mode, rendering any thoughts beyond a drawn-out choking noise physically impossible. That function seemed to appease Cytherea anyway, since she laughed again and squeezed Gideon’s hip before taking a box into the backroom.
As Gideon’s normal brain functions came back, she returned her attention to Cam, who was, to say the least, looking like she wanted to leave. “You’re fine,” Gideon said in desperation to make her feel less intrusive. “It’s probably better if I don’t get left alone with Cytherea.” Thankfully, Cam laughed and another silence was avoided. “But, just for the record,” Gideon pointed to where Cytherea had disappeared, “ that is what liking someone looks like.”
Cam nodded slowly and crossed her arms across her chest plate as she leaned back against the wall. “Alright. If you say so.”
“Yes, I do say so!” Gideon picked up another box and took it into the back. First Mom, now Cam; what is it with everyone thinking Harrowhark of all people is into me ?”
*Awkwardly realized after editing that I'd been spelling Isaac's name wrong this whole chapter and had to re-edit at 1 AM*
Chapter 6: Scene Two
Slight content warning: possible food trigger near middle and homophobic slur used near the end.
Gideon was hungry. Very hungry. ‘Seriously considering eating an apple’ hungry. The basket of fresh picked fruit the Septimus sisters thrived on had been taunting Gideon’s empty stomach for the past ten minutes. A ruby red apple on top had started whispering her name a few seconds ago. Don’t you dare, the voice in Gideon’s head hissed. You aren’t that hungry yet. Sadly enough for Gideon’s stomach, she was that hungry. She plucked the fruit out of the basket and took a bite.
Of course that action was the equivalent of opening Pandora’s box.
Not only did Cam leave to go find Sex Pal while Cytherea went out back to take a phone call, the demonic presence of the dark witch of gloom burst through the doorway. Harrow somehow managed to look even more perturbed upon arrival at the apothecary than when she’d left. Her eyes had narrowed so much they were beady black like a rat. “I. Hate. Ianthe.” Harrow was gnashing her teeth together hard enough for them to break as she dropped to the apothecary floor. “I hope she gets hit by a train.”
“I take it the tavern didn’t go so well?” Gideon asked with a mouthful of apple.
“Wow Griddle, great deduction skills!” Harrow’s venom would make a rattlesnake cry, if one was ever dumb enough to get close to her. Gideon chomped on her apple again and waited for Harrow’s inevitable rant.
The shadowy gremlin got off the floor and moved to sit next to Gideon on the counter. “The scene went fine,” she said plainly. Gideon took another obnoxiously loud bite out of the apple. “ Must you chew like a horse?” Harrow growled.
Harrow breathed a frustrated sigh as Gideon took another bite. With reflexes Gideon didn’t even know Harrow had, she snatched the apple from Gideon’s grip and flung it out the open door. Gideon’s mouth hung open and her hand clutched at the space her food had been. “Harrow! I’m hun-”
“Your chewing was annoying,” Harrow snapped.
Gideon leaned back on the counter and waited a couple seconds before motioning for Harrow to look at her. “If I shut up and let you yap about murdering Ianthe,” Gideon said begrudgingly, “can we please go get lunch?”
Harrow thought about it for exactly a minute before nodding and launching into one of her tirades. It was like that horrifying governmental debate class they’d had to take in school; a whole semester of just listening to Harrow and her friends debate about shit they’d never experience. Gideon shook off the ghostly chill that ran down her spine and tried to pay attention to what Harrow was saying. It wasn’t like she particularly cared , but listening was the nice thing to do when someone was talking. Even if it was Nonagesimus.
“-and not only does she refuse to be on time with her lines-” Harrow’s voice was rising as she clawed at her cape, “-but she refuses to stop eyeing me like I’m a cow and she’s the butcher!”
Gideon sighed longingly. “Beef would be really nice right now.” Harrow slapped Gideon’s forearm and rolled her eyes.
“As I was saying,” Harrow continued, “Ianthe is-wait. Are you actually listening to what I’m saying?”
“Of course.” Harrow just stared at Gideon with her mouth opened slightly. It was unnerving the look of shock on her face. But this was Harrowhark Nonagesimus, so whatever human emotion Gideon thought Harrow was experiencing probably wasn’t true. “I’m not so stupid I can’t pay attention Harrow.” Gideon chose to go on the offense before whatever condescending thought Harrow was forming came out of her mouth.
“What-I was-“ Harrow didn’t finish her words, just closed her mouth with a tight lipped grimace and jumped off the counter. “Let’s just get lunch. The chessboard scene is in an hour and a half.”
Gideon followed Harrow the way one follows the person carrying the grenades. Her Death Advisor was blowing past people like a gothic hurricane on its way across the ocean. Her billowing cloak only added to the simile. It wasn’t until they were nearing Drearburh castle that Harrow stopped. They were in the middle of a cobblestone circle right behind the hulking monolith.
“Where do you want to eat, Griddle?” Harrow was back to her biting remarks as she spat the question. Gideon scanned the multitude of vendors around the circle center, then spotted Judith and Marta sitting at the High Spire Cafe across the circle.
“Hey, mind if we join?” Gideon approached the War Advisor and cavalier who both smiled back in greeting.
‘Sure, why not.” Judith motioned to the seats on the other side of the table. Harrow eyed the wooden seat and brushed it off before tentatively sitting. She didn’t even offer a nod of acknowledgment to the actors before her.
Gideon dropped her hilt and sword on the table before heading into the cafe. One of her pet peeves about the eating places was the no weapons policy, but Gideon’s stomach was calling the shots at the moment. After grabbing three hotdogs and a basket of the best coated fries to exist, Gideon returned to the table which was in awkward silence.
“Did someone die?” Gideon joked as she stuffed a handful of fries into her mouth. Harrow sniffed in the condescending way only Harrow could do but didn’t say anything. “I was gone barely ten minutes; you couldn’t play nice that long Nonagesimus?”
Harrow pushed herself off the bench and left the seating area of the cafe in a huff. Tropical storm Harrow kept going out of the circle and down one of the branching paths. “Good riddance,” Judith snapped. “That girl has a stick so far up her ass I’m surprised we can’t see it sticking out of her mouth.” Marta snorted and practically choked on her drink.
Judith chomped down on her burger angrily enough for her teeth to break, so Marta was tasked with recounting how Harrow held the world record for time it took to piss people off. “First she says we shouldn’t be eating as much as we are. Like having two burgers as our first meal of the day is gonna kill us! She’s a prick.”
Judith jumped in with, “When I told her to mind her business she ran her mouth some more. Saying she’s the ‘medical professional’.” She took some fries from Gideon’s basket and scarfed them down. “Thought she was about to shit a brick when Marta told her we are both nurses.”
Gideon rubbed her head where a dull pain was growing. “I’m sure Harrow didn’t-“
“Since when do you defend Harrowhark Nonagesimus?!” Judith laughed following Marta’s surprised question.
“I’m not defending her,” Gideon snapped. “I-never mind.” The rest of the lunch was mostly quiet. Marta and Judith finished their food quickly and gathered their things to leave.
“See you at the chessboard,” Marta called to Gideon as they left. “I hope your sword skills have improved since last year.”
Gideon laughed, but it was forced. “I’m great with my sword Marta!”
The cavalier shook her head with a laugh. “You always cut too much Nav.”
Gideon finished her fries alone. The chessboard scene was in half an hour and Harrow hadn’t returned to the cafe. Gideon tossed her garbage, reattached her sword, and went off to find her prissy demoness.
Gideon checked the library first, since it was both Harrow’s favorite place and one of the first stops down the lane Harrow had stormed off on. The place was empty. Next Gideon continued down the pathway to the blacksmith area. No Harrow among the crowd. Gideon checked inside every food shop along the way in case Harrow had stopped for lunch. After coming up empty at every turn, Gideon ended up in front of the Mermaid Tavern. The only occupants were drunkards, of course. As Gideon stood outside the tavern dejectedly, she noticed a mass of black clothing moving around the entrance to the royal dungeons.
“Harrow!” Gideon called. The black object froze at the sound. Harrow took more form as Gideon approached, and so did the skulking Silas Octakisseron next to her. “Oh, hi Silas.”
“Nav,” he greeted with as much enthusiasm as one greets the doctor about to perform a colonoscopy.
“Why’d you have to be so rude to Judith and Marta?” Gideon asked Harrow, completely ignoring Silas and his glare.
Harrow turned from Gideon to the icy royal judge. “I’ll see you at the chessboard.” With that dismissal, Silas retreated to the dungeon. “Griddle, I wasn’t trying to be rude,” Harrow huffed.
Gideon waited for Harrow to say more but she didn’t. Gideon wasn’t a big fan of angry silence while Harrow, again, thrived on it, so she chose to turn her attention to the glowering mass of Silas guarding the tower before them. “The dungeon seems like the perfect place for that rat to lurk in,” Gideon snickered.
“Don’t be rude, Nav.”
Gideon gawked at Harrow’s brazen statement. The complete lack of self-awareness in the words drove Gideon insane. “ I’m rude!? You insulted my friends’ intelligence because they don’t walk around flaunting how smart they are like you do! Why is it impossible for you to just be nice to others?!” It wasn’t until Gideon stopped shouting that she realized Harrow had backed up. “Dammit, Harrow I don’t wanna yell at-”
A feather could’ve knocked Gideon over after hearing that. “You-did you just apologize ?”
Harrow nodded. “Yeah. I-I am sorry. You’re right, I didn’t have to be rude.” Gideon nodded, stunned into silence. She hadn’t even thought Harrow had those words in her vocabulary. In a second the real Harrow returned with a sneer. “C’mon Griddle, we’re gonna be late for the chessboard.”
Gideon led the way to the chessboard arena. Harrow knew where it was, but she didn’t want Gideon to see how shaky she was. Truthfully, Harrow didn’t understand what she’d said wrong to the two Canaan women, but something about hearing Gideon Nav, the epitome of calmness, raise her voice scared Harrow more than anything. Now she was back to normal, but Harrow’s hands still trembled.
Harrow listened to her parents yell all the time. It was a nightly occurrence whenever they were both home. They always found something to argue about, and half the time Harrow was their target. Everything from her grades to her social life was fair game to be dissected. She had to put pillows over her ears to drown them out when they started going at it. You’d think after years of hearing people yelling how horrible she is she’d be immune to it.
There was already a crowd at the chessboard. Gideon went off to the weaponry room with the other cavaliers, leaving Harrow alone in the waiting room behind the stage. Just as Harrow began grounding her racing thoughts, the unwelcome presence of Ianthe Tridentarius manifested before her.
“Excited for my cavalier to beat yours?” Ianthe smiled devilishly as Naberius lagged beside her. He looked ready to swallow a razor blade.
“Gideon and Naberius aren’t fighting in this event, Ianthe,” Harrow said as disinterestedly as possible.
Ianthe smiled and pulled the already disgusted Naberius closer with one of her overly long arms. “They’ll have to battle eventually I’m sure. And Babs here will win because he’s the best cavalier!” The expression on Naberius’s face was the definition of ‘uncomfortable’. Ianthe noticed his look and Harrow departed while the moon goddess angrily whisper-yelled at her cavalier.
The curtain on stage was pulled shut so Harrow took her seat at the large wooden table. She was the only one on stage thankfully. The trembling in her hands had stopped and she was able to breathe without quaking. Whatever strange human emotions had overcome her were now dissipating.
During the Mermaid Tavern scene an ‘argument’ had broken out between the advisors about the abilities of their cavaliers, hence the battle about to take place at the chessboard. If Harrow recalled the schedule correctly, today Gideon had to fight Camilla Hect and Protesilaus Ebdoma. The Faire fights were always a delight to watch, mostly because they were the few acts not scripted. Every cavalier had to know certain moves that they then used in the fight scenes.
The last few months Harrow had watched-er observed-Gideon preparing for the fights; the way her body moved so naturally and in time with her weapons, the styles of fighting she so easily adapted to, and that puppy dog smile on her face when she won. It was hard not to become addicted to such a sight.
“What are you smiling about Nonagesimus?” Silas marched past Harrow with his sharp white cape threatening to behead someone. Harrow unconsciously flinched at the pipsqueak's tone. Despite Octakisseron’s constant annoying presence, his family was prevalent in the medical and government fields. Even if Harrow didn’t like him, which was true, she had to play nice for her future career’s sake.
“I’m not smiling.”
Silas scoffed. “You’re grinning like the cat who caught the canary.” Harrow flipped him off under the table and retreated inwards as the rest of the advisors arrived on stage. The trumpets wailed beyond the curtains as the thick fabric was pulled back. Bright sunlight broke through along with the applause of the large audience.
The cavaliers made their way onto the board and kneeled on their respective squares of green toned grass. Ianthe approached the front of the stage and cheerfully greeted the audience. As the applause died down, Ianthe raised her arms and let her golden cape flow in the breeze. “Who’s ready to play some chess!”
The crowd cheered wildly as Naberius’s sword touched Jeannemary’s throat. The young cavalier was flat on her back on the ground with her weapon discarded two squares down. As Ianthe called the fight, Naberius helped Jeannemary up and they returned to their squares.
“And my cavalier claims your square, Peasant Advisor,” Ianthe proudly exclaimed to Issac.
The young boy huffed as if he were an annoyed old man and twirled one of his silver chains. “You like to play dirty, advisor of art.”
“That’s art and music,” Ianthe spat.
“Enough of your childish squabbles!” Palamedes rose from his seat and casually pushed Ianthe from her spot so he took center stage. “We are here to see the best cavaliers fight, and the title of the best belongs to mine!” He presented with his arm to where Camilla crouched in the corner of the board. She was grinning out of character, but it worked anyway with Sextus’s confident statement.
“Take the square two moves diagonal,” Palamedes ordered Camilla.
“Are you challenging the space held by the beacon of death?” Harrow rose on her cue with her cape billowing around her body. She swore a few people in the audience gasped. “You will fail, and all your medical prowess will not save your cavalier.”
Palamedes grinned and nodded to Camilla. Both her and Gideon rose from their spots and took to the center of the board. Camilla drew two long knives from their sheaths and twirled their handles between her fingers. Gideon brandished her sword in one hand and slipped knuckle knives onto the other. The thin plastic coating on the weapons was indiscernible to someone who didn’t know it was there. Palamedes waited until both were ready before raising his arm and shouting, “Fight!”
The match looked like it would be an easy win for Camilla, Harrow had to admit. The cavalier came out strong with a near throat slicing swing of her knife. She spun Gideon in circles with her rapid movements and random kicks. Gideon narrowly missed having her legs kicked out from underneath her multiple times.
Then the tide changed. As Camilla raised her arm to swing, Gideon thrust her knuckle knives at her ribs. Like any good actor who cares about the performance, Camilla doubled over and let Gideon ‘knee’ her in the chin. Despite hitting the ground, Camilla still went for the kill by ‘kicking’ into Gideon’s shin. Obediently, Gideon dropped as well and Camilla was on her feet again. Harrow hated how interested she was in this fight, although whether she wanted Camilla or Gideon to get their ass kicked was undecided.
Camilla brought one of her knives down, but it lodged in the dirt as Gideon rolled out of the way. Another ‘kick’ to Camilla’s ribs and Gideon had the upper hand once more. Their weapons clanged as they struck; Gideon pressing her sword towards Camilla’s throat while Camilla’s knife was angled to Gideon’s chest. Three seconds of the struggle passed before Camilla gave in and let her knife be cast aside.
“And the match goes to our Death Advisor!” Ianthe chirped happily. Camilla and Gideon returned to their spots, panting and sweating. “Would you like to challenge again?” Ianthe’s question was directed at Palamedes who shook his head. He looked rather dejected by the results. Harrow’s own opinion was unknown, but the weird warmth in her gut had returned upon seeing Gideon and Camilla nearly wrestling on the ground.
“I will challenge,” a gentle voice called. Dulcinea, dressed in a mint green dress and a flower crown, floated to the front of the stage. “My cavalier cannot be beaten.” She motioned to Protesilaus who didn’t acknowledge the lines. His stony expression never changed it seemed. The hulking mass of a man terrified even Harrow a little bit. “I wish,” Dulcinea continued, “for the defeat of your cavalier.” She spoke to Ianthe and brushed a lock of the girl’s pale gold hair over her shoulder. The space occupied by Naberius was across from Gideon, but nowhere within the sights of Protesilaus’s square. From the looks on some audience members, Harrow figured they were putting it together who the giant was going to fight first. “But to do that, I must battle yours .” This time the statement was at Harrow. Thankfully Dulcinea’s line did not involve her having to touch Harrow. “Cavalier, take the space three spaces to your left!”
Protesilaus and Gideon both rose and stepped into the center. For as tall and well built as Gideon was, she was a mouse compared to Protesilaus. His weapon was a simple axe that looked like it was the size of Gideon’s arm.
Dulcinea raised her arms and a breeze swept the dark green tulle attached to her shoulders up like a cape. I can see why Palamedes likes her, Harrow noted. The Advisor of Beauty waited for the breeze to die down before purring out the word, “Fight.”
Protesilaus brought his axe down with so much force pieces of dirt flew up as it struck the ground. Gideon dodged the blade while holding her sword in front of her like a shield. Plastic covering or not, Protesilaus’s axe would snap Gideon’s sword in half if he brought it down like that again. Harrow shoved her hands into the pockets of her pants to hide how they were trembling yet again.
Gideon, clearly realizing her sword wasn’t going to help, discarded the metal weapon. She spun out of the way of the wildly swinging axe, nearly falling on her face in the process. Protesilaus ran Gideon around the board with ease as she barely dodged getting decapitated. Harrow hadn’t seen Protesilaus fight on the chess arena at Dominicus, but she’d seen him joust. The memory of the modern day Goliath ramming another actor so hard his armor broke didn’t soothe Harrow’s thoughts.
Protesilaus swung his weapon and clipped Gideon’s shoulder as she turned. The red head was knocked to the ground flat on her back. As the axe came down once more, Gideon caught the blade with her knuckle knives. The clang of the metal striking each other reverberated around the arena. Harrow saw the glisten of sweat on Gideon’s face even from her seat on stage.
Protesilaus pulled the axe back, giving Gideon time to roll to her feet. He swung the axe at her head, but instead of dodging, Gideon caught the blade yet again with her knuckle knives while grappling for the handle with the other hand. Protesilaus pushed forward but Gideon planted her feet and pressed against his force. They pushed and twisted, each trying to wrestle the axe away from the other.
“What is going on here!” The queen and princess cut through the path in the audience and stepped onto the arena. Gideon and Protesilaus each let go of the axe which dropped to the ground with a thud. All the advisors and cavaliers bowed to the nobles before them. Abigail moved to the base of the stage and angrily proclaimed, “I asked you to find the monster who murdered your king, yet here you be with petty squabbles and dissent among you!”
“Your majesty,” Dulcinea bowed to the queen once more, “there is no dissent here, I promise you. We will resume our task to catch the murderer immediately.”
“See that you do! The nobility of our land are attending the royal joust tonight. It would have been such a joyous occasion, but now I must announce the king is dead. I hope you will have found the killer by then.” With that declaration, Abigail and Coronabeth departed from the arena.
The cavaliers returned backstage for the advisors to finish the scene. Harrow did not have lines in the ending, but thankfully the scene was finished quickly.
When the actors arrived backstage though, the drama was continuing.
“I was not trying to kill you!” Protesilaus’s booming voice rattled the walls. “It’s called acting!”
“No, acting is how Cam and I fought. Acting is most definitely not knocking me to the ground so hard I lose my breath, or trying to decapitate me! Your axe doesn’t even have the protective covering over it!” Gideon and Protesilaus were staring each other down, both seething at the mouth. The rest of the cavaliers were cautiously watching from the wall.
“Pro, Gideon’s right. You were highly out of line in the arena,” Camilla spoke up. The hulking man glared at her viciously, but Camilla’s bravery didn’t falter. “You did not need to actually knock her to the ground, nor did you need to use so much force with your weapon. Fighting scenes are just as much acting as a normal scene.”
“Do not talk to me like I am stupid, Hect!” He roared. “I know how to do my job! It’s not my fault this dyke can’t handle a man!”
The whole room came to a standstill. Harrow wasn’t sure which part got to her more: Protesilaus’s words or the look of pure hurt on Gideon’s face. She didn’t remember moving across the floor, or jumping onto the wooden table necessary for her to be chest high to Protesilaus. What Harrow did remember though, was slapping the man so hard his neck cracked to the side.
“Don’t ever speak to my cavalier like that again.”
Gideon raced ahead of Harrow a few paces, checking back to make sure she was still following. After the actors hastily departed from the chessboard, Protesilaus spewing steam from his ears, Gideon had swept the unsuspecting Harrow into a hug. Harrow let Gideon hug her for exactly three seconds before struggling out of the grip. Now the rambunctious redhead was leading her back to the sword shop.
They went in the back way to avoid the crowded shop section. Harrow felt like an intruder in the small living quarters. She tiptoed around the furniture and avoided touching anything. Gideon turned into one of the rooms in a claustrophobic hallway. Harrow was about to follow, but stopped short at the threshold.
It was Gideon’s room .
Harrow waited as Gideon rustled through her things for whatever it was they had come back here for. The last thing she wanted to do was walk into Gideon’s space. Her parents barged into her room all the time, and it drove Harrow insane. She had zero privacy when they were home. Everything she had was open for them to rifle through and scrutinize. She didn’t want to put that same intrusion on Gideon.
“Here,” Gideon presented Harrow with a perfectly matte black knife. The skull carved in silver on the handle made Harrow gasp. It was gorgeous!
“Y-you got this for me ?” Harrow whispered as she stroked the metal.
“Of course,” Gideon smiled. “It made me think of you. Plus with how little muscle mass you have, it’s probably safer for you to have a weapon on you”-she laughed-“especially if you insist on slapping people three times your size.” Harrow glared at the insufferable redhead and tilted the blade towards her.
“Well, it would be easier to stab you than strangle you.”
Gideon’s smile widened as the two of them left the living quarters. “You’re adorable Nonagesimus.” Harrow was thankful Gideon was facing away from her, otherwise the odd red flush rushing up her cheeks would be noticed.
You’re not adorable , Harrow reminded herself. It’s Gideon, of course she’s messing with you. The knife is nice, but it’s just a courtesy gift. Stop trying to make things mean more than they do.
Chapter 7: Joust
Harrow couldn’t see shit from her spot. The giant pole in front of her blocked the view of the entire left side of the field. It wasn’t like she wanted to watch people fake falling off of horses anyway. Harrow wished they were at Dominicus, at least for just the joust. The Dominicus jousting arena was not only larger than Canaan’s, but it was just better in every way. Gideon would probably kill her if she voiced that out loud though.
Harrow stroked the knife in her pocket and felt along its sharp edges. Almost as pretty as a skeleton. Another smile threatened to cross her face, but Harrow pushed it down. Stop letting her get a reaction. That’s what she wants, Harrow vigorously reminded herself. Everything’s a trick; everything’s a trap. You can’t fall into this hole of opening up or it’ll hurt more when the punchline comes.
More trumpets blared—God they were so out of tune—and the cavaliers rode their horses onto the dirt field. Harrow watched the cavaliers cross to their respective sides; Gideon was on the left so Harrow couldn’t see her clearly. The cavs on the right were Naberius (ew), Camilla, and Marta. Colum, Protesilaus, and Gideon were on the left and out of sight. Coronabeth was babbling her lines from the center podium of the castle stage they were seated on. Harrow had heard the spiel a hundred times and was praying for the floor to collapse and Corona to be crushed to death.
“Unlike my mother, I do not fault the advisors for not finding the killer of our king,” Corona continued. “I accept that the process will not be finished overnight, and I do hope that our joust this evening will serve as a reminder of happier times. Let the joust commence!”
The golden bubble finally moved back to her seat and the music swelled up. Harrow watched Naberius guide his horse to the starting position. The purple and gold embellishments on his animal shone against the light of the setting sun. The bombs will look decent against the sky at least. Harrow sighed as the drawn out process of Naberius and Colum circling each other commenced. Their horses whinnied and stomped dust clouds into the air. Colum’s horse looked more regal with its white banner over deep brown fur versus Naberius’s spotted horse.
It is quite a beautiful example of genetic codominance, Harrow conceded as she admired the patches of brown and black dappled over white. So imperfect, but still admirable. Beautiful yet challenging to the mind which craves uniformity and precision. It has the same captivation as Gid- Harrow sharply slapped herself. That thought was a big no. Gideon Nav—freaking Griddle —was not someone Harrow admired. Pitied? Yes. Observed? Yes. But there was a large difference between studying someone for science and personal gain versus admiring them.
The clang of Naberius and Colum striking each other’s armor with their jousting sticks brought Harrow back to the moment at hand. The two men rode past each other and circled back to charge again, Naberius’s armor bent at the ribs. Colum was an expert jouster; Tern didn’t stand a chance.
The horses neighed and galloped forward. This time Naberius’s weapon knocked into Colum’s chest. The man was pushed back and released the grip on his reins. Colum steadied himself though as the horse circled again. Mini sandstorms trailed behind each of them as the fight continued. Sadly, this time Naberius got another hit and Colum was knocked sideways off the horse. A stablehand took the animal backstage as the two men shook hands and Colum wobbled off.
Next up were Protesilaus and Camilla. The images from Protesilaus and Gideon’s fight, both on and off stage, were burned into Harrow’s mind as the giant and his horse stared down the mousy Camilla. His horse was tan with a green banner while hers was a brilliant white and black with a grey banner. Camilla’s horse refused to be spurred forward towards the creature in front of it. No amount of nudging or kicking could urge the animal onto the court. Protesilaus laughed as his horse whinnied and beat the ground so harshly it vibrated.
The audience laughed too—probably stupid enough to think it was part of the show—and Camilla eventually dismounted and was brought another horse. Palamedes and Dulcinea stood at centerstage, awkwardly out of lines. “You-er your cavalier’s horse has the right idea. Stepping out so as, uh, not to have a crushing defeat!” Dulcinea improvised rather well for a Canaan actor. Palamedes, as usual, was slower than a molasses infused snail. The dolt stared at Dulcinea—most likely stuck in an endorphin haze due to his attraction to her—until eventually Sextus’s brain returned to his body and he spoke.
“Ah, yes! The h-horse may fear defeat, but, uh, my cavalier does not! She shall win!” Palamedes nodded with so much confidence he practically gave himself whiplash. Once Camilla was situated with a less terrified horse, the joust started.
And ended just as quickly.
Protesilaus’s spear rammed Camilla off her horse without care. She was still holding onto the reins as she fell, pulling the poor horse backwards and nearly to the ground beside her. Lucky for the animal, the reins snapped and it was able to run off. Protesilaus rode past Camilla’s body and brought his monstrous animal to stop beside Naberius. Two stablehands helped Camilla off the ground and carried her backstage. Harrow was hoping the limpness in her stance and rolling of her head were all part of the show.
Now it was Marta and Gideon’s turn. Harrow hoped Gideon would lose, not because she wanted Gideon to fail, but because she did not want Gideon to go against Protesilaus again. Harrow rose and took centerstage with the war advisor, Judy something; she didn’t really care. On the court, Marta’s rusty red horse snorted and shook the gleaming red banners. Gideon’s horse, well that specimen was almost as beautiful as Gideon herself. It had an onyx coat with beady black eyes and banners made of midnight velvet trimmed in silver sparkles. The whole creature moved like oil fresh from the ground and bellowed with the force of a thunderstorm.
“-quite the abnormal foe,” the woman continued, “but my cavalier has yet to be vanquished in a joust.”
“There comes a day for all things.”
Marta and Gideon’s joust lasted forever. Neither stubborn woman would fall off their horse. Their jousting spears struck metal over and over, but they never dropped the reins. Harrow’s legs burned from standing and watching them. She was five seconds from breaking character to yell at Gideon to spare her from any more standing, when Marta’s spear was knocked from her grasp by a jab to the shoulder. Her injured arm lay still as she pulled her horse around and forfeited.
Harrow felt a slight tremble begin in her muscles. It’s the strain of using them all day, she told herself. The tremors inconveniently increased as Protesilaus and Gideon lined up across from each other. Thankfully, Gideon would joust with Naberius first, so she had a chance to lose. Please lose, Harrow incessantly urged. If ever there was a time for Gideon to be on her wavelength, this was it.
Naberius and Gideon charged. The first strike knocked Naberius to the side, but he held on with his legs and pulled himself back onto the horse. The second strike dented Gideon’s armor, but didn’t move her. C’mon Griddle. Harrow screamed internally. Please just fall!
She listened. Gideon’s head turned up to Harrow’s spot for a brief second, and Harrow swore she saw a sparkle in those golden eyes. Then the onyx horse was off again, barreling towards Naberius. His spear struck Gideon’s chest dead on. Her body careened backwards like a pebble in a slingshot and hit the ground so harshly dust ballooned up. Harrow flinched only the faintest bit at seeing Gideon’s body sprawled across the ground, but, akin to a fly who refuses to be swatted out of existence, Gideon was up and walking off the field as if nothing happened. As she followed her horse backstage, Gideon pulled her helmet off and looked up to Harrow again. The soft shine of sweat on her forehead alongside the tangled mass of red hair brought another odd electrical feeling to Harrow’s chest.
Good girl Nav.
Harrow returned to her seat and focused her attention on the waning sunlight and mosaic of colors across the horizon. She faintly caught the sounds of the audience cheering as metal crunched on metal, but Harrow didn’t want to watch Protesilaus pummel Naberius. She traced the asymmetrical lines the clouds made as they passed in front of the sun. Perhaps if she stared long enough her retinas would burn out and she could live the rest of her life in a blissful sea of black.
As with all good things Harrow had, the world snatched the thoughts from her grasp by rousing a loud cheer from the audience. Naberius was across the jousting field, unmoving on the ground. Protesilaus and his horse pranced around back, his tense jaw visible under the dented metal helmet. Two stagehands lifted Naberius’s body from the dirt and carried him backstage. Harrow didn’t like him too much, but she did hope he was mostly acting.
The sky had changed from its technicolor display to a rich darkness enveloping the arena. Torches were lit along the stage and the audience section to keep the chill of dusk from invading. Harrow pulled her cape tighter around herself, freezing already.
Now the mystery would be unveiled.
It was Tettaire’s most entertaining monologue in the whole show. He had the perfect angle too, right in the path of a gentle breeze to blow his dark blue cape against the stage’s white background. Harrow had heard his declaration hundreds of times during rehearsal, so the words no longer had an effect on her. The audience was a different story.
The large gathering of people gasped as Tettaires brandished a piece of paper, declaring it to be a document he discovered while investigating the king’s murder. He kneeled before Abigail and presented the scroll which she took like it was a bomb. “That piece of paper holds the answer to who has slain our beloved king!” Issac continued. “As Your Majesty will read, it is a document of allyship between two members of the royal dungeon for the purpose of eliminating the king! Those perpetrators are none other than-” He pointed to the white clad figure slowly retreating down the stairs. “The Royal Judge and his cavalier!”
Silas froze with Colum, appearing from backstage, at his side. They both drew their swords on cue with the swell of music from the speakers and the increase of smoke from the machines. If those morons had been paying attention to any of Silas’s dialogue they’d have figured out hours ago he was the one responsible, Harrow griped internally at the expressions of shock running through the audience.
Silas ran his dialogue about the king’s impurity and how no one could stop him blah blah blah. Harrow was far too exhausted from the day to pay attention to the lines. She knew the cues just fine; it wasn’t like she hadn’t heard this same spiel since December. Smoke bombs in five seconds, she counted as Silas drew his ‘weapon’ from his pocket. Then I can get the hell off this stage.
The bombs went off and filled the arena with sweet smelling smoke. Harrow leapt from her seat to the dust covered ground and rushed backstage alongside Dulcinea and Ianthe. “Those effects are so asinine compared to ours,” Ianthe sniffed at the already thinning smoke. A sparkler above the castle went off and rained multicolored sparks onto the actors participating in the fight against Silas and Colum.
“Those fireworks are decent,” Harrow observed from their spot. She looked through the peepholes in the walls at the fight going on in the arena. Colum was surrounded by Marta, Gideon, the Chatur child, and Camilla, all of them holding swords. Meanwhile Silas was being backed to the edge of the arena by Protesilaus, Sextus, and Tettaires. More smoke and fire cues gave the otherwise dull scene a theatrical flair.
“Enough fighting!” Coronabeth’s line brought an end to the music and the bombs. She paused until the wind blew the smoke away so the audience got a clear view of the display. Silas was against the fence with his sword defensively forward while Colum had been knocked to the ground with Camilla’s heel planted on his chest. “There has been so much bloodshed this day!” Coronabeth continued. “We are no better than these murderers if we fall into the pits of violence and hatred.”
“My daughter is right.” Abigail strode from her position off stage to the center of the arena beside Coronabeth. “We must not let the honor of my husband’s memory be tarnished by the glint of blood. Take these two away to the dungeons they so love!” Camilla and Marta hoisted Colum off the ground and led him backstage with each arm pinned to his back. Palamedes took Silas’s weapon while Protesilaus lifted the small gremlin over his shoulder and carried him off.
“This isn’t the last you’ll see from me!” Silas called from his unfortunate position. “This country will yet be cleansed!”
His final line cued the music to pick up again as the queen and princess finished the scene. Harrow waited silently in the corner as the others backstage congratulated Silas and each other on the performance. She was happy for him, his stage fright was a well kept secret she had become knowledgeable of many years ago, but the corner held the only heater, and the chill of evening was prodding into her skin.
The noise of the audience became louder as they applauded for the final actors. Abigail and Corona returned backstage, beaming like midday sunlight. The remaining cavaliers and advisors followed behind, equally as bright and sunny. Harrow cringed away from the grinning faces like they carried the plague.
“Opening day seems to have gone off without a hitch!” Ianthe barged into Harrow’s space with hunting daggers for eyes. She rested her hand on Harrow’s arm in a gentle threat. “Don’t you think so Harrowhark?”
“Do not touch me Tridentarius,” Harrow snapped and swatted the hand away. Ianthe set her mouth into a thin line and retreated to her sister. If only it was that easy all the time to get rid of her, Harrow grumbled.
Just as she settled back into her corner, Gideon arrived with that trademark stupid smile on her face. “You were great up there Har-”
Her tone must’ve been more snappish than anticipated because Gideon backed up with a kicked puppy expression. The look roused another weird feeling in Harrow’s chest, like a weight was resting on her sternum, and she felt obligated to expunge the sensation. “You did very well Griddle. Thank you for not fighting Protesilaus again.”
Gideon’s smile returned full force, the sight of which removed the weight on Harrow’s chest. “Well when I saw that look you were giving me from up there, I figured you wanted me to lose.”
“Because I was glaring at you?”
“No”—Gideon laughed like the idea was amusing—”because you looked terrified. It was so out of character for your face I almost thought I imagined it.”
Harrow’s face in question betrayed her by filling with a rose colored blush. “I-I was not terrified in any way, Griddle! I was just concerned that Protesilaus would be more harsh on you considering the events of earlier. That is in no way-” Harrow was silenced as Gideon put her arm across Harrow’s shoulders and squeezed them in a disgusting version of a hug. “You’re going to lose that arm in a couple seconds Nav,” she hissed.
Gideon laughed again—god she had zero survival instincts—and said, “Admit you didn’t want to see me get pummeled and I might let you go.” Her coy smile made Harrow half want to break her nose and half want to ki-
Harrow’s instincts activated at the horrifying thought that almost crossed her mind. She twisted out from under Gideon’s arm and jabbed her pointy elbow into the redhead’s ribs for good measure. If the action hurt Gideon she didn’t show it, just kept that same lighthearted grin and rubbed the spot. “Be careful with elbowing me Nonagesimus,” she said as she stepped away from the corner. “You were inches from hitting this.” Gideon knocked on the upper half of her ribs and a metallic ring sounded underneath. Harrow grimaced at the thought of striking the metal chestplate, quite thankful she hadn’t. Normally she wouldn’t show so much obvious emotion to Gideon, but anything was better than the disgusting, vile, and disturbing word that had neared Harrow’s conscious threshold.
“Let’s just go set up for the finale,” she ordered.
“We have 45 minutes until then!” Gideon cried exasperatedly. “Can’t we hang out here and talk to some of the fairegoers? That’s the best part, and we’ve barely done it today!”
“I don’t talk to people. You know that Griddle.”
Gideon leapt in front of Harrow and bent down to be eye level. The action was as degrading as it was awkward. “Please Nonagesimus? You just have to stand there and look evil; you were born to play that role!”
Harrow pondered the pros and cons, but if it meant giving Gideon something to do besides annoy her, it would do. “Fine. You have 15 minutes.” Gideon squeezed Harrow in a quick, and unappreciated, hug before dragging her out into the small field beyond the jousting arena.
“Hey, Death Advisor!” Dulcinea and Sextus were standing side by side near a decrepit oak tree. Camilla was lingering in the shadows behind them, but thankfully Protesilaus was nowhere to be seen. Gideon dragged Harrow over to the trio who were surrounded by strange audience members.
Dulcinea wrapped Harrow in a hug—why was everyone suddenly interested in touching her—before pushing her towards a group of young teenagers. “This is the Death Advisor for the kingdom. She’s in charge of handling dead bodies, death tolls, and tracking fatal events like plagues or natural disasters!” Dulcinea clearly was overcompensating on what Harrow’s role was. All she did in the Faire was look menacing in the corner.
For some reason, the kids bought into the idea Harrow was cool and looked at her with their young, naive faces. “Your cape is so cute!” The one girl, a Coronabeth look-alike with a neckline to put a nursemaid to shame, stroked the black fabric while twirling a lock of her hair. “I wish I looked that good in black, but I wouldn’t wanna come off as some kind of goth.” Her two bleach blonde friends laughed while the fourth girl in the group ducked her head down in embarrassment.
The three future strippers strutted off with their historically inaccurate dresses, leaving their other group member behind under the tree. “Aren’t you with them?” Harrow asked.
“She’s just my sister,” the girl said quietly. “The less time I have to spend with her the better.” She waited until the trio had disappeared into the dragon shop before starting after them. “You are really pretty in black by the way!” She called over her shoulder.
“Um, thanks.” The words barely came out of Harrow’s mouth before the girl was out of earshot. She’s being polite. Making up for her sister being an oblivious mouth breather, Harrow assured herself.
Dulcinea bounced up to Harrow with far too much cheeriness. “Don’t you just love interacting with the fairegoers?”
Dulcinea laughed and tried to touch Harrow’s shoulders again. When she refused, Dulcinea caught the hint and stepped out of Harrow’s space. “Well, you are widely known as a bit of a hermit,” the woman joked.
“Correct. I don’t like interacting with people.”
The silence lingered in between them for an awkward amount of time before Dulcinea made a graceless exit to chat up some other stragglers on the field. Gideon and Camilla were showing off their swords to a family with three small kids. Sextus had made a lucky escape into the fog, which left Harrow alone in the darkness.
After a few minutes, her peace and tranquility was shattered by none other than Gideon Nav.
“Hey Harrow, it's been 15 minutes. You ready to go to Drearburh for the finale?”
Harrow looked up at her in slight shock. She had actually paid attention to what Harrow wanted? This was unexplored territory for her, but the warm feeling Gideon’s words generated inside her stomach gave Harrow the confidence to investigate further. “You actually remembered I said 15 minutes?”
As usual, Harrow found a way to screw everything up. Gideon’s happy glow dissipated a bit with the words and turned into a hurt scowl. “Wow, you really think I’m stupid don’t you Nonagesimus.”
Due to a strange human impulse Harrow was previously unaware she possessed, she desperately grabbed Gideon’s arm as she tried to walk away. “No, I don’t think you’re stupid! I’m just not used to people actually listening to what I say, especially people who I know don’t like-woah.” Harrow managed to stop the torrential downpour of words coming out, but only by the perceptual realization that she was holding onto Gideon’s bicep, and it was huge .
“I, uh, I didn’t mean to, uh, to do that,” Harrow cursed her voice for stuttering as she pulled her hand off Gideon’s muscle. Of course, her stupid smile had returned which just made Harrow even more embarrassed.
“You aren’t used to muscles, are you Nonagesimus?”
Harrow glared up at the grinning redhead. “Is that supposed to be some kind of jab at the fact I’m boney?” The widening grin was her confirmation. “I am used to seeing muscles, Nav,” she snapped. “Just not, well I’m not used to touching them. On living people.”
Gideon raised an eyebrow with half concern and half interest. “ Living people? Nonagesimus, are you getting frisky with the corpses in the cemetery?” Harrow smacked Gideon’s arm as the girl burst out laughing.
“I did work-study in the morgue you moron! I’m used to decaying bodies with pinched skin and yellowed organs, not live people!”
“Explains your personality a bit more.” Gideon smartly jumped away as Harrow lunged to smack her again. “Hey, for once your smile isn’t like a psychotic murderer,” Gideon pointed out.
Harrow brought her hand to her face and realised she was, in fact, smiling. She relaxed the muscles until her normal scowl returned and pulled her hood up so it shrouded her face a bit. “We should go,” she said, realising the two of them were among the last people by the arena. Even the bubbly Dulcinea had vanished. The action of putting up the hood opened Harrow’s cape and allowed wind to rush at her nearly frostbitten skin. She shivered and wrapped her arms around her torso as her and Gideon followed the concrete path back to Drearburh.
“Cold?” Gideon asked, aggravating Harrow with her habit of pointing out the obvious.
“No Griddle, sure it’s only fifteen freaking degrees outside and windy, but I feel like a sauna!” Harrow snapped back. “That’s why I’m wrapped in my cape like a damn burrito!”
“It’s definitely not fifteen degrees.”
“ Celsius , you dumbass.”
Gideon sighed and slowed down. Harrow—seconds from getting hypothermia—kept walking. A hand on her shoulder forced her to stop, then a weight was suddenly draped around her. Harrow ran her hand over the warm jacket now across her upper body, her mind struggling to comprehend where it came from. She turned around to see Gideon standing there, sans leather jacket.
“You-you’re giving me your jacket?”
“Maybe you won’t be such a bitch if you warm up, Nonagesimus.”
Harrow followed behind Gideon the rest of the way to Drearburh, trying to convince herself the warmth on her face was from returning blood flow and not Gideon Nav.
Chapter 8: Finale
The finale was one of the most beautiful performances Canaan put on. The whole of Drearburh stage was alight with torches while music drifted from all the open windows and doors. Each advisor got a velvet tufted seat around a sleek wooden table while the cavaliers were perched on the staircases and balconies around the back of Drearburh. Gideon’s spot was on the main landing that both staircases ran up to. It was small enough that she had it completely to herself. Cam was on the left staircase, perched in a false window. The right staircase was supposed to hold Protesilaus, but the man was nowhere to be seen.
Good riddance, Gideon thought. She chugged water from the giant mug in her hands, wishing it was beer like the prop alluded to. Directly below Gideon’s roost were Harrow and the Sextus boy, deep in whispered conversation. She had to admit, her jacket wrapped around Harrow’s body was as funny as it was, almost, cute.
The performers onstage finished the dance they were doing and bounded off to the back. Another performer, one of the new magicians, arrived. As much as Gideon loved performing in the Faire, she did miss being able to walk around and watch the various shows as an audience member. The singers, dancers, jugglers, magicians, artisans, and everything in between was a major aspect of the Faire experience. Maybe I can drag Harrow to watch the whip juggler tomorrow. She’ll enjoy the fire effects and-
“Pretty flower for a pretty girl?” Gideon was jolted from her daydream to see Cytherea standing over her. Gideon’s eyes went first to her bright dress, which was nothing short of an eye catcher with a floor length rainbow skirt and a white sleeveless top that was millimeters from showing cleavage. Cytherea was holding out to Gideon a metal flower that was painted a glorious gold color. “It reminded me of your eyes,” she smiled.
Gideon took the flower, heavier than the usual wimpy ones the apothecary gave out, and ran her fingers over the sharp edges making up the rose and its leaves. As she examined it, she noticed the faintest tint of red along the stem and top. “This is gorgeous,” Gideon whispered, not wanting to disrupt the performance below. “Did you just get a new shipment of these?”
Cytherea nodded and tucked her skirt around her legs to sit beside Gideon. Her woven basket was filled with metal flowers, but none were as brilliant as Gideon’s. “I saw that one right away; it shone brighter than all the others.” Cytherea rested her hand over Gideon’s, sending a tingle of electricity across Gideon’s skin. She leaned her head towards Gideon’s face and her warm breath sent vibrations down her spine. “Dulcie told me you and Pro had a bit of a catfight,” she whispered with a hint of concern.
“More like Harrow and him had a catfight.”
Cytherea huffed and leaned against Gideon’s arm. “He’s such a prick. I don’t know how Dulcie can stand working with him for all these months.”
“She’s not one to voice her real thoughts about people,” Gideon pointed out.
Cytherea covered her mouth to mask her laugh. “True. She hasn’t mastered the art of telling people to fuck off like I have.”
Gideon let her arm bend to pull Cytherea closer. She didn’t resist. “ That is one of the things I like about you.” Gideon attempted to sound cool, but instead Cytherea snorted.
“Yeah, you seem to attract a lot of people with that trait.”
“What do you mean?”
Cytherea pointed down to where Harrow was applauding for the magician. “Harrowhark’s entire personality is telling people to fuck off”—she then pointed to Cam who was chugging her water like it was vodka—”and so is Cam’s. They both seem to like you. Harrowhark especially .” She said the last part with a touch of venom that surprised Gideon.
“I have to work with Harrow,” she pointed out. “And Cam is cool.”
“Cam isn’t the one I’m concerned about.”
A weird silence came between them as Gideon’s eyes fell on Harrow. She was nothing more than a tangled mass of black. Harrow’s senses activated and her face turned up to Gideon’s roost. At first a small lip curl threatened to turn into a smile, but when her dark eyes saw Cytherea with Gideon’s arm around her, Harrow’s glimmer dropped and she turned back to the performances.
“Come by the apothecary after the finale,” Cytherea purred in Gideon’s ear, startling her. “So we can have some privacy.” Her long eyelashes batted in a wink before she was up and heading back down the stairs. Protesilaus had still not arrived at his position, and Gideon saw Cytherea glance around his spot, but upon not finding him she returned to the audience.
What a douche, Gideon thought about the hulking monstrosity. I hope Teacher or Aiglamene are railing on him for how he acted during the joust. She looked up to the roost above her on the right where Naberius was sitting. He was holding an ice pack disguised as a hat to the side of his head. He gave her a thumbs up when he noticed she was looking, but his wince at moving his shoulder backfired on the display of confidence.
It was fifteen minutes later when the final song finished and the sparklers signifying the end of the finale went off. The audience, now having grown to a couple hundred people, applauded as the actors left the stage. “I hate this part,” Harrow griped as she joined Gideon heading for the entrance to the Faire.
“I love this part!” Gideon said happily. “People always want to get photos with the knights, especially with me.”
“It’s probably less to do with your role and more to do with your physique.” That sentence coming out of Harrowhark Nonagesimus’s mouth was like a truck running Gideon over.
“Uh, well uh, thank you?” Gideon crawled out from under the truck with the only intelligent thought she could form.
Harrow’s upper cheeks suddenly flamed red and her eyes almost bugged out of her head. “You weren’t supposed to hear that,” she whispered, barely audible. Her arms wriggled out from under Gideon’s jacket and tossed the fabric towards her. “Here. Thank you.” Another truck ran Gideon over at hearing words of thanks from Harrow .
They stopped just outside the entrance gates alongside Sextus—God, Gideon loved making fun of his name—and Cam. Harrow instantly took refuge beside the nerd, muttering something about discussing a research paper. “That was really weird,” Gideon said aloud as she put her jacket on. The golden flower Cytherea gave her she stashed in the inner pocket.
“You’re talking about Harrowhark Nonagesimus, you’ll have to be more specific,” Cam said dryly. She took another sip from her mug and Gideon caught the faintest whiff of alcohol.
Gideon laughed a full throated laugh that made Cam look at her with an ‘Are You Insane?’ look. “I’m sorry,” Gideon coughed out. “Just, where were you when I had no friends in high school? You would have been the perfect partner in crime.”
Cam smiled and sipped her alcohol again. “I spent most of high school holed up in the library or at the hospital doing work-study.”
“So you can legally diagnose Harrow as insane?” Cam snorted and almost spit out her drink.
“Anyone with an IQ above 5 can do that.” She finished the alcohol and hooked the mug onto her belt. “I wish she’d spend less time with Palamedes. He doesn’t need that constant presence suffocating him.”
“Once you get used to her she’s not that bad.”
Cam looked at Gideon like she’d proclaimed she liked to cook children. “Alright, so you’re insane.”
“I’m serious,” Gideon said after she stopped laughing. “Harrow’s a lot more tame when we’re working together than fighting against each other. You just have to get over her occasional rudeness and some tone deaf responses.”
Cam spoke slowly, like she was picking her words one by one. “I don’t think I could ever successfully work with the person I hated. You know, unless there was something else going on.”
Gideon groaned and rubbed her sore eyes. “For the last time, Harrow and I aren’t into each other. I’m being nice to her, and she’s, well, she’s being Harrow but I’m used to that.”
Cam’s eyebrow went up which gave her the appearance of an incredulous schoolteacher. “If you say so.”
After at least an hour of chatting and photos, the entrance finally cleared and it was just the small band of actors standing around the gates. The night crept in as shops shut down and everyone returned to Drearburh for makeup removal. Most of Gideon’s glitter was gone, but the black paint smeared across white makeup wipes still looked cool. The excited bustle of the morning turned into the dazed mess of tired bodies and whispers of ‘See you tomorrow.’
Gideon waved goodbye to Harrow who was still in a makeup chair having her false eyelashes removed. Without the arching black eyeshadow and full black lips, her face was grey and pointed in all the wrong ways. Her cheeks seemed to sink as pounds of foundation were removed, her eyes looked too far back in her head, and her mouth was a thin line with red marks ringed where her lower lip should've been. Harrow could have been mistaken for a walking skeleton.
“What are you staring at Griddle?” Harrow’s voice was as sharp as in the morning, not a hint of exhaustion to be found.
Deciding she wanted to live, Gideon said, “Nothing. Goodnight,” and left Drearburh.
As excited as Gideon was to crash into bed, first she had to go see Cytherea. The paths leading back to the apothecary were dim and misty as the clock approached eleven. Gideon pulled out the flower and examined it in the darkness. It was shining even in the lackluster light, but with a dull green tint layered over the red. This is the coolest flower the apothecary has ever made! She stopped under one of the street lamps and was admiring the glow of the metal when she felt an icy shiver run down her spine.
Gideon turned around and looked back at the square she’d just passed through. Her whole body was buzzing with alertness, but she couldn’t figure out why. Then she saw a shadow dash across the square and behind the jewelry shop. “Hey! Who’s there?” No response. “I see you!” Gideon tried again. Still nothing.
Body slightly trembling, Gideon continued walking up the path. She slipped the flower back into her pocket for safekeeping and kept an eye out for moving shadows. Her parent’s shop was less than ten feet ahead, and just beyond it was the apothecary. Footsteps on gravel behind her made Gideon spin around and draw her sword.
No one was there.
“I’m just tired.” Gideon told herself as she shakily slid her sword back in its sheath. “There’s no one there. I’m just tired.”
The sword shop was dark and empty; her parents were probably both in the back for the night. Gideon debated stopping in, but she didn’t want Cytherea to think she’d forgotten so she kept going.
Until the loud clatter of a garbage can being knocked over made Gideon spin around yet again. The blood was rushing through her head so fast it roared in her ears. “Who the hell is following me!” She shouted. The blue can rolling on the half paved and half gravel road gave no answers.
Gideon gently lifted the can back upright and looked around the darkened shops and mist covered field. There was nothing. Gideon took some deep calming breaths to steady her nerves. “I know you’re there!” She shouted to the darkness. It didn’t answer back. Her peripheral vision caught movement from the path going up towards one of the performance stages. A large shadow dashed in between the rows and through the tents set up beyond. Gideon watched as the suspiciously familiar hulk vanished around the bend.
“He’s just trying to scare me,” Gideon whispered to herself as she continued towards the apothecary. “It’s working, but he’s not crazy enough to actually go farther .” She watched the path where the Protesilaus shaped shadow had gone, but he didn’t return. Gideon arrived at the apothecary rattled, but still alive.
Cytherea was in the back garden surrounded by burning incense. Her rainbow dress had been switched for a black hoodie and sweatpants, but she still looked beautiful. “Hey gorgeous, thought you might have forgot.” Cytherea turned on the blanket she had strewn across the ground and beamed at Gideon bright enough to slice the night in half.
“Of course I didn’t forget you.” Gideon decided to leave out the possible stalker and laid down beside Cytherea on the blanket. The vanilla incense wafted around them as the breeze picked up. “Get a lot of visitors here today?” Gideon attempted to make smalltalk as Cytherea curled against her chest.
“It was manageable,” the smaller girl said as she rested her hand on Gideon’s knee.
“Hey, Cyth, uh I hate to say this, but uh, I-I’m exhausted.” It was easier to claim being tired—which she was—than try to explain that a man capable of killing her had just been following her. Cytherea took the hint and moved her hand from Gideon’s leg.
“Never thought I’d hear Gideon Nav say she’s too tired for me,” Cytherea laughed, but she was still smiling so Gideon felt less bad.
“I’m sor-” Cytherea cut Gideon’s apology short with a kiss. When their tongues disconnected from each other, Cytherea pressed her head into the crook of Gideon’s neck with a smile.
They laid for a while in the garden, taking turns looking at each other and the star speckled sky above.
Gideon blinked her eyes open and stretched her sore limbs. Dammit, I fell asleep. Cytherea was passed out next to her on the blanket, chest gently rising and falling. Gideon untangled her arm from Cytherea’s hold and got up off the ground. She could feel random indents of packed dirt and pebbles in her back and sides. Gideon picked up Cytherea’s phone and checked the time: 1:12 AM. Shit.
Gideon didn’t want to wake Cytherea, but she also didn’t want to leave her in the garden, so she lifted the still sleeping girl and carried her to the backroom of the apothecary. Gideon laid her on the small bed in the storeroom and shut the door before leaving.
Gideon’s body was still drowsy as she slightly stumbled down the path to the shop. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, mentally praying her night owl father hadn’t waited up to give her his disapproving look as she came home late.
She went around back and pulled the spare key from under the mat. As Gideon went to open the door her gaze fell on a neon green sticky note attached to the wood. She focused her exhausted eyes as best she could on the messy words across the paper. After her brain caught up and realised what she was reading, Gideon’s blood turned to ice. She tore the note off the door and frantically pushed into the living quarters. She checked the lock twice before backing slowly down the hall to her room.
This is all a bad dream, Gideon prayed. This is all a bad dream. I’m gonna wake up and this won’t have happened. But Gideon didn’t wake up. It wasn’t a dream. She was still trembling and the note someone had stuck to the door still read:
Watch your back, Nav.
Chapter 9: Murder
Gideon didn’t sleep well that night. Every sound outside the store made her jump, and every shadow that passed by her window sent her reaching for her sword. Around 4 she finally fell into a restless sleep, but her dreams were filled with dark alleys and large shadows crushing her to death. When her alarm went off Gideon woke up covered in sweat and shaking.
She showered and tamed her hair, but the feeling of being stalked like prey loomed over her shoulder constantly. Gideon knew she was alone in the living quarters besides her parents, but she found herself glancing at each shadow like it held her doom. The kitchenette was dark—not even her father was up yet—and Gideon didn’t want to chance it, so she ran like a child back to her room and locked the door.
I’m acting crazy, Gideon told herself. Maybe I imagined it. She scrambled through the heap of clothes she had torn off earlier that morning, but the neon sticky note hadn’t changed. If anything, looking at it made Gideon’s paranoia worse.
She redressed in the cavalier of death outfit and slid her sword back into its spot on her hip. For extra protection, Gideon stored two of her knives in the jacket pockets and slipped a pair of brass knuckles into the pocket on her pants. I have such a bad feeling about today.
The knock on Gideon’s door made her jump high enough to touch the ceiling. It also made her lose her balance and knock into her dresser with a loud Bang! “Y-yes?” She called as her heart beat so harshly you could see it through her skin.
“Gideon? Hun, are you okay?” It was her mom.
“Uh, yeah. Just a bit, um, out of it.” Gideon unlocked the door and smiled as convincingly as she could at her mom’s worried expression.
Sadly, her mom was not stupid. “Gideon, what’s going on?” She pulled Gideon into a hug and gently stroked her hair. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, sweetheart.”
“I’m fine Mom, I promise. I just didn’t sleep well last night.”
“You went to see Cytherea again, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah. But that’s not why I didn’t sleep.”
Her mom laughed and kissed the top of Gideon’s head. “I’m glad you two enjoy each other’s company, but I’m surprised you haven’t asked her again to make your relationship official.”
Gideon broke the hug and continued gathering her things. She hated this conversation. They’d had it a hundred times since she’d first started seeing Cytherea. “She doesn’t want a commitment, Mom. We talked about it multiple times. She lives too far away, we went to different schools, and her family doesn’t even know she’s gay. It’s not an ideal situation.”
Her mom sighed loudly with disapproval. “I understand that, but you’re both adults now. And-“
“Can we please not talk about this?” Gideon hated how desperate her voice sounded, but she had so much on her mind that adding her age-old worries that she wasn’t good enough for Cytherea would not help. “I’ve already asked her to be my girlfriend, multiple times, and she’s already said no, multiple times.” Her mom nodded and thankfully did not push the matter. Gideon felt her nose start to run and wiped it hastily on her jacket sleeve, but it left a dark red stain. “Dammit,” she hissed as her mom handed her some tissues.
“Sweetheart, are you sure you’re okay? You only get nosebleeds when you’re stressed.” Her mom genuinely looked worried as Gideon tried to quell the, thankfully light, blood flow.
Gideon debated mentioning something about the Protesilaus incident, but she didn’t want to worry her parents. She especially didn’t want them to pull her out of the Faire. Once the day was over and the Faire was done for the weekend, the crazed monolith would calm down. “I’m fine, Mom. Just, tired and ready for the weekend to be over.” She dropped the pink stained tissue into the trash and took a few more in case it started again.
Gideon’s dad was sitting in the kitchenette with his coffee as normal. He gave a nod of acknowledgement to them both before returning to his mug. Gideon rummaged through the cabinets and pulled out a package of poptarts. Her stomach protested the intake of food, so Gideon shoved the second one back in the box. Last thing I need to do is puke today.
“I’ll see you later,” she called before closing the door and heading off to Drearburh.
“Harry, I’m worried about her.” Molly Nav watched the dot of red hair from the store window as her daughter went up to the castle. It wasn’t like Gideon to not finish breakfast, or to say she wanted the Faire weekend over with, and it certainly wasn’t like Gideon to not want to talk about Cytherea.
“She’ll be fine,” Harrison Nav grumbled from face first in his coffee mug. “She’s going through a lot right now. It’s opening weekend, she’s stuck with Harrowhark, and I’m sure she’s exhausted from dealing with both.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Molly sighed. “But I can’t shake the feeling something else is going on.”
“If you’re so concerned, ask her.”
Molly continued watching out the window as the red splotch vanished beyond the pathway. Gideon hadn’t even gone to the apothecary. Something was clearly wrong. She stopped herself outside of Gideon’s room. No, respect her space. She’ll tell you what’s wrong when she wants to. Then she thought about the look on her daughter’s face when she had opened her door, the mixture of fear, anxiety, and sleeplessness in those usually glowing eyes. I’m her mother; it’s my job to protect her. I can’t do that if I don’t know what’s upsetting her.
Gideon’s room was a mess. Her blankets were strewn across the floor and her pillowcase had sweat stains decorating it like new age expressionist art. The items knocked off of Gideon’s dresser—deodorant, hair brush, and some good-luck knick-knacks—were still scattered across the floor. Please don’t have any of your magazines in here, Gideon, Molly prayed as she picked up the items.
After the dresser was organized she continued her search for any clue as to why her daughter was acting so strange. Molly gathered the blankets off the floor and dropped them back on the bed. “Aw Wake, what are you doing under there?” She pulled the stuffed tiger out from under the bed where it had fallen. Gideon’s favorite stuffed toy since kindergarten, weirdly named Wake of all things, had traveled to Faire every year. Molly set the tiger back on the pile of blankets and smiled at the memories of ten year old Gideon carrying that tiger around the fairegrounds, refusing to buy a dragon because Wake might get jealous.
“Gideon would never kick you off the bed on purpose.” Molly stroked the faded orange fur before a green paper on the floor caught her eye. There were only four words on it, but it answered every question she had about what was bothering her daughter. “Oh Gideon, what have you gotten yourself into now?”
“Nav, your stomach is growling,” Harrow griped as Gideon joined her backstage.
“Thanks Nonagesimus, I hadn’t noticed.”
Harrow sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m saying, that annoyance could be remedied if you ate the proper amount beforehand.”
“I wasn’t hungry.”
“Your digestive system seems to disagree.”
Gideon was in no mood to go back and forth with Harrow. All she wanted was to put some distance between herself and the murderous hulk. The man in question was nowhere to be seen, and the opening performance was set to begin in five minutes.
“Have either of you seen Pro?” Dulcinea drifted in between the cavaliers and advisors with her worried but still singsong voice. Each one gave a shrug of their shoulders or a shake of their head. Dulcinea’s face became more and more worried, and by the time she got to Gideon and Harrow she was the poster child for beautifully anxious. “Have-“
“No,” Harrow snapped. “He’s probably flaking again. You know he completely missed the finale last night.”
“Does he usually do this?” Dulcinea, ever the kind and caring human being, asked.
“Yes,” Harrow, the ever curt and cruel human-ish being, said. “At Dominicus he frequently skipped performances and rehearsals. Not much of a deal since he never had an important role except as a human battering ram.” Dulcinea nodded and returned to her spot, pale eyes watching the door.
“Harrow, you know Protesilaus pretty well-“
“No I don’t.”
“Look, I’m not in the mood,” Gideon groaned. “I just want to know if he has a, well a violent streak. Ya know, off the chessboard and jousting arena.”
Harrow turned her head back up towards Gideon with her eyes narrowed into curious slits. “What are you talking about?”
Gideon was trying her best to avoid confiding in Harrow, but the universe was violently shoving her in that direction anyway. Gideon dropped her voice so it was barely in the range of a murmur and said, “I think he was following me last night. And when I got to the shop there was a threatening note on the door.”
“It’s you , Griddle. Anyone could have reason to leave a threatening note.”
“Harrow, I’m serious!” Gideon took a seat on a wooden crate beside them and laid her head against the wall. “It was weird and creepy and strange. I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and, well, I’m kind of scared.”
Harrow’s slight grin dropped off her face and she gingerly took a seat next to Gideon. “You’re serious.” Gideon just nodded. “Oh. Well, I don’t think Protesilaus is, uh, that kind of person. I’m sure there’s a, a completely logical reason for his actions. Or it’s someone else all together.”
Gideon’s hands had begun trembling again. Harrow had a point, but she didn’t know which was worse: knowing Protesilaus was after her or knowing someone was after her, but not who . Gideon’s rising anxiety was slightly stilled by the sudden presence of Harrow’s hand on her own. The action wasn’t as unpleasant as one would think though. Even with her cold skin and bony fingers, Harrow’s touch calmed Gideon’s tremors.
“I’m sure this is all a misunderstanding,” Harrow whispered, almost soothingly. “After this scene we can ask Dulcinea to help us talk to Protesilaus. She seems to have a friendly connection with him; I’m sure she’ll help get to the bottom of this.”
“Yeah, yeah that’s a good idea.” Gideon saw that half of the advisor-cavalier duos had entered the stage, but a small part of her didn’t want Harrow to move yet. For a brief couple seconds, everything was still and quiet, Harrow’s hand slowly warming up while resting on Gideon’s.
“We, uh, we should get ready.” Harrow rose, a chill permeating the space where her skin had just been. “Look on the bright side, you don’t have to do this scene with Protesilaus.”
Gideon smiled as best she could. “Thanks Nonagesimus. You know, you aren’t as evil as you want everyone to think you are.”
Harrow grimaced. “Don’t get sappy on me Griddle,” she hissed, but Gideon swore she saw the faintest tint of red under Harrow’s heavily contoured cheeks.
The opening scene was going just as well as the day before. Magnus was boisterous and strong, Coronabeth was bubbly and glowing, and the advisors hid their sleep deprivation under pounds of makeup and caffeine injections. Gideon stood in her spot and darted her gaze around the stage area. No Protesilaus.
Gideon was supposed to be focusing on the performance, waiting for the smoke cues, but her mind was scattered between the note and the lingering feeling of Harrow’s hand on hers. She had used to joke with Naberius that anything Harrow touched died—which considering the current situation was particularly not funny—but there hadn’t been anything unpleasant about the comforting touch. Gideon was too tired to even mentally smack herself for letting Harrow wriggle under her skin. Yeah, Nonagesimus would probably use that moment as ammunition for the rest of Faire, but for the moment Gideon was content to let herself believe it had been a gesture of kindness.
“-most skilled in the realm!” Gideon came back to Earth in time for Magnus’s final lines. As he raised his arms the advisors moved back, clearing for the incoming smoke bombs. “There is no one else more capable to help me than-“
The smoke bombs went off, as normal.
Magnus ducked through the false door under the stage, as normal.
The door above the stage opened for the dummy to drop through, as normal.
Then everything went horribly, horribly wrong.
Gideon wasn’t sure who screamed first. She knew Abigail and Corona’s lines were to scream, but you could tell the moment the staged wails changed to true shrieks of horror as both the actors and audience realized what was before them. Gideon pulled Harrow behind her out of rehearsed instinct, her eyes never leaving the scene. What had fallen through the trapdoor was not a staged dummy dangling from a rope; it was something far more sinister.
Hanging from the rope was the body of Protesilaus with a single, neat bullet hole through his head.
Chapter 10: Whodunnit
The burlesque but ancient man who stepped through the line of cops was the last person Gideon expected to be in charge. His skin could easily have been mistaken for a plastic sheet stretched over bones. His voice was coarse and cranky as he said, “I am Lieutenant Crux of the local police. I will be leading this investigation into the murder of Protesilaus Ebdoma.” He stressed the word ‘murder’ so hard Gideon had to do a mental check this wasn’t part of the show. Alas, it was all too real. Especially when the body bag, startlingly small of all things, was rolled into the ambulance.
The audience had been cleared from Canaan and now all the actors and shop owners were sitting on the benches before Drearburh stage. Crime scene analysts straight out of Law and Order swarmed around the stage and back rooms. They were shining lights on the stage and rafters, looking for who knew what. Gideon had never enjoyed crime shows; the universe’s sense of humor had yet to falter it seemed.
Originally Harrow had been sitting next to her, hugging her knees up to her chest and rocking with a blank look in her eyes. When Gideon’s parents had arrived though, Harrow fled to a spot beside Palamedes. Her gaze was still glossy, like she was fighting back tears. Harrow didn’t like Protesilaus; Gideon wasn’t sure why she would waste emotions on him. Then again, the only interactions Gideon had had with him beyond performances were the chessboard drama, the stalking, and the note, but yet she had wet splotches on her face too.
Her mom’s hand had been rubbing gentle circles on Gideon’s lower back as the Lieutenant took Teacher and Aiglamene into the makeup room behind the stage to talk. No one was allowed to leave until they had all been questioned. “Gideon, how are you doing?” Her mom’s gentle whisper floated past Gideon’s head. She nodded slowly, fearing if she tried to speak she’d start screaming.
“Who the hell ever heard of murder this early in the morning,” her dad mumbled from where he was leaning against a tree growing in between two benches. His coffee had clearly not kicked in yet.
His wife smacked his side hard and hissed, “Not the time, Harrison!”
Normally Gideon delighted in her dad’s dry and often poorly timed humor, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the rope the police were lowering into an evidence bag. It was pure white; not a drop of blood on it. That’s probably important, Gideon thought, but her mind instantly flickered to more pressing matters.
Like the fact that someone had fucking killed Protesilaus.
Like the fact that the one safe haven Gideon had in the world was now being mauled by cops and investigators.
Like the fact that Harrow’s makeup was running down her face as her composure cracked and she began to silently cry.
Like the overwhelming fact that Gideon wanted to pull Harrow into her as she had done on stage.
“When do you think they’ll get to us?” Jeannemary appeared beside Gideon, her eyes ringed with red and her voice scratchy. She was holding a water bottle in her trembling hands, the liquid inside sloshing around loudly.
“It’s gonna take awhile, hun.” Gideon’s mom reached out and pulled Jeannemary down into a tight hug. “I’m sure they won’t have many questions if you didn’t see anything.”
“I just want to go home,” Jeannemary whimpered into the red curls. Gideon’s mom moved and motioned for the teen to sit on her other side, wrapping one of her arms around Jeannemary’s quaking body. The girl gulped down the rest of the water in the bottle and dropped it to the pavement with a CLANG!
“I’ll refill it for you,” Gideon said as she picked up the bottle. Jeannemary was sobbing again, giving only a shaky nod of acknowledgement to Gideon’s words.
Gideon hiked up through the benches full of scared and curious people to the metal fountain near the exit to the stage area. Two police guards were blocking the exit; they eyed her for a second, but when she didn’t try to leave they went back to scuffing their boots on the ground like bored toddlers. “Look on the bright side.” Harrow’s sudden voice behind Gideon made her drop the water bottle. As she kneeled to grab it, Harrow’s legs knocked into her back and the gloom mistress toppled over onto Gideon.
Harrow’s bony fingers dug into Gideon’s already tense shoulder muscles like daggers as she caught herself. Her breath came ragged in Gideon’s ear as they both steadied themselves. “Perhaps I should have started with ‘hey’.” Harrow’s joke was the first thing to make Gideon smile all day. Her legs and back protested the sudden weight of Harrow half laying on her, but as with the feeling of Harrow’s hand on hers earlier, the touch wasn’t unpleasant.
Watch yourself, Gideon mentally chastised herself. No matter how nice or normal she’s acting, this is still Harrow. What was unpleasant though were the rocks Gideon was kneeling on and the growing pressure of Harrow’s bony chin digging into the nape of her neck. “Hey, Nonagesimus, you mind getting off of me?”
Harrow sprung up and made a show of brushing off her cape and shirt. Her leather vest was gone, which only enunciated the smallness of her upper body. Gideon caught herself tracing the curve where Harrow’s rib cage stopped and was surprised at how difficult it was to turn her gaze away.
“As I was, uh, saying,” Harrow awkwardly cleared her throat, “Look on the bright side, your Protesilaus issue is solved.”
“Say that a bit louder, Harrow. I don’t think the dozens of cops heard you say I had a problem with the man who was just fucking murdered.”
Harrow’s bare cheeks flamed red and her eyes darted around them, but the cops by the exit were chatting away without care as to their conversation. “Sorry. I-I’m not thinking very clearly at the moment.”
Gideon turned her attention to filling Jeannemary’s water bottle. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Nonagesimus. You can’t have perfect control in every situation.”
Before Harrow could respond in her own normal Harrow way, Lieutenant Crux emerged from backstage with Teacher and Aiglamene. The three ancient creatures shook hands before Teacher raised his arm to gather everyone’s attention. Not like he didn’t already have it; a man had just been murdered.
“The Lieutenant has some questions for the actors as well as any shopkeepers who saw Protesilaus Ebdoma after the joust last night. Remember, this is not an interrogation. The police just need to know the whereabouts of Protesilaus leading up to his untimely demise”—Teacher turned to Lieutenant Crux who nodded, giving him permission to say whatever was next—“Please make your way backstage when your name is called. Now this is in no particular order, remember.”
Harrow scoffed in her normal Harrow way. “Yeah, that’s code for ‘whichever sucker gets called first is suspect number one’.”
Teacher ran his eyes over the group with an expression that confirmed Harrow’s assessment. “Gideon Nav.”
“So Ms. Nav—“
“For the love of God; I’m eighteen, not eighty.”
“Alright. Gideon , is it true that after the chess scene you and the deceased had a heated exchange in front of the other actors?”
“Yeah, he was completely out of line with his weapon. I was pissed.”
“And is it fair to say the fact that he is from a rival Faire bolstered your anger at being shown up during the scene?”
“I was not ‘shown up.’ Protesilaus had no protective cover on his weapon, he was unnecessarily aggressive, and he did not care that he was close to harming me! Rival Faire or not, I was perfectly right to be angry.”
“And were you perfectly right to want to get back at him for embarrassing you in front of your fellow performers?”
“I’m not the one who can’t handle embarrassment! Protesilaus is the one who went nuts! He was stalking me after the finale, and he left a threatening note on the door of my parent’s store telling me to watch my back.”
“Do you know for sure the note was from him?”
“The Faire overseers didn’t mention anything about this.”
“I hadn’t yet told them. I wanted to—”
“I wanted to handle it myself, okay? Fuck, that sounds horrible all things considered.”
“It’s also a convenient self-defense strategy.”
“Oh please, you saw him! How could I win a physical fight, much less disarm and kill someone that much bigger?”
“You don’t strike me as the damsel in distress type. I’m sure you could find a way to take down the big mean man and not mess up your pretty hair.”
“Don’t condescend to me, bitch.”
“Oh anger issues. A nice touch. So Gideon, can anyone confirm your whereabouts from about midnight to 2 AM?”
“After I left Drearburh I noticed I was being followed by who I assumed was Protesilaus. I then stayed at the apothecary with Cytherea Septimus from a bit after eleven until 1:15 when I left and went back to my parent’s shop. I got in at 1:20 and went to bed. That’s when I found the note on the door.”
“And she’ll confirm you both were together the whole time? You never left for any reason?”
“No, we fell asleep together in the back garden.”
“Hm. If she was asleep there’s no reason you couldn’t have left and went after the stalker.”
“But I didn’t.”
“But no one can confirm that for sure. Did you tell Ms. Septimus about being followed?”
“No. I didn’t want to worry her.”
“Right. Because you wanted to, and I quote, ‘handle it yourself’.”
“Yes or no, Gideon.”
“ Yes. ”
“And now Protesilaus, the man who embarrassed you, insulted you, scared you, and followed you, is dead. You know what we call that in police business?”
“ Convenient. ”
“Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Wow, that’s quite a mouthful.”
“I hate you already.”
“You seem to hate many people. Especially the deceased. You slapped him in front of everyone according to Aiglamene.”
“And how would she know that?”
“Protesilaus told her.”
“What was the argument about?”
“He insulted my cav.”
“Cavalier. That’s the title for the guards each advisor has.”
“Ah. And who is your cavalier?”
“So the argument she had with the deceased and the incident where you slapped him are one and the same?”
“So it’s safe to assume that you have a strong desire to protect Gideon. Seeing as how you picked a fight with a man at least 10x your size.”
“I don’t need to protect her; Gideon can handle herself. Protesilaus was out of line with his words and I felt the need to make a point.”
“And what better point than to have him turn up dead?”
“You said yourself, he’s 10x my size. How could I have killed him?”
“Anyone can handle a gun, Ms. Nonagesimus. But I’m more interested in your assertion that ‘Gideon can handle herself.’ What exactly do you mean?”
“You’re trying to make me say it’s possible she killed him, but that’s not true. Gideon is sweet and kind; she’s a gentle giant in every way. Our plan was to talk to Protesilaus, not harm him.”
“You two had a plan?”
“Well, yes. When Gideon told me this morning about Protesilaus stalking and threatening her, I suggested that after the opening scene we talk to him.”
“Is that the first time you heard about this so-called stalking?”
“Yes, but Gideon is not a liar. She wouldn’t make up something like that. She was genuinely scared.”
“Well I’m sorry Ms. Nonagesimus, but as of right now the only time Gideon Nav mentioned these threats was after Protesilaus was dead.”
“You can’t really think Gideon would kill someone over something as stupid as an argument.”
“I’m not saying anything like that. I just find the whole situation rather—“
“ Convenient .”
“Hello Ms. Septimus.”
“Good day Lieutenant. I’m sorry for my appearance, this whole morning has been quite exhausting. Protesilaus and I have been working together for months and—as horrible as it sounds I didn’t actually care for him too much—the fact he was murdered is horrid!”
“I understand Ms—“
“Please, just call me Dulcinea.”
“Okay. Dulcinea, when was the last time you saw the deceased?”
“After the joust. He put his horse away—oh how am I going to tell Xavier about this?!”
“The horse. Him and Pro had such a connection.”
“Ah yes, the horse will, uh, be very upset. I’m sure. But please continue.”
“Well after Xavier was tended to, Pro said he had some work to do in the apothecary and he would be back for the finale. But he never arrived. Is-is that when he—“
“No, the medical examiner estimated the time of death to be a few hours later. But you didn’t see him after the joust at all? Not even in passing on the fairgrounds?”
“Did he mention anything about what kind of work he had to do in the apothecary?”
“No, just said he had to look into something.”
“And do you know who might have been around the apothecary that might know what he was doing?”
“My sister is tending to it this year because I got a role. She should have been there closing up at that time.”
“And your sister is?”
“The same Cytherea Septimus who Gideon Nav mentioned as her alibi?”
“Well I guess so. They’ve had this on again off again relationship since freshman year. Gideon usually goes to the apothecary after the finale to see her.”
“And you didn’t go by the apothecary last night at all?”
“No, I went out to the all night diner up the road with a few other actors.”
“I’ll need their names to confirm. No offense, standard procedure.”
“I completely understand, Lieutenant. The Tridentarius sisters, Silas Octakisseron, Isaac Tettaires, and—oh wait. Naberius Tern was supposed to join us, but he was injured in the joust and wanted to go right to bed.”
“Oh my, that sounds a tad intense. How did that happen?”
“He was rammed off his horse while jousting against Protesilaus. He has a concussion and some bruised bones.”
“Do you think Naberius would have gone after Protesilaus? Tried to get some revenge?”
“Oh my heavens no! Naberius is not that kind of person! I mean, he used to be, but joining the Faire a few years ago and hanging out with Gideon has mellowed him out into a different person!”
“Him and Gideon Nav are friends?”
“Yes, since eighth grade.”
“So, the two people Protesilaus had physical altercations with are close friends, and the last person to possibly see him alive is the lover of one of them?”
“That sounds horrible when you phrase it that way, Lieutenant.”
“No Dulcinea, it sounds convenient .”
“Hello Ms. Septimus. May I just say, you and your sister could be mistaken for identical twins.”
“That’s very kind, Lieutenant. We actually get that a lot, but please call me Cytherea.”
“Alright. Cytherea, your sister said that Protesilaus left the joust to attend to something at the apothecary. Did you see him arrive?”
“No, I was busy in the storage room packing up the new shipment of our metal flowers. I went to the finale to sell them. Protesilaus wasn’t at the finale, so he could have arrived at the apothecary after I left.”
“And after the finale where did you go?”
“Back to the apothecary.”
“And was anything missing or moved?”
“No, it looked the same as when I left.”
“And Protesilaus never returned to the apothecary? You were alone all night?”
“Yes, until Gideon arrived.”
“After eleven I think.”
“And how long did she stay?”
“I’m not sure. We stayed in the garden for an hour, but then I fell asleep. When I woke up I was back in the apothecary storeroom and she was gone.”
“So you don’t know for sure if she stayed there the whole time or left?”
“I guess not.”
“Did she mention anything about Protesilaus?”
“She claims he was stalking her while she went to the apothecary. Did you happen to see anything or hear anything?”
“Not at all! I can’t believe she wouldn’t tell me about that!”
“She said she didn’t want to worry you. Were you already concerned about Protesilaus?”
“I mean I wasn’t happy he was so rude to her after the chessboard. We talked a bit during the finale about it. I felt bad for Naberius too.”
“What exactly did you both say?”
“I expressed my concern over the incident and how I am—or was—not a fan of Protesilaus’s attitude. I also expressed my displeasure with him not showing up to the finale.”
“So you didn’t like the deceased?”
“Yes that sounds bad, but he had such a bad attitude about everything! Nothing was ever good enough. It was his way or no way! He acted like just because he was big and strong that gave him the right to say and do whatever he wanted.”
“You thought he needed to be taken down a peg.”
“I knew something had to happen!”
“That came out wrong.”
“Did you express these feelings to Gideon?”
“And you and her are together?”
“We fool around, but we’re not in a relationship.”
“But she does have strong feelings for you? She wants you to be happy and safe?”
“I guess, I mean she hid the stalking issue like you said because she didn’t want to worry me.”
“So it’s a fair assertion that she would do anything for you?”
“And you’re her only alibi for the time when Protesilaus was dying.”
“I don’t like what you’re implying, Lieutenant.”
“It’s all rather interesting though. You didn’t like Protesilaus; Gideon didn’t like Protesilaus. And you just said she’d do anything for you.”
“And here we are, the man you both did not like, the man you said something needed to happen to, is dead.”
“Gideon did not do this! And neither did I!”
“But you must concede, it is all very convenient .”
“Naberius Tern. The easiest of the names I’ve had to pronounce today.”
“Can we get this over with? I’m starving.”
“Sure, I don’t have many questions. When was the last time you saw the deceased?”
“During the joust.”
“Where he violently rammed you off the horse?”
“Yes. He is—was—a bit intense during fight scenes.”
“This seems to be more than a bit intense. You were knocked unconscious. Most people would be bitter and upset.”
“I was, then. Him dying is a bit more extreme than me having a couple bruises.”
“And a concussion.”
“It’s very slight.”
“So, after the joust you never saw Protesilaus again?”
“Did you see Gideon Nav or Cytherea Septimus?”
“Yes, at the finale. I sit on the highest outcropping so I see the whole stage. Gideon and Cytherea were on the main landing just below me.”
“What were they doing?”
“I wasn’t watching them, you creep. I was watching the performance.”
“But Cytherea is not supposed to be in the finale correct?”
“Well no. She walks around selling flowers. Those stupid metal ones. She gave Gideon one; that’s why she was up on the stage.”
“And did they talk?”
“I guess, they were sitting together for a few minutes.”
“And this conversation happened after the joust and chess scenes?”
“That’s what ‘finale’ implies.”
“Did you see where Cytherea went after their discussion?”
“She went back to the crowd. Gideon was looking at me so I gave her a thumbs up that I was alright. That’s when I saw Cytherea leave.”
“And Protesilaus was not on the stage?”
“What did you do after the finale?”
“I was supposed to go out for dinner with some of the others, but I was tired and in pain so I went back to my trailer.”
“Yeah. I live too far away to travel back and forth between performances, so my parents let me use the trailer during Faire season as my sleeping quarters.”
“And this is on the fairegrounds?”
“Just outside the actual Faire. There’s a whole area where the trailers sit. Plenty of actors use them.”
“So you went right there after the finale?”
“Well first we all go to Drearburh to remove makeup and put away props. Then I left.”
“So you were walking through the Faire to get back to the exit?”
“Yes, there’s a side exit near the dungeons that leads right to the trailer area. It’s safer than walking out the main exit and going through the parking lots.”
“The dungeons are right over the hill from the apothecary, right? This is quite the maze of a set-up.”
“Correct. It’s a large hill with the apothecary at the bottom, a stage and some shops on the curve up, and then the dungeons and a few bars at the top.”
“So, did you have to walk by the apothecary to get up to the exit?”
“It’s the quickest route, so yeah.”
“And you didn’t run into Gideon or Cytherea?”
“What, no. Why do you keep asking about them?”
“Well Mr. Tern, you had reason to be angry at Protesilaus and so did Gideon. Cytherea admitted she did not like him, and also that Gideon would do anything for her. Now, you have just put yourself in the same area as they were at the time when Protesilaus was dying. And neither of you three have a solid alibi.”
“I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, but I have bruised bones and a concussion! How am I supposed to kill someone like Protesilaus?”
“Three against one evens those odds.”
“Everything you’re saying is insane!”
“No, everything you’ve said is convenient .”
“Palamedes Sextus, I believe I just read a news article about you. You’re the youngest person ever to be published in Medical Weekly for your research on brain activity post-mortem. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. It was an honor.”
“Now, I understand that you did not have much interaction with the deceased.”
“But you have had much interaction with Cytherea Septimus and Gideon Nav.”
“Yes, I’m dating Cytherea’s sister so I’ve run into both of them. I’m assuming they are both suspects.”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that, but you are clearly just as intelligent as the newspaper claimed. Have you seen or heard anything from either of them about their distaste for Protesilaus?”
“No. They’re both very nice and not capable of what you think.”
“I’ve heard that quite a bit.”
“Because it’s true. I know Cytherea better than I know Gideon, and I can guarantee that she is just as sweet as her sister. A bit more outspoken, but not capable of hurting a fly. Gideon I just met, and while yes she scares me that doesn’t mean she’s capable of harming anyone.”
“She scares you?”
“Oh please Lieutenant, a strong gust of wind could snap me in half.”
“Well yes, but has Gideon ever said or done anything that makes you think she could be violent?”
“Not at all! She’s highly protective of her friends, but that’s it.”
“Yes, I’ve heard she’d do anything if someone she cared about was in danger, but if you just met her, how are you so sure about her protectiveness?”
“Because her introduction was telling me that if I hurt Dulcie she—“
“It’s not important.”
“ I don’t think so.”
“She meant it as a joke.”
“When, uh, when she said she’d put her sword through my throat.”
“That doesn’t seem—“
“You’re taking everything out of context! This-this is insane! Gideon and Cytherea had nothing to do with this!”
“I’m not accusing anyone of anything yet. But an intelligent man such as yourself must realize how it all looks.”
“It looks like a set-up.”
“I prefer to think of it as convenient .”
Gideon gently stirred the sugar into her coffee, watching the pieces dissolve away like her life was. “I don’t want to go to jail,” she whispered to the caffeine.
“Oh calm down,” Naberius griped from across the table. “That Lieutenant is grasping at straws! There’s no way he thinks the three of us did anything!”
Cytherea sighed from next to Gideon, her own breakfast untouched. “I don’t know Babs. He’s right, the evidence is pretty damning.”
“What evidence?” Harrow joined them at the table and slid into the booth next to Gideon. Cytherea narrowed her eyes at the action and slipped her hand over Gideon’s arm. “All he has is some coincidences,” Harrow continued, “Once they examine the body I’m sure they’ll find who really did it.”
“It’s not like he’s singling you three out either,” Cam spoke from beside Naberius where she was adding sugar to her third coffee. “He’s just looking into all possibilities. He didn’t even ask me about you guys.”
The group was sitting inside the 24 hour diner up the road from the Faire. After each of their interviews they’d been allowed to leave, and Cam had suggested going out to talk in private. Now they were crammed into a booth staring at their coffee and cold breakfast. Sextus had agreed to join them after his interview, and Gideon could see his grey-clad figure coming up the path to the door through the wall length windows.
His expression did not give her any confidence in how his interview went.
“Hey guys,” he said with far too friendly a tone. Cam moved over and Palamedes balanced on the end of the booth. “How are we doing?”
“Well I’m being investigated for murder, so just great,” Gideon grumbled.
“How’d the interview go, Sextus?” Harrow swirled her coffee around but didn’t take a sip.
The man awkwardly adjusted his collar and smiled. “Oh fine! Just fine.”
“Good God, what did you say Pal?” Cam asked.
“I-well I, uh,” the man’s stuttering and sweating filled Gideon’s stomach with dread. “I might have let it slip that when I met Gideon she, uh well she kinda threatened to kill me.”
Gideon flopped back against the hard seat and threw her hands up over her face. “Great! When do I get my orange jumpsuit?! Do the tattoos just appear or do I need to see a specific guy?”
“Griddle calm down,” Harrow said in the calmest way Harrow could. “These were preliminary interviews. They still have to investigate, and most importantly, you didn’t do it!”
“Harrow’s right,” Cam agreed. “It looks bad now, but they’ll find some clues and soon they’ll have a new set of suspects.”
Cytherea took Gideon’s hand in her own and gently kissed Gideon on the cheek. “Don’t worry, we won’t let anything happen to you.” Naberius made a face at the display and Gideon kicked him under the table.
“I think that Lieutenant already made up his mind about me though,” Gideon sighed. She used her fork to push the dead eggs on her plate around. As dead as I’m gonna be after one night in jail, her brain unhelpfully supplied. Her phone threateningly buzzed from her jacket pocket and Gideon pulled it out to read the text on the screen.
“Everything alright?” Naberius asked. “You look like you’re heading for the electric chair.”
“Electric chair was outlawed in 1962,” Harrow said. “Executions now are done by lethal injection.”
“Not helpful, Harrowhark,” Cam said.
“My mom just wanted to let me know that Lieutenant Crux advised that I don’t leave town. Which means we’re living at the store until further notice.” Gideon put her phone away and shoved her shaking hands into her pockets. This cannot be happening.
The table fell into silence for the next few minutes. The only sounds were the clinking of utensils against plates and sips of coffee. Gideon could hear her heart pounding in her ears, and she hoped no one else could. Harrow kept opening her mouth like she wanted to say something, but in the end nothing came out.
“This is ridiculous!” Cytherea broke the silence. “If they already think Gideon did this then they’ll just look for any evidence that proves so, not disproves it!”
“What are we supposed to do about it?” Palamedes jumped in. “Investigate on our own?”
Both Cam’s and Harrow’s eyes lit up at the idea. “That’s genius Pal!” Cam exclaimed.
“W-what, no! No I’m not say—“
Harrow leapt from the booth with her eyes glowing. “I was raised on crime shows; this is right up my alley! All we need to find is a small bit of evidence proving Gideon, Naberius, and Cytherea aren’t responsible!”
Cam climbed over the still protesting Palamedes with excitement radiating off of her. “CSI was my favorite show growing up! I know crime scene analysis to a T!”
“That’s freaky,” Gideon whispered as Cam and Harrow excitedly squealed like little girls. If Cam had any hatred of Harrow, it vanished as they launched into planning how to go about investigating.
“This is a horrible idea!” Palamedes protested again. Alas, his pleas fell on deaf ears as Harrow and Cam pulled the others into their excited bubble.
“We’ll go to Protesilaus’s trailer this afternoon,” Cam decided. “The police should have searched it by then so we can hunt for any clues they missed.” The others—minus the protesting Palamedes—agreed.
“C’mon Sextus,” Harrow grinned. “Everyone needs some adventure in their lives. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?”
The figure outside the diner window removed their phone and dialed the sole number on it. The person on the other end picked up with a curt, “What?”
“They intend to investigate on their own. They don’t believe their friends are capable of such a crime.”
“That’s not surprising.”
“Well, what do you want to do about it?”
“I don’t know! Ask the lady; all this was her idea.”
“She’ll kill me if I say that to her face, you know.”
“It doesn’t matter! Just do your job and keep an eye on them.”
“What happens if they find something we missed?”
“You heard her, they get too close they all go down for it.”
“They’re good kids. Why does she want to drag them into this?”
“Because she’s insane? How should I know! Just do what she says or we’ll go down and she’ll get away with all of it!”
“I understand.” The figure sighed and hung up the phone before slinking away from the diner. Everything was going wrong; the entire plan was up in flames.
And a group of perfectly good kids was about to get burned.
Chapter 11: Stakes
Protesilaus’s trailer looked like it had come straight out of a cop movie about meth labs. The oval shaped tin can sat the farthest away from the other trailers, half shrouded by the low hanging branches of the trees around it. That, coupled with the dark clouds that had appeared overhead, gave the whole scene an ominous feeling.
“Does anyone else feel like some guy in a slasher mask is gonna be waiting in there?” Jeannemary asked as the group stood a few feet from the taped off door.
“I was trying to ignore that feeling,” Harrow said dryly.
“Jeannemary is right,” Palamedes, not one to give up, protested once again. “No good can come from us going in there!” Cam, completely ignoring him, bounded up the metal steps leading to the solid door and pressed her ear against it. When she heard nothing, she slipped a pair of leather gloves on and tried the handle. It didn’t budge. “Welp, it’s locked! Time to go back!” Palamedes turned to walk away, but Harrow caught him by his shirt and pulled him back.
“Not so fast Pal,” Cam said as she scrutinized the lock. From her jacket pocket, Cam produced a small black satchel filled with metal rods and hooks. She trailed her hands over the numerous devices before kneeling in front of the door and inserting one of the rods into the lock.
Palamedes wiped his damp face hastily while holding onto a nearby tree trunk. “Oh dear God, she’s picking the lock.” On the one hand, Gideon felt bad for his distress, but on the other hand, she would love to watch Sextus pass out from shock.
As Cam worked on the door, Harrow skulked around the trailer trying to peer into the dusty windows. Key word being ‘trying’. The windows were set at least six inches over her head, and Harrow’s toothpick legs couldn’t jump high enough to glance inside.
“Want some help?” Gideon offered.
Harrow raised one of her almost-not-there eyebrows. “You? Help?”—she scoffed—“What are you gonna do, Griddle? Pick me up?”
Gideon smirked. “If that’s what you want, Nonagesimus.” Her hands locked onto Harrow’s hips and Gideon lifted the black mass of death up to the window. Harrow left out a brief shriek of terror before her gloved hands locked onto the window pane.
Her chest was heaving as she hissed, “Warn someone first.”
“I feel like the opening to the Lion King should be playing right now.”
“Nav, allow me to remind you that I’m in perfect kicking range.” Harrow turned back to the window and cupped her one hand to see into the dark room. “It’s pretty empty,” she noted. “Not exactly warm and welcoming.”
“Yeah, well, neither was he,” Gideon awkwardly responded, trying to distract herself from Harrow’s ass which was bobbing just under her face. For someone filled with unbridled evil it’s not that b—nope, nope bad thought! Gideon shook her head violently, causing Harrow to sway in midair.
‘I swear Griddle, if you drop me—“
“Relax Harrow, I wouldn’t do that.” Gideon meant to sound unfazed and annoyed, but instead there was a soft undertone to the words that made even Harrow pause.
Harrow cleared her throat to break the quiet and said, “You can put me down now.” Gideon lowered Harrow gently to the ground where they both took turns awkwardly shuffling their feet and breathing out heavy sighs until Cam shouted with success and the door popped open.
Cam and Jeannemary flicked on flashlights as they both stepped over the police tape and entered the dark trailer. Cam suddenly swiveled around, her flashlight blinding Gideon for a second. “Pal, stay by the stairs and yell if you see anyone coming.” Palamedes gratefully slumped down next to the steps and pulled out a small book titled Medieval Medical Practices .
Gideon trailed behind Harrow—who was using her phone as a flashlight—towards the small kitchenette. Well, it was actually less than a kitchenette. All that was there was a mini fridge, a sink that looked like it had been stolen from prison, and some bare-ass cabinets. “This is a lot more pathetic than I was expecting,” Gideon said as she opened the fridge which was mostly empty. “I mean look at this”—she pointed to the contents of three water bottles, a half-eaten salad, and a Babe Ruth candy bar—“what kind of fridge is this?”
“Looks a lot like mine,” Harrow said nonchalantly as she shone her light in each cabinet.
“Don’t you live in like a gazillion story house with a kitchen fit for a restaurant?”
Harrow shrugged and conveniently didn’t look at Gideon. “Yeah, so?”
Gideon closed the door and decided it was better not to press. She couldn’t stop herself from grimacing at the candy bar again. “He didn’t even have good taste in chocolate.”
Harrow finally looked at her with—was that amusement ? “And what do you think is ‘good taste in chocolate’, Nav?”
Harrow laughed. A real, full throated, no holding back laugh. It created the same feeling of saying hi to a dog that then says hi back, unsettling and surprising with a twist of amazement. When Harrow saw the way Gideon was looking at her, she coughed and covered her mouth. “My apologies, I try to keep those to a minimum.”
“Don’t apologize!” Gideon scrambled to wipe the shock off her face. Of course, in the process of scrambling her mouth was able to go unmonitored. “In a weird ‘I didn’t know you made that noise’ kind of way, it was cute.” Why the fuck did you say that, Gideon’s mind screamed immediately after the words passed her lips.
Harrow wasn’t wearing her death advisor makeup; they had all changed before leaving for the trailers. Without said makeup—a crazy spectacle of foundation and eyeshadow that worked as well as any mask—Harrow’s face was readable. About as readable as a sticky note written in 12-point font and stuck to a tree in the fog, but if you squint hard enough and tilt your head at a 90 degree angle there was a chance to make out a couple letters.
Okay, so Gideon wasn’t very good with metaphors, but one thing she did know—thanks to years of experience—was how to read Harrow’s expressions. And she was generally pretty good at it. Granted, Harrow only had like three: disinterested, bitchy, and evil. Nevertheless, despite all of Gideon’s experience and observations, she was completely fucking clueless as to what was happening to Harrow’s face at that exact moment.
First she blushed, and, despite Gideon seeing that fleshy red color spread across Harrow’s arching cheekbones before, it was still unnerving.
Second, Harrow’s blank and abyssal eyes gained a faint gleam. As if a star somewhere far back in the galaxy of her mind had ignited, sending waves of light past her neurons to rest in the optic chiasm of her eyes.
Third, Harrow’s lips curled up into a smile best described as shy. Not cautious or menacing like her normal lip twitches were. This smile split her thin and waxy lips open to show a glint of stark white teeth underneath.
Of all the things Gideon Nav found impossible, taking her eyes off of Harrowhark Nonagesimus at this very moment took number one.
She looked so human , and so happy , both of which were not adjectives Gideon would ever think to associate with Harrow. Gideon was thankful as hell they were standing in the trailer of a dead man looking for evidence to clear her name, otherwise she wasn’t sure what she would do, but it certainly would be something she’d regret.
The hazy look of humane happiness receded from Harrow’s face and she took a single, tension inducing, breath stopping, pulse quickening step forwards. Her voice was lyrical and breathy as she said, “Gideon, I—“
“If you two are done flirting over there, we found something!” Cam’s voice chased away whatever Harrow was about to say and brought the mask of cold indifference back over her face.
“We’re not flirting,” Harrow snapped, her voice once again rough and biting. Whatever being had possessed her had fled, leaving Gideon mentally reaching for the bubbling warmth that had been in the space between them. “What’d you find, Hect?”
Cam and Jeannemary were standing over the metal table that Protesilaus had used as a desk. A cardboard box sat on the end filled with Manila folders and assorted papers. Jeannemary was holding the flashlight over the papers Cam was examining. The file she had opened was labeled ‘Dominicus’ in Sharpie.
“What was in that?” Gideon pointed at the empty folder.
“Nothing,” Cam said. “I found this”—she inclined her head to the paper she was reading off of—“inside the file next to it. I guess he put it in the wrong spot.” The paper in question was a map of some kind, but instead of showing roads and boundaries, it had a layout of green and brown colors Gideon couldn’t make sense of.
“Is it stupid of me to ask what the hell we’re looking at?” Gideon asked.
“Yes,” said Cam and Harrow in unison.
“Cam says it’s a topographic map of the Dominicus Fairegrounds,” Jeannemary helpfully supplied.
“Why the hell did Protesilaus feel the need to have this?” Harrow asked. Her hand ran over the sections of the map that were circled in red. “It’s like he was looking for something.”
“But, what?” Gideon mused.
Harrow rolled her eyes. “Great job Griddle, you figured out the question!”
Cam flipped through the rest of the files in the box. “I don’t understand it; why did the cops only take the papers from the Dominicus file and not the whole box?” She went back to looking over the map’s legend. One of the labels had been blacked out and the words ‘Get older version’ had been written next to it. “Harrow, can you make out anything under this blackout?”
Harrow squinted at the ink then shook her head. “No, whoever inked it out really didn’t want anyone to know what it said.”
Cam sighed and rolled up the map and slipped it into Jeannemary’s backpack. “There’s nothing else of use in the desk. Except the charger for a laptop, but the police obviously took the actual device.”
Gideon abandoned the discussion about the map in favor of looking around the rest of the trailer. The place was so bare it was sad. Even the trash can was empty; the lonesome plastic bag inside hung halfway off the rim of the basket. Then Gideon’s eyes caught something. Laying concealed under the bag was a receipt. She carefully lifted the small scrap of paper out and looked it over. It was for one item: an ultraviolet light emitter. “Hey Cam, is this a clue?”
Cam took the receipt and scrutinized it like it was a chem midterm. “Maybe. Good work Gideon.”
Before Gideon could properly bask in the glory of Cam’s praise, there was a sudden pounding on the outside of the trailer. Not just the door, but the walls and ceiling all shook and rang with a loud BOOM! BOOM! Palamedes burst through the door which banged off the trailer wall. He was gasping and shivering and drenched in water. The wet pages of his book dripped to the floor where a puddle was growing. Through the open door, Cam, Gideon, Harrow, and Jeannemary could see the dark gray clouds and the white eclipsing mist coating the whole scene. “Hey guys,” Palamedes panted. “It’s raining.”
‘Raining’ was an understatement. The sky had broken in half and every drop of water to ever exist was crashing to Earth. It was pounding down so hard the group could hardly see. Palamedes bursting through the door had torn down the police tape, but Cam, ever the planner, had a whole spare roll in her backpack. “It never hurts to be prepared,” she grinned as the others watched her unroll the tape across the door.
The group barely got ten feet from the trailer before they were all soaked to the bone. Even Gideon’s heavy hoodie was drenched. They slowly made their way out of the trailer section and back into the Faire. Mud was stuck to their shoes and legs as the torrential downpour turned the field into a swamp. The hill leading down to the apothecary was a river of dirty water and sharp pebbles. The whole Faire looked like an underwater ghost town since every store was closed up.
“I hate rain,” Harrow groaned as she desperately squeezed water from her shirt. The fabric was clinging to her body like a second skin. Right as she said that, the sky decided to have mercy and the rain slowed down.
“Run for it!” Jeannemary shouted and took off sprinting down the hill towards the apothecary.
“I hate running even more!” Harrow shouted as they all started rushing through the pathways between stores down to the bottom of the hill.
The rain started picking up again as Palamedes and Cam made it to the apothecary door. Gideon was right behind them and crashed into Cam when she stopped short just at the entrance. “Hurry up Harrow!” Cam shouted.
“I! Wasn’t! Built! For! Cardio!” Harrow half screamed and half panted as she stumbled down the rest of the hill. Her black hair was clinging to the sides of her face and she hastily pushed it away before stepping back into a jog.
Two seconds later, Harrowhark was airborne.
Gideon and Cam didn’t see what she tripped over, but Harrow’s body was launched forward and crashed to the concrete pathway before sliding along the slick ground like it was a slip n’ slide.
“Holy fuck, Harrow are you okay?!” Gideon and Cam left the safety of the apothecary and darted back into the steadily increasing rain to Harrow’s side. The ball of hatred and darkness was spluttering and coughing out water while holding her left arm.
“Yeah, yeah; don’t worry I’m fine,” she hissed. “I just want out of this rain.” Cam reached to help her, but Harrow smacked the hand away and dragged herself up to a standing position. Her left leg wobbled when she stood and she grimaced with each step into the apothecary.
“Nonagesimus, you aren’t fine .” Harrow waved off Gideon’s concern as she took a seat on the floor in the corner. “You’re bleeding, ” Gideon pointed out as Harrow pulled up her sleeve to show red blood.
“It’s a scratch, Nav,” Harrow hissed.
Cytherea and Dulcinea brought out armfuls of towels for the group to dry off with, but they didn’t do much against their waterlogged clothing. “We have extra clothes in the back,” Dulcinea offered. “You guys shouldn’t have to wait around in those soaked rags until the rain lets up.” Both sisters disappeared into the back while Isaac approached Cam with a sticky note.
“We found this under the desk Protesilaus had in the storage room.” He handed her the note. Palamedes and Gideon read it over Cam’s shoulders.
“Flower Pick-Up, 2 AM, 25th,” Palamedes read. “Why did he have this written down?”
“No clue,” Cytherea said as she and Dulcinea returned. “It wasn’t a big deal. The company that makes our metal flowers accidentally sent over a couple packages meant for a different Faire. They were gonna have one of their truckers make a detour on his route to pick them up.”
Dulcinea shrugged as gracefully as if she were dancing a ballet. “No one’s even going to be here at 2 AM. It was just a shipping accident.” She handed Palamedes a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt with a honey sweet smile. “I think you’re thin enough to fit into my clothes, Pal.” He flushed under her gaze and Gideon had to admit they really were a sweet couple.
Dulcinea gave sweatpants and jackets to Cam and Jeannemary while Cytherea brought Gideon a black hoodie. “Look, you actually are getting your hoodie back,” she laughed.
Gideon smirked as she pulled off her current hoodie which was doubling as a sponge. “Yeah, it’s only been what, 2 years since you took it?” Cytherea’s eyes held a mischievous gleam that under normal circumstances would draw Gideon in, but the pained expression on Harrow’s face as she dabbed at her bleeding arm and leg gnawed at Gideon’s insides. Dammit, she had to do something.
“Don’t fight me on this, Nonagesimus.” Gideon sat down next to Harrow with a roll of bandages from the first aid kit.
“Hey, I said don’t fight me.” Gideon took Harrow’s torn arm and started wiping away the blood with her damp hoodie sleeve. Harrow wasn’t looking at her. “C’mon Harrow,” Gideon slightly begged. “I’m just trying to help you.”
“It’s, it’s not, uh, that,” Harrow stammered. “You, well you’re—“
“Nav, you’re in your bra ,” Harrow hissed.
“It’s a sports bra. You can’t see anything, Harrow.”
“I’m still seeing more than I want to.”
Gideon rolled her eyes and started wrapping the gauze around Harrow’s forearm. “You ignored the majority of my existence unless you were in the mood to play ‘How To Make Gideon’s Life Hell’ with your friends, so I doubt your current inability to ignore a bit of extra skin.”
Harrow didn’t snap back in her normal manner, instead her eyes darkened past any reasonable definition of black and she pressed her lips so tight they melted into her skin. She didn’t even flinch as Gideon finished wrapping her arm and moved to her knee which had gotten the worst of the fall. Her leggings were shredded around the area and there were specks of gravel stuck in the cuts. “Harrow, I need to get the dirt out. It’s gonna hurt.” Harrow shrugged.
Gideon got up and retrieved the tweezers from the first aid kit. Cytherea was watching her, an odd look Gideon hadn’t seen before written on her face. “Can’t she dress her own wounds?”
“Cyth, if the dictionary ever added the phrase ‘Can’t take care of herself’, there would be a picture of Harrow as the definition.”
“I believe the word you’re thinking of is invalid.”
“Also decrepit, lame, pathetic, attention seek—“
“ Cytherea! ”
The girl looked at Gideon with her pale eyes churning. “What? It doesn’t hurt to have a higher than average grasp of the English language, Gideon.” She turned on her heel with her arms across her chest and vanished into the storeroom.
Cam returned from changing in the back and raised one of her incredulous eyebrows at Gideon standing there in her bra, but she chose not to comment. Gideon returned to Harrow who had curled inwards even more. “Your girlfriend doesn’t like me,” she breathed out.
“Cytherea isn’t my girlfriend.” For the first time, Gideon didn’t get a depressed pang in her heart when she said the words.
“Yeah, she doesn’t wanna be.” Gideon started picking out pieces of gravel and wiping away lines of blood. Harrow’s mouth was hanging open a little from what Gideon assumed was concealed pain.
Gideon wasn’t sure she had heard Harrow right. “What do you mean, Nonagesimus?”
Harrow bit down on her lip as Gideon pulled a larger gravel piece out. Her hands were digging into the fabric of her pants hard enough to tear more holes. Her voice came out strained and light as she hissed through gritted teeth. “Cytherea. What possible. What possible reason c-could she have. To not, not want to date y-you?”
Gideon shrugged. “You aren’t the only one who finds me insufferable at times. I guess I’m not as charming and lovable as I think I am.”
“Your, your insufferableness is, is part of your ch-charm.” Harrow let out a soft whine as a piece of loose skin tore off. “Ya know, like uh, like a puppy dog tha-that doesn’t stop. Doesn’t stop jumping a-at your legs. No, no matter how y-you swat at it, the damn thing; it doesn’t go away. After, uh, after awhile, you ju-just get used to it.”
Gideon pulled the last piece out and Harrow choked back a yelp. Gideon pretended she didn’t see the small tear leak out of Harrow’s eye before she swiped it away. “I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about me, Nonagesimus. Not that there’s much, or any, of a list.”
“I’m in a lot of pain, Griddle. People say stupid shit when they’re in pain.”
Gideon grinned. “I didn’t hear anything stupid.” She leaned in closer to Harrow’s still wet face. “I heard you call me a charming puppy dog.” The space in between their faces held the same steady warmth as the strange moment in the trailer. Gideon was attempting to focus on getting under Harrow’s skin instead of the increasingly attention-drawing fact that her chest was resting on Harrow’s arm. Harrow’s eyes had returned to their kaleidoscope of colors, like oil through water, and they were boring into hers with a force sharp enough to melt a glacier.
Harrow drew in a breath that left goosebumps over Gideon’s neck. “If you want to be a dog so bad, I can certainly neuter you.”
“Way to ruin the moment, Harrow.”
Both girls shrunk back from each other and Gideon finished wrapping Harrow’s knee in a bandage. The smaller girl’s body was trembling as the last piece of gauze was fastened. “You need to get out of those clothes,” Gideon said.
“Your great flirting capabilities are astounding; how do the women resist you?” Harrow snapped back.
“I’m serious.” Gideon stood and glanced around, but all the clothes Dulcinea and Cytherea had brought out were gone. “Here.” Gideon handed Harrow the dry hoodie. “I can just go down the road and get fresh clothes from the store.” Harrow considered the hoodie for a few seconds before wriggling out of her shirt—an act which Gideon hastily turned away from—and sliding into the fabric. If Harrow cared that it was Gideon’s, she didn’t show it as she pulled the hood tight over her head and tucked her hands into the pockets.
“You really must stop giving me your clothes,” Harrow mumbled from under the swaths of fabric. “People will start talking.”
Gideon snorted. “As much as I don’t like you Harrow, I don’t want to see you die of hypothermia. Not to say a different method wouldn’t be nice though.”
“Fuck you too, Nav.”
Gideon couldn’t stop the smile on her face. Bickering with Harrow was such a normal part of her life; it served as a great distraction from the mess that was going on right then. The rain outside had slowed to a gentle mist that was barely enough to coat a rain jacket. She told the others she was heading to the store to change and got a few dismissive waves. Cytherea glared back and forth between her and Harrow, and when Gideon quizzically tilted her head, she rolled her eyes and turned away.
What the hell did I do?
“—have to gather with the others to see what they think about these things,” Cam was saying when Gideon returned. The group, including Harrow, were gathered around the center table where Cam had spread out the map, receipt, and sticky note. “I just can’t see how these three things connect.”
“Maybe they don’t?” Isaac was sitting on the table and turning the receipt over in his hands. “I mean, Dominicus just flooded from burst pipes. Maybe Protesilaus was thinking foul play?”
“Think it through, Tettaires,” Harrow sighed. “Who would flood a Renaissance Faire?”
“And what topographic map would have part of its legend blacked out?” Palamedes held a magnifying glass over the scribbled out words. “Someone is definitely hiding something about Dominicus.”
“What would the hulk want with an ultraviolet light anyway?” Gideon joined the smart people conversation with what she thought was a decent observational question.
No one else agreed with that description.
“There are hundreds of ways to use UV rays,” Palamedes said in his ‘Nerdier Than Thou’ voice. “Certain plants use it to grow, there’s phototherapy, suntanning, killing bacteria on both humans and surgical equipment, aesthetic fluorescent effects, etcetera. The lights our Faires use for the streetlamps are small UV rays even.”
Gideon took the receipt from Isaac and waved it in Palamedes’s face. “Sextus, the guy bought one . And from the price of it, it was small as hell. He didn’t have plants in his trailer, he wasn’t a doctor, there was nothing aesthetic about his tin can, and I doubt this tiny ass thing could tan a rabbit, much less Goliath Jr.”
Harrow rubbed her eyes and groaned. “As much as it pains me to say, Griddle is right. Protesilaus was using that light for something else.”
Dulcinea was roaming her eyes over the map as the others talked, lingering over the circles of red where Dominicus was. “Why don’t we get the older version?” When the group turned back to her she pointed at the note Protesilaus had written next to the legend. “Maybe the older version has some answers.”
“That’s—” Cam paused, staring at the note. “That’s actually a really good idea.”
Dulcinea beamed. “You all aren’t the only ones with good detective skills.”
“My laptop is dead, Dulcie. Do you mind if I use yours?” Cytherea called from the backroom.
“Sure!” Dulcinea laughed her normal whimsical laugh. “I swear she never charges that thing! Every time I ask to borrow it for inventory, it’s dead!”
Cam, everyone huddled over her shoulder like a Scooby Doo intro, looked up the map. Not a single result came up. Well, there were thousands of links to topographic maps of the area, but none were older than the paper map before them. And the mysterious blacked out words on the legend weren’t written anywhere. “This is insane,” Cam whispered in shock as another link proved useless. “Why can’t we find this map? What the hell is on it?”
Cytherea sighed and sank down to the apothecary floor in defeat. “No map to follow and no idea what the light was for. This feels like less than square one. We have nothing to go on!”
“Well—” Gideon picked up the sticky note with the pick-up time listed. “We do have this. If Protesilaus thought something was fishy, then shouldn’t we stick around to check it out?”
“You mean like a stakeout?!” Jeannemary’s eyes lit up. “I’ve always wanted to do one of those! My parents don’t let me watch a lot of crime shows, but on The Closer and Major Crimes they’re always doing stakeouts and I lo—”
“No way!” Cytherea silenced Jeannemary’s babbling and grabbed Gideon’s arm roughly. “Are you insane?! What’s wrong with you? You’re being investigated for murder; the fact you’ve stuck your nose in this far is bad enough!”
“Cyth,” Dulcinea gently rested her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “We understand your fear, but we have to see where this goes.”
Gideon put her own hand on Cytherea’s other shoulder and pulled her into a quick hug. “You don’t have to worry about me. Besides, I know an expert in stakeouts who would love to help us!”
“No way! Are you insane!? What’s wrong with you?” Judith Deuteros balked at Gideon’s offer with a mix of concern and horror. Like most of the other actors and storeowners who had been cleared by the cops, Judith was packing up the last of her costume and props to leave the Faire and go home. Obviously the last thing she wanted to do was join Gideon and company on their hunt.
“C’mon, Judy!” Gideon begged. “All you talk about is how cool it was when you did stakeouts in the army!”
“Nav, I thought the Mount Mercymorn volcanic eruption was cool too, that doesn't mean I want to go through it again!”
Gideon pleaded, “But this is a thrilling murder investigation!”
“A valiant push to clear my name!”
“A chance for excitement and adventure?”
“You aren’t gonna convince me, Nav.”
“All you have to do is wait in the apothecary for a couple hours tonight with Cytherea and give a signal if something’s wrong! Please?”
Judith stopped what she was doing and thonked her head against the car door. “You insufferable twit. You really aren’t gonna let this go?”
“I’ve been told I’m charming that way.”
Judith snorted. “I hate to break it to ya Nav, but you were lied to.”
“Are you gonna help or not?”
Judith waited a few more seconds before giving a nod of defeat. “I’m gonna regret this.”
Jeannemary and Isaac were beyond disappointed to be told they couldn’t participate in the stakeout, but Judith was adamant that kids shouldn't be involved. Gideon was right to bring her into the plan; Judith’s army background served them well in finding proper stakeout places and setting up signals.
Judith and Cytherea would wait in the main room of the apothecary until the truck arrived to pick up the misplaced flowers. If anything went wrong or weird Cytherea’s job was to get photos and videos while Judith would use a scrap of metal to send a signal out the window.
Harrow and Gideon would sit in the belltower on the stage a bit up the hill. They would be the first ones to see the signal. Their job would be to send a second signal to Palamedes and Cam before heading for the apothecary.
Palamedes and Cam would wait in the animal sanctuary on the other side of the apothecary and would be the first ones inside through both the front and back should Gideon and Harrow give them a signal. The whole thing felt like a high-stakes spy movie, and Gideon loved it.
Except for the part where the stakes were her freedom.
The group bid goodbye to Dulcinea who was returning home for rest. She promised to return at the crack of dawn to see how everything went. Cam suggested they all go home to change and get something to eat before meeting back at the apothecary around 9 PM. Everyone, worn out from the whirlwind of a day, readily agreed.
Harrow returned to her still damp, but no longer drenched, shirt and handed Gideon back her hoodie. “Thanks, for being helpful today; ya know, even after all the crap I did to you in school.”
“We’re adults now, Harrow. We have to get over our stupid fueds.”
Harrow shrugged and kept her head down, avoiding looking at Gideon. “Truthfully, I don’t even remember why we hate each other,” she said, almost like the admission was embarrassing.
“You think you’re better than me, remember?” Gideon meant it as a joke, but Harrow flinched like she’d been slapped.
Unlike the strange warm silences of earlier, this one was awkward and constricting. Gideon scrambled to think of a graceful way to slip out without seeming rude when Harrow whispered, barely audible, “I don’t, by the way. I don’t think I’m better than you.” Gideon barely had time to process the words, much less react, before Harrow slipped out the apothecary door and vanished.
“What just—” Gideon spoke to the empty room before Harrow’s head popped back in the doorway with her trademark sneering grin.
“Oh and Griddle, a good taste in chocolate includes Kit Kats.”
Chapter 12: Stakeout
TW: physical abuse
Harrow’s heart dropped out of her chest when she pulled her car into the driveway and saw lights illuminating the living room windows. The thick blackout curtains had been pulled aside and for the first time in months the house had the appearance of something people lived in. Sadly, this could only mean one thing:
Her parents were home.
Just go in and go straight for your room, she coached herself as she shut off her car. Don’t look in their direction. Don’t say hi. Harrow carefully opened the front door and slipped inside the entryway. It was still dark; the chandelier overhead hadn’t been lit since the last party ever thrown in this house, and that was almost a decade ago. Her mother’s voice drifted down from the living room—calling for more wine as usual—and rose the hairs on Harrow’s neck. She slipped off her boots and tried to walk as quietly as possible over the soft carpet past the lit up sitting area.
“Harrowhark! What are you doing here?” Her mother’s surprised and commanding voice trapped Harrow’s body in place. She hung her head with a sigh before turning around and entering the dragon’s lair.
“Mom, I live here,” she said as calmly as possible.
Her mother was curled against a pillow on the obscenely long and tufted couch while a maid poured gold and red liquid into her glass. Her father was sitting in one of the numerous giant chairs with a stack of books balanced on the table next to him. His wine glass was untouched, leaving the golden flecks inside to swirl on their own accord. The gold brought up vivid details of Gideon’s glorious eyes, but the thoughts were quickly scared off by Harrow's mother snapping, “Don’t sass me, Harrowhark! I could have sworn during one of our arduous conversations you mentioned that Ren Faire you were in again.”
“The Faire is closed due to a police investigation.” Harrow wanted to avoid details as much as possible, but the small grin on her father’s face left a stone of uneasiness rest in her intestines.
“Ah yes,” he chuckled, barely containing his amusement, “we heard about the unfortunate incident.”
Harrow groaned with defeat. “Alright, stop torturing me. What did you hear?”
“A little Tridentarius birdie sang to the whole neighborhood about Ebdoma being—as so horridly put— murdered .” Harrow’s father finally touched his wine, which meant he swallowed the whole thing in one gulp and wagged the glass in the air so the crystal cast dots of light into Harrow’s eyes. “We also heard the police already have a suspect.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck! Harrow’s prefrontal cortex unhelpful screamed. “It’s a preliminary investigation,” she blurted out. “Everyone is a suspect.”
Her mother snorted and swirled her glass so the wine nearly splashed over the sides. “I would think you’d be thrilled. Isn’t having that ruffian out of your hair what you’ve always wanted?”
“She’s not a murderer ,” Harrow hissed through gritted teeth. “We’re going to clear her name.”
Her mother looked up from her phone and raised an eyebrow like she was going for the olympic gold medal in looks of disbelief. “Oh? Pray tell, who is this ‘we’ you speak of Harrow? Last time I checked, you don’t have any friends.” Her smile was sweet and gentle against the venomous words, like a shark before she devoured her young.
Harrow took a deep breath to prevent herself from screaming the words bouncing in her head like she was some kind of banshee. Instead she calmly and smoothly said, “Thank you for that reminder, Mom.”
Her mother didn’t move her gaze, shrinking Harrow even smaller than she was already. “Well? I’d like to know who my child is associating with, lest I need to disown you.” She smiled like it was a joke, but her eyes beckoned Harrow to give her a reason to throw her out on the curb ass first.
“It’s just Sextus, Hect, and the Septimus sisters.”
Her mother clicked her tongue against her teeth and sipped her wine. “Oh Harrow,” she said languorously once she finished half the glass, “of all the things you are horrible at, lying is one of the worst.”
Harrow shrunk back against the wall under the penetrating gaze and conceded in a small voice, “Alright, so it’s Nav and some of her friends.” Both her parents sniffed like the words held an odor, which pissed Harrow off more than she expected. “So what if I’m hanging around people who aren’t from our neighborhood? They aren’t as horrible as you think! There are actually decently nice people beyond your guy’s perfect world.” Harrow valiantly made her argument despite knowing it was falling on deaf ears.
Her father was disinterestedly skimming the pages of his book as he said, “Harrowhark, I always think of you as a smart person, yet you insist on continually trying to prove me wrong.” He raised his glass up as if toasting her. “Bravo on achieving that yet again!”
Her mother rose from the couch as if she were a goddess emerging from a thousand year slumber, but the simile was marred by the fact she was the physical embodiment of Satan. She crossed the room and rested her hands on Harrow’s shoulders, squeezing her fingers into the skin threateningly. “Harrow, sweetie, I’m about to give you some lifelong wisdom. One day you are going to be at the top of your field. In order to reach that you need a multitude of pieces: extensive knowledge, the right contacts, a desire to do what others cannot, strive, among others.” Her mother brought her hand up to rest gently on Harrow’s cheek. “Now listen closely because this is the final piece of the puzzle to success; one last thing to remember.”
She slapped Harrow.
Harrow gasped at the force and staggered against the wall, clutching at the bright red imprint forming on her face. “You are above all of them!” Her mother roared, the nice and gentle demeanor melting away to the monster underneath. “You are a child of the greatest minds in the world; a perfect construct of DNA! Yet here you stand, spitting on everything your father and I have sacrificed, deciding to associate with lower class simpletons!”
Anger was the wrong emotion for Harrow to be experiencing at this moment. No good ever came from a dog biting its owner, but Harrow bit back anyway. “What the hell have you sacrificed?! I’m the one stuck in this house alone all the time; I’m the one who wasn’t allowed to have friends; I’m the one who had to conceal every interest I’ve ever had so you wouldn’t take it away from me! You and Dad get to have lives! I have nothing!” Harrow drew in a hungry breath as her mother watched from under narrowed eyes.
“You present some adequate points, Harrowhark,” her mother sniffed, “but you’ve forgotten one key factor.”
Emboldened by her mother’s concession, Harrow forced her spine straight and met her mother’s deathly eyes. “What?”
If Harrow cared at all for mythology she might have compared the moment to when Icarus collapsed before reaching the sun. Sadly, she hadn’t been allowed to study mythology extensively. (“There’s no room for uneducated fantasy in the scientific world”, her parents had said.) There she stood, for once getting through to her mother, when she gracelessly crashed.
The monster slapped her again.
Then once more for good measure.
Blood trickled down from Harrow’s nose, and she could feel her left cheek—who had received the worst of the beating—throbbing in time with her heartbeat. It would be nothing but a large ecchymosis within a few days. She coughed and frantically scrubbed the tears out of her eyes as her mother’s cruel hand took a fistful of hair and yanked Harrow’s bloody and battered face closer to hers. “You forget that I don’t particularly care about your happiness,” she hissed. “I was happy once, and all it gave me was that lousy buffoon”—she jabbed her other hand towards Harrow’s useless father—“years of precious career work wasted , and a child with not enough common sense to get her mind off a girl whose only defining characteristic is her muscles !”
She released Harrow’s hair from her death grip and reverted back to lovingly stroking it. She smoothed the ruffled locks and cupped Harrow’s sore face in her hands, Harrow’s tears pooling in the cracks between her mother’s hands and her own skin. “You know I only want what’s best for you, sweetie,” the monster hummed. “You can be happy now, but miserable for the rest of your life, or you can grow up and learn that nothing can ever replace the feeling of being the best. Not a child, not friends, not a family, and especially not the affection of someone as temporary as that redhead.” She kissed Harrow’s forehead and wiped away the rebellious tears. “Understand sweetheart?”
Harrow nodded and leaned into the touch, her body and mind wanting nothing more than her mother’s affection since day one. “I understand, Mom,” she whimpered.
“That’s my girl.” The monster dissolved away, filling in the broken gaps of her mother’s facade as she returned to the couch and resumed her position. The refilled wine glass came to rest in her hand once more, and the ding of a phone notification disrupted the silence of the room. Her mother’s attention was completely diverted, but the sick part of Harrow’s mind wailed for her to come back. Hit her, yell at her, stare at her with those hating eyes, anything to satisfy the primal section of her consciousness that craved whatever maternal connection it could get.
Harrow tested the stilled waters of her mother’s mood and whined like a kicked puppy, “I love you.”
Her mother smiled, but didn’t look up from her phone. She sipped her wine a few times and twirled the glass absentmindedly before saying, “I know you do sweetheart.”
“Goodnight Harrowhark,” her mother snapped, cutting off Harrow’s desperate plea.
“Goodnight Harrow,” her father echoed from his book.
Harrow laid on her bed until 8:45 approached and she had to get ready for the stakeout. Her makeup took forever to apply, smoothing the foundation across the new red marks as well as the faint yellow skin from previous lessons with her mother. The gentle ticking of the clock matched with her heaving chest as she tried not to bawl like some pathetic child. Crying wouldn’t solve anything, nor would it distract her from the burning in her chest where her heart refused to give up hope one day her parents would say those three words back.
The sky was a deep purple and blue mixture as Harrow parked her car and approached the side entrance. Her phone’s bright flashlight looked out of place against the dark ground still coated with mud from earlier. She had dressed all in black—not that her wardrobe offered many other options—but this time she included a hoodie and brought an extra cloak so Gideon wouldn’t be prompted to give her any clothes. Her mother was right; she had no business thinking of Griddle as anything more than an unfortunate acquaintance.
Cam was leaning against the entrance puffing on some mechanical device and she waved lazily at Harrow as she approached. “You’re late,” Cam drawled as sweet fog drifted from her mouth.
Harrow glanced at her phone which read 9:03. She wasn’t in the mood to hear about more things she’d done wrong, so she just said, “Whatever” and kept walking.
The stage was dark which meant Gideon wasn’t up in the bell tower yet. Harrow flipped on some of the lights, then changed her mind and turned them off again. Darkness was better; it hid everything. Climbing up the backstage ladder in the blackness was a feat on its own, but Harrow managed. She was violently reminded of the early morning when Protesilaus’s body had dropped from the crawl space above Drearburh’s stage; had that really been just this morning? She shook away the thoughts and finished pulling herself into the upper area of the stage.
The bell tower was small with a light sheen of dust, but it was warm and dry so it was better than the other places Harrow had been today. She folded her cloak and set it in the corner then peeled off the hoodie as well. Her sweater and sweatpants were more than enough in the heated space. She’d consider removing the sweater too if Gideon wasn’t joining her; drowning in her own sweat was better than giving Nav a reason to look at her with those damn eyes.
The clock read 9:13 when Gideon finally clamoured into the tower. Harrow was fully prepared to snap at her tardiness, but her capability to produce words died when she saw what Gideon was wearing.
At first all Harrow could clearly see was the bright red blanket that was wrapped around Gideon, but once she was inside the space the fabric was shrugged off to reveal a black muscle shirt underneath. There was no shame in Gideon’s stance as she stretched down the narrow crawl space to pull in the black backpack she had brought, her muscles pulsing with each movement. Harrow realized in the nick of time that her mouth was hanging open, and her jaw clamped shut right as Gideon turned around. “Hey, Harrow. Sorry I’m late.”
“It-it’s fine,” Harrow coughed out. “What the hell are you wearing?”
Gideon’s grin got wider and she proudly flexed her biceps and triceps. “I wanted to show off a bit for Cytherea. Ya know, try to convince her to stop being mad at me for suggesting a stakeout.”
Of course it’s for her, Harrow thought with the faintest shred of disappointment. Mom is right; there’s no point in even entertaining thoughts of Gideon. She’s temporary; there will always be someone prettier, bustier, more perfect for her. “Did your plan work?” Harrow managed to squeak out. A faint blush spread over Gideon’s face and she shrugged ambiguously. She pushed back some of her hair and that’s when Harrow saw the three small bruises along where Gideon’s neck met her jawline. Harrow hoped the feeling of a knife thrusting into her chest was a sign of an oncoming heart attack and not some type of reaction to the marks.
Gideon unzipped her backpack and Harrow’s nose twitched at the smell of food. Her stomach grumbled loudly, a reminder she hadn’t eaten since toast and coffee at the diner in the morning. You don’t deserve it, she reminded herself. You haven’t earned it yet. Harrow’s body jerked as Gideon suddenly reached over and set a sub next to her leg. “What, I mean—“ Harrow looked back and forth between Gideon—who was unwrapping a sub of her own—and the huge amount of food set next to her. “Why are you giving this to me?”
“I know you didn’t eat, so I figured I’d get you something too.” Gideon smiled with a mouthful of sub. “It’s chicken with lettuce and pickles.”
“How the hell did you know I liked those things?”
“Well you always were eating lettuce in class before lunch, and I distinctly remember in seventh grade when you freaked out on Ianthe for stealing the pickles off your sandwich.” Gideon tossed a small bag of Doritos in Harrow’s direction, which she of course fumbled at catching, causing Gideon to smile even wider. “You’re easier to read than you think, Nonagesimus.”
Harrow gingerly unwrapped the food and stared at it, biting aggressively at her lower lip to keep the words she wanted to say at bay. I don’t deserve to breathe the same air as you. I don’t deserve to be treated like this, like I matter. It’d be so much easier to ignore the way my chest feels when I see you if you weren’t so damn nice. Instead all she said was, “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it Harrow.” Gideon moved closer so their shoulders touched and their thighs gently brushed. “Someone has to take care of you.” Gideon’s smile was so nice and sweet, but then again so was Harrow’s mother’s right before the first blow.
“Eight letters; dense star with powerful magnetic fields. The closest one to us is located in the constellation Carina.”
“Yes Griddle, this star is very large.”
“No, that’s my guess.”
Harrow angled her eyes disapprovingly downwards to Gideon’s grinning face. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“Nope.” Gideon’s smile grew and that glow in her eyes sent sparks along Harrow’s internal organs. Gideon readjusted her position, which was already having an unfortunate effect on Harrow’s ability to focus.
After they had finished eating, Gideon had stretched out across the floor of the bell tower, but due to its confining size, Gideon’s head had ended up using Harrow’s thigh as a pillow. Neither of them were complaining about the arrangement, and this scenario gave Harrow a beautiful view of Gideon’s face and body. In an effort to distract herself from what was the equivalent of the world’s most adorable puppy, Harrow had opened up her daily crossword puzzle app and here they had been for the past half an hour.
“The answer is magnetar,” Harrow sighed as she filled in the answer.
Gideon shrugged and the action sent more sparks along Harrow’s legs. “Never heard of ‘em.”
Harrow swallowed hard and tried to keep her breath and voice steady as she said, “We talked about them in astronomy class in eighth grade.”
Gideon cocked her head to the side to look up at Harrow more. “Wasn’t that the year Coronabeth started wearing those low cut tops? Ya know, right as she began to”—Gideon smirked—“ develop ?”
“Yeah, then no I wasn’t paying attention to anything in that class,” Gideon laughed.
Harrow rolled her eyes and smacked Gideon’s arm. That was, of course, a bad idea because now Harrow had the feeling of Gideon’s bare bicep imprinting into the sensory receptors of her hand. “Uh, okay next one,” she coughed out. “Nine letters; the use of inappropriate behavior or words during serious situations.”
Without missing a beat Gideon said, “Facetious.” She looked up at Harrow who was acutely aware her jaw had dropped open. “I really liked english class,” Gideon explained with another shrug.
“Alright,” Harrow said slowly, attempting to mask just how shocked she was. “I guess I wasn’t expecting—”
“Me to be smart?”
Harrow pressed her tongue tight against her cheek, struggling to find a nice way to say ‘yes’. Gideon’s eyes darkened the slightest bit and she focused her gaze upwards on the ceiling.
“I’m not stupid, Harrow,” she said after a couple seconds of silence. “I just don’t show off like you and your friends do.”
Harrow nodded, but since she wasn’t sure what to say to bring Gideon back, she returned to the crossword. “Six letter word; a person who demands absolute control over a group by force and cruelty.”
“No, that’s my answer.”
Harrow smacked Gideon again, but the ice had been melted as quickly as it had formed, and they were both laughing.
“Match the red ones in the corner”—Harrow inclined her chin to the waiting red candy icons—“you can make one of those bombs and get the final key!”
“Harrow, I’ve been playing this game for years,” Gideon mumbled with concentration.
“Yes, and the fact you’re only on level 137 reflects your lack of technique.”
They had switched positions about fifteen minutes ago after Gideon started loudly complaining about how boney Harrow’s legs were. Harrow was completely fine with sitting in the opposite corner for the rest of the evening, but after some time of Gideon begging Harrow to help her get through a few levels of Candy Crush, they had found themselves in this situation. Harrow was forced to admit that it was nice sitting in between Gideon’s legs and laying against her chest. And it was especially nice having one of Gideon’s arms wrapped around her waist so they both could see the screen of her phone.
“Aaaand you’re out of moves,” Harrow pointed out as the banner popped up across the screen. Gideon sighed and thonked her forehead against the back of Harrow’s head. “Gimme”—Harrow snatched the phone from Gideon’s hands and restarted the level—“you moron,” she added. Gideon chuckled and her warm breath left goosebumps on Harrow’s neck.
Harrow blew through three levels in the time it had taken Gideon to do one.
Gideon had finished her second energy drink and her limbs were spontaneously moving and jolting. “You need to stop drinking those things,” Harrow grumbled from across the space as she yet again failed to find any interesting scientific papers to read. She certainly didn't want to read Sextus’s again. “All they’re doing is raising your heart rate.”
Gideon noiselessly nodded before opening another one and chugging it. Harrow watched with equal amounts of disgust and intrigue as Gideon barely came up for air before finishing the bottle. “I need to stay awake,” she finally said once the drink was gone.
“But you don’t need to have a heart attack.”
The silence resumed in the belltower, broken periodically by Gideon drumming her hands on the floor. The random noise became more and more infuriating until Harrow was seriously considering hurling her phone across the tight space at Gideon’s head. “Go for a walk or something, Griddle,” she snapped as Gideon began another drum solo. “Burn off that energy before your heart explodes.”
Gideon nodded—which considering her heavily energized state was more like frantic neck spasms—before scrambling back through the crawlspace. Harrow heard a dull thud as Gideon dropped to the stage below, and she breathed a sigh of relief at the now completely silent room.
The silence lasted barely five minutes before Gideon’s annoyingly happy face popped back inside and she said, “It’s dark out there.”
“Thanks for the update, Griddle.”
Gideon stuck her tongue out at Harrow then suddenly grabbed her arm and started pulling her to the exit. “Come with me!” She pleaded. “I don’t wanna walk in the dark alone!”
“I don’t want to walk, period!” Harrow struggled against Gideon’s pull, but it was like struggling against a tsunami; whether you liked it or not, you were getting dragged out to sea. “Fine!” Harrow said, if anything just to get Gideon to stop pulling her. “Let me get my cloak.”
The two of them stood in the middle of the empty stage, Gideon somehow not freezing to death in just her muscle shirt and thin sweatpants. Harrow wrestled her sore body into her cloak and looked at Gideon expectantly. “Well? Where do you want to go?”
Gideon bounced excitedly on the balls of her feet before jumping off the stage and lightly jogging up the hill towards the dungeon and bars. Harrow’s short legs worked double time to keep up, which she did not appreciate. After a grand total of ten minutes, Harrow gave up trying to keep up with Gideon and resolved to just trail behind her. She felt like she was taking a dog for a stroll through the park, and the thought brought a genuine smile to her face. Harrow was using her phone’s flashlight to keep from tripping over the uneven ground, meanwhile Gideon was bounding through the barely lit walkways with ease.
After passing the bars Gideon came to a stop at a crossroads, one path leading up the hill towards Drearburh and the other leading down to a small center of shops and the loop back to the apothecary. Harrow expected Gideon to avoid Drearburh, but instead she turned up the hill and Harrow begrudgingly followed. All the shops along the path were eerily darkened and abandoned. “This feels like a ghost town,” Harrow whispered, not expecting Gideon to hear her.
“It’s perfect isn’t it?” Gideon’s voice echoed slightly on the empty buildings. She stopped walking and let Harrow catch up, her chest heaving in gulps of air. “Even empty it’s so loud. Without the extra noise of people, the wind sounds louder going in between the buildings, voices echo more across the paths, and the stones clink like boulders crashing into each other.”
“What is your obsession with there needing to be noise?” Harrow asked as she stretched her crying leg muscles. “Every time there’s even the smallest amount of silence you have to start talking or doing something noisy. You couldn’t even sit in the bell tower without drumming on the floor.”
Gideon sighed and her breath left a faint cloud. “I don’t like silence. I was raised around noise. My parents are both chatterboxes; they talk about everything. Then there’s the whole sword business. Do you have any idea how loud metal welding is? It was the first noise I remember hearing. Not to mention I was practically raised in this Faire, which isn’t exactly quiet.” She looked at Harrow who was nodding, her brain struggling to comprehend how noise could be comforting. “Why are you obsessed with silence, Harrow?”
“You don’t have to take an interest in my life,” Harrow said softly. She nudged Gideon’s shoulder to get her walking again, but Gideon gently took Harrow’s arm to keep her standing there. The whole scene ran in slow motion as Gideon’s other hand came up to rest on Harrow’s shoulder.
“You’re a very complex person,” Gideon smiled. “Of course I’m curious about you.”
It’s a trap, it’s a trap, it’s a trap! For once, Harrow told the voice in her head to fuck off. Gideon’s hands on her arm and her shoulder felt right . There were no evil fingers digging into her skin, no looming threat of a cold hand about to smack her, and, most importantly, there wasn’t a trace of the same monster that possessed Harrow’s mother in Gideon’s eyes. She listened to me at the joust. Maybe that wasn’t a fluke. “I, uh, I find comfort in silence. My house is always quiet,” Harrow reluctantly confided. Gideon’s smile widened as Harrow peeled down her walls piece by piece. “I’m always alone since my parents travel with their jobs. Silence is comforting.”
“No offense Harrow, but if my parents were gone most of the time, I would hate the silence. Isn’t that just a constant reminder the house is empty?”
Harrow nodded. “Of course, that’s why it’s comforting. I mean once they get home the lights come on and they get all chatty and that’s usually when I have to talk to them, and of course that leads to a conversation about how I’m stupid, and useless, and a disappointment. Then comes the insults and the yelling and—” Harrow clamped her mouth shut as Gideon’s expression changed from happy to something else . Harrow knew that expression. It was the same kind the guidance counselor had used when Harrow had come to school with bruises in elementary school. It was the same kind her teachers had used when she’d been a stupid child, crying that she didn’t want to go home to the monsters. Harrow hated that look; it was another reminder she was the freak people were free to laugh at.
And she had sworn years ago she would be the one laughing from now on.
“Let’s go back to the tower,” Harrow growled, pushing Gideon’s hands off of her and starting back down the path.
“What Nav!?” Harrow whirled around, nearly knocking into Gideon’s chest. “Gonna tell me more about your ‘perfect’ life? How your parents love you and support you and are proud of you? Well guess what, my parents have standards ! They have expectations for my life that go beyond your only hope of being some dull-witted sword freak. I have potential! I was born with the perfect DNA; the genetic long straw. There’s nothing wrong with my life or my fam—” Harrow’s ranting was cut off as Gideon pulled her into her chest and enclosed her arms around Harrow’s body.
It was a hug. A really nice hug. It was better than the quick squeezes from the other day; this one was tight and more comforting than Harrow thought a hug could be. Gideon’s skin wasn’t even cold; it held a warmth that leached into Harrow and calmed her rapid heartbeat. Harrow’s head came to rest below Gideon’s shoulder, the fabric underneath slowly dampening as Harrow realized tears were pouring out of her eyes. Gideon’s hand ran through Harrow’s hair, gently drawing soothing lines down her neck.
“I-I’m sorry,” Harrow choked out, her stupid tears marring with her makeup and her walls. “I did-I didn’t mean to—”
“Relax Harrow,” Gideon whispered. “I know that’s not you; those aren’t your thoughts. Believe me, you aren’t stupid, and you definitely aren’t worthless. Most importantly, you are not your parents.”
“That’s why they hate me,” Harrow sobbed. “That, and because I wasn’t supposed to be born.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true! I was a mistake!” Harrow buried her face deeper into Gideon’s chest, trying to hide from the shame that was her existence. “My parents didn’t want a child; I was an accident. I ruined their lives! Because of me, they got married and lost years of their careers trying to raise me. If I didn’t exist they could’ve been happy and successful, but I ruined everything!”
“Aren’t they like super rich doctors though?”
Harrow coughed out a laugh. “They wanted to be scientists. Pioneer the new age of medical discoveries. Traveling the world performing surgeries is far from their dreams.”
Gideon pulled Harrow back a bit and tilted up her chin so their eyes met. “And that’s not your fault, Harrow.” Her eyes traveled down Harrow’s face, and there was a sudden flash of anger in the golden orbs. Gideon gently stroked along Harrow's left cheek and very tensely whispered, “Those bastards hitting you is not your fault either.” Harrow brought her own hand up to where her makeup had smeared from both her tears and being pressed into Gideon’s chest.
“But I deserve it.”
“No you don’t.” Gideon said it so strongly Harrow almost believed it herself. Which was why when Gideon’s hand closed over hers, Harrow didn’t fight the touch.
They stood there in the night for a while, fingers entwined together and bodies absorbing each other’s warmth.
Gideon and Harrow walked down the path to loop back to the apothecary and the bell tower. Their hands were still together, Harrow shuddering at the mere thought of losing Gideon’s touch. Sadly, as with anything good in Harrow’s life, it crashed and burned.
The apothecary loomed at the end of the path, but it wasn’t what caught Harrow’s eye and sent panic signals ringing through her brain. That feature was accomplished by the lights being on in the Nav Sword Shop.
“Why are your parents up so late?” Harrow checked her phone. “It’s 1:42.”
“My parents aren’t in the shop,” Gideon whispered slowly. “They asked that ancient lieutenant if they could return home for their day jobs and I could just stay. They left this afternoon.”
“Then why are the lights on?”
Gideon swallowed loudly and Harrow felt her hand begin to tremble. “I don’t know, but I’m really regretting not bringing my sword.”
The two girls approached the store and peered through the front windows. The door was still locked and nothing in the store section seemed to be disturbed. The light was emitting mostly from the back room aka the living quarters. Harrow’s panic signals were now joined with warning bells. Gideon and Harrow made their way to the back of the store where the entrance to the quarters was.
The door was wide open.
“When did my life become the Twilight Zone!” Gideon cried out. Harrow quickly clamped her hand over Gideon’s mouth.
“Someone could still be in there.” Harrow mouthed the words, just barely making actually sound. Gideon’s eyes got wider than Harrow thought possible and she nodded slowly. Harrow pulled out her phone and they stepped inside the room.
The kitchenette and half living room were trashed. Every cushion on the couch was pulled off and each cabinet had been opened and emptied. All the lights in the kitchenette were on, but none of the hallway lights or bedroom lights were. The living quarters were thankfully silent. Gideon glanced around and tentatively whispered, “I think whoever it was is—”
Gideon’s hopeful words were shattered by the noise of breaking glass coming from down the hall. Harrow bolted towards the only open door: Gideon’s room. She flicked on the light just as Gideon appeared beside her, holding a sword from the shop in her quaking hands.
The window in Gideon’s room was broken, and whoever had been in there had fled through it and into the night. The room itself was just as trashed as the outer rooms had been. Her bed had been torn apart, her clothes had been thrown from the closet, and both of the dressers looked like they’d been in the process of being rooted through.
“What the hell?” Gideon’s voice shook as she looked around her ransacked room. She then looked at the smashed window. “Who the hell?”
“Gideon, I’m so sorry.” Harrow gently rested her hand on Gideon’s back, but she didn’t react. “We’ll figure this out. There has to be an explanation for everything going on.” Gideon wordlessly nodded. “I wonder what they were looking for?” Harrow wondered out loud as she eyed the room. She stepped towards the half ransacked dressers when something sharp poked through her boot causing her to yelp. Under her foot was the familiar cavalier costume.
Harrow picked up the leather jacket that had been thrown to the floor—whether by Gideon or the ransacker she couldn’t tell—and fished through the pockets to find the sharp object. She felt cold metal and pulled out a glowing gold rose from the apothecary. “Cyth gave me that last night,” Gideon mumbled from across the room. “I forgot to take it out of my jacket I guess.” Harrow returned the flower to the jacket and hung it over the side of the dresser. Just another way Cytherea is better for her, Harrow’s brain said with a victorious comeback.
Gideon attempted to clean up her room a bit, but the actions were languid and clunky. Her gaze was far off, like her mind couldn’t process what was happening and had retreated to another world. Harrow wasn’t sure what to say or do to help, so she picked up the few things she could and left Gideon with her thoughts. Harrow checked her phone and the time read 1:56. Gideon didn’t acknowledge when Harrow pointed it out, and she ended up having to guide Gideon out of the living quarters and back into the night.
“We’ll do something about this in the morning,” Harrow said as calmly as she could. “First, let's get this stakeout over with.”
Gideon tightened her grip on her sword. “I don’t understand why this is happening.” Harrow was all ready to say something enlightening and uplifting—or it could’ve been misguided and poorly timed, who knows—when a flash of light came from the apothecary window. “That’s the distress signal,” Gideon said before taking off running.
Harrow managed to keep up through pure adrenaline alone. They both burst through the apothecary door, but the main area was empty. Voices came from the storage room, but Harrow couldn’t tell who it was or what they were saying. Gideon brandished her sword as they carefully entered the space. Harrow followed behind and scoped out around the counter, but Cytherea and Judith weren’t anywhere to be seen. Gideon pressed against the wall near the entrance to the storage room, head craned back to listen, and Harrow joined her. The voices were definitely a male and a female, but it was impossible to hear what they were saying.
Harrow summoned all her bravery and entered the room first. The storage area was incredibly dusty and dimly lit; still no sign of Judith or Cytherea. She heard gentle footsteps behind her as Gideon followed into the next level of this horror movie they’d entered. Harrow peeked around a stack of boxes to see shadows on the wall coming from the storage area near the back exit. Both were thin and sickly looking, and both were angrily whisper shouting. She could make out pieces of words here and there, but the sounds barely carried.
Harrow turned to relay her observations to Gideon, but instead the shadow standing behind her knocked her over the head, and Harrowhark Nonagesimus was out cold.
Harrow moaned in agony and rubbed her head as her eyes peeled themselves open. “What the fuck,” she groaned from under the throbbing pain in her skull. Harrow opened her phone—flinching at the light—which was laying a few inches off to her side, thankfully unbroken. The clock read 3:17 AM. She turned on the camera and winced at the sight of her bruised cheek, half disintegrated makeup, and the dried blood on her forehead from where she’d been hit.
Harrow dragged herself up to her feet, groaning the whole time. The room spun and she grabbed the wall to steady herself. Harrow stumbled into the next storage area where she had the faintest recollection of shadows and talking. The exit was closed, all the boxes were gone, and Cytherea was lying unconscious on the floor. Blood had dried down the side of her face from a large gash on her head. Harrow shook her a few times and she stirred a bit, but didn’t fully wake up.
“Judith? Gideon?” She called through the storage area. At first she didn’t hear anything, but then the faint sound of crying came to her disjointed senses. Harrow followed the sound back into the first storage room and back to the far wall where the small living section was for the Septimus girls.
Gideon was sitting against the wall with her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth with tears running down to her jaw. Blood was matted in her hair and dried along her face and neck, but besides the obvious signs of her also having been whacked, Gideon had blood on her hands and clothes. “Gideon?” Harrow called, still getting her bearings. “What—a-are you—what’s wrong?”
Gideon’s head shot up, her eyes red as she frantically shook her head. “I didn’t. I-I didn’t do that. Something’s wrong; something’s so wrong.” Her voice was ragged and dry as more tears coursed down her face. Harrow cautiously stepped closer and looked around the corner at what Gideon was sobbing at.
Laying on the stone floor was Judith Deuteros with a sword through her chest.
Chapter 13: Innocence
“Gideon Nav, you are under arrest for murder.” Lieutenant Crux entered the hospital room without so much as a hello and snapped a shiny pair of handcuffs onto Gideon’s wrist. “Until the doctor clears you, these stay on.”
“Judith’s really dead?” Gideon hoarsely whispered. She’d been in and out of consciousness since being brought to the hospital, the gash to her head resulting in a concussion and a possible skull fracture. The Lieutenant did not particularly seem to care that she had massive head trauma though, evidenced by him handcuffing her to the hospital bed.
“People die when swords go through their hearts,” he gruffly responded.
Gideon flopped back against the pillow, her freehand rubbing her head like the action could bring back her memories. “I would never do something like that.” Harrow could hear the strain in Gideon’s voice as she fought to not cry again.
“Excuse me, Mr Lieutenant Sir?” Palamedes tentatively spoke up from his seat next to Harrow. “Besides the obvious sword through the deceased’s chest, what other proof do you have that Gideon is responsible?”
The physical embodiment of the Leaning Tower of Pisa turned around with large clunking steps. “Well she had the perfect opportunity.”
“With head trauma like that she would have also been incapacitated.” Palamedes spoke with the confidence of someone with degrees in multiple subjects, not someone who spent the night fast asleep when they had been specifically told not to do so.
“I’m not saying she wasn’t knocked out, but the medical examiner is estimating the time of death to be around 1 or 2. That’s plenty of time for her to kill Deuteros, knock herself out, and wake up for Ms. Nonagesimus to find her.”
Gideon was uncharacteristically silent, but Harrow was almost positive that was a combination of her head trauma and status as a murder suspect. Harrow’s own injuries had been briefly looked at, but she had ended up swatting away the people trying to touch her and decided to ignore what was most likely a concussion. Her head was still spinning, playing catch up to the scene before her.
Camilla and Palamedes hadn’t said anything other than profuse apologies for falling asleep. Harrow didn’t blame them; she never understood the human desire to remain unconscious for long periods of time, but she also couldn’t find it within herself to be upset. Every emotional capacity she had was focused on Gideon.
Harrow had been sitting on the world’s most uncomfortable chair in Gideon’s hospital room for hours. After escaping the clutches of nurses who couldn’t seem to stop touching her, Harrow had appointed herself as Gideon’s bodyguard and taken roost in—again—the world’s most uncomfortable chair. Camilla and Palamedes arrived a few hours later, ‘after having been questioned to hell and back’ as they put it, and joined Harrow in a semi-silent vigil around Gideon’s body.
And then that damn Lieutenant arrived.
Harrow didn’t care how bad it looked: Gideon was innocent. Palamedes had whispered in the silence of the hospital room that Cytherea—who was much more allowing to be poked at by the hospital staff—was adamant about Gideon not being responsible. It was a small consolation, but to the Lieutenant it might as well have been dust.
Gideon pulled on the cuffs that were the new addition to her body. When she came to the conclusion that they were in fact real, more tears came cascading down her face. It was most definitely the concussion talking when Harrow’s mind tried to add the words beautiful and perfect as descriptors of said face.
“The investigation is technically ongoing, and evidence still needs to be collected,” Lieutenant Crux said as he made his way out of the room, “but I have no doubt I’ll be seeing you again, Nav.” The crazy bastard smiled before clonking his way down the hallway. Before Harrow could assure Gideon that nothing bad was going to happen to her, Griddle had fallen back into a restless sleep.
And she still looked so beautiful.
Palamedes had left to go get Dulcinea and bring her up to Cytherea’s room. Harrow was slightly glad; his constant apologies and ‘reassurances’ were getting on her nerves. Camilla—who Harrow was struggling to refer to as Cam as the annoying woman insisted—had left to find food. Again, another human desire Harrow was aware of, but didn’t share much interest in. Gideon was still asleep. Harrow was desperately hoping she’d remain that way lest she need to explain what she was doing to Gideon’s hair.
Essentially, Harrow was petting Gideon.
She hadn’t meant to, but after Camilla had left, Gideon started restlessly moving in her sleep. Harrow had zero experience in comforting gestures, but she knew from watching animal surgery videos that petting a distraught creature was an easy way to calm them down.
So here she was, chair pulled up next to Gideon’s bedside, running her hand through the short red locks until the girl’s body had fallen back into a more restful slumber. Gideon’s hair was unbelievably soft, and Harrow was quickly coming to the realization that she genuinely enjoyed touching it.
“Why do you have to be so damn pretty, Griddle?” Harrow shamelessly whispered. “And so damn nice to people who don’t even deserve it. Everyone always says how sweet and kind you are, it’s like you walk around with those words stamped on your forehead. I mean, even Ianthe thinks you’re nice. Granted, she also says you’re an idiot, but I’m starting to think that’s some sort of elaborate act you put on.
“You’re incredibly intelligent, Griddle. I don’t have the faintest idea why you hide it. Don’t misunderstand, you are stupid in quite a few things though. You don’t have a damn clue the difference between a proximal phalange and a distal phalange. I bet you don’t even know that a trapezoid is a type of bone. You do know swords, and English apparently, and I’m starting to believe you really know me.
“I try incredibly hard to hide myself from people, Griddle. Yet you insist on pushing through and climbing over my walls, as if you’ll die if you don’t get to the bottom of the mystery that is me. And no matter how much I push you away, you keep trying to crawl back. As if each time won’t end with me fucking up and hurting you again. I’m starting to think you’re a bit of a masoch—“ Harrow’s rambling was cut off as her eyes caught something black and shiny tucked under the mattress.
Harrow reached down and pulled back the fabric a bit to reveal a small black microphone clipped underneath. Her eyes widened and she bit back the gasp about to come out of her mouth.
Someone was spying on Gideon?
“Guys, I am fine!” Cytherea protested again as Palamedes and Dulcinea tried to convince her to return to the hospital. “They have to say ‘stay for observation’, but I feel fine, I promise!”
Their even more ragtag than before gang was back in the once apothecary now crime scene. The image of those shiny cuffs on Gideon’s wrist was the only thing keeping Harrow from collapsing and screaming into the void for the rest of eternity. She still had to tell the group that there was a microphone planted by Gideon’s bed, and that the store and Gideon’s room had been ransacked before the murder. Harrow’s mind was racing a mile a minute with all that had happened. Everything had somehow managed to unravel even more from when Protesilaus’s body had dropped to Drearburh stage, and the one strand Harrow thought to be the strongest of all had snapped just as she had taken hold of it with both hands.
Camilla shamelessly broke them into their second police taped area by jimmying open the apothecary door that led into the back storage room. Markers were on the floor where Cytherea’s, Harrow’s, Gideon’s, and Judith’s bodies had fallen. Harrow avoided looking at them, instead opting to examine what wasn’t in the storage room: the excess metal flowers.
Cytherea had relayed what few details she remembered from before she was knocked out: her and Judith had heard voices coming from the storage room, Cytherea had gone first to investigate, once inside someone had whacked her, and when she came to she was in the hospital. There was really nothing helpful in that summary.
“What is so damn important about these flowers?” Palamedes pondered aloud as he stared at the empty wall where the boxes should have been. “Are we really sure that whoever came for these things are the same people who knocked everyone out and killed Judith?”
“Protesilaus thought there was something fishy about them, and he’s dead too, so yes something is going on with these flowers,” said Cam (Dammit Harrow it’s Camilla; stop getting familiar with people) as she examined the rest of the storage room. Like any good detective, she had out a magnifying glass and a flashlight as she focused on the wooden slates of the apothecary floor.
Palamedes ventured into the area where Judith had died, but he didn’t seem to be looking at anything. Just observing the area like he’d never seen it before. Everyone was most definitely feeling the weight of their situation.
Then a distant spark of hope was ignited. It came in the form of Camilla Hect shouting, “I found something!”
Everyone rushed to where she was crouched by the back door. Camilla had taken out tweezers from her future bank robber kit and was gently lifting a small chunk of yellow from the lopsided floor boards. After a few harsh tugs the piece came loose and Cam (illa) brandished what appeared to be a metal leaf.
This leaf didn’t look like the metal leaves that typically adorned the flowers though. It was bolder, more distinct, thicker, and it held such an ethereal glow Harrow would swear it was a fleck of an angel’s skin. The surface danced with the barest hints of red as the sunlight coming from the window bounced off of it. Underneath the apothecary’s lights it emitted a glorious green tint that shouldn’t be possible for a simple chunk of metal, prompting even Harrow to let a small gasp slip from her mouth.
“That’s gorgeous,” Palamedes said, shattering the silence. “It must have broken off one of the flowers somehow.”
“Maybe they opened the boxes to check and dropped one?” Dulcinea pondered.
“It doesn’t matter how it fell off”—Cam took the leaf from the tweezers and set it into her palm—“what matters is, this isn’t metal.”
Dulcinea and Cytherea both looked horrified at the accusation. “Of course the flowers are metal!” Dulcinea cried, well it was less of a cry and more of a slight decibel raise, but for Dulcinea that might as well be a shout. “We would never buy from a company that uses cheap imitations! Our metal flowers are pure metal!”
“I’m not saying this is a cheap imitation!” Cam thrust the leaf into Palamedes’s hand, and of course the buffoon almost dropped it. But once he had situated the lump in between his fingers his grey eyes lit up with understanding.
“You’re not thinking—”
Cam cut him off with a brisk, “Yes I am.”
“Hey, mind clueing us non-telepaths in?” Harrow snapped.
“I’m not absolutely certain,” Palamedes trailed off then nearly cracked his neck whipping his head up to the apothecary lights. “Dulcie, are these UV lights?”
Dulcinea nodded. “Yes, but they’re very faint. There’s only the tiniest bit more UV in these than comes from the sun. We didn’t like the purple aesthetic of pure UV, plus our plants don’t need so much since we keep them in the sun as well.”
Palamedes nodded and examined the leaf more carefully. Harrow’s mind whirled as she tried to piece together what UV light had to do with the leaf. That leaf most definitely does not look like normal metal painted gold, and it really doesn’t glow like metal should under UV light. There’s not a chance that it’s—
“That’s real gold!” Harrow and Palamedes exclaimed at the same time.
Cytherea’s eyes bugged out of her head so far she could have been one of those cheesy kids toys. “Ar-are you sure! There’s—dear God there’s no way!”
“Pure gold glows with a green tint under UV light”—Palamedes indicated to the greenish-yellow color of the leaf—“and this chunk is far heavier than normal metal should be. The brilliance, the shine, the color; there’s one more test I can think of. Cam, get me a glass of water.”
Cam hurried off to the living quarters and came back what was seconds—but could have been mistaken for hours—later with a glass filled with another human necessity: H20. Palamedes dropped the leaf inside and it ceremoniously sank to the bottom.
“That’s gold,” he breathed out.
“C’mon,” Cytherea said as she shook her head in disbelief, “it glows a certain color and sinks; that doesn’t mean it’s a precious metal!”
Dulcinea looked around and pulled a magnet off the bulletin board. Papers floated to the floor, but she paid them no attention. “Real gold isn’t magnetic; I remember that from chemistry class at least.” The magnet was held up to the wet chunk, and from the victorious smile on Dulcinea’s face it wasn’t being pulled closer. “I think you’re right, Pal. This is real gold.”
“But why would a metal flower have a gold leaf?” Cytherea seemed desperate to not believe what they were looking at, but her question was valid anyway.
No one seemed to have an answer, not even Palamedes. Harrow thought back to the clues they had gathered about Protesilaus’s death. He had known something was up with the flowers, and he had a small UV light. “What if all those flowers were gold?” Harrow wondered aloud, but Cam heard her and her eyes lit up.
“Holy shit, Harrow I think you’re right.” Cam dashed into the main apothecary area and came back with Dulcinea’s laptop. “Dulcie, are you still good with hacking?” The pale blue eyes sparkled as the woman nodded and took the computer. Everyone gathered around as Dulcinea and Cam sat on the floor, Cam directing Dulcinea to the city’s website.
“What are you doing Cam?” Palamedes, for once in the dark, asked. “There’s no way to prove all those flowers were gold, and why would they be?”
“Protesilaus sure thought they were all gold,” Harrow started to ramble, the pieces of this fucked up puzzle clicking into place in her head. “He must’ve used that small UV light to make sure the excess flowers were in fact gold and not a good imitation.”
“And then whoever came to pick them up he was going to confront,” Palamedes said, catching up with Harrow’s thought process.
Cytherea shook her head rapidly, her brown curls flinging around like whips. “But who would make flowers out of gold? What type of Faire would have something like that?” Again, she presented a good point.
“Alright I’m in,” Dulcinea declared. Everyone’s attention returned to the computer. Cam had directed Dulcinea into the city archives and bypassed the security clearances into the map section. Now Dulcinea was scrolling through the titles, and stopped on one titled ‘Topographical—[redacted version]’ The screen loaded the topographic map Protesilaus had had in his trailer, but this time the Legend was unobstructed.
Palamedes: “Oh my God.”
Dulcinea: “Are we seeing this right?”
Cytherea: “I don’t believe it.”
Cam: “I was right.”
The Legend marker read, clear as day: Dominicus Valley Gold Mine.
“There’s a gold mine under Dominicus.” Palamedes stated the obvious, but the assertion still made Harrow’s heart skip a beat.
“I knew this had to connect to the map!” Cam triumphantly punched the air.
“This still doesn’t prove anything!” Cytherea protested. “Is it a massive coincidence that there’s a secret gold mine under Dominicus and we received gold flowers? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they’re connected!”
“Pro sure thought they were.” Dulcinea’s words silenced her sister.
“We’re not seriously thinking someone is smuggling gold from under Dominicus?” Harrow couldn’t believe the words came out of her mouth, but as soon as she said them it made perfect sense. The burst pipes excuse, the pure gold flowers, the murders: it was a smuggling operation and they’d fallen right into it!
“Guys, this is extremely dangerous territory,” Cytherea whispered.
Dulcinea rolled her eyes. “We were investigating a murder , Cyth. This was always dangerous.”
“No, Cytherea is right,” Cam jumped in, “this is much more. These people have two murders on their heads and for some reason they’re framing Gideon. We’re gonna need a lot more than an illegally obtained map, a leaf, and some theories to prove there’s a smuggling operation going on.”
A silence worse than before settled over the group. Not only had they hit a brick wall, but now the stakes were higher than before. Of all the crazy things that were unfolding before them, the one Harrow couldn’t understand was why Gideon of all people was getting framed. She ran through every interaction Gideon and her had had at the Faire, trying to pinpoint where someone would decide to pin a murder on Griddle.
Harrow’s mind flickered to what Gideon had told her the day Protesilaus’s body was found (had that really been just yesterday?) When she’d been scared to hell and back about Protesilaus following her, and about the note he’d left on her door. Why the hell had Protesilaus been so interested in her? Had he thought she was part of the smuggling ring? What on earth would give him that idea? Cytherea had given Gideon that gorgeous flower that night, right? But it wasn’t—
“Gideon has a gold flower!” The realization bitchslapped Harrow across the face and burst from her mouth before she could put any rational shine on it.
Cytherea leapt from where she had kneeled beside her sister, her eyes burning as she exclaimed, “Oh God! I gave Gideon a brilliant flower from the batch we got in! I thought it was so shiny and golden, like her eyes! Harrow’s right, it must be real gold too!”
“But I thought that one was in our batch?” Dulcinea asked.
“Smuggling gold out of Dominicus disguised as metal Ren Faire flowers is incredibly genius,” Cam mused. “If one of the gold flowers fell into a batch meant for a real Faire, that would screw up everything.”
Cytherea’s eyes defied physics and widened more. A small gasp left her mouth and tears pricked their way into her eyes. “I-I told Pro about the flower! I showed it to him that afternoon and asked him to put it somewhere safe before the finale. When I came back from my rounds he was gone, which I thought was rude because he was supposed to watch the apothecary for the afternoon, and he never returned until the joust.” Her frail body was trembling all over and she hastily wiped a few faint tears off her cheeks.
Dulcinea took her sister’s arms and pulled her into a tight hug. “His death is not your fault, Cyth! Whoever killed him is responsible! There’s no way you could have known what would happen from him seeing the flower.”
“Gideon told me Protesilaus had left a note on her door telling her to watch her back,” Harrow said aloud, not really caring who was listening. “She thought it was a threat, but if Protesilaus knew about the flower and assumed smugglers, what if he was trying to warn her? I mean, without him, the boxes of flowers, or a legally obtained map, what evidence is there of smuggling except that flower?”
If there was ever a visual for ‘warning bells going off in everyone’s head simultaneously’, this would be it. Everyone’s head shot up at Harrow’s words, the implications sinking in. “And someone did break into the shop last night and go through Gideon’s room,” Harrow whispered, pushing out the last piece of evidence she could think of.
Cam shot off the floor and started sprinting towards the apothecary door. “C’mon!” She shouted. “We have to get that flower!”
Harrow smashed into Cam’s backside as the girl slid to a stop in front of the sword shop. Voices were coming from the back so Harrow led the group around to the side where the window to Gideon’s room was. Thankfully, it was still broken and hadn’t been taped over. The group detoured to poke their heads around to the backside of the shop where Gideon’s parents and a group of police stood. Lieutenant Crux, what a surprise, was standing off to the side on his phone.
“Our store was broken into and you don’t at all care!” Gideon’s mother was saying.
“Mrs. Nav, please,” one of the officers said. “Murder trumps breaking and entering, besides this could just be an elaborate set-up to hide evidence.”
“Our daughter is not a murderer!”
“Then a simple search won’t bring up any evidence contrary to that.” The officer pleadingly looked over. “Lieutenant, do we have that warrant yet?” The hulking man said something, but it was too gruff and huffy to have been a yes.
“Harrow, do you know where the flower is?” Cam whispered in her ear. Harrow nodded and left the scene to stand under the shattered window.
Cam kneeled down next to her and cupped her hands. “You’re joking, right?” Harrow asked.
“How else are you getting up there, Harrowhark?”
Harrow huffed as hard as she could, which wasn’t too hard, and stepped gingerly into Cam’s hands. The surprisingly strong girl pushed her up to the window sill and Harrow’s hands locked onto the frame. Hands were at her backside to balance her, but she couldn’t tell whose. Harrow scrambled to pull herself through the window, but as Griddle put it, she had maybe three muscles in her entire body. “I need a bit more,” she panted.
Suddenly Harrow’s whole body was flung through and to the floor. She groaned and rubbed her definitely bruised ribs and already concussed head. “Fuck you, Cam!” She whisper shouted. The laughter from the other side of the wall made her feel like her insult fell flat.
Harrow scrambled over to the cavalier jacket she had tossed over the dresser and pulled out the flower. How could she have been so blind before as to not see this thing was gold? It couldn’t be mistaken for puny metal if it tried! Harrow tossed the sole evidence they had through the window and heard a triumphant exclamation of “Got it” from Palamedes.
Now came the tricky part: getting out the window.
Harrow leapt up and grasped the window ledge, pieces of glass digging into her hand as she kicked her legs against the wall. Grunts and huffs escaped her mouth as she struggled to pull herself up. “Harrow, hurry!” Dulcinea called. “The cops are going in!”
Harrow thanked whatever evolutionary deity had created adrenaline because that was the only explanation for how she managed to kick herself up and pull her upper body through the window. Cam and Palamedes reached up and took her arms, pulling her the rest of the way through and letting her drop to the ground. Harrow could feel blood leaking from where glass had cut her stomach and hands, but seeing Palamedes holding the flower that was going to prove Gideon’s innocence made the pain worth it.
“Now what do we do?” Cytherea asked as they all marveled at the expensive flower.
Harrow limply got off the ground with a victorious grin. “Now, we set a trap.”
“Well, did you get it?” The man jumped off his chair as one of his partners in crime entered their hideout. The look of desperation on his face told everything. “You promised you’d be able to get it!”
“What can I say,” the man shrugged. “Not even the cops found it, which is some consolation.”
“But it’s still out there.” Both men flinched at the harsh voice of the mastermind from the doorway. Her measured tone was betrayed by the anger flaring in her eyes as she stared them down. “I gave you two buffoons one job”—her voice steadily began to rise—“Get the damn flower, and you couldn’t even do that ! You almost got caught by a bunch of teenagers!”
“We didn’t know they’d show up!” The man pleaded, but the look in the mastermind’s eyes silenced him.
“And for your idiocracy, another person is dead.” Silence fell on the three partners. This was not how it was supposed to go. It was supposed to be so simple. Get rich quick and no one would be the wiser. Now two good people were dead, and an innocent girl was going to take the fall.
The other man cleared his throat to pull their attention to him. “As long as the evidence against Gideon stands, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I mean, she doesn’t know anything about our plan. She was too stupid to realize the flower was gold, or to understand when Ebdoma tried to warn her.”
“That’s exactly the problem!” The woman roared, smacking him across the face. “You picked the dumbest one to frame! How the hell are we gonna convince anyone that Gideon Nav is smart enough or cruel enough to pull off two murders!? It’d be easier to say a puppy murdered them!”
“Well what do you want us to do about it?” Another silence fell over them. “Ya know,” the man continued, “if you had just offered to cut Ebdoma in on the profit we might not even be in this situation.”
“He was too much of a goody two shoes,” the mastermind scoffed. “He never would have taken it.” Her eyes darkened, a sign another plan was taking shape in that evil head of hers. “I know what we do.”
Both men leaned in, knowing full well they weren’t going to like what she had to say. “Yes?”
“Neither of you are going to like it.”
“No one will ever believe Nav is responsible, so we need to make them believe it. In a way that cannot be denied.” She looked at the large man who was already shaking his head. “How good is your forgery?”
“No, I know what you’re thinking and that’s a horrible idea.”
“You’re going to write a note.”
“You’re going to write a damn confession, sign it Gideon Nav, and then you’re going to cut that bitch’s wrists. That’s how we get out of this.”
“No! I killed Ebdoma because it was necessary, and I killed Deuteros because you asked me to, but I refuse to kill a child! No amount of money is worth that!”
The woman slapped him again, her anger bleeding out from her eyes and voice. “There is more than money at stake here! Now, do as I say or you will go down for all of this!”
The man reluctantly nodded, but there was a sadness deep within him that shone just as bright as her hatred. “What if I screw this up too?”
She smiled her sickly sweet and charming smile. The same one that had drawn the two men into this plot in the first place. “You won’t.”
Chapter 14: What The Hell Is Happening
I originally began writing a different chapter for this story, then realized I needed this chapter first. So if this is disjointed af I apologize.
Gideon twisted and tugged on the handcuffs keeping her left wrist attached to the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. This wasn’t exactly what she’d had in mind when she’d fantasized about being cuffed, and worst of all no one was around for her to tell that shitty joke to. Then the universe delivered to her a mass of death and darkness which she could torment with jokes all she wanted.
Harrow didn’t agree with her role in this scenario.
“Nav, please,” she groaned as Gideon made another lewd pun and jangled the metal confining her to the bed. “I’m trying to have a serious conversation here.”
“I’m being accused of two murders; jokes are the only things keeping me sane.”
Harrow sighed and pulled out a folded piece of notebook paper from her trench coat pocket. She tossed it into Gideon’s lap then held her finger up to her lips, motioning with the other for Gideon to open it up. She did so. Printed in big letters at the top were the words:
There is a microphone in your room. Someone is listening.
Gideon’s blood roared through her ears as panic flooded her system. She opened her mouth to blurt out something that would most likely alert whoever was on the other side, but psychic Harrow launched forward and clamped her hand over Gideon’s mouth.
“The cops searched the store and your room today,” she said, louder than normal. Whatever she had to say was some type of performance for the eavesdroppers. “Cytherea got the golden flower she gave you after the finale out so it wouldn’t get broken. She’s holding it at the apothecary until the cops realize you didn’t do this.” Her hand was removed from Gideon’s mouth and she nodded to prompt her to respond.
“Uh, yeah that was nice of her, I guess.” Harrow indicated down to the paper and the paragraphs of neatly printed handwriting underneath the warning. She mouthed the words ‘read it’ before moving back to the door.
“Don’t worry Griddle, everything’s gonna turn out fine.” With those not so comforting words, Harrow left.
Gideon frantically scanned the note, her still fuzzy head forgetting how to English for the first few sentences. Leave it to Harrow to write her an essay after she sustained massive head trauma.
Do not panic. As the above warning states, there is a microphone in your room. For once in your life, watch what you say and please think before opening your mouth. (That’s rude, Nonagesimus. I always think for exactly 0.5 seconds before I talk.)
Cytherea, Dulcinea, Palamedes, Camilla, and I have a theory about what is going on. (Big surprise, the smart people have solved the case.) We have evidence of a smuggling ring. We believe someone is illegally mining gold from under the Dominicus Faire and disguising it as apothecary metal flowers. (That’s actually pretty cool.) The one Cytherea gave you is real gold, (What?!) and is the last piece of evidence that gold is being smuggled. (Oh, fuck.)
We are setting a trap. I have now alerted the smugglers to where the flower is, and when they come for it we will catch them. (Harrow you moron! They’ve already killed two people!)
Again, do not panic. (How?!) I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.
Cam gently placed the flower in a glass vase and set it on the table of the living quarters in the back of the apothecary. She arduously twisted it around until the light from a window caught the petals just right and cast small red and green rays across the surface. She took a piece of cloth and gently brushed the dust from the crevices where the leaves met the stem. All in all, Cam was a perfectionist and it was starting to piss Cytherea off.
“Caaaammm,” she whined from her chair across the room. “It looks beautiful, now please stop.”
Cam scrutinized the poor object for a few minutes longer before tossing the towel aside and declaring, “It’ll do.”
“Of course it’ll do; it’s pure gold.”
Cam sighed and crossed to sit beside Cytherea. The look in her smokey eyes gave Cytherea the horrifying thought that she was about to get some kind of life-affirming talk. “How are you doing Cyth?”
“My head is still pounding and I’m hungry, but otherwise fine.”
Cam shook her head then took Cytherea’s hand to gently squeeze it. “No, I mean, how are you doing with everything going on? You and Gideon are involved; I’d imagine it’s hard for you considering her situation.”
Cytherea instantly went to agree, but something stopped her. The way Cam had said ‘involved’ wasn’t settling in her chest. Of course she liked Gideon, but they’d had the ‘what are we’ conversation too many times with the same outcome. “We’re not involved, Cam. I am worried about her though.”
The other girl looked almost shocked by the revelation. “Gideon seems to think you two are involved.”
“Wishful thinking on her part.” When Cam’s penetrating gaze refused to move, Cytherea felt obligated to continue. “It’s not that I don’t like her, but I don’t like her enough to call her my girlfriend.”
“I’m truly hoping you worded that nicer to her face.”
Cytherea winced at the memory. “No, I really didn’t. Gideon’s great, and I know I take advantage of how obsessed she is with me, but there’s not enough spark on my end to warrant a relationship.”
Cam had her one hand absently drumming on her thigh, deep in thought. After a minute of silence she breathed out roughly and said, “Why do you keep clinging to her then? If there’s no spark, why don’t you just let her go?”
“Because she still looks at me like I’m the sun, and if she finds someone who treats her better—Cam, I don’t think I could handle it if she started hating me.”
Cam scoffed. “I don’t think Gideon’s capable of hating anyone. Look at how awful Harrow treated her, and now they’ve been basically attached at the hip for two days.”
That thought wasn’t helping. If Cytherea had to lose Gideon at least the universe could do her a favor and not make the person she lost to be Harrowhark . Gideon deserved far more than that uppity goth freak could give her. And Harrow was too much of a bitch to deserve Gideon.
“Cyth?” Cam was eyeing her warily. “You alright?”
Cytherea felt a painful tenseness in her shoulders and rolled them to relax her muscles. “Just thinking Cam; don’t worry about me.”
“Are you upset Harrow and Gideon like each other?” The question sounded more like an accusation under Cam’s narrowed grey gaze.
Cytherea awkwardly turned from the eyes as she softly whispered, “No because it’s impossible; they despise each other.” When Cam didn’t speak she tacked on a pitiful, “Right?”
“I don’t know, Cyth.”
The silence in the room was disrupted as Palamedes and Dulcinea came bustling in carrying cameras, microphones, wires, and a large net. Cam and Cytherea both watched as the jumble of technology and the—quite basic—trap were dropped to the floor. “Night vision cameras, a heavy duty trapping net, and entirely too sensitive microphones: just like you said.” Palamedes presented the mass of supplies to Cam with his ‘please tell me I did good’ smile.
Cam lifted the “heavy duty” net before saying in her monotone way, “How’s a net going to help us, Pal?”
“You drop it on people to catch them.”
“This isn’t Scooby Doo; anyone can get themselves out of a net!”
“Well they weren’t selling elaborate smuggler snatching kits at Wal-Mart!”
Cam pinched the bridge of her nose and huffed. “Alright fine, fair point. But we need something more than this ”—she waved the limp netting—to hold someone.”
Dulcinea was untangling the wires and hooking them to the cameras when she offered their saving grace idea: “What if we didn’t catch them? I mean, there must be a group, and they’ll probably only send one or two to get the flower. We could just trail whoever takes it back to their headquarters.”
“Dulcie,” Cytherea said softly, “the stakeout went wrong in so many ways, and that was us on our own turf with a decent plan of what we were against. How much better do you think walking headfirst into their territory would be?”
“Cytherea’s right,” Cam agreed. “But, and I do say this tentatively, we don’t have many other options. Gideon’s life is at stake here; we need ideas no matter how crazy.”
“Speaking of crazy,” Cytherea said, noticing a lack of brooding wraith, “where’s Harrow?”
“Harrowhark!” Her mother’s squakish voice rang from the other side of Harrow’s bedroom door. “What nonsense is this ‘second stakeout’?” Harrow froze from where she was brushing out her hair and near teleported to the door. When she yanked it open her mother stood on the other side waving Harrow’s phone in the air, a message from Palamedes on the screen.
“What are you doing reading my texts?!” Harrow tried to snatch the phone, but her mother’s reflexes were faster.
“Answer my question, Harrowhark.”
Harrow swallowed nervously as the monster flickered between the lines on her mother’s tired face. “None of your business.”
The eyes darkened till they could be mistaken for visible black holes. “Harrow,” she growled warningly.
Deciding the last thing she needed to show up at Gideon’s room with was a black eye, Harrow mumbled,“I told you yesterday we’re investigating the two murders at Canaan.” She kept her eyes trained on the ground, counting the carpet fibers under her.
“If you ever answered the phone when I called then you’d know what happened last night!”
Her mother rolled her eyes and sighed, “Fine, we’ll do this your way. What happened last night?”
Harrow searched her mother’s eyes, but the monster seemed to be fading. Still, she kept her hold on the bedroom door, ready to slam it shut between them. “Judith Deuteros is dead, by the same people who killed Ebdoma. Gideon is being framed for them and we’re going to clear her name. And, not that it matters to you, I spent the morning in the hospital after getting my brain bashed in!”
Her mother nodded along with her words before saying dryly, “I see it didn’t improve anything.”
Harrow slammed the door shut. Fuck her phone; it wasnt like she had anything remotely resembling a life on there. She returned to her mirror and resumed brushing out her hair. It was much easier to do when it wasn’t oily and full of knots. She should really shower more.
At least her mother hadn’t questioned why she suddenly looked more alive.
Harrow was doing everything right: she’d showered, eaten a sandwich for dinner, drank three glasses of water, and even washed weeks of old makeup from her face. She put on her most striking black trench coat and jeans her parents had bought her when they’d ‘still had hope she could be loveable to someone’. Harow was forced to admit, excluding her face and figure, she looked decent.
Harrow finished packing her backpack with supplies: the gorgeous knife Gideon had gotten for her, a few books, and a whole bag of Twix she’d bought at the store. If she was going to give this a shot, then she was going to go all out—as was her brand.
Of course, it was also very on brand for Gideon to say, “No, I don’t think you’re hot and no I don’t want to see anymore of you once this whole murder thing is sorted out.” Harrow frantically shooed the thought away.
Before the night had been royally fucked up, Harrow had felt like someone cared about her for the first time. The touch of Gideon’s skin on her own had lingered for hours. That had to mean something.
Harrow had been reading over an anatomy paper by a professor at the college she was to attend, and had found herself being distracted multiple times thinking of that insufferable, annoying, stupid redhead. That had to mean something.
Harrow had been ready to skip dinner when she remembered how adorable Gideon in her muscle shirt had been sitting next to her while they ate, prompting her to decide on a sandwich. That had to mean something .
If it meant nothing, Harrow didn’t know what she’d do.
After checking her mother had vanished, Harrow took her bag and keys and left for the hospital.
Cam readjusted so Cytherea’s elbow stopped assaulting her ribs, but consequently, now Pal’s knee was deeper in her back. The group was crushed inside the animal enclosure down from the apothecary, eyes glued to the computer displaying the perfect bait of the golden flower. Night vision cameras had been positioned around the room to see who entered. A small tracker had been nestled inside the rose’s petals—painted gold to escape detection. Cam hoped this was all enough.
“How much longer is this going to take?” Cytherea whined as her sister’s legs tangled with her own. “I’m sore and tired!”
“Join the club,” Cam grumbled.
“Hey, you’re not the one who got bashed in the head!”
“Guys!” Dulcinea squeaked. “This isn’t the time!”
The group fell silent. It had been hours and still no one had arrived to take the flower. Cam was beginning to worry Harrow hadn’t gotten the message across.
Then a shadow moved at the entrance to the room. Cam shot forward to the screen to watch as a hooded figure stepped into the apothecary. “They’re here,” she whispered, heart beating against her skin. Everyone crowded the computer to watch the green hued figure cross the room and gently lift the flower from the vase. The golden evidence was tucked in an inner pocket on the large coat and the figure left.
“They’re going out the back!” Palamedes voice stirred the group into action, leaping from their hiding space and racing through the apothecary to the exit. Cam gently opened the door to watch the lone dark figure continue up the gravel path and to the faire exit. She placed a finger to her mouth, even though none of them needed a reminder. The figure stopped at an inconspicuous black car that had a blown out tail light before driving off through the faire parking lot.
Palamedes opened the tracking app and they watched the blinking dot on the map leave the grounds and turn towards town. Pal looked between the group and asked, “Alright, who’s driving?”
Gideon’s glassy gaze and loopy smile made Harrow’s stomach twist and jump. In an oddly good way though. Whatever medication they’d put Griddle on had effectively made her calm and quiet; Harrow needed to find some for future use. She’d been sitting in the room, reading from some of her books, as the redhead drifted in and out of consciousness. Every so often, Griddle would murmur something along the lines of ‘bone queen’ or ‘skeleton empress’ or ‘witch of the undead’, then promptly fall asleep again. Harrow thought it was decently cute.
Harrow’s phone buzzed with a text from Palamedes: The bait was received and is currently progressing to its second location.
Harrow: You really can’t just say ‘they got the flower’?
Sextus: You talk like this all the time and hate when people complain about it.
Harrow: I don’t sound like that.
Sextus. Yes you do.
Harrow turned off her phone and mentally flipped Palamedes off. From across the room, Gideon stirred and her eyes seemed more focused when she opened them. Her smile widened when she saw Harrow, which of course forced Harrow’s heart to pound harder. “Hey Nonagesimus, you still here?” Her voice was hoarse and shaky, but still annoying as usual.
“Of course. Someone has to make sure your heart doesn’t give out.”
Harrow rolled her eyes and wordlessly offered the bag of Twix. Gideon lit up when she saw the golden wrappers. “You remembered?” She gasped.
“Of course you moron.” Harrow dumped the candy into Gideon’s free hand, her mind running over the rehearsed words a dozen times in the few seconds it took Griddle to get her teeth on the chocolate. “So, Gideon, there’s something we—er, I—need to talk about.”
The gold eyes took on a hint of concern. “Harrow, did something happen?”
Harrow shook her head quickly, despising the look of fear in those orbs. “No, it’s not bad, per se. It’s—uh...” Harrow trailed off, her throat constricting in on itself. She coughed and muttered, “I’ll be right back,” then disappeared into the hallway.
C’mon, c’mon! Pull yourself together! Harrow chided herself as she stumbled down the short hall into the sitting area. A vending machine whirred in the corner louder than a jet engine. Harrow put her hand on the side, the vibrations soothing her quaking muscles. Worst case scenario, she laughs at me and we never speak again. Yeah, that’s not helping. Harrow clawed at her scalp until tendrils of blood formed under her fingernails.
Once she had grounded herself, Harrow sucked down a gulp of air and decided to go back to Gideon. The ding of the elevator opening startled her, but the form of Lieutenant Crux stepping off and into the hall scared her even more. What was he doing here so late?
The monolithic man walked past her without a second glance, his deep eyes focused on some distant vantage point. He thudded down the hall and into Gideon’s room. Harrow, as silently as possible, followed. She lingered just outside the doorway, listening to the man’s bellowing voice as he said, “So it has come to this, Nav.”
Gideon’s handcuff jangled, signaling she was moving a bit. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m here for your confession.”
Gideon laughed, but it was so forced it stung Harrow's heart. “Look, Lieutenant guy, I know you have a job to do, but you’re barking up the wrong tree. Ask anyone, I’m not—what’s that?”
Gideon’s voice trailed off and Harrow peaked her head around the doorframe. The Lieutenant had set a piece of paper on the table next to Gideon’s bed. After the paper was properly positioned, he fished around in his pocket before pulling something out, but Harrow couldn’t see what. “Like I said”—his voice sounded sad—“I’m here for your confession.”
There was a sudden thrashing as Gideon started trying to move. The medicine in her veins made her limbs slow and groggy, but there was no mistaking the frenzied movement as anything other than panic. “What—stop!” The Lieutenant’s hand closed on Gideon’s handcuffed arm and brought a thin shiny knife right against the chestnut skin.
Gideon screamed, “Help! Harrow!”
Harrow pulled the black knife from her pocket and without thinking launched her body at the hulking man. The small blade plunged itself into his shoulder, making him roar and spin wildly around. The knife came loose and slid across the floor, slick with blood.
Gideon’s arm was bleeding moderately and she was struggling to stem it with the thin bed sheets. Harrow kicked away the scalpel the Lieutenant had dropped before grabbing for her own knife. The man was holding his shoulder as he stumbled to the door. “Don’t you dare!” Harrow plunged the knife into the front of his shoulder once more and he dropped to his knees. Harrow rushed back to Gideon’s side, wrapping the sheets around the wound.
“What the hell is going on?” She whispered.
Cam pulled her car into the hospital parking lot and parked. According to the tracker, their target was going inside. “Maybe he’s going to plant the flower on Gideon?” Dulcinea wondered. “Try and make her look even more guilty?”
“What is their obsession with Gideon?” Palamedes said, asking the most important question as usual.
The group made their way inside and past the unsupervised check-in desk. Pal checked the app again and whispered, “Dammit, whoever it is, they’re going up to Gideon’s room.” Cam hit the elevator button and they piled in, the machine crawling slower than a snail dipped in molasses up to the ninth floor. They stepped out and Pal instantly threw up his arm to stop them. The hooded figure was slowly backing away from the hall where Gideon’s room was. Step by step it rounded the corner before turning and dashing towards the elevators.
Upon seeing them, the figure froze. It’s head swiveled, not knowing where to go or what to do.
“We know you have the flower!” Cam blurted out, pushing past Palemedes and his spaghetti arms. “Now who the hell are you?”
The figure ran.
Cam bolted after it with Cytherea hot on her heels. Palamedes shouted something, probably along the lines of ‘no, you morons!’ The figure was slow and Cam easily tackled it to the ground right outside the room.
When she looked up she couldn’t believe what she saw.
Harrow was wrapping a blanket around Gideon’s wrist where blood was flowing. Red spots decorated the floor and bedside where Gideon was sitting on the edge, struggling to get out of the cuffs. Laying on the floor, groaning, was Lieutenant Crux with a small black knife lodged in his shoulder. Palamedes and Dulcinea appeared to help Cam haul up the figure, and Harrow looked up at them with fear and confusion etched over her face.
It was a testament to the situation itself that everyone shouted at once, “What the hell is happening?!”
Harrow pointed to the Lieutenant as he pulled the knife from his body, “He tried to kill Gideon!”
Cam yanked the hood off the figure, not having prepared for a situation like this, and faintly recognized the man underneath. The glassy looks of shock and betrayal on Gideon, Dulcie, and Cyth’s faces hurt Cam to her core.
“Teacher?” Dulcinea whispered. The old man sighed and hung his head, the golden flower falling from his pocket.
Cam led the Canaan Faire owner over and dropped him into one of the chairs in the room. Him and the Lieutenant exchanged a look, but Cam swiped the bloody knife off the floor and brandished it forward on shaking hands. “Don’t even think about it,” she forced out. Her mind was whirring with hundreds of questions: why would this ‘Teacher’ kill two actors? Why was the Lieutenant involved? Why was he trying to kill Gideon?
Instead all she could get out was: “What the fuck is going on?!”