Ah. Holidays. Apparently one of the biggest ones happened right smack dab in the middle of summer, which, to my great dismay, happened to last a whole month longer than the summer on my earth. Apparently, all the seasons lasted an extra month, which meant years here were four months longer. That screwed up my whole mental calendar, so I chose not to think about it.
The midsummer holidays, as I came to learn, was like some version of Christmas. There was a legend that the great hero of the people would one day be born in the height of summer, and would come to save the people from the burning of the world. It was sort of a prophecy/symbolic thing that the holiday was celebrated when Summer was heading into the ‘ending’ half, as though the day itself was a mark that the world wouldn’t be left to bake in the sun.
A big festival was held then and everyone exchanged gifts as representation of the gift god would give via the hero.
Which meant Gus’s birthday couldn’t come at a more perfect time for me, who knew very little of what this world had to offer in regards to material pleasures.
It was less perfect in that his birthday and the festival also was the busiest time of year for the inn. All those who lived in villages and hamlets within the territory flocked to the city to celebrate and shop, which meant all the inns were bursting to the gills to not only house those who could afford it, but also feed them.
I had thought we’d been overwhelmed before when Summer storms came in and we had to break out the cots in the dining room. Oh, was I wrong.
By six o’ clock that evening, I had to start shouting to whoever ignored the sign ‘no vacancies’ that we weren’t joking. The tables were absolutely bursting. Hal was double timing it in the kitchens with Milly, while Gus and I manned the front. It was so stuffed, who know what kind of limbs were touching me. The amount of bodies turned up the heat in the room to sweltering once again, bringing in another mini heat wave despite being overcast outside. A grimy sensation on the back of my neck told me another storm was on its way. Ah, humidity. May you sink and die.
When Derrick walked in through the door, he caught my eye and gave a sympathetic smile.
“Do you need help?” he asked.
“Yes,” I wheezed. “Oh my god, yes, please.”
Gus didn’t even argue when I told him to get Hal’s spare apron. For once, he looked as burnt out and hot as I did, sweat gleaming off his face and that foggy look to his eyes I could more than relate to.
With Derrick’s help, it settled back to sanity, though he had a bit of difficulty weaving through the tables with his muscled bulk. The regulars took their booze and retreated outside for their ritual peace at the end of the day, returning the mugs to me with their sympathies.
“It’s okay, this is the worst it gets.”
“Stay strong, Miss Lilly.”
“Don’t forget to cool down, miss.”
The last one I should have listened to.
Because not too long later, I swung behind the bar to get three refills and found the floor rushing up to greet me instead of the mead barrels. My head was so heavy and whoozy, I didn’t even comprehend that something had happened until I was on the floor, my body aching where it had hit, and my nose bleeding where I had landed on it.
Gus reached me first, dropping a food order on the bar before dropping to my side.
“I’m okay,” I said. I got my arms under me to prove otherwise, but they trembled even as I pushed.
“You are not okay,” Gus helped me to my knees. “Derrick!”
Derrick had already been on his way, and soon the space behind the counter was crowded with pure man mass. He pulled a handkerchief out of nowhere.
“Hold it to your nose and pinch.”
I did so, wishing the world would stop spinning. The last thing I needed was to throw up on top of the nose bleed. I could feel my eyes burning, either from embarrassment or the pure physical misery I’d found myself in. But I couldn’t decide, as my head felt too muddled to think straight.
A cool hand touched my forehead.
“As I thought,” said Derrick, and almost instantly his hand turned cold.
I almost gasped from the sheer relief as I leaned into his hand, wishing I could curl my whole body into his palm.
“What?” asked Gus.
“She’s overheated. Tell Hal, I’ll take her out back to the pump.”
A blinding, whooshing moment, where I was just aware that Derrick had picked me up, and suddenly I could see the night sky speckled with the few stars that had managed to peek through the light pollution. The clouds from today that I thought would move on to become a full on storm had been pushed aside, or maybe just taking a break before the big whammy.
A squeak of the pump, a smack of water hitting stones–
Icy water shocked me back to awareness. I yelped, cringing, only to sigh and sink into the gush, not caring that I had foolishly chosen to wear my pink dress today. How was I to know that the inn would turn into a nightmare? I didn’t even have time to go back and change if I wanted too.
Derrick didn’t close the spigot until I was completely soaked, skirts included. That being said, my pink dress was lighter than my blue dress, so it too less to accomplish complete soakage.
He pulled the wet and bloodied handkerchief from my nose and peered closely before gently fingering it. I tried to be buff and not squeak.
“It’s not broken,” he said.
The back door popped open and Hal came out with Gus, the first carrying a towel.
“How is she?” Hal asked as he brought the towel around my shoulders.
“Her nose isn’t broken and she’s looking a little better, but still a bit out of it.”
“Does your head hurt, Lilly? Are you feeling nauseous?”
I shakily nodded. For some reason, my tongue felt too heavy and fat to use easily.
Hal seemed to notice, somehow. “Your mouth feel dry? Tongue swollen?”
Hal did not look pleased. I wondered if I was in trouble.
“You should have kept better hydrated,” said Gus, his mouth thin and tight as his gaze. “Or at least taken a break. People won’t die if they don’t get their booze right away.”
Too tired and whoozy to give a proper response, I just puffed at him and closed my eyes. Derrick’s arm against my back was surprisingly comfortable. Or maybe it was his chest that made such a good pillow.
“No,” Hal patted my cheek. “Don’t fall asleep yet.”
“I don’t wanna work,” I moaned.
“You’re not going to. Derrick, could you carry her to her room? Gus, go get Milly.”
The world swooped and swung again. I imagined myself waltzing in a ball with my head hung back, watching the lights and colors spin like the stars. It helped to calm the cramping of my stomach.
The bed caught me like a mass of poofy skirts. I must have fallen back and the skirts of my dress had caught me.
“Ball gowns should be made as portable beds,” I mumbled.
A big, cool hand brushed back my hair. I couldn’t help but moan at the feeling. So nice.
“Have you ever been to a ball?” asked Derrick. His cool hand smoothed my hair back, then came back down over my face. I thought I could feel the tingle of his magic through his skin, and my spinning head brought up images of thin, wide ribbons of magic jutting out and curling back in like cat’s tongues drinking water, except instead of water it was heat from the air.
“No,” I said. “Kitty tongues. Your magic is like kitty tongues.”
The door squeaked open. I could smell the bread and soap scent of Milly before I felt her hands tugging off my dress, even as she shooed Hal and Gus off. I hadn’t realized Gus had come in with her. I did my best to help her with my rubbery arms and legs, my mind had gone fuzzy. I was dreaming of fire cats lapping at the air as threads of mind or healing magic, I couldn’t tell which, shot down from the sky.
“Lilly, wake up, you need to drink something. There we go, take it slow. Little sips.”
I could feel Hal’s hand on my back through the thin fabric of my chemise. I thought I could feel the tingle of his magic too, prickling like the many little dew drops of his mist spells.
The water tasted gross, but I drank it anyway. Hal stopped me before I felt like I had a proper swallow, which was good as my stomach cramped.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“You did well. Don’t worry about it.”
I just hummed and accepted another little sip of water.
“Keep sipping on that,” he said. He was backlit by the light coming in from the hall. The sight gave me sporadic memories of being a child and hiding in a closet during a family reunion. My cousins and I were playing a game of hide and seek while the adults chatted in the living room. The white noise of the living room was much the same.
And then Hal was gone, along with the light, leaving me in the cool darkness.