Chapter Ten

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"I DIDN'T KNOW you owned the manor," Isiilde said as they left the orphanage, walking arm in arm.

"You never asked," Marsais replied.

"Do you own that shack over there?"

"Hmm, no."

"What about that one?" Isiilde pointed to a hut that had obviously been built with the salvaged wood of an old ship. When he shook his head, she tried another.

"I believe I have gotten your point," he remarked, dryly.

"Are you sure, because I could keep this up all day." Her cheerful tone brought life to the grim surroundings.

"Of that, I have no doubt." His grey eyes glittered down at her for a moment and then he went on to explain. "I used to live there before I became Archlord. I never could stand the constant interruptions of castle life."

"You lived there all by yourself?"

"A few friends, such as Oenghus, had leave to stay there when they needed." He stroked his goatee in thought. "Truth be told, I was never there much myself. Allowing it to be used as an orphanage is hardly a sacrifice on my part."

"All the same, I think it's very noble of you."

"Coming from your lips, I'll take that as one of the highest compliments that I have ever received."

Isiilde blushed at his sincere declaration, and a bubble of joy rose in her heart. She decided that the fishing district was far too dismal for her current mood. So she began to sing, a soft and quiet song that transformed their dreary surroundings into a shimmering dream.

The world brightened as her lilting voice mingled with the air. However, her words faded into memory when they turned onto the main road. The surreal veil parted, giving way to a tumultuous reality. The crowds were thick, heading like a herd of cattle towards the parade grounds, in the center of the city.

Marsais eased Isiilde into the pulsing streams of celebration, and they were pulled along its currents towards the heart of the festivities.

The parade grounds were dressed in splendor with a myriad of brightly colored streamers and flags that chased back the grey drizzle of the day. It almost made the nymph forget the sun's absence.

Loud, forceful criers hawked their wares amidst the bustle of the crowd, competing with street musicians who played merry jigs for enthusiastic audiences. Mugs were raised, sloshing to and fro with drunken rhythm. She hopped with delight, darting from merchant to merchant.

"Do you want to go anywhere, Marsais?" Isiilde asked as she surveyed a display of silver charms. The man behind the booth claimed the trinkets warded the wearer against Voidspawn. She, however, had her doubts.

"Just one place."

"Where?"

"Hmm, I don't know, but I'll know when I see it." Marsais dismissed the topic with a wave of his hand. "I'm sure you'll find it."

There were too many distractions vying for her attention for her to question him further. Besides, Marsais was probably right—she would eventually get to wherever he was going. In the meantime, Isiilde followed her nose, pausing to buy a garland of flowers from a little girl. Since the woven crown concealed the tips of her ears, she pushed back her cowl, ignoring stares from the surrounding crowd.

Eventually, Isiilde found what she was looking for: strawberries, dipped in chocolate. The nymph decided that life couldn't get much better than that. To complement her berries, she bought a custard tart, two baked cinnamon apples, some roasted walnuts, a sweet roll dripping with honey, a mug of warm cider, and a turkey leg for Marsais.

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