Wes folded Roobi’s letter and stuck it in his pouch before leaning back against the tree. He smiled, glad that she had agreed to meet him in front of Grenth’s statue at the Shrine of the Six Gods an hour from now. Beside him sat the small box with its odd portal stone, now wrapped in Wintersday finery. His reef drake companion sunned himself several feet away, the waters of Lake Bounty lapping at its tail. Wes adjusted the lace cuff of his shirt before practicing his speech under his breath again. “So, I thought we’d go somewhere special,” he presented an imaginary box with one hand. Brows knitting, he tried again, “Hey, sweetie. I thought we’d step out for the evening,” another imaginary box was presented. Wes sighed, dropping his hand, allowing his attention to be drawn by the drake, who was now sparring with a crab. He watched it drive the shellfish off with a swift swipe of the tail before starting again, “If you’re not doing anything,” he tried on a sly smile, “I thought we could step out.” Flourish. Wes cleared his throat and shifted against the trunk. He straightened the lace at his neck and ran his fingers lightly over the cuffs again, laying them flat against his pale skin. “So Roobi,” he paused a half second, “I wanted to get you a gift.” He added silently, “I hope you like it.” He played with the phrases, trying different combinations and stopping to fidget with the lace from time to time.
With a start, he checked the sun. Grabbing the gift, he jumped up and whistled for the drake, “Come! We’ll be late.” He turned and trotted across the hill and down the track. Beyond Applenook, Lion’s Arch loomed, the bridge into the city crowded with refugees, fishermen, merchants, and merry-makers on their way to Divinity’s Reach. He hurried across the bridge and into the city, the drake trailing behind him. Crowds within the city lined the ruined streets, jostling toward the gate hub. Wes pushed through them, his grimace deepening as he neared the gate to Divinity’s Reach and realized he had only two choices: wait politely for his turn or sic his drake on innocent revelers. He sidled along with the crowd, the weight of time’s passage eating at him.
Finally reaching the sandy stone ramp, he hurried up and through the gate, stepping with a rush of sound far to the north. Beyond, Wintersday reigned. Magic snow invited passersby to stop for a snowball fight, choir bells and laughter filled the air. Tixx would be here any minute and the air crackled with sharp anticipation. Wes passed through the plaza, nodding to each minister as they recognized him, smiled and waved. Countess Anise smiled as he bowed in passing, mercifully not stopping to engage him in conversation. He stopped at the Shrine’s arched doorway. Roobi had her back to the door, her eyes upcast at the statue of Grenth. Wes stopped, his heart skipping a beat. The light streaming in through the glass dome above played in her pale hair, danced across the satin dress she wore. Smiling, he motioned the Drake to a corner and tip-toed up behind her.
He let the weight of his gaze rest on her, stopping an arm’s length from her. She took a deep breath, “My love,” she said, head half-turning toward him. He took another step closer, resting his empty hand lightly on her shoulder.
“Sorry I’m late,” he breathed next to her ear. She turned, the smile lighting her face mirrored in his.
“I waited,” she said, grabbing the small braid that hung near his ear and pulling him close enough for a peck on the cheek. He chuckled.
“My sweet, I wanted to get you something,” he said, bringing the Wintersday gift out from behind his back.
She faltered for just a moment but the smile returned. “I…”
“Just open it,” he interrupted.
“It better not be jewelry,” she warned. He shook his head and lowered his eyes, remembering how an expensive bauble had reminded her of their very different social standing. Roobi studied him a moment, judging his contriteness then turned her attention to the box, carefully unwrapping it. With the black box revealed, she pursed her lips and eyed him again.
Wes smiled encouragingly. “It’s just a little something,” he assured her. She flipped open the lid and froze, suspicion replaced by surprise then curiosity as she stared at the portal stone inside, then up at him. Wes caught a giggle behind his smile, his heart skipping a beat. “I thought we’d take a trip. Get away for a while.”
Confused, Roobi looked back down at the box. “And?”
“It’s an ancient portal stone,” he answered.
Understanding blossomed across her face and she smiled, green eyes flashing up at him for a moment before she faltered, “But, the party,” she said, starting to gesture toward the plaza,
“Will be back next year, and the year after,” Wes finished. “But this is our first Wintersday together and…” a sudden lump formed in his throat. Fighting, he forced the words past it, “I want to spend it with you. Only you.” Her smile returned with a wave of joy that washed over him as well and she pulled the stone from the box. She turned it over in her hands a moment then depressed the switch. With a whirr, they shifted to the far Shiverpeaks, matching gasps escaping as the cold hit them.
Wes removed his suede jacket and offered it to Roobi, “Sorry, I should have warned you to dress warmly.” With a laugh, she threw the jacket over her shoulders as he pulled her close. “Come, I want to show you something. There’s a pool back here.”
Happy New Year from all of us at GuildMag!