Songfic by Esther Nairn
(music by Loreena McKennitt)
Click here to listen as you read,
using the Library's MidiBox!
It was a warm spring night in a large town somewhere in the land outside the Mazoku Barrier. Two- and three-story whitewashed buildings reflected the moonlight that filtered through trees full of freshly budded leaves. A gentle breeze weaved its way between the densely-packed buildings and through the lanterned, cobblestoned streets, whispering its faint melody to the townspeople. The warm, slightly humid air stirred something in everyone--this was a night to dance and celebrate the spring, not sleep.
It was this night when Lina Inverse and her friends arrived in town, and headed straight for the village tavern and inn. The dining hall was a huge room with a bar along one long wall. At least a dozen animal skins were hung on the dark, wooden walls. Hanging next to the skins were metal shields, which were dented and obviously well-used. Torches flickered and burned from holders attached to the walls, and candles at each table provided more light. It smelled smoky, with a trace of alcohol and sweat; the place was very crowded. They managed to find a table in a corner of the restaurant, amid noisy patrons and bustling waitresses dressed in long skirts and revealing, peasant-cut blouses. Mercenaries and merchants, scholars and guildsmen all rubbed elbows as they discussed everything from politics to trade, in a lively and somewhat inebriated exchange of information.
Fortunately, the restaurant chatter saved Lina-tachi from feeling forced to have a conversation. Lina and Gourry, as usual, ordered triple portions of everything on the extensive menu, and, once the food came, were too busy eating to say anything. Ameria, who was also hungry after a long day of walking, ate with the same voracity but with better table manners. Zelgadiss never said anything during meals, anyway, and felt no desire to be any different this time. That left Filia and Xelloss. For the most part, they spent most of the meal alternately throwing each other dirty looks and ignoring the looks they received. All the while, the villagers around them shouted to each other at other tables and across the room while the innkeeper and his team of waitresses kept the drinks coming. It was an otherwise normal, if not louder than usual, dinner.
Lina and Gourry were just starting on their last plates of food when a sudden uproar caused everyone to pause. Loud shouting began in one corner of the huge dining hall and spread its way to the back corner. Everyone rose to their feet and cheered, blocking the view of the six travelers who were still eating.
"What's going on?" Lina shouted over the din.
Ameria hopped off her chair and jumped up and down, trying to see over the shoulders of the excited people in front of her. "I can't tell! And I don't want to cast a Levitation spell in here--it might scare everyone!"
Lina was just about to order Gourry to go find out what was happening when a booming male voice eclipsed the noise of the crowd, causing everyone except Xelloss to jump. "Listen, listen everyone!!"
Another voice joined the last one. "Sit down, all of you! We've got something to say!"
The people in the restaurant begrudgingly obliged, although not without some catcalls and shouts of protest. Gradually, everyone in front of Lina and her friends took a seat or leaned against a wall so that they could see the two men standing at the front of the room, where a small stage was set up. One was tall and burly, and reminded everyone of Prince Phil, Ameria's father. The other was smaller, yet still well-muscled. The bigger man gestured to the innkeeper, who was behind the bar, and the patrons, and boomed, "We have news for everyone! Our representatives to the music festival, from this very town, are back, and they have a first place prize to display! Give them all a hearty welcome!"
With that, everyone cheered again, and the door to the tavern burst open. A group of colorfully-dressed people entered, led by a woman tapping on a tambourine. Her hair was red and wavy, and hung long and loose. A crown of flowers ringed her head, and ribbons tied from it trailed down her back. She weaved through the tables, dancing and skipping, until she reached the front of the room and stood next to the two men. She was followed by a shorter blond woman in a green dress who was carrying a set of hand drums, another red-haired woman holding a strangely-shaped harp, and three men dressed in multi-colored tunics; two of them carried fiddles, and the last held a set of miniature bagpipes. They all looked tired and travel-weary, but happy to be there.
Shouts of "Play something!" and "Let's have a dance!" rang out as the redhead took a thick, golden chain from her neck and held it aloft, indicating that it was the prize in question. Finally, the innkeeper raised his hands and, when everyone quieted down a little, called out, "All right, in celebration of the glory of our town, clear away some of those tables, men, and let's have a party! Free drinks to anyone who dances! Let's go!" With that, there was a cheer, and the band climbed up onto the stage and started up a lively tune while people began clearing tables out through a back door. Others began dancing between the tables, even before a dance floor was cleared.
Lina looked around excitedly. "Did you hear that?" She waved, and the waitress came over to the table. "Six glasses of your finest wine! And make it snappy!" The waitress nodded and walked off.
Filia looked at Lina incredulously. "Lina-san! You can't be serious! Drinking is hardly an appropriate thing to do when we're on a mission!"
Ameria, having had wine at royal functions before, wasn't bothered by Filia's concerns. "Well, I don't know about that, but do you really intend to dance, Lina-san?"
Lina grinned. "We're ALL going to dance! I'm not going to pass up the opportunity to get something for free!"
THAT got Zelgadiss's attention. He looked quickly toward the dining room exit. "I think I'll be going up to bed now..." he murmured.
"No!" Lina exclaimed, smacking the table with her gloved hand and causing all the dishes to rattle. She glanced around, a dangerous look in her eye. "Everyone's going to dance--otherwise they're going to charge me for your drink, and I don't want to have to pay for it!"
Gourry lifted an eyebrow. "Why do you want that wine so much?"
Lina blinked, and fought a blush. "I...I haven't had good wine in a long time! And if it's free, how can I pass that up? It's the principle of the matter!"
"But...but...but Lina-san...you can't drink while we're on this mission! It'll cloud your judgment, and...and..." Filia sputtered.
"Don't forget you're having a glass of this, too," Lina reminded her darkly.
Filia's eyes went wide. "I can't possibly! I mean..."
"She's never drank before," Xelloss finished with a grin.
"Exactly!" Filia said unconsciously. "Wait, no, that's not right...I mean..." she flustered with embarrassment.
Xelloss smirked and leaned back in his chair. "She means that Ryuzoku are too afraid to drink. They're afraid it'll cause them to do things they shouldn't because their tolerance for alcohol is so low. Right?"
Filia narrowed her eyes and growled. "Don't say that! That's just a myth!"
"Temper, temp--ah, here we are!" Xelloss interrupted himself, mid-finger-wag, as the waitress arrived with their wine.
Zelgadiss moved as if he was going to leave as the waitress served the wine, but he was stopped when he felt a tug on his cloak. Ameria, who was sitting next to him, was in the middle of taking a sip, holding a fold of the fabric. She lowered the glass from her lips a few inches and said softly, "Don't even think of it, Zelgadiss-san." Upon noting his surprised expression at her boldness, however, she dropped the material from her hand and concentrated on taking another sip of wine. She just hoped that she wasn't blushing too badly.
"Mmmm, this is good!" Lina exclaimed appreciatively.
"I'll say!" Gourry agreed.
Xelloss took a sip, and swished it around. "Good, indeed, but not as good as wine from your homeland, ne, Lina-san?"
She shook her head. "No, not quite, but it's not bad, either. A little dry, though. A higher proof than most Zephillian wine." She hiccupped and giggled.
He nodded, then glanced to his left. Filia was sitting in the same position she had been in before, staring at the glass as if she didn't know what to do with it. "It's really quite easy," he said, grinning. "You just pick up the glass and drink, like with tea. Or is that too complicated for your mind to handle, drinking something other than tea?"
His not-so-subtle insult finally snapped Filia out of her semi-shocked state. "Y-y-you...NAMAGOMI!" she exclaimed. She gritted her teeth and could swear a vein was popping out on her head in irritation. Sometimes she just wanted to slap that stupid grin off his face. It would probably get her killed, but it would be worth it. She looked down at the glass in front of her, with its dark red liquid, and picked it up resolutely. With an 'I'll-show-you' glance at Xelloss, she gulped down almost the entire glass right then and there.
Gourry regarded her questioningly. "I don't think you're supposed to drink wine that way, Filia-san. I could be wrong, but I think you're supposed to drink it slowly."
Filia slammed the glass down against the table, almost breaking it, causing the remaining liquid to slosh against itself inside the thin glass walls. Her eyes went wide and slightly crossed, but she shook her head and looked defiantly at Xelloss. "See? Who can't drink? Huh?" Funny how she was feeling very warm, all of a sudden...
Xelloss afforded her an amused expression, then reached out and clinked his glass against hers. He lifted it up and then took a sip. "Yare, yare, we'll corrupt you to our evil ways yet, ne?"
Filia probably would have hit him, except that she was too busy coping with the sudden effect the wine had on her system. You don't want him to know that the rumors that Ryuzoku are more susceptible than the humans to the effects of alcohol are true! she thought.
Meanwhile, the music picked up, and couples swung each other around the dance floor not far away. The townspeople had taken several of the tables away, leaving only the ones in the back still in place. Zelgadiss watched a few couples for a minute, all the while trying to devise a plan to get out of there without having to dance. It wasn't that he wouldn't want to, in the abstract, but he simply was too self-conscious in public places to want to do anything to draw attention to himself. And, given the reaction he had received from most of the people in this part of the world so far, he couldn't afford to be noticed. He glanced at Ameria, who was staring out at the dancing couples, smiling wistfully. Then again, maybe one dance wouldn't hurt...
Gourry finished his glass and sat back, turning the glass upside down and twirling it on a calloused finger. He glanced at Lina, who was still finishing her wine. I wonder why she wanted a drink so badly tonight, he wondered again. A flash of movement caught his eye, and he winced; someone had just stepped on his dancing partner's toes, and she had hit him for it. He thought back to the times when he and Lina had danced at taverns like this. It was fun, but they usually didn't do things like that often. It was just as well; if he stepped on her toes, she might fireball him, anyway.
Lina tilted her head back and finished the rest of her wine with a sigh of appreciation. "That was good." She looked around at the couples dancing. "I wonder if they'd even notice if we didn't dance." She missed a disappointed look from Ameria as she said that, however, because at that moment, the waitress returned.
"You haven't danced yet. The boss says you have to pay for the wine if you don't. It's a party, after all," she reminded them.
"Right," Lina nodded, then waved her away, a little annoyed. She paused, then took a deep breath. "Well, c'mon guys, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" Here goes nothing! she thought. With that, she jumped up and grabbed Gourry's hand. "Hurry up, Gourry!" she said as she dragged him toward the dance floor.
"Whoa, Lina! Wait!" he exclaimed as he was pulled along, but to no avail. Despite his strength, he knew that no one, including him, disagreed with Lina Inverse when she wanted to do something. And if she wanted to dance, he wasn't going to argue, for more reasons than one.
An uncomfortable silence fell across the table. Filia and Xelloss simply looked in opposite directions, a scowl across Filia's face, and a strained grin across Xelloss's. Zelgadiss and Ameria glanced at each other briefly, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Maybe I should just forget it, Ameria thought, dejected. He's never going to want to dance...
"Zel, Ameria, get out here, now! I'm not paying for your drinks!" Lina called as the song that had been playing came to a close and there was a brief pause while the musicians discussed their next number.
Zel blinked. For once, Lina had saved him from some embarrassment--after all, if he danced with Ameria, it would just be because he was following orders, right? Right?
Ameria looked back down at the table nervously. She could feel her cheeks turning a fraction of a degree warmer, and realized that that wine was a little stronger than she had thought it was. Suddenly, she heard a chair slide back and saw Zelgadiss stand up out of the corner of her eye. He paused, but she didn't look up. He was going to go up to his room, she was sure.
She was therefore quite surprised when he turned to her, cleared his throat, and held out a hand.
She picked her head up quickly, and looked at his hand, shocked. Her eyes traveled up to his face. He looked a bit nervous, of course, but there was a twinge of hope that he wasn't just doing this to keep from being fireballed by Lina. Ameria smiled up at him and placed her hand in his as the band began playing a slow, sultry woodland theme with an ancient, resonating melody. They weaved their way through a few tables until they reached the crowded dance floor and took a space among the other couples.
And then, there were two. Filia glanced at Xelloss, then looked resolutely at her still quarter-full glass. "I'm not dancing with you," she said quietly.
"And I'm not dancing with you," he replied coolly, studying the shields hanging on the wall near their table, not even looking at her.
"All right, then."
They were immediately interrupted, however, by the arrival of the waitress. She placed a slip of paper in between them and simply walked off. Filia reached for it and flipped it over. A few circled numbers at the bottom caught her attention. She blinked in surprise. "Th-that's...rather expensive for two glasses of wine, isn't it?" she inquired slowly, forgetting for a moment who she was asking.
Xelloss lifted an eyebrow, and simply nodded.
Filia continued, in the same slow tone, "Lina-san's going to kill us if she has to pay for it."
"True," he murmured noncommittally.
She studied him quizzically for a few seconds, but finally regained her composure as best she could. Her face felt hot and her head felt a little fuzzy, so that was difficult, but she managed. She folded her arms quickly and hmphed. "Well, still, she can get as angry as she wants. I'm not doing it."
"Neither am I," Xelloss replied smoothly, now studying a tapestry on the wall near him while the lead vocalist intoned the melody to the song against the backdrop of the violins' and bagpipe's countermelodies.
There was a pause for a moment, but it was broken by Filia. She snickered, and then burst out laughing, her sense of self-control skewed by the effects of the wine.
"What?" Xelloss said, turning to her.
Between giggles, Filia replied, "Oh, nothing. Just the thought of a high-ranking, namagomi Mazoku priest dancing..." she trailed off, then collapsed into laughter, holding her sides and leaning forward so that her head was almost resting on the table top.
Xelloss shifted in his seat so he was facing her. "And what's so funny about that?"
His only response was a fresh fit of giggles.
He cracked an eye open and regarded her coolly. "Is that a challenge?"
At that, Filia quickly stopped laughing with a gasp. No, they couldn't dance! It would be against everything her people stood for! She shouldn't even consider it! But she couldn't help it, however, not with the wine in her Ryuzoku system. She was genuinely curious. Could a Mazoku dance? "N-n-n-n-nnnnnyes," she responded.
Xelloss sneered, leaning forward in his chair a little. "I'll bet you don't even know HOW to dance, priestess. Aren't you too pure and holy for something as mundane as that?" he said mockingly.
That made her angry. She stood up quickly, wobbling a little in the process, but grabbing the back of her chair with one hand to steady herself. "I do too know how to dance!"
Xelloss stood up as well. "Oh? When was the last time you did?"
Filia looked flustered at that question, which made his usual grin return. "Recently..." she responded noncommittally. Actually, it's been at LEAST 200 years, but he doesn't need to know that!
He leaned his staff against the wall and folded his arms smugly. "I'll bet I'm right, that you don't even know how."
She responded by sticking her chin and nose in the air, like she usually did whenever he insulted her, and said loftily, "Is that a challenge?"
He grinned recklessly. "Yes."
"All right, then!"
Filia looked around nervously and moistened her lips. "Well, ummmm...go ahead!" she ordered, not sure of what to do.
"All right," he replied, and offered his hand.
"Fine," she replied defiantly. She took it, trying not to shudder at his touch. I shouldn't be doing this...I shouldn't be doing this...
Meanwhile, the lead singer for the village band, tapping gently on a tambourine in time to the music, swayed back and forth as she softly sang the first stanza of the song.
When in the springtime of the year
When the trees are crowned with leaves
When the ash and oak, and the birch and yew
Are dressed in ribbons fair
There was a slight accent to her voice, a lilting change in pronunciation which made the words seem magical, like an incantation. The two fiddles hummed along, intertwining their separate melodies, while the bagpiper and harpist added their own ornamentation and the blond woman drummed a hypnotic beat.
Meanwhile, Zelgadiss and Ameria, still holding hands, reached a space in the dance floor and stopped. They regarded each other uncomfortably for a moment until Zel finally said, "I would imagine you know several court dances."
Ameria nodded, fighting a twinge of homesickness at the mention of Saillune. "My father taught me when I was very young."
Zel glanced around at the other people dancing, noting their simple, country dance steps. "Care to try one?"
She lifted both eyebrows and looked at him, surprised. "How would you know court dances?"
He shrugged and passed her hand from his left to his right, then stepped into a ready position. While Ameria did the same, he explained, "I've picked up a few steps here and there."
She didn't have time to question him further, though, because he quickly led her into a dance.
By this time, Lina and Gourry were full into a dance they had learned a few years before in their travels. It wasn't flashy, but it was complicated enough that most people who knew Gourry would be surprised he could remember it. His swordsman's training, however, made him a tactile learner, and therefore very good at dancing. He lifted his arm and twirled Lina, then stepped sideways gracefully and brought her back close to him. We should do this more often, he thought.
Lina fought to contain a blush every time he pulled her close to him. It's just the wine, she excused herself. She quickly hushed the little voice in her mind that pointed out that while the wine was a bit dry, she was still quite sober.
Gourry broke into her thoughts when he leaned down, closer to her ear, and said softly, "They're pretty good, ne, Lina?" He jerked his head toward the band.
Lina blinked and forced her heartbeat to slow down. "Yeah," she agreed. Suddenly, she spied Filia and Xelloss not far away. "Hey, those two aren't bad, either," she observed, conveniently changing the subject.
He glanced over his shoulder and grinned. "They don't look happy about it, but yeah, they're pretty good," he agreed. He quickly turned his attention back to Lina, however, and suddenly switched to another dance step, one that kept her petite body closer to his. Lina blushed, but didn't say anything in protest, and followed his lead.
When owls call the breathless moon
In the blue veil of the night
The shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light
You shouldn't be doing this...You shouldn't be doing this...This is wrong...This is wrong...wrong...wrong... Filia heard that nagging little voice in her head repeat over and over. Here she was, a golden Ryuzoku and the high priestess of Flarelord, and she was dancing with him. The enemy. The one who killed many of her kind a thousand years ago. If anyone at the shrine of Karyuu-ou caught wind of this...
Xelloss opened one eye and studied her face quizzically as she mechanically followed his lead. He suddenly leaned forward until they were almost nose to nose, startling her, and said pleasantly, "Is everything all right?"
She lurched backward, and would have slammed into the couple behind her if he hadn't had one arm encircling her back. "What are you doing?!" she exclaimed.
He shrugged and stood up straighter. "Just making sure you're all right," he said lightly, almost teasingly.
Filia snorted. "As if you would care," she snapped back. As she did so, however, her foot caught against her cape and she stumbled a little.
Xelloss took that opportunity to step aside and, in one smooth but fast motion, use her momentum to dip her low over his arm. She was so surprised she didn't even resist. He pulled her upright again, and grinned upon noting her shocked expression. "You follow a lead well," he complimented, although not without an undercurrent of obnoxiousness to his voice.
"Y-you...you...you..." she sputtered.
"Yes?" he said innocently, still grinning broadly.
She narrowed her eyes, realizing what his little game was. He was baiting her, and most likely feeding off her anger at his actions. She straightened her posture and even forced herself to grin back (although it looked a bit strained). "Just dance, namagomi," she ordered.
He nodded, amused. "Yes, ma'am."
We've been rambling all the night
And some time of this day
Now returning back again
We bring a garland gay
Step, step, step, duck under and turn... Ameria thought to herself as she and Zelgadiss danced. This step was familiar, but she hadn't used it in a while, so she was a little rusty. The dance, in and of itself, was not very complex, but the tempo of the music made it much more difficult. They both ducked under their outstretched right arms so they were back to back. They then released each other's right hands and clasped their left hands, which they held against their backs. They stepped to the side and repeated the motions, only reversed in direction.
Zel caught Ameria's gaze around their extended arms as their footwork formed a counterclockwise circle. He broke it, however, when they ducked under their arms and turned, then clasped their right hands and let go with their left hands. They stepped out and repeated the circle. Then, Ameria ducked under her arm and turned, and brought her hand to her shoulder. Zel let go and stepped in a circle around her, his fingers brushing against her shoulders with unexpected gentleness, almost making her shiver. He caught her hand again at her shoulder, and she stepped into the same circular pattern that was the beginning of the dance. They repeated the clockwise and then counterclockwise pattern, their eyes meeting and looking away alternately, in a subtle, almost flirtatious manner.
Zel was meanwhile having a hard time believing he was doing this. He was in public, doing something that could call attention to himself and possibly cause a horrendous ruckus. Suddenly, however, his gaze met her large, blue eyes filled with happiness, and he found himself thinking that perhaps the risk was worth it.
Who will go down to those shady groves
And summon the shadows there
And tie a ribbon on those sheltering arms
In the springtime of the year
The lead vocalist moved into the second verse of the song, her voice stronger, yet still slightly husky. The blond woman playing the hand drums moved closer to her, and began singing a subtle alto harmony. They looked out at the people swaying and moving to the beat. Most people followed the traditional dances of the region. There were a few couples who weren't, however--one couple in the corner, and another nearby. Then there was the tall, blond mercenary toward the edge of the dance floor who was leading his redheaded partner in a pattern the singers didn't recognize. They seem very close, the lead singer observed as she sang.
Indeed, they were very close, closer than Lina would usually ever let Gourry come. Of course, this was hardly a usual situation. She could feel the heat radiating from him as they moved together. It almost made her want to close the distance between them entirely, and feel his strong arms encircle her. You can't do that! What are you thinking, Lina Inverse?! a little voice in her head screeched. What is WITH you tonight? I can't believe you're letting him get this close! That little voice was just enough to set her thoughts into turmoil. She couldn't let him close to her. She started to re-create her mental defenses, the defenses which allowed her to maintain the tough-girl attitude she had relied upon so many times to survive, and she tried to move so that she was further away from him. Then, she glanced up at him, and their eyes locked for a second, until she looked away. At the same time, she lost track of her footing, stumbled, and almost fell backwards.
"Easy, there! Are you all right?" Gourry asked as he helped her regain her balance.
"I...think so," she muttered in reply. Suddenly feeling very self-conscious, she said weakly, "I think I should sit down for a minute, though."
Gourry's concerned, blue eyes searched her face. "You're not getting sick, are you?"
"No!" Lina replied quickly. She wriggled away from him, and he reluctantly let her go. "Let's...let's just go back to the table for a minute, okay?"
"Okay, if that's what you want, Lina," he said as she turned and wove her way between a few tables and around some chairs before she reached their table.
Lina plopped down on a chair and stared into space, still fighting with herself. That irritating, nagging little voice...from what dark corner of her mind had she dredged it up? She was only having fun, she rationalized. Her eyes narrowed as she stared intently at the floorboards, and she balled one hand into a fist. No one, not even herself, was going to tell her she couldn't have fun if she wanted to! Because that's all I'm trying to do! I'm just having a little fun with Gourry!
Gourry, upon seeing her angered expression, knelt down on the floor in front of her so that he was at eye level. He reached out and tipped her chin up so that she was looking at him. At his touch, though, she almost jumped three feet. "Lina, what's wrong?"
"Don't startle me like that, Gourry!" Lina shouted in reply.
"Well you just look like you're upset about something!"
"I...I..." I can't tell him what's upsetting me, that's for sure! "I just felt a little funny for a second, that's all."
Gourry looked at her suspiciously, making her gulp with nervousness. She hoped he wouldn't pry. Finally, he exhaled and said, "Well, if that's all, then I guess we should sit here for another minute or two to make sure you're all right." He looked at her dubiously. "Are you sure, though, that everything's okay?"
Lina tried her best to giggle and act like her usual nonchalant self. She waved a hand and rubbed the back of her neck, saying, "Everything's fine! Really! We'll just sit here for another minute or two, and then I'll be fine!"
He gave her one more long, hard look before he pulled over a chair and sat down, his arms resting on the table. The same arms which Lina was trying not to think about wrapping her up in a warm, safe embrace... It's going to be a long night if he wants to keep dancing, she thought wearily.
The songs of birds seem to fill the wood
That when the fiddler plays
All their voices can be heard
Long past their woodland days
Filia, who was by now feeling the full effects of the alcohol on her system, stumbled again and would have fallen if it weren't for the fact that Xelloss was deceptively strong, and he held her steady until she regained her footing again. "This's so embarr'ssin'," she slurred, her eyes not fully focused on his face. She blinked hard and shook her head--were there two of him staring back at her, now? He moved in and out of focus too fast for her eyes to comprehend.
"I guess the rumors are true, then," he said cheerfully as he carefully stepped around and in between the other couples dancing nearby.
His grin broadened. "The rumors that Ryuzoku don't hold their alcohol well. It took only one glass of wine to get you drunk."
Filia narrowed her eyes. "Don' you go bla...brame..." she struggled to say, "tellin' me this ish my fault. B'sides, you chall'nged me t'dance."
Xelloss chuckled. "True, but only because you challenged me first," he replied.
"That'sh not how it happened," Filia protested, taking her hand off his shoulder to waggle her finger at him. She hiccupped, then giggled. "Well, maybe that'sh how it happ'ned," she admitted.
"So you're admitting I'm right?"
Filia didn't answer him. She was now feeling quite warm and relaxed, the nagging voice which had previously yelled at her to stop dancing now silenced. She looked over at the band of musicians and waved at them with her free hand. "They're gooooood," she cooed, and giggled again. The lead singer half-whispered, half-sang the melody while the lead fiddler stepped up and played a fancy ornamentation to accompany her words. All the while, the woman on the drums kept up her subtle harmony and the bagpiper, harpist, and second fiddler continued their mesmerizing accompaniment. She stopped watching them, however, when Xelloss twirled her under his arm. "Wheee!" she cried, then stumbled again and slammed into another man, who, fortunately, was as drunk as she was, and didn't seem to mind much.
Xelloss, now tremendously amused at the current situation, glanced over at their table, and noted that Lina was now sitting there with Gourry, looking uncomfortable. He got an idea, and said, "Why don't we take you back to the table and show Lina-san how drunk you are? I'm sure she'll be quite willing to join me in making fun of you for it in the morning."
Giggling, Filia leaned back against his arm so that her head hung upside-down, and looked in the general direction of their table, completely missing Xelloss's last sentence. "Why's she sittin' there?" she wondered aloud.
"Let's find out," Xelloss suggested. He led her by the arm in between staggering men and their only somewhat less inebriated dance partners, dodging flailing limbs and unsteady bodies with his usual aplomb. Filia followed behind him with considerably less grace, holding on to his arm to keep herself upright, excusing herself with a giggle whenever she bumped into anyone. Finally, they reached their table.
Lina looked up at Xelloss questioningly. "What are you two doing back here?" she asked.
Xelloss was saved from the trouble of answering her when he stepped aside and pulled his arm away, sending Filia stumbling forward until she fell, sprawled across Gourry's lap.
"Filia!" Gourry exclaimed.
"What did you do to her, Xelloss?" Lina exclaimed.
"Nothing, actually," he replied nonchalantly. "After all, it wasn't my idea to give a Ryuzoku a glass of wine," he said, winking at Lina, who glared back at him.
Gourry, meanwhile, was having a little trouble keeping Filia off his lap from where he was seated. He supported her arm as she attempted to stand, and finally helped her upright. She tried to take a step backward, but stumbled again with a gasp and threw her hands forward to keep her balance. She caught Gourry by his shoulders with such force that she ended up nose to nose with the startled swordsman.
With that, Lina jumped out of her chair in surprise. "Filia! Gourry! What are you two doing?!"
"N-nothing!" Gourry shouted back quickly. As he struggled to help Filia back into a standing position, he glanced over her extended arm and found his field of vision completely taken up by Lina's midsection. He gulped and looked up into her angry face.
"Get away from him," she snapped angrily, yanking Filia's wrist away from Gourry's shoulder and shoving her away. She flew back into Xelloss, who held her by her arms, laughing to himself the whole time. She turned to Gourry, her eyes narrowed and her fists balled. "Gourry..." she growled.
He gulped again and met her gaze nervously. "What, Lina?"
She stared at him a second longer, then finally turned away and plopped down into her chair. "Just...forget it," she said, sulking.
"Okay, Lina," Gourry said quietly, not wanting to press the issue.
Xelloss, now holding a dazed Filia up by her underarms, glanced from Lina to Gourry and back to Lina, his usual grin melting into a more thoughtful expression. Interesting... he thought.
We've been rambling all the night
And some time of this day
Now returning back again
We bring a garland gay
The musicians launched into the refrain of the song once again, this time louder and stronger than before. Zelgadiss pulled Ameria closer to him and dipped her over his arm. He quickly brought her back up, then stepped away as they returned to the first step of the pattern he had established when they first started dancing. "Your father taught you well," he complimented. "I didn't know you were so skilled."
Ameria beamed at him, savoring it, since he expressed his approval with her so rarely. "Thank you," she replied. She turned and they twisted around, back to back, and then stepped to the side and extended their joined hands and circled each other once again. She would love to know how he knew how to dance like this, but decided not to ask. She could find out later. Right now, she was enjoying being so close to him. He was treating her...well, like a princess, she decided, and while she liked it when he afforded her the professional respect she was due, given her ability as a sorceress, she really liked it when he treated her like she was more than a fellow magic-user and traveling companion. I could get use to this, she thought giddily.
Meanwhile, Zel was contemplating the situation, trying to figure out just what the blissful expression on Ameria's face and the little twinge in his stomach he felt whenever his eyes met hers meant. Not being the type who understood feelings well, this was difficult for him, and eventually, he just gave up. All he could tell was that he felt strangely content tonight, and that he was glad he asked her to dance in the first place. Maybe I won't go up to bed so quickly after this, he thought. After all, all the townspeople here, except for the musicians, are too drunk to even notice me.
His thoughts were interrupted, however, when he heard shouting to his left, and saw that about a quarter of the people on the dance floor had formed two parallel lines, with the partners facing each other. The couple at the end linked arms and pranced in between the lines under the outstretched arms of the rest of the cheering crowd. Zel and Ameria paused, and exchanged a glance. "Shall we?" Zel asked.
Ameria smiled at him and nodded. "Sure!"
And so they linked their hands and danced
Round in circles and in rows
And so the journey of the night descends
When all the shades are gone
Lina rolled her eyes at Xelloss, who was seated by the table with a very giggly Filia sitting with her legs draped across his lap and with one arm wrapped around his neck. He simply grinned and shrugged, as if to say that he was completely innocent in the matter, but amused nonetheless. Gourry was alternately studying the pattern of the wood fibers in the table and Lina's face, searching for a sign that he was forgiven for whatever offense he had committed against her. He didn't understand why, exactly, she was upset at him, but he knew that it was best to just let her warm up to him again in her own time. Gourry was a patient man. The night was young, and there would most likely be more music. With any luck, he'd get to dance with her again.
"Ooooh," Filia crooned, pointing at the couples who were dancing and skipping in between the rows of people which ran the length of the dining hall. She hiccupped and sniggered at herself, holding a hand to her mouth.
"Would you like to dance again, Filia-san?" Xelloss asked, smiling pleasantly.
Filia nodded. "Yeeesssh," she drawled, then chortled at the sound of her own voice. She tried to stand up, but failed miserably, until Xelloss picked her up off his lap and set her down on her feet, and stood up behind her.
"I can't wait to tell you allllll about this in the morning, when you have a hangover," Lina heard him say playfully as he took her by the hand and led her out to the end of the rows. She shook her head and leaned on her elbow, feeling much more solemn than she usually did. What had brought it on? Was it simply the fact that she had been dancing with Gourry? She tried to shove that thought out of her mind and instead concentrate on the music. Some of the musicians were now dancing through the two rows of people as they sang or played. The couples out on the floor all looked happy, especially Zelgadiss and Ameria. There MUST be something wrong with me, Lina thought, if ZEL's having a better time than I am. She glanced at Gourry, who glanced up at her at the same second. Their eyes met and locked. Lina gulped and blushed unconsciously, then cursed herself for doing so. Now she wanted to dance with him again, but she was so afraid of getting close to him that she didn't know if she could without repeating what had happened a few minutes before.
Gourry cleared his throat. "Lina, whatever it was I did before, I didn't mean to hurt you. You know that." Lina paused, then simply nodded. He nodded back, then paused. He furrowed his brow and began to rub his chin, as if he were thinking about something important. "Sometimes, I get this funny feeling, like I ate something strange, but not quite, you know what I mean?" Lina froze, her eyes wide, and felt her face get hot.
"Um...well, I don't..." she faltered, then trailed off.
"Well, I had a really bad case of it tonight, when we were dancing," Gourry told her. He pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it was that beef I ate tonight. Yeah," he agreed with himself, "that must have been it. Do you get that feeling too, sometimes, Lina? Like your stomach didn't agree with what you ate? Could that have been what made you need to sit down?"
Lina blinked, and felt herself slowly relax. She looked down, sorting out her confusing feelings, then looked back up at him and nodded, smiling a little. "Yeah, Gourry, I get that feeling a lot. I just try to ignore it, hoping it'll go away, but it was really strong tonight."
He nodded and smacked his fist into his palm, in a gesture of comprehension. "We'll just have to be careful of what we eat, right?"
She couldn't help herself. Lina chuckled, then smiled. "Right. Can we go dance, now? That kind of looks like fun."
Gourry quickly stood up and gestured for her to go first between the tables in front of them. "Sure thing, Lina."
A garland gay we bring you here
And at your door we stand
It is a sprout well budded out
The work of our Lord's hand
The band of musicians returned to the stage after they ran between the rows of cheering and clapping townspeople a few times. As she sang the last part of the verse, the singer noticed the blond mercenary, who was leading his redheaded partner to the end of the rows. He winked at her and she waved back just before he reached across the pathway to grab Lina's hands and hold them aloft for another couple to dance under. Lina looked up at Gourry shyly, then stepped toward him as all the other women stepped toward their partners. They smiled happily as they turned 180 degrees and stepped back, so they had essentially changed places. Then, they stepped to the side to make room for all the couples who would come skipping to the end of the rows.
They followed the same pattern for the next couple, and the next, until it was Zel's and Ameria's turn to dance down the aisle. Gourry gave Zel a friendly clap on the back and Lina flashed Ameria a victory sign with her fingers as they breezed past. "They look cute together," Gourry commented as he and Lina traded places again.
Lina nodded. "Yeah, they do. But shhhh," she warned, holding a finger to her lips briefly before she joined hands with him again, "don't say anything to them about it. You know how self-conscious Zel gets."
Gourry nodded as two more couples whizzed past them in quick succession, and was about to say something in reply as they exchanged places again, when he heard loud laughter at the beginning of the rows. He and Lina leaned in quickly, almost knocking their heads together, and saw that Xelloss was trying to lead a very intoxicated Filia down the aisle. She was laughing and alternately hanging on him and stumbling away from him, her cheeks pink and her face more relaxed than Lina and Gourry had ever seen. He finally managed to get her through the rows of shouting and catcalling people, obviously finding the whole situation very humorous. Gourry and Lina stepped toward the center, and he held her close to him as they turned to the correct position. "I keep getting that feeling back again, Lina," he said, raising his voice a little so he could be heard. "Maybe it was something else I ate, too."
Lina shook her head, her red locks of hair moving around her face as she did so. "I guess we'll never know," she said simply.
"I guess," he agreed, and squeezed her hand warmly.
We've been rambling all the night
And some time of this day
Now returning back again
We bring a garland gay
As the song wound down to a close, the lead singer gazed out at her audience with a satisfied smile. Not bad for only our second number, she thought approvingly. Everyone in the dining hall was on their feet, dancing and enjoying themselves, and more people were coming in from off the streets, apparently having heard that there was a party going on inside. The innkeeper was behind the bar, dancing merrily with his wife, while the waitresses were mingling with the crowd, drawing the attention of some of the companionless men.
It warmed her heart as a performer to see everyone enjoying the music so much, but what made her happiest was the effect the music had on the foreign couples present. She could consider the night a success, now that she had seen their song bring them together, even if only for a little while. Right now, the flame-haired girl and her mercenary partner were alternately watching each other and the people who were coming down the aisle at them--they were flirting, but completely unconsciously, the singer knew. She searched the dance floor until her eyes found the green-skinned man and his dark-haired companion. They had slipped off by themselves to a corner of the room, where the girl was trying to show him a different dance, which apparently involved quite a bit of close contact. Amused by this, she looked around until she found the golden-haired priestess and the man with her, at the beginning of the two lines that stretched across the room. The man cheerfully took his partner by the hand and quickly ran with her down the aisle, laughing when she tripped and fell flat on her face. The singer shrugged and grinned--she would never understand some couples. Smiling and waving at the people around her, the singer signaled for the band to play another repeat of the refrain. Lifting her voice so that it could resonate throughout the tavern and within her audience's hearts, she planned their next number in her head with anticipation. The night was young, and there were plenty more dances to come.
We've been rambling all the night
And some time of this day
Now returning back again
We bring a garland gay
One day, while listening to the song "The Mummer's Dance" by Loreena McKennitt, I thought up this interesting little romantic songfic. It takes a small liberty with Slayers canon (so I could do something dastardly to poor Filia...bwahahahaha...). It takes place in that month while the cast of Try is travelling toward KaRyuuou no Shinden, which Zel references somewhere around the third tape of Try.
Please do not repost or reproduce without permission.