Continued from Oops.
The day of Young Lady Edaline Starrik’s anniversary of birth arrived on a day filled with clouds and rain. Piper packed away his flute before the sun rose. He dressed quickly and began to walk off. He avoided the roads as he took a more direct route through field and forest. The scruffy man intended to arrive first, and walked quickly. At times, he ran when he heard others.
Branches gripped and pulled at his clothing. New rips and tears formed. He held his cape in place after a reminder that a yanked cape caused difficulty when he tried to breathe.
A rock caught Piper’s foot, and he tumbled into the ground. He caught himself with one elbow. The soft dirt of the field muffled the impact, and he quickly rose to continue his mad dash as he gripped his flute’s case tightly. His breath became short as he ran as fast as he could. He spent too much time partying with the villagers!
His sleeves became torn, and he still ran forward. His chest ached as he forced air in and out.
Rain began to drizzle down again, and he hugged his flute’s case more tightly to protect it. He looked up to check his progress, and saw the wall around the earl’s manor. He panted and looked around. There had to be a quick, secret way inside. Carefully, he inspected every yard of the walls. Surprisingly, he found a garden entrance at the back, and simply walked in as though he belonged to the staff.
“It’s unseasonable wet!” he groaned as he entered the kitchens with a yawn and an expansive stretch. “Mind if I warm up a moment before I get back to what I was doing?” He smiled at the fattest woman present. “My, but you’re beautiful. Surely you must be the head of the kitchen!” Piper flattered.
The woman looked up, her expression sour. “Go head. Sit and warm up.” she urged him with a sour face.
Piper’s lips graced her cheek for a fraction of a moment before he found a stool and sat for a time. “Is there anything I may help with?” The young man looked around.
The fat woman shook her head. “Just warm up, then get back to your jobs.” The woman frowned. “Are you new?”
“Just got here today.” He smiled brightly up at her.
“I’ll find someone to help you get a uniform.” She sighed. “New hires, always so eager, but not a bit of sense to them.” The woman shook her head and walked away.
Piper looked into the fire. Stew was cooking, and he soon found a handy spot to settle his rear as he rested from his mad dash. He made small talk with the kitchen help, and when a young boy came to him, clad in a nice tunic and hose, he followed the boy. It was easy to deflect his questions with jokes during the short walk, and the boy wandered off shortly after they arrived at their destination.
The scruffy man allowed a uniform to be hustled onto him, but when someone reached for his mask, he stepped away. “I’m sorry, I need to keep my mask on. It matches the house colors a bit, doesn’t it?” He tilted his head.
The steward for the servants sighed. “Fine. For now, you may wear it. We’ve too much to do, and not enough time to argue with someone who is stubborn. Just keep out of sight.” He waved his hand and nearly pushed Piper from his office.
Surprised, Piper shrugged and once more donned his cape. He had nice new clothes now, if a bit ill-fitting. He felt so bustled-about, and the sensation was familiar enough for him to make a childish expression of distaste.
With all the grace of a drunken house cat, Piper sauntered to the main party room and pulled his flute from his case. His timing was perfect. He glanced up, and he saw a familiar face. A smile filled his face. “Ladyship!” he bowed low with an overabundance of flamboyance. “I bring song for your pleasure!”
The man brought his flute to his lips before Edaline had even a moment to object. He began to play. The tune was light and cheerful, but filled with energy. It echoed off walls and ceiling. The man played, and the confused Edaline simply gawked.
He paused his flute-playing. “Dance, Ladyship! A song is no good without dance!” He laughed and began to clap.
The woman reddened. “I do not– who are you to demand I dance?” she glared at him sourly.
“Come now, Ladyship! It’s a request you enjoy yourself!” He raised his flute to his lips again and began to play. As he played, he danced.
Guests arrived, and soon began to join with Piper in his merriment. Some began to cheer him on, and others began to dance. Still more clapped to the beat of the masked servant.
The official musicians arrived, mortified that someone else was making music. For several measures, band and man competed. Finally, the band took up Piper’s tune as the slippery eel of a man held his flute like a baton and walked right to Edaline. He bowed with mock politeness and extended a hand. “Happy Birthday.” He whispered into her ear as she stood from her curtsy and took his hand.
Edaline looked away sharply. “Thank you. You’re very forward for a servant, you know.”
“Oh, I’m not a servant.” He shrugged absently as he led her at a walk to the main floor, then began to dance a local jig.
Edaline struggled, and eventually her struggles turned to laughter as she horribly butchered the dance of the lands she had married into.
As the night came to an end, Edaline sent a serving boy to fetch Piper from the crowd. The man came with no protest and bowed.
“Yes, Ladyship?” Piper grinned rakishly.
“Would you kindly stay for a time? I am willing to pay for your services.” She tilted her head, curious.
The man smiled. “Tell you what, Edda. Go back to your father, and I’ll pay a visit.” He winked and spun on one heel.
The name ‘Edda’ slapped Edaline in the face. She became pale with indignant anger and impotent questions. By the time she composed herself enough to ask that fateful question, the man was nowhere in sight.
“Why did you leave me at the altar?” she asked the empty place the man stood in just moments before.