"What do you think, Jay?" I asked.
Once I had my mate's attention, I held a black tunic up against my bare torso, before I exchanged it for a dusky red one. Both Jay and I had been invited to a feast and attendant late-night dance that night to celebrate the beginning of spring.
"Yes, very nice," Jay said as he nodded at my choices of clothing.
I saw the apricot of his laughter blasting over the link we shared and the faintest impressions of dimples appeared in his cheeks. I sighed even as his laughter made its way fully onto his face and transformed his formerly solemn mouth into a dimple-filled smile.
"I know you like them both but I meant, which one looks better, Jamison?" I asked and tutted despite the laughter I could feel bubbling up inside me.
"You know what I think. I always think you look good in black, dear," he said. "Wear that one tonight."
He gestured towards the black silken tunic and nodded when I held the item up against my bare chest again.
"Yes. Definitely the black. It shows off your best assets," Jay said as he flexed his muscles purposefully.
I snorted in sudden amusement at that. As an Alpha dragonshifter and a blacksmith, my muscles were bigger and more defined than Jay's; he had the typical slender build of the Beta dragonshifter that he was.
Unlike me, Jay had a clear idea of what he wanted to wear; he picked a midnight blue tunic which set off the sapphire of his eyes and suited his paler complexion. Once we both were ready, we made our way out of our cabin and made our way across the hills that ringed our home valley.
The festivities had already started by the time we reached the site of the feast. Tables were laid out all around the edges of a field that overlooked the valley of Esterloch and each one overflowed with food and drink. Some of the younger townsfolk had started an impromptu game of football around the edges of the field and the game soon turned rambunctious. Music and laughter surrounded us as Jay and I avoided the rowdiness of the youngsters' game before we lost ourselves to the crowds and laughter.
Jay and I then headed for the tables of food. Both my mate and I chose portions of pigeon pie and mugs of frothing dark ale. We watched the game as the young footballers edged closer and, once we'd finished our portions of pie, Jay and I were soon talked into joining in. Laughingly, Jay and I did so for a while, before the youngsters moved on with their ball and left us beside the tables of food again.
Later that night, as the moon began to sail overhead and the vampires began joining the throngs of party-goers, several of the townsfolk began to tune up lutes and draw out tabors and timbrels. Sackbuts and shawms began to blast through the air and Arielle stepped forward to start the singing. Both Jay and I always enjoyed hearing the Apothecary sing, so to hear her clear and lilting voice arch up to the skies again was a treat. Several people began making use of the open spaces between the feast tables to dance together, doubly so when Arielle began singing a faster number, her lively voice making use of the spaces between the stars.
We saw several people, young lovers all, sneaking into the trees that lined the feasting field. Jay nudged me after we'd spotted the last of the young lovers slipping away and waggled his eyebrows suggestively at me.
"Perhaps we should sneak away ourselves once no one's looking," he said and waggled his eyebrows again.
I laughed at that and nodded.
"Why not?" I asked and Jay laughed in turn.
We didn't get the chance to sneak off for a while as some of the closest townsfolk began urging me to sing while Jay accompanied me on the lute. We had done so often enough in the past at similar festivities, yet Jay hadn't brought his instrument with him. As such, he had to borrow a lute from Rixon the baker. Jay re-tuned it to his liking before he nodded at me.
"The Ballad of the Lovelorn Drake, Quinn dear," Jay called over to me.
I nodded as Jay began to pick out a melody on the strings and so, I waited for my cue to begin singing the lyrics. The piece itself was a lively tune despite its morose title and soon enough, townsfolk began clapping and dancing around us. I grinned as I continued singing and once the song was over, the townsfolk implored us to perform another.
We were about to start on 'Jimmy Harper's Hornpipe' when suddenly, we heard screams emanating from the trees off to one side of the dance area. I turned in sudden alarm; I wasn't the only one on guard, either. All of those around me also tensed and began to turn in the direction of the noise while Jay's fingers stopped plucking at the lute's strings.
Suddenly, two screaming figures burst past the treeline. I recognised them as being the last of the lovers that Jay had referenced via his earlier invitation to plunge beneath the shade of the trees ourselves. In their wake stomped a large humanoid figure with reddish-brown hair covering its body; I couldn't help but notice that the figure was a male.
I reacted immediately; I grabbed a dagger from the nearest farmer's belt and threw the weapon in the direction of the humanoid figure, even as he began to draw closer to the couple he chased. The dagger thudded into the hairy man's shoulder and he stumbled backwards with a loud howl. He faltered still further but did not continue his chase after the still fleeing young lovers. Many others ranged around me and the elves had plucked their bows from their backs and were in the process of re-tensioning them. Soon, arrows were nocked against the framework of each bow.
"If he charges again, don't kill him," I said firmly as I gestured towards the still staggering humanoid.
"But -," one of the nearest elves said.
"I said don't kill him," I said more sharply. "Uness he makes a specific move to harm one of us. Just warn him for now, if necessary."
They were silent then and I nodded in satisfaction when no one further raised their weapons against the being. Luckily for us, the humanoid figure pulled the dagger from his shoulder and dropped the weapon to the ground. He then stumbled back between the trees again, whimpering all the way.
"Do you think he's all right?" Jay asked and there was some concern in his face for the creature.
"He'll heal," I said with the vaguest of worried grimaces. "I only intended to give him a warning wound."
Jay nodded at that; he knew that I was usually a better shot than I'd previously displayed. If I'd intended to throw a killing blow, I could easily have executed one. I could tell that he thought it a good idea to just warn the haired being.
We waited around for a while longer yet the haired man did not return to the field. The silence was slowly taken over by excited chatter and the occasional bout of laughter. Despite the vague return of merriment, not one of us fancied carrying on with the feast. Instead, we returned by increments to Esterloch, each taking a portion of the remaining food with us.
The following day, an Elders' meeting was called. Jay and I had settled near the head of the table in the Elders' Hall, and Corey held sway over everyone again. He was the eldest of the Elders and so was always the obvious choice to lead meetings; this was despite the fact that I outranked him through dint of being an Alpha dragonshifter. Alpha dragons always did wherever we went.
"An incident happened last night with a hairy humanoid," he said. "Any further thoughts about what actually happened?"
"Quinn and I have a theory," Jay said before he gestured at me to continue.
My mate and I had been talking about the incident over breakfast that morning.
"We've come up against these creatures before," I said as I indicated both Jay and myself. "Usually, they only attack or give chase if they feel their territory's threatened. Jay and I were wondering if perhaps the hairy man we saw has taken up residence nearby. The lovers that he was chasing probably disturbed his rest or invaded his territory - inadvertently or otherwise."
"Makes sense, I suppose," Corey said with a soft grunt. "Okay. So we need to get the word out to avoid that section of forest for a while, just in case. No point in stirring up the figurative hornet's nest. As Quinn and Jay have already said, these beings only attack under duress. Let's not give that hairy man the excuse."
Immediate agreements met his statement and after Corey had checked to see whether anyone else had any more ideas or thoughts to add, the meeting moved on to other matters.
As far as Jay and I knew, no one ventured to that part of the forest again for quite a few months, yet when activity did start drifting that way again, there were no more sightings of the humanoid. We assumed that he must have moved on, to find other, quieter territory.