Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.
I will look for you tonight—
Luce almost sputtered with laughter. This was something the Daniel she knew would never write. Clearly, someone else had been behind it. Bill?
But to the part of Luce that was Lucinda, the words were a chaos of scribbles. She couldn’t read, Luce realized. And yet, once the meaning of the poem was processed by Luce, she could feel an understanding break open in Lucinda. Her past self found this the freshest, most captivating poetry ever known.
She would go to the festival and she would find Daniel. She would show Lucinda how powerful their love could be.
Tonight there would be dancing. Tonight there would be magic in the air. And—even if it was the only time it ever happened in the long history of Daniel and Lucinda—tonight there would be the particular joy of spending Valentine’s Day with the one she loved.
DELIGHT IN DISORDER
“Eleanor!” Luce shouted over a dense crowd of dancers as her friend bounced past in the spirited line of a jig. But Eleanor didn’t hear her.
It was hard to say whether Luce’s voice was drowned out by the delighted hoots of a crowd at a puppet show in one of the movable stages set up on the western edge of the dancing area for the raucous, hungry crowd lining up at the long food tables on the eastern side of the green. Or maybe it was just the sea of dancers in the middle, who bounded, twirled, and spun with reckless, romantic abandon.
It seemed as though the dancers at the Valentine’s Faire were not just dancing—but also hollering, laughing, belting out verses to the troubadour’s music, and hollering to friends across the muddy dance area. They were doing it all at once. And all at the top of their lungs.
Eleanor was out of earshot, spinning as she stamped out dance steps all the way across the oak-ringed green. Luce had no choice but to turn back to her clumsy partner and curtsy.
He was a spindly older man with sallow cheeks and ill-fitting lips whose slouched shoulders made him look like he wanted to hide behind his too-small lynx-face mask.
And yet Lucinda didn’t care. She couldn’t remember ever having had this much fun dancing. They’d been dancing since the sun kissed the horizon; now the stars shone like armor in the sky. There were always so many stars in past skies. The night was chilly, but Luce’s face was flushed and her forehead was damp with perspiration. As the song neared its end, she thanked her partner and sidled between a line of dancers, eager to get away.
Because despite the joys of dancing under the stars, Luce hadn’t forgotten about the real reason she was here.
She looked out across the green and worried that even if Daniel was somewhere out there, she might never find him. Four troubadours dressed in motley gathered on a wobbly dais at the northern edge of the green, plucking on lutes and lyres to play a song as sweet as a Beatles ballad. At a high school dance, these slow songs were the ones that made the single girls, including Luce, a little anxious—but here, the moves were built into the songs and no one was ever at a loss for a partner. You just grabbed the nearest warm body, for better or for worse, and you danced. A skipping jig for this one, a circling dance in groups of eight for another. Luce felt Lucinda knowing some of the moves innately; the rest of them were easy to pick up.
If only Daniel were here …
Luce withdrew to the edge of the green, taking a break. She studied the women’s dresses. By modern standards, they weren’t fancy, but the women wore them with such pride that the dresses seemed as elegant as any of the fine gowns she’d seen at Versailles. Many were made of wool; a few had linen or cotton accents sewn into a collar or a hem. Most people in the city only owned one pair of shoes, so worn leather boots abounded, but Luce quickly realized how much easier it was to dance in them than in high-heeled shoes that pinched her feet.
The men managed to look dapper in their best breeches. Most wore a long wool tunic on top for warmth. Hoods were tossed back over their shoulders—the weather that night was above freezing, almost mild. Most of their leather masks were painted to mimic the faces of forest animals, complementing the floral designs of the ladies’ masks. A few men wore gloves, which looked expensive. But most of the hands Luce touched that night were cold and chapped and red.
Cats stared from dirt roads around the green. Dogs searched for their owners among the mess of bodies. The air smelled like pine and sweat and beeswax candles and the sweet musk of fresh-baked gingerbread.
As the next song wound down, Luce spotted Eleanor, who seemed happy to be plucked from the arm of a boy whose red mask was painted like a fox’s face.
Eleanor pointed toward a stand of trees, where their young friend leaned close to a boy they didn’t recognize, whispering something. He was showing her a book, gesturing in the air. It looked like he took a great deal of care with his hair. He wore a mask made to resemble a rabbit’s face.
The girls shared a giggle as they made their way through the crowd. There was Helen, sitting with her husband on a wool blanket spread out on the grass. They were sharing a wooden cup of steaming cider and laughing easily about something, which made Luce miss Daniel all over again.
There were lovers everywhere. Even Lucinda’s parents had turned out for the Faire. Her father’s wiry white beard scraped her mother’s cheek as they sashayed around the green.
Luce sighed, then fingered the lace doily in her pocket.
Roses are red, violets are blue, if Daniel didn’t write these words, then who?
The last time she’d received a note allegedly from Daniel, it had been a trap set by the Outcasts—
And Cam had saved her.
Heat rose on the back of her neck. Was this a trap? Bill had said it was just a Valentine’s party. He’d put so much energy into helping her on her quest already, he wouldn’t have left her alone like this if there had been any real danger. Right?
Luce shook the thought away. Bill had said Daniel would be here, and Luce believed him. But the wait was killing her.
She followed Eleanor toward a long table, where plates and bowls of casual, pot-luck-style food had been set out. There were sliced duck served over cabbage, whole hares that had been roasted on spits, cauldrons of baby cauliflowers with a bright orange sauce, high-piled platters of apples, pears, and dried currants harvested from the surrounding forests, and a whole long wooden table filled with misshapen, half-burned pies of meat and fruit.
She watched a man loosen a flat knife from a strap slung around his waist and cut himself a hefty slice of pie. On her way out the door that evening, Luce’s mother had handed her a shallow wooden spoon, which she had threaded through a wool tie around her waist. These people were prepared for eating, fixing, and fighting, the way Luce was prepared for love.
Eleanor reappeared at Luce’s side and held a bowl of porridge under her nose.
“Gooseberry jam on top,” Eleanor said. “Your favorite.”
When Luce dipped her spoon into the thick concoction, a savory aroma wafted up and made her mouth water. It was hot and hearty and delicious—exactly what she needed to revive her for another dance. Before she realized it, she had eaten it all.
Eleanor glanced down at the empty bowl, surprised. “Danced up an appetite, did you?”
Luce nodded, feeling warm and satisfied. Then she noticed two brown-robed clergymen sitting apart from the crowd on a wooden bench beneath an elm tree. Neither was taking part in the festivities—in fact, they looked more like chaperones than revelers—but the younger one moved his feet in time with the rhythm, while the other, who had a shriveled-looking face, glared darkly at the crowds.
“The Lord sees and hears this lewd debauchery perpetrated so near His house,” the shriveled-faced man scoffed.
“And closer than that, even.” The other clergyman laughed. “Do you recall, Master Docket, just how much of the church’s gold went toward His Lordship’s Valentine’s banquet? Was it twenty gold pieces for that stag? These people’s festivities cost nothing more than the energy to dance. And they dance like angels.”
If only Luce could see her angel dancing toward her right now …
“Angels who’ll sleep through tomorrow’s working hours, mark my words, Master Herrick.”
“Can you not see the joy on these young faces?” The younger vicar’s eyes swept across the green, found Luce’s at the edge of the lawn, and brightened.
She found herself smiling back behind her mask—but her joy that evening would be vastly increased if she could be there in Daniel’s arms. Otherwise, what was the point of taking this romantic night off?
It seemed that Luce and the shriveled-faced vicar were the only two people here not relishing the masquerade. And generally Luce loved a good party, but right now all she wanted to do was pluck the masks off the face of every boy who passed. What if she’d already missed him in the crowd? How would she know if the Daniel of this era would even be looking for her?
She stared so baldly at a tall blond boy whose mask made him look like an eagle that he bounded past the toymaker’s stall and the puppet show to stand before her.
“Shall I introduce myself, or would you rather just keep staring?” His teasing voice sounded neither familiar nor unfamiliar.
For a moment, Luce held her breath.
She imagined the ecstasy of his hands around her waist … the way he always dipped her backward to preface a kiss … She wanted to touch the place where his wings bloomed from his shoulders, the secret scar no one knew about but her …
When she reached up to lift his mask, the boy grinned at her boldness—but his smile faded as quickly as Luce’s did when she saw his face.
He was perfectly good-looking; there was just one problem: He wasn’t Daniel. And so every aspect of this boy—from his square nose, to his strong jaw, to his pure-gray eyes—paled in comparison to the boy she had in mind. She let out a long, sad sigh.
The boy couldn’t hide his embarrassment. He fumbled for words, then slipped his mask back over his face, making Luce feel terrible.
“I’m sorry,” she said, quickly backing away. “I mistook you for someone else.”
Luckily, she backed into Laura, whose face, unlike Lucinda’s, was cheery with the magic of the night.
“Oh, I hope they’ll draw from Cupid’s Urn soon!” Laura whispered, bouncing on her heels and drawing Luce mercifully away from the eagle boy.
“Did you sneak your name in there after all?” Luce asked, finding a smile.
Laura shook her head. “Mother would slaughter me!”
“Won’t be much longer.” Eleanor appeared at their side. She looked nervous. She was confident about everything except boys. “They draw at the toll of the next church bells, to give the new sweethearts a chance to dance. Perhaps a kiss if they’re lucky.”
The next church bells. To Luce, it seemed like the eight o’clock bells had only just rung, but she was certain time must be flying faster than she realized. Was it already almost nine? Her time to be with Daniel was running out—fast—and standing around obsessively scanning the gallery of masks wasn’t doing any good. No eyes glowed violet behind their visor.