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Harvest Queen

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"Are you nervous?"

"No."

Grey eyes narrowed under red brows.

"Yes." She smiled, though. "But I'll be fine as soon as I'm out there."

That was how it always happened. The moment she stood before the audience, she was perfectly calm and composed, no matter how nervous she'd been before. And besides, it wasn't like she didn't know her lines.

The play that was performed for the harvest festival was traditional. It never changed.

The first time Glakisa Irakory had played this role, she'd been barely eight, performing in the children's play, with and for the Winding Circle students she had most of her lessons with. That was the year she'd found she enjoyed acting.

Last year, she'd graduated to the main festival, performing before the larger audience made up of the older temple residents – or at least many of them – and those visiting for the holidays. That had been exciting, but in a good way. She'd lived in the temple for most of her life, and knew she'd see plenty of kind, friendly faces among the watchers.

She could have reprised her role there this year – and had fully planned to do so. Then she'd received another request, and after some deliberation  with her foster-mothers and the rest of her family, she had decided to take that offer: This year, she played in the main festival in Summersea.

That was an entirely different size of event.

It also was most likely the last opportunity she'd have for this kind of thing. This time next year, she would be a student at Lightsbridge, and expected to be swamped with far too much work while studying to expand her magical education to waste a thought on playing the Harvest Queen.

She glanced at her reflection in the large mirror, smiling at the sight of the dress she already wore. Far from the usual quality of costumes, it had been made by her aunt Sandry: a splendid affair of layered green and brown silks, embroidered around the cuffs of the sleeves, on the bodice and down the front of the skirt.

Just wearing it made her feel like a princess.

Lady Sandrilene may have been the designated heir to the country, but she would always be Aunt Sandry to Glaki. And Aunt Sandry had thought that this special occasion called for a special dress that didn't come out of the costume pool – and that was hers to keep as a memory, even though she wouldn't have much opportunity to wear it after this night. There weren't a great many functions that called for this kind of splendor when you were a mage student.

"Sandry was not pleased when she realized she was going to have to represent the Duke out there in the audience and couldn't be back here with us." Tris chuckled at the memory. 'Not pleased' was putting it very mildly.

Picking up a brush from the dressing table, she indicated the single chair. "Sit."

Glaki slid into the chair, spreading the skirts around her. Aunt Sandry's dresses didn't wrinkle – or stain, for that matter – but that still wasn't a good reason to be careless with them.

She closed her eyes as Tris started running the brush through her hair before dividing out thin strands and braiding them to form the beginnings of an elaborate hairstyle.

No one did hair better than she. Doubtlessly, that came from her many years of practice from using her own braids as her mage kit.

"I used to think that if I studied hard and learned my magic, some day you might braid some lightning into my hair, too," Glaki said, smiling at the memory.

Tris' hands didn't stop working. "You wouldn't want that," she said, her voice amused. "Lightning makes them go frizzy and wild. You'd look like you're wearing a bird's nest."

"Not quite inappropriate for the role," Glaki pointed out.

If Tris had planned to answer that, the door opening to admit two more people kept her from it.

"You are not going to wear a bird's nest on stage tonight." Either she had just heard the last exchange, or Tris had filled the new arrival in silently.  

"Aunt Daja! We didn't expect you back in Summersea for another two days!"  Glaki was about to turn around to face the woman who was not only the most powerful known smith mage alive, but also the only one who was able to produce and work living metal.

Tris stopped her with a firm hand. "Don't twitch or I'll have to start over.

She sat still with a sigh.

Daja came around to lean against the table where she could talk to Glaki face to face. Close behind her came the fourth of the great mages who had grown up in Winding Circle together, raised by the same two women who had become Glaki's family in the last nine years: Glaki's Uncle Briar.

He was carrying a bouquet that showed the touch of his magic. No amount of unseasonal heat would make those flowers wilt and wither and ruin her performance.

"And miss seeing you on the big stage?" Daja asked. "Never! I shortened my stay a bit and I took a faster horse and here I am – ahead of most of my things, admittedly, but I'm sure I'll survive without them for two days."

Tris pinned up the last of the braids and stepped back to admire her work.

A look into the mirror brought a radiant smile to Glaki's face. She would have been entirely happy to go on stage exactly as she was. She looked properly royal already.

Tradition, however, called for her to wear a circlet, and she reached for it with a twinge of regret. Between the dress, the magicked flowers and her hair, with elaborately coiled braids showing a shimmer that suggested that while lightning was out of the question, Tris had braided something into them that wasn't wire or ribbons, it was going to look exactly like what it was: a stage prop.

"Not that," Daja said, her tone fitting Glaki's thoughts so well that for a split second she wondered if her Aunt's ability to receive thoughts had somehow expanded to include her own. But of course that hadn't been necessary.

She quickly smoothed her features into a happier expression. "It goes with the role. I really should."

"Not that," Daja repeated as she produced a small parcel wrapped in silk from a pouch at her belt.

Glaki took it from her hand, undoing the string and folding the fabric apart.

She'd always admitted the pieces of jewelry Daja made – who wouldn't? She'd imagined growing up and wearing some of them.

She'd thought about a ring, maybe earrings or, if she got very lucky, a bracelet.

With a sound of pure delight, she rose from her  seat and threw herself at Daja, to hug the older woman as tightly as she could without letting go of the circlet or risking damage to it. "Oh, thank you!"

"You'll spoil your dress," Daja pointed out. She was smiling at the girl's enthusiasm, the light of an artist who knew her work was appreciated bright in her eyes. "Better see what it looks like when you wear it."

Glaki laughed. "Aunt Sandry's dresses don't spoil," she pointed out, but she released her aunt and handed the circlet to Tris, who carefully arranged and secured it in Glaki's hair.

It was a delicate piece of work, made of three different kinds of metal wound around each other. The stone set in it wasn't anything that her foster-sister Evvy would have been too excited about, but Glaki loved it. It matched the color of her dress so perfectly that her aunts had to have coordinated their gifts. The pattern in which the wire was wound was even mirrored in the embroidery on her sleeves.

"There," Tris said. "Now let's get going. I'm sure everyone's waiting for you already – and it's time we went to our seats, too."

Another brief look into the mirror confirmed that she did, in fact, look just as glamorous as she felt.

She felt like ready to face all of Summersea, and more.

Taking a deep breath, she let go of the excitement and the giddiness, collecting herself and letting herself slip into the persona of her role.

It fit her comfortably, as it should after all these years of playing it.

With a nod and a smile to her aunts and uncle, the Harvest Queen picked up her flowers and, with measured, deliberate steps that befitted royalty, went to wait with the rest of the ensemble for the moment when they would take the stage.

Tomorrow, she'd go back to thinking about leaving for Lightsbridge.

Today, the stage, and the world, belonged to her.