Lyssa spent the evening in her attic room. She had finished the dusting and sweeping and had ran everyone their baths, had her own (cold, sadly) then retired to her room.

She knelt down and pulled a small tin box from under the bed. It was painted gold.

She opened it and pulled out one of the small chocolates within. Chocolate was hard to come by in the village and Lyssa savoured it as she replaced the box under the bed.

Lyssa had bought it that morning from a man who was new in town. She had been on her way back to the Pavern’s in George Street when he had shouted to her to sample his exotic chocolates. His stall sold buttons and ribbons and strips of lace like a peddler’s as well.

He had been middle-aged with grey whiskers and his head hidden under a black top hat which matched his tailed coat. Underneath he had worn a grey suit with pinstripes, the like of which nobody else wore in the village, which was how Lyssa knew he was a traveller. He offered her a chocolate and watched her closely as she swallowed it and smiled. She had bought a tin of chocolates and thanked him again. She could feel the man’s eyes boring into her back as she walked away, and when she stole a glance over her shoulder she had seen a boy looking at her as well. Before she could get a good look at him, however, he had dashed into the Inn. All she had seen was his flame-coloured hair and his black boots.

Lyssa frowned as she remembered. Suddenly a pain shot like a flame through her belly. In a matter of seconds she was on her knees, choking.

Poison! She thought as she gasped for breath. Her fingers fumbled at her throat and touched the necklace. It was burning hot under her fingers and she cried out. But the moment she touched the heart, cold air flooded her lungs and her throat stopped closing in.

She sat for a while, shaking and confused. The stranger had poisoned her. But why? And what had happened with the necklace that had stopped the poison from killing her?

“Lyssa!” Elise was yelling up the stairs. “It’s the Festival tonight! Put on one of your better gowns and make haste about it, we’re leaving in half of the hour.”

Lyssa was shivering. She picked out a gown without bothering to look and slipped it on. It was white silk with silver swirling patterns embroidered all over the bodice, and a silver ribbon around her waist tied in a bow at the back. It had short sleeves of a silver gossamer-material which did nothing to hide the goosebumps along Lyssa’s arms. She pulled out her favourite silver-grey cloak and a pair of silver slippers with ribbons on the toes. Very wintery, indeed.

Soon enough the Paverns and Mrs Thistle (still in her cook-woman’s garb and carrying a roasted chicken to offer for the feast) left for the main street, Cowler Street, which ran through the centre of the village.

Wooden tables were set out in a line with benches from the church set out for everyone. Women were setting out the food that the villagers had contributed and pouring the flagons of ale. The benches were rapidly filling up and their group squeezed into a gap quickly. Mrs Thistle laid down her chicken, and a man sat opposite was already eyeing the bird hungrily.

Another family settled down across the table beside the hungry man. There was a woman in a rich purple dress and her husband in a silk suit, a man who could have been their son and a daughter with lovely blonde hair. She wore a dress the same as Lyssa’s except that it was a periwinkle blue with gold detail. The girl noticed this and smiled at Lyssa, who only just managed to smile back.

She felt shaky still, yet no-one around her had noticed. The Mayor, Mr Sandforth, decided it was time for the festivities to begin. He stood on a beer barrel and declared, “Women and men of Caingold, and travellers alike, enjoy this meal which we in harmony have provided, to celebrate the coming of Christmas and the birthday of our Christ.”

The Mayor nodded at Vicar Haywood, who was not best pleased that the benches had been taken from his church which was now without pews.

“I am pleased to announce that we have Mr Sparx amongst us tonight -” here there was a raucous cheering “-Who will provide the fireworks during the dancing at The Square this evening.”

The Square was a cobbled courtyard in front of the Saints Church at the opposite end of Cowler Street from the Inn.

“Mr Haligon will provide us with some music -” more clapping, while the silk-suited man opposite inclined his head bashfully “-and I would also like to introduce a guest to the village, Mr Twiggard.”

Lyssa noticed the girl opposite, Mr Haligon’s daughter, tense at his name. She stared up the tables and gasped herself.

A man stood up, bowing his top-hat clad head and smoothing his pinstriped suit. Mr Twiggard was the name of her poisoner.

“Mr Twiggard is a Witch-hunter. He has offered his services to purge this village of any who dabble with the Devil.”

The Haligon girl flinched and her mother frowned. Lyssa caught her whispered words, “Behave, Crystal, stop fidgeting. I’m keeping an eye on you after you broke that Chivenchi vase, you clumsy girl.”

“He tells me he has already started his work! On a lighter note, I declare this feast has begun.”

At once the villagers fell ravenously upon the food. The hungry man beside the Haligon family tore a leg from the chicken and gnawed on it like a dog. Mrs Haligon stared at him distastefully and turned to watch Crystal, who was picking at some fruit.

“Lyssa, dear, have some of my chicken, it’s cooked to perfection,” Mrs Thistle said, breaking her from her reverie and offering a bowl of chicken that she had sliced from the carcass. Lyssa didn’t eat. She had seen that Crystal was wearing a silver chain beneath her dress even though it didn’t match. She was running her fingers along her own necklace which had burned that afternoon.


The End

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