TARRY’S MALICE had left his nerves raw, and the thought of the party weighed on him till he lost his appetite. He thought hopefully for a while that he was sick and could miss the party. But the day came, and he was there. Not so evidently, so eminently, so flamboyantly there as his father, but present, smiling, dancing. All his childhood friends were there too, half of them married by now to the other half, it seemed, but there was still plenty of flirting going on, and several pretty girls were always near him. He drank a good deal of Gadge Brewer’s excellent beer, and found he could endure the music if he was dancing to it and talking and laughing while he danced. So he danced with all the pretty girls in turn, and then again with whichever one turned up again, which all of them did.

It was Golden’s grandest party yet, with a dancing floor built on the town green down the way from Golden’s house, and a tent for the old folks to eat and drink and gossip in, and new clothes for the children, and jugglers and puppeteers, some of them hired and some of them coming by to pick up whatever they could in the way of coppers and free beer. Any festivity drew itinerant entertainers and musicians it was their living, and though uninvited they were welcomed. A tale-singer with a droning voice and a droning bagpipe was singing The Deed of the Dragonlord to a group of people under the big oak on the hilltop. When Tarry’s band of harp, fife, viol, and drum took time off for a breather and a swig, a new group hopped up onto the dance floor. “Hey, there’s Labby’s band!” cried the pretty girl nearest Diamond. “Come on, they’re the best!”

Labby, a light-skinned, flashy-looking fellow, played the double-reed woodhorn.

With him were a violist, a tabor-player, and Rose, who played fife. Their first tune was a stampy, fast and brilliant, too fast for some of the dancers. Diamond and his partner stayed in, and people cheered and clapped them when they finished the dance, sweating and panting. “Beer!” Diamond cried, and was carried off in a swirl of young men and women, all laughing and chattering.

He heard behind him the next tune start up, the viol alone, strong and sad as a tenor voice: “Where My Love Is Going.”

He drank a mug of beer down in one draft, and the girls with him watched the muscles in his strong throat as he swallowed, and they laughed and chattered, and he shivered all over like a cart horse stung by flies. He said, “Oh! I can’t –!” He bolted off into the dusk beyond the lanterns hanging around the brewer’s booth. “Where’s he going?” said one, and another, “He’ll be back,” and they laughed and chattered.

The tune ended. “Darkrose,” he said, behind her in the dark. She turned her head and looked at him. Their heads were on a level, she sitting crosslegged up on the dance platform, he kneeling on the grass.

“Come to the sallows,” he said.

She said nothing. Labby, glancing at her, set his woodhorn to his lips. The drummer struck a triple beat on his tabor, and they were off into a sailor’s jig.

When she looked around again Diamond was gone.

Tarry came back with his band in an hour or so, ungrateful for the respite and much the worse for beer. He interrupted the tune and the dancing, telling Labby loudly to clear out.

“Ah, pick your nose, harp-picker,” Labby said, and Tarry took offense, and people took sides, and while the dispute was at its brief height, Rose put her fife in her pocket and slipped away.

Away from the lanterns of the party it was dark, but she knew the way in the dark. He was there. The willows had grown, these two years. There was only a little space to sit among the green shoots and the long, falling leaves.

The music started up, distant, blurred by wind and the murmur of the river running.

“What did you want, Diamond?”

“To talk.”

They were only voices and shadows to each other.

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Categories: Ursula K. Le Guin