Chapter 56.1 Interlude II

“Kate! Emilia! My two favorite people!” Paige waved as her two favorite people arrived with the small caravan to their tiny settlement. “Oh goodie, and you even brought your husband Emilia!” 

“Charmed to see you again, Miss Paige, and may I say you do look rather fine this evening.” Richard waved from his seat in the carriage as he looked Paige over. Emilia elbowed her husband lightly, though Paige was wearing something unusual, at least for her.

She was wearing a dress! And it was well made, Emilia thought as she looked Paige up and down. The dress was an unusual pattern for the area, with the coloring of the dress, a color that reminded Emilia of ripened wheat, was concentrated solely to the middle while the sides of the dress remained a pure white. Her shawl gave a splash of color to her otherwise neutral dress, a deep red that screamed expensive, even to Emilia.

“That’s a rather…unique outfit for you.”

Paige laughed, but curtsied and swept the ceremonial staff in her hands back to her food plots beyond. 

“Farmer Paige to you, good sir. And this is just a standard festival garb, Emilia. I’m required to wear this as the host. But I’m rather surprised you all didn’t dress up more, actually,” she looked around at the other carts passing by and shrugged as she saw no one else wearing festival clothing. “Regardless, I welcome you all to this harvest festival as my formal guests,” She was being rather formal, something Emilia had never seen her do in all the years she had known her. 

‘She is taking this rather seriously. I thought Zenith was kidding when she was describing all the preparations Paige was setting up, but she really is going all out.”

Taking a look around, Emilia noted that the clearings beyond had changed from what she was used to seeing. The whole farmland had been transformed into a rather festive area, the entire area awash with light as many a bonfire encircled the clearing, bringing light and warmth as the sun started fading away, bringing the chill of the night with it.

It was rather risky to hold it at night, especially with all the monsters that had been raming apart. But Zenith had given her assurance that they had all dealt with the monsters and pledged that all guests would be safe. Most of the Farmers had been skeptical about that, right up to the point where Zenith came riding out on an Elder Boar, that is.

“Paige, it is good to see you about! You should come to town sometime, you know! Even Nick is finally getting out of the forest.” Kate jumped out of the wagon, politely curtsying to the host. “May the soil be well for the upcoming harvest.”

“And may you have a bountiful harvest for the rest of the year. I’m suprised you know that phrase, Kate. Usually only Farmers know that saying.”

“You learn a saying or two when your main suppliers are Farmers, Paige. This is the breadbasket of Alcudia, after all.”

Paige smiled. “True. Where’s Xavier at? And did Lily and Tyler not make it back?” She looked around as the last of the caravans drove past her toward the clearing beyond. 

“The rest of the school is on break, but because of their situation, they had to stay there and do some remedial training. Apparently, they can’t leave until the Cleric’s Protectors are confident enough that their Party can survive an attack.”

“Huh. Well that’s good that they are getting individualized training. The Protectors are no joke to deal with. You rarely get that kind of training, as a child.”

“Is it harsh?” Kate asked worriedly.

“No, not harsh. Just…very specialized. It’ll be good for Tyler to learn from a master.”

Kate bit her lip. “If you say so, Paige.”

“Hey, cheer up! It’s a festival! And you can always ask Zenith to go with you to Nespe. Or just go with Emilia”

“Would she go with me?”

“Sure! Well, maybe! Or rather..” Paige frowned in thought.

“What about Markus? He could come with us to visit.” Emilia asked suddenly.

“Nah, he’s still in training, which is why he can’t leave the forest for a while. Plus I’d rather surprise them with how much he’s grown when he joins their party.”

“Mmm.” Emilia gave her husband a telling glance. She was sure her thoughts on the matter had to be close to the truth. 

“Well, worry not Farmer Paige, we were planning on going that way anyway. No need to bother Miss Zenith about going.”

Paige shrugged, acting like her usual self, though her eyes shifted away from them. “Huh, well that solves that problem! And she may still want to go, just to check up on Lily. No harm in doing that at least.”

“Oh, and did you bring Boary’s food? Cause I think he’s looking for it in the caravans.” Paige clapped happily and pointed over at one of the carts, where the large boar was digging through the food with glee.

Emilia smiled. “You should be more worried than us about that. He’s ruining the food for the harvest blessings that we brought.”

“Eh? BOARY! Get back! Shoo, shoo; this is all the stuff I need!”

They laughed wryly as Paige struggled to move the large boar while making sure her dress stayed clean.

“Well Kate, shall we go find our friend?”

Emilia watched as Paige started the festivities with a brief blessing and started actively engaging the other Farmers, dragging them to the various different activities she had planned and liberally, very liberally, shoving the adults to the tankards she had set up everywhere. She could tell that all her Farmers were vastly overwhelmed by not only the decor and the celebration but also the sheer differences between themselves and Paige. 

They were all Farmers, of course, Emilia had made sure to ask her subordinates to confirm her Class, but she was… a far better Farmer, apparently. She hadn’t even known that was possible, but even her Head Farmer, John, had confirmed he was vastly outmatched when she asked about his thoughts of Paige.

“No fense’, Miss Emilia, but I’d join her inn’a heartbeat if she’s looking for Farmers. Either that or outright move if she’s lookin’ at expanding. My guts tellin’ me she could outperform the entire region if she had the heart to actually farm.”

“She is farming though, John. She’s self-sustaining her little group here in the woods.”

“Nah, this ain’t farming. This here’s passin’ the time. Besides, what kinda Farmer wouldn’t want ta expand?”

Not hearing a reply, Farmer John nodded and went to get another drink. She sighed as she came up with an resonable answer. ‘The kind that isn’t planning on staying here long term,’ Emilia thought to herself. 

Sighing once again, Emilia looked for Paige, which was easy to spot her since she was one of the only women dressed up. Watching Paige as she moved back and forth, she hoped that she hadn’t offended her by not dressing up. But it had taken a lot more assurances to just get her the majority of her farmers to even come. The harvest festival was a tradition amongst Farmers, and most of Alcudia in general, but not many of her subordinates were willing to even come once they found out Zenith was associated with the Imperial Family.

“So Zenith, when you said Paige was going all out with her planning, you forgot to mention we were supposed to dress up,” Emilia asked quietly as Paige started the festivities.

“Hm? Tyler said that it was common to dress up though? Why do you think I’m wearing this right now instead of something more comfortable?” Zenith waved at her own clothing, a green dress with a cascading pattern of fall leaves embroidered down the dress. It was artfully embroidered and was not typical of any dress she had seen Zenith wear before. “Even the guys are dressed up, though I don’t know why Paige chose leather armor as their formal wear.”

“It was common to dress up; until the Scion came. No one wants to catch his eye, Zenith. No one with a brain anyway. And she chose well for the guys; the leather armor symbolizes that the husband is the protector of the hearth.”

“Hm. I guess the Imperial Scions really do have a bad reputation.” Zenith said quietly as she picked up a random cup. Sipping lightly, she thought about Emilia’s answer. Protector of the hearth. That sounded suspiciously like… “Who came up with that tradition?”

“Queen Rebecca. Or maybe Peter did. Either way, the queen started hosting festivals every year during her reign. Made her rather well-liked amongst her citizens, especially around here in Farmer’s country.”

“Hmph, so the queen is good at doing something then. She wasn’t much help for Lily.” Zenith frowned as she sipped on her cider. 

“She did help some. Her presence in Nespe is increasing the security of the city, which is something at the very least. And I hear she’s very taken with Lily’s party. She practically coddles them.”

“Well, I just hope she’s not around too much. It’s not good to have them depend on someone for every little want or need,” Zenith looked over, her eyes locking on Emilia. “She’ll be fine. Her party too. We’re keeping an eye out for them, though we are more low key about it. Tyler and Nick are good at keeping track of people.”

“You say that Zenith. It’s just hard,” she stopped and looked away, leaving the rest of her sentence unspoken. Hard to trust your word

Zenith must have realized what she was going to say. “…It’ll be fine.” Taking a quick glance around, Zenith leaned in conspiratorily. “Though… have the prices started increasing yet? They should be rising, by all accounts.”

“Hm?”

“The war. It’s been almost five years since the war lulled down, so the castles should be almost finished now. They’ll need rations at the very least pretty soon.”

Emilia looked away, thinking furiously. The castles? 

“You didn’t hear it from me, Emilia. But I would keep some of your assets…liquid. And just in case, be more careful about any Scouts that come to Cidala. Something doesn’t seem right with them.” Zenith smiled, a bit forced. “But that’s all a problem for tomorrow you. Come on, we should go and do a few activities with everyone.”

Emilia realized why Zenith was being so cryptical. Trust.  It still didn’t help soften the blow of the news, but Zenith was right. That was something tomorrow’s Emilia would have to deal with. 

“So is Paige going to do the blessing tonight? Or at sunrise?”

“Don’t know. Tyler said he never stayed awake for them, so I really don’t know when it happens.” Zenith shrugged. “Whenever it is, I hope it’s soon. Markus needs to go to sleep soon.”

“Do you want me to ask about it?” I’m sure the Farmers won’t mind if we move the blessing forward.”

“Hmm…” Zenith shook her head after a moment. “No, it’s not my tradition, so I don’t really have a say in the matter. Paige has a set order for events for this, so I might as well let her have her fun. Still, what is the blessing about anyway?” She turned to go grab another drink from a nearby table.

“It’s a blessing of the land. A harvest goddess is chosen from the crowd and blesses the food, which in turn blesses the land.”

Something felt wrong to Zenith, but she couldn’t place what it was. “So why did Paige have to be the one to lead it?”

“Don’t know. Initially, the Queen would only choose Farmers, but she eventually left it up to the crowd to decide because so many people complained that they couldn’t be chosen. Are you okay, Zenith?” Emilia asked after seeing Zenith stumble.

“Yeah, yeah, I think so. I think Paige made everything a bit alcoholic,” she said after looking at her cup suspiciously.  “I need to go tell Markus not to drink anything Paige made. And maybe lie down for a bit.”

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