The morning came all too soon when Drina felt a few taps on her foot. Grumbling, she rolled to the opposite guard of the bed.
“Give me a few more minutes, Ocian.”
It was a sleepless night for Drina, Hestar’s lips were the only dreams she could conjure. It made for a very uncomfortable night and she regretted not spending the extra coin to sleep in a separate bed. Not that it bothered her to share with Ocian since she was the only family she had left. Drina’s single wish was solace from her pent-up tension.
“My, what a sleepy head. If you keep on, you’ll miss midday.”
Startled awake, Drina shot up and reached under the pillow for her dagger out of reflex. She was expecting her sister's sweet, innocent voice but was met with the ragged and aged tone of an elderly woman. The hostel owner Lulu stood at the foot of the bunk with arms crossed, Ocian smiling beside her.
“This little one has been up for hours now, helping around while waiting for you. Poor thing is hungry but wouldn’t eat until you're up. I don’t usually offer this to guests, but I made lunch for you both. On the house as a thank you for Ocian's help, but the next meal will cost you.”
Drina pulled her hand away from her weapon and rubbed at her eyes. She turned to see the bright afternoon sky with dismay. Why didn’t Ocian wake her up sooner?
“You didn’t have to do that, we brought food to eat.”
Lulu waved her off dismissively. “Nonsense. We will be in the common room when you are up and at it.”
She chuckled light-heartedly, patting Ocian on the back as she passed by. Drina watched her, waiting until Lulu was out of earshot before inching to the edge of the bunk. Narrowing her eyes with concern, she mouthed, “Are you doing ok?”
In return, Ocian grinned widely, checking around before leaning in to whisper in their mother tongue.
“It’s ok, I helped her cook it and no one is around. I’ll be safe until you join us.”
Her casual tone was no more comforting than Lulu's. They didn’t know anyone here and she was wandering about without Drina. Before Drina could lecture her, Ocian rushed out of the resting room. Flabbergasted, Drina flopped back down on the bed and stared at the roof. What has gotten into her?
Ocian was more energetic than usual. Though, Drina wasn’t one to talk because of her careless actions last night. Loosening up on her powers, kissing Hestar, and now Ocian roaming around alone while she was still sleeping? These were things she would never have done before. Was it because they were so close to escaping this country that she lowered her guard?
Propping up on her elbows, Drina looked over at Hestar’s empty bunk. It was neatly made along with the other beds. Everyone was already out and about with their day, leaving the room quiet and relaxed. For a brief moment, it all felt nice. A welcomed pace after months of uncertainty.
With a huff, she got up and grabbed her bag to pull out soap and some fresh garments. Drina and Ocian mostly wore one outfit while traveling with only one set of spare clothes. Any more and it would be difficult to carry or keep safe. It helped that the hostel had a place to wash their clothes if they needed.
For now, her outfit was good enough to head down to the festival to look for work. Although Drina had enough for the boat fair stashed in a hidden pocket, earning a few more wouldn’t hurt. Maybe she could score enough to replace a few pieces of clothes, too. Ocian’s were starting to fray even after the last time she sewed it up.
Finishing quickly in the washroom, Drina got dressed and made her way to the common room. The building was empty and a lot bigger than she realized. There were two hallways that connected to the hostel lobby. She walked past the front desk and spotted a door hidden behind a small nook leading to Lulu’s living quarters.
The common room was a lot smaller than the dorm. In the middle was a divider that separated the room. The left side held several couches lining the walls and a few chairs in the middle around a playing table. The right side had a few counters along the back with an oven to cook and small circular dining tables spread out. Ocian was already sitting at a table close by, her legs tucked underneath while resting her arms on the table to talk with Lulu. Patiently, she smiled and nodded to everything Ocian said, chuckling at her excitement.
Drina glanced at the couches, remembering Hester’s offer. Had she taken up the offer to follow joining her here, would they have stopped? Images popping into her mind made her face burn up. Rubbing the back of her neck, she rushed over to the table to take a seat.
A bulging plate of food sat before the chair, still steaming. Lulu had cooked two full grilled sausages, a heaping pile of egg rice, and a baked yam. Drina’s stomach growled at the sight of it. When was the last time she had a fully cooked meal besides the dried lizard jerky? They were the easiest to catch and made simple meals on the road.
Without a word, Drina excitedly grabbed her fork and knife and cut into the sausage. The moment it hit her mouth, the flavor took over. It was juicy, tender, and easy to chew. She moaned with delight. Hardly finished chewing, she shoved her mouth full of rice before swallowing it all. Taking the glass of fresh water, she guzzled it down, then grabbed a small dinner roll next to her plate and tore a chunk out of it.
Lula’s laughter filled the room and startled Drina. She forgot she was there while rudely scarfing down the meal.
“Both of you! The way you eat, it’s like you’ve never seen food before!”
Ocian giggled, watching Drina slowly chew her bread. “Drina makes us jerky from whatever she catches. It tastes dry and gritty. Sometimes we find berries or fruit but those are always bitter.”
Offended, Drina glared. With her mouth still full, she complained quietly. “You eat it though! Sorry, it’s not as good as this.”
Grumpily, she took another swig of the water. It was relieving to have something so fresh and not just from their bota water-skin. They laughed and although they meant well, the sting still hurt Drina. Turning back to her food, she shoveled a few more mouths full of rice and ate the rest of the sausage. Cutting into her yam, she caught Lulu watching, patiently waiting for her while she ate.
“Do you know anything about the festival in town?”
The smile on her face faded at the mention of it. “Yes, the Steaua Lunii festival. Did you come because of it?”
It wasn’t originally the reason to begin with, but after the events that transpired last night it wouldn’t hurt. Drina felt a little guilty that Hester was the cause for selfish reasons, but she also couldn’t shake the feeling of Scutum’s omen.
“At first no, we were only passing through towards the eastern ports. But, since we are here, I might as well find work.”
“How did you know about the festival?”
“One of the guests mentioned it when they came in.”
Ocian perked up. “Was it Hestar?”
Almost choking on her food, Drina sat up straight. “How did you..”
“I helped her make the beds. You were taking too long to wake up and I was bored. When she came to clean the bunk next to us, I wanted to help. ”
“The bunk next to you?” Lulu raised a brow suspiciously, slowly turning towards Drina. “You don’t say.”
“Yep! She asked me if I slept well and asked if my feet were sore from our travels. She’s really nice, and pretty too.” Ocian paused for a moment to think, “ Wait, when did you talk to her? She left before me and Lulu came to wake you up.”
“Yes, I’m also curious.”
Lulu crossed her arms, and leaned back into her chair. Her presence intimidated Drina, giving off a stern motherly look. As Drina’s cheeks burned, she pretended not to notice her deep soul searching eyes. They both knew no one stayed in the bunk beside them and Drina was incriminating herself.
“I uh.. She saw me last night and came to speak with me. She came in with a crowd shortly after Lulu showed us the way.”
“Hestar, that girl! Always sticking her nose where it shouldn’t be. I’ve told her to not bother guests when they arrive so late at night.”
“No, it's fine. I didn’t mind at all. We just talked, that's all.” Drina nervously chuckled, hoping to change the topic.
“Is that why you weren’t in the bunk when I was having a nightmare?” Ocian tilted her head with big curious eyes. Drina could see the pieces clicking together in her clever mind. With a heavy sigh, she leaned back into the chair.
“Yep. I didn’t want to wake you while we, uh, talked.”
Ocian frowned, clearly not happy with the lack of details. Before she could ask another question, Drina shot her a warning glare. It didn’t help that Lulu had the same vibe.
“You be careful of that one. She may be like a daughter to me, but she stirs up whirlwinds like the gods themselves!”
Rubbing her chin, Drina stared at the food left on her plate. It was a little too late for that. Hestar already did a hell of a job creating a storm and Drina was completely swept up in it overnight. Poking at her yam, she reminisced over the night and couldn’t help but grin. With a light shake of her head, Lulu uncrossed her arms to fold a cleaning rag in front of her.
“You're interested in the festival for work, what kind skills do you have?”
“I can do a little fortune telling.” Drina stuck a small piece of yam in her mouth causally. She didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.
Ocian bounced in her seat, excitement getting the best of her. “Not only that! She can also commune with the dead! She’s really good at it! One time she-”
“Ocian!” Drina slammed her fist to the table, then scanned the room to make sure no one came in. Slouching in the chair, Ocian apologized. “Sorry.”
With a sympathetic sigh, Lulu reached out to her shoulder to comfort her.
“It’s ok, child. You must not talk much about yourselves. You got carried away. It happens.”
Looking at Drina with an encouraging smile, she continued. “You will definitely be able to get work then. Most of the participants are also entertainers. But you must be careful, the town may accept the presence of gypsy’s during the festival, but once it is over you won’t be celebrated.”
Drina huffed with a frown. “I know. Being part of events will just put a target on our backs. Will we be safe enough to stay here a few nights longer?”
Giving a grand smile, Lulu reassured her. “It will always be safe here for Travellers. You have my word.”
It wasn’t much to trust the word of a stranger who she still hardly knew, but it was more than she’d ever been promised. “Thank you. Would you happen to know the person in charge? I’ll head out once I‘m done eating.”
Lulu stood up from the table, grabbing the water jug to refill it. “It seems that I just so happen to.”
With a smile, Drina nodded. At least she won’t waste much time. With the festival celebration lasting only a few days, maybe she could stop whatever danger was riding in the not-so-distant future.