I’d like to take a moment to wish everyone Happy Valentines Day!
Whether you consider it an elaborate marketing ploy to make people spend money on expensive presents, candy, and jewelry, or a day to celebrate an undying love or budding romance, or the celebration of St. Valentinus’ efforts to unite couples in love despite persecution by the Romans, or even the modern version of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus (the Roman god of agriculture) celebrated at the ides of February – February 15 – with the sacrificing of a goat for fertility and a dog for purity, I hope you have a wonderful day.
I will be contributing to the celebrations in a very literary fashion, with an excerpt from my submission to the upcoming annual Ink Slingers Guild anthology. The story is called “Love Potions Sold Separately”, and I thought it was fitting for this day. Enjoy!
Maggie Baker dusted the flour from her hands, and pulled the next tray of raspberry filled cupcakes out of the oven. Spooning vanilla glaze over them before they were cool so it would soak into the cupcakes, she smiled at the burly man with the ginger beard waiting patiently for her to finish.
“Sorry, I’ll be right with you, Mr. Miller,” she said.
“Not a problem, Miss Maggie,” the man said. “It’s a week until First Days, and you’re the best baker in a hundred leagues. Everyone’s looking forward to the Festival Feast.”
Maggie laughed, set the cupcakes on the bench, and came over. He had brought a dozen bags of flour. She paid him, and he tipped his hat as he walked out. Mr. Miller passed Old Tom, who came all the way from the city of White Wall to buy her baked goods. More from Droll, Mundy and even as far away as Troppers had been in and out for the past week, and they wouldn’t stop coming until the Festival was over.
The Festival itself culminated in a dance on the first day of spring. The whole town was in a fervor of delight. Maggie would prefer to stay curled up in her favorite comfy chair with a good book, and a hot cup of tea. However, everyone expected cakes, cookies, and sweets for First Days. However, she always saw to her own first, and she grabbed the basket near the door and she hurried down the street.
It was springtime. The weather was fair, the skies blue, the air fresh. The pink and white ribbons tied in the trees danced in a stiff breeze, waving merrily to all who passed. Down the streets, baskets of bright flowers adorned doorways, windows and lampposts. Banners sewn with hearts or couples dancing hung on walls.
It was festive, brimming with positive energy, good hopes and love. Maggie returned people’s cheery greetings with a polite smile and a nod, and breathed a sigh of relief when she let herself into the cool florist’s shop. A bell greeted her.
“Maggie, is that you?” a voice called from somewhere in the green.
“Yes!” she called back as she made her way through the rainbow of daisies, carnations, roses, sunflowers, bluebells, daffodils, petunias and the rare leopard lilies that appeared only for a few brief weeks at the start of spring.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here!” William, the florist’s eldest son rounded the corner, bouquets under each arm. “Do you have them?”
“Why else would I be here?” Maggie asked, holding out the basket of vanilla cookies with a painstaking white and pink floral icing tracery around the edges.
“Those are beautiful,” William said, examining one then taking a large bite. “And delicious.”
“Don’t eat them all, or you won’t have any left for your customers,” Maggie scolded.
“Who?” William asked as he took another cookie, eyes wide and innocent.
Maggie rolled her eyes. “Fine, eat them all if you want, but those took me hours last night to make, and I don’t have time to make you more.”
“Right, the Festival Feast,” William said. “Are you going?”
“The whole town is going,” Maggie said noncommittally, caressing the velveteen petals. “Oh, and I need to pick up the bouquet I ordered for the bakery. The First Days Table looks so bare without it.”
He left and came back a moment later with a bouquet of roses and carnations, layers of purple, white, pink and little yellow chrysanthemums that couldn’t help but cheer someone up.
“It’s lovely,” Maggie said.
“Oh, and I almost forgot. You haven’t gotten a corsage yet,” William said. “I saved one for you.”
He held out a delicate ring of pink and white flowers tied together with silver ribbon. Two tiny silver bells were twined into the intricate bow.
“Thank you Will,” she said, her eyebrows rising in surprise. “That was very thoughtful. How much do I owe you?”
“It’s no bother,” William said with a shrug, and smiled. “Consider it a florist’s dozen.”
Maggie laughed. “Alright.”
“So you’re busy then?” William said, as he took a cookie, wrapped in sheer white paper, and tied it around a huge collection of flowers with red ribbon. “What can we look forward to at the Feast this year?”
“Um, I thought about apple and pear tartlets, chocolate eclairs, cheese and honey bread, strawberry crepes, spice rolls with caramel pecans…” Maggie continued to list the desert menu of the First Days Festival Feast as he continued putting the cookies in the bouquet, ending by arranging the flowers just so, putting an orange monstrosity with black speckles on the outer petals in the middle, and adjusted the ring of tiny white baby’s breath around it.
“That sounds amazing, I’ll save room to try it all. Now, what do you think?” he asked, taking a step back so he was standing next to her to survey his handiwork.
“It’s beautiful,” Maggie lied.
“It’s atrocious,” William said, pulling a face at the overdone arrangement. “But that’s Dame Manning for you. For someone so self-important, her taste leaves a bit to be desired.”
“Oh, that reminds me!” Maggie said, a slight panic as she realized she was cutting it very close. “I’m supposed to bring her a cake for her First Days’ party tomorrow!”
“Okay,” he said. “I…”
“Bye Will!” she called as she ran out of the florist. “I hope she likes the bouquet!”
You can look for the whole story in November 2016 in the ISG’s fifth annual anthology (yet to be named).
❤ ❤ ❤ DragonBeck