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The bells rung once, then twice throughout the small village, followed by the slow, solemn beat of a drum. People gradually gathered, not wearing black, the traditional funeral colour, but an assorted array of bright colours ² a request from the deceased that they·d all been happy to comply with. The old brass bell rung once more in its tower and the drum beats faded into the morning mist as the last few people walked inside the graveyard, down the gravel path and stood in an almost rehearsed semicircle around the alter and freshly dug grave. The body of the young woman dressed in a white dress lay on the thick slab of equally white marble. Her arms were resting on her chest, her hands clasping a silver pendant that hung on an elaborate chain around her neck. Her eyes, of course, were closed, and from a distance, perhaps, she·d look as if she were only sleeping. Her long dark lashes fanned the pale skin of her cheek and her lips were frozen in a peaceful smile. Even in death, she was beautiful. A solemn looking man, dressed in bright greens, walked slowly to his wife·s body; the crowd parting wordlessly to let him pass. He planted a soft kiss upon her still cheek, rested a red rose over her clasped hands, and whispered something inaudible to everyone but himself and the corpse before he walked to the other side of the grave. He didn·t attempt to hide the silent tears that slowly ran from the corners of his eyes. A young girl followed, her twin brothers gripping on to each of her hands. The three of them were watched by everyone at the small ceremony before everyone else paid their respects. ´We are gathered here this morning to say goodbye to a dear friend, a loving wife and a devoted mother«µ the old priest·s deep voice slowly faded into the distance, carrying on the wind as it whispered away the mist. Almost an hour later, the ceremony was over, everyone had retreated to the widower·s house to offer their condolences and to share in fond stories from the past. They drank wine, but none of them had the heart to eat any of the sandwiches that were laid out on the coffee table in the middle of the open plan kitchen-living room. In one of the three bedrooms at the back of the single floored house, Wren sat on the floor, not wanting to participate in the Wake, but simply content to remember her mother her own way, as the person she knew. A soft knock on the wooden door brought her back from a particular memory she was seeking comfort in. She didn·t bother to stand to greet whoever it was; she didn·t feel like talking to anyone. But she did raise her head slightly in order to have a good view of the entrance. The door opened, and a tall man, just a few months older than her walked in. His skin was slightly tanned, which wasn·t surprising considering the amount of time he·d spent outside when he decided that school was too much for him. His arms were muscular under the white shirt he wore, proving that he hadn·t spent all of the last few years doing nothing. Dark auburn hair fell over his eyes, which were a light green colour. ´I wondered where you·d snuck off to.µ He said, sitting on the floor in front of her. He took his hands up to her face, brushed her hair away from her eyes and pulled the corners of her lips upwards, forcing a crude smile. ´It wouldn·t kill you to smile ² even if you faked it.µ Wren sighed, ´I don·t know what to do now. Mum·s gone« Dad·s more withdrawn than ever, spending all of his time at work. Everything was so clear before« But now it·s all« Blurred.µ ´Everything·s going to be fine, honest.µ She looked up at him, he was smiling but his eyes were filled with a sadness that made it clear that his words were as much to convince himself as they were for her. She 1.

forced a grin of her own, but they both knew her heart wasn·t in it, ´You·re right. Everything will work it·s self out.µ ´It will.µ He confirmed. He looked around her room, and noticed the suitcase that was still sitting on the floor in front of the window from where she·d left it the night before. ´How·s boarding school?µ ´It·s« Same. There·s not much to say.µ She paused, ´I·m not going back again; I know dad wants me to go back next week, but it·s not like the local school will kill me.µ Hunter laughed, ´I·ve survived so far.µ ´Yeah, but you only go in once a week ² of course it·s ok. But at the Academy, I can·t walk out whenever I feel like it.µ ´Anyway, here·s some good news. Toan said that he saw the travellers on their way up. He said they·d be here by tomorrow.µ The travellers came to Tay Vale twice a year. They earn their money by going from town to town performing various shows and sometimes selling rare items that always cost less than they were worth.