Cadet (Passed) Sir Thomas of His Sublime Majesty's Secret Service gripped this copy of the Mialath Herald ("under left arm, right, no, that's right, under the left arm") and hesitated before the Mid-Summer Festival Gate, a garlanded wicker arch leading to had been a commons, but was, for the next week, a tent and flower strewn field rigged for the Festival. It was his first time.
"This is your first time operational," my Supervisor had said, hours earlier. "Try dearly not to screw this up." He made me repeat the protocol, and for the tenth or hundredth time I droned mechanically:"I carry a Herald under my right arm wearing a hat with ostrich plume brim pinned up right side badge worn too high Herald under right arm package in fold the girl will find me if she's carrying a cambric shirt (really?) I give her the Herald follow her listen to what she's got to say calm her fears do whatever I need to do to keep her in place if she's wearing a sprig of thyme in her hair the meeting is off and I leave immediately."
Now, as twilight deepened, I stepped through the gate, bracing myself for the momentary queasiness that washes over us normal people when crossing into areas where there was magic, and magical creatures. As usual, I did not notice it and made a mental note of how devious those People were getting. I knew that if I looked overhead the stars I was familiar with would somehow be magically exactly the same. But I would not fall into that trap and did not look up.
The Fair was a riot of sounds, colors, scents that collided together, metaphorically and otherwise. It is charming, in its own peculiar way, a chance for us and Them to fraternize, tolerated by our King, although strictly off the books. You could look right at one of Them and not know it, not until later, by a lingering sense that you encountered something special, something out of the ordinary.
More important for my purposes, the Fair was an opportunity to contact one of our own, or one of Theirs who had been turned or blackmailed, I was not told. What the package was I did not know, but my main purpose seemed to be to hold her hand, she was jumpy, nervous, wanted to get away from her internal exile.
I was given no particular instructions on how I was to be found. So I wandered through the Fair, watching dancing bears, dancing people, musicians, jugglers, mimes, poets, singers, storytellers (a particularly evil lot) all of whom looked exactly like what they were supposed to be.
Long after dark, when the torches and bottled fireflies began to dim, I noticed a bewitchingly attractive young woman staring at me. Carrying a cambric shirt. With a puzzled frown. After a few awkward seconds, I switched the Herald to my other arm, gave the paper and package to her, and followed her into the darkness.