Chapter 8 – A small gift
The salesman was old, but with a friendly face and frizzed white hair. His beard was pointy-trimmed, and he wore small golden glasses. He was tidying up several shelves when she came in. As soon as he heard the bell, he turned and faced her over his glasses. If someone else had been present, it would have been hard to discern who was most surprised.
“Can I help you, Miss?” He greeted her without further ado.
Elaine bit her lip, chickening out at the drop of a hat. However, she soon acknowledged that the old man meant no harm to her. He was just astonished to have customers so early in the day.
“I am sorry for the possible intrusion, good man,” she politely excused herself, swallowing her nerves as if she had an iron ball stuck in her throat. “But I need to make an urgent gift, and it could not wait any more.”
The elder’s surprise gave rise to some understanding, while a more relaxed grimace took over his face; as he came down from the stool and approached it, his arms laden with books.
“Well, you seem like a nice girl,” he said, softening a bit his tone in a blink. “So I’ll help you. What are you looking for?”
“Oh, you are so kind!” She cheerfully thanked him without being able to contain herself. “The truth is that I was looking for–a notebook. If you have one, of course”.
The salesman raised an eyebrow, somewhat suspiciously.
“A notebook–“, he repeated, not knowing very well what to think about it.
However, Elaine detected it immediately:
What is a girl doing at this hour around here, looking for a notebook to give away?
But she remained stoic and nodded with conviction.
“It’s for my boyfriend,” she added with unfeigned candour. “I wanted to surprise him. Some time ago he had one–” she explained, trying to hide the pain of the memories in the depths of her being. “But he lost it in a fire years ago and–I would like to give him another one. It was very precious to him.”
At that simple statement, as Elaine imagined, his heart seemed to light up in its turn.
So, deep down, love can touch other human hearts, the fairy noted in her mind.
“It’s a very thoughtful present, my dear,” said the old man, still overcome with emotion. “Alright,” he said then. “Come, come with me.”
Elaine, knowing that the man had no bad intentions, obeyed. The bookseller then led her to a counter located just to the right of the small establishment. Of course, the fairy opened her eyes like plates when she saw what was on display.
There wasn’t much variety, to be true. However, the notebooks were sewn and engraved with such care that Elaine almost shuddered. Unwillingly, she remembered the worn-out book that Ban had given her during their first week together. Noticing her heart shrinking with emotion, the fairy woman threw her hands forward and, almost without thinking, chose one of them. It was made of reddish leather and had a cup engraved right in the middle of the cover, surrounded by a simple filigree that reached into the corners.
“Do you like that one?” asked the old, friendly man.
Elaine did not respond immediately. Before that, as she had seen Ban do once when they went shopping, she took a discreet look at the money she was carrying. Would that be enough? Elaine was somehow naive still, but not stupid. And she knew that she had to be careful not to get ripped off, no matter the importance of the gift. Dating a former bandit, in some ways, had its advantages–
“It’s very nice, although I suspect it’s a bit over budget,” said the fairy honestly.
However, when she went to put it back on the table, the salesman stopped her without violence; making the younger one face him, surprised.
“What’s the matter?” She asked softly.
The seller gave her a clean look.
“If you want the notebook, it’s yours,” he assured her, for her immediate surprise. “Pay me what you have, and it should be enough.”
Elaine hesitated, noticing that her pulse was beginning to race. She did not detect any deception in the salesman; instead, a benevolent intention and a desire that someone would finally take those works. Which, as the fairy later observed in amazement, he had sewn himself. However, as she also saw, those products were not something that people coming and going from Oban sought to take with them, not even the ship captains for their logs. There were other cheaper and more affordable methods of keeping records, so those delicate hand-sewn notebooks had been around for a long time.
“I–” Hesitated the fairy, before embracing the notebook almost instinctively. “That’s very kind of you.” The girl lowered her hand and pulled the four silver coins she had brought with her from the fold of the cloak. “This is what I carry. I hope it’s enough.”
The elder, for his part, opened his eyes wide. At least, before accepting only two of the coins with a strange mixture of feelings.
“But–” She tried to protest.
He, for his part, silenced her with a gesture.
“Believe me, I cannot accept so much money for a humble notebook,” he assured her, smiling a little more than before.
As precious as it may be to me, he added in his mind.
“Go and take this gift to your boyfriend, go on.”
The girl, recovering from the surprise, nodded her cheeks in agreement.
“Thank you very much!”
The man returned a new smile of understanding.
“By the way–your boyfriend is indeed a blessed one”.
Just before leaving the shop, Elaine turned around, questioning, after hearing again the salesman speak. And her face turned the colour of scarlet when he added, with a half funny smile, before she almost ran out of the bookstore.
“Not everyone is lucky enough to have a fairy hanging on their arm, am I wrong?”
The sun had already peeped through the horizon when Elaine arrived, panting, at the door of her bedroom, a few minutes later. The hustle and bustle of the city were increasing by the minute. The market stalls opened their doors, the women went to the laundry room, and the sailors began to hawk their wares at the fish market. Elaine took a deep breath before finally going in. She didn’t know if Ban had woken up yet. But still, she feared that once her identity was out, someone would chase after her and rip her wings off or worse, just as they had done with her companions. With a racing heart and a sudden irrational fear running through her veins, the young fairy was also unsure about how she would feel if Ban discovered her before-time. However, the bandit seemed to have just woken up at that very moment, given his drowsy face and the way he blinked. Seeing her appear at the door, Ban glanced at the empty sheets beside him. Then he looked up at her, disoriented.
“Elaine?” He asked, hoarse. “What’s going on? What–time is it? Whatcha doin’…?”
“It’s all right, Ban. Don’t worry,” she hurried to reassure him, closing behind her and cautiously hiding the book in an inside pocket of the cape. “I had to leave for a moment before you woke up, but I’m here now.”
However, she should have expected some of his reaction. His eyes opened wide, his torso straightened out on the bed along its entire length and the fear of what might have happened to her, alone in the street, crystallized in front of Elaine’s mind as if she were reading an open book. In time, the young woman saw that he was opening his mouth to say something. But of course, Ban closed it again and pressed his lips together when she raised an eyebrow. Giving him a hint that, first, Elaine knew what he was thinking; and, second, she didn’t agree with him at all.
“I know what you were gonna say,” she warned him, without anger, before throwing her hands behind her back in feigned innocence and taking the notebook between her fingers. “But believe me. In my opinion, you’re going to thank me for doing it.”
Deep down, Elaine felt very touched by Ban’s concern for her, which bordered on madness; but on the other hand, she felt somewhat constrained – she was an adult, wasn’t she? And she was far more mighty than most of those around her. A simple gesture of the hand and the problem was solved. Putting aside the feeling she had a few minutes before about feeling observed and persecuted, the fairy stood by the bed and waited for his reaction.
For his part, Ban still seemed somewhat reluctant to let his thoughts go just beyond Elaine’s inner vision. Nevertheless, as soon as the fairy woman pulled the gift from her back with a strange shyness, Ban’s face suddenly unravelled. Furthermore, he effortlessly forgot any possible reproach or scolding he had thought about at the last minute.
“Elaine–” he mumbled when he thought he could vocalize again, alternating his scarlet eyes between her face and the leathery notebook. “What the–?”
For her part, the fairy woman gently put two fingers to his lips before he said anything else. Then she smiled, feeling her cheeks light up unavoidably.
“Let’s say I saw a small bookstore yesterday, and I thought–I don’t know “ Somehow suddenly embarrassed, Elaine bit her lip and bent her face almost to hide it under her blonde hair. “When we met, it was something important to you, and you got me interested–So, I thought that–Well, you’d like it–That you and I–”
Elaine could not finish the sentence; from one moment to the next, Ban drew her closer and blocked her lips with a kiss that made her shudder all over. Knowing that he needed no more words, Elaine let herself be kissed and held her fingers over the snowy back of his neck, almost self-conscious about the intensity of feelings she perceived running through Ban’s body at that moment. Gratitude, passion, desire, emotion–
“Elaine,” he whispered after a long minute when they parted to take a breath, as he focused on the glossy red notebook without yet believing it. “Oh, goddesses. You are the greatest treasure of my life, no doubt,” he whispered in her ear. “Thanks, my love.”
She smiled sweetly before parting and facing his excited face.
“Do you want us to start with the beers from yesterday?” She suggested, looking at him intently.
Ban laughed and hugged her.
“Of course. But first–” Without warning, the human pulled her at that moment towards the sheets; Elaine only emitted a small cry of surprise and then burst out laughing. All before any sound got silenced by a new dance from their intertwined lips. Ban was excited, but also eager to return the favour in a way that made the girl tremble with anticipation from head to toe. “Let me thank you for the gift properly, alright? I won’t be tasting just beer on this trip–“
The fairy’s only response to this was to grab his nape, burning on the inside, before luring him back to her and letting herself be stripped naked. The two lovers then entangled their bodies on the hard mattress between sweet and tender gasps, moans and passionate kisses. The love lasted several minutes that became too short before both fell, naked and relaxed between the sheets, almost as they had started the morning. Without hurry, they talked and laughed hugging each other until their stomachs protested from hunger. Only then did they both decide that it was time for breakfast. Without hesitation, Ban got dressed and went down to the tavern almost before Elaine decided to get out of bed, returning five minutes later with a basket full of food under her arm. Two more gleaming bottles of beer appeared between the meals.
So the two lovers had breakfast in bed on their third morning of travel while drinking beer, regaining their strength and, by the way, putting the first labels on the shiny travel log. Simultaneously, both thought about the route to follow to get as many stickers as possible and thus fill up the precious volume. Because now, together and happy after so long–who was in a hurry to get back into the routine?