A Special Day (Ban & Elaine) – Part II
That morning, Benwick Forest was as lush and bright as ever, under a near-spring sun that shone through a cloudless sky. Ban inhaled with delight as he stepped out of the Great Tree, his home, and made his way into the green. If he had to be honest, he would never have imagined having such a life, nor in his wildest dreams. A wonderful woman, a lovely son, and a kingdom at his feet. Though without too many humans, of course.
At that thought, the big man chuckled to himself and shook his head. Despite everything, and no matter how many years had passed, Ban had to admit that he still stood by his maxim regarding his relations with other creatures: with humans, for better or worse, he didn’t quite get along. Still, he had not been able to refuse when, a few months ago, after meeting Meliodas in his new home, Meliodas had insisted on having good relations between their respective realms. That included, on the other hand, allowing humans to enter Benwick to trade. It was only after Elaine’s loving insistence that the king of that half-breed universe had finally decided to give in.
Perhaps, therefore, Ban should not have been at all surprised when his eye caught sight of a chariot, surrounded by the din, a few yards to the north of his path. Unhurriedly, the king slowly walked toward it, though he must have assumed that all activity would cease as suddenly as it did when he made his appearance in the small clearing.
“Your Majesty!” cried a fairy.
“King Ban!” said another, “What are you doing here? What an honour!”
The alluded one smiled, polite only out of habit at such boasts, but without losing the sight of the incredulous merchant perched beside the huge cart crammed with junk.
“King.–Ban?” he muttered, in a tone so low that he thought he almost didn’t hear him right.
However, the taller human suppressed a sardonic smile at the question; he took a couple of steps forward and greeted the vendor with a nod.
“Greetings, merchant. Beautiful day, ain’t it?”
The other human, almost of ridiculous size in comparison, stared at him, gasping for several seconds as if he didn’t know what to answer right off the bat.
“Oh, er–Yes, of course,” he replied, at last, putting his hand immediately to his hat in greeting, smiling sheepishly. “Good morning, your Majesty. It is an honour to have you here.”
Ban restrained the urge to roll his eyes. After his recent appointment as monarch, he still hadn’t managed to shake off the discomfort he felt when people tried to flatter him, no matter the context. However, after counting to five in his mind, the king merely flashed a half-smile that was meant to be conciliatory and took a step closer, hands in his pockets, his attitude nonchalant.
“I can’t stay long, salesman,” Ban assured him, not raising his voice but in a slightly friendlier tone. “I just passed by to see if you had any merchandise suitable for a child barely a year old.”
The merchant gave him a quick, intrigued glance, though it did not escape the monarch’s keen perception. Nevertheless, the monarch merely kept his manner as kind as possible while the merchant finished understanding what he was asking of him.
“Oh, well–yeah, I guess I’ve got something here! What were you thinking of?”
Ban snorted to himself, pondering. He was looking for a gift for Lancelot, and the idea had come to him almost without thinking, but in truth, he wasn’t sure what he could give his baby that came from human materialism. Still, he shouldn’t have been surprised when the more human part of him took control of his tongue and responded:
“Well, I don’t know, I confess. I just wanted to bring back a doll or a fun toy for my son.” When the merchant’s face unhinged in understanding, Ban excused himself with a smile of genuine ignorance. “Sorry, I’m no expert in these parts of parenthood yet–“
However, after hearing that, it was as if all of the merchant’s misgivings vanished in a flash. On the contrary, his eyes glowed with interest before he exclaimed:
“Oh, of course, please let me help you then!”
Then, without giving the human monarch time to do or say anything, the peddler turned back to the wagon. Afterwards, he shoved almost half his body into the side of it, all the while rummaging around. After several minutes of tossing items behind him, the little man let out a small cry of triumph and poked his head out of the wagon, wearing a wide grin and holding a bundle of cloth in his hands.
“Aha, here it is!”
To the bigger surprise of the other human present and the morbid attention of the fairies milling around them both, the vendor then held out the soft doll to the king of Benwick. The latter assessed it curiously: there was nothing special about it. It had little button eyes sewn into a round, puffy, straw face. The body was made of different scraps, from neck to limbs. However, its roundness and softness made it seem more adorable than it looked at first glance. Perhaps that was why Ban was quick to make up his mind.
“All right, I’ll take it,” he said. The merchant nodded, “How much are you asking for it?”
“Oh,” he seemed surprised. “Please, your Majesty. You don’t owe me anything–“
Ban frowned without acrimony before shaking his head.
“Please. I don’t want privileged treatment, merchant. We’re not like that here.”
Seeing that the man still hesitated, Ban sighed and looked in his pockets. He still kept some money from his time in Lyon if he needed to leave the Forest or send an errand fairy to the mortal world, but it had been almost two years since he’d paid anything in cash. Just this once–
“There, here you go,” he said, tossing the vendor two silver coins. “I hope that’s enough.”
Ban held back his amusement with difficulty. Be that as it may, he didn’t expect to bargain, and he proved it by turning and heading back toward the Forest. Human to human, and despite the difference in circumstances, Ban knew what it could cost to earn a day’s wages in his old world.
“Thank you very much!”
He said goodbye, leaving the stunned merchant in the middle of the clearing but feeling that he had done the right thing. However, he also took the opportunity to add cheerfully.
“Oh, and–Welcome to Benwick, merchant!”
“Come on, Lance! Come on. You can do it!”
At Jericho’s umpteenth expression of encouragement that morning, Lancelot scrunched his face into a concentrated grimace as he lifted his little foot again and set the sole tentatively on the grass.
“You’re doing very good, honey,” Elaine congratulated him, not losing her patience. “Come on, now the other one.”
Lance tightened his grip but made an effort to lift his weight onto his opposite leg while his mother pulled his little hands up and helped him without violence to keep his balance.
“That’s it! Now, come to Auntie Jericho,” called his godmother, squatting barely six feet away, opening her hands. “Come!”
The boy watched her with something that looked like caution before finally perking up and trying to take a step forward. With the first one, he had no trouble, nor with the second. However, on the third step, Lancelot stumbled unintentionally and fell back to his knees on the soft ground. Since his mother was still holding him by his tiny wrists, the blow wasn’t too bad. Nevertheless, a few tears of tantrum immediately sprang to the little boy’s face, and the two women present rushed to cradle him in their arms.
“Lance. Come on, my love. It’s alright,” Elaine whispered. “You’re doing great–“
“Yes, come on, you’re taking more steps!” Jericho tried to comfort him.
However, there seemed to be no way human or fairy to get the little fellow to stop pouting, at least for several minutes. Even less so when they gently invited him to try again; in fact, Lancelot rolled over as he had rarely done in his life and even kicked in his mother’s arms, heedless of any reason other than his stubbornness not to keep trying.
Elaine sighed and exchanged a look with Jericho that showed some impatience. Before the human girl could say anything, however, a cheerful voice could be heard from the doorway, soothing the spirits of everyone in the room in a second.
“Hello! I’m back!”