ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
For a moment, Paltar simply enjoyed the peace. He closed his eyes, and his breathing became calmer. The wind blew gently, ruffling his hair. It was peaceful. He wished they could stay like this forever.
"Well, enough of that!"
Nanna stood up and jumped on his belly with surprising force. Paltar made a choking sound and opened his eyes. Nanna's face was right in front of him.
"We must find the one who cursed me," she said.
Paltar blinked. What she said made sense, but how would they go about it?
"Where do we find this person, then?" he asked her.
She remained silent for a moment.
Paltar took a few deep breaths.
"You don't know, do you?" he asked with a grin.
"Well, do you?" she snapped back. "I’ve heard some rumors about a glittering mountain, but..."
"That sounds exhausting," he sighed. "And you don't know where this mountain is?"
Unlike her, he had never heard of such a thing. Where in the world could there be such a mountain?
"We won't get far if we stay here," she said. "So, you should probably get up."
"Not with you standing on my belly," he grumbled, picking her up.
"Let me go!"
"Sure thing, Your Highness."
With that, he let her go, and Nanna landed right on her butt, cushioned by tall grass and soft moss on the ground.
But she didn't say anything more. Paltar took the opportunity to get up and dust off his clothes. There were some stains on his pants and a tear in his shirt that he must have gotten during their escape. He sighed. This was his best outfit, the rest had probably been thrown away by Meister Folderich in a fit of spite. He had to take better care of his things.
"You will help me, right?" Her voice sounded somewhat uncertain. "A deal is a deal, right?"
Paltar blinked and focused on the goose sitting in the grass. She looked quite cute, with her legs stretched out and her head tilted back to look him in the eyes. He let out a small laugh.
"Of course," he replied, before she got the wrong idea.
"You better keep your word, tailor," Nanna said. "Or I will follow you to the ends of the earth."
"And we wouldn't want that to happen, would we?" He shouldered his bag. "Remember, you also have your part of the bargain to uphold. Keep your promises."
With that, he picked her up again, her weight familiar against his hip.
"I will," she said, squirming. "And let me go! I can walk perfectly fine by myself."
He let go of her, and Nanna flew into the trees before landing a few steps ahead of him.
"Don't you forget that I'm not just a human, but a princess," she scolded him.
"Of course, Your Highness." He made a mocking bow. "Then, lead the way, please."
"Hmph," she scoffed, but went ahead.
Paltar followed her, but he couldn't help but wonder: where exactly were they going?
But the thought didn't last long. It was the first time Paltar had been outside the town in a long time. Back when he had left his family's farm and wandered through the world, following the life threads that interested him most, it had been similar. But back then, he had been more interested in those threads than in the nature around him. Now, it was different. Where could a glittering mountain be hiding? Were they following the right lead, or were they chasing rumors? And, most of all, he still wondered how he had gotten into this mess.
He looked at Nanna. At the moment, there were very few clues as to her true nature. Without a flock, she looked strange, sure: but there was a confident stride in her waddle, something he had never seen in a bird before. Paltar couldn't help but smile. This was certainly the most interesting part of his life so far.
"So, uh," he said. "Do you know who cursed you? And why?"
He could think of a few things. An insulted witch, a mischievous creature, or even a magical object.
"I don't have to answer that," she shot back.
"Ah, I'm sorry," he said hastily. "That was... tactless."
After all, he didn't know how much pain this curse had caused her. It was probably a lot. After all, he couldn't imagine a life without hands - with his humanity stripped away, covered by feathers in a morbid display of mockery. Quickly, he avoided his gaze. Nanna remained silent, as was her right.
"It was a powerful wizard," she finally broke the silence.
"Ah. That makes sense," he mumbled.
It still didn't explain why she had been cursed. But it was better not to ask that question now, he thought.
"Come on, you're so slow!" she complained. "We have to find a decent place to spend the night. You have money with you, right?"
Yes, even though he could think of a few reasons for her to get cursed, he didn’t dare say them out loud. Instead, he chuckled, so quietly that she couldn't hear him.
"I have a little on me," he replied. "Just don't expect anything fancy, Your Highness."
He still wondered how they were going to find anything in these woods. Maybe there was an inn around somewhere, but how would they know?
"Ah. Hm." She walked a little faster. "That should be enough."
Above them, the sky had turned from bright blue to blazing fire colors of red, yellow and pink, bathing the trees around them in golden light. Soon, it would get cooler. And then, night would come. Paltar didn't want to be out in the open when he couldn't see the animals that could see him. They had to find a place to stay, and fast.
He took a deep breath. This was where his ability should come in handy. He unfocused his eyes, and slowly, he could see the threads around him unravelling. A faint thread already connected him to Nanna, its color a light beige. They had just met, after all. His own threads went out into the world, and as always when as he looked at them, a faint ache thrummed in his heart.
But there were other threads around them. He saw them everywhere in the world, as long as he was focused. And a strong bundle of them went straight ahead, almost as if they were following a road. Maybe they were, actually. He blinked, and concentrated on Nanna again. They were on the right track. Maybe he could find out more about her.
"So, have you met any other magical creatures before?" he asked.
After all, he had heard the legends all of his life, but Nanna was the first living one he had met. This was his first proof of the magic his mother had told him about.
"I'm not a magical creature," she corrected him. "Like I said, I'm a human, just like you. I just don't look like one right now."
"I'm sorry," he hastened to say. "But you know what I mean."
He hurried to keep up with her. He checked if they were still following the threads, but there was no inn to be seen yet. Nanna, on the other hand, kept her focus right in front of her. For someone who was only as tall as his knees, he could barely keep up with her.
"But it's not the same," she huffed. "I understand that you've never met a cursed person before, but you should at least try."
"I'm sorry," he said.
He really did manage to make one mistake after another, didn't he? Cautiously, he looked at her. Was she really angry? She looked at him, and huffed.
"Good," she replied.
Then, she flew up, and landed on his shoulders.
He grabbed her with both of his hands in a desperate attempt to regain his balance. Nanna, on the other hand, got comfortable.
"A fitting punishment," she laughed.
Somehow he managed to keep her wings out of his face, but he still couldn't see much of what was in front of him.
"I get it" he said, "I'll be more mindful in the future. I'm sorry, Your Highness."
Then, he looked at something in the distance. Even though the sky above them had darkened, there a yellow light shining. Paltar checked, and the place glowed with the life threads of many different people. Even the road looked like it had been traveled on.
"We did it," he whispered. "We really found an inn."
"Of course," Nanan replied. "Because I led us here. Come on, I don't want to walk any further than I have to."
She walked faster, as if energized by the sight before them. Soon the smell of warm food and beer wafted through the air, and Paltar could hear his stomach growling. He had't eaten anything since this morning. Soon, the smell was accompanied by the sound of well-fed guests laughing and chatting. The last few steps up to the door of the inn were both the fastest and longest of his life, and when Paltar opened the door, relief flooded him. A bell rang, and one person looked up to see the unlikely pair.
"Oh, another pair of travelers! Will you greet them, Hase?" called the small woman behind the counter.
"Of course, Mausi," replied a huge man standing next to a group of hooded customers.
Still, he went over to her first and kissed her on the forehead before actually going over to Nanna and Paltar, who watched the scene in stunned silence.
"Welcome, friends," he said with a broad grin on his face. "What can we do for you?"
Even without looking at their life thread, Paltar knew that these two were inseparable. The other guests were clearly used to this, because not one of them spared a glance at this interaction.
"Uuuuuhhh..." he managed to get out.
He stared at Nanna, who looked as confused as he felt. Could he really endure so much sugar-coated hospitality?