Chapter 5:

What a Lovely Night

ZAUBER: the thread that binds us

 The man laughed.

"I'm Leothulf, by the way," he introduced himself, before blowing an air kiss to his wife. "And this is my lovely, beautiful, wonderful Irmina."

The smile on Paltar's face was frozen. It was almost too much to handle for him. Once, he had imagined his future like this... but then, Satsuki had broken up with him. Why did it still hurt, even though it was a lifetime ago? He couldn't say. But he knew that he couldn't bear to see this perfect couple any longer.

"So, what will it be for you and your feathered companion?" The innkeeper laughed. "We have soup if you're craving hot food, or a nice big plate of bread and bread rolls, freshly baked, with all the toppings you can think of!"

"The bread sounds great," Paltar said quickly. "We’ll share one, thanks."

Even though he felt like he was starving, most of all he wanted to get out of this conversation.

"Oh, how sweet," Leothulf beamed at him.

He glanced at Nanna.

"Are you cursed, or is this your chosen form?" he asked.

"I'm cursed, of course," she hissed back.

"Ah, I'm terribly sorry. With the amount of magical folk we get in here, you never know."

Then, he waved and turned.

"I'll be back with your food as soon as I can. Enjoy your time here!"

And before he was even three steps away from them, he called out: "Mausi, one big dinner bread plate, please!"

"Coming right up," she said as he closed the distance between them and kissed her on the cheek.

Paltar felt a little sick.

"This is too much," Nanna grumbled next to him.

"But we shouldn't be rude," he sighed as they made their way over to one of the few empty tables.

"Oh, please." If she could roll her eyes, Paltar was sure she would. "You're just as annoyed with them as I am."

He nodded slightly. Calling his emotional state 'annoyed' was putting it nicely, he thought. 'Deeply hurt' or 'jealous' would probably be more accurate.

He watched Nanna. She looked annoyed herself, but was there more to it? But after all the mistakes he had already made today, he didn't dare to ask such a private question. Instead, he opted for a non-comment.

"It's just... too much, isn't it?" he whispered.

Once, he had imagined Satsuki and himself like this. Now, he knew better. Still, the sting inside of him was dulled a bit by the way these two seemed so genuine. It almost gave him the feeling that romantic love was real. It was just not meant for him. And he had made his peace with that. It was better than having his heart broken again. The smile on his face began to hurt. He felt Nanna's eyes on him.

"Overwhelming," she agreed. "They should know that most people won't be as lucky as they are..."

She shook her head.

"What about you?" Paltar couldn't help but ask.

He closed his mouth, but the question was already out in the world. Nanna glared at him, but something in her eyes was different. Hardened.

"It's not like I have a choice..." Her voice trailed off just as Leothulf appeared beside them.

"Enjoy your meal," he beamed, and placing a large oak platter on the table between them. "Let me know if you need anything else!"

He turned around to serve the other guests. Paltar looked at the feast before him, and his stomach growled. He hadn't realized how hungry he actually was until he saw the beautifully arranged food piled on top of the board. Not only were there different kinds of bread, some wheat, some whole grain, and some darker varieties he didn't even know. Next to the bread, there was a nice dollop of soft butter in the shape of a four-leaf clover, garnished with a sprig of parsley. There were also slices of various sausages and ham, that made his mouth water. There were even some boiled eggs on the side for them to enjoy.

"Perfect," Nanna said. "Now, hurry up and prepare it for me. I'm starving!"

Paltar sighed. So much for digging right in.

"As you wish, Your Highness," he replied.

"Are you mocking me?"

She glared at him as he took a piece of bread topped with sunflower seeds in his hand. It must be quite difficult to live her life, without having proper hands. He shouldn't make fun of her.

"Of course not, Your Highness," he said.

At least, not too much fun. He buttered the bread and put a piece of smoked ham on it. It took most of his willpower not to eat it himself. Instead, he held it out to her.

"Happy now?"

"Fine," she mumbled.

And within seconds, she had devoured the whole slice, sending sunflower seeds flying everywhere. The sight of it was too funny.

"Watch your manners, princess," he laughed.

"How about you give me some more, instead?" she shot back.

Paltar laughed, and shook his head. He certainly didn't want to cause a scene. So what choice did he have but to comply with the princess' wishes? He picked up another slice, this time of a dark brown variety.

"This is nice and all," he said, "but we still need to get a room for the night."

He gave her the next slice as well.

"Mmmh," Nanna replied, her beak full of bread. "Just ask those lovebirds about their rooms. Even better if they have two for us to rent."

He glared at her.

"We don't have enough money for two rooms," he said.

She shook her head.

"Whatever, then," she muttered.

Finally, he got to make his own slice. As the different flavors mixed in his mouth, he got up and walked over to the counter. He only looked back once, to see Nanna already bent over the plate. He hadn't known her for very long, but he was sure that there wouldn’t be any food left for him once he returned to his seat. As he approached the couple, they were hugging again, and Paltar wasn't sure how to get their attention, when it was clearly on each other. But their smiles were so soft that he couldn't be too mad at the sight.

"Excuse me," he said with a smile that was much more confident than his nerves, "How much is a room?"

That got their attention. The two looked at each other for a moment before finally leting go of their embrace. Irmina came over to him, polite regret written all over her face.

"I'm sorry," she said, "But we're all booked for the night."


Paltar didn't know what to say. This was bad. What should they do now? He didn't want to sleep out in the open, especially not in the forest. Aside from all the insects that would surely feast on him and prevent a good night's rest, he couldn't imagine what horrors stalked the woods at night—and he didn't want to find out. The woman must have seen the defeated look in his eyes, for something softened in her expression.

"But you could sleep in the hayloft, if you don't mind. The horses make pretty good neighbors," she said. "It's warm enough, and better than spending the night outside."

"Thank you!" Paltar couldn't help smiling at her. "That would be great."

He grinned at her again before going back to tell Nanna the good news. As he had feared, the wooden plate was almost empty when he returned. Only a small piece of bread and a thin apple slice remained. Behind it all, Nanna looked as guilty as she could—which wasn't much.

"You took too long," she hurried to explain before he could say anything. "And I was starving."

"Not anymore, I guess," he sighed. "We can stay in the hayloft."

"The hayloft? That's-"

"Better than sleeping outside on the ground, isn't it?" He interrupted her grumbling.

"I mean..."

She certainly didn't have a good argument against that.

"Hayloft it is, then," he decided. "You'll sleep well enough."

Then, he blinked. He could understand a princess having a higher standard of living, but right now, Nanna looked as far away from a princess as possible.

"How did you live your life as a goose, anyway?"

"That's private," she hissed.

He grinned at her, and even without saying another word, it was enough for her to fly up at him.

"I am a princess," she hissed at him, "and you will not treat me like this! I-"

He caught her in his arms, holding her beak shut.

"Stop it," he hissed in her ear. "Do you want everyone to know who you are?"

Didn’t she see how dangerous that was? For a moment, her protests grew, before she finally calmed down.

"Sorry," he said as she glared at him.

He released her, and she quickly flew back to her seat and preened her feathers. Paltar looked around, but no one seemed to mind the strange pair. So, he took the last piece of bread, enjoying the taste as much as he could as it seemed to melt in his mouth. Then, for dessert, he ate the apple slice. It was surprisingly sweet, with a slightly tart note that left a tingling sensation in his mouth. But even though he wanted to pick up the last crumbs, he stopped when Leothulf came around to take the plate away.

"You can go up to the hayloft whenever you want," he said with his ever-present smile.

"Thank you," Paltar replied, before hesitating. "And... about the price..."

"Two Pfennig, including breakfast tomorrow," he said.

A wave of relief washed over Paltar. At least, he could afford it. He took the two coins out of his purse and put them on the table. Leothulf took them, before the gravitational pull of love urged him back to his wife. "Good night, then," he called out to them.

Paltar nodded weakly. Suddenly, he felt very tired.

"Let's go," Nanna nudged his side. "Or you will have to carry me."

The hayloft was filled with the smell of the night air and dried hay. Below them, Paltar could hear the soft snorting of the horses, but up here, it was almost like a little paradise. It was still warm up here, even with the light breeze coming from outside. Nanna wasted no time and made herself comfortable in the hay.

"Good night, Paltar," she murmured and rested her head between her wings. Soon, there was not a sound to be heard from her.

"Good night," he whispered back.

She looked so fragile like this. But then he shook his head, stretched, and got to work. With the day as chaotic as it had been, he hadn't sewn anything. But now, as he picked up his needle and thread, he finally felt right. It even reminded him of his childhood, imagining all the dresses he would make while hiding with the animals. He smiled at the memory. Finally, he could work on something he truly loved.

He didn't want to take too much from the original dress—a bow here, a layer of ruffles there—but fortunately, he didn't need much. Nanna's body was small enough that the most complicated part was concentrating on the fine seams that held the outfit together. Paltar didn't know how long he had been working, but at some point, he must have fallen asleep.

"Is that for me?!"

Nanna's cries of delight woke him up.