ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
Paltar awoke with the first rays of sunlight. During his sleep, Nanna must have freed herself from the dress. Now, she was laying on his chest with one wing spread over his shoulder. He smiled at her. She looked peaceful, and after all they had been through, she certainly deserved a good rest.
He wished he could sleep more, too, but even when he closed his eyes, he was too aware of her sleeping on top of him. It shouldn't bother him so much. No—she didn't bother him. It was the way his breath hitched, the way his heart started to race, the way he didn't dare to move a muscle. What would she think? He felt the heat creeping up his cheeks.
He was done with love. He knew that. But...
Quickly, Paltar shook his head, which elicited a grumble from Nanna. He exhaled slowly. Their friendship shouldn’t be ruined because of some fleeting feelings. After all, she only saw him as a friend, right? He was pretty sure that she wasn’t interested in romance, at all.
No matter how thin, there were so many threads connected to her, and he didn’t know their relationship with here. He shouldn’t assume things about her life. By know, he knew that.
A sigh escaped him. It didn't matter. Once she returned to her old life, free of her curse, they couldn't spend time together like this. She was a princess, after all. And he was just a simple tailor.
‘At least I'll be able to make nice clothes for her...’ he thought.
As if she could read his thoughts, Nanna woke up and blinked at him.
"Good morning." He smiled at her.
"It's morning already?" she mumbled and snuggled into his shirt.
Paltar tried not to move. Suddenly, the canopy of trees above them was the most interesting thing to watch.
"Yeah, I think so," he stammered. "See? It's getting brighter out there."
Between the giant trees, he could see hints of the wine-colored sky peeking out. Nanna would have no chance to fly so high. And Eo...
When he glanced at the boy, he was still sleeping soundly with the toy in his arms. Good. If he had left them in the night, Paltar didn't know what he would have done. It was better to take him to his family as soon as possible.
"He's a good boy," Nanna said, following his gaze.
He nodded. "He is. All the more reason to get him home.”
"Yes. I know his parents must be worried," she said.
For a moment, he hesitated. Was this a moment to ask about her past?
"Your parents will be happy to have you back as well, right?”
It wasn't quite the reaction he had hoped for, but it was better than her getting angry. But there was a hint of sadness in her voice that stung.
"I mean... if you want to go back," he hurried to say. Why did he always say the wrong thing? "I mean, I don't know what your family situation is. I just thought..."
"No, you are right." Nanna looked up at the trees above them. "I'm sure I've neglected my duties long enough. I can't wait to get married to some prince in some far away kingdom," she added, her voice bitter.
She was just a friend. Just a friend. Just a...
"I know," she said, looking away quickly.
It was better for both of them to stay silent. Breathing was difficult, as if he suddenly had to do it consciously. Paltar concentrated on Eo and tried not to ask any more stupid questions.
"Sorry," Nanna mumbled. "I didn't mean to spoil the mood."
"It's-it's nothing to apologize for!"
She huffed. He could tell that this subject was sensitive, so he quickly thought of something else to say.
"The sun is rising," he finally said.
"I know," she hissed back.
Silence fell between them.
"I'm really not good at this, am I?" He let out a small laugh. "Somehow I just make it worse every time I try to get you to know me better."
She jumped up and landed on his stomach again.
"Are you trying to make small talk?" She tilted her head.
"Yeah?" He shrugged. "I mean, I feel like I know you, but... I don't know you."
"You're talking in riddles again," she said. "Just ask me something!"
She stomped on his stomach.
"What's your favorite food?"
"Waffles," he answered instinctively.
"Now ask me," she said.
"W-what's your favorite food?" he repeated, stunned.
"Fresh strawberries!" She grinned at him.
It felt like an invitation to ask similar questions.
"So, uh... what's your favorite color?"
"Green," she said.
"You don't have to ask like that," she said, shaking her head.
"I know, but..." He sighed. "I don't know. I've never been good at it."
"Well, you have other good qualities," she said, and he thought she was blushing.
Even though he wasn't sure, he could feel the heat creeping back into his face.
"Okay! Um! My favorite color is sapphire blue, my favorite flowers are sunflowers, and my favorite animals are chickens!" he blurted out, drawing a laugh from Nanna.
"Chickens? Really? I thought you'd say geese," she giggled.
For a moment, they stared at each other, before she jumped off him and waddled over to Eo.
"We still have to look after him," she said.
She nudged the boy gently with her beak.
"Hey, wake up!"
Nanna looked up and rolled her eyes.
"Wake up! It's morning! Aren't you hungry?"
That got his attention. Slowly, Eo blinked awake. For a moment, he looked at the mouse in his hands, as if he couldn't believe it was really there. Then he looked at Nanna and Paltar.
"Oh... I was sleepy..."
"We can see that," Nanna grumbled.
Slowly Eo stood up, still clutching the toy. It seemed as if he would never let go of it. Paltar got up and knelt down beside the other two.
"Are you ready?" he asked the boy.
"What do you mean?"
"Um, I mean if you're ready to find your way home," he tried to explain.
If he just said that they would walk all day again, it probably wouldn't motivate the boy. And it wasn't like he was looking forward to it himself. His feet still hurt from the last day.
But when he closed his eyes, the thread reaching out from Eo seemed stronger, more visible. Paltar blinked and ruffled Eo’s hair.
"I'm sure we'll find them soon," he said. "I promise."
Eo tilted his head to the side and clutched the mouse tighter.