“If anything happens to you,” Áed says, “I will be bored again. That’s all there is to it.”
It strikes her like a kick in the stomach that he was worried about her. He sent her friends to her because he was worried. Worried about what, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t even know why, or how he could be worried about her; but no matter how hard she tells herself she must be mistaken, she cannot convince herself she is.
And he knows it. They both know it.
Áed looks at her with what looks like annoyment but is surely embarrassment, and she must have turned red again. The silence between them is awkward. She shifts on her feet and clears her throat several times, pushes the bundled clothing up her chest to hide her face behind it. Gripping her own wrists, she rubs her thumb against her wristband.
“If you want to change topic,” she croaks, “no problem.”
“I’d have done it without you asking,” he grunts, although he seems clearly relieved she wants to avoid the topic of him being worried about her as much as he does. Teasing him is fun until it turns against her. “What’s that thing you’re holding?”
She looks down then looks up at him again, smiling brightly. “A present!”
That was the last thing he expected, and it shows. He doesn’t even bother hiding it. Maybe he can’t. He runs a hand through his hair before his lips draw an easy smile, as if she’d never taken him aback.
“An offering? Interesting. In the past, humans used to worship us and make offerings in exchange for our good will. It’s been a long time.” His smile turns a little crooked. “If you want to do it properly, step into the færie ring.”
She gives him a pointed look and hands him his so-called offering. “That last part is a lie. Just take it, alright?”
He laughs, wild and free, and their hands are barely inches away when he takes the bundled clothing. He unfolds it in one swift movement and holds it in front of him, and she doesn’t think she’s ever seen him making that kind of face - surprised and amazed and pleased at the same time.
“It’s a cloak,” he says, stating the obvious. “You offered me a cloak.”
“You remember that design I made?” Of course he does, but she feels the need to check anyway. “When I was at Dad’s village, I made three prototypes before making the final version. I was planning on giving two of them to Sellin and Anemar after adjusting them a little, but I didn’t know what to make of the last one.” She fiddles with her fingers nervously. She took her decision about that last prototype after the wolf attack. “I thought I’d give it to you.”
He unclips the broach that closes the cloak and wraps it around his shoulders. As expected, prototype or not, it fits him perfectly. She is convinced there is nothing that doesn’t look good on him.
He puts his hands on his hips, smirking. “Are you aware I don’t really need one?”
He controls fire. He stands barefooted in the snow. Why would he need a cloak?
“I– I thought–” She panics, gripping her sleeves. “I mean–”
But then he’s laughing again, softly, almost fondly, eyes in crescent moons and freckles like miniature suns, and her confused words die in her throat. It might be rude to stare; but she doesn’t manage to tear her eyes away from him.
“Thank you, little one.”
She hopes, one day, she will be able to receive his kindness and sincerity without feeling the need to run away.
- Stories of Qelt, Chapter 9 (excerpt)