"Red Robin, Red Robin, it's time to wake up."
A shadow passed over the serene face of a sleeping woman, the tip of a feather trailed down her cheek and wrinkling her nose, "What are you doing?" her voice was a sleepy mumble, hands blindly reaching for the quilt's edge while she burrowed deeper into the cot. Azrael slipped the feather across her jawline and into the crook of her neck, tormenting Yeva to jerk and squirm, laughing away her dreams, "Stop it."
"Or what?" Azrael climbed atop her, and stretched his wings, blanketing the mattress in their glory. His silver eyes searched her face as she yawned, "You should get out of bed." He laid the stray feather across her cheek and tucked his wings back in, rolling to the side to land beside his companion. Almost immediately his arms snaked around her waist and drew her to him, pressing his face into the great barrier of her curls. Azrael had been more affectionate since they were reunited - bordering, Yeva thought, towards something more than friends - but his absence had been so devastating that the thought of pulling away seemed impossible.
They laid like that for some time, the sounds of exotic birds cawing and chirping faintly in the distance, Yeva paid special attention to the sounds of their breathing, their heart beat. Everything had been so scary, so unsure, when she had been alone. Sleeping outside and shuffling around day to day to try and find food, afraid at any moment another Avriel would notice her lack of owner and snatch her up to be put on the auction block. She closed her eyes.
The heat of his breath embraced her ear. "Happy Birth Trial," he whispered.
Yeva looked up, twisting to face him, "It's Vhalar already?"
Had she really forgotten the date?
Azreal smiled up at her and nodded slyly.
"No.... Are you sure?"
A grin split across Yeva's face and she sat up fully, looking at the entrance of the cave and the tapestry that hung there. Between the woven threads, early morning sunlight was peeking through, signalling that it was in fact a new day, "Really?" she looked at the table where a platter of fresh fruit waited for her indulgence alongside three presents wrapped in brown paper. The sight seemed to surprise her and she began climbing out of bed, "You remembered.... Is this all for me?"
He nodded and she bounded towards the goodies and settled into the wooden chair. They were all different in shape - a thick rectangle that resembled a book, a smaller one that was flat and long, and the last one was more of a bag, the same brown paper that wrapped the others sticking out in all manners to hide the contents inside. Yeva touched them all and took a deep breath.
"Thank you," she turned, not surprised that Azrael had approached to join her. He looked away quickly, picking up a knife on the table and using it to split a piece of melon, "Should we have breakfast first?" As if hearing the words, her stomach growled.
He nodded slowly, "That would be best."
"Are you okay?" While Azrael didn't appear sad or sick, the air around him had changed. He seemed quiet, more reserved than he had been mere trills before when he had tried to wake her, "Feel well?" she added, making an effort to utilize the Lorien language again.
"Yes," he forced a smile, eyes briefly lingering on her gifts and took a seat across from her, fingers reaching out to take a decanter also on the table. It looked heavy, made of pale stone and speckled black, "I want you to enjoy your gifts."
"Oh, don't worry so much," Yeva began to gather up strawberries and kiwi, half wondering if they had come from the Trevender estate. She thought of Te'ami and when she might give birth this season. She had less than a season left! She popped one of the red treats into her mouth and smiled, "I'm sure I'll love them all."
Azrael met her eyes and stared at with such intensity, she suddenly felt rather embarrassed.
"Here," Yeva handed him some more fruit and ate quietly, mentally trying to identify the items on the table and their words in Lorien and Dehasin respectively. She got caught on the name for papaya and had to ask. While biting into an apple, Azrael scanned the table, and used the back of his hand to wipe away the juice that coated his bottom lip. Idly, he told her the pronunciation. He added a few others, instructing while eating, Yeva attempting to repeat back what he said.
"Your pronunciation is getting better," Azrael commented, standing to stretch. He was wearing a breezy blue tunic and matching pants. His sandals were sat by the entrance and she wondered if he had gone to buy the fruit this morning at the market. What time was it?
Yeva went to rinse her hands off in the basin along the western wall and came back, "I'm ready." With eager hands, she drew the first present towards her.
"Open this one first."
He scooted the larger one towards her and she began to peel back it's wrapping, undoing a small bit of twine that enclosed it. Seeing it's wooden cover, Yeva smiled and drew away the rest of the paper, "Oh, Az, this is beautiful." It was a bound book without a covered spine, leaving the woven stitches visible. Both the front and the back were made with thin and surprisingly light slabs of wood, stained to give it a rich and almost indulgent appearance. On the front was the title, carved and painted in shimmering white - The Herbalist's Handbook: Athart Edition by Leslei Breumoi.
She traced the words and turned to the first cream colored page. Despite the newer appearance of the tome the pages were worn, almost dainty from use. More interesting than that though was the absolutely exhaustive amount of information, each page dedicated to a different plant in Idalos. And beside these snippets of history and their uses, was elaborate and wonderfully drawn sketches of each herb for identification purposes. In one or two places, there was a small painting on the page and in others, stains or what looked to be minor water damage. With the conflicting degrees of interest, it was impossible to pinpoint the book's age, "Where did you find this?"
"The market," he answered without an ounce of shame, "The original was falling apart, had lots of use and clearly should have been thrown away. At first I was upset that the merchant was trying to sell me something so... low quality, but, then I thought of you."
Yeva's brows furrowed and he snorted in amusement while she waited for him to continue.
"What I mean is that you have a knack for enjoying these types of things. The information there is impressive and would be most useful to you. In mint condition, that book would fetch a very steep price but for this? Mere nels. I took it to a bookbinder in town, had the carpenter make the cover. It was all very affordable." His feathers were puffed with pride.
He spoke with such satisfaction, Yeva couldn't help but let her smile linger as she continued to flip each page. This book was given a new life for her and its unique history made her heart swell, "You're very thoughtful. It's perfect." Her friend had gone through so much trouble, flying to so many different places to find her this when he himself saw it without value. But he had known how much it meant to her, "And there's more?"
"Yes," Azrael pushed the bag forward next. She tucked the book on her lap and revealed the next gift.
Inside was a small leather pouch, not unlike a coin purse and she gave it a small shake, the contents rustling inside. Curious, she pried at the draw strings and found herself rather surprised by what was inside. Little stones with markings she recognized, "Arathnaka runes?"
"Rune stones," he corrected with an uncharacteristic wringing of his hands. He had not stood still since she began their reveal, "For divination."
Yeva was so scientific by nature, it was a surprising gift, "I've never tried that before," In fact, she couldn't remember ever having her fortune told, although vague memories of circus tents in Rharne came to mind. Women reading palms and claiming visions from crystal balls, "I like them, but I don't know how to use them."
Azreal nodded vigorously, "I know, I know. It was like the puzzle box and Arathnaka items don't... pop up often. I may have..." Azrael looked to the wall, clearing his throat with a sort of deviant smirk, "Influenced their acquisition."
"You stole them?!"
"No, no. Not quite..." he scratched at his neck, "Just... reminded the seller where he was."
Did he threaten them? Imply he could have someone enslaved?
"Don't be mad. No one was lining up to buy them anyway. Hardly anyone in Athart can even recognize those markings." Yeva was frowning, conflicted on her feelings. The runes stones were carved simply and made of opalescent shade of blue river stone. A very pretty reminder of their friendship together and the puzzle box still in her possession. To convince her, Azrael moved closer, "I'll teach you how to read them."
"You know divination?"
"Eh," he shrugged his shoulders, "Seket knows them well. She predicted our uncle's illness. Believes they're an art that's slowly being forgotten by the Avriel. I know... enough." He shrugged again. Seket was not a name he mentioned often, maybe once or twice in the arcs they had known each other. In fact, Azrael almost never spoke of his family. Yeva decided to let it go... for now.
She reached for the final gift.
Azrael hovered behind her, watching silently as she drew away the wrapping and removed the lid. Inside was a thin strip of leather, beaded and hopped with hangings of white feathers tipped with black. They were clean and neat and Yeva recognized it at once as a headband, "Are these yours?" she asked already knowing the answer, carefully lifting the adornment. Handmade, she realized, "Let's see." Yeva tried to smooth down her curls and stood, but Azrael reached out and took the strip from her.
"Turn around," he ordered softly.
She did so and his fingers found her crown, slipping the leather cord in place and tucking away rogue curls who wished to devour the decoration. It was light, comfortable and not too tight.
Yeva twisted to try and see the Avriel's reaction, "How does it look?"
"It looks..." his fingers curled in her hair, pausing there among the fire of each strand. His attention lingered on the feathers in her hair, the act of fancy unknown the medic. Holding his breath, the intensity returned to his silver eyes, pooling there like molten silver. She took a step back, heart beat rising when she bumped into the table. His claws bit into her hips when he grabbed them and she tried to speak, pressing her hands against his forearms as his body heat consumed her. What was he doing!
What did she want him to do?
Yeva tried to form words, to breathe, exhaling when she heard him speak, "Pretty."
Azrael's eyes were closed when he kissed her upon the cheek, very lightly. Almost as if she were made of glass, and then was pulling away with closed fists, a man maintaining control. She felt silly and tried to smile away the tension that had suddenly pressed upon them. To fight her flighty nerves.
More distance between them, her thinking became clearer, "Thank you for the gifts, I appreciate you doing all of this." Yeva wanted to ask about the intensity she had seen in his eyes, but occupied herself with cleaning up breakfast and finding a place for her book and runes.
"You're welcome," Azrael had walked to the counter and retrieved the items necessary to brew a pot of coffee, but his movements were heavier. Somber, somehow, in a way Yeva had not learned to recognize. He sighed, "That's what friends are for."