A man nearing his forties surfaced through the unbolted window of a store. With a cap on his head and a simple attire for another day of business, he smiled and took a big whiff of the morning air. The passing people greeted him with respect and he responded likewise.
An average-sized lady with a small handbag on her shoulder could be seen running to the front of the store. “Brino! I was scared there for a moment, I thought you were closed for good.”
I spoke while breathing heavily, touching my chest, and feeling my erratic heart all the way to my ears. Seeing my sorry state, He told me to enter the shop. I thanked his hospitality and slowly regained my composure, patting my white floral dress, then straightening my black hair that was frizzed due to the marathon.
I opened the door and as soon as I was inside, my eyes immediately trailed to the middle-aged man by the shelves. “Brino, thank God you are open! All of my favorite bookstores in Rosen have been closed. It scared me senseless until I remembered you!” I exclaimed.
The man laughed at her choice of words, “Tell me Airen, is it me that you want or a book?” I smiled at his terrible attempt at flirting and proceeded to approach him. Brino stopped on his tracks for a moment and offered me a cup of coffee.
I declined, clearly uneasy by the special treatment, “Please, talk to me as a customer. I know you find ecstasy in doing direct business.” He smiled at my remark and started to walk behind the counter. I followed his back while readying my purse.
“So the thing is, I kind of accidentally lost my recent guide book and I wasn’t able to read at least half of its content. You know that the Crystal Examination is tomorrow, right? So I’m kind of in a very tight spot.”
He looked at me with a stupefied expression on, “The guide book you lost was my limited-edition isn’t it? Thinking about all the trouble I had to go through just to get that book to my stocks, hurts my fragile heart.” He dramatically clutched his chest and mustered a fake pained expression.
I bowed my head and answered in a conscience-stricken tone, “Yes, it is that book—it was an unfortunate accident. Who would’ve thought it got caught in the fire together with my other study materials. I’m very sorry!” He waved his hands, accepting my remorse.
“No, don’t be sorry, that outcome is better than having your house burned. Plus, you bought it so you own it. It is no longer under my care. And In case you haven’t known, this is a utility shop, not a bookstore, so selling books is not my forte. Sorry, but if you are looking for an extra copy of the book, that we don’t have.”
“Any decent kind will do.” I pleaded, the feeling of anxiety creeping up against my skin. I opened my purse, taking out three red coins, and placed it on the countertop. “As I had said earlier, all of the trusted bookstores I know in Rosen are closed for today.”
Mr. Brino stared at me like what I had uttered was the most obvious thing he could think of. “Rosen is pretty much a lawless place. Those honest stores you’re referring to? They are doomed from the start. If the people won’t exploit them, the officials surveilling the place will.”
“So you don’t have a single guide book left? There on the top is 300 Reqious, I’ll double it if you have a decent one.” He chuckled at my desperate appeal and took the coins. “Why trouble yourself with a hard-headed man like me? There are at least 2-3 bookstores here in Feliza.”
I shook my head, rejecting the statement he just uttered. “First of all, you are not hard-headed, otherwise why would I keep coming back to your store. Second, I’m in a tight spot and I don’t know the direction to those shops you mentioned. Feliza is a big place, It’ll be a pain to check them all given the circumstance.”
“Realizing that I come here very often, you even sold me a book despite being a utility shop, so what’s the harm of doing it again.” I declared proudly in a smooth and convincing tone.
He smiled, “You really know how to sugarcoat things don’t you.” He stood up from the stool and requested, “Give me your hand.”
I reached out my spare hand and he spread my fingers, placing the Reqious above my bare palm. I stared at him questioningly which he brushed off by crouching beneath the counter. While waiting, I could hear a few creaks, like a cabinet being opened.
Mr. Brino came back up with a book on his arms. Just looking at its familiar outer covering made me heave in relief. “I lied. I have two other copies of that limited-edition book you lost. I gave one to my daughter and I kept the other one hidden—well until now that is.”
A high-pitched laugh escaped my mouth which I immediately stifled by biting my lip before covering my eyes. I feel my cheeks getting hotter and hotter from the embarrassment. I slapped my face and smiled at the man in front of me, thinking he wouldn’t care, only to find myself clenching at the sight of his frustrating smirk.
Brino extended the book towards my direction. I looked down at my payment on my hand and back at him. I think I could get a gist of his gesture. “Are you sure? This is your loss, you know.” I asked, a little bit taken aback by his munificence.
“Don’t get the wrong idea. Keep the money but in return, you help my daughter, okay? She plans on taking the Crystal Examination, and she wants to join in the combative forces of the kingdom just like her uncle. I plan on throwing a celebration if you both successfully manage to enter. Yes, that would be a magnificent sight.”
I was about to reach out for the book on his grasp, only to halt at the last moment after hearing his proposal. I tried to clear some things on my side, but before I could utter any word, he shoved the book upon my arms and gave me a thumb’s up while smiling like a gratified father.
“Remember, I put my trust in both of you!”
I carefully put the book inside my handbag having an internal struggle if I made the right choice. “Brino, look—” I attempted again to voice out my thoughts, but he already walked away to entertain his other customers. With a final goodbye, I sauntered towards the front door and brought myself outside.
Once I saw again the lively capital, I breathed in and out, trying to calm my panicked mind. Now, what am I going to do? Should I go back inside and tell him that I plan to sell the glyphorite? I should’ve done it earlier, its too late now. He is such in a good mood too. Without a doubt, he’ll take the book back and probably harbor resentment towards me.
I wandered deep into my inner conflicts, losing focus on the surroundings. I tried to scratch my head when someone bumped against me out of nowhere. I winced in shock and turned to face the stranger with scornful eyes. It was a young-looking dandy—maybe around my age, with a brown shriveled hair and widened purple eyes.
He quickly neatened his disposition and looked at me worriedly, “I’m sorry madam. Are you hurt?”
Madam—me? Do I look like someone who wasn’t given a chance to voice out her opinions, thus looking like a cursed hag? The hell I am. But hurt? You look even worse than me—like someone ordered you to fall off a cliff, judging from that awfully pale face.
“Ah yes, I’m fine... Are you hurt?” I questioned back, emphasizing the word you to which he stiffened. He looked down at his attire and straightened the creases then looked back at me. “I meant, you are awfully pale. Do you need to go to the nursing station or by any chance... Are you lost?”
He stiffened again at the last question. Jackpot.
“Where do you want to go?” He unclenched his fists, showing his obvious shaking. He tore his gaze from the ground and lowered his head a little, looking at me directly. I can’t utter a word. This is unfair! How can beauty be this bewitching? With his whole face reddened, he gathered up the courage to answer my question.
“W-well, I plan to go to Coldspring inn by the border entrance of Tahalani but I got lost...” The last phrase was barely audible. He averted his sight from my line of sight but remained his dignified posture.
His unnatural purple clothes really match with his eyes, and also screams the fact that he must be royalty.
Eh? A royalty walking through the dirty sidewalk, no carriages, or whatsoever and doesn’t know where the border lies? To top that he’s oddly kind. If it were any royalty, they may have spat on me right now.
Forthwith, I taught him the short, simple directions, and using cogent words, I also advertised Brino’s store if he ever decides to buy a kingdom map. He happily listened to my aid which I find inevitably cute despite his high stature.
After everything needed was spoken, we uttered our goodbyes departed on our own separate ways. “I’m really sorry again about the bump. If heaven permits us, I hope we meet again!” Without turning back, he sped up north, towards the directions I taught him.
I smiled with a fuzzy warmth surging from my chest as I look at his diminishing figure. I turned sideways and clutched my handbag.
“How did it come this way? I know, not the best choice, but I’ll have to leave this to fate and just play by his cards for now. Sooner or later, I’ll play things my own way.”