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I'm Not Alone

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Paultin awoke at a time that was normal for him. He yawned, stretched and lay there for several minutes, staring at the beam of light shining in the small crack between his drawn curtains. He closed his eyes, fully prepared to just go back to sleep when Simon came padding over from whatever dark corner he had been hiding in. He poked insistently at Paultin’s head and neck in an attempt to annoy him awake, an attempt that surprisingly worked. Paultin yawned once more and dragged himself into an upright sitting position.

“Alright bud, I’m awake.” he sighed, before looking around his room once again, realising how late he had risen from the angle of the sunlight in his room. “At least it’s not a Tuesday.”

“Uncle Diath and Auntie Strix are in town all day, I didn’t hear why. Mom is downstairs though, She’s repainting one of the spare rooms.” Simon explained, waiting for his dad to get up expectantly.

“Okay, thanks Simon. I’ll meet you down there in a bit.” Paultin reassured, ruffling his son’s hair. Simon grinned at him before nodding and scampering off. With a sigh, Paultin clambered out of his bed and begrudgingly got ready, meeting his son just like he had said downstairs. It had been a bit of a hectic trip considering he was just going down a flight of stairs. He had to dodge Waffles as she went barreling down the hall after Handrew, who was scuttling like his life depended on it. A few feet after that he narrowly missed being wiped out by Squiddly flinging himself up the stairs, Nat following him with a frustrated glare on her face and a dagger in her hand. Ignoring the children running around with knives, he reached the bottom of the stairs and promptly fell over Jenks who was flopped on the ground. The bard was barely able to save himself from falling face first and had just about regained balance when he walked straight into Evelyn and was sent tumbling backwards. By some miracle he didn’t fall on his backside and supported himself on the wall. Finally, he found a few seconds to breathe in the moments when Evelyn started falling over her words to apologise. 

“I’m so sorry, Paultin I didn’t see you! Are you okay? You look kinda dazed.” she rambled, dusting him off. Paultin pushed his hair out of his face and waved her off.

“God, this house is like some kind of zoo! I’ve had more near death experiences coming down here from my room than I ever did in Barovia.” He huffed, shaking his head. Evelyn just offered an apologetic smile.

“Sorry. But hey! Now that you’re up, we can go into town for errands!” she exclaimed, fluttering up to eye level with him on her winged boots. Paultin just looked at her in confusion. 

“I thought that’s what Diath and Strix were out doing?” he asked.

“Yeah, they’re running City Guard errands. We still need to head out and grab some extra ingredients for the coven.” she explained quickly.

“And the coven can’t go because…” Paultin asked, raising a brow at Evelyn expectantly.

“Because we’ve been busy ever since the roof got fixed! We’ve got tons of customers.” the paladin explained.

“Right… but wouldn’t they have to babysit if we went?” the bard questioned. Evelyn merely waved off his concern.

“It’s fine! If they can’t help the coven then that nice druid lady across the road will babysit for us!” she explained energetically. Paultin watched her for a second before sighing in defeat, understanding that he was not getting out of an errands run. 

“Alright, at least let me have some breakfast or something before we go.” he said, stepping past the fluttering paladin to go towards the kitchen.

 

About one hour later, Paultin was finally ready to leave the house. The only reason he had been ready so fast was because he constantly had Evelyn at his shoulder pushing him to hurry up. Alas, the pair were soon enough ready to leave, having left the kids in the care of the coven. That included a very unhappy Simon, who was not pleased about having to stay at home. Paultin, however, insisted that if Simon stayed home then Paultin would be home faster. That had made the child begrudgingly agree to stay, although he watched the door unblinkingly as his parents walked out of it. Once outside, Evelyn summoned Morning Glory for the pair to ride down to the market, mostly in an attempt to stop Paultin from complaining. 

“What do we even need to get?” Paultin asked, frowning as they began their journey astride the beautiful steed. 

“You’ll see!” Evelyn grinned, seeming to find it more difficult than usual to contain her excitement. Though why she would be excited about going to the market for such a simple task was beyond Paultin. As Evelyn started rambling, Paultin started taking regular swigs from his trusted wineskin that always hung from his belt. The minor influence of alcohol definitely sped the journey along, and before long they were riding through the marketplace. Pautin reattached his wineskin to his belt, expecting Evelyn to stop so they could get their supplies, but instead the Paladin kept moving. Paultin frowned at her, but said nothing, trusting his friend. They rode through the marketplace and turned a lane that Paultin noticed was called Calamastyr Lane. The bard’s confusion only grew as they stopped outside a cranky looking shop and Evelyn got off Morning Glory, motioning for Paultin to do the same. Still in a state of confusion, Paultin followed her as she led the way into the shop, fluttering the whole way. She held the door open for him and the second he stepped inside he was struck with awe. The walls of this little shop were covered with instruments of all shapes and sizes, from panpipes to guitars to violins… the list went on. He could feel Evelyn watching him with intense excitement, so he turned to her in confusion.

“What is this place?” he asked, frowning.

“It’s an instrument shop! I noticed that you don't actually have a stringed instrument anymore, so I ordered you one!” she explained energetically.

“I- hang on you what?” Paultin stared at her in disbelief.

“I had a new mandolin made for you! It won’t have all the spells your old one had, but I hope you like it anyway…” she trailed off nervously, as if she was afraid she’d annoyed him. Before Paultin could react, an elderly elven woman came out from the back of the store.

“Are you here to pick up a custom design?” she asked calmly, her dark skin contrasting beautifully with her silver blonde hair. 

“Uh- yes, we are!” Evelyn answered. “The uh.. The raven mandolin.”

“Ah, yes!” the lady’s face seemed to light up with pride as she shambled back into the back of the store.

“Raven mandolin?” Paultin repeated, looking quizzically at Evelyn, who simply waved off the question as the woman reemerged with a mandolin in hand. She placed it on the counter in front of her and Paultin could only stare in disbelief and amazement. The mandolin was made from a dark brown wood and was perfectly sculpted. That alone made the instrument gorgeous, but what made it even better was the flying raven engraved on the bottom of it, a simple but pretty design. Evelyn, clearly happy with the mandolin, picked it up and held it out to Paultin.

“It’s a gift. For you. Since you missed your old one so much, I thought I would try and get a better one. It doesn’t have any spells, but I thought it looked pretty. Also, you said your old one tied you to Barovia and you were glad it was gone, so I made a new one to tie you to us! Like a souvenir!” Evelyn explained. She had energy in her explanation, but she was clearly nervous of his reaction. However Paultin was too distracted by the instrument. He carefully took it from Evelyn and strummed a few notes. It was amazing, it was perfect in every way, and he couldn’t believe Evelyn would get him something like this. With a smile, he put the Mandolin on his back and pulled the paladin in for a hug, which was happily reciprocated. When they broke apart, Evelyn smiled thankfully at the elven lady and handed over a lot of gold. 

“Wait, where did you get that money?” Paultin asked.

“Strix and Diath chipped in too. We all agreed that you need something a bit softer than those bagpipes.” she admitted sheepishly. Paultin pretended to be offended by this statement as they exited the shop. 

“Excuse you, my bagpipes are perfectly fine.” he defended jokingly. 

“They’re not the subtlest of instruments though, are they?” Evelyn pointed out, grinning as she fluttered back onto Morning Glory’s back.

“Not with that attitude they’re not.” the bard quipped, still grinning as he climbed up onto the horse behind Evelyn. He spent the entire ride home admiring the mandolin and feeling incredibly lucky that he had managed to end up where he was, with this family when all he had expected after Sandra’s death was to be alone.