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A Cover Is Not The Book

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Ravus stomped through the streets of the city. There was less than a week until his sister’s birthday and he had yet to find something suitable. He was not one to buy idle trinkets or useless tat. So he’d set out to find a book that would be a reasonable addition to the collection of an Oracle-in-training. He ignored the bright displays of the large chain bookstores despite the fact that they carried the drivel she devoured at an alarming rate. He had forgone his usual wear for something he’d seen online, hoping he wouldn’t be quite so easily recognisable as the Crown Prince of Tenebrae. Nor as the older brother to the Oracle-in-training.

He checked his phone, the store that had been recommended by the master librarian at the manor was supposed to be around here. He followed the map down a slightly dank looking side street. Ravus made a mental note to not come back here again. No store could be worth a walk through such an unappealing street. Still, he was here now. He would go in, find a damned book, and leave. He spotted the sign, “The Scholar Ship”, and his lip twitched in amusement before he pushed his way in.

He bypassed the empty register, tutting as he did so. What kind of store had no staff ready for customers at all times? His attention turned to the shelves of books. There could have been no more that two of the same book on a shelf, it reminded him of a library more than a bookstore. It was quaint, he would give it that much. He ran a cursory finger along a shelf. Clean. Maybe it wasn’t such a horrific place. He started to read the spines of the books, allowing himself to be slightly impressed by the quality of the hard covers. He walked down the aisle of bookcases, his attention slowly being stolen even as he wanted to deny it.

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You’d heard the chime of the door opening and closing. It was a quiet day what with it being the middle of the week but it was always nice to have a customer. By the time you were able to pop your head around the wall of bookshelves, the customer had already started to browse the front most shelves. You smiled. He was new to the store for sure. He looked awkward in his clothes, like he’d not worn them before. You made your way back to the counter, a handful of books that still needed to be shelved under your arm. You’d finish putting them away once the customer was gone, especially since you needed to get to the shelves that he had chosen to stand in front of.

You watched him as he pulled a few volumes from their places before putting them back. His displeasure was clear on his face. You smiled. He clearly wanted to find just the right book.

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Ravus was careful with the books he discarded. While they were worthless to him, they would be worth something to another. Even if he couldn’t see the reason why they would be. He lost track of the minutes as he browsed, eventually settling on a retelling of an old fairy tale. Fairy tales often held strong moral lessons if he remembered some of the ghastly endings from his own childhood. While his sister was much too old for such things, she did enjoy anything with romance in it. It seemed suitable and the cover was simple in its decoration. With a choice made, he made his way over to the counter. He was pleased that someone had finally decided to do their job.

“Is it a gift?” You asked as you rang through the purchase.

“Yes.” Ravus answered bluntly. He wasn’t going to even try to claim the book as his own.

“Would you like it gift wrapped? It’ll only take a few minutes.” You offered with a smile. Something about him struck you as the type not to wrap presents himself if he could get away with it. Ravus frowned at the book for a moment.

“Yes.” You added the gift wrapping fee to the price and waited for him to complete the payment. He did so with a touch of a silver card that you barely got a glimpse of.

“If you want to keep browsing, I’ll bring it to you when it’s ready.” He turned back to the shelves before you could saw anything else. “You didn’t choose a colour…” Ravus had already tuned you out, glad that he was able to peruse for himself now. He headed for the Cosmology section that almost every book store in Tenebrae had.

You let out a soft sigh before moving the chosen book to the wrapping station behind the counter. Without any input from the customer, you would just do your best. But before you even thought about choosing the ribbon that would go with the standard wrapping paper, you picked up your pen and the paw print note paper. A quick glance over the blurb on the inside of the dust jacket made you smile. You’d read this so many times before. You put pen to note paper and wrote. The memory of all the scribbled notes you’d found in the library as a child washed through you. The joy you’d felt knowing that someone else out there in the city had had the same bubbling of emotions as you had about the characters and stories you’d both enjoyed so much. It was such a small thing, but you wanted to pass that small piece of kindness, of love of reading, along. So you wrote.

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Ravus noted at least two books that he might possibly consider coming back for. Possibly. Not that he could fathom a real reason to come back. He could likely find them at another store that wasn’t down such an unappealing side street.

“Excuse me? Sir?” Ravus glanced up from the chapter he’d started reading. “It’s done. I hope they like it.” You beamed, holding up a non descript recycled paper bag with a the store logo stamped onto it. He carefully slipped the book back into the gap on the shelf, taking the offered bag.

“Good.” He said firmly. He didn’t even look in the bag to see how you’d wrapped it, he simply assumed you had performed to a reasonable level.

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Ravus enjoyed the quiet of the gardens for the most part. It was a good place to read and think when he was harried by either his mother or sister for being indoors too much. While Lunafreya had her Oracle studies, Ravus’ lessons were more on being a good ruler in the future. And he could only take the pomp and ceremony of the nobles for so long before retreating to his rooms. But this morning his mother had given him the look and he had resigned himself to the gardens. But that meant his sister knew exactly where to find him.

“There you are.” Lunafreya smiled. Ravus looked up from his book, even sitting he could almost look Lunafreya level in the eyes. “I was looking for you.”

“Of course you were.” Ravus slipped his pressed flower bookmark between the pages, setting the book down.

“I’m assuming that you, my dear brother, did not write that lovely note in that book you gave me?” Lunafreya asked with a glint in her eye. She knew her brother, he didn’t do cute things like notes.

“Of course not.” He frowned.

“Because it was perfect.” Lunafreya beamed. “It was just what I needed. I finished reading at 4am and I needed to talk to someone about that story.” Ravus watched as his sister forgot years of training, becoming more animated as she spoke. “And to find that note, it was like a friend had fallen out of the pages.” Ravus was pleased at his beloved sister’s reaction, but he was still at a loss.

“I am pleased you enjoyed it.” Ravus rumbled softly. He knew that she had devoured the book, he’d seen her walk down the manor halls with her nose it it. It was only Pryna and Umbra who kept her from walking into walls or people.

“Where on earth did you find it?”

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This time, you were there at the counter when he came in. And this time, you knew exactly who he was when he came in. He’d clearly come from some meeting, the silver Unicorn of House Fleuret clear as day on the white of his sweeping jacket. You thought you saw the smallest of nods of recognition in your direction as he strode over to the shelves. To have the Prince in your little shop was a real pulse raiser. In more ways than one. He quickly deposited his chosen book on your counter.

“Another gift?” You asked. There was a slight pause before he answered.

“No.”

“I hope you enjoy it then.” You beamed at him, hoping that you weren’t blushing. He was awfully impressive and you really hoped he didn’t notice how you watched him on the way out.

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Ravus sat in an armchair in the Grand Library, a small stack of bright childrens books beside him. They were some of his favourites, as befitting an eight year old. In his lap was a selection of colourful papers. He checked and double checked the book he had in his hands before frantically scribbling something onto one of his sheets of paper. While not as neat and flowing as his tutors would like, it was certainly legible. Satisfied with his writing, he folded it over just once and slipped it into the back pages of the book.

It would be nice if someone would write back.

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Your joy at seeing him again a few weeks later was quickly washed away by the frown on his face. He made straight for the counter, firmly placing both hands on the top.

“There was no note.” He glared.

“I… what?”

“There was no note. Or do you believe that they are only suitable for the Oracle-In-Training?”

“No… note?”

“You wrote the quaint note that my dear sister told me about, did you not?” You nodded quickly in response. “Then, I ask you simply to make sure you understand. Why was there no such thing in the book I purchased for myself.”

“I… I didn’t have time…”

“Time?”

“I write them when people get books gift wrapped, that way I can write about the specific book.”

“You should have said. I would have waited.”

“I didn’t know you wanted one.” You blurted. No one had ever come back to ask why they didn’t get a note before. You’d just assumed that your small gestures went unnoticed.

“Must I be more transparent?”

“I can write you one… but… you’ll have to wait.” You offered, trying to placate the Prince. You’d be fired for sure if word got out that a member of Royalty had not had their complaints met.

“You have ample books for me to examine as I do so.”

“Do you want me to write you one for the book you bought last time?” You asked carefully.

“No. That was a disappointment and I would not have myself reliving it. I will purchase a new one. And give you time to write something suitable.” He left you with those words, to find a new book amongst the shelves.

“I… thank you.” You mumbled. Your fear of getting fired pushed aside by something new. A soft warmth filled you with realisation. He actually wanted one of your silly notes. He’d come all the way back to get one. Your note was just as important as the book itself.

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Ravus almost didn’t read the book. But that would have been an admittance of fear. You knew he had the book and the note. So he did. And when he reached the end, he found the note. A note just for him. He fingered the edge of of it as he held it. The paper was an amusement, the paw prints trailing across the top and bottom. His gaze flowed over the writing, it was smooth, but lacked the grace and flow of his own. But not entirely unpleasant. He went back to the start of the note and started to read.

He was pleased with the mind he could see shining through the words.

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When Ravus came back almost exactly a week after buying his first book, you were scared he would deliver some scathing remark about what you’d written. But he simply walked directly to the shelves after the briefest of nods in your direction. You weren’t sure if you were reassured or not. With a sigh you returned your attention to the ailing computer system that logged all the books in the store. Scrolling through you could see that things were slowing down, despite there being less than three months until the Winter Festival. It was usually a good time as people started to buy their loved ones gifts. There wasn’t much you could do but hope that things would pick up.

“This one.” Ravus snapped you out of your slowly declining mood. His choice made you smile. Of course this time he had chosen a non-fiction textbook-esque book on the history of Altissia.

“Sure.” You rung the payment through and paused once you were done. “Um… Do you want-”

“I will wait.” There was a softness to Ravus’ voice that you’d not heard before. He walked away, back to the shelves of books. You smiled after him, that he still wanted your notes would put a skip in your step for the rest of your day. You worked quickly, flipping through to double check something before writing. When you were done you slipped around the counter, making your way back to him.

“So… here you are.” You said, holding up the bag. Ravus took it from you, deciding that he would start reusing the bags he already had. He could not have his rooms filling up with multiples of the same bag. “And… um. Thank you. You’re the first person to come back. About the notes I mean.” You knew you were starting to ramble but couldn’t stop yourself. “So… if you want them. I’ll keep writing them.” Ravus frowned, he was used to people falling over themselves to help him. But this felt different. “I used to read at the library, the big one, as a kid.” The words spilled out of you. “I found books with notes in them.”

Ravus froze in place. Books with notes.

“It felt like I had a friend. So when I started working here, I just… started adding them.” You admitted. You could feel the familiar burn of blushing on your face. You could only hope that he didn’t think you were an idiot.

“And you will continue to do so on my behalf.” Ravus stated firmly, trying to override the odd feeling of camaraderie he could feel threatening to bubble up. “They are pleasant enough to read.”

“Thank you.” He was amused by the relief he saw flood through you, washing away the tension in your shoulders in particular.

“I will be back.” Ravus said.

“And I’ll be here.” You smiled, walking him to the door. He all but ignored your little wave as he walked away but you didn’t care. Ravus Nox Fleuret, the Crown Prince of Tenebrae, had come back for more of your notes. And that felt wonderful.