Will smiled as he watched Djaq wake, drawing her blanket up a little, knowing it was cold outside their cosy bunks. “Morning.”
Her lips curled upwards. “Will. Hello.”
He leant a little closer so he could whisper even more quietly to her. “Djaq, are you happy to celebrate Christmas with us today? If you don’t want to it’s okay. You and me, we can go off somewhere, do something else, avoid anything festive.”
She felt a little emotional at the gesture; she knew he loved Christmas, it reminded him of family and home, and he’d been excitedly babbling all month about how he wanted to show her what it was like. But he valued her comfort more, he was willing to give it up for her. She shook her head. “I want to celebrate with you.”
He beamed. “Merry Christmas.”
“Ready to get up?”
Djaq nodded eagerly. “You’ve got to show me Christmas, right?.”
“I will, you know how much I’ve been looking forward to it.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek. “You get ready.” He rolled over, pushing one end of the curtain aside as he got out of bed. Carefully, he shut the curtain that enclosed their bunks, giving her some privacy to change. A few minutes later, the material opened again, and Will turned to Djaq with a grin. “Wait, wait, wait.” He quickly placed his hand over eyes, hardly touching her but blocking her vision.
“Hang on, just trust me.” She felt him put his hand on her back and help her stand without letting her see anything. “Just step forward and there you go.”
He dropped his arm and Djaq looked around at the camp. It had been decorated; a variety of little wooden ornaments hung from the walls and ceiling and paper chains were strung up along every beam she could see. “It’s beautiful. Is this why you were getting to bed so late?”
He nodded with a smile. “Worth it.”
Tentatively, she reached out and ran her finger over one, a star. “They’re perfect. You made all of these?”
“Carved every single one. I made Allan do the chains. Here.” He grabbed the nearest blanket off his bunk and wrapped it around her shoulders.
“Thank you.” Gathering it around her, she leant up to kiss his cheek. “I think I’m going to love Christmas.”
Having eaten their measly Christmas dinner, in the early afternoon the two friends huddled by the fire, responsible for keeping it alive and simultaneously soaking up all the heat they could get. When they settled down and Will gathered her into his arms, Djaq pressed herself into his chest, tucking her head under his and pushing her way under his cloak. Will wrapped their blanket around her, waiting for her to stop shaking; once she finally did, he withdrew his arms from around her but kept close as he reached to his side.
“I got you a present. Merry Christmas.” He held the gift out to her, watching as she tentatively extended her hand to meet him half way, hesitating to take it from him.
“Will! You didn’t have to.”
“Yes I did.”
Djaq softly laughed, suddenly reassured that he was giving it freely, without expectations of a gift so perfect in return. He just wanted to make her smile and give her the best first Christmas he could. Still she hoped with all her heart that he would love her gift; she already knew she would love his, that was just how incredible he was when it came to knowing her. “Thank you.”
He gently bumped his shoulder against hers. “Go on, Djaq, open it.”
“Patience.” She stifled a smile and pulled on the ends of the bow to unravel it.
He reached out to grab the ribbon as it fell loose, taking hold of her hand before she had the chance to open the gift any more. “Come here.” Drawing her arm towards him, he coaxed her to rest it on his knee, and then wrapped the ribbon gently round her wrist to form a new bow.
Letting his touch linger for a second, she withdrew her hand with a smile, returning to opening the present. She unfolded the surrounding cloth, beaming as she looked at the wooden box within, tracing her fingers around the intricate border. “Will.”
He leant forward a little, watching her expression intently. “Open it.”
She did, mouth opening in awe as she took in the contents. Needles and threads, vials, pots, surgical implements and a compartment for bandages; it was a medical kit. “It’s perfect. I knew it would be but it’s perfect.” He smiled. “The box is beautiful, it’s incredible, thank you for making it for me. Will, thank you so much for this.”
He leant a little closer so their foreheads were almost touching. “I was amazed by the way you saved Marian, I wish I’d been there to see it, and to help. I just thought, if you can do that without the proper instruments, what could you do with them?”
A smile touched her lips at the compliment. “I will treasure this forever.”
“I hope it helps you save someone else’s life.”
She felt a shiver run down her spine and he instinctively put his arms back around her, eliciting a sigh of contentment from her. “You save people’s lives too, do you know that? Sometimes in ways you don’t even realise.” Confused, Will furrowed his brow and was met with a reassuring smile. “Like your traps. You stopped the cart. I would have been sold into slavery. If it wasn’t for you I’d have probably died in the mines by now.” She smiled wider to counteract the frown that formed on his lips at the thought. “And you help me look after and save people.”
“I’m so glad I saved you.”
She smiled, holding his gaze for a few seconds. “You know, every time I use this to help or save someone, you’ll be helping them too.”
He held her tighter as she began to shiver uncontrollably, even as she tensed her muscles to stop it. “Are you cold?”
“Of course I’m cold. I’m not used to this sort of weather.”
“I know.” He rubbed her arm to generate a little more warmth. “We’ll go to Knighton Hall soon, and Edward said we could stay a few nights. It’ll be warmer in there, alright? I’ll keep you warm.”
“You are, mostly. But I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon.”
“Probably when spring’s starting and it’s getting warmer. Let me get you another blanket, or two.”
“No, stay here.” She leant further into him, resting her head back under his and absorbing whatever warmth she could in so little time. “I'm okay, warm enough. All I know is that I really appreciate you looking after me.”
“Well, you freezing to death would ruin Christmas.” He smiled as she laughed. “And my whole life actually.”
“Oh, Will.” Covering him with the blanket too, she fed her hands under his cloak to cuddle him to her. “I’m not that cold. And I know you’d never let that happen.” With a smile, she looked up to meet his gaze. “You’re the most perfect best friend; I couldn’t ask anything more of you.”
That evening the gang sheltered within one of Knighton Hall's stables; though their friends wanted to help them through the particularly cold winter, they couldn't be seen entering the manor. It at least helped that the horses had been moved to the other stable; they had peace and the hay for the animals provided some much needed insulation.
Djaq had nestled up against Will at the far end of the barn and tucked a couple of blankets around them, the rest of their gang had settled down for the night at the opposite corner. The pair weren't yet tired and had instead taken up residence in the only area that was lit by the moonlight so they could just about see each other.
“I didn't get the chance to give you my gift earlier.” Djaq placed the fabric wrapped present into his lap, keeping her hand resting on it. “I hope you had a merry Christmas.”
“It was the best.” He beamed. “And how was your first Christmas?”
“Magical. I enjoyed every minute of today with you. Thank you, for everything. I hope you like it.”
He closed his hand around her gift. “You really didn't have to; I told you I was going to show you what Christmas is.”
She smiled, leaning closer so moonlight reflected in the tears around her eyes. “You have been so excited about Christmas for a month, more. How could I not?”
Will curled an arm around her shoulders, drawing her into him to kiss her cheek, seeking to placate anything less than positive that perhaps lingered in that emotion. “You are just too lovely to me.”
Djaq shook her head. “Open, please.”
He happily obliged, unwrapping the item to reveal the leather-bound book tied closed. Gently he undid the strap and opened to the first page. “For Will, love Djaq. What is it?”
“I wrote down all the myths and legends and stories from my childhood, anything I could think of.” She watched as he flicked through the pages, taking in how many were full. “I hope you like it.”
“I love it!” The sudden excitement that overcame him almost woke their friends, but the smile returning to her face stopped him caring.
“Of course I do! Something to learn more about your homeland and culture, and you. Plus, you made me it. All that time you spent on it for me; I love it. How did you even find time?”
This time the damp forming in her eyes made him smile back. “Good, I, I'm glad. I suppose I was writing when you were making my box.”
“Well I am looking forward to every word, just, you know, bear with me with it; my reading's nowhere near as good as yours.”
Djaq shook her head, shifting to return his embrace and squeeze the self-doubt out of him. “I think you're good at it. Will, you know the fact you can read at all says a lot about you; you're intelligent and sought out education wherever you could. Most can't read at all, you could when we met.” She looked up at him, making sure he was taking in every word. “Please remember you are wonderful, as intelligent as me. This is supposed to be a gift to enjoy, I don't want to make you feel inferior. Will, I don't think-”
He cupped her face with both hands, leaving her cold. “I know. I told you I love it, thank you for the beautiful gift. But what made this Christmas was you, just you.” She no longer felt cold, even before he pulled her back into his arms for protection from the elements. “Having you here with me, knowing you, was the best present I've ever had. It's all I'll ever need, Djaq.”