I knew Francis wanted to travel through the night, but Veirya shot him down. The cold outside exceeded my prediction. It wasn’t bucketing, but the drizzle wouldn’t let up. The drizzle literally froze everything in the desolate land. We breathed out mist; Leah was surprisingly quiet in Veirya’s embrace. She must’ve been freezing. I never thought the temperature would drop so low. As such, I didn’t prepare clothing to weather the cold. I regretted my decision to not take winter clothing.
Neglecting Leah’s feelings to continue through the freezing night was not something that Veirya would do. I wouldn’t agree to it, either. As a result, we also chose to take cover and light up a bonfire to spend the night. Leah curled up; she intently stared at the bonfire and sniffled. Veirya set up a small tent. The tent was set up with just fabric and wooden stumps. Nevertheless, it was able to provide us with shelter from the endless drizzle. The thick wool mats on the ground isolated us from the wet ground.
Francis quickly set up a big pot on the frame where the fire was. We tossed some water and ingredients into the pot to simmer it all. It smelt surprisingly nice despite the random ingredients we threw together. The warmth of the bonfire and the fragrant scent healed the fatigue and cold accumulated over the entire day.
Leah looked at the lid on the pot that was subtly coming to life with her eyes glittering. Francis rolled up his cloak and sat down on it. He let out breath of relief as he panted. He handed me a pot: “Here, Tarak. It can warm you up a little. This is how it is out here during this time of the year. It gets cold as winter. The rain, in particular, is really annoying. Everything feels as if it’s stuck to your skin.”
I curiously took the pot and shook it. The heavy weight of the pot was reassuring. I was somewhat wary of what he gave me, so I inquired, “What’s this?”
Francis casually replied, “It’s just water; however, I added a tiny bit of wine. Don’t worry; you practically won’t even detect the alcohol. It’s enough to warm you up, though.”
I nodded. I carefully held it up to my mouth for a sip. I was worried that his definition of “practically won’t even detect…” was relatively dangerous. To my surprise, I really could barely taste it. A warm sensation went down my throat and circulated to every part of my body, though. Soon enough, I felt warmer. I shivered gently. I then looked at Leah, who had her puppy eyes look on. I steeled my heart and said, “You can’t drink it, Leah; you’re not an adult yet.”
“What’s the big deal? Leah will definitely grow up. It’s fine for her to drink a little. Plus, it’s not for enjoyment but to keep warm,” Francis contended.
I pulled Leah over and she sat in my lap. I turned her cloak to cover the front of her body since she had her back to me, and tightly hugged her: “I won’t let me daughter touch alcohol at such a young age. She’s still a kid at the end of the day. Alcohol isn’t good for children; if Leah is cold, a bowl of soup will do.”
Veirya sat next to us; she nodded in agreement with me. Leah also revealed a reassured smile and curled up in my embrace. Francis, who sat opposite us, watched us and chuckled: “This is nostalgic. We used to do the same thing in the past, but we also had Lucilia. That elf loved to drink. In spite of not being able to hold her liquor, she’d still drink a lot. Once she was drunk, she’d cling to Veirya and asked to be spoilt; it was really fun. It would’ve been nice if Lucilia could’ve joined us this time. Nonetheless, nobody can enter the elven forest.”
I nodded. I could imagine how Lucilia looked when she acted coquettish. Francis missed those days, the days where they were at the peak of their glory and everything from that era. Lucia, however, was busy with internal politics in the elven lands. She probably wouldn’t come over for anything.
“I saw the Elven Queen at your place. The elves sure are a hierarchal-focused race. An Elven Queen can’t get married; she must offer everything that she has to elves. She might be loving life by your side now.” Noticing Veirya’s expression, Francis went on, “Is the Elven Queen your mistress, Tarak? We’ve attended an elf’s wedding before. I must say, if a female elf agrees to marriage, she really can offer everything for her husband.”
Veirya’s expression didn’t change, but I had already begun to cuss Francis in my mind: “Can you not poke her sore spot? Although Veirya’s expression hasn’t changed, she really doesn’t want to hear it. Plus, the Elven Queen is no mistress. Also, Veirya and I don’t have anything going on, let alone the Elven Queen and I.”
Veirya didn’t comment on the topic. Instead, she looked at the pot and remarked, “It’s. Done.”
“Ah? Oh.” Francis nodded.
I opened the lid. We added water and a type of yoghurt. We boiled some mushrooms and vegetables that Francis found. I didn’t expect it to be decent. I sprinkled some flavouring in and gave it a stir. I served Leah a bowl first. Leah was starving after the long day of travelling. She gave it a few blows then slogged it back.
The rest of us knocked back our serves in one go, as well. As expected, the food provided us with warmth and calmness that wine couldn’t provide. Furthermore, being able to enjoy a hot soup in the freezing rain bestowed us with bliss and optimism. We all went silent for a while; we focused on acquiring much needed warmth and bliss from the pot.
None of us were full after finishing the pot, but we didn’t bring much food. Leah, therefore, was the only one who could to enjoy half of my bowl and some dried meat. Francis washed the pot somewhere; I didn’t know where he washed it, though. Then, he brought back half a pot of water and boiled it. The hot water provided us with warmth and something for us to cook tomorrow.
“We’re still one day and one night away from our destination. We might not get any chances to rest from now, so rest up tonight. I think the rain will stop during the day tomorrow.”
Francis sat down in front of the fire. Leah shut her eyes and curled up in my embrace. I caressed her head, while Veirya sat next to us in silence, drinking the dwarves’ strong wine. Francis didn’t speak to any of us thereafter. Consequently, the only sound around was the crackling fire. Francis stroked his beard with an awkward demeanour: “Can one of you say something? Don’t you find it really lonely to just listen to the sound of rain and the crackling flame?”
Veirya asked, “What. Do you want. To talk about“
Veirya’s seriousness caused Francis to freeze. He stroked his beard and grumbled, “You say something… I don’t know… I just don’t want to feel so lonely. Whatever the case, just say something to liven up the atmosphere. Remember how cheerful it was with that elven lass talking? The elves argue with us, but it’s quite fun.”
“I’m not. Very good. At conversations.”
Veirya looked at Francis with a serious look and then me. I jolted. Chatting was out of my wheelhouse. They say those who talk a lot at work don’t like to speak much outside of work. I had to stop and think for a moment before speaking: “Is Lucilia very lively?”
“Lively doesn’t do her justice; she’s an absolute pain on journeys. She has an odd sense of justice; she’ll get into trouble and rescue people when it’s not time to. As a consequence, we’ll always be left covered in filth. Furthermore, she seems to never run out of energy. She drinks a lot every night and then goes on rampages and bothers us. I really didn’t think the immature elf was their hero. As if anyone could imagine that.”
Francis raised an eyebrow. He had a drink from a pot of wine. I noticed the dwarf was particularly excited whenever Lucia was mentioned. He complained that she was troublesome and giving him grief, but he never expressed any dislike for her. Though he whinged, in reality, he wore a smile as he talked about her. I hadn’t known Francis for long… Judging from his beard, I’d presume that he was old enough to be her father.
I thought to myself, “Can dwarves and elves be together? Elves are very xenophobic, so would they be able to accept one of another race? The dwarf may be friends with Lucia, but would she accept him?’ It can’t be that bad, surely. The Elven Queen can accept me, after all. Lucia should be able to accept the dwarf, then, right? I think that Lucia would be able to accept Francis if she genuinely likes him… I just don’t think she likes him. She rarely mentions him, after all. Actually, I’d make a case that Lucia likes Veirya…”
“Lucilia is a cute girl.” Veirya looked at Francis and sincerely nodded.
Francis nodded: “She is…”
I didn’t know what to say… But nonetheless, since Francis didn’t explicitly express he liked Lucia, I thought it was best if… I didn’t say anything about it…
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