Episode 2: Love and Reason
Hair moved across her vision blocking out the woods. With the back of her hand, she pushed it away. Bugs made noise all about them, creating a soft symphony. She’d missed it over the time she’d been away. The woods, the meadow, the bugs, the flowers, the fuzzy little animals. Her sister. She missed them all. So, even though she could smile being among the woods once again, that smile held a hint of sadness to it. What once used to be, would never be again. And she would always miss it.
The dress on her body flowed in the gentle night breeze. In a weak attempt to keep warm, she pulled her arms in close.
“Are Elementals always cold, or is it just you?” he was annoyed.
“Maybe if we found some better clothing?” she tried to be helpful and hopeful.
Nevetes didn’t respond. He simply glared ahead as though something had his attention. Since she couldn’t see much ahead, she watched him. The breeze moved his soft, black hair about gently. He barely blinked. In the shadows his eyes looked black but in that brief moment of sunrise earlier, she’d seen a deep red was hidden within. It should probably be scarier than it was.
“What is it?” she finally asked, her gaze following his even though she couldn’t see what he did.
His gaze didn’t move, “humans.”
She moved in next to him, a hand on his arm. She ignored the scowl. Fear lowered her voice, “the ones that chase us?”
“Is there a difference?” his head turned down to her.
“Well yes!” Why didn’t he know this?
“Humans are humans.” But he assured, “these don’t smell like the others. And their heartbeats are erratic, uncontrolled.”
“You can hear their heartbeats?” How horrible must that be? Hearing heartbeats of every living thing. She looked at him in question, “wouldn’t you go insane hearing all that noise?”
He shrugged, “there are humans ahead. A number of them. We should go around.”
“But, maybe they can help,” she kept her voice low because if he could hear all those heartbeats, her voice must be shouting when she was next to him.
“Don’t be stupid. Humans can’t be trusted. They all are alike.”
“If you haven’t met them all, you can’t say that,” she grinned as she moved ahead of him. Looking over her shoulder, “I’m not like other Elementals. You’re not like other Primals. Maybe these aren’t like the other humans.”
Growling, he moved after her. “I am too like other Primals. I’ll rip your throat out and prove it.”
It made her smile.
There was a village before them. In the moonlight, to her eyes, it was pretty! Thatched roofs, warm wooden walls, and a fireplace inside every home. At least, that’s what she was willing to bet. It was so different from what she grew up in, and yet it was exactly the same.
“A single swipe is going to knock those down,” he commented with a bite.
She pulled at his arm, “come on, lets go see if anyone’s awake.”
Zene ran to the wood’s edge. With a hand on the trunk of a tree, she looked down upon the humans’ village. There had to be more than a dozen homes. Maybe two dozen! She’d never seen a grouping like this before.
“What do you see?” he could not understand the look of wonder on her face.
Maybe that was because he didn’t really know anything about her. “My sister once told me of villages where groups of people lived. I always wondered what they looked like.”
“Seems poorly protected.”
She shrugged because she didn’t know that answer. But, “maybe there’s safety in numbers?”
“Humans do like their odds better when there’s more of them.”
Someone approached from their side. Nevetes had turned to face the person before they emerged from the dark woods. An older man with deep brown hair and soft brown eyes, weathered skin, and dirty clothing. He stopped short. Seemed they had surprised him as much as he had surprised her.
The look quickly changed to a friendly smile, “well hello, two people travelling at night in their pyjamas?”
It seemed to be a question. Nevetes’ eyes found hers, but she could only shake her head and gave him a soft shrug of her shoulders.
“Pyjamas?” he questioned.
“Never mind,” the man chuckled. “You two must be hungry if you’ve come through the woods. Ain’t another village for ages. Come on.”
Willingly, she moved past Nevetes with her hands over her stomach and her tongue running lightly over her bottom lip.
“I’m Reason,” the man spoke over his shoulder.
“For what?” Nevetes was looking about.
“Reason,” his eyes and tone uncaring. “You said you were the reason.”
The man laughed, “for my parents settling way out here, maybe. But no, that’s my name; Reason.”
“How did you come by such a name?” Zene was curious. She hadn’t met many friendly souls over the years. She kind of wanted to know more about this one!
“Parents always just said I was reason enough and to never forget it. Not too sure I ever understood really, but there you have it,” he was grinning warmly which had Zene following suit.
“That’s so lovely! I’m Zene, and that’s Nevetes,” she introduced them. She heard Nevetes sigh.
“Now those are interesting names,” Reason engaged her.
Curious, she asked, “why is it you are the only out so late at night?”
“Oh, I’m a grave digger,” he seemed to explain, though it left both of them with questions.
“What’s that?” Zene was alight with curiosity.
“Grave digger?” he seemed surprised that she didn’t know. “Graves are where we bury our dead. But, someone’s gotta dig the graves first. That’s me.”
“You bury the dead?” seemed Nevetes couldn’t stop the question from coming out.
“Of course! What do you do with them?” Reason laughed.
Neither she nor Nevetes could share that laughter. The dead were burned up by the Elemental’s fire, or they were fed to the fehold. Both were permanent ways to dispose of the dead. It certainly hadn’t occurred to either of them that there would be any other way to dispose of a body.
“So, where are you two headed so late at night? Did I interrupt a tryst?” Reason laughed.
“What is that?” Zene’s smile was back.
“Not important,” Reason waved the question off. “I’m guessing that you two could use a little food and maybe a place to rest up a bit. Why don’t you come with me? I know where you can get a good rest.”
“No,” he refused flatly.
“We have to keep moving.”
“Long way to go, hey?” Reason seemed unaffected. “Our fair will start later today, you know. Would be such a shame to miss it. Could introduce you to Chuck, if you stick around. He drive’s the wagon up to McOrmond. Prefers to set out at night right after the fair.”
“Why’s that?” she inquired as she followed him.
“Locals are too drunk to cause trouble by then. And Chuck likes his peace,” Reason chuckled.
“He’s not the only one,” Nevetes muttered.
Ignoring him, Reason kept talking, “McOrmond is a big trading town. Over a week’s journey by wagon, but Chuck thinks it’s worth the trip. Brings back all sorts of goods we don’t got here, so guess I can’t argue with him. But for me, I prefer the simple life here. No need for things, only people. Still, if you’re sure on leaving, he may be willing to take you with him. Could be you’ll find what you’re looking for in McOrmond.”
“Do you really think he would?” she was excited by the idea.
“Sure would, if a pretty girl like you asked him with that smile lighting up a room,” Reason’s compliment made her blush.
“Don’t take it personally. She gets excited over flying bugs whose butt lights up,” Nevetes’ flat tone sucked the compliment dry.
Yet she defended with an easy grin, “but they’re pretty!”
“If payment’s what your concerned with don’t be. With bandits on the road, it would be no bad thing having a strapping young man along. Just in case.”
“Nevetes’ really strong,” she nodded.
Nevetes pulled her away from Reason. Hand firmly holding her arm, he explained with cold words, “that is a human. It can’t be trusted. I’m not risking my answers because your feet are tired.”
“He seems nice,” she stood up to him. Gently she removed his hand. “And a person’s smile can tell you a lot. His is warm. It reaches his eyes.”
“It’s human,” he reiterated.
“Please,” she turned her doe eyes up at him, hoping to sway him. “Not all humans are bad.”
His glare intensified. He compromised behind a glower, “we’ll stay a short time. We leave when you’re rested.”
“Good news, then!” Reason seemed satisfied. As did Zene! She would prove to him that not all humans were the same. There were some good ones out there.
They were taken to Reason’s house. It was a quaint little home amid other quaint little homes. Care was taken in the yard to show that people that cared lived here. A stone path led the way to the door. Reason moved in without pause. He nodded them both inside. Nevetes followed her.
“You’re home!” a comely woman with brown hair and happy eyes greeted Reason.
“And I brought guests. Hope you don’t mind, Lovey.” Reason turned to them, “this is my wife, Lovey. Lovey, this is Zene and Nevetes. They just need a place to rest for a bit.”
“Are you here for the fair today then!” Lovey was every bit as kind as Reason. Zene liked her!
“We will leave soon,” Nevetes didn’t warm up to Lovey.
“But there will be so much going on all day. And the evening is when the real party begins. It would be such a shame to miss it.”
“Now Lovey, I’m sure our guests are tired. We can try to convince them later.”
Lovey grinned, “of course! Come on dears, lets get you settled in. Sunrise is coming all too soon. And once it’s up, the festivities will start. And then none of us will be sleeping.”
They were set up in the front room with a blanket and some hot tea. Lovey made them each a sandwich. Once set up, they were left alone. She held back the tears that wanted to come out. A fire burned brightly in the fireplace. Its warmth called her memories up.
“We used to have a home like this. My sister and I. We used to stay up late sitting next to the fire. She’d tell me stories until I fell asleep. I used to think the fire could keep the monsters away.”
Nevetes bit into one of the sandwiches. He looked at the fire, “I won’t spend time near it. So, maybe you were right.”
She settled herself down onto the rug with the blanket over her shoulders. With a soft laugh she said, “that’s because you’re a vampire, not a monster.”
He placed the sandwiches next to her. With a smile of thanks, she ate them both. Would he want to share the blanket? She wasn’t sure if he’d slept yet. Though he didn’t look like he needed to even now. Nevetes, the blood sucking vampire. Were they friends? Even if he didn’t think so, it was a nice feeling for her to hang onto.
He sat in the shadows next to the window. Alert and relaxed at once, like he always seemed to be. She finished the tea. With a full stomach, she laid down under the blanket. Nevetes was right, her feet really were tired.
She smiled, “have a good rest Nevetes.”
He watched Lovey enter the room with silent steps. Were her quiet steps more kindness or a trap? She saw him awake yet didn’t pause. In her arms she held several items of cloth in a box.
With a kind smile she explained as she set the load down, “clothing for you two. Take whatever you need. No cost.”
He said nothing, his gaze following her as she left the room. Zene hadn’t stirred. He looked at the clothing, “cost?”
His mind’s eye roamed back to the dungeon caverns where he’d spent his life. A guard, human of course, took a cane to the boy he used to be. Striking him down until he bled and bones cracked. The guard’s words had said it was the cost he would pay for being a Primal.
He looked at the box now sitting before him. The clothing was strange, but so were these people. If Reason and Lovey had known what they let into their house, would they still act with kindness? Or was it only that they mistook he and Zene for other humans? He and Zene would be gone before the truth could come out. He would make sure of it.
Tall boots sat in the corner of the box closest to him. These he pulled out. Tall, sturdy. He poked a finger at one to test the strength. Not bad! He’d never worn boots before, but the humans did. They flopped to the side when he set them down. Other items within the box came out.
“What’s that?” she asked softly. Her heartrate had increased just before she’d woken.
“Clothing,” he didn’t look up. “Human clothing.”
She crawled over to the box, excitement lighting her eyes. “Oooo!”
Her fingers had pulled out a pale item that she placed around her shoulders. It pooled around her bent legs looking large on her, but also warm. He’d approve so long as she stopped being cold. She kept digging into the box. Several items came out and were promptly discarded as she searched it all. Then, her eyes went round with excitement when she pulled out a dark sleeveless shirt. A bow was at the top of each shoulder, the material flowed down distorting the image of a clock. Without pause Zene pulled the cloak and the old dress off so that she could don this new article. He rolled his eyes as he went back to searching. She stood up to pull on a pair of shorts. She modeled her outfit by turning about. The top flowed gently around a slender waist. Shapely legs were displayed by the shorts.
As she turned away familiar wounds and scars were shown through the lace backing. Not abundantly visible, and when her hair gently fell back into place, they were almost invisible.
Glowering, he commented, “you’re going to be cold.”
“That’s what the cloak is for!” she had an answer.
But the cloak was long and heavy on her small shoulders. It hid her, which he was okay with. But it also dragged on the ground which would hold her up. Already she was trying to bunch it up so that she could walk.
“Hmm,” she seemed to consider something. The cloak fell to the floor. Then she pulled out a smaller, dark colored cloak. It lacked the hood of the pale one and was more structured. It fit her slender shoulders, had sleeves, but it only fell to thigh length. It wrapped tightly around her midsection with four large buttons to hold it closed. She seemed happy.
“It has pockets,” she squealed!
He looked at her in question.
She shrugged with a smile, “they’re useful.”
She pulled out a pair of old boots. There was a ruff of sheep’s wool around the ankles and heavy soles to keep her feet protected and comfortable. She stamped them on and tried to look down to see how they fit.
“How do I look?” she beamed!
“Like an Elemental still,” he muttered.
She pouted. Useless sentiment, for he didn’t care. She moved off. Sharply, he looked up, “where are you going?”
“To wash up,” she told him. She sounded a touch sad.
He let her go.
Zene had set aside a selection of clothing. Had these been discarded by her, or set aside for him? From what she’d pulled out, he found dark, heavy pants holding two very similar tones running down the leg in a repetitive pattern. They appeared sturdy enough that they should stand up well in a battle. A charcoal grey, long sleeved shirt was lightweight and breathable. There were bands and buckles on the upper arms and near the waist. Attached fingerless gloves would help protect his hands yet not restrict his claws.
He’d always hated the clothing he wore. It stood for everything he hated about humans. Which was everything! His dark gaze looked at the shirt in his hand. Could he wear such clothing? It was still human. From the tops of his eyes, he stared where Zene had disappeared. There wasn’t much choice.
The hated pale clothing of the dungeon came off. His body was scarred worse than hers. It really hadn’t occurred to him to mind or even think upon it before. He was a Primal. Their fates were all the same. Not unlike the Elementals, he supposed. Two tools that the humans used up and discarded. Only to be replaced with another similar tool.
But when he’d seen her scars, it had him recalling his own. It was fine that she’d chosen a long-sleeved shirt for him. No sense in reminding her of where she’d come from and what chased them. At least, he was equipped to handle the truth. She was not. He pulled the shirt on. It was comfortable. It would move well when he battled. The pants were different from what he was accustomed to. He wasn’t as convinced that they would move quite as well. They would stand up better to time and battles though. He would try them for now. The boots slipped on easily over the pants.
His shoulders rolled as he stood up. Reaching down to the box he pulled out a heavy jacket that seemed to match the boots. It was important for a vampire to remain cool. Heat warmed the blood causing it to flow too fast. He pulled the coat on, choosing it because it held value in fighting. The collar rested against his neck. The buckle at his lower back helped the jacket keep shape even though it hung open. The black leather was a nice compliment to the nearly black shirt; if he were to care about things like that.
She was back. There was a glow to her washed face. The jacket she’d donned earlier was now carried in her scrubbed arms. Her eyes went round when she saw him standing there.
“Will this let me go unnoticed by the humans?” It seemed quite different from what Reason and Lovey wore.
She was smiling, “you’ll attract attention anywhere you go.”
Was she blushing? “Well, your ears for one. Humans don’t have pointed ears. I know that much.”
He hadn’t considered that. Kneeling down he rummaged through the box till he found something suitable. A dark strip of material that was heavy and long. He didn’t care what part it was to some other article of clothing. He saw it’s use and potential to him. It rested now at his forehead, winding back along his head to cover the points of his ears and tie up snuggly at the back of his head. In a pinch, he could pull it down to cover his eyes in daylight.
“I like your ears,” she smiled at him
He shook his head. There was no winning with her. “It’s dawn. I’m going to scout the town. Don’t move.”
He left the house. Scouting was a good way to test his clothes as well as check the surroundings. If there was a trap, he needed to know. And if there weren’t a trap, there soon would be. And knowledge of their surroundings would be beneficial for escaping.
The town was still quiet. People here were lazy! The dungeon didn’t have times with greater activity. The humans took things in shifts, and his kind were kept patrolling until they were no longer fresh. Sluggish and slow meant mistakes that the humans wouldn’t allow. At those times, feedings and resting were permitted. After that, they were back on patrol.
It was peaceful here. Bird song and bug noise from the forest reached him easily. What must life be like here? It was a group of humans. Likely, it was hell. Especially for his kind.
“Where’s your handsome friend?” Lovey questioned as she came into the room where she and Nevetes had stayed.
When he’d left, Zene had perched herself upon the bench by the window. She’d watched him leave in his new outfit. He was bothered with the help the humans had offered. And she didn’t know how to ease his feelings. The humans had done awful things to them both. She knew that not all humans were the same. Just as not all Primals were the same. As not all Elementals were the same, it appeared. But he wasn’t ready to hear that yet.
Her head fell to the side with her hands clasped lightly in her folded lap. She smiled at the image in her mind, “you should see him now.”
“Pardon?” Lovey’s smile was kind.
“He went out to look at the town,” she tucked her hair behind her ear to hide her blush behind her arm.
“Hm,” Lovey breathed a laugh. “Well, I have some work to do in town to prepare for the festival. Would you like to join me?”
“Oh yes,” that sounded exciting!
She and Lovey left the house with a basket in each of their arms. With the sun now rising, the town was absolutely enchanting. The homes looked cozy with their thatched roofs and wooden walls. Little gardens marked yards as much as the little fences did. The fences were new things to her eyes, but the homes brought her back to a happier time.
A time when the bird song woke her in the morning, and she couldn’t wait to run outside into the morning dew.
“What are we doing?” she pulled her mind away from what would bring tears to her eyes.
“We’re going to finish up the decorations in the square, and then we’re off to the kitchens to help prepare breakfast for the town.”
“For everyone?” seemed like it could be a lot of work.
Lovey nodded, “yep. It’s a tradition. But we’re not making it all alone. We’ll have help.”
They were at the square which already appeared well decorated. A tall pole stood in the centre. From the top, streamers of bright colors hung down. Immediately she moved to it. “What’s this?”
With a smile Lovey showed her how the streamers moved about the pole as she and Lovey moved about. “Girls dance about the pole with flowers in their hands. It’s a game.”
Seemed silly, and something she very much would love to try!
“Come on, lets put the decorations out. Anywhere you like,” Lovey directed her.
She took her basket and moved about the square. Tables were everywhere outside the square. Many people would fit in this area.
“What happens at a fair?” she made small talk because she was curious.
“It’s a time for the town to get together as friends. We dance, we eat, we have fun!”
“Friends?” her hand stalled in putting brightly colored flowers on a table-runner.
“Do you,” Lovey looked concerned, “not have friends?”
“I don’t know,” she held the basket lightly before her as held Lovey’s worried gaze. “It was just my sister and me. Would she be my friend?”
“Oh certainly,” Lovey’s grin was warm. “My sister and I are very close. Just like best friends we love spending time together. We have interests that we share. And we both know that we can rely on the other if we need anything.”
“That sounds so nice!” she held the basket in her hands which were raised to her chest. Happily, she danced to the next table to place more decorations out. “And the whole town acts like that for the fair?”
“Not just at the fair,” Lovey told her. “We’re all friends here. The fair is just a way to celebrate that friendship!”
“I hope Nevetes lets me stay the day. I’d sure like to see a fair,” she breathed the words with longing. Her smile lit her face, “seems like fun!”
Lovey looked at her with a pensive stare. She seemed to struggle with herself before speaking. “People have their own reasons for the decisions that they make. I don’t pry, typically. But if I may, it was your decision to travel with your companion?”
“My decision,” she was bemused by the question. “It just sort of happened this way.”
“Could you leave if you wanted?”
With a headshake and a grin, she replied with honesty, “I don’t think Nevetes would allow that. He says I still have answers to give.”
She laughed, “I’ve no idea. I’m done now!”
She held out the empty basket she held. Lovey’s smile seemed sad, “let’s head to the kitchens then.”
The house was quiet when he returned. He noticed it immediately, and he distrusted. When he rounded the corner, he saw him. Anger lit the backs of his eyes, “where is she?”
Reason turned about in surprise. He had been cleaning up. In his hands was the box holding the clothing. Their pale clothing was in there. With a smile he spoke, “Lovey was going to help set up for the fair today. I’m sure your lovely travel companion joined her.”
“Where is she?” his tone cut.
“In town,” Reason shrugged.
Nevetes turned to retrieve her.
“Let me give you a little advice,” Reason sat down.
He paused. Suspicion was alive in his gaze, but he didn’t stop Reason from talking.
“In this world, it’s not unusual for the rich to have a Primal slave.”
“What?” his hand turned to a fist.
Reason shook his head. With a smile he laughed, “not as dirty as it sounds! A servant that’s a Primal, that’s all. Someone to do her bidding, to keep her protected as she travels; that sort of thing.”
“Why say this?”
“Think you’re the first Primal to come through here? Or the first to stay?”
Surprise cast his gaze about. There were other Primals here? How had he not known? He hadn’t detected a hint of anything other than human as he walked alone this morning.
“Don’t bother,” Reason chuckled. “Primals, humans; we’re not that far removed. Spend enough time around us and it’ll be hard to tell the difference anymore.”
He loathed the idea of being human-like to any degree. He was a Primal. A vampire! He would wear his lineage with pride and never let the humans taint him.
“Keep yourself hidden as much as you like. But sometimes, the best hiding place is right out in the open.” Reason smiled, “and sometimes the best time to sneak away is when everyone’s distracted by a fair.”
“I don’t wish to be seen,” he snarled.
“What about her?”
He glared dangerously over his shoulder at the man.
Reason shrugged, “get the sense that you’ll have a lifetime of running ahead of you. Might be nice to have a moment now and then to look back on. Something kind to make her smile.”
Like a meadow and a perfect day…
The echoed words in his head darkened his eyes. He left the house and Reason behind.
“This is amazing!” Zene and her laughter danced about the circle with the others.
The cheers and laughter were contagious. This was that game with the streamers and the pole, and it was something she was loving. The girls of the town warmly welcomed her to the game. Too bad Nevetes wasn’t here to join in and see the goodness that the town held. Though, he probably wouldn’t anyway. On either account. She laughed to herself about that.
The game was over, and the girls all fell back laughing. She was ready for more, but it seemed the others wanted refreshments. She wouldn’t say no to some. Lovey and Reason were waiting for her at a table. They waved her over. Smiling, she ran over to them.
“Having fun?” Lovey’s smile wrinkled the corners of her eyes.
She nodded happily, “mm, very much, thank you!”
“Here, have a drink,” Reason handed her a heavy mug.
“Sweetie,” Lovey seemed to caution.
Reason laughed, “don’t worry, it’s just juice. I think our lovely, little guest might be a little young for ale and wine.”
“Ale and wine?”
“Yep,” Reason laughed heartily. “Too young.”
She shrugged and did as ordered. The juice was delicious! Her eyes reflected that sentiment, though since the mug was at her lips, she wasn’t able to speak the words.
Lovey spoke, “you’ve sure been busy today. Thank you so much for all your help.”
She set the empty mug down, “there’s a lot that goes into a fair, isn’t there?”
“There sure is,” Lovey was smiling. “Though it’s worth all the work just to see all these smiling faces. Are you getting cold?”
Lovey had noticed her shiver. Next to Lovey was Zene’s jacket. When and how it had appeared, she wasn’t sure but also didn’t really think to question it too much either.
She shook her head, “only a little.”
“Zene!” one of the town girls ran up to the table. “Wanna join a group dance with us?”
“Sure!” She had no idea what that was.
Lovey waved her off with a smile as she was pulled by the hand into the group once more.
They watched her join the dance, laughing and smiling. Reason pointed out with mild interest, “she hasn’t even asked about her companion.”
Lovey looked at her husband but didn’t comment, “why don’t you grab us some supper? No meat for Zene.”
“Of course, my Lovey,” they kissed just before he moved off.
She was having a great time with the humans. Laughter, dance, merriment; he scowled from the shadows of the alleyway. They should have left much earlier today. Much earlier. He wasn’t even sure why he’d listened to Reason’s inane words this morning. After he’d left the house, he’d found her helping out with the food preparations. She was enjoying herself and didn’t appear to be in any danger. Just in case, he’d followed her throughout the day from a distance.
Now, with the sun setting he’d finally removed the blindfold. The general ruckus of the town did not appeal to him. Already he missed the forest immensely. But Reason had said that he would introduce them to someone that could take them further in a shorter amount of time. It may not be wise to trust, but it may be foolish not to see about this. They had wasted today, after all.
He glanced down at the blindfold in his hand. It was supposed to cover his ears to keep what he was hidden. Zene liked his ears. Reason said that he could hide in plain sight by pretending to be her servant. He disliked the idea of hiding his lineage. His eyes caught the sight of her dancing with the humans. The blindfold was stuffed into his pocket.
There was a place next to where she’d sat on the bench. Reason and Lovey were talking. They seemed surprised to see him, but they didn’t appear worried. In fact, they welcomed him with a smile. Sooner or later, he’d figure out their angle.
“Coming to join to festivities?” Lovey asked him. “Would you like something to eat?”
He only stared.
“Time to go already?” Reason caught on.
“Give me a moment,” Reason stood up.
Where was he going suddenly? Nevetes watched with suspicious eyes.
“Must you really go so soon? She’s having such a good time,” Lovey looked on with sorrow at Zene.
“I don’t care,” he stated flatly.
Lovey was cut off when Zene flew back to the bench. She’d spotted him. Her hands held his upper arm as she claimed her seat back. A smile lit her face, “you’re here!”
“You must eat something,” Lovey pushed the plate that rested on the table towards Zene. “You’ve been working so hard.”
He inspected the plate. He could not detect any meat that might harm her. Blindly trusting, Zene tucked in. Reason returned with a stranger at his side. Lovey seemed to know him. Zene smiled welcome around a mouthful of food. The stranger’s eyes caught sight of Zene. The smile that grew on the round face brought out a dark look in Nevetes.
“This is our friend, Chuck. He’ll be headed to McOrmond soon. Our two new friends here could use a lift. Think you’d have the room?”
There had been a subtle weight to the count that caught his ear. It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Chuck either. He glanced at Nevetes. His dark look was not going to be misinterpreted or missed. Chuck swallowed.
Zene spoke with excitement, “would you really take us?”
“Room I got,” his smile lingered a little too long on Zene. “But, can’t just be taking people for free.”
He was hedging, though it wasn’t exactly clear to Nevetes what he was after.
Reason stepped in, “this young man will help keep you protected on your travels, Chuck. That’s more than fair compensation. You know how much a decent bodyguard goes for.”
“Yah,” Chuck glared at Reason.
“So, you’ll take us?” Zene was hopeful.
“Fine,” Chuck relented.
Seemed they had a ride.
“Yay,” she turned her smile on Nevetes. He didn’t trust this.
“Are you sure?” Lovey was looking at Reason.
“Best form of travel,” he seemed convinced. “And Chuck’s a good man, at heart.”
“Well, I think it’s time I helped clean up,” Lovey stood.
“Let me help you,” Zene offered with enthusiasm!
Zene moved about collecting plates from finished eaters. They smiled their thanks, letting her do the work that they should have done themselves. Of course, if she was foolish enough to offer, he wouldn’t stop her. She was the one that would pay for it later when her feet hurt. She’d better not complain.
It was with care that she moved about the tables. Not a single drop or crumb fell from the collection in her arms. With his gaze sidelong, he watched. It was such a minor accomplishment. Nothing truly useful or special. And yet…
She vanished into the kitchen. His gaze found the man named Chuck. “What is it you want of her?”
“What?” Chuck scoffed at the comment. But his heart jumped a quick beat which said that he was worried. Something in that direct question made him uncomfortable. He merely stared. The man had heard him. Chuck glanced at Reason, who wasn’t offering anything further. Chuck made eye contact again with Nevetes, “money is hard to make.”
“You’re lying,” he accused coldly.
Unsettled Chuck waivered on his answer, “a little…companionship, you see…it can cost…”
Reason’s face fell into his hands with a groan.
Slowly, he stood. He wasn’t taller than the man, and yet he saw Chuck shrink back. Presence meant a lot, and most fights were won before a single hit was levelled. Behind his teeth he warned, “she is my prey.”
“Oh jeez,” Reason sighed.
“Lay even one finger on her, and you’ll lose your arm.” It was fair warning.
Chuck nodded, “I hear you.”
Lovey and Zene came back. Zene was holding a smile and a mug. At least she seemed proud of herself. He reclaimed his seat, “idiot.”
The mug was placed before him. Cool, dark. He looked in surprise at her. The smile that grew on her face warmed her features. She’d collected the wasted blood from the dead meat the others ate. There was a seasoning within the blood that caught his nose. He wasn’t necessarily opposed to it. She’d thought of him. Was that why she’d offered to clean up? The mug touched his lips. The others were oblivious. Probably good, for they’d freak knowing he was drinking blood.
Why had she done it? Was he to thank her? It was what she would do. Why had she gone out of her way to do this? How was he not to be suspicious of this? It did taste good. And even though he’d eaten just the other day, he was using up his energy faster than he would have at the dungeon. And there was a journey ahead.
“Let’s go,” he made the decision that they would leave now. Zene grabbed her jacket.
“Thank you for everything,” she smiled at Reason and Lovey.
“You take care of yourself,” Lovey hugged Zene. “Come back anytime. Anytime at all.”
“Uh, it’s my wagon. I call the shots,” Chuck’s hands were open, palms facing upwards. Nevetes’ dark look got the man moving.