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Fire Princess and the Outcasts chapter 1
An old man sat in a candle lit room with a near empty wine glass on the table. On his lap rested a wanted poster. He brushed the surface of his scraggly beard and pressed his lips together with anticipation. The glass came into his hand and he downed what was left of the beverage.
“Fretting the inevitable won't get you nowhere. Whatever happens to you, will happen.”
The container's glassy surface made a thump when put back on the table and for a moment almost echoed an uneasy sound.
“You think I’ll still be around for you when you reach my age? We gotta live with it because in this life your past eventually comes knocking on the door, asking to be paid back in full.”
He paused and darted his eyes left to the wall, hoping those words could be met with compliance. His rigid gaze fell on a black head of hair beneath the glow of candles above. The light reached far enough to reveal a foggy figure locked in fetal position with a spear clutched between their chest and legs as if hugging it.
Not a “yes” or a “no” was said, however. Exactly as it had been for the last dozen minutes or so, the man deduced. Burping the alcohol took some of the stress off his shoulders. The wonders of a satisfying drink gave him way to a different approach.
His fingers brushed on his beard again, now letting different thoughts spill out. “But then again, it may not even turn out to be so bad. Look, negotiation for us is still an option as long as they’re willing to make a deal better than the prize money. We won't know unless we try.”
Just like the tiny flames above, the figure's long ears flickered for an instant to the pleasant tune of optimism. The owner of those long ears had newfound hope in their sights.
“Don't get your hopes up, though. There's still room for error and we have no clue who we're up against. Whatever happens, will happen. ”
Having said and done all he could, the old man left his beard alone and peered down on the wanted poster resting on his legs. His rigidness hovered over the portrait with a pitiful stare.
The room was clouded with a deafening quietness. The type that, if hushed for too long, you could hear a flat, monotonous ringing test the limits of your sanity. Even so though, there was no doubt that inside their heads was an equal amount of meditation going on to counteract the ruling silence.
Playing the waiting game was never a fun activity. The man licked off the residual taste of booze from his lips, biting down on the lower half shortly after.
And then came a knocking at the door, prompting their attention. His vision seemed to blur and sway side to side out of nowhere. Not from the alcohol though. It was the knocking that shook him up. What he had been waiting for: the end of days. A call from the past he'd rather forget ever happened. Yet those occurrences were already set in stone for all to read.
Before he knew it, the man was up and walking straight to the door. A drop of sweat trickled down his left cheekbone. Every step he took weighed a ton, the wooden floor beneath crying in protest. The big talk he spouted moments earlier watched his every move, judging how he conducted himself down to the way every wrinkle on his face curved.
He arrived at the door and reluctance turned the knob. The person sitting in fetal position tightened their embrace on the spear.
To his surprise, there wasn’t a tall, broad shouldered man carrying a battle axe ready to fight. Nor a band of rowdy thugs brandishing their swords at him. It was but a young woman, two or three inches shorter than him dressed in a maroon cloak, standing at arm's length away bearing a fun smile without a care in the world.
For a second his back muscles loosened and his shoulders dropped to a slouch. All expectations were shattered like a hammer to a mirror. Though if asked he'd probably say it was a good thing.
The young woman was delicate in appearance like a flower. Soothing to admire its charm. But what stood out the most was her fiery red hair. She had it cut short similar to a male’s, but the long bangs to the sides suggested a distinguishing feminine touch.
She opened her mouth and spoke.
“Good evening, sir! Please forgive me if I have interrupted your busy schedule. But please allow me just a few minutes of your time to answer some very important questions.Would that be all right with you?”
Without realizing, the man had his head tilted and an eyebrow climbing up his forehead. A muttered sound like that of granting permission escaped through his teeth. She caught on and continued.
“My name is Rosella and I would like to know if you are the person who goes by the name Mor… M-Mor-on?” An awkward pause stifled them. Relying solely on memory wasn't going to work for Rosella, so she held up her left index finger asking for cooperation. She reached into her cloak and pulled out a sheet of paper, unrolling and reading from it. “Morvon Estapol, is what I meant to say. Pardon me! Are you Morvon Estapol, sir?” she asked smiling.
“Y-yes. That's me.”
“And you've been living in this forest for approximately twenty years? Is that correct?”
Rosella nodded, still smiling. “You're six feet tall, greyish eyes, blond short hair, have pronounced cheekbones, are of a tough build, and have a full beard.”
He nodded back to her description but insisted on making a correction. “Well, not really. My hair’s at my shoulders now and it's greyed considerably, but the rest is fine.”
She giggled, “I can see it is. And o~ne more thing! You served lord Einrich’s personal army during the Decade’s War almost thirty years ago as a mage mercenary. This means you helped in the destruction of towns and villages inside the kingdom’s borders, and killed thousands of innocent civilians while doing so. You should also be a bearer of the mark of magic on the nape of your neck. Or so it says…,” Rosella neared the paper to her face as if unsure of such a requirement. “Am I correct?,” She asked gleefully pulling the sheet down.
Morvon let his guard down the moment he set on eyes on a young woman instead of a toughened ruffian looking to make easy money off his hide, like he expected. The awe left him half stumped, half curious to find out why she appeared at his doorstep too.
The reason wasn’t because she was “pretty” either.
When she asked for permission to question him briefly he didn’t challenge her motives-- rather-- he forgot. But when she started listing out the crimes of his past, her words became like hands and reached out to undress him of his clothes, exposing him shamelessly bare.
The caress of a slight breeze felt akin to thorns on his skin which made Morvon want to retreat under the covers of his bed.
Rosella’s innocent smile evolved into a smirk that still did not distort her beauty. “What’s wrong, Mr. Forever-poor? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“No, I-I… uuh…” Sweat spewed from every pore on Morvon’s body as he struggled through an obstacle course of stuttering. “Can I uh, j-just… I mean…”
There was no going back now. Morvon was convinced nothing would change her mind, no matter what he said to save his skin. Groveling didn’t seem like a bad idea right now, but would he dare plunge to such depths and tarnish his dignity to escape equal punishment for his past? Lust for money always held an iron fist over fair trials anyhow.
“W-wait a moment, please. I just need to--”
“No, no. I need you to answer my questions, sir.” Rosella snagged Morvon by the wrist with the grip of a hawk’s talons. “If you will not cooperate then I will have no choice but to take you by force,” she warned smiling.
Morvon pulled against her but without using his full strength. He was caught in a bind of doing the right thing or getting out of it by whatever means necessary. His mind raced faster than he could think, making him nauseous.
“Gertrude,” he called out to the person in the house. “I need you to take the medicine to the village within two days. Apologise to everyone for me. And take care of yourself from now on. Goodbye.”
He stopped resisting, letting himself be taken away. Rosella flashed her teeth proudly. She was halfway to getting that juicy reward now.
Then a drowning scent of ashes filled Rosella’s nostrils and a cloud of black smoke brushed against her back, forcing her to stiffen in place. It wasn’t the smoke stopping her, but a piercing sensation concentrated into a single point on her back that put her on her toes.
“Leave now before your blood covers the blade of my spear,” came a girl's voice from behind. It was soft yet cold at the same time. Another pair of sharp objects poked at the back of Rosella’s head. But these came in the form of glaring eyes instead of weapons.
Seeing herself in a tight spot, Rosella clenched her teeth hard in a fit of shock.
Morvon snatched her by the hand and pulled her towards him away from danger. “What do you think you’re doing? Stop!” He shouted.
Rosella sought this opportunity to calculate the distance between her and the alleged spear. She turned enough to see the aggressor from the corner of her eye, catching a glimpse of the weapon.
But the black smoke she’d inhaled seconds ago was still present and it worked well to hide the aggressor’s face. The world moved in slow motion by this point, stretching seconds into minutes. But this opportunity wasn't going to be wasted.
Rosella summoned all the strength to her right leg and launched it upward heel first at the spear, knocking it out of the aggressor’s hands, sending it flipping in the air until it landed several feet away on the forest floor. Rosella pushed off Morvon’s chest, unsheathed a dagger from under her cloak, and charged in for a counter attack. A war cry burst out as she leaped forward.
The aggressor exploded into a cloud of smoke, making Rosella stumble through it from the attack’s momentum as her dagger met no stop. She caught herself before hitting the ground. Surveying the area frantically, she searched for the spear knowing the attacker would spare no time in retrieving it.
Once she had spotted it, another cloud of smoke exploded to the spear’s right side and from it a girl stepped into view.
“Gertrude! What the hell do you think you're doing? Stupid girl! Keep your nose out of my business and get back inside the house!”
The smoke cleared away gradually to reveal her more defining physical features. She grasped the spear and yanked it out of the ground, locking her lime colored eyes onto her target. She took a step closer and drew the word “elf” from Rosella’s lips.
Gertrude spun the spear with grace around her left hand in a show of hardened skill. The message came across loud and clear to Rosella as a declaration of war. It was intimidating, but she accepted.
“There's no way I can do that,” Gertrude whispered under her breath. She darted forward at a breakneck speed.
Rosella responded the same way but then her eyes widened as the elf girl dissolved again into smoke and ashes. She reemerged at her right flank with a mighty thrust to which Rosella cut back a step and dragged her dagger across the spear’s surface, igniting sparks as she tried to land a hit.
Gertrude ducked in time and let the momentum from her attack put some distance between them. The two girls bended at the knees and took the defensive, circling one another. Rosella flaunted a cocky smile while Gertrude laid low glaring with focus.
That last move came out of nowhere. I should be more careful about that teleportation. Rosella examined the elf a few feet away, searching for an opening. The grip on her dagger tightened.
“Girls!,” Morvon hollered. “Listen to me! Put away your weapons and stop fighting! Going any further than this and one of you might end up dead!”
To his dismay, begging had the opposite effect on them as neither were paying any heed. Morvon’s calling might as well be falling on deaf ears.
This wasn’t all true actually, because Rosella found a savvy way to use him to her advantage. Standing her ground, Rosella readied her blade close to where sunlight penetrated through the trees.
She scanned the distance between her and Gertrude and braced herself for what she hoped would happen.
Gertrude noted the body language, mindful of any sudden movements.
“Pardon me but, Gertrude is your name, correct?”
“Do me a favor and please tell Mr. Moron not to butt in. I find it quite rude really, even disrespectful to distract us when our bout is at its height. You two seem well acquainted, so he might listen if you say something.” Rosella ended with a wink.
Of course, this did not bode well with Gertrude. It was the third time this girl had gotten Morvon’s name wrong but this was the last straw. The hairs on her head stood up in rage and the space between her eyes wrinkled uglier. Disregarding the favor, she let her emotions take over. Gertrude pushed off the ground-- and like a spear-- darted at her opponent head-on.
Their weapons clashed, resounding throughout the forest.
“Gotcha!” Rosella said.
She angled the dagger’s surface to reflect the falling sunlight onto Gertrude’s face. A blinding white light knocked out her visual senses, leaving her no other choice but to fall back. She groaned painfully, rubbing her eyes on her forearm. She swung her spear out of impulse, albeit with no success while cursing out Rosella for the dirty tactic.
Then the sound of quick footsteps approached. Alarmed, Gertrude settled on teleporting somewhere safer. It was better to be safe than sorry, she thought. In a matter of milliseconds she exploded into a cloud of smoke a fourth time and came back several dozen feet in the background.
She squinted repeatedly hoping to refresh her vision. It worked for the most part as the dots of light clouding the environment started disappearing. Gertrude could thank her reflexes for it, managing to blink during the flash.
“Forgive me for using such an underhanded method. I was testing your patience.”
“Hmmm? Then I assume you groaned for the same reason when your knife slashed at my smoke and not me just now?”
Rosella’s smile twisted a little, biting her tongue underneath.
“Ehem. Call me crazy but this is the first time I have ever laid eyes on an elf. Let alone crossed arms with one. Only in stories and legends from my childhood have I encountered such a creature. To my surprise however, you are unlike those from the fairytale books. What is an elf to gain from coexisting with a human?”
Rosella’s question came across as more of rhetoric to taunt Gertrude again. But she could have been genuinely curious to know the answer, in all seriousness. Neither Morvon or Gertrude knew how to reply. Their faces equally abashed. Rosella kept voicing her thoughts.
“I must admit there is a strong throbbing in my heart of pure joy. And it’s telling me this is the best decision in all my life.”
The skin around Gertrude’s eyes tightened to a squint as Rosella prattled on.
“For once in these twenty years of mine do I feel a sense of accomplishment. I could even say it's addictive, honestly. When you live your entire life missing out on adventures you see how pretentious it is to live off the success of others. I don't how I survived like that for so long. It's a miracle I didn't go mad couped up in my room all day. Gertrude, never will I forget this day. Thank you for granting me this wonderful opportunity,” she said with sincerity.
Gertrude had no idea how to interpret the young woman’s words. The sentences and word combinations struck her as foreign, which in a way intrigued her equally because she herself had never encountered someone like Rosella who spoke so poetically. However, there was an element to it she could agree with. She found it odd wanting to hear what more this person had to say.
A little scary, in fact, that something alien could also feel relatable. But she couldn't let the stream of platitudes cloud her judgement.
Gertrude readied her spear and charged for an attack. Rosella stood her ground in a defensive stance, taking the assault head on.
Their fight played out not like a guessing game but more akin to an interpretive dance or a performance with sharp objects. After a series of backwards somersaults it was Gertrude who switched to a defense mode. Rosella wielded her dagger like she were painting broad strokes on a large canvas. Every attempt came much closer than the last until one landed on the Gertrude’s left thigh, cutting through her stockings.
The cut wasn’t deep but it drew sufficient blood to rain down on the grass beneath. Gertrude’s eyes twitched in pain. She became desperate and catapulted over Rosella with the help of her spear and in mid air whacked her on the left shoulder blade.
The cracking sound of the impact pushed out a cry, yet Rosella didn't allow herself to falter in the midst of combat. The scoreboard marked a one to one tie and the disatisfaction showed on their fine faces. The girls met each other in an acrobatic display of skills. Rosella slashed in X’s and Gertrude blocked them.
Gertrude slashed back in circles using the spear’s length to her advantage, while Rosella did her best to deflect.
The effects of their scuffle were starting to weigh down on their stamina and both girls knew something had to be done sooner rather than later if they wanted to end it in their favor.
Gertrude knew her opponent was thinking the same. The panting and sweating said it all. Her last jab punctured only the air, missing the target by a half foot. Rosella sought the opportunity again to kick away the spear but Gertrude held onto it, pushing her two steps back from losing balance. She regained her footing shortly.
Their skills were on par, neither giving way to the other.
Rosella rushed at her again but with the dagger trailing behind, its end pointing the opposite direction. Did she have a death wish?, Gertrude wondered, which seemed absurd because what have they been doing this whole time?
Having her weapon trail behind left an enormous gap in her defenses. Even if she planned on attacking there was no doubt it would never meet the target successfully. But this was the opening she was waiting for and Gertrude seized the chance to win.
With another jab she lunged the spear at Rosella as quick and accurately as she could. Then the fight would be over!
That sentiment betrayed her.
Using the cloak, Rosella whipped the spear away from her hands, dropping it to the side. She then chucked the cloak at Gertrude, obstructing her vision. She sidestepped to the right, then the back, and went in for the kill.
She slashed at a smoke cloud again, and her cloak came down to engulf her in its darkness, trapping her in with the smoke. Rosella gasped for air as ashes drowned her nostrils.
Desperate as she was, her panic let her throw off the garb before she could suffocate. She promptly assumed a defensive stance, her guard had fallen low. But that's where it ended. As the cloak flopped to the ground, Gertrude’s spear neared within inches of Rosella’s face, brushing close to the tip of her nose. The girls stood frozen in place.
By this point the outcome was evident. Gertrude blew out the built up tension through her nostrils. She pushed forward, making Rosella slip and fall on her butt. She glided the blade to her neck, its shiny surface reflecting her opponents weakened grin. Gertrude had seized the reins from her hands to steer the situation as she saw fit. One wrong move could spell the end for Rosella. That’s what the elf’s eyes were clueing in. A risk she’d rather not take anymore.
“Out of all the jobs I have taken thus far over the last six months, this is the first that will go unaccomplished. If I could... warn the guild masters to cancel this one forever, the future might look good for you and Mr. Estapol. You wouldn't have to worry about this happening again. How about it?” The quiver in the young woman's voice was too obvious to ignore, but Gertrude only found it irritating for someone who’d come unsolicited for their own selfish gain. A selfish gain she wished to never relate to especially if it meant taking people away from others. She couldn’t describe it well even if given the chance. What better scenario than this one when it would be justified to stain her hands of human blood?
“You make for a sorry excuse of a bounty hunter, adventurer, whatever you are, I don’t care.” She prepared her spear, racking up power in her arm.
An ensuing silence covered the atmosphere in a thick layer of unease. Even the sound of animals had died down, their instincts alerting them of killing intent.
“Stop, stop, stop, stop, stooooop!!” Morvon threw himself over Rosella, shielding her from what was coming as his arms waved about.
“Stop for a second and think about what you're doing.”
“Get out of the way, Morvon! You have to be crazy to protect the person that came here to kill you!”
“That doesn't matter. What I’m trying to say is no one needs to come out of this losing their life.”
“Then what are you suggesting we do? Buy into her lies?” She asked, upset he would protect her. Rosella was just as astound if not more.
Morvon gave her a glare like that of father and child, one that Gertrude had become familiar with growing up. It wielded that same power too. The kind you can't ignore unless you're asking to get the belt. She readied for what came next, keeping up a bravado to not lose face in front of Rosella: the enemy.
“I did not put in the effort all these years raising you to put another cold blooded murderer on this planet. We already have one too many of those good for nothin’ greedy bastards runnin’ around startin’ wars just to boost their egos and fill their pockets. Or tell me, when have I told you it’s okay to take the life of another, huh?” Gertrude scowled, diverting away as she was reprimanded,tucking her face behind the locks of her long hair.
What Morvon was saying was true, except he had taught her to kill but only when hunting for food. And when she found herself in a scuffle, Morvon drilled it into her head to incapacitate the aggressor whichever way possible, even if it meant breaking their legs so long as she didn’t kill. And then to run for it.
Gertrude never had a problem adhering to those morals, going so far as putting them to practice the first time two years ago when she was unlucky enough to cross paths with bandits. It was a part of Morvon’s nature she held in high regard. Still, that ideology was turned on its head when it involved protecting someone she cared for, and Gertrude found no flaw in that reasoning.
Having stayed silent, Morvon took it as a sign of agreement. Rosella pressed her lips together as she loosened the grip on her dagger.
“Princess!... Princess!... Are you here!?” A soft voice echoed across the forest mixed with panting. They turned their sights in the direction it came. Rosella sighed and her shoulders relaxed.
“There you are! I thought I heard your voice somewhere in this direction.”
A silhouette of short stature appeared out from a distance hastening towards them. It was another girl dressed in a cloak putting her best efforts to keep up the pace.
“Princess!,” she hollered, cheeks reddened. The girl slowed down to a stop a couple dozen feet away to catch her breath. She bent at the hips and rested both hands on her knees. “Thank goodness I found you, princess.”
“Drop the ‘princess’ thing already,” Rosella pleaded under her breath.
“How cruel of you... to leave me behind at the river after getting me drunk. I could’ve drowned for crying out loud! And to top it off, you went so far as to throw all my clothes in the trees. Do you… have any idea how embarrassing it was for me to climb while being completely naked? The amount of tears I shed... because I thought I'd have to go look for you, exhibiting my body to the forest animals? No, you don't, because it's never happened to you!”
The short woman paused the ranting to catch her breath, her circular glasses fogging up.
All the while she spoke her tantrum was clearly aimed at Rosella who was on the ground and not at Morvon or Gertrude. Either the short woman didn't mind their presence or was blinded by her foggy glasses that she'd failed to see anyone beyond a certain distance.
Rosella cringed and replied. “For goodness sakes, think before you speak. We have company.”
It was true. Once the girl had rubbed off the fogginess from her glasses, Morvon and gertrude came into her sights. Their eyes were glued on her and their faces tinged of embarrassment.
She covered a gasp with her left hand, fluttering her thick lashes. She fought against the itch to find cover in the bushes; there was no erasing their first impressions about her now.
Anyhow, the young woman cleared her throat and thought it best to play with the cards she was dealt.
“P-pardon me for my shameless behavior. My name is Anneth Lisbon. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” She bowed.
“Likewise… I’m Morvon Estapol and this here is Gertrude.”
Gertrude and Anneth lowered their heads at each other. She continued speaking. “I beg for your understanding of my current position, Mr. Estapol, as I can tell that my friend here has caused quite the commotion on your property.”
“N-not at all. You see, young lady, my life has had many attempts on it before for the crimes I helped commit during the Ten Year's War. I believe she came here for that same reason. Something like this isn’t new to me, unfortunately.” Morvon took the chance and shuffled over to Rosella’s left side, firmly grasping her injured shoulder with one hand. She jerked back a bit due to the pain but he insisted. Then a sensation like that of warm water showered over it like a soothing waterfall to which Rosella couldn’t believe.
“Since when did mage mercenaries learn the healing arts?”
Morvon glanced at her briefly, then returned his attention back to his hand.
“Never. Mage mercenaries are too hung up on making money they focus only on ways to kill people faster. Healing magic takes twice as long to grasp. To them it’s nothing but a waste of time.”
As he revealed this information, Rosella and Anneth shared a quick look of awe. Gertrude suppressed a haughty smile.
“That should do it,” he said. Morvon helped Rosella to her feet and Anneth walked over to retrieve her.
“Thank you...” said Rosella shyly.
“No need. Just glad to know I can help out.”
Seeing the mage mercenary conduct himself in contrast to what she had in mind had Anneth seeking for answers. Though considering that Gertrude and Rosella had weapons out and their immediate surroundings were kinda messy meant a fight had occurred between them. A sense of guilt came over her.
“I think it’d be best if we took our leave now. My intentions from the beginning were to persuade my friend to cancel the mission because I deemed it too risky for someone as inexperienced as us to take down such a veteran, despite the generous award.”
The smile he showed was that of sympathy. One that said “I’m sorry to hear that”, if that made any sense.
“But the Morvon Estapol we saw today is someone vastly different from the wanted posters. So rest assured that we will not take you away. Now, please excuse us and we’ll be on our way.” After bowing in respect, Anneth and Rosella turned a one eighty and walked off into the forest.
They were leaving them be. Finally, a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. They could go back to living normal lives like before today. He was filled with relief and so too was Gertrude. But there was something bothering him. Something Anneth had said when she was running stuck to him like the spiderwebs that lingered to his clothes when he went looking for books in the attic.
He recalled Anneth shouting princess at Rosella a number of times, which was oddly intriguing. Why would she call her so?
Then there was Anneth revealing their inexperience at hunting bounties, and Rosella confessing they had been at it for only six months. Something wasn’t adding up-- or on the contrary-- something he’d caught wind about a few months before wanted to connect his suspicions with these girls.
Also, their image didn’t quite fit that of your typical bounty hunter or what have you. The cloaks they wore were made of fabric not worn by common people. The dagger Rosella fought with carried a more sophisticated texture than what the average blacksmith shop sold. But if there was one thing that singled them out the most though, it’d be their formal speech. Their aura reeked of high class as well. Thoughts running amok in his head had Morvon furrowing his brow. He was reluctant but he had to ask even if it was risky.
“Hold on,” he pleaded.
Both girls froze, looked over their shoulders. Chances seemed like one in one million. Though the coincidences sung a different tune.
“How fares Scarlet Vermillion; princess of Ponderossa? Is she well guarded to this day?”
Rosella and Anneth became wide eyed and stood on their toes as if walking through a minefield. Morvon kept calm and earnest in contrast, standing firm like the trees around him. Gertrude at his side glanced at his rough profile from below in a puzzled manner.
“You!...” Trembling, Rosella reached for her dagger in response but Anneth denied her the luxury by pushing her back with an arm. She stepped up to mimic the same stance as Morvon, a fiery resolve swarmed in her eyes.
“After we let you go you dare try to make fools out of us? I did not take you to be an ingrate regarding how our conversation moved.”
“Don't be alarmed, ladies. You’re mistaken if you think I will turn against my own words. As you can tell by the questions, I've been able to put the pieces together thanks to your carelessness.”
“Morvon?” Gertrude tilted her head sideways for a better glimpse at his face. She found no signs of malice on him. Only the same old mug she had grown up with. It did put her mind at ease to an extent. Morvon wasn't the type to blackmail others.
“What are you playing at?,” asked Rosella, eager for an answer.
He cleared his throat. “I've heard the rumors, better yet, the news circulating amongst mercenaries and adventurers around the nearest town from here related to the young princess. I'm not a complete hermit, you see? I do some shopping outside these woods once in awhile.”
Still not understanding, the two girls glanced at each other with raised eyebrows. Morvon offered a smile of reassurance, hoping to wash away any worries.
“I won't pry into the matter any deeper because we all know what I'm getting at. But I want you to consider this selfish request of mine that’s been on my mind for a while.”
Morvon turned to Gertrude, placing a hand on her left shoulder and making eye contact. She was just as perplexed as the other two. “Since you girls are all on your own, would you mind taking Gertrude here with you along on your journey? I'm sure she'll be ecstatic to make her dreams come true of traveling the world.”
“M-Morvon? What are you saying all of a sud--”
“You think I haven't noticed? Gertrude, you were brought up by a hermit, someone who barely makes any contact with the outside world. I don't plan on changing my lifestyle either because there's always the chance I might be attacked. Just like today.”
Morvon shuffled in front of her again, towering over her completely. “Tell me, how old are you now?”
“We celebrated my eighteenth birthday yesterday...”
He agreed, nodding. “Exactly. And why not make your adulthood debut by finally setting foot into the real world? I’m entering my sixties now and might as well already have a foot in the grave. Be it by illness, accident, natural cause, or by someone else.”
Without warning he embraced Gertrude. “The day I found you alone in the forest is one I'll never forget. You're the child I was never given a chance to have. A family member who accepted me unconditionally despite having no blood connecting us. I'm a human and you're an elf for goodness sake. If this isn’t true love then I don’t know what is.”
A light pat hit the top of Gertrude’s head, then a second and a third moistening her hair. Morvon’s voice broke only slightly as he continued talking.
“Whenever you were a child and we went out to help the village, I remember you always stared off into the mountains and with your little fingers pretended to climb them as you waited for me to finish. Even when playing with the other kids you played at being explorers. You should've seen your face the first time you heard about the beach from that traveling merchant.”
Flashbacks of her childhood came in short instances to Gertrude. The days of longing to walk on boundless stretches of sand persisted to this day. The yearning to swim in an infinite tub of salty water that met with the sky above was still present. Those childhood dreams lived on inside her, and she had to conform to daydreaming of all those places she wished to see.
Gertrude dug her face in his vest and it soaked up the tears. “Why would you bring that up now? Morvon… you’re so cruel.”
She cried in silent wimpers, letting the spear fall on the ground.
Rosella and Anneth watched the events unfold between an old man and a young female elf that had defied conventional norms between species. A different mood blow through the air to sweep away the existing tension. The two girls relaxed their muscles again as no threat emanated from the former enemy.
In fact, even they were touched to a degree that smiles sprouted on their faces. They couldn’t deny it either. Anneth eyed at Rosella, extending her hand out. She did so too and held on. As if communicating telepathically, both nodded at one another to confirm the deal.
“That sounds like a wonderful plan, Mr Cholesterol,” said Rosella.
“Mhmm. Or better yet, I’d say we’d love to get to know her better. Gertrude seems like a reliable traveling partner too. I bet our travels will be a little more interesting if she were to tag along.” Anneth winked at her.
“Absolutely! We can start over from zero, as friends.”
Gertrude tugged at Morvon’s clothes. “Can I really make it all on my own out there?” She asked beneath a cover of shade obscuring her eyes as her head hung low. “I don’t mind staying with you until you die.”
“Don’t be silly. Everything I’ve taught you is more than enough to keep you going for the rest of your life. Have I not been a good teacher as well?”
“What I said applies to you too. No one knows when their time will come. All the more reason for you to see the world while you still can. The girls are letting you join them. Come on, Go on and say yes.”
After a brief reintroduction everyone met each other again as if to rewrite the bad paragraph that had gotten them started off on the wrong foot. Rosella and Anneth bowed like cultured ladies and group hugged Gertrude. The bowing was a new concept to her so she stood there not knowing how to react. But she came out of it okay, so all was good. Morvon wasn't bothered since he most likely experienced it in his younger years. Those were Gertrude’s thoughts.
He also met them with hugs and words of gratitude for taking on his selfish request. The two girls reminded him they felt the same way, ensuring his adoptive daughter would be like family to them in no time.
But he did have some words of advice for the new trio: to trust no one right off the bat and to keep away from the kingdom's capital at all cost. Rosella and Anneth had already followed the second warning from the start, agreeing regardless. hand
On the other hand, Gertrude had no idea what adventures awaited her outside the forest.