Jaehart wasn't lying when he said Minnie and Innilis possessed frightening talent when it came to cooking. Though the two were not much taller than the stove, their adept handling of the knives and ingredients betrayed their skill. The food's fragrance made everyone's mouth water. By the time they actually tasted it, they couldn't stop the praises from gushing out of their mouths. Kurdak bit down on a piece of steak and nodded nonstop.
"Oh my, oh my! I didn't think these little girlies would be this good at cooking. Our mercenary diets are… well, apart from my decent roasts, Vera's cooking is - Ouch!"
Before Kurdak managed to finish, Vera's right foot stomped on his left. She grit her teeth and applied even more pressure with her leather boots.
"Vera's cooking is even better! Better than this!" muttered Kurdak while resisting the pain.
"Haha, it's not that good. These two's cooking is really great. Come, have some steak as your reward," said Vera with a smile as she cut off a piece of meat and put it on Kurdak's plate.
While Jaehart's family of three were a little grossed out by the two's open flirting, Leguna and Annelotte knew the bear had just danced with death. If he hadn't reacted quickly enough, cooked bear paw would have been the next dish.
Jaehart took out a bottle of good wine for the meal and the atmosphere turned merrier and more cheerful. It only seemed thusly on the surface, unfortunately.
Both Kurdak and Leguna returned to their crude mannerisms and behavior after having something to drink. They even occasionally gave the whiskers of the two tigresses a pull. Had it not been for the presence of others, the two would have had to spend the night in excruciating pain.
But, even so, the two still ended up rather terribly. Annelotte's Glacial Domain chilled them to the point their skin greened. The cruel grinding of Vera's boot against their feet usually came not long after. The two women had already worked together for two whole years and they acted in perfect concert.
Though the undercurrent built up during dinner, Jaehart's family was completely unaware of it. Minnie and Innilis were completely warmed up to the four completely after the meal. They were most fond of Vera and Leguna. Given how active and energetic the two were, it didn't take long for them to successfully mingle with the two cute girls. As for Annelotte, given how she was quieter than the rest, the two didn't dare open themselves up fully when facing her. Kurdak, on the other hand, was easy to get along with. But due to his radically different apparent age, the two developed a sense of fear akin to that for one's father.
The three men and two women looked slightly drunk after finishing the bottle of wine. Annelotte and Vera both eventually denied further drinks. Kurdak wasn't satisfied with just one bottle, though, so he and Leguna went to the store to buy three more. The three men resumed their party once the alcohol flowed once more. Since they were in town, the two women didn't stop them. The opportunity being as rare as it was, the two alcoholics didn't let it go and drank to their heart's content. It was worth noting that Jaehart, a youth as slender as Leguna, had quite a good tolerance for alcohol. He never refused a drink when wine was poured, the other two sympathized with him even better. As the three drank and chatted, the four women snacked and had their own conversations. The atmosphere in the house couldn't be merrier.
Seeing his bottle nearly empty, some clarity returned to Jaehart's glazed eyes. He poured himself another cup before standing up solemnly.
"Brother Leguna, a toast to you."
Leguna made a stupid smile.
"Don't go around toasting for no reason, kid. Just drink your wine and spare me the theatrics."
"No, this is really important. I'd like to say thank you," said Jaehart seriously.
"Thank me? For what? Beating up that idiot? Let me tell you, while I can't give you much, punishing your bullies is one of the few things I can do for you," said Leguna with a snicker.
He had thought Jaehart was merely joking around. But when he saw the serious expression on his face, he stopped smirking and looked straight at him.
"No, you've given me too much, if not everything."
"Is this about two years ago?" asked Kurdak.
"Yes. Two years ago," Jaehart said with a nod and a sigh, "Two years ago our father had just left us... Mother... Mother also couldn't handle the stress and abandoned us. Everything fell on my shoulders without warning. Not only did I have to feed myself, I also had to... It was really important to raise my two sisters."
"Brother..." called the younger Innilis with a regretful and apologetic look.
Jaehart patted her small head.
"I don't blame you, Innie. Innie's a good girl and has always been the capable and obedient one. I was the incompetent one. Don't feel sad, Innie."
"After losing my parents, I thought the whole world was my enemy. The townsfolk looked down on me and their children called me a feral child nobody wanted. Because of that, I often got into fights. Because I had impetus, I would often beat them up really badly. But they children had parents and if I hurt them, their parents would come after me. If I beat up their parents, even more people would come to beat me up."
Minnie and Innilis had both begun to tear up. It was obvious the two pure, innocent girls still remembered the harsh days. Jaehart calmed his feelings.
"Being surrounded by a whole group of people, there was no way I could actually defeat them. But I would retaliate whenever I found a chance, man or boy. I would take the chance to beat up anyone that bullied me. But as it went on, I offended quite a few people. The shop owners didn't want to hire me for work, so I couldn't make a living. I was forced to resort to stealing. But that made the townsfolk hate me even more."
Even Kurdak and Vera's expression changed slightly. They didn't imagine that Jaehart had fared so badly. Though Jaehart had been the one to caused trouble for them, Kurdak had to admit they had used their overbearing power to beat him up. All of a sudden, the two felt rather guilty.
"In time, people became really wary of me and it made it hard to even steal. The day I met you guys, I had already run out of food at home. Minnie and Innilis were crying from hunger, so I had no choice but to go out and steal again," Jaehart said apologetically, "Since you were fresh faces in town, I thought it'd be easier to target you. So I went for Sis Vera's money pouch."
"Hehe, to be frank, I also dabbled in the 'field'. Your skills were far from mine, though," boasted Leguna proudly.
"Hmph, you're actually thick-skinned enough to brag about being sneaky?" snapped Vera.
"Heh! So you're looking down on sneakiness, eh?" Leguna was drunk enough to talk back.
As he spoke, he showed off the money pouch in his right hand which he had swiped when he was speaking from the table opposite Vera. Nobody saw how he'd managed it. Vera shrieked as she snatched her pouch before teaching him a harsh lesson. He cried out in pain, much to the others' laughter. Jaehart also laughed quite heartily.
"That's right. It was Brother Leguna that exposed me back then. I really hated him and even felt like killing him. But he didn't blame me and helped me pick up the coins. He even gave me a few silvers so my sisters didn't have to stay hungry."
"Well, we did happen to lack a guide," said Leguna awkwardly.
He remembered how harshly Vera had dealt with him after he made the decision to give Jaehart a few silvers without consulting her.
"It may have been a thoughtless act on your part, but it meant everything to me. Back then, nobody had treated me nicely for at least half a year. Everyone was bullying and looking down on me. But Brother, you gave me respect, help, and guidance on how to face hardship."
"Hey there, hold on for a second. I can somehow see myself giving you the first two, but I don't have any memory about giving you guidance. When did I teach you anything?" asked Leguna half-jokingly.
"You may have forgotten, but you spoke to me before you left," Jaehart said as he looked lovingly at his two sisters, "You told me their comfort was far more important than my pride and that I should think of them more."
Leguna was completely speechless. He had indeed said something like that.
"I remember your words even now. Since then, every time I was bullied, I would remember, I would remember Brother Leguna. I managed to take anything they threw at me. Gradually, the townsfolk began to accept me again and I got a place in town again."
"Whoa there, I get it if you say you could endure it by thinking about your sisters, but what was that about thinking about me that gave you the courage? Am I your moral support or something?" snapped Leguna irresistibly.
"Well," Jaehart muttered with an odd look, "I don't really know why... Maybe because you told me you were an orphan as well. When I saw you moving forward with that dastardly smile of yours in spite of having experienced so much hardship, it somehow gave me courage and I no longer felt afraid."
Kurdak snapped his fingers loudly and pointed at Jaehart, indicating his wholehearted agreement.
"Oh! I've never heard anyone put it so aptly before!" exclaimed Vera.
"That sounded appropriate."
Even Annelotte couldn't resist the urge to comment.
"You little punk... I knew I should've dealt with you back when we were in Nightsong!" Leguna's eyes were bloodshot.
The two little girls were so humored they couldn't stop laughing.
Jaehart smiled nonchalantly.
"That's why, I really have to thank you, Brother Leguna. Apart from that, I have a rather unreasonable favor I'd like to ask of you."
"What? You want me to kill you? Why didn't you say so earlier? I'd be happy to! Tell me where you want to be cut first!"
Jaehart looked at Leguna before turning back to his two little sisters.
"Well, it's quite an awkward request. Brother Leguna, I think you're a good person. So... I was wondering if one of my sisters could be with you when they grow up... I was hoping you'd pick one of them to be your wife."
Previous Chapter Next Chapter