Chapter 19: The Visit and A Tear In The Veil
Seated on the coach seat of the carriage, the man called Hayze introduced himself after stopping his vehicle in front of the cottage’s entrance.
“Sir Eldrin, madams, as I have said previously, I’ve been sent here on the orders of Sir Luthais to deliver replenishments.”
Unable to see his features, Nisha’s impression of the man that had just spoken was ranging from favourable to curious, the deep voice felt like a drum being beaten, yet it was pleasant to listen to.
“The lord wanted to make the trip himself, but tensions between Leandar and the Terus empire didn’t allow the marshall to leave his post.
With no agreement in sight, Sir Luthais had to resolve to send me in his stead.”
Who is this Sir Luthais and what does he has to do with Eldrin?
And this man spoke of a Terus Empire … I’d love to explore the world behind the horizon one day. But for now, it’s fine the way things are.
“That does indeed sound like something he would say, always placing honor before family, and refusing to leave his post in a time of need.
Nonetheless, I would have liked him to visit, there are so many new stories I have to tell him ever since the number of persons living here have increased.
Nisha, please start cooking lunch already, Anna and Lydia will help out Hayze unloading the cart and I’m sure our guest will love to eat and rest before going back.
Go ahead, we will join you and do the proper introductions once the work will be taken care of.”
The sudden visit had made the blind girl slightly apprehensive, reminded of the last encounter she had with humans beings by the voice of the newcomer, quite alike to that of the noble she had battled; yet the elf seemed to believe and know the one that had sent Hayze, and she trusted his judgement.
Walking in the direction of the kitchen, finding easily the door to the house even without her sight, she realized that it was not her turn to cook that day, and thus Eldrin was probably planning to show off her cooking, a thought that made her exceedingly happy.
An appetizing smell soon filled the large room as the experienced cook was concocting a meal more extravagant than usual , a feast worthy of being proud of.
From time to time either the sisters or the elf accompanying the visitor passed through the kitchen, carrying some of the various cargo the carriage had held on its large loading space.
I wonder what they are talking about, there are lots of names I’ve never heard in their conversation.
Thanks to her acute senses, Nisha was evading the trespassers in her kingdom, the kitchen, quite easily, while adding seasonings to the meat to deepen its taste, preparing a sauce to go with the potatoes and another one to give a sweet taste to the salad.
Just as she was about to take a stirring soup off the fire, a pair of hands suddenly hugged her from behind.
“What are you doing Lydia, you know you shouldn’t do that when I’m cooking.”
Nisha didn’t have to see to understand that the girl started pouting after seeing her identity being immediately found out along with the failure of her attempt to tease the blind girl.
“Geez, nobody would believe that you’re blind if not being told so. What gave me away this time?”
Snatching a piece of bread that had been baked the previous day from the plate it had been put on to be dunked into the soup pot, Lydia snatched an early taste of the meal.
“Was it my smell again? I’ve showered just this morning, the bathrooms here really are a luxury. Or was it my touch? I’ll never understand how you can figure out who’s who without seeing, no matter how often you tell me.”
That kind of exchange between them had something of a game that had started ever since the younger of the sisters had managed to achieve the second rank in aura.
She had been able to sneak on Eldrin and Annabelle, but the sharp senses of the eyeless girl had always allowed her to spot the ninja when she was striving to silently follow one of the other inhabitants of the house.
“Actually, you’re the only one who would pull a prank like that. Anna isn’t really inclined to sneak on me, Eldrin would never abandon one of us alone with the guest, so that only leaves you.”
And your smell and the sound of your steps gave you away. But I’m not telling you.
“Anyway, you have to wait before eating, we’ll eat together. Rather than that, what does Hayze look like? He has a really deep voice.”
Taking the hands of the older woman inside her own caused Nisha to remember the hesitation Eldrin had demonstrated when she had expressed the wish to spar with the other two women, and the following long discussion that had led the elf to finally give in and allow her to train with the maids, which proved to be a lengthy and arduous process that only rewarded her with getting hit at first, until she managed to sense her sparring partners well enough to evade their hits.
“Hm, how should I describe him … he’s really tall and has a lot of muscles, as well as scars. Black short hair with a black-full beard, he looks pretty rugged.
But Hayze also acts gentle from time to time, when a chest almost fell from the carriage on me, he caught it and asked me if I was alright.
Seems pretty decent to me, why do you ask?”
During the last three moons the two sisters and Nisha had grown considerably close, even the initial wariness Annabelle and Lydia held against her after learning that she was a dragon had disappeared gradually.
These days the three of them acted like close friends, teasing each other and talking about various matters Nisha could not mention in front of Eldrin.
Likewise they weren’t far apart regarding their ages, the two sisters had started working as maids in the Silverwood house after their fifteenth and sixteenth birthday respectively, having lived their life as the daughters of two servants thus already living in the estate permanently.
Unfortunately, the eyes of the two sons of the branch master had fell upon them, and when they had rejected their advances, they had forced them along on the trip into the Wilderness to sate their lust, were dooming them to disappear into the forest forever.
However, the most painful fact was that their parents had urged them to accept the affection of the young lords and refused to speak up for their daughters when they had received the order to accompany the offenders on the trip, all because they feared the nobles and did not consider their own offsprings enough to help them.
In order to fill the familial spot, the two sisters were treating Nisha and Eldrin particularly well, never complaining about doing their chores in the cottage.
“Maybe it’s his appearance then, but I felt that Hayze is a very dangerous man. On the other hand, if he is kind, then it is fine. Help me carry the dishes please, the meal is done.”
During the time the blind girl was dwelling on the story she had heard from her two friends, the soup had finished cooking and the remaining pans and pots were all ready to be consumed too.
Lydia had respected Nisha’s silence and picked up the dishes Nisha couldn’t take.
“Don’t you want to know if he is handsome?”
Her friend’s question didn’t manage to lead the young girl’s step astray even for a second, she only calmly answered the interrogation with one of her own.
“Do you think he is handsome?”
Nisha expected the seemingly cunning inquiry to be a reflection of the usual teasing they were indulging in from time to time, yet the other side went silent for a second, seriously considering the question.
“Hm, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that Hayze is particularly handsome … rather than that, I’d say he fits the image of a strong man, which has a charm on its own.
Wouldn’t you also want to be rescued from the lair of a foul monster by a knight in shining armor? That’s the vibe I get from him.”
As the two of them were bantering with each other, they arrived at the door to the lobby where the rest of the group were already conversing at the table, waiting for lunch, tired after having moved all of the supplies from the cart to the different storage rooms.
Turning towards Lydia behind her, Nisha tried to restrain herself but ended up whispering a final remark in her ear.
“Maybe he will turn out to be your prince in shining armor, but I don’t think that’s for me.”
Because rather than the princess waiting to be rescued, I’m the evil beast keeping the beauty captured.
With a slight smirk on her face, the dragon walked to the table, smiling and thinking about the secret joke only she knew, and placed the dishes in the middle before taking her seat next to Eldrin.
“Whoever complains about my cooking has to do the dishes! Dig in!”
The mood seemed a bit quieter than usual with the addition of one more plate at the table, so Nisha took it on herself to open the feast, inviting a bout of giggles from the girls at her left, while Eldrin at her right humphed at the idea that someone could dislike the meals prepared by the best cook in the mansion.
The different reactions made Hayze curious, as he quietly observed everyone helping themselves to a large portion of the food from his seat next to Eldrin.
After taking a piece of every dish and tasting it, the human exclaimed with surprise.
“This is really good! My compliment to the chef, I didn’t think there’d be someone with such skill here, the miss is very skilled.”
The praise made a small proud smile appear on Nisha’s face and she chose to say nothing and just enjoy the meal, however she couldn’t see that the guest wasn’t facing her as he spoke and rather was looking at Lydia as if she was the one who had prepared the food.
“I’m glad the servings are to your taste, Mr. Hayze, although I’m not the cook, Lady Nisha is.”
An awkward expression painted itself on Lydia’s visage as she corrected the guest’s statement, a feeling shared by everyone sitting at the table but Nisha, and Hayze who seemed somewhat more puzzled than shocked, unable to link the information with the names Eldrin had given him earlier.
“I’m sorry, but that’s rather hard to believe.
It’s probably rude of me to put it so bluntly, but the other miss seems to be blind, at least that’s what her closed eyes suggest me.
I don’t want to belittle her, but cooking a meal like this all by herself is impossible.”
Unable to see her friends’ actual expressions, Nisha could only hear their voices and the shuffling of their clothes when both of the sisters shuffled from the awkwardness.
As for the the old elf, he had managed to contain his emotions behind a facade, a skill acquired after a long service at the royal court.
“Indeed, the maid helped her with the physical tasks, yet all spices, seasonings and recipes are from the hand of my granddaughter, a feat worthy of praise, I enjoy her cooking very much.
It’s unfortunate that she is impaired, but that’s not a topic for a meal.
Say, Mr. Hayze, what’s the latest news you have heard of Luthais, I’d have liked to see my son personally … “
Chatting about the latest gossip in the capital, the men at the table were fighting for the lion’s share of the conversation, while Annabelle and Lydia were watching the one they saw as their little sister with concerned looks, worrying about the silence she kept, supplementing the discussion with small episodes about the escapades of their own former house from time to time.
Nisha originally wanted to take part in the exchange as well, to learn more about the capital Thurgau, however the remark about her damaged eyes had affected her mood somewhat.
Jumpring on the first opportunity to escape that presented itself, displayed by the empty plates piling up, she carried the empty dishes back to the kitchen with Annabelle, and started cleaning up, while Lydia was pouring alcohol for the two men and herself, practicing her conversational skills on a stranger for the first time.
“Indeed, if I hadn’t seen her eyes, I wouldn’t have thought that the miss was blind.”
The off-hand comment from Hayze was caught by Nisha when she was about to enter the kitchen, her hearing enhanced from the daily aura practice capturing the low voice in which the guest confided in to Eldrin.
Apparently the older sister had picked up the remark as well, a slight gap in her steps caused the plates to clatter, and Nisha stretched out a hand to prevent her from falling and breaking what she was carrying.
I don’t think I like Mister Hayze.
To distract herself from the dark ideas clouding her mind, the blind girl focused on playing with the aura and mana near her body and head, twisting them into unimaginable shapes and making them dance around like fairies in strange paths, while silently taking care of her chore, washing the dishes.
Uncomfortable with the silence, her friend tried to console and cheer her up.
“Don’t let him get to you, I bet he just couldn’t imagine that a sweet girl like you was able to cook such a delicious meal.
I’d definitely make him apologize to you if he wasn’t a guest of Sir Eldrin …”
The anger contained in the older girl’s voice brought Nisha back from her dream world, noticing at the same time that she was almost done with the cleaning of the kitchen and plates.
She doesn’t get it either.
“Do you think I mind getting called blind?
It’s true, my eyes are damaged and can’t see. But does that make me any less than another person? I can manage my daily life, I think you’d be hard pressed to defeat me in an actual spar, and every day I’m trying to explore more of the world.
So what if someone calls me a cripple or damaged? That only shows that he doesn’t know me at all, but I don’t care either.
Do you know what hurts me right now? I thought at least my friends would know me better than that.”
Although the blind girl wasn’t completely done with her share of the chores yet, she threw the ragged cloth she had used and headed to Eldrin’s and her room, leaving behind a stunned and guilty woman.
Truthfully her sight had been a sensitive topic in the house, and thus was not brought up often in the past.
Nisha wasn’t sure whether Eldrin and the sisters were avoiding the topic deliberately or only wanted to go easy on her when she was around, however no one would mention her eyes unless it was absolutely necessary, the last time being when she had pleaded Eldrin to let her practice actual sparring with Anna and Lydia, and even at that moment, she had to bring up the matter herself since everyone else did not want talk about the most obvious counter-argument, only walking around the actual words: blind and impaired.
Eldrin’s reason for skipping any possible reference to her eyes was simple, and Nisha easily forgave the elf. He was feeling guilty for having been saved by the trade of her eyes, the laconism he showed whenever she talked about the big sisters Gabriel and Bael or the noble party being a clear sign of that fact.
On the other hand there was no logic behind the two former maids’ behaviour, steering the conversation away every time the topic neared her injury. The thought that not having a sense could be considered as shameful by others hurt her more than the careless remark of a stranger, she did not feel the need to be pitied.
In the end, she loved the two sisters dearly and didn’t want to stay mad at either Lydia or Annabelle, and Eldrin was as much of a family member to her as the siblings back in the [Dragon’s Den], the short outburst she had earlier was only the result of frustration accumulated over a long time.
But they can’t refuse to talk about it forever.
Being treated specially because she was different did not suit Nisha, and she opted to cultivate instead of wallowing in her anger.
Closing the door behind her, the blind girl once again dived into the beauty of the small coloured wisps surrounding her, studying them and trying to comprehend their mysteries.
The engrossment had the desired effect, and Nisha quickly drifted off into a peaceful state of mind, somewhere between sleep and meditation.
In these particular circumstances, she didn’t notice the prying eyes of the observer on the other side of the window on the second floor, studying the adept contemplating nature’s enigmas, cladded in a weave of elements.
Compared to the first time Nisha had meditated, the shroud wasn’t wildly dancing around her anymore, instead it had shrunk and came closer to her figure, sticking close to the skin, drawing her features and illuminating her frame, a spectacle capable of dazzling anyone lucky enough to witness it.
Even in her sleep, the former dragon should have been able to detect the gaze of an unknown watcher, a valuable skill she had acquired after long years as a predator in the Wilderness. This time, however, the observer did by far eclipse the strength of anything Little Flame had encountered in the forest so far, a strength only surpassed by a handful of individuals on the continent.
The stranger nodded his head at the display in front of him, he had expected the scene he was now seeing when he had felt a ripple of elements through the area.
As he prepared to go back to the place he had just left with a weak excuse, he suddenly felt the eye of another hidden presence, this one however looking at himself, and not at the girl.
Scanning the area with his power, the presence remained hidden from his perception, an accomplishment that sent shivers down his spine. A being this powerful should rightfully have no business in this remote area, the only thing of interest being his current target.
Abandoning his position, he rejoined the old elf and the young human who were thinking that he had gone to the bathroom, and continued to play along with their merry attempt to figure out his identity while pouring him cup after cup of red wine.
Having completely missed the short episode, Nisha continued to gather mana inside her mind and refine her body with the aura she had accumulated during the day’s practice, until she heard the door of the room open.
“Won’t you come down for dinner? The girls are worried about you.”
Eldrin had not immediately heard of the short clash of words between the dragon girl and the older sister, Annabelle had only informed him later about the disagreement, when he had asked where Nisha had disappeared to while his guest was taking a short bathroom break.
“You know, the two of them didn’t mean anything by it. They are concerned about you, very much like I am.”
He is trying. But it still hurts.
“Do you think I am handicapped, grandpa?”
After living with Eldrin for about a quarter of a turn, she naturally came to call him grandfather, recognizing him as a part of her family along with the human siblings, a moving display of her affection.
“I’m not angry or mad, I just want to discuss about the situation with everyone, no one ever talks about my eyes and treats my blindness as something shameful, even you don’t want to face it.
Just because I can’t see with my eyes, that doesn’t mean I’m completely blind to my surroundings.”
Sitting down on the bed with a sigh, the old elf realized that his caution to avoid the delicate topic had not protected the girl, but instead isolated her further from the other two women in the house.
“Alright, we will sit down together and talk, we have been averting reality for far too long.
But let’s wait at least until our guest is on his way back home, then we can discuss it … as a family.
You know we love you, and I wouldn’t think any less of you just because of your eyes.”
Rubbing the top of Nisha’s head in a gentle manner, the elf silently continued to show his endearment to his adopted granddaughter for a while, before leaving her alone to sort out her feelings.