Chapter 42 — Whiterun
The merchant squad was to leave town for Whiterun early in the morning, so Soran had already packed everything up and even prepared breakfast by the time Vivian woke up.
"Big brother," Vivian said and tugged her sleeves as she felt nervous, "I'm sorry. I won't drink again."
This little brat, drinking alcohol when I wasn't looking, Soran thought. He was about to scold Vivian harshly but then decided not to after seeing her cute, pleading face.
"One last chance. If I ever see you do this again, I'll slap your butt with a wooden plank," he said in a stern voice.
The young girl let out a sigh of relief and even stuck her tongue out when Soran was not looking. She then followed Soran down the stairs to the lobby.
Vivian had only taken a few sips of ale out of curiosity simply because she could not understand why people liked drinking alcohol so much, but she did not expect to get drunk so easily. She felt lucky that her brother did not give her a scolding.
Her butt was still slightly painful even after sleeping all night; Soran must have been extremely mad to hit Vivian so hard. She made a mental note to herself that she must never drink alcohol again.
Soran did not like drinking; or rather, he never drank any alcohol. Alcohol was a rogue’s greatest enemy, as the substance would lower their senses, willpower, agility, and awareness. While some warriors had increased battle prowess after getting slightly drunk, things were not the same for rogues—their profession advantages would be gone instead. Soran had once seen a Level 19 rogue who, though so close to reaching the Realm of Legends, got chopped up into pieces by mere Level 6 newbies because the rogue was dead drunk.
For those who had professions which were heavily reliant on skill instead of raw power, it was essential to keep a clear mind at all times. Alcohol in this world was rather strong; the wizards had created a process similar to that of alcohol distillation, and the purifying techniques used by alchemists were then used to make alcoholic beverages. By combining the two, the liquor obtained was so strong that even Legendary Warriors might get drunk with just a shot or two. Due to this, Soran would instead smoke tobacco made by halflings to relieve his stress, and he always had a tobacco pipe with him.
Soran went to the kitchen and took out the porcelain pot, which had been kept hot the entire night. A sweet fragrance permeated the place immediately, making others turn their attention to him. Soran smiled as he poured the contents out of the pot, keeping a portion for himself and Vivian before giving the rest to the merchant guards. The merchant guards had been preparing their meals the entire journey, and the least Soran could do was let them taste his cooking in return. He also paid the inn to fry two eggs and prepare two bowls of congee; Vivian should eat as much as she could now, because their rough journey would soon resume.
The mysterious mistress appeared out of nowhere and sat down opposite of Soran. Without asking for permission, she began tasting the food he made. She looked so casual that Soran was dumbstruck for a second and could not voice his objection.
"Won't you take off the veil when eating?" Soran asked casually while eating. "Isn't it rather inconvenient to eat like that?"
The mistress gracefully picked up the spoon, scooped up some stew, and blew to cool it down. The veil fluttered, showing her slightly pointy chin.
"It's quite good. I did not expect you to have talent in cooking," she replied calmly.
She only ate a little though. Her gaze landed on Vivian, who was busy gulping down breakfast like a hungry beast. Vivian had lived a poor life from birth, thus she was not picky about food. As long as it tasted above average, it was already a godsend to her.
For some reason, the mysterious mistress spoke a lot more than before. Soran did not expect her to strike up a conversation during breakfast, which made him suspect her. There had to be ulterior motives behind her sudden change in behavior.
Soran quickly finished his portion, then looked at the mistress and said, "We shouldn't waste food."
He casually reached for her bowl and poured the unfinished food into his own and began eating. This was an extremely arrogant and disrespectful act, especially so when the other party was a lady of high standing.
The mistress' gaze showed indignity and vexation. She took a deep breath, making her bountiful bust wobble ever so slightly, then regained her composure and continued sitting there as if nothing had happened.
Something was wrong.
Even so, Soran continued eating as if nothing had happened, pretending to be a frugal and stingy person. He also intentionally peeked at her chest in order to disguise himself as a low person.
From Soran's point of view, the mistress was definitely acting strangely, thus he was on guard against her. She, as a witch, had a slightly haughty attitude. She was not especially cold toward the siblings during the trip, but she was not especially friendly to them either. The mistress was obviously enraged and offended by Soran's behavior, but she endured it and continued acting normally for some reason. Witches and wizards were all rational people; there had to be a reason for her actions. Soran could tell that the mistress was not interested in him, so she had to be aiming for Vivian.
Did she discover Vivian's talents? Soran thought.
Apparently, Soran's guess was right on the mark. Once they resumed travelling, the mistress casually asked about their past, but he could easily see through her. Something like this was child's play for rogues; this was a basic technique for obtaining information from others after all. Despite that, Soran was unable to tell if she was a friend or foe.
The mistress might be trying to take Vivian as her apprentice after noticing her talents, which would explain why she approached them wanting to learn more about Vivian's past. However, the possibility that she had other ulterior motives was not low either; Soran simply could not trust a stranger who acted friendly to them out of the blue, especially when she was a witch.
Should we leave the squad and travel alone? Soran wondered.
Northern witches could not be considered kind beings; it would be bad if he waited until the mistress made her move and asked Vivian to be her apprentice. They were people who were not bound by common sense, and many of them would not compromise with others, instead forcing their way of thinking on them. At the very least, they did not negotiate with people who lacked power and strength. Most, if not all, spellcasters had haughty attitudes. It was more so given the mistress was a witch of high social standing, not to mention the fact that she was a woman.
Currently, they were already close to reaching Whiterun. As soon as they reached the city, they would go their separate ways. The merchant squad would continue their way back to the northern regions, while the siblings would head toward Autumnfall, then enter Elfenland through the Phantasmal Forest. Thus, it might seem fishy for the siblings to leave the squad right now, as they would be parting soon anyway.
Things were going smoothly and peacefully; monsters rarely appeared in large groups near major cities after all. They even met and teamed up with a bearded dwarf midway. The Ironspike Mountains to the north were once occupied by ogres, but a dwarven tribe moved over and built a city. The dwarves residing there were now known as the Ironspike dwarves. They frequently traded with other races, mainly humans and half-elves, exchanging high-quality weapons for liquor and food. Dwarves hated farming, and they would rather sit in front of a rock than plow the land.
As a matter of fact, only humans would willingly take on the tiring task of farming. Beastmen? They simply scattered seeds randomly and hoped something sprouted out from the soil. If they had time to plow the land, they might as well go hunt a few more wild animals; they preferred meat over vegetables after all. As for elves, who were known to pursue beauty to extreme lengths, they could not be bothered to farm as it would make them dirty. It was a huge waste as they had quite fertile land.
Travelling could be boring, especially when nothing special happened along the way; there was nothing to do apart from walking until one reached his or her destination. Even so, it did not mean it was a bad thing. Special incidents in the wilderness always brought along trouble, not to mention casualties and deaths.
For such reasons, everyone, be it the guards or the merchants, let out a sigh of relief after entering close proximity to Whiterun, as they had finally reached their destination for now. The merchant squad would stay in Whiterun for a month or so, during which the merchants would act separately to sell their goods and buy products to sell at their next destination. Some of the merchants would head toward the half-elven village nearby in an attempt to sell their elven-style products for high prices, though they were fake and counterfeit products.
The squad would regroup after everyone was done with their work, then take another route back to the North. They would deliberately travel near the sea in order to sell their products and bring back seafood, which was rare in the north.
Soran would depart from the merchant squad after receiving the share of money they earned from eliminating ankhegs. This was the end of their journey together, and it was time for them to part ways.
If only things went smoothly, that was.
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