“Ah, Va’il, and the dearest Ruby. It is wonderful to see your visages yet again!”
“Why, thank you Baron,” Ruby said while bowing slightly. She looked radiant in a fresh set of clothes that she had deemed worthy of her, a custom-made dress of blue and green silks. It had been a while since Va’il had seen her in anything other than the clothes they had come with or borrowed from Derlik’s family.
“I hope you haven’t minded my contribution. I may lord over a small city, but I feel it my obligation to look after those who stop in,” Baron Braun Laloo said.
“I appreciate the gesture. But as long as we are here, please, you don’t have to treat us better than anyone else under your care. We are just friends of the children’s friends at this point,” Ruby said.
“Yes, father, just friends. In a roundabout way,” Link said with a toothy smile.
“It’s fine if he wants to spend his spoils on a pretty Ruby. She’s already spoiled!” Va’il said. Ruby turned and gave him a fierce look. Va’il gave a small growl.
“I swear, you’re terrible,” Greta said. “Always with the small fights and bickering.”
“Is that what is sounds like?” Ruby asked, sounding surprised.
“Yes. And the Laloo children know all about infighting!” Greta said. Her siblings laughed, as they could all agree that they didn’t get along at times.
“It’s not fighting,” Va’il said with a smile.
“Not fighting. Not even bickering. Teasing, I guess,” Ruby said.
“Human teasing is hard to understand,” Greta said, and then sighed.
“It’s more subtle,” Ruby said. “But it’s fun. Nobody else really knows about it here. Too many bearans! You’re all too tough! And physical with each other! I should say, you’re the ones I cannot understand.”
“What?” Greta asked with a hint of annoyance.
“That was teasing,” Ruby said, and then smiled.
“I think Greta is just bad with verbal cues. I understood it all fine from the beginning,” Link said.
“Now children, enough,” Baron Laloo said before Greta could say anything.
“Yes, I apologize for going into this. Just as we’ve arrived and all,” Ruby said.
“Oh, not a worry. My children will have plenty of time to fight, but not much time to socialize. Go ahead and take a while to get situated while I check with the cooks,” Baron Laloo said, and then jostled off.
Ruby and Va’il greeted each child as normal, though with an added touch of respect. They placed the bags they had brought in the main room, and then took seats in it. A fire crackled in a decorated fireplace while the children spoke of what they had done in the past weeks since they last met.
Unlike most of their other meetings and the last time they spent a night with the Laloo children, Tico and Spand were not present. This was a personal invitation to only Va’il and Ruby, extended by the entire Laloo family. It was to be a dinner and enjoyable night, and something that Ruby looked forward to greatly. When Va’il had wondered why they were being invited, Ruby educated him on the manners of certain nobility. Baron Laloo was known around town as being someone who took personal interest in his subjects, and wasn’t above speaking to even the lowliest of them. As being such obvious foreigners that virtually everyone in the city knew of at this point, it was self-evident the baron wanted to show them his good side. No one knew from where Va’il and Ruby hailed, but that stopped no one from treating them as special. Some treated them badly, others well, but overall the baron’s openness was visible in his subjects. Va’il nodded and conceded, though he wasn’t completely convinced.
“It’s a feast,” Va’il said, his eyes savoring the sight of pork, beef, and glazes of various kinds. Every kind of sea creature in the area was available as well, along with every wonderful garnishment Va’il could dream of.
“You’re drooling,” Ruby said. She laughed slightly, and then sighed.
“So what? So are they,” Va’il said. Ruby had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. She was the only human in the house, the only one who thought salivating at the sight of meat was something to be contained.
There was a touch of bickering to spice the dinner, mostly over who was to get certain choice pieces, but it was pleasant. Va’il made a worthy foe for the bearan children when it came to fighting for and winning the last rib. Ruby spoke with the girls a bit, and conversed with the baron. She was accustomed to speaking with nobility, but it surprised her how much she felt at ease speaking with him. She did realize that in absolute terms, she was far above him in relative wealth and power. He was the baron of a small city, and she was, as an individual, one of the top people in all of Rising, answering to only a hand’s worth of people at the most. The baron would definitely be surprised and humbled by how much gold Ruby casually carried with her in a bag that had stayed secret in her possession. But he was noble nonetheless, and thus someone she could relate to.
“I must say, miss, you have knowledge beyond that of most your age,” the baron said after a brief talk about the status of merchants in Grizz.
“I admit it’s true, though I do mean it with some humility,” Ruby replied.
“Well, being able to admit it is a step in the right direction! But though I can recognize that, I do have to ask about your circumstances. You’re intelligent, but human. You’re friend is, well, unique. I know that much. But why are you here, miss?”
“That’s a private matter, sir.”
“Of course. But maybe, at least, where do you come from? Perhaps something or somewhere important is in your past?”
“Sir, while we appreciate all this, there isn’t much to tell. Our matters are quite personal and private. It would be painful to even speak of them, should we desire to. But you can rest assured that as troublesome as the path we have come from is, it isn’t something grand. To use a grim, but realistic example, think of it like this. An orphan, without home or help, will pass away on the street. His path to that end is personal, agonizing, and private. It may even make a grand story to tell in detail. But he was nothing grand, or even out of the ordinary, as unfortunate as that may be,” Ruby said.
“Quite grim indeed. I think I’ve understood a bit more of what you mean. I understand, I will not meddle in your private affairs. I should say that I didn’t invite you here to speak of that matter. It really was an honest invitation from us of the Laloo family to the two strangers who have decided to call this province home, for however long or short that may be.”
“Thank you, sir. I trust that as well. We all have our sides of things, our reasons. I know they may not be apparent to others, as theirs are not apparent to us. But isn’t it wonderful that there are those you can trust without doubt?” Ruby asked. She smiled and then looked across the table.