"All right." Seemingly reassured by just a few moments of warm contact, Greylin turned to Peppercorn. "There must be water somewhere, mustn't there? Shall we find some?" The two of them scampered off, leaving Kal with Jester on his shoulder to keep him company.
"I think she likes me," Kal said, once he was left alone with the ferret and the cooking. There was a smile on his face again, feeling strangely warm inside after their brief embrace. He broke off a piece of fish from the plate, and offered it to his furry friend, before going about cooking up the rest of their meager meal.
There was bread, left by the villagers, and Greylin found a natural spring with Peppercorn's help, filling a heavy jug with the ice-cold water to bring it back to Kalan'ar. Meager or not, it was a feast to her. She wouldn't be very likely to be able to eat more than a few mouthfuls at a time for a while.
Upon her return, she'd find two places set at the table, each with a plate of fish, a knife, fork, and cup. The table setting wasn't fancy by any means, but it was more than either had been privy to in the Underdark. Despite the meagerness of the meal, Kal couldn't help but feel a swell of pride that this was theirs and that they had caught and cooked the fish on their own.
The sight of the table set for them both brought a bright smile to her face as she set the jug down, bouncing on her toes for a moment, clenching her fists to keep herself from embracing him again without his permission. "Thank you, Kal."
"For what?" he asked, brows arching upwards curiously. She need not thank him for cooking, when he had to eat, as well. He moved to take the jug, so that he could fill their glasses, nodding his head for her to sit.
"For staying." She smiled once again, the expression softer now, and eased herself down into the seat he indicated, watching him pour out the water. Whether she was anxious to eat or not, she was quite prepared to wait for him to be ready before she took up her knife and fork.
He frowned back, but only because he was a little confused what she meant by that. "Where would I go?" he asked, with a shrug of his shoulders. While it was true he could go back to his shop and his life at the forge, why would he when the Mother had given him all this? She seemed to have chosen him for a greater purpose and wanted something more for him. Why would he ignore that and abandon Greylin to return to a life that had been simple and peaceful, but lonely? Once he was finished filling their glasses, he broke off a hunk of bread and set it on her plate before doing the same for himself.
"You did not have to make me your responsibility," she reminded him gently. "You did not have to agree to look after me. Am I not allowed to be grateful that a kind man chose to become my guardian in a world I know so little of?"
"Should I not be grateful, too?" he asked as he took a seat at the table. "You did not have to agree to allowing me to be your guardian, to staying here with you, to helping look after you," he said, as if all that was more privilege than responsibility. It had been the Mother who had tasked him with it, but Greylin had not complained or denied him it.
"But my agreement is not selfless," she pointed out in a soft tone. "I know very little about living. It is a good thing for me to have someone looking over me. But I am very glad it is you."
"I do not know if I will be a good teacher, Greylin, but I will try," he promised with a serious expression on his face. "Now," he said, that expression softening into a smile. "Eat before it gets cold."
Her head bobbed in agreement, lithe fingers picking up her fork to pick out the flaked flesh before her and eat with dainty bites. After her reaction to a full meal last night, she was very careful to eat slowly and pay attention to how full her stomach felt, but it was no great hardship. Not when she kept pausing to watch Kal eating across from her.
They ate in watchful silence of the other, as if speaking might break the spell. Hungry as he was, Kal had to force himself to slow down, so that she didn't feel rushed or pressured to eat more than her fill. He easily ate twice as much as she did, devouring it hungrily, even as he tried to keep a slower pace. Whatever was left went to Jester and Peppercorn, whose name was probably going to get shortened to simply Pepper before too long.
Queenie and Chipper were on the table as the two elves ate, attacking the bread to remove the seeds from the crust and eat them. Greylin smiled to see the animals so comfortable in a home that had not even existed a day ago, though that smile became shy again as she glanced at Kalan'ar. "I-I have never slept on my own."
Others might have scolded the pair of birds or shooed them from the table, but Kal and Greylin seemed to welcome their company, happy to share the meager meal with their woodland friends. Kal was just washing his meal down with a swig of water when Greylin broke the silence.
"Never?" Kal asked, brows arching upwards again.
She shook her head, silver white hair swaying about her face as she absently stroked Chipper's head with one finger. "Never," she confirmed softly. "When I was a child, I slept with my sisters, and ... well, no slave is given the luxury of their own bed."
Now that they had finished eating, Kal almost wished she was wearing a shawl or a cloak, as the sight of her in the sleeveless shift was a distracting one. He remembered the smell of her skin as he'd held her, and the softness of her hair, and there was that strange feeling in the pit of his stomach again, which was not due to hunger or digestion. He was furrowing his brows at her again, leaning forward, arms folded against the table as she told him about her childhood.
"There was no bed in the Underdark," he confessed. "Not for the likes of us. When we could, we slept where we worked and woke to start again. But I have always slept alone, even as a child," he told her, contrasting her experience with his.
"I am sorry." Her hand stretched toward his, hesitating just a moment before laying her fingers over his knuckles. "Your life in the Underdark was harsh. I am glad you survived, and escaped."
"As was yours," he said, his fingers moving as if of their own accord to tangle with hers. "I am glad you are here," he said, returning the sentiment in not so many words. He did not wish to make light of her past, nor compare it to his. They had both suffered, but he was grateful they were both now free.
"So am I." She squeezed gently before drawing her hand away, looking at the plates between them. "Oh! I know how to wash dishes!" This probably didn't deserve the enthusiasm with which she offered it, but it was nice to find something she wouldn't need to be taught over several weeks.
Kal laughed at her eager declaration. "It is not so difficult," he said, eyes twinkling with amusement. He liked how her fingers felt tangled with his, but it was the light in her eyes that made him smile just then. "Shall we do them together?"
"Yes." It didn't need thinking about; being able to do something with another person and not worry about being punished for it was a luxury in itself. She rose from her seat, stacking the plates as Jester finally scrabbled down from Kal's shoulder to curl up with Peppercorn in front of the fire.
It seemed almost natural, almost comforting to share these simple pleasures of life, even the chores that came with them. To enjoy a meal together, the warmth of a fire, the ease of companionship - these were all things most people took for granted. Ordinary things that both Kal and Greylin had not known for a very long time. Even the simplicity of cooking the fish and scrubbing the dishes was more enjoyable with whom to share the chore, and Kal thought he could find contentment, happiness even, here with this sweet, gentle creature, if she would only let him.
One day was not enough to undo the pains and torments of the past, but it seemed that Greylin was prepared to face all those memories if she had to. She liked Kalan'ar; she trusted him, relying on the kindness he had shown her without failing since she had fallen into his grasp the day before. If she was going to make a home here ... she would like it to be with him, if he would allow it, even knowing everything that might entail.
It seemed the Mother had chosen wisely in bringing the two of them together, but whatever happened between them, even she could not know what the future might bring. Whatever came, they would face it together, guardians of the forest and of each other.
((Whew! That one really got away from us. Kudos to anyone who managed to even skim all of that. It's probably longer than it needs to be, but we were having too much fun to stop. ))