Chapter (III): Fireside Fights (Part 7)

Chunks of Cassius’ prize, a wild doe, roasted on a makeshift spit over the campfire. It wasn’t much meat: enough for the four of them to have as a very filling dinner, with some extra that Nico said would make for a fine breakfast before they departed in the morning. The sun overhead was gone completely, and stars glittered in a smattering of clusters that offered him some peace.

Cass chomped into the remnants of the deer, and ‘Laine flinched when he heard bones snap and meat rip. The noises disgusted him, but moreover they reminded him of watching Nico carve the better sections of the meat for themselves just a short time prior. The archer had taught both he and Eryn how to skin the creature, which Varlaine had found disgusting enough. The prince’s only experiences with raw meat involved a few wanderings into the castle’s kitchens, and it hadn’t looked anywhere close to as bloody and fresh as the deer’s.

Nico himself turned the spit carefully, with hands that had been rinsed under a canteen but were still tinted red. His shirt, a muddied and stained brown already, had a few new dark blemishes to show for their meal. The archer had convinced both Eryn and ‘Laine to cut their own portions from the carcass after he’d shown them how, and seeing the stains made the prince self-conscious enough to look down over himself. He’d been meticulously careful when he’d cut a piece, and the carving knife had been kept at arm’s length, but his effort was rewarded with clean clothes even after the cutting. The stench of bleeding flesh, though, he couldn’t drive away. He wondered if it was real, or if he was imagining it.

“I didn’t really like carving the meat,” Eryn commented. She sat near Nico, watching him turn the spit, brows creased in a grumpy and uncomfortable stare. “It made my skin crawl. That doe was alive before we came in and…”

“You get used to it,” Nico said simply. He was concentrating on his task, but even Varlaine could see he looked bored. “Not like you’ve been eating vegetables all your life up until now.”

The rider huffed, a noise that made Varlaine wince in preparation for an argument and the nearby, reclining Naz very quietly snort. “I didn’t have to cut up those animals. It isn’t the same.”

“Yeah, well, someone did. Your dinners didn’t skin themselves, city girl.”

Instead of lashing out further, Eryn went quiet. Varlaine was relieved by that; while silence on her part probably meant some amount of brooding, it was better than dragging the camp into a fight. The quiet endured long enough for Nico to become satisfied with the meat, and he took the spit off the fire, jamming it into the ground and inspecting the food.

“Naz, you eat first,” He declared. The mercenary lifted her chin from her palm, tilting her head in confusion, before she shook it in refusal. “No, you need to. The kids are young, but you’re traipsing about in armor that weighs as much as either of ‘em. You need to eat.”

It took a moment for her to accept his reasoning, but Varlaine was glad she did. “Alright. Appreciated.” She got up, carried herself forward, and took the largest chunk of meat from the several skewered on the wooden spit; then she returned to her place without a fuss, sitting and blowing cool air on the food.

“You next,” Nico gestured to Eryn, then held out the spit to her. “Ladies before men.”

Dissatisfied with that, Eryn puffed out her cheeks in annoyance. In the end, likely to alleviate any further bickering, she moved forward to accept the meal. When she sat down, she took a longer time staring at it than Varlaine had seen her deliberate over a meal. Nico stared right along with her, before shaking his head and turning to ‘Laine.

“And here’s yours, my lord.” The prince got the impression that the formal greeting was somewhat bitter, but he bowed his head appreciatively anyways.

“Thank you, very much, for the food,” He expressed. Nico shrugged it off and handed him the chunk of meat, and he took it. The food was warm in his hands, and the exterior had toughened out some, dried by the heat. It wasn’t as soft as what he’d had in town, but then, that had been cooked properly and this was a wild meal. When he bit into the food, its juicier insides, warm and fresh, sated his hunger enough that he couldn’t complain about the texture.

The group ate for a while, a quiet but bonding experience. They each had their own way to go about it, Varlaine noticed: Naz pulled pieces from the whole and placed them between her lips, while Nico tore bites from the bigger piece of meat and chewed on the jagged pieces there. Eryn, for once, seemed uneasy; she too tore off smaller chunks, but each was appreciated in a more subdued, almost unhappy way. The prince decided he’d rather eat like Naz and Eryn, so followed suit.

When all of the meal had been eaten on all parts, Eryn excused herself to care for Cassius. She said something about wanting to help wash his beak and feathers, and departed with the griffon for the stream, leaving Varlaine alone with the two adults.

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