"So, um, I take it you ain't been out of the Ivory Tower in a while, sugar?"
Gretel blinked. He rubbed the back of his neck, biting his lip. "Is it that obvious bit?"
The cart hit a bump, causing him to nearly drop his notebook. Beside him, the farmer's daughter Maye giggled as she bounced against his side. "A li'l bit."
She patted him on the shoulder. "Don't fret about it none, though, wizard. We've got no problem with folks from the Tower. You ain't the first we've seen this year, even."
"Oh, r-really." Gretel gave a little smile, trying not to show his nerves. The copper-skinned, red-haired Maye was dressed in practical, sensible trousers and a cold-weather jacket, clearly dressed for the farmwork she and her mother had been on their way back from this afternoon when Gretel had hailed them and asked for a lift. It wasn't exactly suggestive garb, but she was sweaty from a day in the field, and pressed against him like this (there wasn't much room in the cart, she'd said), it was awfully hard to focus. "And, um, you're sure it's customary to sit so, um..."
"Yeah, yeah, a'course!" She giggled, kissing him on the cheek. "We're a, um, very affectionate people. Nothin' suggestive about it. Why? Are you gettin' suggestible?" She winked.
Gretel knew he was being fast reduced to a blushing, babbling mess, and he fumbled for what felt like a minute before managing, "No, just... just making sure."
"You're just green about our norms! Nothin' to be ashamed of, sugar." She patted his head. Her fingers entwined slightly in his medium-short curly hair. "My, you're as pink as cotton candy up here. That somethin' they teach you in the Tower?"
"Um, something my benedician gave me, actually." Gretel ducked his head, embarrassed at how red-faced he was getting. He didn't mind the question, but he wished he wasn't getting so... so bothered by her proximity. If all the farmers were this cozy here in Springroot, it was silly to be so bashful. "The day I was born. She said I was destined to be a wizard, and wizards should have m-magical hair colors. Or something."
"Oh, really?" She snuggled up against him - clearly because it was cold, Gretel supposed, feeling absurd for how his breath caught at feeling her full bosom squishing against him beneath the jacket. She was just trying to get warm. This was common behavior outside the Tower. "Say, y'mind loaning me your cloak?"
"M-My - what?" Gretel stared at her, biting his lip. She had such pretty hazel eyes. Asie from his pale cloak, he was dressed only in a simple formal suit and vest. In this wet, muddy weather, the cloak was all that was keeping him clean.
"It's cold." She rested her chin on his shoulder, grinning innocently. "And, well, I was thinkin' maybe we should share it. Just for warmth." She batted her eyelashes up at him. "Oh, do they not do that in the Tower?"
"I... I mean, I suppose..." Gretel blinked rapidly. "I mean, um, no. Do they... is that really..." Her fingers were taking the hem of his cloak, fiddling with the simple clasp, and he was hesitantly following suit. Following her lead. No harm right? The thought of sharing his cloak with Maye made his heartrate quicken - could she feel that, all cuddled against him?
"Very common 'round here," she said, her voice light and teasin. "Nothin' odd about it. Thaaat's right, just..."
"Whoa!" called the gruff voice of her mother up ahead. The mule drawing the cart came to an abrupt halt. The jolt made both Gretel and Maye lurch forward slightly, and Maye slid about three feet away from him in an instant as Terrin - quite resembling Maye, save for a pair of deep brown eyes and about twenty years' worth of scars and laugh lines - looked back at them. She adjusted her fishing hat slightly in a sort of salute. "This here's your stop, Gretel."
"O-Oh! Thank you!" Gretel gave her the warmest smile he could muster, nodded bashfully to Maye, and hopped out of the cart. He let Maye pass him back his staff and satchel. "Thank you very much, madam!"
"Ha!" The farmer snorted. "'Madam'. You're gonna wanna drop those words, boy. Bein' too respectful to anyone makes the good folks suspicious and the wrong folks interested 'round here."
"I... I see!" He kept nodding, even though he only half-understood. You're nodding too much, his wits warned him. Stop nodding! "Thank you. I'll keep that in mind." Whatever it means. He glanced at Maye, who smiled brightly at him.
"You wanted the nearest farmhouse." Terrin pointed down the dusty road. "This forks off towards the Wheels family homestead. It's bein' rented to the Wheels right now, I mean. The farm's called the Glimmer Farm, after the girl who plotted it."
"Right. The village owns it, yes?"
"Mm-hm." Terrin's pointing shifted slightly to the right. "The Wheels are nice folks. A bit fey-friendly, but you gotta be when you live so close to the Evergreen, I reckon. Been tryin' to get us a patron fey for years, that lot." She laughed, as if this was an old joke in Springroot. "There's a branching path right up to their house. The left or right will take you the same way - doesn't matter one bit. Don't take the middle path."
"What's wrong with - "
"Trust me." She leaned down from the cart, raising an eyebrow - as if sizing him up. "Someone like you'd best stay off the middle path, and well away from the Greens Farm, 'til you learn to manage yourself. This ain't the Tower no more."
He blinked big eyes, swallowed, and adjusted his large, round spectacles. "Got it."
"I'll pick you up tomorrow, in case the Wheels ain't willin' to take you the rest of the way!" She cast a scowl back at her daughter, who was suddenly very keenly interested in the seed bags. "I expect my daughter'll be busy canning with her ma tomorrow, but my son Henja might be with me. He's a lot more... cold-tolerant than my daughter seems to be."
"We'd better go, Mother," Maye said, clearing her throat loudly. "Ma and Henja must be wonderin' what's keepin' us."
Terrin snorted and turned back to the road. "So you ain't poised to die from chill, Maye?"
"No, Mother." Indeed, with her flushed cheeks, Maye looked rather warm right now.
Gretel was not sure what was going on, and had a feeling it wasn't his business. So he just gave a big smile and did a sort of curtsey-bow combination, hoping that this at least got him close to a proper local farewell. "Um... thank you very, very much! I'll see you tomorrow, then!"
"Tell the Wheels we want our spoon back!" the farmer called, as she drew the reins and the mule started walking. "Aeril Wheel will know what I mean, the old heel."
"W-Will do!" he called, as the cart started to wheel away.
As Maye glanced back at him, she smiled and blew him a little kiss. There was a tempestuous look in her eyes. She leaned over the back of the cart and adjusted her jacket, clearly no longer quite so cold after all.
Gretel swallowed and waved nervously, quickly averting his gaze and brushing his long curls from his face. He clearly had a lot to learn about etiquette outside the Mage Tower. If he hadn't known any better, he'd have sworn she was trying to flash him her tits.
~ ~ ~ ~
When he'd told the Headmaester why he wanted to head to Springroot, the old man had peered at him through those thick bifocals of his like he'd completely lost his mind. Gretel had always been fascinated with the lives of the commoners - or former commoners, back when there had been a Royal Family and sense of kingdom holding the continent together - and to him, an economic analysis seemed perfectly relevant.
"What's to know?" the Ivory Headmaester had mumbled. "They farm. They hunt. They trade bits and pieces, but there's no meaningful industry. Why not head to someplace like Nyaska, or... ah, how about Enterprise? Now there's an economy!"
But as Gretel tapped his whalebone staff against the gravely path, wincing every time a pointy little stone made it into his sandals, he knew he'd made the right choice. All around him, through the thick evening fog and purple haze of the moment before sunset, tall cereals illustrated the fields no doubt belonging to the Wheels family. They were clearly near harvesting. How did they harvest all this acreage on their own, though? Did they have employees? Was it a magical effect?
Of course, he couldn't see much through the fog, and perhaps there was far less grain than it seemed. Indeed, he didn't even notice he was coming up to the fork until he nearly ran right into the sign.
The sign was made of thick bark, and nailed to a great, big citrus tree of some kind. Rotting oranges littered the ground. Idly, Gretel wondered if oranges normally grew in the same climate as the kinds of grains surrounding them, but as he read the sign, he understood a little better.
And beneath it, a simpler, more temporary-looking sign: Tashka Family.
So the 'Greens' weren't the family renting the orchard, he realized, peering behind the sign. The apple tree was growing in the middle of the road, right in front of a third center path leading straight down. 'Greens' was the name of the orchard itself. Maye had mentioned that the Wheels were friendly to fey - maybe the Tashkas were, too, explaining the flora.
If it hadn't been so foggy, he might have even been able to make out the Evergreen Forest from here.
Don't take the middle path, he recalled, and gave a curt nod. He looked between the right and left path, briefly considering which looked like it had fewer sharp rocks.
He shivered. It felt like he'd just jumped into a freezing river with this fog hanging over him. He wanted to get to the Wheels before nightfall, definitely. Fey aside, he needed to be in front of a warm fire yesterday.
"Ja, it is a chilly eve, isn't it?"
Gretel whirled around in a full 360-degree circle at the voice - lilting and melodic, almost bouncy, distinctly feminine. He couldn't see anyone, but there wasn't much he could see in this fog. The wind picked up, and he wrapped his arms around himself.
"And very difficult choice for an empty stomach," called a second voice, almost identical except that it distinctly came from a different direction. Gretel gasped and spun around, but there was nobody in sight.
"Someone there?" he asked, clutching his staff close. He had to have his shield spell up and ready, but his fingers were numb from windchill. "Um - uh, friend or foe?"
This triggered a round of giggles from his two anonymous hecklers.
"Friend," they said together, and Gretel bit his lip. Okay, there were definitely two of them.
"If you are friend, that is," added one.
Gretel bit his lip. This could be fey. He had never met a fey before, outside of maybe a catgirl or beastfey stopping by the Tower on occasion. Never alone. And never on a foggy road in the wilderness. "I'm... friedly," he said hesitantly. "Trying to... to get to the Wheels. Who are you?"
"Hm." The first voice sounded thoughtful, as if this question had put them in doubt.
There was a long silence. The sounds of the wind picked up as the fields all around hissed in motion.
Gretel heard a voice right behind him. "Around here, a visitor gives name first, I think."
He turned to behold a woman emerging from the fog. His eyes widened.
She was only about four feet tall, and that was stating it generously.
She was also bright green, as green as the orange tree leaves, with darker plump lips and brilliant blue eyes. Her hair was jet black, worked into a long fishtail braid, and she wore a simple set of furs that managed to cover her completely while still giving away that she was extremely curvy. Her ears were the size and shape of hunting knives.
A goblin. Goblin maid to be precise - not to be confused with a skittergoblin or a fey goblin, Gretel recalled from his books. She was mortal. Not a fey at all. His shoulders slumped in relief.
Then he realized she was staring at him expectantly, her arms crossed, and he started as he remembered her words. "I - um - Gretel." He extended a hand. "Gretel Ivory, at your service, Madam."
She looked at his hand and smiled. He suddenly remembered that Terrin had told him not to be too polite.
She took his hand and shook it briskly, in a way that gave him the sense he'd committed some sort of minor faux pas and she was being gracious. "Lesha," she said, smiling up at him. "Of the Tashka Clan. You are a wizard, ja?"
He couldn't place that curious accent, the way her 'w' almost sounded like a 'v', the bounciness of her intonation. It gave her a certain... exotic flair, he supposed. "Y-Yah. I-I mean, yes. Ivory Tower."
"Long way from home." She glanced over her shoulder. "A month's journey, I think?"
"About, yes. But, um, it's that way." He pointed. She glanced back at him and blinked, and he realized she hadn't been trying to look towards the distant tower at all. He lowered his hand lamely . "I'm, um, trying to find the Wheels' home." He turned back to the sign. "Either path works, right?"
"The Wheels?" Lesha seemed puzzled. She walked up beside him, on his left side. "Ja,, any path but the middle."
"They're quite a way to walk, though," said a second voice, and Gretel tried not to show how startled he was as a virtually identical goblin maid - except this one with a yellow-trimmed white dress instead of a blue-trimmed white dress, and bright red eyes - emerged to his right. She smiled up at him, curtseyed, and offered her hand. "I am Jalli."
"Gretel." Gretel blinked down at her, and realized wih a pang that she expected him to kiss her hand. No wonder Lesha had been put off. He bowed, took her hand, and kissed it as chastely as he could muster. to his relief, Jalli's coquettish giggle implied he'd done the right thing. "And I know they're a way, so I'd, um, best start walking, right?"
"Oh, you should not!" Lesha tugged on his sleeve, wide-eyed. "it's near sunset! There are many bad things after night."
"And it is so cold," Jalli murmured, shaking her head and tutting slightly as she looked him over. Her hands were on her wide hips as she craned her neck to see his face. "No, no, Gretel, you should come with us."
Gretel rubbed his thighs together, uncomfortable at the way they were half-circling him. "But I - "
"It is very close," Lesha assured him, slipping her arm into the crook of his elbow. "Much closer than the Wheels."
"I - well, I mean - "
"You must come with us instead," Jalli said, nodding eagerly as she took his other arm. "We will be so worried all night otherwise!"
Gretel was stammering, trying to think of a polite way to refuse without telling them their own neighbors had warned him to steer clear. The trouble was, he was very cold, and the idea of a fire melting away the figurative icicles he could feel jabbing him with pins and needles with every gust of wind made his knees weak.
And they were already nudging him forward.
"I mean..." He hesitated, but was already uncertainly allowing them to steer him, trying not to trip over his own feet. "How... far are the Wheels?"
"Oh, at least, um... hm..." Jalli put her finger to her lip as she considered the number, blinking up at him. It was such an innocent-yet-suggestive expression, he didn't actually catch her estimate - but the way she said it made it sound very long indeed.
"Ours is much more near," Lesha said, skipping slightly, forcing him to walk quicker. "We will have a hot meal and a warm fire for our guest! He will be nice and cozy in no time. Hospitality demands it, ja?"
"Y-Yeah." Gretel squirmed, almost struggling to keep up as the goblin maids urged him around the sign. He spared a nervous glance over his shoulder, eyeing the path he'd been supposed to take with a pang of guilt. "I-I just, um, don't know if..."
He felt a little pinprick of cold hit the tip of his nose. Then another struck the back of his neck.
As it started to rain, he trailed off, staring down the distant, foggy right-hand path.
"Do not worry," Lesha sang, bopping her head against his arm affectionately - almost like a dog rubbing its head against the hand for a pat. With his hands in their clutches, at least he didn't have to worry about instinctively obliging, he supposed. Now that would be a faux pas. "Our home is very near. While we are going, you can tell us all about you!"
"U-Um, sure..." Gretel swallowed as the sign disappeared into the fog behind him. He shivered, and the goblin maids seemed to press closer to him, warming him with their fur-clad bodies.
Village culture seems to be very intimate, he noted, trying to quell his nerves as the goblin maids began humming some sort of traveling tune in unison. It was droning, but soothed his nerves, and his eyelids felt rather heavy as he allowed them to guide him onward through the rain. Without much sense of... personal space.
~ ~ ~ ~
The goblin maids' home - the Tashka house, for as long as they were renting - a nice little cottage, and every bit as cozy as promised, warmly lit by colored glass lanterns that cast it all in a rosy pink light. It reminded Gretel uncomfortably of the first time he'd left the Ivory Tower, just last spring.
Everyone at the Rose Tower had been very kind, and very clever, and very forward, too, just like these two goblin maids - though none had been quite so blatantly eager to undress him.
"Th-That's okay!" he blurted, as one of the goblin maids - Jalli, he was pretty sure - moved to take his cloak. "I-I mean, I don't, um... should I take off my cloak?"
"Ja, ja." Jalli sounded slightly impatient, but she was all smiles as she hopped up onto a stool to help in her task. A bit odd that she had a stepping stool right by her front door, but Gretel couldn't imagine there was anything sinister behind it. Maybe it was to reach the coatrack or something, though how often did they have guests his size? "Of course, Gretel!"
"Of course it is," Lesha agreed, as in time with her bouncy accent, she bounced up to share the stool with her twin sister and help take the cloak from the other arm. She leaned in close for balance, and Gretel felt her warm cinnamon breath over his shoulder. "Necessary to take off cloak, yah, yah. Very wet. You are cold!"
"Um, a little bit," Gretel admitted. The goblin maids giggled, nodding in agreement as they took his cloak and draped it over the coatrack - empty aside from his article, it seemed.
"Of course you are!" Jalli exclaimed, and she hopped off the stool and skipped away into the living area. The living area reminded Gretel of Wizard Arlo's den back at the Tower. The infamous hedonistic teacher of magical patterns, runes, and designs had been known for his greedy, gluttonous lifestyle, and had been implicated in more than one improper relationship with a peer or pupil. Just like the Taskhas, he had kept a roaring fireplace, suggestive portraits on the wall, and a great, big armchair next to a bowl full of treats.
Only around here, that had to mean something different, didn't it? After all, there was only one armchair and two goblins, so it wasn't as if they spent their days lounging about and drowning in sensuous pleasures. There were only two portraits on the wall, one of a goblin maid standing beside a tall elven woman with a strong jaw - perhaps the goblin maids' parents. Yes, the elven woman was lying in bed as the goblin maid sat on her lap, the portrait's perspective from a bird's eye view, but surely Gretel was the only one who would perceive that as anything sexual.
The other portrait was of a pair of... were those peaches? Some sort of large, round fruits. He felt absurd for seeing it as anything else. Back at the Ivory Tower, people had always told him outsiders were a decadent, mindless lot interested only in day-to-day activities, sex, profit, violence. But just because nobody around here wore baggy, smelly robes and reacted to the slightest touch with an abjuration didn't mean everybody was trying to seduce him. He was just... inexperienced, was all.
As Jalli disappeared into another room, Gretel realized he'd been asked a question. He blinked down at Lesha, who smiled at him, still holding his arm. "Um.. I-I'm sorry, I didn't, um..." He bit his lip, blushing slightly.
"What sort of magic do you work?" she asked, giggling as she half-led him into the living room and toward the armchair. The thought of sitting by the fire filled Gretel - still shivering slightly - with intense relief. Feeling the heat of the flames radiating across him felt like the most glorious, radiant pleasure of his whole life, burning the chill from his bones. "My sister and I, we have been to the Teeth Tower, ja? Long, long ago, as tiny children. Very scary for us!" She winked.
"I-I can imagine!" He giggled nervously as she started to ease him into the chair. "Um, just - sorry if this is a silly question - "
"Never be sorry for silly questions! We cannot help it sometimes."
"Yes, hee, um... " He glanced at his arm, held against her chest as she urged him to sit. "It's just..."
"What is it, Gretel?" She blinked big, innocent ruby eyes up at him, her thick lashes fluttering over them like curtains. She gave him a light shove, and he at last sank into the somewhat too soft armchair with an involuntary squeak. "I only want to get you warm. Do they not take care of each other in the Tower?"
Gretel opened his mouth to argue, then trailed off with barely a sound as Lesha hopped up onto the armrest next to him. They didn't. Not really. The Ivory Tower taught self-reliance, with a confidence born of having your very own private knight order defending you at all times. It was easy to be big on independence when you were already safe. "The, um... we mainly learn metamagic wizardry." As she continued to blink, her eyes now slightly above his, he amended, "Magic about magic. We learn to control other people's magic, o-or, um, identify it!"
"That is so interesting!" She seemed to mean it, too. She was almost glowing with excitement as she smiled down at him. Gretel felt his face heating - he was not used to this response.
"Ya, ya!" She ran her fingers delicately through his fluffy pink hair. He met her gaze, then quickly looked away, brushing his hair from his pale green eyes. "Well, um, yes. I mostly learned metamagic, anyways. Wizardry is the technique - you know, the one with the incantations and, um, special powders and stuff."
"Like this?" She reached forward unprompted and ran two fingers over his neck tattoo. Gretel gae a squeak, and she blinked at him, but didn't pull her hand away. "It is a very pretty design!"
"What is pretty?" Jalli asked, as she returned and sat down next to him in the chair. Gretel stiffened slightly, but tried not to show his shock. This was normal. Nothing flirtatious about it. Right?
Gretel had a bad track record with boys, and an even worse one with girls. Though he was twenty-three and considered quite handsome - his light olive skin always earned him plentiful and unwelcome attention from people telling him he was "exotic" - the Ivory Tower had never been a place for romance. He'd never been taught how to deal with flirting, especially when he wasn't sure if it was flirting or not.
"This," Lesha cooed, continuing to trace her finger around the tattoos. Gretel quivered and tried not to whimper aloud.
"Ooh, it is!" Jalli's eyes widened up at him. She leaned in slightly for a closer look. Gretel felt his breath on his neck, and realized from her open mouth just how long goblin maids' tongues were...
"Hungry!" he burst out.
The two goblin maids stared up at him, and he realized they had both slipped into the chair beside him. There was just enough room for a comfy squeeze.
"Hungry?" Lesha murmured, and hopped out of the chair. Gretel was amazed at her ease - one sank practically a foot into the chair when they sat down in it. Personally, he had no idea how to extricate himself. "Oh, poor Gretel, we are neglecting you."
"Neglecting our guest," Jalli purred, her brilliant green eyes glimmering as she continued to stare at the tattoo. "I have cooked up something very yummy for him! Lesha, go get it. I will keep him company."
Lesha gave him a bright smile, and there was a hint of something else in those eyes - something like mischief. Then she was off.
Jalli was out of her furs now, Gretel realized, and had slipped into something like a russet-rose nightgown while she was out of the room. Though it was silken and loose, she was definitely wearing a corset or something underneath. The effect was to push her boobs right up against his shoulder as she rested against him.
"Um... do you always dress so, um..." Gretel gave a nervous giggle, blinking rapidly down at her. "So, um, pretty before bed?"
She beamed up at him. "Pretty? I am just dressed for comfort, you flatterer." She tapped his nose playfully. He blushed as her fingers trailed down from his nose, over his lips and cheek, and back to his neck - hovering over the silvery tattoo. "What is this?"
"M-My focus." Gretel squirmed slightly. "It's, um, I need it to cast my spells. Metamagic. Some shields and s-such."
"Oh, my!" Her finger traced the patterns. He squirmed more, despite his best efforts, but she seemed totally oblivious. How could she not notice? Gretel wanted to say something, but the thought of offending his hosts - who were clearly being so kind - made his gut roll. "We know so little of magic. Very little, ja? Did it hurt?"
Gretel bit his lip. He remembered, at nineteen, choosing his focus. Wizards learned many basic scientific techniques, and metamagic and abjuration were all about patterns. Some chose a paintbrush, or a book, or a simple pointer wand, or even a knife - blood was the strongest pigment in the world, when fresh. Of course he'd chosen the one to make him insanely sensitive.
They'd told him not to feel bad, that many new wizards lost control when they received a mark. But it had felt so good...
Kind of like how he felt right now with her stroking over it like that.
"A little," he squeaked. "It's, um, still... tender."
"Oh! Am I hurting you?" she pulled away, frowning in remorse. There was something in that expression, though, that seemed almost... exaggerated? Was she being sarcastic? Why would she be? Gretel was being paranoid.
"I w-wonder what's keeping her," he said, hoping to change the subject.
Jalli giggled. "Missing her? Poor Sister always has such trouble fitting into her, um, night wear." She snuggled up against him. "But we don't need her to get warm."
"I - I, um - " Gretel squirmed even more, as if by doing so he could somehow dislodge her.
But did he want that? He was warm. Very warm, up in front of the fire, with a warm body pressed against him. She was just trying to get him warm. What was so wrong with that? And his squirming only seemed to help her nestle more comfortably in the chair.
"Just relax with me," she breathed in his ear. "It is good to relax. A good guest should be calm. Passive. Content."
"But I - "
"Shh." She put a finger to his lips. Gretel's eyelids fluttered, then opened wide as she started to slip that finger into his mouth -
"It's ready!" called Lesha. Gretel jerked his head back as the other goblin maid reentered, now wearing a gorgeous flowing nightgown of a deep pastel blue - and carrying a tray with a steaming bowl of something colored like the sunset in it. She set the tray down on Gretel's lap, then hopped up onto the armrest on the side opposite Jalli and smiled at him. "Will it do?"
Gretel stared at her, then let his eyes flick unwillingly to her now-amply presented ample bosom. Her breasts looked as smooth as anything, glistening in the rosy light, as green as clover - and large enough to smother him with, if she leaned in just a little.
They were giggling slightly, and he jerked his head away and to the food. Desperate to avoid their gazes, he looked around for a spoon. But all that was on the tray was the bowl of spicy-smelling soup, a cup and some herb-infused bread.
He blinked up at them.
"Like this," said Jalli encouragingly, reaching down into his lap and taking a piece of bread. She dipped it into the soup, scooping up a generous helping, then brought the piece of bread to his mouth. "And open!"
Gretel found himself obeying, allowing her to slip the hot, dripping, spicy and savory morsel into his mouth. He stared at her uncertainly, unsure if this was normal.
"Go on," she said with an eager nod, rubbing his chest with her free hand.
Realizing he looked even dumber staring at her with a closed mouth full of food, Gretel began chewing.
Flavor exploded into his mind like fireworks. Overwhelming tastes flooded his mouth, spices and - and - he couldn't even place half of these flavors! His eyes widened.
"There he goes," giggled Lesha. "Our poor Gretel! Have you never eaten anything more than gruel and meat before?"
"Mm!" He shook his head, eyes teary. It was spicy - but delicious. He savored every chew, not even thinking about how he was staring right at Lesha's jiggling chest, or how she was leaning over him as if for a better view. He allowed Jalli to slip the rest of the piece of bread into his mouth without even thinking, and mindlessly chewed and swallowed.
"That's right," Jalli cooed, stroking his hair as Lesha reached down and took another piece of bread. "Just let your hosts take care. Gretel is being a good guest."
"Yes," Lesha hissed, grinning as she had him open wide and give him another bite of the overwhelmingly delicious food. The bread was so soft and fluffy, and the soup so rich and hearty - he recognized tomato, but there were so many herbs and spices, so much he didn't recognize - "Don't worry, Gretel, this is normal outside the tower. To let your hosts handfeed you. Very normal."
They giggled, exchanging mischievous looks.
He swallowed, feeling a lump in his throat as he looked between them. Jalli squirmed against him with a little giggle, and he saw her reaching down over the side of the chair - and returning with a lovely wooden pitcher. The smell of hot, mulled wine reached his head, and he suddenly realized how thirsty he was.
"Time for drink," they cooed in unison, their eyes glimmering with delight.
TO BE CONTINUED...