We put on our shoes and left the chief’s house. The two young guards were no longer by the entrance, and the entire settlement suddenly seemed more lively than before. The beastkin had been in their houses earlier, but now they were moving from one place to another and were busy making preparations.
“I suppose they are preparing for that feast that the chief mentioned.”
“Now that, I’m looking forward to. Food prepared by beastkin.”
“I am getting hungry…”
Her lack of patience was astounding.
They had only just gotten started. Currently, I could see that they were shoveling snow to make a clearing in the center. I could also see that wooden pillars were being brought out to build some kind of structure. The fact that they worked with practiced familiarity showed that such events were not uncommon.
The venue came together rapidly, and as we watched, I suddenly felt someone tugging at the sleeve of my winter clothes.
“Mister. You’re human, aren’t you?”
I looked down to see a beastkin boy standing there. He looked up with eyes full of curiosity. And so I squatted down to his level and informed him that I was indeed so. His face lit up.
“So, so, you’ve been to the town? The one that is way upriver!”
“Aye, that’s where we came from.”
“Oh! I wish I could go…”
He looked quite jealous at first, but soon laughed. He was so cute that I wanted to take him with us.
“I want to go there when I get older.”
“Well, it’s quite far and dangerous. So you definitely should wait until then.”
I patted him between the ears. Clearly, this one knew how to accept good advice. It suggested the adults here were respectable people.
And before I knew it, we were surrounded by children. Their fluffy ears and shining eyes looked up at us.
“Hehe. We seem to be quite popular here.”
I got that the adults were busy with preparations, but I had assumed that strangers like us would be treated with a little more suspicion.
“Wait, calm down! One at a time!”
We had come out with the intention of exploring, but now it was like we were babysitters. In fact, that’s what we ended up doing until the feast was prepared.
However, the kids did show us around. They led us this way and that way by the hand. And while it did result in a thorough tour of the place, we were quite exhausted by the end of it…
But it was educational as well. The structure of the houses was particularly interesting.
Like the framework. They used wood to create a dome-like structure and then covered it in cloth.
The clothes could also be quite fancy. Everyone had a different design. They were so colorful that you could never get bored looking at them.
It reminded me of something I had said to Arthur. He was an orc and an abnormally evolved being that I had met a long time ago. I had told him about the lifestyle of nomads.
What if he had something to do with… As if.
□ □ □ □
Once the sun had set, candles were lit in their metal and wooden stands. Daniela and I saw in the light cast by the swaying flames, and drink was poured into our cups.
“And now, let the feast begin!”
Thankfully, there was no long-winded speech to open the night. The others raised their cups into the air and cheered. Daniela and I lightly clinked ours together.
The cups were filled with chilled fruit wine. It was sweet and easy to drink. I wonder what it was made of?
“How is it? Do you like Beluru wine?”
“Mister Ash. Is that what this is?”
Ash came over to us, cup in hand, and sat down. Apparently, this wine was made from Beluru sap. So it wasn’t fruit wine, it was sap wine. Maybe it was similar to mead. Well, I didn’t know anything about such things.
“It just happens to be best this time of year…and so we decided to serve it. I’m glad that you like it.”
It reminded me of the Berulu dishes we had eaten in Valdorf. They had also been sweet and delicious, but this had alcohol in it and was more refreshing. At least, I thought it was.
“Still, this drink just makes you hungry… Is the food not ready yet?”
Daniela said, without a shred of restraint. Ash laughed and then pointed.
“We always drink before the food comes out. It is the way of the beastkin.”
“Hmm. So it is your culture… Interesting.”
Daniela muttered as she touched her chin and stared at the plates that were brought forward.
“Alright, here you go. Sorry to keep you waiting!”
Said an elderly woman with especially large ears. She lay down a heavy silver plate in front of us. The air around us was cold, but the food was steaming hot. And it also smelled amazing.
“Here is a traditional dish. Fried Venison with Ryuze!”
I had never heard of that before. I knew venison was deer, but I guess ryuze was something that only existed here.
“It’s a special leaf. And it is so incredibly spicy, that it’s near impossible to eat by itself. But when you wrap the meat with it and cook it, the taste is absorbed by the meat.”
“I see… In other words, this is a very spicy dish?”
“Haha. It’s not mild, that’s for sure.”
Spicy food was perfect for the cold seasons. And we had sweet wine to go with it. That meant I could enjoy the heat without killing my tongue. It seemed like a good way to get through the icesnow phase.
“This feast was prepared for you two. So there’s no need to be modest.”
“Well, if you insist…”
“Mmm…ggg…mm…gg… Damn, this is hot.”
“Quick as always!”
Master Daniela didn’t know the word ‘restraint.’ She had already grabbed her plate and began eating. I watched her drink down the wine from the corner of my eye and took a bite myself.
“Hm…! It really is hot!”
“Haha… Perhaps it is too much for humans?”
I hadn’t expected it to be so spicy. Ash laughed with amusement as I drained my cup of sap wine.
“Ahhh… What a shock…”
“Drinking too much of that will have consequences in the morning.”
“Uh, I’ll be careful.”
Still, the food was addicting. Spicy food was like magic, and it had full control over me. Besides, it went so well with this drink!
The plates and cups were empty in no time. My body felt warm and my mind felt good.
“Mmmm, mmm…ahhh. Ah, that was delicious…!”
Daniela wasn’t just attacking her meat, she also drank a lot. She usually didn’t pay the drink much attention when there was meat on the table, but I suppose this one really suited her. Our cups and plates were immediately refilled.
As we enjoyed the feast, the women of the tribe began to dance. While this was a feast, it was also a kind of reception for us.
They had instruments made of wood and string, as well as drums, which created a relaxing rhythm. Your body just naturally swayed with the music.
“Ohh. I have seen that instrument used by a forest tribe.”
Daniela said with deep interest as she watched. Then Ash brought out a different instrument. It looked a lot like a guitar.
“This one was made from monster materials. Can you play?”
“Not very well, but, yes.”
Daniela accepted it and held the neck with one hand and began to strum with the other. This was not like the relaxing music that we had been listening to up until now. It was aggressive and loud. However, it seemed fitting as well. It reminded me of the music gypsies played. Passionate and wonderful.
“Ohh…not bad at all.”
Ash looked very surprised. The beastkin who had been playing were also looking at her in astonishment, their ears twitching on top of their heads.
There was no race or borders when it came to music. The drummers began to follow the beat of Daniela’s music, and the flutes soon accompanied them. Then Daniela glanced at the musicians with stringed instruments, and they all followed her lead. Furthermore, people started to clap their hands, and we all were united.
Before we knew it, Daniela was playing one upbeat song after another. It was like being in a live house. The beastkin felt the passion of the music and began to find partners as they danced.
“Ah, what great sight.”
“You’re not going to dance, chief?”
“Hahaha. Not at this age and with this back…”
I sat down next to the chief and enjoyed watching the others. Everything seemed to go by too quickly, but we had a great time, none the less.
“Ah, yes. I have something to tell you, Asagi.”
“About the Lord Snow Cat.”
Daniela had just finished playing, and she bowed amidst the applause of the others. Yes, now that I thought about it, the chief had said that he would be telling this Lord Snow Cat about us going to the ruins.
“I have a message.”
“Please tell us.”
“‘Wait for my arrival, human!’ There it is.”
I shuddered at the sudden, low growl that emitted from the chief’s mouth. Well, he seemed to be quite skilled with impressions…
“I-I see… So, at what time should we be expecting this Lord Snow Cat?”
Damn it. I didn’t even feel drunk anymore…
When I looked around, I saw that all of the food had been eaten up, and it seemed like things were winding down. It was the atmosphere of a feast that was about to end.
Then the chief got to his feet and clapped his hands.
“I think it is time for this feast to come to a close! You can clean everything up tomorrow. You can all go and rest. Thank you so much for your hard work!”
He ended it with those simple words, and everyone returned home. Daniela returned the instrument to Ash and walked back to us.
“That was fun.”
“I had no idea that you had such a hidden talent.”
She muttered as she looked away. Was she a little embarrassed? Maybe she was just drunk.
“I was hoping you two would stay the night at my house. Would that be acceptable?”
“We couldn’t intrude to such a degree. We have more than enough to make us comfortable. If you would just allow us to camp nearby.”
“Hmm… If that is what you prefer. I will see you tomorrow. And I hope you will be awake before the Lord Snow Cat arrives.”
“Yes, we will.”
Sleeping in the chief’s house felt like a little too much. Besides, we had tents to sleep in. It wasn’t so cold that it would be a problem for us. After all, it’s what we had been doing up until now. And Daniela had her magic tools.
When everyone had left, I pitched the tent in the empty venue. This tent was large enough for both of us to lie down, with plenty of space left. Then I put down the magic tools and the warm blankets.
Perhaps she really was drunk, Daniela seemed a little light-headed as she entered the tent. She even lurched towards me as if unstable.
“Woah…are you alright? You usually don’t drink that much.”
Still, she didn’t pull away. If anything, she was pressing into me.
And like that, she pushed me onto the bed.
“Are you sure you’re fine?”
“…Tonight, was… It was fun. And I learned something.”
“Learned? What did you…”
Daniela covered my mouth with her own.
“Mm… Haa… Music and drink…it stirs one’s emotions.”
Were we going to stay up all night…? We had a busy day…
Still, I was not one to ignore Daniela.
And so it was decided. For us, the night had only just begun.