To Yanxia: Home Cooking

“So, really, who is he?” Zuru had taken Zuri aside to chat privately after serving a meal to Amon.

She whispered lightly to the AuRa, and in her unfamiliarity with his kind, did not realize how well Elezen could hear, even at a distance. The woman would have to try a lot harder than that to conceal her conversation from him.

The Bard gave no sign that he heard, however. He allowed his outward focus to remain on the food in front of him – a dish of rice, meat and vegetables, with a side of what he recognized as Doman Tea.

This all smelled very good, and what he’d tried of it tasted just as good. But getting it from the bowl into his mouth was a challenge. The people there ate with the barest of utensils, things that Zuri called chopsticks. He found he was woefully inadequate at handling them.

It wasn’t fully due to him being new with the tool – though that probably played a part, too. It mostly fell back on the fact that his wretched cloned body still did not have the proper coordination to deal with introducing new fine motor movements. Even playing music, something he did for years before the loss of his original form, was sometimes a challenge, but for some reason, this task was outright eluding him.

Amon was grateful that the girls were caught up in their gossip so they didn’t realize how many times the meat and rice fell off his sticks.

“You mean Amon?” Zuri whispered back, looking as if she didn’t know why they were whispering. Or even why this conversation was taking place.

“If he’s not a potential significant other, why did you bring him here?”

“I told you..!” The AuRa’s voice lifted with embarrassment, then dropped back down when she realized she was getting too loud. “It’s not like that. Amon’s a good friend and my teacher.”

“You mean you friend-zoned him?” she looked aghast. Then she pressed, “What sort of teacher?”

“Music,” Zuri informed her. “He’s a Bard and he knows all sorts of music and stories.”

“Oh?” Zuru breathed, furrowing her brow. “I wouldn’t have guessed with how quiet he’s been.”

“He’s not usually like this. He’s just…”

The woman glanced over at Amon, trying to be discreet. Of course, that was the very moment when a large chunk of meat chose to fall off his chopsticks. Then, she offered a suggestion to finish the sentence, “Very awkward?”

“This is all new to him.” The AuRa tried to justify it.

“I thought Bards reveled in new experiences.”

“He usually does but…” There was a hint of frustration to Zuri’s tone. She tried hard to explain it in the most round-about way as possible. “Amon can be a little… odd… sometimes. There’s still a lot about him I don’t know.”

The Elezen almost chuckled under his breath at that, but reminded himself that he shouldn’t get caught eavesdropping.

Zuru followed this with a sensible question, “And you travel with him?”

“He’s part of my Free Company,” the AuRa spread her hands as if that said all there needed to be said.

“You travel alone with him.”

Zuri looked at her friend curiously. “Yes? Why?”

“You admit you don’t know much about him and yet you travel all the way here, bringing him to Namai?” Zuru frowned.

“Just because I don’t know everything about him doesn’t mean I don’t trust him,” the AuRa stated firmly. “We’ve spent a long time sharing stories and trading music, and him teaching me how to be a proper Bard. I promised him that I’d show him my homelands. That’s why we’re here.”

“Oh,” the woman’s face fell a bit at hearing that.

“What?”

“I just thought… you being back meant you were staying.”

Amon almost choked on his rice with that thought. It never occurred to him that Zuri might be going home to stay. Struggling to hide his response, he doused it with some tea.

“I don’t know yet,” Zuri answered slowly. “I do miss it here but…”

“Oh dear!” Zuru caught sight of the Elezen’s suppressed coughing fit. “Are you all right, Master Amon?”

Why do people always ask you that when you’re choking on something and can’t answer?

He just nodded, face turning red as he finally managed to swallow the offending food. Words came out as a croak, “Yes… fine… thanks…”

“I’m so sorry!” The woman waved her hand with a hint of embarrassment. “Look at me, chatting away and completely forgetting to tend my guest.”

“‘Tis fine,” Amon told her after another long drink of tea. He offered her a smile. “Zuri is glad to see you again. You two wish to talk. I understand.”

The AuRa smiled, too, and came to sit across from him. These tables were woefully small for his stature – he nearly consumed the whole of one bench – but he did his best to make do.

“She was just telling me about your kindness,” Zuru half fibbed. “And that you’re a grand storyteller.”

“Indeed,” Amon nodded, trying hard to make the rice stay on the chopstick in a hand that didn’t respond the way he ordered it to.

Zuri took notice of his plight. So did her friend. Neither of them said anything, but he could see it written in their expressions.

Feeling the weight of their scrutiny, he placed the sticks down and smiled with a conversational motion of his hands. Drawing their attention away from his flaws.

“I bring stories long-lost to the mists of time, and songs that I promise your people have never heard sung before,” Amon told her, beaming his brightest, most charming grin.

“You’ll have to indulge us sometime,” Zuru was eating it up, hanging on his every word with open fascination.

“I fully intend to.”

Oh, she was going to be an easy one to work.

Internally, he pulled that thought back, a bit surprised at himself. There was no need for that kind of sentiment here. Not with Zuri’s people. And yet, that was the first place his mind went.  

Thankfully, neither of them noticed his momentary silence.

Zuri was already busy eating. She handled her sticks subtly, glancing at him as if offering to show him how it was done without outright asking if he wanted her to.

Zuru, on the other hand, also ate, but kept a close eye on him. She studied his mannerisms and looked him in the eye far too much to be comfortable with. Surprisingly, however, Amon found himself withdrawing behind the hat brim in shorter bursts, usually when it seemed natural to look down – such as when engaging with the bothersome sticks and food.

This… was going to be a long trip.

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