The Lalafell said nothing else about Amon’s magic after the fever vanished. Likely, it was illness that led him to talk out of turn. Once Mocho was back in full awareness, he didn’t even give a sign that such things concerned him… though Amon had a feeling that they did.
They remained in Wineport for a few days, allowing Mocho to rest as his fever began to subside. Under Koh’s careful watch and healing, he sprang back much more quickly than Amon expected, even having full use of his arm in very short order.
Koh, on the other hand, was in extremely high spirits after their talk. Amon saw something within her transform, as if some huge weight was taken from her shoulders. He had no clue that he’d been the cause of so much of her stress.
Seeing her happier made him certain that the choice he made was the right one.
Thankfully, Zuri remained unaware of the whole thing. Amon wasn’t sure how much longer that would be the case, especially with Mocho having caught on to him. Something in him dreaded trying to explain the truth to the girl, so he kept silent about it… whether that was the right thing to do or not.
In fact, Zuri was sitting with him when the letter arrived that afternoon.
“Mister Amon?” The delivery boy inquired, peering at him with the folded paper in one hand.
The Elezen glanced over curiously, “Aye?”
“Message, sir.” He handed the note over and gave a bow, being on his way.
“Oooh… what’s that?” Zuri instantly hung over one of his shoulder to get a look. She teased, “A love letter?”
“Zuri, no,” Amon half grimaced, half laughed, but allowed her to watch as he opened it. His eyes capered over the words, a frown forming slowly.
“What is it?”
“’Tis from that Lalafell merchant…”
“The one with the chocobo?”
“Aye,” he said slowly. “Sounds like something’s happened with the bird and he wants me to come to the stables.”
“Oh no! I wonder what’s wrong.”
“He didn’t specify. But I suppose I should respond.”
“I’ll come with you,” Zuri offered.
Amon peered at the Au Ra for a moment, then agreed as he got to his feet. “Very well.”
“We thought he might shake himself out of this,” the merchant told Amon. “But he refuses to touch his feed or come out of the stall.”
“My job was to return the bird. I’m afraid I can’t take responsibility for an illness it obtained during its time in the swamp,” the Bard responded as diplomatically as possible. This chocobo was an expensive piece of stock, he knew, so if he was getting pegged for damaged goods after the fact, he knew there was no way he could afford to pay the recompense.
“No… no. It’s nothing like that,” the merchant motioned him towards the stable. “I just have a hunch that I’d like to test.”
“Mmm…” Amon followed the Lalafell suspiciously, then peered into the paddock.
The red chocobo was curled up at the far end of the stall, looking just about as sad as any chocobo ever could. Greens were left untouched in one corner as it emitted what sounded strangely like a sigh.
Zuri had to climb on the fence to get a better look, concern plain on her face.
That’s when the merchant asked, “Would you humor me and talk to him?”
“Talk… to…” Amon thumbed a motion at the chocobo. Then he groaned, leaned in over the fence and directed his voice at the creature. “Hey, bird! What’s going on here?”
Instantly, the all top feathers perked up as the chocobo lifted his head with a questioning warble. Dark eyes focused on Amon and it trilled in what could only be delight, struggling to his feet to come and greet the Elezen.
“That’s what I thought,” the merchant mused.
The bird butted its head gently against Amon’s hand, acting for all the world like an excited puppy.
“He likes you, Amon!” Zuri laughed, and petted the chocobo, too.
“Indeed,” the Lalafell nodded to Amon. “The chocobo appears to have bonded with you when you rescued him.”
“What?” the Bard frowned.
“It happens sometimes, especially with ones that haven’t had training. They connect to someone, and pine away if they are separated too long.”
“’Tis very nice and all,” Amon nudged the chocobo away as it began nibbling his hair. “But you’ve made it clear this bird was a big investment to you.”
“He is,” the merchant sighed. “And to see such a fine creature waste away is more shame than the loss of income. That’s why I was hoping you could help.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have the kind of gil it would take to…”
“That’s not what I’m after.”
“Mmm. Then what?” Amon frowned. This was getting more and more complicated.
“I’m willing to offer you a work arrangement in exchange for the chocobo,” the merchant told him.
Zuri turned to watch the Elezen with large eyes, not sure what that would mean for their group.
“I…” the Bard thought for a moment.
This Lalafell was a stranger, but it was obvious that he went above and beyond for even just his chocobos. Though Amon didn’t fully trust him yet, it was hard to believe the merchant had any other motives behind the offer. Still…
“I know this is a lot to consider…”
“My main issue,” Amon began, “Is that I have obligations to my Free Company party.”
Zuri perked up hearing that. Then she said, “I’m sure we could help, too, Amon. Since you really like the chocobo so much!”
He spluttered, “What makes you think I like…”
“Oh, I can tell,” she laughed at him.
“How many are in your Free Company party?” the Lalafell asked, rubbing his chin.
“Four of us.”
“Hm… I had a feeling you’d say that.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Funds would be tight to offer you all a paid position. However,” the merchant tilted his head. “I suppose with such a collective protecting my cargo, I could finally expand my trade routes into more profitable locations.”
“I can’t speak for the rest of my company on this agreement, though,” Amon told him.
“I’m sure they would help,” Zuri interjected. “Besides, we could always use a more stable job, rather than hunting something new every few days.”
“I suppose so. But we still need to discuss it with them.”
“That’s understandable,” the merchant nodded. “Talk with your people. You know where to find me with your answer.”
“Fair enough. I’ll return shortly,” Amon gave the chocobo’s head one last rub as he and Zuri walked away. In the distance, he could hear the bird’s troubled warbling.
“That poor thing,” Zuri said sadly.
“Couldn’t it have chosen someone else?” the Elezen sighed.
“Come on, Amon. It’s exciting! We might have a real job! This could be a good thing!”
He glanced down at her beaming face, observing. “You’re always so excited about everything.”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Zuri laughed at him. Then she ran ahead, the sun shining off her pale hair.
Amon just smiled a bit as he watched her, and followed in silence.
“I don’t see why not. The merchant already paid us well for a smaller job. He’s proven somewhat reliable,” Mocho rubbed his cheek once Amon finished explaining the situation to the others. Then the Lalafell glanced over at Koh. “What do you think?”
“Oh… uh… me?” the cat-girl sat up straighter, not used to being asked for her input on the status of a group. “Yes. I think this could be a good longer-term job. And it seems to be important to Amon…”
The Elezen coughed into his hand. “More like ’twas dropped in my lap.”
“You’re fond of that chocobo,” Mocho disagreed. “I saw the way you talked to him.”
“Well, then,” Zuri clapped her hands together brightly. “Is that a Yes to this?”
“It sounds like it,” Koh grinned back.
Amon just sighed, “Appreciate it.”
“Of course! We’re all friends. You can count on us for anything!” Zuri trilled at him cheerfully.
He didn’t know what to say to that. He just hoped that his surprise didn’t show too much under the shadow of his visor.