As they headed in deeper into town, the lack of people unsettled Leigh, and it was only exasperated by the increasing ferocity of the pouring rain. They had to stop twice, once to get out cloaks for the two of them and once to get a wheel unstuck from a particularly stubborn patch of mud. Leigh's muscles screamed at the exertion he was applying to them; since the rain had started, Leigh had to move from the front with his father to the back to make sure the wheels didn't get stuck to the point of no return.
Pulling a wagon of this magnitude was much easier than pushing, but he wasn't about to tell his father that just to have the old man apologize and take the task on himself. He would never hear the end of it from Vera, or his own conscious. He desperately wished to complain just as loudly as his muscles were to him, but he bit his tongue and forced himself on.
At least he would gain the mass to look strong and slightly approachable when the warmer season came. For all the ladies that were lining up on his doorstep. That would make Vera happy. He was also sure that there were at least a few women who wouldn't mind seeing him shirtless and on the coastline, with all the hard-earned muscles, his age or older. He did not know what to think about that information, but at least it earned him a chuckle in his mind.
They reached one of their usual spots in town: The Greasy Whale. It was owned by one of Krieves' childhood friends, so they often enjoyed that spot as an area to rest after a hard day's work. Thankfully, there was a large shack next to the tavern where travelers and visitors would put their carriages to keep out of the road and the weather, and this time it held an empty spot for them to stash their wagon for the night. Turning the wagon around proved to be a time-consuming task because the front wheels refused to actually give way in the mud so instead of using them to turn it, Leigh and Krieves had to brute force it and shove it around in the mud and stone until they could get it into the shack and in a spot that wouldn't actually leave it to sink overnight.
Sighing, Leigh tossed one of the straps onto the pile of supplies and walked out to meet his father, stretching his back out to try and get rid of the pain along the way. Krieves flashed a smile at Leigh. "Boy, am I ready for some of Linda's stew. How about you?" Leigh couldn't find the energy to actually say his agreement, but his stomach growled loud enough to speak for the both of them. Krieves chuckled at the noise and patted Leigh's stomach. "Sounds like someone agrees." Leigh swatted at his father's hand half-heartedly. Still, he couldn't get a small smile off of his face as he followed Krieves through the doors of the inn.
The first thing that welcomed him was the warmth in the place. It wasn't heat, per say, but just a compete difference compared to the cold, wet, and darkness they were just in. A huge fireplace across from the entrance was the first thing that greeted them upon entry, carrying with it comfort and the joyful smells of hearth and home. Atop the fireplace was a massive black pot, steam spewing around the lid that haphazardly covered it and onto the stone bricks beneath the fireplace. Though the steam itself didn't carry all the way to them, the smell certainly did. While Vera's cooking was always delicious, it couldn't hold a flame to Linda's infamous stew. She did something with it that just made everyone's mouth water. Leigh was certainly no exception, especially at that moment. His brain was completely consumed by the prospect of sitting next to the fire and chowing down on a hearty serving of stew and some sturdy bread to accompany it. Leigh also wouldn't have minded some ale to go along with it, but Krieves wasn't someone he felt comfortable drinking with just yet. The old man was a bit stubborn when it came to that. He was normally a perfectly reasonable person, but mead, ale, rum, they all infuriated him. So, Leigh would have to skip it for tonight. Perhaps, when Krieves was asleep upstairs later on, Leigh could sneak down and enjoy the drink with some more stew. He liked how it loosened his body up and emptied his mind. It felt like it was only those times, when he was full of alcohol, he was able to loosen up and be free of his thoughts, free to make friends and make strangers and make enemies.
Krieves cleared his throat, and Leigh snapped out of his imaginations and thoughts. "Linda! Where is everyone tonight?" He said easily as they both walked to the bar to the side. Linda, a tall and broad lady who could strongarm any man around with her words or her muscles, whichever one suited her best in the scenario. Her hair had started graying with recent years, and her stature had bent under the weight of time, which was the one thing she hadn't been able to beat out... yet. She certainly didn't to be the victim of time as much as Krieves was, that was for sure. They were around the same age, had to be, since she was a childhood friend of his.
"Krieves, you look horrible," Linda said matter-of-factly.
"Thanks, Linda. You didn't answer my question." Krieves chuckled. Leigh slid a coin out from his pocket and over the bar. Linda caught it easily and nodded to him. Leigh took the opportunity and grabbed him a clay bowl from a stack on the bar. He inspected it for a moment. The rounded edges had been made uneven due to years of usage, but it was clean and practically begging to be filled with stew. Well, that made a second thing, after his stomach.
As Leigh made himself busy with spooning out ladels of stew, Linda replied to Krieves. "Well, mostly everyone's in the town center. Word around is that some sprightly new general is coming around for some important news and that's got everyone in a tizzy. I would have assumed you just came from there if you hadn't just asked me about it."
Leigh perked up. A general is here? In the middle of nowhere? Someone from Vildavel coming all the way here doesn't bode well for anyone.
Krieves grunted. "Well, then, I suppose I missed the excitement."
"Please, Krieves. We all know the only thing that gets you excited are buildings and roads."
Krieves scoffed. "You know, that wasn't true when we were younger."
"Apa!" Leigh said, trying not to choke on a large chunk of meat that was currently in his mouth.
"Anyway. Why aren't you there?" Krieves asked Linda. She leaned on the bar.
"Some people can't just get up and leave their business. Besides, Malcom's there."
"Well, I suppose we should be getting on our way, then. Don't want to miss this big, important speech this general's got for us. Leigh."
Leigh rolled his eyes and shoveled a few more bites of his stew before turning to Krieves. "Can't we just... not go?" He was asking for both him and his stomach at that point.
"Leigh." Krieves repeated, this time with disappointment and a tinge of annoyance in his voice. That was Leigh's message to stop it. He knew Krieves was about to say something frustratingly true and something that unfortunately made sense, so he stopped that conversation from happening before it started.
Leigh sighed and set his bowl on the bar. "I'm coming back for that." He warned Linda, who chuckled at that.
"It's gonna get cold like that, Leigh."
Ah, right. Cold stew is gross stew. He stooped down and scooted the bowl next to the fire. "Stay." He said to the bowl as it was going to up and walk away the moment he turned his back on it.