The next morning greeted me with sun rays falling gently in between the canopy of leaves above us. The water glittered under each band of light and the area was quiet but lively. The researchers were already working on creating their potions and salves while those protecting the camp were already on a lookout by the one opening in the valley.
I was the first to wake that morning of those who did sleep. The boys had slept in. When I sat up I realized that I had been using Ragnvaldr as a pillow. He slept so calmly and deeply that he didn’t even notice when I brushed those blond locks of his out of his face. I gently placed a kiss on his cheek before quietly making my way off of the cart. The most difficult part was maneuvering around Tobih, who had fallen halfway off of the bench he had claimed. I smiled as I successfully removed myself from the cart.
Angel was nowhere to be seen at the moment.
“You look like you could use a nice bath,” I heard a voice nearby say. I turned to find my Norn friend sitting on a branch, “Come bath with me.”
“In… a tree?” I was confused.
“In the water, skritt for brains.” She jumped down from the branch and gracefully landed on the soft leaves below. It was a little surprising to see such a display from someone I always thought of as a ‘giant’. “You’re allowed to bathe in the waterfalls here.” She grabbed my hand as she approached, “You DO want to bathe before those two wake up, don’t you?”
“You didn’t knock them out or something did you?” I was suspicious of the seemingly amazing timing of it all, though I did walk with her up the hill and towards the water.
“Tobih knocked himself out. As for the sober norn- I’m not sure what his deal is.” She helped me up a particularly steep piece of rock.
“It’s not unusual for him to sleep like a log after a fight,” I mentioned.
She was already taking down her hair as we ascended to the waterfalls further up the hill. These were located further back and away from the others. The two of us climbed one more rock barrier before we could even see them. Her boots and stockings were the next to come off. My norn friend was not able to fully undress before we made it to our destination though.
I folded my clothes up neatly and left them on a dry rock before stepping underneath the cool shower of water. A shiver ran down my body as the refreshing cold water washed over my body.
“Have you been here before?” I asked Angel,hoping to hear more of her wonderful adventures.
She threw a sponge to me. I caught it despite not expecting something to be thrown to me. Angel then joined me underneath the falls. “I’ve been to a lot of places. But yes, this happens to be one of them.”
“You’ve fought undead before?”
“Aye. Really nice if you need sword practice, but I suggest you keep nose plugs on you.” She began scrubbing her body with the sponge and I followed suit. “They’re difficult to kill. They don’t stay dead either. If you leave anything behind it’s likely to end up on another creature. Abominations happen. Norn bodies with ogre heads and harpy arms. Things like that. Beings literally sewn together.” I had only heard stories of the undead but I hadn’t heard anything quite like what she had said.
I thought about it strategically for a bit. There was a big question I needed to ask upon going into Orr. “How many are we likely to face?”
“Hundreds,” She brushed her fingers through her golden locks of knee-length hair, “And then probably the same hundreds again when they’re stitched up.”
I handed her my sponge, “Mind getting my back?”
She obliged and continued our conversation in the process. “As a fire elementalist, you’ll be of a lot of use for us. Burning the bodies will be the best way to get rid of them for good.” Angel handed me back the sponge along with her own. I took to scrubbing her back. “Along those lines, if any of us happen to fall in battle, you’ll have to burn the bodies.”
“I don’t want to think about that.” I knew it was necessary for her to say, however, I couldn’t bear the idea of losing any of my friends. It reminded me of the dangers of taking my friends on this quest into such dark lands. Essentially, I’d be leading them into the middle of a war.
“We need to go in prepared, Claire.”
I gave back her sponge and let water run over the top of my head, brushing out my fallen silver curls with my fingers. “I know.”
“I don’t want to lose any of my friends either.” It was an emotional sentence but it was spoken so firmly.
From below, I heard our names being called by a familiar voice.
“It sounds like we are missed,” I looked at my norn friend, “We better go before they come looking for us.”
From the bag that she had produced sponges from, she also brought out two towels.
“You were really planning for this, huh?” I realized.
“It’s rare to be able to bathe on journey’s like this. It’s nice having a friend to join me for once.” She started drying down with the towel and so did I.
Comparing this to bathing with Ragnvaldr’s sister, Ylva, this was much more enjoyable for me. Though sour topics may have been brought up in this instance and that, this felt so much more close and personal.
“No one in Ventari’s Refugees would bathe with you?” I pried.
She scoffed, “No one wanted to bathe with anyone else. Except Tobih. Tobih wants to do everything with his friends. He doesn’t exactly realize that things could be taken the wrong way when he wants to bathe with his female friends. He doesn’t see pushing personal boundaries or something perverse, he just wants to bond. It’s difficult to blame him for something like that.”
I nodded, realizing exactly what she meant. The two of us were already getting dressed at this point.
“Speak of the devil and he appears,” Angel quoted and motioned towards a black mess of hair rising just above the rocks.
Tobih’s eyes peered over the cliff of rocks, “There you are!”
He was lucky that we were only left with putting our boots on. It warmed my heart to see that smile of his, though. Tobih turned around and waved to who I assumed was Ragnvaldr. He then pulled himself up and over the wall.
“Woah!” His voice was filled with excitement and wonder, “This place is beautiful!”
“You should wash up before we leave as well,” Angel suggested, throwing him her bag.
“I’ll tell Ragnvaldr to join you,” I tacked on, recalling our previous conversation. Angel snickered a bit. Tobih’s face lit up, though, as if it would be the first time he got to bathe with a friend.
I suppose, in the end, we were all excited to do even mundane things with each other as friends.