Lesson 15

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At camp, they were greeted with a warm fire and the savory aroma of the beginnings of a stew

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At camp, they were greeted with a warm fire and the savory aroma of the beginnings of a stew. Moose's eyes lit up at the sight of the rabbit and he reached for it with eager hands, like a child grasping for a new toy.

"Bless you, this will make for a fine supper," he said, beginning the process of skinning and cleaning it. "It's a thin little thing but I'm sure it will liven up this stew a bit."

The air was heavy and intoxicating in the forest, and the dancing light from the fire cast haunting shadows into the thick darkness surrounding their camp. The Liberators ate their supper in silence; it seemed they all shared Benedikt's unshakeable sense of peril that held his tongue. Between mouthfuls of stew, he listened, expecting some sort creature to appear from the darkened wood.

Moose broke the laborious silence with his deep and jovial voice. "We are a somber bunch tonight," he complained. "I think I have just the thing." He pulled a large wineskin from his own pack and handed it to Benedikt.

Benedikt put the bag to his lips and drew a mouthful of a terrible liquid. He swallowed it quickly, but the taste lingered on his tongue, burning his throat all the way down, and filling his belly with a warm sensation. "What is that?" he coughed, passing the bag to Berne, who took a swig without so much a snicker.

"Andorian Port. It's an awful vintage but I know it's strong," Moose chuckled.

Benedikt coughed again, unable to get the vile taste out of his mouth. "I'll say."

Yorick declined the drink but Grielle choked down a swig. Tears welled in her eyes as she gulped it down. "Oh my," she said between coughs. "It feels like swallowing vinegar-coated coals. I don't know how anyone can stomach this stuff."

Ludvig took a long pull from the wineskin and then sucked in a sharp breath through gritted teeth. He shook his head and let out a whoop. "That'll knock you on your back," he said with a grimace.

The second time the port came around, Benedikt took a much smaller sip but found the liquid didn't burn so much this time. He went back for another before he passed the bag. The warmth in his stomach spread out into the rest of his body.

He enjoyed the fuzzy sensation in his head, which suddenly felt heavier on his shoulders. A smile played on his lips; the sense of impending danger began to slip away and he could once again enjoy the meal and the warmth of a fire on his face. He caught Grielle's gaze from across their little circle around the fire. With warm cheeks, he returned the smile she gave him.

A smarter man would have averted his gaze, but he couldn't tear himself away from her blue eyes. They weren't a light blue, but a deep and dark blue. Like night skies and ocean depths. The kind of blue that made him wonder if he had ever really seen the color blue before. Benedikt shook his head to stop his sappy, wine-sodden thoughts. He shouldn't think such things even if Grielle looked at him in a similar fashion. True Love's Kiss was of paramount importance, and he knew it would serve him well to keep his focus on the quest.

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