Chapter 24: A Dinner with the Family

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Libro sat at the dinner table trying desperately not to drool. Elena's granmater had been quick to point out the stew. What she had forgotten to mention was the plethora of other items on the menu. Roasted turnips sat piled high next buttered snow peas and pickled cucumbers. Bowls of millet porridge bubbling hot were passed around with wedges of barley bread for dunking. Sliced tvorig, the Keevan Ras signature merchant cheese, were stacked high on a large chartreuse board, sharing room with cups of juniper berry jam alongside links of smoked sausage. And in the center of it all was the aforementioned stew, a bubbling cauldron of rabbit simmered in a brown broth with potatoes, carrots and radishes.

A warm fire was burning from the nearby hearth. Yara, Elena's grandmater, sat smiling vacantly in front of Libro.

Elena sat to his left, beaming from ear to ear. "Beautiful isn't it?"

"Huh?"

"The food silly."

Libro's stomach gave an audible groan, speaking for him. To his right, Vadim clapped Libro on the shoulder. "It appears we have our answer. The poor boy here has been living on a soldiers diet for far too long. Look at you. All skin and bones this one."

Elena's step-pater spoke in the traditional Rassan language. Even after all the years in its absence, Libro found himself still speaking fluently.

"Thank you for your hospitality." Libro replied sheepishly. "It is an honor to share your meal with you."

"Nonsense, nonsense." Vadim shook his head. "You are a guest here. Besides, how else are we going to convince you to stay. Elena is not exactly the best at charming the men she fancies." He gave a sly wink that sent  heat creeping up Libro's neck.

"Pater," Elena slapped her hands on the table, her face going cherry red. "You are embarrassing me."

Vadim clasped his hands over his thick stomach and laughed. Elena's mater, Olga, was quick to smack him in the head with a wooden spoon. The colorful woolen dress she wore had been topped with a thick canvas apron, still spattered with stew.

"That's enough out of you," Olga chastised, waving the spoon at him like a spear. "Stop acting like an ornery kozal before you scare Ketro away."

"Please, spare me." Vadim held up his hands in mock defense. "You know I only kid my love."

Olga smiled and gave him another love tap. "Save it for after dinner then." Olga turned her attention to Libro. "Despite my husband's poor attempt at jokes, he is right. You are looking a bit thin my dear. Please, eat as much as you want."

A bowl of porridge and bread was passed into Libro's hands. He swallowed a spoonful of the delicious concoction, his eyes nearly tearing up at the comforting warmth. Elena's braters, twins named Igor and Rurik came running by, enraptured in giggles as they chased each other. Both dark haired and violet eyed, just like their mater and pater.

"Ketro! Ketro!" Igor tugged at his shirt. "What's it like being a soldier?"

"Is it scary? Are you brave?" Rurik piped up next.

Elena laid a hand over Libro's arm. "He is very brave. You should have seen him fight the rebels. He scared them all away."

A complete fabrication of course. Elena had done most of the fighting. Libro could only recall killing one of them before he'd been cracked in the back of the skull.

Both twins gawked in unison, their eyes shimmering like amethysts in the candle light.

"All right boys. Quit pestering Ketro and go wash up," Olga waved her spoon at the twins. "He didn't come here to talk about the rebellion."

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