“Ugh,” Cyleena grumbled with disgust, barely above audible volume. “Mercenaries.”
Arkh set his bowl of rice down, and turned around to inspect the new arrivals. Through the door in the back of the dining hall, twenty or so men and women—of widely diverse shapes and sizes—poured in, and began lining up for food. Though most of them took this opportunity to arm down, a few of them still wore their weapons and armor, which made Arkh slightly uncomfortable. All of them looked like they needed a bath.
Arkh turned back around, and picked his bowl back up. “I dunno,” he shrugged, “I can’t rag on them too hard. At least they get to go out on field missions.”
Cyleena frowned dramatically at that, then returned to her meal. “I just don’t understand why we still keep them on contract. Vulcanica’s roads haven’t been dangerous for fifty years. It’s not like we need their protection.”
“We’ve had this conversation before, you know.” Arkh picked idly at his rice, having eaten his fill several bites earlier. “Cinderfell is relatively safe, yes, but that doesn’t mean that everywhere a Cartographer would go is completely free of danger. New Turath, for example, gets attacked almost every day. This is a peaceful time, but there are still dangers. I’ll admit, I don’t like that they tend to insist on going everywhere armed to the teeth…” He looked up, and paused for a moment. “Are you planning on finishing that?”
Cyleena grinned through an overstuffed mouthful of mashed potatoes, fork poised to deliver another bite. She vigorously nodded, and attempted to say something, but it only came out as a mushy, muffled “huh, ooeehamuhh. Hiahoor.”
“Ah, yes, that mastery of honeyed words you Dren are so famous for,” Arkh offered dryly, doing his best to conceal a smile. “One can’t help but wonder how you managed to evade all those suitors long enough to make it here.”
Despite her furious giggling, Cyleena managed to work her way through enough of the mouthful to eventually swallow, and promptly took a big swig of her drink. After finally catching her breath, she returned to the conversation. “That was rude to say, and you know it.” Arkh held up his hands in exaggerated apology. “And as I was trying to say, you were rambling. I got bored.”
Arkh playfully flicked rice at her while calling her a name. “Oh no,” she said, leaning forward to let a pair of mercenaries pass. “You don’t want to start a food fight right now.”
“Food fight?” One of the mercenaries behind her queried—a stocky and particularly hairy Dwarf. “Fritz! Food fight!” He bellowed, then upended his plate into the face of the Elf with him. He promptly looked around to see if anyone else was following his lead, and slumped a bit upon realizing that the entire hall was just staring at him, confused, and a little afraid. “Well damn,” he grumbled, “that food looked tasty.” He slunk off back to the food line, while the Elf began picking bits of mashed potato out of his hair.
Eventually, Cyleena turned back to Arkh, and gave him a look of “wanna get out of here?” He nodded, carried his dishes to the wash bin, and followed her out into the courtyard.
“Besides,” Cyleena said, stepping out into the sunny Cliffport day. “They act like barbarians.” She jerked a thumb towards the dining hall they’d just left. “What an uncivilized way to waste food.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Arkh said sarcastically. “For a moment there, I forgot that your last name is Dren. Thanks for reminding me.”
Cyleena rolled her eyes dramatically as she turned her head to Arkh. “Oh, Archie. What I meant was, that living a life where death is in the job description… one tends to lose track of the things that keep us who we are. Living for nothing more than the payday at the end of a job,” she shrugged. “I can imagine how most things would start to lose their meaning, after a while.” They walked in silence for a moment, then she turned to Arkh. “Well, at least I won’t have to worry about that happening to you.”
Arkh laughed at that, in comfortable agreement.