The conversation she overheard on the cart ride into the camp had been plaguing Marina’s mind for the first part of the morning. She was truly happy that Bran and his wife had been able to conceive and get the family they wished for, just as she had been truly happy for her sisters when they joyously announced each of their own pregnancies. Yet as always, underneath that happy feeling there was jealousy, far too much for Marina’s comfort. She didn’t even know if she wanted a family of her own one day, but the fact that fate had taken that decision from her was something she always hated.
She had been trying to banish those thoughts when she saw Rebby with the bar owner and his daughter had come into the clearing, and was happy for the distraction. Seeing them go over to the working men, Marina hurried on finishing up laundry that she had been doing, even it was simply just her only other full dress, one of Leoric’s shirts, and the underwear she had been wearing the night before that she managed to grab from Leoric’s room that morning and hide in her dress. That unfortunately meant she was uncomfortably bare under her dress at the moment, but it wasn’t as if she could let them remain unwashed. It didn’t take her long thankfully, but she just supposed that was the benefit of the both of them not owning many clothes. After hiding her underwear again by folding it in her damp dress in the small basket she had beside her, she got up and approached the group over at the house just as she saw Rebby start heading her way.
“There is some fresh groceries in here too for you.” Rebby said as she held the bag she was holding out for her.
“Oh! Thank you!” She replied as she took the bag, taking a peek inside. She was happy to see some pork and various vegetables, as well as some herbs, which gave her plenty of ideas of what she could make for lunch. She gave Rebby a huge thankful smile before turning and going to put everything away for now before returning to the group to enjoy the drinks that they had brought over.
As much as it was nice to chat quietly with the other two girls about latest town gossip, and teasing Jimmy’s daughter, Gretta when she looked particularly embarrassed when on the topic of Luke and his carvings came up. Marina it was cute that the young girl had such an obvious crush, but again that bubble of jealousy came up about being able to be so open about her affections, so she stomped that down right quick. Once the drinks were done, she helped Rebby and Gretta clean up and then went back about where she left off with her chores.
“So Marina, did you and Leoric stay out late last night?” Rebby asked as she helped Marina by putting Leoric’s shirt up on the makeshift clothesline that the dwarf had put up earlier in the week. “I stopped by last night and neither of you were at the inn.”
Remembering what had happened the night before made a blush instantly flash across her face, and Marina did everything she could to focus on pinning her dress up while managing to hide the underwear just under the neckline so it could also dry. “Yes, I wanted to cook myself last night, then we went for a walk… I didn’t want to go back to the inn early, but Leoric didn’t want me walking about town late by myself, so we just went around together.” she lied flawlessly.
“That’s really sweet of him.” Gretta piped up, sitting on a tree stump that was right next to the clothesline. “I suppose it’s because of what happened with Darius, huh?”
“Or maybe he just wanted to spend some time with her.” Rebby hummed, giving Marina a sly smile. “I don’t suppose you minded though, right?”
Marian scoffed, shaking her head. “I think he just didn’t want me to get in trouble again.” She added onto the lie easily. “And no, I didn’t mind… Leoric is pleasant company, when he wants to be.”
“Oh, I know, but I’ve noticed that he seems especially pleasant with you, that’s all.” Rebby shrugged, wiping the dampness from her hands onto her skirt. “I’m a little jealous, really.”
“He is very handsome… A lot of the girls around the town are jealous of you, Miss Marina.” Gretta admitted, absentmindedly starting to play with her hair. “He’s pretty popular around here, and a lot of girls wanted to be the one to tie him down, but then you come in and just fit so well with everyone, and bring out a side of him no one has ever seen. You’re practically a miracle worker.”
Marina just shook her head, kneeling down to pick up the basket from the ground. She took a step to go put it away, but she stopped at a thought. Turning around, she looked at Rebby. “Are you one of those girls, Rebby?” She asked bluntly. “Do you… you know…”
“Do I love him?” Rebby asked back in surprise. When she got a nod as her answer, she burst out laughing. “No, well, not anymore. I used to be really smitten with him, but he’s far too good a friend now to risk ruining that.” She put her hands on her hips, giving her an amused look. “Besides, I’m starting to get the hang out of single motherhood. The only thing I would probably want from Leoric is if I ever decide I want another child, but I would never expect him to stick around for that, so he’s all yours.”
Marina ducked her head a little as she pouted, looking down at the ground. “He’s… He’s not a possession to be owned, you know…”
“But he’s yours, anyway.” Gretta said with a giggle. “That much is obvious to everyone around here.”
“I would never want to hold him back.” Marina sighed, turning back to them. “And I would only get in his way, I’m just here until he says I’ve done enough to repay him for everything…”
“Marina…” Rebby stepped closer to her, giving her a knowing look. “How do you feel about him? Because I’m sure if you wanted to stay longer, he would more than happy to let you stay as long as you wanted, even if that meant forever.”
“I…” The words caught in the dwarf’s throat as she tried to come up with something dismissive to say, but looking Rebby in the eyes, she knew she couldn’t lie about something like this to her and be believed. “How I feel doesn’t matter, I don’t think he could ever like someone like me like that…”
What she said ended up making both Rebby’s and Gretta’s expressions fall into silent pity, and the older woman looked like she wanted to say something, but something behind Marina caught her attention.
Turning around to see what was going on, she saw Leoric walking out of the shack with the logs he had used before during his training. Confused, she continued to watch him, even as Bran called out to him and seemed to ignore the world around him, save for one quick look in her direction. “Leoric?”
She watched him, intensely concerned as he got himself ready and made his way over to the training dummies, immediately going to work, making her flinch with how loud the first crack against the wood was. She could tell that something was wrong, so she cautiously approached him, not listening to Rebby as she tried to convince her to stay away. She took her time, not wanting to startle him or get in his way, until she was close enough to hear some of what he seemed to be saying to himself.
“Faster, need to be faster!”
“Leoric!” She called, now unable to hold back her concern. She had only seen him train once, but it was nothing like this, and it made her scared for him. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“I think I know what’s going on,” Bran’s voice startled her, and the hand that he gently put on her shoulder did little to comfort her. “It might just be something he has to work out for himself.”
Even if he said she should leave him be, she couldn’t just leave him, so she continued to watch over him, her worry growing as he seemed to be working himself harder and harder, managing to even start damaging the wood of the dummy with his strikes. She could tell he was talking to himself, but being several feet away and the sounds of the hits made it impossible to hear everything. She had to cover her ears after a short while because of how loud it was, and as it was beginning to become too painful to see him like this tears started springing to her eyes.
When one of the wooden gauntlets suddenly shattered with parts of the dummy, Marina let out a sharp squeal in surprise. Letting her hands fall from her ears, she watched with wide eyes as Leoric started down at the broken equipment. “No one…” He mumbled to himself in the now deafening silence. She had no idea what just happened, but she knew she couldn’t let this go.
Marina didn’t approach him right away, just watching him while he started to calm down again. After a few moments, she slowly took a few steps towards him. “Leoric…?”
She noticed that in response to her voice, his body seemed to tense up again. “... What?” His sharp tone, almost made her flinch back, but she continued closer.
“What’s going on?” she asked gently, reaching out to put her hand on his arm but he quickly moved away from her touch. As much as this hurt her, she kept herself calm, as this wasn’t about her right now. “Leoric, please… I’ve never seen you like that before, so… what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” He replied too quickly, pushing the last intact log off of his arm, letting it fall to the ground. “I’ve dealt with it.”
“Then there wasn’t nothing.” She insisted, stepping closer which only made him step back again. “Please, talk to me.”
“Marina, just let it go.” He spat, turning around quickly to walk away towards the forest, but Marina just followed, even if she had to jog after his fast pace.
“No, I will not let it go!” She yelled back at him. “Not something that made you act like that, I’d rather you talk to me than just destroy things when something is upsetting you!”
Once they were a few meters into the forest, trees all around them, Leoric stopped, half turning towards her to look back at her. “Marina, stop.” He growled, though there was no heat to his voice. She could see that whatever was going on in his thick head was hurting him.
So she pushed again. “No, I want to help, so please…” She begged, softer this time as she stepped in closer to him and reaching out.
Before she could touch him, he turned fully towards her and ducked down a bit, wrapping one arm around her waist and the other around her legs, moving too quickly for her to react as he picked her up so they were eye level. She barely had enough time to grab onto his shoulders and let out a squeak when she felt her back being pushed up against a tree and his lips crashed against hers.
Once his body was pressed against hers, he let go of her legs to pull them around his waist, which she followed his direction if only out of fear of falling. The kiss was different from the night before, slower, deeper, and how overwhelming it was made her feel dizzy. He was kissing her with less desperation than before, like he was savoring her, and she felt she could barely keep up with him. She didn’t understand what made this kiss better, but she knew she liked it better and just wanted it to last forever.
Unfortunately for her, as suddenly as it started Leoric broke away. He looked at her for a moment before gently letting her go down back to the ground. As soon as her feet touched the ground, he let go of her completely, turned around and walked back towards to clearing.
Left alone in the forest, Marina felt even more confused and hurt than before, not understanding anything about what just happened. Her knees were left weak from the kiss, so she just sat down in the dirt, left to try to figure it all out. She couldn’t help but feel that the kiss that left her lips tingling and her heart soaring was supposed to be his way of answering her, of telling her everything, but she had no idea what it even meant.
It wasn’t the kiss that kept her brain buzzing, however. The look he gave her just before he let her go was stuck in her mind. The look of a man who was so torn, wanting something so badly but was in so much pain from whatever it was he wanted. What could he want that would cause him this much pain? It didn’t help Marina understand anything, and not for the first time since she had met this man did she feel so helpless.
After a while of trying to find answers and having none coming to her, Marina got up and brushed the dirt off of her dress and went back to the clearing. At her return, Rebby and Gretta quickly went over to her, both women looking relieved.
“Oh thank goodness, you were taking so long we were starting to get worried.” Rebby said with a soft sigh. “Are you okay?”
Marina nodded, forcing a small smile. “Yes, I’m fine.” Despite the sceptical look she was getting from both of the humans, neither spoke up against her insistence. Looking over towards the house construction, Marina noticed that Leoric had gone back to work and seemed completely focused on it again. She supposed it was better than him destroying everything with his bare hands.
“So did you manage to get anything out of him?” Rebby asked, using a gentle hand on Marina’s back to lead them over to a place they could sit away from the men.
She shook her head, but didn’t let her smile waver. “It’s fine though, I understand if he doesn’t want to tell me things…” Hoping to get off the topic of Leoric, she noticed that Gretta had started playing with her hair again, she motioned the girl over as she sat down on the ground. “Mind if I help you with that?”
Gretta seemed excited by this, nodding quickly and sitting in front of the dwarf and allowing her to start braiding her hair in silence.