Octopath Traveler Fanfiction: Loose Lips in the Tavern - 13. Tale Twelve
Tale Twelve, a Merchant’s Meddling and When Women are Alone
“Ali! Wait up! Dammit, he’s gone,” Tressa grumbled, crossing her arms and puffing her cheeks out in frustration. If Ophilia couldn’t tell that her friend was mad, then she would have said the merchant looked adorable. “After all that, he still wants to beat me at being the best merchant. Geez, you think he could have at least given me the head start…”
Alfyn chuckled, placing his hands behind his head nonchalantly. “That Ali is sure springier than a grasshopper, that’s for sure. Too bad he ain’t wearing a green tunic or somethin’, then you’d have a nickname to combat ‘Green Pea.'”
“I’ll figure something out, don’t you worry, Alfyn!” the merchant exclaimed, mood starting to brighten after talking to the apothecary for only a brief minute. “We’ll cook something up that’ll make him twice as embarrassed!”
“You need a helpin’ hand, I’m in. But I think Therion may be better at the nicknamin’ game than yours truly.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll ask him when we get back!” Tressa responded carefreely, leading the group away from Morlock’s Manse.
Alfyn sighed amusedly. “So truthful.”
The group fell into a comfortable silence as the humming merchant and H’aanit – along with Linde – led them along the canyon path back to Quarrycrest where they hoped that Cyrus’s group had just as much luck as they had. Splitting up was quite common for the group of eight. According to Therion, it prevented them from being detected, while Olberic determined it was best to capitalize on strategies meant for smaller squads. Neither saw eye-to-eye on most matters, but when it came to strategizing, they were probably the smartest of the Octopath Travelers. That was what Ophilia believed anyway.
Noticing that Alfyn was not in front of her, she turned around to see him slowly bringing up the rear, eyes distant as he was plagued by his thoughts. Ophilia grimaced, realizing it was because of what they witnessed at the manse. A man, so hellbent on being paid, threw his life away so that a more despicable man could attempt to flee with his riches. In the end, this man fled with nothing, but it was wrong that he escaped all the same. Yet everyone in the group knew that murder would not solve anyone’s problems. H’aanit surmised that, perhaps, he would trip and fall down a cliff. While the world would then be rid of Morlock, no man deserved such a death.
That still left Alfyn, who was brewing, questioning his moral compass on what was right or wrong. Should they have killed that man instead of letting him go? Ophilia did not believe so, due to her conscience, but even the most goodhearted layfolk would have thought differently, ending his life on the spot. The travelers’ resident apothecary appeared to be little different from those layfolk.
Hoping to help her friend, Ophilia slowed down until she matched pace with Alfyn. When she did, she laid a gloved hand on the shoulder of his green vest, garnering his attention.
“Is everything alright, Alfyn?” she asked innocently, hoping to dive right into the matter.
Replacing his grimace with a bright smile almost immediately (and quite impressively, Ophilia would admit), the apothecary assured the cleric. “Don’t worry Ophilia, just stuck in my head. That’s all.”
Smiling gently, Ophilia replied persistently, “Then let me help you out of there.”
Not expecting that response, Alfyn floundered, cheeks starting to heat up a bit. He didn’t have the heart to say no, so instead he stuttered out, “Um… s-sure. Always nice talkin’ with ya, Philia.”
“‘Philia?'” the cleric parroted, unused to most people giving her a nickname.
“Y-yeah. Sorry, I thought you’d uh… like it or somethin’.”
“I do, actually. Besides Lianna or Therion, no one has actually called me anything else but ‘Ophilia’ or ‘Lady Ophilia’.” Grinning, she finished, “It’s much better than ‘Sister,’ too.”
“Well, just thought we were close ‘nough and all, and I thought it sounded good on ya,” Alfyn admitted, rubbing the back of his head nervously.
Giggling, Ophilia responded. “I like it.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
A pregnant pause followed, neither knowing what else to say as an uncomfortable silence fell over the pair.
From up ahead, Linde noticed the silence, ears flickering back and forth before she turned towards the two healers. H’aanit noticed immediately, following suit. Seeing her companions dawdle so in, what appeared to be, an awkward situation, H’aanit smirked.
“Ah, ’tis a first blush if I hath seen one,” she commented amusedly.
Her voice stopped Tressa as well, causing her to turn to where H’aanit was watching. Smirking deviously, the merchant said, “Prim was right. I’m the youngest and even I can see these two are hopeless lovebirds. Should we let them know?”
Patting her apprentice on the shoulder, she couldn’t help but feel the firm muscle Tressa had built thanks to her practice at using a hunter’s bow through her dress. Prideful of her teachings, H’aanit returned from her short musing to the situation at hand.
“No, ‘twould be unwise to antagonize. Breaken apart a pair of mates before thou knowst leaden to consequences.”
“Aw, you’re no fun…” the young merchant pouted, adjusting the bigger bow she now had slung over her shoulders. Sure, it was more powerful, but it was almost as tall as her! It made it awkward to walk sometimes. “Can we tease them?”
Turning to continue towards Quarrycrest, H’aanit replied mirthfully, “Mayhaps ’twill moven one toward the other. I seen no harm if thou jests.”
Her mischievous grin returning, the merchant shouted towards Alfyn and Ophilia, “Come on you two lovebirds! We need to make it back to Quarrycrest before nightfall!”
Rushing to join H’aanit, Tressa didn’t need to see the pair to know that both of their faces were heating up faster than a Sunland desert.
Doing just that, the two turned away from each other, the silence between them now more uncomfortable than before. Ophilia had no idea what to say to Alfyn now, not after Tressa’s teasing. In fact, the cleric was the one retreating into her mind now, thinking on the situation at hand. She couldn’t do that, not after falling back to Alfyn’s side to help him get out of his mind. But what could she say to end this irksome silence?
“Ya know, I don’t like thinkin’ that someone should die.”
The words brought Ophilia back to reality and her attention to Alfyn, who now wore a somber expression. Just as the cleric had thought, letting Morlock leave after he sent his bodyguard to die was weighing on Alfyn’s conscience. The pair stopped as the apothecary gathered his thoughts.
“I mean, I’m an apothecary. I should be wantin’ to help a person live no matter what, right? But then there’s people like Morlock who’re like a disease to this world.” Each sentence he spoke Alfyn was seemingly grasping for words, not entirely sure of what he was saying. “I guess what I’m askin’ is should it be okay to want someone dead if what I’m supposed to do is help them live? Should I have as much say in a person’s life as anyone else?”
Those questions caused Ophilia to pause, knowing that a paltry reassurance would not help her friend. After all, she had had similar thoughts in the past.
Summoning up her courage, the cleric brought the apothecary into her embrace. Actions spoke louder than words in these instances, but some words would still help.
“Shh… it’s okay, Alfyn,” she cooed, calming the apothecary as he relaxed in her hold, his arms wrapping around the cleric unassuredly. “There is no right or wrong answer. The world is a place full of so many colors that it’s hard to tell what is good and what is evil sometimes. But in the instances where we question it, that’s where we know we have a beautiful heart. One full of compassion, understanding, but sorrow and frustration. A heart that feels more than others. I believe you have just such a heart, Alfyn.”
Stunned by her words, the apothecary’s eyes watered, and his cheeks turned red. “I… I don’t know if I do.”
Breaking from his hold, Ophilia held Alfyn in place, staring him down with kind eyes and her small, comforting smile. “Believe in me, then. Because I believe you do.”
Thoughts still swirled in his head about his true feelings on the concept of life and death, and who had control over both. He felt as if he would never be entirely sure what the answers to those many questions could be, or if he truly had a good heart. But when he was with Ophilia, then he could at least believe that she believed he did.
His trademark smile returned full force as Alfyn wiped away his tears, trying to hide his emotional response. “I think I can do that. Thanks, Philia. Ya really know how to cheer a guy up.”
“You are welcome, Alfyn. If you ever need an ear to listen, please do not hesitate to come to me,” the cleric replied happily. “Let’s go catch up with the others.”
The pair continued their trek back to Quarrycrest, not noticing the huntress and merchant that were waiting for them behind a boulder, or that they had heard their entire conversation.
“‘Tis a courageous thing Ophilia hath done. A strong woman, indeed,” H’aanit commented as she began leading Linde and Tressa away from the scene before they were caught.
“Aw, it’s just like a fairytale. Wonder if I could sell it as a play or something,” Tressa muttered as she joined her master.
The huntress chuckled. Feeling like Tressa deserved a taste of her own medicine, she jested, “What of thou and that boy, Ali, hm? A ballad of love and hate that wouldst maken a crowd swoonen.”
Red instantly covered Tressa’s face, causing her to bring her cap down to hide it. “I-it’s not like that, H’aanit!”
Back at the inn, the women of the Octopath Travelers sat around the fireplace, basking in its warmth. Enjoying a night away from the tavern, they shared tales that were not suited for the men who were almost always in their company.
“…and so, she walked on stage. Immediately, her entire outfit slipped off her in front of the entire audience!”
Tressa snorted, trying to hide her laughter after taking a large gulp of spiked eggnog. She failed, spraying the liquid through her nose. If the others weren’t laughing then, they all were now. Even Ophilia, who tried to hide her laughter behind her hand could not suppress it.
“Oh, no, let me…let me…” she sputtered in between laughs, trying to stand so she could retrieve a towel for the guffawing merchant. “Let me get you something to help clean up.”
Wobbling, the cleric was able to finally get to her feet and locate a towelette to use. Swaying uncertainly towards her friend, Ophilia made it and helped Tressa clean up her mess.
“Th-thanks, Ophilia! You’re great,” Tressa commented, still laughing raucously.
Chuckling to herself, H’aanit commented, “‘Tis a shame none of the men weren here. Wouldst hath made for quite the display.”
“I have told that story often, and never have I received such a response. I will have to remember to have my listeners drinking next time,” Primrose commented before she took a sip of her beverage.
“Please do! I wanna see it next time!” Tressa agreed excitedly after they had finished cleaning up her mess. “Remind me not to borrow one of your dancing outfits Prim, they’d probably just slide off me, too.”
“Now, mayhaps, but you still have plenty of growing, my dear merchant. You may surpass even me, someday.”
Staring down at her chest, the young merchant hovered her fingers over her breasts before moving her hands out to the size of the dancer’s. Tressa was sent into another fit of giggles as she fell into her tipsy persona.
“Yay! Someday, ladies. Watch out, cause I’m coming for ya!”
Tressa stood up from her chair excitedly, raising her glass in the air before taking a large gulp of eggnog and collapsing back into her seat with a hiccup.
Turning her attention to H’aanit with a feline smirk, Primrose stated, “I would not challenge H’aanit to such a duel. She is quite well-endowed.”
Shrugging, the huntress sipped her drink. “Hath a man tolden me as such, he wouldst be on the floor. But from thou, Primrose, it ist a compliment. I thanken thee.”
“Of course, my dear. We ladies must stick together in this world ran by greedy men, no? First and foremost is recognizing our value in every way possible. Would you not agree, Ophilia?”
Everyone turned to the cleric to find that she had brought her knees to her chest, hoping to hide her body, as well as her heavily blushing face. “Could we move on to another topic, please?”
Primrose’s giggle came out like a pleased purr. She teased, “Ophilia I do believe you are only second to H’aanit, what are you embarrassed about?”
A squeal of embarrassment was her only response as her blush deepened and she hugged her knees tighter to her chest.
Everyone laughed at the reaction before the dancer assured, “Be proud of yourself Ophilia, in every way. After all, how will you court your apothecary if you aren’t confident?”
“I-it’s not that, it’s just…” Ophilia paused, a realization hitting her almost immediately after she spoke. Peeking at her friends’ faces, it seemed they had come to the same realization she did. Panicking, the cleric released her knees and waved her hands frantically. “I-I mean, it’s not like that! Wait, no… it’s just that Alfyn and I… we… I… oh, dear…”
Though amused by the cleric’s reaction, H’aanit was afraid her blush would burn down the inn. Hoping to calm her down, the huntress comforted, “‘Tis alright, Ophilia. Alfyn ist a fine man for thou’s first blush. Honorable, kind, strong, all the attributes of a fine mate.”
Hearing this calmed the cleric down a little as she wistfully remembered her conversation with the blond man from earlier in the day. She smiled at the thought.
“Perhaps you are right.”
“Oh, we definitely are, ain’t that right, H’aanit?” Tressa jumped in.
She nodded in response.
“Well, while we’re on the topic,” Primrose continued, finishing her drink. “H’aanit, how are you and your knight-in-shining-armor?”
Undeterred by the dancer’s insinuation, the huntress turned to her with only the faintest of blushes coloring her cheeks. “If thou meanst Sir Olberic, we art becoming steadfast comrades.”
“And more, if I were to say as much.”
Thinking on her words carefully as she stared into her drink, H’aanit remained silent. Eventually, she settled on, “Mayhaps.”
“Oh, most definitely! Come on, you and Sir Olberic are like the mom and dad of our little group,” Tressa chimed in, calling out H’aanit. “You help me when I need advice, you teach us different things, and you stop Primrose and Therion when they’re squabbling too much!”
“If thou sayest so.”
While H’aanit tried to deter the conversation from progressing any further, she did feel a faint warmth from being compared to a mother alongside Olberic. At the same time, it would also insinuate that they were more than comrades, or friends for that matter.
“Thou sayest so! Anyway, enough of that talk. Are those new dancing slippers, Primrose?”
Like a lightning bolt, the energetic Tressa changed the subject to the new, seemingly expensive shoes the dancer now wore. Subconsciously, Primrose tucked her feet under her legs, hiding the article of clothing from view. Immediately, she regretted that action. Everyone saw how she reacted, so they knew the dancer was trying to hide something. This time, Ophilia, who was usually the victim, took this as an opportunity to take her revenge.
“They do look new, Tressa. If I did not know any better, I would also say Primrose is trying to hide something from us.”
The dancer’s face lit up a bit, no matter how hard she tried to hide it.
“And her face is turning red. I think you’re right, Ophilia,” Tressa agreed. “So, where did you get those dancing slippers, Primrose? If I’m right, they don’t look cheap. Did you dip into our savings, or…?”
A light suddenly flickered to life in Tressa’s head, clearing the alcohol-induced fog that clouded her brain. She knew how Primrose got a hold of those shoes. Judging by the how the dancer hid behind her waves of brunette locks in response to how the merchant’s gaze narrowed in amusement at her, it seemed that Tressa was correct.
Snickering, she answered her own question smoothly. “You were with Therion today, right?”
A small crack in the dancer’s demeanor – thanks to the strength of her drink – told the rest of the women all they needed to know.
“…yes,” Primrose replied in an uncharacteristically meek voice.
“Ah, and he has some sticky fingers, right? Stickier than molasses, methinks,” the merchant continued.
“And your previous slippers were a bit on the dingy side.”
This time Primrose stayed silent, only coaxing Tressa to confidently continue her interrogation.
“Those sure do look like they were bought today, too. Did Therion happen to, oh, I don’t know, swipe those from some unsuspecting merchant?”
Silence for a few moments.
Primrose stared at her drink, mumbling, “Damn eggnog.”
Once again, the women were sent into a laughing fit, much to Primrose’s pouting face. Tressa was right on the mark. The dancer found it unfair. Usually she was the one to probe into the group’s romantic life, not the other way around. Now, unprepared for the merchant’s investigation, the tables were turned on her.
Calming down, Tressa wiped imaginary tears away from her eyes. “Oh, I knew it! Gotta hear you say it, though. Come on, Primrose, we’ve all said our fair share.”
The dancer, usually used to people watching her, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Sighing, she decided to go along with their little game. After all, it was only fair.
Before she could acknowledge her friends’ assumptions, the door to the inn burst open.
Everyone turned towards the sound, seeing a familiar group of men now standing in the doorway. Three of them carried the towering fourth, who appeared as if he was overly intoxicated. Having been caught and seeing all their female companions’ eyes on them, Therion cursed at their luck.
“Shit…” the thief mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear.
The single word sent the women in the room into another fit of raucous laughter. Lucky for them, no one else was sharing the inn with them that night. Even so, neighbors swore they could have heard the muffled laughter of women sneaking its way through their walls. Yet if they had enjoyed their drink just as the Octopath Travelers had, then they would be joining in with hoots and hollers of their own.
Ah, what comes into the light when exposed in a group who has partook in too much drink.
The truth always works its way into the world in ways that are unconventional, in this case, secrets are spilled with but a few sips of spiked eggnog.
A word that means so much to so many, yet so little to others; here, the women of the Octopath Travelers have formed such a bond of secrets, silently swearing they would never be told to their male counterparts.
Until the time is right, that is…