Grabbing the towel on the side counter, Euca rushed to lift the kettle from the stove. The water had been on rolling boil for a while.
He thought he still had time! He meant how could people of this blasted town count fourteen consecutive bells tolling without forgetting whether they already on 8th or still on 7th toll? Well, not him apparently!
Knock. Knock.
Did he even had time for this?
For a second, he considered to scrap the whole preparation — and just run to the door.
Dipping both of his hands in the bucket, wetting it. He grabbed the damp towel he left on the counter. And as fast as humanly possible, he nudged the burning stove’s vent lid. Closing it shut.
“Oh might as well.” he sighed toward the still burning wood. He was already late. At least now he would be fashionably late.
Was that the correct expression? It seemed wrong. Oh, who cared?! He didn’t have time for this!
Opening the brown paper package, he took a spoonful of the white loose leaves and put it in the cloth before tying and dipping it inside the kettles, lid open.
Usually, this was a travesty since using such high-temperature water would ruin the taste with excessive bitters. But then again this how the store attendant said it commonly prepared. And he, in a turn of surprise, agreed! He brewed a practice batch —of course, he did— an hour ago and the slow simmer steep was not as full-bodied.
Knock Knock.
“Yes, yes!”
Fishing out the bag, he winced at the three-quarter, maybe seven-eighth infusion. The colors were a tad lighter than he intended to. Well, It just had to do.
He dumped the bag into a cup and closed the kettle lid. Then with a most careful heave, he put the kettle on the tray, and half-ran to the guest room before entering the side chamber.
He would deal with the remaining leaves later.
He placed the tray beside a few unleavened breads he also bought from the same store. Frantic, he paled when the tray announced itself with a loud clang.
Not spilled? Not spilled? Good!
Rushing to the foyer, he pulled his handkerchief and wiped his hand quick before opening the front door, all smiles.
“Welcome, welcome! Terribly sorry. Haven’t got used to the town bell!”
“That’s fine,” answered a smiling gnome, a slight but increasing shower, and a gust of bone-chilling wind. Blowing on his face. “It’s not like you leave us here freezing for two wicks intentionally, right, Euca?”
“Hello, Restia,” he pursed his lips, looking to the very much dry gnome. “Nice to meet you too. Come in...”
And then as that woman entered. Loudly, if he might add, he heard a slight shuffle. A slight rustle. Three steps behind her was a man he hadn’t seen when he opened the door. What? Where did he come from?
He smiled though, giving him a cordial, welcoming nod as the man tipped his hat at him.
Moving himself from the doorway, he cleared a way to let the man ...the old man? entered. No. Not an old man. He should be on his late thirties at most. It just the way he carried himself that made him look a lot older.
Dignified. Right, that was the word. The man fashioned a hair that was a lighter shade of dark gold blond, tucked in dapper curl a shy above his ear. His attire was this long muted blue coat, overlaying a brown well-kept, but fading doublet. And his shoes were the standard black buckled shoes paired with a dark-green legging. It was impressive. Not to mention his step — his step. Every each was regular and measured. And he moved — no. Glided. He glided inside, like a dance, smooth, intentional. Brimming with grace.
Euca blinked. Twice. Pushing himself out of that reverie. Not because the man broke his rhythm, no. But because there was someone else. Someone behind him —following him. This one though wasn't a man. It was a woman. She was wearing a green hooped skirt with white apron. And just below her puffy sleeves, by her white-gloved hand, was a tied ribbon colored of rich ocean blue.
She was perhaps three to four years older than the man if her crow feet was any indicator. Euca nodded, greeting her with the same geniality he showed the man. Unlike the man though, she replied his greeting with hasty half-curt, looking a bit worried?
Ah, he must miss her earlier curtsy, too focused on the man before him. He opened his mouth a little, showing a pursed smile, signalling his apology. The woman though, just nodded back, following the man without any indicator she accepted his apology or not.
And as the party entered one by one, they began to take off their shoes. Putting in on the rack side by side.
“This way.”
Passing the foyer, he ushered them to the left hallway, to the short hall, before at last, arriving on the drawing room. Opening the door, he entered it straight away, followed by the gnome. Yet as he waited, for a second, then the next, he found that both of the man and the woman still standing at the door. Seemed hesistant.
“Please enter Sir, Ma’am. Please — Make yourself at home.”
“We’ll do.” the gnome replied. Sitting on the couch with a puff.
Rolling his eyes, he saw both of them finally entered. Nodding to both, he proceed to walk to the side chamber, doing the last check on the day's refreshment.
“Cup, six pieces, check. Kettle, check. Bread check. Serving spoon check. Check. Check. Check. Okay, it’s all here.”
Laying all the items down, he pushed the trolley out of the side chamber door toward the guest room and greeted by a somewhat excited gnome.
“Oh, meil!”
He nodded. Putting down the saucers in stack. “Would you like to have a cup?”
“Sir—” The man was half-standing, his hand hung in the air. “Please. Allow me to do it.”
“Ah?” he paused, “No! No!" he shook his head at once, waving at him. "Just sit there, Sir. Please! I would be a poor host If I let my guest served their own te— meil,” he half-chuckled. The man seemed a bit hesitant but nodded, sitting back down.
“Would you like milk with the tea? I tried to found the sugar or honey, but no one here seems to sell it…” he said as he laid down the rest of the flatwares.
“Sugar? Honey?” the gnome arc her eye. “What’s that?”
“A swee—” Wait. This world didn't know sugar? “A spice from my home." he lied. "It gives the meil a ...lovely fragrance.”
“I never heard of it, what is it like?” Great. He knew that look. It was her tingling business sense. “Oh, it’s a mix of some leaves, herbs, dried bark, and few other things I guess. Each vendor has their own signature.”
“If you say so…” she said. Right, merchant. She probably got lie detection skills or something. Not like he was going to admit it. So, whatever. “Would you like milk with the tea, Restia?”
“Yes, please.”
“And how about you, Sir?”
“Just a bit please, Sir.”
“And you Ma’am?”
“...O-Oh?! Yes! Yes, sir! Please, just a bit also!”
It was the second time the woman looked ...rushed as he addressed her. Had he made a faux pas? Looking at the man, the corner of his lips slightly raised. Was he smiling? The gnome though was nodding.
Well, whatever. He was playing a part of an out-towner anyway.
Lining the saucers straight, he poured the brew three-quarter full. And as the steaming liquid hit the cold clay, it graced the room with gentle cinnamon scent. Lifting the smaller jug he used for creamer, he poured a dash to each cup before stirring it.
He lifted the saucer, giving each cup before pouring down the last unfilled one for himself. And as just he stirred his, the gnome exclaimed.
“It’s! It’s!—”
“—It’s so sweet!”
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