Melanie woke up the next day feeling relaxed and energized. She stretched, letting out a long, drawn-out yawn.
For some reason she felt so full of vitality. Melanie looked around, but couldn't find the Young Mas...no, Lyle, anywhere. Lady Iris was gone as well.
Melanie wondered if the other day was just a dream. But no, that couldn't be...
She and Lyle, they were really...that, right? She recalled the events from last night and couldn't help blushing.
The last thing she remembered was falling asleep on his shoulder. How embarrassing...
She noticed the blanket just then, knowing he was the one who must have put it on her. For some reason the thought brought a small smile to her face.
Melanie stripped down and quickly put on some new clothes.
After washing her face with some water and drying herself with a towel, she moved outside.
Melanie saw Lyle and Iris in the distance, Lyle already performing his morning practice session. Iris was watching him closely while that Nykyrian person stood opposite of her brother and readied his sword.
Melanie found herself staring at Lyle, as she often did. But she hurriedly looked away when she saw one of the female mercenaries grinning at her as she walked by.
She became extremely awkward just then, smiling sheepishly at the woman.
Then she frowned suddenly, finally noticing that there were actually quite a few women who were openingly oogling him from afar.
Melanie was shocked.
Really, didn't these women know any restraint? Staring like that, without a care in the world, so shamelessly!
...Even Melanie had never done that!
It sort of made her unhappy.
She wondered if this was how Lady Sophia felt whenever she went with him to a ball or some other public event. Many young Ladies had to have done the same as these women were doing.
Melanie again had an unpleasant feeling well up within her at the thought, imagining the subtle looks they'd have shot his way.
Although he was often busy with training, maybe off on a trip with Lady Cecelia for a few weeks or a month for some mission that he'd been sent on, he still made time to go out with Sophia and have fun together. Especially in the early days of their relationship.
Melanie felt a little pang of jealousy as she watched the women make eyes at him. But she sighed and just let it go.
Instead she chose to do something more productive.
She walked to the carriage in search for a pan and grill, then found the Icebox and took out some ingredients. She wanted to cook something.
This was the first time she would be cooking something here by herself, she usually had Lyle of Lady Cecelia start the fire for her. Lyle didn't let her cook for them much either, saying she wasn't supposed. That it wasn't her job anymore. Not that it was needed, they found a town or often enough so it was rare that they had to camp outdoors.
It was only recently that towns became more scarce.
And Melanie never even had to start a fire from scratch, so the technique was foreign to her.
In the past century magic made it so that it was far easier for people in towns or cities to be able to cook by using ovens inscribed with magic-infused runes.
But this was restricted to town and cities. She'd never journeyed outside of Varric so she never had to learn how to start fires.
Sadly portable magic devices that allowed one to start a fire was very pricey, not something she thought a mercenary would waste money on. Common folk wouldn't be able to easily afford it anyway either.
So it wasn't surprising that Lyle didn't bring one along. A tinderbox, he had said, would do just fine.
Melanie had never used a tinderbox, though...
But how hard could it be really?
Seeing Lyle hard at work made Melanie intent on cooking him something. He was always ravenous after his exercise ended.
She wanted to surprise him too, show him that she was perfectly capable of doing things herself even when in places like this.
A simple fire should prove no problem!
She was very confident. After all she'd seen Lyle and Cecelia do it enough times, so how could she mess up?
Thinking this, Melanie therefore took the ingredients, cookware and tinderbox out of the carriage and carried them over to one of the campfires closest to her.
Cecelia had set this one up earlier, she recalled. A series of thick and flat rocks place in a U-shape.
Now let's see...
First was wood. She had to get wood.
There wasn't any on hand so she'd have to find some. Shouldn't be too hard, there was plenty.
Melanie spent the next ten minutes looking around the ground near campsite but there wasn't any that could be seen. Had it all been picked up and used already?
After searching some more she decided to just take some wood from the low-hanging branches of trees and bushes.
After she had a few pieces, she took the kindling from the tinderbox and set it down inside the U-shaped formation of rocks.
She didn't notice the strange looks the people who passed by gave her when they saw what she was about to use as fuel.
Paying not attention to them, Melanie got out the flint and steel from the tinderbox.
...She just had to repeat the motions that she had seen the Lyle and Lady Cecelia do, right?
Taking the steel and flint in hand, she hung ot pver the fine kindling and struck them against each other.
Disappointment was written all over her face, but she let it go.
So...she had to strike it harder?
Melanie did so, and to her excitement she instantly produced a few red-orange sparks!
But there were not too many...and they died before they even hit the kindling...
Not to be put down, Melanie tried again.
She brought the flint and steel closer before striking them.
...The sparks died again.
Melanie's smiling face from a moment ago froze.
She struck again.
And again...And again...And again...
The sparks never lasted long. They fizzled on the kindling for a bit and then winked out of existence.
Melanie felt a growing sense of incompetence but still continued.
She didn't even know how long she stood there, striking the two pieces together and then watching the sparks fade away into nothingness.
Come on, she begged, urging the sparks to take hold of the kindling, willing them to grow into flames.
But nothing happened.
She struck once more, her hands shaking as the cold set into her hands.
But no matter how many times she tried, the sparks never flourished.
Melanie, even still, stubbornly struck the flint.
She just sat there on her knees and continued the monotonous motions until her arms became tired and heavy.
Melanie felt her eyes grow hot.
Why? Why wasn't anything happening?
She clenched her teeth, feeling her throat begining to close up.
" So stupid." She muttered angrily. "It's just a fire. I can do this."
She'd seen people do it plenty of times.
"So why?" She asked herself. "Why isn't it working?"
Melanie refused to give up.
After several more minutes of useless attempts...success! The sparks caught onto the kindling and started to grow!
Melanie quickly took hold of this opportunity and used her hands to carefully stop the wind from putting them out again.
She swelled with pride, feeling very good about herself at the moment.
But she kept calm and gently flew on the sparks, breathing more life into them.
Then, just as they began to spread...A harsh wind blew the sparks began to fade.
"No... No, no, no, don't go!" A wave of helplesssnes was slowly taking root in her heart.
She scooted forward, using her body to block guard against another gust, frantically striking more sparks onto the kindling.
"No, don't do this, don't die, please..." Melanie begged silently.
Just as she thought everything would be fine another even more unforgiving wind came.
It blew dust and kindling into her face, making her cry out and swipe at her eyes.When everything had calmed down she looked down, almost unwilling.
The fire....the kindling....everything was...
Frustration got the better of her, causing Melanie to angrily throw the flint onto the ground.
It hit the rocks, hard, sending large sparks everywhere.
A few stray sparks caught on her clothes, the would-be flames clinging to the the thick cloth.
She ignored it, thinking they'd die down, but soon caught a whiff of smoke.
Jumping up with a yelp, Melanie patted her clothes down until the sparks were no more. But there were now several small holes that let the cold air seep inside.
.Melanie looked down at the holes blankly.
She ran a hand through her hair, her breathing rough. She couldn't take it. She could feel the tears building along her eyes, wanting to scream and stomp her feet. Useless. She felt useless. She couldn't even start a fire...
There was a moment of self-hate and misery that overwhelmed her. But she held it in, her hands reaching for the flint with tembling hands.
...It was broken into five small pieces...
She looked in the tinderbox, but there were none left.
Melanie could sense a few pairs of pitying eyes on her. But she didn't look up. She took hold of the pieces and made them into a tight clump.
Then she took up the steel took and struck at them. The sharp edges of the rocks bit into her hand painfully.
This time there weren't even any sparks.
She struck again.
"Melanie?" She heard a voice behind her. Feminine, familiar.
"Lady Cecelia." Melanie greeted the girl numbly, continueing her attempts.
"What're you doing?"
Cecelia peered over the girl's shoulder and knitted her brows in confusion.
"Melanie, the flint's broken..."
"No, it's fine."
"Where's the kindling?"
"Oh...Most of it blew away. But there's still some left, see?"
The girl struck the flint again.
"Melanie, I think you should st--"
"No, I can do it."
"It's just a fire."
Cecelia quietly watched the girl make her futile efforts for a few moments more before sighing.
Looking at the wet and green wood at Melanie's side, the girl shook her head and left.
Cecelia returned a few minutes later with several long pieces of wood. Dry and dead.
Taking out a small wooden box from her coat pocket, she then crouched next to the girl whose hands seemed unable to stop their relentless attempts at producing a spark.
Cecelia took out a few tools from the box.
After gathering the remaining kindling into a small pile Cecelia then made a few swift and precise motions.
Large sparks came to life and landed on the kindling.
It took just a few moments of careful prodding from her before she had a good flame going, the bright orange fire hungrily burning through the kindling.
Cecelia broke off a few pieces from her dry wood and strategically set it near the small fire, allowing it to eat up the fuel and add to it's size.
Soon it was large enough so that she didn't need to protect it from the wind at all and could enjoy the heat it put off.
She controlled the flames expertly, making them neither too large nor small, then placed the grill on the large, flat rocks so that it rested on them stably.
Cecelia glanced to her left and saw Melanie staring emptily into the flames, the broken pieces of flint held tightly in her hand even still.
Cecelia, despite seeing the dangerous death grip she held on the stone, said nothing.
"...I couldn't even light a simple fire..." Melanie's voice was barely audible.
"I'm sure you would have been able to do it eventually." Cecelia replied smoothly.
The girl flinched, as if she could sense the lie.
"Were you hungry?"
"No, I..." The girl stopped.
Melanie looked away.
Cecelia followed her gaze and immediately understood. A neutral "I see." was all she said. Then, after a moment, "You'd best start then, no?"
"Yes. Right." Melanie got to work, letting go of the tools in her hands and reaching for the pan. "...Thank you, Lady Cecelia." Her voice once more went small, like she were ashamed.
"You're welcome." Cecelia acknowledged her gratitude easily.
Melanie began cooking shortly, calming down.
...She could feel Cecelia looking at her.
When she turned to sneak a peak at the young woman she saw a peculiar expression on her face.
It made Melanie very nervous. It felt like she was somehow being judged...or something.
"You're a nice woman, Melanie." Cecelia spoke up after a long period of silence.
Melanie, surprised at the sudden compliment, became awkward. "Oh. Um...T-thank you...?"
Cecelia nodded. " I thought so before, but you even remind me of my sister. In many ways, actually" She continued.
Melanie was most certainly not expecting something like that, her hands nearly losing control of the cookware.
"R-really? I don't see how--"
"Yes." Cecelia cut in. "You're both quite..." She searched for the right words. "...introverted, I'd say. Nice, but shy."
Melanie might have imagined it, but the word definitely seemed like it belonged there.
The girl stood up, apparently readying to leave. " Although I have to admit, you're quite a bit braver than Sophia."
Melanie blinked. "Braver?"
Cecelia gave a short laugh that was full of good cheer. "Of course. I mean I was pretty surprised to see that you and Lyle had such an intimate relationship. Sophia faced quite a few snide remarks from the young Noble Ladies who fancied Lyle, which, now that I think it, is probably why she never felt good enough for him. I doubt they ever let her feel like she was.
"Ah." Cecelia stopped herself."But I digress. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that since even she was isolated and talked of behind her back, then I can only imagine what they'd say about you. Given your..." She looked Melanie up and down, her face carefully controlled."...position. Or lack thereof, I should say."
Melanie winced just then, understanding better than anyone what caste of people she belonged to.
In comparison to people like Lady Cecelia and Lady Sophia, Melanie was really just...too low...
But Melanie could hear a note of admiration in the girl's next words, which caught her off-guard.
"Knowing all this and yet still going through with it, doesn't that make your pretty brave?" She asked, her tone seeming to betray a hint of approval. "After all Lyle's not an easy person to fall for, from what I understand. For various reasons. "
Melanie stayed quiet, feeling the words slowly sink in.
"Well," She went on after a short pause. " Although Sophia couldn't handle the pressure of it all, I really do hope things turn out better this time around. "
The girl smiled faintly before turning to walk away. But she stopped, and Melanie could see out of the corner of her eye the way the girl thoughtfully looked at her.
"But...I wonder exactly how long you two have felt this way for each other?"
Leaving behind such a question, she left.
...Melanie knew the woman couldn't have meant it, but the unsaid accusation, the impied meaning, still stung...