“Hey.” Raoul lifted a hand and waved. “Food’s here.”
Toini and Paivi both looked up at him from their seats. Neither of them said a word.
“Bad time?” He nodded towards the bar. “I can wait.”
“No.” Toini shook here head. “It’s fine.”
Paivi shot her a glare and got to her feet. “I’ll go get plates.”
“Great. Thank you.” Smiling, Raoul stepped out of the way to let her through.
Toini stared after her, muttering to herself. There was nothing wrong with how she looked. Her clothes were clean and mended and the rest wasn’t anyone else’s stupid business.
Ignoring her frown, Raoul stepped into the snug, set down a canvas bag on a chair next to the table, and began unpacking the food. “Meatballs. Spuds. Sauce. Lettuce.”
One by one he placed the packages on the table. Carefully wrapped in waxed cloth and tied up with strings. The sauce even had a little urn of its own, but they’d have to bring that back later.
“And last but not least…” Raoul grinned wide at her and retrieved something from the bag. “A big jar of lingonberry jam.”
He held it out for her to see. Big indeed. Proper homemade East Hemsfil lingonberry jam. Handwritten label. Unsweetened – and way too much for just one meal. She’d have some later, with a glass of whiskey. Not that she was a proper lady or anything.
Toini took the jar from him and weighed it in her hand. Heavy. “Thank you.”
Maybe they could stock up a little while they were here. There should be room on the ship for a few jars. She could get a cookbook and give Lavanje, and he could try out some northern dishes for the crew.
“How did it go?” Raoul shuffled some chairs around to get a seat by the table, careful not to move the one Paivi had sat in. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. I’m okay.”
Maybe it would be better not to. Maybe she ought to keep her old life apart from who she was. It had worked out well – so far.
Raoul sat down. He fidgeted for a moment and then cleared his throat. “How about your sister? How’s she taking it?”
“She’s fine.” Nothing to talk about. “No problem.” Toini crossed her arms over her chest.
“Are you sure?” He leaned back in the chair and stroked his chin. “She seemed a bit… upset?”
“Heh…” No kidding her sister had been upset. “Let’s say she wasn’t too happy that you threatened to shoot her in her own bar.” She rolled her eyes and tried not to sigh too loud.
“She shouldn’t have attacked you then.” Grinning, Raoul splayed his hands.
“I told you to back off,” she snapped. “You disobeyed a direct order. You undermined my authority.”
“You know what my standing orders are, Toini.” Still smiling, Raoul leanead forward and started untying the strings around one of the packages on the table. “You’d been knocked senseless.”
“I’m your commander.” Toini clenched her jaws together. “My orders take precedence.”
“Yes, but I judged you were not aware of the gravity of the situation.”
He folded out the paper wrapping and uncovered a big pile of meatballs. Small ones, barley larger than a thumbs width, pan-fried and glistening with grease.
“You judged wrong!” Toini grabbed the armrest on the chair to keep from slammin her fist into the table. “We only have a few weeks left together.” She raised her hand and jabbed a finger in the air at him. “Let’s make them as easy as we can. Do not disobey me again. Is that clear?
Raoul looked up. Smile gone. Face serious. “Clear.”
“Further.” She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest again. “We are not to bring weapons into the pub again.”
“Say what?” Raoul’s jaw dropped, and he stared at her.
“You know what they’re like up here.” Toini began counting on her fingers. “No guns, no knives, no magic. It’s not like in the south.” She clasped her hands in her lap and pulled out a big smile. “Don’t worry though, you’re on vacation. After the meal I want you out of here.”
Raoul froze. “What?”
“Hey guys.” Paivi stepped into the snug carrying two plates and two pairs of knife and fork wrapped in napkins. She put it all down the little table, careful not to knock any of the food over the edge. “Here you are.”
“Thank you.” Toini smiled up at her from where she sat. Not a good time. Go get something else. Please.
Paivi looked at Raoul, frowned, and turned to Toini.
Toini smiled as wide as she possible could and nodded her head in the direction of the bar.
Rolling her eyes, Paivi stretched and flexed her shoulders. “You can start without me, I’ve already eaten.” She spun around and headed for the doorway of the snug. “I’ll get you something to drink.”
Raoul looked after her, muttered something under his breath, and then turned to Toini. “What do you mean vacation?”
Toini glared at him. “You know what I mean.”
He knew very well. They’d been through this before – several times. They both knew they’d be better off without the other when things were quiet. Sure, when the going got tough they worked together like a mind in two bodies, but that was a different kind of tough – the kind where people died if they made mistakes.
Raoul cleared his throat and met her glare straight on. “You still have a quest to complete and I’m required to observe it to the best of my ability.” He raised his hand and wagged a finger in the air. “If you order me away you’ll risk your funding.”
Toini stared at him. Smug bastard was right. She’d completely forgotten about Roy and about her quest. Too many memories. Too much emotion. Seriously. Not good. She didn’t do well with emotions.
Smiling faintly, Raoul leaned forward again and undid the strings on the other package. “Are you sure you’re okay Toini? This is not like you.”
Potatoes. Boiled and peeled by hand. Ready to eat. There ought to be a little tub of butter around as well.
Toini sighed. “I’ll be fine. I just need some food.” She would. She hadn’t eaten all day. It didn’t help.
Raoul nodded, and began unwrapping the lettuce. It came with it’s own little basket to keep it from getting too crushed. They’d have to bring that too back later.
She’d do that. In a bit. It’d be good to get a little time alone, even if just for a short walk.
Taking a deep breath she composed herself. She had a job to do. “After the meal we’ll find Roy, get him on board, and then I’d like you to take some time off. Okay?”
Done. Sorted. Agreement achieved, whether he liked it or not.
“Okay.” Raoul nodded.
“It’s only a few days, and nothing important is going to happen.” It’d better not. She’d smite someone, sinner or not. “If something goes down, I’ll call you.”
Grinning, he leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow at her. “Will you now?”
Toini rolled her eyes, and then she tilted her head and smiled at him, batting her eyelids. “My crew. My funding.”She knew he hated it when she tried to look disarming, and she couldn’t quite keep her face straight. “Don’t worry, I’ll call.”
Raoul grumbled, opened his mouth as if to say something but stopped himself when Paivi stepped into the snug again carrying a tray with three pints of lager.
Slowly, she navigated her way to her chair and sat down. “There we go…” She balanced the tray on her lap and set the pints out on the table. “Hemsbrew Lager. Should go well with the food.”
Smiling, Paivi started dishing up food on one of the plates, grabbing hot meatballs and potatoes with her fingers without hesitation. She uncorked the urn, poured a rich brown sauce over everything, and tossed some lettuce on top of it.
She handed the plate to Raoul and then prepared another one for Toini.
Raoul said nothing.
Toini remained silent.
For a moment, no one moved. Raoul and Toini with their plates. Paivi with her beer, looking from the one to the other.
Toini grabbed her knife and fork, and a moment later Raoul did the same. Neither of them looked away from the food in front of them. Neither of them said a word.
The food looked really good.
She had no appetite. Wasn’t hungry. Didn’t feel like eating.
“My my my…” Paivi sighed. “Aren’t you two in a cheerful mood.”
“It’s fine.” Toini looked up and forced herself to smile. “Just… work stuff.”
Roaul too looked up, smiled, and reached for his pint of beer. “Thank you.” He raised the glass at Paivi and took a sip.
Toini looked at her beer in it’s glass. She probably should eat first. Her eyes fell on the jar of jam on the table. Maybe that’s what was missing. She grabbed it, twisted off the lid and used her fork to scoop up a big glob of jam on her plate.
Nope. Still not hungry.
She stared at her plate. It looked so good. Why wasn’t she eating. Raoul was gulping it down already. Big loads. Shoveling in.
Her stomach tied herself into a knot and her mouth dried up. She’d have to ask her sister about Roy soon. Ek sure knew how to set her a challenged.
“Well!” Paivi sat down her pint on the table with a thud. “Since you’re both so talkative, I have a question.”