Little Red Riding Hood's Travel Companion...is the Wolf!?
The town of Norwich—a town constantly filled with activity. The streets ever so busy with people going around with their daily lives and merchants trying their best to sell their goods. A girl walks along a cobblestone path running through the market street, a basket resting on her left arm. Her silky blonde hair loosely tied into twin tails gently flowed with the wind. Autumn this year is not being kind. She breathes onto her hands, her warm breath faded as fast as it appeared.
Sigh, it's so chilly out here. I should finish up with groceries and head back.
As she was thinking to herself, a man behind a stall called out to her.
“Hey there lil’ girl, today's bread is especially fresh. Would ya want to buy some?”
“Ohh?” She said as she looked like a rat that sniffed out cheese.
“Hmmm, smells good mister.”
“Haha, isn’t it? What do ya say?”
“Alright! Give me two of your best loaves!” Holding out her basket, she gestures the man to put the bread in it.
“How much for it?”
“Five small coppers.” he held out his palm to indicate the number.
The girl tilted her head with her finger on her chin.
“How about three?”
“F-O-U-R, nothing less.” The man said while folding his arms and turning his head away but still maintaining eye contact with the girl.
“Awww, three copper and I'll show you my best smile of the day~” She looks at him with her crimson red eyes mimicking a lost puppy.
Her eyes stared at him with increasing intensity. The man thinks to himself, any longer and he may be compelled to give the bread to her for free.
“Arghhh! Fine, but just this once.”
He places two loaves of bread into her basket.
“Thanks mister~ I'll be going now~” She bid him goodbye but not before turning around to give him a smile. Her smile was so warming that it made the man momentarily forget about the cold autumn breeze.
“Heh, I guess she wasn't kidding.” He grinned as one hand was scratching his head while the other was resting on his hips.
Done with her shopping, the girl decided to head home. Her home was a little cottage in the woods. Using the dirt path that runs through the woods, it will take her about an hour on foot to reach home from town.
Sigh, maybe I shouldn’t have bought so much today, I’m getting tired already.
She contemplated on the idea of taking a break. However, autumn was not letting her have any of it, leaving her no choice but to move her stubborn legs. All the while, she was whining to herself.
“Argh, why does the weather have to be so cold today? I’m so tempted to just sit below a tree to rest but I’ll probably freeze to death.”
As she was grumbling to herself, she noticed something in the distance.
“Ahh…is that…fire!?” Her eyes lit up as how a fire would normally do.
She picked up pace and headed towards the direction of the fire. Peering behind a tree, she spots someone sitting in front of the fire. It was a teenage boy with black and unkept hair who looks about the same age as her. His gaze seems to be absorbed by the flames in front of him.
Oh, it's just a boy. Hmm, shall I go over?
While she was still contemplating, the boy's eyes suddenly shifted towards the girl.
“H-hi there, I was just passing by when I noticed a fire. I was won—”
She paused for a brief moment. She thought to herself about how cold those blue eyes of his looked, a gaze that was void of any emotions. Just looking at them sent chills down her spine.
“—dering if I could join you. I wanted to find a place to rest but I don't really do well with the cold.” She completed her sentence with a nervous laughter.
“You sure? I'm not exactly someone you'd like to get close to.”
The boy brought his sights back to the fire in front of him.
“Hmmm, I don't mind.” The only thing on her mind at the moment was just getting out of the cold.
She slowly walks towards the boy, stopping beside him before smoothing her skirt to sit down.
“Besides, you seem lonely.”
The boy just kept silent.
“My name’s Noelle, I live in a cottage further down. What’s your name?” The girl asked while leaning towards the boy.
The boy was taken aback for a moment before answering.
“Conri,” His brows furrowed as he continued. “…and I have no home.”
Noelle does not know what happened to Conri in the past, but she could tell from the tone of his voice that he is someone who went through a lot. His bruised body and ragged clothes further cemented that thought. Deciding to not press the matter further, she hatched a little scheme in her mind.
“So, your name is congee? You must love eating congee~” She teased, her eyes narrowed and a playful grin painted across her face.
“Here, have some. I just gotten them from the town market, it’s suuuper~ fresh” she said as she held out a piece of bread that she tore from a loaf in her basket.
Conri did not know how to respond. He was not used to the kindness of strangers.
What’s wrong with her, does my face scream ‘I wanna be friends’ that much?
His face was a mixture of confusion and mild annoyance.
“What’s wrong? Don’t like it? Could it be…that you only eat congee?”
She’s starting to scare me. He thought to himself as he placed a palm on his face.
“Fine, fine, I’ll eat it ok? But just to be clear, I do not like congee. It tastes like old people food.” He begrudgingly replied and grabbed the bread from Noelle’s hand.
“Just take it as a thanks for letting me share your fire. It's so warm~” she said as she tore a piece from the loaf for herself.
“Eating with someone makes the food much better, doesn't it?”
Conri's eyes widened slightly for a moment.
“Hmmm...I guess so.” He unconsciously grinned—one that was barely noticeable unless one took a close look.
As Conri was eating the bread, Noelle noticed something.
“Congee, you have fangs?”
“It's CONRI. Wait, you're not scared?” He asked while slightly surprised.
“Why would I be? If you were bad, you would've done something to a beautiful maiden such as me already.”
“Humans tend to fear things that are different from them, even towards other humans.”
“I dunno, they look cool to me~”
This girl has no sense of danger, it's a mystery how she survived so long. He sighed from thinking about it.
“Are you human then? You look human.”
“Hmmm…You could say I'm a human with some special traits.”
Noelle’s curiosity was literally radiating from her face upon hearing those words.
“Tell me more!”
“Nope, too much work.”
“Awww, come on~” She whined as she tilted her body back and forth; hands pushed down on her skirt.
“Don't feel like it. Anyways don't you have somewhere to be?”
“Oh right, I do!” she answered with a face of sudden realization. That face was quickly replaced with one that screams bad news to Conri.
This girl...I'm sure she has some weird idea in her head. His instincts told him that whatever is going to come out of her mouth next is just more work for him.
“But I didn't fin—”
Just like that, he mercilessly shot her down. Noelle pouted her face; her eyes met his with full display of discontent. He averted her gaze in an instant.
My god, her eyes are dangerous. If she was a merchant, she could have easily convinced me to spend all my money on useless trash.
“Just hear me out~” she said as she shook Conri's shoulders.
Realizing that she probably won’t give up that easily, he sighed as he resigned to his fate.
“Fine, fine, what is it? Just stop shaking me.”
She put her curved hand in front of her mouth and spoke softly into Conri’s ears.
“Come over and join us for dinner.”
“Yea, me and my grandma.”
“Not your parents?”
“When I was little, my parents went missing while they were traveling.” She was smiling when she said that, but Conri could not help but to feel that it was forced.
Not sure what to do, he decided to go with the girl so that she would stop bugging him. A small part of him hopes that it might cheer her up a little.
“I see...Ok, I'll go with you.”
She returned to her cheery self as she grabbed Conri's hand.
“Let's go then~”
“Ahhh wait, let me put out the fire first.”
She eagerly tried to pull him along but his feet were firmly planted onto the ground, jolting her backwards.
“Eeek!” She screamed a little before continuing with an annoyed tone. “Geez, I almost fell down.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll be more careful next time.” he told her as he smothered the flames.
The two picked up their belongings and Noelle led the way through the woods.
As they started making their way, Conri noticed the falling leaves that gently caressed him. The once dull scenery now started to appear more vibrant to him, he can see the warm colours of autumn painted clearly in front of him. The once harsh chilly winds that breezed past him now feels more mellow and less piercing.
Maybe having company again isn’t so bad after all, even if that company is annoyingly cheeky.
While he was still wandering in his thoughts, Noelle called out to him.
“Don’t be a slowpoke, let’s hurry~ Any longer and I’ll be a block of ice before we get home and you’ll have to push me all the way.”
“Alright, alright. Can’t have that happen now, can we?”
He went up to her and took the basket from her arms.
“It’ll be faster if I hold onto this.”
“T-thanks…” she said as her cheeks started to glow red.
“It seems you are feeling very cold, your face is turning red. I guess we should hurry.”
“Alright” He replied with a smile as he thought to himself. Hmmm, I guess at the very least, this beats being alone.
And so, the two picked up their pace and headed to the cottage.
In the middle of the woods was a wooden cottage which blended in almost seamlessly with the autumn foliage that bore a myriad of warm vivid colours. Its structure was mainly wooden and topped with reddish tiles, giving a very modest yet cozy vibe to it. Thin white smoke can be seen emanating from the chimney—a simple indicator that someone was inside.
Noelle called out to Conri while pointing at the cottage as they approached it.
“Look Conri, we’re here!”
Conri simply nodded and continued to follow her. The subtle sounds of crunching leaves can be heard as he took each step.
Noelle called out to her grandmother as she opened the door.
“Grandmaaaa~ I’m home~”
She gestured Conri to hurry and enter the cottage.
“Oh? A friend?” A skinny old lady asked as she walked out of the kitchen. She was covered in wrinkles and her hair already as white as snow. Despite her appearances, she was still very lively—a sharp contrast compared to Conri. Conri thought to himself, “They’re family all right.”
She greeted him with an affectionate smile.
“Come on in, don’t worry about it.”
“Sorry to trouble you, gra—” Conri quickly reconsidered his words as his mother once told him that women were very sensitive about their age.
“Just call me granny. What’s your name?”
“O-ok, granny…I’m Conri.”
Having no prior experiences with women other than his mother, he sighed in relieve.
He took off his shoes and proceeded to walk in.
“Noelle here will go prepare dinner. Why don’t you take a bath first? She will show you where it is.”
“You don’t have to…”
“It’s fine, can’t have you eating in that state. Speaking of which, Noelle,”
“Get Conri some clothes too, there should be some of your dad’s old ones in the closet.”
Noelle went to a room for a moment before coming back to him with a set of clean clothes.
“It might be a little big for you but definitely more comfortable than what you’re wearing now~” Noelle said as she gave the clothes to Conri.
Unsure how to deal with such a welcoming hospitality, Conri decided to just take them up on the offer.
“T-thanks a lot, I really appreciate it. Sorry for all the trouble…”
“Don’t mention it, Conri. Besides, it’s nice having someone over once in a while. Now, go and take your bath.” Noelle’s grandmother gave him a smile before she turns to head to her bedroom.
After Noelle walked her grandmother to her bedroom, she showed Conri the well beside the cottage. She passed him a bucket and they each carried a bucket of water at a time to the bathroom. In it was just a simple wooden tub which they then filled with water over several trips to the well. She then threw a round stone into the tub. It was a hot spring stone—a mana rich stone engraved with a magic circle that heats up when in contact with water.
“Phew, finally done~ Dinner will take some time, so you don’t need to hurry. Enjoy your bath and make sure you come out squeaky clean~”
“Thank you, don’t mind if I do then.”
He closes the door and slowly gets into the bathtub. The water level rises as he lowers his body. Enveloped by the steam emanating from the bathwater, his eyelids slowly shut as he fully indulges himself in the warmth.
Ahhhh, this feels nice. How long has it been since I’ve taken a proper bath? Is this what they call the simple pleasures of life?
His mind slowly drifts off as the fatigue that he built up over a long time finally caught up to him.
“Conri~ Conri? Wake up sleepyhead, I can’t believe you fell asleep while bathing!” Noelle chuckled as she continued, “I know we told you to take your time, but I didn’t expect you to stay in there for a full hour.”
Still feeling blur from suddenly waking up, his mind was as clear as the air in the steamy bathroom.
“Huh…? What? Who…Wait, I fell asleep?”
It took him a while, but he soon regained his senses and started to panic.
“W-what are you doing in here!? And how!?”
Noelle was clearly enjoying that uncharacteristic side of Conri a lot. She was so tempted to tease him more that she almost looked like she was drooling. Of course, it would seem that Conri’s reactions to her teasing were quite irresistible to her.
“Hmmm, it’s not like the door is locked or anything. Plus, you didn’t answer when I called you earlier. So I took the liberty~”
“Never mind that. Now, can you leave me to get ready?”
“Ohhhhh? Sure you don’t want me to dry you—”
“I can do that myself!”
“If you say so~ Dinner’s ready so don’t take too long. Though I got to say, you sure have a nice body~♥” she said with a smug expression on her face as she slowly closed the door. Her sights never once left him until the gap fully closed off.
“Oh shut up!” Conri shouted as the doors closed.
He quickly dried himself and put on the clothes that Noelle gave him. As she told him earlier, they were slightly loose. Luckily for him the pants were not big enough to fall right off, he thought to himself as he left the bathroom.
As he was walking towards the dining table, the smell of delicious food filled his nostrils. When he got there, Noelle and her grandmother had already set up the table and were already seated.
“Ah, I see you’re finally done with your bath. Noelle told me you fell asleep in there.” Noelle’s grandmother said to Conri, followed by a small chuckle.
With a big smile on her face, Noelle tapped on her grandmother’s shoulder before telling her, “You should’ve seen his face when I woke him up grandma, it was sooo funny.”
“Now, now, sweetie, let’s not make him feel uncomfortable.” She rubbed Noelle’s head before continuing, “Come Conri, you must be hungry. Sit down and let’s eat together while the food’s still warm.” She said as she gestured Conri to come over to the dinner table.
“Alright granny, I hope I didn’t make you guys wait too long.” Conri said with a worried face.
“Don’t be such a worrywart, the food’s just ready. You should relax a bit more.”
“Ok granny…” Conri replied with a hesitant smile on his face.
Geez, he’s gotta work more on smiling towards others, he sucks at it. Well, I guess he’s cute in a way. Noelle ponders as stared at Conri before she interrupted her own thoughts. Oh right, dinner.
Noelle took a ladle and poured the stew from the pot into each of their bowls. On the table was also a round basket with slices of bread inside. Conri recognizes them as the bread he ate while in the woods earlier.
Conri took a piece of bread and dipped it in the stew before eating it.
“Mmm, it’s quite good.”
“Here I was wondering whether if you would like it, since you looove your congee and all~” Noelle teased, her smug expression once again graced Conri’s vision.
“Again, I don’t like congee…” he replied with his hand on his face as if he had a headache.
“Oh really? Why is that Conri?” Noelle’s grandmother said, eager to join in on the fun.
“He said it’s bland and tastes like old people food~” Noelle chimed in.
“I-I don’t mean it in any insulting way.” Conri replied, worried that what he said was offending.
“Hahahahaha, technically you’re not wrong, boy. My daughter never let me had my favorites in my congee, tastes like rice in water and nothing else.” Noelle’s grandmother shivered a little as she was reminded of the taste before continuing, “But Noelle here cooks some of the best congees you can eat.”
“Aww, I’m glad you like my cooking, grandma.”
“Maybe someday we’ll have some, then you can taste the glory of my granddaughter’s congee!”
“O-ok, someday then…” Conri replied before picking up his spoon to eat the stew.
This taste…It reminds me of something, it’s so warm and mellow…
As he ate the stew, a drop of liquid fell into the bowl. Soon enough, tiny droplets followed.
“W-wha—” Conri muttered as he noticed what was dripping into his bowl.
“Conri!? What’s wrong?” Noelle’s grandmother was shocked to see him in tears.
“Nothing’s wrong…It’s just that this taste reminded me a lot of the food I used to have with my family…”
More tears start to fall into his bowl with each passing words.
“Don’t cry, anymore and you’ll probably oversalt the stew.” Noelle said to him in a cheery manner while patting him on the head, but her eyes told an entirely different story.
Noelle’s grandmother looked at him with pitiful eyes. She tried to hide that pity as she placed her hand on his shoulder.
This child…I had my suspicions from the moment that I saw him. He had nothing but worn-out clothes and a sack on him. His eyes…They were lifeless, but constantly weary of his surroundings, especially people. Also, from what Noelle told me earlier, it’s safe to say he had a rather miserable life.
“There, there, it’s alright. I know maybe it sounds too soon for this, but why don’t you live with us?”
“B-but I couldn’t possibly…”
“It’ll be ok my dear boy, the more the merrier as they say. Besides, I heard you helped Noelle on her way back from town.”
“And I have a feeling you’ll never bore me, so I’m fine with that as well~”
As Conri’s inner self yearned for company more than anything, their words pulled him out of his own doubts. The weight of their kindness was almost unbearable to him as that was not the life he could ever imagine ever having again. But looking at them, he finally thought to himself that maybe it was time he gave himself another chance—a chance to move on, even if just a little. He buried his face in the embrace of Noelle’s grandmother, letting all his tears out.
“Thank you…thank you so much…”
“Alright, we better finish our dinner before it gets cold.” Noelle’s grandmother said as she wiped the tears off Conri’s face.
As they were finishing their meal, Conri looked at the two of them and thought to himself how lucky he was to have met people as kind as them. He thinks back to the time when Noelle said that food tastes better when eaten with others. He muttered with a faint smile, “I guess you’re right.”
After dinner was finished, Conri walked to the side of Noelle who was getting ready to wash the dishes.
“Let me help you with the dishes.”
“Oh, it’s ok. I can handle them on my own. Besides, this tiny amount won’t take me long.” Noelle said while patting on his shoulders.
“I want to do something to help as well.”
“Hmmm…Well, you can help walk my grandma to her bedroom~”
“O-oh ok, I think I can do that.”
“Good, now off you go~”
Noelle’s grandmother was sitting on a rocking chair in front of the fireplace, she was concentrating on something. In her hands were a pair of knitting needles, she hummed a gentle tune as she worked on what seems to be a scarf.
“Granny, Noelle told me to walk you to your room.”
“Ah, sure, let me just put these away first.”
Noelle’s grandmother put away her knitting kit on the small table beside her before getting up and walked to her room, Conri holding her hands as she did.
“Thanks, boy. I can actually walk just fine, but Noelle insists that she walks me to my room and nags me to be careful whenever she leaves the cottage. She can really be a worrywart like you sometimes, hahaha.” Noelle’s grandmother said as they were walking.
“Boy, you’re gentle and kind, but you should be kind to yourself as well. Loosen up.”
“I’m not who you think I am…”
Noelle’s grandmother only smiled back at him as they reached her bed. Conri, gently guided her onto her bed and tucked her in.
“Conri, about your past,” she gestured him to come closer before saying, “What happened in the past is history, you are who you are now because of your own efforts. I can tell, you did not have the best childhood out there, and I won’t ask you to tell me what happened. But I hope you can tell us when you’re ready, let us bear the burden in your heart as well, even if it’s not much.”
“I…” Conri hesitated for a moment before continuing, “I’ll try…”
“That’s a good boy. Anyways, you should sleep in Noelle’s room, she used to sleep with her parents so there’s an extra bed in there.”
“Wait, will she really be ok with that? Plus, I really don’t mind sleeping in the living ro—”
“It’s fiiine, she wouldn’t mind at all. Plus, weren’t you the one who didn’t lay a finger on a beautiful maiden such as her when you guys were alone?” Noelle’s grandmother winked at him with a smile that he’s definitely seen before—one that reminded him of a certain someone.
Noelle’s grandmother had already closed her eyes and pretended to snore.
Seriously, is everyone here secretly mischievous spirits in disguise? Well, can’t do much about it now. Guess I’ll just have to tell Noelle…
Conri sighed as he closed the door behind him.
“Oh, I see you’re done. Did my grandma say anything?” Noelle said as she tapped him on his shoulders, she was already in her sleepwear.
“W-well…She said I was going to sleep in your room tonight.”
“W-w-what!? You c-can have the bedroom! I’ll sleep somewhere else!”
“Wait, I should sleep outside! No nee—”
Noelle burst into laughter as soon as she heard Conri’s reaction. She was laughing so hard that her tummy looked like it was hurting.
“Phew, that was a good laugh. I was just messing around with you~ Come on, I’ll show you to my room.”
Conri’s face was devoid of any expressions, he was clearly drained of all mental energy dealing with her shenanigans.
After Conri left the room, Noelle’s grandmother opened her eyes as she recalled an incident from her past.
The girl from many years ago who knocked on our family door on that rainy night, I wonder where and how she is doing now? Or if she is even…I don’t want anything like that to happen again…At least, not when there’s something I can do.
Conri followed Noelle to her bedroom. As he entered her bedroom, he noticed two beds of the same size. However, they were by no means small. The moonlight shone through the window, illuminating the spacious room that looked too big for one person alone.
“Wait, you sleep in a big bed alone? I’ve ever only slept on small beds.”
“Yea, apparently my parents made it so I can roll around the bed when I was little.”
“Well, let’s go to bed then. My bed is by the window, so the other’s yours.”
Sitting on the bed, Conri looked at the floor. He was in deep thought, the worries in his mind were clearly reflected on his face.
What should I do…I’m sure she finds many things amusing, but what I’m about to do is very different…Shall I try not using it for now? But the last time I did, I couldn’t sleep at all, not after what happened years ago…They have been so kind to me, a mere stranger…What shou—
“Conri, what’s wrong?”
Noelle titled her head slightly, followed by her gentle smile.
“Could it be that…You feel too lonely on the big bed and want me to join you?” she asked as her luscious lips danced along. Her hand was brushing through her silky blonde hair that glimmered in the faint moonlight, revealing her alluring neck.
Conri’s widened eyes were held in place by the enchantress in front of him. He shook his head after a moment, breaking free from her spell.
“T-tha-that’s not it! Actually I….”
The words he was trying to convey were stuck in his throat. He was still unsure whether he really wanted to continue.
Maybe…Maybe I’ll try, she should be able to hear me out…But I’ll have to be very careful on how I proceed with this.
“Re…remember when you saw my fangs? There’s actually a reason for that…I don’t think you’ll be fine with the reason though…”
“What? You’re not going to tell me that you’re a vampire, are you? Your fangs look nothing like them.” Noelle said as she giggled.
I have not shown it to anyone willingly before…Will it be really ok…?
Noelle placed her hand on Conri’s shoulder and reassured him with a smile.
Noelle…She trusts me, I should have more faith in her too.
Conri Took a deep breath before opening his mouth.
“I actually have a wolf form…Because of an incident in the past, I only feel safe sleeping in my wolf form so that I can sense danger better…”
“Oh? Like a werewolf then? Sounds cool, I wanna see~”
Noelle looked like an excited puppy wagging its tail.
“R-really? If I show you…promise me you won’t be scared and tell anyone else?”
“Ok then…But just so you know, it’s a true wolf, werewolves are just myths…”
Conri stood up and walked to the corner of the room where he looked around to make sure he had enough space. He took a deep breath as he closed his eyes. It looked as if shadows from the ground enveloped his body, molding it into the silhouette of a wolf. As the wolf form started to take shape, the shadows have seemed to solidify, charcoal black fur along with the enchanting yet dangerous blue eyes were clearly visible to Noelle. Soon after, white patterns with a faint glow comparable to moonlight appeared along the body of his wolf form. The completed transformation stood as tall as a horse right in front of her, she can hear every beat that her heart was making.
“C-Conri…? T-that’s still you…right?” her trembling arms reached out to the giant wolf in front of her.
“It’s still me.”
“W-whoah! You can talk!” Surprised by the speaking wolf in front of her, she held her hands on her chest in an effort to calm herself before continuing, “I didn’t expect you can speak in that form…”
“Hmmm, I guess it’s because I’m still human inside after all.”
“Sorry Conri…I know I said I wouldn’t be scared, but seeing it for the first time still surprised me a little…”
“It’s ok…Shall I turn back for now?”
“N-no, you can sleep like that as you always do. I’m b-braver than you think!” she boldly proclaimed while unaware that she was letting out a weird smile as she averted Conri’s gaze.
“Hmmm, if you say so…In that case, let’s call it for the night then.” Even in his wolf form, Conri’s face clearly conveyed the message of ‘Are you sure?’
“Yes! Goodnight! See you in the morning!” Noelle uttered in an almost robotic tone before lying on her bed, quickly wrapping the blanket around her.
Having no energy to process what he just witnessed, Conri decided to just ignore it. He lied down on his belly with his body curled to one side. He looked at Noelle for a moment before resting his head on his front paws.
Well, I guess anyone would’ve freaked out if they saw a huge wolf in front of them. That silly girl, she’s trying way too hard. Though, I can’t say I don’t admire her effort.
When Conri opened his eyes, he could see the gentle rays of sunlight shining through the windows. He yawned and looked at Noelle, still soundly asleep. Her body was in an awkward position with her back on the bed, the blanket that she wrapped around her was already on the floor.
What a mess she is. Guess it’s a good thing that she sleeps on a big bed otherwise she probably would have ended up on the floor already.
An idea suddenly popped up in his mind.
Hmmm, maybe I can have my payback for her teasing me all the time if I woke her up in this form.
As those thoughts took shape, so did the wide grin on the wolf’s face. Conri slowly walked towards Noelle. As he was going to wake her, he saw her drooling all over her pillow, her face still bearing an innocent look. As he looked at her, he thought about the effort she tried to make during the night before.
On second thought, I should just let her sleep in blissful ignorance of what I was about to do. It’ll be bad if she had a heart attack.
Conri smiled before turning back into his human form. The wolf’s body dissolved as the shadows returned to the ground.
“Well, that’s that. Guess I should do something otherwise she’s going to wake up cold and blame me for it or something.” He muttered before he picked up the blanket on the floor and put it over Noelle’s body.
As he was still staring at her face, he heard knocks on the door followed by the voice of her grandmother.
“Noelle, rise and shine.”
Opening the door, he saw Noelle’s grandmother standing outside with a wide smile.
“Oh, you’re already awake. Good morning, Conri. You see, that girl over there tends to oversleep if left alone. By the time she wakes, it’ll be near noon.”
“Ah, I see…”
“Anyways, can you go wake her up for me? I’ll be waiting at the table.”
Conri swore he could have seen the wink as she turned around and walked away.
Conri slowly walked towards Noelle. Bending slightly, he tapped her shoulders as he called out to her.
“Noelle…Noelle…Your grandmother told me to wake you up.”
“Come on, it’s time to wake up.”
“…Urgh…I don’t wanna…”
“Sigh, not much of a morning person, are you?”
As she was stretching, she slowly opened her eyes. She was immediately awoken by what she saw in front of her.
“Woww, you’re human again!!” Noelle reached out and placed her hands on both sides of Conri’s face and rubbed them.
With a blank face, Conri narrowed his eyes.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure you found that very amusing. Now, can you let go of my face?”
“Hahaha, sorry. I just find it interesting that’s all. I’m going to get changed first. Why don’t you go wash up and wait at the table with my grandma?”
Conri nodded before he left the bedroom, closing the door as he left.
After washing his face in the bathroom, Conri headed towards the dining table where Noelle’s grandmother was waiting. She was enjoying what seemed to him like a warm cup of tea. Noticing Conri walking towards the table, she put the cup down before greeting him.
“Oh, Conri. Take a seat, Noelle will prepare something to eat when she’s done getting ready. I presume you had fun waking her?”
“Well, not really…”
“Good morning, grandma~”
“Morning, Noelle. Did you sleep well last night? Anything interesting that happened?” Noelle’s grandmother narrowed her eyes as she asked with anticipation.
“Well, let’s see…”
A cold sweat ran down Conri’s face.
“He was so bold last night~ Pinning me down on my bed and all with those hungry eyes, and then he—”
“N-none of that happened!! We did nothing but sle—”
“Sleep together on the same bed?”
Noelle and her grandmother burst out in laughter, leaving Conri completely speechless.
“You’re so cute when you’re flustered, Conri~ Don’t worry, grandma here knows you didn’t do any of those. Now, let me get breakfast ready.”
Conri simply nodded, he was still recovering from the ordeal that just happened.
Noelle sliced up what seems to be the leftover loaf from yesterday and spread some butter over them. She placed them on plates before serving it to the other two. On the table was a small pitcher filled with maple syrup, apparently Noelle has quite a bit of a sweet tooth.
“Well, let’s eat then~”
As they were eating, Noelle’s grandmother asked, “Conri why don’t you head to town with Noelle later to get yourself some new clothes?” she paused for a short while before continuing, “Ahh. While you’re at it, could you also help Noelle to pick some apples to sell at town? She’ll show you the place where the apple trees are.”
“Ohh, ok. I’ll go with her then.”
Conri noticed Noelle’s grandmother reaching in her pockets.
“It’s ok granny, I can pay for myself. I’m already very grateful that you let me stay, so let me help with whatever I can.”
“Alright, boy. Don’t hesitate if you need anything though, I don’t mind.”
After they had breakfast, Conri and Noelle prepared to leave the cottage. Conri was carrying a woven basket on his back. As they were putting on their shoes, Noelle made sure to remind her grandmother.
“Grandma, we’re leaving now. Make sure you be reaaal careful, ok? We’ll be back before sundown.”
“I will be careful as I always do. Well, you guys better get going now.” Noelle’s grandmother waved as the two left the cottage.
They walked a short distance behind the cottage before they reached a place with a few apple trees arranged in a circle.
“We’re here, Conri. I was the one who planted these trees when I was little because of how much I liked apples.”
“I guess that explains why they’re in a circle.”
“Well, we better get started on collecting the apples. I’ll go get the ladder.”
“Hmmm, actually you don’t have to. I can climb those trees easily, you just stay on the ground and catch them as I pick.”
Conri put down the basket on his back and proceeded to climb the nearest apple tree.
“Geez, you make it look so easy. Last time I checked, you were a wolf and not a monkey.”
“O-owwww! What was that for!?” Noelle said as she was rubbing her forehead.
“Sorry, thought you were ready.”
“I was obviously not!”
“Well, heads up!”
Conri tossed an apple towards her. She reached out in the air while moving her body around to catch it.
“Er...Er..Whoap! Got it~ Now, liste—”
“Good, there’s more where that came from.” He said as he continued to toss apples one at a time towards Noelle.
The cycle went on until the basket was filled with apples.
“Alright, we have enough apples now. Let’s head to town~”
Conri bent down to look at Noelle’s forehead. His face was mere inches away from hers. He noticed her forehead was still slightly red.
“W-w-what are you doing!?”
“It still hurts, doesn’t it?”
“O-of course! You meanie!” Noelle exclaimed as she pouted.
“I don’t know what the town is like, but I’ll buy you anything you want.”
Noelle held her hands together as she leaned towards Conri.
“Yes, yes, now let’s get moving.”
They arrived at Norwich after walking through the woods for an hour. The town looked lively with human activity as usual. As they were walking through the streets, Conri hoped that the stares from other people were directed at Noelle instead of him. After all, it was embarrassing for him to wear slightly oversized clothes.
“Come on, let’s go~”
Noelle eagerly pulled Conri’s arm as she dragged him along, her smile as bright as ever.
Noelle couldn’t hear Conri over her own thoughts which hummed along the lines of, “Anything I want~ I can get anything I want for today~”
After being dragged for some time, they arrived in front of a stall displaying a wide variety of fruits. Behind the stall was a woman who looks to be around her mid-20’s.
“Ahh, Noelle! Good to see you, got me some apples again I see,” The fruit vendor looked at Conri with certain curiosity before continuing, “And you brought someone as well, is he your boyfriend or something?” She asked as she rubbed her chin.
“Yes~ We even slept together~”
“W-wait! Don’t say something that will make people misunderstand!”
“Awww~ Even after what you did to me?”
“I d-didn’t do anything!”
“My, my, this is getting interesting.” The fruit vendor said as her chin rested on her left hand.
“Sigh, I don’t even know what to say anymore…”
“Hahaha, I guess you can say we’re just roommates, Leah. Don’t worry, he’s actually a nice guy so he didn’t do anything to me…yet~” she said as she bent down slightly and looked at Conri.
At that point, Conri has already resigned himself and just stood there, letting everything unfold before him.
“Alright, if you say so.” Leah said as she winked at Conri as if she was suggesting something to him.
The way that Noelle was able to make people go along with her flow so easily sent chills down Conri’s spine.
“So, how many you got for me today?”
“Let’s see…3 small coppers each, so that brings the total to 2 silvers and 4 big coppers then.”
After Conri unloaded the apples from the basket, Leah put the coins in the sack that Noelle held out to her.
“Thanks Leah, we’ll be going now~”
The two of them then headed to a tailor shop. It was located in a busy street but luckily the shop’s sign was easily seen from afar. As they entered the shop, a middle-aged man greeted them with utmost sincerity.
“Welcome to Sebastian’s, what can I do for you two on this fine day?”
Noelle smiled as she pointed at Conri.
“My friend here needs something more fitting. Do you have any recommendations?”
“Hmmm…Let me get his measurements first.”
Conri put down the basket and let the man wrap a tape measure around his body.
“Let’s see…I’ll go get the clothes and see what you think.”
The man went around his shop and gathered a few items before returning to them.
“Here you go, why don’t you try them on?”
“That’s a good idea~ Go on, I’d like to see as well.”
Conri took the clothes from the man and went into a changing room at the back of the shop. A few moments later, he came out of the changing room with the new clothes on. He donned a light brown coat, white long-sleeved shirt and black pants.
“It fits well…Uhm, how do I look?”
“Ehhh? You definitely look better than before. Hmmm, you’re quite a looker too if I do say so myself~”
Conri blushed momentarily before regaining his composure.
“I’ll take them then. How much will it be?”
“For you fine sir, 2 silvers altogether.”
While Conri was reaching out to get his money, Noelle butted in.
“Throw in a set of sleepwear and we got ourselves a deal~”
The man was shocked to hear that, it was the first time anyone had made such a ludicrous bargain.
Noelle persistently stared at the man with puppy eyes.
“……Arghhhh! F-Fine! But at least 2 more big coppers!”
Scary—That single word was the only thing on Conri’s mind.
“Here you go, I’m very sorry that she is causing you trouble.”
After Conri paid the man, he was handed a sack containing his new sleepwear and the old clothes that belonged to Noelle’s father.
“Thank you for your patronage, please come again soon!”—was what the man said, but those words could not be further away from the truth.
“Now, shall we take a look around?”
As the two of them were walking around town, something caught Noelle’s eye. She tugged on Conri’s sleeves.
“I’ve never tried it before, but I heard it’s really delicious and good for you!”
Realizing what Conri had been flustered about, Noelle leaned closer to him with narrowed eyes and a grin on her face.
“Hmmm? What kind of honey did you think I meant?”
“Speaking of which,” Conri said as he walked to the merchant and pointed at a jar of honey, “I’d like to buy a jar.”
“Conri!? You don’t have to, I heard that they’re quite expensive. And…”
He didn’t pay attention to what she was saying. While she was still busy going on about reasons not to buy it, Conri had already sealed the deal with the merchant and was holding a jar of honey in his hands.
“I promised, remember?”
Although she was worried about how much Conri paid for it, deep down she was very happy that he bought something for her. She held the jar of honey close to her chest, constantly looking at it, perhaps it was to hide her flushed face. All the while, she was smiling wholeheartedly.
Conri and Noelle spent another few hours looking around town, buying some groceries along the way. After finishing what they needed to do, they decided to head back to the cottage.
“Phew, what a day. Did you have fun, Conri?”
“Yeah, I suppose. It’s a nice town.”
After walking through the woods for a while, Conri was suddenly on alert.
Conri got closer to Noelle and whispered.
“We’re being followed. If they show up, I want you to run ahead.”
“Followed? Are you sure?”
“Although not as sharp as my wolf form’s, my senses are still higher than a normal human’s. I can handle them, so make sure you run.”
‘Even so, I can’t just leave you behind. What abo—"
Tsk, they’re already here.
“Run! I’ll hold them back!”
Noelle stood in fear as she saw three men armed with weapons walking towards them.
“Hey now, don’t be so hasty. We saw how much money you guys had in town. Hand over everything you have plus that pretty girly over there so that no one gets hurt.”
As the bandits demanded arrogantly, Conri bared his fangs at them.
“I warn you, lay a finger on her and I will not show mercy.”
“Oooo~Scary~ What are you going to do? Stare at us to death? Bahahaha!”
The other two bandits laughed along as the one in the middle who was believed to be their leader mocked Conri.
Conri turned around and gave her a gentle smile.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
As Conri was still facing Noelle, a bandit charged at him with a dagger. Before the bandit was even near enough, Conri stepped to the side and grabbed the bandit’s hand that was holding the dagger. With a cold face, Conri glared at the bandit with killing intent. Before he could even react, Conri forced the bandit’s hand to plunge the dagger into his own thigh.
“Arghhh!! You little sh—”
Conri pulled out the dagger that was embedded in the bandit’s thigh, causing him to fall to the ground in pain. The second bandit tried to take advantage while Conri was distracted, charging at him. Conri’s gaze instantly moved over to him.
Conri dodged his attack easily, following up with a knee to the stomach. The bandit coughed up blood as he took the full force of the blow, dropping unconscious shortly after.
“What…W-what are you!?”
The leader of the bandits shook in fear as his face turned pale. He could not understand how could anyone exhibit the intent to kill but show no emotions while doing so—In his mind, a human would almost certainly feel things like joy or rage as they go for the kill, but Conri’s face was unchanging.
He tried to run but he tripped on his own foot, causing him to stumble. Conri walked towards him as he was desperately trying to get up.
“G-g-get away from me! Ahhhhhh!”
Conri drove the dagger into the leader’s shoulder, immobilizing him from the pain. Conri knelt down and whispered to his ear.
“I warned you. If you so much as breathe on her, I will make sure you breathe no more.”
Conri stood up and walked towards Noelle, leaving the leader to lie on the ground in pain. The path was littered with the bandits’ bodies, unable to get up but still alive at the very least.
Conri held Noelle’s right hand and walked down the path leading to the cottage, leaving the bandits behind. He could feel the trembling in Noelle’s hand.
“Noelle…I’m sorry you had to see all that…I—”
Letting go of his hand, Noelle rushed in front of Conri and wrapped her arms around him. His eyes widened as she did so.
“N-no! It’s no—Hic! Not your fault… I’m sor—Hic! Sorry I couldn’t do anything…Hic!”
Noelle’s sentence was getting more and more inaudible from her increasing hiccups. Conri’s shirt was slowly getting soaked as well. Conri’s mind went blank for a moment, it took a while before he composed himself.
As he was going to wrap his arms around her to calm her down, he noticed that his right hand was covered in blood, so he only put his left hand around her. He closed his eyes as he nudged his face against her head. Her embrace tightened slightly as he did so.
“It’s ok, they won’t bother us again. I’ll protect you no matter what.”
Noelle gradually stopped crying. However, she could feel her heart beating heavily.
What’s this? Is it because of the attack from earlier? Or is it…I wonder if he can feel it as well…
Noelle closed her eyes as she answered.
They stayed like that until Noelle fully calmed down.
I feel so warm inside, it feels nice…I wish I could stay like this even if it’s a little longer, but I guess we better get moving…
“Conri, I’m feeling better now. We should get going, wouldn’t wanna make grandma wait too long. Also, remember to wash your hands before you enter the cottage.”
Seeing that a smile had returned to Noelle’s face, Conri simply nodded and they continued their journey back to the cottage.
After coming back from town, Conri and Noelle took turns taking their baths. Noelle’s grandmother was taking a nap when they returned. They decided that not telling her about the bandit attack would be for the better since they didn’t want to worry her too much. Noelle prepared dinner with some of the fresh ingredients that she got from town. After waking Noelle’s grandmother up, they sat together and had dinner.
“My, my, Conri, you definitely look much better with your new clothes. How was town?”
“I guess I enjoyed it, the people there were nice too.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Conri.”
“Grandma! Look!” Noelle said as she held the jar of honey in her hand.
Noelle’s grandmother leaned closer and squinted her eyes to take a closer look.
“Yeah! Conri bought it for me~”
Noelle’s grandmother raised an eyebrow and sighed.
“Sweetie…You didn’t force him to buy it, did you?”
“I-I bought it for her on my own will! It was errr…a gift for showing me around.”
“You sure know how to spoil a girl, Conri. Especially that one who has a real sweet tooth. Anyways, thanks for treating her so nicely.”
“Heh heh, spoil me too much and I might fall for you~” Noelle said as she leaned closer to Conri’s face who was looking at the table.
Conri jolted back as he saw her face so up-close, his cheeks turning bright red after hearing those words.
“I-It’s nothing! After all, you guys took me in without even knowing me much…It’s the least I could do.”
“It’s all good, Conri. Come on, let’s finish up dinner.”
After they were done with dinner, Conri and Noelle sat on the couch in front of the fireplace while Noelle’s grandmother was on her rocking chair. Noelle took a deep breath before speaking to her grandmother.
“Grandma, I…I want to learn magic. Can you teach me?”
Noelle’s grandmother and Conri were both surprised to hear that.
“Sweetie, I thought you said you weren’t interested in magic? You refused to learn when I tried to teach you when you were younger.”
“…I always thought that I would never need magic, that it was too much of a hassle to learn…But now, I want to be able to do certain things on my own…So please grandma, I would like you to teach me…”
I don’t want Conri to dirty his hands for the sake of protecting me…I don’t want him to shoulder everything alone…
“Hmmm…I see, I’ll teach you then. However, you have to be prepared that magic is not something you can learn overnight, patience is key here.”
“Really!? Thank you, grandma!”
Noelle was pumped up, Conri wondered if the reflection of the flames in her eyes were from the fireplace or her determination.
“Sorry for asking this, granny, but you can use magic?”
“Ahhh, I guess I never told you. But yes, I used to travel as a mage when I was still young. Now that I’m old, using too much magic would just tire me out. Well, not that I really had the need to use magic either.” Noelle’s grandmother looked up to think for a moment before continuing, “Oh, that’s right. I made the little stone with the magic circle on it that was used to heat the bath water.”
“That’s amazing, granny! I was told that I didn’t really have the affinity for the four magics…”
“It’s alright, Conri, everyone has what they are good at. Maybe you can’t see it now, but you will come to realize your own potential in the future.”
Conri nodded with a soft smile. Noelle’s grandmother said that she will start teaching Noelle magic in the next day and told them to call it for the night. Noelle walked her grandmother back to her room and went to bed—she tried her best to get some sleep, at least.