"Sorry to keep you waiting." I announced as Sui-chan and I re-entered the clearing.
"Oh, you're back-" Dora-chan was gliding in lazy circles above a recumbent Fer who raised his head to stare at me.
"Nuu, what took you so long?" Fer grumbled, quietly for once. It took me a few seconds to notice Darryl and Eris were both asleep, lying propped up on Fer's side. Well, they were just children and they had walked a long way in the forest before being chased for their lives by Orcs so it wasn't surprising they were tired. The fact they were using an S-ranked nation-destroying Fenrir as a comfy pillow was something else, of course...
Never mind. We were all done here. "Well then, ready to go back to Doran?"
"Umu." Fer said quietly, swivelling his head around to check on the sleeping children and making sure they weren't being disturbed. I slung Sui-chan's bag across my shoulder and opened the flap.
"Get inside, Sui."
"Yeah-" Sui-chan pyonged up and into his travelling bag. I looked at the two sleeping kids and sighed.
"It’s a shame to wake those two up but if we don't get going soon it'll be dark before we get back to Doran." I gently shook them by their shoulders. "Eris, Darryl, sorry to wake you up but we're going back to town now."
""Nnnn..."" The kids rubbed their eyes, obviously still tired.
"Darryl, Eris, I found some medicine that should cure your mother." I said. That brought them both completely awake in an instant.
"Uncle, is that true?" Darryl exclaimed.
"Will it really make mother well, Uncle?" Eris asked as both of them hugged me desperately. They both cared for their mother so much...
"You see, I thought I had some medicine that would cure your mother's disease but I had to search through my entire Item Box to find it. That's what took so long, sorry." The children's eyes lit up and big smiles crossed their faces.
"But I can't simply give it to you." I added. When I said that they both froze and Eris' face fell like she was about to cry as I raised a finger.
"Darryl, you have one Orc right now, don't you?" I said.
"... Oh, yeah I do." Darryl had caught on to what I was hinting at. I had given one of the Orcs Sui-chan and Dora-chan had subjugated to Darryl to hear his story so he now owned that Orc, not me.
"How about exchanging it?" I offered.
"The Orc, ah MY Orc in exchange for the medicine?" He made sure he understood what I meant before he offered payment. He would make a good Merchant if he decided on that career in the future, I reckoned.
"That's right. How about it?"
When I said that Darryl smiled widely and nodded. "Yeah, of course it’s okay".
"Right then, there’s the medicine." I handed him the bottle of Sui's Special Elixir (Degraded Version). "I'm sure this will cure your mother's illness. Get her to drink it as soon as you get home." I passed over the pot of egg rice porridge too. "This is a little extra free of charge. It's something that's easy to eat even for someone who's sick. You can eat it together with her."
"My, my mother will get better." Darryl whispered, tears floating in his eyes as his sister clung to him, staring at the bottle. They had had a hard time of it but now they had hope.
"Darryl, you said you had an Item Box? Put them in there where they'll be safe."
Darryl nodded and carefully put Sui's Special Elixir and the egg rice porridge in his Item Box.
"If the pot gets cold, warm it up before you eat it." I told him.
"If I put hot food in my Item Box, it doesn’t cool down that much so it should be okay." he said, sniffling and wiping his eyes with his sleeve. Afterwards he looked up at me.
"Uncle, thank you." he said firmly. I patted his dishevelled hair to hide my embarrassment.
"Oniichan, is our mother going to get better?" Eris looked between me and her brother, unsure and uneasy, not fully understanding what was going on.
"Oh, yes. I got medicine from Uncle here that will cure her."
"Really really? Yay! Yay! Mother's going to get better!" Eris jumped up and down happily. "Thank you, Uncle!"
I collected the five Orcs and put them away in my own Item Box. I'd get them disassembled at the Adventurers Guild tomorrow back in Doran and replenish our meat supply somewhat. Fer's haul from his hunt went into my Item Box too, several Cockatrices and a Rock Bird as well as some kind of large ostrich-like bird I had never seen before. Fer assured me it was good eating, whatever it was.
"Now let's all get back to Doran." I announced. "Hey Fer, can you carry Darryl and Eris as well as me on your back?"
"Fun-" Fer said dismissively. "Two children and yourself, is that all? What sort of weakling do you think I am?"
Yeah yeah, if you say so Fer. Let's get going shall we? I got on Fer's back then Eris climbed up in front of me while Darryl sat behind, obviously excited to be riding on the big white fluffy thing.
"Eris, make sure you hold onto Fer properly." I looked back over my shoulder. "Darryl, you hang on my waist so you don't fall." They both acknowledged my instructions.
"Fer, go slower than you usually do." I told him telepathically. His normal rate of progress when I was riding alone on his back would have dislodged the children in an instant.
"I got it." Fer ran back to the city of Doran but much slower than usual. Saying that it was still a lot faster than I could have managed on foot. At the city's gatehouse I showed my Adventurers Guild card to gain admittance while Darryl and Eris had resident cards which let them back inside the city's walls.
"Where is Darryl and Eris's home?" I asked as we passed through the gate.
"Not too far from here, near the wall." Darryl answered. Oh, near the wall? That was the place poor people lived, wasn't it?
"Do you want us to take you there?" I offered.
"No, it's okay because it's close." Darryl said.
"I see." I asked Fer to kneel down and the two children climbed off. We looked at each other for a moment, then before I could say anything Darryl spoke.
"Uncle, I'm not going to be an Adventurer like my father when I grow up. Instead I'm going to be a Merchant who can make a good living. Adventurers are poor a lot of the time and, well, my father-" he shrugged.
"When I'm 13 I can apply to the Merchants Guild to become an apprentice to a Merchant in this city. I have my Item Box skill so I think I can do well as a Merchant. I will definitely have my own store someday and I'll be able to make Eris and mother happy, I swear." He looked down for a moment, then he faced me again.
"I will surely repay this debt I owe you someday, Uncle. Can you wait until then?" I looked down at him from Fer's back, seeing the determination of a ten-year-old boy to take care of his mother and his sister. He had cried after being chased by Orcs but the eyes that looked back at me now were filled with nothing but sure resolution.
"Well... ah, no hurry, I can wait." I told him, unsure what to say. He had obviously seen through my attempt to trick him into exchanging the Orc for the medicine so he wouldn't feel indebted. Was he really only ten years old? Maybe I'm just not as cunning as I thought I was.
"Thank you very much, uncle." Darryl said, bowing his head to me.
"Thank you, uncle!" Eris chimed in.
Then the two of them held hands and went off in the direction of their home.
"Darryl, Eris, I'll do my best too." I murmured in the direction of the two small backs. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, sniffling for some reason.
Fer looked round at me. "Huh, what are you crying for?"
"Sniff.... whaddya mean? I'm not crying, I just got some grit in my eyes." Stupid Fer. I never cry, a man never cries, ever. Dora-chan came flying down and hovered in front of my face.
"Hey, you really are crying. Wow!"
"I'm not crying, I told you. I just got something in my eyes like I said." You're too noisy Dora-chan.
"So you cry when you get stuff in your eyes?" Dora-chan said, dodging left and right to try and see past my hands. He blinked, the nictating eyelids of his own reptilian eyes flickering back and forth. "Weird."
Yeah, well Dora-chan, you're not a human, you're a Dragon. You wouldn't understand how we feel sometimes. I looked back but the two small figures had disappeared around a corner. Darryl, you're the main pillar of your family now. I'm sure you'll do your best to look after Eris and your mother.
Feeling relaxed, I told Fer to take us back to our inn.