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With a sigh Caleb lowered himself on the nearest log. After a long day of travel, straight to their next assignment for the Gentleman, he was glad for the rest. His fellow travellers also looked worse for wear, as they slowly dragged themselves off to their assigned chores. He had gotten off easily. After he had circled their campsite with his silver thread and had cast the necessary alarm spells, all he had to do was to keep an eye on Kiri until the others returned.

The little kenku was currently keeping herself amused by following Molly around, who was securing their cart and taking care of the horses. He good-naturedly shooed her away, muttering sentences in Infernal for her to repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

The exhaustion that had found its way to the group had obviously forgotten to affect Kiri. In her defence, she had spent most of the afternoon dozing away on the back of the cart, clutching the ugly doll that Nott had won during the carnival in her arms. Then again, from what he remembered from his childhood village, most small children seemed to have unlimited reserves of energy.

Shaking his head trying to clear the unwanted memories, he startled when he saw that Kiri had moved towards him. She was now standing right in front of him, staring at him with her intelligent eyes.

“Where do babies come from?” she suddenly uttered in Beauregard’s voice.

“I.. Äh …” He was caught off guard, grasping to find an appropriate answer. And instead blurting out the first question that sprang to his mind: “Why are you asking me?”

“Caleb is very smart,” she answered in Nott’s voice.

Perhaps he did need to have a small conversation with his green compatriot. She kept on praising him for things each schmuck with magical abilities could do. It was clearly giving people the wrong idea about him.

“Booksmart perhaps, meine Vogel. I think Molly would be better equipped for this question.” Luckily for him, the tiefling choose that moment to wander over.

“I am always fully equipped!” Molly quipped, while he sat down next to him and slid rather close to Caleb. “But what question are we talking about?”

When Kiri repeated her question, Molly seemed to fare no better than Caleb.

“Well erm… When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much they… erm… spend a lot of time together. And then they get married. And then they…

Was the tiefling blushing?

“Kiss.” Molly concluded, looking quite frustrated with his own lack of eloquence.

“Kiss.” The kenku repeated, but cocked her head to the side, indicating she was rather confused.

“Yes,” Molly confirmed and then hastily added. “Not only boys and a girls can kiss each other. Sometimes two boys want to kiss too. Or two girls...”

If the entire situation weren’t so incredibly uncomfortable for all parties involved, Caleb would be probably be pleased to see the usually-so-confident Molly struggling for words.

“But only a boy and a girl can make a baby,” the tiefling soldiered on. “When they love each other really much and are together for a really long time, they …” Molly paused, grasping for the right words and looking imploringly at Caleb. The wizard unfortunately had no answer to offer, only a small shrug.

“Dance together?” Molly’s voice reached seldom heard heights. He then dramatically buried his head into his hands, causing the jewelry in his horns to jingle.

Kiri however paid his theatrics no mind whatsoever, but stared dumbfounded at Caleb.

“She’s the best!” Kiri unexpectedly exclaimed and then mimicked a loud smacking sound.

Caleb blinked several times, before remembering Nott had at several instances fondly kissed the small girl.

“Ah,” Caleb clarified. “Friends can kiss each other too. Aber… lovers kiss each other in a special way.”

And now it was his turn again to struggle for words. Next time he would gather the wood and Jester could remain in the camp!

He felt rather than saw Mollymauk’s enthusiastic nodding next to him. The younger man continued:

“Lovers kiss each other on the mouth. Friends kiss each other on the cheek.” And to emphasize his words, Molly pressed a small kiss to Caleb’s cheek.

Caleb felt like he was struck by lightning. Time itself did this miraculous thing where somehow everything happened in slow-motion, but simultaneously passed so quickly he could do nothing to respond.

He willed himself not to react.

This shift in his emotions caused Frumpkin to pop over his shoulder, wanting to know if he was alright.

This led to a joyous cry from Kiri, who exclaimed: “Friends kiss each other on the cheek.”

Frumpkin, who saw a sharp beak moving in his direction, complained loudly and launched himself over Molly’s shoulders into the woods.

Somehow all this led to a hysterical bird crying in his arms. Not really knowing what he was doing he patted her once … twice on her back, hoping it was a comforting gesture. Before he could even search for words, a loud shriek interrupted them.

“What you do to her?!” Nott’s nasty glare in the tiefling’s direction made it perfectly clear who she thought was the culprit.

Kiri broke free from his – admittedly not very strong – grasp and threw herself into Jester’s safe arms. Caleb let out the breath he did not knew he was holding and observed how the trio of Jester, Nott and now also Mollymauk tried to comfort the girl.

Yasha too stared at the scene, like she was frozen whilst still carrying the branches the three women had gathered. With a nod he motioned her to the side, where both of them wordlessly got a fire started. It was one of the few ways he could make himself useful to the group, although he didn’t doubt the barbarian woman would be able to get a fire going by herself.

As Yasha collected the cooking gear, both of them caught snatches of the hushed conversation.

Nott seemed to be able to get through to the kenku first, explaining that people were often afraid of her teeth too. She told Kiri that she liked to give small trinkets, like buttons or flowers instead of kisses to show her affection. Caleb felt his hand inching up, to feel the flowers Nott had weaved into his hair this morning. Firmly pushing his hands down again he hoped no one noticed.

Luckily Mollymauk teaching the others to throw little kisses proved to be very distracting. Yasha apparently already know this trick and bemusedly caught his invisible kiss and pressed it to her cheek, lovingly glaring at her friend. Then she repeated this trick for Kiri’s first attempt without the glare but with her own thrown kiss!

Jester’s suggestion – paper kisses – was next Caleb gladly surrendered the parchment the Gentleman had bestowed upon him for this cause. Jester, Kiri and Nott crafted their paper kisses, by ripping small pieces of paper and drawing X’s and little hearts on them. Meanwhile he dozed by the fire, comforted by both the warmth it afforded and the smell of the soup Yasha and Mollymauk were cooking with the last vegetables they had brought from Zadash. The quiet did not last very long…

When Beau and Fjord returned from hunting, they were – understandably – very confused by the sight of adults being all excited by being handed scraps of paper. Even Caleb joined in and thanked Kiri for her kindness.

Beau however would not be Beau if she didn’t voice her confusion in the crudest way possible.

Nonplussed Kiri skipped over to them, brandishing two fresh “kisses” and handing them over.
She explained in Molly’s voice: “Friends kiss each other on the cheek.”

Coached by Jester who was wildly gesturing behind the girl’s back, both fighters pressed the paper to their cheeks. Kiri chirped excitedly.

Beau laughed and – gentler than Caleb ever thought the brutish monk was capable off – ruffled Kiri’s feathers before walking over to the fire to warm herself. While Mollymauk stood and walked over to Fjord, to inspect the rabbits they had caught, Beau took his place next to Yasha. At a more respectable distance however.

Kiri, who by now had “kissed” the entire team, seemed to have hatched a new plan. Following Beau she spread her arms and rubbed against both women’s backs, suggesting again: “Friends kiss each other on the cheek.”

Both women blushed, but complied. But because they both turned to each other simultaneously, they missed each other’s cheek and kissed each other fully on the lips. As their noses smashed together, they realised their mistake and jumped apart.

Caleb heard a loud gasp coming from where Jester was standing. He did not need to turn around to know she was sporting a leery grin. Mollymauk looked like he was about to launch a barrage of terrible jokes. But Kiri beat him to the punch and loaned his voice to shout: “Lovers kiss each other on the mouth!”

No one dared to respond. A redfaced Beau opened her mouth a few times, but no sound came out.

The awkward silence was broken by Fjord who pointedly coughed and asked: “Kiri, would you and your dagger care to cut the bread for our dinner?”

Distracted by this new job, Kiri brandished her dagger and ran over to help. Causing Jester to run after her to admonish her for the umpteenth time for running with her blade out. Beau excused herself quickly to go check on the horses, whilst Yasha kept staring into the flames not even responding when Mollymauk gave her an encouraging pat on the back.

By the time the rich soup had been consumed, a quiet atmosphere had settled in their camp. Fjord volunteered for the first watch whilst everyone retired early. Mentally Caleb asked Frumpkin to snuggle up to Kiri. He prepared to explain to him the “attack” was just the small child being playful, like a kitten would be. But Frumpkin had already forgiven the girl and was excited to join the warm tangle of bodies that was Beau, Jester and Kiri.

As he prepared his own bedroll, Caleb concentrated on the alarm spell. All was clear. He suddenly realised he felt quite at ease. More so than he had felt in weeks, even months. Hanging out with this motley crew sure was a challenge. But it kept him safe. They kept him safe. He thought of Kiri, who very trustingly had called all of them her friends. Perhaps acquaintances was a better word?

He was pulled out of his thoughts by Nott, who stirred next to him. He noticed she was holding one of the paper kisses and looking at it wistfully. Without thinking about it, he leaned over towards her and pressed a small kiss to her cheek.

“Friends kiss each other on the cheek, ja?” he whispered.

Nott smiled back at him and handed him the paper kiss.

“Yes.”

He tucked it under his pillow before falling asleep, enjoying a long dreamless rest.