Chapter 48: A Timid Girl
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Carmen took the pot off the fire and set the still hot metal on top of a pile of rocks, still stirring the bubbling stew within. In all, aside from the rabbit, she had also added some spices like pepper and salt, and for a little bit of sweetness, she tossed in some of the berries. 

Not that she knew how it would turn out. Cooking wasn’t a strong point of hers since she had never needed to cook before. 

Without minding how hot the stew was, Carmen spooned a ladle of it into a bowl and sampled some of it. While the results weren’t amazing, it was passable. There was just a bit too much of the berries’ unique flavor showing through for her liking while the sweetness was just right. 

That’s what she gets for not packing sugar.

Since the stew was done and cooling away from the fire, it was time to see how those two girls were doing. Hopefully Fleur managed to make up with Anne and maybe get her to calm down a bit. 

As Carmen prepared to go looking for Fleur and Anne, merely taking a few steps into the forest, she detected two new living things at the edge of her lifesense radius, moving rather slowly, one after the other.

“That should be those two, but with how slow they’re moving…are they hurt, or did something happen?”

The range of her lifesense was large, but not huge. It wouldn’t take long for them to reach her. Keeping tabs on the two girls, she headed back to the campsite and began to fill bowls with the stew, being sure to put plenty of the meat into each bowl.

The girls must be famished by now, since their meal was delayed by almost an hour thanks to her sudden decision to make stew.

The two lives came closer until Carmen could see them just past some of the trees blocking her sight. Fleur was in the lead, pulling a taller, red haired girl behind her. Anne looked listless, not reacting to anything as she walked.

From the glum look on Fleur’s face, Carmen knew that she had failed in whatever she hoped to do by going after Anne, even if she did manage to bring Anne back.

She intercepted them halfway, falling into step next to Fleur. Amazingly, even though she was so close to Anne, the girl continued to ignore her. 

All Anne did was look at her, and while a small spark lit up in her eyes, it quickly faded as she trailed after Fleur.

Carmen hadn’t known Anne for long, but Anne’s current display was clearly abnormal. It would be abnormal on anyone, but it was especially unsettling seeing Anne in such a state, after knowing how hotheaded and easily excited Anne was.

As far as she could tell, neither of the girls were hurt. Perhaps they had a really heavy argument—though it would be surprising since she’d have expected Anne to be the winner of any such arguments. Yet, Anne seemed to be the one crushed.

“What happened?” she asked, alternating between looking at Fleur and Anne, trying to gather any clues from how they acted.

Fleur looked at her with a complicated expression that Carmen couldn’t read. Her brows were furrowed, with her lips pressed in a straight line, yet there was no anger in her eyes. 

Frustration? Sadness? Regret? Carmen couldn’t tell.

All those emotions, or none of them, flashed over Fleur’s face and then she shook her head, her voice almost a whisper. “No…it’s nothing. I don’t think it’s anything we can’t sort out by ourselves,” she said. 

Seeing the state that both Fleur and Anne were in, Carmen seriously doubted Fleur’s words, but if Fleur won’t answer, then there was no point in pushing. From the time that she had spent with Fleur in those years before, she knew from experience how stubborn Fleur could be when she didn’t want to talk.

She should trust Fleur more. Fleur was older now, no longer the little girl she had to constantly hover over like a mother hen hovers over a baby chick. Without some freedom, how will Fleur grow?

Friends have fights all the time, and if they were true friends, they’ll make up in time, then everything will become clear. Her current job as Fleur’s self-appointed guardian is to provide a good environment for the girl. 

“Okay,” Carmen said, patting Fleur’s head. But instead of leaning into her hand, the girl shied away. Fleur had never done that before. 

A bit worried now, she led them the rest of the way out of the forest and to the campsite, where she handed both of them the bowls of stew that she left cooling. “But if you need any help, you can always tell me,” she said.

“I will,” the girl said. 

First, Fleur sat Anne down on a log. 

The red haired girl was so docile that Carmen had to look twice to make sure she was still conscious—she was, and she reacted to everything Fleur did, but she refused to make eye contact with Fleur. It was like Anne was avoiding Fleur because of something. 

After accepting the food from Carmen, Fleur set down her own bowl and instead tried to feed Anne. It was a long way to go from the bowl set on the log to Anne’s mouth, and Carmen was a bit impressed that nothing spilled. 

Fleur blew on the spoonful of liquid until it was no longer steaming. After briefly touching her lips to it to test the temperature—Anne’s eyes widened at that—and finding it satisfactory, Fleur tried to push the spoon into Anne’s mouth, which remained firmly closed as Anne shook her head.

Fleur sat back and scowled a little, as if facing a petulant child. “You have to eat. You’ll feel better afterwards, okay?”

Anne shrank back at Fleur’s expression, but hearing her words, she nodded, although she still kept her mouth firmly shut against the food and avoided looking directly at Fleur.

“I can eat by myself…” Anne said. “You don’t have to help me; you should eat too.” She held out her hands timidly, reaching for the bowl that was in Fleur’s hand, yet afraid to touch it without Fleur’s permission.

It was as if she was a little mouse cornered by a cat, trying to find a way out but afraid to try anything.

After a moment of hesitation, Fleur placed the spoon back into the bowl and the bowl into Anne’s hand, lingering to make sure that Anne didn’t accidentally drop it. After receiving the bowl, Anne lowered her head and began to eat, not looking at anyone.

After watching them for a moment longer, Carmen finally figured out what was wrong with Anne. She seemed to be afraid of Fleur—afraid of interacting with her. But Fleur had always been a kind person, so Carmen couldn’t imagine what Fleur might have done to make Anne so afraid.

It couldn’t have been anything bad considering how Fleur was caring for Anne right now. While it could be a front, Carmen didn’t want to think badly of someone who was as precious as a niece or daughter to her if she could avoid it.

Perhaps she should have secretly tailed Fleur herself or sent Kagriss to watch them, but now it’s too late. Carmen decided to take either Fleur or Anne alone to talk afterwards.

When she made sure that Anne was actually eating, Fleur began to eat as well. Neither made comments about how the stew tasted. Fleur dipped some of the outpost bricks into the liquid and ate it after soaking it through, and she quickly tried to get Anne to try it as well.

One way to make that hard bread edible.

While all that happened, Carmen merely sat and watched them with her elbows on her knees, her hands holding up her chin.

After a long time of fussing over Anne, Fleur finally seemed to notice Carmen’s existence. If Anne had been normal, she’d be ecstatic right now for dominating Fleur’s attention to such a degree, but Anne seemed to grow smaller with every passing second instead.

“Aren’t you going to eat, Camilla?” Fleur asked.

“I’m an undead. I don’t need to eat,” Carmen replied. “Everything is your and Anne’s.”

“Oh…” Fleur paused, and her eyes wandered as if thinking about something. After a brief look at Anne, Fleur stood up and walked over to Carmen’s side.

Carmen saw Anne stiffen as Fleur left her side, but because Fleur had her back turned, she didn’t notice. As Fleur sat down next to Carmen, Anne seemed to force herself to relax again.

That was interesting—Anne didn’t seem to hate Fleur, and became nervous in Fleur’s absence. Carmen even thought she saw the old glare of jealousy in Anne’s eyes, though she wasn’t sure if she had imagined it since she was so used to seeing it.

Their eyes met for a moment, and Anne looked down at her bowl of stew that she had been slowly making her way through, hiding her eyes behind her hair.

Carmen turned her attention back to Fleur, asking with her eyes a silent question—what did she want? And beneath that—what was going on with Anne?

 It didn’t surprise her the least when Fleur opened with a request. “Camilla, I need help… It’s about Anne.”

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