"Bandits are never an issue around Alfheim, to be honest. The main reason we got so many mercs and adventurers around for escort work is the bloody wildlife.
I mean, most of them are worth a pretty penny when dismantled properly, or at least taste good to eat, but for a caravan to go from Alfheim to any of the other cities without at least a couple run-ins with them buggers is unheard of.
'Tis why we have the habitual rule of having at least ten adventurers or mercs per wagon to travel safely between cities around here. Since most merchants ain't locals, they find mercs cheaper than raising their own guards for a mere leg of the trip." - Barnard Simmons, veteran mercenary from Alfheim.
The party had stayed at a good inn just a block away from Ebende's adventurer's guild. They relaxed for a full week before they proceeded to the next leg of the journey. The mixed culture of the town was especially interesting for the group, as other than Elaina, Sidonie, and Kino none of the rest ever traveled to this region.
They sampled the many specialties of the region, the massage parlors where trained elven masseuses worked on their muscles expertly with their nimble fingers. Cal had rated the experience very highly, as their skills had put even the royal masseuses in Al-Shan's imperial palace to shame.
Much praise was also given to the local cuisine, which incorporated a fusion of the more traditional cuisine of the forest and new methods popular in Alfheim. The adventurer's guild's own eatery apparently was well loved by the locals for their interpretations of the cuisine.
Quite naturally, Cal had brought the whole party there one night to try some of their cooking. They proved capable of meeting her already high expectations, and served foods that were unfamiliar, yet delicious.
She greatly enjoyed the creative appetizer served, where flatbread was folded to form a pouch with a thick, spice-laden stew of meat and vegetables, along with rice inside, then dredged in flour and egg and deep-fried until crisp.
The way the molten stew inside just burst out of the bite-sized appetizers and flooded her mouth with flavors was a sublime experience, if one that came dangerously close to scalding their tongues. Kyara and Ashani had some issues with that as their tongues were particularly sensitive to heat.
For a main dish, a massive, flat cast iron pan was brought to their table, and when the lid was opened, they saw that it was filled with rice, stained a deep reddish-orange from the copious amount of spices used, with a plethora of meat, fish, shellfish, and other seafood mixed within.
Much like she expected, the perfectly cooked fluffy rice was extremely flavorful, as it had stewed in the spices and juices of all the ingredients in the pan. There was even some textural component to it, as the rice closest to the pan formed a crisp, hard crust that imparted a pleasant hint of smoky bitterness to the taste.
With all the various seafood used in the dish - Cal counted meat from two kinds of fish, large prawns, mussels and clams, devilfish tentacles cut into bite-sized pieces, and what she thought was some sort of sea snail - it was a display of the ocean's bounty, which surprisingly meshed well with the gamey venison it was paired with.
Despite the landlocked location of the city, it was part of the Ether Road network after all. A few of the Ether Road's easternmost junctions were located in coastal cities, and from there fresh seafood spread through the network on a daily basis.
After the delicious but hefty feast, they washed it down with mugs of a light local liquor made from a mucilaginous plant Cal recalled from her mother's lessons. The plant's slimy mucus was usually used to treat burns and other lesions, and it was the first time she even discovered that one could make a drink out of it.
The refreshing, tangy, slightly buzzy drink was an excellent accompaniment to the dessert they ordered. The local chefs clearly were of the heavy flavor school of thought. Their dessert came in the form of a very moist, spongy cake that was frosted in a layer of fresh cheese and a thin encasing layer of burnt sugar that shattered when bitten.
It was the richest cake Cal had ever tasted, one drenched down heavily with what tasted like cream and sweetened milk - likely the source of the moistness - that paired well with the slightly sweet spongy cake and the fresh cheese. The bittersweetness of the burnt sugar lent the whole dish a perfect close as well.
To say that they were completely satisfied with the meal was an understatement. After they were done, the group was so full that they all felt too lethargic to even move, so they just laid back on their seats, full and contended, nursing their full bellies.
Ashani had even eaten so much it wouldn't be odd for a stranger to mistake her as a pregnant woman in the early months of her pregnancy. Her belly visibly bulged from having eaten too much.
It was already late at night when Cal's party regained enough energy to walk out of the eatery, though the guild was still bustling even at the late hour. Out of habit, Cal checked the requests board and found a merchant caravan that had requested an escort for a one-way trip towards Alfheim, on the day she planned to depart.
The request asked for forty adventurers or mercenaries in total, and Cal's party only counted eleven, technically ten, since Kino never really used her tag much. Even so, a quick query to the man at the desk informed her that it was the norm for multiple groups to work together on such requests, so she signed the ten of them up for the job.
Ashani's tag was still a copper one since Kyara had only arranged one made for her very recently, but given how the number given expected silver tagged adventurers and most of Cal's party was gold-tagged, it was not an issue.