Chapter 96 - Halflings
“That’s right!” Aladdin took another deep breath from his smoking pipe. After puffing out a ring of smoke, the halfling continued with exaggerated expressions, “There were twenty scary ogres surrounding me at that time. Their arms were as thick as my waist, and they held large spiked maces. A strong wind blew every time they swung their maces. One hit could instantly shatter my head!”
Aladdin swung his smoking pipe as if to show how the ogres had swung their maces. Indeed, it was some splendid acting; he somehow managed to have beads of cold sweat on his forehead as he narrated the situation, “It was extremely dangerous. I dodged and dodged, a few attacks barely grazing my clothes. Thanks to Lady Luck, none of those big, slow fellas managed to hit me. Instead, I cut their thighs with my shortsword… Then I saw a large wooden barrel in front, so I ran and ran…”
“It was a long, tough battle!… Finally, those clumsy monsters used up all their stamina and I defeated them one after another. Mhm, then I casually left the ogre lair.”
Soran had to admit that Aladdin’s storytelling techniques were pretty good. Even though he was sure the halfling had been bluffing the entire time, both him and Gloria felt interested in the story.
With those two shortswords hanging on his waist, it would take considerable strength and skill to even slice through the ogres’ layer of fat, let alone injure them. Given how Aladdin had been bluffing the entire time, the number of ogres he had faced was most likely just four or five. Halflings often like to exaggerate things after all. Vivian was listening attentively; she had always liked listening to stories, and the fact that she and Aladdin had similar height made it easier for her to place herself into his shoes. Halfling stories were popular among human children because it allowed the children to fantasize themselves as the protagonists.
Time passed by. Perhaps due to the cheerful halfling, the journey was a lot merrier than before. He would tell Vivian stories of his adventures from time to time. Although it was obvious, he had exaggerated things, Soran could still tell that Aladdin had travelled to plenty of places before and encountered many troublesome foes. He could not determine the halfling’s true strength, but he thought Aladdin was a Grade 3 rogue at the very least. He also seemed proficient in alchemy and handling machinery, given that he gave Vivian a few delicate trinkets which were mechanical items made with alchemy.
Vivian had received a handful of gifts throughout their trip. The merchant guards had given her some, and Gloria also bought toys for her. Even the bewitching lady whom Soran was utterly powerless against, Gloria’s mother, gave Vivian a gift. The little girl now had a multi-dimensional pocket filled with the gifts she had gotten from others.
At dusk, Soran untied the horses and let them eat grass nearby, then went ahead to prepare dinner. Aladdin offered to take on the task in order to show them the cooking skills of a gourmet who had travelled around the world. Soran missed the tasty cuisine of the halflings also, so he instantly agreed after noticing Vivian’s sparkling eyes.
The group had stopped near a river, so Aladdin decided to make the meal with fish. He took a few sticks from his backpack and quickly assembled them into a fishing rod. Afterwards, he set up a campfire then placed a pot filled with water, mushrooms, and spices on top.
“I picked these up in the forest today. They’re quite fresh.”
Aladdin then took out a small packet of edible salt and poured the white granules into the pot. Afterwards, he said as he walked to the riverside, “Give me a while. I’ll come back with a fish when the water boils. I’m a fishing master back in my hometown you know!”
The curious Vivian followed him, and Gloria, who always seemed disinterested in trivial matters also followed.
Aladdin laughed as he noticed the little girl next to him and said, “Do you wanna try? I’ve got another fishing rod!”
“Mhm,” Vivian nodded in response.
Aladdin took out another set of sticks and assembled a new fishing rod for Vivian. The little girl learned how to hook the bait and tossed the line into the river. The halfling glanced back at the fire, then started to bluff the moment he sat down.
“Back in my hometown Hael, there’s a fishing contest every autumn. The champion gets some decent prizes, and as long as I’m at home, the first place always goes to me. That’s why the guys rejoice each time they find out that I am leaving to travel around the world.”
Soran had already heard from numerous halflings that they were always the champion of the fishing contest. He guessed that Aladdin had really won at least once or twice, but winning every year was something he doubted. Moreover, the fishing contest was just one of many events held during the autumn festival, and almost every village held such contests, so there were bound to be many champions.
While Aladdin was still proudly telling Vivian about his splendid past, Vivian’s fishing rod started twitching. Vivian tensed up immediately and shouted, “Big sis Gloria! Come! I got a fish!”
“Don’t be hasty,” Gloria, who most likely had little experience in fishing, walked over with a bemused look and said, “Don’t be in a hurry and wait for a while. It’s not hooked yet.”
Aladdin looked over and was shocked.
“Oh, lucky little girl, it looks like it’s a big one. Give it some time.”
Soran was setting up for grilling fish when shouts could be heard from the riverside. It was Vivian, who was almost dragged into the river by the fish. Thankfully Gloria caught Vivian in time, but the two started shouting something Soran could not hear. Aladdin soon joined the fuss, yelling something about lowering the line a bit then pulling it back. Soran finished setting the fire and slowly walked over. Vivian was already holding a thirty-centimeter-long fish in her hands by the time he did, her cheeks flushing and her breath a bit rough.
“Big brother look! Vivian caught a big fish!”
The fish was roughly twelve pounds. Such a large fish had considerable strength when in water, and it was by no means easy to catch it. The line might even snap given its strength. Soran looked at Gloria who was grinning and realized she had literally given Vivian a helping hand; she had used Mage Hand to help Vivian reel in the fish.
Soran patted Vivian’s head and received the fish.
“Vivian’s pretty good! I’ll count on you then!”
Soran took out his dagger and started dissecting the fish for cooking. Vivian was still fishing with a serious expression while murmuring something about hoping more fish would come. Perhaps it was luck, but soon another fish bit her bait. On the contrary, Aladdin who had bluffed about how good he was at fishing didn’t get a single nibble. By the time Vivian caught her third fish, Aladdin couldn’t wait any longer and dived straight into the river. Water splashed around for a while before the halfling emerged with a fish in hand.
“Got it! I caught one!”
Everyone was speechless. The four could not eat a lot of fish anyways, so they packed up and returned to their camp. Vivian seemed like she had a lot of fun and did not want to go, so Aladdin gave her the fishing rod as a gift.
Aladdin took out packet after packet of spices, some for the stew and some for the roasted fish. Soran could even smell cumin, a type of rare spice. Halflings were a species good at cooking, and they often brought along uncommon ingredients.
Soran had to admit that it was the best meal he ever had in this world. Vivian’s stomach was almost bulging, and Gloria also ate a decent amount. At the very least, Aladdin had not been bluffing about his cooking skills which were on the level of a master chef.
This was the third day of the journey to Autumnfall. The trio met a halfling whose destination was the Alpine Port where the Iron dwarves resided in. They would travel together to Autumnfall before going separate ways.