Yes, the result of re-playing the game. I love Tia. I love her conflict and her strength. She's so great. And I still don't know how I came up with that pairing after that short dialogue, but they fit well. Hilda has an occupation that fits Tia's wish of a peaceful life.
Tanbel was as peaceful as Tia remembered it. And just like the last time she had come here, Hilda was standing at the town entrance and waiting for her. The blonde young woman had already started to wave when Tia was surely nothing more than a dot at the horizon. The sight brightened Tia's mood and, smiling, she waved back.
"Welcome back!" Hilda embraced Tia tightly as soon as the blue-haired woman was close enough. Tia sighed, a warm feeling kindling in her chest. It had been a long time since she had last felt happy. Not since Maxim's disappearance… "We were waiting for you. I thought you'd come earlier," Hilda continued and, hooking arms, pulled Tia in direction of the inn.
"I'm sorry," Tia answered lightly. "I was taking in the scenery. There are less monsters around. You have to use the opportunity."
Hilda nodded. "You'd have no problems with those monsters. You're a hero, after all." Hilda grinned broadly and clutched Tia's arm tightly.
"I'm no hero," Tia protested softly, her heart clenching. Maxim, Selan, Guy and the elf were heroes. She had left before it became really dangerous.
"You're a hero to me," Hilda insisted. They stopped in front of the door of the inn. Hilda looked Tia straight in the eye. "I'll never forget how you, Maxim and my brother came to my rescue." Her smile softened.
Tia blushed lightly; even though it was undeserving, it felt good to be appreciated.
Tia was hanging up the laundry of inn in the sun when Hilda came running up to her. She was beaming with happiness. "Tia, are you finished with the sheets?"
"One's still left," she answered just as she threw the white sheet over the washing line. "Now I'm finished." Tia turned to her friend.
"Good, then let's go shopping. We need some things for the inn and dinner for us." Hilda hooked arms with Tia and together they walked to the shop. The day was warm and bright, and the flowers were in full bloom. Tia found the short walk very relaxing, especially since she could chitchat with Hilda.
They looked around for a short while, checking the vegetables, still arm in arm, before Hilda started to bargain with the shopkeeper. Tia stepped aside then, her gaze roaming over the armour and weapons behind the counter. Her heart constricted. She could so well remember buying weapons with Maxim. Back when it had been only the two of them. Shortly after he had left their village and she had followed him…
Tia shook her head lightly. She was in Tanbel to forget; in Elcid, everything reminded her of Maxim and his death and that she would never see him again.
"Tia?" She startled lightly and whirled her head around. Hilda was standing behind her, a big basket in her arms, and she looked at Tia with concern. Tia felt tears wetting her cheeks.
"Let's leave," she said lowly. Hilda nodded and they left quickly. Tia sighed shakily when she felt the warm sun on her skin again.
"Come." Hilda took her hand and led her in direction of the inn. They walked around it to the washing lines; there, Hilda put down her shopping and they sat on the grass between the drying sheets. "What happened?" Hilda asked and gently squeezed Tia's hand.
Tia shook her head. "I was just thinking of my own little shop in Elcid. I miss home."
Hilda frowned and let go of Tia's hand to put her arm around her shoulders. "You mean Maxim?" Tia sobbed lowly once. "It's alright." Hilda rested her head against Tia's. "It's alright. It's only been a few months."
Leaning against her friend, Tia cried silently for a while. Hilda's presence and understanding helped her tremendously. She felt safe in Hilda's arm. As Guy's sister, she knew – even if just a bit – what they had gone through.
Tia continued to stay close to Hilda even when she finally stopped crying. Hilda was slowly stroking her back and she found it too comforting to make her stop.
"Do you still love him?" Hilda eventually asked. Tia shifted to look up at her friend's face. Hilda was still concerned and, it seemed, upset over Tia's distress.
"A bit," Tia admitted and rested her head against Hilda's shoulder again. She looked ahead at the sheets, which sometimes fluttered up in the wind and let her see the village centre for a short moment. There were a few people, who probably went home from shopping. "I've loved him for a long time. It's difficult to recover from that," she added, laughing lightly. Hilda's hug tightened.
Tia shifted, sitting up this time, and looked her friend in the eye. "I'll be alright," she said, but Hilda's expression didn't change. "Soon, hopefully." Tia dropped her gaze.
"You're always welcome here." Tia looked up confused. Hilda was the one staring at the ground now. "If you can't forget at home, you can come here. You can even live here." Hilda lifted her gaze and she was smiling again. "We would find you a place and you could work in the inn. I would love to work with you." Her cheeks reddened almost invisibly. "Or you could work in the shop or open one on your own. Well, maybe not a general shop, because we already have one. Oh! Maybe one for tea so that I don't have to travel to Sundletan for Grandfather's tea."
Hilda was looking so elated that Tia couldn't help but laugh. For a second, Hilda was irritated by Tia's reaction, but then she joined her and together they laughed until Tia sighed happily.
"Thank you," she said and squeezed Hilda's hands. Hilda just grinned broadly.
Tia expertly tucked in the bed sheet, fluffed up the pillow and covered everything with the blanket in less than a minute. Grinning, she moved on to the other bed and repeated her routine there. She had only been here for two weeks and she already felt at home in the inn. After giving the beds a last look-over, Tia stepped back, put her hands on her hip and sighed contentedly.
Suddenly she heard clapping behind her; she turned. Hilda smiled broadly at her. "Wow, you're already better at this than I." She walked up to Tia. "I'm so glad to have you here to help."
"Jessy would help you as well if you'd ask her."
Hilda tilted her head, looking away from Tia. Her cheeks were pink. "Well, yes, but you know she's busy at the moment with my brother. And I like working with you!" Hilda threw her arms around Tia, squeezed her tightly once and then hastened down the stairs.
"Hilda?" Tia called after her in confusion.
"I forgot lunch on the stove!"
Tia chuckled lowly. She walked over to the window she had opened earlier to air the room and closed it. She could look in direction of Elcid from here and while she felt a tug of longing for the past, she found that it wasn't that strong anymore. She frowned; that was a bit odd.
"Thank you for staying tonight," Tia said friendly. The two guests thanked her and walked up the stairs to their room. Tia entered their names in the guest book, noted the day of their departure and stored away the gold. Just moments later, Hilda came running out of the kitchen.
"Have they left already? Am I too late?" she whispered urgently, wiping her hands on her apron.
"It's alright, I took care of them," Tia answered with a smile.
Hilda heaved a great sigh. "Thank you, Tia, you're my knight in shining armour."
Tia dropped her gaze. "Don't say that. I'm not a warrior."
"I'm sorry. Did I remind you of Maxim again?"
Tia froze. Maxim hadn't even crossed her mind. The thought terrified her as much as it made her happy. She shook her head. "No."
"Oh. Good." Hilda licked her lips nervously. "Well, I'm going back into the kitchen. I've got some pans on the stove." She turned on her heels and left.
Tia watched her until the kitchen door fell close and then sighed deeply. It seemed like she had sent Hilda a wrong message. Tia gathered her hair in a low ponytail and walked around the counter. She would clear this up later; right now there were a couple of dirty clothes waiting for her.
It was unbearably hot and so Tia had carried her stool, the box with sewing utensils and the ripped clothes outside. The sheets were out again and shielded her slightly from the glaring sun. Sewing away happily, Tia found the time to think a bit about the last three weeks.
When she had arrived here, her head had still been full of memories of her time with Maxim. She had constantly thought of their childhood, how they played together, and how they grew up together. She had daydreamed about the time when she was freshly in love with him. How the world had seemed absolutely perfect to her; if anybody had told her it would end like this, she would've laughed at them.
Well, no, she would've been sad and spent time around Maxim to cheer herself up.
And yet, now she was here and she felt only a slight pang at the thought that Maxim hadn't returned her love. Tia stopped her sewing and looked up. The sky was clear blue; there was no white above her apart from that one sheet that the wind blew against and over her head.
Smiling, she shifted to the side so that the sheet could dry evenly. It was Hilda's and Guy's friendliness that made her change. No, that wasn't completely correct either. It was Hilda's efforts that let Tia be happy again. The mixture of working in the inn and spending her free time with Hilda kept her thoughts away from grief and lovesickness. Instead, Tia was surrounded by light and love.
Tia sighed deeply. She cut the threat, tied it and placed the newly patched trousers on the small heap of finished clothes. She picked up the last damaged item, a sock, and started mending it.
Maybe she should really think about Hilda's suggestion. Maybe it would be better to leave Elcid and live in Tanbel. She would always have Hilda, Guy and Jessy around her. And now that Jessy and Guy were expecting a child, her help would probably be appreciated.
Tia was almost finished when she heard Hilda call for her. "I'm here!" she yelled back. She smiled in anticipation.
A second later, Hilda appeared behind a sheet. Her blonde hair gleamed in the bright sunlight. Tia had to shield her eyes. "Tia, have you seen…" Hilda fell silent as her gaze caught the basket of patched clothes.
Hilda's mouth drew up in a big, fat smile. "Tia, you're the best." She sprang forward, threw her arms around Tia's neck and kissed her cheek. Tia startled; she had expected thanks but a kiss? That threw her a bit, but she still smiled when Hilda released her.
"It's no problem." Tia stuffed the sock into the basket and stood up. "Do you want help with the sheets?" Hilda felt the two sheets the closest to them.
"They still need a bit." When she turned to Tia again, her expression was soft and warm. "How about a bit of cold tea? The cold apple tea is delicious. A bit like apple juice but better."
"Yes, thank you."
Hilda nodded and went ahead. Tia stayed a moment longer and closed her eyes, enjoying the strong breeze that was already ruffling the sheets. She felt completely at peace here. Her heart thumped quickly against her chest.
"Please come back soon." Hilda hugged Tia tightly to her chest. It had been four weeks and it was time to go home.
"I will," she whispered into her friend's shoulder. Tia had already said goodbye to Guy and Jessy. Guy had just excused himself a few minutes ago; he was a rather famous teacher for sword fighting now and had several students to take care of. Jessy was still there and standing a bit aside to leave them room for their goodbye. When Tia looked over to her, she found that Jessy had a strange expression on her face. Tia couldn't really place it.
"Maybe I'll come visit you as well. It'll still take ages until Jessy gives birth. Maybe early autumn."
"Gladly. Just write me first, alright?" Tia pulled back slightly; Hilda didn't let go of her yet. "I need to get everything ready, you know."
Hilda nodded quickly. There were tears in her eyes even. Tia was touched that Hilda liked her presence so much, though she found it almost too much. It wouldn't be that long until they next see each other.
"Goodbye and take care," Tia said and released Hilda. The blonde woman still kept her grip on Tia's shoulders.
"You too. I'll miss you." Hilda quickly leaned forward, pressed a short kiss on Tia's cheek and then let go of her. Tia was just as surprised as the last time between the washing lines, though this time she felt the slight urge to return the kiss. But she didn't dare and so she just waved to Jessy and, grabbing her travel backpack, turned her back on Tanbel.
"It's really too bad about Maxim," the old woman said, shaking her head, as she packed her two potions into her bag, "he was such a nice lad. Always ready to help. And so strong. I always felt safe with him around."
"Yes, he was," Tia answered as she held open the door for the woman. The almost constant remarks of her neighbours about Maxim rarely bothered her now. While she was relieved that this wasn't stressing her out anymore, sometimes she felt odd. The villagers didn't seem to want to let the matter drop. They proudly told travellers that the hero Maxim hailed from this village and how they knew Maxim when he was small. Sometimes they would even send the people to her so that they could question her.
To say that she was irritated was an understatement. But it was almost worse for her that she felt so excluded. She was the only one who wanted to move on. It wasn't that she couldn't understand why they were proud – she was proud of Maxim's achievements as well. But her life couldn't forever revolve around Maxim. She was sad that he was dead and she would always miss him – he was her friend, after all. But she, and honestly the rest of the town as well, needed to look to the future now.
With a deep sigh, Tia closed the shop for the day and walked into the back room. When she looked around, she noticed that she no longer thought of this as her home. The table, the cupboards, the stove, every piece of furniture looked like they belonged to someone else. To her old self.
Hilda was tired and sweaty after beating out the dust from the inn's carpets. The heavy carpets were dangling lazily in the light breeze while she washed her face and neck in the rain barrel. She sighed in relief and relished the feeling of water against her heated skin. After a glorious few seconds, she grabbed her towel and dried herself off. Her grandfather's clothes should be dry now; as he was getting older, it became harder for him to do his every day tasks and grandmother wasn't that fit anymore either.
With a small sigh, Hilda turned to check the clothes. After deciding that they were dry enough, she started to take them down. Just as she placed the last shirt in her basket, she saw something at the horizon. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she squinted ahead. There was a speck moving towards the village, probably a visitor.
Quickly picking up her basket, Hilda hastened back into the inn. The room wasn't made yet, but she should have enough time.
Maybe half an hour later, Hilda was outside the inn again, watering the flowers on the windowsills. The traveller would soon be here so she wanted to finish most of her tasks before that happened.
After putting away the watering can, she walked to the village entrance. She had nothing to do yet and she was curious. When she arrived at the road and saw who the traveller was, she couldn't believe her eyes. Her mouth fell open and she clasped her hands over her lower face.
"It can't be…" she whispered excitedly and took a step forward.
"Hilda?!" the person called loudly.
"Tia!" Hilda yelled back, waving in a wide arch over her head, and after a second she could no longer stand still and ran towards the blue-haired woman.
Tia grinned broadly as she watched Hilda running towards her. As a precaution, she put most of her traveller bags down. As expected, the blonde woman almost jumped at her, catching her in a tight embrace. "Tia, you're back already."
Hilda couldn't hold back and planted a big, fat, smacking kiss on Tia's cheek. She almost felt embarrassed by her exuberance and pulled back. Tia smiled at her. "Yes, I am."
And Tia leaned forward and kissed Hilda fully on the mouth. The blonde woman was shocked and overwhelmed and elated. "I'm tired of waiting," Tia continued and took Hilda's hands in hers. "I'll take matters into my own hands from now on." Hilda obviously fought for words, but she seemed to lose and so she just threw her arms around Tia again and kissed her.
Finally, Tia felt at home.