Matt the innkeeper remembered Eliard, and Link left an even deeper impression on him. When he saw Eliard, he shrugged and said, "Room? He's not in a room. After you left, Mr. Link has always stayed in the attic."
What? The Attic!
Eliard's heart pounded violently. He forced himself not to show any expression and continued asking, "Why is he staying in the attic?"
"No money, why else?" Matt said matter-of-factly, "Before, he even ate coarse wheat bread every day. Two loaves a day, one for lunch, and one for dinner. Recently it seems he's earning some money, but not much, I'd say. He's mostly cooped up in the attic. If you want to see him, he's right upstairs."
When he heard that, Eliard's heart started pounding again. He knew that after Link gave him the 1300 gold coins, he probably didn't have much left. But he never would have thought that it would get Link into such a dire situation.
But why didn't he mention it in the letters? In the letters, he went on about the beauty of Girvent Forest, about his questions of spells and magic theory, and yet, not a word about his living condition was mentioned.
Why did he have to do that? Eliard could not come up with any answers. He thanked Matt, and under the gazes of the crowd in the inn hall, he climbed the stairs up to the attic.
On his way, he heard the discussions in the hall.
"But that's a real Magician! Is he really here to meet Link?"
"Does that mean Link really is a Magician?"
"That's impossible! He wears tattered rags, eats and stays in a place even I wouldn't be willing to, how could someone like that be a Magician?"
These voices had proven the innkeeper's words. Eliard felt even more distressed now. His eyes started to sting until it became quite unbearable. He thought it must have been the dust in the inn getting into his eyes.
He leaned on the wooden rail and kept climbing up. Once he'd reached the third floor, he turned at the corner and reached the inn's attic.
The attic was dark and dingy, the stairs were covered with a thick carpet of dust, and the door to the attic room was low and narrow. As he stood at the door, he was stifled by how cramped this space was.
He had been staying in the spacious and high-ceilinged Magic Tower so long, that when he was back in a commoners' dwelling like this, he felt alien and uncomfortable.
Eliard rapped softly on the door. He tried his best to calm down his nerves and keep his composure.
"Come in, it's not locked." The voice was familiar. It was as calm and gentle as before, like a peaceful pond under the starry night.
Eliard pushed the door open and entered the room, and then was faced with a view of Link's back bathed in sunlight.
The golden sunlight shone in through the small window in the attic, like a golden column in a dark stuffy room. The light column nicely lit up his frail and thin body.
This gaunt figure was sitting on a lame chair, his hand was holding a goose feather quill, and he was earnestly writing on an old mottled table. In the corner of the table, there were a few magic textbooks and a stack of goatskin scrolls.
Eliard turned to his right and saw a rough mattress on the floor. In the corner of the room, there was a big spider web with a fat spider casually hanging in the middle of it. In another corner, there was a large hole in the wall stuffed with a rag. That didn't seem to do much because currents of cold draught still blew into the attic.
Decrepit and in disrepair, the room was like a typical dwelling of a poor peasant. Eliard had been a wandering orphan in the past, so he knew this life well. But he never thought that Link, a nobleman's son, would also be suffering this fate too.
But precisely because Eliard had experienced it all before, he sympathized with what Link was going through more acutely!
Anguish, shame, and gratitude-a flurry of emotions swirled in Eliard's mind, they sent a hot flash to his eyes, and he began to tear up. But before the tears fell, he hastily lifted his chin up and forced the tears back.
When he was eight-years-old, he was bullied by a few children in the streets. He cried and cried, but as he was an orphan, no one came to consoled him, they only came to mock and ridicule. He swore from then on that he would never shed a single tear ever again.
But at this moment, there was no holding back the tears.
Link was a nobleman, he had 1300 gold coins with him, he could've comfortably settled down in the River Cove Inn. But because he wanted to help Eliard, he sacrificed his own comfort and had to live poorly. How could Eliard be unmoved by that?
What's even more agonizing was the fact that Link never said a word about it. He had been comfortably settling into the Magic Tower studying magic, but at the same time, Link had never mentioned a word about his difficult life. Instead, he'd always been consoling Eliard, reminding him to concentrate on his studies and not be distracted. Eliard did not even suspect anything like this was happening to Link.
"Link?" Eliard tentatively called out, while strenuously calming himself down.
That frail body was stunned, the quill in his hand stopped moving, and then he turned his body around. "Eliard, what are you doing here?" Link said, startled.
He'd gotten thinner, much thinner than a month ago. His eyes seemed bigger now, and they looked dull and lifeless. His body was wearing that rough linen robe which seemed too big as it hung on his bony figure.
Eliard's heart wrenched at the sight. He was at his limit, his eyes were red now and a teardrop fell as he said, "Why didn't you say anything?"
Link was considerably shocked when he saw Eliard's expression. He wondered how this kid could be so sensitive. He was almost an adult, how could he cry for such a tiny matter?
But he thought of what he knew from the game and realized that this was indeed Eliard's nature.
In the game, there were three occasions when Eliard cried, once was for his wife who was murdered by a demon, once was for a comrade fallen in battle, and once when he witnessed countless refugees from the North.
This half-man, half-boy was just that sensitive.
Link thought about it, and guessed why Eliard would be upset, and laughed and said, "You're blaming me for leaving out this small detail?"
Eliard nodded. His life in the academy had been comfortable, in fact, if he worked hard for a little bit, he could even earn some gold coins. This month, he didn't spend much time writing magic scrolls, and yet he still earned 15 gold coins. Some students who were more industrious could even earn more than 50 gold coins in a month!
If only Link had told him, he wouldn't need to live in such poor conditions.
Link laughed and shook his head, "My friend, my life hasn't been as bad as it seems. You see, if you look out from this window, that's the beautiful Girvent Forest. And listen, can't you hear how quiet and peaceful this room is? And think about it, I've got no money, and my clothes are old and plain, so no one bats an eye on me, no one distracts me or disturbs me, so I can fully concentrate on working on my thesis and magic spells. Don't you see how lucky I am?"
When he put it that way, Eliard was swayed. But he couldn't help feeling that there was something wrong. "But..."
"No buts! You know all I care about is magic. Apart from magic, nothing else matters to me." Link was all smiles and he shone as bright as the sun, chasing away the gloom and doom in Eliard's heart.
Alright, since he put it that way. Eliard felt better, but what he saw today had been etched deeply into his heart and he would never forget it.
He knew that in this world there was only one person who would sacrifice his honor and dignity, who was willing to be ridiculed, who was willing to live like a beggar, just to help him.
In his heart, such a man was nothing less than a brother. If need be, Eliard would be willing to sacrifice everything for this brother.
"Are you free now? Let's get a drink in the hall, how about that?" Eliard wiped his tears and tucked his emotions away.
"Sure, no problem, just give me a minute while I tidy up my scrolls," Link said with a laugh.
Once everything had been neatly tucked away, the two went downstairs to the hall.
"Matt, the best dish you have, and the best ale," Eliard shouted his orders.
"No problem," said Matt with a smile.
Once the food and drinks arrived, the two chatted away as they ate.
They talked about Link's thesis' development and some magic theory problems. Eliard told Link all about what he'd seen and what he'd learned in the academy, as well as some circulating gossip he heard.
Each of them was so engaged in the conversation that, without knowing it, more than ten cups of ale had been downed. Eliard couldn't handle a lot of alcohol, so his words started to slur and he began speaking nonsense. Link's ability to hold his drink wasn't too bad, so he managed to stay ostensibly sober.
As he was drunk, Eliard started to act strangely-he would cry and then laugh. Link didn't know how to handle this, so he asked the inn servant to take Eliard to a room so he could rest.
"No, stop it! Go away, I want to sleep in the attic!" Eliard kept insisting.
Link had no choice but to relent, so in the end, another mattress was added to the attic and after a while, Eliard finally fell asleep on it. Link was sweating from the effort to subdue Eliard, and before long the slight alcoholic effects he had were gone.
He went outside the inn and spoke to Eliard's coachman from the Magic Academy. The coachman said they had planned to spend the night in town and would head back to the academy tomorrow. Link was relieved by this and headed back to the attic.
There were scrolls and a textbook that Eliard had brought with him in the attic room, he glanced through all of them, and he was immediately captivated by the textbook. It was a high-level magic textbook-just what he needed!
This magic textbook was called Progress in Magic Spells, it contained the introduction to Level-1 spells and the structure of the spells. It also had a rough summary of the progressions of high-level spells. Link flipped through the pages and discovered that inside there were also detailed descriptions of Runic Aura structures!
"What a great book!" Link was immediately engrossed in the book. He read and read, completely unaware of the flow of time.
He didn't know how much time has passed when behind him a voice called out, "What time is it?"
Eliard had woken up.
Link was startled by the voice, he fumbled for his pocket watch and said, "It's seven in the evening."
Link realized now that he was quite hungry.
"I'll go get us something to eat." Eliard was hungry too, so he left the attic, then five minutes later he returned with a huge tray of cheese.
The two began to eat. While eating, Link continued to read the magic textbook. He very carefully flipped through each page and took great care not to let any dust or dirt land on the pages. Eliard, on the other hand, casually flipped through Link's thesis.
Eliard was completely enthralled by Link's thesis. The silence between them was only interrupted by Eliard's occasional murmurs like, "This is astounding! Oh, I've never seen these kinds of deductions before!"
Eliard was completely spellbound by Link's paper.
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