Right after we had brought our suitcases to our room, Snow White and I met him in the spa area, waiting for us in the whirl pool. Despite us having made a lot of plans, this was the only time when Snow White and I spent our spare time together* – for the rest of the meeting she took a step back and left the place on my side to the Witcher. We were as inseparable as in our old times. Moreover, after a year of slowly fading insecurity over the physical reminders of my pregnancy, I finally felt back in my own looks and glory, enjoying the confidence boost from always having someone tread behind me while I paraded outfits I had gathered from my mother’s closet.** I made some friends among the new PhD candidates and on the second night we sat together with them after dinner. Conversation came to the previous meetings in this hotel and we told them that we had met two years ago. “You seem more like you’ve known each other forever”, they said.
Sometimes I sent the Witcher around on some minor errands – fetching cake or claim seats. Once right after he left the Skeleton King, a friend from the institute, turned to me and said: “Must feel good, having a slave like this.”
“Yes, he comes in pretty handy”, I said and the Witcher turned around and threw me a glare before disappearing into the lecture hall.
I was rather unsure about my talk because I would be mostly presenting general knowledge instead of my work (as wished by the head of our institute), but Snow White texted me afterwards that I was the only person she knew who was “competent, cute and funny all at once”. <3 Also there was quite some interest in my project afterwards, and I always enjoy discussing that – as far as I’m allowed to, because there is still some level of confidentiality to be maintained.
During lunch break on the third day the Witcher and I had some childish hassle, leaving him kind of injured. *** His talk was due immediately after the break, but he managed it flawlessly.
The last talk before the social event must have been decided upon on purpose. Colorful descriptions and pictures of open bone fractures painted vivid pictures in our minds of what might await us after the sledge riding. I was especially worried because I had booked a double sledge with the Witcher (to take care of me) only to be told afterwards by Snow White that he was a very competitive rider and made second place at the last meeting. I wrote to the Knight and he replied: “Oh, don’t worry about your bones, when there is a much higher risk for amputations and decapitations. What do people always say? Just follow the trail of blood.”
Later that evening busses had brought all of us up a mountain and were sitting in a cozy wooden lodge, having hot wine – or hot chocolate, in the Witcher’s case. He was telling a coworker about his childhood and how he used to drive a sledge to school, when the Jester, who had been visibly nervous about the upcoming ride as well, turned to me and said: “All seems easy, right? Just follow the trail of blood.” That was it! I ordered more wine and ended up drunk by the time we grabbed our sledges.
We came down safe enough, though only on 4th place, because I had been braking all the way down. I was full of adrenaline and jumped around singing “I’m alive!” while the Witcher was busy staying close to me, making sure I didn’t fall or got ridden down by later arriving sledges.
Eventually we went back to the busses and took place next to one another. I told him how cold my hands were and he took one in his to feel it and we ended up not letting go. I held his hand all the way back to the hotel, in the bus full of other scientists, but it was pitch black and we were not talking a word to each other while I gazed out at the night sky full of stars.
*… except for sharing a room of course. I very much enjoyed her as roommate. I was a little worried about the warnings of friends from the institute that she liked to draw into people’s faces while they were sleeping, but she spared me, probably because I never returned to our room drunk. She threatened to kick me out after I made fun of Star Trek though.
** I had always found that she had an exquisite taste in clothing and had always borrowed pullovers and skirts from her while I had been living at home. Plus, they smelled pleasantly like a discreet parfum and the smell of home.
*** I am sorry! I ambushed him and threw him into the pool as revenge for him dipping me head down in the whirlpool, but how on earth could I have known that he would grab the railing of the nearby stairs, sending him in an arch against it, leaving his side bruised and his leg bleeding.