It felt like ages since we had gotten back to Hlofreden. It also felt like ages since I had seen the sky. The weather had been fits of unceasing drizzles and downpours. The plains down South had hearty cloudbursts every so often. Nothing like this, though. This slow demoralizing soaking that made you sigh at the window every time you even thought of leaving.
And we hadn't left The Sea Witch, not unless we absolutely had to.
Rana had left for the Ranch right before we had gotten into town. Floki followed after her, following the guards out on their next run to Kellas House. The rest of us sat and waited.
And sat. And waited. I was uneasy indoors. I was lucky enough to have a constant tap flowing. But I wasn't sure how long the generosity would last and my hands itched for action.
Silah was a constant companion, untiring in her very tiring way. I, myself, wondered what it would take to turn myself into an enchanted ... whatever she was.
Her shimmering self flitted from one conversation to another until she had settled into a pose similar to my moodily stooping over yet another empty tankard. I wasn't sure if she was just mimicking me, as she was wont to do, but I didn't doubt that she was itching for action, too.
"This is very good!" She nodded to the barkeep with her bright smile. He nodded back.
"And it's still free, right?" I said as I turned to Bromm.
He glanced at the barkeep, his brother Macaulay, and nodded.
"For our friends, yes." he said, with mild trepidation.
"Da' is gonna love the bill for this." Macaulay filled another round.
They had the Shatterhammer Brewery and Still under their belts now, after all. It hadn't quite gotten its first batches together from some incident some had talked about just earlier. I hadn't been fully briefed, but I had a feeling our boys had gotten themselves into trouble. I'd only seen a little of it first hand.
We had been here for at least two days now. The rain kept us penned in, but I had the sudden urge the escape. Anything was better than here.
"Did you want to get some different clothes?" I broached the topic to Silah.
Her eyes widened with the thought, "Oh yes!"
"And maybe we can hock that golden scale of yours to pay for it." I slipped in, taking another sip.
Silah looked a little put off and she definitely had something to say about it.
Our little engagements seemed to be the only entertainment to be had, so everyone looked our direction even the brooding Robyn, further down the bar, twisted in her chair and leaned back to see how this next episode would play out.
I enjoyed it, too. I couldn't help it. She was adorable. That is, until she stopped being adorable. Then she was just plain pushy. I was starting to find how much I could take before I had to break off. She, being tireless, could engage indefinitely.
"One has to come before the other. You think I draw attention now?" She stood her tallest, chin raised accenting her perfect form.
She is so dangerous. Nations will rise and fall and yet she'll remain perfect.
"Sure, but—you see—I'm between jobs at the moment. I only have so much I can spend. Maybe a riding cloak? Keep you out of the rain?"
She looked incredulous.
"Do you want to hide me? Do you think I'll rust?"
"No. I—" I paused to think and wet my lips, "I'm not trying to hide you, but it'll help tone that glittering down until we can get you some real clothes."
She glared at me for a moment, then her face softened.
"Am I not worthy to be adored? To be presented as a lady of status?" She gestured at her neck and thumbed ears.
"Sure! When I can afford it." I said, heartily.
"You have no means whatsoever?"
"You and I? We've got to work, ya know."
"I swear. I've never been so ... common before."
"Get used to it." I gestured to myself, presenting my common-ness.
"Yes," she mused, "We have to fix that."
"Fix ... me?"
"Yes, all of that."
Silah waggled her fingers toward my well beaten breastplate and leather strapping holding it in place with the stained undershirt and breeches. She rested her chin on her fist, striking a delicate pose, studying and composing in her head. Honestly, I wondered what potential she saw in me.
"It's all very ... rustic," she said with some distaste, chewing through the last word: rustic.
"I could help." Danin nodded deliberately.
"You could?" I said.
"Her, not you." Danin said flatly and looked at me sideways.
"You could?" I said, again.
A chuckle came from somewhere in the room. I forgot that we still had an audience.
"You know a place that sells finery befitting a lady of my status?"
Did she flutter her eyelashes when she said that?
"Yes, I do." He said with a self-assured smile.
Damn, she's good.
"I'll pay you back, I promise." I leaned in and spoke softly to Danin, feeling more than a little pathetic.
"It's settled," she strode a few steps to the door then turned around gracefully.
"Shall we?" She beamed at Danin and I.
We made our way onto the street. I had briefly forgotten the terrible weather. But not anymore.
I walked behind Danin and Silah. She was chatting him up about the place we were ascending to. In an area tucked into the corner of Hlofreden's near vertical harbor was a place called The Crow's Nest. It was old money and, considering the Dwarven origins, old was more like ancient.
As we ascended, I felt particularly out of place. Each passing step gave me that same disconcerted feeling of being completely out of place. Yet, I was welcomed. Perhaps it was a friendly sort of tolerance? Hlofreden was home to all sorts, so, perhaps it was a sort of mutual respect for the station? It was very different down South.
And if it wasn't for this damnable weather, I'd be enjoying it a lot more than I was.
I looked at Silah, she was entirely unphased by the rain. She didn't flinch or even attempt to cover herself in the downpour. Myself and, I suspect, Danin were already soaked through, but I was the only one grumbling about it.
I couldn't help but smile as Silah lit up at the different sights Danin pointed out during their conversation. Perhaps I'd gotten used to how she divided her attention?
Sig had mentioned something about that earlier at The Sea Witch. She could be in sword form, yet I let her wander. She had even overheard the conversation. She put her hand on my shoulder and agreed that she would be perfectly happy either way. To me it felt like caging an animal, but it was readily apparent that I didn't understand her nature. She had listened in on my thoughts, and assured me that I was right, that I didn't understand her nature.
I shrugged at the thought. All I knew was that she brought a light to the room that wasn't there before. Perhaps that was all the reason I needed? I smiled to myself in spite of the pouring rain.
We halted under a beautiful store shingle painted blue and inlaid with gold leaf. I gulped at the sight of the expense. The windows emitted a perpetual glow lighting providing what seemed like natural light inside at all times. Danin pushed his way into the building triggering a small chime mounted above the door on a spring. Once the door closed, it was a perfect temperature in the shop, but there was no fireplace.
“Hello m’lady, my name is Denton. Welcome to Mont Brooks,” he bowed with considerable flourish. I watched as Silah's eyes widened as they took in the room. The shop walls were lined with elaborately crafted garments hanging on forming wood braces to make them appear fuller. She let out a barrage of questions that Denton assaulted expertly. One of those questions was about the source of the perfect climate and he pointed out innocuous little cylinders that appeared to be a magical potbelly stove. These little contraptions were placed throughout the shop.
She was led to a dressing room to slip into a more flexible piece which allowed her to move a little more freely than the gold-plated scale mail she wore. There was a chink and sloosh as her armor hit the floor. I flushed a little at the sound, suddenly feeling sheepish. When she emerged, I saw traces of a tattoo running up the back of either side of her neck. I recognized it as the pattern I had seen on the blade when I first held her as a weapon. I was mesmerized.
I felt out of place. I should literally be the last being sitting in a room with such finery. After she had emerged with this slip of the dress, the proprietor started to do his magic. He walked Silah through a variety of outfits as Danin and I stood and waited patiently. Danin looked relaxed, but I tensed with every customer that pushed through the front door, feeling like an intruder.
"This purple dress sets off your..." he struggled to choose a feature combing his eyes over her her entire figure, "Your eyes!"
I was glad to see I wasn't the only one who got tongue twisted. She beamed at the proprietor.
"This comes with a travel cloak, see the gold embroidery lacing the edges of the seams here. And the wide sleeve lets you move freely. The hem rides a little higher as not to get caked in the rain and mud you get around here, if you know what I mean." He said the last part with an awkward chuckle and gave her a knowing look. She sparkled with laughter. He grinned, too, his cheeks turned slightly red.
Measuring her waist, he gave a somewhat surprised look, he called his assistant over.
"She's very petite. We will have to take this in. By a few inches." He looked back at Silah and marvelled at her hourglass figure as she slung the cloak over her shoulders and looked in a mirror.
The seamstress moved off to perform the alterations. The shopkeep returned to Silah's side after the business with his assistant was done. He watched Silah in the reflection of the mirror, admiring her while she admired herself.
"The shoes that come with this outfit are only so-so," he started laying the groundwork for a bigger purchase and I rolled my eyes. It was going to take a lot of effort to pay this back already. I wasn't really on Bromm's payroll anymore. We had been taking equal shares of whatever we found. Well, I suspected that I had gotten the lion's share with the last adventure with Silah joining us and yet I only had a handful of gold in my pocket. The thought made me bow my head and rub my forehead in consternation.
I am not sure I'm going to be able to keep up with this.
There were new shoes being presented to her. I had to step in somewhere.
"Are those shoes going to travel well? We'll be doing a lot of traveling."
"Oh yes, these are personally guaranteed by me and the Mont Brooks establishment. If the shoe begins to wear thin, bring them back and I will personally take care of them." Denton seemed a little spooked that I approached. He glanced between us.
"Are you?" He seemed puzzled, unsure of our connection. Hell, he wasn't alone.
"I'm her bodyguard," I volunteered. Filling any tenuous leaps he was about to make. I was trying to keep my tone even as to not unintentionally intimidate the poor man.
Denton nodded, looking me up and down. He did a good job not revealing any distaste at what I was wearing. Although, I have already had plenty of that from Silah.
The seamstress brought the fitted dress back and, just before, Silah disappeared into the dressing room I caught the number on the price tag.
Seventy-five gold. Twice a man's pay for a month of service putting our necks on the line on the front.
I ran my hand over my face. Danin had also taken note and had seen my distress. He caught my eye and nodded confidently.
She whirled through the door in a dazzling display. It caught my breath and I stood there in stunned silence, likely agape and staring. She smiled at us.
"This is fantastic!" She exclaimed like a child. There was no debating it. She looked amazing.
The proprietor approached. Moving in for the kill.
"I hope that is satisfactory?" Denton smiled keenly.
Then Danin stepped in for negotiations.
"These on the rack; they are at a discount, yes?" He raised an eyebrow. The Dwarven magic was coming through loud and clear.
The shopkeep cleared his voice.
"Uh, yes! Yes. They are." He seemed nervous. The challenge took him off guard. He expected an easy, uncontested sale. "But the shoes will add a bit to the price as well."
"We'll pay forty-five for all of it." Danin stated simply. The shopkeep glanced between us. I flexed a bicep from my crossed arms. He gulped and nodded.
"It would be my pleasure to see her wearing our finery." He bowed with the statement.
It was decided. I'm taking Danin to any sort of negotiation.
I pitched in my measly five gold and Danin fronted the rest.
"There is interest, you know." He said as we moved toward the exit.
"I wouldn't expect anything less." I said with a smile.
"Those shoes will wear better if I carry you." I said, alluding to her weapon form.
"Oh yes?" She hopped into my arms. "That sounds like an excellent plan."
I sighed holding her in my arms. The shopkeep looked stunned as he watched us walk out into the rain.
"Thank you! Have a good day!" Denton called after and quickly shut the door.
I stood there in the rain with Silah in my arms. Danin hunkered down into his armor against the rain. We had just gotten dry and now I was soaked again.
I took a few steps.
"This is just silly." I said, mostly to myself, as I put her down.
"But I thought you were going to carry me?" She pouted.
"This is just going to get your new clothes more wet." I said, being as matter of fact as I could, "That traveling cloak will only work when you're standing, anyway."
She was entirely unphased by the weather, but she was concerned about these new clothes so she nodded in compliance.
We walked back to The Sea Witch. It was cold. I should have bought something for myself. Perhaps an oil soaked tarp or somesuch. This weather was miserable.
Stepping into the warmth of The Sea Witch was a welcome change from the outdoors. It had nice homey feel that I've grown used to. Silah had moved in and shed her traveler's cloak, hanging it on the edge of one of the chairs. She curtsied to the Bromm and Sig who nodded and complimented her on the new outfit.
"We should celebrate!" she beamed, she walked up to me looking me in the eyes, "Do you know how to dance?"
"No. I really don't." I hesitated.
"You should learn," she smiled.
"I don't think I could afford lessons." After all, I was feeling very vulnerable at the pocket book.
"You could teach me," I pondered, "I don't think I would hurt you too badly by stepping on your feet."
She crinkled her nose at me. But then she held her hand out.
"Come on. Let's try," she beckoned, "Unfortunately, all the dances I know were very fashionable about fifty years ago."
"It's probably right in line with Hlofreden, then." I grinned slightly, but was a little anxious putting myself out there like this.
I loosed my breastplate and leaned it against the stool then strode up to her. She positioned me and explained the dance steps.
"Now, stay right there." She pushed a finger my direction and I froze in place.
She leaned over to Faolan go Brách, Bromm's brother, who was manning a stringed instrument he was strumming for a light musical background. He had been watching this scene unfold with a smile. Silah whispered something in his ear that made him widen his eyes and he nodded with a strange sort of satisfaction. He strummed a few different chords and began plucking at the instrument expertly.
She folded back into place in my arms and gave me a little tug as she pushed us into motion. It was dizzying and heady. After a moment of getting the basics steps down, she pushed for a little variety. I felt my military training coming out in the movements, bowing here, leaning there. It seemed that this fell in line with a series of forms I had practiced over and over again. She looked up and smiled broadly, showing her sparkling teeth.
"Very, very good. Soldier." She nodded with the movement.
She was right, this was incredible! I didn't step on her foot once and seemed to flow with the music without too much effort. Who knew that the forms practiced on the battlefield would be so useful in a more social setting?
Other joined us, but fell back after a few minutes tiring quickly from the pace of the music.
Then, soon after, my legs began to ache as well, but she persisted. It was warm in The Sea Witch and I needed a break. Her tirelessness was wearing me down, yet again. I glanced at Faolan and made a gentle motion to wrap things up. He executed perfectly and I backed away and bowed deeply as she reflected a curtsy. Applause erupted from various tables and I moved toward the bar, mopping my brow.
Silah wasn't finished. She moved through the group, offering her hand. Danin took her up on the offer and the began moving in time on the open floor. I grinned watching the two of them glide through, with only a slight hitch at the start.
Yeah, I did better.
I spotted Robyn and she nodded proudly from across the room. She was no worse for wear from an earlier incident where she took more than a few shots from a pistol in a duel … what, was it? A week or two ago? I had carried her bloodied form into Bromm's room while she vehemently protested. I attempted some field dressing, but ended up just helping to keep the bleeding at bay while the others went to the healers. The man she had faced off with was clearly dead. It was one of my first experiences after joining Bromm as a bodyguard.
As I moved toward the bar, Robyn patted the stool next to her.
"Who's the girl?" She nodded toward Silah.
"Just someone we picked up along the way."
She cocked her head at me.
"Is that how you're playing it?" She grimaced, "There's clearly much more going on there."
She eyeballed me. Robyn was a different sort of intimidating—if I compared her to Silah. Unpredictable, sure, but also vulnerable. She was older, but her fiery nature, reflected in her brilliant red hair, was undimmed by time.
"I can help," she nodded toward Silah, "You're unsure, it's clear, but knowing how to treat a woman makes a difference. And, clearly, you're well out of your league."
"Don't I know it," I let it slip and tried to backpedal, "I mean. So, you can help me—?"
"Be a gentleman? Yes. You pulled off the dance well, but one can only be lucky so many times." She grinned, "You are doing an admirable job for a complete buffoon."
"Watch your tongue," I grinned back, "I'll take you up on the offer. Hopefully soon. That outfit she's wearing tapped me up for at least another handful of weeks pay."
She clucked her tongue shaking her head.
"It's an expensive price, but you have a jewel in your hands. Keep her well."
Silah approached the conversation and I saw Danin looking at bit winded moving back to his seat.
"Robyn, Silah. Silah, Robyn." I introduced the two. Silah beamed and Robyn dropped a nod in her understated way.
"Nice to meet you," Silah said, then she leaned into me, "I'm going to see if someone else will dance. Brimm's brother is fantastic."
"Bromm." I corrected.
"Who?" She looked puzzled.
Silah moved off to press someone else into service. I chuckled to myself and caught Robyn's puzzled look on her face.
"I have no idea. I'm just the help." I stated with a deadpan expression.
It was our second night and it wore on with no sign of Floki or Rana. Sig had mentioned that his grandpa had given him a lot of studying to do, so he had spent most of the day engaged in his books.
(Get to know Akeron.)