Nostalgia. And I wasn't one for nostalgia like this. Stranger yet, this was nostalgia about some of the hardest times in my life. It seemed odd. Did I really want those days back? The thought itself deserved another drink.
Perhaps it was the direct approach. You had a clear enemy, you had clear directions, your options were limited so you could be decisive. Glancing around the room, I caught Silah's eye as she looked over the room with a slight smile. I smiled briefly and turned forward, enjoying the noise rippling over me much like I'd enjoy the warmth from a fire.
Silah sidled up to the bar beside me. I nodded to her. It was clear that she was adept at reading my mood. In fact, she probably knew my mood better than I did. Part of all this shame was my frustration from lashing out at Silah. Perhaps, soon, she would fit neatly into that same nostalgia; reflecting on the best and the worst times in my life.
It was a few moments before I glanced at her. She sat, unmoving, studying my face.
"How are you doing?" She said it with a half smile, but her eyes were lined with a touch of sadness. I turned to her and nodded evenly. I caught her glancing at the old campaigner blade sticking above my shoulder, eyeing it resentfully. The more I wore it, the more the appearance made sense. She wouldn't like it, though, but I had stopped the idea of lording it over her the moment we left the inn.
"Have they said anything about what's next? I'm getting bored here again and the weather is finally clearing."
"It sounds like Siggy has some business in Dowry. Like, business business. Something about the princess and contesting the claim markers?"
"Sig. Hmmm, I knew something happened, but I wasn't privy to the act. A few of them said it'd be best if I didn't know." I rolled the half full mug and it clunked woodenly on the table.
"I haven't gone to Kellas House in a while. After that ranch incident, I'm a little wary that something might make the same move on Duncan." I mused to myself. She sat attentively, even if she didn't need to.
"You haven't met Duncan yet? He said I needed to retire this…" I looked over my shoulder at the campaigner blade, then thought better of continuing this thought.
"I trained under him as a soldier. He's a good man. He'll be terribly impressed with you." The thought made me grin widely, "Oh, he's going to be so impressed."
She squinted at me with a humored wariness.
"And that means?" She prompted with a small circular gesture.
"He's one man I'd be willing to share your—our—secret with."
"Secret? We have a secret?"
"Nevermind," I sighed heavily and rubbed my right tusk with the wooden mug, "When do the others plan on leaving?"
"They are meeting up with Beardic."
"Beidrick? So we're going to Dowry by sea then? I guess I'll have to meet up with Duncan later." I grimaced.
"Hey." She said sternly, her voice steeled. She waited for me to look her in the eyes, "This moodiness doesn't suit you. It's time you're done with it."
She pushed away from the bar.
"After all, we've got work to do!" She called out over her shoulder as she moved toward the others.
Silah was right, of course. Whatever shame I was holding on to was only hurting me at this point. I pushed the mug away and moved toward the privy out back. The sun was piercing through the misty clouds overhead, but I finally had a clear shadow. I drew some water and dumped it over my head, I shook out my long black hair, rinsing out dust and the dull sickly sweet smell of aging ale.
I could feel the tug of distance between myself and Silah. That palpable connection made me think of my nostalgia from earlier. Life had changed so dramatically: new friends, Silah, near death experiences. All the petty things I'd been holding on to seemed to fall away under the light of day.
And we are traveling again!
I wasn't thrilled about taking the majority of the trip on a boat, but I'd stop in to see Duncan later. I hadn't stayed in Dowry, just passing through using the Ethesia House portal from the battlefront. It was larger than this backwater, which I had grown accustomed to. I'm sure it had a lot to offer that I hadn't seen.
The trip by sea was much more fulfilling than expected. The sun broke through and we had a blindingly bright day on the sea. The seas felt rough, but an unperturbed Beidrick said that was normal for this time of year. He was confidently standing on the upper deck at the rear of the ship, looking over the seas with a big smile. He was built for this. Silah was among the others, milling about listening to the conversations. The sun itself had cheered me up. It was a new experience to travel so far on the seas. I had never gone further than the return from the Poulterhaud claim. I was content to stay silent and watch the proceedings.
The sun hit its zenith then began to sink from above us. We never lost sight of the land to our South. Beidrick expertly guided the ship into the harbor and moved into an open spot dockside. These seemed to be residence boats. People lived on these instead of living in town. It seemed quaint, disconnected, and impermanent. There was a certain charm to that kind of lifestyle. Like a desert tortoise's that I'd seen frequently on the plains, you brought your home with you.
A few extra coins in the dockmaster's hand and a nod seemed to grant him a better position that was closer to the guard's shack. Money, the great lubricator of business and services. I couldn't help but sigh at the thought. I still had a pittance to my name and a voracious mouth to feed.
I followed the group through the streets. Metal carriages looking like sparkling black crabs with wheels hummed quietly through the streets. This was a bizarre sort of magic that I had seen the last time I was here. Each had a man guiding them from a seat near the front. There were those that were used to carry people to and fro, but others that seemed more rustic carried larger goods from warehouse to shop. The bustle of Dowry was incredible. I couldn't help but compare it to what I had gotten used to in Hlofreden.
We wound through the streets, looking for lodging. Sig, Bromm, and Danin seemed to be experts at navigating this place. I was bewildered by the flurry and it made me uneasy. Silah had come up alongside me in her flowing purple gown. She moved her hand along the inside of my arm.
"Calmly, my beast." She crooned softly in my head, "There's nothing to be concerned about."
Am I that obvious?
"To the untrained eye, you are glowering threateningly at everyone. So, perhaps?" She traced her fingers down to my wrist. It sent a flurry of chills up my arm and I felt myself blush at the contact.
I glanced at her and she smiled winsomely up at me. I gave her an awkward toothy grin back. Tusks were not meant for smiling. This, however, was exactly what I needed, this private space, this strange sort of isolation from the crowds. Just her and I.
The summons that Sig had received put us out at about four days with nothing to do but browse Dowry. No one was really sure how this would go, but Sig seemed confident that he was in the right. Perception is everything, after all. I haven't talked with anyone about it directly, just overheard the conversations. The word was that ours and a competitor's horses were poisoned before we taken our trip out to the Polterhaud Mines. They blamed us and challenged our claim because of it.
In my recollection, the mines themselves would have been impossible to approach in a wagon. Whole sections of the road had fallen into ruin. I then realized that if this hadn't happened, I would never have bonded with Silah. I felt a spark of anger flare up at the thought.
"You're sweet." Her voice echoed in my head, sounding wistful, "Bristlingly protective, but sweet."
Silah's voice startled me, but then I felt her tracing on the inside of my arm again, realizing our connection again.
We checked into one place as the evening began and felt that it was an ill fit for our night's entertainment. Bromm longed for something a bit more boisterous. After a few coins changed hands, we walked further down the street deeper into what was called the Bowler's Green district. Seething masses pressing in around us, but I felt Silah's grip on my forearm tighten and I focused on it.
Our destination was a tall building with an active balcony. Chanted glass spewed a rainbow of lights in every direction. Alchemical lamps danced with various colors, sending many hued shadows scurrying around the front door. The sign read Fanton's Ale House. There was rollicking music, escaping from the cocked door. I looked at the half-Orc who was standing just inside the door, I was a good half-head taller than him. Bromm moved up first.
"What's it take to get into this place?"
"You give me one gold and I'll let you in and I give you this," he held up a carved wooden chit, "Take this to the bar for a drink."
Bromm nodded, and produced a gold. The half-Orc took in the coins from the group and handed back a corresponding chit. I had to root a bit before finding two gold coins in my coinpurse. I grimaced as I handed them over. Silah squeezed my arm and smiled appreciatively.
"This is going to be fun!" Her honey-brown eyes were alive with the dancing lights. "It'll be worth it!"
I pinched my lips into weak smile.
Pressed in with a heaving mass of drunken bodies. I expected that I might possibly break someone's arm for bumping up against me. I had Silah by my side, though. She still held my arm, and I could focus on just her touch to center myself and relax.
Bromm pressed his way to the bar. We all had to dodge through the whirling movements on the dancefloor. An elevated stage held a musical group of about seven that were handling various instruments. Most all instruments were stringed and the woman who belted out over the audience with a hoarse voice had a metal clacker in her hand, keeping the beat. She seemed to be singing their own bawdy drinking songs in time with the band. Showing off her legs and shaking her bodice suggestively with the words. They were pressing those instruments, squeezing every bit of sound out of them. I was caught up in it, a smile on my face as she shook her rump at the crowd.
Silah guided me into place at the bar, helping part the crowd with ease using considerably more strength than she appeared to have. We settled in and she beamed at me, excited.
I watched a Bromm put a silver with his wooden coin and point to the top shelf. The was already almost tapped out, but I needed a little loosening if the night was to continue without incident. I nodded for the same, giving Silah a silver coin for her choice.
Bromm turned inward, rounding to each member.
"To an evening of debauchery, gentleman and gentlewoman!"
We brought our glasses in, audibly clinking against the din.
Some women saw the toast among new faces and swooped in to meet our acquaintance. I watched Silah sizing them up as they approached, curious at what she was thinking. One woman was in the forefront of four others, seeming to choose her target.
"My name is Nida, buy me a drink?" She said it with swagger, confidence. Watching closely to see who would take the challenge.
Sig leaned forward, "What would you like?"
She smiled and whispered it to him. Sig called out the order to the barkeep and she moved in close with a warm smile. A blonde woman stood behind her, but after Sig ordered, she moved into the group to mingle. There was an odd girl out, she stuck close. She had glanced at me briefly, just long enough to see Silah's arm still looped with mine. I glanced back to Silah as the others started to mingle.
I tried to keep my thoughts light, but, one of these days, I would understand what she was to me. I couldn't see being capable of being with anyone else while we were bonded. I shook off the thought, realizing that Silah was following the others to the dance floor.
"Come on. We've got work to do." She said slyly.
The crowd pressed in. Elbows and hands swinging in all directions in time with the wild, raucous music. There was a fierce quality to the movement. I eyeballed one drunken man when he moved in toward Silah. Growling, I blocked him from the advance. This prompted a fearful response from others close to me, which gave us more room to try our hand at this concerted chaos.
I heard a shout. A young man was yelling at Danin, grabbing at the blonde that he was with.
"Get your hands off my girl, Dwarf!" He said, spittle dusting over a livid Danin.
"I don't know him!" The blonde shouted.
"She's with me." He said, sternly, then put a hand out to steady the young man.
Angry with the response, the youngling wound up and planted his fist on Danin's face, who rolled with it expertly. Danin's cool exterior remained, but the fire in his eyes lit up. I tensed, thinking to engage, but more interested in Danin's reponse. Silah held me fast, knowing exactly what was going through my head.
The crowd parted slightly, more for the show and less for any danger. Danin stepped sideways, hands still down, shaking his head. The boy moved to engage and Danin met him with a well placed punch, sending the young man's frame crumpling to the floor. The half-Orc moved across the sea of bodies, lifting the youngling easily, unceremoniously jostling him as he took him out the front door.
"A drink on the house!" The barkeep shouted above the noise.
Danin was the hero. He lifted the glass high and kissed his holy symbol sending a wave of healing energy through the surrounding crowd. The invigoration drove the musicians on and the dance floor cheered.
I smiled at the result. Silah took my hand again and I pulled her in close as we moved quickly to the music.
* * *
It was morning again and I felt the twinges of a headache wearing at the edges of my thoughts. It wasn't anything I wasn't used to.
It took a while for the group to assemble from the raucous night, but everyone seemed fresh and eager for the day. I didn't know what to expect, we had no plans, so I listened in, hoping to find something to do that I wouldn't regret.
Bromm and Floki had mentioned a temple to some sort of god just further up the road this inn was on, while Danin and Sig seemed to want to further South and East. Sig, apparently, was meeting up with Anida, the woman he had been talking with for quite a while last night. the place they were going was near a shopping district which visibly sparked Silah's interest. I was destitute, as I had been telling her this whole trip. The thought of another trip to buy things , even just consider buying things, with two gold and a handful of silver in my pockets made me feel wholly inadequate.
"Just window shopping. Come on!" Silah pleaded with a sparkling of youthful glee.
"I don't mind. Just know that we can't actually buy anything." I sighed.
"Good! When do we leave?"
"Everyone has eaten. We can leave immediately." Sig said.
We parted ways with Floki and Bromm as they continued West-Southwest as we moved through the Six Crates district. There was plenty of activity on the streets hiding the undercurrents of other goings on. But the feeling of moving into an unsafe area was palpable. Silah didn't seem to notice or care. She leaned into me, with a smile, pointing at places that she recognized. She spoke the names of the locations that were there decades ago as well as those that hadn't changed. I couldn't trust that she was saying the correct names, I had since learned, but it was an interesting local history unrolling before my eyes.
As we walked down the street, I felt rigid, unable to relax. I felt out of place in the seething crowd. I had seen only a handful of other Half-Orcs and they were little more than bodyguards and warehouse workers. There were a few street rats eying us tenuously. I shot them a glare, but realized they weren't staring at me, but Danin. They whispered between each other as soon as they saw him. His antics last night had landed him some fame that seemed to keep trouble at bay. I watch them fade away as we moved through the Six Crates district. It wasn't long before I saw the direction we were heading. We were there primarily for Sig and his "date" with Anida. I could never take Sig's actions in this direction seriously. He seemed to have an eye for business, but little else. It was interesting to see him engaged the way he was. He hadn't said much about Anida, but it was obvious that she was a woman of some sway. I watched him to see if I could see the cracks in his facade that may give him away. I didn't expect much, but his interest in her seemed genuine.
Silah remained at my side as we moved through the crowd. Her presence was an overwhelming comfort. I remembered clearly how lost I felt in places like this only months ago, trying to carve myself a place in a world not meant for someone like me. She was my foundation here. I couldn't possibly express how comforting her presence was. She knew, though, she was holding my arm this whole time. I could see it in her eyes as she looked up at me. As little as she remembered, she did realize that I truly did appreciate her in comparison to her residual experiences. It wasn't lost on me, that the future was clouded and uncertain. Her memory of me would eventually fade, but now I wasn't worried. I had come to terms with the thought of being a lost memory in the future. My mark would be made on the world, something that would be indelible and perpetual. It was a matter of time, even if that time was uncertain.
In the distance, I heard Sig announce that we had arrived.
"Mr. Fangs. That's the place I'm supposed to meet her," he squinted at the sign against the bright sky, "It's a while until I'm to meet her here. Why not browse the shops while we wait?"
Silah was eager and being her vibrant self again. Something I hadn't properly seen since the rains had consumed Hlofreden. It was very likely that nothing had changed but my own attitude.
I finally took the time to look at the sign that Sig had pointed to. It was a comical rendition of a tusked Orc with a silly grin on his face. I grimaced.
"Fangs? Those aren't fangs. They're tusks," I grumbled aloud. I waited for a response that never came and then continued, "How about we visit the confectioner?"
"Yes! That sounds wonderful."
There were a few street performers in the area and a woman, who didn't seem to be a performer, but was dressed particularly with swaths of vibrant colors. She seemed to be engaging all the passersby with intense familiarity, something like a mother of this particular area. We had stopped just short of where she was engaging everyone, but her odd dress and behavior caught my eye.
I turned away from the street and we moved on to the confectioner. I was hesitant, knowing my purse was lighter than it had been in ages, but I kept my worrying to myself as I perused the goods. Silah was completely aware of my hesitation, and seemed to accept it gracefully without any ribbing.
Perusing the prices, I was surprised at how inexpensive some of the items were. I rifled through my meager coin purse and broke another gold coin. I selected some brittle peppermint sticks that set your mouth a-buzz. I grabbed a few and immediately put one in my mouth. After a moment, I decided to splurge and asked to see the chocolates. I looked through the dipped clusters and asked Silah if she had any preference. She looked at the selections, bewildered.
"I don't know! You decide," she urged.
I gingerly pointed at a few of the samples, two of each. Two with fudge and two with a white filling. I split them with her and we both sampled them. The melting fudge was rich and vibrant, showing a rich sampling of flavors that I had never experienced before. She seemed to do the same. I smirked at her revelling, which seemed a bit put on. I wondered if she actually could taste what she was eating. It seemed to please her, though, but only for seeming to appear to be alive, as it were. I had seen it on the shores outside of the Polterhaud mine. Ever since then, I had wondered if I'd ever know the truth of it.
I stepped away from the front of the shop, beginning a search for Sig. I heard a familiar female voice behind me directed toward someone else. I glanced behind me to see the woman Danin had taken a liking to just earlier. She moved conversationally toward the confectioner, asking if his wife was home. She said a few words that disappeared on the air and disappeared into the shop. I took note, thinking Danin may be interested.
As we were looking for Sig, Silah nearly squealed as she saw Floki and Bromm walking down the street. She showed them the candies we had just bought and caught them up on the goings on. They had obviously seen us and had made a beeline to our position.
"I was just looking for Sig," I nodded at them.
"We were just on our way out of town to find those boar. I think we know where they are," Floki said. Bromm nodded slowly behind him.
"Let's find Sig first and then I'll go with you."
On the way over to the vendor row, I told Danin that his lady friend was in the confectioner's back room. He let a small smile show and nodded confidently. I stepped up to the pipe and tobacco vendor where I had just seen Sig. I, perhaps, approached him too aggressively, provoking an awkward response.
"Your friend?" He said, sweat beading at his forehead, "He's just down there in the Blackrose Emporium."
The man pointed emphatically down the street.
We moved as a group to the quiet door. Slipping inside, the atmosphere thickened. It sent a feeling of unease slide over my body, readily giving me goosebumps. Strangely, Silah, seemed to revel in the feeling, rolling her shoulders and almost basking in the reflected light. This curio shop was deeply mystical in nature. Forces pressed against me in various ways, making my skin itch.
Sig was in there, talking the somewhat gaunt man while pointing at various items in the shop. As we piled in, the man seemed to light up with a smiling certain recognition. Sizing each of us up as we entered. He wasn't wary, but seemed to be almost pleased as he looked us up and down.
"Your compatriots?" He asked Sig.
Sig nodded in response.
The man seemed to drop into a deep recollection with a smile slowly spreading across his lips. It was an odd expression. There was an unspoken kinship that seemed to grow with that smile. It was a knowing expression that left me wondering.
What exactly did this man know about us?
We reviewed the contents of his shop, knowing that there was much more to the goods than he alluded to. His nostalgia creeped in, at points, fleshing out the introspection that I had seen earlier. He walked us through a variety of goods that he had in his shop. He briefly explained that he missed the experiences he had with his friends. But he liked sleeping in a warm bed each night. There was a twinkle in his eye, though, as he recollected where he had been. He seemed a fascinating individual with considerable experience.
Bromm's ears perked up and he tilted his head toward the door. I felt a prickling to my skin and moved there, too. I leaned against the door to make a crack and listened outside. There was a flurry of activity and the smell of smoke hanging in the air.
"Fire?" I said, questioningly.
I leaned through the door and the smell of smoke and panicked yells filled the shop.