Happy Valentine's Day! Is there a better excuse to post embarrassingly unserious brain vomit? Don't think so. Screenshot credit: Nimitz
If the Screaming Mermaid was Port Hunding’s beating heart, the moonshine that flowed inside its chambers was the life blood of the people inhabiting them.
From the outside the tavern was a beauty to behold. Its well-maintained facade gleaming in the warm light of the setting sun evoked the kind of serene feeling one might experience when picnicking in the sands of a marvelous beach. But leave it to a gang of unruly Fighters Guild members to defile its interior so much that it could be mistaken for a pocket of Sanguine’s Myriad Realms of Revelry.
“Why are you even still here?”
Arodel eyed her companion suspiciously over the rim of her rum-filled tankard. The two of them had taken up position in a dimly lit corner of the Mermaid and payed more heed to their drinks than to each other, occasionally flicking an unlucky insect or two off the greasy table top. Neither of them was inclined to talk much, especially not with the rest of the stinking rout caterwauling all around them.
Walks-Among-Elves, a heavy infantrist originating from Black Marsh, casually pointed at an especially rambunctious table at the far end of the curved taproom. A remarkable number of lovely young ladies was gathered around an even lovelier Breton lad who clearly didn’t mind the copious amounts of attention he was given.
“Isn’t this the time of the day you usually drag a hapless fellow to the back rooms of whatever shithole you choose to spend your evening in? That one over there looks like your kind of prey.”
Arodel ostentiously scoffed at his snide remark.
“Your words wound me, my revered friend. Do you not know me at all?” she sighed with a pointed roll of her pale eyes.
The reptilian man smirked in response. He certainly knew her well enough. Something would happen this evening, it was merely a question of time.
For a moment both returned their attention to the swill in their mugs, but it didn’t take long for curious Arodel’s gaze to wander off to the raucous would-be harem once again. Jakarn was an average human by all means, yet nobody could deny that there was something captivating about him.
Not that I would ever fall under his spell, Arodel thought and huffed unwittingly. The minute Breton was no match for the towering Altmer woman after all.
Arodel sighed as she leaned back to stretch her arms.
“They are so…”
She helplessly looked at her Argonian friend, struggling for words.
Both chuckled and nodded in agreement, closely followed by the hollow donk of their tankards clanging together.
Walks was about to take another sip of rum, but something in the corner of his eye made him pause mid-movement. He furrowed a brow as he noticed Arodel absently drawing circles into the dust blanketing their table. She seemed to be fixating something in the distance. Half expecting to find Jakarn at the end of her languorous gaze the Argonian sharply drew in air in surprise when he discovered Bashrag gro-Yarug instead.
Lovingly called “Bash” for his tendency to crush opponents with a ferocious strike of his ashen shield, the hulking Wood Orc frequently accompanied Walks-Among-Elves on guild assignments. In that particular moment though he was busy rubbing the face of his poor comrade into a puddle of unidentifiable liquid that had accumulated on their table. The crowd was cheering in between the shrill laughter and lewd remarks.
On the other end of the room, a woman sighed. No matter how hard she tried, it proved impossible for the tipsy elf to tear her eyes away from the hunky Orc fellow. She didn’t know Bashrag very well, but their fleeting encounters in the past had left a lasting impression on the inquisitive mage.
Arodel was a fool for having judged that particular book by its cover, for Bashrag was more than a pile of muscles ready to pounce. He intrigued her with his unexpected foresight, prudence and wit, valuing a good discussion just as much as a proper combative challenge. No amount of self-restraint would have been enough to stop her heart from skipping a beat whenever Bashrag entered her field of view.
Mother and father would tear me limb from limb if they knew, and enjoy it as well, she thought.
Menelion would probably just die laughing.
Not that Arodel cared about the judgement of her opinionated kin; she was well used to being the oddball of the family. Arbitrary rules had always struck her as exceptionally dull. Still, none of her idiosyncrasies would have rattled her elders’ cage more than falling for a Wood Orc of all creatures.
Was that why she was so attracted to him? To ruffle some feathers? Perhaps, but there was more to it than the thrill of childish rebellion. Whenever Arodel considered Bashrag the world seemed to pause for just a heartbeat, as if to allow her to take in every detail of his magnificent existence. Another wistful sigh escaped her lips.
“Let me get this straight.”
The sound of a familiar voice nearby forcefully tore her from her light-headed contemplations.
“He doesn’t interest you…”
Walks-Among-Elves nodded his chin in Jakarn’s direction.
“… but this one does?”
It was that moment when Arodel realized how unsubtly she must have been staring at Bashrag and she felt blood rushing to her face immediately. In a knee-jerk reaction she buried it in her hands, swallowing her half-hearted protest in the process.
Walks pensively scratched his chin with one of his impressively long claws. “What a lucky coincidence…” he muttered under his breath, but the elf didn’t listen anyway.
“You know, come to think of it – didn’t you finally accept my year-long pleas to join the Fighters Guild only after meeting Bashrag for the first time back in Eastmarch when we were cleaning out that nasty cave of vampires?”
Astute observation, she thought to herself. On the outside though the Altmer mage responded with a resolute shake of her flushed head.
“You’re seeing things.“ she stated matter-of-factly.
“Indeed I do. Like how your knees start shaking every time he flexes one of those remarkable biceps.”
“Can you shut up now?”
Much to her dismay, shutting up was not on Walks’ agenda this evening. In a matter of seconds Arodel’s red-hot face turned pasty white as she helplessly watched him turn around, one hand cupped around his mouth, to call to Bashrag’s table.
“Hey, Bash!” he yelled.
Arodel felt like someone coated her guts with iron.
“Why don’t you guys come over here, huh? The more, the merrier! We even have some of the good stuff left!”
The truth was that their liquor was neither expensive nor plentiful, but no-one would care at this late hour anyway. Fortunately for her the noisy shuffling of chairs being moved drowned out Arodel’s embarrassed whimpering. So much for keeping a low profile and wistfully sighing from a distance.
Are they really coming over? What should I do? What should I say? Is my hair okay? What if…?
Frantically she ran her fingers through the milk-coloured thicket growing on her scalp, creating an even greater mess than there was before. No matter though, her immediate urge to do something about her rather unkempt appearance was satisfied at least. Together with the confident posture she assumed, legs crossed and head resting casually upon one hand, she would made it look like a deliberate choice. Or so she thought.
One by one the fellows heaved to their feet, dragging themselves in the direction of the wildly gesturing Argonian, some more tottering than others. Bashrag, to no one’s surprise, was walking at the forefront of the boisterous gang. Arodel’s heart first plunged into her stomach, then almost disintegrated from beating so madly when he unexpectedly locked eyes with her.
„Walks, you shouldn’t have -!“ she snarled through clenched teeth, but Walks quickly covered her mouth with a scaly hand of his.
„Ssh. Relax, just for once, would you?“
Relax? Arodel was about to burst into a fit of rage over Walk’s seemingly reckless behaviour, but mustered enough restraint to put a bridle on her tongue. No use in making even more of an ass out of herself than she already did by letting her guard down like that. Agitated she followed the group crossing the room with her eyes before greeting Bashrag with a faint smile as he groaningly settled into the chair to her right.
How strange, she thought. Never before have I felt a shyness like this, or an urge to impress anyone. Quite the contrary, actually. What is different this time?
By the time everyone had taken a seat the young mage had composed herself enough to engage in casual conversations again. As evening dragged on the inebriated warriors sought to surpass each other with stories about glorious deeds and unthinkably fearsome monsters. Even though they barely talked to each other Arodel couldn’t help but notice Bashrag’s hand brushing against hers in a seemingly casual, unintentional manner every once in a while. Neither could Walks, and the knowing smirk returned to his inky reptilian face. Arodel, fed up with his smug demeanor, waved him nearer.
“Enough, spit it out now. What do you know what I don’t know, huh?” she hissed.
The Argonian snickered complacently.
“Many things, my dear Arodel, many things. But you will find out soon enough, trust me.”
And just as he finished that sentence Arodel was suddenly pulled up from her seat on one arm. What came next caught her completely off guard.
“Care to talk a walk with me?”