Arturus & SeLiem
Chapter Nine, Part One
Arriving at the small inn connected to the back of The Thirsty Trader’s Tavern, Arturus asks for Sylvia at the front desk and is told to head up the stairs to room nine. Knocking on the door, he holds flowers behind his back until she opens the door.
It takes her a second to recognize him, but when she does, she turns red, covers her mouth, and whispers, “By Kubri, I . . . I’m so embarrassed.”
Looking at her now, he finds it difficult to imagine this mousy-looking Half-Elf woman standing before him is the same woman who propositioned him the night before. She is attractive, but looking into her room, he can see she must spend most of her time reading, not using her beauty to draw men to her for wild nights. The entire floor is covered in books. In a world where most educated people own one to three books, this woman has dozens and dozens.
Her hair is pulled up in a bun and she wears a flannel robe which comes up to her chin and down to her toes.
For a brief moment, a fire flashes in her eyes and Arturus remembers seeing the same look the previous night. Yes, this is the same woman.
Arturus is struck with a bit of shyness as he passes her the roses. “Would you care to go out and see a stage show with me? Afterwards, maybe we can get something to eat and then explore the city. I’m new here and I don’t know anything or anyone here . . . well, except for you perhaps . . . and I’d like to get to know you better.”
After a smile and nod, she tells him she has to get dressed. She is about to ask Arturus to wait in the hallway while she does so, but considers the previous night and invites him in. From behind a dressing screen, she holds polite conversation with Arturus, starting with asking what his name is and what he does for a living.
Sylvia emerges from behind the baroque screen wearing a dirndl, the standard apparel for most women in ASU. She has chosen a bright red one, with a plain, white blouse. Although dirndls are worn by good-wives, they do have the benefit of supporting and pushing the breasts out, making Sylvia’s moderately-sized chest look larger. She lets her hair down and says, “Let’s go.”
Arturus places his hand on his hip, so she can slip her arm through and escorts her out of the inn. Once outside, he looks her in the eyes and says, “I’m afraid I haven’t a clue as to where to go; would you mind leading the way?”
Sylvia takes them toward the middle of town. “This is the best place to go. It’s only a copper piece per couple. Students from the ASO’s School for the Dramatic Arts put on a show every other night. Howges has vowed to stop the shows, because they tend to get loud, play late, and occasionally satirize merchants and ASU politics, but I like them.”
When they are on a less busy stretch of road, she whispers in his ear, “You don’t think I’m some kind of hussy for how I acted last night, do you? I’m not usually that forward, but I was pretty inebriated and I found you very attractive and . . . what a mess the next morning! I had to jump into the inn’s bath to get all the mess off me. Luckily, no one saw me. Oh, and the headache I had . . . ouch.” She looks up. “We’re here. It looks like we can get a front row! Hurry!” She grabs his hand and runs through the main aisle toward the stage, giggling like a schoolgirl.
Arturus runs with Sylvia to the front row, reveling in the fact he feels so vibrant and full of energy. After all the time he had spent on the road, he’d forgotten how wonderful it was to be in the company of a woman. When they reach the front of the stage, he pulls her in close and kisses her and then whispers in her ear, “I could never think of you as a hussy. Humans, Half-Elves, and even full-blooded Elves like myself give into temptations every so often; it’s part of what makes us and to deny such feelings would be like fighting against who we are.”
He isn’t sure if what he is feeling is love or just excitement, but it is a feeling he wants to hold onto. The next time he is in the thick of battle with bones breaking and blood splattering, he believes he will remember Sylvia and risking his life will feel worth it. His mood and expression changes, as he realizes he will be leaving Sylvia behind soon, but he forces his smile to return, as they wait for the play to start.
The thoroughly entertaining play is a musical about three hapless fishermen who catch a talking fish. They laugh a lot and seem to share a similar sense of humor. He occasionally watches her as she intently watches the show and marvels at the great joy she so easily exudes. Sylva doesn’t seem to have a care in the world and for someone like Arturus who has had a turbulent life, this is refreshing to see. Half-Elves are often considered the most physically beautiful of people, but to Arturus, her inner radiance makes her more beautiful than any woman he has ever seen. He studies the curves of her body. She has a long, gracefully curved neck, broad – yet feminine – shoulders, and a thin waist made thinner by the tight lace work on her dirndl. Her long, shapely legs are only partially visible from under the red material, but he has no problem recalling how they looked in his room. His mind wanders back to last night’s escapades and he stares at her, reliving what he can remember. Sylvia catches him looking at her out of the corner of her eye, straightens her back, and pushes her chest out as far as she can, then gifts him with a demure, little smile. He takes her hand and they start watching the play again.
It is two hours before midnight when the show ends. Both Arturus and Sylvia are hungry, so she has them drop by a nearby late night food stand for a roasted turkey leg and ale.
With one hand holding the turkey leg they share and the other around her waist, Arturus walks down the cobblestone streets of ‘midtown’ (as she refers to it), while she holds the mug and occasionally gives him a drink of the refreshing, cool ale. He feels like a king.
Arturus glances around at the surrounding masses on the street, as they enjoy their own moments and conversations. The myriad of conversations around him are muted, as he leans in and bites the turkey leg at the same time Sylvia does. They smile at one another, as they lean back and chew. Then a voice among the many, one that was etched into his memory, reaches his ears.
Melias’ wicked sister is somewhere on this same street.
Arturus stops and looks around, but he sees no female Elves anywhere. He listens, but doesn’t hear the voice again.
Then he remembers . . . she could look like anyone. If she spotted him, she could walk up behind him and slit his throat looking like some old, fat merchant. She could kill Sylvia, too.
As casual as he can manage, he directs them into an alley, making sure to keep his back to the alley so he can watch the street. He passionately kisses Sylvia, keeping one eye open the entire time, hoping to catch a glimpse of that evil Elven bitch.
Sylvia kisses Arturus like her life depends on it – which, unbeknown to her, it may have. She slides her hand down to his hips and around to his buttocks, which she pinches playfully. Each time she tries to pull him closer, his view of the street is blocked by her hair or head, so he has to pull back. Eventually tiring of this tug-of-war, Sylvia steps back, looks toward the street, and loudly asks, “What’s going on? Who are you looking at?”
Arturus steps away from her and looks back at the busy street.
She could be anyone.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, “I should have been honest. I’m an adventurer as you well know and I heard the familiar voice of a powerful evil sorceress who is the sister of one of my travel companions. If she recognizes me, we could be in trouble. Do you know a way through the alleys back to the inn I’m staying at? I promise you I’ll give you a full explanation once we get to safety. I don’t see her, but she has the ability to change into anyone.”
Sylvia smirks, leans on one hip and says, “Are you pranking me?”
When she gets a good look at his face, her mood changes. “I get it! You saw your girlfriend, didn’t you? Or a wife! Oh dear Kubri, you’re married! Where is she! I’ll tell her just what we did last night!” She grabs his arm and pulls Arturus out into the street with her.
Arturus doesn’t fight as she drags him. He shakes his head and in a calm tone says, “Go ahead. Her name is Evenliir. Call her out.” Drawing his sword, he says, “I’d love a chance to behead the bitch.”
Sylvia’s eyes bulge and her jaw drops open. She forcefully grabs him by the hand and, as silently as she can manage, leads him through the back-ways toward the Hot Spring Inn.
As they run, Arturus keeps his sword out and makes sure he has a strong grip on Sylvia’s wrist. When they enter the inn, Arturus sheathes his blade and asks the innkeeper if he has seen Melias. “Blond hair and blue eyes.” he adds.
“Oh, the Elf,” the innkeeper answers. “No, I haven’t seen him.”
A check of his room comes up empty, too.
“I’m terribly sorry about this,” Arturus tells Sylvia, “but if I don’t find him and warn him she’s here, it’s very possible someone might die. I hope you understand.”
At that moment, Arturus knows he and Sylvia can not have a relationship – not while he is still adventuring. The threat of danger and death will always be present. Granted, she might think having a man who was a champion was a wonderful thing, but when he was bested and left dead on the side of a mountain her heart would be broken and the wonder and splendor of it all would come crashing down and leave her in misery.
He knocks on the doors of his other travel companions.
Rastorn answers his door and tells Arturus that Percy, Melias, and Orjulun still hadn’t returned from dinner and may still be enjoying some wine in the dining hall.
Arturus notices Rastorn is sweaty and agitated. Then he notices he has a woman with him. Laying on the floor of the room is a woman, naked and covered in a sheet. She pulls the sheet off and sits up to see who is at the door. For a moment, Arturus thinks it is Lil, but then he sees a few subtle differences, like the roundness of the top of her ears, and realizes she just resembled Lil. Rastorn shuts the door, but Arturus can hear him through the door say, “Lay back down! I told you to stay still.”
Arturus shivers at the thought of why Rastorn would say something like that. Between the aggravation of having a date ruined, not being able to find Melias, and that evil bitch showing up again, Arturus can feel anger boiling up inside. In a fit of un-Elf-like rage, he slams his fist into the wall on the opposite side of Rastorn’s door, denting the wood.
Ignoring Sylvia, he heads back downstairs toward the dining hall.
“Hey, what about me?” Sylvia shouts as she runs after him. “Could you at least let me into your room?”
Arturus stops and looks into her teary eyes, then gently places the key into her hand. “I’ll be with you as soon as possible. I promise.”
Arturus runs to the dining hall. Melias, Percy, and Orjulun are just leaving after their meeting.
Arturus takes a deep, calming breath and waves them to a table that had not yet been cleared. Snatching up a half empty mug of ale, he gulps it down then has a seat. “Have the three of you ever left each other’s sight for a moment tonight? Is one of you being exceptionally quiet?” he asks.
Orjulun looks at Melias and Percy with a quizzical look, then back at Arturus. “No, we’ve been together since dinner . . . and Melias and I have been together all day. I haven’t seen much of SeLiem or Rastorn. Why do you ask?”
“I unmistakably heard the voice of someone’s evil sister,” Arturus says, looking at Melias. “I was out and about when I heard her voice. I couldn’t see her, but of course she could have been anyone. I ducked into any alley and made my way back here.” Arturus empties the mug and glances around, then he leans across the table and whispers, “I think Rastorn has got some serious issues. I knocked on his door looking for you guys, I noticed he was sweaty and seemed overly irritated, then I noticed he had a woman laying on the floor. She was naked and covered in a sheet at first. For a moment, I thought it was Lil, but then I saw a few subtle differences and realized she was Human. Rastorn shut the door, but I could hear him through the door saying, “Lay back down! I told you to stay still.” he had a sheet thrown over some woman and was telling her not to move. I think he takes this whole corpse thing a bit too far. We should’ve just pushed him out of the chariot.”
“Well, Rastorn has been acting a little stranger than usual lately,” Orjulun says with a shaky laugh. His smile drops, then he says, “Wait a minute. Rastorn has been acting in a non-Rastorn way – extremely nice to everyone, trying to help out. I thought perhaps he was trying to change the way people perceived him, but now when you say Melias’ sister is in town . . . “ He sits down. “She appeared as one of us once before. What is stopping her from doing it again?”
“I had that thought. But, the whole woman under the sheet thing sort of killed that idea. Plus, when I heard her voice I was out in the streets. I don’t think she would’ve been able to get to Rastorn’s room so quickly. But either way, Rastorn is definitely a sick and twisted dog and we have an evil Elf among us,” Arturus says.
Percy stokes his chin, then asks, “Pardon me for asking what might be a stupid question, but what is wrong with Rastorn having a woman in his room? I mean, I find much of what Rastorn does to be odd and sometimes disturbing, but this sounds like he is painting or maybe even experimenting with his magic in some way. Yes, he was rude to order her about, but . . . ” Then he points at Arturus and says, “The real concern is Evenliir making her way to ASU. Did she see you? Is there any chance she followed you? She can turn invisible, you know?”
“I don’t believe she saw me or followed me, but who in the Nine Hells knows. We should all be on alert. Now, I need to go and explain quite a few things to Sylvia . . . if she’s still around,” Arturus says.
He leaves the dining hall, with the other three all looking at one another. Then Percy asks, “Who’s Sylvia?”
Arturus runs up the stairs to his room and knocks before he enters.
From within the room, Sylvia answers the knock saying, “Arturus, is that you?”
The door is unlocked, so he slowly opens it. The lamp is lit, adjusted to a low glow, and moved to the far side of the room, giving the room a candle-lit appearance. Since it is neither light nor dark, Arturus’ eyes cannot adjust to his night vision.
He sees Sylvia lounging on his bed, with the covers clutched below her neck. He sees enough of her shoulder to know she is naked. She has a slightly frightened, yet needy look on her face as she raises her arms toward him, inviting him into bed with her.
Arturus walks into the room and closes then locks the door. He takes off his sword belt and lays it next to the bed, making sure his weapon is unsheathed should he need it quickly. Before he undresses, he smiles and says, in a playful manner, “So, what needs to come off first?” He has an ulterior motive for doing so. He wants to make sure it is Sylvia’s voice and not Evenliir’s he hears.
Sylvia is not in a playful mood. She reaches up and pulls Arturus toward her while she unfastens his britches.
Arturus doesn’t put up a fight and is more than willing.
This time is different.
This time, they take it slow and easy. Raw, animal passion is replaced by gentle caring. They may have had sex the night before, but this night they make love.
Since Arturus believes he is more likely to end up dead than ever return to ASU once he leaves, he speculates that he’ll never know if a smaller version of him ends up running around, as slim as the chances are.
After hours of love-making, Arturus collapses into a deep sleep.
Through blurry eyes, hours later, he vaguely makes out Sylvia quietly closing his door behind her, before he falls back to sleep.
The next morning, he discovers a letter by his bed. It is written in Elven.
Thank you. I needed that. Tell my dear brother I will get him when he least expects it.
ps: By claiming to be your wife, I may have upset your little half-human friend. I hope I didn’t cause you too much trouble.
Arturus rolls his eyes and sighs.
“Well, so much for Sylvia.”
As he gets dressed, he decides that, whether he likes it or not, he has to show Melias the letter. He also decides that, unless she comes looking for him, he’ll leave Sylvia alone. She’s not likely to believe him and it’s a headache he’d rather avoid, if possible.
Standing at the door, he reads the letter again and smirks as he remembers how good Evenliir was in bed, then he leaves to find Melias.
After breakfast, Arturus meets with the innkeeper to get directions to the closest sword training and practice facility. He spends the day in training and visiting other places of interest to him in ASU, discovering the people to be helpful and friendly, but always looking to make some extra coin. By the end of the day, when he is heading up the stairs to Orjulun’s room for a scheduled party meeting, he feels shame for his prior opinions about merchants.
Seliem Slips Away
SeLiem says his prayers to Kubri the Loyal, god of Duty and Order, and slips off into the night, looking for an opportunity to prove himself. Walking toward the center of the sprawling city, he realizes it is unlikely anything bad would be happening there, so he heads for the outskirts. While the center of town had a lot of party-goers celebrating another good day of trade, the edge of town is somber. The music is blue and the people less lively. He spots a tavern filled with rough-and-tumble miscreants ready to fight or kill at the drop of a hat. Rolling up the sleeves of his tan-colored robe, he strides inside.
Glancing around, he tries to make eye contact with any of the men within the tavern and notices there are only men inside, not a single woman. Not only can he not get anyone to look at him, he notices nobody within the tavern makes eye contact with anyone else. They all glance out of the corners of their eyes, as if their eyes connecting is too personal an act. Grumbling seems to be the preferred mode of speech and bumping into someone without excusing yourself is considered proper behavior.
These men are all ripe with sin!
This is no way to act in a civilized society. This chaotic, every man for himself and every man to himself way will not do. If Kubri could see this, he would come down and order each of these men to look each other in the eye to show respect, to speak up so others can be sure they know what you are saying, and to act courteously so everyone can enjoy their drinks in a safe and organized fashion.
SeLiem can’t wait for one of them to start a fight with him.
He sits at an empty table and waits for something to spark. He hears two men arguing and listens in. It sounds as if the argument is escalating.
One man is slender with soot black hair combed back. SeLiem assumes he’d be a scrapy fist fighter. Then he notices the man has two rapiers on his belt, so he likely fights with both at the same time, which would mean he is a skilled swordsman.
The other man has large, bulky muscles and is almost twice the size of the first man. He’s bald with a short brown beard and carries a huge battle-axe on his back. In a fist fight, SeLiem assumes he would easily defeat the other man.
The louder they get, the more angry the larger man gets, until he draws his great axe and says, “You don’t got coin, then you pay with your life!” He slams down the great axe with all his might and splits the table in half.
Another man, the size of SeLiem, steps next to the big man and says, “Don’t worry, with two of us and one of him, he ain’t going nowhere.”
The bartender steps from behind the bar and says, “You are going to pay for that table and leave!”
The big man points the axe at him and the bartender takes a step back.
Pushing his way through the quickly forming crowd, SeLiem steps next to the smaller man, who has already drawn his rapiers. SeLiem lifts his magical hammer and says, “I do not know what is going on, but two versus one isn’t fair! Let’s see how you fare in an even fight.”
The big man looks at SeLiem, then the man with the rapiers and says, “So, Tain, you don’t got no money to pay me back, but you got enough to pay a bodyguard? You’re going to regret that!”
Tain says, “Vake, we can talk about this.”
Vake swings the battle-axe and Tain deftly dodges.
SeLiem steps to the side, to square off with Vake’s partner. He decides to take a step to the right to separate them even further, but his leg does not move as he desires. It does not move at all. Trying with all his might, SeLiem cannot move in the slightest. The other three men are also stuck in the pose they were in when combatants were paired up.
A Bar Room Mage who works crowd control at the tavern has successfully cast Hold Person on all four of them.
Something wet splashes SeLiem in the face, including into his open eyes, but he cannot wipe it off or react in any way. Other patrons are tossing their drinks on the four of them. An empty bottle bounces off Vake’s back, just before the crowd is waved off by a group of burly men who pick him up and carry him away. SeLiem feels himself being lifted, and tipped on his side, so he can be more easily carried while stiff like a statue.
They are loaded onto the back of a wagon – roughly – and taken to separate jail cells, where their weapons are removed and they soon after regain control of their bodies. Vake and Tain immediately begin arguing. SeLiem and the fourth man cover their ears and curl up on the bench in their cell to sleep.
The next morning, SeLiem is visited in his cell by a representative from the church.
“We have arranged for your release tomorrow at the same time you were brought in,” the Cleric tells him, “but you will need to promise not to jump into any more fights while you are within ASU.”
SeLiem looks down and nods.
“We have been reviewing your report. You haven’t really done much of note, have you?” He silently stares at SeLiem for what seems like a very long time, then says, “Nonetheless, the higher ranking Loyalists tell me you are going to do ‘great things’ some day, so . . . they have arranged for you to get out of here and have several gifts for you. These are the sort of gifts usually presented to great heroes of our cause . . . but, for some reason, you are being given them as well. Be at the church at noon tomorrow.”
SeLiem goes to his church (which looks more like a military compound) at sun up the next day. He spends the first two hours learning what he will be doing at noon and the rest of the day praying and talking with other Priests and Priestesses and absorbing the culture. This is the most worshippers of his faith he has ever seen in one place and he is enjoying it. There were eighteen worshippers of Kubri in all of Dumas and most of them were constantly traveling with caravans.
The prayer sessions and meal times and everything else is very rigidly structured and timed, making him feel all the more comfortable. He’s still sour about having that fight broken up. They deserved to be punished by his hammer and he saw nothing unlawful about that, but he still prays for forgiveness for having been arrested.
One minute before noon, the sound of a towing bell alerts everyone it is time to do whatever mid-day duties they have been assigned and for SeLiem to attend a small ceremony in his honor.
He walks to the smallest chapel of the three within the compound and follows the steps he was taught for the ceremony. Everything is very ritualized and it is exactly twenty minutes before he is even standing before the highest ranking Loyalist in the chapel. After repeating several mantras, he stands quietly awaiting the presentation of the gifts.
The head Cleric gives a long speech concerning each gift as he hands them to SeLiem. He explains such gifts are given to traveling Loyalists when their duty is truly vital to the church and some of the items had been on many Quests and returned unused. The head Cleric cautions SeLiem not to make the same mistake. He tells him even the most powerful magical item is useless if it is never used and many a warrior for the church has died with unused magical items still in their backpacks. SeLiem is told he will know when or if he should return the gifts.
He never asks what he is doing that has been deemed ‘vital’ to the church.
The ceremony is attended by fourteen clergy and church workers, but it takes two full hours.
A Candle of Invocation, which protects those nearby who are friendly to the Priest who lit it
Incense of Meditation, which maximizes the effects of spells cast by the Priest who burns it
A Scroll of Protection Versus Undead
A flask of Oil of Impact, which increases damage done by a blunt weapon coated by it
A shiny new set of Plate Mail Armor, with Kubri’s symbol prominent on the chest plate and helm
SeLiem thanks all the Clerics at the ceremony and gives them his best wishes, then rushes back to the inn to see what he has missed.
Continued next week . . .
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