The first thing I noticed upon stepping off of the ship was that even at night the docks were well lit. It shouldn’t have surprised me, I suppose, given that Aodar’s lifeblood is trade. Surely that blood would be well protected.
The orange glow of the magelights shone down from their brass cages onto the well-orchestrated chaos which is the merchant capital of Merisyl. As I headed towards theTrade SquareI recall wondering idly whether or not the poles were raised each evening, or whether the mages lit them in their cages. Amusing how such an idle thought can receive so little attention at the time it flits from subconscious to conscious thought, and yet prove so critical to the path your life takes.
The sound of my soft leather boots was lost in the muted rumblings of a hundred busy porters. Or perhaps it was the dozens of sailors heading out to the taverns for their first fresh ale in months. Quite possibly the ladies of the night attempting to attract the interest of those same sailors may have contributed as well. Honestly, even the most well–trained ear has trouble distinguishing the idle banter of a Morphic caravan guard from the lustful bragging of a human sailor when both are verbal flotsam on a sea of noise. This, at least, is my excuse for the later events of that evening.
Emerging from the raucous waterfront into the city proper I tried (and failed) to control my impulse to stop and gawk. I’d tipped my hand as a backwater girl with no city skills. Not a good start, but as one of a hundred who’d stepped off the ship from the Archipelago of Blood I certainly wasn’t alone in my reaction. I can’t even identify just one thing that made my mouth drop open like a Dragon anticipating a succulent roasted Halfling. Taken alone, there was nothing to inspire such a reaction. The lofty arches of an Ixen alehouse could be seen in any Ixen city, but juxtaposed with the stark practicality of a Korthjach warehouse it calls out “gaudy” to inner architect in all of us. The pair of copper Dragons bellowing at each other in the center of the trade plaza served as a focal point for all manner of street vendors and entertainers. A medley of Kobolds hawking meat pies nimbly navigated Elvish jugglers who handled both quail eggs and quail with a facile economy of motion. The latter inspired a less momentous passing thought which to this point I have avoided mentally exploring: What orifices can an Elf fit a live quail into such that the quail can be produced by sleight of hand at a moment’s notice?
Shortly after recovering from my pregnant pause (technically it wasn’t this pause that was responsible for the pregnancy, but as I sit here in my cell I have great reason for pregnancy to be at the forefront of my thoughts) I felt a hand rest firmly on my lower back. Quite possibly it might also be defined as my upper butt. In replaying the moment I’ve frequently pondered the exact point at which a lower back becomes an upper butt. Nevertheless, I stray again from the course of my story.
Whipping around, anxious to prove that I was no helpless Human girl ripe for the piliferous attentions of the active Aodaran rogues guild, I came face to face with the most attractive man ever to have endured my hostile gaze. Several aspects of this encounter will be forever carved by embarrassment into my memory. The Morphic I have since come to know as Zevilax saw my face and burst into uncontrollable laughter. The sort of laughter that one expects from witnessing a man fall groin first onto a barbed-wire fence. Not the reaction I would expect from someone with piliferous attentions! And therein lies the cause of his hilarity.
“Piliferous,” he choked out between barely suppressed guffaws, “means ‘producing hair’.”
While I cannot define with precision the exact order of my embarrassments, I have since decided that they occurred as follows: First, how deplorable it was that I, a trained Bard, thought that Aodarn rogues might want to cause me to produce hair rather than pilfer something from me. Second, how deranged I must seem to have had my inner monologue broadcasting to the world at large for this arrogant (yet admittedly alluring in a decidedly non-fraternal way) knave to overhear. Finally, and certainly most humiliating at the time (and to this very moment)… my realization that my inner monologue had not been broadcast. This fellow was privy to my very thoughts. All of them. Including the ones filed under Embarrassment Two.
So much for passing myself off as a big city girl.
Stunned into momentary indecision I allowed him to lead me into a taphouse on the edge of the square. He motioned with familiarity to the Kobold behind the bar and I found myself with a steaming mug of Blairne’s Sweet Brown.
“Relax,” Zevilax grinned. “I’m Zevilax. I can tell you need an introduction to the Free City. If you just let it wash over you it won’t be long before you find yourself out to sea with the refuse.”
Actively attempting to compose myself I sipped at the Sweet Brown and used my Bardic training to focus my mind on observing and recording. I had every intention of thwarting this man’s ability to pick through my thoughts...