SotF: The Blood Court

  • II

    The wench of the Thirsty Trout Tavern greeted them with a bow, wiped a table, pulled a seat for the Vigilants and for Falrielle; an extra wink that made her blush.

     

                Carcette drummed her fingers, biting her lips in deep thought. ‘The usual, if you please,’ she said finally. ‘And Aega, will she be playing tonight?’

     

                ‘They say that the Gods do not believe in coincidences, milady: Yes she will.’ The wench bowed and smiled.

     

                Falrielle held her tongue until the wench was out of earshot before she turned to Carcette. ‘You come here a lot? These people seem to know you.’

     

                ‘That they do,’ said Carcette. ‘Years ago there was a slavery ring in Riften - that serving girl was to be sold and the tavernkeep is her father.’

     

                Falrielle smiled. ‘So free meals then?’

     

                ‘No.’ Carcette shook her head. ‘I do pay them.’

     

                The tavern was warmer than she was used to. Falrielle took off her gloves and rolled up her sleeves.

     

                ‘So Fally,’ said Carcette. ‘How are you finding Riften?’

     

                ‘Not as much of a shithole I thought it was but you already knew that.’ Falrielle slurped her soup – she tasted onions and slurped some more. ‘Why do you ask? I mean even the worst of days has its moments and for Riften… I’ve heard the stories about you and this place. Why do you care what I think of this city?’

     

                Carcette gently placed her spoon next to the emptied bowl and wiped her mouth. ‘I just wanted to know. Most of the Vigil have many things to say about Riften and little good and I am inclined to agree with them.’

     

                ‘Then why are you keen on taking me here?’

     

                Carcette sighed. ‘Make no mistake: the Vigil is my family and I could not of have asked of a better home but…’

     

                ‘During my sellsword days, there is a popular saying: Anything before “but” is horseshit.’

     

                ‘Riften is where I came from. The scars still ache but that does not change anything. It is like you and Dawnstar if I am not too bold.’

     

                Falrielle tensed for a moment but conceded to Carcette’s analogy. That and she could smell something delicious on the horizon.

     

                ‘Two kidney pies as usual,’ said the wench. ‘One for milady and one for her handsome companion.’

     

                ‘Wait. Did you just call me-‘

     

                ‘Oh, Aega,’ said Carcette. ‘Two tankards of brown ale, please.’

     

                Falrielle blinked her eyes rapidly. ‘Wait, ale? I thought you don’t drink ale. I thought you don’t drink anything at all,’ said Falrielle.

     

                ‘Okay we have a problem here.’ Carcette leaned in frowning. ‘One, I do drink. I mean what do you think of me? A prude?’

     

                Falrielle snickered. ‘That was one.’

     

                ‘Two,’ said Carcette, smiling. ‘Today is an especially special day. Care to guess?’

     

                A special day? Falrielle scratched her chin wondering what Carcette meant by that. The bandit job wasn’t too difficult or notable although Carcette was the one breaking the law this time but Falrielle could hardly fathom that alone is worthy of celebration. She took a bite of her meal as the wench returned with their drinks.

     

                ‘Happy Birthday, Fal,’ said Carcette.

     

                ‘I’m not sure how you knew that because I didn’t know that but cheers!’

     

                ‘Fal…’ Carcette sipped her drink. ‘I would like to talk about what you said on our walk here: you spoke about something of a priest and of Mistveil Keep? That the man warned of shadows and brewing conspiracies in the halls of the Jarl.’

     

                Falrielle swallowed a spoonful of pie, tasting the peas and the onions. ‘Aye, what of it?’

     

                ‘Do you believe?’’

     

                ‘That “Daedra and Elves! Daedric and Elven corruption stew within the halls of Mistveil Keep plotting and scheming the fall of Man!”’ said Falrielle as waved her arms wildly in the air. ‘No not really but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. I’ve hobnobbed with money before and I’ve seen things I wish I didn’t.’ Do you believe him?’

     

                ‘For true, I do not believe nor do I disbelieve him. I am familiar with stories of the bored, of the ambitious, and of the desperate try to summon the attention of the Princes and other Dark entities and these stories always end the same: the lucky ones either become rich, powerful, or dead.’

     

                ‘And the unlucky ones?’ Falrielle licked the gravy off her knife and noticed that Carcette failed to answer. ‘Carcy?’ The elf looked at her companion and saw that her attention was to the troubadour at the stage. It was a woman, hair of gold dressed in modest clothes for a troubadour and unlike the other performers, the patrons of the Thirsty Trout Tavern were silent.

     

                The troubadour with her lute sang songs of lost and doomed lovers – usual fare for which Falrielle had heard a thousand times too many in a lifetime. The elf kept her head low in disgust and returned to her meal muttering that she’d rather hear a jaunty drinking tune to go with her drink. Falrielle reached out and took Carcette’s plate with the latter’s approval. Half-eaten, Falrielle’s mind was at a daze as to why Carcette wouldn’t or couldn’t finish her pie then she saw a glint in her eyes. The troubadour ended her performance with a bow and a fanfare of applause.

     

                ‘Apologies.’ Carcette wiped her eyes. ‘What were we talking about?’

     

                ‘The unlucky bored nobles.’

     

                Carcette leaves a handful of Septims on the table. ‘They succeed. Shall we?’

     

                As they left Falrielle felt a fire growing in her, an inferno of rage. One that only experienced and confident hands could achieve: a hard pinch on her bum. Trained reflexes moved her body automatically – in one fluid motion her fist flew in the air like a quarrel loose from a crossbow until it stopped. The bald man smiled, his grip tight as a vice.

     

                ‘Ello’, Snow,’ said the bald man, smiling.

     

                Falrielle swung her free hand. Then silence. The musicians stopped playing and conversations ended. A chair crashed and the man, bloodied laid on the floor. A shout for a guard rang and Carcette rushed to Falrielle, held her by the shoulder and pulled her back.

     

                ‘Vigilant Falrielle!’ said Carcette. ‘Restrain yourself!’

     

                Falrielle turned to Carcette and grinned.

     

                ‘Y’still throw a ‘ard punch, Snow,’ said the bald man, leaning on the table. ‘But pulling one for me? It warms the heart.’

     

                ‘That’d warrant a spit but since I like this place, I will not violate the right of hospitality by defiling their floors.’

     

                Falrielle extended a hand and pulled the man to his feet, laughing. ‘Cyric, you ugly son-of-a-bitch! It’s alright everyone, fight is over. Hey lads, not sure how I’d miss all of you.’

     

                The elf pulled Carcette closer to the table where five sellswords were seated. ‘Come, say hello to the motley crew of Shippers & Movers.’

     

                ‘The dwarf is Goat. He handles our money and finds the jobs.’

     

                Goat jumped off his chair, waddled over and kissed Carcette’s hand. ‘My deepest respects and veneration, my fair lady.’

     

                ‘Sit down and back to your drinking. The wrapped cat over there is Vasirr,’ Falrielle said pointing. ‘Worry not, he was a leper but he’s safe to touch.’

     

                ‘This one… bids you most welcome,’ said Vasirr, his coarse voice spoken no louder than a whisper.

     

                ‘Never play cards with Nireoni, the bitch cheats.’

     

                The Dark Elf leaned back on her chair, brushed her shoulder-length hair aside, made a cursing gesture popular among her people and smiled.

     

                Falrielle leaned close to Carcette. ‘But always play cards with Arkaan. He can’t talk no more, a bolt hit him in the throat on a mission.’ Arkaan raised his head and pointed at the scar on his neck. Falrielle patted Carcette and whispered, ‘Also don’t give him any sugar.’

     

                ‘Did you mean sugar as in the sweet or did you mean-‘

     

                ‘And everyone: this is Carcette, Sister-Vigilant of the Vigil of Stendarr.’

     

                Carcette stood up straight; her back tensed and flattened a palm on her chest. ‘Hail citizen,’ she began. ‘May Stendarr light-‘

     

                ‘Come on, Carcy. There’s no need for that – we’re amongst friends here.’

     

                ‘Oh, um-hello. Then.’

                 

                The collection of sellswords either bowed their heads, said their greetings or remained silent.

     

                ‘Don’ just be standin’ around. Pull ‘ver and ‘ave a seat,’ said Cyric. ‘What are you doin’ here, Snow?’

     

                ‘Celebrating my birthday. Apparently,’ said Falrielle, shrugging.

     

                ‘Birthday eh?’ said Cyric.

     

                ‘And celebrate we shall,’ said Goat, pouring a drink for Falrielle.

     

                ‘This is… it’s green.’ Falrielle held the cup close to her nose and sniffed – her mind boggled at the scent of liquorice and pungency; she had tasted many exotic spirits from the milk-based Jagga of Valenwood to ship-cleaning Grog but never green. The cup pressed against her lips, her nose burning from the fumes before she stopped herself to look at Carcette.

     

                ‘It is your birthday,’ said Carcette with a wave. ‘Just control the flow.’

     

                ‘This truly is something else,’ Falrielle rasped, her ears ringing. ‘It’s as strong as the plague… did I just taste purple? What did I just drink?’

     

                ‘Artemia, grown and distilled in the Summerset Isles.’ Goat chuckled. ‘Only a true Altmer liquor gives you that finish.’

     

                ‘Maybe that’s why they all have sticks up their arses.’ Falrielle shook her head and gagged. ‘Quick, I need a real drink. Arkaan, pour me some ale.’

     

                Falrielle raised her tankard in the air, shouted ‘Vor!’ and cleaned her drink in a long draught. ‘A real Nord’s drink!’ she said before belching. ‘So what are you lads doing here?’ Falrielle wiped the residue from her lip. ‘Because I don’t think they have a whorehouse upstairs,’ she continued seriously.

     

                ‘We’d just got a good pay for the last job, you see,’ said Cyric. ‘And we’d thought we’d be celebrating with a good ol’ tavern crawl. The Trout was just the closest and the food ain’t half bad.’

     

                ‘So you lads started the crawl yet?’ said Falrielle.

     

                Cyric shook his head.

     

                Falrielle clapped her hands together. ‘How about this; it’s been awhile since I’ve seen you scum so how about we start the crawl with a game of “I Never”.’ She paused and turned to Carcette. ‘It is fine if I join the crawl, right?’

     

                Carcette nodded. ‘But what is “I Never”?’

     

                ‘Ah. It’s a drinking game,’ said Falrielle. ‘How it works is that we’ll go around the table saying things we haven’t done. If you had never done it, then you don’t drink. If you have, you drink. Great game to learn things about people and uh, lads, you fine if I take the first turn? For example, if I say “I’ve never eaten road apples”.’

     

                Cyric and Vasirr swigged their drink.

     

                ‘That means I have never eaten road apples but those two have. But if I say “I’ve never fu- made love to a priest of Arkay”. And if none of them-‘

     

                Arkaan drank. Falrielle raised an eyebrow at the Redguard.

     

                ‘You have been away for quite some time, Snow,’ said Goat, grinning.

     

                ‘Shut it. I’ve never smoked Skooma and Bleeder at the same time.’

     

                Vasirr, Goat, Cyric and Nireoni drank.

     

                ‘Arkaan couldn’t join us. The throat, you see,’ said Nireoni.

     

                ‘Come the fuck on! I’ve never after a bender woke up wearing everything but my bottoms!’

     

                Everyone else on the table except Carcette took a deep drink.

     

                ‘That’s four free shots, Snow. We can do this all day but you’ll be buying the next keg,’ said Cyric, downing his cup.

     

                Falrielle pouted and bit her lip. ‘I’ve got one! I know you fuckers don’t read. “Never have I ever wanked off to a book.” There! So now that none of them have done it, I have to-’

     

                Carcette took a sip, keeping her tankard close to her face. Falrielle watched slack-jawed as the others brewed up a storm of laughter.

     

                ‘Sister-Vigilant Carcette….’

     

                Carcette shrugged. ‘The Vigil does have a copy of Dibella’s Treatises.’

     

                ‘She gets the game, Snow.’ Cyric waved his hand. ‘Let us ‘ave a turn, the night may be young but we have a crawl to finish!’

     

    III

    ‘Shee the little goblin,’

    ‘Shee hish little feet,’

    ‘And shee hish little noshy-woshe,’

    ‘Ishn’t the goblin shweet.’

    ‘Yes!’

    ‘Shee the little goblin,’

    ‘Shee-‘

     

                Before everyone learned what else the little goblin had; Carcette stood up, and politely excused herself from the table. The motley crew remained quiet, tending to their own drinks as the Vigilant walked away. Goat finally spoke.

     

                ‘How the fuck is she still walking?’ said Goat, munching on a piece of bread. ‘I swear by the Nine she was right there with us drinking the whole night.’

     

                ‘Bretons are weird.’ Nireoni stopped to hold her dinner in before continuing, ‘You should know that, eh Arkaan. Arkaan? He’s out cold.’

     

                ‘Arise, Arkaaaaaaan,’ said Vasirr. ‘It is time for the drinking.’

     

                ‘Snow,’ said Cyric, emptying the last drop of his cup. ‘You’ve been awfully quiet. What ‘re you thinkin’ of now?’

     

                ‘You know what lads; I have shomething to tell you,’ said Falrielle, tipping over her chair. ‘I mish you guys. You’re all fucking jackashes… except you Arkaan but I love you lads... even you Arkaan.’

     

                ‘Vassir will drink to that.’

     

    ‘Snow,’ said Nireoni. ‘Your friend. Now that she’s not here…’

     

                ‘A rack sho beautiful I shometimes cry myshelf to sheep,’ said Falrielle.

     

                ‘Hear…. Hear,’ said Goat in toast.

     

                ‘Shame you joined the Vigil,’ said Nireoni. ‘Giving up the good stuff, you know?’

     

                ‘Hey, I can hab the shex… just ma-marriage first. I can- I can marry in the Vigil… Ish no problem…’

     

                ‘Anything before,’ Nireoni spoke before again stopping herself from showing her dinner. ‘Before “but” is horseshit.’

     

                ‘But she took the vow of sheli-shemi.’ Falrielle paused and uttered a curse. ‘Shemimi-‘

                ‘Celibacy!’ roared Vasirr, Falrielle raised her cup at the Khajiit.

     

                ‘That. Sho no shex. No nothing.’ Falrielle turned her cup and frowned; it was empty.

     

                ‘W-w-when was the last time you even had it, Snow?’

     

                ‘Not when I joined the Vigil.’

     

                ‘Plenty of fish in the sea,’ said Cyric.

     

                ‘No,’ said Nirenoi. ‘This one is different isn’t she, Snow?

     

                Falrielle deigned not to answer but to finish her drink. ‘Niri… Niriiiii pash the keg. What ish done too? Pox on it. Goat, the ale is gone.’ She waved her hand in the air, her head hot and heavy. ‘You know what – ish getting late gen-gentle… Mentlegen, it hash been my honour to dwink with you again. Shall we call it?’

     

                ‘One last cup for old times’ sake,’ said Goat. ‘Innkeeper!’

     

                The innkeeper; an Argonian, walked over and shook his head. ‘I think you had enough to drink,’ said the innkeeper. ‘Also you burned your tab.’

     

                ‘Ssh. Here take this,’ said Goat. The innkeeper jingled the pouch in his hand. ‘A thousand Septims, for the drinks now and later and if we break anything. If not keep the rest as a bonus.’ Goat slammed an arm on the table, he was in danger of tipping over. ‘Give us something from your home, something for us to remember,’ he continued, drumming his fingers. ‘How about Bloodwine?’

     

                The table remained silent patiently waiting for their beverage. In flashes of clarity in a maelstrom of liquor, ale, and spirits, Falrielle did wonder what Bloodwine is. She turned to her side and noticed that Carcette had yet to return. She planted her feet to the ground to stand before the sight of the innkeeper and a wench on the horizon halted her.

     

                A drink of blood-red filled six identical leather cups. Falrielle took a sniff and winced; at least with the green she could recognise some smells but this… drink was completely alien to her. She swivelled her cup and noted that her drink didn’t move – ‘Bloodwine’, an apt name she thought. The elf glanced at her companions and found some grim comfort in their equally confused expressions.

     

                Cyric rose and the table followed. ‘I would like to declare the tavern crawl to be over and a drink to our comrades who could not be here today.’

     

                ‘To Jungvar’

     

                ‘To Khargol.

               

                ‘To Carlotta.’

     

                ‘To Faerin.’

     

                ‘To those whose names we cannot remember and those still with us.’

     

                ‘May we get what we want,’

     

                ‘May we get what we need,’

     

                ‘May we never damn well get what we deserve!’

     

                ‘Vor!’

    ************************

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Comments

1 Comment   |   ilanisilver and 1 other like this.
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  July 20, 2018
    ā€œDid I just taste purple?ā€  Yeah, a drink might be a little strong when it makes you taste colors. I especially liked the introductions. Very entertaining chapter.