A’enwae has gathered many admirers over the years. I believe it is inevitable given her line of work, but Einri Terrwyn II was the most insufferable of them all. He knew that A’enwae and I were more than simply involved, and yet he pursued her relentlessly. I finally confronted him and asked what it would take to make him stop the absurdity. By that time, I had already given him a black eye and had threatened him with a knife on more than one occasion. He told me he would stop if I simply stepped aside and allow him to spend the night with A’enwae. Just once. So I stepped aside. Just once.
-- Aydo’est, Journal Entry
A’enwae couldn’t remember how she returned to the inn. When she awoke, sunlight was pooling through the nearby window. She was on a bed, on her back, and she could see her lute sitting upright in a chair in the corner. Turning her head, she saw Terrwyn Junior sitting, for some reason, at a table across the room. He was drinking from a demijohn, his shirt rumpled and untucked, his glasses more askew than ever. Other demijohns were on the table, five in a basket – a gift from the inn. Aeden was no where to be seen.
A’enwae carefully sat up. Seeing that she was awake, Terrwyn Junior set down the demijohn and held out his hand, cautioning her not to get up. A’enwae ignored him and swung her feet over the side of the bed. “Where’s Aeden?” she whispered hoarsely.
Terrwyn Junior stared at the table. “I’ve never seen him like this before. Never.”
A’enwae lifted her head. “Like what?”
The young man looked at her, his face twisted. “Dead. I looked in his eyes . . . and nothing was there!”
A’enwae frowned. Why should Aeden care that Aydo’est . . .?
“There was a note from Captain Murcrow of Arrormorr,” Terrwyn Junior said to her unspoken confusion. “My lady . . . her serenity is dead.”
Terrwyn Junior nodded dolefully.
A’enwae shot up from the bed so fast her head spun. She staggered, then rushed to the table. Junior reached to steady her. “Dead!” she rasped, clutching his arm hard. “How?”
Terrwyn Junior’s face darkened. “The captain. He slaughtered her and usurped the throne. He’s declared himself sovereign and everything. They say he argued with the queen. There was shouting heard from the throne room --”
“They? They who?”
“The whole town?” shrugged Junior. “After you fainted, Aeden sent me here with you and said to keep you safe. Then he goes rushing off to ‘see his contacts’ or some other. While he’s gone, some men arrive from Arrormorr looking for the Halfling – you know, the Bard of Glendower. They were looking for Aeden too. Someone squealed and said he’d been to the bank with a pretty young woman in a hood . . .” He bit his lip. “Not! N-Not that I think you’re pretty. . . . I mean, you are. But I won’t say so.” He winced and looked away.
A’enwae sank absently into a chair. She grabbed one of the demijohns, ripped out the stopper, and took a deep swig. She lowered her feverish forehead to the smooth cool wood of the table. She was surprised when Junior hesitantly patted her curls.
“What are you going to do?” he asked her. “Those men are still out there, and I don’t have a clue where Aeden is. They guard the city gates and have been searching every building. When they came here, I asked the innkeeper to hide you in the larder, and he crammed you in a barrel like no body’s business. If your cloak smells faintly of pickles, that’s why.”
A’enwae didn’t lift her cheek from the table. For all she knew, Aeden was dead.
“How many men were there?”
“Mm,” Junior lowered the demijohn and swallowed. “Not too many. Half a dozen? I’m betting the captain sent them in splits, a clutch to each city. Because . . .” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “don’t know if you knew this, but Aeden was a spy, a part of the queen’s secret police. The captain needs him to die. Badly.”
“You don’t say.”
“And he’s a changeling. An abomination to our Lord He She’eth.”
“Tch. You always so righteous when you’re drunk?”
“Only when I’m drunk, my lady. I promise.”
A’enwae stared dully. “Where’s Hef – did he take my horse?”
Junior shook his head. “No, my lady, he borrowed one of my father’s. Said in case you needed to get away. You’re better off not getting mixed up in this business. Tis dangerous, dangerous. Maybe it’s best he left you here and went on.” She heard the ale swish as he tossed back for another swig. He gulped.
A’enwae smiled. She’d gotten so used to those sounds when with Aydo’est. Swish. Gulp. Sigh. Swish. Gulp. Sigh. She frowned sadly.
“SSSits also said King Tetrack is marching on Alastar, to protect it,” went on Junior in a slur. He set down the demijohn with a dull clink. “And the captain’s men are too cowardly to go there. Those men he sent sure have big mouths. They came in here and got drunk for a bit. I was sitting down at the bar and heard everything.”
A’enwae sat up. “What else did you hear? Tell me.”
Junior didn’t hesitate, and A’enwae thought he suddenly looked very puffed up and self-important. “So the captain killed the queen, right? They say it’s because he wanted to keep the Halfling alive, but the queen wanted her dead. D’you know he was doing with the Halfling! The Halfling of Glendower! And get this . . .” He smirked, peering at A’enwae over the top of his gold spectacles, “The Halfling was already married! The captain spoiled her with riches for years and was nary the wiser. She and her husband lived well off the court for a long time.”
A’enwae sat back in her chair. Looking at Junior, she thought he could have been eighteen. Her lips twisted in a smirk. How cute.
Seeing A’enwae’s smirk, Junior smiled uncertainly. “You’re beautiful, m’lady!” he blurted. He shook his head sheepishly. “I’ve – I’ve never seen a woman like – with your – your lovely eyes. You have breasts like . . . so high . . . Could you be sixteen? I’d be gentle, m’lady. Gentle as the winter’s first sssnow . . .” He slurred himself silent and lowered his eyes shyly.
“Mm, a poet,” A’enwae said dryly and took a swig.
“It’s a shame you’re all wrapped up in this,” he said. “A-Are you--?”
“Wrapped up in Aeden?” she finished for him. “No.”
He slumped. “Good. I thought you two. . . The way he touched you when you passed out. He held you like . . .”
“You were telling me about Captain Murcrow.”
“Right,” Junior said and cleared his throat. “Well, his men were getting drunk and going on about how the captain was looking to find the bard. He wants to marry her and make her queen to boot.”
A’enwae stiffened. “He’s crazy!”
Junior nodded and pointed at her with the demijohn. “That’s what I said.”
A’enwae shook her head in amazement.
“. . . are you really who Aeden said?” Junior asked quietly. “I . . . I thought you were a girl, but . . .” He shook his head. “There’s just something in your eyes. Something . . . old.”
A’enwae laughed flatly. “You’ve a lot to learn about women, Junior. Lesson number one? Never make allusions as to their age.”
Junior smiled sheepishly and adjusted his crooked spectacles. “Forgive me, my lady . . . I --”
“It’s true,” A’enwae calmly lied. “My mother’s in Arrormorr and my father’s in Rhian. Aeden called me a mute simpleton just to keep me quiet.” She watched as Junior nodded, absorbing the lie.
“What will you do now, m’lady? You can’t get to Rhian on your own.”
A’enwae snorted. “There are elven women . . .” she took another drink and stifled a burp, “who could run circles around those fool-men who came here. It’s humans who treat their women like frail, weak cowards, never allowing them to take up dagger or bow . . .” She sneered. “It’s humans who --!”
“But you are human, m’lady!” laughed Junior and stared at her incredulously.
A’enwae frowned. “Oh?” She was seeing two of him. She took another drink.
Junior laughed, watching her fondly over the slim neck of his demijohn.
A’enwae lowered her eyes to the table.
“You could stay here with me,” the boy whispered. He looked at her sheepishly, then his gaze became intense, bright with desire. He licked his lips, and A’enwae saw ale trickle into his jet black goatee. “I could care for you. My father and I, we are more than wealthy . . .”
“You’re drunk, m’lord,” A’enwae said dismissively.
“I’m drunk,” Junior conceded, “and yet, what I want has never been so clear. Do you believe in destiny, m’lady?”
A’enwae moaned. “Please don’t go on with this.”
“It’s my belief that we crossed paths for a reason,” Junior said emphatically. He reached across the table and placed his hand on hers. “You should stay here with me. What can your father do for you in Rhian? He is probably an udder puller or – or a plow driver . . .”
A’enwae snorted. “Your arrogance ill suits you, m’lord.” She slid her hand from his. “But I must on to Arrormorr.”
“What! M’lady, have you heard nothing I’ve said? You can’t go back there --!”
“Why?” A’enwae returned calmly. “Because you don’t want me to?”
“I – that is . . .” he stammered himself silent.
“What is your name?” A’enwae asked him quietly. She sat back in the chair, unlaced her cloak from her throat and let it fall. He watched as she stretched, pressing her breasts to the ceiling.
“Einri,” he whispered, his eyes glued to her backside as she moved through the room. “Einri Terrwyn V.”
“As I thought.”
A’enwae went to the window and looked out. Dusk had swept across the sky, reaching its purple and pink fingers to the clouds. Stars were beginning to appear. Below, the city was no calmer or quieter. Cities never slept. Horses brayed, infants wailed, couples screamed at each other to high heaven. She could see people milling about in the streets, huddling in close groups, whispering fearfully. Murcrow’s men had left the city in such a state, it looked as if a hurricane had gone through. Doors were hanging off their hinges, muddy tracks were everywhere, carts and wagons were spilling their busted contents, merchant stalls had been torn apart, left in shambles and tatters. Confused chickens leapt about, showering the panic with white feathers. Tethered cows mooed dolefully.
A’enwae spotted one of the captain’s men. He was standing outside a tailor’s shop, the silver breastplate of his armor blazing with the Flaming Sword. Behind him, the door to the shop was hanging off its hinges, and muddy tracks led up the steps and disappeared inside. He had one hand on his sheathed sword and the other on the skinny arm of a sobbing woman. The woman wore a simple dress with a deep neckline. She was very small, with great breasts that shook about as he jerked her around. He bellowed something at her about Aeden. She sobbed something incoherent, and in disgust, he shoved her away.
A’enwae turned away from the window. Murcrow’s men couldn’t find their asses with both hands.
“What do you mean . . . as you thought?”
A’enwae looked up. They had been silent for so long, she’d forgotten the boy was there. He sat still at the table, watching her with a hunger she didn’t like. The look in his eye reminded her of Murcrow. She turned away and heard him rise unsteadily from the table. His boots thumped across the wooden floorboards, and then he was standing behind her. His hot breath hit her neck. She could feel the longing rising off him as surely as his breath. She could feel his desire. And his uncertainty. He had never known a woman and he wanted to touch her right, say all the right things, do all the right things so that she would make love to him. His fingers pinched her sleeve like an imploring child. She wanted to push him away but didn’t move.
“What do you mean?” he repeated breathlessly.
“I knew Einri Terrwyn II. The first no one knew, because he could not speak. He was --”
“An invalid,” Einri Terrwyn V finished. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him frown. “They kept him hidden in the attic. How could you know that! My family was so ashamed –!”
A’enwae didn’t answer.
“Who are you?” he whispered. “I’m beginning to think there’s a reason you’re unlike any woman I’ve ever . . . I’ve ever . . .”
“You’ve never known a woman, Einri.”
“No,” he admitted softly. “I . . . haven’t. I want to know you.”
She went very still when he carefully placed his hand on her hip. She closed her eyes when his lips found her neck. He sighed, his hot breath steaming her skin. He buried his nose in her hair and his hand traveled higher, hesitating near her breast.
“When it’s over, we’ll never speak of it again. And we’ll never do it again.”
A’enwae pushed him toward the bed. He staggered back and sat on it hard, fumbling to get his trousers open. He watched her breathlessly, waiting for the moment when her smooth flesh would peal forth from her garments. He glanced down at his belt and cursed. His fumbling hands couldn’t get it undone fast enough.
A’enwae took her time. She opened the pouch of herbs on her belt and picked a purple one, chewed it. The purples were called Bruise because they increased strength and vigor incredibly, allowing for harder strikes with fist and sword. As she swallowed, she felt a shiver run through her body. Sitting on the bed looking at her, Einri’s mouth fell open and his spectacles slipped off one ear. She knew what he was seeing: the veins standing out on her face, her eyes glowing like beacons, her hair floating on a sudden breeze. It was a momentary reaction to having ingested an herb.
She took another one, a blue one called Sky because it allowed one to leap incredible heights. The final herb she took – the red leaf – was called Blood because it did three things: it numbed the body to pain, it slowed bleeding, and it gave a delicious adrenaline burst. Though pain sensors were neutralized by Blood, other senses were heightened. The herbs always made for incredible orgasms.
“You’re . . . a goddess,” Einri Terrwyn V sighed. He was trembling.
A’enwae licked her lips and knew the after-affects were going to take some time to wear off. She pulled her tunic off over her head with a toss of her curls and unlaced her trousers. Einri watched with his mouth open as she stepped out of her boots, bending down with swinging breasts.
“Are you an elf?” he whispered.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her as she came to him, breasts riding, and undid his belt with an effortless flick. He gulped as she pulled the belt off, as his trousers sagged open. She shoved him down on his back, tossing the belt away over her shoulder. He watched her helplessly, watched her with yearning brown eyes as she leaned down close. Her small hands smoothed over his bare chest, pushing up his jerkin. He pushed her curls back from her ears to find they were round.
“Are you a halfling then?” he whispered.
“I’m the Halfling.”
“Of Glendower!” He stared at her as the truth sank in, but he didn’t have a chance to question her further. He felt his hard phallus suddenly sheathed in her warmth and he sputtered. She rode him. And the pleasure was . . . astonishing.
Terrwyn Junior awoke some time later to find A’enwae fully dressed, standing beside the window. Her lute was on her back, her cloak was around her throat. She rested her weight on one hip and her hand – wrapped in a fingerless glove – rested on the sword in her belt. Where had she gotten a sword?
He sat up and tried to keep the sadness from his voice when he said hoarsely, “You’re going?”
“Yes.” A simple reply, devoid of emotion.
Einri Terrwyn V looked at her and held back a sigh of longing. A changeling. She was a changeling who, from childhood, had been raised in the mysterious ways of the Ellyll. The impression the elves had left on her was in her every look, every gesture. She even spoke in the same emotionless monotone of those damned stuffy elves. But when she was on top of him, there had been emotion there. Real emotion. He wanted to grab her, kiss her, make that emotion come back. For whom had that emotion been? He wasn’t a fool. He knew she hadn’t slept with him that night. Her mind had been somewhere else, with someone else.
Einri swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “Why did you make love to me?”
He looked at her and was relieved to see the momentary sorrow in her pretty sable eyes. It made her seem more human, more honest when that emotion showed. The glowing had left her eyes and her face was smooth of the throbbing veins. Whatever she’d eaten, the effects had passed, but somehow, he could still feel the power emanating off her in waves. It was intoxicating. He wanted to get up, kiss her, hold her. He hoped to the gods she couldn’t read thoughts the way some of the elves could.
A sudden breeze swept through the open window and lifted her short curls, slapping them across her eyes. She was leaving. What was she waiting for? He looked at her and realized that she had waited for him to wake up. She was giving him the chance to say goodbye. He was suddenly very grateful. A man’s first time with a woman should be . . . something memorable. Something special.
“Will you come back?”
“We won’t do this again.”
“I know. I just want to see you.”
“I don’t know what will happen. I thought you believed in destiny.”
He looked up to find her smiling. Such a pretty smile. It really did make her look sixteen. What had she been like at sixteen, he wondered. He could see her running with the elves, flowers in her hair, her body wrapped in the strange fur garments the elves wore. Gods. She must’ve been incredibly old.
“Don’t you believe in anything, my lady?” he asked in her amusement.
Her faint smile widened the tiniest bit. “I believe in me.”
She turned and leapt out the window. Einri sprang up and ran to the sill. He watched with an ache as her nimble body ran light over the rooftops. Her silhouette cut across the moon in a high bound, and then . . . she was gone.