This one was just knocked up for fun the other day. It shouldn't be too long, maybe eight parts or so. Here's the first part. Enjoy! :)
~ in which Cirrustralyx meets a very drunk Selkie.
It all started in the Gambler's Faith, the tavern in Crysila.
It was a Yuke run establishment, a family business. It was much quieter than The Vines across town, where most of the many travellers passing through between Shella and Alfitaria chose to spend their money. No, Gambler's Faith was a pub for the locals who knew better than to fight a drunk Lilty merchant for a seat.
It was Wednesday, winter. Cold. Cold enough that most wanted to stay at home rather than risk the frosty walk to the tavern by the bridge, but also cold enough that anyone who'd braved the slightly milder weather of the late afternoon now didn't want to leave. The clock above the roaring fire, a family heirloom and frankly bizarre in its intricacy, read ten.
Cirrustralyx cleaned glasses with contented and methodical movements. Seeing it was a quiet night, his father had left the bartending to him and gone upstairs to fix the accounts and orders for the coming day. There were only – he counted – nine, no, ten customers. All but one he knew, and had known since infancy.
For instance, Drew the Clavat in the corner only came in once a week, took striped apple cider, only the finest golden stuff from Fum, and he took it a half-pint at a time until he was gently drunk and had to be reminded to go home. Ortaelian and Durimmyad sat in the same corner every night and took three shots apiece of strange liquid. The Clavats in the other corner by the stairs were currently involved in some complex card game and were pulling out all the stops, revealing odd unwanted artefacts bought from caravanners to tip the scales in their favour. As he watched, a set of Loaded Dice rattled off the table and got stuck in a crack in the solid oak floorboards under old Lunorious' chair. Didn't stop the old Yuke snoring.
The Selkie at the bar, though... Cirrustralyx didn't know him.
He was average looking, as far as Selkies went. Cirrustralyx had seen a couple, although there was only one permanent Selkie resident in Crysila: Catseye, he was called, but he was on the caravan and away most of the year. This one was younger than Catseye, in his mid teens and looking rather much like he couldn't care less what happened next. He had dark hair, a deep slate purple, and fair skin blemished only by the tribal marks on one cheekbone.
"Hey," he said unexpectedly, not lifting his eyes from the grainy surface of the bar, "can I get another drink?"
"Of course," Cirrustralyx agreed affably, not mentioning that it was the boy's fourth. It wasn't proper alcohol he was drinking, but it was... special stuff. Slightly intoxicating Gambler's Faith special. The Selkie seemed to have a taste for it. Wordlessly, Cirrustralyx pulled another bottle off the shelf and set it down before him.
"Thanks," the boy mumbled, and tossed a couple of coins onto the bar. Cirrustralyx went back to his pensive polishing of glasses and the bar was enveloped in a bubble of silence untouched by the crowing of the Clavats in the corner.
"Why doesn' your voice sound... tinny when it comes ou' of the helmet?" the Selkie asked suddenly.
The Selkie glanced up at him, and then swept an expressive hand through his impressively spiky hair. "I mean, when you talk, it's like you're not wearing the helmet. If I wore one I'd be all..." He waved his hands again, indicating something quite indescribable, "...muffled."
Cirrustralyx shrugged his spindly shoulders, his tiny wings fluttering with the motion. "Don't know."
"Thought you Yukes knew everything."
There was no mocking in the tone. Must be a joke.
"You just might not be asking the right questions," Cirrustralyx replied. Next glass.
"Wha's your name?"
The Selkie looked up at him directly for the first time. He had dark eyes, attractively dark, the same colour as the furs he wore. And he was wearing more than Selkie's normally did, jacket and all. Must be because of the cold. But there was something about the way he wore them. It was with all the grace of normal Selkies for sure, but there was something else.
"Tell me then, sh-sh-Cirrustralyx," the Selkie said suddenly. "What am I supposed to do with my life?"
Now, normally, this is not something you ask of someone you just met in a bar.
Don't serve him any more drinks, Cirrustralyx mentally noted. Carefully stowing away any visible bottles of Gambler's Faith special, Cirrustralyx sat down opposite the Selkie and decided to humour him. "What do you want to do?"
"I dunno. I do not want to be a trader. Or a tanner. My dad's a tanner. It shtinks. Literally."
"Don't say fisherman or I'll punch you for being racist."
"Can I g't another drink?"
Cirrustralyx avoided that question. "What are you good at?"
"I dunno. C'n play music decent."
And right then, in Gambler's Faith, was when it happened.
"We've got a banjo you can play," Cirrustralyx heard himself say, as if from far away. "You want to show me?"
It was his own banjo. Cirrustralyx played in the band at the Rejuvenation Ceremony, a great honour, and sometimes at other town celebrations too. People said he was good. This was ironic, as Cirrustralyx didn't really like the banjo much. Perhaps it was the vain hope that the Selkie might smash it that prompted this offer. Either way, the Selkie was sufficiently inebriated to agree that this was a good idea and to not care about the consequences of putting on a bad performance.
Cirrustralyx got the banjo out from under the bar. He played a few notes to get the feel of the thing and to adjust it. The Selkie watched him through slightly alcoholic lenses.
"You're not holding it right."
Cirrustralyx looked up. "What?"
"Give it." The Selkie held out an impatient hand. Bewildered, Cirrustralyx passed it over.
And he held it. It wasn't drastically different, the way it sat in his hands. But there was something about the jaunty angle that he held it, something about the way his fingers were poised, that made it look less like a banjo and more like a... something else.
"Listen," the Selkie said insistently, as if Cirrustralyx could possibly be payng attention to anything else, and then he played.
Later, Cirrustralyx wondered why the lights didn't flash on and off and no glasses shattered. And then he wondered why he thought they should have done.
He was good. Damn good. The way he was abusing the strings should have produced something terrible, but instead what came from the banjo was something so incredible that Cirrustralyx had to put his cloth down and tap agitatedly on the bar, because various parts of his body were trying to move along to the rhythm and his fingers were probably the least innocuous. He'd never heard anything like this. It was so far from the twanging tune he picked out at the festival every year that it would take an archer to hit it. Looking at the Selkie, trying to see clearly through the shimmering haze of music this Selkie boy was picking out almost casually, it was almost impossible to believe it was the same instrument.
The melody continued on for a few more moments, a strain of tune so golden you could have served it as cider, before coming to an abrupt halt as the Selkie stopped somewhat despondently. The Clavats in the corner were looking round; as the chord ended, they appeared to rouse from whatever trance they had been in. Normal sound washed back into the tavern. After the Selkie's music, it all sounded rather... tarnished.
"Oh," Cirrustralyx said, disappointed. The Selkie looked at him hopefully.
"You liked tha'? Is that an 'oh, why did you stop?' or an 'oh, be quiet and get back t' tanning'?"
Cirrustralyx coughed. "It was... good. Really good."
"Yeah?" the Selkie said, cheering. "I j'st improvised that. Not my best, ackt'lly."
"Look," Cirrustralyx said suddenly, "where do you live?"
"Eh." The boy shrugged dismissively. "Upper Jegon port. Here on a delivery to... to your tailor."
"You come here often?"
"Once a month. Why?"
Cirrustralyx fiddled with his cleaning cloth. "You... want to come play here once a month? We'll pay you."
The Selkie jumped up so quickly that the alcohol took control of his feet and he seized the bar for stability. "Yes. Yes! I'd like that. That's cool. You're cool. Yes!" He smiled, revealing the oddly white and sharp teeth common to all Selkies. "My name's Rae Fen."
Cirrustralyx shook hands over the bar. "Well, good to meet you."
"How about another drink to celebrate?" Rae Fen inquired optimistically.
Cirrustralyx looked him up and down. The Selkie was hanging onto the bar as if he thought letting go would drop him into hell. "I... don't think so."
"You said what?" Cirrustralyx's father peered at him over the thick accounts book.
Cirrustralyx shifted uncomfortably. "I asked him if he wanted to come play once a month. You know. Liven the place up a bit."
"Is he good?"
His father sighed, and peered down the totals column. The inked quill twirled thoughtfully in one paw. "Well... one hears things about Selkies."
"If Catseye was here he'd punch you for being racist, dad." He hadn't been able to get the line out of his head since Rae Fen had staggered out.
His father snorted.
"Just think of the extra revenue!" Cirrustralyx said quickly. "If we tell people about him, more people will come! More people will buy drinks!"
His father scratched out another order form with a deliberative air.
"I haven't told him how much we can pay him yet," Cirrustralyx added as an afterthought.
His father brightened. "Why didn't you say so?"
And so it was, on a Wednesday in winter, Cirrustralyx signed Rae Fen to the Gambler's Faith.
End of chapter.
If you don't review I'll punch you for being racist.
Ahaha. Just kidding. But if you've got any questions or criticisms, let me know. I always find it hard to start a new story from scratch.