The morning burst in on him through the open window, in a wild, hot wave of sunshine and birdsong; he stretched himself with an good, jaw-straining yawn, and not allowing the temptingly soft bedclothes to coax him into going to sleep again, leaped out of bed, flexed the muscles of his arms and back, and trotted off into the back yard to pour on himself a bucket of icy spring water from the well.
He had grabbed his razor on the way, and before heaving the bucket up and giving himself a wash he steadied it on a broad tree stump and peered closely at his reflection, preparing to shave. 'Lookin' good today, Oracio old boy,' he said, grinning, and his reflection grinned back at him, broad-cheekboned, red-haired, green-eyed and altogether content.
On his way back into the house, shivering and shaking his head like a wet dog, he came across his father-in-law, who was shuffling about on his bleary-eyed, puffy-faced morning inspection of the household. 'Morning, Etienne, friend of mine,' Oracio called out to him, with the usual mixture of respect and good-natured mockery, 'You might be interested to know that the lark is on the wing, the snail is on the thorn, the Divines - whatever the number - are in their heaven, and all's right with the world'.
The old man snorted and chewed his lips disapprovingly. 'Easy for you to say,' he grumbled his customary monologue, 'I am trying to put the family business back on its feet after that damn war ruined it, while all my heirs do not even concern themselves about it! Your wife busies herself with fishing for dress designs and court gossip from Daggerfall, my second daughter bores the Divines with her constant complaints, and you, the only young man in the family, do nothing but frolic around in the wilderness after butterflies!'.
Oracio threw back his head and gave a loud, hearty guffaw. 'It's called adventuring, oh father-in-law of my heart,' he said at length, wiping the tears out of the corners of his eyes, 'And remember, we agreed that when you die or go senile - which I am sure won't happen any time soon, as Zenithar needs such a fine specimen of a merchant to uphold all he stands for here on earth, - then, and only then, will I bind myself to the counter and devote the rest of my days to sweet-talking distrustful customers... For now, I have my freedom. Which reminds me, I still have supplies to gather. Ta-ta!', and, with a joyous spring in his step, he made his way towards the little storeroom that he had converted into a makeshift Alchemy laboratory where he kept all the junk he needed to take on his journeys and occasionally blew things up.
The old man watched his broad, bare, muscular back disappear in the doorway, shaking his head and muttering to himself.
Etienne Piemont's had been a thriving business, but after the war he was forced to move from the comfort of the heart of Daggerfall to a small, sleepy town on the very border between High Rock and Skyrim, where, after two months of most persistent courtship, mostly involving abundant gifts and tuneless serenade singing, the local adventurer, bounty hunter and general jack-of-all trades, one Oracio Saavedra, managed to win over the old man's younger daughter Gervaise, to the utmost bitterness of her much less good-looking sister Louise, who was destined to remain unmarried and would later turn to the overly-pious worship of the Divines, as spinsters often do.
Oracio, with his odd-sounding name - though he did claim to be 'as Breton as back-stabbing and fancy food' - with his ridiculous sideburns the colour of wet brick, his loud laugh, his healthy appetite, and the disturbing good-naturedly sly look in his cat-like eyes, was far from being the dream suitor that in her hours of leisure - which were many - Gervaise had often pictured kneeling before her; she had accepted his vehement proposal only, as she put it, to be rid of the nuisance, and tried to distance herself from her husband as much as possible. Even the birth of a daughter - whom Gervaise firmly decided to be their first and last child - did not make them closer. For, the moment the squirming little addition to the family tree stopped clinging to her nurse's skirt and showed first signs of wakening intelligence, it became clear that she was nothing but a miniature female version of her father, with the same red hair, the same green eyes, the same early love for causing explosions and mixing alchemy reagents, and the same odd way of talking to people when you never knew whether she was joking or serious. The worthy Aunt Louise, of course, felt obliged every now and then to have her say regarding the girl's education, but Oracio always firmly told her that she would not hinder him 'in the great quest of spoiling Meme rotten'. Meme was the pet nickname the girl was commonly known under - short for Remedios, her real given name, which Oracio had insisted on, despite all the objections from the rest of the family. 'It is a good name, Remedios,' he had said, 'The best name a girl from the Saavedra bloodline can have. That was the name of one of my most renowned ancestors, you see, a sorceress who lived in late Third Era. She played an important part in stopping the Daedric invasion, and I often heard tell that she was the mistress of Martin Septim'.
As of that morning, the bright, and sunny, and frabjous morning, when Oracio woke up to see that all was right with the world, he and Meme had been the best of friends for almost fifteen years. There were jokes that only the two of them could understand, words that only the two of them used, memories that only the two of them shared, and places that only the two of them called special. When Meme was old enough to see the wonders of the wilderness, Oracio started to take her with him, each time further and further away from home, and there was no way the females of the family could stop them, however scornful and indignant they were, seeing young Remedios grow up into something no more ladylike than a cave bear.
And that morning heralded the start of precisely one of those days when the father and daughter would wander off on an adventure, and both of them had been looking forward to it for quite some time. So, after packing his knapsack in his lab, Oracio climbed up the steep wooden staircase to the attic, which Meme had all to herself. She was still asleep when he entered, lying on her stomach, arms thrown wide apart and long, unruly red hair spread over the blanket like a cloak. Oracio tiptoed up to her bed, smiling gently to himself, and tickled the bare soles of her feet. The girl shifted a little in her sleep, mumbling something incoherent and striking the pillow with her hand, as if swatting at a bothersome gnat.
'Rise and shine, the sun of my horizon!' said Oracio in a sing-song voice.
Meme tore open her eyes and turned over, gaping blankly at her father.
'It's go-exploring-with-Daddy time!' he went on, beaming, 'Remember, we need more taproot for our potions, and for that we'll have to take down a spriggan or two - tough task, but I can't keep my girl from testing that new spell she's learned, now can I?'.
Meme sat up in bed, her clumsy, colt-like knees outlined beneath the blanket. 'You know, Da,' she said, rubbing her eyes with the back of her fists - a childish gesture that Oracio loved so much, 'I've been meaning to tell you... I'd rather not go with you today. I mean, one time wouldn't hurt, would it?'
His face fell - something that happened quite rarely, 'Of course, child of mine - your wish is my command... But - why? We are always having such a great time out there, in the great wide open...'
Meme shrugged her bony shoulders impatiently, 'It's nothing. I just thought I'd spend some time with Ma for a change. We always leave her all alone, the poor thing'.
'I understand,' Oracio mumbled, looking rather pitiful, like a loyal dog that had been yelled at by its master, 'Well, I'll be off then... See you in the evening'.
'See you in the evening, Da'.