THE TENTH ANNEX
I think I'm going to offer some base ideas of how I've reconstructed some of the areas in Gran Soren to avoid confusion. I've always felt the Inn to be entirely too small - so I changed it. It will still have the desk and board, but it will lead out to a much, much larger area such as this - with rooms for rent above. Like a wee tavern. The Dukes Demense will also be larger are more regal. (I also felt that was too small. I mean. He killed a damn dragon.) And will have additional rooms such as a 'ball room', which occasionally has a lengthy table in the middle for feasts. Also, the music of the dance, and what the dance later on is based on, comes from this
The music in this overly jolly place matched its description. Drunkards and lesser folk chanted the rather unimaginative lyrics of ol' tales melded into songs for the amusement of such beings. Theda gripped a flask of ale tight 'tween her hands, white knuckled, as if the thought of it being stolen was the only one on her mind. However, t'was not. What currently occupied her ordinarily calm, collected process of thoughts was what had happened afore she'd been near forced to abandon the demense. For the sake of any in her way more than hers. The Duke had arranged a 'festivity' to take place in celebration of the Arisen and his companions valiant defeat of the mighty Gryphon. The blathering idiot summoned the still semi-wounded Elvh, Oenidas, Leythir, and the rest of their company, along with a fine selection of the court (excluding Julien) to announce the time, date, dress code and invited party of his 'honored celebration.' Fine wine, music, and company. Though of course, Oenidas and Theda were highly discordant of this. So whilst Oenidas had taken his shire to ride the days journey to Cassardis in veiled fury, Leythir and his pawns at his heel, Theda had declined his offer to accompany the man and decided to wade into the filth of this tavern to drown her malcontent in whatever sludge they served as alcohol in this place.
Of course after a mug or two of ale and the occasional conversation from a passing man or woman, Theda found she settled quite merrily into the pleasures of poor life. Many had eyed her as she entered, an odd elf, having undergone one of her last growth spurts in recent weeks she now bordered 5'8, ears out like a sore thumb and adorned in a large, brown shirt she had stolen from the Arisen, with boots and black trousers, her white hair strung up into a bun she had kept a hand on her satchel as she stood, form erect, as she made for the nearest seat and slid into it, the furs of some dead animal cushioning her. To her astonishment, her eyes singled out three pointy-eared individuals from the crowd. Though, these were not Elvh of Drazeelgahnen – they were travelling Elvhs. Born on the road. Yet when they saw her, the three male Elvh practically fell o'er themselves, making a beeline for the table she so peacefully sat at. Ech, Ern, and Eon. Brothers. Ech was the oldest, of his 27th year, his hair was short, though one side was cut away to reveal an intricate pattern, delicately razored to reveal his dark skin beneath. Ern had a flurry of blonde hair, plaited back to an up-do, the free strands hanging out of a messy tie. Eon only had a strip of hair running from his hairline, into a ponytail at the back of his head. Though he was the youngest, he bore the same look at Ech, each side of his head shaved away to reveal tattoos where he lacked hair. Their animated chattering about their battles with Aswang and Ogre alike, along with their avid questioning of this 'genuine Elvh' that sat in front of them did a great service to Thedas mood.
"You might want to ease up on the drinking, lass." Came the throaty chuckle from Eon, the twenty-year old tapping her fourth empty mug. Though it was answered with a smile. "It puts me in a better mood."
Though of course he was right. Theda and her newfound Elvhen friends were at that tavern until indecent hours. Light had long since dawned when Oenidas found her, light-headed and cheeks pink as she chuckled about something inconherent to him and his party, surrounded by three Elvhen lads, and a human woman who must have joined in at some point. The Cassardi man rubbed the newly-formed stubble on his chin, and cleared his throat.
"I was told I may find you here."
The world spun and shook with even the simple task of turning her head to settle her gaze on the man, but she managed it, pressing the back of her hand to her mouth to stifle a chuckle as she attempted to answer him. In the end, Ern, who was perched comfortably t'ween his older brother and Theda, scowled. "Y'are that Arisen fellow? Well, why don't'cha leave her to some fun for once?"
"Fun meaning drowning herself in ale whilst possibly endangering herself to having her chest burst open from recent injuries combined with frivoulous activity?" He'd quelled the argument afore it even began, and with a huff, Theda extracted herself from her seat, and wobbled afore the Arisen. "And I thought you'd approve of my change in attitude."
Allowing himself a smile, the Arisen allowed her to bid her friends goodbye, the promise of reunion staying the grin on her lips as she did her best to follow without bumping into anything. Or anyone. It lasted well, 'till she strode outside and failed to comprehend how far the fountain was from the Inns entrance. Oenidas was tempted to run and see how far he could get without the consequence of her throwing bricks at him for the next week or so, but in the end he simply chortled as she escaped from the water, much to her own dismay, lifting her up to carry her the rest of the way.
Oenidas knew Theda by now. As well as any could, the girl was an enigma in herself, but he understood even in this state, she would rather him lower her to her own feet to enter the courtyard, and then the Demense. So he did, letting her slip to the ground, then tugging her clothes into shape, smoothing her hair back. The dip in the water had sobered the Elvh, but she still smiled muzzily at him in response to his actions, so every now and then he nudged her to keep her from tripping over something, or perhaps a silent message to focus on her path, not a passing insect.
To both their surprise, Lady Aelinore was the first to greet them, and Oenidas' jaw set firm. The female appeared the detect the hostility, as she flinched, alas he did not falter in his glare. "My Lord Arisen." She started -
"I am no Lord, Duchess. You will not place false titles on me."
"Apologies." Her eyebrows struggled not to furrow, as she took a deep breath and arched her back in an attempt to rise further from the ground. "I've been asked to prepare Theda for the coming festivity. A dress is being made for her."
"She can attend in her armour. I assure you that is her preference."
"Why don't you let her speak for herself?"
Theda was distracted from a bird that twittered past by two sets of eyes suddenly fixated on her. With Aelinore and her pleading blues, and Oenidas, the dark orbs of his eyes expectant, Theda only had one thing to say.
"I'm going to be violently ill."
Thankfully, the inveitable was stayed 'till Theda reached a solitary area. From there, she managed to manouver through the gardens, the demense, cross the audience room without repeatedly stabbing Feste in the head, and fall into the bath that was waiting. Her form slid more and more into the water with each passing second, 'till she was fully underwater, eyes fluttering open. Being more accustomed to being immersed in water than alcohol, this was a welcome change, and her species allowed her to stay in such a position for a longer time than most. When she finally arose for air, the world had halted its movement, and now went on at a comfortable, non-spinning pace.
Sleep followed her bathing, and she was flushed to discover upon her awakening the sun perched happily in the middle of the sky, signalling she had woken far too late. Marvelling at her ability to sleep, whilst also narrowing it down to the stomachfull of ale she had consumed, she fell from her bed and peeped from behind the safety of her door, out into the space beyond. Leythir had been ambling in the opposite direction, but she hissed his name and he jumped, startled as he spun around. Beckoning him to the door, he obidiently followed her lead, though his expression soured. "You could perhaps summon me nicely."
"Where is everyone?"
Leythir ran a hand through his hair, raising an eyebrow. "Getting ready for the large festivity the Duke is arranging."
A loud, anguished groan rang through the area, as she sunk 'gainst the door. "I had forgotten. You could have at least allowed me a mere second of bliss afore burdening me with the foreboding of socializing with these idiots."
"That's a lot of fancy words for one sentence, Theda. I am sure you will do fine with the nobles. And your penchant for drinking will surely do you no harm at a party such as this...you are bleeding."
And so she was. Whether it had been her fidgeting in her sleep, or the rather violent was she had fell into her bath, or events before that, but they had rattled the precarious way in which her ribs had been put back together. Though not fatal, it would stain her dress.
Okay, maybe this wasn't such a bad thing.
"Come." The Pawn sighed. "I will change your linen wrap, then we can proceed to get you properly fitted for the occasion."
The Elvh proceeded to sulk as he tugged the bandages around her form, complaining, then stating that Elvhanohn took no part in such fantasies, so garments such as 'dresses' were not desireable and were not practical in their country. "If I must wear tights, you must wear a dress, Theda. This Pawn has already considered throwing his outfit from atop the highest tower, but that would not bode well with the surrounding humans."
Theda allowed herself a smile. Admittedly, other than Oenidas, his pawns were the only ones she was truly comfortable in, within the fact they were not human – much as she was not. "Plus -" He added, " - The Arisen placed the head of the Gryphon in your hands, so to speak. The guards spoke of all our honour and valor equally, but you saved Ser Julien and brought the beast down once and for all. Seeing as the Lord Knight could not make it until this evening, Oenidas spoke for you, and so did we. It is only befitting the Gryphonslayer should look her best."
For a moment there she paled. Had anyone seen the act she had committed? Whether the Gryphon had survived or not was trifling for now, what truly mattered to her was holding close the secret that gnawed at her insides. No one could see her mana, else her visage was pointless.
One final tug, and with a rather painful twinge the deed was done. Her bandages were tight enough to hold her insides in through the night, but just right so they did not cut off her blood supply. "The soldiers spoke for me? Explain." Leythir chuckled. Theda was not one for understanding politeness in this land, and he held no grudge against her for her abrupt sentences.
"Ser Cyrus exclaimed he owed you his life. Ser Georg spoke of nothing but how he had misjudged you. His sincere condolences were offered also. Oenidas filled in for Julien. Explaining how you pried his hand from the Gryphon and saved him from the same fate you endured." Leythir finished tying off her linen, sitting back to admire his work.
"They respect you."
Lady Aelinore sat atop her bed, laying out her outfit for the night ahead. Her first thought was if the Arisen would find it desireable. Then it banished from her mind with how he had reacted upon their meeting at night.
"You must think me a shameless harlot..."
That was when it clicked. When the Arisen brimmed with rage at her audacity. "I met you once, I gave you the wretched hat that Feste had bestowed upon me to lessen the nobles opinion of me as a friendly gesture and your first thought was to lure me to your chambers with a misinterpreted summon, and bed me? I do not desire the touch of a woman any more than I desire the poison kiss of a viper""
Aelinores eyes shut tight, and she pressed her palms to them in a brief effort to stem the flow of tears. At his vile words, and his saving of her life e'en though it resulted in his torture. Despite all this and more, she still admired him. Still ached for her brave hero. Still boiled with envy at the sight of him with the Elvh.
Though the girl also fascinated her. How the seemingly young woman could be so stoic, so proud, in the face of one who terrified her so. The one she was married to. A wedding not for love, more for his own selfish desire.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the hesitant rapping upon her door. "Enter." She called, and enter they did. Theda pried open the door and stepped forth into the tiny room the Duchess called home. There was a rather awkward silence, until it was broken by the ethereal accent of the woman who stood before the noble. "I am here to collect my...garments."
The Duchess giggled. "You mean your dress?"
Theda reddened. "Szin." She muttered. For a moment the Duchess heard only 'tsin', afore the realization this was her native word for 'Yes' dawned on her.
"You are not excited for the coming affair?"
"I would be a little more comfortable in the armour or celebratory clothing of my people."
"And how do those things differ from ours?"
A pause, as she shuffled. "Our...'dresses'...are not as revealing as..." She gestured to the item of clothing that rested upon the bed. "Highly impractical. Upon the event of attack, how would I defend myself? Perhaps snap off the heel of those ridiculous shoes and poke my assailant full of tiny holes?"
"If those tiny holes were deep enough, they could be fatal."
"Dependant upon whether or not those tiny holes were poking into a mans heart."
"Or a womans."
Theda huffed, edging closer to the dress. Though from the way she grimaced, one would imagine she had been asked to don the flesh of a Saurian. The Duchess quietly observed her discomfort. "We had it tailored to you, if that makes you feel quite better about it. Here." Standing, her petite form was dwarfed by the one of the Elvh next to her. Theda was slim, but thick with muscle, defined most on her legs and arms, while the Duchess struggled not to feel like a slip of straw.
Aelinore bent to pick up the crumpled fabric from the bedcloth, and when it was held before her, even Theda could not help but feel a tinge of admiration. Aelinore caught this, because she smiled. But the Elvh merely scowled.
"'Tis still impractical." She began, but was cut off by a dark-haired young man bursting through the door.
"Pardon me!" He panted, much in the same accent that the Arisen held - "but would someone please assist me with these boots?"
The ball was everything it was expected. The ceiling bore paintings of ferocious battles, warriors, barbarians and of course, dragons. Tables of food and wine spread against the wall, the candles of the chandelier above them sent rays of light that flickered against the gold framing of the ceiling. Windows ran along one side of the large room, to give sight of Gransys, lit by the pale moon and the fragments of yellow that escaped from the room itself. Nobles were introduced by the booming voice of one Lord Aronium Cortez as they entered, faking smiles and eyeing up the drinks on offer. Oenidas had entered the room with his faithful pawns at his heel mere second ago, and already cheers ran throughout the Demense at – 'the protege of Duke Dragonsbane.' Fighting a cringe, and clad in the finest of clothing, he made his way to Ser Mercedes, who by whatever luck had managed to hold onto her armour.
"Why were you not forced into ridiculous gear to attend this ridiculous ceremony?" He grumbled, gripping a bottle of wine by its neck and swigging from it, much to the disgust of a passing noble. The woman laughed, shaking her head. "I am a knight. My armour is my badge of honour in my eyes. I refused to wear anything but."
"Fortune smiles upon you, dear Mercedes, for I am beginning to cramp."
Oenidas wore a velvet red shirt that hugged his torso completely, slightly parted in the middle to reveal, behind a layer of strings, a crisp white shirt, the sleeves of which escaped past the velvet to stop at his wrists, with dark trousers of the same fabric and leather boots. A cape was tied around his shoulders, bearing the mark of the Wyrm hunt, whilst a black belt rested at his waist. Ser Mercedes chortled once more, afore turning to face him. "Did you not journey to Cassardis to bring back a partner for this ball?"
"Is that what it is?" He huffed, wiping the top of the wine bottle. "Yes, I did. I believe...he is still preparing."
Silence fell, as each drank and sighed and hated everyone in the room, until the voice of Cortez rang clear.
"Lords and Ladies...may I present, Lord Julien of Boldoa!"
Oenidas near crushed the neck of the wine in his hand as the man strode into the room, the clapping of the crowd all that could be heard. As it always did, it died down eventually, but the knight was soon surrounded by interested parties. Questions about the Gryphon were the main topic of conversation from what the dark-skinned Arisen could hear, but the question on his mind was more important than that.
Like cattle, the crowd parted as the Arisen strode over to where the fair-haired knight stood, surprisingly not donned in his usual clothing. Instead, he wore a shirt of purple and gold, his lower half wholly brown, with a brown belt, matching shoes, and trousers of a slightly lighter shade of, you guessed it, brown. His cape still hung o'er his shoulder however. And his hair was as perfectly coiffed as always.
"Julien." Oenidas grunted. "You would appear to an event such as this, but not to the bedside of the creature who spared you death?"
Blue eyes near spilt with disbelief. "I assumed her dead. None could survive."
"Theda is hardier than you give her credit for."
His glare was unrelenting. The Arisen was waiting for an apology. But one ne'er came. More, it was interupted by yet another entry.
"Lords and Ladies, it is my honor to present to you, Duke Edmun Dragonsbane, and his wife, Lady Aelinore of House Biquard!"
The Duke had made no effort to dress up. In his usual garb, he strutted proudly, and to a chorus of clapping and cheers from the nobles, whilst Aelinore aided in this with her gown of deep turquiose, and the intricate design of her hairstyle, whilst plaited on top, fragments of her blonde hair hung down her back. There wasn't long until the next announcement. A matter of seconds, perhaps. As the couple made their way arm in arm down the room, Cortez spoke with someone outside.
"Are...are you sure? From...alright. My thanks."
The man cleared his probably sore throat.
"Lords and Ladies, I present to you..."
He took a while to remember something. Or perhaps for effect.
"Valmiro of Cassardis, and Lady Theda Gryphonslayer, of Drazeelgahnen!"
Valmiro was the first to enter. In a suit similar to the Arisens, but more a green than a red, he made his way out from the door. Then Theda stepped forth, her pale arm reaching to entwine with Valmiros, oddly thin fingers clutching him out of nerves or embaressment.
The girl looked nothing like the fierce, battle-born being that she was known as. The gown that adorned her frame was as white has the hair on her head, a usually boring colour in contrast to the extravagence of the nobles clothing. But the cut was low across her chest, and spread far, her sleeves rested just below her shoulder, fringed to stand out from the rest of the adornment. The style was not the point of scrutiny. It was the tattoos.
Twirlings of auburn etched into her skin, the canvas of her flesh near-covered with beautiful, other-wordly designs. They framed her collarbones, ran from her chest to her neck, ornamented her face and cheekbones. What had been so easily dismissed in her armour, that was of an equal colour, now shone in contract with the lightness of the rest of her form. Sleeves had been cut to reveal the ink that ran along her arms, save for a near translucent fabric that hung from what little sleeves she did have. A gold sash had been tied around her waist, below that hung the gentle waves of the fabric of the rest of the clothing, that undulated with each step she took. The back of the dress dipped low, to reveal a skin-painting of a tree, surrounded with Elvhish words that naught knew the meaning of. The hair that ordinarily hung from her shoulders had been pulled back to rest in a series of plaits on her head, and so not to obscure the pointed ears that stuck from the side of her head. A white-gold circlet completed the effect, leaving the rest of her face bare to expose the contrasting colours of her eyes.
None cheered, none clapped. Stunned silence fell upon the men and woman of the court, the nobles, the pawns, the Arisen, and Julien. Until the Arisen tipped his head back swiftly, gaining him her attention. And with a subtle, concerned nod from her friend, Theda smiled. And so begun the applause. And the music.
Valmiro bounded over to the Arisen, leaving Theda to stomp after him, attempting not to trip and fall over her own sartorial. Oenidas could not help but grin as she approached, grumbling and scowling. "If looks could kill." Leythir commented, which earned a bark of a laugh from the Arisen.
"There is the Elvh we know and love!" Taking a moment to note the adoration the man so obviously held for her, and the man Valmiro beside her, she shrugged. "I do not bode well with gowns."
"I disagree, my lady."
The voice was soft, but recognizable. Julien watched her quietly, with an unreadable expression.
"Perhaps...we should leave." Oenidas stated, placing his hand on the small of Valmiro's back and leading him off somewhere. Thedas chest rose and fell steadily as she stared at the man in front of her. "Julien -"
"You look lovely."
"Don't cut me off."
The knight smirked, afore the grin fell as quickly as it came. "I thought you dead."
"Your faith in me is astounding."
"I tried complimenting you."
"That does not express your faith it expresses..." She paused. What did it express? Respect? The girl was confused. Confused at what her mind was telling her, confused at the sick feeling in her gut. Confused at his dopey expression. The man cleared his throat, regaining his usual demeanor in a second. "I apologize...I'm sorry, for not...visiting. It would have brought too much pain to see you in such a state or worse, no longer on this world."
Julien flinched, and that single expression melted her icey front a mere amount. "Well, it brought pain to me also to fall from a tower and shatter my bones. I did not complain. Or worse, hide from what had become of me."
"How does one hide from themself?"
That sentence struck hard, and Theda found herself swallowing over a thick lump that had formed in her throat. "They do not."
Turning her head, she caught sight of Oenidas leading the dark-haired Cassardi dweller out into the middle of the room, joined by Leythir and Ser Mercedes, Serenade and Ser Wesley, and others. When Julien next spoke, he was closer. "Would you like me to teach you to dance, tune player?" Without waiting for an answer, he took her hand in his, grip gentle as he led her out. Stuffing her nervousness into a corner of her mind, she followed, chin tilted back, until Julien shifted sideways and held up his arm, elbow bent so his forearm stood erect. Theda eyed him curiously.
"Follow my lead."
So she did, her palm soon rested against his, and he nodded. "Well done. Step slow at first, in a circle."
"No music has begun."
"This is how we start." He gestured to the other nobles, who had done the same and now waited for the music to begin. So Theda obeyed, awaiting the next instructions. "Now, when the music begins, you won't be with me at first -"
" -Just follow the lead of the rest of the women."
Afore she could ask any more questions, the music began, and Julien lifted her, twirling and setting her in a large circle of roughly seven other women. And the Arisen. Apparently he had taken the role of woman in this dance, which amused Theda to no end.
"Don't worry." He whispered, as the dance began. "I've no idea what I'm doing either." Theda laughed as they all took off, following the lead of the noble in front of her by placing both hands on her hips, and bouncing around in a circle, occasionally kicking her legs up behind her as she hopped and ran. The men held their arms behind them, and she caught sight of Julien as she looked to her side, nodding his head and then jumping on the spot to face her. Mirroring his every move, they walked to pass eachother, spinning when they were close to the other and walking the rest of the way backwards. Despite herself, the entire time, Theda smiled, moreso to her discovery when the part of the dance came, when Julien stepped to her, dragging her arm to rest across his waist and doing the same to her, holding her arm to the side as they spun. There was the chuckle when they twirled the wrong way, or that one time where Valmiro tripped, bringing the Arisen with him to a chorus of laughter. The two merely grinned themselves, aiding the other to stand and continue the dance. At a time, they all had to separate for more spinning, merely with other people. Shoulders touching, Oenidas and Theda copied the movement of others as they stepped round in a circle, she then found herself dancing with Leythir, Ser Georg, and Mercedes as the dance proceeded, until a tug at her waist brought her back to Julien, slightly breathless from the events. The music stopped as each was brought back to their original partner, and cheers and claps rang loudly from dancers and observers alike.
"You dance well. For a foreigner." Julien commented, still as close to the woman as he was when they were dancing.
"As do you. For a foreigner." Thedas brows rose, and before she could react, he bent slightly, and his lips came into contact with hers. The action was brash, as if he had been holding back for far too long, but it softened, and although the gesture was not used much back in Drazeelgahnen, Theda soon picked it up. The kiss was returned, his hand, holding her to him, rested on the small of her back, whilst hers, perhaps out of shock, stayed where they were – one on his stomach, the other at her side. That sick feeling was back in her gut but, realization dawned that she had grown attatched to this man. This fool knight. And that thought, terrified her out of all rational thought. But among all the dizziness, the fear, this alien feeling that had buried in her stomach, she was content. Bliss. Something she hadn't felt in a long time and for that moment, those few seconds that the connection lasted, that one of his hands dropped and the tips of his fingers gingerly brushed her own, she was content to feel his breathing come and go with hers.
Speech betrayed them after that moment, Juliens lips parted but no words would escape. So instead, he gestured for her to follow – more pulled her – out onto the stretch of ground that continued outside the window. A balcony, she thought someone had said. "Why would you do this?" He whimpered, and for a moment seeing him so frail made her silent. "Everything was so easy until you came along."
"I don't understand -"
Julien shook his head, both hands going to rest at the side of her face, thumbs brushing the tattoos that indicated her cheekbones, afore his forehead fell to contact with hers. Still in shock from the abrupt change of attitude, her hands hung dumbly at her side. Then Julien was gone. He marched back into the room without another word. Whilst Theda stared after him, her hands clenched to fists, which she brought down on the stone of the gate that surrounded the balcony. Her head soon fell to lay against the cool rock, staying like that for a long while as the air skimmed across her neck. A feeling she knew naught of wracked her form, as a shaky sigh left her lips, and she rose her gaze once more to look out across the fields.
But fields were not what she saw in that moment.
In that moment, she saw an approaching army.