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|A Garidon story. Darrin Trailsong, bard, rogue, and part-time Legend, recounts the tale of his first meeting with his wife, winged elf Ailen Arrowshaft. (Please, feel free to leave comments following your readings of the tales I've provided... feedback is always greatly appreciated!)||
The taproom of the Whistling Swan was busy again this night, as it was many nights, with both the hopeful youth and the wise elders of Naridale's famed College of Magical Arts. Each was again doing their best to see just what kinds of small cantrips and pranks they could play on one another—and how well they could cast their many and varied magics while well beyond inebriated. And, as usual, Darrin Trailsong, self-described bard, rogue, and part-time legend, and his rather unique wife, the winged elven warrioress Ailen Arrowshaft, could only stand behind the bar in amazement.
Ailen, bronze-blond hair tied back in a tail, stood behind the bar and poured another glass of the house specialty ale for a visiting red-robed gentleman from Marnet-by-the-Sea and smiled politely at her husband. "Darrin, love?"
"Yes, m'dear?" Darrin said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve after sipping from a glass of his usual drink, a white grape juice. Earlier years of alcohol misuse while traveling had placed strains on the bard's relationships. Once he traced his problems back to the source and was introduced to the sweet substitute by his wife, he had grown to like the drink. As he repeated the gesture after another sip and grinned affectionately at Ailen, a small crowd of regulars began to gather steadily around the pair, snickering as the two bantered back and forth; this unofficial floor show was always one of the highlights of the week. And if it brings in a few more thirsty folk willing to spend their gold, he reasoned, I think Ailen and I can spar a little bit once in a while.
The winged elf raised an eyebrow and rolled her eyes at the lowbrow, slightly oafish gesture. "Wonderful maneuver, husband. Pray that this drink will not permanently stain your shirt—not like last week."
The semi-retired bard shrugged his shoulders. "So I now have a pink shirt. No harm done. Besides, you're the one who always complained that my wardrobe was too bland." He cleared his throat, tied his own salt-and-pepper hair back in a tail, and did a fairly passable imitation of her medium-range voice. "'All those white shirts and brown pants. Darrin Trailsong, you need a little variety in your life!'"
"And as usual, Darrin, I was right," Ailen chided, dunking a dirty glass into a small basin behind the bar and washing it clean. He could see by the way his wife's alabaster-white feathers shook gaily behind her that she was quietly giggling at him behind her otherwise droll, stern facade.
"Like you were on that first night?" A few of the regulars chuckled from the other side of the bar.
Ailen smirked. "Oh, and you were a paragon of virtue, I suppose?" A low 'ooooh!' passed through the crowd, from one end to another, at Ailen's verbal riposte.
Darrin took a step back and clutched his chest in mock injury. "Wounded! Oh, you wound me dear lady!"
"I almost did wound you on that first evening," she said, advancing a step, playing the game along with her husband. "A few inches lower with that old glass blade of mine, and you would have been singing in the high registers for the rest of your career." Not a few of the men in the room subconsciously crossed their legs at the woman's offhanded remark.
The crowd, as usual, was eating it up. "Really, now?" asked one gentleman, a regular customer and normally dour blue-robed wizard named Cantimore who loosened up considerably when brought outside his laboratory. "Just what happened that first evening, Trails?"
"Well, Can," he said, leaning back against a countertop behind the bar, "that was quite a few years ago. There's a few moments I don't remember quite so well, but if you'd help me, love--" He turned to Ailen, who merely nodded and smiled-- "I believe it went a little something like this..."
* * * * *
"Oh, goddess, whatta night," the young lady groaned, wiping the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes. She lay, naked, on her stomach on the plush bed, the large alabaster wings growing from her back acting more like a blanket than the covers that were provided for her—covers that had been quickly and fitfully shoved to the floor during the night. "Strange dreams... note to self: never, ever do that again. Especially before bed." Twisting to her left, joints creaking, she rolled out of bad and set her feet on the floor, trying hard to remember just what it was she did last night that made her feel so exhausted this morning.
She turned to face the room's large mirror—but instead stared straight into the face of what was, in her sleep-addled mind, a total stranger.
"Good morning, Angel," the dark brown-haired man said, toying absently with the downy feathers at the tip of her left wing. "How'd you sleep?"
"I-I-I…" she stuttered gracelessly. Taking a deep breath, she slowly tried to regain the composure she had so rapidly lost. "I, um, I slept fine. Yes. Fine. And yourself?"
"Better than I've slept in a long time, Angel." He leaned forward, brushed her long blond hair out of the way, and planted a light kiss on the back of her neck. "And I have you to thank for it."
She shivered and moved away, took another deep breath to calm herself, and examined the gentleman across from her, determined to stabilize this awkward situation and perhaps turn this smug-looking man's attitude against him. "The name is not 'Angel', sir—it is Ailen. Ailen Arrowshaft," she said, slipping her wings around her naked body to cover herself for modesty's sake as she stood up. "And your name was again...?"
"Darrin Trailsong, bard and rogue, at your service," he said, bowing. He pulled his shoulder-length brown hair to his right, tying it up in a pony tail that hung loosely over his right shoulder by wrapping it with a small strip of leather that lay on the night table beside the bed. Feeling a bit modest himself, he grabbed the bedsheet and sat up against the headboard, smiling slightly. "You don't remember much about last night, do you?" he said, sounding almost disappointed.
"I... I fear not," Ailen replied, grabbing her frontpack and stepping behind a large five-panel changing screen to change into something much more appropriate than just a pair of wings and her birthday suit.
"Is everything all right?" Darrin asked, taking the opportunity to find his own trousers on the floor next to the bed and quickly slip them on.
"It depends." She peeked out from behind the first panel of the decorative screen and stared directly at him, blue eyes locking with brown. "Are we married—or do we have children?"
Darrin's eyes widened and his face paled slightly at the brusque, unexpected query. "Um, n-no..."
"Then everything seems to be all right." She stepped out from behind the five-paneled screen wearing a white gown that hung loosely around her shoulders, parting in the back to allow free movement for her wings. Barefoot, she walked across the floor and sat on the edge of the bed, across from the self-described rogue. "So tell me, Trailmix. Just how did I end up here—in what appears to be your bedroom?"
"Whatever. Just answer my question." She stood and walked over to a chair, grabbed a silver-hilted glass blade that lay in its scabbard attached to a belt, and strapped it around her waist.
Darrin grabbed the remainder of his clothing and walked behind the screen. "Well, you stopped by this inn outside Aspendale last eve, the Bashful Basilisk, where I was performing last eve. You came in with a couple friends of yours—a felinid and a member of the White Wing Swanmays, if I understood her uniform correctly."
"You did, Trailmix."
"Whichever. Please, continue." She pulled a brush from the oversized pouch on the dressing table and started running it through her long, golden hair.
"As it stood, the three of you proceeded to polish off two full bottles of Feywine and socialize throughout the evening with some of the other patrons, including a number who'd never seen the likes of you."
"Aye. We Avariel... do not tend to leave Tanathel all that often," she said, looking out the window in the direction of her far off homeland, her expression vacant and more than slightly pained. "Please, continue."
Darrin wandered from behind the screen wearing his green vest and a white puffy shirt, the latter tucked neatly into his long black trousers. "After most folks had left, the three of you, all well beyond the normal stages of drunkenness, were trying to figure out just where to stay for the night. I, feeling a bit like the host for the evening, offered to rent the last remaining room beside my own." He wandered over to the bed, sat down, and pulled on his calf-length boots. "Your companions, the gracious ladies that they are, took the one room with the two beds. I, not being the least bit unchivalrous myself, graciously offered my own bed, and you accepted in a heartbeat. On your way upstairs, you collapsed. I assumed the Feywine was at last wreaking its revenge upon you, so I helped you up to the room and, with eyes closed for modesty's sake, slipped off your clothing and slipped you into bed. After all, there's nothing at all worse than waking up with the feeling of having slept in your clothes."
"All with your eyes closed, Trailmix?" Ailen questioned skeptically.
"Trailsong!" He shouted.
"Whichever," she responded indifferently. "I merely find it impossible to believe that you did not, at least for a moment, open your eyes to... how is it you humans or bards say, 'ogle my nubile Elven flesh'?"
Darrin leveled his gaze at the winged warrioress. "I may be a rogue, but I am, at the very least, a gentleman." Almost inaudibly he added, "Besides... I was drunk when I penned that particular line."
Ailen nodded, the nearest to an apology that she would give. "Please, continue. I am curious as to just how you ended up beside me this morn, then—if, as you say, you are a gentleman."
Darrin cleared his throat and tugged at the collar of his shirt. "Well, to explain, I must tell you that I am a very sensitive person. Hardly the 'hardwood floor' type, you must understand. Being as sensitive as I am, I slipped into bed beside you and attempted to relax, yet remain awake. Apparently I just fell asleep sometime during the night."
Ailen looked at the bard incredulously. "So... you are saying that nothing... happened between us?"
"I may be a bard, Angel, but I'm no louse," he said, looking at her with plaintive brown eyes. "Something my fellows in the profession chide me for, actually: having a bit of a sense of honor. They think I must be some sort of anomaly, blemishing the names of 'true' bards everywhere." He chuckled dryly.
"A quality I find almost rather... wait a moment," she said, stopping in the middle of slipping her right boot on, looking around the room curiously, shaking her head. "When I awoke, you were also..."
"Um, well, yes." Darrin shifted uncomfortably from his side of the bed. "I tend to relax better at night when unfettered by the restraints of clothing," he admitted, blushing.
"And still you say nothing happened between us last eve?" She took a couple of steps toward Darrin and began practice-swinging her sword in a wide, circular arc. "Tell me the truth, 'bard and rogue'. Why did you see fit to disrobe me last eve?"
"A-as I said, milady, b-because your traveling leathers looked wholly uncomfortable for sleeping in, and it's j-just force of habit for me to sleep na—" She swung the glass blade in a close arc, nearly taking the bard's left ear. He dove to his knees, covering his head with his hands, screaming, "In the name of the Goddess, woman! I'm too young to die!!"
Ailen smirked, satisfied, and sheathed her glass sword once again. "I am merely testing you, bard. You, as a true master—or, at least, apprentice—of your profession have your magical ways of detecting the truth. I, on the other hand, prefer a much more direct approach."
Darrin crawled into a chair near the window. "Th-then... you're not going hurt me?"
"Hurt you?" Ailen laughed, a high, lilting giggle that sounded much like a young child at play. "Rather on the contrary. I believe I should rather thank you for looking after me last night. Not many people are willing to go that far for a total stranger. Fewer still are willing to pass on the opportunity to take advantage of a woman in such a... weakened state of mind."
Darrin exhaled deeply and blushed an even deeper shade of crimson. "Um... yes. I mean, you're quite welcome, actually."
"Now... where are Mercicon and Kynna?"
"The tigerwoman and the Swan Ranger? Just down the hall and to the left."
"Good. How much will these rooms set us back?"
"Not a copper." Darrin, satisfied that he was not about to lose any vital organs, stood up and brushed flat his wrinkled clothing. "As I said, this was a simple favor for three lovely women who needed to merely sleep off a particularly nasty drunk."
"Again, I thank you, bard."
"No thanks necessary." Darrin slipped his boots on and started straightening up the room as Ailen headed for the door. "Oh, say! Next time we happen to cross paths, feel free to come knock. My door, as it were, is always open..." He patted the bed suggestively.
"Do not press your luck, Trailmix," she said with a smirk.
"Trailsong! Trailsong!" he muttered semi-angrily, also smiling.
"Whatever." She walked out of the room, tossing her blond hair about once again and folding her wings close behind her body. Turning one last time to face Darrin, she blew him a kiss.
"Be assured, bard... we will meet again."
* * * * *
"And obviously, of course, we did meet again," Darrin said, wrapping up the tale and wrapping an arm around his wife.
"A number of times," Ailen added. "A couple to my benefit, but all mostly to rescue his besieged-yet-shapely behind from the clutches of a disaster far too great for him to handle alone." The crowd shared a good-natured laugh at Darrin's expense and, after Darrin bought a round for all who'd suffered through his tale, began to disperse both for other parts of the bar and for the comfort of their own beds and bedrolls for the evening.
As the night drew to a close and the last patrons straggled home from the Whistling Swan, Darrin locked the door and blew out the candles in the wall sconces. "Ailen?" he asked to his wife, who stood behind the bar, washing the last of the glasses. "Did... did you ever wonder just what might have been?"
"What do you mean, love?"
"I mean, what might have happened had we not met that night in Aspendale. What would've happened had you not gone through the whole bottle of Feywine. What could have happened if we'd both stayed as we were perhaps born to be?"
Ailen dropped her towel and walked out from behind the bar. "No. I guess I never truly gave it much thought." She shrugged. "Not that it matters. We are who we are and always will be, Trailmix."
Darrin smiled, noting the mischievous glint in his wife's blue eye. "Trailsong," he corrected softly, holding her tenderly. "And don't you forget it."
"I never have, Darrin," she said, reaching up and placing a tender kiss on his forehead. With a quick burst of breath, she blew out the last of the wall sconces, leaving the room lit only by the light of the crescent moon shining through the windows. "And I never will."
|Quest of the Heart||
Swan's Song: A Fantasy Idyl
|To Swim Forever||The Tiger and the Lady|