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Hero's Song - Chapter Ten

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I jumped anxiously. I have been listening to people bustle into the tavern for the past half-hour, and Shandra still wasn't anywhere to be found. I had dutifully curled my hair into long, lazy ringlets, and after half an hour of brushing the damn things out of my eyes, I'd pinned the front portion back away from my face, sophistication be damned. Still, it looked nice in the mirror.

I quickly got up and cracked the door to my room; Shandra stood outside, a sackcloth over one arm. "Where have you been?!"

"Look, it took me a bit of time, ok?" She slipped into the room. "But Ophala was heated about you having to fight Lorne, and she was just dying to do a favor for you, so..."

"Wait...wait, wait, wait. You got me a dress from Ophala?" My voice had gone up an octave, and the end of my sentence was a virtual squeak.

She said hurriedly, "Now, calm down, what she gave me was actually"

I stared at her coldly. She quickly threw the sackcloth onto the bed and began unwrapping it. The last peice peeled back to reveal scarlet fabric that looked touchably soft in the lamp-light. I picked it up and held it aloft, shaking out the folds.

Shandra watched my face apprehensively. "Well?! Put it on! I've been dying to see what you look like wearing it ever since I left the Mask."

I glanced at her suspiciously. "And what are you wearing?"

She snorted at me. "Some of us are ladies, and own more than one appropriate outfit for occasions like these. It just happens that my things were...well, burned to the ground, but suffice it to say that I have something to wear, and so do the others."

I looked at the garment dubiously. "A lot of my scars are going to show."

"So what? Woman, you just killed Lorne; no one's going to care."

Five minutes later, I stood in front of the mirror in my room; A scarlet bodice hugged my torso, with long sleeves that fell off my shoulders and left them bare, then ran down the lengths of my arms, fitted until they flared slightly at my wrists. The layered, slightly full skirt ended at my knees, and there were slits around it in it's entirety that probably exposed a lot more leg than I was comfortable with when I walked. The fabric was something thick and deliciously soft; I had never owned anything so finely made. A pair of reddish brown, delicately made boots that (thankfully) reached the middle of my thighs sat by the edge of the bed, ready to be worn.

I looked at Shandra in askance. "My legs are showing."

"So what? You looked amazing! Look, everyone knows what a good fighter you are, and how smart you are, and how powerful your music is, etcetera, etcetera. No one is going to think twice about seeing you dressed up."

I laughed. "You mean dressed down? I just hope Duncan keeps the fire going, else I'll freeze to death."

"Well, just get your boots on and get out there, will you? I have to get changed." She smiled at me. "You look fine, go have fun! You've earned this more than anyone."

She left me to struggle into the impossibly complicated boots. My mind was buzzling slightly; I had to admit I was excited. It had been ages when I'd played for an audience; last time I did was the High Harvest fair at West Harbor, right before the attack. I had been full to the brim with the taste of victory and had played for hours, and people had danced and laughed and called for more...

I felt a twinge of sadness when I realized a lot of those people were dead now. I shook my head, and put thoughts like that behind me, at least for now.

When I stepped into the common room, it was already full; I saw Axle in the back corner by the fire, laughing at something Red-Handed Billy was doing at the table...I couldn't tell what, since the gambler's back was to me. There was Gnosher, pounding shots with Neeshka and Khelgar at the bar while Sal was hurriedly trying to keep up. Nanley Lucas was playing his lute, but no one was really dancing yet. Casavir was speaking animatedly to Elanee, who kept glancing at the dance floor. I remembered Shandra's words; Elanee was actually dancing! and chuckled. Maybe I wouldn't miss it, this time.

Ah, there was Comely Finn, playing darts with Wetherly; as far as Watch Hounds went, they weren't bad men. Two of Moire's boys, Fenri and Low Lucan, caught side of me, and shouted a raucous greeting across the room, and Lucan included something descriptively embarasing about my dress, which caused every head to turn in my direction. Instantly, I was surrounded by Axle's men; handshakes, pats-on the back, friendly shoves, and a chorus of voices all conveying the same thought; Congratulations, you're alive!

Soon I was laughing helplessly; Jinx was trying to tell me about how he had tried to sneak down into the arena while everyone was busy keeping me alive, so that he could look through Lorne's pockets, but then Nevalle caught him and called for someone to come arrest him, and then Fenri tried to distract him by throwing the left over meat-pastie he had been carrying in his pocket straight into Nevalle's eye, and here Fenri cut in and attempted to tell his side of the story, and Jinx got angry and started shouting, and the other boys were laughing uproariously...

A cool hand took mine and very gently pulled me from the middle of them. I looked up in to Casavir's face, feeling a slow smile curl my lips. I performed a mock curtsey. "Good eve, sir knight."

Elanee looked amused. "You look pleased with yourself."

I didn't think Casavir had blinked yet; his eyes wouldn't leave mine. "You look wonderul."

"" A flush crept into my face. "Thanks. It's all Shandra's fault."

"Hmph. I can see the very...human...taste in clothing on you, at least." Elanee was wearing something shimmery and green and entirely elven in cut and style, and it suited her quite well, but she was looking at my exposed skin with a slight dissaproving frown.

I felt very concious of every scar, not excluding the very visible one that ran like a white crescent from my right collarbone and dissappeared down into my bodice. I quickly smiled at her. "I haven't been able to thank you, for healing me. You saved my life."

Elanee blinked, disarmed. Then she returned my smile with a confused one of her own. "I would have done nothing less for you, my friend. I'm just glad you made it through that bloody affair victorious."

"We all are," rumbled Casavir gently, and I couldn't bring myself to look into his face again. His eyes held a heat that I had never seen before, and it unnerved me no small amount. I cleared my throat and smiled, flustered.

"Excuse me for a moment." I moved to the bar and placed my wrapped fiddle behind it, motioning to Sal that I would be leaving it there for now. He stared at me, his eyebrows almost up to his hair-line. Khelgar, waiting for his next glass to be filled, glanced over and me and spluttered.

"Ye Gods!" He grinned. "Who are ye, my lady, and what have ye done with our bard?"

I laughed and leaned on the bar. "She's back in her room, nursing her aches. She asked me to come here in her stead, and clarified further that anything that I did tonight would in no way be connected with her in the morning."

Neeshka choked on her drink, laughing. Gnosher whistled appreciatively. "Ye look good, Red," the half orc said, raising his glass. "Oy Sal, get Harper a drink already! She's about to faint from her overwhelming sobriety!"

Khelgar raised an eyebrow at Gnosher. "Sobriety? I'm surprised you got that word out in one peice, orc."

"Aye, me too. How about you stop waterin' down me ale, Sal?" Gnosher drained his class, and then turned to Neeshka, holding out his elbow in a courtly fashion. I snickered when I noticed he was swaying slightly.

"May I have this dance, me lady?"

Neeshka grinned cheekily, and took his arm. They strode out into the middle of the floor, and Nanley took the cue and began playing an upbeat tempo. Sal handed me a drink. "Duncan'll kill ya when he sees what you're wearing," he whispered to me, but he was grinning. I sat next to Khelgar and shouted encouragement along with everyone else to the dancers, who now numberd eight, and who were doing a good job of testing the durability of Duncan's floor. After a few songs, Nanley waved himself off, protesting that his fingers were killing him.

A shout went up. "Harper! Play something!" "Get her over here, she's been hiding ever since she walked in!"

Sal thrust my fiddle into my hands, and I whispered something into his ear. He lifted a stool onto the bar, and helped me up, where I sat, legs crossed and fiddle poised under my chin. I watched as a few more people filed on to the dance floor, and almost lost my bearing when I saw Shandra walk up to Casavir and pull him out, as well. I just chuckled to myself, placed the bow against the strings...and flew.

The first dance was an old Lightfoot reel, and it was damn fast. My bow flew until I swore I smelled sparks, and over the stomping of the dancers' feet I heard laughter and cheering as Khelgar jumped down from the bar and strode out on to the floor with Elanee. Next was another fast number, and then Khelgar breathlessly requested that I play something dwarven and slower, or else he was going to die. So I played "Iron on the Door" and "Fire Mountain," and then I took note that many people were stopping to take a break, and the floor was clearing out a bit.

I saw a shadow move at the back of the room. Bishop sat by Sand at a table at the edge of the crowd of dancers, a mug in his hand. I could feel his eyes on me from across the room, felt them take in my smooth, bare shoulders, the flash of skin between the folds of my skirt, my long tumble of scarlet curls. I narrowed my eyes, heart beating fast, then looked down at the small crowd gathering at the bar where I was perched. I started to play, and a few of the people recognized the song and began clapping along to it. After the first refrain, I started singing;

"A northman clad in kilt left the bar one evening fair,

and one could tell by how he walked that he'd drunk more than his share..."

A chorus of encouraging shouts accompanied this line, and I warmed up to the crowd as they realized the general tone of what I was singing. Anyone in a bar can relate to a musician singing about someone else in a bar. It's philosophical. Kind of.

"He stumbled 'round until he could no longer keep his feet,

then he stumbled off into the grass to sleep beside the street."

This part of the verse was a string of "Ring-ding-diddle-diddle's" and "Ray-dee-low's" that seem to run rampant in every countryside drinking song ever written, and everyone joined in with me on that part. As I went on with the song, the crowd began singing what they remembered from earlier verses, as well, until I was only leading the chorus while everyone else shouted it to the rooftops.

"About that time, two young and lovely girls just happened by

One says to the other with a twinkle in her eye,

'See young sleeping northman, so strong and handsome built,

I wonder if it's true what they don't wear beneath the kilt?"

"They crept up on the sleeping northman, quiet as could be.

Lifted up his kilt about an inch so they could see

And there behold, for them to view, beneath his clannish skirt

was nothing more than the gods had graced him with upon his birth."

Someone whistled, and someone else howled appreciatively, which had the whole room laughing as I continued on;

"They marveled for a minute, then one said, 'We must be gone.'

'Let's leave a present for our friend, before we move alone.'

As a gift, they left a blue silk ribbon, tied into a bow

Around the bonney star the man's kilt did lift and show;"

My voice came out a little hoarse at the end of that line; Khelgar was joining in to the "Ring-dye-diddle" part with glorious abandon, hoisting his mug into the air, and I was fighting down the laughter. One more verse!! I could do it.

"Well the Northman woke to Nature's call, and stumbled towards the trees

Behind the bush, he lifts his kilt, and gawks at what he sees,

And in a startled voice, he says, to what's before his eyes,

"Oh, Lad, I don't know where ya been...but I see ye won first prize!'"

The crowd roared with laughter and cheering, and we all ended the song with a rousing rendition of the chorus. I climbed down from the bar, my throat aching; I hadn't sang in a while, and trying to be heard over the noise of the crowd was taxing. "Sal," I said huskily, "Drink! Please!"

Nanley took up the slack again, this time with Grobnar at his side, and the dancing began once more. Sal was shaking with tears of mirth. "I ain't ever heard that one before, Harper," he said, laughing as I downed the warm ale. "If I'd a known all I had to do to get some attention from a woman was wear a skirt, I'd have done it a long time ago!"

I chuckled. "Life isn't like the songs, unfortunately," I said. "I think you're better off sticking with trousers."

A rough hand pressed against the bare skin of my shoulder, and a voice said in my ear from behind me, "That was a rather impious song, lady bard."

I turned and looked up into his face, eyebrows raised, and laughed slightly. "Casavir doesn't complain about it, but you do? The world must have gone inside out while I was sleeping."

He smiled slightly at that. "I think the paladin is still trying to work out the fact that you have a body underneath all that leather you wear. He might not have heard the song at all." He placed both of his hands on the bartop, one on either side of me, until my back pressed against the edge of the counter. He bent close to my ear, his voice rough. "I, however, worked out that fact on my own."

Oh, shite. I was caught, now, wasn't I? Sal had moved down to the other end of the bar, and Bishop's hand was trailing up from the counter to my arm, sliding across exposed skin until I thought my insides couldn't twist themselves any tighter...

"Excuse me..."

We both looked up, startled. I must have looked as guilty as I felt, for Sand was standing there, eyebrow raised. Bishop's face looked thunderous. "What do you want, wizard?" he practically snarled.

"What I want, ranger, has nothing to do with you, fortunately." Sand turned from him, dismissing Bishop from his aknowledgement. "Harper, would you like to dance?"

" I mean, of course Sand!" My voice sounded a little high in my ears, but I took the elf's proffered hand, and slid out from under Bishop's grasp. At least, for now...

Sand led me on to the floor, and whispered something to Nanley, who nodded. The lutist began an upbeat, elven court dance, and the only way I even vaguely knew the steps was thanks to Retta Starling back in West Harbor; she had grown up in Neverwinter and the city was alive with the latest dance steps. As I was one of the only females in the village who had shown even the remotest interest in dancing, she had taught me everything...and I mean everything...she knew. I managed not to completely embarrass myself, and Sand was smiling appreciatively, when the dance ended and Nanley began another one of his fast numbers.

I could feel Bishop's eyes on me; he stalked through the edge of the crowd, watching me. Before Sand could protest, I grabbed his hands and we were off, my hair and skirts flying behind us as we joined the latest group of dancers on the floor. My blood was thundering through my body, and I danced with a vigor I didn't know I had anymore; all the weariness and pain of the last month was stamped out through the soles of my boots and dissappeared under the floor, forgotten. Sand finally excused himself, laughing at me in a rare delight. "You're too much for me, girl," he said warmly. "I'm too old for this sort of thing anymore."

"Oh, don't lie," I said, but he only smiled and retreated to the bar.

I had lost sight of Bishop, and breathed a little easier. I didn't understand what the hell was wrong with me; his nature made me a little wary about physical contact with him, I suppose. That much was easy to figure out. Okay. But I had to admit to myself that I wanted him. Badly. And then there was that fiddle...who would orchestrate such an elaborate method of getting someone in their bed? Was there more to it than that? Why the hells was this so frustrating?! I was getting more and more entangled in this web every passing day, and...

"Oy, Harper! It's your turn, girl."

Nanley was taking another break, and Sal shoved my fiddle into my hands. "Up you go, girl."

I started playing again, perched on my stool on the bar, and the dancing continued. I still didn't see Bishop in the crowd. It was going to be a long night.

And it was far from being over.

Hero's Song - Chapter 10 © Avariel

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