Portal to Arandor Ch. 10bymistress_diana©
Wrexridge was the by far the largest settlement I had seen in Arandor. I guess you could have called it a city. Unlike a lot of towns I has passed through, it was not walled but instead sprawled out in all directions. The center was impossibly crowded with shops, inns, taverns, stables and houses. Horses and oxen clogged the roads in and out of the city. It was truly a center of commerce. Drahden said it was the last city before the Borderlands with Maludara.
We got hardly a glance as we rode into the city. Drahden seemed to know the city well and he led us through the winding streets to a quieter section that looked a bit upscale compared to other areas I had seen. We pulled up to a smart looking inn and dismounted. I beat the dust off my cloak and waited until he had spoken to the innkeeper. It had been a long stretch of riding without the benefit of an inn, so I was anxious to bathe and sleep in a real bed again. The last few nights were unbearably cold and although it would have been nice to use Drahden's body heat, I could tell that was never an option.
Drahden came out and handed the horses off to the stable boy with instructions to bring up our bags.
"We're in luck, there are plenty of vacancies. You may have your own room," he said brusquely as he walked to the stairs that led up.
"Separate rooms?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I thought you might like some privacy," was all he said. He showed me my room. "I have business in the city tonight. I will see you in the morning."
He shut the door behind him and left me alone. I sat down heavily on the bed. "Jerk," I said aloud to the empty room.
Since I didn't have to play the whore, I could at least dress a little more conservatively and pass the time in the tavern. I was accustomed to tavern life now and wasn't really afraid of being alone down there. Drahden recommended a dagger for me and I always kept it strapped to my thigh and hidden under my skirts. So after a long bath, I dressed and went downstairs to have dinner and some wine.
This tavern was different than a lot of others I had been in and I was glad that I wasn't dressed provocatively. It was cleaner, quieter and had a much better class of clientele. I took a table in the back and observed the crowd, much like I had seen Drahden do night after night. There were smartly dressed men and woman and others of a lower class but not the same kind of drunken rowdies I was used to. I drank my wine and ate my roast chicken and potatoes in relative peace.
I had built quite the tolerance to wine as it seemed there wasn't much else to drink in this land. So when the first bottle was empty, I ordered another one and paid with the gold that Drahden had given me. Eventually I noticed a man looking at me and when he caught my eye, he came over to my table.
"May I join you my lady?" he asked.
"Yes, of course, it would be my pleasure," I said.
He took a seat and I checked him out. He was a pleasant looking man, not like the rough and tumble types I saw on the road. I thought maybe he was educated as he was dressed in clothes that I thought maybe a professor would wear. I guessed his age to be around forty.
"Pardon me for asking," he said as he accepted the glass of wine I poured for him, "but I saw you with a man earlier. Is he your husband?"
"Nay, he is a friend of mine."
"Ah. He is a rogue I take it."
I raised my eyebrow. "Yes, do you know him?"
"I know of him, my lady. Lord Drahden if I recall."
"What brings you to Wrexridge?" he asked.
"We are wintering here and looking for honest work," I said, sticking to the story that Drahden laid out. "I hope to earn some gold until we can move on in the spring."
My friend looked at me. "Pardon my manners, my name is Samuel. And yours?"
"Very well, Rebecca. I am pleased to meet you."
I smiled at him and realized it was nice to chat with a man who wasn't Drahden. I hadn't made many friends in Arandor
"Likewise. Would you happen to know of work I could do?" I asked with a smile.
He laughed a bit and I enjoyed his smile. "Well I do not know what you can do. But I am a bookseller and I could always use another copier."
At first that confused me. A copier? Then I remembered -- no technology. People hand copied books. I had only seen a few books in Arandor and was eager to see more. Maybe I could finally learn more about this land and its history.
"I think I can manage that," I said. "My writing is neat and I can even manage some drawing."
His eyes lit up. "Ah, now that I could use. Would like you like to visit my shop tomorrow?"
"Yes, I would like that very much," I said. "But I am new to the city; I could not possibly find my way around."
"I will meet you here tomorrow after morning tea and escort you, my lady," he said with a kind smile.
"Oh, thank you so much!" I said, barely containing myself. Only hours in the city and I had a job. I was very pleased with myself.
"Then I will take my leave," Samuel said as he rose. "I will see you tomorrow."
It was late and I was half asleep when I heard footsteps come up the stairs. I sat up when I heard Drahden's voice and waited for him to enter my room, but he was talking to someone. Although I couldn't hear what they were saying, the other voice belonged to a woman. I held my breath and heard her giggle and then the door to his room closed. My stomach flipped over and I wanted to puke up all the wine but I held it down and lay in my bed paralyzed.
My face burned with shame as I listened for something I did not want to hear. The walls, like most places, were thin and I heard female laughter followed by Drahden's low voice. The minutes ticked by and it got quiet. I held my breath and waited. Then it began. First the woman's moans - starting low and building. Then she was talking, telling him to keep licking her. I squeezed my eyes shut and although I should have clamped the pillow over my head, I couldn't. Like a voyeur, I wanted to hear it. All of it. I could tell by the words she was saying that he was going down on her. Then suddenly it stopped.
I waited and then it began again. This time I could hear Drahden's low voice alongside hers. He was fucking her now. I could hear the bed creak. Slow at first, then faster. Her moans got loud again and then I heard her scream for him to fuck her -- harder, faster, deeper. Drahden groaned loudly. I pictured the scene vividly in my mind. His beautiful naked body on top of hers. Her legs spread. His hair hanging down in his face as he moved in and out of her. The sweat building on his back. The moaning built towards a crescendo and the climax. As they both cried out, I buried my head in my pillow and did some crying of my own, but not with joy.
I woke the next morning with a throbbing head and a heavy heart. I had no right to be jealous, he wasn't my boyfriend or anything and he made it clear that night in the inn that he wasn't going to do anything. A sort of wedge had been driven between us. I wondered if he meant to get me settled here and leave before winter was over.
That was months away, I told myself. Today I would visit the book seller's shop and see about a job. It was a step in the right direction anyways. Before I left, I supposed I better tell Drahden or he'd be looking for me. I took a deep breath and went to his door and knocked.
"Enter," said a muffled voice.
I slowly opened the door and peered inside. Drahden lay on the bed, alone, and naked. The sheets were tangled in his legs but I got a very good view of that body I had been admiring for so long. He was incredibly gorgeous and my heart skipped a beat.
"What is it?" he asked with closed eyes.
"I...I have a job interview," I said timidly.
His eyes flicked open and I got the penetrating gaze. "Where?"
"A book seller's shop. He needs someone to copy books." I cleared my throat and tried not to stare at his body. "He will be here soon to escort me."
"Wait for me," he said. "I need to meet this person."
"Alright, but hurry," I said and shut the door. It was so like Drahden to want to know everything. I sighed and went downstairs.
Drahden joined me only minutes later. He looked good as usual except for the bloodshot eyes. Samuel came along just then and there were introductions. Drahden asked him a bunch of questions.
"Very well, Rebecca. Please go with him to see about your job. I have business this morning."
Drahden strode off and I watched him go a bit before facing Samuel.
"Very intense young man," he said.
I nodded and sighed. "You do not know the half of it," was all I said.
Samuel escorted me as promised to his shop. I memorized landmarks along the way as the streets here were not marked as was customary in the cities and towns in this realm. Lucky for me it wasn't far so I felt confident I could return to the inn and find the shop the next day.
The shop itself was quaint and cozy. I was greeted to the smell of ink and parchment upon entering it. Samuel introduced me to his apprentices and showed me the operation. Copiers wrote on the parchment with ink and the binders took all the paper and bound together. Covers were made of leather in most cases. In the front of the shop were the books for sale and I so desperately wanted to read them but I figured I would get my fill eventually.
Samuel went over the terms of my pay and the hours. I was to work a few days a week at first to see if I could handle the work. He knew I was inexperienced. I told him how grateful I was for him giving me this break and he laughed.
"It is impossible to get anyone reliable these days," he said. "People are on the move after the truce. I am lucky to have found someone as willing as you."
He started me off with a pamphlet rather than an entire book. I donned an apron and set to work immediately. The pamphlet was rather dry, it had to do with city meetings and ordinances but I was glad to be doing something constructive instead of traveling all day. I focused on mimicking the style of handwriting that the original was in and the ink began to flow across the pages. When I had finished, Samuel inspected it and was pleased with it.
"Now copy ten more," he said with a smile.
The day passed quickly and I was so enmeshed in my work I didn't notice how late it got. The first dark shadows were creeping in when Samuel called it a day. I stood up and stretched my back.
"Mind your back, Rebecca," he warned. "Or you will be hunched over like an old crone before your time."
I nodded and drew my cape around me and donned my mittens. Samuel escorted me out of the shop and locked it up. "I will escort you back if you like."
At first I was ready to tell him no, but I enjoyed his company. He had such an easy way about him. I agreed and we walked up the lane together.
"Excuse me for being so forward," I asked suddenly. "But have you a wife?"
He shook his head. "I did, but she died a while back from the flux. I have never taken another."
"I am sorry to hear that, Samuel," I said sincerely. People died all the time around here and always way too young. But I found they didn't dwell on it.
"And you," he asked. "No husband? Children?"
I remembered the story that Drahden told me to use. I had told him about my life back in Denver and how I was divorced and why. He took it all in without comment and said that women did not get divorced here and that I was to be a widow.
"No, I lost him to illness as well," was all I said.
We walked on and he pointed out different shops and talked about the people that owned them. His voice was comforting to me and I wondered if maybe something would come out of this before the winter was over. It was pretty obvious that Drahden had no interest in me. When we got to the inn I asked him if he wanted to have a pint with me downstairs. He smiled and said that he couldn't but perhaps another time. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he meant it too. It gave me hope.
When I got to my room, Drahden was inside, feet propped up by the fire. His shirt was open and he looked tired. I said nothing and hung up my cloak and unlaced my boots.
"So?" he said. "How was your first day?"
"It was fine," I said in a strained voice. I poured a glass of wine and stood by the window. "And yours?"
"If you think I am not going to earn money, then you are wrong," he said. "My business is information as you know."
"I do." I set my glass down and turned to face him. "Are we staying in Wrexridge for the entire winter?"
"That is the plan."
"Then I want to rent a room in a different inn and stay by myself."
I saw a bubble of anger and surprise rise but he quickly suppressed it and replaced it with impassiveness. "I don't think that would be wise."
"Because I need to watch over you. There is still danger."
"Bullshit," I said. "Drahden, I know what you are about. I know what you'll be doing all winter. Do you think I am going to sit in my room at night while you fuck one woman after another?"
He set his glass down slowly and deliberately. "If that is what you wish, but I will choose the inn and I will be checking on you."
"Why bother?" I asked, surprising myself. "I can take care of myself now." I was careful not to speak of my long term plans.
"Is this how it is now?" he asked in a strained voice. "I rescued you and protected you for weeks and miles. Now you want to just walk away? Do you know how dangerous this land is for someone as new as you?"
"You seemed to do alright without help," I said.
"I had help," he replied. "Things you will never know or understand."
I stepped closer to him. "There are lots of things I don't know about you, Drahden. It's true -- you are a rogue."
The air crackled with the tension between us. I knew this was it.
"Fine, be on your way tomorrow, then. Find your own way in this world." He stormed out of the room.
I sat down on the bed and contemplated my newfound freedom. It would be scary but I was ready for the challenge. I would not let this world get the better of me.