Aurei of Westmark
By Eddie Davis
Copyright © 2012 by Eddie Davis
The Muddy Boot was very, very packed for a weekday and Aurei Bugley was completely stressed out about it. With Krys keeping a vigil over the Duke at the Keep, they were short staffed, and this meant she had twice as much work to do. She zipped through the large tavern area with extreme grace, zigzagging around tables and dodging the seemingly endless sets of drunken groping hands feeling for her rear or chest. Of course all the men HAD to have her wait on them. Alis and Brandi were young, beautiful and amply buxom girls that could have turned any man's head, but instead, they all called out for her.
She blew a strand of hair out of her eye as she weaved around the Multon brothers, who were regular crabs around her, pinching and feeling her whenever she passed them and had her hands full, which, anymore, was most of the time.
Gently she sat down a plate of roasted mutton and a flagon of ale before Thorm Thannendwaf and the gruff Dwarf merchant looked up at her with a gleam in his eyes and a grin bursting through his beard, "Ah, by thunder, ye remembered, Duchess! Saves me th' time of ordering."
"I remembered, Thorm - it isn't hard as you order the same blasted thing every month you come through here. And don't call me Duchess."
"But ye are one, being ye are Gamel's daughter!"
"I'm not his 'daughter', Thorm; he just raised me - he and Mother Bugley." The thought of the deceased woman brought tears to her fiery red eyes, which she batted away quickly, "Anyway, he isn't dead and he has a nephew in King's Reach who I'm certain the King will make the next Duke of Westmark. I'm merely a barmaid."
"Merely a barmaid?! Hah!" The Dwarf snorted, and those around him who were listening to the conversation grunted their agreement. Aurei just sighed and rolled her eyes, "Is there anything else you need, good Dwarf?"
"Well, ye can tell me how be your father - any improvement? Does he stir at all?"
Aurei's face went somber and she shook her head, "No, in fact he seems to be getting worse. Brother Darv has tried many healing spells on him, but nothing helps. His mind, I think is gone. Of course he is 97 years old."
"Ah, grim news indeed. Too bad, too bad. Yesh preserve his soul. A fine man he is. I remember when he found ye as a baby. Twas scared to death of ye, didn't know what ye was or what to do with ye. If it hadn't been for Mrs. Bugley he would have probably clubbed ye over the head. She told him ye were no Imp but a baby. How long ago has that been, Duchess?"
"74 years in late summer. And don't call me Duchess, Thorm. The name is Aurei - Duchesses don't smell like spilt ale and get their fannies pinched every day. I'm a barmaid, nothing more."
"Bah! Ye run the place with him laid up don't ye?"
"Not by myself, I don't. We all work as a team."
"Who makes the decision on purchasing stuff? Ye do."
"Who else has the authority to do so?"
"It's just because I've worked here since I was old enough to walk. Seniority, I'd call it, nothing more."
"Hah! Ye know he'd expect ye to run it."
"He'd expect me to just do my job, which I'm not doing by standing here arguing about it with you. Now lets just get on with it shall we - so you can get to your food and I can get back to work - what did you bring me this time?"
She smiled sweetly at the Dwarf, who, in his far travels as a salesman for the Dwarven Armorer's Guild went all over the world.
"Treatin' me as ye are, I ought not to give ye anything!" he joked, already opening a large pack beside his chair, "However, seein' as ye are worried about overly friendly hands, I have something that might just help ye ward them off."
He pulled forth a rather ornate silver and black short sword in a leather scabbard. "Ye know what this be?"
"A short sword?"
"Not just any short sword, Duchess. I traded a wizard a jeweled dagger and a bag of gold for it just so I could give it to ye. 'Tis a Drow short sword, one taken off a dead Drow nobleman following a raid many years ago in the southlands. And it ain't just a common one either, for they decay on contact with sunlight. This one was specially made for a Drow noble. Thought ye might as well look the part."
"As a Drow?"
"As a noblewoman, Duchess."
"Will you PLEASE stop calling me that!" She took the sword from his hand and pulled it partway out of its scabbard. Aside from the handful of Drow weapons recovered from the Millpond dam area at the time they found her, she had never seen any dark Elven weapons and was extremely fascinated by the masterful construction of the short blade. She looked closely at the extremely fine workmanship - it was very light in weight, yet seemed at the same time to be incredibly strong.
"It be Adamantium" the dwarf explained, "Not the usual Drow kind either, this type is the same sort my people mine from deep in the earth and then craft into weapons and armor. Probably stolen from us. 'Tis a fine weapon, I'll admit that. Enchanted too."
Aurei's eyes widened, "Really?"
"Aye - most of the Drow weapons are. Worth a wee bit of gold, lass, but it be no toy. 'Twill cut off a head."
Aurei sheathed the sword and knelt down to hug Thorm. The burly dwarf, no great lover of Elves in general, grinned from ear to ear and hugged the girl back. In spite of himself, he really liked the Drow girl - of course she wasn't like the rest of her kin, nor even the surface Elves, perhaps that was the reason.
"Thank you, Thorm", she kissed his forehead and he actually blushed, causing his companions seated nearby to roar with laughter.
Suddenly a huge shadow went over the whole table and everyone looked up to see the huge form of Lute standing before them. He pulled the bench at the end of the table out wide and sat down with a slight groan.
"Evening, Lute" Thorm greeted the half-Ogre, who mumbled a reply.
"Are you okay?" Aurei asked, leaning over to look at him.
He nodded, but there was sadness in his eyes.
"What is it?" Aurei asked, and then noticing he was alone, added, "Is it Siris? Is she okay?"
Again Lute nodded, but finally he spoke, "She's not feeling well."
"Is it…" Aurei hesitated, not wanting to ask in front of everyone at the table.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. No luck again." His massive shoulders slumped and Aurei went over and hugged him as Thorm and the others looked on confused but not certain how to learn what was going on without asking.
The Half-Ogre armorer seemed to sense their puzzlement and surprised Aurei by telling them, "My wife and I are trying to have a child, but so far Yesh has not allowed it. Perhaps our races are incompatible."
Thorm shifted in his seat somewhat awkwardly, "Ah lad, don't ye worry about it. Ogres and Orcs can breed -- 'tis just not the time yet. Siris is a fine healthy lass -- she's the only Orc I've ever thought of as a friend-- and ye just wait and see, ye'll have a whole house full of big ol' green toothy babies one of these days, and ye'll train them to be armorers like their parents are and Westmark'll be all the better for the lot of all of ye. Probably have to get bigger chairs though."
Lute actually smiled slightly at Thorm -- the dwarf had been a dear friend to him and Siris (to the amazement of everyone in Westmark) for years.
"Thanks, Thorm. We can't have too many kids, or we might put your armorers guild out of business."
"Out of business?!" the Dwarf roared with faked offense, "No lot of 7 foot tall toothy Ogres are going to put the Dwarven Armorers Guild out of business!"
That began their usual light-hearted jesting with each other about all things dealing with the skill and construction of weapons and armor and she was very glad to see some light come back in the Half-Ogre's eyes.
Not wanting to embarrass Lute by asking more about how Siris was doing, she zipped away, weaving though the crowd again and behind the bar to stash away her sword for later examination.
The busy pace that evening kept up deep into the night as it often did in the late spring when the caravans heading to the south, seeking to avoid the mountain passes, took the Forest road west and instead came through Westmark before turning to venture down the South Highway which ran straight and true for hundreds of miles to the southlands. It was nearly midnight, and Aurei was, as usual, trying her best to conceal her bosom as she served the intoxicated men that lingered on in the Muddy Boot.
She hated the extremely low cut, tightly laced corseted dresses that she and the other barmaids had to wear each night. Not that Father Bugley would have demanded that of them, but the patrons did. The more danger that something might be exposed in the course of an evening, the more they drank, spent and tipped. So it was expected of them, and Aurei greatly disliked it. Especially since nature had played a cruel joke on her.
Growing up in Westmark, where no-one had ever seen a Drow before, everyone told her when she was a child that she was really no different then the Wood Elves or High Elves that occasionally visited the village. She had admired the thin, graceful beauty of the handful of Elven ladies she had seen and assumed that she would, upon reaching maturity, have a similar form.
Instead, at the age of 72 - which was early adolescence for surface Elves- she began to change-seemingly overnight. She grew tall - nearly as tall as some human women, and her form rounded and curved in very non-surface Elf sort of ways. The worst was her chest area, which just seemed to keep growing. Where she had always fit in as a sprite-like girl that got along with everyone, suddenly she was - at least in form- an ample bosomed young woman that every man in town either flirted with or became extremely awkward around. Now all the male eyes seemed zeroed in on her breasts or rump and when many of them became too intoxicated, they all wanted to touch or pinch her. She hated it. But the more she tried to stay low-key, the more the men seemed to focus on her. She longed to just be a willowy girl again, but nature had closed that off to her.
So though Alis, Krys and Brandi wore the same style of dress that she did, and though they all filled them out very well, she seemed to be the one everyone yelled to for service.
Aurei pulled up on her dress, trying to get even a fraction more of coverage. Alis, filling a flagon next to her just snorted, "It won't work, hon, those things are just too big. It's like trying to stuff a pig into a cracker barrel."
"A pair of pigs" Aurei corrected, frowning at her over-endowment, "It's just not fair, Alis."
"Not fair? For whom? Hon, you've got more than I do and I'm half-human."
"You can have mine. I'll trade you. I want to look like that Wood Elf Ranger that came in here last month."
Alis smiled somewhat sadly, "She was very typical of an Elf lady, but she really reminded me of my Mom."
Aurei touched her half-Elf friend's hand in sympathy. Alis' parents had been Rangers in the west but when Alis had been born, they had settled in Westmark to raise her. Her mother had died in childbirth with a stillborn son when Alis was only a little girl of 10. Her grieving father had left his daughter with Krys and Brandi's parents and went back to the west, never to be heard from again. She and Aurei were the only non-human residents of the town except for the Halfling Blunderfork family, Lute the Half-Ogre blacksmith and Siris his Orc wife. Lute and Siris had settled in Westmark after serving the King of Northmarch as spies among the humanoid tribes in the southern border of his kingdom. They both fit in surprisingly well, probably aided by their extreme skill at smithing and the very low prices they charged.
These were all the non-humans living in Westmark, and though a number of Dwarves (such as Thorm) as well as, Wood Elves and High Elves regularly passed through town, the rural folk were really somewhat awed at anyone different.
"I'm sorry Alis; I didn't mean to stir up sad memories of your Mom."
"Hon, I know you didn't - I'm okay, really." The two friends hugged for an instant when suddenly from behind her, someone violently yanked Aurei backward by the hair.
"Hey!" She yelled and spun around angrily to find the blade of a very long, sharp knife pressed against her neck. In front of her was one of the guards of a southern caravan that had arrived here earlier in the day on their way to King's Reach. The guard, a large, sullen faced man, was clearly half-drunk, but his steel blue eyes burned with anger and clear focus as he held the blade against Aurei's throat.
The Inn fell instantly quiet at the seriousness of the situation and a few of the patrons stood up, prepared to go to Aurei's defense.
"Get back!" The man yelled without turning his eyes off Aurei, "Stay back or I'll slit the witch's neck before you ever touch me!"
Something in the confidence of his words or the way he glared at the girl made everyone believe his words and so nobody moved.
Her hand still against the inside of the bar counter, Aurei felt something thrust into it and realized that Alis had slid the Drow short sword she had just been given by Thorm into her hand without the crazy drunk man noticing. Alis backed away from the counter with her hands now showing, so as to not alert the drunk what she had just done. Aurei's hand wrapped around the grip and for a moment she thought about jerking backwards and swinging out with the sword. But something in the man's angry eyes haunted her somehow, and she sensed something else there: hurt. She looked him directly in the eyes.
"Why do you want to kill me?" she asked flatly without a sign of fear.
"Shut up witch! Your kind killed my family! Down in Celiopolis! 25 years ago! We lived near the mountains and your damned lot of devils came out of some damned cave up there and raided our village. You killed my mother and sister!" His rage made the blade quiver against her neck, but he stayed totally focused on keeping the knife ready to strike in a moment's time.
"I didn't kill them, sir. The Drow did." She responded, taking a very risky gamble.
The man stared at her for a moment, blinking several times as if trying to understand what she said, then he laughed, "You're a Drow, witch. I'm not that drunk."
"Yes, I'm a Drow, sir, but don't I sound like the rest of the people here in this town?"
"I've lived here my whole life, sir."
"A Drow? Hah! There ain't no Drow that live on the surface!"
"Then why am I here, with a Westmark accent? Do you think the Drow that killed your family would work in a tavern?"
"Shut up! Shut your damned mouth, or I'll slit your black throat."
"Wouldn't you like to know why I'm here sir? Before you kill me?"
He thought for a moment then grunted, "Why, then?"
Aurei swallowed, "I never knew my parents. Father Bugley found me floating in the wreckage of an Elven carriage that apparently the Drow had stolen from the Faesidhe Elves, and then either drove off a bridge or tried to sink on purpose. Either way, it floated downstream with me in it - apparently my mother had joined the raid on the Faesidhe village while about to give birth to me. It failed and she had me - probably in the carriage as they were trying to escape. There was nobody in the wreckage but me and pieces of Drow armor, weapons and a couple of cloaks. So they may have just abandoned me in it to die. Perhaps they wanted me to die so I wouldn't hamper their escape. So you see, sir, I have no love for the Drow either, and many times when I look in the mirror I hate the image I see looking back at me about as much as you hate looking at me."
Either her words or her intense direct gaze into his troubled eyes seemed to move him.
"They left you to die as a baby?" He asked, his blade lowering a fraction of an inch.
"Everyone here thinks so. What chance would I have had? Fortunately Duke Bugley had compassion on me. I hate the Drow, sir, believe me."
He looked at her a moment and then the blade was lowered and he burst into drunken tears. The bartender, Lute and several male patrons moved forward to grab him, but Aurei waved them off with a stern look. Carefully she patted the man's shoulder.
"Sir, I am honestly very sorry for what the Drow did to your family."
He looked up at her through his tears and suddenly he leaned over and embraced her in a tight bear hug, howling with grief over his (and probably her) loss. He still held the long knife in his hand, but she sensed she had broke through to him and so she gently hugged him back, saying "I understand, it's okay" over and over in her most soothing voice until he finally slumped down onto a barstool, dropping the knife on the counter.
"I am sorry, ma'am" he said, not looking up at her in his shame, "If you want to get the constable after me, I don't blame you."
"No, we don't need to. I think I'd like to get you something to eat to help you sober up though. It's on the house."
He nodded and Aurei turned to Alis, who, along with everyone in the tavern, was looking at her in utter amazement at how she disarmed the situation. With only a nod to her friend, Alis hurried into the kitchen area to get the man something to eat.
Ignoring the admiring looks from the patrons; she simply smiled and with one last pat on the drunken man's shoulder, went back to waiting on tables.