“Thank you for thinking of that,” Wyll said. “It looks like you’ve got more than enough to keep you busy, so I guess I’ll leave you for now. See you soon.” They shook hands and Wyll took his leave, winding his way down to the main road and heading back toward Chillfurrow Farm. He spotted Anders walking ahead of him, and jogged to catch up. “Hey!” he cried, pulling alongside.
Anders grinned at him. “Everything go all right?” he asked.
“More than all right,” Wyll replied. He related the details of his visit to Arngeld’s, and Anders told him of the successful meeting with Hegmar. Both of them felt as though things were really beginning to come together. They returned to the farm as the sun was heading toward the western horizon, disappearing behind the walls of Whiterun.
They found Argis and conferred with him again. In the few hours since they’d last seen him the crews had finished laying the joists for the main floor above the sunken, stone-lined basement. A double line of vertical supports ran down the length of that basement, providing additional support for the floor above. They were now starting to lay floorboards atop those joists, but at the moment the workers were engaged in cleaning up the site and stowing their tools before quitting for the day. Whiterun guards patrolled the area overnight.
“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Anders told Argis as he and Wyll set their feet toward the Suite and home. “We’ll be by fairly early with some Dwarven ingots for Hegmar.”
“All right, see you then,” their friend said before turning his attention to the site and the departing crew. It was his responsibility to make sure everything was in order before he returned to Breezehome and his little family.
The men rolled into the Suite and greeted Lane, who was still behind the bar. “We’re getting 20 chairs and 4 tables before the 17th,” Wyll reported. “And wait’ll you see what Arngeld did with the Owner’s Table I ordered! It should be here tomorrow.” Lane passed them a couple of bottles of chilled ale and a bowl of fresh, hot potato chips. They carried them over to the existing Owner’s Table and sat chatting, having a little Happy Hour after their busy day. It was hard to believe they’d awakened this morning in a robbers’ den all those miles away from here.
It was getting on toward suppertime but there was no sign of Sorine. “I think I’ll go check on her,” Anders said, and headed for the trap door behind the bar. Wyll waved him on as Igmund and Raerek, ever together, came down the stairs and headed in the direction of their table to join them for supper. When Anders entered the basement, it appeared to be deserted. There was evidence that work had been going on, and the piles of Dwemer artifacts that had been spread around had been rearranged or removed. But where was Sorine?
He had a fairly good idea where to look, so he went into the Bride’s little chamber and followed the hidden corridor down to the “engine room” of the Suite’s water system. Sure enough, the Breton woman was kneeling on the stone floor, tinkering with a box a little smaller than a standard chest. This box, unlike the wooden ones so common throughout Skyrim, seemed to be crafted of Dwarven metal plate.
She was deep in concentration and didn’t hear Anders come in. “Sorine?” he asked gently.
She started, glancing up suddenly. “Oh!” she exclaimed, pressing a hand that was clutching one of her Dwemer tools to her chest. “What’s up?”
“It’s getting close to suppertime,” he told her. “Thought you might want to take a break and eat something.”
Sorine considered, then set down her tools, got to her feet and gave herself a slight all-over shake. “You’re right,” she said ruefully. “I’ve been so engrossed in this project that I might have stayed down here until I starved to death. Let’s go!”
They climbed the ladder and took seats at the table with Wyll and the two old fellows from Markarth. This was a bit of a squeeze, but they managed. Sorine, at least, was not a large person. Lane, acting as innkeep through the dinner hour, soon brought them sizzling venison steaks with steamed carrots and cabbage on the side, and some baked potatoes dripping with butter. The men all appreciated this hearty meal, but Sorine found it far too much to eat at a sitting – and after consuming about half of it, she asked Lane for a covered dish so she could take the rest of it away to eat later.
The three conspirators (with Igmund and Raerek by necessity admitted to the plot and sworn to secrecy, but taking no active role in it) discussed their progress over the meal. Sorine had built the enclosure and configured the heating and sanitizing units, installing the dynamo cores that would provide power to draw water through the system. The rest of the assembly would have to wait for the arrival of the pipes and the filtration screen. Next she would build the unit that would provide hot water on demand only (as opposed to the constant maintenance of hot water to be used in the bathing tub) for the house’s kitchen sink.
“I should be able to complete that tomorrow, except for the hookups. Your kitchen is in the existing part of the house, right?” Anders nodded. “If you can get the sink and have a small amount of pipe available, we might want to consider installing it and its hot water unit now, before the addition is completed. Even if it won’t be hooked up to the water supply until your tower and cistern are completed – and filled. I’ll need to be getting back to Fort Dawnguard soon, and I don’t think I can wait for the pipes to arrive.”
Anders’ brows knit. He hadn’t considered that they could hardly keep Sorine hanging around the Suite for days or weeks with nothing to do while waiting for the pieces she had ordered to be fabricated and delivered. She wasn’t the sort of person to sit idle, as Igmund and Raerek seemed content to be. “If you can leave us some very explicit instructions, probably Wyll and I between us can finish the assembly. And if not, I suppose that sometime between now and early next month I could come get you again.”
Sorine considered. “That ought to work fine,” she said agreeably. “I can’t leave for home in any case until after Katja returns from Solitude with her map. So I have another day or two to work on things.” That problem dealt with, Anders suggested to Sorine she might like to try the bathing pool. All this while, she’d been working toward duplicating the pool’s systems in smaller scale; but had not yet had the opportunity to enjoy it herself.
Wyll volunteered to help Sorine get settled in. They fetched her pack from the basement and a robe from the Suite’s collection, but on searching the sleeping lofts for a bed discovered that every one was occupied. They returned downstairs for a consultation. “It looks like we’re out of beds, Anders,” Wyll said. “How about if you and I bunk in together in the master bed tonight and I let Sorine have my bed in the basement? I get the idea she’s going to be spending a lot of time down there in any case,” he added with a grin to Sorine.
Anders smiled. “That’ll be fine, Wyll. Sorine, why don’t you take your things back down and slip on a robe, then you can get into the pool. I’ll join you in a bit.” She smiled and thanked them both, the words “Oh no problem, Wyll can bunk with me in his own bed” playing in her imagination. As she made her way to the trap door for the second time in the past few minutes, all that escaped her lips was a sigh. She’d scarcely given a thought to love or carnal urges in years, but something about being here and around these people, especially Wyll, seemed to be triggering forgotten longings inside her.
In the basement, Sorine stripped down and put on the robe. I wonder if Anders was being polite when he suggested the bath, she thought, realizing how grubby she was. It was a part of her nature to get so caught up in her work, be it technical hands-on stuff or scholarly investigations, that little details like personal hygiene fell by the wayside. No doubt, she sighed, that’s one of the reasons I have no love life.
Sorine returned to the common room and found not only Anders, but Wyll and a couple of other men plus another woman she didn’t know, all relaxing naked in the pool. Feeling a little ill-at-ease but determined not to show it, she dropped her robe at poolside and stepped gingerly into the water. It was hot, but perfectly so. She took a seat on one of the benches that ran along one side, beside Anders and across from Wyll. Shortly, one of the other men came over to sit on her other side.
Anders introduced them. “Sorine Jurard, this is Ray Lassitus, one of my colleagues here at the Suite. Ray, Sorine…” Sorine smiled shyly and extended her hand to Ray, who gave her a reassuring grin.
“Welcome to the Suite, Sorine,” he said. Mmm, quite a hunk. As Sorine had already observed, Wyll without his clothes was a veritable god. But Anders looked almost as good, and this Ray, with his light tan skin, fairly short wavy black hair and gray-green eyes, was even better looking than Anders as far as her personal preferences were concerned. He seemed friendly, too, though glancing down through the crystalline water she observed he wasn’t that friendly. At least not at the moment.
Trying to maintain her cool surrounded by hot water and hotter men, Sorine leaned back until the water was up to her chin, running her hands over her limbs to wash away the grime of the past few days. She noticed the way in which any soil in the water quickly vanished, sucked down into the grate-covered holes at the bottom of the pool. Cleaned, reheated water came in via ports on the sides. After soaking for a while had relaxed her physically if not mentally or emotionally, she sat up again.
Well, Anders and Wyll were clearly off-limits. Sorine shuddered to think what The Dragonborn might be capable of doing to any woman who tried to poach on her preserve (which goes to show that she didn’t know Katja all that well); so she turned her attention to Ray, who looked good enough to eat and appeared to be unattached.
Sorine had spent too many years in the wilds by herself, pursuing her fascination with Dwemer technology. She had no idea that her lack of a love life had everything to with a lack of effort on her part, and not with any lack of personal appeal. At age 33 she had a figure that was lithe and trim, an active lifestyle and frequent missed meals (due to her tendency to get lost in her work) taking most of the credit.
Her face was pretty, deep blue-green eyes sparkling with intelligence, bobbed chestnut hair glossy and shimmering with auburn glints when she bothered to wash and comb it. She’d never been married, never even been in a serious relationship and had just about decided, by now, that such things would pass her by forever.
Sorine was surprised, therefore, at the interest Ray was showing toward her in turn. “You’re a Breton, too?” he asked.
“Yes,” she admitted. “I left High Rock around eight years ago, pursuing my Dwemer studies. Skyrim has so many fascinating sites! … Um, how about you?” she asked belatedly, trying to get into the swing of conversation with an attractive (we will attempt to ignore the fact, also naked) man. The etiquette associated with the Suite’s clothing-optional policy meant that you were supposed to deal with people as people, and not concern yourself with what they were, or were not, wearing.
Ray looked deep into Sorine’s eyes and poured out his life story. They talked about her work with Dwemer weaponry, about the recent quest to defeat Lord Harkon (some of which he’d already heard from Anders, Wyll, and Katja; but he was happy to get her perspective), about the civil war, about life in general. Anders and Wyll, beginning to get wrinkly, glanced at her and then back at each other and discreetly removed themselves from the pool, going back to their rooms to get dressed. Wyll gathered a few things and brought them upstairs, so that he’d be prepared for spending the night in the master bed with Anders.
Sorine’s fingertips were deeply wrinkled now, as were Ray’s; but neither of them seemed to notice. Her complexion was flushed an attractive shade of light rose from the combination of the long soak in hot water and her stimulating conversation with Ray. Her eyes looked dark, dilated with pleasure and excitement. She hadn’t had such an engrossing conversation in years.
Though Ray’s interest in Dwemer technology could not match her own, it was a subject on which he had some knowledge. They were both from the same region of High Rock and he was only a year or so younger than her. They might well have passed on a city street and never known they were destined to meet, a decade later, in this pool of hot water in the middle of Skyrim.
Abruptly, Sorine realized what her skin had been telling her for some time now. She had been soaking too long! Her eyes had been fixed on Ray’s face for the longest time, as they spoke back and forth and reached into each other’s souls. Now she wheeled her focus back a bit, taking him all in, from the top of his head to his wrinkling toes – and realized that his cock had risen to half-mast. Another look at his eyes confirmed that they were glowing with desire, and her nipples stood pink and rigid despite the heat of the water. She wanted him! But there were still a few people in and around the pool, and how did one go about broaching this subject anyway?
Ray watched Sorine’s thoughts passing over her face like an animated billboard would look if such things existed in Skyrim. She was a-dork-able! He had long held a secret passion for smart, shy women and this one was all of that and more. He was pretty sure she wanted him as much as he wanted her, and he also had a feeling they’d be sitting in here until they were as shriveled as old Raerek, over there at the Owner’s Table, unless he made the first move. “Sorine?” he said, getting her attention. “Would you like a bed-warmer for the evening?”
Sorine looked stricken with embarrassment. “A bed-…?”
“It’s part of the service we provide at the Suite,” he explained, though he didn’t want to scare her away. “We’re here to make the customers feel at home, and if there’s a mutual attraction, we can join them in bed. Or go off questing with them, for that matter.” He waved his amulet. “It’s all safe, no risks.” Except the risk of losing your heart, Sorine thought. But then her second mind riposted, what the hell? I’ve spent the past several years alone, and I’m not getting any younger. Why shouldn’t I have a little pleasure in life that doesn’t involve dusty ruins?
Gathering her resolve, Sorine said “I would very much like to have a bed-warmer, Ray. Specifically, you. And if we don’t get out of this water soon, I think we’re both going to melt.” Ray’s face lit with delight, and he rose from the water – his member still elongated and stiffening but not too impudent for public view.
“My lady?” He offered her his hand and they proceeded up the steps, where he threw a towel around her shoulders before grabbing one for himself. The two of them dried off, then donned their robes and Sorine led him toward the bar and the trap door to the basement.