“So he grabbed both my breasts, looked down at my cleavage and asked if I was new. I shoved him, said I was a guest at his establishment, and that’s when he slapped me and pushed me over the table with my arm twisted behind my back. Bastard made the mistake of leaving my other hand free, so I grabbed my dagger and drove it straight through his wrist and into the table.”
“Screamed like a pig, he did”, Alessia laughed. “Eder was too thick in the head to be aware of anything but how much money his girls brought in every week. Tried to convince Arian he was the victim of some whore gone crazy, but Arian and Saer have known each other, what, five years now?”
“Seems plenty of people know Saer”, Aaron remarked.
“True that, kid,” Saerlith smiled, “so Arian wouldn’t hear it and threw him in the pits of the Spire. I had to skip town for a while though, even a guy like Eder has buddies in this town.”
The door creaked and the mellow night air made the weary flames of the hearth flicker with renewed enthusiasm for a second. Alessia looked up and prodded Saerlith in the elbow.
“Got competition, love”, she nodded at the door.
A middle-aged woman entered the brothel. She was strikingly beautiful, her maroon curls done up in an elegant bun, her unusually sharp features matching the fierce glow in her forest green eyes.
“What is up with all the hot red-heads in here tonight”, Alessia joked at Saerlith.
“Seriously, Ally, I’m a lot more curious about him”, Saerlith replied.
A man had entered behind her. He was at least a decade younger, but they seemed affectionate towards each other. Her eyes softened as he relieved her of her heavy, midnight blue cloak. The man’s vanilla hair cascaded over his shoulders and hid his strong jaw when he bent over a little to pull back a chair for her.
“Mother and son”, Saerlith concluded.
“Please.” Aaron rolled his eyes.
“Come on. He’s probably, what, some fifteen years younger?”
“I agree with the kid”, Alessia said. “If she’s his mother, how’d his hair get that way?”
“Stranger things have happened”, Saerlith shrugged.
“You just don’t want him to be taken already”, Alessia jested.
“I’ll do her just the same, you know”, Saerlith laughed. “Or the kid can have her, if he likes.” She winked at Aaron.
Aaron choked on his wine and started protesting.
“Come on, A. She’s damn gorgeous. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t dream of having your way with her.”
“I don’t even know her, Saer!” Aaron exclaimed. “Besides, I’d much rather have both our ways with someone.”
“Always the gentleman, this one”, Saerlith said to Alessia with a twinkle in her eye. “Found me stark naked on a river bank once, averted his eyes and everything. Did I mention that?”
“Stop teasing him, Saer. I think it’s pretty admirable.” Alessia smiled at Aaron. He shily smiled back at her.
“Next round, I think?” Saerlith got up and moved through the crowd towards the bar. Her eyes crossed those of the handsome stranger. They shone deep cobalt, and the colour seemed to vibrate through the entire room. Saerlith smiled at him briefly before quickly averting her attention to ordering another batch of wine. She observed the peculiar couple from the corner of her eye. The Fiery Tart had become quite crowded , and all the tables were occupied, most by drunken, sweaty men who played with the tits of the girls on their lap. One prostitute in the back corner had sat herself astride her patron and was probably fucking him right there at the table.
The couple moved purposefully to a table in the centre. The woman merely stood there, gazing at its occupants, the man patiently waiting behind her, his hands clasped behind his back. The men occupying the table looked her up and down for a while, but then quickly set down the two teenage girls they had been passing around between them and moved upstairs. The woman smiled, the man pulled out a chair for her. Saerlith observed the situation with a frown. Try as she might, she couldn’t quite make out what had just happened. Groups of horny, inebriated men didn’t simply get up and leave to make room for someone who hadn’t even uttered a word to them, especially not a woman, especially not in the Tart.
She had been so preoccupied with her observations, that she hadn’t noticed the man who had moved up close behind her until he thrust his hips forward and pinned her between himself and the bar.
“How much, sweetie?” he panted in her ear, while he plucked a stray strand of hair away from her neck.
“Not a prostitute”, Saerlith said directly as she pushed him back a little with her elbow. “Back off.”
“If you got a cunt, you got a price, lady”, the man insisted.
Saerlith picked up her full pitcher and turned around to face him. “No, I don’t. Step aside”, she asserted.
“Feisty little twit you are”, he grinned. His dirty fingers pinched her cheek.
Saerlith inhaled deeply and set down the pitcher behind her. She abruptly grabbed his shirt and pulled him closer. Her other hand went for her dagger.
“Listen, fucktard, leave me alone, or I will cut your balls off,” she pressed the blade against his groin, “and feed them to you.” She used his moment of bewilderment to push him back and turned to the girl behind the bar. “Could you also do me a plate of cheese, maybe? Morons make me hungry”.
The man had regained his composure and squeezed himself in beside her.
“I think I’d rather you suck on them yourself.” He poked Saerlith in the shoulder at ‘you’.
“Excuse me,” Saerlith heard behind her, “I believe the lady requested you leave her alone?”
She turned to see who was backing her up and looked straight into a pair of vibrant cobalt blue eyes.
“Can’t handle it without your boyfriend, eh?” Her harasser strode away laughing.
“I had it under control, thanks”, Saerlith said to the stranger without blinking.
“I’m sure you did,” he smiled, “but I came to fetch a drink and thought I might be so kind as to offer my assistance in the process.”
“And utter a whole bunch of words to make ‘help you out’ sound unnecessarily fancy?” She hadn’t taken her eyes off of him for a second.
The stranger grinned widely. “I’m Jake.”
“Well, thanks, Jake.” Saerlith picked up her pitcher of wine and opened her hand over the counter so the waitress could hand her the plate of cheese. She lifted them both briefly, as if to explain why she had to go, and quickly wriggled her way back through the crowd.
Saerlith set down the pitcher and plate. Aaron poured wine for everyone. Alessia helped herself to a piece of cheese and sunk back against the back of her chair.
“What?” Saerlith asked when she saw Alessia staring at her.
“So who is he?” Alessia asked, while Aaron chuckled. “We saw you, don’t play dumb.”
Saerlith rolled her eyes. “His name is Jake, and he fancies himself quite the hero. I didn’t linger for small talk.”
“ Did he dent your ego for a bit there, love?” Alessia mocked her.
“I was handling it just fine on my own, thank you very much.” Saerlith sipped her wine. “I should cut back on this”, she added, eyeing her cup.
“He’s gorgeous though. Look at him.” Alessia nodded towards Jake, who was seemingly having an extraordinarily serious conversation with his companion. “I’d get up on that for free if Markus would let me.”
Saerlith looked at Jake’s table over her shoulder. Alessia was right, he was exquisite. All of him, but especially his eyes. There was something in those eyes that seemed to resonate with the world they so keenly observed. It was almost as if he had felt her watching. He lifted his chin ever so slightly, and looked straight at her. Saerlith felt a tingle in her stomach and quickly turned back to her company, her cheeks somewhat flushed. Alessia giggled like a little schoolgirl.
“Holy crap, he’s coming over here!” she squealed.
“Seriously, Ally, grow up”, Saerlith growled.
Jake approached their table.
“Hi again”, he said, looking at Saerlith who carefully avoided eye contact.
“Hi”, Alessia grinned.
Jake cast her a quick smile, but instantly turned his attention back to Saerlith.
“I was wondering, my friend is about to retire to her room,” he continued, “and…”
“Oh, she would love to join you I’m sure”, Alessia interrupted. “We were also getting pretty tired, but felt bad leaving her on her own, right Aaron?”
Aaron nodded, faking a big yawn. “Yes, very tired, truly.”
Saerlith glowered at them both, before putting on her best feigned smile.
“Let me just bid goodnight to my friends here. I’m sure you don’t mind. I’ll be over shortly.”
Jake gave a little nod in agreement and left her to say goodbye.
“Unbelievable, the both of you!” Saerlith scowled. “And you,” she pointed at Aaron, “I’m disappointed in you. I thought you were a coward, and then you dare pull this on me.”
“Let go of your pride, Saer. Thank me later!” Alessia beamed.
Saerlith raised an eyebrow and looked at Aaron, who raised his hands in an I-had-nothing-to-do-with-it kind of way
“Go on, take her out of here. She’s paid for for the rest of the night. Have some fun”, she dismissed them both.