A cloudy morning at the port town of Vulkhel Guard. Misty clouds hung low over the horizon, as grey as the sea below, and just as still; on land, life stirred even at this hour of morning, as shipping ports never really sleep. The bite of the cold, the murmur of commotion and conversation, the sea breezes with their icy fingers tracing along your skin - you learn to know these things after a time. Maybe not enjoy them or love them, but after a while, they become more parts of the day, as natural as the sun or as rainclouds that drive it away.
It was on a cloudy morning that I first saw her. How could I have not, with her bright, bright aqua-green eyes? Glowing gemstones against the sandy tan of her fur - a Khajiit - against the dull grey of the sky and sea. She leaned against a spar jutting up from the pier, a bit of a ways over the water. I try not to spend too much time on the piers - the sway of the wood on water, however subtle, is a vile thing to my sense of balance. I am accustomed to the firm holdings of solid earth, and there I prefer to stay; my duties on this dock do go against that, however, as I am one of the many faceless and nameless who load and unload cargo.
Turquoise gems, as fine as any I’d seen out of the other Summerset Isles or from the craftsmen of places whose names I can’t pronounce. I noticed her that one day - Divines only know how I hadn’t before - and stopped in my tracks, the crate full of fine silks I carried seeming oddly to weigh nothing while I held her in my gaze. She was either oblivious to my admirations, or very knowing of them and very ignoring: while she stood, she scanned the port with those eyes of hers, claws tapping rhythmically on the wood of the post. She must have seen me three, even four times, and still passed over me, like all the others who come and go here. Another worker bumped into me, and I staggered and dropped the crate; by the time I had gathered it back up and looked to observe her one last time, I saw her speaking with someone who looked to be a ship captain - Altmer, tall like the rest of them, chestnut hair, flawless skin. After a moment, he extended his hand. She spat in hers and shook his, and his disgusted face afterward almost made me smile.
‘Rogue’ wasn’t quite the right word for her, but she certainly was something.
~ ~ ~
By the docks there is a cooking fire of fair size, provided and tended by the merchants there for the convenience of anyone coming and going. Crates and barrels and the like stand around as well, encroached upon a few inches by the sand from age, providing places against which to stand and lean, to sit and sleep. Around midday of that first cloudy day, I saw her by that fire, alone in the small group of two or three. She did not know any of the others.
About midday. I usually tried to limit myself to a fish from the bay, or an apple, or anything that my meager pay could support - it was a hard living, but a living nonetheless. Sometimes someone cooks a stew in the pot above the fire, and leaves it, again, for those coming and going. The aroma lured my over from the warehouses, and I soon found myself standing across from her, spooning the thick liquid into a bowl.
Her tail flicked behind her, side to side, in the way of those caravan guards who are always on alert. From here sight revealed her to be so much more than I could have thought, in both form and grace, even though she stood still. She ate slowly, quietly, gemstone eyes never remaining focused on one thing longer than two or three seconds. Black stripes accented her cinnamon fur, underlining her eyes, streaking her cheeks, ears, cream neck.
I swallowed, either to down the first spoonful of stew or my nervousness, and stood up straight; her eyes fell upon me for one, two, three seconds, scanning from my face to my feet and then back to my face, and then again she looked away, shifting how she leaned against a stack of crates.
I greeted her. My voice sounded strange to me in the salty air.
She only responded after a short pause, during which I wondered if I had ever spoken at all. And then, when she did, it was no more than one simple word:
Her voice carried the lilt, the accent, the auditory spice of a Khajiit born and raised in their homeland, of a tongue fairly unused to the syllables of common Tamrielic. A husky contralto, if I had to guess, weathered by years of shouting and growling and whatever else. Those wondrous eyes had caught me first, and then, I found myself further entangled by the voice that followed them.
In one paw she held the bowl, while she moved the other to her hip. She blinked, raised her eyebrows in expecting me to say something else - but what could I say? What could I have done other than stand there, totally captivated, totally enthralled? I turned my eyes down to my own bowl, reluctant to look away from her face but feeling forced to do so. After a moment, she set her bowl - empty - down on the corner of the topmost crate and went off.
I watched her as she went, as her hips swayed from side to side like a cool swell on the sea, as her tail lingered after the motion and almost stroked the sand, only coming close enough to stir sparse grasses. She wore leather that looked both treated and dyed, and crafted in a style vaguely reminiscent of the Argonians, but predominately of another that I didn’t recognize.
Oh, a thousand mysteries in one woman, and I hadn’t even known of her for a day.
~ ~ ~
The following morning brought with it cooler winds from in over the sea, winds to pass right through your skin and flesh and chill your bones. Whenever I could - myself and the other workers - I took refuge from the chill which in any other climate would hint at a coming frost in the tavern, if only to stand inside the entryway. A fair few hours into the morning, I opened the door and stepped inside to come face-to-face with the Altmer captain from the previous day, leaning nearby the threshold with a mug of brew in one hand. He turned a concerned gaze to mine when he noticed my eyes on him, and asked if we knew one another. No, I told him; I only unloaded your ship, just the other day.
He looked out the fogged glass by the door and breathed a sigh of accomplishment, then told me that he hired only the best of protection for his goods - after all, pirates are rampant now that the Empire’s attention is focused on the war. He had assembled his mercenary crew from every port he had since landed at, promising them the best of payment and hand-picking them based on rumors and recommendations.
I thought of the Khajiit with the bright aquamarine eyes. I’d overlooked it before, but she had a longsword strapped to her hip, and when she turned around, a solid shield hooked on her back.
The Altmer captain spoke of his ship still: A beauty, isn’t she?
Aye, I responded, more to myself. Indeed she is.
~ ~ ~
So you’re a mercenary, I said to her. She looked over me with her bright eyes, as if surprised that I, that strange dockworker from the previous day, actually spoke to her.
Her voice was smooth like the scrape of fine steel on scabbard when she verified this. A sellsword. Of what importance is it?
I told her I spoke to the Altmer captain, the one who hired her, the one whose goods I unloaded. Those eyes peered unspoken questions at me from a few inches above my own - odd; never before had I met a Khajiit taller than me. Now, here was one, and she could likely tear my skin from flesh with too much of a provocation. I told her that… well, that I… I think-
She demanded that I spit out what it is I have to say, that I need to form competent thought before I try to voice that. She didn’t have time for this.
Wait. Wait. I asked where she’s going.
She told me she didn’t know, that she only goes where the coin leads her. Fair enough, I thought. Silently, I wished I could follow, if only to look upon her more. She was to leave later that day, just at the break of evening. I chose to leave her alone until then.
~ ~ ~
The winds from the morning brought imminence of a storm, visible on the horizon as I loaded crates filled with different goods back onto the ship. The Falconer, it was called; the ship of the tall, fair Altmer captain, the ship that would carry off the Khajiit sellsword with the gemstone eyes.
She was leaning against one of the ship masts when I boarded with a crate in my arms. It was her voice that alerted me to her presence, though when I focused, I could pick up a hint of the gentle spiced aroma of her presence, something between cinnamon and sage, that hovered around her.
“Stars brought you here,” were the words that startled me. I almost dropped the crate, and cursed. A romantic sentiment, to the foolish; however, I knew she meant it because I seem to be everywhere she goes. I could not resist.
I told her I felt the same way.
She said to me, she’s leaving soon. Not ten minutes before departure.
The Khajiit wanted to know what it was I intended to say to her earlier in the day, when she scolded me for being scatterbrained. She apologized.
I think you know what I wanted to say, I told her. The nervousness that truth brought seemed dampened by her impending departure. Oh, I still want to say it.
She asked that I do it, then. After all, she can’t stand cowards.
This brought a wry smile to my face. I considered taking her wrists, considered running my fingers over her fur, if only to feel her warmth, to steal a bit of that aura of scent. However, I found that there were no words, as I looked into her eyes. Still they remained bright, glowing with light of their own amid the darkness of cloudy skies and proximity of night.
Then this coward shall leave your sight, I told her, for he is unworthy of your visage and gaze.
She smiled a sweet, gentle smile. She will be back, she assured me. The trip will take a month, maybe two.
I told her that I can only hope.
~ ~ ~
A week passed. I realized I had forgotten to ask to where the Falconer was headed, so I asked around the tavern. Nobody knew, except for a quiet wood elf in the back.
Stros M’Kai, he told me. So it’ll be one or two months, likely the latter.
Oh, how time slows when you are caught in waiting. That was all I could do.
~ ~ ~
By the end of the first month, I had forgotten her scent. Never had I gotten a good taste of it, never anything more than a passing trace from a few feet away. I dreamt of her a few times, but never in waning detail. I remembered the curve of her waist and hips, the arch of her eyebrows, the way her ears never pointed the same way, the flick of her tail. I longed for her return - I would swear myself on to the Falconer for the rest of my life without pay, if only she guarded its cargo.
When the sun awoke me each morning, I thought of her eyes, just as bright. Auridon is a pleasant place, even the seaside ports; the water looks like molten turquoise poured into the ocean. The work was dull and draining, and the days equally so. I stopped counting the passing days, believing that I would one morning see the hull of the ship pull up again.
~ ~ ~
Another week passed, and then yet another, and another. I started to wonder if that Khajiit sellsword had only been a figment of my imagination, a simple mirage crafted by my mind to give myself something to look forward to, something to desire.
Because, oh, by the Divines, did I desire her so. It even got to where I asked around Vulkhel Guard if anyone remembered her, if anyone had seen the Khajiit with the bright blue-green eyes on the docks a month or so ago. Nobody did except for one, a dusty-furred male Khajiit who I had seen in the back of the tavern every now and then.
I asked what he knew of her, if he had heard any news. He told he - oh, he knows her well; she is this one’s sister. This one hears of her only as much as anyone else. She is the itinerant type, always wanting to be somewhere other than where she currently is.
She’s beautiful. I told her brother what I could not tell her. She’s so beautiful.
He agreed with me and smiled, and in that did I see the resemblance. We sat together and talked.
~ ~ ~
Every day for another two weeks, I asked him if he’d heard any news, and every day for another two weeks, he told me no. He told me no, and that he would find me and let me know if he did. But, then, one day, he was gone from the tavern, and did not return for a week; and when he did, he was different. His ears lay flat against his head, and his tail did not stir.
I asked him what’s wrong. He handed me a folded letter; I turned it over and read, in an awkward yet lyrical hand, To the dockworker, who didn’t know what to say.
My heart leapt. I grinned up at the brother, but he avoided my eyes.
Aboard the Falconer
13 Middas, Sun’s Dusk
The storm rages. I fear for my life. The captain warned that it would come, but I never thought it would be so fierce. I do not blame him, though. I only blame myself; just as you should. I made you a promise, and now I fear that I cannot keep it.
The brother takes a deep swig from his mug. Only now do I notice that the ink on the parchment is blotted and smeared, as if by heavy rainfall.
You should not blame the Altmer, either. I chose to come by my own pride, by my own hubris, and now it will be the end of me. The sails are torn, a mast has fallen, water is pouring in from splintered boards. I promised you that I shall return, and now I promise you that I shall not.
The Falconer shall never reach its destination. This storm hungers, and the lives on this ship serves just enough sustenance.
Stars brought you to me. I can only hope that they will do the same again.
At the bottom, she had signed her name. I tasted the word on my tongue, the syllables as odd, as intriguing to me as I am sure Tamrielic was to her.
Wait. Wait, I said; the brother’s ears perked. Sun’s Dusk. That was two months ago.
Yes, he affirmed. 13 Middas wasn’t even a full week after her departure.
Stars brought you to me-
The message washed up near Skywatch not two days ago, when the brother - by coincidence or divine intent - visited his cousin there. Inside was this, he said, and placed something small and metal on the table between us.
I picked it up. A luminous turquoise, the color of Auridon waters, of the sky on a clear, clear day, glinted up at me from its setting into flawless silver. Must be an alloy, he said; otherwise, it would’ve tarnished.
-and stars took you from me.
He took another swallow from his mug, stood, left. The ring fit perfectly onto my index finger.
I only saw her smile once.