(This fanfic is dedicated to Weiila, the publisher of my works. While I have no idea what she really looks like- though my mental image, knowing her location, is of a pretty blonde with a perky smile-I DO know what her mind and personality are like, though, and they have captured my heart, as, no doubt, they have captured many of your hearts, as well...)
I stepped through the doors to the pub, my eyes searching out possible trouble. Making sure none of the elves within would attack me?
Attack me? Elves fighting elves?
Some of my best friends were dwarves. If they can change... why not us?
I dropped down into a chair, weighted down by more than just my heavy armor and sword. Or my shield, for that matter. My burdens were more than physical.
Gnort was dead.
I killed him.
I felt sick, and not just from my proximity to the Onyx. It didn't affect elves, for some reason. No, my pain came from slaughtering good friends. Worse, from being forced to witness their degradation.
"Can I get ya something, handsome?"
I tensed, a moment of irrational rage siezing me. How DARE someone display such a cheery attitude when I'M in such pain!
The rage passed, and even greater weariness took hold, as the momentary surge left me. I sighed heavily.
"Hey. You." A hand siezed my chin, forced me to look up. "We don't stock 'whatever.'"
I stared into bright green eyes, set in an oval shaped face. Black hair cascaded down around her shoulders and beyond. Once, this would have been the most beautiful woman in town. Now, wrinkles showed around the eyes, and what had once been bouncy and perky was beginning to sag.
But it was her eyes that fascinated me. And the expression on her face, brow arched, tart smile quirking her lips. "Uh?" I managed to vocalize, too shocked to even turn away.
"Let's try it again, kiddo." Her other hand pointed it's finger, tapped me on the nose. "What," tap, "...would," tap, "...you," tap, "...like," tap, "...me," tap, "...to," tap, "...bring?"
"Aaah..." I swallowed. "Berry wine..."
The apparition released me, stepped back and placed calloused hands on her hips. "All right, then, soldier boy. Berry wine, coming up." I watched her walk away, to the bar. I swear, I've never seen hips move like that.
And I'm quite positive she was emphasizing it for me. She turned and smiled at me, before bending over to reach for the bottle, putting what was still an impressive rear end on full display. I swallowed hard, my throat gone dry. Well, drier, anyway.
She came back with two mugs to go with the bottle. "You're the only customer, aside from the regular over there," she jerked her head at a lump in the corner, snoring away his indulgence. "I'll join you."
She poured the wine, and we clanked our mugs together. "To better days," she offered as toast.
"To old friends." I drained my mug, held it out for a refill.
"Is that why you're so glum?" she asked, as she poured.
I nodded. "His name was Gnort." I sighed. No tears to shed. Just... tired. "He was a dwarf. I killed him."
She nodded, her lips pursed. "Shame. How'd you meet?"
"I used to travel the Tree a lot, as a young warrior. I spent some time in the dwarf caves, too. We met, there."
"What... was he like, before?" She searched my eyes with her own. Her hand reached for mine. I felt like pulling away... but I was too tired.
"He was very strong. Big, strong, and hairy." She smirked at the image. "He had a beautiful beard, and he was very gentle and kind."
...And then he was poisoned in the mind by the Black Onyx, his gentle nature become an obscene lust to protect his people's precious rock, his body distorted into a fanged and clawed monstrosity, his beautiful beard fallen from skin become wrinkled and thickened hide. He'd barely remembered me. I'd have hardly recognized him, but for his battlecries, calling me by name, so badly had that accursed rock destroyed his being. A noble dwarf, a good friend, become a horrible monster, dying on the tip of my blade, jaws slavering, whining incoherant squeals, too far gone for intelligible speech...
"I'd heard it was because of a rock," she said.
"Yeah." I nodded. "Gnort was guarding it. Without the rock, they should start to change back."
"But not Gnort."
"No." Too late, for some.
"Some would call it a mercy killing." She refilled my mug, again. I hadn't even realized I'd drained it. "He wasn't your friend, anymore, was he? You gave him a little of his dignity back." She poured some more into her own cup. "Precious little of that for the dwarves, these days."
We drank some more.
"So where do you go, from here?"
"I don't know." I shook my head. "I have to go into the caves. I don't know what I'll find, though. But I have to make sure this doesn't happen again."
She nodded. And poured...
...It begins to blur...
...I remember being held... pleasure... life...
...Experiencing things I hadn't in years... things I'd never imagined...
...Black hair in my face... warm flesh... those eyes! That smile!
A strange bed. Not an inn, either. Where was I?
Someone was in bed with me. Arms held me from behindI turned, and saw her.
She didn't look very pretty, first thing in the morning.
To me, she looked beautiful.
I pulled her close, and she murmured, half awake. I kissed her smiling mouth, buried my face in her generous pillows. She held me there, half smothered and wanting more, her lazy smile murmuring things to me that I will not share.
Finally, I pulled away, when her grip on me relaxed enough to jerk my head from it's delicious prison. I stared up at her, seeing beauty in every inch of her, in her laugh lines, the strands of grey hair beginning to show, her eyes, so alive.
"We have to get up," she told me. "I have to open the pub, soon."
"Forget the pub," I told her. I shifted position, pinning her to the bed. "This customer's still not satisfied."
She arched her back, giving me that same lazy smile. "Service with a smile," she laughed.
Hours passed before I was ready to leave. She helped me climb into my metal plates, kissing and carressing at every opportunity. Soon, I looked every inch the respectable warrior, and she, the older barmaid.
I stole one last kiss, pulling her close. She kissed me just as hard, as though I'd given her something as wonderful as she'd given me.
I stared into those glorious eyes of hers, searching for the answer. A man could drown in those eyes. "Thank you," she whispered in my mouth, "for making me feel beautiful again."
"Thank YOU," I responded, my gauntleted hand touching her cheek, "for making me feel alive, again."
She pulled away, gently. I turned, walked away.
I never got her name.
And I never saw her again.
But I will never stop loving her.