Moaning in the Dark
(Ilithi: Nissa 361)
Baresh feels a wind draft and looks at the window he thought he had closed before. It was still closed, but not latched. Just as he starts toward it a rap of knuckles against the bar makes him look and, to his surprise, there is a young customer.
It is a young dwarf with an elegantly trimmed mustache, and a patently clean shaven face. The copper skin and the deep black eyes remind him of . . .
"Otsenre Naboria, no?"
The young dwarf smiles shyly. He is wearing a shroud of living weeds, a skull cap and sandals. Baresh remembers he has seen him twice before in his establishment and that family is a sore subject. Baresh talent as a bartender, besides including his gift for listening, also requires his making mental notes as to his clients’ likes, dislikes, subjects to talk about and subjects to avoid. Something also seems to remind him that this young dwarf is a trader, a fast one, and Baresh makes sure his purse is close.
"Baresh, some Elothean Elixir, please. In a flute of course," the young dwarf gets a silver coin and places it on the bar. Baresh gets the exotic libation and carefully serves it in the fragile long glass. He places the glass in front of the dwarf and as he starts going for the silver lirum he brushes Otsenre who jumps startled.
"No!" Otsenre screams. He then blushes and looks with a combination of shame and surprise at Baresh while smiling in a mysterious way.
"My excuses Baresh. I am still rather jumpy. I guess everybody knew about this. However, last night was only my second or third trip on the Gondola between Leth Deriel and Shard. Have you traveled in that?"
"Not in a long time Otsenre. I see and hear about all over the lands from the cozy safety, if not profitable work, of this Tavern. In my early youth I might have gone once. I remember the Broken Blade Tavern in Steel Claw Clan. But that is about it. Why are you so nervous . . . the constant cracking and swinging of the Gondola? Believe me. It won’t break." Baresh smiles gently at Otsenre, who seems to calm somewhat as he sips on the flute and tastes some of the Elothean Elixir.
"I saw something . . . so beautiful, so violent, so graceful and yet shocking . . . that while half my brain fears I will always remember it . . . the other half hopes I never forget it."
Otsenre is lost momentarily deep inside his own soul. Baresh, a good face reader, can see wariness, then curiosity, followed by excitement, a sense of loss and finally . . . shrewdness?
"I was on my way to Shard with a cargo of Turnips. All I could get. I was making good time. After blessing Kertigen for keeping the Snowbeasts away south of Leth and while praying for the same favor north of Steel Claw Clan, I suddenly hear a ghostly moan. Thinking someone might be in hiding . . . and as every prudent trader does, I hid."
Otsenre sips some more of the delicate libation. He closes his eyes and Baresh can read nothing on his face. He tries to remember what he was going to do, but then Otsenre opens his eyes.
"I know now, of course, how the environment can affect one’s perception. The cold thin air up in the gondola. The bitter sweet smell, the rust-colored stains . . . as I look around me, I realize this seems like the theater of a tragedy. Still hiding, somehow, I decided to answer that moan with one of mine. So I moan. What happened next, I cannot tell if it was my imagination, a chance encounter or an answer to my moan."
Otsenre can tell that Baresh is all ears . . . no bartending, no coin, no patron or sight can interfere with his hearing. He finishes his Elothean elixir and gives the flute back to Baresh who slowly and mechanically starts cleaning it.
"I saw a beautiful elven lady, she appeared like out of thin air. She seemed happy, her girlish strides, her enigmatic smile, I cannot tell what if anything she was wearing. I only had eyes for her eyes. Eyes that seemed to laugh. She walked by towards the North cabin. When I peered in that direction she vanished."
Otsenre graciously steps down from the stool, removes his skull cap and puts it in a pocket of his live weed shroud from where he gets a simple black mask he then wears.
"As I realized she was a ghost . . . I almost ruined my breeches. Then I noticed she is gone, and I started crying. I had only felt so desolate on the day my father Odnalor died. Still, at least on that night I was not assaulted by such waves of fear and excitement. Yes, pretty much like the gondola itself, going north and south, swinging and cracking, already preparing to the travel north while still going south."
Otsenre leans in the bar, arms stretched like hugging Baresh thru it.
"Good night Baresh, thanks for sharing your time. The glass seems really clean now."
Baresh realizes he has been scrubbing the glass like in a trance. He smiles at Otsenre and when he lowers his gaze again after hanging the flute up and safely over the bar Otsenre has already gone. Noticing it is late already, he closes the window, latches it firmly, closes his purse and the door and heads home feeling somehow lighter. Yet with the nagging sensation he forgot to do something.