When Adrian awoke, it was a little too early to get up, but a little too late to go back to sleep. He lay on his back, wondering again who the girl was and what he’d done to her. Nothing in his life came close to matching the dream. His only experience with boats was in the army, when his unit took part in an amphibious exercise (he got seasick). While he’d had girlfriends over the years, those relationships had ended without drama, usually due to mutual lack of interest. Adrian was baffled, but since lying there wasn’t going to clarify anything, he got up and went to work.
Adrian arrived at work ahead of schedule. He had about half an hour of peace in his office, reading through the overnights, savoring a cup of good Valenwood coffee, before he was interrupted, or more accurately, startled.
“Adrian, son! Good to see you so early!” Leaning through Adrian’s door was the general manager: tall, round, with thick, curly brown hair and a full beard – If affability could be packaged for sale, it would look like him. “All ready for our big trip?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be, sir,” said Adrian, as cheerfully as he could manage.
“Wonderful! My children speak of nothing else these days. If I go on even half the rides they want to take me on, you’ll have to find a new general manager!” He chuckled. “Listen, I’m really looking forward to this. You’re doing a great job here; everybody is. We’ve had a lot to work through, and everybody’s risen to the challenge. This trip is my way to let you know how much I appreciate you all.”
“I’m sure we’re all grateful for that,” Adrian said. “Everybody seems to enjoy working here.”
“Good to hear,” the general manager said. “Anyway, train tickets and festival passes will be passed out sometime today, so just make sure you get yours.” And with that, the big man turned and went down the hall. The general manager’s avuncularity was a little hard to take sometimes, but, Adrian thought, it was impossible to dislike the man.
He couldn’t say the same for his next visitor, close on the heels of the general manager. Hendrikson, the inland shipping manager, was a small, skinny type with slicked-back blond hair. He didn’t merely lean in the doorway; he marched straight to Adrian’s desk. “What did the Big Man have to say this morning?” Hendrikson asked suspiciously.
“Oh, he was just saying that he’s looking forward to the festival, and that our tickets would be passed out later today.”
“Is that all? We were thinking about driving down, but it’s so far, and our auto uses so much fuel.”
“I remember you mentioning that,” replied Adrian, who didn’t own an auto, a fact Hendrikson liked to bring up from time to time.
“So maybe we’ll take the train with everyone else,” said Hendrikson. “Say, did the Big Man happen to mention anything about promotions?” Adrian knew this was what Hendrikson was really fishing for. The general shipping manager position was open, and was responsible for both intercontinental and inland affairs. Both Adrian and Hendrikson were under consideration, and while Adrian didn’t much like Hendrikson, he had to admit he was competent.
“Not a thing,” said Adrian. “Not something I really want to ask. He might announce the promotions the last night of the festival. I can see him wanting to do it then, if you think about it. For dramatic impact.”
“I suppose we both shall have to wait until then. Well, I should be getting along. Lots to do today! Lots to do!” Hendrikson left Adrian’s office for his own.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, until late afternoon when a sudden downpour on the way to the tram stop caught Adrian in the open. He was thoroughly drenched when the tram arrived, and he was embarrassed to see his favorite tram driver’s shocked face as he paid. “You look like you just fell overboard,” she said, smiling. Adrian mumbled something about forgetting his umbrella.
He listened to the music again that night. Oddly, while the music was similar, Adrian didn’t feel as if he were being rocked from side to side. Instead, he felt a gentle, steady push, as if he were being urged forward. He knew better than to fight it.
The boy walked along the canal, heading home with his catch after an afternoon of fishing. It had been a clear spring day, warm, with just a hint of breeze. He was approaching the last canal signal box before his village when he heard loud voices ahead.
“Who invited the Dunmer to come here?”
“Yeah, who do you think you are, acting all high and mighty?”
“Just because you can read and write, you think you’re the queen or something? Well pardon me, Your Majesty!”
The boy knew who they were. If Bram and his bunch didn’t find trouble, they would happily manufacture their own. Bram’s bunch consisted of three other boys, all around his age. Their target was a girl whom the boy recognized as the boatman’s daughter. They surrounded her, but so far they seemed satisfied with mere taunting.
The boy would make sure they got no further. He dropped his gear and stepped between Bram and the girl. “What’s the matter, Bram? Is she helping you with the big words?”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” sneered Bram. “Why would I want to waste my time on a half-breed freak like you?”
The boy touched one of his ears. “Oh, I was so hoping you’d notice. I’m touched, really.” He stepped closer, eye-to-eye with Bram. “Tell you what,” he said quietly, “one at a time, or all at once. It’s all the same to me.”
“You serious?” said Bram, his menace somewhat dissipated.
“How would you like to find out?”
The boy could almost see the wheels turning in Bram’s head as he considered. Finally, he waved his cohort over. “Let’s just go,” he said, and they did.
The girl had turned her back to him, her face in her hands. “Are you all right?” the boy asked helplessly. She didn’t turn around. She didn’t answer him. “Excuse me, miss…”
She turned. “I hate it! I hate everything about this place!” she yelled. The boy was taken aback, both by her anger and her beauty. Her coal-black hair fell past her shoulders, framing a dark oval face with a slightly pointed chin. Her lips, he noticed, were almost purple. While her eyes were red from crying, her deep blue irises struck him deeply; he’d seen only a few Dunmer in his life, but none at all like her.
“Everything?” the boy stammered.
Her rage softened a little as she looked at him. “I never wished to come here, you know,” she sniffed. “We lived well in Morrowind. My parents’ merchant fleet sailed all over the world.”
“You came a long way, then. Why?”
“My parents were Twin Lamp,” the girl said. “Abolitionists aren’t well-regarded there. When word got out, we made a hasty departure. My parents run the canal boat now, and do well by it, but we’re still Dunmer.” She paused – her anger had abated, leaving only depression. “I don’t know which is worse, being seen as a curiosity or as an invader.”
“Oh, most around here are decent folk, believe it or not,” the boy said. “But we’re unworldly. Of course, we have our troublemakers as well.”
“How do you manage it, then?” she asked, pointing at his ears. “You too are unlike the others.”
“Oh, yes,” the boy replied. “I’m not sure. I know I’m different. I’m adopted, for one, and part Bosmer, as you’ve noted. Little trouble comes my way, but I suppose I’ve made it known what I’m willing to tolerate.”
“You make it sound simple.”
“I also choose my friends carefully. People with wisdom. People with learning. Canal boat people,” he grinned.
The girl grinned back. “I’m pleased you’re so careful,” she said, “but are you too careful to tell me your name?”
The boy blushed. “I’m sorry! I’m called Lukas. And I’m very pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise,” said the girl. “My parents named me Marisi.”
“You’ve had some learning?” asked Lukas.
“Yes, I can read and write both in the common language and in the language of my homeland.”
“The Dunmer script in Morrowind? I’ve seen it before, and it’s beautiful, but could never understand its workings. Could you teach it to me?”
“I suppose I could try,” said Marisi, “but to write it properly you should learn to speak it as well. Are you willing?”
“I could never let an opportunity like this elude me!”
He almost forgot his fishing gear!
A note about the illustrations: The cityscapes were from pictures I’ve taken over the years – I’ll let you figure out where they’re from! The picture of Marisi is a screenshot taken while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The following user mods were used to create Marisi:
- Her hair style is from ApachiiSkyHair by Apachii
- The young woman was created and stylized using RaceMenu by Expired
- The pose was accomplished using Pretty Motion Collection by Dualsun
- The screenshot was edited using Picasa, which I don’t think is supported any more, but you still might be able to find.