“Has everyone got their tickets?” the General Manager bellowed. Finally, it was the day of the big company trip to the Nereverine Festival. On the station platform, SK Intercontinental employees fumbled at purses or pockets, while spouses searched for people they knew, young children chased each other, and their older siblings sulked. “Great! Now, we’re doing this thing right – leave your suitcases with Hulde. She’ll make sure they all get to the hotel without you having to lug them around.” Hulde was the office manager, and she could organize anything. Adrian dragged his suitcase to where Hulde was standing; she attached a tag to its handle and checked Adrian’s name off a list. For his part, Adrian located a refreshments kiosk and got himself an early morning coffee to drink while the train was assembled. Adrian had to admit, the company was onto its game. Hulde had managed to book an entire carriage, just for SK Intercontinental, which would take them in reasonable comfort to Windhamn. From there, they had a whole block of seats on the ferry to Seyda Neen, so they could all sit together.
Adrian watched his colleagues and their families on the platform. Some of them he recognized: the General Manager’s plump, smiling wife and their teenage daughters, both with long, straight red hair. He spied Hendrikson’s wife Myra trying to herd a rambunctious eight-year-old son while their ten-year-old daughter stood by, scolding him. Others were more of a blur. The clerk from down the hall – who was she with? Did the head of Accounting really have all those kids?
When they finally boarded and Adrian found his seat, he realized how out of place he felt. Thirty years old, and he still lived by himself. Outside of the office, he seldom heard his name called. He could go through an entire weekend without speaking even once. On the other hand, he had more than his share of peace and quiet, which was interrupted by Hendrikson sitting down beside him.
“I thought I should thank you,” Hendrikson said quietly. Adrian noticed the rest of Hendrikson’s family sitting a few rows forward.
“Thank me? Why?”
“Well, you really pulled me out of a fire last week, after that landship crashed. How you managed that traffic was brilliant.”
“Oh,” said Adrian. “You know the system I used? I merely asked myself ‘What would Hendrikson do?’ and I did that.” Adrian paused briefly. “We’re a team, you know. Somebody had to go down south to supervise the cleanup. Somebody else, me, had to manage things at Solitude. I was glad to do it.”
“You’re too kind,” said Hendrikson. “If the Big Man asked me today who should be promoted, I’d say you without hesitation.”
“I appreciate it,” said Adrian, “but you’ve got a pretty good claim on the promotion, too. Have you talked with your family about it?”
“Some,” said Hendrikson. “Myra’s not crazy about moving to Vitbäck, but we’ve agreed that if we do move, it’s best to do it while the kids are still young.”
“That makes sense,” agreed Adrian.
A juvenile tumult erupted a few rows ahead, interrupting their conversation. “I’d better go see to this,” sighed Hendrikson, leaving Adrian alone once again.
Adrian tried to doze as the train rolled on, trees and mountains flashing by his window. Through half-closed eyes, the passing scenery reminded him of someone running, full sprint, with important news.
Lukas couldn’t wait to tell Marisi what had happened. All his studies, all his practice, all his recited poems, were actually going to amount to something. Marisi would be so thrilled. When Marisi’s home by the canal came into view, he noticed one of the family’s boats was docked close by. “Marisi!” he yelled. “Marisi!”
He saw Marisi’s head pop up from beneath the gunwale near the bow. “I’m up here,” she cried back. “Come aboard before the boatmen arrive!” Lukas scampered up the gangplank, then ducked his head and entered a small hold at the bow. The hold was roofed over with a lattice-like grate to admit air and light. Here, they were invisible to anyone on the boatmen’s platform further aft. Marisi was already inside, seated on a bench against the starboard bulkhead. “You’re all out of breath,” she said. “What made you run so fast?”
“Excited,” panted Lukas. “Wanted to see you.”
“I’m excited to see you too,” said Marisi, “Look at my new dress. Mother sewed it for me. I told her I wanted something nice to wear when you came around.”
“Your mother, she knows about us?”
“She probably knows more than I think she does,” said Marisi. “And she knows enough not to tell everything to Father.” Marisi giggled. “Doesn’t your mother know?”
“Well, she knows I’ve been coming down here, and she knows I’ve been studying Dunmeris with you. But she winks when I tell her where I’m going.” Lukas didn’t think his mother was a fool. As his eyes adjusted to the light, Lukas finally noticed Marisi’s new dress, blue with gold piping, and an embroidered collar. “What’s that stitching on your collar?” he asked.
“Come and look,” she said. Lukas moved in close to inspect Marisi’s collar. It was a simple ploy, and Lukas knew it. Marisi kissed him soundly. Lukas kissed her back again. Both heard the arrival of the boatmen toward the stern. “We’re making a short run downstream, to pick up a pair of oxen and drop off some fabric. We won’t be gone long.” The boatmen polled the small vessel along. The oxen would be used to pull the boat home.
They sat quietly for a while, the boat gently rocking back and forth as it approached their destination. Despite his excitement, Lukas found himself soothed by the rid. “So,” said Marisi, “what were you so excited about?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Lukas. “I have some big news! Remember I said my mother knew how you were teaching me? Apparently, she mentioned that to the constable, who told somebody else and so on, and last night the head scribe from the Citadel visited our house. He spoke to me in Dunmeris, and thought enough of my replies to ask me to come work with him at the Citadel. Two schillings every day I’m there, and two schillings for my parents every day I’m gone! Isn’t that wonderful?”
Marisi’s eyes went wide. “You’re leaving?”
“Tommorow,” said Lukas. “Only I have to walk, about two day’s journey, I think.”
Marisi’s eyes became glossy and wet. “You’re leaving,” she said, her voice aquiver.
The boat lurched slightly. A soft thump indicated they’d arrived at their stop, and footsteps told Lukas the boatmen had disembarked. “Such an opportunity,” said Lukas, as it dawned on him that Marisi did not share his joy.
Marisi curled up on her bench, drew up her knees, and buried her face in her hands. “I wanted more time,” she sniffed, as the tears began. “For the first time, there was somebody I was glad to see, excited to learn with.” She tried to say more, but ran out of breath.
“But Marisi,” he said. “I’ll still be able to –“
“You say that now,” sobbed Marisi. “But you and I both know. You’re never coming back.”
“Just go, Mister Scholar!”
He wanted to hold her, but he feared she would bat his arms away. He wanted to say something, but the words weren’t there. All he could manage was her name
There was nothing more he could say. He couldn’t bear to ride back on the boat. The walk home was a long one, long enough for him to realize how much Marisi had given him, long enough for him to realize how selfish he’d been, and long enough for him to realize that, having obligated himself, he couldn’t go back on his word. The next morning, after a somber farewell to his parents, he departed for the Citadel.
And just as she predicted, he never saw Marisi again.
A note about the illustrations: The pictures of Marisi and Lukas are screenshots taken while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The following user mods were used to create Marisi and Lukas:
- Marisi’s hair style is from ApachiiSkyHair by Apachii
- Marisi was created and stylized using RaceMenu by Expired
- The Marisi interior shot was created using Emma’s wonderful Highview Cottage
- Lukas was built using RaceMenu, based on the Lovergirl race, which doesn’t appear to be available as of this writing, but was hosted at Skyrim Nexus
- Poses were accomplished using Pretty Motion Collection by Dualsun
- The exteriors for the picture of Marisi above came from the Leaf Rest player home by Aukmat
- The screenshots were edited using Windows Paint, Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), and Picasa, which I don’t think is supported any more, but you still might be able to find.