So it was with disappointment that, after a few seconds, she found herself alive.
She opened her amber eyes to see why death had hesitated, and found the Stygian slumped over in a dark heap. She touched his wrist, finding it cold and pale; no pulse was detectable either. Alyxandra was unsettled by his death; it was mysterious, and seemingly without cause. Thus, she drew herself up from beneath the bush, retrieved her weapon and began to make her way back to The Overfilled Flagon to report back to Alceren on the strange occurrence, half-hoping that the person or entity responsible would make itself known to her immediately.
Now, with the sun in complete control of the sky, the world was much brighter; the birds had their delicate song and the wind made her way through the trees, mischievously tickling their leaves to their profound annoyance. Soon, the thick woodland opened up into a clearing, and beyond that, the cobbled road to the tavern lay, with some activity now present; people made their gentle way southwards to the market, laughter echoing so that even Alyxandra could hear it. With the dewy verdant ground beneath her and the azure canopy above, she found within herself a renewed desire for life. She had not experienced this vivacious inclination for some time, and she wondered whether Alceren’s words may have had some assistance in its sudden manifestation.
Thinking on this, she reached the road, and was met with confusion by the people passing her. She soon realised the cause for this; her blade was still drawn. As she sheathed it, the expressions on the faces of those around her calmed, almost smiling at her instead. Feeling a little more comfortable in her surroundings, she continued to walk along the road, following the familiar bend, mentally preparing herself for the scents and sounds once more. As she walked, she began to think on the events of the previous evening, and wondered if they had some connection to her deep, delightful slumber that night. She smiled, remembering Alceren’s kindness, but found herself still puzzled by the sudden animosity that soon followed. I know precious little about him - perhaps it would be helpful to talk to him again.
Following these thoughts, she reached the door of the tavern and, now prepared for what lay beyond it, opened the door and walked inside, and was immediately met with enthusiasm by the landlord.
“Greetings, Alyxandra L’Mipra, respected heroine of Thornhurst. Would you care for wine?” Looking to the window behind him, a look of bewilderment appeared on her face.
“Surely, it is too early in the day for such things?” The landlord smiled in a broad grin, causing Alyxandra to grimace; his teeth were more yellow than the previous evening, if that was at all possible.
“It is never too early for wine, but often too late - if you are the last to have any of course!” The landlord began to laugh at this, and Alyxandra forced herself to the same, out of sheer politeness. “So, concerning the wine, what is your decision?” In the friendliest tone she could manage, she replied,
“Perhaps later, good sir, for it is a good wine, and should be enjoyed in careful amounts.” This response seemed acceptable - the landlord’s cheeks began to redden and his eyes brightened.
“Please, call me Rupert. I am glad that you enjoy it - I shall be sure to bring you some later, on the house.” Alyxandra was not quite sure why, but the tone Rupert adopted for the words ‘on the house’ seemed almost sinister. Nodding politely, and saying,
“Until then... Rupert...” a little uncomfortably, she looked about the tavern for a seat, and found Alceren in that same spot as the previous night by the fire, studying what appeared to be a letter, still wearing his hood. He turned as the sound of her footsteps caught on his ears, and smiled as she lowered her cowl. It was as she approached however, that she realised she did not have the first idea of what to say to him. Taking the seat closest to him, she sighed, and brushed the dirt from her tunic. Alceren half smiled as placed the letter down, took a sip of wine and asked,
“What mess have you gotten yourself into?” Alyxandra gently pursed her lips at this, saying, with an air of mischief,
“I was defending Thornhurst from a sole attacker, although I am sure that you have spent your morning in a much more suitable manner.” Alceren chuckled under his breath.
“I have been dealing with the usual missives I am sent - a commanders’ work is never done, they say, and they are probably right... whoever they are.” Alyxandra smiled.
“You never told me that you were a commander?”
“Didn’t I? It must have... slipped my mind.” Alceren became thoughtful in his expression, as if he half expected Alyxandra’s response.
“I feel that a number of things have done the same. You know virtually everything about me, while I have kept very much in the dark about you. You seemed to escape last night with merely the pleasantries.” Alceren smirked.
“These things will come, in due time.”
“I think you shall find,” Alyxandra began, bringing her chair closer, “that the time of which you speak is due, and thus, I should be told.” Alceren peered down his nose at Alyxandra, still smiling.
“Where has this sudden spirit come from?” Alceren questioned, and Alyxandra smiled. In perhaps his most foolish outburst, he continued. “Yesterday, I found you rather fragile.” Alyxandra’s face fell.
“Fragile? Alceren, I am grieving. You know that... of course you do, because I told you. I told you everything. And now you cannot grant me the common decency of telling me your last name!” At this, Alyxandra, forgetting for a moment her usual meekness of heart, slapped Alceren around the face, then, her hand burning and a wave of guilt overcoming her, she turned away, burying her head in her hands. Presently, she heard and felt him looming behind her. “Go away, Alceren... please.”
“Alyxandra, please, come with me. There are some things that I am about to tell you that are...” He studied the tavern, before continuing, “a little sensitive.” Alyxandra continued to sit, her head still masked by her hands. “I... understand that I should have told you before, but I...” Alceren trailed off, as Alyxandra stood up, an expectant look upon her face.
“Right, lead the way then,” she said. At this, Alceren smiled gently, before walking over to Rupert and asking,
“Would you happen to have anywhere more private in this establishment?” Rupert looked at both Alceren and Alyxandra, his gaze wandering between the two of them. He seemed to be stifling a laugh as he replied,
“Well, there are rooms upstairs which can be used for.... certain purposes... although I thought that the Elven tradition was.... ugh!” Rupert trailed off, his sentence ending in a strange noise erupting from his throat as Alceren tugged the top of his worn waistcoat with both of his hands, bringing the man, and his yellow teeth, closer to his face, now angry, his jaw tight and his grip unrelenting.
“I want no more of this vulgarity, do you hear? I need a place suitable for the discussion of delicate -” At this, Rupert could do it no longer, and almost exploded with laughter, his sordid little mind unable to let the opportunity pass. At this, Alceren released Rupert, and he fell to the ground. He scrabbled around for a moment, and began to force his fat little body from the floor when he felt a cold blade at his chin. Alceren peered down the blade into the fearful man’s green eyes, before saying, “I shall asked one more time - do you have a quiet room, where we shan’t be disturbed, good sir?” Thankfully, Rupert chose to ignore the opportunity to make any bawdy comments and, to prevent any fatal laughter, merely pointed to the closed door behind him. Risking laughter for a moment, he said,
“It leads to my own private quarters. You’ll find it unlocked.” Alceren removed the blade from beneath Rupert’s chin, sheathed it, and offered him a hand. Tentatively, Rupert took it, and stood up slowly. When he looked at Alceren again, he was smiling.
“Thank you,” he said, shaking Rupert’s hand firmly, before beckoning a blushing Alyxandra to follow him to the door. Rupert, meanwhile, returned to his post behind the counter, slipping a tankard beneath the ale barrel and, furtively emptying some of its contents into the tankard, inhaled deeply, before taking a long drink from it, as a well-deserved reward to himself for surviving his ordeal.