Re: An odd bird

  • Markshire PCs:

It was one of the other new people she met that very nearly threw Sun-Ok’s reordered life back into confusion. She would remember that day always as well.

It did not start any differently than any other day—as the sun rose over Foothold’s cemetery, her kneeling shadow stretching across the graves, she stood and bowed to her ancestors. Then she walked slowly toward Alec’s house, her shadow and a long day of tailor-craft before her. As she passed the tavern, a large pile of snow slid off the roof, landing near her feet. She looked up and then shrugged. A steady stream of smoke rose from the chimney—either the fire’s rising warmth or the new sun must have melted some of the deeply packed snow.

After stretching in Alec’s warm house, she set to work. Where her hands were not calloused from her rapier and bow, they quickly grew chapped from the tanning acid. The tanning oil did not really help, except to keep the callouses from cracking—the only thing that made the least difference was a small jar of hand cream that Lily had found for her in some place called Arik. Sun-Ok guarded what remained of the cream jealously and used it sparingly—she had no idea how to get more.

That day she worked at a heightened pace, assiduously turning bags full of skins into bags full of leather, and then into bags full of various leather armors. And of course she made the magic cat-bags as well, so that she could still labor bearing the weight of all those armors. And she crafted some new items also—cloth hoods with metal wire thread woven in, that would help deflect blows. It was a hugely productive and satisfying day, but it was exhausting, and at the end of it she felt the soreness of accomplishment coupled with a raging thirst from the close, warm atmosphere in Alec’s house.

So she stopped in at the tavern afterwards, unenthusiastically accepting the wine offered by the bartender—none of the brewers she had asked in Markshire had yet been able to produce rice wine. The taciturn Gian, a regular, glumly vacated his seat on the couch, for she had noted previously that he responded well to the scent of fresh leather. Thus she sat comfortably, sipping and mulling over in her mind the many tailoring successes of her day. As usual, the few failures did not weigh heavily on her mind—she learned from them but moved past them quickly.

Sun-Ok also started to think again about a project she had in mind. She had found a wonderful magic robe that helped her blend into the shadows, but it was both hideously ugly and poorly colored for Markshire’s varied terrain: woods, plains, mountains, town, and snow. She was planning how to tailor it to be beautiful and elegantly simple like the robes back in the Kingdom, yet colored to suit concealment in more of the environments here in Markshire. It was a perplexing problem—reconciling beauty and stealth, Markshire and home—but a pleasant and relaxing one to contemplate at the end of a long day.

She looked up as a man spoke briefly to the bartender just a few feet from her—he is a quiet one, she thought, I didn’t hear him come in. Gian fidgeted next to her—he would give up his seat for her but never went very far, as if he feared someone else might take it when she left. So she gave the new arrival a second look—white cloak, armor in whites and grays, with dark spots on the chest-piece like the pinfeathers of a snowy owl. With her robe project in mind, she immediately placed that in the snow-stealth category, and, as he threw back his hood, she looked at the wearer: average height for a male human, a bit thin, nearly hairless with strange tattoos on his gaunt cheeks. He went to sit at a table, ignoring the drunk waitress.

Interested in his armor, Sun-Ok rose to go introduce herself, thanking Gian for the seat, which he promptly reoccupied. She approached, then hesitated when the human clutched his stomach in pain and—instead of turning pale or red as humans normally might when ill—darkened, if just for an instant.

It was an extraordinary thing. She was certain she had not blinked or imagined it—after all, she had been hoping to catch his eye as she walked toward him. She looked around the tavern—none of the candles and lanterns had suddenly gone out, either. She hesitated, but was also curious, and he was clearly in pain.

“You alright?” More quietly, Sun-Ok added, “Best not eat here if stomach bad already…”

He looked up, pausing only a moment to consider her first, “It’s a pain…I am accustomed to…and food…no.” As she continued to peer at him with both concern and curiosity, his features briefly registered surprise, and she wondered which of the two surprised him—surely if he had the pain that often, and darkened that often, it wasn’t her curiosity…

“Join me…if you wish,” he said, interrupting her thoughts.

She sat down promptly, her curiosity fully engaged, setting the rest of her wine on the table gently. He even spoke oddly, at least based on what she had been studying of Markshire’s language—not like she did struggling to put thoughts into the proper words, but more as if he struggled to bring his thoughts out at all for public consideration. It made for a decidedly strange conversation, made even stranger when he spoke, fluently but with a very odd accent, the Ancient words of beauty: “Whence do you hail?”

She looked at him sharply, responding in kind “From a far-off realm, where only elf-bloods speak the Ancient words and none would teach them to…other races. Do you bear some trace of our blood in your veins?”

He smiled briefly. She was unsure whether it was a smile she wished to see again—it was somehow wrong, or perhaps just private and untouchable, but unnerving regardless. “No, only a trace of that beauty on my tongue.” It was an eloquent answer, with the layered possible meanings and resultant ambiguity that her people relished, but here—in Markshire, from a human, at a somewhat seedy tavern—it served only to make her more uncomfortable. He noticed, or perhaps did not, but proceeded in the dialect of Markshire. “I just…learned it…a while back.”

From there the conversation progressed more normally, in a way more typical of new acquaintances in this place. Later, she would recall that she had explained her life as a tailor and a scout, but could not recall that he had shared many details of his own path. At the time, though, she had sensed no dissembling. Which was really quite remarkable, for the man oozed pride, almost to the point of conceit.

Yet he also seemed lonely somehow. Part of that may have been the contrast between his obvious familiarity with the tavern and its regulars and the degree to which he and the regulars studiously ignored each other. But part of it seemed to be internal—as though he considered himself so different that he made himself unable to share anything meaningful with others.

And that sad sense of nearly-conceited, self-imposed loneliness—in conjunction, of course, with her own nagging curiosity—is what led Sun-Ok to accept his offer to go out to the woods to practice scouting. And so she followed him out of the tavern, pausing a moment first to wrap her cloak around her. As she emerged just a step or two behind him onto Foothold’s main street, she noted the rising sun—they had talked for hours, through the night, yet it seemed so brief. Even moreso, just then, because he was…gone.