The people she past cast her curious looks, some of them even suspicious. Walking lightly, the creaking boardwalk hardly felt her weight as Eruviel navigated the maze of streets through Esgaroth. The beams of warm light shining through low windows were broken here and there by other pedestrians and the occasional stray cat. Ahead of her the murmur of multiple voices rose and she stopped at the end of the street that met the city square. A handful of vendors still had their stalls set up, a variety of colorful wares of human, elf and dwarvish make on display. More vendors were closing down and a chorus of shouts, laughs and threats wafted out of the taverns and inns along with the smell of food.
A weapons vendor started to call out to her until he got a better look at the bow on her back and the hilt of the sword at her waist. A jeweler beckoned to her with a hand full of necklaces, ignoring the woman he had previously been bartering with. A dozen other eyes turned her way, some drawing whispers or thrown elbows. Eruviel ignored the looks, walking with a relaxed gait and thoughtful air as she searched through the thin crowd. The women seemed to inspect her with curiosity and distrust, and the men inspected her with curiosity and, well, curiosity. She was glad for the months of dirt that darkened her cloak and diminished the usual spotless gleam of her armour to a worn tint of hard use. Her sharp green eyes caught the few shadows that studied her, assessing her monetary value above all else.
Avoiding tripping over a pack of filthy children sprinting between the legs of loitering adults, she could not help but smile in relief at the sight of a clothing vendor who had more shirts and pants versus dresses. Stepping up beside a woman who browsed the table Eruviel began thumbing through the piles of folded shirts.
“Good ‘evenin to ya!” beamed the man behind the table. “What can I help ya find?”
Eruviel returned the smile, shaking her head. “I need a moment more to look. Besides the young woman next to me was here first, I believe.”
The man turned to the lady but she stepped back, her eyes lingering on Eruviel’s bow, her quiet disposition shaken at not having realized the armoured elf had been standing beside her. “Oh n-no, I was merely browsing.” Setting down the folded cloth that had been in her hands she quickly picked up her small basket of produce and bobbed a precarious curtsy. “G’night,” she mumbled hurriedly before pattering away and down a street.
“Don’t mind ‘er. She’s always skittish,” rumbled the vendor before looking back to Eruviel. “Yer needin something other than you’re armour, I take it.”
Nodding her head Eruviel selected out a burgundy shirt with soft brown leather lining the V’d neckline and collar, two straps crossing the back at the shoulder blades for the aesthetic appeal of armour. “I have been on the road so long I am aching for something more suited to a slower pace,” she said with a half smile.
“Naw, m’lady, ya won’t be wanting that,” insisted the vendor with a charming smile. “Elvish lasses should be in something finer than a tailors leftovers.”
Eruviel humored the man as he began to rifle through a crate of dresses, muttering about what styles might best compliment her. He stood and turned, unfurling something grey and something green when Eruviel was hit from behind, nearly falling upon the table.
“What in the bloody –” shouted the rough young man who had run into her, his hand clutching his shoulder as he turned. Seeing her in the lamplight he froze. She could tell she was not what he’d expected.
“Forgive me, mellon,” she apologized hurriedly, re-stacking the pile of shirts that had fallen over. “I did not realize I was in your way.”
The man gave her a lopsided grin, rolling his shoulder once as his equally rough looking friends stood like a gaggle of young girls . . .or vultures, watching from several yards away. Eruviel noted they all appeared to be mildly inebriated and wore daggers in one place or another. “Naw, miss. Yer just fine,” he said as he stood a little straighter, “I’m not in that big of a hurry.” This little fool knows nothing of elves, does he?
Eruviel followed his diverted gaze to the green dress the vendor still held up. By the Valar . . . . Thinking quickly she offered a soft, merry laugh, shaking her head. “Now sir, if I wore that these fine gentlemen would think I might be selling something.” The vendor’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment as he took a second look at the thin dress’s plunging neckline and the cocky grin that had yet to fade from the younger man’s face. She was indeed selling something, but that was her walk, her smile, and her carefully chosen words for the payment of the information to be gleaned by reactions of those around her. Information given freely without the risk of revealing her true intent. Looking back to the man who had collided with her, she made her seemingly innocent glance at her small coin purse in his hand obvious. The wry gleam in her eyes matched her soft smile perfectly as she offered a slight curtsey. “Forgive me for holding you up,” she said, her tone lowering and growing richer. “I will do my best to watch where I stand from now on.”
Chuckling, the young man stooped at the waist, bowing with a bit of a wobble. “It’s not every day a man get’s ta see a lovely maiden in armour. The fault’s mine.” He turned to rejoin his friends but stopped. Pivoting slowly he walked back up to Eruviel with a twinge of guild in his eyes. Standing uncomfortably close he took her hand and set the coin purse in her palm. She could smell the ale on his breath and pipe smoke on his leather jerkin. “I — er — ya dropped this. G’night.” And with that he retreated to his friends, one of them hitting him over the head and another clapping him on the back.
The vendor’s eyes followed after the group with a bewildered look as they entered a tavern. “One of them boys nearly stabbed a lady last night. I can’t believe he gave ya yer purse back.”
Eruviel glanced over her shoulder nonchalantly before turning back to face the man. “Do you have a grey cloak?” she asked before adding, “Those young men should be helping their families. The one here could not have been younger than sixteen.”
“He’s eighteen, actually,” huffed the merchant as he dug out a cloak and handed it over. “Them boy’s ‘er trouble, but there are much worse wandrin the streets ‘o Lake Town these days.” Studying her with a serious look the merchant reluctantly put the dresses down and picked out a black and brown pair of well made trousers. “I don think I can convince ya to buy a dress, but these are my best and should fit ye fine.”
Eruviel unfolded them and held them up, smiling with approval. “These will do splendidly.” Handing him what she owed him, the price being fair enough that she did not bother bartering, she surveyed the buildings that lined the square till she found the inn Eirikr had told her of. “If I could trouble you, mellon, what inn would you suggest?” she asked with a faintly torn look painted over her face.
Giving her a kind smile, the vendor pointed out the one she hoped housed her waiting friend. “That’s the best one, and they’re pretty reasonable.”
“Thank you, sir, for you services and for your help,” she smiled sweetly as she stepped away.
“Any time, m’lady!” he replied, obviously pleased with himself. “Visit again some time!”
Waving back to him she wove through the occupied square to the inn, her new clothes clutched to her chest. Taking the few steps up to the open door of the inn she ducked past several patrons exiting the building and quietly asked the first barmaid for a room to change in. Her smile, aided by the offer of a few coins procured her a lit storage room with the maid standing guard. Changing quickly, wrapping her armour snugly in her dirty cloak Eruviel stepped back out, sighing with relief to the amusement of the barmaid. The clothes fit perfectly, and Eruviel’s spirits rose with the comfort afforded by the loss of thirty pounds of steel. Ordering a drink she sat at an empty table to the side of the room, careful to slouch slightly in her seat. Following half a dozen conversations, she surveyed the darker corners of the common room, hoping to find the one familiar face, and praying that he had good news.