It hadn’t taken Almandar long to find her. If you asked those who liked their music, and knew the local entertainers, she was distinctive enough that it really took very little effort indeed to learn where she was performing tonight. He was lucky that she had been in the city at all, of course, because she often travelled elsewhere, as bards were wont to, but once he knew that she was, it had been easy enough to find the right tavern.
He heard her even before he entered the room, her clear voice floating out onto the street. The patrons were quiet, enraptured; there was no hubbub of conversation while she performed. And there she was, as he walked in to stand at the back, near the bar. A flicker of recognition, of surprise, crossed her face, but it was momentary, and her performance did not halter for a second. It was unlikely anyone else would even have noticed, such was her professionalism.
He hadn’t seen her for years, for all that they had so much in common. In a way, perhaps, he had more in common with Yarai than anyone else in the city, yet he had been avoiding her. He wasn’t sure how she would react to seeing him now, after all this time, and the brief flicker across her face as he had walked in was not enough to give him a clue. Perhaps she would be the one who would avoid him. He hoped not, because that would make things awkward… well, more awkward than they were going to be anyway.
He should have sought her out before, really. But instead, he had taken the obvious course, looking for records in the College library, trying to find some explanation for what had happened in the distant past, and for why it might be happening again now. Yarai knew all the old legends; she would have made an excellent source. But he had pushed the possibility to the back of his mind, putting off the inevitable encounter.
And, in the end, of course, it hadn’t worked, because here he was. With a woman with whom he shared one unique bond, at least so far as the city of Haredil was concerned.
She was playing the lute as she sang, slender fingers dancing over the strings, the instrument complementing the almost unnatural clarity of her voice, still fresh and beautiful after all these years. She didn’t look a day older… but then, she wouldn’t. Fair hair tumbled about her face in ringlets, blue-grey eyes glittering in the lamp light. She wasn’t looking at him, not since that first glance, but every other eye in the tavern was focussed on her, his own included.
She wore a long-sleeved white blouse under a blue, sleeveless jerkin, trimmed in silver, and dark, tight fitting, leggings that emphasised, rather than concealed, the shape of her long legs. Her black boots were high, almost knee-length, folded over at the top to reveal a paler lining — they looked decorative, but, if you looked closely you could see the tough soles that made them so practical for a life on the road.
She wore long ear-rings, he noticed, each one a golden filigree in the shape of a butterfly’s wings, with a tiny blue sapphire in the centre. They drew his eyes upward, to the curving points of her ears, prominent against her rich golden curls.
For Yarai was a half-elf.
There were few elves in the city. The dwarves and gnomes were numerous enough to have their own quarters, a few streets where they could live in a home away from home, surrounded by others of their kind. But elves had never been that plentiful, not here in Haredil. It was perhaps the local environment, too dry for forests, semi-arid scrubland the most you could find away from irrigated farmland or city parks, neither of which held the natural allure which elves liked. Which wasn’t to say that there weren’t elves, of course. There were always a few, such as Calleslyn, many of them passing through, and a few with reason to stay here for longer. But there were never many, which was why their culture seemed so mysterious to many of the humans here. And where there were few elves, and fewer still that were not transients, there were, of course, even fewer half-elves.
Apart from himself, Yarai was the only half-elf he knew that had been born in Haredil, and that had always given them something of a shared perspective. He had met others, of course, on rare occasions, passing through from elsewhere, but in Haredil itself… there was only her. Her story was much the same as his, in that respect — an elven man, passing through, who had had a brief liaison with a human woman before leaving for who knew where. He was probably out there still, as his own father must be, perhaps living a care free life without ever worrying what had happened to his child. Elves, sometimes, could be flighty.
She finished the song, to a round of enthusiastic applause — in which, of course, Almandar joined. He was deciding how best to approach her when he realised there was no need; she had hooked her lute over her shoulder, and was heading straight for him, taking plaudits from the crowd as she did so. He hurriedly ordered a goblet of wine from the barman, and it arrived just as she pulled up a stool next to him.
He passed it over, and she took it, rather grudgingly, he thought.
“It’s been a few years,” said Yarai, looking at him sideways, not meeting his direct gaze. Her voice, even when speaking normally, was still musical, a gift from her elven heritage that he did not quite share.
“You’ve been out of the city, so have I… I guess we just didn’t meet up.”
“Right…” she said, with a tone that said she didn’t believe a word of it, “For all those years… yeah, that would explain it.”
“We’ve been both been busy. It’s not that I didn’t want…”
“Please, spare me,” she said, still looking ahead, “I’m not that foolish.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Love ‘em and leave ‘em,” she said, “I can tell which side of the family you got that from.”
“Sorry… I should have…” he wasn’t sure what to say. This, after all, had been why he had been avoiding her. He hadn’t wanted this conversation.
“And it never occurred to you,” said the bard, suddenly turning to face him properly, “that I might be the same as you? It’s half of my family, too.”
He was silent this time, uncomfortable, and feeling that anything he said might only make things worse.
“Still,” she said eventually, “you’re back now. I’m glad you changed your mind.” Her face, on the verge of a smile, suddenly went hard as she saw his expression. She turned away again, pointedly not looking at him. “Aw, crap. You want something don’t you? That’s what this is about. You didn’t want to see me. You need a favour, so you decided to turn up out of the blue after a few years of avoiding me. You’ve got some nerve.”
“Look… sorry, it’s really important, and if I could turn anywhere else…”
“You’d still be ignoring me,” she said, turning back to face him again, delicate eyebrows set in a frown, “yes, I’m getting that message.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Sounds like you did.”
“You’re making this difficult.”
“That’s the idea, yes.”
He drew breath, steadying himself rather than replying straight away. Then he tried another tactic. “Look, you’re the best bard I know, I just want to use that skill. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do anyway. I’ll pay you, if you really want.”
She actually laughed at that, a brief tinkling like musical notes. “What makes you think I’d want your money?”
“Well, whatever. Forget the money. I need a legend, and who better to go to? Reciting stories, it’s part of what you do, Perhaps I can give you some in return… I’m an adventurer, I have tales to tell.”
Yarai looked at him appraisingly, the slender fingers of one hand tapping on the bar top beside her. “This really is important to you, isn’t it? What legend?” She sounded curious now.
“All I have is a name, or perhaps a word: Throndar. Do you know what that means?”
“Wow…” she said, breathing out, “the legend of Throndar. That’s an old one, and not one I’ve told in a long time. What do you want that for?”
“But you remember it?” he said, ignoring the question.
“Of course, I remember it,” she said, looking slightly offended, “I’m a bard, remember? Now why do you want to hear it?”
“I can’t tell you. Not yet, anyway.”
“You don’t trust me.”
“It’s not that, it’s… it’s complicated.”
Yarai’s blue-grey eyes widened. “It’s back, isn’t it?”
“Is what back?”
“Why else would you want to know a legend that old?”
“I can tell you the story afterwards. When it’s over.”
She looked him over again, eyes alive with interest now, a smile on her lips. “Very well. It’s agreed. I’ll tell you the legend of Throndar, and you… first, you don’t wander off for so long next time. You come and see me occasionally, all right? And, when you’ve done whatever you’ve done to save us all from you-know-what, you give me all the details. There could be another legend in it, Deal?”
“Deal,” he said, relieved, “I promise.”
“Right,” she said, beaming, and stood up, walking through the crowd for a short distance before stopping and turning back towards him. “Are you coming?”
“Coming where? I thought you were…”
“I think this is a story better told in private, don’t you? Considering you won’t even tell me why you want to hear it. Even though I can guess.”
“Yes, right.” He had to admit that made sense. “So…?”
“So come up to my room. I’ll tell you there. Come on!”
Yarai carefully placed her lute onto a cushioned chair beside the bed, patting it almost reverently before pulling off her jerkin and hanging it over the back of the chair.
“What are you doing?” asked Almandar as the bard began to pull her blouse free of her leggings.
“You need to ask?”
He frowned, puzzled. This wasn’t quite what he had expected.
“You, me,” she said, as if explaining the obvious, “in a room with a comfortable bed. How did you think it was going to end? We might as well get on with it.”
“I thought you were angry with me?” he ventured.
“I am!” said Yarai, putting her hands on her hips, “you walked off and left me, just because, what — we had a fling and you didn’t want to talk about it afterwards? If course I’m mad at you, who the hell wouldn’t be?”
“So, uh…” he waved feebly towards her, the white blouse hanging out of one side of the band of her leggings.
“So, you fool, you have years to make up for. I told you, I’m like you. Maybe it’s part of what we are, I don’t know. But if you think I’m going to let you get away with simply saying you’re sorry, you’re mistaken.” She pulled the other side of her blouse free, and stood on one leg to pull off a boot. “You’re going to have to do a lot more than that to make it up to me, believe me.”
He held up a hand as she began to remove the other boot. “I’m sorry, but maybe later. For once, I really don’t have the time.”
“You don’t have the time?” she threw the boot to the floor, and took a step forward, her eyes glaring.
“I promised someone I’d do this quickly,” he said, weakly, “just learn the legend and…”
“You don’t have the time?” Yarai repeated, reaching forward and grabbing him by the tunic. “Well, you’d better make the time, because… because…” she crumpled slightly, her voice becoming more quiet, “because I’ve missed you. Not just for this, though the goddess knows it was some of the best I’ve ever had, but because you’re you. You understand what we’ve been through. As half-elves. You know what it’s like, with the people around you aging faster than you do, never having childhood friends for long, because they outgrow you, just standing out because we’re different… all of that. I could talk to you, and you’d get it.”
“And it’s been a long time without any of that, and, quite frankly, I haven’t been with a man for a couple of months. I’m not asking for commitment, I’m not even asking you to carry on where we left off, but right now,” she leaned up close to him, her breath warm on his face, as she lowered her voice to a husky whisper, “I am as randy as I’ve felt in ages, and I really don’t care what you have time for. So if you want to hear this legend, you’ve got to make it up to me first.”
Her lips brushed against his. “Please?”
He responded, kissing her softly, to see how she would react. She melted into him, a musical sigh on her lips, pressing up against him, her arms around his waist, tongue pressing into his mouth, warm body against his. They remained like that for a long moment, just kissing, his hands exploring her back through the fabric of her blouse, re-acquainting themselves with fondly remembered curves.
Then she pulled free, a wild grin on her face and took a few steps back before throwing herself onto the bed, and turning round to face him, curling hair falling over her forehead, legs slightly apart, bare toes wiggling. Almandar hurriedly unbuttoned his tunic, discarding it as he climbed onto the bed beside her, followed by his shirt.
She was a beautiful woman, one he had known for a long time, and, much as he had enjoyed making love to her before, he had never quite known how she would react. Certainly, she seemed to have been happy enough at the time, but he hadn’t been comfortable with it, not after the fact. She said she didn’t want commitment, he reflected, as her hands began to wander across his bare chest, nails digging into his flesh just enough to be noticeable without really hurting. Perhaps she was like him; they shared a lot, after all.
He deftly undid the drawstring of her leggings, pulling them down over her hips. They were tight, and she wriggled a bit on the bed as he began to peel them back, revealing her long legs inch by inch, until at last he was able to pull them over her feet and drop them onto the floor at the end of the bed.
Her legs were, he had to admit, one of her best features. They were graceful and smooth, with perfect calves and rounded thighs, a long expanse of soft pale skin. He raised one of her feet to his mouth, kissing her ankle. She wriggled her toes, grinning as she did so, and he moved to kiss them, too, sucking gently on each one in turn, before running his nose along the side of her foot, planting a kiss on the soft spot above her heel.
Yarai let out a contended sigh, in that distinctive way of hers, which made it sound almost as if she were singing softly. Never had he met anyone so obviously destined to become a bard.
His kisses moved up her calf now, hands caressing the smooth skin, tongue darting out to taste her. His fingers brushed the back of her knee as his lips moved ever on, the curving expanse of her thighs beckoning. He shifted his position, having to move his head closer to the bed now, and ran his free hand over her other leg as his kisses moved ever so slowly upward.
His left hand moved up over her hip as his kisses reached the white fabric of Yarai’s panties. He could see a slight dot of moisture forming between her legs as he trailed the tip of his tongue down the inside of her thighs, his right hand caressing the smooth flesh as he did so. He moved until he was kneeling between her legs and moved up to kiss the expanse of her belly, gently pushing the blouse up to bunch under her breasts. The bard’s hand ruffled his hair, trailing down to run her index finger over the lobe of one of his ears.
He pressed his lips into her skin, moving down again until they brushed against the hem of her panties. Deftly, he pulled up the edge of the fabric with his mouth, holding it in his teeth then peeling it back, pulling the piece of clothing down as she shifted her buttocks to free it. Soon, Yarai’s panties were around her thighs, exposing her sex to his view. Releasing them, he kissed the hair on her mound, trailing his lips up from there towards her navel.
Gently, she pushed his head down again, whispering “not yet.” It was clear what she wanted, and he was more than happy to oblige.
He kissed the inside of each of her thighs in turn, moving his hands to pull her buttocks slightly up off the bed as she pulled her legs wider apart, and then shifted one onto his shoulder. She shuddered as he kissed her sex, running his tongue along the slit, tracing her swollen pussy lips with those of his mouth. Then he darted his tongue inside, taking small, discrete laps at her moisture, teasing her, caressing her folds with his mouth and making her cry out with pleasure.
He moved in deeper then, lapping at her, tongue sliding inside her, first flicking her clit and then sucking on it as he pressed himself against her sex. He glanced up, saw her body arching against the bed-sheets, free hand gripping the pillow above her head as the other still trailed in his hair. She cried out, then, murmuring something he could not quite hear, pulled her blouse up over her head, dropping it beside the bed. Her hand moved from his head to her own small yet rounded breasts, caressing them, fondling her small pink nipples as she let out small sighs of encouragement.
Almandar did not need encouragement. Her taste was familiar against his tongue, her smell familiar to his nostrils, taking him back to previous times they had made love, so long ago now. He knew exactly what she liked, how to make her squirm, even how to make her beg, although he wouldn’t try that now. Hers was the first cunt he had ever tasted, the first time he had gone down on a woman, as a young man, and that time he had driven her to orgasm with his tongue alone. Hearing her cries now made him feel young, invigorated, bringing him back to a comforting past, before he had even become an adventurer.
At last he relented, climbing up onto his knees to look down at her naked body spread out below him on the bed. He pulled his shoes off and began to unbuckle his belt, and she sat up on her elbows to help him, pulling his trews down to expose his burgeoning erection. Her hands ran along its length, and he could feel the slight calluses on their tips, the signs of her playing the lute.
Yarai flashed him a quick grin, flicking back some of her curls over pointed earlobes, her face flushed, eyes wide. She fondled his balls with gentle motions, and leaned forward, teasing down his foreskin, and planting a kiss on the swollen head beneath. His cock jerked, pressing against her soft cheek, but she only moved back, lying down on the bed again, looking up at him, legs akimbo, one hand pulling apart her damp pussy lips.
Almandar wriggled out of the last of his clothes, and changed his position, squatting on hands and knees over her, one leg either side of her head. Then he lowered himself, his own hand replacing hers to probe into her cunt as he ran his tongue over her inner thighs, then finally dipped it once again into the seat of her pleasure.
The bard let out another, enchanting, musical moan, and reached out to caress his buttocks before lowering him down until his erect cock rested against her chin. With a deft movement, she pulled it into her mouth, not using her hands, her lips at first running over the head then sliding further up as he gratefully lowered himself onto her face.
Almandar alternately sucked on the half-elf’s clit and moved his tongue through the depths of her cunt, occasionally teasing her with the tip of a finger. Her moans were muffled now, her usual musical tone dampened as he slowly moved his cock back in forth in her mouth, saliva coating it, her pink tongue almost wrapping itself around him. The tip was almost against the back of her throat, just short of making her gag. She slid him out, but only to kiss and nibble at his balls before pressing him back inside again.
Their hands caressed each other’s bodies, feeling every familiar curve — she really did not seem to have aged — as their mouths hungrily devoured their partner’s sex. Yarai’s breasts pressed against the magician’s abdomen, her chest rising and falling as they surrendered to the pleasure.
At last though, he pulled free, lying beside her on the bed as they rested for a while. Sweat coated both their bodies, and Yarai giggled as he blew against her belly, a cold draught against the moist skin.