A/N - This is an old short story from 2005 that seems to have disappeared off the forums somehow. Not sure how... Anyway, I'll put it back up in case anyone hasn't read it before, although I think that most here already have.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTH IS
He smiled amiably at the single Redoran guard walking around, as he continued his rounds past the settlement's lone trade house. When the guard had safely passed, he shook his head slightly. Full Bonemald Armour on a day like this. He must be sweltering in that outfit. No wonder guards always seemed to have an unhappy look on their face, if that was what their day entailed. Too hot. The sun was blazing down, making the slightest movement uncomfortable. Even the clouds seemed indisposed to moving quickly, making the occasional half-hearted attempt to move another few inches across the blue sky. A strange settlement this Khuul. It was a tiny fishing village, with only a few notable features. The strange rock formations laid out to sea, the shadows of stranger creatures darting below the water and the oddball people living here. The first voice to hail him as he'd got off the boat was a Khajiit offering to take him to Solstheim, who'd then cackled loudly at some joke known only to itself. The dangers of moon sugar had never been more apparent.
It was time. Eyes roving slowly, he prepared himself. Hair slicked back? Check. Garments smoothed and uncrumpled? Check. Thrusting his jaw forwards, he stood to his full height and admired his reflection in the water, the ripples distorting his features. He'd decided to stick to the west side of Morrowind first, the awful stories of half mad Telvanni wizards on the east having put him off such an adventure for now. Staring across the water, the shrill screech of a flying bird overhead, he resumed his inspection. A fine specimen. Last check; does my smile look genuine? Perfectly even teeth smiled back at him. The very definition of trustworthy, and such a handsome Breton, he thought.
Changing the direction of his gaze, he looked keenly at the house he'd decided to target first. He'd seen an elderly woman enter it just a few moments before, and he prized himself on being a good judge of opportunities. Stepping past the fishing rod lazily propped against a wooden post; he walked gingerly along the raised walkway towards the house, glancing uneasily through the slats in the wood at the sea beneath him. The awning above him blocked out most of the sun as he knocked on the door, plastered on his smile and gazed beatifically at the old lady standing curiously in front of him.
"Good day to you madam. My name is Fenandre Hastien, recently arrived from High Rock, and an official representative of the Mage's Guild here in Vvardenfell. Here, let me show you my credentials." With a flourish, he pulled an enchanted, glowing card out of his robe.
"How can I help you?" the old lady asked, leaning heavily against the door.
"I'm here to offer you something really special. The opportunity to learn a spell of your choosing, for a modest fee of course."
"A spell? But I don't have any need for a spell, young man."
"Everyone can always use a good spell madam." he replied. "Perhaps I could demonstrate my wares. You are, of course, under no obligation to buy."
Curiosity overcame sense, as she slowly nodded and invited him in.
Hastien leaned back in the armchair, the demonstration over; sure he'd just snagged a sale. Flickering trails of magicka still lingered in the air from the dazzling light show he'd put on. He was willing to wager this pitiful shack had never seen anything as spectacular as that before. Awful building, he thought. An entirely wooded interior, dark beams criss-crossed above them, and the inside of the roof was cheaply insulated with straw. A cup of the hot local brew sitting comfortably next to him, he launched into his rehearsed spiel as the last remaining sparks dissipated, leaving only the faint green glow of the lamp on the barrel to the side.
"Well, any spells can only be bought from us. The Telvanni as you know aren't allowed to sell training due to the charter. And," he lowered his voice, and leaned towards her conspiratorially, "You wouldn't want to learn from them. They have a tendency to set traps in their spells, such is their disregard for life."
"Yes, by law only representatives of the Mage's Guild are allowed to offer training. House Telvanni are most upset about it" he chuckled. "Now, I have all variety of spells on offer I can teach you. What do you think might be useful?"
"Well, I have difficulty lighting the fire. Especially in winter, when my old bones are playing up." she said, hesitantly, pointing to an open fire in the corner of the room. Pursing his lips in disapproval, he tried not to let his attitude show. It was built on a raised platform surrounded by stones to stop the fire spreading and catching the wooden walls. A cauldron was raised above the fire, tied with thick rope to three planks of wood, the three legs of the wooden posts forming a sturdy tripod on the ground, the smell from the brew she'd made in the cauldron still lingering in the musty air.
"I have just the thing. We don't want you straining yourself unnecessarily now do we?" He smiled at her, and gave what he imagined to be a roguish wink. "I have a very simple fire spell, which is targeted. You could light the fire from here, without needing to leave your armchair."
"That would be most useful, but..."
"Yes, my dear?"
"I've never cast any magic before. Will it work?"
"I'll teach you, it's really very simple. Now, as for my fee. Does 30 gold pieces sound reasonable?" Seeing her hesitate, he rushed onwards. "Think of all the money you'll save on supplies, and how convenient it will be."
"I suppose so" she replied uncertainly, voice trembling slightly.
He fought to keep a triumphant smile of his face, attempting to cover it by drinking some of the bitter brew she'd provided. Poor old dear, he thought. The elderly were always the easiest. Placing his most trustworthy and comforting smile back on his face, he knelt by the side of her armchair, and started the lesson.
"No dear. Here hold your hands like this..." he moved them into an arch, "that's it, now concentrate on the words."
A faint glow emitted from the old ladies fingertips. Twenty minutes. He couldn't believe it. This was such a simple spell.
"Like this?" she asked.
"Yes, you're getting there." he replied encouragingly. "Just concentrate."
"Maybe it would be a little easier if I stood up?"
"By all means, whatever you think will help." Just get on with it, he thought impatiently.
"Could you stand there please?" she asked. "I want to know if I'm doing it right."
"But of course my dear." he smiled. "That's right, move the hands together and concentrate on the words."
The old lady dropped her head down, and rapidly muttered a strange language.
"What? That isn't what I..." the Breton began.
A ferocious gust of fire emitted from the old lady's fingertips, engulfing him. As his skin turned to ash, the screams gradually dying out, the door to the shack slammed open and two figures dashed in. Both spoke breathlessly at the same time. The Dumner's eyes on the floor, the female Khajiit's on the old lady.
"Are you okay, Mistress?"
"Oh, just another of those annoying door to door Mage's Guild salesmen. Nothing to worry about." she replied. "I ask you, what kind of a Mage doesn't know God's Fire?" she sniffed disapprovingly.
"So, Mistress Therana." the Dark Elf said haltingly, unable to remove his eyes from the pile of ash on the floor. "What do you think of the house? Suitable for a summer retreat?"
"Oh, I think it will be fine. I've always been most keen on fishing you know." she replied.