Acadian: I have always liked that line about the rose petals in the bath too. I am glad you liked it.
haute ecole rider: Yep, as Willow once said "Love makes you do the wacky." The same is true for lust.
Linara: Teresa is a high schooler! Well, almost. More like a freshman. But yes, she is quite young, and quite under the influence of her hormones.
treydog: Prepositions, propositions... preparations?
D.Foxy: A long time ago you said you were worried that the Teresa 2.0 lacked the same feeling of vulnerability and wonder. I think this chapter will put those fears to rest.
Destri Melarg: Teresa is wondering what the sleeping arrangements will be as well!
Next: In our last segment Teresa finally made it to the Wawnet Inn and met Nerussa. Next, wooage ensues. This will be a long post, but I do not want to break up the momentum in the scene.
* * *
Chapter 19.2 – Dibella's Dance
Nerussa led the way back down to the common room, where she took up a chair behind the bar and invited Teresa to sit with her and share a bottle of Tamika's. The sweet wine was a pure delight on the wood elf's tongue, and she realized that it was the same that Jauffre had served her when she had been at Weynon. Had that only been three months ago? she thought. Somehow she felt years older than she had been at that time.
After just a few moments Nerussa filled a pitcher with ale and was off serving her patrons. Then she returned to sit with Teresa once more to talk, throwing the copper remans she was paid into a simple wooden box beneath the counter. From time to time the high elf would rise to serve more drinks. On occasion she would accidentally brush against Teresa when she did so, something which the Bosmer found very pleasant.
"You seem kind of out of place here," Teresa observed as Nerussa returned from one of her mug-filling expeditions. She gestured at the velvet gown the high elf wore for emphasis "I mean, you're so elegant and you have such nice things, but in this little village…"
"Oh, well I am not originally from here, and I was not always an innkeeper," Nerussa explained with a smile as she sat down beside the wood elf. "In a way you might say I am retired too, like Aelwin."
"You sure work a lot for someone who is retired!" Teresa exclaimed.
"It is just a different kind of work is all, but I really only do this because I want to," Nerussa said with a smile as faint as any of Teresa's. "When I was younger I always wanted to travel and meet people. I am not a brave warrior like you though, and to be honest, I am rather lazy. All that walking and riding around sounds exhausting. Then I realized, people from all over Tamriel come through this little village on their way to and from the Imperial City. So I bought this inn and let them come to me..."
Teresa nodded, it was never something she would have thought of, but she could see the Altmer's reasoning.
"So how do you afford everything?" she asked, "I mean, to buy this place, and your clothes, and all the rest?"
The wood elf instantly regretted her words. What if Nerussa was a member of the Thieves Guild? she suddenly wondered. She could easily be a fence, or a smuggler. With all the people passing by going to and from the Imperial City she would have the perfect location. Or maybe she earned her money in something less savory?
"I'll tell you a secret," Nerussa said, leaning closer to Teresa and lowering her voice, "well, it is not that much of a secret, most of the locals know. I do not make any money from the inn. Well, I make enough to keep it going, but not enough for anything else. I earned my fortune when I was younger, and that is what I live off of."
"What did you do?" Teresa asked.
"I was a courtesan," Nerussa smiled.
Teresa nearly spat her wine all over her dress. As it was she had to cover her mouth with one hand and fought to keep from spilling her glass with the other. First Simplicia, then Adanrel, and now Nerussa! her mind reeled. Was there anyone she knew who was not a prostitute?
"And I used to think that I was full of surprises..." Teresa muttered as she wiped the wine from her chin.
"So why did you give it up?" the forester asked once she felt composed. Now she was starting to understand why Nerussa was so good at being... attractive. "It certainly seems to have done well by you."
"Oh it did, financially at least," Nerussa agreed, "in other ways too. I was no street corner or even brothel girl. I was the escort of councilors, patricians, and equites, the elite of society. If you had to ask how much my services cost, you could not afford them."
"It sounds very glamorous," Teresa admitted, admiring the way the velvet of her gown glistened in the dancing firelight, and the delicate patterns of flowers that its lace traced out across the hourglass of her figure. She remembered how soft it had felt under her skin when Nerussa had embraced her. What might it be like to wear velvet and lace? she thought, to have gold and jewels, and dine in palaces?
"It was glamorous, at first," Nerussa said. Her eyes took on a faraway look, and Teresa wondered what she might be seeing in her mind's eye. "I was taught how to walk, to sit, to stand, all over again, even how to breathe, so that everything I did was with grace and elegance. I learned to be witty and seductive, to sing and dance, and I memorized poetry and classic literature."
"You see being a courtesan is not simply about sex," Nerussa explained, her eyes now fixing upon Teresa once more, "it is about being a living work of art. We had to be able to accompany and entertain all manner of men and women at all times and in all places. To be honest, we spent more time talking to people, singing, dancing, reciting poetry, and just making them smile and forget all of their cares, than actually rolling in the sheets with them."
"That sounds wonderful!" Teresa said, her eyes sparkling as she imagined Nerussa surrounded by finely dressed nobles in some great manor, doing all of the things she had described.
"It was, at times," Nerussa's tone lowered now, and her eyes lost their sparkle, "but as time goes by the shine fades. You see how it tarnishes you, and the harder it becomes to put on a happy face for the crowd when you feel like crying. You find that your entire life is nothing but an illusion created for other people's enjoyment, and you wonder if there is any part of you that is not a lie."
"Is that why you left?" Teresa asked, trying to imagine what that must be like. The way Nerussa spoke, it sounded like she was more a doll than a person.
"No, not exactly," Nerussa turned he head, and seemed to be weighing her words before speaking again, "I was arrogant, I thought I was the greatest courtesan in Cyrodiil, and my hubris cost me everything. You see, I made the worst mistake any courtesan can make. I fell in love."
"What happened?" Teresa leaned forward with wide eyes. It all sounded like something from a bard's tale, or one of those silly books by Casta Scribonia.
"Oh, it is the oldest story," Nerussa looked back at Teresa, her eyes dark and distant, "his wife found out. Most women know when their husbands are with a courtesan. Sometimes they are even present as well. Most of them could hardly care. The wealthy marry for power, wealth, and status, not love. It is not unusual for one or both spouses to have lovers on the side, so long as it is discreet."
"She was not like that though," Nerussa went on, "she was even more conceited than I was, if that is even possible, and far crueler. She may not have wanted any part of her husband's bed, but she would not allow any other woman in it either. So she destroyed me."
Teresa knew better than to ask who it was. Even born in the gutter, she knew that a courtesan could not reveal who her clients were. She reached out and laid her hand on one of Nerussa's knees and tried to smile. She had always imagined bad things only happened to poor people like herself and Simplicia. It never occurred to her that people living in luxury might be just as desperate and hopeless as she was on the street.
"In the end I came here," Nerussa explained, taking Teresa's hand in her own and gripping it firmly as she looked back into the wood elf's eyes. "Here I can just be myself, and I can be with whomever I choose to, whenever I choose to. I can finally live my life on my own terms."
"I am so sorry," Teresa said truthfully.
"You are a dear Teresa," Nerussa smiled, not the seductive look she had become so accustomed to seeing on the Altmer woman's features, but rather a simple, warm expression of kindness. "I don't usually tell people that last part, not that it is much of a secret mind you. But you are easy to talk to. You seem like such a lovely person inside. You bring out the best in others, like someone else I once knew, a long, long time ago."
Teresa felt her cheeks grow warm again, and then it was her turn to look away.
"You are you know, I could tell when I talked you into helping Aelwin," Nerussa said, sliding her chair closer. Teresa was keenly aware of the Altmer's finger as it gently touched her hair and traced a line down the edge of her cheek. Her hand was like a torch, leaving a trail of fire behind it as it awakened a deeper blaze within Teresa's flesh.
"At first I thought you were just a mercenary archer. But only a kind person would have helped Aelwin for nothing in return." Nerussa finished, taking her hand away from Teresa's face as lightly as she had placed it there to begin with.
"Well, he did give me this," Teresa mumbled, twisting the turquoise ring that she wore on one of the fingers of her left hand. Engraved with the likeness of dolphins leaping over waves, the light glittered from its surface as if it were made of water. "It is enchanted after all."
"But you did not know Aelwin would give you that, did you?" Nerussa pointed out, "I had no idea he even had that ring, or could pay you anything. Face it Teresa, you are a good person."
"Now I'm embarrassing you again, am I not?" Nerussa said, standing up and reaching for a pitcher and filling it from a keg of ale. "You must learn to take a compliment Teresa, because if you keep acting the way you have been, you will be receiving them for a long time!"
Then she went gliding into the common room with the ale and began filling mugs again. When she returned she paused beside Teresa and once more let her fingers fall into the wood elf's scarlet tresses.
"I have been meaning to mention since you first came in, I like how you changed your hair," she observed, "and quite an entrancing scent you have on it too, and the rest of you as well. Is that vanilla?"
"Yes, it's vanilla," she noticed! Teresa thought with a silent prayer of thanks to Dibella, even as her cheeks reddened from Nerussa's attention.
"That is a lovely outfit you are wearing as well," Nerussa went on, "Argonian by its softness. The burgundy goes so well with your hair too. You look so different from when you are in your armor, I almost did not recognize you when you walked in!"
Teresa wanted to close her eyes and just slip away into the feeling of Nerussa's fingers gently stroking her hair. She wished that time would stop, and she could spend the rest of eternity in that moment. It took an extreme effort of will, but she looked up at the Altmer woman and smiled.
"I noticed you use lavender, and is that pomegranate too?" she said.
"You are very perceptive!" Nerussa said, "most people notice the lavender, but not the pomegranate. I use it as a cream, it is very good for your skin."
"I know all about plants, that is what I do really," Teresa could not help but to smile as Nerussa's fingers continued to gently trace their way through her hair. By Dibella that felt so wonderful, she thought. "I gather alchemical ingredients and use them to brew potions."
"Oh, you are a mage?" Nerussa looked surprised and drew her hand away, much to Teresa's regret. "I thought you were a fighter? With all that armor you had on the last time, and the bow..."
"No, I'm not a mage," Teresa explained, "I just know how to make some potions is all. I'm still learning, to be honest. I'm not really a fighter either. I just carry the bow and the armor to protect myself."
"Oh goodness, I'm so sorry," Nerussa apologized as she sat next her. "When I talked to you about the wine and Aelwin's slaughterfish, I thought you were, well, a mercenary. I thought you fought in battles all the time. I never would have asked you to do either if I knew..."
"That's okay, I can take care of myself," Teresa replied. A moment later she wondered at that. She never would have said such a thing three months ago, let alone believed it.
"Promise me you will not go looking for more of the Shadowbanish," Nerussa said, once more taking Teresa's hands in her own. "Wine is just wine, but I could not live with myself if something were to happen to you."
"Don't worry," Teresa said, "I can handle it. I've always been good at watching out for myself."
"Oh you have been pulling my leg I see," Nerussa leapt to her feet, fixing her hands on her hips and casting a stern eye down upon the wood elf, "pretending to be a simple potion-mixer when you really are a warrior after all."
"I'm not," Teresa tried to explain. "I'm just an ordinary person. I'm no hero."
"You know what you remind me of Teresa?" the Altmer woman declared. "I have been trying to put my finger on it all this time, and now I see. You are just like the old soldiers I knew when I was in the business. They never talked about their battles, or their honors. The only time you could ever get them to say anything about the service was when they told anecdotes about the places they were stationed or their old friends there."
"Now the young ones, all they would ever do is boast about how brave they were," she went on, "they would never stop telling you about what great warriors they were. They were so full of manure. You could tell who the veterans were pretty quickly, because they were like you. They were quiet. They did not have to brag, because their actions said everything for them."
Teresa stared at her lap, having no idea what to say, let alone do. She was saved when once again a table of fishermen called Nerussa over for more ale. Was the Altmer woman right? Was she really a veteran? She had been in more than a few fights since meeting the Emperor. In the last three months had fought assassins, goblins, undead, magicians, imps, and even Daedra.
But she hardly felt like some veteran soldier. She only felt like... herself. She was just glad to still be alive after it all. What was a veteran supposed to feel like?
Teresa was glad that when Nerussa returned it was with a smile on her face. This time the high elf did not touch her hair however. She hoped that the innkeeper did not think that she was somehow trying to deceive her. She could see just how much Nerussa valued honesty in people.
"Nerussa I..." Teresa stammered, trying to think of what to say, but the other woman waved her explanations away.
"I am sorry Teresa," Nerussa said, "I'll never know what it is like to do what you do. But I do understand if you do not want to talk about it."
The two of them sat in silence for long moments. Teresa looked away, and wondered if she had botched everything with Nerussa. The high elf was such a complicated woman, Teresa thought, so much older than herself, and so much more, well, experienced in the world. What could someone like her ever see in a simple girl from the streets like herself anyway?
Yet when she looked up into Nerussa's eyes, they seemed so earnest in the way they glowed back at her. Was that nothing but her courtesan training though? Teresa wondered. Was everything just a disguise with her?
"So there is no Lord Nerussa then?" Teresa finally asked. It had been something she had been wondering since she first set eyes upon the innkeeper. It had seemed hard to imagine Nerussa without someone before, but given her story, she wondered if the Altmer woman would ever want to be anyone else again?
"Thank Dibella no!" Nerussa snorted, "love is for poets Teresa."
Teresa's heart sank like a lump of iron in Lake Rumare. It was exactly what she wanted to hear, but the way Nerussa had said it sounded so jaded, so cynical, that she wondered if the Altmer woman would ever feel anything for anyone again, such as herself...
"Don't you get lonely?" Teresa practically squeaked as she looked down, afraid of what the answer would be.
"Not at all," Nerussa said, taking Teresa's hands in her own once again and squeezing them gently. "As I said, I can be with whomever I want, whenever I want, with no entanglements. Every day brings someone new, and sometimes they are a real treasure. If I want them, I have them."
Nerussa lifted one hand and cupped it under Teresa's chin, raising her features to meet her own. The Altmer's eyes fairly blazed, and Teresa felt her heart leap as heat spread through her body. No one had ever looked at her that way before. It made her feel nearly giddy.
"Do you ever get lonely, when you are out harvesting plants?" Nerussa's eyes continued to burn with fire.
"Sometimes," Teresa admitted, lowering her eyes for a moment. Why did she feel so bloody awkward? and worse, how was it that Nerussa's stare was able to strip her so completely bare? "I've never been with…"
Her words trailed off as she realized what she was about to say. I've never been with anyone, she thought. It was hardly the thing she wanted to say to a woman so worldly as Nerussa. By Dibella, how clumsy could she be?
She saw Nerussa lean closer to her, and then she felt the Altmer woman's soft lips upon her forehead. The wood elf breathed in the scent of lavender and pomegranates and sighed in contentment.
"Nature's first green is gold," Teresa heard Nerussa whisper softly as she stood up. Then the Altmer's hands were slapping down on the bar and her voice rang out across the common room.
"Last call!" she cried. "Drink up now, because I am too tired to put up with the lot of you ruffians anymore!"
A chorus of half-hearted yells and rude gestures erupted from the fisherfolk in the common room. The legionaries had long since retired to their rooms upstairs. Nerussa simply grinned and gestured back at them. Teresa was amazed at how she could go from being the epitome of elegance and refinement at one moment, to being as rough and crude as any street rat the next.
Teresa rose herself as the last of the other patrons shuffled out the door. More than one of them cast a leering glance in her direction, and she caught a few mutters about "Nerussa's latest..." Somehow she did not feel the slightest bit embarrassed. They could mutter all they wanted, Teresa thought, just as long as it was true...
"So, about that room..." Teresa looked to the innkeeper. Her heart raced as fast it had while staring down her arrows at the ghost in Castle Magia, and she wondered how Nerussa could seem so cool and composed. Did the Altmer really feel anything for her at all?
"Oh no!" Nerussa slapped her palm into her forehead with a look of horror. "The rooms are all booked up! Those legionaries got here before you and took them all!"
"Oh," Teresa whispered. Her heart sank like a stone. It all really had been just game on Nerussa's part after all, she thought.
"There is nothing for it then," Nerussa's voice sparkled with mischief. She stepped closer to Teresa and put her hands on the wood elf's hips, "you will just have to spend the night with me!"
"Why you! I'll get you for that!" Teresa sputtered, feeling her heart leap higher than Mount Taygetus.
She raised her eyes to meet the fiery gaze of Nerussa. Lifting her arms around the high elf, she laid one hand behind the Altmer woman's head and pulled the taller woman's face down to her own. Nerussa did not resist, and tilted her head slightly to one side as Teresa drew her closer. The scent of lavender enfolded Teresa as their lips met, and the rest of the world just slipped away...
Note: "Nature's first green is gold," is a quote from the poem Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost.