October 25, 2008 Leave a comment
Malcos squinted at the shaggy rams behind the tent, scratching his beard with one hand, his tankard still in the other. “At this point I can’t tell if these are rams or horses.”
Vassanta grinned crookedly and paused to wiggle her fingers in front of her eyes. “I know, I can’t feel my tendrils anymore. Pretty sure those are rams, though,” she said, leaning against the stout wooden fence.
The dwarf behind the gate gave them an impatient look. “Ye wantin’ a ride or not? Still have plenty ‘o kegs we need to bring up from Kharanos.”
“Let’s go!” Malcos said, emptying his mug. Vassanta blinked at him, puzzled. “Ram racing! Care to make a wager on who makes the most runs?”
She smirked widely, stepping up closer to him. “What are the stakes?”
Malcos chuckled, his hand sliding down her side. “If I win… I get you in that dress I bought you.”
Those were the sort of terms she could agree to. “All right,” Vassanta said, her fingers trailing over his. “But if I win, you have to wear some of those little shorts that gnome is selling.”
“Oh man, I better not lose,” Malcos said, laying his ears back with an exaggerated grimace that made her giggle. “You’re on,” he said, climbing up onto the back of the ram tied beside the fence.
“That’s cheating!” she shouted, scrambling to grab another ram’s reins. “You got a head start!”
“Better hurry then!” Malcos laughed, already halfway over the bridge. The road into Kharanos wound through the snowy hills, and during the festival was well-traveled by riders. Few were foolish enough to walk on the road during Brewfest; the combination of tipsy riders and ornery rams made it especially dangerous. Glad to be free of their pens, the rams raced along the hard-packed road, their broad hooves kicking up snow as they went. Vassanta had barely to touch her heels to her ram’s sides, her words of encouragement were enough — or maybe he wanted to beat Malcos too.
Ram riding wasn’t especially difficult, but it required quick reflexes in order to wrangle the barrels onto the saddle at a full gallop, and it took some practice. Otherwise it was all too easy to drop it on the road or have it tumble off the side, and you’d have to go back again and face a very angry dwarf. Fortunately, Vassanta had got the hang of it during last year’s Brewfest, so she was certain that she’d be able to make more runs before her ram tired. Each time they passed each other on the road, Vassanta would flash him a triumphant grin, and Malcos would just laugh in return.
When they reined up their rams, weary and panting, at the stable, Malcos swung down and patted his ram’s rump to send it away. “I hope you’re ready to pay up,” he said, rattling the tokens in his hand. “Count ’em.”
“Eighteen tokens, not bad at all,” Vassanta said, opening her palm to show her tokens. “Too bad it’s not enough to beat me.”
Malcos laughed, “Eighteen! A tie, what’re the chances?”
“I guess that means we both won, hmm?” Vassanta smirked back over her shoulder at him as she headed back toward the booths and tents. Besides ale, the booths had a wide variety of breads, cheeses, and sausages, all of which would serve as a good meal later that evening in the inn. She laid down enough silver to buy enough for both of them, and turned to Malcos again. “If you’re ready to go back up to Ironforge, I can pay up.”
Her dress was still safely in her bank vault, still neatly folded from when she’d placed it in, looking out of place among the swords and axes stacked there. The fabric still smelled of the spicy incense of the flames, and she felt a twinge of guilt as she thought back to that night. He’d been so kind, and she’d kept at her game, but here was her chance to make it right again.
They’d agreed to meet in one of the many inns, not far from the museum. It was a little quieter and less crowded than the inns near the city gates, and the walls were festooned with banners for the festival. The servers had a wide variety of ales to choose from; the special holiday offerings as well as the traditional dwarven brews. But Malcos wasn’t at all interested in the menu once she stepped through the doorway.
Vassanta felt naked and out of place in a dress, pretending to be something she wasn’t, but it was worth the trouble for the effect it had on the elf. He quickly closed the distance and placed his hands on her hips, “You look breathtaking.” It made her think of that night along the canal, with the bonfire burning long into the night. He’d said something like then too, but Vassanta hadn’t really believed it. She wasn’t sure if she did now, but she wanted to.
The rough dwarven building had a fireplace, as most did, and the embers still glowed brightly, staving off the biting cold from outside. Taking his hand, Vassanta led Malcos to the rug before the hearth and sat down on the shaggy fur, her hooves folded neatly beneath her. He settled behind her, wrapping his arms around her warmly.
“This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” She couldn’t see his expression, but she listened carefully to his voice. She was still uncertain, still afraid that he might turn around and bite her just as she had to him — and she would deserve it, too.
He just seemed puzzled. “What do you mean?” One hand hand wandered to her tail, the other was searching for the clasp on the back of her dress.
“You know…” she gestured vaguely to the room around them. “Us here, talking and… things.” He’d found the clasp, it seemed.
Vassanta agreed that conversation could wait for later.