This story was originally posted on the play-by-post roleplaying game Aelyria.
It was well before noon as best as Vaishen could reckon. He stumbled towards his apartment, returning sobriety punishing him for a night of indiscretion. His head was a dull, constant pain, a vise of pain from too many spirits and too little sleep. He had been in a queer mood the previous night, a wanderlust had permeated his being. The frustration of months of drudgery, a soul crushingly dull and fruitless daily routine, had grown to be more than the young man could bear.
He had gone out to find excitement, and find it he did. The Tattered Sails Tavern had been full of his fellow sailors, and Vaishen had joined them eagerly. Sailors in port could be a fickle bunch, easily ranging from sullen and quarrelsome to jovial and carousing, their dispositions and their reasons as unpredictable and tempestuous as a storm upon the sea. The last night had found the men in high spirits. Alcohol and song had filled the tavern, dispelling all grudges and ill-feelings for at least one night, and the familiar atmosphere had spoken directly to Vaishen’s wild inclination.
Such a time was brotherhood at its best. A man did not need be from the same boat or, as in Vaishen’s unfortunate case, any boat at all. A man only had two requirements to join this revelry: a drink in his hand and a share in the many sea songs that were shouted, hummed, and replete with choruses of cheers and laughter more than actually sung. A man did not even need to know the words perfectly, for every song was filled with a sonorous symphony of hums, forgotten words mumbled over, and even differing verses. This was especially true of a song like The Banks of Terramarique, full of names and places easily forgotten or changed, yet no man ever took notice of such things. Every song was true and dear to a sailing man, whether it held nostalgic thoughts of the sea such as Wave Over Wave or the crass pleasures of The Whores of Imperia. It was a taste of Vaishen’s long lost love, the sea herself, and he drank it in deeply.
The festivity eventually ended, but Vaishen’s blood raced with alcohol and a loathing dread of seeing that cursed tomb of an apartment anytime soon. His feet took him to the docks to see the ships and remember his home away from home, and to find serendipity. The girl had looked awkward and not just a little frightened, walking the docks late at night. There were few things such a woman could be at the docks for and Vaishen, emboldened by the spirits, came upon her with a drunken charm. She was not the avatar of beauty, but she was by no means merely homely. She looked to be a couple of years younger than Vaishen, her face young and smooth, her body trim and with just enough of what a man wanted in the right places. Her dark brown hair fell in slightly curled locks about her face and down past her shoulders, and her eyes were a bright green that shined with what little happiness that Imperia had not yet taken from her.
She confessed that she had never done such a thing before — selling herself, that was — but she really needed the crowns. It was almost a shame that she did not know how much such a pretty face and a young body was worth. She could have easily fetched a much better price in a much nicer part of the city, but instead she asked a pittance so low that a room at the most meager of inns would cost more than the tail herself. He could have told her that and sent her onto a better life then and there, not a life at the docks that ended dead, pregnant, or raped before it could ever begin. That would have been the good and honest thing to do, an act of kindness which could change the course of her entire life.
He gave her the crowns. A more sober Vaishen would have taken her as a scam, the most obvious buttock and file possible, but this Vaishen was unhindered by sense and empowered by male instinct. As they went towards the Summitto Plaga, to the Battered Shield Inn, his hands were shameless in exploring his purchase. The feeling of a woman after so many lonely months quickened his blood, causing his lust boil over like a pot left on the fire too long. She did not have the soft feel of a woman of luxury, but instead her smooth skin had the feeling of muscle beneath it, and her hands had he calloused marks of labor: she was a woman who did her own work and took care of herself. He could feel her muscles tensing at his touch, her discomfort and her resistance only serving to make Vaishen more bold in his handling.
Awkwardly she explained to him why she was doing it. Some sob story about eloping with a sailor man who died at sea, leaving her penniless and without family. Vaishen did not care. Every poor soul in northern Imperia had a sad tale to tell, and since Ilia he only had enough give-a-damn left in the world for himself. This bawd’s troubles would be his splendid rewards that night.
Once back at the inn she became far more aggressive — perhaps eager to earn her coin, perhaps just wanting to get the experience over with — as she pushed Vaishen against the wall and pressed her lips to his. Hands slid beneath his shirt before she pulled away long enough to slide it off of him, and then pressing into him again her lips found his neck. They were hot, almost hungry, and Vaishen closed his eyes and let out a soft moan, a name: “Aislynn.”
An awkward silence descended upon them as the girl pulled away and stared at him, unsure of what to do or say. A professional girl would have been used to being called another woman’s name — after all, substituting for the true object of a man’s desire was what bawds were for — and the moment allowed her inexperience to shine through. It also gave Vaishen a moment to reexamine her and realize the truth: she wasn’t the one he wanted. The girl was barely even a shadow of Aislynn’s beauty and magnificence — not even a poor substitute at best — and a strange, unexpected emotion crawled its way through Vaishen’s drunken haze and hit him full on: guilt.
Vaishen had not so much as kissed Aislynn, despite how much he had wanted to for so many cycles, yet despite that fact he somehow felt wrong for being with another girl. A moment of inebriated clarity made Vaishen realize that what he had been about to do was far too close to betrayal, even if he could not quite explain why, and it brought a surge of painful memories from all the times it had been done to him. He could never do that to her.
With a sigh Vaishen had pushed the woman away for good. He gave her a tip: three times her asking price, and advice on how much she should be fetching and where she could fetch it from — since the docks would only get her raped or killed. Then, after sending the woman on her way, he fell into the bed he had paid for.
The inn’s bed was luxurious compared to his apartment, and Vaishen sank into it like a child into the comforting embrace of a loving parent. He wrapped himself in its sheets and blankets, a smile on his face at just how warm it was compared to his cot and how comfortable the pillows were to lay on. He realized he could easily grow accustomed to sleeping in such conditions as he took a pillow and wrapped his arms around it, holding it close. Closing his eyes, half asleep and completely drunk, he could almost imagine that the pillow was her in his arms, and it made him smile as he fell into a deep, incredible sleep that not even dreams could penetrate.
Several candlemarks had passed before the innkeeper had woken him, telling him he had to pay for another day or leave. Tired despite the hours of sleep, hung over, and agitated, Vaishen had complained bitterly and to no avail. In a fit he had dressed and gathered his things, storming from the inn in an irrationally bad temper. Vaishen did not want to return to his apartment, he wanted to be back at sea. He needed to do something, or he was going to end up being a Mad Tom before winter’s embrace left Imperia. So the sullen mood had brought him home, to the door of his apartment.
The broken, open door.