As it is often wont to do, time passed.
For Gwendolyn, the passage of time brought with it the end of an old play and the beginning of a new one. Tim Belcherk’s creative well remained dry, so she was putting on Comings & Goings, a classic romance featuring a priestess of Sol and a vagabond thief who encounter each other time and again, each detesting the other until something changed within them. To be perfectly honest, Gwen didn’t care for it much; she had trouble understanding some of the priestess’s actions, which is especially troubling since Gwen was starring. Yet, it was a popular play, and she had bills to pay. Sometimes she suffered for her art, sometimes her art suffered for her.
For Linda, time brought mostly tedium and frustration. In her first month or so in Skymoore, Donovan Allman went from aloof to a fool, chasing imaginary cults and going mad in the process. Meanwhile, the minotaur maintained the books in Odd & Ends, tolerated Nestor, and made a new friend in the dragonkin preacher Telmark Graugh. To be perfectly honest, Linda didn’t especially care for preachers, and Telmark didn’t especially care for Donovan, the Suntouched, or Odd & Ends, but they took a liking to each other anyway. Frankly, when they were grabbing a drink or discussing their shared interest in history (a rare trait in Skymoore), details like occupation failed to matter much. Sometimes Linda thought him small minded, but he was decent people.
Telmark was gradually taking Linda on a tour of Skymoore, one evening at a time. This tour eventually took them to the Soless district, the hotspot for night-life, populated primarily by the city’s youth. Telmark detested it, and Linda wasn’t particularly interested, but she was committed to learning what her new home had to offer.
They settled on Spring Steps, a classy dance hall populated with more mature guests than its neighbors. Its music was lively yet tasteful, accompanied by a beautiful vocalist singing in elvish. Neither Linda nor Telmark had any intention of dancing, but the dragonkin insisted the drinks here were remarkable. On their way to order, Linda spotted Gwendolyn.
Her hair was long tonight, and so blonde it was almost white, drinking in the dim, colored lights cast by flickering flames which danced around the club. She was ethereal and full of life, dancing to the rhythm of the music, the flames, and her partner, who was tall and thin, with features halfway between human and elf. They looked beautiful together.
Linda did not wave or attempt to catch Gwen’s eye. But she caught it all the same.
“Come on, Jethro,” Gwen said to her date when the band paused between songs. “I want to say hello to someone.”
“Yeah,” Telmark was saying as he slammed his glass on the counter. “Those surface merchants can be real pricks. Me personally, I don’t take any of their garbage. If someone don’t like the way I talk, I burn their eyebrows off.”
“Interesting,” Linda said. “I’ve never heard that part of the scripture. Guess I wasn’t paying attention.”
Telmark snorted in amusement, a plume of orange and black smoke erupting from his nostrils. “Sol’s word is good, but it’s not my job to live by it word for word. We’re only mortal. I’m here to make sure everyone does the best they can to live moral lives.”
Linda nodded. She could respect that. “By telling them not to shop at my store?”
“By telling them not to shop at your store,” Telmark agreed.
They shared a grin, and a drink.
“Interesting company, Ms. Arterford,” Gwendolyn said as she took a seat beside Linda. Her date stood right behind her, his arms wrapped around her. “Two juniper blossoms,” she told the bartender.
“Nice to see you again, Gwendolyn,” Linda said. “Do you have a problem with Telmark?”
“Only because he has a problem with me. Isn’t that right, Mr. Graugh?”
The dragonkin said nothing.
“He’s fine,” Linda said.
“He’s a nosy, hypocritical, hypermasculine asshole,” Gwen said. “I had to stop going to church because of him.”
“You had to stop going to church because you wouldn’t stop disrupting our service with profane rants.”
“These are the people you wanted to say hello to?” Jethro asked.
“I’m wondering why myself,” Gwen said. “Just thought I’d be friendly.”
“You thought wrong, clearly,” Linda observed.
“I thought you liked me to be blunt.” Gwen winked. Linda turned away.
“Come on, babe,” Jethro said. “Let’s go dance.”
Gwen downed her drink and led her date away from the bar by the hand.
“You know that one?” Telmark asked.
Linda shrugged. “Acquaintance, honestly.”
“Surface folk,” the dragonkin grunted. “It’s like I was saying. You’re one of the good ones, Linda. Ever since I’d heard stories of you-”
“She’s from the surface?”
“I think so,” Telmark said. “Or else she has family there. Her father’s a fine fellow, comes to church twice a week. He doesn’t speak kindly of her mother. I figure Gwendolyn takes after her. Can’t imagine what Jethro Windomere sees in her.”
“Windomere?” Linda asked. “The rich family?”
“The richest,” Telmark confirmed.
Linda’s stomach sank, though she couldn’t say why. She’d never had much trust for the upper crust, but she’d grown more than used to their ilk in her time with Donovan. Perhaps she was just hoping to avoid all that in Skymoore.
Gwendolyn, meanwhile, wasn’t enjoying herself at all. Her bitter tongue made itself known at all the worst times, and she hated that about herself. Jethro was an attractive man and a skilled dancer, but Gwen found herself distracted by the lights and the obtrusively saccharine voice of the singer. The half-elf pulled Gwen in for a kiss, and could tell at once something was amiss.
“Do you want another drink, my dear?”
“I want to apologize,” Gwen said. “Sorry for dragging you into all this.”
“No trouble,” Jethro said, “though I don’t see what there is to apologize for. Telmark truly is insufferable.”
“I just hate to ruin someone’s night.”
“No you don’t,” Jethro said, but the words were buried beneath the music as Gwendolyn sidled through the crowd.
Telmark was laying his head on the bar and laughing when Gwen rejoined them. Linda was in the middle of a story. “The Suntouched was even redder than usual, if you can believe it,” she was saying. “Lady Tamenita was mortified. She asked, she asked, “what purpose have you with my undergarments,” and the Suntouched just –”
“Sorry for interrupting,” Gwen said when she was noticed. “I just wanted to apologize.”
“You? Apologize?” Telmark asked. “You sure that isn’t beneath you? Everything else seems to be.”
“I…look, I said I’m sorry. Or rather, I’m saying it now. I’m sorry. Drinks are on me, okay?”
Telmark eyed his empty glass and looked to Linda. “Drinks are on you,” she said.
“It’s a double date then,” Gwen said, gesturing for Jethro to sit down.
Embers leaped from Telmark’s throat as he laughed.
“I don’t date men,” Linda said, “and if I did, I’m fairly certain Telmark wouldn’t be one of them. No offense.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t date me either,” Telmark said. “Too many scales.”
“And you look like a bruise,” Jethro joked.
“Wow. Haven’t heard that one before.” Telarmk, whose scales were black and blue, had heard that one before.
Jethro almost smiled before he realized he was being mocked. Gwendolyn squeezed his hand and shook her head.
“I was in the middle of a story,” Linda said. “As soon as drinks get here, I’ll start again. Sorry to repeat myself, Telmark.”
“Oh no,” Telmark said, chuckling. “Please do.”
And so everyone shared stories. Neither Gwen nor Linda nor Telmark nor Jethro could remember the contents of half of them the next day, but they remembered the way they felt, the way it was to share and laugh and drink. Amongst friends, that’s what matters most in a conversation – not its contents, but its essence.
Linda found herself trying to one up everyone’s jokes, as she’d been unexpectedly charmed by Gwendolyn’s laugh.
Gwendolyn found herself imagining leaving Jethro Windomere – yes, a Windomere – so that she might kiss Linda once more, hoping against reason that Linda would have come around.
Each of them kept these thoughts to themselves, content instead to keep the energy going.
“Before I forget,” Gwen said, as they were winding down from a rather bawdy tale about her time in the Luminous Company, “I’m directing a new play soon. It’s a production of Comings & Goings.”
“Bah,” Telmark spat. “I don’t need a cheap romance where love solves everything. It’s bull.”
“Oh, but it it’s a beautiful bull, is it not?” Jethro asked.
“Not especially. It’s foppish nonsense.”
Gwendolyn took a deep breath and looked to Linda, who looked at the bar.
“I’m not much for theater,” Linda said.
“It’s fine that you are. I’ve always found it a waste of time.”
Red heat flashed across Gwendolyn’s skin. “A waste of time?!”
Linda sighed. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Theater gives life meaning!”
“Sol gives life meaning,” Telmark said.
“People give life meaning,” Linda added.
“And art gives people meaning.”
Linda shrugged. “Work gives me meaning. And helping others.”
“I-I do help others.”
“I never said you didn’t.”
“People love my plays.”
“I’m sure they do.”
“You’re just. Simpletons! You’re idiots. Uncultured, uneducated, fu…rrgh! Jethro, let’s dance.”
The half-elf followed her back onto the floor. Gwendolyn danced herself into a sweaty mess and sulked in the corner.
“Sorry about that,” she said to Jethro. “I just…”
“They’re fools,” Jethro said. “Suffer them not.” He kissed her. It was cold. “Let’s go to my home. I’ll cheer you up there.”
“Windblown Manor?” Gwen asked.
“The very same,” Jethro said.
“You’re inviting me to Windblown Manor?”
Gwendolyn gave him a long, passionate kiss.
“Lead the way.”
Linda watched them leave, and excused herself shortly after.
Neither of them slept well that night, each for their own reasons.
Gwendolyn’s time with Jethro Windomere was short lived. Which was fine. She liked his manor much more than she liked him to be perfectly honest. A series of flings and dalliances filled the following weeks, many of which left Gwen staring up at her painted wooden ceiling, wondering what she was doing with her life and, more importantly, what was missing from it.
All this wondering left her in a particularly foul mood. A mood made all the fouler by her increasing disappointment with their production of Comings & Goings, and by the dryad and half-dryad protestors who blocked the road outside the lumber yard on her way to the Luminous, and by the cloudless rain which began falling from the sky like hopes at an audition.
She had, of course, neglected to bring an umbrella. Her wig and clothes would be ruined and she didn’t have time to turn around and go home, lest she be late for rehearsal.
She walked briskly, mapping out the town in her head in search of the nearest overhang. Frustration welled within her as she realized she would be drenched before she made it. Then, suddenly, the downpour stopped. Sort of.
“Thought that was you,” Linda said. She was holding a wide wooden board over their heads. “Hard to tell with your hair always changing. It looks nice today.”
“Oh,” Gwendolyn said. “Thank you.” She was wearing her favorite hair that day – short, golden curls. “What brings you here?”
“Hello to you, too,” Linda said. “I work in the lumber yard. That’s where I got this.”
“I thought you worked at the magic shop.”
“I do, but I like to keep busy, so I’ve been working there in my spare time. Gotta keep in shape.”
“Looks like you’re doing a fine job of that.”
Linda was glad Gwen’s eyes were focused on finding a dry place, so as not to notice the faint blush beneath the minotaur’s fur.
“Hate this aftermaj stuff,” Linda said to fill the silence. “Not a lot I like about Skymoore, but this is the worst. How do you all live like this without going mad?”
Gwen considered being offended but, after a moment’s consideration, decided against it. “We don’t. Have you met the townsfolk?”
They found an overhang sheltering an outdoor café, and joined the many other people huddled beneath it. By now the rain was so dense as to impair vision, making the dry zone a little claustrophobic. Linda offered her board to anyone who needed to brave the storm, which Gwendolyn found very sweet.
“How are things with Windomere?” Linda asked, once it was clear they might be there for a while.
“Oh, we’re not together anymore,” Gwen said. “Too pompous for me.”
Linda’s stomach fluttered, something which had not happened for some time. She’d had a handful of romantic encounters over the years, but a proper crush was something that seemed to belong in a previous life. A life before Donovan.
Gwen’s stomach churned, as she caught wind of a foul odor. Its source: a bedraggled man huddled beneath a table, where a blanket and pillow were set up.
“Can we move?” she whispered.
Linda looked around at the crowd which had nearly become one solid mass. “Hardly. Why?” Gwen folded her arms and nodded toward the homeless man. Linda frowned. “What?”
“What about it?”
“Are you kidding?”
“What’s the matter? Well I’m moving, I feel like I’m gonna vomit.”
“I am being quiet.”
“He has more things to worry about than his stench. He doesn’t even have a home.”
“He could at least be a little more respectful to others. And himself.”
“I can’t believe what an ass you’re being,” Linda said.
“You’re making a scene.”
“I’m making a scene? What I’m doing is leaving.”
Gwendolyn grabbed the minotaur by the arm. Her hand was tiny by comparison. “Linda, wait! I’m sorry, I just – I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Apologize to him!”
Gwen looked at the man, who was much more upset about all the people who ruined his nap than by Gwendolyn’s comments.
“Come on, Linda. There’s something between us and you know it.”
Linda effortlessly shrugged off Gwen’s grip. “No, sorry,” she said as she stormed out into the rain. “Too pompous for me.”
Gwen watched the minotaur go until she disappeared beneath the veil of water. The rain went for some time, and Gwendolyn couldn’t lift the board on her own, so she arrived at Luminous very, very drenched and very, very miserable.
Before moving to Skymoore, Gwendolyn Bottlehelm lived with her mother and father in a village on the border of the Frostlands and Grandia, never truly belonging in either. She loved the snowy winters, the wild fashion of the Delish elves, and the spicy stew that gnomes brought in the autumn. But she hated the endless summer rains, which brought all the gloom and dampness of snow without any of the beauty or fun.
Occasionally merchants would pass through on their way from Skymoore, and they would say what an odd city it was. But they always mentioned Sol, and how It was more beautiful there, and how it never rained. When Gwen’s parents divorced, she took solace in the knowledge that she would spend her summers in Skymoore, where it never rained. But now it always rained, and Gwendolyn wasn’t sure if the merchants exaggerated, or if she just brought the worst part of the surface with her.
As the years passed, Gwen came to dislike the rain more and more. Now, as she locked the door to Luminous the evening after her fight with Linda, she hated the rain more than ever. And it was still going.
Before moving to Skymoore, Linda Arterford also did not like the rain. When your body is mostly hair, you can’t just take off your clothes to stop being drenched. It was awful. And yet, when she moved to Skymoore, where she’d once heard it never rained, she thought she might miss it. Awful as it was, Linda was grateful for the downpour. She didn’t even mind it much as she waited at the bottom of the hill atop which Luminous sat.
She wasn’t even thinking about rain much, she was just thinking about what a fool she’d been. Linda lived her life knowing that it was too short to waste on pettiness, and yet there she was, doing just that. Well, no more.
“You’re going to catch pneumonia,” Gwen said as she neared the bottom of the hill. She had an umbrella this time.
“I once chased a sorcerous yeti through the Frostlands for two weeks, naked, and still managed to kill the thing at the end of it all. Rain’s not gonna stop me.”
“I thought you were supposed to be humble.”
“Not when I’m trying to impress someone.”
Gwen smiled. “Everyone knows there’s no such things as yetis.”
“With all due respect, ma’am, your mayor is a potted plant.”
“Ma’am? Are we getting formal now, milady?”
“Just turning on my working class charm.”
“Mm. It’s working.”
Gwen tried to share her umbrella with the minotaur before realizing what a ludicrous idea that was, given their height difference. Linda laughed.
“So, I hear you’re from the surface,” Linda said.
“Is that why you want me all of a sudden? Feeling homesick?”
“What? No. I just…curious.”
“Teasing. Yes, I am.”
“Never. The day my family bends the knee to King Pondan is…well. Sorry.”
Linda was taken aback, in a good way. “No, go on, please. His economic policies are destroying the kingdom. Lowering the tax on lumber imports from O’grafkala is killing the mills across Grandia.”
Gwen flushed. She wasn’t as well educated on such matters as she’d like. “And he stole the kingdom from my family.”
“I’m a Bottlehelm. As in, King Edgar Bottlehelm.”
Linda laughed in disbelief. “This is perfect. Do I ever have some stories for you.”
“I can’t wait to hear them.”
As they walked, Gwen took Linda’s hand in hers. It was quiet, and each woman was becoming aware that they weren’t quite sure where they were going.
“Apologies for being an elitist pig,” Gwen said.
“Sorry for being an uncultured swine.”
Gwen teased Linda’s soaked hand with her thumb and grinned without meaning to. “I’m sure we can find some mud to roll around in.”
Linda laughed out loud at Gwen’s stupid joke, and Gwen giggled along with her.
“Come home with me,” Gwen said through the laughter. “Before you really do get sick.”
“Only to stop you from worrying.”
“Naturally. It might be too…pompous…for your taste.”
“And I might break your tiny human body.”
When they kissed, it wasn’t so bad as either of them thought. It was a bit too…fuzzy for Gwendolyn’s taste. And it was a little softer than Linda would have liked.
But she was excited to get used to it.