Portage Hills was much greener than any other place we had encountered in our journey. On a small cliff was a haven – Marshwatch. Traders and vendors were set up until the sun had fallen, where they then packed up and moved inside the tower. As night fell, the number of people out had dwindled down to two guards manning the fortified gate.
We approached the gate, the two guards staring up at our driver. “I’d like to request passage into your haven for the night,” she said and it was the most polite thing I had ever heard from her. With a nod from one of the guards, they signaled for the gate to be opened.
Since this was a haven, our cart wouldn’t have to be checked. Many of these havens were set up across Tyria specifically to guard travelers and merchants and supply carriers. While most places catered to specific races, anything south of Lion’s Arch welcomed everyone. The lands were dangerous.
I heard crickets chirping and toads croaking from the swamps that stood still outside of the walls after the dolyak’s hooves finished beating the ground. Despite the rumors, the night seemed peaceful. The doors were quickly closed, though, and we were left alone in the courtyard. Angel was already preparing the cart for the night.
A lone guard stepped out of the building to greet us, “Evening.” His voice was quick and precise – as if he wanted to be sure not to have any extra and unnecessary words. From that same doorway, a large white wolf stepped out and sat down beside the guard. “Best be inside soon.” The wolf gave a whimper and looked up to the face of the guard.
“We’ll be right there,” I assured him as Angel finished securing our supplies. We grabbed our personal bags and entered the building. The guard tipped his leather hat as we entered and closed the door behind us. I heard the lock click soon after and it helped me feel a bit safer in our location. The first floor was small and filled with a couple of tables with chairs and a fireplace. The warm glow of the burning wood helped illuminate the room. The crackling and popping from it reminded me of camping out so many times on our journey. The second storey was slightly smaller, and was filled with bunk beds, most of them already filled with travelers who arrived sometime before us.
Tobih looked around nervously and I was probably doing the same; a lot of the vacant beds were spread out and I was beginning to worry that Ragnvaldr and I would have to sleep separately, something we hadn’t done in quite some time. Angel, however, seemed more confident and chose a top bunk situated over a charr in record time. Her bag was already pushed away and she was removing her armor piece by piece until nothing but cloth was left. I could see the thin tattooed lines of blood-red peeking from underneath her clothing. It reminded me that unlike our current human culture, tattoos still had a large cultural significance to the norn. She packed those pieces away and climbed onto the bed.
I couldn’t find two beds close together, though, and my worries had come to fruition. Looking to Ragnvaldr for help in making a decision, he nodded his head towards a bottom bed on the end of the row. I took that one, stowing my bag like Angel had, and Tobih took the upper bunk at the next set over.
Ragnvaldr stowed his bag, but not without pulling his sleeping mat from it first. He situated himself on the floor at the side of my bed. Though I was worried about his comfort, I was happy. The charr beneath Angel stirred in his sleep, reminding us that every bit of sound could disturb another resident. We kept our goodnights to barely audible whispers. I fell asleep holding Ragnvaldr’s hand and listening to the crackle of fire and the crickets’ chirp.
Sometime, early in the morning, I awoke to find Angel away from her bed. Surely she had to sleep sometime. Ragnvaldr’s hand had already dropped onto his chest and he snored contently in his bedding. Avoiding him, I stood up and walked downstairs, hoping to find my norn friend.
I didn’t see her at the bottom floor. Curious as to where she might have gone, I took the question to the guard with the wolf. He sat in front of the fireplace, his legs propped up on another chair in front of him. “The norn lady I was with earlier, you didn’t happen to see where she went, did you?” If she went outside, he would have had to have unlocked the door for her. “No.” His short sentences were beginning to bother me for no particular reason. I did thank him before returning to the stairs. I passed the second floor and found myself on the smaller third floor. There was nothing here but boxes and a separate flight of stairs leading to the roof. I opened the door and stepped outside, finding Angel sitting on the edge of the roof.
“All that trouble to lock doors and they can’t even lock the door to the roof,” I spoke, hoping to stir up a conversation.
“It was locked,” she replied and turned around to look at me.
“Oh.” I looked back to the hatch and realized she must have picked the lock. “So thief was your second profession?”
“What?” she asked before replying quickly again, “Oh, no, sorry.” Something didn’t feel right about her and hadn’t since we arrived.
“You must be thinking again,” I pondered out loud, settling down next to her but preferring my feet to not dangle from the edge. It was then that I noticed the book with the letter beside her. She placed a large pale hand on it and looked up towards the stars. Picking up on the obvious hint, I asked, “The person who wrote the letter, you two were really close, huh? What happened?”
“He died.” Her voice was as precise as the guard’s. Unlike him, however, she eventually followed up her story, as I knew she would. “It started long ago; when I was thrown into that battle in the mists, I teamed up with a couple of weaponsmiths who had also found their way in that horrid place. The whole lot of them were dwarves. When we were pushed back into the real world, we met with others who had survived similar battles. One in particular, another weaponsmith, decided to tag along with us and make a profit selling wares in Lion’s Arch. He was a human and we hit it off better than I did with any of the dwarves. Time has a way of tearing friendships apart. A few bad deals and cheap dwarves, you know… But eventually it was just the human and I.” She suddenly stopped and her eyes became angry. “Wait! Why am I telling any of this to you?!”
I folded my arms. I wanted to know more, even though I already knew where it was going. She was afraid to show her weakness to me, but I knew she had some trust in me, otherwise she wouldn’t have told me this much. It felt as if she wanted me to know, to ask her. “You can’t bear these secrets alone, especially when they’re bothering you this much.”
“I can bear it alone,” Angel replied, but her voice wavered a bit.
“Then make it easier on yourself by not doing so. Please, tell me, Angel. I want to know – I want to know who you really are.” The words didn’t feel as if I were saying them even though I meant them.
She gave a great sigh before balling up her hand on the book. “Very well…. We fell in love.” There was nothing but quiet for more than a few seconds.
“He couldn’t hold up under the weight of his curse. I watched as it ate at him each and every day. I told him we could live with it, just the two of us. It worked at first. Years went by and though it continued to haunt him, to haunt us, we pushed through it and lived in relative happiness. Years turned into decades and decades into centuries. It was getting worse for him, but he hid it so well. I’m surprised he lasted so long.
“I came to our new home to find a letter,” she patted the book softly, “telling me that even through all the time that had passed, his love never faltered a single bit for me… Well, you read it.
“His body was found later that day… He had taken his own life and I can remember every detail. The look on his face as he…” She stopped herself.
“The house is his, isn’t it?” I remembered the human bed and the care that had been taken with keeping the house.
“I’ve spent countless gold selling and rebuying that house to myself under different names since he passed. I thought that it seemed less suspicious that way.” Angel had become a softer person through the story she had just told me.
“Oh, Angel. I’m so sorry.” I took her hand in mine and tried to find something more meaningful to say.
“You remind me of him.”
“How so?” I wondered, making the obvious connection that we were both sentenced to a similar battle.
“You are both so determined and yet so caring, not to mention stubborn.” She trailed off and then her voice became strong again, “And you’re both idiots for falling in love with a norn.” She smirked when she saw the smile spread across my face.
“Which means you fell in love with a human,” I teased.
I couldn’t help but to think that all of us, with our tragic pasts, had been brought together for a reason. Maybe fate itself had guided us to one another.
Birds began whistling around us: the morning sun was beginning to rise, casting oranges and blues across a dark purple sky. Stars disappeared and the land before us showed what lay ahead on our journey. We would tackle it soon, but for the time being, I returned to my bed and took Ragnvaldr’s hand in mine and made another attempt to sleep.