As Jenassa and I head back to the Winking Skeever, I try to keep my head down. I’m not exactly proud that I made an idiot of myself the previous day, but fortunately no one around seems to recognize me or care, much to my relief. I guess Solitude is a big enough city that seeing foreign drunkards weave around on the streets isn’t exactly a novel occurrence.
It’s apparent that the owner of the tavern recognizes Jenassa, though. As soon as we enter, he nods at us, comes out from behind the bar, and starts leading us to the room that my companion rented while I was still sleeping it off in prison.
Jenassa speaks to me as we follow the bartender. “My patron, I was assured that this room is the best accommodation available. Unfortunately, it does not come with a bathtub, so you’ll have to use the common bath in the basement. However, I took the liberty of purchasing a robe for you, as I doubt you’ll want to put your armour on again after you’ve bathed. Besides,” she adds, her nose wrinkling. “No offense, but your gear could certainly use some airing out.”
We’re shown to our room at the top of a tall flight of stairs. It’s large, clean, and very well-furnished. We’re also told that we have the run of most of the upper floor. After having a look around the place, I certainly have no complaints. Well done, Jenassa!
My companion hands me a blue bathrobe and departs, saying she’ll be just outside the door. I find it a little odd that she’s suddenly so concerned about my modesty, but whatever. I shuck off my armour and hang it over a couple of chairs. Whoa, that’s pretty ripe. I wonder if this place comes with laundry service?
I slip on the robe and open the door. Jenassa leads me back downstairs to a small room that’s barely big enough for the bathtub. At least the water’s hot and clean and… huh, it’s even scented with lavender. Talk about luxury. I almost feel guilty about using it, because I know it’ll be a lot worse after I’m done.
The steaming bath feels heavenly, and the lavender does a wonderful job of dispelling the stink of alcohol, sweat, and prison stench. I could spend all day in here, but my rumbling stomach reminds me that I haven’t eaten hardly anything since yesterday, and it’s getting very impatient. I’ll have to cut my bath shorter than I’d like, but I feel a lot better and much less likely to offend polite society.
I towel off, wrap the bathrobe around me, and open the door. Jenassa is waiting right outside. “I’ve arranged a meal for you just outside our room, my patron. You must be starving.” By the Divines, there’s food upstairs?! I could just kiss you, Jenassa! I practically run for the stairs, leaving my companion to bring up the rear.
I’m blissfully aware of the delicious scent of hot food before I can even see the table. If my stomach was growling before, it’s bellowing now. My mouth is already watering. I take a seat and start in on the meal.
Everything tastes wonderful, as if its been made by a master chef who spent the last five years studying my preferences and then made this feast just for me. It takes a great deal of restraint to not simply grab at everything with both hands and shove it in my mouth. My companion declines to share, saying she’s already eaten and she wants to be sure I have enough. I’m vaguely aware that something seems to be on her mind, but the enjoyment of my personal banquet is more than enough to distract me.
It takes awhile, but I finally finish stuffing myself and we head back into the room. I start to walk over to my armour to see if it’s any the worse for wear, when I hear Jenassa quietly close the door behind us. I turn, and see her standing there with her arms folded and a serious expression on her face.
I’m immediately alarmed. Did I do something wrong? Well, aside from going on a bender, making an idiot of myself, murdering two people, and ending up in jail. I inwardly wince and start to apologize for my behaviour, but Jenassa speaks first.
Her voice is brittle and strained, as if she’s been stretched on a rack. “I have something to say, my patron, and I’ve put it off for far too long. This is not easy for me.” Merciful Mara, is that a tremor in her voice?! Whatever this is about, it’s not good. I find myself frozen in place, waiting for the hammer to fall.
“I apologize for the short notice, but I am forced to resign,” she says. My heart drops like a stone, and she rushes to continue. “Be assured, it’s not due to anything you have done. The fault is all my own.” Her voice drops to nearly a whisper. “The fact is, I have allowed myself to become… personally involved. I find I have feelings for you that are utterly inappropriate in a professional relationship. I assumed they would pass in time, but they have not. I realized the futility of my position back in Meridia’s temple, when you nearly left this world.” She chokes on her next words. “I have been a fool, and a coward, for not informing you of this earlier. I am forced to conclude that I have been unworthy of your employ, and as soon as you can make other arrangements, I will depart.”
I’m caught in a whirlwind of emotions. Jenassa is leaving? And she has feelings for me? Me?! But that’s amazing! Why does she have to leave?! As I struggle to make sense of what she’s said, I find myself replying to her in a similar manner — formal, businesslike, as if I’m speaking to one of my former employees back in High Rock.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t accept your resignation,” I tell her. Her jaw drops in surprise, and my mouth keeps going. “The fact is, I’ve been meaning to renegotiate the terms of our contract for some time. This seems as good a time as any. You don’t have anywhere to be right now, do you?”
Jenassa is clearly gobsmacked, and it’s kind of adorable. I have to fight to keep a smile off my face as she replies. “Erm… yes… that is, no… I don’t have to be anywhere,” she stammers. My heart is fluttering in my chest like an excited bird, and it makes me slightly breathless. With difficulty, I force my voice back into that same businesslike register.
“Good, then let’s start. Article One: You said you were afraid of being unprofessional. Fortunately, that’s exactly what I want. From here on in, I expect you to be as unprofessional as possible. Even when we’re alone. In fact, especially when we’re alone. If, after today, I notice you acting in any way professionally, I’m going to have to take action and bring you back in line. Is that understood?”
The implication of what I’m saying starts to dawn on her, but I can tell she’s not taking anything for granted. “I think so, my patron,” she says slowly.
“Excellent. Article Two: You mentioned Meridia’s temple. That was indeed an unpleasant experience which I don’t want repeated. Therefore, I want you to increase security and stay as close to me as possible. Very close. At all times. The closer the better. Can you do that?”
A tiny smile curves the corners of her lips, but she’s still cautious. “Yes… I am fairly certain I can manage that.”
“Glad to hear it,” I reply. I’m not even bothering to keep my own smile off my face anymore. “Now for Article Three, and this is very important. If at any time I should decide to express affection toward you — that is, hold hands, hug, kiss, get naked — then I expect you to follow suit in short order and return the favour. This is absolutely imperative. Let me know right now if you can’t comply with what I’m asking.” My voice shakes a little as my heart skips a beat, and I realize that I’m actually worried she’ll refuse.
“I gladly accept your terms,” she whispers. We look at each other for a long moment. Then she simply steps forward and takes me in her arms. I bury my face in her shoulder, breathing in her scent as she pulls me close and strokes my hair. We just hold each other for awhile, basking in the miracle of our embrace, listening to our hearts beat in unison. Then slowly, she bends her head, covering my lips with her own.
Soon we find ourselves moving toward the bed. Jenassa releases herself from our embrace and makes a show of inspecting the pillows and mattress. “As your personal bodyguard, I must be entirely certain that this piece of furniture is worthy of your body,” she says with a wicked little gleam in her eye. She picks up a pillow, turns it around, and tosses it back. “It’s barely adequate, my patron, but since it’s the only bed in here, I suppose it will have to do.” It’s the first time I’ve seen this playful side of her, and I absolutely adore it.
“Very good,” I reply, trying to keep my voice steady. I can still feel the warmth of her lips on mine. “I have a feeling we’re both going to benefit from this new contract. However, I regret to inform you that you are nearly in violation of Article Three. One of us is wearing far too much clothing.”
She arches an eyebrow. I step forward to the end of the bed and let my robe slip off my shoulders. I stare into her eyes as I feel the material slide down my body, pooling around my bare feet. Her eyes widen, and I can hear her catch her breath.
“I’ll correct that oversight right away,” Jenassa whispers, her hands moving to the fastenings of her armour.
My voice drops to a purr. “Please report to the bed immediately for disciplinary measures,” I tell her as I slide between the sheets. I catch my own breath as her ringmail hits the floor. She slips in beside me, and we reach for each other once again.
Hours later, Jenassa is fast asleep with a smile on her face. I’m sweaty, breathless… and utterly, stupidly, deliriously happy.
I’ve never had so much fun training an employee.