“Shut that Breton up!” bellowed the Orc.
Tara stopped mid-verse of Ithguleoir. “What did you say?” she asked.
The Orc, Shum gro-Ulfish, stared at her, “I said, ‘Shut that Breton up!’” He took a swig of his drink, mead by its amber color. “Tired of your mongrel voice.”
“Tara. Don’t,” Barlin said to her. “He’s twice your size. Maybe three times.”
Barlin went pale when she glared at him. “Sorry.”
“Hurt your feelings, little girl?” Shum sneered at her.
Tara and Barlin spent a lot of their free time at The Count’s Arms, drinking along with other patrons in the tavern section of the inn. They’d once stopped by The Fo’c’s’le, over by the docks, but, clearly, they weren’t welcome by the more questionable patrons there.
Shum had been a regular in this tavern since before Tara had first arrived in Anvil and rented a room. Over the course of the past four months here in Anvil, she’d learned he was a sellsword, usually hired for extra security detail at the docks, or to escort nobles and merchants around, when they wanted a big, strong orc to help them feel safe.
The mutual dislike had been immediate. She knew she shouldn’t judge Orcs as lesser. She was trying to unlearn all the distrust history lessons had pounded in her head about Bretons and Orcs. Too much fighting over the same lands over millennia. And their culture, if you could call it that, felt so foreign and basic compared to the art, music, and refinement of Breton life.
“I’m a snob,” Tara had thought. She wasn’t even all that impressed with the Imperials’ ways. “That’s your father’s obsession with nobility speaking,” she’d reminded herself on many occasions.
Shum hadn’t offered any assistance to improve relations. That first night in Anvil, when Tara had come out of her room to grab a meal, he’d been sitting at the bar, talking with a couple of Imperial men, who looked to have enjoyed more Cyrodilic Brandy than was good for them.
The group had left the bar and were headed for a large table in the corner, passing by Tara, who was sitting alone at a small side table, reading.
They’d stopped, Shum had tilted his head and looked at her with a slow grin. He’d then patted the top of her head. “Look, boys, I think Bretons are getting shorter and shorter. Goblins are going to be taller than them in another generation.” Shum and the Imperials had burst out laughing.
Tara had felt heat build in her face from embarrassment for a split second, before she’d punched both Imperials in the groin. They’d gone down with whimpers.
Shum, obviously an experienced fighter, had stepped far out of the way of her swing. With a swift swing of his leg, he’d knocked Tara on her backside. She’d looked as ridiculous as the groaning Imperials.
“Don’t start what you can’t finish,” he’d warned her.
“Knock it off, all of you,” an Imperial guard had spoken up before anything else happened. The guard was clearly off-duty and wanted to drink in peace.
Tara had avoided Shum successfully for the remainder of her stay at the inn, but not the stares and murmured laughs from some of the regulars. She’d hoped these frequent visits with Barlin would ease the lingering embarrassment. Singing had helped, until now.
Tara loved to sing. She knew she had a good voice. Maybe not good enough to be a bard full time, but, pleasant enough for a few drunk patrons in a tavern. When Shum wasn’t there, and the bard was taking a break, she’d, nervously at first, sing a Breton classic or two. She’d been received well and felt…happy.
Tonight had started out happy. Lessons had gone well earlier in the day. Barlin was now able to use healing spells on others, plus stronger wards. He was a natural. Tara was well behind, of course, but today had finally produced a healing spell in both hands and cast it for a full minute. The headache from her magicka drain hadn’t been too bad, either.
When they’d first arrived at the tavern, Shum wasn’t there, and Tara assumed he was still off on some job. He’d be gone for days or weeks at a time on jobs. The Count’s Arms was relaxed and safe without him.
Tonight, he’d arrived when Tara had just started the Battle of Glenumbra Moor. That one was a crowd pleaser, giving her a robust round of applause. The bard, Evelyn Verres, had nodded positively and indicated she should sing another. She clearly wanted to finish her drink before returning to work.
Tara shouldn’t have. Shum hadn’t said a thing while he grabbed a drink and sat at a table in the back. His eyes had remained firmly on her, though. He hadn’t applauded.
Now, here they were.
Tara turned her gaze back to Shum. She’d gone cold. Her face was not flushing with heat.
“Why don’t you shove that mead up yours and crawl back to whatever forsaken Oblivion plane Malacath lives in,” she said to him. Her voice sounded loud. The tavern had gone quiet when he’d interrupted her.
“Come closer and say that to my face,” Shum stood up.
“Tara. Don’t,” Barlin pleaded again.
Tara ignored him and stepped towards Shum. The top of her head barely reached his lower chest. Orcs were huge. Shum looked above average. She couldn’t imagine what a sight this must be; her straining her neck to look up at him.
“Why don’t you shove that mead up yours and crawl back to whatever forsaken Oblivion plane Malacath lives in,” she repeated.
She was ready for him. He swung his left fist at her. She stepped wide left and ducked under. She then stepped close to him and, in a move Hardan had taught her, kicked the side of his right knee with her left leg. Her lower body held much of her strength. Hardan had taught her to use her lower center of gravity and lower body strength to her advantage against taller opponents.
“Use your strengths. Your Divine given skills,” he always said when she overreached and fell against his tall practice targets. “Short stature is not always a disadvantage.”
Shum collapsed as his knee gave out. Tara heard tendons pop. His screams of pain startled her. Somehow, there was sorrow in them. She’d hurt him more than she planned. Her anger vanished in that moment, as she realized he wasn’t going to be walking any time soon without some serious healing.
“I’m…I’m sorr…” she started to apologize.
His fist connected with the side of her head and everything went black.
Tara awoke in her bed at the conclave. Barlin was sitting in the single chair in the room, watching her.
She sat up slowly. “My head. Did a horse kick me?” She rubbed the side of her head. She flinched as she touched the sensitive bump where Shum had punched her.
Barlin remained quiet. He looked close to tears.
“What?” she asked.
“Riser wants to see you,” his voice caught. “He said the moment you woke up, I needed to bring you down to see him.”
Tara drew in her breath. “How’s Shum?” she asked.
“Tomar healed his knee, mostly. He won’t be walking for a few days.” Barlin said. He stood up. “Half the city knows what happened.”
Tara tried to sound indignant. “He started it.”
“I was there. I know what happened.” Barlin’s tone was flat.
Tara looked down. “Yeah. I should’ve listened to you.”
Barlin sighed. He sounded tired. “You scared me. You were so…nevermind. Come on.”
Riser was sitting at his desk, an ornate beauty that looked to be extremely old. He was dressed in Synod robes, a dark blue with gold trim; the trim to designate his status as First Adjunct.
His gray eyes caught hers. “Sit,” he said and pointed to the chair on the right in front of his desk.
“Leave us and close the door,” he said to Barlin.
Barlin gave her a quick glance and left.
Tara sat and waited.
Riser studied her for a full minute before speaking.
“I didn’t want to take you in,” he said.
“I know. I…” Tara started.
Riser stood and paced behind his desk.
“I didn’t want to take you in,” he repeated. “Your sister, Mira, is an excellent mage. I was visiting Chorrol awhile back when she was spending time there, helping citizens during an outbreak of Blood Lung. She was skilled and kind. Showed leadership beyond her years.”
He stopped and faced Tara. “She was calm. Always level headed, no matter how emotional and intense the citizens were. No matter how demanding the nobles were. Nothing phased her.”
“You are nothing like your sister. In demeanor or magic abilities.” He paced again.
“In all my years, I have not seen a Breton so terrible with the most basic of magic skills.”
Tara started to protest.
“So impertinent,” he spoke over her. “So ambitious without cause. Stubborn. Impatient. All things a skilled mage cannot be.”
He stopped again, directly facing her.
“And angry. You have a depth of rage within you I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Tara looked away and bit her lower lip.
“Mira warned me you had a temper,” he said, quietly.
Tara was shocked. How could she? Why would she do that?
Riser sat down. “She wanted me to try and help you learn to calm yourself. Seemed to think learning even some basic magic from me, us, might help you.” His voice, for the first time since she’d met him, softened.
“I don’t know where your anger comes from. What’s within your past that drives its intensity.”
He sat back, his face sad. “I can’t help you with it, that much is clear. I will not teach an angry person, with or without magical abilities.”
Tara felt sudden tears stream down her face.
“I can learn to channel it. I seem to be good with destruction…”
“NO!” Riser shot back up from his chair. “I will not lose another student to…” he stopped.
“No. You’re not good enough and never will be. Even if you were, angry people become dangerous mages. They go beyond the goals of destruction magic. Too many of them end up studying the blackest of arts. Things worse than necromancy. Things the Daedra tempt them with for their own amusement.”
He sat back down. “No. You are done here, Tara. I’ve sent letters to the other Synod Conclaves to not let you join, either. We will not be responsible for creating another dark mage.”
Tara closed her eyes for a moment, but the tears still escaped. She didn’t bother to wipe them away.
Riser’s voice softened again. “Get to the bottom of your anger. Understand where it comes from. Perhaps study fighting, if you want to channel it productively.”
He half smiled. “What you did to Shum was impressive. He had it coming, from what I can tell. Tomar has healed a few too many broken bones out of that tavern.”
Tara tried to smile through her tears. It didn’t work. She was being kicked out. Over her temper.
Riser stood. “You may stay here for another week. No magic practice, though I encourage you to read more on enchanting or alchemy. There are excellent books in the library. Then, find yourself a room at the inn, if they’ll take you back, or somewhere else. I’ll even put in a good word for you at the Fighter’s Guild, if you’re interested.”
Tara stood. “Thank you,” she managed through lingering tears. “I’d appreciate that.”
Riser nodded and led her out.
Barlin was waiting outside the office. He gave her a hopeful look. Tara shook her head.
“Don’t follow me,” she told him and rushed outside.
She needed air.