"And then Dargon said that my parents might not be dead and that 'they' were back and to find you." Sloan ended her story in a rush and waited with bated breath as the Breton seated across the table raised an eyebrow.
"Did he, then? We'll have to have a long chat, he and I." Anakath had seemed amused at the beginning of Sloan's story. She did not appear amused any longer. "Look, I can see that your hopes have been raised but...well, they shouldn't be. Just come to grips with the fact that your parents are dead, grieve as long as you must, and then move on."
"What? No! If they 're alive, I need to know! I've gone my whole life..."
"...being safe from knowing about any of this."Anakath sighed and seemed to shrink a little. "They say ignorance is bliss. I envy yours. Go home."
"I don't have a home! The Imperials took mine from me and...and whoever you won't tell me about took my only chance at a different one."
"Dammit, Dargon. Look, this is too big for you. You're safe for now because you're no one. You don't register. It's best if you keep it that way - forget about all of this and go...do what you want. Live your life. Find a husband, have children, whatever makes you happy."
"What I want is to meet the parents I never knew I had."
Anakath growled something under her breath and took a long drink, then sat back. "Fine. But not now. You are not strong enough. If they find out about you, you will be dead in five minutes."
"No buts. You're carrying that sword that's way too big for you but it's clear that you don't really know how to use it. Go out, get stronger. Join the military, they'll teach you. Or ask innkeepers for jobs from the Jarls - there are always bandits or creatures that people will pay to be rid of. If you can afford it and have magical inclinations, go to the college in Winterhold and learn from them. Do whatever you have to, but don't come back to me until you can actually handle yourself in a fight."
"I can! I made it this far, didn't I?"
"Yes. How many military patrols did you pass?"
"Um...five? No, six. There was a bunch just outs..."
"That's why you made it this far. If the war wasn't on, you would be dead or someone's slave by now. Don't look at me like that. This place is crawling with bandits and slavers. They're just a little less aggressive than they used to be because the war is picking up."
Sloan opened her mouth to speak but the memory of her trip back from Windhelm all those years ago sprung unbidden to mind. She remembered the pit, the chains, the claustrophobic cell. The aggressively raw exposure of the auction block. She had been without clothes in front of many people, but that had taught her what it was like to be truly naked. She clamped her mouth shut and nodded.
"Good. I'll be here when you are ready. And don't worry about trying to rush anything. If your parents aren't dead right now, they likely won't be anytime soon. And if they are dead...well, then there's really no rush. Right?" Anakath picked up her goblet, lifted it in a ironic toast, then tossed back the dregs and stood. "Good luck. Especially if you truly mean to follow this path. You will need it."
"I...thank you. I won't let you down."
"In a way, you already have. Divines guide you."
Sloan watched as the Breton turned and left the inn. Her movements were smooth - she seemed almost to dance more than walk, sliding between the people that filled the room with a profound grace that would have been the envy of every woman at the Vixen. Except it wasn't sultry so much as...predatory. Anakath moved like a cat on the prowl - silent, graceful, deadly.
Maybe she had a point.
Sloan sighed and stood, then made her way to the room she had rented. Her own habitual sway now felt ungainly and she tried to mimic the other woman's movements as she walked. All it got her was a stumble that almost dumped her into the fire pit. She shook her head and walked her normal walk the rest of the way to her room, then sat on the bed and went over her options.
She needed to grow stronger. When she held a sword, it felt right - instinctual - in her hands. But Anakath was right - instincts would only go so far. She needed actual training. And, also as Anakath had suggested, there happened to be large groups in the area that would be happy to teach people how to fight. They would probably pay those people as well, which made the idea all the better. All she would have to do would be not get killed. That shouldn't be too hard, she decided. After all, she had been practicing that skill for nearly twenty-three years, now.
It couldn't be that hard. Right?