“This is going to take forever. No wonder we haven’t won the war yet.”
“They can’t get everyone through at once. Be patient.”
“Patient? I’ve been standing out here for three days!”
Sloan winced at the words. The courtyard was stuffed with people, hopeful recruits in the fight against the Empire and the Thalmor. There seemed to be neither rhyme nor reason, no neat queues or order. Once in a while the door leading into the fortress would open and the entire press would surge forward. A dozen or so people would be allowed entry, then the doors would close again. To attempt to join that crowd was pointless, as she had learned. Death by trampling did not seem out of the question in these environs. There had to be a different way.
“There has to be a different way.”
Sloan jumped and turned as her thoughts were repeated out loud behind her. A girl, barely past her majority, Sloan judged, eyed the crowd with a calculating stare. “Trying to force our way through would be suicide.”
Sloan nodded. “I can attest to that. I’ve tried. It nearly was.”
The girl grinned at her, which made her otherwise plain face light up into a dazzling beauty that would have been the envy of most of the Vixen’s staff. Sloan bit down the pang of loss the thought brought with it.
“I’m Tolenta. You can call me Tol.” A farm girl, by the looks of it – her plain utilitarian clothes had the tough weave and worn comfort that Sloan had come to associate with the farmers who had spent the first portions of their market sales on a night at the Vixen.
“I’m Sloan. Did you have something in mind?”
“Not yet. I need to get the lay of the land. How long have you been here?”
“Three weeks, tomorrow.”
Tol winced. “That’s a long time. What have you tried?”
Sloan shrugged. “I’ve made three attempts to get through. I tried worming around, I tried pushing through, then I tried sneaking under. I feel lucky that I didn’t get trampled.”
Tol nodded as her freckled face scrunched into an adorable thoughtful expression. She swept her hand through her thick blonde locks. “Fine. Subterfuge it is.”
“Sub…what does that mean? Underground?”
Tol giggled. “No, it just means trickery. But if you happen to know a passage that leads underground, we could try it.”
“Ah.” Sloan blushed, feeling foolish. “Um…I don’t know of any underground passages, no.”
“Well, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. I’m sure someone would notice if people just popped out of a hole inside the fortress. But we need to do something. I can’t go back.”
Tol looked at Sloan, and this time her eyes sold a tale of woe and anguish. “I don’t have any ‘back’ to go to.”
Sloan nodded. “I understand that. Oof!” This, as a pair of Stormcloaks shoved passed, jostling her out of the way.
“Move aside, let us through!” They shoved their arrogant way through the crowd and disappeared through the door.
“Wish we could do that,” Tol said as she stared at the once-again-closed door.
Sloan frowned as she rubbed her bruised arm and the beginning of an idea sprouted in her head. “Maybe we can. Tell me, have you ever worn heels?”
Tol blinked at her. “I…my shoes have heels? I don’t know what…”
Sloan grinned and held out a hand. “Come with me. I think I can get us in.”
Tol blinked again, then nodded and took Sloan’s hand. “Lead the way!”
“Remember, when you step, put your foot in front of the other one. Good! No, keep…that’s it.”
Sloan had given up on the idea of teaching Tol to wear heels on their way back to Aventus’ house after seeing the uneven state of the ancient cobblestone streets. They would be sheer treachery for heels, even for someone with experience. Last thing she needed was to fail in her seduction because she sprained an ankle. Besides, she only had the one pair that she had rescued from the broken wagon.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to teach Tol to walk with a bit of slink. “Don’t be in a hurry. You want your butt to sway, not bobble.”
“What were you, a whore?” Tol laughed as she took some more steps.
“Yes, I was. Try turning. Why did you stop?”
Tol had, indeed, frozen in place, staring back at Sloan with a horrified expression. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean…”
Sloan frowned. “Didn’t mean what? I was a prostitute for three years at the Vixen in Riften.”
“I just…because…” Tol reddened, and even her embarrassment was adorable. Farming had been a waste for such a natural – she would have had the entire city of Riften wrapped around her fingers. “I’m sorry you had to…to do that.”
“Sorry? Why? It was the happiest three years of my life. I wish I was there now.” She meant the words as she said them, but something clicked the moment they left her mouth. Did she really wish she was there? She missed her friends, true enough, but for the first time, her body was hers to do what she…
“Really?” The palpable disbelief in Tol’s voice chased away Sloan’s momentary doubts. She frowned.
“Yes, really. There’s nothing shameful about it. And I made good money.” Well, when she wasn’t trying to pay it off. Technically, she still owed Kira several thousand gold. It seemed unlikely she would ever be able to pay it off.
“I…” Tol dropped her head for a moment, then looked back up with a sincere expression that was so gorgeously innocent that Sloan nearly lost her breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You didn’t. I’m used to it. You’re really pretty, you know? You would have made a killing.”
Tol’s scandalized eyes widened and her mouth gaped open. “I would never…” She stopped as Sloan began to laugh. “Oh. Yes, I see. I’m…sorry. Again.”
Sloan waved her away, still stuck in the throes of laughter. “Ahahahaha! Oh, that was priceless! Your expression! Ahahahaha!” She clutched her stomach as pain lanced through it. “Ow! Ahahahaha!”
Tol frowned. “It wasn’t that funny.”
“No, you’re right.” Sloan sighed and sniffed and wiped away a tear. “It’s true, though. You’re gorgeous.”
“No I’m not, but you’re sweet to say so. Now, how is this walking going to get us in?”
Sloan grinned, this time with a crafty glint. “Well, as it happens, we just talked about it. We’re going to…”
Tol paled, clutching her rough linen shirt as if afraid Sloan was about to yank it off of her. “…whore our way in?” Her voice ended in a squeak.
“Well, I was going to say, ‘seduce’ our way in, but yes, in effect. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything except stand still and look adorable. Yes, just like that. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Sloan held up a forestalling hand. “Do you want to be a Stormcloak? Do you want to get revenge on those Imperial bastards who I assume are the reason you have no home to return to?”
Tol’s face hardened in an instant. Without an expression, her beauty faded back to a plain freckled face. You would never guess the magic hidden within it. Sloan vowed to keep a smile on Tol’s face as often as possible. “I do.”
“Then put this on and let’s get going.” Sloan handed Tol the outfit she had been wearing during the attack, a silk travel robe that had been designed for the road, not for work. It was soft and, of course, hugged the wearer’s curves in a pleasant way, but was not specifically designed to seduce. Tol fingered it with awe.
“This…this is too nice. I can’t…”
“Yes you can. Put it on over your regular clothes. Once we’re inside, you can ditch the dress. It will probably look out of place there.” Sloan had already stripped and was busy pulling out the dress she had saved from the wreckage. “Ah, look at these wrinkles.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not a whoring outfit. You won’t be showing anything.” She would be hinting at things, though, which Sloan knew was often more enticing than seeing everything. She pulled on her dress and tried to smooth out the wrinkles with her fingers. This gown had been designed for work, so it showed ample cleavage and had a slit up the left side of the skirt all the way up to her hip. “Unlike me. Hmm. I might need to tone this down a bit.”
She frowned as she looked at her image in Aventus’ mother’s standing mirror. She saw Tol in the reflection, still standing with the bundle in her arms. “Tol!”
The girl jumped.
“Get dressed! Hurry up!”
“I…okay!” She looked around, then began pulling the dress on over her head.
Sloan rolled her eyes but smiled to herself as she turned back to the mirror.
It was nearly sundown when they left Aventus’ house and made their way back toward the courtyard. Sloan kept one eye peeled for Stormcloaks who appeared to be heading the same direction while, with the other, she watched Tol try to match her subtle sway.
“You don’t need to sway your hips. Your steps will do that for you. Just one foot in front of the other and let your body do the rest.”
“I’m trying!” Tol sounded frustrated but she looked amazing. The dress fit as if it was made for her, hugging her curves in just the right places without seeming too tight, even with the girl’s regular clothes underneath.
It’s not fair, she whined to herself. That’s my dress, dammit! It shouldn’t look better on her! But Sloan’s body lacked the natural curves that filled out the dress so perfectly for Tol.
Ah, well. It’s not like this was a competition. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt that…
“Are you two sure you’re going in the right direction?”
Sloan blinked her way out of her reverie. “What?”
Two Stormcloaks stood before them, arms crossed. She couldn’t see their faces through their helmets, but they were clearly men.
“Where are you trying to go? You’re about to enter a courtyard for potential Stormcloak recruits. You two don’t look…’ his eyes glanced both of them up and down through the holes in his helmet, “…like that is your intention.”
“But it…” Tol began, but Sloan stopped her with a grip on her arm.
“This is where we were headed, as it happens.” She leaned into the man, letting him get the full view of her cleavage and she smiled up at him. She felt him subconsciously shift his weight a bit, but in order to support her weight, not pull away. Good.. “We were hired to entertain one of the soldiers in there for his nameday. It’s a surprise. But we can’t get through that crowd!” She pouted, shifting a little so that her breasts jiggled. “If you two could escort us through, we’d be…very grateful.” She touched his arm with a finger on the last word and followed it with her most winning smile.
“Ah. Young Jimney. It figures.” Her guard exchanged glances with the second.
“Don’t worry, gentlemen,” Sloan purred, laying a hand on the other man’s arm as well. “I promise Jimney won’t be the only one who enjoys his nameday tonight.” She could feel their bodies tremble under her touch and slid to take the first one’s arm. “Please, sirs. You will be our heroes.” She saw Tol take the second soldier’s arm in a tentative movement, but he seemed far too preoccupied to notice her hesitation.
“Well, we can’t let young Jimney miss out on his nameday present, now can we?” The first guard nodded at the second, who nodded back.
“No, we certainly cannot. Come, lasses. We’ll get you there safely.”
“You are too kind. Thank you.” Sloan kept smooth pace with her soldier’s steps, making sure he felt like he was in control. Just as before, the Stormcloaks yelled for the crowd to get out of their way, but this time Sloan and Tol held onto their arms and were whisked through the crowd, through the open door, and into the hallway beyond.
They heard rumblings from a door to their left soon after entering. Sloan looked at it, then looked up at her soldier.
“Is he in there?”
“Hm? Oh. No, that’s where the recruits are. Jimney is in the barracks, up ahead.”
“I see. Oh, Jasmine!” Sloan stopped and looked back at Tol. She saw the confused look in her friend’s eyes, then understanding a half second later. A smart one. “You said you needed to use the privy, right? Do you gentlemen mind?”
“Of course not. Right in there.” The second guard pointed at a door just a bit further up the hall. “I’ll wait and guide you the rest of the way.”
“Oh, are the barracks far?”
“Oh, no. They’re just down the steps at the end of the hall.”
“Well, then, I don’t see any need to make you wait.” Sloan slid to her right and took the second Stormcloak’s arm, pressing her breast into it as if trying to make room. “Jasmine, dear, go ahead. Take your time. I’ll make sure these gentlemen are entertained.”
“Um…yes, Sl…um…Seraf. I’ll…I’ll…” Tol stopped, looked uncomfortable for a moment, then turned and bolted for the privy.
“Poor dear.” Sloan began walking, and the two men followed instinctively. She drew them in and whispered, “This is her first assignment. She’s very nervous. Could you tell? You could tell, couldn’t you? I apologize. But don’t worry – even if she doesn’t make it, I’ll be sure that everyone has a very good time.” She swept them forward and down the stairs.
Four hours later, she stumbled wearily back up the stairs wearing only-slightly-too-large leather cuirass, leggings, and boots, with an iron sword strapped to a belt cinched tightly around her waist, and stepped through the door to where the latest batch of Stormcloak recruits were just getting their introductory speech.