The Bee and Barb hummed with the normal activity of the day as locals, taking a break from their daily routine, came in for a pint and the latest news from the rest of Tamriel via the merchants and other visitors fresh through the Cyrodiil gate.
To Sloan, it felt anything but normal. Funny, it was, that she had spent all of her eighteen summers within four blocks of the place yet had never been inside.
Not really funny, though, given the reason. She had not been allowed outside the cloistered gates of the orphanage even once before now. She clutched her small sack, filled with all of her worldly possessions, and tried to take everything in at once. Mirren, the old nurse who had been the only surcease in a childhood of fear, stopped walking in the middle of the room. Sloan, intent on studying her first clear view of an Argonian without appearing to be studying him, failed to notice and slammed into the old woman's back. They both grunted and nearly fell.
"Careful child! You must be aware of your surroundings!"
A lifetime of conditioning kicked in - Sloan's head dropped in subservience and she braced for the beating as she muttered, "I'm sorry, ma'am. I shall be more careful."
A long pause, then, before Mirren sighed. "I worry for you, child. As I do for all our charges once they are gone."
Sloan blinked and looked up as confusion crashed through her head.
"Yes, child. Have you not yet realized our purpose? You are of age - it is time for you to go your own way." Sloan stood in stunned silence as the old woman pressed a small purse of coins into her hand. "Do have a good life."
"So...I'm free? I never have to go to that awful place again?"
"Don't judge us too harshly, dear. We do the best we can with the staff and funding alloted to us. Grelod..."
"Grelod! I never have to hear that bitch again!"
"Please, try to see things from her point of view. She is in a very difficult posi..."
"Her point of view!" Sloan started to laugh, but her lips twisted it into a gurgling snarl. "She is evil!"
The old woman sighed. "She does the best she can. It's not easy to keep so many children in line."
"Here I thought you were on our side. I'm glad I helped Avi escape."
Mirren's hand struck with surprising speed, grasping onto Sloan's arm with a grip of iron. "You were the one who helped him escape? We are going to Grelod right..."
"No we're not." Sloan twisted her arm from the woman's grasp and stepped back with a dark glower. "I'm free! I'm not going anywhere with you!"
Mirren paused a moment, then sagged. "Yes. Yes, I suppose that's true. I'm sorry, I got carried away."
Sloan shrugged, suddenly embarrassed. "So...what am I supposed to do now?"
Mirren gave her a thin smile. "Live your life. Go find the Aretino boy. I hear he's in Windhelm. Or go to your family. Or stay here and try getting a j..."
"Family?" Sloan shook her head. "What family?"
Mirren blinked. "Oh, of course you don't know. We're not sure ourselves. There was a rumor that you had relatives somewhere between Helgen and Falkreath."
"THEN WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING IN AN ORPHANAGE ALL THESE YEARS?!"
Sloan's cry brought instant silence to the inn, but she didn't notice. Mirren looked poleaxed. "They...they were just rumors. We didn't have the staff to spare to see if..."
"Enough with your excuses! I hope you and Grelod rot in Oblivion!"
Sloan turned and stormed away, ignoring the silent crowd. As she approached the door, a tall man reached out and opened it for her. She got a quick glimpse of sly eyes and lips quirked in a sardonic half grin, but she didn't acknowledge him as she stormed out, and thus didn't notice as he paused a few seconds, watching her with a speculative gaze before letting the door close.