It was bigger than she thought it would be.
Of course, she had heard the rumors about this place. Everyone she had talked to had said that a visit might overwhelm her, but she had refused to believe it. Her dainty little sister, the one who was forever blushing and batting those long eyelashes of hers to please her many admirers, she would have been overwhelmed at the mere notion of patronizing a place like this. For herself, the plain one who was forever wringing her wrists and imagining they were necks, she would have no problem.
She drew her dark wool cloak tighter around her body and stopped for a moment, taking in the massive two-story structure in front of her. Large windows, shielded by thick red curtain and illuminated by candlelight, offered silhouettes of those taking advantage of the brothel's...services. Crickets chirped in the tall grass surrounding the building, which was dotted by trees. Occasionally, ivy snaked up the stone wall like a slender hand up a woman's thigh. It wasn't at all like the dumps she saw regular whores living in. In fact, this place seemed very nice, even charming in a way.
As she stood in front of the large wooden doors bathed in moonlight, with the sounds of mirth and laughter softly inviting her in, she was beginning to think the ones she talked to were right. Not for the first time, Elyse Barrenstone considered turning back. And not for the first time, she mentally slapped herself.
No. She had come this far; she was going to get what she had come for. She pressed her thin lips together in defiance of her foolish nervousness and approached the door, her footsteps padding softly along the cobblestone walkway.
The door swung open before she had even extended her hand for it. A soft, deep voice graciously bid her enter. Startled, Elyse swallowed hard, regained her composure, and did so.
Like the outside, the inside was not at all what she had expected. She walked in on a large room divided in two by a grand carpeted staircase, its railings strong yet ornate, leading up to the second floor. The half on her right was closed off by a thick velvet curtain. To her left was a spacious taverne furnished with many comfortable-looking tables, chairs and sofas strewn haphazardly around a hearth. Behind the staircase were other rooms, closed off by wooden doors.
The door closed behind her, and Elyse turned in time to see a man bow deeply to her, the one who had spoken. She curtsied back out of habit, and as she straightened, noticed that he was much older than she. The man sported grey close-cropped hair, a considerable mustache to match, and lines on his hardened face that suggested he had seen much, and learned more. Despite this, he was extremely attractive. His body was in excellent shape; muscular, tall, broad shoulders. His smile was gentle, his posture perfect, and his piercing blue eyes sparkled with the intensity of youth. Interestingly, he wore a wine-colored ribbon around his neck along with well-fitting breeches, polished boots, and nothing more.
He offered a hand. "May I take your coat, my lady?"
Elyse nodded and shrugged out of her cloak, handing it to the gentleman. He dutifully folded it over one arm, and offered the other to her. As she took it, Elyse couldn't help but note how practiced his movements were; it was as if gallantry were akin to breathing. The man led her to the side of the room with the taverne and sat her down on one of the large sofas. Refusing his offer for a drink, she smiled as he bowed again and went to put away her cloak.
Almost immediately, Elyse was sweating. The atmosphere overall was extremely comfortable, almost homey. But it was very warm on this side of the room, though she wasn't sure if it was the hearth or her own nerves. Everywhere she looked, there were incredibly attractive men serving drinks from the bar, answering the door, or chatting up one of the many female visitors, like herself. Often, one of the men would escort a woman from the taverne up the stairs, or occasionally to one of the doors behind it. Elyse was suddenly aware of a pungent aroma permeating the room; a mixture of sweat, alcohol, and thick perfume.
However, the thing that stunned her most was the sheer variety of males there were. She had heard that this place catered to every kind of woman, but she had no idea how literal that statement had been. There were human men, of course, and a couple elves, each a different kind for sure. There was one she thought was half-elven sitting in the corner, strumming a lute and drawing a small crowd. One of the most well-groomed dwarves she had ever seen was talking near the bar with a red-bearded man so tall, he had to have giantkin in his blood. A halfling and a gnome scurried back and forth, showing the women many interesting trinkets, and a man with feathers in his hair and an almost celestial aura about him was patiently walking an older woman out the door. Another man whose large forehead hinted at orc heritage was talking to some women at a table with a man so hairy, he seemed almost bestial. Her jaw nearly dropped when she saw a man with goat horns and a tail escort a giggling broad down the stairs, and when she spotted a couple drow - drow!- exit one of the doors behind the staircase with a smug-looking woman, she nearly fell over. All of them were exceptionally handsome, and very few wore shirts. Interestingly enough, they all sported ribbons similar to the gentleman at the door.
"Is the lady comfortable this evening?"
Elyse nearly jumped out of her skin. So immersed in the atmosphere of the place, she hadn't even noticed one of the males sit down next to her.
He was gorgeous. His face, framed by long honey-blonde hair, was angular, beautiful; and his deep green eyes suggested well-placed confidence. His body was lean and well-toned, his every gesture graceful. The man laughed, a voice too melodic to belong to a human, yet his small goatee revealed he couldn't be totally elven either. He wore a black ribbon around his neck. "Apologies, dear lady. I didn't mean to startle you." He put a hand to his chest. "Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gelinnas; I trust nobody has left you alone for too long?"
Elyse shook her head, his charming disposition slowly melting away her fright. Gelinnas smiled. "Now then, what brings the lady here at this hour, hm?"
She paused, fighting to bring words to fruition. Elyse Barrenstone was rarely tongue-tied, but she had never been subjected to this kind of attention before. She spoke for the first time that night, picking her words carefully."I...I'm not entirely sure. I...I want- no- need...someone to...to..." she trailed off, trying to find the right way to say it. Luckily, Gelinnas already seemed to know.
"Pure as the driven snow, I see..." he smiled once more and gently tucked away a lock of hair that had fallen in her face. His hand lingered near the back of her head. "..May I?" Elyse looked at him oddly, then took a deep breath and nodded.
With one swift motion, the half-elf undid the tight bun on the back of her head, allowing her mousy brown locks to spill over her shoulders. "Beautiful..." he said softly, playing with a few strands.
Suddenly, Elyse felt the urge to pour her heart into this man. She had been quiet all night, all her life, and it was as if this was the only opportunity she had to validate what she had been feeling. Slowly, she began to explain how her sister was soon to be wed, and that she was beautiful, ladylike, everything Elyse was not. And that was fine and all, she preferred to live her life alone anyway, but she was soon to hit her thirtieth year without so much as a kiss, and she had wanted to know what it was like to be held by a warm body for a night, and she felt that she deserved to know anyway even though she would never bear children, and that she was afraid to come have it done here but it seemed to be the only option because she was determined not to get romantically involved, she was just curious to see what it was like without being judged, and...
Gelinnas patiently listened until she finished. As the words tumbled out of her, he nodded and responded accordingly, genuinely interested in her feelings. By the time she was done, she had her head against his shoulder, and they had negotiated a price. Gelinnas helped her off the couch and graciously escorted her up the stairs and down a long hallway. Elyse couldn't help but overhear moans and grunts from several doors as they passed. He stopped at one of the doors and opened it for her. Elyse found herself climbing on the bed, her heart pounding in nervous anticipation as he closed the door behind them.
She awoke and left early the next morning, filled with a whole new outlook on the world. Everything seemed to be a little brighter, every sensation seemed a little more vivid. Genuinely satisfied, she had departed with a hug and kiss from Gelinnas and a feeling of liberation; now that she knew what all the fuss was about, she could move past it, and focus on more important things in her life.
And, when she found the time and a bit of extra coin, perhaps she would come back.
In fact, she was sure of it.