Interlude - Imbel Manor Party!

Naturally, now that she had Corvus back, Millona Umbranox had no need of the painting. She was happy that Clark could arrange for it to be returned to Sentinel. "Will you be getting a reward for finding it?' she inquired.

"I'll find out when I report back to the agent," Clark told her. "I suspect I might."

Haballa wasn't around when Clark went looking for her on the Waterfront, so he left a message for her with Ormil at the Bloated Float, and returned to Imbel Manor. A little while later, there was a knock on his door, and he found Carwen standing there.

"That Redguard woman was looking for you down at the Bloated Float. She'd got the note you left her from Ormil, and said something about giving you a reward. So I told her there wasn't much point in doing that. You were rich enough already, and besides, you'd only spend it on prostitutes."

"She seemed quite amused when I told her that, and told me that she'd better deliver it personally, to make sure it got into the right hands. That's when Minx elbowed me in the ribs, and whispered in my ear that she knew what kind of reward Haballa had in mind."

"Anyway, we all got to talking about you, and we told her all about the time you brought Sugar down to the Float. That's when most of the others met you. And of course, it was when Selene met Ormil, so it's an important event to them, too. They reminded me that it was the anniversary today, and they thought it needed a celebration."

Minx stepped into the light and continued for her. "So of course, we volunteered to help, and so did the rest of the crowd. So clear the decks, we're having a party!"

That's when Clark noticed all the others behind her. Haballa was carrying a case of wine, with Tamika's mark on it. Ormil was pushing a cart, with steam rising from the pots on it, and Selene had her arms full of bread loaves. They'd stopped on the way to invite his colleagues from the Red Dragon Club, and they'd brought more wine from there.

"Well, come on in and make yourselves comfortable," Clark responded.

They all swarmed into the house, and Ormil busied himself setting up the dishes of food. Until Selene took him by the ear and told him to let other people do some of that. "You'll just look after everyone else and forget yourself again, if I let you."

Methredhel was there with her husband, who'd just been a prospective boyfriend at the first event. This was as significant an anniversary to her as it was to Selene and Ormil. "OK, it's my duty to run the contest. Last time it was best boobies, what shall we do this time? Is it the men's turn?"

Clark denied having boobies, so he didn't think that would work as well. Besides, it was the opportunity for the women to show off what they had, and he knew they liked doing that more than the men did.

"Haballa, you weren't here last time. What do you think?" Methrehel asked.

"I think I have the perfect posterior, and I'm going to win the next contest," she responded.

"Great idea!" Methie agreed. "All the men, go down to the cellar and get yourself a drink, while we get ready. Just count to a hundred, and then come back up."

When they returned, they found all the women lined up with their backs to the cellar door, bent over so you couldn't see their faces. Ormil, who despite Selene's orders had been arranging the food, announced the rules. "It's really not a competition, so no bragging rights go to whoever gets picked first. And since this is Clark's house, and it's all his fault that we're doing this, he gets to make the first choice. Anyone who makes the mistake of picking his own wife or girlfriend loses his turn and has to pick again at the end. And I get the final choice, so somebody else pick Selene, please, or I won't get any!"

Clark had to decide if he'd select Haballa, who was the only Redguard, and hard to mistake. She probably did deserve to win, too, but he'd like to save her until last, and spend the rest of the night with her. So he picked a random Bosmer, not actually knowing who it was. There were at least three of them here, and they were hard to tell apart from that angle.

Methredhel was delighted to have "won". On the previous occasion, she'd left early with her boyfriend, and she wasn't sure if she'd made Clark's acquaintance. "He didn't seem to mind sharing me, but he didn't want anybody else, or else he thought he shouldn't. So I took him back to our shack and gave him my full attention. I did eventually get Adanrel to help persuade him he could manage two, but that wasn't for at least a month after the Float."

"So you'll be able to stay for the whole event this time?"

"I hope so. A lot depends on how much the others wear him out. I've trained him hard, so he should be able to keep up."

With the extra women from the Red Dragon Club, they outnumbered the men, so a few went unpaired on the first round. It wasn't long before Clark and Methie found Enilwen waiting to join them. "Nobody picked you?" Clark was surprised.

"Late arriving. I missed the line-up, but I'm not going to miss the rest. I know you can handle two at once, and not disappoint either."

Enilwen was blocking his view a couple of minutes later when he felt Methredhel get off and someone else take her place. Someone a little heavier, but not much. Not a Breton, or another Bosmer, maybe an Imperial or a Dunmer. There were several of each race here tonight.

Then Enilwen got an offer from someone she hadn't tried yet, and she let Minx take over. Clark got a brief glimpse of his other partner, but only enough to see that it was an Imperial, facing away from him. He hoped he'd be able to identify her before she moved on. It's embarrassing when you don't know who to thank afterward.

Selene saved him the problem by asking Minx to steady her while she changed positions. He knew her voice, at least. Apparently, she'd turned round, as he felt her breasts brush against his chest. And now it appeared they were four. He wasn't the only one serving two at a time.

Clark got his turn on top when Minx decided to take Selene's place in the middle. He glanced around the room, and saw as many threesomes as couples, with the mix changing all the time. It looked like the Red Dragon Club staff had anticipated the imbalance by bringing a few toys with them, too.

Pretty soon, a mixture of fatigue and hunger took him to the table for a snack. He'd left Carwen in good hands, and he'd resume at the other side of the room. Taminwe saw him and came over and whispered in his ear. "I'm going to enjoy myself with Ormil for a while, and find out what he knows about Haballa. She's been at the Float for nearly a week, so maybe she's talked a bit about Sentinel. And this won't be entirely business. I can see that Ormil knows a few good moves."

"I assume you'll have Haballa sleep here tonight, and make the most of the time you have left. High Rock's still a complex mess, so the more we know, the better."

"That was the idea," Clark confirmed. "By the way, where is she? I need to watch what she likes, as I've only had the one chance to work with her so far."

Taminwe pointed to a small group near the corner. It looked like three men and two women, with Haballa in the middle, getting most of the attention. He suspected she'd do nothing but sleep when he took her up to bed.

But she surprised him. "I can't sleep, I'm still too excited. I haven't felt like this since I was a teenager. And I've trained for stamina, so I'm nothing like as tired as I expected I'd be. I could go on all night."

Clark had trained for stamina, too, although he was glad Sugar and Uzgash hadn't been here to test it. Still, he was nearly drained after a long evening, and wasn't ready for anything too energetic. He let her get on top, and set the pace.

It reminded him a lot of his "interview" with Juliana, way back at the start of his reporting days. She'd been going slowly, just so that he could write down the story she was telling him. Haballa seemed to want to tell him her story, too.

Lhotun had been pleased with the way she'd handled the kidnapper Jomic. It had been one of her first assignments and she'd carried it out like a veteran. He'd had the book published as a tribute to her, and a warning to the criminal classes of Sentinel, and possibly as a gambit to get her into his bed. She'd only ever be his mistress, of course. Kings married for alliance, not for any lesser reasons. And she was not expected to remain any more faithful to the king than he was to his wife, just to avoid the court for her other affairs. And after a while, Lhotun had moved on to a younger mistress.

So she'd travelled extensively, around his kingdom, and into the neighboring ones when the need arose. She'd not had any part in any covert operations, and she was always in uniform. "Except for times like now, of course, and there weren't that many of those." She still felt fiercely loyal to her King, and wistfully regretful that she hadn't found anyone else. An elf would still have centuries left for child-bearing at her age, but she was a Redguard.

But a day or two back, an Orc mage had come in to the Bloated Float, looking for her. She'd introduced herself as Ulicetta gra-Kogg, and said that Nocturnal had asked her to pay her a visit. Nocturnal had just helped her considerably with her re-instatement to the Mages Guild, and she was happy to repay the favour. She explained that she was a Master of Restoration, and she'd been the court healer in Orsinium while Marghak had all her sons and daughters.

Haballa began to understand. Somehow Nocturnal had found out about her secret wishes, and wanted to help, but why? They'd discussed the Daedric Princess' possible motives, and it had something to do with her current assignment. Apparently the painting had been important in Nocturnal's plans, too.

"So Ulicetta assured me that it wasn't too late for what I had in mind," Haballa told Clark. "And she used her Restoration magic to make sure."

Clark was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable about where this was leading. It reminded him that he'd dodged a similar situation with Kintyra, back in Falkreath.

"When I heard about the party the Waterfront folk were planning, it seemed like everything just fell into place. I'd been thinking about asking you to ..." Clark knew what she meant without her saying it.

"But then I didn't need to. I got the chance to just leave it all to fate, and have more fun in the process that I'd have thought possible!" Haballa grinned like a Khajiit, and then her face dropped. "Oh, I'm not saying it wouldn't have been fun with just you, but..."

Clark smiled and Haballa regained her composure. "I understand," he told her. "You don't feel comfortable asking someone who's almost a stranger to do that for you. Well, not when a total stranger can do it."

"That wasn't what I meant! And you know it!"