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They settled into Rifton for the winter, taking a cheap room in the slums. Barenziah joined the Thieves' Guild, knowing there would be trouble if she were caught free-lancing. One day in the barroom she caught the eye of a known member of the guild, a bold young Khajiit named Therris. She offered to bed with him if he would sponsor her for membership. He looked her over, grinning, and agreed, but said she'd still have to pass a test.
"What sort of test?"
"Ah," Therris said. "Payment first, sweet thing." He put an arm around her, leaned over and kissed her, thrusting his tongue deep into her mouth and his free hand into her shirt.
"Nice," he said presently, withdrawing his tongue, but not his hand. His other hand slid down inside her waistband and fondled her buttocks.
"Let's go upstairs. We can use my room," Barenziah felt both embarassed and excited by his boldness.
Therris grinned insolently. "Why bother? You want me, don't you? I'll bet you'd pay me, wouldn't you?"
"No," Barenziah said. She did want him, but not that badly.
"No? Well, a bargain's a bargain and Therris keeps his word. But here. Now." He hiked her skirt up and pulled her onto his lap so she sat astride, facing him. He opened her shirt and pulled it down on her shoulders so that her breasts were exposed.
"Nice pair, kid." She was facing the wall but she could feel the stares of the other patrons. A hush had fallen over the place. Even the bard had stilled. She felt both nausea and a hot burning desire. Her hands released his turgid penis and then it was inside her and she was screaming in both pain and ecstasy. Then everything went black.
When she came to herself again she was sitting beside Therris, who was buttoning her shirt.
"That hurt!" she said indignantly.
"Always does, kid. Didn't anyone ever tell you about Khajiit men? It hurts good though, now doesn't it?"
Barenziah scowled at him. She was still smarting. His penis had tiny little barbs on it.
"Well, the deal's off, if you like," he shrugged.
"No, I didn't say that. Only I prefer privacy, and I want to wait awhile, like a day or so before the next time."
Therris laughed. "You're OK, kid."
Straw was going to kill her, and maybe Therris too. What in Tamriel had possessed her to do such a thing? She cast an anxious look around the room, but the other patrons had lost interest and gone back to their own business. She did not recognize any of them; this wasn't the inn where she lived. With luck it'd be awhile, or never, before Straw found out. But Therris was by far the most exciting and attractive man she'd yet met.
He not only told her about the skills needed to be a member of the Thieves' Guild, but trained her in them himself or introduced her to people who could teach her. Among these was a Nord woman who knew something about magic. Katisha was plump and matronly. She was married to a smith, had two teen aged children and was perfectly ordinary and respectable except that she was very fond of cats, had a gift for certain kinds of magic, and cultivated rather odd friends.
She taught Barenziah an Invisibility spell and trained her in other forms of stealth and disguise. Katisha mingled magical and non-magical talents freely, using one to enhance the other. She was not a member of the Thieves' Guild but was fond of Therris in a motherly sort of fashion. Barenziah warmed to her as she never had to any woman, and over the next few weeks she told Katisha all about herself. She brought Straw there, too. Straw approved of Katisha but not of Therris. Therris found Straw amusing and suggested to Barenziah that they arrange what he called a threesome.
"Indeed not," Barenziah said, grateful that Therris had broached the subject in private. "He wouldn't like it. I wouldn't like it!"
Therris smiled his charming triangular cat-smile and sprawled lazily back in his chair, curling his tail. "You might both be surprised. Pairing is so boring. Well, would you mind if I brought a friend?"
"Yes. If you're bored with me you and your friend can find someone else." She was a member of the Thieves' Guild now. She found Therris useful but not essential. Maybe she was a bit bored with him, too.
She talked to Katisha about her men problems. Katisha shook her head and told her she was looking for love, not sex, that she'd know the right man when she found him, and that neither Straw nor Therris was the right one for her.
Barenziah cocked her head to one side quizzically. "They say dark elf women are pro- pro- something. Prostitutes?"
"You mean promiscuous, although some do become prostitutes, I suppose. Elf women are promiscuous when they're young. You'll outgrow it. Perhaps you're beginning to already," Katisha said hopefully. "You ought to meet some nice elven boys, though. If you keep on keeping company with Khajiits and humans you'll find yourself pregnant soon."
Barenziah smiled involuntarily at the thought. "I'd like that. But it would be inconvenient, wouldn't it? Babies are a lot of trouble, and I don't even have a home yet."
"How old are you? Seventeen? Well, you've a year or two yet before you'll be fertile, unless you're very unlucky. Elves don't have children readily with other elves even after that, so you'll be all right if you stick with them."
"Straw wants to buy a farm and marry me."
"Is that what you want?"
"No. Not yet. Maybe some day, if I can't be a queen."
"I think Straw will be a very old man before "some day" comes, Berry. Elves live a very long time." Katisha's face briefly wore the wistful look humans got when contemplating the thousand year life span that elves were entitled to by nature. True, few ever actually lived that long, as disease and violence took a toll, but they could.
"I like old men, too," Berry said.