Being Dragonborn was not all the legends said. It really was not.
She wiped the rain from her face, no not just rain. The sting of ice was concealed within the cold droplets that hammered down from the sky.
Were the gods trying to kill her? There were more effective ways. Another assassin would do the trick. It was only due to Bishop that she had escaped the last one.
Bishop was astride the sturdy black stallion behind her. Matching her reliable bay mare’s sedate pace. The man had not slept in the two days since the attack. Eyes the colour of mead, flicked over the landscape. The permanent frown and the dark hair plastered to his face did not detract from the fact he was handsome.
“Too easy on the eye,” she thought to herself, wiping her own brown curls from her face. She had no idea why he still insisted on being her sarcastic and cynical companion. He kept telling her she could take care of herself… so why was he still with her?
It could be worse. The Ranger was well used to the elements. He did not complain. She however wanted to complain. She stank of leather and blood, she was cold and she hurt all over.
Before the winged menaces had come into her life she had been a farmgirl from Roricstead. The callouses on her hands were from a plough. The only blade skills she had when she was dragged into this life were for gutting and skinning game.
Blood was no stranger to her… but she had never killed anyone until the day she was captured. Wrong place, wrong time. Mistaken as a stormcloak, though any fool with half a mind could have seen that her rough homespun was not the attire of a soldier.
She shook her head, hair whipping her cheeks. She snarled at it and wiped a hand over her head, pulling the rain-slick strands from her freckled face.
She did not want to think of Helgen again. Helgen had her screaming at night. Helgen had been where she first lifted a blade and pierced the flesh of another person. Hot blood spurting over her hands. The tang of iron on her tongue, the scrape of bone against steel as she pulled the blade back from the body. She had told herself it was no different from killing a wolf or bear. She had been attacked, she defended herself.
It was not the same. She had seen the light dim in the frightened Imperial soldier’s eyes. A nord, no more than twenty she was sure. All muscle and square jaw. Her mother would have been proud to have such as son-in-law.
The Dragonborn growled to herself, angry. She needed to stop daydreaming. Her life had almost ended two nights before on an assassin’s dagger. She needed to be more aware. The world would not let her live in obscurity anymore. She could suck the soul out of dragons. With the winged beasts in the air once more and some old men on a mountain calling her Dovahkiin, she could not live in peace. Her life was no longer her own.
The sky was darkening and soon they would be out of daylight.
“Ladyship,” grumbled the drawling tones behind her. “As pleasant as the view of your rear on a horse is, I really think it’s time we got settled for the night.”
She ignored the barbed compliment. It was his way. She did not think for one moment he was at all interested in her. Bishop was older, wiser. The world had tried to crush him and he had refused to yield. He lived as he pleased. Part of her envied him. A growing whisper within her admired him. Or rather, she liked his company when he was not goading her. Which he often was.
Irritated she slithered from her mount. The mare shook her mane and flanks, showering the drenched Dragonborn with even more water.
They set camp, movements practised and automatic after two months on the road together. By the time the small tents were up she was shivering. There would be no fire tonight.
“If you are cold my Lady you could always snuggle next to me,” came an enticing purr from outside her tent. She bit back a retort. Bishop was taking first watch. He must be as tired as she and yet he stood in the rain, willing to watch over her as she rested.
Her eyes fluttered closed. The wound to her side throbbed. She ignored it as best she could; that and her aching muscles from riding all day. She deserved the pain. The blade, had it slipped between her ribs rather than across them she would not be alive to be in pain.
She was naive. A overturned carriage. A woman in trouble. How could she simply ride past such? Shame and guilt bubbled from her chest and tried to force its way up her throat. She bit her fist to stop herself sobbing. The Dragonborn should not cry and yet tears splattered and hissed from her eyes. She was grateful the rain on the canvas covered the sniffles. If Bishop heard her at least he had the grace not to say anything.
Sleep came swiftly once she ceased her tears. Curling into a ball of misery, knees under her chin beneath the furs.
Bishop did not wake her for the second watch. It was the first rays of dawn that alerted her to the fact she had slept all night.
She rolled from her furs. Her nose wrinkled. Wet leather, sweat, mud, blood. She was pungent to say the least. She was also stiff and uncomfortable. Cold from sleeping on the ground even with fur under her. She stumbled from her tent, prepared to give Bishop an ear-full for not waking her. One moment he was telling her she did not need protection, next he was treating her like a little child who needed their sleep.
The words were choked back on seeing him slumped by a small fire. He must have managed to light one once the rain stopped. He was seated, head dipped, eyes closed. He looked like he would wake any moment and yet he was deeply asleep. A small snore came from the hunched man. She covered her mouth and tried not to giggle.
He looked so much younger asleep. She realised she had no idea how old he was. She had taken him for mid thirties, but without the scowl and fierce eyes the years melted away. He may not even be thirty.
The sun was rising, but it was hard to tell. Mist had rolled in to cover the Reach. The dawn’s light was diffuse and scattered by the water in the air. The vapour swirled between them, the fire crackled and spat in the pit Bishop had probably dug with his fingers in the dark of the early morning.
She tip toed back to her tent and grabbed one of her furs. This at least she was good at. She was small, light of foot. Hunting for game since she was strong enough to pull a bow, she was not utterly useless.
All wire and sinew. ‘Muck and muscle,’ as her mother had put it. What man would want a woman like her? Yes she was an excellent farmer and could hunt, but men did not appreciate such she had often been told.
“Men fall in love with their eyes, women their ears,” her Grandmother was fond of saying. Men looked, women listened. She was the only daughter. She should wed well. A little softness and effort on her appearance would go a long way to get her settled with the right man…
She pulled a face, just as she had when she heard such from her family. It was unfair.
Now she would give back the house she had just bought in Whiterun to return to those days. All she needed to do was smarten up, drag a comb through her stubborn curls. What was that compared to the expectations upon her now?
She crept back, tongue clamped between her teeth in concentration. It was like stalking a deer. Every step placed with care, remain downwind. Bishop may smell as bad as she did but that did not mean her own stink would not wake him.
With infinite care, she draped the furs over his form. She snatched her hands back and waited for the sarcastic comment. Something to reprimand her for her kindness. There was silence. He remained asleep.
A bird chirruped in the reeds. She snapped her head to glare at the ball of thistledown fluff. Her brown eyes narrowed. The bird hopped away swiftly. As if sensing its joyful song was most unwelcome.
She did not have long. Bishop would wake soon and those golden eyes missed nothing. She bent to lift her pack, pausing for a moment as something clanked within. A glance at Bishop and she exhaled slowly. He slept on. She took quick steps into the mist, sighing as it closed round her.
At the small fire, yellow eyes snapped open and watched her walk away.
The Dragonborn located the stream by sound. It was a trickle of water really. Enough to get her feet in. It was all she needed. Nimble fingers unfastened buckles that had not been opened in days. Leather and iron clattered to the ground. The feeling of the fresh, moister-laden air on her skin was divine. Soon nothing remained but the linen between her legs. The water was close to freezing. As she splashed it over herself her flesh puckered up like a plucked chicken. She endured stoically.
Looking back, she never did know what alerted her. Perhaps a muffled noise in the mist. Perhaps instinct, feeling eyes on her. Whatever the reason she glanced up. There, in the mist across from her was a shadow. Her hand was on her knife in a moment. She inhaled to yell for Bishop, but paused. The shape was getting no closer. Nor was there any weapon she could see.
The shape was male, that was obvious by the size of the shoulders. Nord? She was not sure. He was slighter than Bishop. Her grip tightened on her dagger as the shape moved silently to the left, maintaining its distance.
Her heart hammered. She could feel herself being observed and was very aware she was almost naked. Her voice caught in her throat. Bishop was only a few strides from her and yet she remained silent. She did not even think to use her newly acquired shouts. The shape circled her, one step flowing into the next. There was no sound.
She was being stalked.
A hand fell on her shoulder making her squeak. Her dagger splashed into the water.
“We leave,” snarled the voice behind her. “Now.”
Bishop did not even give her naked form half a look. The shadow in the mist melted away as he spoke.
She was unceremoniously shoved back into her leathers and almost lifted onto her horse. The camp was abandoned. Expensive equipment left behind. She opened her mouth to protest as he mounted his own horse.
“We leave,” he repeated, cutting her off. Golden eyes glared into the mist. “The one you saw you were meant to see. There are most likely others out there we cannot.”
Wolves were known to use the same tactic. They hunted as a pack. One would distract while the others closed in. She shuddered. Had she really been that foolish? Had the noose been tightening around her and she had been too blind to see it?
The mounts were urged into a trot. She looked back over her shoulder, trying to discern anything through the mist. She could detect no sign of others or pursuit.
“We will get new gear in Markarth,” Bishop assured her.
The loss of the equipment was not what caused her to worry. There she had been, staring at an unknown man like a moons struck calf. She really was a naive farmgirl.
“Could be Forsworn,” Bishop muttered. “You don’t take chances with them. Killers and savages.”
Forsworn… something heard of, a tale told at the fire. The old ways, an ancient people. Murderers. That shape in the mist with its lupine grace. It was a logical assumption, they were travelling through the Reach. Yet, she had felt no threat. Perhaps that was the intention. Lure her to let her guard down.
Lesson learnt. She needed to be wiser.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly to the man on the other horse.
“Apologise later when I am sure we are not about to get shot,” he snarled.
“That will be never then,” she muttered. “I’m always hunted.” To her surprise a secretive smirk crossed his lips. She searched her words for a double meaning but could find none.
No arrows found them that day. She realised later she had left her dagger behind. The one her mother had given her when she came of age.
A painful loss. A reminder of her folly as much as the wound on her flank.
((A little fanfiction based around a small part of the wonderful Skyrim Romance Mod. Which has been fantastic fun to play of late. Had great fun writing this and massive fangirl hugs to the mod makers.))