The mood was slightly more subdued as we made our way down the mountain path we found near the cave we exited.
Even if we were excited to have the sky over us once again, the sight of Alduin flying off into the distance was a pretty big mood killer. So conversation was understandably sparse until we discovered a trio of Standing Stones. Mystical artifacts said to grant blessings to those wanting to change their fate even having the power to overwrite a person’s birth sign.
Not everyone believed the artifacts worked and only two of the Stormcloaks and one of the Imperials tried touching them. Naturally being soldiers they all chose the Warrior Stone hoping they would become great warriors in the future. Interestingly the kid chose to touch the mage stone.
Nothing seemed to happen for any of them, but the kid seemed happy so I suppose his choice must have done something.
Wouldn’t have pegged him for a mage though.
With that done everyone rejoiced that there was an actual path to follow from then on. Not just some trail created by mountain animals walking over the same patch of land over and over again.
The sun was starting to hang low when we made it out of the hills so we set about making a campsite for the night. The soldiers all set about setting up three tents, the kid was put to work digging a firepit, and I volunteered to see if I could hunt down anything nearby. We had managed to grab some food from the keep on our way out but there wasn’t much that didn’t require more preparation than a fire and keeping travel ready food in reserve was smart if you could find alternatives before you ran out.
Luckily for me, the vegetation on the mountainside was sparse enough that I spotted a mountain goat only an hour after I began hunting. I slowly moved my cloak off my shoulders so it wouldn’t catch when I shot. Moved my bow into my hand and placed an arrow on the string.
Then it was just a matter of waiting until the goat presented it’s flank to me.
With one smooth motion I brought my arm up, pulled the arrow back, and released. The arrow flew true, striking just behind it’s left foreleg and into its heart. The goat gave a startled bleat and rushed off into the vegetation.
I calmly put my bow away and followed after it.
A while later I retrieved my kill and headed back to the camp. I got there just in time to see a fight about to break out between the Stormcloaks and the Imperials with the kid looking on with a lost expression.
“-eed to get back to Solitude so we can inform the Legion!” Guriig was shouting at Ingrid.
“And I’m telling you Tullius won’t stop sucking up the Thalmor long enough to do anything about it!” She yelled back. “We need to get to Windhelm so we can rally the Holds! Not lift our skirts and bend over for some damned elves to shove something up there to replace your spine!”
“Can’t say the idea doesn’t sound fun, but I prefer a partner who’s a little more involved.” I announced my presence while throwing the goat in between the two. The group was far too involved with shouting at each other so my sudden appearance made all of them jump and the kid fumble the axe in his hand.
Lucky him he snagged some boots in Helgen or that might have taken his foot off.
“So someone want to explain what the big argument is all about?” I asked.
“The Stormcloaks,” Guriig spat, “Want to head to Windhelm. Thinks they can handle a dragon when they can barely work together without smashing each other over the head like a troll! We need to have the Empire send reinforcements so we can put that thing down right!”
“The Empire can’t do anything without the Thalmor’s hand so far up its arse that they can use it as a puppet. They won’t do anything until it starts affecting the fuckin’ elves while Skyrim burns.” Ingrid shot back with equal venom.
“Damned elves, worthless bastards the lot of em.” One of the Stormcloaks cursed.
“Er...present company excluded of course.” Another apologised when I started to glare.
I let out a sigh at the pointless fighting. “And why not just go separate directions? It’s not like you’re being forced to travel in a group.”
“We don’t have enough water to split off into two groups.” Ralof spoke up. “We could barely make it to a town on the way to Windhelm with what we have. If we split up we would never make it without finding water on the way.”
“There’s an imperial outpost not far from here where we could get horses but the Stormcloaks refuse to head that way.” Skunar said.
“Sorry for not wanting to waltz right back up to the headsman, imperial.” Ingrid replied back.
I felt a headache coming on. “Isn’t Riverwood close by? We can just head there and you can resupply and be on your way.”
“Thor already brought that up.” Ralof said. “But Riverwood is another two days away. We can’t spend another week waiting to report what happened to Helgen.”
“And we have a duty to the Legion to report as soon as possible.” Hadvar put in.
My headache got worse. Damned stubborn Nords.
“First, who in Oblivion is Thor?” They pointed at the kid. I held in a snort. Of course he was. “Second, how far away is this imperial outpost?”
They told me.
“Then here’s my offer. I’ll give my waterskins to the imperials and they can head to their outpost. It would be close but you should get there before you run out. The Stormcloaks can take the rest and send someone with me to Riverwood to cut down their numbers and still make it to Windhelm and I’ll make sure their friend stays alive till then.”
All of them started grumbling because they knew even with this split it would be much closer to running out of water before they got to a camp than if we all went one direction.
“Or!” I spoke up over them. “You can go back to fighting this out and kill each other, risk no one finding out in time, and I’ll just make my way to Riverwood by myself. Do we have a deal?”
A few looks got passed around but eventually they seemed to agree not to kill each other at the moment.
“Good, then one of you-” I pointed at the Stormcloaks. “-get over here and help me dress down this kill.”
Tempers calmed for the moment the rest of them set about some miscellaneous tasks while they waited for us to finish. Thor however seemed curious and followed us over. He seemed fine as we made the first few cuts to the goat. He seemed a bit green when we started cutting through the ribs. He off to the side trying not to vomit when we started pulling the organs out of the goat. I think it was the sound that got to him personally. Wet sloughing noises take a bit of getting used to.
“You okay, kid?” called the Stormcloak assisting me. He was one of the two whose name I didn’t know. I wasn’t really interested in finding out either.
“F-fine.” Thor croaked back. “Sorry. I grew up in the city. Never saw anything like that before.”
“Heh, better learn quickly then. Nothing is worse than an amature trying to figure it out himself.”
“Why? Can you poison the meat or something?”
“If you don’t wash it after messing up you might.” The Stormcloak admitted. “But the smell is something else.”
“Kid, if you’re just going to stand around start digging a pit.” I ordered.
“Why should I do that?!” he cried indignantly.
The Stormcloak smacked him across the chest with a bloody hand, making him grimace in disgust. “Nah, lass is right. We need a pit to bury the organs or wolves might come poking around. Kyne willing, we should have a quiet night.”
He still grumbled at the task, but it seemed to take his mind off his nausea.
In the meantime, the Stormcloak and I set about skinning and butchering the goat. When everything was ready we had the rest of the group collect the meat and start cooking it over the fire.
Dinner was relaxed as we all took turns telling stories about ourselves. Anything about the war was naturally taboo, but the Nords shared some amusing stories about where they learned to fight and who taught them. Skunar told a particularly entertaining one about an old orc who taught him how to fist fight by ‘smacking him in the face until he was less stupid about it’. Ingrid shared that a boy in town had tried to sneak a peek at her bathing. When the boy’s father caught her beating him for it, he took her on since ‘if she was going to beat on his boy for being an idiot, she might as well know what she’s doing’. Ralof and Hadvar gave some tales about the retired guards they learned from.
It wasn’t particularly news to me that the Nords liked to fight. Still it was interesting to hear stories about giving eachother light beatings discussed in the same fond tones I used when remembering learning to hunt with my friends and family.
Eventually the fire burned low and we drew lots for nightwatch.
With everyone exhausted from today we all slipped away to our tents to turn in for the night.
I wound up sharing a tent with Ingrid and Ralof. The two of us took a moment to impress upon him that if he tried to take any liberties there would be painful consequences.
I was actually impressed with Ingrid’s threat to strip down and tie him to a tree after slathering his family jewels with honey and leave him to the wolves.
I was simply going to break his wrists.
Besides a few distant howls from some wolves the night passed peacefully. In the morning we broke camp, divided the leftover goat, and set out down the road once more.
Not long after we came to a split in the road. The three Imperials took off towards the west, three of the Stormcloaks to the east, which naturally left me with Ralof and Thor.
“Staying behind Ralof?” I asked him. “I was sure you were going to head off to Hindhelm with the others.”
“We didn’t think the water would last that long between the four of us. So I decided to head to Riverwood.” he replied easily. “And I gave my word to Hadvar I would check on the village and send word. This war needs to be fought, but we can’t forget we are all brothers and sisters of Skyrim or it would be for nothing.”
I just hummed at that.
Truthfully I saw this war as nothing more than a foolish power grab by a man too shortsighted to see what the Empire was up to. But I was not a Nord so if they wanted to isolate themselves just to be invaded later it made little difference to me.
Once I found her I would be happy to head somewhere warmer and leave them to fight it out.
“Are we ready to leave then? I’d like to move a bit faster now that there aren’t as many of us.”
“Ready. Just try not to get too far ahead of us? We can’t walk through trees like you can.”
“Heh, I can’t either. You Nords just stomp through every little thing and it slows you down.”
So moods were high as we set off again. The weather was clear and it was warm enough that our breath only formed barely visible whisps.
The first day of travel went fine. Both Nords were keeping up with my faster pace with only some difficulty. We lost some time skirting around a wandering troll I spotted in the distance but it didn’t seem to notice us. I made a note to set up an alarm ward when we set camp for the night. Wildlife generally left you alone when there was a good amount of you. Three people did not meet that standard.
Camp got...awkward when I started breaking out my normal camping gear. At first Ralof was just happy that I had an additional waterskin, but Thor managed to notice I never had some of the stuff I pulled out on me last time, such as the iron skillet I was using to cook up more of the goat meat with.
I wasn’t really expecting to get away with that one but I did have a faint hope they wouldn’t say anything about it. The kid wouldn’t stop babbling about every possible method I could have used to accomplish this, running from fairly sensible choices like using an Alteration spell to shift something into the thing I needed temporarily to insane ones like me having access to a personal plane of Oblivion I could open portals to whenever I wanted something.
Ralof was the typical Nord and bluntly asked why I hadn’t mentioned having more supplies earlier so the other groups didn’t need to risk running out of water so much.
“Easy,” I replied. “We might have gotten through Helgen together but that does not entitle any of you to my supplies. I was nice enough to give you what I did so you all wouldn’t kill yourselves because you’re too stubborn to resupply before running off all over the province, and I didn’t even have to do that. So accept the gift for what it was and shut up about it.”
Ralof grumbled about it for a bit but eventually let it go.
The kid did not.
“But how did you do it? Can you only store food? What about weapons? Is there a size limit or is it based on weight? Is it a spell? Can you teach me? Oh! What about…”
And he just went on and on. Even if I had been inclined to answer his questions it would have been impossible to get a word in edgewise. And what in Oblivion’s name was a ‘headcanon’?
“THOR!” Both Ralof and I shouted.
“What!” came the shrieked reply.
“Shor’s breath kid if you never stop asking questions she’ll never get to answer any.” Ralof said in an amused huff.
“Sorry. But hammerspace is like the most important kind of magic.” He turned back to me. “So why didn’t you use this in Helgen? You could have taken a lot more stuff with you.”
“Sure and then I’d need to kill all eight of you when you tried to take it from me.” I snorted.
“What! We wouldn’t!”
“You might not.” I acquiesced, the kid seemed the naive innocent kind who thought only bandits stole from people. “But one of the others would have tried. Even if they decided they just wanted the Void Armoury for the war effort.”
“I’d like to disagree, but enchanted storage objects are more precious than a pile of gold since the Psijic Order disappeared again.” Ralof admitted.
“Is that what it's called? The Void Armoury?” the kid asked. “Is it that weird quiver you have?”
I sighed. Mara’s tits, I didn’t mean to give away that name.
“Yes, it was a gift from my teacher. Try taking it from me and I will make you beg for the Daedra to take your soul just to get away from me.”
“Woah, calm yourself lass.” Ralof put his hands up. “No need to worry about us. I know better than to try something against a wood elf in the middle of the wilderness.”
“Good.” I said shortly. “Because something just triggered my alarm spell. Probably bandits because of the noise we were making.”
Ralof started muttering under his breath about ‘damned elves and their unnatural magics’ but readied his weapon all the same. “You sure? We do have bear in these woods.” he asked.
“Wildlife tends to stay away from loud noises, not head towards them.”
“Damn, alright kid get ready for company. What do you plan to do, elf?”
“I’ll drop back into the woods.” I said, unclasping my cloak and setting it inside the tent. “If they don’t have anyone trying to circle around us I’ll pick off the ones further away with a few arrows.”
Ralof nods and Thor heads to his side equipped with a circular wooden shield and an iron mace he must have kept from his hoarding attempts.
As I slipped into the woods I idly wondered exactly what he stuffed in the travel pack he stuffed to bursting.
I pushed the thoughts from my mind and found a nice perch in the branches of a nearby tree. From here I should be able to see most of the camp and anyone sneaking up behind us. To complete my setup I cast a subtle illusion to make myself look like tree bark.
I scowled a bit as even after years of practice the illusion I still failed to perfectly blend into the surroundings. The Illusion school of magic remained one of my least accomplished fields of study. Only Conjuration was worse, and that was more out of fear of attracting attention from the Deadra than a lack of talent.
Anyone looking directly at me would clearly notice the patch of tree that seemed to belong to a different species entirely.
Good thing it was night. Anyone sneaking up would hopefully only give the trees a cursory glance.
After a few minutes of silence only broken up by sounds of wildlife and the boys in camp shuffling around a group of three bandits stepped out into the light of our campfire.
Two Bretons and an Orc from the look of it.
“Well looky what we found.” One of the Bretons announced. “Two of Ulfric’s boys out all by themselves. Heard you folk ran into a bit of trouble recently.”
“No more than usual in the coming days.” Ralof deflected. “What do we owe the visit?”
My eyes scanned the darkness looking for any sign of someone moving through the dark.
“We heard some shouting. Rumors are, there's a Sabre Cat on the loose.” The Breton said warmly. “We figured you ran into it but I guess not. Still can’t be too careful, so how’s ‘bout we do you let us take some of your kit and we keep it away from ya?”
I saw some underbrush rustle as a Khajiit silently stalked his way towards the camp, daggers drawn. Careful to not make a sound myself I pulled back the string and took aim.
“I’ve got nothing to give to you, bandit” Ralof spat and both he and Thor took fighting stances. The smile vanished from the bandit’s face as his compatriots readied their weapons as well.
“Shame, Sabre Cats can attack out of nowhere after all.”
That must have been the signal since the Khajiit readied to spring onto one of my travelling companions. The attack never came, as the last thing through the bandit’s mind was the tip of my arrow.
Perhaps aware of the death of their member when they failed to attack, the other three rushed Ralof and Thor. The Orc and the apparent leader went after Ralof while the remaining Breton went after Thor.
Hopefully the kid could hold on for a few moments by himself since finding a shot in the chaotic melee Ralof found himself in was taking all my concentration.
The bandits weren’t very skilled and one on one Ralof probably could have killed them pretty swiftly. But they worked together fairly well, harrying Ralof anytime one of them overextended in a way that suggested they had worked together for a while.
Finally Ralof was forced to duck under a swing that would have taken his head and I had my shot. With a whispered thwang from my bow, an arrow streaked towards its target. Ralof rolled away from the pair and came up expecting to see them charging at him, only to see the Orc choking on his own blood with an arrow in his neck. Moments later the Breton fell with another arrow in his back when he tried to run.
I quickly turned to Thor to make sure he didn’t need help.
Evidently he didn’t since I saw his opponent’s axe lodged in Thor’s shield and the bandit laid out on the ground with his head smashed to a pulp. Thor had tossed the bloody mace on the ground and was hovering at the edges of the fire light making retching noises.
Ralof went to see to him while I remained on lookout for any stragglers. When none appeared I quickly returned to camp.
The two humans were back at the campfire sitting on a log we had repurposed into a bench. Ralof had a comforting hand on the kid’s shoulder.
“First kill?” I was starting to think I overestimated Thor’s age if this was his reaction.
“Aye. Not everyone handles it the same. Too bad we are still a day out from Riverwood or I’d handle it the same way my da’ did for my first time.”
I snorted. “Let me guess. A significant amount of mead?”
“Of course!” He seemed shocked that there would be any other way.
“Anyway, either of you hurt?”
Thor brushed off Ralof’s hand and stood up. “Y-yeah, I’m good. Just wasn’t expecting...that.”
Well at least he recovered fast.
“Great, then the two of you can give me a hand moving the bodies.”
Thor paled a bit.
“Why do you need the bodies?”
I gave him a look as if the answer should be obvious.
“We need to prepare them.”
And he promptly vomited all over my boots.
Once Ralof was certain I wouldn’t kill the younger Nord he finally released me so we could figure out what just happened. Apparently I had forgotten how uncommon dead bodies could be to some people, especially ones from a place without magic, that my comment had been mistaken for something else.
Thor seemed convinced that as a Bosmer, I naturally followed the Green Pact, and while I didn’t begrudge the Bosmer the act (one does NOT dismiss a god when you live in their domain) I was born in Cyrodiil and my family had never followed it.
So no, I very forcefully explained to Thor, we would be preparing the bodies for burial so a necromancer would have a tougher time getting to them once we passed. Not for any sort of consumption.
The bodies were gathered and stripped of any valuables, but being bandits there wasn’t much worth taking besides a few septims. Their weapons and armour were barely worth calling them that since I doubted they were given any kind of regular maintenance. The bandits probably just replaced them with their victim’s when they needed to. I also managed to recover two of my arrows. The Orc had snapped the shaft of the one I put in his neck so I simply stripped the broken shaft of the arrowhead and made a note to stop by a fletcher at some point.
Once that was done we dumped the four of them in a shallow grave and turned in for the night.
The final day of travel was mostly silent as well since Thor seemed to not have slept well and Ralof was beginning to worry the dragon had stopped by Riverwood before heading to Helgen.
We were slowed down some by Thor’s lack of sleep so it was only once the sun had set beyond the horizon that we finally made it to the village.
Ralof led the three of us to a house by the river and banged heavily on the door.
Soon enough a blonde haired Nord woman opened up the door with a dagger barely out of sight and a scowl on her face. That changed to a look of shock when she saw precisely who was outside her house.
“Ralof? By the gods what are you doing here?”
“I’ll tell you in a moment, Gerdur. Can we come in? It’s been a long journey.”
Gerdur looked between the three of us, evidently not pleased letting two heavily armed strangers into her home.
A moment passed before she made a decision and stepped aside.
“Of course, come in.” she said, waving us into the house and closing the door once we had entered.