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All Roads Lead To You

///All Roads Lead To You
All Roads Lead To You 2017-06-04T23:42:35+00:00

Home Forums Creations 18+ Content All Roads Lead To You

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    #24019 |

    Bishop gazed drowsily into his tankard of ale, only half listening to the raven-haired woman beside him as she recounted an adventure from her youth. He grunted now and then in acknowledgment, but he had the feeling that he could fall asleep right there on the bench and she would go on talking anyway. Bishop had to admit, however, that he quite liked the sensation of her silky hair against his bare forearm and her scent had drawn him to her from the moment he’d walked into the tavern, more intoxicating than the cheap ale he’d been drinking all night. She had paid for his dinner and drinks, and he knew from the way she’d found any excuse to touch him from the moment she’d sat down beside him, that she’d be sharing her bed with him tonight as well. He was accustomed to sleeping in the woods, beneath the stars, and in the elements…but sometimes a soft bed and a warm body were a nice respite.

    At the counter, a local man by the name of Rowan was talking animatedly with Johan, the innkeeper of Vilemyr Inn. Bishop overheard the words “legend” and “dragons”. He tilted his head, trying to pick up more of their conversation, but was distracted by slender fingers tracing the lines of his jaw. He realized the dark haired woman had stopped talking and was now gazing at him with an unmistakable hunger in her eyes.

    “It’s so cold outside, Ranger,” she purred as she traced his lips with her fingertips, “why don’t you come to my room? I’ll keep you warm tonight.”

    Bishop caught one of her fingers gently between his teeth and grinned at her sharp intake of breath. He met her gaze. “Darling, you read my mind,” he said.

    It was still dark when Bishop rose the next morning. He moved quietly as he searched for his clothes in the dim candlelight, careful not to wake the woman who slept soundly in the bed. He looked down at her as he retrieved his pants from the floor and pulled them on. Had she told him her name? He couldn’t remember. Had he told her his? He had no idea. She wasn’t quite as ravishing as she’d seemed a few hours before, but she was pretty, in that provincial, peasant girl kind of way. He pulled on the rest of his clothes and gathered up his gear and his boots, then moved on silent feet to the door. The woman murmured something suddenly and Bishop froze, his hand on the brass door handle.

    “Mmm, I’m to be married today,” she muttered, “fetch me snowberries for my hair, will you?”

    Bishop raised his eyebrows, “married, hm?”

    “Mhm,” she rolled over and covered her head with the blanket, “he’s a bard. He writes songs about me.”

    “What a lucky man,” Bishop said dryly as he opened the door, no longer concerned with stealth.

    “Snowberries, please,” she said, sounding as though she were drifting off again.

    “Right,” said Bishop as he left the room, “I’ll get on that.”

    He shut the door behind him, chuckling to himself. Lynly, who had risen early to bake bread for the day, caught his eye from behind the counter and raised a curious eyebrow. Bishop shook his head.

    “Just thinking about how fickle women are,” he said with a smirk.

    Lynly snorted, “you’re one to talk, Bishop.”

    He leaned on the counter and gave her a wolfish smile, “jealous?”

    She shook her head, “idiot. Would you like some breakfast before you begin your daily walk of shame?”

    Bishop laughed, “who’s ashamed? No thanks, songstress, I’ll be hunting today.”

    “Speaking of which,” Lynly said, glancing around, “where’s your wolf?”

    Bishop shrugged, “he’s around. Wouldn’t come in with me last night, so I assume he had business elsewhere. He’ll find me. Always does.”

    She was shaking her head, a little smile on her lips, “if I didn’t know better, I’d say you and he were littermates, born to the same she-wolf. The only difference is that Karnwyr is housetrained.”

    “Have I done something to annoy you especially, Lynly, or are you just feeling particularly feisty this morning?” Bishop teased.

    “Just a little friendly honesty,” Lynly said, a genuine smile on her face now. She nodded towards the door, “will your lady friend be joining you on your hunt?”

    Bishop shook his head as he pulled on his boots, “I very much doubt it. She’ll be late for her wedding.”

    Lynly frowned and opened her mouth to speak, but Bishop waved a hand, “relax. I didn’t know until this morning.”

    As he made his way to the door, Lynly narrowed her eyes at him, “if she’d told you last night, would you still be slinking out of here now?”

    He didn’t answer but grinned at her before going out the door into the icy morning.

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    Karnwyr was waiting for Bishop patiently outside the inn as if he knew his companion was on his way. The wolf fell into step beside Bishop as they headed west out of town. Absently, Bishop cast his eyes up to the Throat of the World, the towering mountain that loomed over Whiterun Hold. Ever since he and every other man, woman, child, and beast alike had heard the strange shout come from the mountain peak a month earlier, Bishop had been on edge. The sudden rise of dragons just before that hadn’t helped much, and Skyrim had been rife with fear and rumor ever since. People had been saying that a Dragonborn had risen. Bishop wasn’t sure what to make of that. He’d never been one for myths and legends and didn’t care much about history. He wouldn’t even have believed that the dragons had returned if he hadn’t seen them for himself. He didn’t know much about them, either, except that they were huge, mean, and a bitch to take down. He’d never considered Skyrim a peaceful country, but compared to what it was now, it had definitely seen better days. Even so, Bishop hadn’t encountered dragons often thus far, and he was more annoyed that they were competition for game than anything else. They seemed more likely to attack open towns like Morthal or Winterhold than they were to come after a lone man in the woods, especially if that man did nothing to attract their attention.

    Bishop was good at not attracting attention when he so chose.

    Today, however, was a good day. The morning dawned clear and cold, but somewhat warmer than the day before, and the forests were almost tranquil. Not a dragon in sight. Bishop and Karnwyr spent the day tracking elk and deer, Bishop’s arrow flying true and taking down his prey neatly and quickly. By late afternoon, the two of them had made several good kills; one elk, two deer, seven rabbits, and two goats between them. Bishop made a fire and set to work skinning and cleaning game, with the exception of two rabbits, which he gave to Karnwyr to eat right away- he’d caught them, after all. Bishop carefully stripped pelts and divided cuts of meat, some to sell at the next town and some to smoke to add to their provisions and a little for that day’s dinner. Finally, when he was finished, he cleaned the blood from himself as best he could with snow melted over the fire, thinking he’d wash properly in the river before entering Riverwood; the villagers there didn’t care for him much, and the guards had given him grief the last time he and Karnwyr had strolled inside the gates smelling of blood. He just wanted to sell what he had and move on.

    After a dinner of greasy venison and grilled leaks, Bishop sat back against a tree, gazing into the bright fire and feeling drowsy and content. Karnwyr lay close by, gnawing serenely on a bone. Bishop let his mind wander as his eyelids began to grow heavy, and he wondered if dragons were edible and, if they were, if they were half as delicious as Skyrim deer.

    He was half asleep, thinking about how long it would take to skin a dragon when a bone-chilling roar shattered the calm with violent force. Bishop was on his feet before the roar ceased to echo in his ears, Karnwyr beside him, hackles raised. Bishop snatched his bow and quiver from where they waited, propped against the tree, and nocked an arrow. The roar was familiar by now, but just as it had the first time, it made Bishop’s blood run cold. He waited, and the dragon roared again- above, and just north of his camp. He kicked out his fire and crept forward, keeping his bow at the ready.

    “Stay with me,” he muttered sternly to Karnwyr, who was snarling quietly, yellow eyes intent on the trees ahead. They moved silently through the patchy snow, keeping close to the trees and staying out of open spaces. The dragon shrieked again, closer now. It seemed to be attacking something deeper in the woods, and Bishop hoped it was just a bear or some overzealous mage, and that once the dragon killed what- or whoever was annoying it, it would move on. He wasn’t that interested in trying a dragon steak, after all.

    Then, something happened that made Bishop freeze in his tracks- another roar, but not the same, and it had come from the ground, just ahead. Bishop frowned. Two dragons? He moved again, faster now, keeping low and silent, Karnwyr on his heels. The battle was full-fledged now, roars being traded back and forth, and occasionally the forest would glow vivid orange as the dragon breathed flames at its opponent. Bishop stopped several yards from a clearing and he could see the dragon now, hovering on great, flapping wings as it positioned itself to attack again. Its ugly, vicious face moved as it tracked something on the ground amidst the trees. Bishop still couldn’t see what the beast was fighting, but he knew now it wasn’t another dragon. This confused him until another roar…no, not a roar…a shout. Bishop could hear words in the shout, words he didn’t understand, but this definitely wasn’t some nebulous sound. There was something else about the voice that he couldn’t quite place. Something that made it different from the dragon’s, even as he realized that the dragon, too, was speaking the same language.

    The shout from the ground seemed to stun the dragon, which was now having trouble keeping itself aloft. It opened its mouth as if to attack again, then something silver flashed in the moonlight and embedded itself into the dragon’s throat. The dragon roared in pain, clawing at the thing stuck in its scales.
    Yol toor shul!” the dragon bellowed, and flames spewed from its jaws, sweeping over the clearing.
    Bishop heard a cry of pain…a distinctly human cry. Then another shout came from somewhere in the trees at the edge of the clearing.
    Fo krah diin!”

    A blast of frost, like an intense, concentrated blast of sleet shot towards the dragon, so close that Bishop could feel the freezing air whip past his face. The dragon snarled as it fell from the air and landed in the clearing with a thunderous crash, sending vibrations under Bishop’s feet. The dragon crawled forward, cold yellow eyes intent on its adversary.

    A smaller figure- definitely human- charged into view, barreling towards the dragon with a flashing silver sword in his hands. The man wore a hooded cape over leather armor not much different from what Bishop wore. The hood obscured the warrior’s face as he dodged the dragon’s snapping jaws and struck the dragon’s neck with the sword.

    Bishop stood and aimed an arrow, waiting for the shot. Then he let his arrow fly. It struck the dragon’s eye, dead center. The dragon howled in pain, and the caped swordsman didn’t hesitate, attacking with renewed fervor, piercing and hacking at the beast’s hide. The dragon wheeled, lashing out with its tail and claws, and trying to catch the man in its great teeth. But the warrior was agile and quick and dodged every attempt with a confident grace. Bishop nocked another arrow, but the dragon spotted him with its good eye.

    Yol toor shul!” it snarled, and a tongue of flame soared towards Bishop. Bishop threw himself out of the path of the attack, but he wasn’t fast enough and he grunted in pain as he felt the flames scorch his shoulder.

    Fus ro dah!” the human warrior shouted, and the fury in his voice was evident.

    Bishop heard the dragon roar, then heard a battle cry from the man, then one last roar from the beast.

    Silence fell.

    Bishop struggled to his feet, the deep burning pain in his shoulder making the edges of his vision fuzzy. He looked into the clearing to see that the dragon lay dead, the warrior standing with his back to Bishop, looking down at the creature as viscous blood dripped from the blade of his sword. Then, something happened that Bishop would never forget. There was a rushing sound, like a sudden gust of wind through trees, and the dragon’s hide began to show cracks, and a light like embers glowed inside the remains. Then the flesh of the creature began to turn to ash as a spectral bluish gray mist rose from the body and rushed toward the warrior. Before Bishop could so much as bark out a warning, the mist surrounded the warrior and seemed to go inside his body. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The night was still once more, the dragon now a skeleton, silent and empty.

    The hooded warrior turned and found Bishop, raised a gloved hand- whether in thanks or just acknowledgment, Bishop wasn’t sure- then walked into the trees, disappearing in the gloom.

    Bishop stared after the warrior for a long time, trying to process all he’d witnessed. His shoulder burned, but it was a soft whine behind him that brought him back to the present. He turned to see Karnwyr watching him intently as if to say, “well, don’t just stand there.” Bishop reached down and rubbed Karnwyr’s ears, then stepped slowly into the clearing. He approached the dragon’s remains apprehensively; though the creature was clearly dead, there had been magic at work here, and Bishop trusted magic about as much as he trusted a frost troll not to maul him to death. Bishop circled the giant skeleton slowly, examining it from every angle. It looked as though it had been dead for months, picked clean by wild animals, but Bishop had seen with his own eyes the strange truth. He had begun to relax slightly and was trying to figure how many of the bones he could manage to carry to Riverwood to sell to the shopkeepers when a silver glint in the snow near the dragon’s skull caught his eye. He knelt and picked up a fine silver dagger. It was the same dagger the cloaked warrior had thrown into the dragon’s throat. Bishop had never seen its better, so skillful was the craftsmanship. It alone would probably fetch a nice price, especially in one of the bigger cities, if he chose to sell it. He tucked it away into his belt, near his own old hunting knife. Then he turned and headed back toward his camp, Karnwyr close behind. Bishop’s shoulder still needed tending, and he doubted the dragon skeleton was going anywhere.

    Bishop reached camp and kept his bow and quiver nearby as he stripped from the waist up. He knelt and scooped clean snow in his left hand, braced himself, and clapped the handful of snow to his seared right shoulder. There was a moment of intense, blinding pain which gradually tapered off to something more manageable as the snow cooled the burn. Bishop felt woozy but kept his jaw clenched tight against the groan that had built up in his throat. No sense in attracting anything else to their camp.

    Once he was satisfied that he had stopped the burning as much as he could, Bishop dressed the wound with a poultice from a mixture of crushed herbs he kept in his satchel, then carefully fitted his armor back on over it. By the time he was dressed and ready to move, a light sweat had broken out over his forehead. He set his pack over his left shoulder, along with his bow. His quiver, he strapped to his back. Then he whistled for Karnwyr and they headed back to the clearing where the dragon bones waited. Bishop took what he could, finding that the bones separated easily; everything that had once held the bones together had disappeared along with the rest of the beast’s flesh. Bishop’s injured shoulder made it difficult to be greedy, so he settled on a few larger bones, knowing the blacksmith in town would give him a good bit of gold for them. Then he and Karnwyr were on their way.

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    As they walked the long, winding road toward Riverwood, Bishop finally let himself think on what he’d seen. Dragonborn. That was the word that kept repeating in his head, even though he tried arguing it away. Ulfric Stormcloak wasn’t Dragonborn, and he had shouted High King Torygg into hash. Maybe this person was like Ulfric. Bishop dismissed the idea that it was Ulfric almost immediately; for one thing, the person he saw had a much smaller build- Ulfric was tall and broad shouldered. Secondly, Bishop had never once heard of Ulfric fighting a dragon. Not even when one- the very first one, no less- had attacked Helgen as Ulfric was about to be executed. Of course, that dragon had inadvertently saved Ulfric’s life, so perhaps he was indebted to it in a way. But Ulfric also liked an audience, and the person Bishop had seen had been alone and hadn’t even seemed to know Bishop was there until Bishop’s arrow blinded that fire dragon. Bishop didn’t even want to think about what had possessed him to shoot that arrow. It was not in his nature to play hero; he and Karnwyr kept to themselves and that was that. Something had compelled him to help tonight, and he’d been injured for his troubles. He figured he deserved it for not minding his own business.

    The Graybeards, too, could Shout, but Bishop wasn’t about to waste any time considering them as a possibility. As far back as anyone in Skyrim could recall the Graybeards had been secluded up in High Hrothgar at the top of the Throat of the World and had never come down or even allowed anyone into their monastery. Ever. It couldn’t possibly be them. Although they had used a Shout a month ago, and it was after that when all the rumors of the Dragonborn began going around like a bad virus.

    Bishop wondered how one person could be expected to fight the dragons alone. He’d heard the stories but had assumed they were just folk tales, at least until they had begun to come true. It seemed stupid to him that Akatosh or whatever god it was would only bestow the blessing on one man when it would be better used on an entire army. He supposed the gods needed their entertainment, too, and maybe it was just more exciting for them to watch one unlucky bastard attempt to bring down an entire hoard of scaly, flying monsters on his own. Although, Bishop did have to admit that what he’d just seen had impressed him. The Dragonborn- if that was what he was- had shown no fear or hesitation, unlike everyone else Bishop had seen take on a dragon so far. This warrior seemed to know just what to do. Bishop wasn’t sure if this guy could take on more than one dragon at a time, but he was definitely powerful.

    By the time they reached Riverwood, dawn had turned the sky a soft pink and the burn on Bishop’s shoulder was a steady, deep pain, and he was ready for a drink and maybe a nap in the sun by the river. He stopped at the blacksmith’s on the way to the Sleeping Giant Inn. Alvor, the blacksmith, was hard at work on a set of iron swords but stopped what he was doing to look at the dragon bones. He didn’t seem to believe they were dragon at first.

    “Where did you find these?” he asked, inspecting them carefully.

    “In the woods, several miles north of here,” Bishop said, too tired to recount his adventure from the night before.

    “Hmm,” Alvor said, glancing from the bones to Bishop and back again.

    “They’re real dragon bone if that’s what you’re thinking,” Bishop said testily, “I’m not stupid enough to try to pass off mammoth bone as anything else.”

    “No, no, I believe you,” Alvor said, “it’s just that you’re only the second person to ever bring me dragon bone. Makes a man curious, you understand.”

    Bishop frowned, “the second? Who was the first?”

    Alvor met Bishop’s eyes, “the Dragonborn, of course.”

    “The- what do you mean, the Dragonborn?” Bishop asked, “you met him? He was here?”

    Alvor’s suspicion returned to his face, “aye, I met the Dragonborn. Came through just over a month ago, after that business at Helgen. Been here a couple times since, to trade.”

    Bishop crossed his arms, “so what makes you think he’s really the Dragonborn?”

    Alvor snorted as if Bishop had said the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, “you should visit Whiterun sometime, have a chat with the Jarl. Or just talk to the townspeople. Everyone has stories. The Dragonborn has been quite busy.”

    Bishop shrugged his good shoulder, “maybe later. So, how much can you give me for those?”

    A few minutes later, Bishop reached the inn, considerably heavier of coin. It should have put him in a good mood, but he was feeling irritable from the constant pain in his shoulder and from his chat with the blacksmith. He didn’t know why, but the idea of the Dragonborn legend being true gave him a deep feeling of foreboding. Bishop was a creature of instinct and nothing frustrated him more than for his internal alarm to be triggered with no sign of immediate danger. He hoped it would go away with a few drinks and maybe some sleep.

    He went to the counter and ordered mead and some seared beef for Karnwyr. Then he sat down at an empty bench in the back of the tavern and tried to tune out the murmuring of the other patrons and the bard’s singing. Why every tavern needed to have a bard, Bishop had no idea, but if he ever decided to open a tavern of his own, he knew that would be the first tradition to go. Bishop was on his third flagon of mead before he noticed that someone else was cloistered in the dark corner opposite his own. A woman. She had dark, thick hair that was braided tightly against her scalp, the ends trailing in long loose curls down her back. Her skin was brown as if she spent most of her time outdoors, and she wore a loose white shirt with a leather vest and leather greaves. Her boots were covered with dried mud, which caked and fell to the floor when she moved. Her elbows were on the table in front of her, fingers laced together, and her gaze was intent on the wall as if she were deep in thought. A silver sword glinted at her hip, tucked into its scabbard. A worn leather pack was on the bench beside her, along with a filthy cloak covered in dark stains that could have been blood or tar.

    Bishop found himself staring at the woman, intrigued despite himself. She wasn’t bad looking, though he’d seen prettier women, but there was something about her gaze and her presence that drew him in. He wondered where she’d come from. She didn’t look like the peasant girls that were in abundance around town. Maybe she was headed to join one of the armies that were recruiting for the looming civil war. Or maybe she was just a wanderer, like him, not part of any faction.

    She seemed to sense him staring at her because she suddenly turned her head and met his eyes. Her own eyes were dark and the expression in them was thoughtful, intelligent. She didn’t seem surprised or annoyed to catch him looking at her. Bishop, never one to embarrass easily, raised his flagon to her in a sort of greeting. She inclined her head toward him in acknowledgment, then turned away. Just then, another woman approached the dark haired lady and murmured something to her. The dark haired woman said something in return, nodded, and stood. She gathered her pack and settled her stained cloak over her arm- Bishop could see now that the stains were definitely blood- and followed the villager out of the inn. Bishop watched her go, though his curiosity had begun to fade. Strangers came through Riverwood all the time; he should know. Sometimes they were interesting people, whose faces bore many stories, who would leave and never be seen again. Skyrim was a harsh country, and there were some truths one just had to accept.

    Bishop decided to rent a room for the night, even though he had no desire to be around other people. In his room, with the door shut and locked against the crowd in the tavern, Bishop took off his leather tunic and examined his wounded shoulder the best he could. It would heal, but it would take time; the burn was a nasty one, and burns were always prone to infection. Bishop had once nearly died from a similar wound when it became badly infected. He’d survived it somehow but didn’t want to experience that again. Dying didn’t frighten Bishop, but he didn’t particularly relish the idea of a long, painful death. He decided that a few days in Riverwood wouldn’t be that bad. There was plenty of game to hunt in the forests that surrounded the town, and he could fish in the river. All he had to do was try to avoid any run-ins with those irritating guards, and it would be fine.


    “Well, I guess we’re stuck here for a little while,” he said to Karnwyr, who was stretched out on a threadbare rug. Karnwyr only yawned in response.

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    It didn’t take long before Bishop began to feel restless. He passed most of the first day sleeping in his rented room, only rousing to let Karnwyr outside. The next morning, he went downstream, out of view of the town proper, and bathed in the stream. The icy water was unpleasant, save for when he submerged his burned shoulder into it. The numbing relief he felt made it all worthwhile. He dried off as best he could and dressed in a relatively clean outfit of a black tunic and black pants, then spent the remainder of the day fishing from the bridge. The sun was almost warm on his back and he watched lazily as Karnwyr bounded in and out of view in the trees across the river. It was such a peaceful, quiet day that it was hard to imagine a dragon could swoop down and send everything to hell at any moment. In spite of the peaceful surroundings, Bishop still hadn’t been able to shake the uneasiness in his gut. It made him restless and wary; it felt like something threatening lurked very close by, but nothing seemed out of place. He hated it.

    The day after that, he and Karnwyr went hunting. He didn’t really need to hunt, but he wanted to do something other than sit around and get drunk all day, which seemed to be his only other option. He felt better when he was out in the woods, away from people and in his element. He even almost managed to forget that sense of impending danger that had plagued him since his conversation with Alvor. As the sun began to set, he and Karnwyr emerged from the woods, hauling their kills for the day. They made it back to Riverwood just in time to sell some pelts before the shops closed, then returned to the inn to sell the rest of the meat to the innkeeper there, who was only too happy to oblige; apparently, the threat of dragons had scared off a lot of hunters from the area, and supplies were running low. Bishop and his wolf ate an early dinner then went outside to escape the crowded tavern. Bishop leaned against the building as Karnwyr loped down the path, searching for chickens to harass. Suddenly, Bishop heard voices and glanced across the way to see two men, obviously drunk, trying to pick up a woman who was headed toward the inn. Bishop smirked at their ridiculous catcalls, wondering if they had ever been successful. The woman seemed completely oblivious to them as she climbed the steps of the inn. She looked up and seemed startled to see him standing there, watching her. He recognized her then as the woman he’d seen in the tavern a few days before and looked at her with some interest.

    “Not your type, huh?” he said, nodding to the two idiots on the path, who were now arguing with each other over whose muscles were bigger.

    She frowned and followed his gaze, “oh, them,” she said, “they’ve had too much ale. They’ll be passed out in puddles of their own vomit before long. Doubt they’ll even remember where they are when they wake up.”

    Her voice was low and clear. Bishop liked the sound of it. She turned and met his gaze again, and gave him a curious look.

    “Haven’t I seen you around here before?” she asked.

    Bishop shrugged, then winced. Damn shoulder.

    The woman frowned again, “are you injured?”

    Bishop waved a hand, “it’s nothing. You’re a traveler?”

    She raised an eyebrow, then nodded.

    “What could possibly be so important to make you crazy enough to roam Skyrim with dragons everywhere?” he asked.

    Inexplicably, a look of surprise crossed her face. Then she gave Bishop a smile. He didn’t know what he’d said to make her smile like that, but he thought right then and there that he’d figure it out and say it again if he got the chance. Her smile did some not-so-unpleasant things to his insides.

    “I suppose I could ask you the same thing,” she said, and Bishop detected a genuine note of relief in her voice that only made him more curious, “you’re obviously not a local, either.”

    He started to shrug again, caught himself, and shook his head, “how can you tell? Is it because I don’t smell like fish? Or maybe because I don’t have that empty soulless stare that people get when they cram themselves into a little town with a bunch of other miserable bastards?”

    She laughed, and Bishop warmed to her a little more, “not a high opinion of provincial life, hmm? Well, your highness, forgive me if I’ve offended your delicate sensibilities.”

    He snorted a laugh, “your highness?” he repeated, “now that’s offensive.”

    “And not a high opinion of nobility, either,” she sighed in mock disappointment, “such high standards. So, that must make you…” she narrowed her eyes in thought, then grinned, “a traveling bard.”

    Bishop laughed, “close. Ranger.”

    “Ah,” she said, and realization brightened her face, “then you would be…Bishop?”

    He raised his eyebrows, “seems I have a reputation.”

    “You certainly do,” she agreed.

    “So, what have you heard exactly?” he asked.

    She smiled again, “that you’re an ill-tempered womanizer who starts fights when he drinks too much and has no respect for authority, but people tolerate you because you’re a good hunter and tracker and help keep the town fed.”

    Bishop laughed, “I see you’ve been talking to the guards around here.”

    “Are they telling the truth or are they being unfair?” she asked playfully.

    “They’re…pretty accurate,” Bishop admitted, “although I think the womanizer part is a bit of a stretch.”

    “Is that so?” she said wryly.

    “You know all about me,” Bishop said, changing the subject, “but I’ve heard nothing of you, which is strange, considering.”

    “Considering what?” she asked, her smile fading.

    “Considering you’re a pretty lady traveling alone through Skyrim in spite of our little dragon problem,” he said, “I’d have thought you’d have the whole town whispering by now.”

    Her smile was enigmatic as she said, “who says they aren’t?”

    Bishop could feel that strange sense of danger creeping over him again, and he wondered if this woman was more than what she seemed. It would be just his luck if he took her to bed tonight only to wake up to a hagraven attempting to disembowel him. That had happened once before and wasn’t something you forgot. But he was intrigued now and wanted to see where the night would go. So he gave her his most lupine grin and invited her to drink with him. A shrewd expression crossed her face, but she accepted and followed him into the inn.

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    Late the next morning, Bishop awoke with a hangover, lying shirtless across his bed at the inn. He raised his aching head blearily and looked around the room, disoriented. It took him several long seconds to remember where he was, and several more to remember the night before. Everything was a haze, but he did remember the woman with the disarming smile and he remembered trying to outdrink her after she challenged him. He rose unsteadily and his stomach lurched. He was alone in the room. He scowled, trying hard to recall how he got into the room, and if he entered alone. He leaned forward and put his aching head in his hands. He remembered gentle, warm hands on his skin, and a low voice chiding him, teasing him, and…nothing else. He groaned and looked around for his shirt. He found it folded neatly over the back of a chair. He definitely had company in this room last night. He pulled it on and had tugged on one boot before he noticed that the pain in his shoulder was gone. He frowned and yanked off his shirt again, craning his neck to look at the wound. A large pink, puckered scar marred his shoulder, as if the wound were weeks old instead of mere days. Someone had used a pretty effective healing spell on him.

    He finished dressing, located his bow, quiver, and bag- all neatly waiting at the foot of his bed- and banged the door of his room open. Several patrons in the tavern jumped and looked up, startled, as he stormed into the room, his narrowed eyes scanning faces for one in particular. She wasn’t there. Bishop frowned and turned to the innkeeper, who looked up wearily and stifled a yawn.

    “Did you happen to see the woman I was in here with last night?” Bishop asked, not bothering to hide the irritation in his voice. His head was pounding.

    “Aye,” said the barkeep, Orgnar.

    “Where is she? Did she stay the night here?” Bishop demanded.

    “She’s gone,” said a woman’s voice from behind him. Bishop turned to see an older Breton woman with pale hair gazing at him coldly. Bishop could never remember her name and only knew that she owned the Sleeping Giant and wasn’t the sort of person who could be bargained with.

    “How long ago did she leave?” Bishop asked.

    The woman crossed her arms, “right after she tucked you in for the night. You passed out and she and Orgnar had to practically carry you to your room. I guess she didn’t find that very charming.”

    Bishop could feel his temper rising, “where did she go?” he asked, clipping his words.

    The woman shrugged, “I didn’t ask. Now, if you’re finished making a scene, would you kindly leave? My patrons would like to have their meals in peace.”

    Bishop only barely stopped himself from letting her know what he thought of her hospitality. Instead, he glared at her and brushed past her to the door, which he slammed behind him. Outside, he whistled for Karnwyr, who came bounding around a corner, a chicken feather stuck in the corner of his mouth. Bishop sighed. He’d already gotten himself banned from entering Markarth, been chased out of Dragon Bridge, and was watched like a hawk any time he needed to visit Solitude. He couldn’t really afford to get himself kicked out of yet another town. No matter. He was a ranger, after all, and it wouldn’t be difficult for him to figure out which way the woman had gone on his own. He headed north out of town, feeling that it was the most likely direction. As he walked, he tried to think about why he was so angry. It wasn’t that she hadn’t spent the night with him, although he’d been slightly disappointed. No, he had a bad feeling about this. He felt like he’d been tricked, but couldn’t figure out how. He found it strange that she had somehow managed to outdrink him; usually, he could hold his liquor fairly well and often ended up in trouble long before losing consciousness. And if she hadn’t spent the night with him, then how did she know about his shoulder? He assumed she’d been the one to heal him, and that she’d used a healing spell. He didn’t like that. He was no fan of magic and someone using it on him without his consent didn’t sit well with him.

    His mood hadn’t improved by the time he reached Whiterun, and the guards he passed on the road watched him warily. He’d found prints in the mud that seemed to match a person similar to his mystery woman’s weight and build and had tracked them this far. He was slightly annoyed to see that she had not turned toward Whiterun, and had instead continued on westward. He pushed on, determined to find her and find out just what the hell she’d done to him.

    Profile photo of HelenaHelena
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    I enjoyed reading this.

    Profile photo of AnyalaAnyala
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    Thank you, Helena!

    Profile photo of AnyalaAnyala
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    Aruna Wintervale was not much of a drinker. Even several hours later, she was still feeling the effects of her drinking binge with the ranger. She felt a little guilty about what she’d done, but she told herself it was for his own good; he seemed to be the stubborn type. In any case, she’d enjoyed herself for a few hours and it had been a nice break. Unfortunately, Delphine’s presence was a constant reminder of Aruna’s responsibilities, and before she knew it, she was back on the road. Aruna sighed and frowned down at her map. Rorikstead was still a ways up ahead. She would stay the night there and then continue on at first light. She supposed she could have taken carriages up to Solitude, but she wanted the time to herself. She’d initially come to Skyrim to explore after a series of strange dreams had awakened an urge to travel here. Had she known what the border had in store for her once she crossed, Aruna wasn’t sure she would have come. Even a month later, it was all still very overwhelming. She’d gone from being a nameless traveler to being some legendary hero in a matter of days. She was still waiting for someone to tell her it had all been a mistake. But word had spread fast and people were beginning to recognize her now. It was definitely worse in Whiterun, where she’d discovered her latent abilities by accident, while surrounded by the Jarl’s guards and his personal bodyguard, none of whom could have kept what they’d seen secret. If that hadn’t been enough, the booming summons from the Greybeards alone would have gotten everyone talking. She tried to avoid going to Whiterun unless absolutely necessary. She couldn’t even go to the tavern for a meal without several people sending over ale and mead. Not that any of them knew that she preferred spiced wine; people didn’t really take time out to get to know their “heroes”.

    Aruna wished again that she hadn’t imbibed so much the night before. Her stomach had been queasy all day and her head felt heavy and muddled. Fortunately, she hadn’t encountered anything more dangerous than a few wolves and a saber cat on her journey so far. It was dragons that she was worried about and Rorikstead was one of the many small villages that were at risk for a dragon attack. It annoyed her that walled cities like Whiterun, Solitude, and Windhelm did nothing to help the small villages and towns in their holds. They could spare some extra guards, at the very least. Her mind wandered as she walked, and she found herself thinking of that ranger’s strange but bewitching golden eyes and his suggestive smile. Bishop was handsome in a rough-hewn way that Aruna appreciated. He’d been fun to talk to and a nice distraction, but it was plain to see that he was the kind of man who didn’t form attachments to other people. Which was just as well, she thought, as she no longer allowed anyone close to her, either. She’d lost far too many who were dear to her to ever want to risk that terrible loss again. The world was unjust, and everyone just had to find a way to survive it. Besides, she found it so much easier to only worry about herself. Well, at least it had been before she came to Skyrim. Now it seemed she had the entire world on her shoulders.

    What horrible luck she had.

    Aruna stopped to rest beside the road, feeling more nauseated than ever. She stretched out on her back in the sun on a small rise just off the road, her head pillowed on her worn pack, her sword at her side. She sighed and closed her eyes. The sun felt good and she was exhausted. Soon, she was deep asleep.

    “Wake up, princess. I have a bone to pick.”


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    Aruna was startled awake by the man’s voice, her hand on the hilt of her sword before she could think about it. A man stood over her, the sun behind him so that she couldn’t make out his face, though his voice sounded familiar.

    “Wh-what..” she stammered.

    “You remember me, don’t you?” he asked gruffly as he reached out a hand to help her up, “I’d like to know what you slipped in my drink last night, and why.”

    She ignored his hand and sat up, “Uh…Bishop?” she said, disbelievingly, “what are you doing here? Did you follow me?”

    He frowned at her, “I tracked you here after I woke up this morning feeling like someone drugged me. I want to know what you did to me last night.”

    There was no trace of his flirtatious playfulness from the night before. He was angry now. Aruna got to her feet, her sword still in her hand. She sighed heavily.

    “I’m sorry,” she said, “I know it was dishonest, but I also knew there was no way you were going to let me heal your burn unless you were, ah, subdued.”

    He stared at her, incredulity and anger mixing in his face as if he didn’t know which to feel first, “subdued? I-wha-?” he shook his head, “you had no business healing me without my permission in the first place! What the hell made you think it was okay to drug me? Who are you?”

    Aruna’s frown deepened, “I apologize. I should have explained from the beginning. You see, I don’t like leaving debts unpaid.”

    Bishop looked more confounded than ever, “what the hell are you talking about?”

    Aruna opened her mouth to reply when a massive shadow suddenly blocked out the sun. Aruna and Bishop looked up to see a dragon swooping overhead. It let out a roar that reverberated through their skulls.

    “Impeccable timing,” Aruna muttered.

    “Shit!” cried Bishop, drawing his bow.

    They dove to opposite sides as an icy blast of frost magic shot from the dragon’s open maw, carried to the ground with words that seemed vaguely familiar to Bishop now. He unleashed one arrow after another as the creature flew overhead, circling to get into a better position for attack. He risked a glance around and saw Aruna running into the road, drawing something from her belt. Then she drew back her hand, took aim, and threw a small dagger as the dragon swooped over her head. The blade gleamed, catching light in mid-air before embedding itself into the dragon’s belly. The dragon roared in pain and fury and unleashed another frost attack toward her, which she dodged. Bishop was staring at her hard.

    It couldn’t be… he thought. He unleashed another torrent of arrows then ran as another sweeping veil of deathly frost chased him further from the road.

    He lost his footing, stumbled, and fell, sliding down a small incline. He felt the ground beneath him shake and knew the dragon had descended and was now behind him. He scrambled to his feet and whirled around to see something that would probably haunt his dreams for a long time to come, should he survive this. The dragon was on all fours, coming toward him with unnatural, jerky movements, the cold eyes deep set in its terrible face focused on Bishop.

    Bishop swore breathlessly and drew his sword, preparing for the fight of his life.

    Fus ro dah!”

    Suddenly, the dragon was no longer in front of Bishop, blown sideways off its feet by a powerful invisible force that made Bishop stumble backward in its wake. His head swiveled to see Aruna, eyes blazing, running toward the dragon with her silver sword drawn. She shot past Bishop, closing in on the creature as it regained its feet and turned furious yellow eyes on her.

    Dovahkiin!” it bellowed in rage, “iiz slen nus!

    Aruna dodged but just a moment too late, and shards of ice sliced into her arm. She cried out in pain and anger and lunged at the dragon, sidestepping its snapping jaws and slashing at its neck with her sword. It spread its wings, preparing to launch itself into the sky again.

    “No, you don’t!” Aruna shouted, and slashed again, this time at the base of its right wing. Blood sputtered from the wound and the dragon screamed. It said something Bishop couldn’t catch, but from the sound of it, had to be a curse. It wheeled on Aruna, but she was already running, putting distance between herself and the dragon. It lumbered after her, clearly not used to being grounded for long. Suddenly, Aruna spun around and planted her feet.

    Yol toor shul!” the voice that boomed from her was not her voice; it was power, in the form of an ancient language. Fire flowed from her mouth with the words, hitting the dragon square in the face. It howled, lurched away, and shook its head as if to cool the burning there. Before it could recover, Aruna was on it again, slashing with her sword and dodging jaws and tail.

    Bishop realized he had been frozen in place, staring at this battle in numb shock. Now he shook himself, nocked an arrow in his bow, and fired. Arrow after arrow plunged into the dragon’s side. It reeled and turned toward him, giving Aruna time to slice at its other wing. The dragon screamed again, pure fury now. Bishop ran this way and that, angling himself for clear shots to the creature’s vulnerable areas, as Aruna plunged her sword wherever the dragon left himself unguarded on the other side. Blood was trickling down the beast’s face and flowing from wounds all over its body. Once, it lashed its tail and caught Aruna in the head, leaving a gash near her hairline. Blood flowed into her eye but she didn’t relent, attacking consistently and ferociously.

    Just as Bishop began to wonder if the bastard was ever going down, it let out a final roar of anguish and rage, collapsed, and stopped moving. For a long moment, the only sound was of Bishop and Aruna, breathing heavily. He watched her as she approached the dragon, blood running down her face, blood covering her sword, her left sleeve tattered and bloody from the cuts on her arm. She didn’t meet his eyes, her attention on the giant carcass before her. Then Bishop saw what he expected to see by now; cracks in the dragon’s hide, the red glow from within the body, the roaring sound as Aruna absorbed whatever was left of the dragon, and the empty skeleton that remained behind.

    Aruna drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. She finally met Bishop’s gaze over the dragon’s skull.

    “You,” Bishop said, still trying to catch his breath, “that night, in the woods…that was you. You’re the-”

    Aruna held up a hand, wearily, “I’m sorry, I’ll answer all your questions later, I promise. But, for now, I’d just like to get to Rorikstead. I need to sleep. You can come along if you like.”

    Bishop watched as she whipped her sword through the air, blood arcing off it and into the grass. She sheathed it and headed back toward the road. Bishop followed her silently, keeping his eyes on her. He had questions, of course he did. But things were beginning to make sense now. He felt, more or less, that he understood why she had helped him back in Riverwood; she remembered him from the night she fought with that other dragon in the woods. He figured she’d been trying to repay him for blinding that dragon with an arrow. What he didn’t understand, was why she didn’t just tell him that in the first place. Hell, he might have let her heal him after all if he’d known what her intentions were and who she was. Dragonborn. He shook his head as he followed her on the road, which seemed eerily quiet after the battle they’d just had. He still had trouble grasping the fact that the legend wasn’t just a legend; that the woman who walked quietly ahead of him, trying to staunch the bleeding from her head, was the Dragonborn. Sometimes even Bishop was amazed at his own ability to get himself into the most bizarre situations.

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