June 11, 2016 at 3:54 amPost count: 121
Vengeance is Swift
A teenage Nord circled a large field lit blue by the Cyrodiil moonlight. His entire body was tense as he swung his sword back and forth prepared for any sudden movements. To the west was a campfire with the caravan and the belongings of his family; among them sat his siblings and mother. The youngest, Galric, was five and the bastard of some flimsy Breton bard, he still clung to his mother’s chest. The eldest was Kari, Bishop’s younger sister from both parents, and she stayed stubbornly with her back to him, sitting primly in her dull worshipper’s robe.
None of them looked directly at the teenager with anything but hatred or indifference. He didn’t spare them a moment of attention. His main audience were the siblings who sat closer to the dueling ground. On rocks they sat and waited for the second combatant with varying levels of patience. They were Duful, Torban’s seven year old Redguard who looked at Bishop with raw hatred and bloodlust; their mother’s unfortunate ten year old Nord son Morgen who’d inherited the blue-tinted skin, hair and pointed ears of his Dumer father; Galric’s older sister, Liesl, who kicked her feet against the rocks as she watched; and Jules, the only one who was unwaveringly supportive of Bishop. Liesl was the first to notice that the teenage combatant was not alone and swivelled her head around to the trees.
“So here we are.” Came the smug croon of a gruff voice he’d despised all of his life. Its source was a Nord in his prime, physically and mentally. His hair was jet black and had the front tied back like the mane it was. He was almost identical to his son but his eyes were blue, his chin broad and his jaw strong and wide. “When you challenged me I kind of hoped you wouldn’t turn up. You were turning out to be the best one, Bishop. I don’t want that to go to waste!”
Bishop’s blond half-brother, Ost, who had far too many muscles for a fifteen year old, stood behind their father and glared at the sleight.
“So your first son was just an offshoot, was he? An experiment until you got the right batch?” Bishop spat with as much hatred he could muster, and he had years of it stored up.
Torban tutted as he slowly tested the ground for the best position to start from. Each movement brought a wince from the audience. “Jack was unfortunate. He was better than you, but he got too cocky. And here you are making the exact same mistake. Alas, he had poor taste in women too.”
Bishop flinched and immediately scowled. “Did you decide that before or after you raped his fiance?”
Contrary to expectation, his father smiled. “Rape? She wanted it. If not at first, she definitely did after.”
Bishop spluttered. His sword was hanging low and his body was losing momentum. “Enough of this. You abuse my brothers and sisters day and night, you knew this was coming.”
“I did, but to have to cull another son?” He sighed. “Your mother’s turning out to be a bad egg all around. At least one of our girls knows how to sell her body for a good price.”
“Do you plan to talk me to death or ram your sword through my back like you did with my brother?”
“Ha! As if we are Nords who are bound by “honour”. Our people cast us aside, we bandits have no rules.” Torban sighed and with biceps that bulged in the light of his entourage’s torches, unsheathed the greatsword from his back. It was a mighty thing of notches rusted red where the blood of anyone he took a disliking to had crusted. It may have seen years of battle but it was sharp and irrefutably deadly. Bishop knew, he was the one who’d had to sharpen it after getting a thrashing with the pommel for years.
He watched his father get into position and sway from side to side on loosened legs with the thick blade of steel fate grasped before him. “Your move, Bishop. You’re hardly going to parry me with that butter knife, might as well take your chance.”
Bishop flicked his dagger around and eyed up his target. All of his weak points, every exposed hint of flesh. Three years ago he had watched his enraged and skilled brother duel with their father in the blistering heat of a dusty barren field of Hammerfell. For three years he had spent every day training himself to the peak of his ability and observing every trademark and mistake his father made in his combat. This first move was everything, everything about his survival relied on it because if he failed, Torban would split him and his knife in half.
His move was to look to his right.
The children watching from the sidelines all looked bewildered as the attention was suddenly all on them. Torban scoffed at the distraction tactic but as Bishop’s gaze did not waver, he could not help following it for a split second. The attention had never been on the children, or rather, it had been on one in particular. One with an impossibly subtle sleight of hand that had been pickpocketing Torban for over a decade. None of the family ever paid him any attention and this had enabled him to sneak up right behind Ost, and Torban. He threw a pouch of irritating powder directly at Torban’s head and it exploded across the eyesight of everyone close to him. In the midst of it he threw a one handed sword in Bishop’s direction and used the distraction to kick Ost in the crotch for good measure.
Torban spluttered and roared until he hacked and chortled menacingly at Bishop’s antics. Foreplay was over, he was ready for the killing blow here and now. He prepared to swing wildly through the air, even though he could not see, the reach of his greatsword was guaranteed to hit his son as he came up to attack him. He never got to move the sword past his elbow.
Bishop had covered the distance between them in less than two blinks of his eyes, in a near impossible feat of speed and dexterity. He held back his father with his knife against his throat and Jules’s sword impaled in his chest.
“I didn’t come here for a duel. I came for revenge.” He whispered into Torban’s stunned face and yanked out the sword to let him crumple onto the ground.
His father was on the ground and dying, just like he’d imagined since the day he watched Jack die, but he did not look like he’d expected at all. When he’d heard stories of death and even seen it first-hand, people always spoke of the fear that claws into a dying man’s soul, the helpless defeat that displays on the face and how the light fades from his eyes. Not this one. Torban was looking up at him and not only smirking but laughing as his blood bubbled up from the fatal rupture in his chest. Bishop looked in every possible direction to check for any last tricks his father had up his sleeve but found none. He remained unsettled, for a man on the brink of death he exuded nothing but victory.
Torban beckoned his son down to hear him. The bloodied smile that accompanied his dying words would haunt his son’s nights for years to come. “That’s just what I’d have done.”
With no more dramatics his head dropped back onto the ground and his chest stilled. Bishop pulled back from him in horror. Torban’s eyes were vacant but still open and the sneer remained. The deathly silence was broken by the eldest among the children, Ost. “That was not fair.”
If he hadn’t have been shaken to his core, Bishop would have laughed in his face. “I gave him more respect than he gave Jack. I didn’t even stab him in the back!”
For the first time since initiating the duel, he looked at his surroundings. Everyone had crowded around to stare at the dead hulk of a man on the ground, even their mother. Jules, however, was nowhere to be seen.
“Well? Aren’t you going to say anything? He’s gone! He’s never going to threaten or beat you again!” Bishop cried to the silent witnesses. They still said nothing, but at least the ones who looked indifferent or pleased held Ost and Duful back when they tried to launch at Bishop. They were all waiting for their mother to speak.
Rina was looking down at her dead husband with another man’s son in her arms. Neither disgust or relief crossed her face, she looked as casual as someone browsing a market stall full of things they never cared for. But then she turned to the person who was responsible for making her look at it.
“How am I going to pay for you now?” She asked irritably with a curled lip.
Bishop was stunned for a moment. He had never been close with his mother but he had just given her the freedom she’d prayed for all of his life, only to be met with contempt.
“You won’t have to. I’m leaving this shithole.” It had been his intention from the start but now he swivelled on his heel with invigorated rage.
“Take the body with you, be useful for once!” She called to his retreating back. He only walked faster.
At dusk Bishop paced in front of a small cart that technically only slightly belonged to him. The sleek black horse that he tugged the reins of to keep awake most definitely did not belong to him, but by the end of the night he did not intend to be anywhere that it could be recognized.
Unlike most of his fellow people, he wore his honey brown hair in short tufts that always stood up from stressed mussing or fights of sword and fist or other strenuous activities. Tonight it was the former two.
Five minutes and counting. His co-conspirator had postponed his well-executed plan for a detour that was apparently very important. Enough to risk their lives for. He needed to put more of the quick in quick-fingered, but Bishop never once thought of leaving without him.
His sword still dripped with the blood from a deed he’d dreamed of doing for years. He was seconds away from being chased down for it and he convinced himself that was why his heart pounded at the sight of it. Regardless, he wiped the blood off on the grass and stood up as a small person darted out from the bushes and rushed over to him in a blur with his prize held aloft.
Bishop flicked his eyes all around the field to check he wasn’t followed and yanked the horse’s reins to rouse it again. “Where have you been?! I told you to meet me here ten minutes ago. As soon as the others find us, we’re dead!”
“I was getting this.” The hairy fifteen year old grinned and flashed an elegant gold necklace with jewels larger than his fist in the moonlight before shoving it into the many folds of his tunic.
“Seriously? You risked our hides for mother’s necklace? She stole that in the first place, it’s hardly an heirloom.”
“You just killed Torban. I think you could handle our brothers. No, I just secured our future. Whatever we do, we never sell this. We keep it until one day if we’re ever on the streets days from starving to death, we sell it and start over again. It’s our safety net.”
Bishop pondered it for a moment but his smirk was already spreading. This was why he’d brought along his savvy little brother with the 5 o’clock shadow. “Alright, that’s pretty clever. Get in.” He said and patted the side of the cart. Jules was already wriggling into the mounds of blankets and lanterns as Bishop jumped up into the front seat.
“What’s the destination, driver?” He grinned when he made it over to fold his arms over the end of the cart behind Bishop’s head. A taupe was caught over his thick hair and his upturned gold eyes shone with adventure.
“What’s the one place they can’t go?” Bishop as he whipped the black pony into action. “It’s time we went home, brother. Skyrim.”
A week later the two brothers dumped the cart in the bustling village of Weye which had the advantage of being on the crossroads just before the bridge to the Imperial City. So many light fingers sifted through the day-to-day Cyrodiilian life that the cart had probably vanished the second it was left unattended.
Their stocky horse was left firmly tethered in the stables of the inn they planned to stay in “for a drink.” Not that anyone would consider stealing it while there were so many better Imperial horses around.
The interior of the inn was cramped and crowded with every type of personality who couldn’t afford to stay within the Imperial City. They were still more well respected than the ruffians you’d find at the docks though, enough that Bishop and Jules found a very broad arm blocking their path the moment they entered.
“Ah ah ah ah.” The owner of the arm tutted at them, looking down at their outfits in apprehension. He was dressed in the greasy overalls of an innkeeper, scuffed brown clothing that was finery compared to theirs. Jules had made use with everything that he could “borrow” and have his mother stitch together so wore an oversized brown tunic and a darned grey undershirt, bundled together by a leather brown belt that doubled over his small waist. Then dark and dusty brown drainpipe leggings; and boots so caked with dirt that even a farmer would think twice before putting them on. Bishop was the height of a man so could find clothes more easily but with battered leather trousers and repeatedly repaired boots that led up to a salvaged chainmail shirt and a sack-like tunic over it, he wasn’t much better. “We don’t take urchins here. The orphanage is inside the city…” The innkeeper caught the disapproving glance of his wife the barmaid and muttered before rectifying his stance. “By the Divines, Marlene… No trouble, alright? We’ve already had someone report their cart being stolen just as soon as they let go of it”
“Really?” Bishop challenged, the hatred of his way being blocked fuming out through his furrowed brow.
“Yeah.” The innkeeper replied suspiciously and crossed his arms over his rotund belly. “Don’t suppose you know anything about it?
A night in the Imperial jails awaited them if the conversation continued like that, Jules knew it. The city itself had seemed like one grand prison to him on approach, an overpopulated hunting ground for someone with a quick mind and quicker fingers, but inside of a prison is not where they wanted to be. So he used the agility of his small frame to dip under the innkeeper’s arm and past Bishop. Before either of them had a chance to protest he’d slid up to the bar as he put on his most innocent and endearing face for the barmaid.
“We’d like to rent a room for the night please!” He beamed up at her and placed both of his arms on the counter so it looked like he was struggling to keep his head above it. He could have reached it easily, he was bending his knees just enough to fool her.
Marlene’s weathered cheeks dimpled as she smiled. She was a woman in the later stages of her middle years and wore a woolen burgundy dress that hid the shape of her midriff with multiple cloths that were tucked into her apron. “Of course, little man. You and your brother? I’m sorry but the only room we have has just one bed.”
“That’s alright, we’ll share!” He grinned and even did a little perky jump for emphasis. Bishop rolled his eyes.
“Aww, aren’t you the sweetest?” She cooed but then paused. “You do have the gold for it, don’t you?”
Jules’s expression faltered and quivered long enough for her to start looking sympathetic. The innkeeper prepared to throw them out again when he suddenly grinned. “Of course!” He said and produced a small pouch of gold that he smacked onto the table. “How much do you need?”
“Well usually it’s twenty but as a reward for having better manners than my own son, ten.” She beamed and just fell short of ruffling his hair. Both Bishop and the innkeeper were staring slack-jawed at the exchange. “Second door down!” The barmaid cried as Jules began to skip towards the steps to the rooms.
“Thank you!” He chirped. “Come along, brother!”
Bishop caught him by his elbow as soon as they were around the corner. “What are you doing?! By ‘getting a drink’ I meant waiting until we could pick one off the table, not actually buy anything! We could have slept in the stables.”
“You were about to get us thrown out anyway. Come on, we’re free now! I’ve never slept in a bed before.” He pouted and led the way to a narrow corridor. The floors were dull brown planks, the paint of the walls had an off-yellow creamy tint and the beams that framed the panels were a warm brown. Three single doors were the only feature of the right side and each had a single window opposite on the left wall. The dead end featured only a potted plant hanging from the wall.
Bishop grumbled but his brother’s excitement was wearing his resistance thin. “Since when do you say please?!” He spluttered as his memory returned to him.
“Since I found out that the ladies love it. You should try it sometime, it gets you many things.” Jules snickered and reached for their door.
“Right. Will it get you to shut up for one night?” Said his brother who was leaning sullenly against the windowsill and pointedly not doing anything.
“Forget it, I have other ways.”
With a scream of laughter that silenced the inn hubbub to disapproving mutters, Jules dived into their small rectangle of a room before Bishop could get to him and jumped onto the bed.
“I challenge you to a duel, Ser Broods-a-lot!” He said and brandished the cotton sack behind him filled with feathers and straw. “To a fight, of the pillows!”
“Oh?” Bishop raised an eyebrow as he coyly walked into the room. “You’re forgetting one thing, little brother.” He bolted the door shut and leaned against it. “I don’t play fair.” His canines flashed like a wolf’s for a split second before he dived for Jules’s knees and tackled him down onto the mattress. The laughter of a child turning into a man and a child still able to be a child merged into one for the first time since they’d left their family. If only the light of the day could carry into their nights.
The horse Bishop had commandeered was damaged goods. They went to it at first light only to discover it had hobbled itself in the loose pebbled courtyard. Until their mount recovered, the innkeeper’s wife insisted they stay at no charge whilst they had no more paying guests.
Despite the kindness, Bishop was getting more antsy and crabby with each day they spent in Cyrodiil. Day after day they stood outside the inn and watched the refined people who had business with the City. Noble folk and workers came to and fro on foot, horseback or carriage depending on their status. Some unsavoury types were escorted in by guards but it was only them that the two brothers felt a remote connection to. All of them stuck their noses up at them, even the prisoners who were marching to a life behind bars.
Each night Jules would look down at the sleeping figure of his brother and a question would rise to the tip of his tongue. The question would eat away at him all day but he never disturbed the peace of the night once, who knew when they might sleep safely again? So he settled with his warm but scratchy blanket and turned onto his side with a sigh, like the pause had simply been a disturbance in his slumber.
From the other angle of the room, the white of Bishop’s eyes gleamed as he stared at the wall each night. It took all he had to keep his breathing even so Jules wouldn’t see him shaking in the weak moonlight from the uncovered window. Nightmares plagued him but they did not wake him with screams or restlessness. He was rigidly frozen in place until morning light, not daring to blink until the grin of his father’s corpse faded from his mind. It never did.
On the fourth day their horse was limping significantly less but it was pouring with rain. Not even the inn was getting any lively customers and Jules swung his legs from his barstool with his head sullenly slumping in his hand. Bishop was standing in the shadows trying to quietly fletch arrows with the feathers from Jules’s pillow when the door banged open. A harrowing wind brought with it a short but well-built man in drenched leathers and a cape almost black with the amount of water it had absorbed. The silver sword that hung from his hip dripped with a darker kind of liquid. He barged in and made a beeline for the bar with moisture spraying off of him at every moment like a wet dog.
“By Akatosh, Danton, close the door properly for once will you!” The barmaid cried and flapped her hands at the banging door. Bishop slowly nudged it shut with the toe of his boot without taking his eyes off of the scene before him.
“Sorry, Marlene. Hard to tell when you can’t see a thing.” Danton pulled back his dripping hood to reveal exceedingly pointy ears and roughly cut auburn windswept hair, strands of which fell across his frown-lined forehead to dangle above clouded eyes and red mottled skin that spread across them like a mask. The candlelight was throwing wild shadows over his face, other than the thick dark stubble that covered everything below his cheeks, but it appeared to be bubbling even as he slapped a wet cloth that Marlene handed him over it.
She gasped and her husband grumbled simultaneously. “Oh, Danton. Your poor face!” She said and patted his hand.
He shrugged. “It’ll pass soon enough. Doesn’t stop it stinging like a bitch though.”
The innkeeper huffed and tried to make himself useful by getting the elf a stiff drink. “Goblins again?” He asked and slid an ale bottle across the bar as he stood next to Marlene.
“Their shamans are getting wiser. The wily buggers have started throwing their poisons instead of putting them on spears.” Danton inclined the neck of the bottle to him before chugging it back without a tankard. “I don’t suppose the boy gawking from behind me knows anything about fighting green abominations?”
Jules stiffened with wide eyes. Not once had Danton looked back or heard him being mentioned, not that he could have seen if he had. The young Nord was still grasping for words when Bishop stormed out of the shadows and answered for him.
“No, he doesn’t.” He said and Danton visibly flinched at his sudden approach. “But he could stick you a hundred times before you turned around, old man.”
The innkeeper spluttered. “Old man?! Boy, you are talking to a hero. Danton has defended these parts for longer than you’ve been alive! He was a General in the war, he did everything but sell his own self to make sure we got back on our feet after the damn Aldmer-“
“Enough, Silas.” Said the veteran with a motion of his hand and began chuckling. “So who do we have here? Someone taught you well, I didn’t expect to need to watch the shadows so thoroughly in my own territory.”
“He’s just some ruffian Marlene took in til their horse fixes up. Good job you’re here, it’s about time someone put these youths to use. They need gold, right? They look like they can hold a sword!”
“Do they really?” Danton softly snorted in amusement under his breath and pushed back the stray hairs off of his forehead without touching the affected skin. “Well, what do you say boys? It’s fifteen gold a head and there are plenty of them out there.”
Bishop was looking unconvinced but Jules had been entranced by the glinting coins Danton handed Marlene for his food without a care. He looked at his brother like an eager puppy and clasped his hands together pleadingly in his lap. His wide grin already knew that he was going to say yes.
Bishop sighed and grunted with crossed arms. “You’d better not rob us of a head or we’ll be taking yours.”
“Will you indeed?” Danton smiled and took a large bite out of his bread. He waited to finish before speaking again. “We’ll leave in the morning. When I can tell what something actually is before I bump into it.”
With excitement at having a new purpose, Jules followed Bishop to their room and proceeded to ask him all he could about what goblins looked like. Unlike the previous nights, he was not kept awake by his unanswered question for Bishop. But Bishop did not close his eyes once that night for dread of the grin and echoing last words of his dead father that awaited him.
They say “sleeping with one eye open” but Bishop was convinced he’d dozed with both eyes open as to be roused when Jules’s feet hit the ground next to his head, all he had to do was raise his eyelids a bit more.
“Come on, today we actually do something!” Jules enthused and his words became stunted as he tried to tug Bishop off the ground with each one. “Rather. Than. Throwing. Pebbles. At. Nobles!”
“Fine, fine! I’m up! Bishop groaned and tried to sit up while shielding his eyes from the rays of morning light. “Let’s go fight with the blind soldier.” He muttered and reached for his boots apathetically.
Jules didn’t notice as he was looking at the bed. “Do you think we should rip up the bedsheets?” He asked with his head cocked. “For extra padding, you know.” He clarified as Bishop stared at him in bafflement, paused in mid boot-tug. “Goblins might bite.”
“How about we just don’t let them?” He sighed and patted him on the head as he picked up their packs and grabbed his bow and quiver from the dresser next to the door.
“Or that. I can go with that.” Jules shrugged and looked back fondly at his pillow one last time before grabbing his satchel and following Bishop’s lead.
He walked into Bishop’s outstretched arm immediately. Bishop was standing tense, feet apart and ready for a fight to defend his little brother. Jules only noticed why when the reason for it spoke and startled him, making him look up from rubbing his nose.
“Call yourselves ruffians? My grandmother gets up earlier than you.”
The “blind” soldier was waiting for them at the end of the corridor, now dry and re-wrapping the coverings of his sword’s pommel in boredom. His face was strangely square for an elf, with a wide jaw and chin, but his cheekbones were as high and sharp as you’d expect. His muscular body was covered by a tough leather jerkin embossed with steel strips on the more vulnerable areas across his arms and chest. Below it was a fine red tunic, reinforced leather trousers and pointed hide boots like the Imperial Legion. Also like the Legion was his cloak, a long, thick and faded thing that was more brown than burgundy, but if he squinted Bishop was sure he could see the Imperial symbol between his shoulders. But what stood out the most were his eyes. Less than seven hours ago they had been entirely white and raw, the skin around them would have scarred horribly and not healed for months, but looking at them impatiently were two perfectly clear eyes that were reminiscent of the clear night sky when the aurora of Tamriel shone. They were neither completely green or blue but they sparkled with the experience of centuries that the humans would never see. Right now an auburn eyebrow raised above one of them.
“Your eyes…” Jules blurted out in wonder and slowly pointed to his own as if that would make what he meant any clearer.
“I said it’d pass and it did. Now, shall we go? The goblins are finishing their breakfast and you need some proper weapons.” Danton motioned for Jules to go ahead of them while he waited for Bishop to make his way over. “Go on, I told Silas to leave some swords behind the bar for you.”
The young boy’s eyes lit up at the prospect of a new belonging and he barely spared his brother a second glance before barreling past him and sprinting into the inn’s common room. Bishop, however, was not so easily swayed and stayed exactly where he was.
“You don’t have many scars for a soldier.” He remarked dubiously to the clear-skinned elf before him.
Danton patted the chest of his dark leather cuirass. “Not above my neck, perhaps. You never let them get to your face. Your body can heal but if they get your sight, you’re done for.”
“But they got yours.”
The elf laughed. “Goblins may be cunning bastards but their poisons are weak. I knew how to cure all of them.”
Bishop looked at all the potion bottles in Danton’s bandolier. They were all blue rather than pink, but the man showed no signs of being a mage. “You’re a healer?”
“No soldier is getting anywhere without the skill of Restoration.” He said and smirked at how repulsed Bishop looked. “You Nords can charge into battle in a berserker rage of invincibility all you want along with the Orcs. The rest of us intend to survive, and healing potions can be stolen.”
“So why are you out here? You can fight, why leave the army if you were just going to make yourself the slave of some other place?”
“Because I got tired of sending my brothers to their deaths.” He said and sighed when he saw that Bishop wasn’t satisfied. “I’ve done my duty for Cyrodiil. It’s time I searched for my daughter but to do that I need gold. There are plenty of places in Cyrodiil that need strong arms now that the war’s over.”
“Like saving farmers from pests?”
“Like saving farmers from pests.” He snorted and shifted his weight. “Pretty big pests, too. The gold pays well and those farmers have daughters, if you’re interested in that.” Danton cleared his throat and got up from leaning against the wall. “Are you done with the inquisition now or are you going to ask me for the rest of my life story before we walk down some steps together?”
Bishop conceded the point and sighed as he walked over. Danton’s expression grew more troubled with each step as Bishop’s face became more clear in the light from the windows.
“I knew a man who could disappear into shadows like you did last night too.” He said quietly as Bishop came to a stop next to him. “And he was no assassin, he was much worse. I thought it was coincidence until I saw your face.”
The youth’s amber eyes flashed at the recognition and he slammed the veteran against the wall with his dagger to his throat. “I am not like him!” He spat.
“I’m not the one holding a knife to a stranger’s neck.” Danton retorted coolly and waited for Bishop to pull back so he wouldn’t disprove his own point. He stood as normally as he had before when the teenager pulled away with fuming frustration. “Your father was rash too, I’d get that under control if you want to keep that boy out of danger.”
Bishop glowered at him as he cooled down and moodily sheathed his dagger with more force than was needed.
Danton chuckled and cuffed his shoulder to put him at ease. “Come on, you can take out some of that angst on a few overgrown frogs.”
As soon as they stepped down into the common room, however, they were met with the point of a longsword being swung inches away from their faces. Bishop dropped into a crouch and Danton dived in the opposite direction of the swing and caught Jules’s wrist before he could do any more damage.
Marlene ducked behind the bar, trying to save her neck but not offend Jules. The people at the table closest to them looked like two monks who had just been subjected to a Dibellan ritual. Whilst one man at the back of the room laughed hysterically in a deep baritone.
Danton stepped back as Jules tried to figure out how to maneuver the heavy sword and almost stabbed his own foot. “Ah, you’d probably be better off with the shorter one. Here, we’ll swap.”
He unattached and threw his own personal embossed elven dagger, more a short scimitar to a boy, and Jules caught it deftly. He was about to throw the longsword until Marlene squealed and he slid it across the floor instead.
With a clean snick Jules whipped the dagger out of its scabbard and began whipping it through the air with deadly accuracy. At least now his range was limited to the nearest wooden post and the rest of the inn’s patrons relaxed. He finished off with a kick to the post that made Marlene wince and grinned at Danton, eyes shining with anticipation of his approval.
The elf nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve only ever been on the receiving end of those moves, you’ll have to show me sometime.”
“And you’ll teach me how to use one of those big swords?”
“Perhaps when you grow some of the muscle you Nords are so famous for.” He smiled and turned back to give Bishop the same attention, only to find that he was standing smugly with bow, arrows, dagger and sword all sheathed and ready to go. “And I believe that’s it!”
“Will you be back soon?” Marlene asked, hiding how relieved she was at the danger to her tavern leaving with them. Bishop discreetly left a big scuff on the end of the counter with his boot.
Danton looked at the two capable boys joining him and shook his head. “With any luck, not for a long time.”
Marlene smiled even wider as Jules ran past her to join his brother and the man they now followed. “Goodbye then, Danton. And good luck, to all of you!”
They left like a hunter and his apprentices. The morning was quieter than what the later hours would be but for once, nobody looked twice at them. The sun was shining and the birds were tweeting, even Bishop was starting to relax. As they left the gate and turned onto the road, Jules turned around so he could walk backwards to talk to their new friend without missing a reaction. A question had already bubbled to his lips when he saw Danton fall to his knees with a strangled breath and a deeply embedded dagger sticking out of his chest.
Jules was about to cry out and run to him but Bishop grabbed him and turned them around to face the source of the dagger. An Imperial with the mismatched cruddy armour of a bandit admired his work and fondled the tip of another dagger. His hair was blonde and chopped short and was clean shaven to display the array of scars crisscrossing his face. He was no more than a few years older than Bishop and seemed to be taking joy in every grunt that Danton made as the elf pulled the dagger out of him.
The bandit nodded in greeting at Jules and Bishop. “This one took far too many bounties on us lately, even killed my sister. Cheers for leading me to him.” He smiled, making his heavily scarred right cheek wrinkle like an old hag’s.
“We didn’t lead anyone here.” Bishop glared, trying to ignore how Jules was attempting to make him look back at Danton.
“You’re kidding me? The trails that cart of yours left? Couldn’t be better if you decorated the path with rose petals. Been following you for days.” He sniffed and waggled his eyebrows at them but his tone was putting Bishop on edge. “The name’s Mark. Because I mark my face every time I kill someone worthy enough.” He nodded in the direction of Danton and drew his knife across his left cheek. When the warm blood ran and dripped onto the ground he smeared it with his grubby fist. He didn’t wince.
“I am-” Bishop pushed Jules behind him even more. “We are not part of your ‘us’ anymore. You followed us for nothing.”
Mark scoffed in his face. “We’re all hearing about how you killed your daddy. It’s time you stepped up, take your inheritance… or if you want to be rid of it that badly… pass it on.” He grinned at the revelation of his motive. He wildly twirled his remaining dagger in his hand and pulled another from his back.
Bishop looked behind them for the first time. Danton had crumpled into a pool of his own blood. Even if he could heal himself, he’d be out of action for days at the least. Bishop closed his eyes. Saving Danton meant being tied down to one man and turning against one of their own for a life of safety and rules, but staying in Mark’s good graces meant killing the man who’d done nothing but help them and continuing his father’s legacy. Or… He scrunched up his face and pushed his brother away.
“Jules get the horse, now!”
Jules sprinted to the stables without question but his face showed a hundred doubts and questions.
Mark cocked his head as he cottoned on to what was happening. “Oh come on, I knew your lot were thick but not that…”
The bandit’s words were cut off by Jules galloping out of the stables on their fully tacked black horse and only stopping briefly to let Bishop leap up behind him and take the reins.
Two guards on the Imperial City bridge had noticed Danton’s body and were yelling as they ran over. They’d already latched eyes onto Mark, there was no escape for him now and he knew it.
“What are you gonna do out there, play farmer and become one with the furry little animals?” Mark laughed weakly and tried to resist the guards as his only escape galloped away.
He screamed after them as they fled to their journey around the Imperial lake and through all of the bandit-ridden forests to Skyrim. “WE COULD HAVE HAD SOMETHING, BISHOP!”
After the first night of camping alone they changed riding positions so that Bishop sat first and Jules was behind him. For the few times that they were pursed, Jules could easily turn around and shoot the fools who challenged them.
It was on the steep and solitary road up to Bruma that Jules got round to asking the question that had plagued his nights. As Bishop could not move away while on horseback, it was the only time he was sure that his brother wouldn’t avoid the question.
“Why didn’t you just kill him in his sleep?”
Bishop replied monotonously, like he’d been repeating it in his head for days. “Danton was a healer, he could have handled himself. We didn’t know that was going to happen.”
“I meant Torban.” Jules said quietly. “We could have slit his throat together without anyone knowing before we were miles away, Mark would never have found us and…”
“You don’t remember when he killed Jack…” Bishop shook his head and spat over the edge of the mountain that their horse was dangerously close to. “He humiliated him. Like he did with all of us every day that we lived with him. I wanted him to feel the same before he died.”
“Think he did?” Jules asked and leaned to the right as they turned left up to another tier of the mountain path.
Bishop pretended to fiddle with the reins to hide his pause. “‘Course he did.”
On the fifth day they reached the frozen mountain town. Everything was white or grey, there was hardly any darkness to be seen in the rocks and already Jules was longing for the grass and green trees of the forests. Anything that wasn’t covered in wet fluff that made his nose hurt.
He’d been shivering and staring at the fur of Bishop’s rucksack for hours but now he could hold himself back no more. The fifteen year old wrapped his arms around Bishop’s midriff to cling to his body heat like a bear cub.
Bishop had dealt with the cold by going into a numb silence and now twisted around at the sudden touch forcing him to be aware again. “Get off me!”
“You’re a proper Nord! I’m only half, and I’ve hardly ever seen snow!” Jules whined and tried to prove his point more by forcing Bishop to feel more of his freezing body by placing his hands on his bare neck.
“Oh for- fine.” He urged the horse into a canter to a signpost at a three way crossroads overlooking a plateau. The west road had the city of Bruma well within its sights but the north road is where they wanted to go. For the time being, though, they dismounted.
“Have this.” Bishop grumbled and unclipped his worn cloak, something he’d acquired recently from bandits who’d been careless about how closely to the road they left their belongings. He unceremoniously threw it on Jules’s head and went to move the horse’s reins over its head.
“Thaaaaaaaank you.” He quipped cheerily and snuggly wrapped himself in it.
“Thank-” Bishop shook his head, unable to continue grasping what he’d said. “Why have you started speaking like this?!”
“Because I found out that it annoys you.” Jules smiled.
Bishop muttered indecipherably under his breath and began to lead the horse down the road to Bruma. “Wait here if you want. I won’t be long and you’ll be less annoying.”
“Wait, you’re taking him to the stables? Wh- are you selling him?!”
“Either we sell him here and get the gold we need to bribe the guards at the border, or we try to sell him at the border where no one’s looking for a horse and freeze to death.”
“Awww, do we have to? I was starting to really like him. I even gave him a name.”
“You did? What did you call him?” Bishop smirked, waiting for the smart-arse comment of Jules simply calling him something as obvious as “Horse”.
“Goodbye, Danton” The boy mumbled into the horse’s mane and patted his neck as his brother led him away. He then wrapped his cloak tightly around him and sat in a huddled ball at the base of the old signpost.
Jules’s whisper struck Bishop into a silence. He didn’t even have the heart to haggle with the stablemaster who only gave him three hundred gold for the horse instead of the thousand he would charge.
“Let’s go,” he tried to say with his younger brother’s perkiness when he returned, “the homeland awaits and I’ll leave you in a snowdrift if we get caught in a late night blizzard.”
“Your homeland. I wasn’t born there.” Jules muttered as he eased himself up despite his rucksack’s weight and brushed off the snow that had accumulated.
“Then I’ll send you back to the sandy jungles!” The older one cried and led the way up the road to Skyrim’s borders.
Jules rolled his eyes. “Wasn’t born there either.”
“You can die there.” Bishop suggested slyly.
Jules paused as he considered the proposition and jogged up with a new outlook. “I think I can make Skyrim my homeland too.” He nodded like they were taking it seriously.
With a grin of his own, Bishop ruffled his hair and pulled him into a headlock of a hug as they walked along, vanishing into the snowfall. This was them, two brothers going to make themselves men in a new land with no baggage, no vengeance, no debts and no rules. Just the clothes on their back and the tents in their packs.
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