The official backstory of Bishop and the key characters of Skyrim Romance.
FanFiction.net – https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11992870/1/Brothers-In-Arms
Set in the months of summer to autumn in the year of 191.
During the hunting and the raids, Bishop took every opportunity to “accidentally” lose the bandits he was grouped with and complete the mission alone. He usually succeeded, but it brought only jealousy and spurned feelings from the others.
Jules was able to join them when he was allowed to leave for the fresh air he desperately needed. On all the raids on which he was able to partner with Bishop they prospered more than any other. Or he found them ways to the real loot, but after a few months his elusive illness put a stop to that.
Rain was common when clouds drifted over from the eastern provinces and the Sea of Ghosts. Usually the bandits would go out into the sludge and the deluge and take advantage of those caught out by it, but one weekend they were forced to stay in as the small lake outside had flooded the cave entrance. The pits were being used for entertainment but Bishop stayed in the cistern where, as Jules so often reminded him, it smelled the least. He was practicing his archery by shooting the wooden supports of the entrance, all the way from the cavern’s central platform, when he spotted the old witch walking out of the stockroom. It was rare for him to see her at all, especially when not at Jules’s bedside, but since the stockroom had been filled with the screams of a newborn she was more obliged to visit.
Bishop took the opportunity to confront her once and for all.
“Hey! Hey!” He yelled as she walked right past his attempts to run up and catch her attention. “What are you doing to Jules? You told me he was getting better!”
She scoffed over her shoulder and didn’t slow her pace to pick up a basket of ingredients and a large weighted sack from the boxes stored below the platform. “I told you nothing.”
“Well it sure looked that way.” Bishop ran his hand through his hair and fumed on the spot until- “For fuck’s sake, he’s coughing up blood now!”
The old woman chewed her lip and squinted as she walked towards the pass leading out of the cavern. “Your brother has ears everywhere. Come, use those muscles and take this,” she threw the large sack to his feet, “help an old woman up the falls to complete her duties.”
Bishop crossed his arms and came to an abrupt halt behind her. “Why? He can’t hear us, he’s asleep in a whole different part of this damned cave.”
She laughed and kept walking. “If you don’t think he’s got people reporting what he isn’t there to see, then you don’t know your brother.”
Her point was valid and after he got over the fact that she’d anticipated his brother better than he, Bishop picked up the sack and followed.
The rain had made the mountain terrain particularly treacherous and Bishop was not looking forward to scaling up it when the woman avoided the path up it altogether and turned onto the road. He didn’t want to be the one to initiate a conversation so despite the unexpected direction they followed the very open and very wide road east for hours. The sun was beginning to droop behind them when they went over the bridge in front of what Bishop was sure was the last waterfall before the long road to Windhelm.
Unable to stay silent any longer, he impertinently pointed out: “This is going around the falls, not up them.”
She did not respond well to the disturbance in her mental preoccupation and snapped at him. “Patience! By the Divines, what is it with you young ones?”
They did indeed turn onto the road leading to Windhelm but before they could make any progress along the way she abruptly twisted and began making her way up an inconspicuous dirt path between the rocks.
“Where are you taking me, witch?” Bishop grumbled, struggling up the slippery mud and almost losing his footing several times before they found footing on a sturdier well-trodden road up the mountains. The setting sun was now blinding his eyes directly and he could not look where he was going.
The witch didn’t look away from her path once. “Watch your tongue. It might do you well to remember who is responsible for your brother’s continued life.”
Bishop scowled at the second threat on Jules’s well-being. He inwardly refused to speak to her again on their journey but it didn’t affect her in the slightest. Their destination had been reached in the form of a bridge that arched before the highest waterfall on the great incline separating the Rift and Eastmarch. The Rift’s signature gold and red aspen trees lined their way and the autumn leaves fell onto the road as well as the forest floor. A single imposing black wolf perched on the rocks opposite the bridge opening, almost as big as a cave bear. As he approached it stared at him with yellow eyes a similar shade to his own. When Bishop was close enough the huge wolf showed it was actually three small pups lying together that jumped down and scampered around the old woman before darting across the bridge.
“You keep wolves up here?”
A crumbling but still-standing tower loomed on the horizon of their sights as they followed the wolves over the bridge. They had disappeared up into the foliage surrounding the path up the hill to the tower, leaving only idle bandits to look curiously at the new arrivals.
“We try. Bloody things keep running off into the woods. We’ve tried keeping them in the tower but they only get stir crazy and try to eat whoever’s guarding them. All except one.” Grumbled the witch.
As they walked off the bridge and into a side-clearing with a fire, benches, and an armoury, a lone pup unlike the others burst out from between the cages. It was a blur of russet brown fur dotted throughout a creamy undercoat and a dark grey overcoat, its predatory amber eyes fixed on Bishop’s sagging bag. Bishop held it out of reach behind his back and held out to stop the wolf with his right hand. The pup obligingly leapt for the hand and was left limply dangling with adorable innocently wide eyes. It took a moment to register but the Nord roared in pain from the bite and shook the scraggly thing off.
“And there’s the exception. Karnwyr! Get out of here you bloody runt!” The old woman barked, making the playful enthusiasm die in the small wolf’s eyes. It unlatched its jaws, falling to the ground with a muted thump. Bishop winced, shook his bleeding hand and watched it obstinately skulk away with its head held high.
“Let me look at that hand.” She sighed and delved deep for the healing potions in her basket.
“I’ll live, he barely scratched me.”
She said nothing as they both watched the blood drip from his hand and onto the dirt. “Don’t be a fool, I’m a healer.” She muttered when he tried to pull back. “I’ve seen that mutt tear off limbs.” It took everything she had not to roll her eyes as he didn’t resist when she reached for his hand. The wound was long like a U but he didn’t get a chance to see how long it was before she wrapped a bandage soaked in healing potion over it.
“Where are we?” He asked as she tied it off.
“They call it Nilheim. Sammy puts all of the people he can’t be bothered with up here. Mostly the troublemakers and the ill who can still be good lookouts. It’s also where he put his next experiment. Pit dogs. They found their bitch not long after you came. She wouldn’t go into the cave so I had to deliver her cubs up here. Bloody bad on my hips.”
“They’re all going to die, they’re for the pits.” She snorted. “But with her, it was a miracle she survived long enough to keep them all going for a few days. Without a mate to hunt for her she was starved to the bone.”
“So instead of putting yourselves in that arena, you take any life you want and put it in a cage to fight for you,” Bishop’s lip curled as he glowered at her.
“What else are we gonna do? Start an orphanage for all the bastards of the wilds? Bandits aren’t nice, sweetheart. Nothing is.”
“I came up here for Jules, not a lesson on life.” He said as he dumped the bag of meat on the ground. The snouts of black wolf cubs poked out from the underbrush immediately.
She sighed and turned her back on him to perform her chores. “What makes you think I brought you up here to talk about him? I needed help carrying the meat.”
The cubs’ curious appetites were sated when she threw three slabs of raw flesh to them near the cages. They leapt on it like starved hounds and in the distraction she bundled the rest into the arms of a nearby bandit who took it up to the tower for storage.
Bishop’s temper snapped and he let out a growl as he purposefully got in her way. “We’ve done all you wanted! Can’t you just give him a potion now or-” He wasn’t ready for how quickly she turned to face him.
“A potion? To cure what? He has no disease and no wounds.”
Bishop stepped back in horror and confusion. “But you said Rattles…”
“I had to say something didn’t I?” Her tone was harsh and condescending but her sigh was gentle and weary. “No potion can cure the fact that your brother shouldn’t exist. The mother always passes on the final race of the child, yes? But the father’s blood provides everything else. The races of cat and human were never meant to join. Conception should have been impossible!” She turned back to her tasks at the table and muttered: “Your family could rewrite the history books.”
“Will he live?” He said. Though his voice was steady and controlled, his complexion was going paler by the second.
“That is up to you. Or maybe he could stay here. He seems to be fitting in well, I could watch him as he grows older.” Said the witch, liking her own idea more and more by the minute. She turned around, rested her rump on the table and crossed her arms. “Look at you, you’re a lone wolf. You’ve been wanting him off your back since the start. Wouldn’t you like to rule the woods alone or whatever it is you do?”
Bishop paused as he tried to register that she’d asked a question, but his answer was absolute. “No. It’s both of us or nothing.”
The woman frowned at him in silence but he glared back unflinchingly for as long as she did at him.
“Really? Just like that? No second thoughts or moments of hesitation? Huh, maybe you’re what he needs after all.”
Bishop shook his head and smiled at her ignorance. “We need each other. We’re brothers.” With his final word he wandered over to the edge and the magnificent view of Skyrim.
Only, it was not the horizon that caught his attention but the amount of ant-like militia assembling around the entrance to Lost Knife. “We’re not expecting visitors, are we?”
The witch rushed over with three other bandits and gasped at the sight. The main road and the path down from the mountain to the west were crawling with bandits, all with slightly different traits only she could recognise as she pointed them out.
“That’s Lukil’s group. Sammy’s been going up against them a lot lately, had your brother doing the books… that’s Barvak’s group, Diorn’s, Andal-Ma’s… shit, it’s all of them.”
“All of who?” Bishop demanded.
“All who bloody hate him!” She barked and twisted around to yell at the bandits who’d just emerged out of the tower’s upper entrance to look agape at the sight far below. “Some lookouts you are! Pack everything worth gold, now!”
He hadn’t noticed how many people were actually around them before they burst into action and he instantly lost sight of the witch.
Bishop was startled so much at her words that he almost toppled over the side of the small bridge to the tower as he chased after her. “Woah woah woah, you’re leaving?!”
She momentarily stopped in her furious pace to growl and close her eyes in resignation. “We cannot get to them in time. They have no way out and every one of those men wants to burn us alive. The best thing we can do is scatter, before they come for us!”
Bishop shook his head with tight lips and an even tighter jaw as he backed away from her. “There’s no way I’m leaving Jules.”
“Wouldn’t your brother want you to live?!” She exclaimed and gestured erratically at the futility of a promising young bandit about to throw away his life. “Don’t you remember how long it took us to get up here? Fucking hours!”
Bishop looked to the west where the lake behind them flowed into the waterfalls that crashed hundreds of feet down a steep mountainous incline. He smirked. “That’s because you went up the slow way.”
Before she could answer he completely bypassed the bridge and tentatively skidded down the dark and sandy riverbank to tread the water as fast as possible waist-deep. Six wolf cubs perked up at the fascinating fast-moving man breaking away from the main hubbub who smelt like their food. They all sped past the witch and dove over and under the bridge to follow him, but only four made it across the river with him.
Having wolves at his heel just made him run faster as he skidded down usually impassable inclines and sprinted at the bottom to the next ones. He went directly west across another river to the fringe of Ivarstead but then it was a sharp turn north and scaling down the steepest mountainside he’d come across.
Two of the cubs had given up chase at the many rocks of the second river and only two were left, a brawny black cub who had the speed to keep up with him due to his developed muscles, and the gangly runt. The straights and hills that had to be sprinted over were gone though and Bishop’s dangerous sliding down rocks and earth required acute agility and reflexes. The black wolf was left behind within two levels of the mountain path they were skipping. Bishop actually turned around as he caught his breath after suffering many scrapes from a badly-timed jump, but he saw no more wolves behind him. He turned back around and found the russet brown cub who’d bitten his hand had leapt down to the last level and was batting its black-tipped tail on the rocks as it waited for him.
He slid down and observed the animal from the other side of the path. The sun was shining its last rays and he could barely see if his hand was going to be mauled again if he ran past. Lost Knife was so close now and he looked at the foliage to their right with tortured restraint.
“She called you Karnwyr, right?” He said as if small talk would breach the gap.
The wolf said nothing of course and its amber eyes blinked back out of the shadows.
Faint clashing of battle was coming from the direction of the cave entrance. All of Bishop’s attention was taken by it and he made the snap decision to barge past the wolf no matter what it thought of that. He never saw the two rival bandits who had been waiting for him to move and launched at his back. Karnwyr let out a howl of warning and Bishop span around with arms raised, thinking that he was the target. What he saw was the blood of his attackers’ ripped throats spilling out beneath them as the tawny wolf cub stood on them and looked up at him with savage pride.
“Shit… do you think you could do that again?” He laughed and ruffled the wild animal’s head without thinking. Karnwyr closed his eyes smugly and leant into the appraisal, but Bishop was moving on quickly. “If you’re gonna insist on following me, you’ll have to,” he muttered grimly.
Man and wolf were in full sight of the cave now. Everything was dark in the night except for the water that glistened with the light reflecting from the entrance. The light of wildfires that competed with screams and metal on metal to be the loudest sound coming out of Lost Knife. With wide eyes and a determined resolve, Bishop dove in without a second thought. The same went for the wolf cub at his heels with blood dripping from his canines already.
The entryway was hard enough to get through already as it had every flammable object blocking the path and spreading the flames everywhere possible. They stuck to the stream as the walkway was completely blocked off, but at the end of it Bishop was faced with the full reality of the battle. Five bandits were present and even though they were united against one group alone, they still fought each other as they had no way of telling the difference. The main islands and paths were fraught with bloodthirsty massacre and would require a leap of faith to get to, possibly ending in him cracking his head as he missed, but it was the quickest way. The other option was to dive hundreds of feet into the water flaming with oil spills and swim to the halfway point of the main island with his fighting ability being impaired by water.
He chose to jump. By some miracle he landed on just enough of the edge to keep his bearings and get to his feet before he was attacked. Not once did he think Karnwyr would follow him with either option but he felt a soft thump against his leg and looked down to see that the wolf had leapt with him.
With snarls from both parties they ran into the fray, Bishop ducking out of the way of a bandit toppling over the edge and Karnwyr jumping over him. As their second obstacle was taken care of by Bishop’s dagger to his gut and Karnwyr’s fangs to his sword arm, the young man took the brief opportunity to look up. Jules wasn’t at his usual hangout at the highest point of the cavern so they ran on through to the rest of the caves, and the rest of the bandits.
They went without pause even as they were forced to step over the bodies of a newborn baby, its mother and her Orc lover. None of the fighters were paying them much attention until Bishop bellowed Jules’s name and made a beeline for the balcony that looked out through a waterfall. Jules had appeared up on the highest ridge of the cavern and was slowly backing away from bandits who were toying with him like savage jackals before they killed. Bishop was so tense at him being seconds away from leaning too much on the flimsy railing and falling to his death that he didn’t notice Karnwyr saving his life twice behind him.
“Just stay there, I’ll get to you!” Bishop shouted over the roars of the waterfalls, raging fires and clamors of battle in vain but it didn’t dissuade him. He beckoned the exerted wolf cub into the crevice that led to the next level and they crept into the darkness.
The kitchens were a slaughterhouse. Bodies were strewn, collapsing to the floor as the living slaughtered each other above them and trampled all over their fallen brothers and enemies alike. Bishop and Karnwyr were able to run through with little resistance but not without having to trample on the dead and not without attention. Their ascent up the stairs was observed by a man cutting his face after winning a prolonged fight and he soon stalked after them, taking the steps three at a time.
They barely had to turn a corner before Bishop slammed against the wall before the bridge. A broad hand not afraid to hold back its strength clawed around his throat, dripping with the blood of others. He rolled his eyes in the brief moments before his head was cracked against solid rock and he grunted in pain.
“After all that gold, you still can’t say ‘hello’ to me, Mark?” He snorted and spluttered at the asphyxiation. It was getting worse until he saw Karnwyr leaping with his jaws wide open behind Mark’s shoulder and tried to wince back and shrink down the wall so he wouldn’t be caught in the bite.
Unfortunately Mark anticipated the attack from Bishop’s reaction and span around just in time to punch Karnwyr aside in midair. The cub was quick to get back on its feet and launch at Mark again, but the grown Imperial caught him and they went down onto the bridge in a tussle. Karnwyr got his jaws around his face only once despite his relentless attempts but it left a severe gash. It ended with Mark kicking him over the rope railing to the blanketing darkness below.
He panted and turned back to where his original target hadn’t moved due to watching the scuffle so intensely. “So the Nord has a pet now?” He sneered to Bishop.
“He’s not a pet.” Bishop growled. He took a deep breath, looked at the spot where Karnwyr had been thrown and shrugged as dismissively as he could. “He’s a tag-along.”
His ploy had been to get Mark off-guard but as soon as the bandit noticed Bishop’s hand moving towards his knife he burst forward with renewed vigour to slam Bishop against the wall yet again. This time pinning both of his hands above his head as well.
“Ah ah ah! You’re not getting away with that again.”
Bishop spat out blood and smirked. “Well, Mark. I never knew you liked me in this way!”
“You ruined my life and now the little deal we have is about to go tits up. They have your brother, they have Sam. It’s over. I just want to see your end for myself so don’t think of getting away. I know all your tricks, Thrice-Banished.”
There was no way out of this one, he was too dazed to act on anything but Mark had his every solution blocked.
Unless a wild animal was enraged at being thrown off a bridge and wanted revenge. Unless that said wild animal was sprinting up behind Mark right now, its jaws frothing as it prepared for a killing bite.
“Yeah? I got a new one.” Bishop grinned and yanked himself away just as Karnwyr leapt and made a screaming Mark fall in the opposite direction.
The Imperial’s body shook in agony as he pathetically failed to get the wolf cub off of his chest and away from his face. Bishop only stepped in when Karnwyr started to go for his throat. The wolf growled at being denied a kill but went to his new friend’s side when summoned, much to Bishop’s surprise.
“Aww, was that for how I killed your special Danton?” Mark simpered up at Bishop when he approached. His intentionally scarred face was now a sea of ragged red and Bishop was glad for the cave’s poor lighting.
He pulled back and delivered a shattering long-held-back punch to the partially intact side of Mark’s face. “No. That was for threatening my brother.” He punched him again, making globules of blood fly through the air. While Mark was still conscious he pulled him up by the collar and had the satisfaction of seeing fear in his eyes. Then he stabbed him in the heart. “And that… was for kicking my wolf.”
He let the limp body fall from his fists in disgust. Karnwyr whimpered at his wasted kill and Bishop regarded his newly asserted alliance with the animal as he wiped his hands clean on his scratchy tunic.
“You want more?” He cocked a brow at the wolf cub. “Keep following me. It never stops.” He snarled beneath his breath and stormed into the darkness to his brother.
The pits were between Bishop and Karnwyr’s path to Jules, as were over a dozen bandits and the leader of Lost Knife himself. They stayed quiet as everyone was creeping around and jumping at every shadow. The battle fever had not yet spread to this part of the caves.
“Oh Sammy Sammy Sammy! Come on you little oathbreaker, where are you?” A bandit catcalled and whistled through the oddly calm chamber as he led his gang down the torchlit slope and through the array of cages.
When he got impatient and too angry to be unsettled, he loaded his modified crossbow and unleashed several deadly bolts at random throughout the cages with deafening clangs. “Yeah you like that? Got it from some friends over in the Dawnguard. Remember that concept, Sammy? Friends?”
Bishop used the cover of the next bolt barrage to jump down into the shadows of the pit. His foot skidded on the wet rocks of the stream and landed awkwardly with much cursing of his ancestors, especially when Karnwyr landed on his back, but he couldn’t stop now. He had until Sam was killed to reach Jules before the bandits moved in the same direction.
By pure chance one of the next bolts hit Sam in the pits and the rival bandits ran to the source of his voice with glee. The bandit with the crossbow clambered on top of the cage forming the entrance to get the best shooting angle.
“Of course I killed them to get this but eh, we were friends til then. Much like us right now.”
When they got through the gate Bishop winced at how loudly it creaked and dared to look back. He was just in time to watch Sam’s death. With all credit to him, it took countless bolts and the entire gang of rival bandits to bring down the silver-streaked blond Nord. One of the bandits looked up and he slammed the gate shut, span around and sprinted down the stream. His time was up.
Going down a stream that was more slippery rocks than coursing water was required to get there. On his own it had been a path very easy to sneak down as scent and sound was overridden by the water. But with a young animal who was growing more and more enthusiastic with each pool of water he loudly splashed in, it was turning out to be the opposite. Bishop had to pull Karnwyr into the side path by the scruff of his neck when they reached the end of it, as he was dangerously close to giving them away or slipping under the wooden platform and plunging over the edge of the waterfall. Karnwyr immediately attacked Bishop for ruining his fun, but his young jaws couldn’t gnaw through Bishop’s rough chainmail shirt. Before any alternate tactics were thought of, they found their attentions grabbed by something else.
“Heard he was half-race. The weakling shouldn’t have been able to hold on for this long.”
Four bandits leered around the edge of the ridge on the far right, opposite from where Bishop and Karnwyr scuffled. All were men and all were Nords armoured with stiff hide and rusted iron, except for the shorter Redguard who spoke next and poked out his foot to tap the edge of the rock.
“He won’t be holding on when I stand on his little pink fingers.”
Karnwyr crouched back as he prepared to charge at them but he was held back. Bishop held a hand on the back of his neck until he calmed to a low growl. He couldn’t see Jules yet and he wanted to let the bandits continue talking as he crept up behind them. Karnwyr followed his lead and slunk along the wooden platform.
Another Nord flinched back in disgust when he saw the fingers his friend’s foot hovered over. “Is that hair? Talos’s beard, who grows hair on their fingers?”
“A cat.” Their weathered-faced comrade sneered and crouched down. “Guess you didn’t here up in Skyrim but the first Thrice-Banished bastard was a cat. Think we found him.”
Bishop cursed silently. He couldn’t get any closer to them without leaving the shadows, and he still could not see Jules. Attacking the many burly men with only a wolf cub at his side was appearing to be his only option when he realised he had never met these men. They did not know him and would only see a fellow bandit if he approached. So he stood as smoothly as he could without drawing attention.
“Do cats land on their feet as they hit water, too?” The Redguard pondered and went to test his theory when a new presence walked up to his side.
“Nah, they’d just drown. Limbs flailing pathetically and all.” Bishop laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. He could see Jules now. The boy was hanging onto the edge of the rock’s slope by his fingertips. His face was red with the effort but he had just enough energy to look at Bishop in bewilderment like his brother had grown a second head.
“But men in iron? They sink.” Bishop smiled as he shoved the Redguard over the edge and kicked the nearest Nord over too before he could react. Two remained to instigate battle but Bishop knew the ridges of the rock well, they did not. One tripped to his death in his eagerness to reach his friends’ murderer and the last didn’t have much of a fight before Karnwyr barged into his legs. He staggered back messily though, flailing everywhere to get a grip on solid ground. It was in vain but he fell exactly where Jules was hanging and Bishop instantly dove on his stomach to reach him.
Jules was still there but as hard as Bishop tried, his arm could not reach him without sliding down as well. Blood was leaking out from beneath the boy’s weakening fingers and tears fell from the agony it brought him.
“Jules, dammit, reach higher!” Bishop growled out strenuously, even though he knew that there was no way that his brother could move and still hold on.
Raw fear flashed in both of their eyes as Jules slipped and only just managed to keep a hold on the rock that tore his skin. The great unknown of death and the huge drop behind him was too much pressure for him to do anything and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly so that Bishop couldn’t see his failure. Then something warm and wet began nudging at his fingers and he looked up in anger. A russet brown wolf cub was staying upright on the slope only by his claws so that he could try to dislodge Jules.
“Your new friend is trying to push me off!” Jules snapped exasperatedly at Bishop who was looking just as bewildered.
But the older brother did nothing to discourage his wolf. Instead, he looked at him like he was the new genius of the 4th era. Even if they could somehow pull Jules up, an entire cave of warring bandits awaited them and were headed this way. Below was only water.
“The wolf’s right. We can’t go back, there’s too many. It’s time to learn to swim, brother.”
“If you were going to betray me, why’d you bother coming back in the first place?” Jules teased exasperatedly, all the while blinking rapidly to see through his pain-induced tears.
“We go down together or not at all. You got that?” Bishop glared until Jules nodded at him. “I’m going to grab you. You’ve got to hold on!”
“What else am I gonna do?!” Jules cried just as his arms reached their limit and made his hands weaken for the briefest moment. It was all he needed to start falling.
“Shit!” Bishop was forced to cast aside all thoughts of preparing himself and propelled himself after Jules. He grabbed hold of Karnwyr’s tail too and with a yelp the wolf was forced to the fate of the brothers. As promised, Bishop grabbed Jules during the fall down but because of that they had no time to prepare for entry. Bishop slapped into the water so hard on his side that he was almost knocked senseless. He could barely register what Jules was saying to him as they both somehow dragged each other ashore despite their weak muscles. Karnwyr was awaiting them, looking extremely unimpressed with dripping fur that hung down in straight and sodden clumps. But he helped regardless, walking on the outside of them to make sure their feet didn’t stagger off the path up as they climbed.
When the roaring flames of the walkways burst through Bishop’s muffled senses, he began to understand what his brother was yelling. “The only way out is on fire! We need to hide and wait it out!”
Bishop looked at the tantalizingly close exit and chuckled while shaking his head. “Like scared prey waiting to be burnt alive? No. We’re soaking wet, we can make it.” He then gave Jules no choice but to amble towards the inferno with him.
“What is it with you and jumping lately?” Jules exclaimed in a brief return to his shrill boyish voice.
“I told you living inside somewhere was a bad idea!” Bishop grinned and their amble turned into an all-out run. None of them cared for their balance or their landing as they took the last wild steps to leap into a fiery death. Both boy and wolf were doing it in blind faith for the young man who told them to jump. It paid off.
Passing through fire is something none of them would ever do again. Although the layer of moisture on their skin extinguished the flames before it caught their flesh and hair, the steam and lashbacks of it still burned. It was like being submerged in the most intense heat and agony they had ever felt, even though it was just for a moment. All three of them fell through with a shout and Jules and Karnwyr rolled gracelessly into the unforgiving protruding rocks of the stream on the other side. Jules was certain that his eyebrows were on fire but he barely had time to smack his face down in the water before Bishop pulled him up by the scruff of his neck.
“We can’t stop!” He grunted as he was hobbling on an injured ankle but still managed to run at a lumbering pace.
Jules gulped back and put all of his pain and need for oxygen on hold as he focused everything he had on getting out of the cave. The entrance was well within their sights, Karnwyr had recovered and was sharing their adrenaline rush as he catapulted along the passage with them and no bandits had dared follow them through the fire; they were making it.
Cold air hit the younger brother’s singed face like a miraculous balm as he sidled out of the opening and he smiled in giddy relief. Bishop did the same and laughed breathlessly as he leant over to let his senses gather. He stopped as soon as something very shiny caught his eyes. He slowly looked up and found that several very shiny somethings were glinting at them in the moonlight.
Karnwyr growled and bared his fangs. Jules and Bishop’s eyes had been overexposed by the glare of the flames, but once they adjusted to the dim light they found that they had only jumped from the frying pan and into the fire.
The leaders and reinforcements of all the rival bandits raiding the cave were staring at them. They had been comparing swords, bickering and almost brawling, exchanging orders and one of them was eating a skeever. Now they all stared at the soot-covered, soaking, bleeding and charred boys with complete bewilderment.
“I was expecting Sam to run out first. That doesn’t look like fucking Sam.” Said the Redguard who had almost started a brawl with the Orc bandit chief.
“I don’t know, Diorn, looks like a backstabber to me.” An Imperial woman spoke with disgust and looked more savage than all of them as she twirled jagged dual swords at her sides.
“Sam’s dead.” Bishop cut them all off, unsettled with how he was being focused on. “You won, congratulations. Now, if you can find it in your hearts to let me and my brother past we’ll–“
The Orc stopped him. “Are there any more of you or did we just make peace to have some mangy pups slip past all of our men?”
When a new man came up behind Bishop, Jules, and Karnwyr, the bandit chiefs didn’t undermine their own leadership by showing respect, but they all fell silent.
“Down, Barvak, they’re going to be useful to us.” The voice was refined and clipped in tone but had developed the lazy informal speech common among bandits. The boys looked behind them to see a well-built Imperial in the teal and beige robes of a college mage, accompanied by iron boots and gauntlets. His hair was long and grey but his face still seemed to have some youth in it. That is, under all the grizzle of dirt, blood not his own, scars that extended from the corners of his mouth to the lobes of his ears, short beard, and ash.
Karnwyr slinked around Jules’s legs to make him step back with Bishop and he protectively growled at the newcomer from in-between their feet.
“I saw him take down Mark and he got out alive, that’s enough for me to take notice.” He made a point to his comrades by giving the three young ones in front of him his full attention. “The name’s Lukil. What’s yours?”
“Bishop.” There was nothing in his voice that suggested any further elaboration. Lukil raised his eyebrow when Bishop had the nerve to cross his arms when he looked inquiringly at his brother.
“Just… bee-shop? You Nords, always so uninspiring.” Sighed the Khajiit bandit Lukil had stopped beside. Everything in the bandit chief’s manner suggested that he was intrigued by Bishop’s lack of mentioning a surname or title, but he said nothing.
Bishop spoke up to make sure he didn’t. “How did you get out of there then?”
“Nords,” Lukil tutted and rapped his skull pointedly, “you really don’t have much up there. My own fire doesn’t hurt me.” Lukil conjured a fireball that he stuck his hand in with no reaction, then he threw it over his shoulder into the face of a Lost Knife bandit who was trying to sneak out. The bandit died screaming.
“Though, that was quite a jump.” Lukil snorted and eyed the blackened dirt on them. “Lost Knife’s been purged – it’s ours now.”
“What’s going to happen to it?”
“We’ll fortify it, scrub Sammy out of it. But we now have a tower we have use for but all of us already have bases. And here’s a capable little bandit who can make it past flames and all of our men.”
Jules’s confusion had reached the point where he’d had enough of his and Bishop’s posturing. “You’re going to let us go and give us a home, for nothing?” He asked, bypassing Karnwyr and his brother’s protection entirely.
“No, little man.” Lukil smirked and turned his back on them to pace slowly. He span on his heel with a cunning edge to his smile to deliver his next ploy. “Jules, wasn’t it? Yeah, I got quite familiar with that name on all of the little notes Sam sent me with his payments. You’re good with the numbers but, eh, I still saw what you did. You owe me money.”
Karnwyr snarled a mere beat after Bishop’s hand shot down to his hilt. Lukil rolled his eyes.
“So I have a tower that I personally don’t give a shit about and no one to man it. But on the other hand I have enemies trying to get a foothold in my territory and that watchtower sees an awful lot. And here are two seasoned bandits who have every motive to be loyal to me. I’m giving you work and not killing you. What do you say?”
“I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that ‘no’ is the one that gets us killed.”
The bandit chief shrugged. “You can take your chances. There’d be forty arrows on your backs.”
Bishop looked behind the rogue mage at all the other bandit chiefs who were impatiently waiting for the conversation to end, some contemplating ending it prematurely with their weapons. Barvak the Orc grinned at him and made sure not to obstruct Bishop’s view of the dozen Orc warriors that had just reported to him.
“We’ll take the tower.” Bishop smiled thinly at Lukil and tried to communicate his resentment of the thinly veiled threat through a squinting glare.
“Good gods, a Nord has made a wise decision? You must be the first in your family to do so.” Lukil sneered. He’d turned away to begin ordering everyone into Lost Knife before the brothers could tell if he’d meant anything by it. “Get up to Nilheim, bandage your wounds, I’ll be sending you some men in the next few days.”
The brothers were already fading back into the darkness of the thick forest before he’d finished and it took him a moment to spot the source of Bishop’s irksome voice as they sought the path up the mountain.
“And then begins our new life as housekeepers. Got it.”
“Take it as a compliment, Bishop. You’re valuable.” Lukil shouted at their backs as his bandits got too busy around him to see where they’d gone.
He didn’t get a reply.
Jules started conversation once they were halfway up and out of earshot. He’d noticed that Bishop had been avoiding all of the paths that would have led them back to Falkreath.
“So I guess we can go back the forests now, just like you wanted.” His words were laden with hints and said slowly so their point couldn’t be missed.
It wasn’t but instead of being rueful about it, an element of pride and even hope was making its way into Bishop’s expression. Jules wasn’t showing any signs of his illness, despite all they’d just been through. He snapped away from the soppy emotions going through him and burst forwards up the steep path.
“Nah, you never wanted that.” He said, his tone light and indifferent. “Besides, the Rift has a great forest! You haven’t seen it yet. Come on, we’ve got a tower to babysit.”
Bishop’s unusual consideration was met with the surprise of Jules’s raised brow. However, he was wise enough to not question it and his attention was drawn to the dirty russet canine trotting next to him.
“With the wolf?”
Bishop glanced back in surprise. That Karnwyr would still be sticking by them after they’d made it out hadn’t occurred to him. “I don’t see him stopping following us so yeah, with ‘the wolf’.“
“What’s his name then?” Jules asked, falling short of sticking his tongue out at Bishop’s mocking quoting.
The wolf cub perked up at the syllables of his name and a brief breeze showed that the soft fur of a youngling still grew on his neck, despite most of his fur being matted by dirt or water.
“Wow, Bishop, a proper name?” Jules grinned and pulled himself up the next rock shelf instead of going around in order to catch up. Karnwyr followed him with ease. “I’m impressed. Always thought you’d be the sort of person to name your first child after yourself because you couldn’t remember anything else.”
Bishop gave him his most dry and unimpressed look of the day.”The witch chose it.”
“Ah, still a chance for poor Bishop Jr then.” Jules grinned but the banter faded from his mind as he saw the first golden leaves of the Rift. They strained to make it up the last part of the incline in a sudden enthusiastic rush and the younger brother stopped dead in his tracks. A stream rippled endlessly into an incomparably high waterfall and there wasn’t a green tree in sight – it was all red, amber, gold, and white. Bishop pushed him onwards with a chuckle and they made their way around the last hill to Lake Geir.
The body of water was entirely clear other than an island in the centre. To the South were the faint lights of Ivarstead, a small village i.e. a source of ale, and to the North the lake fell into two waterfalls below a breathtaking view of everything in Skyrim this side of the Throat of the World. Between those waterfalls was a body of land and on that, a tower.
Jules beamed. They had a home. His smile was as bright as the moons reflecting on the lake. At least, until he realised that Bishop had brought them to the wrong side of the lake. They’d either have to swim across to get to it, or walk all around the Rift.
Bishop nudged him before he could gather his senses. “Swimming lesson number two, eh?” An evil grin flashed across Jules’s line of sight before Bishop and Karnwyr dove into the lake so raucously that two waves of water splashed all over Jules, leaving him no choice but to follow them or make his way around the lake in the cold night while utterly drenched.
“How about tomorrow you get a flying lesson off those rocks!” Jules spluttered as he waded into the freezing water.
The howls of Bishop’s laughter and Karnwyr’s enthusiasm were indecipherable.
A smell of something bad being burnt was Jules’s wake-up call in the morning. The floor he slept on only had half of a roof so the weak warmth of the sun was pleasant. He wore vaguely fresh clothes, taken from some drawers in the tower, and lay on a bedroll that wasn’t ridden with the damp of a cave. It could have been enjoyable if the foul and musty smoke wasn’t making him retch.
“What in Oblivion are you doing out here?!” He demanded in disgust as he went out onto the tower’s outer walkway and was greeted with the wind blowing a thick black plume of smoke into his face. He could just make out Bishop’s form at the source of the fire down in the small camp.
“Burning everything we changed out of last night.” Bishop said as he threw his old sack-like tunic onto the fire with relish. “We don’t need to be recognised by anyone again, we have new ones. And Karnwyr doesn’t like the smell.”
“Nobody should.” Jules coughed.
He jumped down and had to put his his forearm over his mouth as he moved upwind with Bishop to a table overlooking the camp and the lake. Karnwyr was pitifully curled up in a crevice between the ancient stone walkway Jules went past, safe from the smoke and whimpering as if to wonder why his new friends could do this to his poor nose. Jules snorted, bent down to give him an idle scratch and swiftly commandeered the only chair before Bishop could so much as look at it.
“So, no gold and only one set of clothes. I guess we’re going to become seamstresses now?” Jules chuckled and bit into half of a bread loaf that was lying around.
Bishop snorted. “No one could pay me enough to make a dress.” He came over and plucked the bread from Jules’s hands to eat it himself, but said nothing more. No denial of what Jules had said about their money situation, no matter how long the younger brother waited.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Mark was taking all of our gold?”
Bishop’s chewing slowed to a halt. The gulp that followed was both because of eating and the subject that had been brought up. “Shit, you really do find out everything.” With a sigh he moved to look over the lake and away from Jules. “You were unconscious most of the time and we needed to stay there. Now, he’s dead and it worked, right? You haven’t broken a sweat since we left!”
Jules just shrugged. His own well-being wasn’t a priority as he was itching to break his own news. With a splitting grin he pulled up what was weighing down his right hand and dumped a worn half-filled sack of gold on the table. “Well, I got a lot of it back.”
“You’re kidding me!” Bishop spluttered out and dived over to the table.
Jules smiled proudly at his shocked expression. “It isn’t everything of course but you’d be surprised at how bad his own locks are. I left him a surprise in the drop-off chest too, it’s a shame he’ll never get it now.”
“Don’t worry, he got a surprise.” His brother said grimly as he briefly unstrung the pouch and counted the coin. “This’ll keep us going for a while. We’re coming out on top this time, whatever we do. That mage can go screw himself if he thinks he’s going to be another Sam.”
“If you’d have told me, we could have got it all back.” Jules pointed out before the subject could change. “From now on, you tell me everything and I tell you everything. Deal?”
Bishop looked at the boy who had more brains than all of his siblings put together. Who still had the positive naivete of a child who could still smile without bitterness. Who was dying just because he existed and he could never tell him, as it would kill every hope they had. It was with a nondescript shrug and a careless smile that he delivered the biggest lie he’d ever tell.