~ Old Wounds ~
I no longer slept alone. I shared a bedroll with Bishop, curled firmly back against his much larger body, one of his arms draped across my ribs possessively, protectively. On nights that we slept in shifts, he insisted I lay with my head cradled in his lap, either with a hand on my flat belly to be sure I still breathed or on the dip of my waist when I went to bed injured, which happened more often than not despite our combined skills. When he slept, he did so leaning back against the trunk of a tree or the hard surface of a rocky up-thrust with me between his thighs & Karnwyr at his side. It seemed that now that I had let him get physically close to me, if not carnally, he intended to stay that way. I made no complaints about it. I adored his nearness; but I didn’t tell my traveling companion that.
We wandered then, up into the high passes of Windhelm, skirting the icy coasts, both of us heavily cloaked & warmly clothed beneath our light armour. When we were attacked, either by two legged ravagers, four legged predators or by the winged beasts that menaced us, we fought side by side, back to back. We bombarded the scaled fiends with arrows, raining them down on the vulnerable wings after I Shouted them to the ground, allowing me with my greatsword or Bishop with his dagger to finish them off.
We were walking our horses, some three days after our last dragon attack back in the Pale, along the frigid headland just north of Winterhold. The beast had seized my shoulder in its jaws after I had seen Bishop fall to a knee, knocked down by a mighty swing of its tail. I had lept over the ranger, inserting myself between him & that maw full of dagger-fangs, bellowing in fury, sweeping my greatsword from side to side in an attempt to drive it back from him. & that was when the beast had struck, the horned head rearing up then striking downwards fast as a lightning bolt hurtling towards the ground. I hadn’t felt pain to begin with, only great pressure, then the sensation of flying as the beast snapped its head to the side & flung me through the air. I hit the ground hard, tucked, rolled & came to my feet, my sword still gripped in my hand, ready to resume the attack.
Bishop was back on his feet, slashing at the bloodied snout of the beast with his dagger as Karnwyr darted for the vulnerable underbelly with his fangs, ripping mercilessly into the leathery wings. “Bishop!” I screamed & started to run towards him, my free hand out-stretched. His head snapped in my direction then he quickly backed up a few steps, caught my forearm in his grip &, pivoting smoothly, using my running momentum to lift me, he tossed me up onto the back of the beast. I shrieked, exultant, as I lept forwards onto its head, coming down & driving the point of my sword through the monsters skull hard enough that its lower jaw struck the ground. My sword went hilt deep, embedding not just in bone, but in the frozen earth as well in a bloom of my Lady’s power & radiance, fire dancing along my limbs & the corpse of our fallen foe.
I knelt on the body of our kill, panting heavily, leaning on the pommel of my sword as I met Bishop’s eyes. They were dark, glimmering in triumph. He strode up to me as I rose to my feet on the dragons skull, thrust his dagger into the sheath at his hip, pulled me down & kissed me fiercely, taking away my breath completely.
His hands roamed over me, I felt one at my belt, in the back, tugging at a vial of healing draught I had there, his other arm locked tight about my waist. He pulled the cork with his teeth, spit it to the ground, held the glass to my lips. I drank half of it, taking it from his hand as I buried my fingers in the short hairs at the back of his head & tugged his mouth back down to mine. When we came up for air, I pressed the vial to his lips. He drank the rest. He snatched the vial from my hand & threw it to the ground with a growl as his mouth came down on mine again, cupping my face between his bloodied hands, & the soul of the dragon we had slain together was enveloping us both in the rainbow light that sparkled & sizzled, its body burning away to nothing but ash & bare bones as I absorbed its soul, its memories, its essence into myself.
The draught had not been enough to completely heal the wound in my shoulder, but it had stopped the bleeding. Now, three days later, I could feel sweat trickling down my ribs under both my leathern armour & woolen undershirt as we walked along the headland. I had a bloody fever.
“Bishop….” I said to him as he prowled a few paces in front of me, leading our horses.
He didn’t even pause, just glanced over his shoulder at me, did a double-take before he stopped in his tracks. He turned sharply towards me & stalked over until he was standing directly in front of me, our horses following by their leads in his hand. His ruddy brows were snapped together, amber eyes glaring down at me from beneath them as he growled “Gods dammit, Kalla….”
One corner of my mouth twitched upwards as I pushed the fur-lined hood back from my sweaty, flushed face. “What is this? Concern, ranger?” My eyes narrowed a bit on him & I couldn’t quite keep the baiting tone out of my voice.
He bared his teeth at me, flashing his slightly longer canines in what I took to be either a snarl or a grimace. “Now,” he growled, low & guttural, “is not the time to get smart with me, Dragonborn. We’re going to Winterhold. You need a healer, or at the very least, a healing potion.” & before I could protest, he grabbed me roughly round the waist, lifted me up & plunked me bodily on Gypsum’s back. Before I knew what he was doing, he was swinging up into the saddle behind me, locking an arm firmly about my chest. In the other, he held Gypsum’s reins & the lead to Sleipnir. Bishop dug his heels into my horses flanks & we took off at a gallop along the headland towards the coastal road that led to the town of Winterhold that loomed a few miles in the distance.
A few hours later, I was very naked, sitting in a wooden bathtub in the room we had rented at the Frostfruit Inn while a very annoyed ranger sat on a stool outside of the tub beside me, giving me a look that would have sent a sane person running in the opposite direction. Being as I was, I don’t think I was completely sane, because I met those penetrating eyes squarely & refused to look away first. Not that I had been particularly sane in my last incarnation either….
Bishop set his jaw in stony silence, leaning back against the wall behind him as he folded his arms over his broad chest while continuing to glare bloody-murder at me as I washed the blood, sweat & dirt of the last several weeks or so of travel from my skin & hair. He wore nothing but his black leather boots, brown leather trews & undyed woolen shirt that was open down the front exposing the ridged muscles of his belly & hard planes of his chest, the long sleeves pushed back up on his muscular forearms. I saw a tic start in his jaw again, the tendons at the side of his neck leaping as he shifted his gaze to my bitten shoulder. Two holes about the size of gold coins were just below my left collarbone, a deep livid red about the puffy edges, my fair skin mottled blue-black with bruising; I had matching holes just below my shoulderblade on the same side in the exact same condition. Both sets of holes were very obviously from the dragons teeth. Just as obviously, the wounds weren’t healing properly & were infected. He was NOT happy, with me or with the fact that the only healers around were the wizards in the College or the alchemist whose shop was closed this late at night.
I sank beneath the surface of the warm water to rinse the soap from my hair. As I resurfaced, I was confronted by piercing citrine-flecked amber eyes not but three inches from my face. He had his hands braced on the sides of the tub, looming over me, purposely trying to intimidate me. I leaned against the back of the tub, giving him an almost lazy look from beneath my lowered eyelids, the expression on my face to my posture saying that I clearly was not threatened by his aggressive position above me.
“You should have told me sooner,” he snarled in aggravation between clenched teeth, that golden stare unblinking.
“I didn’t think it was anyth-…” I began but he raised his hand, fingers curled like he meant to grab me about the throat, face a mask of wrath. I splashed forward in the tub, half-rising out of it, baring my own teeth at him in a vicious snarl of my own, my hands half curled into fists.
The atmosphere between us was electric, the air positively crackled as our wills clashed. We both stood, facing one another, panting heavily from the force of our passion. While the room had a small hearth in it in which a fire burned, the air was still chill after being in the bath water. My skin rippled into goose-flesh; Bishop saw it. He cursed softly under his breath, jerked angrily away from me, took the three steps necessary to the bed & yanked the comforter off it. Turning sharply, he strode over to me as I eyed him narrowly, half thinking he meant to rent another room to sleep separately from me, he was that pissed at me.
Instead, he held the comforter in one arm, snaked his other about my waist & lifted me from the tub. Once my feet made contact with the thick carpeting on the stone floor, he swirled the blanket about my shoulders, swaddling me from head to foot in its warmth. I made no sound of protest, found no words on my tongue to throw at him as he picked me up again, an arm under my knees & one behind my back, holding me against his chest as he took a few steps over to one of the deep chairs before the fire, facing the closed & barred door of our room. He sat down, settled me on his lap comfortably, cupped my head in his hand & tugged it surprisingly gently down to his shoulder.
“We can’t possibly…” I began but he interrupted me with a sharp “Shut up & go to sleep” in such a ferocious growl, I promptly closed my mouth with a click of my teeth.
Normally, before that first fiery, overwhelmingly passionate kiss out in the wilds, under the moons & stars, beneath the waterfall all those weeks ago, I would have told him to go fuck himself, simply ignored him or put distance between us. Now… I surreptitiously peeked up at him from behind the veil of both my lashes & my thick, untidy curls that were starting to dry & riot about my head in wild abandon. That tic worked in his jaw again, the tendons in his neck beat a tattoo beneath his tawny skin, there was the hint of dark shadows beneath the expressive eyes, lines of worry & strain etched deeply into his brow & bracketing his lips.
I sighed quietly, slipped from his lap before he could stop me or knew what I was doing & stood facing him. “Bishop,” my voice was soft, gentle. He looked up at me, still looking like he wanted to throttle me. I held my hands out to him, palms upward, the heavy blanket still covering me completely. “Bishop…” I said again, “they say… to keep properly warm in this climate, the two people sharing a bed or a bedroll….” one ruddy brow twitched ever so faintly, “should be naked.” I let the edges of the blanket part, gifting him with a glimpse of the bounty it concealed.
The muscle in his jaw jumped again, I could see his chest rise as he took a massive breath & growled “Black-eyed temptress….” before he rose lithely to his feet in front of me. He shed his boots as I slid my palms over the slope of his ribs, up the rock-hard planes of his chest, thickly dusted with deep auburn hairs, over his shoulders until I caught the fabric of his shirt & was pushing it down his arms. I stopped tho, when he moved his arms behind his back to let the shirt drop. Instead, I twisted the fabric, capturing him in that prone position.
His eyes narrowed dangerously down at me. “Princess,” he rumbled “now is not the time to play games with me. Trust me.”
I leaned up on my tip-toes & nipped his chin lightly. “I’m sorry I worried you. Forgive me.” I let go of the shirt, slid my arms about his waist, tucked my head under his chin & just held him, cheek pressed to his chest.
The sound of his breathing in the closed room was loud, almost as if he had run from here to Solitude & back. But his arms came about me again, he was backing me towards the bed against the wall on the other side of the hearth. Instead of dumping me into it, he picked me up & placed me gently on the sheets. He stood back, removed his leather pants & crawled in naked next to me as I held the thick down comforter up invitingly for him. The ranger lay on his back, tucked me firmly against his side, keeping me there with an arm about my waist. I lay my head on his chest, curled one leg over his thigh, draped an arm across his ribs & fell asleep to the steady, easy rhythm of his heart beating under my ear.
I woke hours later to a hand under my head, lifting me into a half-sitting position. My body ached & burned, like my dragon soul was consuming me from the inside out. My eyes felt swollen & gummy, my mouth & throat was as dry as the Alik’r Desert.
“Kalla… wake up!” Bishops voice seemed to come from a very long distance away, through a thick fog.
Something hard pressed against my cracked lips & a cool bitter liquid was forced down my throat. I gagged, choked, tried to turn my head away as my hands beat feebly at this very much unwanted intrusion. I let out a yelp of pain as a large hand fisted in my hair at the back of my head, the bottle was pressed to my lips again & that bitter liquid was poured into my mouth.
“Drink it. Drink it & if you puke it back up, I will fucking tan your ass!” was growled menacingly in my ear.
The hand in my hair loosened, smoothed out the curls gently as I was allowed to lay back down against the cool sheets. I drifted in darkness again, peopled with ghosts from my past.
I woke again some time later, feeling physically much better. I turned on my side in the big bed when I noticed there was no large, warm body next to me. I saw Bishop sitting in the chair before the hearth, head sunk in his hands, his fingers dug deeply into his coppery hair. He was shirtless, barefoot, wearing nothing but his leather pants. Every line of his body spoke eloquently of fear, unspent rage. My heart ached for him.
“Bishop,” my voice came out a raspy, hoarse croak.
He shot to his feet so fast he upset the heavy wooden chair he’d been sitting in, sending it tumbling backwards. In seconds, he was on the bed with me, holding me tightly against his big body, face buried in the side of my neck. I was stunned at his reaction. I’d expected harsh words, condemnation, insults even. Not… this.
I didn’t know what to do. So I stayed as I was, my hands against his chest as he held me like he never meant to let go. Then he was holding me away from him, his hands cupping my face as those golden eyes flickered over my face.
“Are you feeling better?” his gruff voice was actually almost tender as he asked me that.
I curled my hands about his thick wrists, nodding. I touched the tip of my tongue to the center of my bottom lip. “Just…” I paused, cleared my throat lightly as I still croaked & tried again. “Just very thirsty. & hungry.”
Bishop kissed my brow, eased me back into the pillows, covered me with the blanket before he rose from the bed & went to the door. He spoke to someone on the other side of it for a few moments before he came back. Instead of sitting with me, he stood over me, hands on his hips, looking down at me without a hint of expression on his face or any emotion moving in his eyes. When he remained like that, I began to get nervous.
“What?” I snapped when the silence had really gotten too heavy for me to bear.
The rangers ruddy brows rushed together, his golden eyes flared, his lips pressed into a thin line. “What?” he echoed me. “What?! WHAT! That’s ALL you fucking have to say to me?” his voice was a low, guttural snarl, simply dripping with the anger he had held in check up until now.
The fuck was his problem? “What do you want me to say, ranger? That I’m sorry I went & got bitten by a fucking dragon? It’s not like my first thought of the day was ‘gee, I wonder how I can go almost die & scare the bloody Oblivion out of Bishop’ ya know.”
He was NOT amused. Nope, not even a tiny bit. He leaned over me, eyes narrowed as his hands fastened on my shoulders like vises & he jerked me roughly into a sitting position. He’d reached his limits & exploded. “You stupid…” he began, breathing heavily, but unable to finish. He gave me a good shake instead so that my teeth clacked painfully together.
I got a hold of his wrists, sank my nails deep into his skin, felt wetness on my fingertips. Bishop let loose with a vicious snarl, forced me back onto the bed with the weight of his body. His hands were everywhere on me at once, his mouth devouring mine with a blind need that made me quiver like a plucked bowstring.
We clawed at each other, biting, tasting blood. His hands sank into my hair, yanked my head roughly back to expose the column of my throat. His mouth was a brand, burning a flaming trail along my neck to my chest, down to my breasts. His lips fastened hungrily onto one of the peaks, drew the hardened nipple deep into the wet warmth of his mouth. He rolled it on his tongue, grazed it with the sharpness of his teeth. I wrapped both my arms about his head & held him to me as I moaned in pleasure & a frenzy of need he was feeding.
Bishop wrenched my legs apart; I was sure I would have bruises on my thighs. Not that I cared. His body slid along mine, feeling like rough velvet, until he rested in the cradle of my hips. His stubbled jaw grazed over the thatch of tightly-curled pale hairs nested at the top of my mound. I held my breath, not sure what to expect.
“Bishop….” I breathed, shivering as his breath fanned warm over my sex.
He looked up the slope of my belly, golden eyes gleaming, predatory as they caught mine & held them. His mouth brushed lightly, oh so lightly, over the gates of my womanhood. My head fell back, my eyelids fluttering. He drew the tip of one finger softly down the delineation. I jerked. “Bishop…I…” I tried again to speak but found no more words as the tip of his tongue replaced his finger.
I was melting from the inside out. I gripped the pillows wadded under my head as my hips lifted of their own volition, Bishop’s mouth working magic on my body. His tongue danced amid my frills & folds, wildly at first then slowly. His big hands gripped my hips, fingers digging deep into my flesh, curving over the jut of my hipbones. I couldn’t breathe, I was flying, falling, all at the same time. I didn’t care if I ever drew another breath again so long as Bishop kept doing what he was doing to me.
Then he was sliding up my body again, his weight pressing me down into the feather tick, the hard, heavy insistence of his leather-covered manhood pressed against my aching center.
“Bishop….” I’d found breath, barely, & panted quietly “I… I’m… virgin…”
He stopped. Went absolutely still. I couldn’t look into his eyes, see the expression on his face. I kept my eyes closed, my head turned away from him. He didn’t move still. I risked a glance; he was staring down at me. I licked my dry lips. “Say something…. Anything.”
He moved off of me, from between my thighs. Sat on the bed next to me, picked me up & deposited me on his lap. He was breathing heavily too, a slight tremor going through his big frame as he held me, an arm about my waist, the other buried in the tangle of my hair as he tugged my head to his shoulder. “Sorry… I’m sorry, Princess…” his deep voice sounded almost pained.
I reached up, my fingertips lightly brushing his chin. He caught my hand, kissed my knuckles before he pressed my palm to his chest. His heart beat frantically. I waited tensely; I didn’t know WHAT I could say.
“When you’re ready then. When you invite me to your bed. I don’t take women unwillingly.” His low voice drifted quietly down to me.
I bit my bottom lip. That slight tremor was still running through him. I glanced down, saw that the bulge between his legs hadn’t grown any smaller. I tentatively reached down & cupped it in my hand, was rewarded with a groan from him that sounded like someone had ripped his heart out by the roots. His eyes closed, head tipped back as he ground his teeth.
“Princess….” his low voice held a note of warning mixed with the ragged need. “If you keep doing that, I’m going to think you’ve changed your mind….”
I scooted off his lap, knelt on the floor at his feet, looking up at him as I lay my hands lightly on his knees. I felt a well-spring of tenderness fill me for this man, my friend, my traveling companion. “Shhh…” I murmured, pushing his knees gently apart, urging him closer to the edge of the bed. I unlaced the fly of his leathers, followed the trail of mahogany hair that ran south from his navel & disappeared into his pants with my fingers.
He had his hands braced on the frame of the bed, knuckles white as he gripped the wood, watching me with hooded eyes. I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing. But the ranger was obviously very aroused. I felt horrible at the thought of leaving him in such a state, especially after I had scared him so badly.
I dipped a hand inside, felt silken softness overlaying what felt like sun-warmed steel. Bishop’s body jerked when I touched him, the muscles of his thighs leaping, taut belly flexing. I wasn’t bold enough yet to free him completely. I stroked him lightly, from base to tip, under cover of his leathers. The muscles of his arms flexed powerfully with every stroke of my hand over his hardness. I felt a warm rush of wetness against my fingertips soon after I had started. The ranger threw his head back with a feral growl, holding himself perfectly still otherwise, panting heavily between his clenched teeth.
I drew my hand free, lifting it up to examine the stickiness that coated my fingers. It looked like small pearls of crystal. I licked my fingers, hearing his breath catch in his throat as I did so. The fluid was salty, musky male. I glanced up at Bishop, found him staring down at me with dark, unreadable eyes. I touched my tongue to my upper lip, curled my hands together between my thighs & smiled at him, almost shyly, feeling the blood rush to my face. I felt like I had done something wrong.
Before I knew it, he had grabbed me again & hauled me into a crushing hug. I wrapped my arms about his broad shoulders, fingers playing through the short hairs at the nape of his neck. “Does this mean you forgive me?” I tried to sound teasing but I may have fallen somewhat short.
Before he could answer me, there was a knock on the door. Bishop laid me down on the bed, drew the comforter around me to make sure I was decently covered, got his pants into a semblance of order with a wicked smirk at me that had me blushing even redder & groaning as I yanked the covers over my head. I heard the rich sound of his chuckling as he opened the door. I peeked from behind my hiding spot, saw him with a wooden tray laden with food; the enticing aroma of cooked beef, warm fresh bread & vegetable soup had my nose twitching. I emerged from the mounds of linen like a snail emerging from its shell, lured by the temptation of the man before me & food.
My stomach growled; loudly. I could have died of mortification. Bishop laughed. Damn him. I pulled the blankets back over my head to his further snickering.
I was only allowed out of the bed the next day after gaining a clean bill of health from a healer Bishop had enticed down from the College. HOW he had gained admittance to the College he flatly refused to tell me. But I had my suspicions.
I was just pulling the lacings on my armoured corset together when I heard a commotion at the door to our room. I arched a brow, glancing over my shoulder, to find the ranger standing toe to toe with the proprietor, who wasn’t happy about letting a large black wolf into her establishment. Karnwyr had apparently had enough of waiting to see me & was ready to barge his way in, using his teeth if necessary to gain admittance.
“Let him in!” I snapped in the tone I had used when training new warriors to Meridia’s service. The proprietor stood up straight in surprise at it while Bishop stepped aside, pushing the door open. I was hit in the stomach by a large flying black projectile of fur that knocked me flat on my back.
Karnwyr stood over me, paws on my shoulders, holding me to the ground as he promptly tried to lick me to death. I squealed, laughing, tugging his ears, scritching into his ruff all while trying to evade that long, slobbering red tongue.
“I think someone was worried about you,” I heard Bishop’s voice saying in amused tones somewhere nearby.
“Ya think?” I managed, only to be assaulted again by the giant wolfs tongue. “Okay, I missed you too. Now gerroff you big lummox!”
Bishop was laughing as he got an arm about Karnwyr’s neck & pulled him back so I could at least sit up. I did my best to wipe the wolf drool from my face then took Karnwyr’s face between my hands & brushed noses with him. “Hey buddy. I missed you too.” He let out a very wolfish whine of happiness, licked my chin & plopped his head into my lap as he lay on his back, all four paws thrust up in the air. I obligingly rubbed his belly.
The ranger was leaning a shoulder against the wall, arms crossed over his chest as he watched us. I grinned up at him. “I like Karnwyr. I think he’s sweet.” I said, glancing at Bishop as I continued to rub the wolf’s belly, making one hind leg twitch like mad.
“He likes you too,” Bishop said, pushing away from the wall to come squat down next to us. The wolf jumped to his feet, butting his head into the ranger’s chest before he sat down beside him. “You know why he likes you?” He asked me lightly, reaching a hand out to rub Karnwyr between the ears.
I hopped to my feet, went back to dressing. I was slipping my armoured top on over my head as I said “No. Why do you think he likes me?” I tugged my hair out from my top, was fastening my pauldron on my right shoulder.
“Because you understand him. You know what he is, what he’s capable of. & you don’t fear him.”
I paused in my dressing. Was the ranger speaking about his wolf… or himself? I remained silent, acutely aware of the steady gaze of my companion on me as I finished doing up my remaining buckles & laces.
‘Because you understand him. You know what he is, what he’s capable of. & you don’t fear him’. The words chased themselves round & round my mind. Yes. I knew what he was, this ranger. A warrior, just as I was. He’d seen the harshness of this world first-hand. Had suffered something he would not speak of. & it had scarred him, soul-deep, so that he trusted no one. Not even me.
& I could not blame him. I didn’t blame him for his reticence. For becoming as hard & harsh as he was. I wondered again, as I had before, what had happened to him to make him as he was. I knew his barbs covered a hidden wound, that he struck a blow first with his sharp words before others could land them. He moved through the world as a shadow does; watching, in it but not a PART of it. Capable of savage violence, but also great tenderness. He pretended not to care about others, only himself. Yet he cared about his wolf, Karnwyr. If he was as truly selfish as he put up the facade of being, we wouldn’t have gone to that bandit cave to get the wolf back.
He would have left me here to die of fever instead of doing gods knew what to get a healer from the College.
I finished lacing up my boot, glancing through the long fall of my pale hair towards Bishop. He was leaning on the wall again, arms folded over his broad chest, ankles crossed, eyelids lowered, looking like he wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever. Karnwyr lay like a furry rug at his feet, great head on his paws.
“Understanding something…” I began, speaking quietly & slowly, “is not the same as really knowing it, what drives it.” I saw a ruddy brow arch slightly. “Usually… what you see at first glance, is not the true face of the person or creature.” I paused again, stood up & shook my curls back from my face. “You’re a hunter, a ranger. You already know this.”
Bishop grinned at me, that wolfish, roguish grin, tipping his head to me as he tapped the side of his nose lightly with a finger.
We were on the highroad, heading steadily towards Whiterun. The lower out of the mountains we got, the warmer it became so we shed our cloaks, rolling them & tying them to the backs of our saddles. The ranger & I traveled in a companionable silence, side by side on our horses, thighs occasionally brushing as the road narrowed. Sometimes he would spur forward when the track became over-grown or fall back to let me take the lead. But both of us kept a look-out for possible trouble.
I kept swinging surreptitious glances at him from behind the veil of my thick pale curls, admiring how he used his knees instead of the reins to guide Sleipnir, the way the sun danced in his coppery hair, shining on it like old bronze. The way his white shirt would pull taut against his back & shoulders as he’d duck to avoid a low-hanging branch across our path. The way his body moved as he rocked along with the rhythm of the big black horses stride.
‘What happened to you, Bishop? What in your past has hurt you so deep you won’t let anyone close to you?’ I wondered silently to myself. My heart ached for him. He was a good man, I knew he was. Despite myself, or maybe because of my own turbulent past, I knew what it was like to feel like an animal in a cage, & I wanted to help him somehow. To heal those old wounds of his. Gods knew if I could.
I berated myself in the silence of my mind for these thoughts. I’d made a vow, to remain chaste, a virgin warrior for my Lady Meridia. I needn’t have made such a concession if I did not wish it. But after what Jakob had done to me, I didn’t think I could bear the touch of a mans hands on me.
Until that night under the waterfall when Bishop had kissed me. Now all I wanted was for him to kiss me again, to touch me. I wondered what it would feel like, to have him above me, inside of me. Would he be tender? Rough? Wild? All of the above?
I gave myself a shake & turned to look at the ranger. He rode casually beside me, one scarred hand holding the reins, the other resting on his thigh. “What made you become a ranger?” I blurted then immediately turned red as a ripe tomato.
Bishop cocked a ruddy brow at me, giving me a glance from the corners of his eyes. “Life, ladyship.”
I waited. We rode in silence for another quarter of a mile. I was starting to think he wasn’t going to speak further when his voice came to me, almost too quiet to hear. “I traveled a lot. Me, the others, we were… nomadic, I guess you could say. Traveled all around Tamriel. I’ve been to the Reach. It taught me to check my footing twice. The Rift made me aware of traps. The forests of Falkreath gave me a healthy respect for the wild animals that roamed the woods, both on two legs & four. The coldness of the Pale hardened me to its harshness.”
I kept silent, barely daring to breathe for fear he would stop talking. After another quarter mile or so, he went on, “I don’t talk about my family. If you care to call them that. I don’t.”
Right. Sore subject there. I didn’t want to push him for answers he wasn’t ready or willing to give. This man reminded me more & more of an injured animal, like a wolf with a thorn in its paw. Patience, kindness & patience is what is needed to gain the animals trust so you can help it, remove the thorn. Let him come to you, show you are no threat to him. Then maybe, maybe, he’ll trust you enough so you can draw that thorn clean out.
So I merely nodded, spurring up as the road narrowed. When it widened again & the ranger came alongside me, I found him smirking at me.
“What about you, ladyship?” He didn’t sound overly curious.
I blinked. “What about me?” In all our months together of travel, he’d never been interested enough before to ask anything about me.
He tsked, shaking his head slowly. “Ah, come on now. You can’t just expect me to answer all your questions without me asking some of you in return. That’s not how this game works.”
A game, was it? I arched my brows at him, one corner of my mouth quirking up. “Ask away, ranger. I’m an open book.”
We rode in silence again for a bit as Bishop looked me over critically. Finally tho, he said “You could be a Nord to look at. You’ve their coloring, even pale as you are. But you’re small, even for a woman.”
I scrunched my nose up at him. “Size has nothing to do with skill.” I paused, mulling over how much to tell him. How much I COULD tell him. “I’m a Nord. I grew up in the mountains, between Solitude & the Reach, near the border of High Rock.”
“&?” he asked after I had fallen silent.
“& what?” I asked innocently. Yes, I was going to make him spell it out. I caught a glimpse of the expression on his face; he looked like he either wanted to laugh or wring my neck. I smiled blandly at him.
“Fine. Don’t tell me if you don’t want to. Not like I care anyway.” He grumbled, spurring up ahead of me.
I stared at his broad back, torn between the urge to choke him & laugh. Getting a hold of myself with great difficulty, I nudged Gypsum in the ribs, making him trot up next to Bishop. “Seriously tho, what do you want to know? I’m a Nord,” sort of ,”I grew up in a small village out in the middle of nowhere….” I paused a beat. Then “Ooohhh. You want to know more about me? Like… how did such a tiny thing like me end up a warrior?”
He cut a glance at me, face austere then his lips curved in a small smile, golden eyes sparkling, gentling the planes of his face. “The thought… had crossed my mind.”
“Just ask, Bishop. Ask what you want to know. I’ll tell you. Blatant honesty. No strings. You don’t even have to tell me about your past or life if you don’t want to,” I said, as gently as I could.
He appeared to consider my words seriously for a moment. Finding no trickery in either them or my carefully neutral expression, the ranger began talking. “All right, ladyship. How DID such a tiny thing like you end up a warrior?”
“Life.” I said, in the exact same tone as he had. He shot me an annoyed look that made me smile back at him. I dropped Gypsum’s reins across the piebald’s neck, rode with my hands on my thighs, rubbing them up & down my leathers. & I found myself telling this churlish ranger things about myself I’d never spoken of to anyone. “I was married once. Aye, I know. How can I still be a virgin if I was married. But I am & I was. Jakob,” my voice caught on the name & I cleared my throat lightly, lowering my head a fraction so my hair blew forward & partially hid my face. “It wasn’t a marriage in actuality. We never… consummated it. He couldn’t. A swelling sickness he told no one about. But he wanted me. My father agreed &….” I shrugged with a spreading of my fingers. “We married. I spent a little over a year with him, locked in his house, as little better than a slave or a prized pet. I was miles from my family, my friends, everything that was familiar to me. Then one night…” I broke off again, wrapping my arms about myself as I looked up at the azure sky where a bright golden sun beamed down; I didn’t feel its warmth. “I killed him.” I finished simply.
The horses plodded on down the road, going from bright patches into the soft gloom of shadows. Birds chirped in the trees, flew overhead. Wild goats foraged under their branches. & still Bishop was silent. I risked a glance at him; he had his head lowered, his hand on the reins curled so tightly the scarred knuckles were white. I swallowed hard, wanting to explain & yet fearing his reaction, for some odd reason. I forged on ahead, regardless.
“He deserved it. He deserved worse, for what he did to me. I wasn’t his first wife either, I later found out. She died under curious circumstances. You’ve seen my back, aye?” Of course he had but the ranger nodded anyway, still keeping quiet. “Did you think all those scars came from battles?” I arched both my brows at him.
“Those are lash marks…. Do you mean to tell me that he….?” his deep voice was unnaturally calm; calm like how it is right before a bloody big storm. I could see it brewing in his eyes.
I dropped my arms, picked up the reins again. “Aye. He did. Many times. Any time he… couldn’t function. It was all my fault, you see. I’d bewitched him somehow. Made him want me. & for his inability to perform his husbandly duties, he held me to blame.”
“How’d you make him want you, Princess?” Quietly but with an edge of curiosity in his deep voice.
I shrugged. “How does any woman make a man want her? I barely knew him before my father agreed to the match. Jakob spent several weeks courting me then we were married. I was barely thirteen. I had no special powers, I’m no witch or enchantress. I was a simple farm-girl, if a bit of a rowdy one as I ran with the boys.” I dragged my free hand through my hair, pushing the curls back from my face. “I know what happens between men & women, for the most part. Growing up on a farm, you get the general idea…But I wasn’t ahhh…” I arched a brow at him, flushing slightly.
Bishop chuckled, inclined his head at that. “Point well taken. So this guy, he… what? Saw your pretty face & decided he just had to have you?”
I nodded. “Something like that. I was a bit of a… well, a wild child. I guess it was the allure of trying to tame me as well as… my pretty face.” I said the last dryly with a wry quirking of my lips, touching the scar I had on my cheek from Jakob’s dagger.
Bishop grunted. “Another gift from him, eh?”
I nodded again. “Aye. He meant to kill me. I wasn’t too keen on dying so…. I got the dagger from him &… he ended up dead instead. I fled to the temple of Meridia near my village after. Joined their priesthood & became part of the warrior caste.”
Bishop was looking at me strangely & I realized I had slipped. Big time. I felt a trickle of trepidation race down my spine; he was easier to talk to than I expected when he wasn’t being a complete ass & I had grown so comfortable with him, I’d let my guard down. My village was no more; likely hadn’t been rebuilt after it was razed to the ground. I avoided his eye, my hand tightening on the reins. The ranger reached out, got a hold of Gypsum’s headstall & forced the horse to a stop, turning his mount side-on with mine so I was forced to look at him.
“There’s no village near the temple of Meridia. & that temple is nothing but a ruin. Has been since I can remember. Why are you lying to me?” His face showed his anger even if his deep voice was soft & even. He honestly thought I was being untruthful. I could have kicked myself.
“I’m not lying to you, Bishop. I have never, once, lied to you in all these months we’ve traveled together. Why would I start now?” My eyes pleaded with him to believe me. But he didn’t, I could see that plainly. I sighed softly, closed my eyes.
When next I opened them, I was standing on the other side of his horse, arms at my sides, looking up at him. He was looking down at me, face an expressionless mask but there was a gleam in his golden eyes that I couldn’t identify. “You weren’t wrong. I was a Nord, the last time I had been alive. Now… I’m a Ningheim. Brought back to Tamriel by my Lady Meridia.”
He stared at me for a few long minutes then dismounted, walked up to within a foot or so me. I kept my eyes locked on his, saw the fight taking place within them. He didn’t want to believe me.
“Bishop….” but I stopped. His jaw was clenched, the muscles bunching & leaping under his tawny skin. Before he could blink, I stepped in close to him, pulled his dagger from his belt & held the point over my heart. “If you think I’m lying, cut my tongue from my head. Take my life. I won’t fight you. I won’t resist….” I saw his hands curl into fists at his sides, the dangerous glint in his stormy amber eyes. “Well?” I prompted when he remained silent.
He took the dagger from me, pressed the blade to my throat as his other hand gripped the back of my neck tightly, yanking my body fully into his, fingers knotted in my hair. I didn’t fight or resist, just as I had said I wouldn’t. He pressed the blade harder against my skin, drawing a bead of dark blood; I felt it slide warm down my neck. & still, I stood there, hands at my sides, looking up into his face as I saw the war that raged inside of him.
“Whatever happened to you, Bishop, whoever lied to you in your past, whoever hurt you, betrayed you…. I’m not them. I have no reason to lie, hurt or betray you. None.” I spoke quietly, keeping my gaze steady on his, speaking honestly, letting my sincerity show in my eyes, expression, the tone of my voice.
He wavered but didn’t release me or remove the blade from my throat, just tightened his fingers in my hair & on the grip of the dagger. I waited, feeling my heart beat heavily in my breast. I wanted to cry but I fought back the tears.
A few long moments passed as he continued to hold that blade to my throat. The birds sang, the sun shone down on us. The world faded away until it was just us, this ranger & I standing pressed close together as he debated on whether or not to end my life. ‘Please… please believe me, Bishop. I’d never lie to you. I would never betray you or hurt you. I could never do that to you.’ I wanted to tell him but the words… died on my tongue. He needed to decide for himself.
Seconds ticked by, stretched into an eternity as that deadly blade stayed pressed against my skin. & still, I remained as I was, keeping my arms at my sides, unresisting. & then….
He removed the dagger, stepped back from me so abruptly I staggered, thrusting it back into its sheath at his belt. “I’ll believe you, Princess. But if what you’ve told me proves to be a lie….” the unspoken threat was implicit.
“& I won’t fight you, Bishop. If you find me to be lying to you, I deserve to die, as all liars do.” I said, & meant it.
We remounted & started down the road again in an uneasy silence. I could feel that hard-won closeness we had shared in weeks past being stripped away. He was putting distance between us. & I couldn’t blame him. What I was, an ancient Nord, brought back by the will of a daedric goddess… what sane person would believe that? I’d heard the ranger say often enough that there were no gods, no Divines, that it was all a big joke & those who believed in them were naive fools. How does someone who has seen the face of a daedric prince, been a resident of their realm of Oblivion for centuries, prove to someone who is convinced they are not real, that they ARE real, as real as the Divines? It was an impossible task I wasn’t ready to quite take on.
I would settle for fording the chasm that grew wider between Bishop & I the closer we got to Whiterun.
It had been a miserable week & a half of travel. Bishop slept separately from me in his own bedroll, spent hours roaming far afield, avoiding being near me. But at night, when I would make camp by myself, he’d always returned. I would wake to find him sitting across from me, staring into the fire. I continued to go on my moonlight runs.
We arrived at the gates to Whiterun one rainy afternoon. The guards recognized me & let us pass with no trouble. I made directly for the Bannered Mare, wanting nothing more than to change out of my wet armour, take a hot bath, get a decent meal & sleep in a clean bed. Even if it meant I’d be going to bed by myself.
The Mare was as it always was, filled with the usual patrons who sat at the bar, ranged around the scattered tables or on the benches encircling the central fire pit. I tugged the cowl of my cloak closer around my face, looking for Old Hulda. But she was nowhere to be seen tonight. I bit back a groan, shot a glance at the ranger & moved further in, towards the fire. I could at least thaw out a bit & maybe dry off some.
I was holding my hands out over the leaping flames, flexing them to coax some feeling back into them when I noticed Bishop wasn’t either behind or beside me. I glanced over my shoulder, saw he had been stopped by a woman who was pawing all over him while he tried to keep her at arms length. She didn’t take the hint, only laughed, simpering like bitch in heat.
I rolled my eyes at the woman’s persistence. Part of me wanted to go up to her & slap the ever-loving daylights out of her but I refrained. Bishop hadn’t slept beside me, kissed me, touched me let alone spoken to me in more than a week. He was a big boy & could take care of himself. Me? I wasn’t in the best of moods & was frankly itching for a good knock-down, drag-out fight. I would probably end up in jail for the night. I turned away from the spectacle & concentrated instead on the matter at hand; drying off & getting warm.
“Go away, flea. You’re not my type,” Bishop was growling at the persistent woman who dogged his steps as he came over to stand at the pit beside me. I arched a brow up at him. Deja-vu much? I thought, recalling those were similar words he had spoken to me back in Riverwood.
The woman cast a cutting glance over me with a sneer twisting her full painted lips. I arched the other brow at her, rocking forward a bit on the balls of my feet. ‘Oh please, PLEASE do something stupid. I would love nothing better than to wipe the floor with your face’, I silently begged her. If I was going to end up in jail for being in a bar fight, I wanted to make sure that I had company. My tolerance levels plummeted another few notches as the chits eyes lingered on me. I honestly wasn’t in the mood to put up with Bishop either. But I did, mainly because he didn’t direct his scathing attitude my way.
“My name is not flea. It’s Neeshka. Who’s the little girl, big man? You’d choose a child over a grown woman?” Her tone was condescending to say the least as she raked me with another sneer.
Oh that was it. Done & done. Woman wanted a fight, she was going to get one, guards be damned. I hissed between my teeth, eyes narrowing on her as I whirled to face her fully. I had just about made it to her, had my hands half-way to her throat before Bishop grabbed me about the waist with one arm, lifted me off my feet & pulled me back away from the woman. I sank my nails into his arm instead, getting a grunt from him but he didn’t let me go, kept me away from the woman whose eyes I wanted to claw out. Little girl, was it? HA! Big enough to put my boot up your arse, I groused silently, struggling in the ranger’s grip.
“I wouldn’t piss her off, flea. She’s not in the mood. & neither am I. Now get lost.” Bishop turned his back on the woman, half-carried, half-dragged me further into the Inn. I kicked him in the shins with my heels, for what good it did me. His arm tightened about my waist almost painfully & his mouth pressed itself to my ear, where he growled in a low menacing tone “Kick me again & I’ll make it so you can’t sit down for a month.”
I grunted from the grip of his arm about my waist & snarled back “Try it & you’ll find that dagger of yours shoved so far up your armph—” I got no further because Bishop clapped a hand over my mouth. I snarled again & sank my teeth into the heel of his palm, tasting blood. Fucking bastard. NO ONE man-handled me like this. No one.
Bishop hauled me into the room in back that served as a bath, tossed me none too gently down onto the bed then stood a moment, examining his bitten hand dispassionately as I scrambled to my knees, fighting with my heavy cave-bear cloak & hood. “You fucking EVER lay a hand on me like that again….” I began in a low voice made breathless by rage. I was beyond pissed. Bishop shot a murderous glare at me. I met him, tit-for-tat, & glared right back. I flicked my fingers at him, thoroughly disgusted as I began jerking at the knot of the strings to my cloak.
Next I knew, Bishop was in front of me, shoving my hands away. Oh like hells. I raised a hand in an attempt to slap his ear through the side of his head. He grabbed my wrist before it made contact & shoved me roughly away from him. “You foul-tempered bitch!” he hissed at me, golden eyes narrowed dangerously on me.
I slithered off the bed, stood panting. I made a very determined effort to kick him between the legs. He caught my knee, swung my leg down, grabbed me by my upper arms & literally threw me up against the wall, pinning me to it with his body as he placed his forearm across my throat. “Fucking bastard!” I snarled as I writhed like fury, trying to break his hold.
He let go of me & backed up so quickly I stumbled when my feet hit the ground. We were both breathing heavily, staring daggers at the other. Sense returned to him before it did me. “You better get out of those wet clothes before you catch a chill. Bath water is warm. I suggest you use it.” Then he spun on his heel & left me alone in the room.
I rubbed my neck & jaw resentfully where his arm had bitten in, glowering after his retreating back. I shot out of the room, caught him just as he was about to leave the bath. “Who’s running now, ranger? You afraid of a woman not even half your size? Grow some fucking balls & be a man!”
He stopped dead in his tracks, shoulders stiffening. I saw his head raise then he turned towards me, slowly. His face was completely blank, only a dark fire burning in those molten eyes. “You mean a man like your husband was, my Lady?”
I straightened in indignation, face twisting into a mask of hurt contempt as he struck a very sensitive nerve. “Go bloody fuck yourself you asshole!” I snarled viciously.
“As my lady commands,” he replied snidely & turned back to the door.
I hated myself as soon as the words had left my mouth. But there was no way to take them back. I retreated back to the small room with the bed to get undressed, dig through my pack to see if I had anything even passably clean to put on after I bathed.
I padded quietly, barefoot, over to the big stone tub that was steaming gently with warm water, wearing nothing but one of Bishop’s shirts. It came down to my knees & drowned me but it was the only thing I could find that wasn’t filthy. I glanced towards the door that led to the common room, saw Bishop leaning up against the jamb in his usual pose; arms folded over his broad chest & ankles crossed. His features were tight, like he was in pain. Having traveled with him so long, I could tell, but no one else would have noticed the subtle nuances of his expression & body language. I swallowed hard but went behind the rood screen, stripped off his shirt & climbed into the tub.
I sat in the bottom, the water just coming up to my shoulders, drew my legs up to my chest, curled my arms about my thighs & lay my head on my knees as I closed my eyes. I barely heard what was going on in the noisy common room but the high sound of that woman Neeshka’s voice had me lifting my head & peering around the edge of the screen.
“Go away, flea. I am really not in the mood to put up with that mouth of yours,” Bishop sounded tired, really tired & aggravated.
“Awww come on, don’t be like that. You don’t even know what my mouth is capable of. But good news for you, I’m in the mood to show you. What do you say to that now, hm?” She reached up, tried to trace a finger down the ranger’s cheek.
Bishop grabbed her hand before it made contact & flung it away from himself like it was a piece of dung. “I meant what I said. I’m not in the mood.”
“Is it your little girl in there? She doesn’t have to know,” was followed by a low, sultry laugh & I saw her shift closer to Bishop, almost rubbing herself against him.
The ranger stayed as he was, arms folded over his chest as he looked at the woman like she was the lowest sort of creature he’d ever encountered. ‘You stupid chit. Just back off or you’re going to loose body parts’ I thought to myself.
“What part of ‘not interested’ did you not understand, flea? Fuck… off.” There was a clipped edge to his words, like he was trying hard not to lose his temper.
“I’m not a flea. I’m a thief. & why not? What does she have that I don’t?” Neeshka’s voice sounded slightly hurt, resentful.
‘A sense of self-preservation, for one’ I thought, then mentally corrected myself ‘well, sometimes anyway.’ My sense of self-preservation was broken most days. I kept eavesdropping, too curious to see how Bishop handled this particular pest.
“Just go away, flea. You’re starting to seriously get on my nerves.” Tho his voice was low, even I could hear the threat in it now.
Neeshka wasn’t too bright, it seems. She puffed herself up, folded her arms beneath her bosom to push her half-exposed breasts together so they were almost falling out of her blouse as she pouted. Bishop’s eyes didn’t even drift towards them, he just kept staring over her shoulder. “What makes her so special, huh? If I were your woman, you wouldn’t be in such a foul mood. Come on there, ranger. Give me a try. I promise you won’t regret it.” Her tone had taken on a wheedling quality that I was sure other men had given in to. As it was, I clapped my hands to my face, dragging my fingers back through my hair. I couldn’t help it. This woman was just… ugh. Either stupid or… No. There was no “or” about it. She was stupid. She didn’t have the sense to see the danger she was in.
“She just is, all right? Now fuck off, flea. Don’t come near me, her or this room again or I’ll slit your throat & leave your corpse for the scavengers.” Bishop growled low to Neeshka, the threat in his voice now plain as day even a deaf man could hear it.
I sat back in the tub, stunned. I couldn’t have been more stunned had someone just poleaxed me. I wasn’t at all sure I had heard him correctly but I knew my ears were working perfectly fine. I had the ridiculous urge to jump out of the water & run up to Bishop, fling my arms about him & kiss him blind, nakedness & patrons be damned. I had the other ridiculous urge to run through the streets of Whiterun like a lunatic screaming “He thinks I’m special!”. Yeah, that was a whole other type of “speshul” right there. One that would get me locked in the lowest, darkest, dankest cell in jail permanently.
I peeked around the screen again to find the ranger standing there alone, just as he always was, only now he had his head lowered & appeared to be studying the toes of his boots. “Bishop….” my high voice was gentle as I called his name.
He looked up, saw me watching him & walked over, staying on the other side of the screen. “Ladyship.” His voice was flat, emotionless.
I bit my bottom lip, peeked around the screen again, trying to catch his eye. “The water’s getting cold….” Not so much as a twitch. I drew a deep breath & forged ahead. “Would… would you like to join me?” I could feel my cheeks heating up even as I spoke the words.
I heard more than saw him take a deep breath of his own. “Ladyship…” he began but broke off with a soft growl, stepping around the screen so he could see me fully. I looked up at him, all wide, dark eyes,
a soft tumble of pale silvery-gold curls, sitting with my knees drawn up to my chest again & my arms wrapped about my thighs. Small, sweet, even innocent seeming.
“Please, Bishop?” I raised a hand, dripping water, palm upward towards him, entreating.
His shoulders fell, his eyes closing as he nodded. Turned his back to me & began to undress. I stayed where I was, as I was, as he removed his armour & clothing. I scooted over in the tub to make room for him as he climbed in. He sat down, stretching out his legs as much as he could & leaned against the side, arms spread over the edge, head fallen back. I wriggled closer to his side as unobtrusively as I could, watching him warily.
The fingers of the hand closest to me twitched when my hair brushed them. I stopped moving. He cracked an eye, watched me narrowly. I blushed immediately & ducked my head, my curls swinging forward to hide my glowing face.
“What? Not getting shy on me now, are you, Ladyship?” his deep voice still held that warm rumble but I didn’t hear any hostility in it.
My mouth trembled, wanting to smile. I bit the corner of my bottom lip, peeping at him through the thickets. “Maybe.” I uttered the word. I would have been even redder had the water not been opaque with the oils & salts that had been added to it but luckily I could only see Bishop from about the waist up. Everything else lower down was hidden from my sight. Still didn’t stop my imagination from running wild tho.
The big ranger ran the fingers of his hand lightly down my arm, got a hold of my elbow & tugged me into the curve of his body, holding me against his side. I curled against him, tucking my head under his chin as I rubbed my cheek against the coarse springy hairs that dappled his chest. I pressed my nose into them & inhaled deeply; he smelled like damp earth, campfire smoke, sunlight, forest, leather & the musky tang of male sweat.
“You don’t let anyone get the best of you, do you, my Lady?” he asked quietly.
I rubbed my cheek against his chest again, murmured back “I try not to, anyway.”
A fingertip was placed under my chin, gently lifting my head until my gaze met his. I traced the scar that ran down through his left eyebrow, curved around his cheekbone with my eyes. The soft curve of his lips. Bishop cupped my cheek in his palm, lowered his head & gently pressed his mouth to mine. My eyes fluttered closed as I sighed deeply, placed a hand on his chest. I could taste salt on my lips but I didn’t know if I was shedding tears or my ranger was. I felt the abyss that had yawned wide between us these past days slowly begin to narrow & close.
‘I love you, Bishop.’ But I didn’t say the words.