— CHAPTER SIX —
~ The Silver Hand ~
Warning: Explicit Sexual Content
“Bishop…. I love you. I….” I broke off as my eyes misted over again, shaking my head gently from side to side. “I don’t know when or how it happened. But I do. I love you.” The ranger remained silent, staring at me like I had grown another head. I stepped closer to him, placed my other hand, the one that didn’t clutch his ring, softly against his stubbled cheek. “You don’t have to say it back to me, Bishop. I don’t need to hear it. But…. I wanted you to know.”
Even though I said I didn’t want to hear him say the words, a small part of me hoped he would say them anyway. He didn’t speak, just continued to stare at me with an almost pained expression in those expressive eyes of his.
I saw his jaw working as he clenched his teeth briefly then he let out a long, slow breath, like he’d been holding it. “Do you, Princess? Do you honestly love me?” His deep voice had roughened, gone deeper than it normally was, like it did when he was trying hard to keep some strong emotion in check.
I nodded, feeling a single tear escape & slip down my cheek. I gave a nervous, choked little laugh & wiped it away. “Of course I mean it, Bishop. I’ve never lied to you & I never will.”
He lowered his coppery head, his jaw clenching again the same as his hands at his sides. Finally though, he took a deep breath & looked back at me, cupped one of my cheeks in his warm, calloused palm. I moved into his big body, tucked my head under his chin & slid my arms about his waist. He held me in return, quietly, arms strong about me, one hand buried in my hair at the back of my head, his other hand fisted at the small of my back.
It was only after getting a few annoyed looks from people who were coming up the stairs — trying to come up the stairs — we were blocking did I let him go & step back.
“Come on, ranger. I have a surprise for you.” The corners of my lips drew up just a touch; I couldn’t help it. I was pretty sure I looked like an idiot, or a girl with her first crush.
He arched a brow at me but didn’t say anything, just let me take his hand & lead him towards the Skyforge. Eorlund was there, sharpening a dagger on the grindstone. I glanced at Bishop, scrunched my nose up at him playfully as I released his hand to go speak with the smith. I could feel the rangers eyes on me the entire time, watching me with that predatory gaze of his.
“Allo, Eorlund. I’m here to pick everything up, if it’s all ready.”
He stopped working the pedal, nodded towards the table off to his right. “Your things are there, lass, even the special order you made. You just let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”
I held out the ring Bishop had given me, asking “I was wondering if you could maybe do something so it would fit me? Please, I would really appreciate it.”
The smith took the battered silver wolfs-head ring from me, noting how my hand was slightly reddened where it had come into direct contact with my skin. I wasn’t as nearly sensitive to silver as some other lycans were said to be, thankfully, but it still stung if I had it against my skin for too long.
“Aye, I can do that. I’ll even put a lining on the inside so it won’t burn you anymore. Won’t take but a few moments, lass.” He took a few quick measurements of my ring finger on my left hand then moved off to take care of my request.
I nodded to him, went to retrieve the gift I had gotten for Bishop. Eorlund, bless his foresight, had wrapped the rangers surprise up separately from my things. I left my gear on the table, picked up the bag with my gifts in it & walked back over to Bishop.
He was leaning a shoulder against the wall at the top of the stairs, arms folded over his chest & ankles crossed. I held out the bag to him. He stared at it a moment before his eyes locked on mine as he asked suspiciously “What’d you do?”
“Take it. It’s yours.” I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning.
Those brilliant golden eyes narrowed speculatively on me a moment but he took the bag & opened it to look inside. His expression went blank, completely unreadable. I fidgeted a bit as he remained silent, still looking down into the bag. Finally, he squatted down, started pulling the new armour out of the sack. It was all leather, chainmail, belts & buckles in earth tones, light & flexible enough it wouldn’t hinder his movements. He held the cuirass up, turning it over in his hands before he put it back down with the rest. He looked up at me then, still with that same unreadable expression on his face, big hands hanging loose between his thighs.
I squirmed a bit nervously under that penetrating stare, knelt down in front of him, taking the sack from him. “There’s more. It should be in here somewhere.” I pawed through the bag, finding a smaller pouch of black silk at the very bottom, wedged into a corner next to the quiver of black-quilled arrows. I opened the little pouch & drew out a silver-looking medallion of two wolfs heads with Nordic knotwork between them. I held it up by the chain in front of him, blushing. “I saw this a couple of months ago. I couldn’t afford it then but when I could, I asked Eorlund if he still had it. When he said he did, I bought it.” The ranger still hadn’t said anything, was just looking at me with those unblinking amber eyes of his. I held the medallion out to him. “I don’t know when your birthday is. But if it’s already passed, consider this a late birthday present. If it hasn’t happened yet, happy early birthday, Bishop.”
He stared so long at the necklace I thought he was going to refuse it, along with the armour & arrows. But then he was standing, pulling me roughly up into his arms & holding me tightly against him. “You didn’t have to, Princess,” his deep voice rumbled under my ear.
“I know. But I wanted to.” I pulled back just far enough to look up at him. “You’re not upset with me, are you?”
One corner of his mobile mouth quirked up. “No, I’m not upset with you, even if you are a sneaky little shit. Thank you, sweetness.” He released me, took the necklace from me & fastened it around his neck, adjusting it so it hung correctly.
It suited him. It really, truly did. When I had first seen it, my mind had gone back to the night at the falls, when I had called him the big bad wolf. I’d just had to have it, had made Eorlund promise not to sell it, even given him some coin to hold onto it for me. & when I could afford it, I had handed over the rest of its worth without a second thought. I felt giddy, that I had done something for the ranger he hadn’t been expecting & he hadn’t thrown it back in my face with his usual comments of how he can take care of himself, that he didn’t need my charity. It’s disconcerting, wanting to laugh & cry at the same time but that was exactly how I felt.
“Hey lass,” Eorlund’s voice broke in on us. “Your ring is ready.”
I got up on tip-toe, tugged Bishop’s head down to mine, brushed my lips lightly over his. “I’ll be right back.” He caught my hand as I was walking away, pulled me back & kissed me thoroughly before he let me go.
I was red-faced & breathless, grinning from ear to ear, my eyes all dreamy as I walked back over to the big smith, who was laughing at me. I didn’t care. I was too happy. He handed me back the ring. I turned it over, so I could see the inside of it. He’d lined it with a thin layer of suede, to keep the silver from touching my skin. “What do I owe you for this, Eorlund?”
“Nothing. What you paid me for the new set of armour more than covers that.”
I slid the ring onto the fourth finger of my left hand; it fit perfectly. I clasped that hand to my bosom with the other, smiled up at the big smith. “Thank you.”
He waved away my thanks & went back about his business. I retrieved my weapons & armour, went back over to Bishop, who had put his new armour & arrows back into the sack. “So…. what’d you want to do until tonight?”
His golden eyes went heavy-lidded as he gave me a slow, heated, leisurely once over. That wolfish, roguish grin of his slid out, showing just a hint of his canines. I shivered, seeing it, my skin prickling with gooseflesh.
“I’m sure I can come up with a good way to pass the time, sweetness,” he drawled lazily down at me in his deep rumble.
I just bet he could.
In the advent, we ended up back at the Bannered Mare to have some lunch. We weren’t but halfway through our meal of beef stew, bread, cheese & baked apples when a runner from Jorrvaskr found me. After making sure he had the person he was looking for, he handed me a sealed letter & left.
I read it while Bishop watched me from across the table with an opaque expression & hooded eyes. Kodlak wanted to see me as soon as I could manage it, in regards to a previous discussion we’d had. I sighed lightly, looked up at the ranger. He arched his brows at me inquisitively.
“It’s important,” was all I said.
He simply nodded & reached for his tankard of mead. I slipped from my seat, went around the table to stand next to him, brushing the backs of the fingers of one hand lightly along his stubbled jaw. He looked up at me as he wrapped an arm about my hips to draw me closer. “I’ll come back as soon as I can, Bishop. Promise.”
He reached up with his other hand, slid his fingers into my loose hair, still with that hooded look. Curling his hand about the nape of my neck, he tugged me down into his lap &, wrapping his arms around me, kissed me. I slid my arms about his broad shoulders, my eyes fluttering closed as I slowly kissed him back. I could taste the apples & mead on his tongue. He was making it really difficult to leave. Not that I minded in the least. Still, I had obligations.
I pulled back from his lips with genuine regret, looking into those beautiful amber eyes of his. He growled low at me, saying in his deep, rough rumble “You best go while I let you, Princess.”
I blushed, scooted out of his lap when he released me & went, biting my bottom lip on a grin as I saw him surreptitiously adjust himself in his leather pants.
I knocked on the open doubledoors to Kodlak’s quarters, poking my head inside. He was perusing the books in his small library but turned with his usual welcoming smile at my knock. He waved me in, saying “Close the doors behind you, lass.”
I frowned slightly, puzzled, but did as he said. I stopped just inside the threshold, my hands folded quietly behind my back. The Harbinger turned to face me, folding his own hands behind his back in the same pose I was in.
He didn’t beat around the bush but came directly to the point. “I found where the witches have made their den at, lass. Are you still willing to go fight hagravens & bring back one of their heads for me?”
“Of course,” I didn’t hesitate.
“Brave girl,” he mused, mostly to himself. He went to his bedchamber only to return a few moments later. He handed me a map, roughly sketched, with a route leading from Whiterun to a place between Helgen & Riverwood marked in red ink. I folded it carefully & tucked it away.
“Is that all, Harbinger?” I asked politely.
Kodlak nodded & vaguely waved a hand at me in dismissal as he started slowly pacing his room, becoming lost in thought. I left him to his ruminations.
Aela caught me on the steps outside the sleeping quarters as I was leaving them. She looked to be heading in.
“Hail, Sister. Are you ready for tonight?” She seemed eager, her blue eyes holding a similarly feral cast that Bishop’s amber eyes usually had whenever he looked at me.
I nodded to her. “Hail, Huntress. Aye, I’m ready for tonight.”
“Good! We’ll show the Silver Hand that the Companion’s are a force not to be taken lightly. Remember, we meet at the road, a quarter of a mile away from Gallow’s Rock.”
I tipped my head to her again as I replied “I’ll meet you & Skjor there by moonlight. Until then, Huntress.”
She went through the doors, I went up the stairs. I had a few hours before I needed to leave.
I went back to the Inn where Bishop was waiting for me.
The ranger grabbed me, lifting me clear off my feet & pinned me to the wall as soon as I stepped inside the doors to our rooms & they had closed behind me. His hard, unyielding body held me in place as he took my hands into his, lacing his fingers with mine & pinioning them above my head.
“Bishop! What—?” I got no further because he lowered his head with a low growl, his mouth came down over mine & he stole my breath clean away.
I moaned quietly against his lips, feeling my heart start to race. The scent of leather, woodsmoke, pine, damp earth & musky male wrapped about me. His tongue traced along my bottom lip softly before he nipped it lightly.
“I mean to give you a damned good reason to come back, sweetness,” his deep voice rumbled low in my ear as he brushed his stubbled jaw along my neck, making me shiver & causing chills to race down my spine, my skin to ripple into gooseflesh.
Bishop did give me a good reason to come back. A very very good one.
A couple of hours later, we were lying naked together on our narrow bed with me sprawled over his chest. I was sure I had a big, stupid grin on my face as he slowly traced his fingers lightly up & down the groove of my spine. I shivered at that light, caressing touch & he immediately stopped what he was doing, laying his big hand flat against the small of my back.
“I… didn’t know that was actually done,” I murmured quietly, feeling my cheeks start to burn. I tossed my hair out of my face, glancing up at Bishop to see him looking down at me with that wolfish smirk of his. I half-cringed, closing one eye as I hid my face in his chest with an embarrassed groan.
He started tracing his fingertips languidly up & down my spine again, running his fingers gently through my tangled curls. “I didn’t think you would, Princess. But it was pretty good incentive, wasn’t it?”
I let out a choked bark of laughter, leaning up to stare incredulously down at him. He had his free arm tucked under his head, looking smug & extremely pleased with himself. “Are you fucking kidding me?!” I squeaked at him facetiously.
He flipped me over, pinning me to the bed before I knew what he was doing. His lips feathered warm & soft along my collarbone, up my throat as he wedged a knee between my thighs. I parted them willingly, felt him settle his hips between my legs. He was already hard, warm & pulsing against my slickness.
“How do you feel about a bit more incentive, Princess?” he rumbled quietly in my ear.
“As my ranger commands.”
I woke several hours later. Bishop still slept, his breath falling warm & soft against my cheek, one of his arms locked about me, holding me tight to his side. I bit my bottom lip as I looked up at him. My heart felt full, ready to burst with the love I felt for this man, as if mere flesh couldn’t contain the emotion.
We still had not coupled. I just couldn’t, not after the incident at the cave with the soldiers. The ranger understood my recalcitrance, he didn’t push me. But we still did other things with & to each other.
I just needed some time, time in which to overlay those memories with others, like letting a wound scab over. A way to be sure Meridia wouldn’t kill him when I did finally give myself to him completely. I had prayed to Her, many times, since She had last spoken to me but She had not, could not or would not answer me.
At times, I felt very much alone, a stranger in a strange land, even though I had been born in Skyrim. But that had been…. I don’t know how long ago. I hadn’t bothered to find out.
Only Bishop was my anchor. My sanctuary. The one person I turned to & knew I could depend on without question. I trusted him with my life. But that was different than trusting him with my heart.
I lay my head back on his chest, listened to the slow, steady, strong beat of his own heart. My fingertips played over the many thin silvery scars that marred his tawny skin. I wondered how he had gotten them, what in his past had made him into the man that he now was. I pushed those thoughts aside for now. All that mattered at the moment was that he was still alive, he was still fighting; he’d laid his claim on me & I was more than happy to be his & his alone.
Fiercely independent even before my husbands demise, I had never believed I would let another human being say I belonged to them. I didn’t want to be tamed, any more than the ranger did. I loved my life, the thrill of the fight, the heat of battle sang in my heart & soul, made my blood run hot. Defeating my enemies gave me a sense of true satisfaction.
I had thought that was all there was to my life, the battle-lust, of triumphing over those who would see me dead. The peace inbetween as I served my Lady, worshiped at Her altar, bathed in Her Light & pushed back the darkness that sought to sweep over the lands of Nirn.
Until I had looked into Bishop’s brilliant amber eyes. Until he had kissed me that first time & I had felt a passion flare in my breast, similar to the same fire I felt in a fight.
Similar… yet so different.
I only hoped I didn’t get burned in the end.
Bishop watched me, grinning, as I fought with my hair. I was trying to brush it out, to bring a semblance of order to my way-ward curls, keep them out of my face so I had a clear field of vision for tonight’s errand.
Highly irritated that my curls were being more trouble than they were worth, I chucked the brush across the room, snatched up one of my daggers & prepared to hack it all off, even though I had said I would never do such a thing.
Before I knew it, a huge hand caught my wrist, plucking my dagger from my grip. “Temper, temper, ladyship,” he chided me.
I glanced up at the ranger with a petulant twist of my lips. “It gets in the way more often than not. I might as well just get rid of it.”
“Leave your curls be, Princess.” He retrieved my brush, came back to stand behind me. His fingers moved through my hair, light & sure.
In no time at all, Bishop had my hair pulled back into a tight braid; he tossed the tied end over my shoulder. I tested it, twisting my head around from side to side to see if it pulled at all; it didn’t & not one strand came free. I turned around to look up at him, one brow raised in mild surprise.
“How in the name of my sweet Lady did you do that?” Even my own mother hadn’t had any more luck than I had in taming my curls.
Bishop folded his arms over his broad chest with a negligent one-shouldered shrug as he leaned casually against the wall in our room. His golden eyes showed his smug amusement as he grinned that roguish, wolfish grin at me. “Learned a few tricks over the years, ladyship” he told me blithely.
I closed one eye, narrowed the other on him. “Uuuhhh huh. What other tricks have you learned?” I, of course, meant such things as pick-pocketing, or perhaps thievery. It would make sense since he had such a light touch.
He, of course, didn’t. His grin just grew wider, taking on a teasingly lascivious cast. “You come back to me & maybe I’ll show you what else I can do with my fingers, sweetness.”
My mouth dropped open as my cheeks immediately flushed a deep crimson, my eyes going round at his ribald comment. He laughed at me, moved away from the wall, placed a fingertip under my chin & tipped my head back before his lips brushed softly over mine. I sighed with quiet bliss against his mouth, reached up & slid the fingers of both hands into the short hairs at the nape of his neck, tugged until I had him on top of me as I lay back on the bed.
Bishop’s mouth tickled over my neck, up to my ear where he growled low. I wrapped my arms about him & just held him close, reveling in the feel of his much larger body, his weight, pressing me down into the feather tick. I brushed a kiss over his scarred cheek, nuzzling him tenderly.
“Do you really have to go, Princess?” He raised himself above me, just enough to look down into my face, leaning on his elbows as his fingers traced lightly up & down the sides of my throat.
I placed a hand gently to his cheek, thumb stroking just below one beautiful, citrine-flecked amber eye. “I do. I gave them my word, Bishop…. They are my Shield-Siblings…. But you… you’re my reason to come back alive.”
Something almost like pain flashed quickly in the depths of his captivating eyes, there & gone so quickly I wasn’t sure I had seen it at all. The big ranger closed them, leaned his forehead to mine for a brief moment before he was rising, tugging me up to my feet with him. He checked my armour quickly, making sure it was adjusted correctly before he stood back.
I paused at the doorway to look back at him, saw him watching me with an unreadable expression on his handsome face. He tipped his ruddy head a fraction of an inch towards me then I was turning, gathering up my weapons & heading out to go meet up with my brother & sister-in-arms.
I pulled the hood of my cave-bear cloak lower over my face as the icy wind whipped around me. Gypsum shook his head in irritation, laying his ears back. I patted the piebald’s neck reassuringly & urged him further on up the road. We plodded along for a few minutes more over a thin dusting of snow covering the cobbles.
I smelled her before I saw her. I was looking in her direction when Aela appeared out of the flurry. Her blue yes glinted in the darkness, just like a wolfs. I cast my glance about, looking for the other who was to join us. When he did not appear, Aela nodded once.
“Skjor is scouting ahead. We are to follow,” she informed me.
I slid from Gypsum’s back, slapped him on his rump to send him off. I drew my bow, nocked an arrow & grinned at my Shield-Sister. She grinned back as she drew her own bow.
We ghosted through the sparse wood, easily finding the half-ruin where the Silver Hand had set up one of their quarters. I stopped, having caught movement up on the roof. Aela came up alongside me. I pointed two fingers to my eyes, then up towards where I had seen the movement. I caught her hint of a nod after she herself took a look; she’d seen what I had seen. She held up the last three fingers off one hand to me; there were three guarding the entrance. A slow grin slid out on my face as I waggled my brows at her, stepped out of the shadows & took the look-out up top down quickly & cleanly with a shot through his throat.
I was ducking back behind the wall when he fell. She looked both impressed & amused. I made a mental note to thank Bishop for his archery lessons. I was a decent enough shot but he, being a ranger, had taught me a thing or two when it came to the bow.
The other two look-outs weren’t a problem. Aela & I took them down just as quickly as the other, she with her bow, me with my greatsword. That taken care of, we slipped inside the compound. A long hall was in front of us, a steel grate coming down to block the entrance once we were inside the compound.
The Huntress gave me a slightly peeved look. “Cowards must have locked the place down after Skjor charged in here.”
I snorted softly, spent a moment looking about the shabby room. There was a pullchain on a pillar. I tested it. The grate slid open. “Not very bright, are they? A cage, with the key on the inside?” I looked down, saw the trip-wire. I met Aela’s eyes again as understanding settled over me. “This place is one big cage. They plan to trap us in here, take us out one by one.”
She nodded once in affirmation of my quick assessment. “Let’s not make it easy on them. Come. We’ve work to do.”
I followed her down the hall, around another corner. Voices came back to us, speaking quietly. We both raised our bows, exchanged a glance of accord….
The two Silver Hand were dead before they knew it. I prowled around the room, trying to get an idea of this new enemy I faced. My nose twitched as I caught the scent of old death emanating from behind a closed door. I swung the door open & recoiled at both the stench & the horror that met my eyes.
A lycan, huge & black furred, eyes filmed over as it hung by its wrists, suspended with silver chains embedded in the stone ceiling of the tiny cell. Torture implements were laid out next to the poor beast on a block of blood-stained wood. Blood still congealed in the deep wounds that marred its big body; like it had been brutally whipped, & more than once.
“There’s one in there, isn’t there. No one we know by the scent of him,” Aela said behind me.
I swung round to look at her. I could tell my face was stony & stiff, wiped blank of all expression. A bubble of anger was starting to simmer inside of me. I fed it, feeling my teeth starting to sharpen, my canines to grow longer. I glanced down, saw my very human hands were again sporting those short wolfish claws.
“If they can control their beast they should not be killed simply for being what they are. It is one thing if they hunt down & kill innocents. It is entirely another if they are slaughtered only for being as they are.” Even my voice was dispassionately cool.
The Huntress inclined her head to me. “Now you know why the Silver Hand must be exterminated. They make no distinction; they will kill any & all who carry the beast blood. & will kill ALL the Companion’s, whether they share the blood of the wolf or not.”
I tightened my hand about the grip of my bow, clenching my jaw as that bubble of anger I had been feeding began to grow & expand into my chest. “Let us finish this then.”
She led the way, with me following after her, through the halls. We met with vermin, skeevers, but they were easily dealt with. The others, the Silver Hand, we showed no more mercy to than we did the skeevers. The Huntress & I stopped in a small alcove after having fought several of them, to check our wounds. She had an arrow in her shoulder, I had a nasty gash across my side, felt stickiness on my cheek. I looked at Aela, she gave me a nod & I shoved the arrow the rest of the way through before breaking off the head. She pulled the shaft out with a grimace, tossing it to the ground. I handed her a healing draught from my belt. She nodded her thanks, drank about half of it before handing it back to me. I took a bit, replaced the bottle on my belt. I had three others left, thankfully.
The whole place was booby-trapped. Pressure plates littered the floor, even the stairs. The Huntress seemed to have been expecting them. I hadn’t. Used to head-on confrontations, I honestly had not expected the Silver Hand to be as cowardly as to use them. But they were & they had. We stepped carefully around the plates, sidling stealthily up the stairs while keeping close to the wall.
We came to a long hall, lined with locked & barred cages on either side. The scent here was as over-powering as it had been down below. Old death, futility, anger…. the ammoniacal stench of caged animals as well as that of human effluvia. I almost gagged, it was so over-powering to my heightened senses.
We could see one guard sitting at a chair, appearing to be dozing with his feet propped on the table before him, while another was walking up & down in front of the cages, presumably checking on his charges. The Huntress & I exchanged another glance. At a nod from her, I slung my bow, drew my greatsword….
The sleeping sentry had no warning; he died as I drove the point of my sword between his shoulders & out the front of his chest. Aela took the other guard down with an arrow high to his left leg first then one to his face that entered his right eyesocket & exited the back of his skull. It was a nice kill. There were two other sentries who rushed us. I gripped my sword in one hand, dashed past the one who charged me at the same time, zipped around behind him & neatly hamstrung him. As he hit the ground hard on his knees, I risked a glance to see how my Shield-Sister was faring. I needn’t have worried; she was slitting the throat of the other Silver Hand.
I kicked the mans weapon away, a silver sword, & placed a foot between his shoulders, shoving him down flat on his belly. I plunked the tip of my greatsword right in front of his face so he could see it. He stopped moving, didn’t so much as twitch; my threat was implicit. He struggled, he died quicker & probably very painfully.
Aela came over to me, squatted down in front of our prisoner out of his grabbing range. “Where is he? The Companion who came in before us….” she asked him quite calmly.
The man refused to say anything; I pressed my foot harder between his shoulder blades, placed the edge of my sword against the side of his neck. He twisted his head round to look up at me. I grinned down at him with a dazzling display of pearly white, sharply pointed teeth, was sure my eyes flashed red in the gloom. His face noticeably paled as he got a good view of the thing behind him before he looked back to the Huntress. “Krev has him,” he told us grudgingly.
Aela cursed vilely as she rose. She drove the heel of her foot hard into the man’s face, breaking his nose. I heard the wet crunch before his blood fanned over the dirty stones in a spray. He was either dead or completely out cold at that point. Didn’t really matter, he was dead the next when the Huntress slit his throat with her dagger.
“Krev?” I asked her.
“They call him The Skinner. I don’t think I need to tell you why,” her expression as well as the tone of her voice was grim.
I rubbed a hand down over my face to the back of my neck. “We better hurry then.”
She nodded her assent. We battled our way through the passages to where this Krev fellow was hiding out. Predictably, or not, the few Silver Hand members we met were not surprised to see us. With the added incentive of getting to our Shield-Brother in a timely fashion, the Huntress & I took them down with relentless efficiency. By the time we reached the door that separated us from the inner sanctum, we were both bloody & disheveled. I shared the vial of healing draught with her that we had shared before, finishing it between us.
“You ready, Sister?” she asked me, brandishing her shield & dagger.
I smiled, a rather chill, animalistic smile; I could feel my canines had elongated still further as I called on my dark-sister. She lent me her added strength, agility & stamina with an almost wild expectation. I hefted my greatsword, saw my fingertips once again sported the short wolfish claws.
“Let there be blood, Sister,” I replied & we both kicked the heavy oak door at the same time. It flew off its hinges with a screech of protesting metal & clattered noisily to the floor several yards away.
Aela & I strode determinedly into the room, forming a wall of lethality, standing side by side as the Silver Hand rushed us. The first man to reach me I caught in the notch between his neck & shoulder, cleaving him neatly down into his chest. I kicked him off my sword, pulled back & swept my blade from side to side to keep the others back. The Huntress & I turned, putting our backs to one another, to engage the rest. I heard the clang of steel landing on the Huntress’ shield, her grunts of effort. When she advanced, I went with her, keeping us close so they couldn’t get between us. When I advanced, she did the same.
She knew this game, just as I did.
My blood was singing in my ears, my wolf howling somewhere in the darkness of my mind as I swung my greatsword one-handed up over my head in a sweeping arc. I grasped the grip with my other hand, holding it two-handed now as I was bringing it down in a murderous slash that caught the woman in front of me across her face. She fell back with a pained cry, blood pouring from between her fingers. With any luck, I had taken an eye as well as removed her nose.
I felt emptiness at my back suddenly, glanced behind me to find Aela down on one knee, blood streaming down her arms & face. I pivoted quickly on the ball of one foot, stepping lithely in front of her, parrying the blow of the warhammer aimed at her. The huge man & I locked weapons; I snarled, baring my sharpened teeth at him & shoved him back. He was surprised that I was so strong, what with my smaller stature. But I had my wolf-blood to thank for this added boost to my strength. He stepped back with my shove, swung his hammer around, spinning with the momentum to bring it back around again. I ducked, felt the air blow over the top of my head with the force of his powerful swing.
One of the other Silver Hand took the opportunity, seeing me engaged with whom I was going to assume to be Krev since he was wearing heavy steel armour, to fall back & draw his bow. The arrow thudded home in my shoulder, making me stagger to the side with the impact.
‘Oh fuck this’ I thought, dropped my sword as I called to my wolf. I shifted quickly, feeling the frision of primal energy race along my nerve-endings. I rose to my full six feet of muscled fury with a bellow, dual colored eyes sparking with savage rage while the Silver Hand stared in awed terror.
“Lycan bitch!” Krev shouted at me like it was an epithet, swinging his hammer again. I caught the haft in one huge paw & ripped it from his hands as with the other I grabbed him by his throat, lifting him clear off his feet.
Aela was back on her feet, bow drawn as she went after the archer. He was dead within moments, an arrow protruding from his chest, another two embedded in his belly. Even unsteady as she was, she was still a damned good shot. I honestly thought she could give the ranger a run for his coin.
She came around to stand beside me as I held Krev off the ground; his hands scrabbled at my paw, his feet kicking as he struggled in my grip. I snarled a warning, my lips writhing back from my long fangs as I thrust my muzzle close to his face. I saw his pupils dilate in fear & knew a moment of disgust. Not with myself but with him. He was a coward, I could smell it on him. He’d vacated his bowels. I tossed him roughly down to the ground, heard bones snap. He cried out as one of his legs broke. He wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It was then I noticed that my Shield-Brother, Skjor, was lying motionless on the raised stone platform. Aela had gone over to him as I dealt with Krev. She knelt down next to him, her expression opaque as she placed a hand to his chest. I could scent her rage & sadness. Looking down at Krev as he was trying to crawl towards a discarded weapon, I reached out & snagged him neatly by the back of his cuirass. With no regard for his physical well-being, I dragged him up onto the platform, dropped him at Aela’s feet & loomed menacingly over him.
“He’s dead. He should NOT have rushed in here without us.” The Huntress’ voice was cold, shaking with barely contained fury. Her blue eyes flashed, I saw her canines too were elongated, her fingertips sporting the wolfish claws. She was close to snapping.
I shifted back to human & stood naked, my weapons & clothing having been discarded by the magic that had let me take my lupine form. I didn’t care I was naked. My heart bled that one of my Shield-Siblings was dead. I felt guilty, as if there was something more I could have done, something, anything, to get here more quickly. If I had, perhaps he would still be alive.
I looked to Aela. Her face was set like stone. Without so much as a word, she rounded on Krev & drove her fist into his face, the force of her blow knocking him back several feet. With a snarl that was more wolf than woman, she lunged at him & landed on his chest with her knees, knocking him flat onto his back. I watched her, as speechless as she had been. This was justice, as far as I was concerned.
“You wanted a war, well… you got one,” her buried fury was clearly audible now beneath her deceptively soft voice, visible in her glowing blue eyes. “The Companion’s were here long before you were. We will be here long after you.”
Krev spat insultingly in her face. Aela let out a shout of outrage & disgust, knocked the helmet from his head, gripped his short blond hair in one hand, his jaw in the other & jerked his head roughly to the side. I heard the juicy pop & crunch as his neck snapped. Too clean a death, in my opinion.
The Huntress looked at me, rising off the body of her victim. “We have work to do. Head back to Whiterun. I’ll send word to you on our next target.”
“Huntress…. Aela… I’m sorry for your loss. OUR loss. Skjor was… a warrior unmatched. He is in Sovngarde or perhaps Hircine’s realm. One day, you two will meet again.” I spoke quietly, gently to her, yet my sincerity could be clearly heard.
Her startled glance met mine, an expression of alarm flashing over her features; she hadn’t guessed that I knew she & Skjor were more than hunting partners. They had been lovers. She reached out a hand to me when she realized I wasn’t going to condemn her. I took it, lightly squeezed her fingers in understanding & sympathy. She squeezed back then was releasing my hand.
I went to get dressed & retrieve my weapons.
It would be an even colder trip back to Whiterun with the knowledge that one of my brothers-in-arms had fallen to our enemy.
The sky was just beginning to lighten as I rode into the Whiterun stables, streamers of pale saffron light starting to poke their rays over the mountaintops. I paused outside, having turned over Gypsum to the stablehand, to watch the sunrise.
Before too long, before the sun had even crested those mountains, I caught a wholly familiar, wholly precious scent on the wind drawing closer to me. I turned to see Bishop walking down the lane towards me. He was dressed simply in his brown leather pants, undyed woolen shirt & black leather boots, his bow & quiver on his back, his dagger on his hip. The new rays of the sun sparked on his coppery hair, gilded him with a halo of shimmering gold.
Wordlessly, I held a hand out to him when he drew near enough. I felt his much larger one enclose my smaller one, his fingers twining with mine, steady & reassuring. I tipped my head towards the road where the guards patrolled in invitation.
Rather than replying verbally, he drew me near, enfolding me in his strong arms to hold me close. I slipped my arms about his waist, hands fisted at the small of his back. “Skjor is dead,” I said quietly, my voice muffled by the fact I had my cheek pressed to his chest.
I felt him take a deep breath. I was wondering if he was going to be an ass, saying something insulting or snarky about my Shield-Brother’s demise. Instead, he simply said, “I’m sorry to hear that, sweetness,” with a tinge of sincerity in his deep voice.
I leaned back to look up into his eyes. My confusion was plain as day, as well as my disbelief. I knew he wasn’t overly fond of the Companion’s, hadn’t agreed with my decision to join them. This wasn’t the ranger I had come to know over the past almost year. A new side to him, perhaps?
I saw the corners of his lips twitch as he watched the expressions that flickered over my face. “It’s me, Princess.”
I closed one eye as I peered at him with the other, still not wholly convinced. “Uh huh. Where’s Bishop & what have you done with him?”
To answer my question, he took my face between his big hands, lowered his head to mine & kissed me. Yep, this was Bishop, alright. No one kissed or tasted like him. Not that I would know personally but his scent, the flavour of his lips & the devouring way in which he claimed my mouth was branded into my very being…. It was most definitely him.
“Convinced yet, ladyship, or do you need more?” His deep voice rumbled quietly down at me with just a hint of suggestive teasing.
I couldn’t help but think there was a double meaning in there somewhere. As much as I enjoyed what we did together & to each other in the carnal way, I just couldn’t find that desire within me right now. I felt almost like an empty cup, drained of all emotion & vitality over the death of Skjor. Restless, wanting to get away from it, not wanting to face it just yet.
I shook my head in the negative, stepped out of his arms & took his hand again, lacing my fingers with his. “Let’s just walk for a bit. Please, Bishop.”
He gave me one long look faintly shadowed with concern before he nodded & led me down the track that merged with the road that wound its way past the City. We headed east, crossed the bridge that arched over the stream & started heading north. We walked in silence, not hurrying along but rather at a comfortable pace, Bishop shortening his strides to match mine. I folded my arms beneath my bosom as we walked past the farms, looking down at my feet as we went yet keeping an eye out. Even with the guard patrols & the ranger at my side, I was always on the look-out.
After we had gone a couple of miles in silence, I finally stopped & turned towards him. He stopped too, looking down at me patiently. “How well do you know this area, Bishop?”
One of his level brows twitched faintly upwards. “Well enough. Why do you ask, Princess?”
I scuffed one of my feet in the dirt scattered over the stone road, shifting my shoulders uncomfortably. “I don’t want to stay inside the walls tonight. I’m too….” I growled low & soft in my frustration. “I hate cities on my best day & today is not my best day. I need… this….” I spread my arms, encompassing the clean air, the open spaces, the dome of the brightening sky above us.
One corner of his mouth quirked up in understanding. “I know what you mean. There’s a place I know of, few miles from here, higher up in the foothills….”
“How long before we can be there?” I cut him off to ask in my eagerness.
The other corner of his mouth joined the first. “A few hours in the saddle.”
That was good enough for me. I turned on my heel & started heading back towards Whiterun at not quite a run but close enough. I heard the ranger chuckling behind me. Clearly my impatience to be outside the walls either amused or pleased him.
An hour later, Bishop & I were on our horses, trotting down the north road. I had left word at Jorrvaskr for Aela so she could find me easily when she needed to. I had also delivered word of Skjor’s death to Kodlak. The Harbinger had urged me to mourn my dead Brother in my own way & I would, soon.
Right at the moment though, I just wanted to put some distance between me & the city. I followed the ranger down the main road, turning off of it when he did. Sleipnir & Gypsum picked their way over the rocky ground & underbrush lining the track as we started moving towards more open country.
I dropped my horses reins about his neck, pulled the lacing from my hair & unraveled it from the braid Bishop had put it in. I ran my fingers through it, sighing in pleasure as a gust of wind lifted it, unfurling my curls to blow like a banner. I heard the low rumble of falls in the distance & a wonderful idea popped into my head.
“Hey, Bishop?” He glanced behind him, slowing his horse to allow me to come up beside him. I leaned on the pommel of my saddle, a slight smile on my lips. “Please tell me you know how to swim.”
Whatever he had been expecting, it clearly was not that. He blinked, scratched his cheek before rubbing the back of his neck. “I can. Why?” He was eyeing me suspiciously, golden eyes narrowed slightly.
I could just see the shimmer of a lake about a mile in front of us. I didn’t answer him, just set my heels into Gypsum’s flanks. He sprang forward, leaving the ranger behind us in our dust.
It was turning out to be one of those really warm days where the sun was a glowing white ball hanging suspended in a clear, cloudless, bright azure sky. Sweat trickled down my sides & spine under my armour. It was past spring, just starting to get into the summer months. The nights would still be cool down here near the tundra; higher up, perhaps even in the foothills, they would be chill. Right now, with the growing heat, it would be perfect for swimming.
I slid from Gypsum’s back, hobbled him & was already stripping off my weapons & leathers to leave them in a pile at my feet when Bishop came riding up. He had that amused grin on his face still as he dismounted & set about hobbling his mount. I stripped down to my small-clothes, went to help him unsaddle them.
“This place is as good as any for a camp. What do you think?” I asked him, waving one hand out towards the river. The surface was smooth as glass, a huge stone bridge off in the distance. The area we were in was flat with an outcrop of rock that jutted out over the water, another that rose from the ground & formed a sort of alcove in another rise of the land. There were some old Nord ruins not far away & other hillocks of stone forming folds in the green land. It was a beautiful spot.
“If it works for you, ladyship.”
It did. We set up camp quickly, left the horses hobbled to graze on the grasses & wildflowers that grew in abundance. Satisfied that everything was in order, I removed my small-clothes, looking towards the water eagerly.
I heard a soft hiss behind me, glanced over my shoulder to see the ranger watching me, his golden amber eyes roaming boldly over my naked body. I grinned cheekily, stuck my tongue out at him & ran for the jetty of rock that thrust out over the river. I leaped off the end, bringing my knees up to my chest & wrapping my arms about my legs to do a canon-ball into the water.
I was just surfacing when there was a huge splash from nearby. I shook the water from that deluge out of my eyes, wiped my hand over my face to see the ranger treading water near me. I smiled ever so sweetly at him before I sent a wave of water in his direction. It caught him full in the face. I swam away laughing as he was sputtering. He hadn’t anticipated that.
I heard more splashing behind me then a low growl from close at hand. I shrieked in laughter as the ranger’s arms came about my waist & he lifted me up, holding me high over his shoulder & we both went under. I slithered out of his clutches underwater & swam from the shallows towards the deeper ends. My head broke the surface & I gulped air, wiping my face.
I looked around but couldn’t see Bishop anywhere. Shit. I treaded water, felt something brush past me beneath the surface. I yelped & dodged to the side as he came up right before me. I immediately placed my hands on the top of his head & shoved him back under before I took off again, giggling.
I heard his gasp for breath a moment later then his laughter. I dove under, swam closer to the shore, flipping over onto my back underwater so I would be facing roughly in his direction when I resurfaced. Bishop raised a hand to his mouth, stuck two fingers in the corners & let out a high, piercing whistle. Not even a minute later, a big black blur was sailing over my head to careen into the river with a wave that crashed over my head.
“No fair, calling reinforcements!” I shouted to the ranger, seeing Karnwyr had decided to join us. The wolf had a big doggy-grin on his face, long red tongue lolling as he paddled about.
“Go get her!” Bishop told the wolf, who immediately started heading towards me.
“Oh shit,” I laughed & started to swim back towards the shore. I splashed my way out of the shallows as soon as my feet touched the sandy bottom, trying to reach the shore. I didn’t quite make it. Karnwyr caught me with his huge paws to the backs of my shoulders & I fell flat on my belly in the water. I rolled onto my back, bringing my arms up to guard my face, laughing as he promptly tried to lick me to death. As I was still struggling with the wolf, Bishop was suddenly there. He picked me up, tossed me casually over one shoulder & made for the jetty again. I squealed, laughing, then yelped in surprise as he tossed me into the water.
I came up, choking & laughing, only to get a face full of water again as the ranger jumped in after me. As he came up, I promptly dunked him but he knew that trick now & grabbed me so we both went under.
We spent the afternoon like this, without a care in the world, playing in the river, dunking each other in wild abandon, splashing, swimming & just simply having fun as we enjoyed the sun, the warmth & each others company. It was one of the best afternoons of my life, in all honesty.
& I had the ranger to thank for it.
The white muslin sun hung low on the horizon, sending thin lemon ribbons over the mountaintops. The sky itself was streaked with vermillion, peach, lilac & tender rose, filling the small valley with soft, diffuse light. I lazed naked on my stomach on the sun-warmed stone, my head pillowed on my arms as Bishop lay on his back next to me, hips modestly covered with linen small-clothes, an arm under his head, one leg kicked up, resting his ankle on the opposite knee.
“Tell me about your childhood?” I asked quietly.
The ranger flicked a glance my way, one ruddy brow raised. “Nothing much to tell, Princess.”
“No, really. I want to know. Do you have any siblings? Any brothers or sisters?” I saw a shutter come down over his face, his jaw tense, the muscles in his neck leaping beneath his skin. I had hit a raw nerve with him & quite possibly upset this peaceful moment with him. “Bishop….” I began softly, wanting to ease his hackles.
“I don’t talk about them, ladyship. Remember? So don’t ask me about them again.” Said tersely but not angrily.
I sighed quietly, scooted across the rock to lay against him. I folded my arms across his chest & rested my chin atop them again, looking down into his scarred, handsome face. “Can you at least tell me if you were born here in Skyrim or somewhere else? Have you ever been outside of Skyrim?”
He ran his fingers idly through my tumble of curls that fell over his ribs, looking up at me with heavy-lidded eyes. “I’ve been to Morrowind. Hunted cliff racers there. You can hear them from a long way off.”
I smiled gently at him, waiting to see if he would say anything else. When he didn’t after a few minutes, I asked, “How old are you, ranger?”
Both his brows rose & he grinned. “Old enough to know better, ladyship, & teach you a few things.”
I felt my cheeks starting to burn & snorted softly in mirth. “You know what I mean.”
“How old are you?” He turned my question around on me.
I blinked. That was a bit harder to answer. I gave it a try anyway. “I was days away from turning eighteen when I was killed. I was born in the month of Sun’s Dawn. What year or day though, I’m not entirely sure…. I’ve actually…. Well, I honestly don’t… know,” I finished lamely.
He slipped his fingers into my curls, brushing them back from my scarred cheek. I leaned into his palm, feeling chills race up & down my spine at the warmth of his bare skin against mine. I think I was becoming addicted to his touch.
“What about you, Princess? Did you have any siblings?” he asked me quietly, deep voice holding a warm timbre.
I closed my eyes, turned my head to lay my cheek on my arms instead. I remained silent for a while, remembering my younger sister. Eventually, I met his eyes again with a soft smile. “Aye. I had a sister. She was five years younger than me. Aine. Used to follow me everywhere. She was a sweet child, always smiling, full of life, laughter, love….” A tear slid down my cheek & Bishop brushed it away gently. I placed my hand against his to hold his palm to me a moment before I curled my fingers around it, tucking it under my chin too. “She was killed in the same massacre that killed me. Barely thirteen, she’d been raped repeatedly, beaten & left for dead. Some men from our village brought her to me at the temple, warned us to leave. I didn’t think the marauders would actually attack us there. I was wrong. Aine was killed. I held her as she died.” I paused to swallow heavily, feeling my heart ache. I missed her. She’d had her life taken much sooner than I had been deprived of mine. I still felt guilt over not having been able to protect her, sadness that she was gone, had never really had a chance to experience life. “Many of my brothers & sisters-in-arms were killed too. I was one of the fortunate few of the women who died before they could violate me. But I heard their screams….”
Bishop wrapped his arms around me, tugged my head down onto his chest. I lay quietly against him, listening to the steady beat of his heart under my ear. I had shed my tears for them long ago; the only one I could still weep for was my sister.
“I didn’t mean to make you sad, Princess,” his deep voice was gentle with an underlying note of anger to it. Whether at himself or at the ones who had killed us in cold blood, I was unsure.
“It happened a long time ago, Bishop. Ancient history,” I had meant it as a joke to reassure him but for all I knew, it probably was ancient history in fact rather than theory.
“What about your parents? What were they like?”
I detected an underlying emotion to his question beyond the curiosity, one I could not place, but I answered him honestly, as I had always done. “They were good parents. They loved each other. It was obvious to anyone who saw them together that they were devoted to each other. I had a very close, warm childhood, despite the fact that I was likely the bane of my father’s existence & my poor mother’s constant source of headaches. Where Aine was sweet & biddable, I was stubborn & wild. Not very ladylike at all. I did things my way, always had. Kept getting into fights with the boys, kept getting beaten. My father told me to stop fighting. I didn’t listen. I never did,” I smiled fondly at the memory. “They indulged me. They let me start learning how to use smaller weapons but that was when I was still very young. By the time I became a priestess, I had forgotten most of what I had been taught & Marcus, my commander…. Well, you already know. My parents were good people though. Devoted to their children, devoted to each other….”
We both fell silent for a time. I played with the short crisp mahogany hairs that curled on his chest, running my fingers lightly through them. For some reason, I oddly liked that tactile sensation, the roughness of those hairs, like stiff plush, the softness of his skin overlaying the hardness of muscle against my fingertips. It was a peaceful moment, with that sort of live silence, where you can almost feel the heartbeat of the world around you, almost hear it, & that sense that everything is as it was supposed to be, as it was always meant to be.
Then Bishop’s deep voice was asking me quietly, “I seem to remember you mentioning you had a fox as a child, ladyship. You said she ran away, didn’t you?”
I turned my head, placing my chin on my folded arms again, the better to regard the ranger. I blinked drowsily with a gentle smile at him, eyes half-closed. “Hmm. I did, didn’t I? Aye, a small white fox kit. Predictably, I named her Frost. I had her for about three years then one spring she disappeared into the woods. Looking for a mate, most likely.”
Bishop threaded the fingers of both his big hands into my hair, tugging me up his chest to draw my mouth down to his. I curved my hands over the muscles of his shoulders, brushing my lips softly over his own with a light, fluttering sigh of pleasure. He gave my curls a light tug, pulling my face back from his just enough so his gaze could lock with mine. My heart skipped a beat at the light I saw in those wondrous golden amber eyes of his. They simply burned, hotter than the heart of a flame.
“Do you think she found him? Do you think she found her mate, sweetness?” The rangers deep voice was roughened, an octave deeper than normal, holding the edge of an underlying question beneath the obvious meaning of his words.
I traced a single fingertip over his lush bottom lip, swallowing hard as I felt my stomach drop to my toes. I had the odd sensation like I was flying & falling at the same time, felt both hot & cold all at once. My breath caught in my chest but I replied in a hushed voice “I think….maybe she has, Bishop.”
The smile he gifted me with just then could have rivaled the brilliance of a thousand suns as he tugged my head back down to his with a low growl & kissed me until I lost track of myself, time, & the world around us….
I woke sometime in the night from a dead sleep, having felt eyes on me. The ranger still slept in our bedroll near the campfire under that overhang of rock. I rose quietly, taking care not to disturb him, plucked a spare blanket & my greatsword from the ground near us. I threw the blanket around my shoulders, held my sword by the grip in one hand as I stepped out into the spill of moonlight.
My wolf visited me; I could tell she was present as the night became bright as day & I could see easily in the darkness. I scanned my surroundings looking for anything out of place, the thing, person or animal, that had woken me. I lifted my head, nostrils flaring delicately to try to catch a scent on the air but it was no good, we were downwind, the breeze blowing away from us.
Karnwyr came up beside me, leaning gently against my hip. I placed my free hand on the top of his head, idly scritching him between his upright, forward-perked ears. “You sensed it too, huh, buddy?”
As if in response to my question, the big black wolf huffed quietly with a low growl.
I stood a few moments more, scanning the area, ears straining to catch even the faintest sound out of place. But there was nothing, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in the night. Still, I could not shake the feeling of unseen eyes watching us. I turned on my heel, went back to our camp, set aside the blanket & my sword.
I was still uneasy but tired. I had never tried this before but I was going to give it a shot. I turned & stepped out into the moonlight again, closed my eyes, tipped my head back & summoned the shift, fixing what shape I wanted into my mind. My dire shape, a white wolf as large as Karnwyr.
A heartbeat passed, then another. I opened my eyes, looked down & saw two furry paws. It had worked. I had shifted under my own control into the form I had wanted. I felt like I had accomplished something of importance. Perhaps I had. Karnwyr came over to nose about my ears & muzzle curiously. I returned the favour, quickly licking his face then sliding my muzzle along his & laying my head on his shoulder; wolf body language for ‘I trust you.’ The big wolf did the same, laying his muzzle on my shoulder before we trotted back over to the ranger together.
Karnwyr lay down at the front of the semi-cave, I curled against Bishop’s side, placed my head down atop my forepaws, lay my brushy tail over my nose & closed my eyes. At least in this form, if we were ambushed, I had weapons already to hand in my claws & fangs.
I woke again to a hand buried in the fur of my ruff, smoothing down my shoulder. I flopped over onto my side, stretching with a wolfish grunt before I lifted my head to look at who was petting me.
It was Bishop. He looked amused & just the slightest bit nonplussed to find me in my dire wolf form.
“Morning, ladyship. When did you turn into my furry bed-warmer?”
I shook my head at him, snorting, rose to sit on my haunches & gave him a very haughty look. Well, as haughty as a look can be while a huge white wolf. The ranger took my head in his hands, rubbing behind my ears. I gave him a droll stare then became a human woman.
He crouched there, blinking, looking extremely surprised & mildly confused. I smiled at him, drew the woolen blanket off the bedroll & wrapped it around my shoulders.
“What’d you see when I shifted?” I was honestly curious. Being inside the transformation, as it were, when it happened, I had no idea what it looked like to someone watching it happen from his perspective.
He slid over to sit next to me, drew me into the curve of his side with an arm about my shoulders. I snuggled into him, rubbing my cheek against the exposed skin of his chest, laying a hand lightly over the ridged planes of his flat belly. I toyed with his navel & he placed a hand over mine to still it. I lifted my head to grin up at him. The corners of his mouth twitched but he appeared to be thinking on how to answer my question.
“It’s a bit like how the sunlight will ripple on the waves of a calm water surface. A sort of… pale mist with sparks of silver & gold in it. One moment you’re a wolf, then next a woman.”
I made a soft humming sound. I knew he wasn’t a man of words but I had truly wanted to know what he saw & had hoped he could find them to describe it to me. & he had, surprisingly. My ranger was much more eloquent than he gave himself credit for.
We both turned to look in the direction of the jingle of harness that was heading steadily towards us. Bishop placed a hand on the hilt of his dagger at his waist, rising smoothly to his feet & moving slightly in front of me. I stood as well, picking up my waraxe, that being the closest weapon of mine at hand.
As the horse & rider drew closer, I recognized one of the whelps from Jorrvaskr. I stepped around the ranger, tugging the blanket more closely about my body.
It was the woman with the scarred face, Nadja her name was. She raked me with a glance just this side of rudeness, not bothering to dismount. “Out playing with your lover while the rest of us are doing the hard work I see. I don’t know why Skjor let you into the Companion’s anyway.”
I bristled, taking a step closer to her with a soft hiss of warning. Her horse snorted, eyes rolling; the beast had the good sense to know my wolf was just below the surface even if this pup didn’t. “What do you want, whelp?” I purposely used the term to remind her of her place & my rank as well as using my most commanding tone of voice, the one I had learned at my Lady’s temple in Her service.
Nadja’s lips compressed, twisting a bit as anger & jealousy flashed in her eyes; I had joined the Circle before she even became a true Companion. She dug a sealed letter out of her saddlebags & held it out to me silently. I went forward & took it.
“Go back to Jorrvaskr.” I told her as soon as I had the letter in hand. I didn’t even bother looking at her as I turned my back on her to return to the ranger’s side.
I heard her sharp indrawn breath then the sound of her horse’s hooves retreating at a gallop.
I glanced at Bishop, saw he was watching me with that same expression of amusement, tinged perhaps with a glimmer of respect. I grinned at him, tapping the letter against my thigh. “What?” I asked him innocently.
He chuckled quietly, folded his arms over his chest. “Nothing.”
I scrunched my nose up at him & grinned again, broke the seal on the letter & read. It was from Aela. She had information & a location on where to find another group of the Silver Hand. A command post of sorts; I was to retrieve their missives & anything else of importance that might clue us in to their plans & movements.
I handed the letter to Bishop, dropped my blanket & went to get dressed while he read.
I heard his quiet grunt, felt his eyes on me. I glanced over my shoulder as I was tugging my leather pants up over my hips. “Feel like hunting some werebeast killers, ranger?”
“I’m always up for a hunt, Princess.”
I turned to face him, having caught the low, rumbling note in his voice & his double meaning. “Winner take all, eh?”
Bishop merely grinned that roguish, wolfish grin at me, citrine-flecked amber eyes flaring into golden life. He’d caught my double meaning as well. Challenge accepted.
Several days later, Bishop & I were entering the gates of Whiterun again. The ranger wasn’t in the best of moods. He’d lost the bet & was not in the least happy about it. I still had yet to decide what my reward would be or when to claim it. & it was that that had him watching me warily as I strode down the street.
I should have felt just the tiniest bit bad at what I was doing to him but honestly I very rarely got one up on him. I was going to enjoy my brief moment of triumph.
Besides, it wasn’t precisely my fault I had killed more Silver Hand than he had. Okay, maybe it had been, just a little bit. Being moon-born had its benefits.
I pushed open the doors to Jorrvaskr Hall & walked inside. I felt a brief pang at not hearing Skjor’s voice booming through the walls, at not seeing him amongst the others. I reminded myself he was either in Sovngarde with his Brothers & Sisters-in-arms who had fallen before him or in Hircine’s realm, happily hunting with his Lord as he waited patiently for Aela. The thought helped but not by much.
The Huntress was leaning against a pillar, her arms crossed beneath her bosom as she stared into the leaping flames of the firepit. I made my way over to her, touched her arm lightly to gain her attention. She looked up abruptly, like I had startled her. I noticed the unshed tears in her bright blue eyes, took her hand in mine & squeezed it lightly. She returned the squeeze with a small smile of gratitude. I held up the letters & the old leather journal I had found in the Silver Hand lair in my free hand. Her eyes widened, took on a feral cast as her lips parted slightly.
“You succeeded,” she breathed.
“I did. They’re dead. All of them….” I paused, glancing towards Bishop who was watching us, face expressionless, before looking back at her. “You know how to find me.”
She inclined her red head towards me. No more need be said. She could & would find me when she had the location of our next target.
We were heading steadily back towards Helgen & where it all began for me. Or began again, rather. But we didn’t go directly to the town that was just beginning to be rebuilt. We headed down the road, making for the forests near Falkreath Hold. We had traveled hard over the last three days, & I was looking forward to a night of running on all four paws under the moons & stars. & to waking up in the ranger’s arms to his lazy kisses.
We found a clearing near the river & set up camp. Under the trees in the shade the heat of encroaching summer was bearable. Out under the direct rays of the sun at the height of the day, it was almost too hot. This close to the mountains we at least had a clear, cool, fresh breeze.
That breeze was playing havoc with my long way-ward curls I had left unbound in deference to Bishop, the light wind snapping them out like an unfurled banner to wave & float about my body. I wiped them back out of my face yet again as I chopped wood for our fire. The ranger was out hunting for whatever game he could catch that would constitute our supper.
I had removed the rabbit fur vest he had made me, along with the long-sleeved tunic-like blouse, opting for a top of soft undyed homespun that was sleeveless with a loose, deep neckline that I held in at the waist with my wide simple leather belt; another gift from the ranger.
My hair fell into my eyes again, making me sigh in irritation. He wasn’t around to complain so I leaned the axe against the stump that was serving as my chopping block & proceeded to twist my riotous curls into a knot at the base of my skull. Another group of hunter’s walked past the perimeter of our camp as I was thus occupied. I nodded to them, received nods in return before I went back to work.
After about half an hour of this, I paused, axe raised over my head in preparation to divide the small log of wood on my chopping block. I was happy. I was actually, truly happy for the first time in longer than I could remember. I felt like nothing so much as a regular, normal woman, spending a day in the forest with her man. Not the Dragonborn, not a priestess to a daedric goddess, not the saviour of Skyrim.
Just a woman.
I set the axe down slowly, leaned it back against the block precisely, turned & sat on the edge of the block as I prepared to examine this curious feeling.
I loved Bishop, I knew that without a doubt. We had been traveling together for more than a year now. But what did I really know about him? I knew he was fearless, strong, capable, a skilled fighter. He had my back no matter what foe I went to face, be it draugr all the way up to a dragon. He’d saved my life for me twice that I could actually remember & probably many more times I didn’t know about. We fought well together & despite him saying I was a reckless maniac with more balls than brains, he seemed to admire my courage even if he didn’t agree with my helping people while discounting the risks I took.
I knew how he could make my body react to him. Just his very nearness was enough to make me shiver, the deep timbre of his voice enough to make me want to grab him, throw him to the ground & do those deliciously wicked yet pleasurable things we did to each other. His scent calmed me & aroused me at the same time, the warmth of his skin had been a comfort these many months.
He was clearly intelligent, quick witted, had a sharp tongue & knew his way around the wilds. He could be a down-right bastard at times but he had moments of incredible tenderness.
& that…. was all I knew about him. I knew the man he was to me. But what about the man he had been before we had met that fateful day back in Riverwood? What past hurt had forged him into the unforgiving steel he now represented? What wounds did he carry with such stoicism & quiet dignity? More so, what had happened to him in his past that this stalwart warrior who didn’t even run from dragons ran from me, even proverbially, when I asked him about that past?
I was still sitting there, running myself around in circles when the subject of my maudlin ruminations appeared.
“You look like a kid who’s had his sweetroll stolen, Princess….” Although there was a teasing note in his deep voice, his amber eyes were wary as he watched me.
“It’s nothing, Bishop…. What’d you catch?” I didn’t want to have this conversation with him right now. It could wait. Sometimes you just had to choose when to fight your battles. & I was far out-numbered with the shade of Jakob hovering about that these thoughts had conjured. I hadn’t really known him either & he had fooled me. I swallowed the bile that rose in my throat, forcing a smile at the ranger.
He presented me with two field-dressed ducks. I took them from him, sat back down on my stump to begin to clean them of their feathers in preparation for cooking while he went to go wash in the lake.
The ranger noticed my restlessness that night. I couldn’t seem to settle, getting up & shifting positions every few minutes, constantly checking & rechecking my weapons, walking back & forth from the edge of our campfires circle of light.
“Why don’t you shift & go for a run, sweetness?” He finally suggested, coming up behind me as I stared longingly up at the star-spattered sky. His big hands rested lightly on my shoulders, thumbs stroking gently up & down the nape of my neck under the heavy fall of my curls.
“Come with me?” I offered, already moving back towards camp & starting to strip out of my clothing.
“What? You mean run with you while you’re a wolf?” He sounded less than thrilled at the prospect.
I paused as I pulled my shirt off over my head. “No, I mean run with me while I’m a naked human woman. Of course while I’m a wolf.”
The ranger rubbed one brow, looking like he wanted to say something smart but he refrained. Thankfully. I wasn’t in the mood. He settled for asking me something instead as his curiosity got the better of him. “Why do you run anyway?”
I kicked my boots off, was balancing on one leg as I was pulling off the sock on the opposite foot. “In a word…. freedom. I feel like I can fly when I run, on two legs or four, in any form I am in. I don’t even feel the ground under my feet.” I tugged my other sock off, undid the laces to my leather pants before shoving them down over my hips to my knees & stepping out of them to stand naked as the day I was born before the ranger. I saw his golden eyes narrow to slits, his jaw tense, his large hands curl into fists at his sides. “Call it me claiming my prize. You owe me, remember?”
His low rumbling growl came to me an instant before he took a step in my direction, ruddy head lowered & golden eyes flaring. I laughed, low in the back of my throat, as I stepped back into the shadows, melding into the night.
I lept a fallen tree on two legs as a human woman, my wolf-blood giving me added strength along with extra height & distance to my leap. When I met the ground, I was on four paws. I felt the rapid beat of my heart, a wild joy filling me with each breath I took as I raced over the ground, fleet-footed & confident in my abilities, my wolf body. I dodged through some bushes, swarmed up the side of a hill & stood on the clear summit. The twin moons Masser & Secunda hung high & round in the sky, orbs of pale silver & gold. I reared onto my hind legs, shifting easily from wolf to full lycan form, threw my head back & let loose with a howl that echoed in the still night air.
I heard the fall of rocks behind me, turned to see Bishop coming up the rise after me. His tawny skin was slick with sweat, defining the bulges of lean muscle that made up his physique. His coppery hair was slicked back from the bold planes of his face, his golden eyes still glowed with a feral gleam. I dropped to all fours as I watched him unblinkingly. He wore nothing but his leather pants & boots, his bow & quiver of arrows slung across his back, his dagger at his hip. I needed no more weapons in this shape other than my fangs, my claws, my strength & speed.
I met with my wolf in the darkness of my mind. She was standing in a midnight field, gazing up at the same moons I had been, the blanket of the black velvet sky arcing high above her prickled with thousands upon thousands of white stars, gleaming like diamonds tossed by a careless hand. As I watched her, she tipped her muzzle towards those moons & gave voice to a howl that rose on the wind, rolled over the fields, forests & mountains.
Moments later, another howl answered hers & I felt my beasts heart swell with an indescribable joy, a deep spring of love that needed no words. She turned her dual colored eyes towards me, our gazes met for one brief, beautiful moment then she was disappearing into the woods at the other end of that midnight field to meet her mate.
I came back to myself from this memory — vision? — to find myself a human woman again, Bishop’s strong arms wrapped tightly about me as he held me hard to him.
He placed a fingertip gently to my chin, tipped my face up to his. I looked into his eyes, saw the twin moons, the stars, suspended in them.
‘Please don’t be like him, Bishop’ I pleaded with him silently a heartbeat before his mouth covered mine & I became lost in the taste of his kiss.
Over the next several weeks, the other Companion’s & I waged our war on the Silver Hand, thinning their numbers substantially as we retrieved more of their plans, sometimes even finding more fragments of Wuuthrad. Aela would gain reconnaissance on their strongholds & we would attack them viciously, showing them no more mercy than they would have shown us. Four of the whelps fell to them; we mourned their passing, celebrated their lives, their victories, their accomplishments in the Hall of Jorrvaskr. I think they would have been pleased.
Bishop & I spent as much time out of the City walls as we could, with me always leaving word with my Shield-Sister as to where I was so she could reach me. During the daylight hours, we spent our time swimming, hunting, delving into roadside ruins mainly at my insistence.
At night, we would run together, Karnwyr sometimes joining us.
I tried, with no success, to get him to reveal more about his past, to tell me of when he was a child or a young man. To tell me about his siblings, if he had any. His parents. Anything that would give me a deeper look into this man that had managed to become such an important part of my life that I couldn’t imagine a day or even a moment without him in it.
These confrontations, for so I now thought of them, always shattered the sense of peace & happiness we had managed to attain. I gave up asking…. for now.
I was just rising off the body of the Silver Hand I had ripped the throat out of when I heard furtive footfalls behind me. I whipped around, lips writhed back from my pointed teeth with a low warning growl. It was another one. I launched myself at them with a roar of rage, easily bridging the distance in my full lycan form.
I felt their sword cut deep into my side but it didn’t matter. I had their skull in my paws, the claws on my thumbs sunk deep into their eyesockets, so deep that blood welled & I felt the hard tips scrape the bone at the back.
The woman was screaming, high thin, trapped-hare screams. I exerted the necessary force & her head burst like a ripe gourd, sending shards of bone & grey brain matter spraying.
The grip on her silver sword loosened & it slid from my flesh to clatter onto the stone floor. I stepped back, panting heavily, my lupine eyes scanning the tower room for other possible attackers.
“I’ll see you… in Oblivion!” I heard Bishop’s deep voice rasp. I pricked my ears, flickering them to catch the direction it came from.
“Not before you do!” another male voice snarled.
I charged in that direction, bounded up the winding stairwell in time to see the ranger thrust his blade deep into the man’s belly, pull it free as he doubled over. He grabbed the Silver Hand’s hair, jerked his head back & neatly slit his throat before letting the body drop to the stones.
Bishop’s gaze swung towards me, his dagger raised, prepared to attack. But he stopped when he saw it was me. I padded up beside him, slipped past & continued upwards, head lifted as I sniffed the air. The big round room was empty. We had reached our goal after a long, hard fight.
I stalked slowly across the room, head swinging from side to side as I looked for traps, a fresh assault. But there was nothing. I skirted the dais in the center of the room, went to the back where there was an alcove. A chest was there, presumably with the fragment of Wuuthrad & their battle-plans inside of it. I looked towards the ranger, blinked at him slowly then looked back at the chest.
He knew what I meant, what I was asking him without speech. I couldn’t communicate with him in any of beast shapes, not yet. Aela had told me that I could learn how to, but it would require much training & becoming more in tune with my wolf.
Bishop took a set of lockpicks from his belt & set about seeing what he could do to open the chest. I stood over him as he worked, watching his back. But nothing happened. Every single Silver Hand here was dead; I had devoured their hearts with animalistic glee, each one a tribute to my fallen Shield-Siblings.
“Let’s get out of here, Princess,” the ranger was saying as he was placing the fragment & the plans into his pack.
I stepped in front of him, taking the lead as we worked our way back down & out of the tower. Once outside, Bishop mounted Sleipnir, saying “I’ll meet you back at camp. Stay hidden & off the road,” before he nudged the horse in the ribs. They took off down the track, my last sight of them the bright noon-day sun glinting off his coppery head, sparking from the metal of his mounts harness & armour.
I faded back into the woods in my lycan form, taking the longer, more scenic route back to our camp.
I crouched just outside the circle of light cast by the fire, watching as the ranger moved about our camp. He added another log to the blaze, sat back down on the stump that served as his seat.
My wounds taken during that little raid were almost healed. Another shift or two & they would be completely gone. I had gone hunting on my way back & had the carcass of a young buck over my shoulders.
I stepped out of the darkness, making sure Bishop could see me. He did; his eyes locked onto me, sweeping swiftly from my massive lupine head down to my huge paws before he locked gazes with me.
I moved closer, knelt & lay my kill at his feet. When I rose to stand before him, I was a woman again.
It was becoming easier, the shifts. The more hearts I ate, the more I turned, the easier it was; the more powerful, the more shape-strong I became.
He handed me a pack with clothes inside it. I took it as he knelt to begin cleaning the deer.
I went to the small pond to bathe, sank down into the tepid water with a sigh of relief. I was hot, sweaty, smelled of the more unpleasant aspects of battle. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back as I sank deeper into the water.
I must have dozed because next I knew, Bishop was picking me up to carry me back to our camp. I murmured sleepily, tucked my head under his chin, folded my hands on my chest & drifted off, the scent of the ranger filling my senses.
I woke when it was still dark. Bishop lay on his side behind me, one arm draped protectively, possessively across my ribs. Karnwyr came forward, a darker shape with glowing yellow eyes in the darkness. I lifted my head, scanning the area. It was that same sensation as before, of being watched by something or someone.
I sifted through the plethora of scents but as before, I could smell nothing out of the ordinary. Yet clearly there was something unusual. Even the big black wolf had sensed it. The ranger’s breathing changed then too & I knew by that that he was awake.
“What is it?” his question was so low-voiced I wouldn’t have heard it had my wolf not been with me.
I gave my head a tiny shake, trying not to move as much as possible. The arm he had about me lifted, moved down between us; I could feel him gripping his dagger. I slid to my feet, walked out to the edge of the pool of light cast by our low campfire.
The light reflected in my eyes, making them shine red in the darkness. The wind this time was blowing straight towards us. I lifted my head, scenting it. Still nothing out of the ordinary; water, mud, that fishy odour all lakes & rivers have, green growing things, chill mountain air, the musk of deer & other beasts of the wood, Bishop’s own unique scent but faintly. Nothing else.
I still just couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched. I glanced over my shoulder, saw the ranger incline his head fractionally towards me. He could sense something too. I wasn’t just imagining it.
& just like that, as quickly & oppressively as that feeling had been there, it was gone. It felt like the entire forest drew a deep breath. The wind sighed in the trees, making the leaves dance together, our fire flared high for a moment then went back to a low burn.
I let my breath out slowly, turned & went back to Bishop. He wrapped one arm about me, holding me almost protectively to his chest, the other still on the grip of his dagger at his waist.
“Since we’re both awake, let’s break camp. Sun will be up in an hour or two,” I spoke from against him.
He didn’t reply, not verbally, just tightened his grip about my shoulders before releasing me.
We packed up our gear which between the two of us took very little time. By the time the moons had moved no more than a few inches across the black sky, we were heading deeper into the woods, back around closer to Whiterun.
Bishop & I rode in a charged, tense silence. We had been fighting again. I was growing increasingly tired of his obstinate refusal to reveal even the most basic information about his past. He was beyond irritated that I kept asking & wouldn’t sleep in the same bedroll as him when he didn’t answer my questions.
I was ready to beat the snot out of him but I knew better than to go up against the ranger in a hand-to-hand fight. He’d win, even with my wolf-blood. & that rankled me almost as much as his refusing to tell me anything about himself.
I nosed Gypsum into Whiterun’s stables, slid off his back, leaving him to the care of the stablehand & brushed past the ranger, heading towards the gates.
By the time he caught up with me, I was already pushing open the doors to Jorrvaskr. Aela caught me, pulling me off to the side. I flicked a glance towards Bishop, saw his angry expression but turned my attention back to my Sister.
“The old man wants to see you, Kalla. I think he’s caught wind of what all of us have been up to,” she said quietly to me.
I tipped my head to peer around her at the others sitting at the long table. There was an air of furtive silence, like everyone was walking on egg shells. “I’ll speak to him.”
Aela looked relieved. “He trusts you. My advice though; don’t give him too much information. I love Kodlak but his days as a warrior are over. This is our fight.”
I was thinking about arguing the point with her; Kodlak might be too old to fight with a sword anymore but his mind was still sharp. It wasn’t just steel that made a warrior. But I had other things to take care of first.
I slipped past the Huntress & made directly for Kodlak’s quarters. As with every time before, his doubledoors were open but I still knocked just the same. He was seated at his table again, staring off into space with a book opened before him. He looked up, saw it was me & waved me in.
“Sit down, lass.” There was a definite command in his voice. I drew myself up straight but went & took the seat across from him. The ranger lingered in the doorway, staring at me with those unblinking golden eyes of his. I narrowed my black eyes on him; now was not the time for one of his comments. “What have you been up to, Kalla? You & the others have been sly as foxes since Skjor’s death…”
His one good eye was pinned on me like a dagger. I met his gaze squarely, took a deep breath & began to speak. “I know about the Silver Hand. Aela told me. If they would kill every single person here, Harbinger, regardless if they have the wolf blood or not, they NEED to be stopped. I won’t let them harm innocents, I won’t have any more Brothers & Sister’s fall to them. They’ve even begun looking for pieces of Wuuthrad in an attempt to get them before we can….”
He sat back in his seat, folding his hands over his middle as he regarded me thoughtfully. “Do you fight to stop them or to avenge Skjor’s death?”
“Both,” I answered Kodlak candidly.
“Honest girl,” he said quietly, almost as if to himself. Then he took a deep breath, let it out slowly before pinning me with that hard glance again. “There has been too much blood spilled already. The cycle of retaliation may continue for some time….” he paused, running the fingers of one hand thoughtfully through his beard. “Have you gone to the hagraven’s yet?”
I shook my head in the negative, my features perfectly impassive. I knew what he was going to say next.
“Go to the Glenmoril Coven. Kill them, bring me back one of their heads, Kalla. If you & the others are intent on this fight, so be it. But I won’t die & go to Hircine’s realm for their stubbornness & lust for revenge if the Silver Hand bring the battle to the doors of Jorrvaskr. You & your Shield-Siblings may just be hastening the event you are seeking to stop.”
I bowed my head in acknowledgment of his command, feeling shame well up inside of me. I felt like I had let Kodlak down or disappointed him in some way even though I agreed with Aela & the others. The Silver Hand DID need to be stopped. “As you will it, Harbinger, it will be done.”
He nodded once, waved a hand at me in dismissal. I rose & left his quarters, my task set.
“What do you know of hagravens?” I asked the ranger as we rode down the road heading towards Riverwood.
He was quiet at first but then I saw him cock one brow at me. “Feel like another hunt, ladyship?”
I purposely remained silent for a few moments as I thought over how best to answer him. This was the first time in many days we had spoken civilly to each other. Perhaps if I took another tack with the ranger, I would achieve my objective in the end. I offered him a demure little smile, saying “Same stakes as last time?”
I could sense him hesitating, as if he were trying to figure out what I was up to but there was still the slight chance he might actually beat me. It was too good of a bet for him to pass it up. “Double or nothing, Princess. I win, you start sharing a bedroll with me again… & other things”
I drew my breath in sharply, feeling my cheeks flush. As much as I hated to admit it right then, I did miss the games we played. I was starting to feel the pleasant strain of abstinence & was sure he was too.
“Deal,” I answered him. I wasn’t going to let him win, no way in Oblivion. He might be a hunter but he’d only gotten a small taste of how stubborn a warrior I could be. This…. was going to prove interesting.
To say the least.
“So, these hagravens, they’re part of the Glenmoril Witches Coven?” Bishop asked me as we were hiking up the thin, over-grown track that served as a path to the cave marked on the map Kodlak had given me.
“Aye. Acolytes of Hircine. They tricked Terrfyg a few centuries back. He thought the wolf-blood would only be a temporary thing. They didn’t dissuade him of this misconception.” I glanced over, saw him looking at me with that blank expression on his face he normally had when he didn’t agree with something I was about to do. Not that he could stop me.
“Terrfyg is supposed to be someone important I take it.” He didn’t sound like he cared one way or another.
I answered him anyway. “Indeed. He was Harbinger of the Companion’s back when it happened. Tis him we have to thank for the gift some of us have of being moon-born.”
“You really think being moon-born, as you call it, is a gift, ladyship?” Ah, there was that hint of genuine curiosity.
I nodded. “I used to dream of wolves when I was a child. Wanted to be one for a time. Now that I have the wolf blood, I feel… more free. Stronger, more sure of myself. My wolf & I, we have an understanding. I am slowly growing to understand her more & more & she, me in return.”
The ranger was silent for a time as we walked along. We had left our horses at the bottom of the steep incline, me being worried one of them might slip a shoe or hurt a leg on the rocky, narrow path. I didn’t mind the long trek, to be honest. I was just happy to be out under open skies, in the fresh air, with trees & wild things all about me.
“Just that, Princess? You used to dream of wolves as a girl so presented with the opportunity to become a lycan, you took it?”
I paused, glanced at him again. Turned towards him so I could meet his golden amber eyes. “Wolves could teach humans a few things. I used to dream of finding a man with the morals of a wolf when I was a girl. Loyal, strong, honest. Sure of who & what he was, his place in this world. One who could appreciate having a strong woman at his side that challenged him to be his very best, as he would challenge her in return. They don’t keep secrets from each other, they don’t judge, they just are. Their trust is hard-won but once you have it…” I pointedly looked towards the bottom of the path, where Karnwyr sat with the horses as further explanation. Once loyalty is gained, you have it for always unless you did something to break it. I didn’t need to say it. He knew in any case.
The ranger shifted with what I took to be unease, that ghost of pain flashing in his amber eyes again as it had before, quickly there & just as quickly gone. He took a deep breath, broad shoulders squaring as he tipped his head back up the path & began to walk again. I followed after him, wondering silently not for the first time recently if he even trusted me at all or simply stuck around because of our physical attraction. Or perhaps because, as I had thought once before, I was an easy meal ticket to him & he was just opportunistic, as Jakob had been.
I took a deep breath of my own, watching Bishop as he climbed before me. I couldn’t deny that I wanted him, that he made me burn with a heat that I sometimes feared would make me disintegrate. What I did know about him, I liked. I liked it very much.
But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice & end up burned again but in a totally different manner. I twisted the old, battered wolfs-head ring he had given me round & round my finger as we continued on up the path.
‘What does this mean, Bishop?’ I had asked him when he gave it to me.
‘It means you’re mine, Kalla. Mine & mine alone,’ he had answered me before he had kissed me until I couldn’t even see straight, until I couldn’t breathe.
I hadn’t wanted to. All I had wanted then was him, to be his. I had hoped that this shift in our relationship meant he would trust me enough to tell me about himself. I accepted him as he was, knew the type of man he was now. It worked both ways; if he wanted me, to know me, then I wanted that returned in kind. Brought face to face, as it were, with my past, I didn’t want to relive that mistake. I wasn’t going to be kept in a cage, no matter how pretty & gilded the bars, simply because I had foolishly followed my heart before. I just wanted the ranger to give me what I gave him. I honestly didn’t think it was too much to ask for.
‘Damn you, Jakob,’ I silently cursed my dead husband, not for the first nor the last time. Why his ghost still haunted me….
I rubbed both hands over my face with a small frustrated growl as I continued up the path. I just needed to kill something, something to get the frustration out of my system for the moment, to lose myself in the heat of battle. The hagravens were as good a target as any & moreover, deserved their fate.
Bishop was standing outside the entrance to the cave, peering inside of it when I caught up to him. The outside had taproots hanging about it, adding a very subtle green glow & slightly macabre atmosphere to the whole area. To further add to that dark atmosphere, there were thick stakes lodged into the ground with different animal’s skulls affixed to the pointed tops, a brazier with the body of a dead spriggan in it & various other bones & bunches of feathers hanging from leather & rope cords attached to thin branches of the gnarled trees.
“Why do you insist on going into places like this, ladyship? Why not let the people do it themselves?” He sounded highly irritated.
I drew my bow, loosened the catch on my greatswords harness, shooting a glare his way. “Because I can.” The look he gave me would have been enough to freeze a frost troll in place. With me, it didn’t. All it did was make me sigh heavily & return to glaring at him. “Stay here if you want. I’m going inside.”
& that was exactly what I did. I brushed right past him & entered the lair of the Witches of Glenmoril, not caring if he came with me or not.
The cave was dank, musty smelling, with a scent of old death & decay that hung heavy. My wolf was snarling quietly inside of my mind; she didn’t like this place any more than I did. I crept along the rocky side of the long narrow passage towards the faint glow I could see just ahead.
My softly-pointed ears caught the sound of movement behind me but I didn’t turn. The scent of the ranger wafted up to me, letting me know there was no enemy at my back. He had decided to follow me afterall.
I moved forward again, quietly, crouched low in an attempt to draw as close to my targets as I could. The ground was littered with old bones, scraggly brush, various fungi growing against the stone walls that ran with damp.
I stopped, holding my breath when I heard it; the rasp of laboured breathing. I invited my wolf closer, feeling my teeth sharpening in my mouth, my eyesight growing keener as did my hearing, those short wolfish nails sprouting from my human fingertips. The cave lit up bright as day & I saw my quarry.
A hagraven, a perverse conjoining of woman & bird. There was a grotesque beauty to the creature even so. I raised my bow, sighted down the shaft of my arrow, taking careful aim…. I tracked her movements, let my breath out slowly at the same time I released my arrow. I heard the whir of another arrow from behind me, felt the air of its passing stir past my cheek as Bishop had done the same.
Our arrows thudded home into the hagraven’s flesh, mine exploding in a radiant shower of my Lady’s light that made the witch go up in flames. It screeched & fell to the cave floor, writing in agony. I slung my bow across my back, was leaping forward while drawing my sword at the same time. I sprinted over to my fallen foe, slipped my blade between her ribs to pierce her heart. She stopped moving, her cries ceased. I looked around anxiously, worried that the noise she had made might have alerted the others to our presence. But no other witches came to investigate. I severed her spine, retrieved her head, placing it into a rough sack before I stuck it into my pack.
I was just slinging it across my shoulders when the troll appeared. One of its massive arms swung out towards me. I ducked under it, rolled towards the beast, snatching one of my daggers from the sheath at my calf at the same time I was rising to one of my knees. I caught the beast low in the belly. It bellowed & grabbed at me. I ripped my dagger sideways across its stomach, slashing at its chest with the claws of my other hand. I sank my fingers into the thick ruff of fur about its neck, snarling as I leaned back. My shoulders made contact with the rough stone floor, I dug my feet into the troll’s ribs &, with the help of my wolf, kicked the beast up & over me.
As soon as I was free, I flipped lithely to my feet, crouching as my eyes glittered red, my lips writhed back from my pointed teeth, hands curved, claws at the ready. I wasn’t at all proficient at tactical hand-to-hand but I could rend at least.
The troll was growling as it tried to struggle to its feet, its intestines trailing from its ruptured gut. Another arrow whizzed past me, lodging in the troll’s skull. It jerked & went silent, lying still.
I looked towards the entrance to the corridor, saw the ranger standing there, bow in hand. I glanced behind me, saw another hagraven approaching on an upper rampart; she had come to see what was making all the noise.
I dodged into the shadows with the ranger & we beat a hasty retreat.
We stood almost toe to toe, glaring at each other next to our campfire. I had my hands on my hips, he had his arms folded across his chest.
“That does NOT mean you won, you jackass!” I flared at him.
“Doesn’t it? That other hagraven would have had you if I hadn’t killed that troll,” he sounded just as irritated as I did.
I huffed, folded my arms beneath my bosom. “& I was the one who killed the first hagraven. I won. Why don’t you just admit it?”
I saw his jaw working as he clenched his teeth, narrowed his golden eyes down at me. “We didn’t stay long enough for it to be a proper contest before you alerted the troll to our presence, ladyship. I have to say that’s a forfeit…. Which means you owe me.”
“HA!” I snapped, turned on my heel, meaning to get away from him. If I didn’t, I was going to try to slap him silly.
He grabbed my shoulder, spun me about to face him again & before I could react, had me locked in his arms, hauled up tight to his body. I planted my hands into his chest & shoved him back.
Just the fact I had actually managed that gave us both pause. My wolf was present & strongly with me, more strongly than she ever had been before. I could actually feel her in my blood. Had she not been with me at all, there was no way in Oblivion I would have managed to break his hold.
I stood panting, my eyes flaring red in the growing twilight. “Until you let me inside that head of yours, Bishop, until you tell me more about your past…. there’s no way I’m letting you back into my bedroll. You want the pleasures we share. I want to know more about the man I want to give my heart to. Guess who’s going to win this one?” I backed towards the darkness I could feel behind me, my wolf drawing closer & closer. “Oh & for the record…. it won’t be you.”
I slipped into the darkness before he could reach me & shifted, leaving nothing behind but my armour & weapons in a pile on the ground outside the flickering line of our campfire.
He sat with his fingers buried deeply into his hair. It was that or hit something.
What he really wanted to do was find that pale-haired pain in his ass & beat her fucking senseless for her stubbornness. She was like a damned hound. She got something into that hard head of hers & she wouldn’t let it go. His past just happened to be her latest hang-up.
& like hells he was going to tell her about what he had been before he came to Skyrim or about his so-called family. There was only one decent person in the entire lot & he hadn’t seen her in… years.
Why it was so important to Kalla he couldn’t figure out, other than typical female curiosity. But her insistence went way beyond that.
Rising angrily to his feet, Bishop paced to the edge of the firelight, staring out into the darkness where she had disappeared after she had told him he wasn’t going to win this argument.
Argument. More like a personal war of hers, same as with this bullshit with the Silver Hand.
‘You could always just leave. Move on to another easier target,’ a voice in his mind said.
The ranger frowned, rubbing at the back of his neck. If he had been going to do that, he would have, months ago. No, he wanted Kalla. Wanted to possess her, to be the one to tame her.
But thus far, that suicidal maniac refused to be tamed. The harder he tried, the more she fought him. The more she fought him, the more he wanted her. He’d given her his ring, something he had never even thought about doing before with any other woman. She’d accepted it, had said she was his.
& yet she still resisted him. He could partially understand her reasons, after the incidents at the cave & her almost being raped. But this new… hang-up of hers about his youth & what he had been was proving to be an even bigger obstacle to over-come.
‘Just leave. Get on your horse & go right now. You can be gone before she even returns,’ the voice in his head spoke again.
Bishop frowned deeper, whirled back around & stomped back over to the campfire, tossing another log onto it. He had to admit, even to himself, what she was asking for was simple enough. But he’d spent years running from his past, trying to escape it & the memories along with the guilt, the anger, the hundred other emotions he would just as soon live without.
‘She’s not going to let this go. You know it. Just go. There are plenty of other women out there,’ the voice in his mind said persistently.
Bishop walked over to the nearest sturdy tree, smashed his fist into the trunk of it with a growl.
That voice in his head was right. There were other women out there. Plenty of them.
But they weren’t Kalla.
I noticed something was very very wrong as soon as the ranger & I were approaching the gates to Whiterun. There were more guards posted & even the normal ones were watching me closely as they opened the huge doors to let us inside.
The streets were oddly quiet; no children ran about screaming & playing. Each house & shop we passed had a single tall white pillar candle burning in their windows. The people on the street we did pass were silent with strained expressions. None of them would even meet my eyes.
I cast a glance full of concern & anxiety towards Bishop before I started to head towards the main square at a brisk walk. Something was wrong, very wrong. I needed to find out what as soon as possible.
The crowds of people grew thicker the closer to Jorrvaskr I got. My stomach began to knot in a sick dread. I had this horrible sense of foreboding. Something unbelievably bad had happened, I just knew it.
I shoved my way through the throng to see Aela & Torvar were outside along with two more of the whelps, all of them with weapons drawn. City guards were posted at the bottom of the steps leading up to the Hall. They let me & the ranger pass at a command from Aela.
“What happened?” I didn’t want to ask her, didn’t want to know, but I still asked, regardless.
Her face was strained, rage & what could have been sorrow moving in the bright blue depths of her eyes. I could smell both on her.
“The Silver Hand,” she said quietly. “Go speak to Vilkas. He’s waiting for you.”
I moved past her & dashed up the steps at a dead run. I pushed open the doors, not waiting for the ranger to follow me. The moment I walked in I received a solid punch to the jaw that knocked me back against the wall.
“Where have you been?” Vilkas stood before me, blue eyes dark, sparking with the same anger I had seen in my Sister’s, hands clenched into fists at his sides, knuckles white. “You should have been here!” He shouted at me before I could respond.
Bishop came in just then, caught sight of my reddened jaw & made a determined effort to go for the Companion’s throat. I stepped between them, shaking my head at the ranger, placing a hand on his chest. “This is an argument between Brother & Sister. I’ll handle it,” I told him calmly but beneath that calm, was the gnashing of steel. Our eyes locked, there was a silent battle of wills. I wasn’t giving in. Neither was he. “Bishop….” I snapped his name, then softened my tone, “Please.”
He stared down at me for so long I didn’t think he was going to do as I asked. Minutes ticked by as we continued to stare at one another. Blessedly, he finally snorted. With a warning glare at Vilkas, he spun on his heel & walked right back out the doors.
I exhaled slowly, turned to face my Brother. “What happened? & before you go trying to slug me again, know that if you do, it won’t be so easy this time. I don’t agree with fighting my Shield-Siblings in earnest but you have no such qualms.”
As with Bishop, I didn’t back down. I met & held Vilkas’s eyes, refusing to let him try to intimidate me. He might be older as a lycanthrope, bigger than me but I was much more shape-strong than he was. My wolf & I looked at him at the same time out of my eyes. I saw his shoulders drop fractionally as he inclined his head to me in acknowledgment. I returned his nod graciously.
“The old man… Kodlak…. He’s dead, Kalla.” The pain of loss was much more evident in Vilkas’s voice than it had been in Aela’s.
I swung my gaze towards the firepit, saw a group of my brothers & sisters-in-arms gathered around one of the long tables. I walked past Vilkas, feeling that same sick dread twist in the pit of my belly. They parted, letting me through once they became aware of my presence amongst them.
I looked down on the old, seamed, scarred face, his eyes closed. He looked almost peaceful. Strands of his white hair were stained red with blood. They had covered his body with a Companion’s cloak; deep crimson with the effigy of Wuuthrad embroidered in gold thread on it, same as the banners outside. I looked at each face gathered; Nadja, Athis, Farkas, Vilkas, Ria, Vignar, Ran, Eldruun, others I had not met properly yet.
I placed my hand on Kodlak’s cold brow, closed my eyes as I felt tears sting the backs of them. He really was dead, without being able to purge himself of his wolfs-blood. He was now a hound to Hircine, exactly as he had not wanted.
What we, me & the others, had tried so hard to avoid…. had come to pass. Just as Kodlak had said it would.