June 19, 2016 at 12:23 pmPost count: 138
4th Era, 191
Silence reigned throughout the woods where the only thing disturbing the creatures of the forest were their own footsteps. The snapping of a twig alerted a skittish deer, forcing the predator to pause and adjust its stance. The doe leapt off to the side, whirling to stare into the foliage until it finally settled with much disgruntled head shaking.
Bishop didn’t dare smile as he drew back the arrow. A sense of power shuddered through him. A God had not only entered the woodland’s food chain, but was a part of it. He nipped his lip in concentration as a breeze buffeted his face and he angled his bow up just a little to counter it. The shot was perfect and he knew it, but he waited for his prey to duck its head down and relax completely. He was about to set the arrow loose when a deafening cough sent every living thing within earshot fleeing for cover. Bishop had jolted to and painfully watched the arrow he’d spent hours on perfecting fly wildly into a thorn bush.
“That was going to feed us for a week!” He lamented and threw his hands up in the air. He watched the doe trot away into the woods. “How many times are you going to do that?” He turned around to glare at the source of the coughing. But instead of a sheepish smile he saw his brother dropping to his knees. Wide eyed, he couldn’t stop the hacking fit.
The string of pelts, bow and arrows Bishop carried were dropped to the dirt of the forest floor as quickly as they left his mind when he saw his brother’s pained and unusually pasty face. He ran over and slid on his knees next to the curled up boy.
“Jules? Jules.” He called out calmly and placed a hand on his brother’s shaking back, then one on his chest to sit him up, “breathe. Just keep breathing.” Bishop winced. He could feel his brother’s bones protruding beneath his hands. Jules eventually did calm with his brother’s firm support to keep him from panicking, but it was gradual and with much wheezing. Jules shook him off when his composure returned and turned to straighten up. “Slowly.” Bishop warned and kept a wary hand on his shoulder regardless.
“I don’t know, I stopped counting a few weeks back.” Jules bitterly responded to the question from five minutes ago. He took another deep breath and looked guiltily at his hands as he meekly noted their dilemma. “You said we would never hunt alone.”
Bishop pursed his lips as he considered this and eased to his feet as he voiced his decision: “And we never will.” Jules blinked at him and the hand he offered bewilderedly. “Come on, there’s some old woman in a shack to the east. There’s gotta be something she can do for you.”
Jules took the hand that waved impatiently in his face and was pulled to his feet. “But we can’t pay her!”
The cocky seventeen year old strode back to pick up everything he’d dropped and turned around with a flourish when he had them, holding out a pouch of coins with a smirk. “People usually take gold, I think she’ll cope with it.”
“But how…” Jules stood cluelessly among all the things he’d been carrying and his upturned eyes half closed as he realised what Bishop had done. “You stole from those nobles? I could have got ten times that much if you told me we were doing that!”
“I didn’t steal! They dropped it when their horses got spooked, I was just cleaning up the mess. We don’t do that anymore and we’re not going to.”
“And who spooked the horses?” Jules muttered, too miffed at missing the chance to use his skills to notice that Bishop was picking up all of the things he’d dropped as well.
Bishop looked over his shoulder and slung Jules’s half of the load over it like he’d been carrying it all from the start. “Come on, let’s go. Before you choke on another hairball.”
The cabin was very much a shack. With planks that rotted from damp and stones that were glazed with the dirt of decades gone by. But to Jules, who’d only called camping grounds and tents his home for all of his life, it was very much a house. Bishop seemed to be struck by the same feeling as he froze at the bottom of the path of trodden grass and scuffed dirt leading up to it. He rolled his shoulders and cleared his throat several times as he stared at the door like he’d forgotten how to knock.
Jules sent him a sideways glance and elbowed him. “Want me to cough until she opens it?”
Bishop scowled at that and harrumphed up the path to knock solidly on the dark wooden door three times. It opened on the second.
A rotund woman who reached Bishop’s chest looked up at him from the threshold of the house with her arms crossed. She looked stern with alert steel blue eyes but the lines on her face implied she smiled often. Grey hair was half-heartedly bundled into a bun that had an entire layer of loose hair that reached her shoulders beneath it. Her attire was a nondescript mix of a practical dark green dress, three aprons varying in levels of stains and bulging pockets, and a grey undershirt that had the sleeves rolled up past her wrinkled elbows. She said nothing, only raising her eyebrow and tapping her foot as she waited for him to explain his presence.
Bishop blinked for a few moments in the rain before stiffly holding out the pouch of gold. “My brother’s sick. Help him.”
“That’s it? Have a problem with articulation yourself, dearie?” She chuckled to herself until a harrowing cough from the completely drenched boy standing by the door caught her attention. “Oh, bring him in!” She tutted and briefly gestured to the bed behind her before bustling over to her shelves of ingredients and tinctures.
The two boys ambled in with curious eyes flitting about. Jules was eagerly and openly taking everything in but Bishop was squinting at every corner for anything that might jump out and take advantage of his brother’s weak state.
There wasn’t much for them to focus on as the cottage was small, L-shaped and rather backwards. A single bed covered with neat but rugged furs was placed opposite the front door and it cordoned off the corner to its left where a bulging cabinet that reached the thatched roof’s wooden beams was placed along with an alchemy table and many hanging baskets of ingredients. The other end of the cottage featured the woman’s own double bed and drawers, as well as a stocked kitchen around the corner. To the immediate left of the front door was a thinner wooden door that led to the outhouse, which the woman shut as soon as she caught Bishop looking at it.
In the centre of the cottage’s longest wall, Bishop frowned at a display of one too many staffs but his attention was caught by their host barking out before he could focus on them.
“Sit,” she said to Jules as he continued to stand near the door like a lemon. He scooted over to the bed as she pointed it out yet again but regretted it when the abrupt movement reduced him to another coughing fit. The surprise of her suddenly turning around and peering down his mouth with a torchbug jar for a light shocked him into silence, but he continued to wheeze until his eyes streamed.
“How long has he had this?” She asked and briskly turned around to fetch another item from the shelves.
Bishop shrugged and looked cluelessly at Jules who was giving him askance looks as he tried to stay as still as possible. Hoping that it might discourage the woman from prodding him so much. “A month? A few months…?” He said, inwardly hitting himself for not having paid more attention to this.
Her sigh was as reprimanding as a slap across the face. “Been around any nasty people, filthy dogs…?”
Bishop drew up to his full height defensively and crossed his arms even tighter so they flexed. “We live in the forest.”
She wasn’t facing him to see this threatening display as she flicked through a dog-eared tome from the bookshelf next to the bed. Jules was relaxing at the lapse in the prodding but was made alarmed once more as his eyelids were briefly lifted up. She snapped the book shut, sighed deeply again and pinched the bridge of her nose. “For how long?”
“All our lives!” Bishop retorted as if it was not a thing to be questioned.
“But not all your lives without family?”
Jules was looking at her warily now and even Bishop was getting more distressed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his older brother drop his arms and give him the signal to get ready to run.
“We don’t need them. Are you saying I don’t know how to look after my brother?” He said while edgily trying to figure out a way to get Jules past the woman.
She wasn’t moving an inch and had intentionally placed herself in the most blocking position. “A growing boy needs more than just red meat and wild vegetables, you are not Bosmer. You claim to have lived in the woods all your life but look at your clothes. Even the worst parents know how to dress their children and there were many children to dress, weren’t there, son of Torban?”
Both of the boys abruptly froze into place like lightning had struck them. “How do you know that? Who are you?” Bishop demanded and drew his knife.
The woman didn’t flinch. “What do you think I am? Some miracle healer who wastes her talent as a hermit in the woods only treating the squirrels? I work with the cartel, you dimwit. Your family is more famous than you think, their banishment from Skyrim has become quite a fond story between bandits.”
“So what are you going to do now? Sell us out?” Bishop snarled and reminded her of the knife by rotating the blade as he shifted his weight from foot to foot.
She looked at it like it was an offending stick covered with faeces. “Put that down you buffoon, of course not. I don’t blame you for killing your father, he was a mean piece of work even when I knew him. Your brothers have put quite a price on your heads for it but it won’t make it to Skyrim. I suggest you stay in the province for a few years, let it die down.”
“Uh, Torban was his father. Just saying.” Jules piped up and grinned cheekily.
She grunted lightly. “Well, the bounty’s on both of you. I see more orphans and runaways than Honorhall but unlike them, I don’t advise you find work in a city, not yet.” She mused and started pacing the small space of her alchemy alcove. She seemed dazed until she snapped around to point at Bishop, making him flinch back. “You can pass for a grown man but your brother… He needs a home. Four walls, a roof, solid food, a hearth and warm blankets.”
“We’ve lived without them fine so far.” Bishop repeated stubbornly.
“Not with a case of Rattles like this you haven’t. The boy’s all skin, hair and bone. Nobody can recover while they’re like that. I’m sending you to Lost Knife. My grandsons will give you work and a place to sleep.” She bustled over to the kitchenette they couldn’t see even though they leant sideways simultaneously and returned almost instantly with a pre-prepared hamper. “You leave in the morning after you’ve eaten. There’s a cart in Falkreath that will take you to Whiterun if you ask nicely, after that you’re on your own.”
“Wait, aren’t you going to heal him?” Bishop held out his hand with concern as she made to leave.
The old woman scoffed. “So you can go back to playing hermits in the woods? No. But you can.” She gathered her own cloak and staff and was out of the front door before they could think of anything to say. “I’ll be back by morning, you’d better be gone by then. Your brother gets the bed.”
“And where do I sleep?”
She couldn’t resist ducking her head in for one last retort. “I’m sure you’ll find even my floors comfier than Kyne’s rooty arse.” She smiled and closed the door with a bang.
“We can share the bed if you want. I can scoot and I’m not that big yet-“
“No, it’s fine. Just, eat and get some sleep.” He grumbled and settled down on the pelt laid in front of the hearth. He was trying to ignore how good the warmth of the fire felt when a bread roll bonked against his head.
“You’ve got to try this!” Said the thrower as he rolled his eyes into his head and groaned with a full mouth at the divinity of it when Bishop turned around to complain. “It’s better than anything you ever made!”
“Yeah? You’ll take that back next time we’re in the forest and your growling stomach is scaring away all the actual food!” He took a bite anyway.
They ate in silence until a voice from far away echoed through the cottage like it was right next to them. “Oh and if I find one thing of mine missing, I know where to find you, son of Torban!”
It startled Bishop so much that all of his limbs flailed as he tried to hurriedly sit up and draw his weapon.
Jules chortled as he stuffed his cheeks with the last of the bread. “I think that was her way of saying goodnight.”
“Night then.” His brother mumbled, trying not to show how much his heart was racing. Jules happily jumped under all the furs and bounced his head as he snuggled into the straw pillow. Bishop tried not to crack his head on the stone floor.
Jules’s moment of perkiness had been short lived. As his breathing became heavy with sleep, Bishop could hear his lungs shake and wheeze, protesting and making him try to unconsciously cough with every other breath.
Bishop hated every second of it. He made a fuss of turning onto his left side and focusing on the crackling fire instead. The jumping flames reflected in his eyes and died as they sent him to sleep, all with the thought that whatever it took to make his brother well again, he’d do it.
The town of Falkreath was so submerged in its forest that visually you couldn’t tell where it began, but the sounds were unmistakable to two hunters attuned with the woods. The hubbub of early morning life reached their ears. Chickens greeted the day, merchants opened their shops, drunks groaned and a few children ran about, away from their parent’s feet.
“I don’t know why you keep saying this place is so dull. They have an inn, what more do you need?” Bishop asked as he pointed to what he thought was the town’s main feature. Not without a bit of longing as their destination was instead the smithy on the other side of the street.
“All their drinks are too strong. I get dizzy and they still think I’m a little kid,” Jules reminded him with his innocently peaky voice. “I couldn’t buy anything even if we had any gold which we don’t because you won’t let us stea-“
A sudden turn around a tree put them straight into the rear end of a laden cart and an amused blacksmith who’d heard every word.
“Looking for a ride, boys?” He asked, throwing an axe as thick as his arm into the stockpile of iron weapons, armour and chests.
Bishop squinted at him and eased back, ready to run or fight. “What’s it to you?”
“Well, you’re either gawking at my cart like it’s a tavern wench because you want a ride, or you want my merchandise. And I’d really advise against that last one.” The blacksmith picked up a sword longer than Jules and handled it with deliberation as he pointedly glanced at all the nearby guards on patrol.
“Uh, we do, sir! To Whiterun. If you have room of c-“
Bishop elbowed his brother in the ribs before he could ask too nicely.
The blacksmith threw the longsword into the cart with a sudden smile. “Good. Can you pay or can you use those swords?” He began walking to the front of the cart before they could respond.
“Oh w-we can’t pay-” Again, Bishop nudged him.
“What do you mean?” He asked as the man made sure his horse was secured and hefted himself up to the driving seat.
“Those swords in the back. Can you use them?”
Bishop blinked at the variety of deadly blades and smirked. “Absolutely.”
“Good. You can be my guards. Hop in, we’ve lost time already.” He looked back at them and slapped the wood of the cart behind his seat to get them moving.
Bishop boosted Jules up and waited until he’d found a chest to perch on before jumping up himself. The cart had begun moving and was out of Falkreath while his foot still dangled.
“Now, I don’t need your life stories and you don’t need mine. The silence of the road is the only silence I get these days. If anything follows us, you hit it. Understood?”
“Mute mallets at your command.” Jules quipped.
Bishop smiled and settled down for a ride free of chitchat. They’d hit the jackpot.
“Don’t ever marry, boys, the woodland creatures will become your only friends.” Their driver muttered, retreating into the thoughts of his own troubles. He didn’t speak again until they stopped to camp.
The blacksmith had the tent, the brothers offered bedrolls and Bishop caught them dinner in the form of a skewered skeever. All seemed well until it began to rain. The cold damp crept into the dark night and weighed the air around them like a heavy fog they couldn’t see. A grimace was on Jules’s face where there was once a childlike grin, as he coughed through the night. He tried to muffle the noise with his bedroll but neither of the men next to him let it go unnoticed, nor the wolf who’d been sniffing out their trail from the edges of their sight. Bishop threw the wolf his uneaten food when he spotted it skulking around the tents and in return, they were not bothered by any of the predators they knew their noise should have been attracting. When Jules reached the peak of his coughing fits, a howl accompanied him. One that gave of the feeling of protection rather than the victorious howl of a hunt. After that, he slept. The blacksmith kept the warm fire stoked as long as he could stay awake and Bishop kept watch without once asking for them to take turns.
The sun was setting by the time Bishop woke again. He was reclining precariously on the moving cart’s bench with a chest to support his back and head, and only his pack to make it less uncomfortable on his neck. Jules slept on the floor of the cart in the only space free of armour and weapons. Because of this he sat upright in his sleep so his head rested against his brother’s leg.
Bishop groaned and rubbed his eyes to adjust to the orange skies he’d come to associate with setting up tents and sleeping. He tried to move as little as possible so as not to disturb Jules’s unusually peaceful slumber, he could feel the heat of the boy’s fever even just on his leg. He twisted his upper torso around to face the blacksmith anyway.
“We’re not stopping to make camp?”
The blacksmith startled a little at the sudden voice in his peaceful lull but smiled and shook his head. They were coming into view of cobbled stone structures and thatched roofs set between mountains and the calm river. “Nah, this is Riverwood. I’ve got a deal with the merchants here anyway, thought we’d stay at the inn for the night.”
“All three of us?”
“Hey, the steps are out here if you prefer but if they’ve got beds free, you’re welcome to them.” He said, looking as if he couldn’t care less as they trundled past the smithy and the general store.
A bump in the road startled them all and Jules blearily blinked himself awake after his head slammed twice into Bishop’s leg. “Is this Whiterun?” He asked, looking at all the buildings they passed.
“No, it’s just a village.” Bishop shrugged with complete disregard. A disgruntled local crossing the street was amused to see him be almost thrown out of the cart as their horse bolted around a corner. A shadow of an animal had darted through its legs to the other side of the road but they moved on too fast for them to see it.
“You two alright?” The blacksmith asked as he, too, tried to keep his seat on the cart and directed the horse to turn into the space of grass behind Riverwood’s inn.
“Yep, definitely awake now.” Jules groaned and tried to raise himself up as the sudden change of pace made him smack into the board at the rear of the cart. Along with all of the sharp and pointy cargo.
“You sure leaving the horse in their garden is a good idea?” Bishop asked as they halted and their driver dismounted.
He snorted and went to secure his very passive steed. “You think a horse wants their cabbages?” He laughed and shook his head, walking back to where the brothers were tentatively dismounting and led the way to the inn. “You’ve got a lot to learn about food, boy. First step is to stay away from the baked potatoes. They were baked a month ago. Actually, it’s best to just drink here.”
“Wait, they have mead here?” Asked Jules with eyes as wide as the rising moons. He jumped up onto the steps to the inn and practically bounced on the spot as he awaited an answer.
“Yeah, Falkreath’s having a dry spell. ‘Course Whiterun has all the best stuff but-“
Jules had already run into the inn. Before they followed him, the blacksmith paused at the foot of the steps and turned to Bishop.
“Look, I know I said no life stories but I couldn’t help but notice… him. You’re going to Whiterun, so Temple of Kynareth, eh?”
“He does not need magic prayers.” Bishop growled as the blacksmith awkwardly reached for the pouch around his waist that held his coin. Presumably in an act of charity.
The blacksmith stuck his thumbs in his belt loopholes instead. “No, ‘course not. We’re Nords. But they know their stuff. When my brother left the army he brought back some nasty Cyrodiilic disease. We all thought he was done for but we took him to the temple and he was right again in weeks.”
“He didn’t get ill in Cyrodiil.”
“Ah, well, wherever you’re going, he’ll recover. Strapping young lads that you are. Well, best go in and drink to his health, eh?”
He gave himself one affirming nod before turning his back on Bishop and heading into the inn, muttering all the way.
Bishop was about to follow when a glint from in between the steps made him put down his raised foot. A grey snout poked out from beneath the inn’s decking and sniffed the small patch of flora in front of it. The stark yellow eyes of a wolf glared at his every move, pinning him on the spot. A smile crept onto his face at the opportunity of meeting such a beast up close and he slowly crouched down to be less of a threat. The wolf couldn’t care less and padded out to scavenge the patch for any edible scraps that the inn’s patrons had discarded over the railings. It was a she and her coat turned out only to be grey underneath. From the top her fur was a midnight black and it shimmered down to white paws, but it was heavily matted and covered in dirt. Her graceful steps had an urgency to them and her movements were made sluggish by a belly that hung low and wide.
Despite her pregnancy and how thin the rest of her was, Bishop didn’t doubt for a second that she was capable of tearing his throat out. “You want me to get you some food again?” He asked with open and laid back body language but she spooked as soon as a wooden step creaked under his body and fled into the night with the same speed she’d had when startling their horse.
With a sigh, all he could do was enter the inn.
The light of the fire from the huge pit caught his senses unawares before he could focus. He searched for Jules but his attention was immediately drawn by another. There was a completely hooded and cloaked figure sitting away from him in the shadows that seemed like a familiar form, but he had to shake himself and carry on. There was no way that anyone from Skyrim would recognise him, and no cross-country bounty hunters that their remaining family could afford.
Bishop got kicked in the shins from where he was standing. “Stop gawking and drink!” Said Jules’s young voice at the table next to him. “I saved you one.” He said and nudged a bottle to his brother as he sat on the bench. “Damn, it’s actually warm in here!”
The elder brother frowned at the statement. “This isn’t the first building we’ve been in…”
“I know but, it’s been really cold lately. Even with the fires. Haven’t you felt it?” Jules stuck out his lower lip and shrugged as Bishop only frowned at him further, gulping back his mead to avoid any nagging. “Is it good that a wolf has been following us since Falkreath?”
Bishop reacted to the change in conversation by hunching forwards and idly rotating his bottle of ale. “I noticed. She’s carrying. I didn’t want to put her down. She probably thinks we stink of food.”
“How can you tell?”
“She’s huge, Jules.” He said flatly, looking at him patronisingly beneath heavily-drooping eyelids.
Jules wrestled with his words and ran both hands through his brown hair, elbows on the table and arms hiding his face from Bishop. “Yeah but… you saw mother like that a lot, right? Did she… after she had me… did she care? Because I don’t remember…”
Bishop sat upright and his eyes glinted like he was a wolf whose hackles were raising. “We left them. You never need to think of them again. In fact, why did a pregnant bitch even remind you of her? It’s not a position we’re going to put any woman in again.”
“That wasn’t what I asked.” Jules mumbled, prodding his plate of charred skeever bits.
“Because you already know the answer. I’m never going to lie to you, even if you want me to.” Bishop asserted vehemently and used the corner of the table to support his rise from it. “Now I’m joining our ride at the bar to get something stronger. You get some sleep in this ‘warmth’.”
Jules rolled his eyes and mimed his brother’s words in mockery but he soon stilled and stared drowsily at his mead. His head was already starting to thud with a pain that felt like needles stabbing into his eyes from his skull. Rather than head for one of the rooms and inquiring if they were free, he resorted to curling up as much as possible at the table and burying his head into his arms.
The next morning crept into the inn through the small and thick squared windows near the rafters, filtering in rays of light that were met with groans from those who had decided not to return home for the night. Bishop came out of his room more alert than all of them combined. He was disappointed to find that Jules was one of those hungover table-sleepers and put off their confrontation by sliding up to the blacksmith who hadn’t moved from the bar.
“Want me to drive the cart today?” He asked, noting the hangover the man seemed to be nursing in a dazed state.
“Nah, lad.” He said hoarsely after a pause that was far too long and troubled. “Look, Whiterun’s over the bridge, just follow the river. But there’s… trouble out there. I’m not going anywhere for a few hours, up to you if you want to wait.”
“We’re not going to Whiterun. We’ll walk.”
The blacksmith winced. “If you’re sure… Best of luck to you. There’s plenty of lone wolves out there, and I’m not just talking about wolves. They prey on the weak, watch yourselves.”
“We’re the ones they need to be watching.” Bishop retorted and looked at him oddly when he gave no response. He quickly turned to survey the tavern with their packs in his fists.
The hooded man he’d noticed the previous evening wasn’t there, but neither were any of the nightly patrons. “Come on.” He said and patted Jules’s back to wake him up. “We’re moving. You can get used to the daylight on the way.”
Jules got his rucksack thrown into his face, making him topple back onto the rest of the bench before he could respond.
The younger boy tottered out into the beautiful cloudless day with bloodshot eyes and Bishop laughed as he strolled over Riverwood’s stone bridge. “You should have accepted all my offers to start drinking when you were younger, you’d be used to it by now. Want me to dunk you in the river?”
Jules scowled and held his pack to his chest tightly. “It all tasted too bad.”
Bishop ignored him and wagged his finger in the air. “Ahh I forgot, cats can’t swim.”
“Ha. Ha.” Said his brother, severe sarcasm compensating for his inability to roll his eyes without pain.
They ventured down towards the Whiterun crossroads in silence after that. Wolves howled in the forests beyond the trees hugging the road and casting shadows on them, but no wildlife ever approached. Jules was staring at his feet with tenuous dedication on remembering how to keep walking. Not once noticing how fondly Bishop was looking down at him, or the concern behind his eyes. With four years between them, this was likely one of the last times he’d be able to tilt his head at his little brother as Jules had already grown to reach his shoulder in the space of five months. Before that he had reached his elbow.
When they came out of the shadows and into the light once more, and Jules was able to actually look up this time, Bishop noticed that there was one shadow that did not fade from Jules’s face. “You need to shave, little brother.” He grinned.
“Yeah, right.” Jules was about to scoff and make some retort but they both stopped in disbelief. His voice had suddenly gone deeper than Bishop’s.
Bishop laughed but looked back at the inn warily. “Well, shit. Was there something in that mead last night?”
“I don’t know!” Jules said croakily as he rubbed his throat.
“Well you’ve either been poisoned or you’re becoming a man.” Bishop announced as he treaded heavily through the grass decline before them rather than go all the way around the winding road. “You’re doomed in both cases.”
“Oh come on! You’re not even eighteen yet. You’re judging adulthood already? We’re going to be better than your father.”
“Or your father. Or everyone’s father, or every man we’ve ever met.” He listed them all in a light tone but he scowled more with each one.
“The blacksmith wasn’t so bad.” Jules suggested.
The snort in reply was immediate. “That’s because we were doing something for him!”
“What about Danton?”
There was a pause before Bishop responded with no trace of lightness in his voice. “You saw what happened to him. You can’t be like that when you’re dealing with people like us.”
Jules watched him walk on with his broad shoulders hunched defensively, even though he doubted his brother realised it. With a sigh he decided not to argue and hopped down from the last rock on the hill to the road. As his legs hit the ground he winced at the pain that shot up his calves. “Do we have to walk? Can’t we just steal another horse?”
“Horses can be tracked. No one knows who we are here. We can be anything, we’re not gonna waste that by starting out as horse thieves.”
“Instead we’re going to start out as bandits!” Jules muttered back with as much bitter irony he could muster as he tried to flex the aching out of his muscles while catching up.
He bumped straight into Bishop who had come to a standstill and was staring at their destination. The mountains to the east had a winding path going around them that sloped up with the terrain. A cloaked figure was disappearing on the horizon of that road, one that the keen tracker was certain he’d seen in the inn the other night.
Jules took his brother’s squinting gaze as irritation, however. “Hey, I’m not complaining I’m just pointing out that your logic is-“
Bishop turned to him with a suspiciously perkier tone. “You know what, we don’t need to be anywhere tonight and the hunting plains are right here. We need food first. We’re running low.” He then began leading them to the west, where the Whiterun plains were bountiful and nothing except prey lingered on the horizon.
“If we need food then why did we even leave the inn?!” Whined the tired and hungover half-Khajiit. He followed regardless.
The brothers hunted well with no coughing fits in the dryer region to scare off the prey. With their packs stuffed with salted meat and Bishop’s suspicion of being stalked at ease, they resumed their journey in days.
To hunt they had kept to the trees to get the more portable prey such as wolves, foxes and elk, rather than risk the significantly larger predators. Bishop lead the way, staying downwind and out of sight. Despite his careful steps a giant camp loomed ahead of them, next to their narrow road between the river and mountains, making passing it unavoidable. Bishop had already devised a plan to get past unheard, unseen and unscented when his brother caught sight of one.
“Is that… is that a real giant?” Jules stared up at the lumbering humanoid halfway up the mountain from them.
“It’s not looking, we go past now!” Bishop ushered him but the boy would not move from where he witnessed this stunning new thing. Hitch-hiking all over the back roads and gutters of Tamriel was one thing, experiencing a new country at his own pace was another.
The giant was scratching its back rather crudely with its club. It seemed so docile, emitting calm and a simple will of living its own life. Until it turned its head and stared at the two young Nords in return.
Jules backed up with small steps and tugged on the bottom of Bishop’s shirt to keep him close and in front. “You’re the one who never stops going on about how you hunted a mammoth before you left Skyrim. What do we do?”
“That was a runaway from a market in Hammerfell.” Bishop groaned guiltily. “We left Skyrim well before-“
The giant had seemed to decide that they were far more interesting than its bonfire at the top of the slope and was now swaggering towards them very determinedly.
Bishop instantly threw his arm around Jules’s shoulder and swivelled them around. “Right, now we need to start walking. Now we walk a bit faster. Not too much, don’t want to startle the big man… now we’re out of sight. Good. We’re behind a rock and-” The ground began vibrating with rapid stomps. “FUCKING RUN!”
He seriously considered making them both dive into the river but as they pelted along he realised there were too many rocks to be safe and the riverbank was still too exposed. The giant roared with fury at his curiosities fleeing him and Bishop pushed himself even harder. There was a stone tower in front of them, it formed a high bridge over the river and had multiple bandits curiously peering at the drama from a safe height.
“We can make it! Jules!” Bishop yelled over his shoulder. Usually he’d be the one hopelessly trying to catch up but this time Jules was falling behind with his face covered in a sheen of sickly sweat. In only a few strides the giant would be upon him. He must have realised this from Bishop’s expression as he burst forwards with an extra sense of urgency.
Bishop still made it to the tower first and rattled the suddenly locked door handle in every way possible before hammering on it.
“Oh come on! We’re one of you, you bastards!” He bellowed as Jules staggered to a halt beside him, unable to breathe properly.
As an answer, a few of the bandits began to shoot the giant with their feeble iron arrows. The giant went from roaring in protest and chasing to primal yelling and charging with fury at the tower.
“That just made it worse you fuckwits!” Bishop shouted at the now cowering bandits that were retreating to the other side of the bridge as they doubted the structural integrity of their tower. A few with balls and bows remained, though, continuously making it worse.
The giant’s friends were now storming along behind it and Bishop realised that he and Jules were the only accessible targets on the ground. His head was frantically turning in every direction as he tried to look for a way out, supporting his brother all the while as Jules slumped against him.
“Right, we gotta run!” He said, only voicing the warning when he had already begun running with Jules down the slope.
“Bishop I can’t keep this up-” Jules panted and fell from foot to foot as fast as he could, which wasn’t enough.
Bishop bounded back and grabbed his bicep to try and support him to speed up. “You trust me don’t you?” He winced as the ground they ran on began to vibrate once more. Another giant had decided to give chase.
“More than anything else right now!” Jules pointed out incredulously, somehow keeping his humour despite the stress he was under.
“Good.” Bishop gulped and looked from side to side as he led them directly towards the edge of the road instead of turning left with it as it wound down the rocky mountainside. The trees coming out of it were tall and plenty, no giant would be able to get through them without slowing down to a near halt, or going the tiresome long way round. “We jump!” Bishop yelled as they were no more than ten paces away. They had no chance of stopping with their momentum now, something the giant realised and began sprinting as well.
“What?” Jules floundered as he tried to grasp what he meant, but Bishop wouldn’t let him slow down. “That looks really steep. We just passed a waterfall, a really big one. I don’t think this is a good ide- OH SHIT NO!” His last word dissolved into a scream as they both leapt three paces away from the edge. They tumbled into a freefall and all of their focus was on preventing as much damage to their bodies as possible. Most of the rocks were rounded but they protruded significantly and the loose earth beneath them only sped up their bumpy descent.
Their landing was worse than planned as even though Jules grabbed onto the rock shelf to hang from it and stop his momentum, Bishop was sent barrelling into him so they both hit it and were sent flying in the opposite direction down the drop. They both landed as well as possible, even though they’d have bruises they’d feel for days, and they rolled. But they rolled too far and careened straight past the crumbling road wall that could have stopped them and went straight into the river.
Jules came to a halt near the bank so could lift himself out of the water faster, but Bishop went straight into the deep end. He would have laughed as Bishop came up for air gulping like a fish but his chest and lungs were constricting agonisingly. Every time he tried to breathe, the water got in the way and made him choke, and to spit the water out he needed to breathe.
The current was pulling Bishop downstream but he dived against it and swam ashore as soon as he spotted Jules shaking and collapsing under his own wight.
With sopping wet boots that squelched with each step he ran over into the sodden dirt beside Jules. “You really don’t like water, huh?” He remarked and pulled his brother up right so he could focus on getting his breath back.
Jules lurched forward on all fours to hack all of the river he’d swallowed out of his lungs. They were still in the shallows so Bishop expected the regurgitated water to disappear. Instead he tried not to notice how much of the water Jules coughed up was swirling with a thick red.
“Next time you want a bath, just walk.” Jules groaned as he calmed and sat back on his knees to rub his face with wet hands.
“Who said I was the one who needed a bath?” Bishop snorted and salvaged their packs as he got to his feet.
Jules stretched and cracked his back with much wincing. “Oh gods, my ass. I hate you.”
“Better than it being warmed on a spit over a giant’s fire.” Bishop retorted and tried to wring out the front of his shirt. “Well that’s our scent gone. We’ll tread through the water and make camp in the woods on the other side. Before the giants get any ideas about walking around.”
They both followed the river with much limping and teasing prods on each other’s various cuts and grazes. Though Bishop only did it gently and as long as could be considered normal. Jules was already looking too pallid for any more duress.
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