MagdaParticipantDecember 21, 2016 at 11:14 pmPost count: 12
[Moving this from stories due to possible spice level of future content and also my foul mouth 🙂 ]
“What are you supposed to be?”
Magda’s blush was immediate and recognizable, even from beneath the layer of charred soot and grime that was smeared across her face. The flight from Helgen had been an explosive affair, and if the dirt and blood were not evidence enough of that, the smoldering smell of recent fire and the charred remnants of a hastily donned mage’s robe certainly were. The garment seemed in danger of unraveling around her entirely as she took a tentative step up the wooden stair towards the voice, determined to focus her still sun-spotted gaze on its owner. His tone had set her teeth on edge.
“…You are a ranger?” She challenged him with much more incredulity and volume than she’d intended. Again, she pinkened considerably.
The tall, broad figure bobbed softly with private laughter, his lips quirked into a rogue’s smirk as he looked the girl up and down, not knowing whether to pity her or put her in her place.
“Tracker, sure.” he drawled, picking his way over each detail of the curious stranger’s state of disarray, “Who wants to know?”
As she swayed to a halt at the top of the stairs and her vision adjusted to the shade beneath the porch of the Sleeping Giant Inn, Magda found herself arrested by his eyes; they were a smoldering, unmitigated amber, unwavering in a way that seemed somehow naked and animal, even as his handsome devil-may-care countenance coyly suggested otherwise. They were eyes that did not ask for attention so much as demand it. She held fast to them during the protracted silence that followed, unable to fully remember that she was supposed to be having a conversation.
“My name is Magda, I am looking for…well, someone like you.” It was all she could do to stop from visibly cringing. Her lips bowed into a frown. It wasn’t what she’d meant. Had she been holding her breath?
“I need to–”
“You may as well stop right there, I’m not for hire, lady.”
“But I could very much use y–”
“I said no, wench.” he nearly growled, physically leaning into his words.
“Wench?” Magda tensed, her magnanimous exterior cracking visibly.
The cool, self-possessed smile he wore in response tapped at the weary boundaries of her patience.
“…I require the skills of a tracker to find–” she began again, trying desperately to summon the energy for one sentence worthy of her breeding.
“Listen, princess, whatever it is, your kitten stuck in a tree or your quest to find your long lost lover, I don’t have time for it; I’ve got my own problems to–”
“You know what? I’ll do it myself.” she quipped hotly, and though it was clear that she was seething, she spun on her heel and left the man to finish his insulting tirade by himself. It was done with a defiant elegance and sense of timing that one expects to hear about in tales of courtly intrigue. She also had to physically hold onto the threadbare outfit she’d scavenged from Helgen as she shrunk from his view, but managed to do so with little visible effort.
Bishop’s mouth stood open for several moments after he’d watched the tattered figure retreat into the distance, his face contorting into an irritable and surly mask. He disliked being interrupted, and he was even less interested in being denied the last word on anything; the dirty little trollop had somehow managed to find both buttons within the first two minutes of their exchange. He kicked off the wall he’d been leaning on, passing his hand roughly through his copper hair as he turned to head into the inn. He couldn’t stop his gaze from searching for her one more time before he passed the threshold.
Tendrils of steam drifted lazily across the still air in the cramped bath house, disturbed only by the easy movements of Magda’s wrist as it undulated, her fingertips absently treading the surface of the water. A few hours had passed since she’d stormed off the porch of the inn, nearly mowing Gerdur over as she worked in the flowers along the fence next to their home. In the end, it was guilt over having lost her temper in such a manner that allowed her to be persuaded by Ralof to stay long enough for a bath and a hot meal. He had been kind to her, and had proven to be an honorable protector during their debacle at Helgen.
Magda lifted her hand from the water, languidly turning her palm skyward and letting her fingers curl comfortably around the little flame that had worked itself into existence there, at no moment in particular. Her eyes lulled shut.
The flame’s light flickered and winked out.
Moments later, she awoke with a mighty start that sent gusts of water over the sides of the rough wooden tub, a strangled cry half escaping her lungs before she managed to stifle herself. Magda slumped forward, cradling her face in her hands as she worked to still the wild palpitations in her chest. She’d been in shock for most of the day, but it had begun to dissolve into a feeling of helplessness that she was wholly unprepared to face. Her arduous flight across the border, the preposterous capture and near execution at the hands of the Imperials, the flight for survival from the monstrous dragon that had also been her salvation–it had all served to make abundantly clear to her just how frivolous and vain her life before this had been, and how laughable her prospects for survival really were. The ranger had been right to jeer at her.
Her body reacted to the memory of the tall stranger’s eyes on her as completely now as it had hours earlier, and Magda was deeply grateful that no one was present to witness how color leapt unbidden to her cheeks. Her heart skipped, and she cursed beneath her breath, rising in one swift motion from the water whilst reaching for a towel from the neat stack that lay nearby. She needed to move.
The rough hewn cloth was abrasive, not half as fine as what she would have used back home, but as she worked it over her skin, pale and freckled and covered in bruises, she found herself feeling fiercely thankful for it. So many times, it might have easily just been…over.
Gerdur had been kind enough to provide Magda with something to wear, since no one had expected the clothes she’d arrived in to survive removal, and indeed they had not. The garment was a shift dress of milled tundra cotton, colored a pastoral lavender and fitted with a simple bodice of faded indigo. Skillfully, her nimble fingers tugged at the laces lining the length of her spine, tightening and fastening them with ease. At least she knew how to dress herself, she intoned privately, examining the result in the small looking glass that had been left for her. Her hair had rebounded gloriously under the attentions of the bathwater, and as it dried had begun to take on its expected luster, settling soft and voluminous down her back. Flame had licked and blunted the ends of her hair in flight, but the strands were already black as a raven’s wing, and it was hardly noticeable now. Her own eyes gazed back at her through the glass, wide and curious and colored a pale beryl that seemed to posses within its bounds some vast expanse, some impassible distance. She barely recognized herself.
Dinner was brief and hearty, and Magda, hungrier than perhaps she had ever been in her privileged life, was not much of a conversationalist while she set to work on it. Ralof and Gerdur were amiable and engaging, but she was too perceptive to miss the thread of tension beneath their kindness–her journey would not be delayed much longer. She was given instructions once, twice, and again as Ralof busied himself around the small abode, lit now only by fading twilight and the soft glow from within the hearth.
“Whiterun is not far from here, lass, and the path will lead you true. Stick to it.” He was dropping square, blocky phials of potion into a hide bag he’d procured for her.
Magda watched the young soldier blow hither and yon, and it occurred to her again that he had saved her life repeatedly.
“Ah, here we are.” he remarked, stuffing a hunk of crusty bread, a wrapped wedge of some cheese that she did not quite recognize, and several pieces of fruit into her satchel.
He thrust the thing out to her and she accepted it in both arms, cradling it against her chest as she lingered over the farewell.
“Ralof, thank you. For everything.” she breathed wearily, reaching out and clasping his shoulder briefly before she turned to head out the door.
“Wait lass,” he boomed, half amused, his large hand catching her under her arm and wheeling her back around for a solid embrace. He easily enfolded her, even with the hide pack still clutched to her chest. She accepted it lamely, half surprised at the sudden show of warmth.
He held her out at arms length, then, and she smiled.
“Your uncle was a good man, Magda Scarlowe. I do not have much, but,” he released her, procuring a well-worn leather satchel from his person, “you should take this.”
He pressed it into her hand, and though she had begun to open her mouth in protest, Magda quickly realized that the heavy clink of coin from within may be the only head start she would get in her new life. She’d never been poor before. Ralof had almost insisted on coming with her to Whiterun despite how hazardous the roads had become for Stormcloaks, but Gerdur was ever the voice of reason. She was the only living witness to the terrifying events at Helgen, as far as they knew, that was not a known member of their organization. The color drained slightly from her cheeks, and without further ado, she swept herself from the doorway.
Gerdur had been outside, tending to the animals. As Magda drew close, their eyes met, and she hesitated.
“You take care of yourself, Lady Magda.” Gerdur admonished her in that easy way she often could. She’d had years of practice managing headstrong boys, and was not one to happily suffer the quarrelsome or foolish. “You learn to defend yourself out here on these roads, lass. Whatever way you can.” Her eyes touched on Magda’s hands, but her expression was terse, unreadable.
“See Lucan over at the Trader. He may have some…tomes or the like that can help.” Gerdur was trying to be tactful about it, but Magda understood: there was no chance she’d be developing aptitude with a weapon, not without a lot of harsh physical conditioning. Ralof had told her, then, about the way she’d set that Imperial soldier aflame during their escape. Impulsively, her hand clenched into a fist, and she pushed the memory of it back, a matter for another day.
With a grim nod, she slung the hide pack over her shoulder and continued down the muddy cobblestones towards the Riverwood Trader. The trivial cantrips Weylon had taught her over the course of their friendship were no longer adequate for her lifestyle, as he’d called it. Maybe what Ralof had given her was enough to find something of use for her journey.
Gerdur watched what she thought to be a hopeless cause disappear around the bend, shaking her head ruefully, her lips pursing in disapproval.
She’ll be dead on the side of the road by Morndas.
The thought was not borne from unkindness, merely the practicality of experience. Gerdur turned back to her chores.
Camilla Valerius had looped her arm through Magda’s, and was escorting her slowly down the street, chattering animatedly about the thieves in the ruins that topped the hill overshadowing their small town. It was the third time she’d been given directions to a place that she wasn’t even bound, and she cast her gaze down the path that led to Whiterun wistfully as she walked.
It was then that she caught sight of him again.
He was leaning casually against one of the heavy timbers supporting the porch of the inn, watching her. Camilla must have been aware of it too, because her posture had shifted; she was doing her best to converse attractively.
“You have to go through town and across the bridge to get to Bleak Falls Barrow,” she was saying, “You can see it from here though. The mountain just over the buildings.”
She extended her arm, gesturing to the great stone ruin set into the landscape.
Magda, who had as they’d begun to draw past the inn become incapable of avoiding that leer, struggled against its attention.
“Thank you, Camilla. The bridge out of town, path to the northwest. I understand.” Magda wrenched her wide eyes from the ranger, forcing herself to fix the pretty Imperial with an appreciative smile.
For a moment, the woman hesitated, glancing up first towards Bishop, and then at Magda. She smirked secretively.
“I guess I should get back to my brother, then. He’ll throw a fit if I’m gone too long. Such a child…”
As Camilla headed back down the cobblestones towards the Trader, Magda used the opportunity to actually look at Bleak Falls Barrow. It was large, and loomed near. A matter of a few hours travel.
“You’re not seriously thinking of going in there by yourself, princess?” drawled the ranger, who had noiselessly left his post and descended the stairs, clearing much of the distance between them. The nearness of his voice, its brassy depth, startled her, and she snapped her head ’round to meet his hungry gaze.
“I…might be.” She remarked, struggling to don the detached exterior she’d so often been expected to sustain at court. It was difficult, for courtiers and this man had little in common. “Who wants to know?”
He paused in his overt scrutiny of her, lips parting fully into an unrestrained, wolfish grin. Magda realized with some surprise that her repartee had not been lost on him.
“Oh, no one in particular, your ladyship.” he quipped silkily, shifting past her with the obvious intention of admiring her from another angle. “Inquiring minds?”
It took real effort to not shrink from under his naked appraisal of her body. She was thankful, at least, for the spell tomes that she’d recently purchased, and had cradled in one arm. It was better than no shield at all.
“I am on my way to Whiterun first, but perhaps.” Magda ventured now, without pretense, her perplexed expression summoning from him a hard look that she didn’t quite know how to comprehend. He was looking at her chest, or at the tomes in any case. She shifted uncomfortably, and he too shifted. She was suddenly sure she knew what it felt like to be stranded under a desert sun.
“Those are novice tomes.” It was a simple statement, but one that found it’s target.
“I’m a fast learner.” Magda challenged, more forcefully than she probably needed to. He smirked in response.
“Have you ever even made a fire without magic?” He was grinning again, and it was somehow infuriating.
“Why would I need to make a fire without magic?”
He paused, his expression both incredulous and amused. “Ladyship, surely.”
Her lips pursed, fighting the indelicate scowl that she wanted so badly to wear. He could, of course, tell that he was under her skin, and she could immediately tell that being there pleased him greatly. Irritably, she sighed.
“That is precisely why I approached you yesterday, ranger.”
“Call me Bishop, princess.” He reminded her of some savage beast, the way he showed his teeth when he smiled at her.
“You might call me Magda.”
Exasperated, she spun on her heel, fully intending on once again denying him the satisfaction of toying with her further. As she made her way down the path, however, he followed.
“You’re coming now, then?” Magda turned her face up at him as he approached her on one side, surprised.
“I’ll make you a deal, your ladyship. I help you, you help me.”
The look on Magda’s face must have been telling, because his face drew into a dark, defiant expression, “Not like that.” he growled simply. It made his point clearly enough.
She blushed clear to her ears, and tried to ignore it. He seemed satisfied with the result, and continued, “A friend is in some trouble, I intend to bail him out.”
Magda glanced down at the tomes she still carried in her hands. They’d cleared the last of Riverwood’s outlying farms, and darkness had fully descended around them. Secunda and Masser loomed large in the sky, high over their heads this night, providing enough light for the pair as they made their way.
“I’ll do whatever I can, of course.” she responded finally, avoiding his gaze. She wasn’t at all sure what it was that she could do.
Bishop brushed past her, “Good, it’s settled then. I’m scouting ahead. Keep your eyes peeled, princess.” Her fixed her with a final crooked smirk and a wink before slinking off into the night ahead of her. Suddenly, she was aware of the darkness, and of the creatures inside it. Magda began to walk faster, despite how her body had begun to ache. It was all starting to catch up to her.
Bishop scowled down at the dark-haired figure as she tottered primly along the path below. His arrow was notched, the string of his bow pulled tight: he slowled released the breath he’d been holding.
One arrow sailed noiselessly through the night, cutting it.
He didn’t have to investigate further to know that he’d hit his target; Magda had stopped and turned, clearly spooked by something in the brush behind her. Gratified, the corner of his mouth pulled back into a wry, private smirk. As he began to pick his way down the loping terraces comprising this particular leg of their journey towards Whiterun, Bishop slung his bow back over his shoulder. He moved with practiced ease, silently, through the brush, but his body was wrought with tension. It was the third time he’d had to circle back for her since they’d left Riverwood. That had also been no less than the fifth wolf he’d killed, almost entirely without her knowledge.
His jaw tightened observably. He dropped onto the path behind her, kicking earth up as his feet made contact. Bishop had been trying to decide for hours whether or not the woman was playing some game with him. Either she’d manufactured a veil of perfect naiveté and coyness that would put every individual member of the Bards College to shame, or he truly had found the last helpless damsel left in all of Skyrim.
The realization should have made Bishop’s rogue heart leap for joy, but it did not. In the hours that marked their slow descent to the rolling fields that ran up against their destination city, he had protected her. The work of killing the wolves had been nothing in itself, but something about the way that she swept past the hungry beasts as they stalked her, without even sensing the danger, filled him with a sense of dread that was both mystifying and maddening to him. It made him angry.
He was making great progress towards her, his stride purposeful and his gaze menacing beneath his furrowed brows. Whatever she was playing at, he aimed to unravel it. Embroiled so in his stormy thoughts, Bishop did not realize that Magda had stopped walking some time ago.
Suddenly, she was looking at him. Bishop halted in his tracks as if stayed by some tangible force, bereft of all his former thoughts and the weight he’d felt from them.
“There you are…” she murmured, so faintly that had he not listening ears he would never have heard. The distant, sleepy smile she offered him cooled his anger considerably.
“Here I am.” he remarked with a simple smirk.
Bishop watched the sweet, unguarded look on her face shift warily. She’d been a hard read from the beginning, and it was subtle, but he saw it. The anger and pride in him flared, and he took a step towards her, his posture a challenge.
Magda wavered unsteadily, but she did not flinch or back away from him as he’d half-expected. He could tell that she wanted to say something, and her silence irked him further still. She shifted, dropping her gaze.
“We should move on.” Bishop concluded after he’d had as much as he could stand, unceremoniously closing the distance between them and deftly pressing his hand into the small of her back to usher her alongside. Well, that had been the plan, anyway. His fingertips grazed their destination and slipped swiftly past it has Magda’s knees buckled and she sagged fully into his arms. Surprised, he froze, nearly letting her slip from his grasp before he recovered, gathering her firmly against his side. He could feel her legs trembling beneath her skirts. He really tried not to.
Her fingers were pale and delicate looking as they clutched his sleeves, and he wondered again, for no particular reason, if she had ever been in a real fight. She lifted her head, but her eyes were closed. Bishop clenched both his teeth and the fingers he had cinched around her waist.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured with a start, wavering weakly but endeavoring to use her own feet. Bishop did not release her. “I think I can still make it…”
She sighed, her brows furrowing faintly. “I haven’t been this tired… my whole life long…”
The sky had begun to lighten above them, trading the effervescent splendor of Skyrim’s colorful starscape for the radiant light of day. With a skeptical look first at the dawn, and then at her, Bishop laughed in that silent, private way he had. Her hair smelled like lavender.
“It isn’t far from here.” He remarked, mostly to the top of her head. He honestly could not tell if she was still conscious. The sky had lightened to the point that he could see Whiterun now, looming in the distance. Naught but the outlying farmland now stretched between them and the city. He looked down at her head again. She hadn’t moved.
Her name felt strange in his mouth.
“Princess.” He jogged her gently with his hip.
“By the fucking Nine, you are kidding me. Magda.” He tried again.
She was asleep. Dead to the world. Standing up.
He was filled with questions, not for the first time since they’d crossed paths, and was left with no way of having them answered. With a belabored sigh, he shifted, bending and then sweeping her legs up in his arms as easily as though he were lifting his bow. They were too near to be delayed now, and there would be no suitable places for camp without backtracking into the foothills, which Bishop figured he’d seen quite enough of for one night. He started down the road, slowed by his burden but not hampered by it. Even carrying her, he thought wryly, he could still probably make better time than she’d make on her own feet.
Bishop turned his amber gaze up again to the walls of Whiterun. He’d been told that the journey was important, but had been given no more information. Any other time, under any other circumstance, he would have been running far away by now. Their whole arrangement had high maintenance written all over it. He shifted the sleeping woman in his arms, the scent of lavender again pulling subtly at his attention.
He’d at least stay to find out what was so damned important in Whiterun. He could get them there by midday.MagdaParticipantMarch 8, 2017 at 7:07 pmPost count: 12
The sharp, pungent smell of pine, and wood smoke, and something else she couldn’t quite place greeted Magda as she slowly stirred from oblivion. The scent was earthy, and warm, but there was a mysterious edge to it. She took a deep breath in. The nay of a nearby pony touched her ears, provoking confusion.
Suddenly, the knowledge of everything that had happened so far came crashing back down around her, and her eyes shot open. He was staring down at her, his face some complex amalgam of fierceness and coolness and infinite smugness, a lopsided lupine grin affixed to his mouth.
“Good morning, princess.” he rumbled sultrily, and Magda wilted internally at the heat of it, blushing visibly.
“Let me go!” she remarked breathlessly, guiltily even. She could feel laughter rumbling up in the ranger’s chest. Magda flinched, and as though his grip were some figment of her imagination, it vanished. She had no time at all to consider anything before she was plunged into freezing darkness.
Magda flailed gracelessly to the surface, gasping for air and already shivering like some sort of small, poorly insulated animal. The rumble had turned into a roar, and Bishop was near doubled over with laughter. Still gasping and sputtering, she rounded on him, clutching the sides of the rough wooden trough into which she’d been tossed and struggling to her feet. Bishop continued to heave with laughter as she stared unblinkingly at him, dripping wet, murder writ large across her face.
The scallywag cackled uproariously as she extracted herself from the trough and made vain attempts to wring herself dry, still gazing murderously at him, speechless. It really only seemed to have the effect of intensifying his amusement, and Magda had already begun calculating how much more humiliation she might have to take in order to simply have him choke to death on his own laughter.
“You are an ass.” She grumbled irritably, teeth a-chatter.
Bishop wiped tears from his eyes, attempting to recover himself and look at her. He could not.
Magda stalked off down the path, mostly sopping wet still, a splotchy trail of moisture in her wake. It wasn’t until she’d put so much distance between them that she could no longer hear his laughter that he finally abated and followed, calling jovially after her.
Her teeth clenched as she approached the wary guards, who stood ready to bar her passage.
“I need to see the Jarl on urgent business.” The guard was looking behind her, at the fast approaching Bishop.
“The castle’s closed. Word is there are dragons about!”
She wasn’t sure if the dumb, mystified expression on his face was because he was considering the dragon threat, or if something terrible was about to happen to her. Magda’s head cut to one side in time for her gaze to meet a still faintly amused but mostly contrite Bishop, who wordlessly slipped a sun-warmed cloak over her shoulders as he drew up alongside her. She clutched it with instinctive gratitude, her reaction so instant that her damp fingertips grazed one of his retreating hands. It filled her with a strange, bottomless sensation that caused her to panic; she artfully avoided his gaze, even though she could feel his eyes seeking her. The guard came back into focus.
“That’s why I have come. I have news from Helgen, regarding the attack.”
The silence that followed from all parties was even more uncomfortable than she’d anticipated.
Magda hesitated, “I…need to speak to the Jarl, please. Riverwood requests aid.”
“I ah…” The guard began uncertainly, his gaze a question directed now at Bishop. This seemed to break the looming ranger’s stunned silence, and he leveled his yellow stare like a hammer onto his stammering countryman, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I’m sorry, were you waiting for the dragon to fly down and confirm the lady’s story itself, or would you prefer we all stand out here and chat until another village is burned to the ground?” The coolness to his tone was deceptive, and edged in steel. It was a language the Nord guarding the Whiterun gate understood.
“Of course, proceed through the gate to Dragonsreach immediately!” Magda was impressed at the speed with which the guard moved to open the massive door standing before them.
She proceeded in first, still lacking the courage to meet Bishop’s gaze, despite her gratitude. He trailed after her, his gaze dark and serious and otherwise inscrutable.
Magda was well acquainted with Breton cities, such as they were in these times, but as she began to dry beneath the warmth of her cloak, meandering along the blonde cobblestones through the bustling marketplace, she couldn’t recall ever having found a city so charming. The organized chaos engrossed her attention, but she did not stop to browse or shop as she might have at any point before now. It occurred to her as an errant thought again in the back of her head that she was almost penniless for the first time in her life. It was only when she reached the steps ascending towards Dragonsreach that Bishop materialized again at her side, his gaze bent towards her, expression expectant. She shifted uncomfortably beneath it, moving to climb the stairs, but he caught her wrist with ease that surprised and mystified her. Reluctantly, she turned her face over one shoulder and lifted her pale eyes to meet his.
“So, you came from Helgen.” It wasn’t a question, exactly, but she could feel him probing her silently for answers that she wasn’t sure she had.
Magda sighed wearily, extracting her wrist from Bishop’s grasp; he relinquished his hold on her readily in exchange for her words. “I was there. When the dragon attacked, everyone fled in all directions, but it didn’t matter. Walls can’t protect us from them, Bishop.”
The ranger regarded her thoughtfully, close and serious in a way that had made their surroundings seem, for all their charm, irrelevant. “It’s obvious no one else has approached the gate from Helgen. If there are other survivors, they aren’t coming here.”
He studied her in silence for another long moment, his expression trained to stoicism.
“There may indeed be none.” Magda’s voice wavered noticeably, and she could no longer hold his gaze. “It was a slaughter. We barely…”
“We?” Bishop’s sharp bass cut through the rest of whatever she’d planned to say.
“Mara’s heels, Bishop, I will tell you the story as I tell it to the Jarl, can we please proceed?” She rounded on him fully, setting her hands on her hips. He seemed to enjoy the spectacle, and she found the easy smirk that slid across his lips soothing to her anxious nerves. She mirrored his expression almost automatically, relishing the height her short advance up the stairs had given her in this exchange.
“By all means, princess, proceed.” He drawled in that cool way he had, spreading his arms and bowing with exaggerated cordiality to her as she retreated up the stairs. Bishop’s fingers flexed, working as though the tension building inside him could be shaken off by such a gesture, and he proceeded up the stairs after her, certain in some small part of the very back of his mind that it wasn’t answers he was really pursuing after all. He ignored that part, naturally.
——————HelenaParticipantMarch 9, 2017 at 3:52 amPost count: 159
I love the details you have added. A really lovely read.MagdaParticipantNovember 27, 2018 at 12:13 pmPost count: 12
The glow of the roaring fire in the center of the Jarl’s throne room was, for many moments, all that Magda’s eyes could perceive whilst they adjusted to the otherwise dark, moody interior of the stone fortress that stretched long and wide before her. The room was an open expanse of windowless rock and ancient wood, with a brief staircase flanked on either side with lit sconces of flame that cast flickering shadows along it’s steps, and seemed to slip in serpentine fashion along the intricately carved bases of the great columns supporting the keep’s roof. She was mildly aware of a slim figure in a bonnet, broom in hand, who had paused in her task to observe her. The posture of the figure, even in her periphery, seemed haughty and unwelcoming.
It was the fire that most interested Magda, for the temperature inside the walls of Dragonsreach was several degrees below what lay outside, and it seemed to her that the keep was mismatched from the bustling, sun-warmed village that fed it’s coffers and stores. As she reached the top of the stairs, nearing the coveted warmth of the blazing fire, the sound of voices raised in consternation began to penetrate her comprehension, and she moved her gaze past it. A fair-headed Nord who could only be the Jarl was sunk into the grand throne of skillfully carved wood beneath the great skeletal skull of a dragon, leaned to one side so that his kneading fingers could both support and caress his temple. There was a kind of forlorn cast to his booming voice as he addressed his steward; they were arguing.
The sound of unsheathing steel didn’t register fully in Magda’s brain as she drew past the fire, not until it’s tip had been leveled in a most precise fashion at her throat. She froze as wild deer do in the forest, her heart catching in her throat. It was at this point that she realized that Bishop had not been following her, and had instead practically melted away into the environment, though if you’d asked her how it were possible she would have said that it was not.
“What’s the meaning of this interruption? Jarl Balgruuf is not receiving visitors.” came a woman’s voice, deep and flinty from her immediate right. Magda’s eyes followed the length of steel, though she dared not move her head, to the voice’s source. She was a dark elf, the first Magda had seen in a long while, half bathed in firelight and wearing the grim expression of a hardened warrior, and the armor to boot.
“I have news from Helgen, about the dragon attack.”
The sword tip was lifted from her neck without the slightest hesitation, and the dark elf sighed heavily as she sheathed her weapon.
“Well, that explains why the guards let you in.” She gestured with a hand for Magda to proceed, clearly intending to follow behind. Welcome, but not trusted; Magda received the unspoken signal with perfect clarity. “Come on then, the Jarl will want to speak with you personally.”
The chatter at the fore of the room had ceased, and the gaze of the Jarl was already following her as she moved up the final short set of steps. It was heavy, that stare of his, as if his authority lent him some preternatural ability to probe into the skull of those upon whom it landed, and Magda drew up short as soon as she cleared the last of the stairs.
“So, you were at Helgen?” he boomed like quiet thunder, his voice filling the large and otherwise silent hall. He beckoned her closer with one hand. “You saw this dragon with your own eyes?”
Magda steeled herself, and with a deep breath, she began to spin her tale for the Jarl.
Jarl Balgruuf listened intently, and plied her with questions that made it impossible to avoid the unfortunate context of her presence at Helgen. She could feel the disapproving gaze of his steward, but the Jarl did not seem even remotely interested in her refugee status or her brief affiliation with the Stormcloaks. His concerns were limited to the nature of the attack, though he did not seem surprised that Ulfric himself had been involved in the tale. It wasn’t until she mentioned her uncle that Balgruuf seemed to take interest in her as more than a source of information. He leaned forward in his throne, his heavy gaze meeting hers as if he was looking at her for the first time.
“Thorinir Scar-Heart.” He mused, more to himself than to her, “There is a name I have not heard in some time. What did you say your name was, girl?”
“Magda.” He gazed at her expectantly, and she relented, “Magdaluna Scarlowe is my given name, Jarl.”
He pondered this, his expression inscrutable. “I was not aware Thorinir had any siblings.”
“I am not as acquainted with the story as I wish I was, Jarl Balgruuf, I only know that my father and Thorinir were half-brothers, and that there was some affection between them despite great distance. They wrote to one another sometimes.”
“And you have these letters?”
“I do.” She paused, her face crestfallen suddenly, “I did. No longer.” Her lips pressed themselves together regretfully. She had thus far not attempted to count her losses over the course of her flight from the land of her birth, but keeping those thoughts at bay could not last forever. The Jarl, with his weighty gaze and pondering expression, seemed to sense this, and dropped the line of inquiry. She was thankful for this small mercy.
“No matter, you have done me a service today, Magdaluna Scarlowe, and you are welcome in my hold. Perhaps there is more yet that you can do for me. You and your skulking companion back there, I mean.”
Magda’s brows lifted in surprise, and she shifted to follow the Jarl’s eyes, which had focused on some shadow filled spot in the hall. It was only after focusing for several moments that she could see the outline of Bishop’s lithe frame as he shifted into the light, his wolf eyes fixed with veiled indignance on the Jarl as he drew closer. He stopped about half way up the stairs, and his gaze touched Magda’s briefly, his expression full of questions but otherwise difficult to place. “At your service, naturally.” He did not sound thrilled.
This did not bother Balgruuf in the least. He lifted himself from his throne with surprising grace, and with a deft gesture bid them follow him into one of the adjoining chambers. “My court wizard will have the details.”
The wizard in question was currently hunched over an aged map that had been spread across one of the many sturdy wooden tables adorning the rooms of the keep, effectively ignoring them, and the Jarl did not wait for him to look up before taking his leave. He paused at Magda’s shoulder, giving her a long look. “Thorinir’s neice.” He shook his head ruefully, and clasped her shoulder for a brief moment. “You will take refuge in Dragonsreach tonight, young Magda, rest and resupply yourself. What will be asked of you is no simple task.” He swept past her without further comment, disappearing up yet another staircase, with his steward trailing behind.
Bishop had been silent as the dead all afternoon, and was now leaning stoically against one of the pillars in the wizard’s study as Farengar outlined what it is he wished from them. From him, he thought bitterly, glancing sideways at the waif to whom all the instructions were being directed, as if she were somehow capable of navigating her way out of a burlap sack if her life depended on it. He felt as though he’d been transported to some alternate realm of Oblivion where up was down and nothing made proper sense. The Shivering Isles, perhaps. Only Sheogorath could orchestrate a plot so casually deranged as this one was turning out to be. The notion of sending someone like this girl into an ancient tomb to retrieve an artifact that probably weighed more than she did was enough to make him laugh, and he did.
Her eyes lifted to his at the sound of his laughter, and though it soured his humor almost instantly, he flashed her a toothy grin. It probably looked cruel. He hoped it did. The way her wide eyes lingered on his mouth, the way she colored beneath those little freckles covering her nose before dropping her gaze back to the parchments that she’d been pouring over for hours now, it made him furious. He wanted to tell her she looked like a gods-damned baby deer. Like a future meal for some hungry predator.
He kept telling himself that he wanted no part of this game, whatever it was, and that he had done his part. He’d damned well carried her to Whiterun, both figuratively and literally, and it was all that she’d asked of him. He didn’t need her to find Karnwyr, though coming here had yielded some valuable information as to the whereabouts of the bastards that took him. He’d have had a much more difficult time gaining access to the city had she not come along. Bishop had to admit to himself that it had been the right decision, despite the trouble. Despite the fact that he was now embroiled in some high-handed noble’s archaeology project. He scoffed inwardly, marveling bitterly at his bad luck, but he couldn’t help being curious. Magda’s tale about the dragon was something out of a bard’s songbook, and any man who hadn’t been raised in Skyrim might well have laughed and called it such. He might have laughed, too, once.
He was looking at her again, considering her. It had been easier to look at her, when she was soaked through and shaking like a runt hound in winter. As her garments dried, she’d shrugged off the cloak he’d so considerately offered her, and her posture had returned to the refined state he reasoned she must have learned in some court or other. Watching her whisk breezily about the room, her arms and fingers mimicking that of the wizard’s as he attempted to school her in the basics of proper casting technique, the skirt of her dress belled around her hips and kissing the floor with soft swishing noises every time she turned this way or that, he was honed in on it all with an intensity that made him distinctly uncomfortable. He didn’t want to call it arousal, because it wasn’t like what he was used to experiencing with women he pursued. Granted, he’d never had to do much pursuing. Still, it wasn’t what he would call it.
Is that what I’m doing here? Chasing some skirt?
Bishop grimaced visibly and dropped his gaze, studying the thin lines, the scratches crisscrossing the worn leather that encased his arms. She wasn’t even his type, with her demure posture and her veiled looks. All suggestion, no action. No, he was more interested in fire and passion, in women who knew their minds and stated their purpose. It was easier that way, more straightforward. He was looking at her again, remembering the lavender scent in her hair, before he’d dumped her into the water trough.
Gods be damned.
He kicked himself away from the wooden column and stalked off, bristling with anger. Magda’s eyes followed him as he left. He could feel them, but he didn’t look back. He needed a break.OliveParticipantNovember 30, 2018 at 8:19 amPost count: 1
I’ve been here since the creation of this website and this is easily my favourite stories. Please don’t stop uploading, there is a lot of potential! 🙂
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