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    Chapter 72

    Beauties and the Beasts

     

    Bishop took a bite of his sweet bread, a piece of it fell to the floor and Rona knelt down to pick it up when he said, “Just let Karnwyr get it.”

    She laughed, “He’s not here, remember?”

    “Oh yeah,” he said, “Damn… starting to miss the old boy.”

    “We’ll see him soon,” she smiled.

    “Yeah, him and Delphine too. Bet she’s just itching to get those papers from us,” he took a drink of milk from his glass and Rona picked at her partially eaten omelet with a fork.

    “Did you read all the dossiers?” She asked him.

    “Most of them, I think I missed one of them. It was back in the hideout right after you killed that dragon.”

    “Ata was saying that the Thalmor want to keep the war going,” she leaned on the table, head in hand, still prodding her food, “I don’t get it. Why would they want the war to continue but at the same time want me to end it?”

    He swallowed a bite of sweet bread and looked at her with a troubled expression. She studied his face and asked, “What? What is it?”

    “You should read it yourself,” his eyes darted away, “It’s not good Ladyship. The Thalmor are some nasty bastards.”

    “Tell me.”

    He took a breath and sighed, “They want to use you because of your lineage and your status as Dragonborn. The people of Skyrim, they respect you, for the most part you know? You’re pretty much friends with people from both factions at this point.”

    “So? What’s that got to do with anything?”

    “If you end the war in favor of the Imperials then that just cements the Empire’s and by extension, the Dominion’s reason for being here. On top of it, with you ending the war, being considered a legendary hero and all that nonsense, people will take it as fate or destiny or something. You’re an authority figure to most people now, whether you like it or not.”

    She frowned and stared down at her plate, running her hand through her hair some more, “I’d rather not be…”

    He took another big bite of his bread and said through a mouthful, “Yeah and we’d both rather you not be the Dragonborn, but,” he shrugged, “what can yah do.”

    “Maybe I should just end the war,” she mumbled.

    He went wide eyed, mouth full and barked, “NO!” Bits of bread landed on her plate.

    She cocked a brow at him, “Why not?”

    He covered his mouth and finished his bite and said, “Uh… well that’s the other part Ladyship. See once you kill Alduin and end the war,” he hesitated and looked grim, “they’re going to try and kill you.”

    She blinked.

    “They want to turn you into a martyr,” he explained, “It would give the Dominion even more reason to come trampling in here, bringing war to the Stormcloaks and essentially dominating the country. You know ’cause you’re…”

    “Half altmer and the Dragonborn,” she sighed and leaned back in her chair throwing her hands up, “Great!” She crossed her arms and grumbled to herself.

    He smirked a little and said, “Glad to see you’re taking this so well.”

    “Just add it to the list of people and things that want me dead,” she raised her fingers for each one, “The Thalmor, the dragons and even the Stormcloaks now… speaking of. Do you really think it’s safe for us to go back to Whiterun? I didn’t exactly leave on good terms.”

    “Now that you mention it,” Bishop said. He thought for a moment and then raised his brows, “Hey, change your hair and eye color again. Go incognito.”

    She laughed, “Yeah? I guess I could. So what do you think? Blonde again?”

    He scrunched his nose, “Nah… go fiery redhead, like Eira. Would love to see that.”

    She grinned and said, “I’ll need a mirror.”

    He downed the rest of his glass and handed it to her. “Here, see your reflection in that.”

    She took it and looked it over, “I guess it’ll do.” She could barely see her distorted features in the glass. She ran glowing fingers through her hair, changing her rose colored locks to a fiery orange-red color. She looked up at Bishop who was stroking his chin stubble and frowning.

    “No good?” She asked.

    “Nah,” he replied, “Go darker, like deep red.”

    She rolled her eyes and did it again, changing the fiery orange-red to a deep scarlet.

    “Whoa,” he said nodding, “Very nice. Maybe lengthen it too. Can you do that?”

    She pulled on the strands with her glowing hands, lengthening her hair down to her elbow.

    “Better?” She asked.

    He looked her over with deep approval and said, “Oh definitely. You know, this is giving me all kinds of ideas, Ladyship.”

    She laughed and grinned at him, “Like what kind of ideas?”

    “I don’t know if I can tell you. We’d have to get a room and a maid’s outfit, because if I start talking about it, it’s definitely going to happen.”

    She snorted a laugh and then looked at her reflection, “What about my eyes?”

    He frowned, “No, don’t change your eyes. I like your eyes.”

    “Aw,” she blushed, “That’s sweet. But really, I should change them.”

    He crossed his arms, “If you say so.”

    “What do you think?”

    He shrugged, “Any color will be fine. Blue or brown maybe.”

    She looked into his eyes then and smiled, “How about honey-gold?”

    He cocked a brow and said, “Yeah?”

    “Like yours,” she waved a hand over her eyes and looked at her reflection again. A totally different person looked right back at her.

    “My eyes are not honey-gold,” he snorted.

    “Yes, they are,” she smiled up at him, “You ever seen yourself?”

    He rolled his handsome, honey-gold eyes at her and she looked back at him with her own matching pair and stuck her tongue out at him.

    “Keep that up and I’ll have to go over there,” he growled playfully.

    “You wish ranger,” she said as she grasped a bundle of the scarlet colored hair and started braiding it together over her shoulder.

    “Mmhm, I do indeed,” he smirked then looked at her plate, pointing at her half-eaten omelet, “You gonna finish that?”

    “You can have it.”

    He grabbed her plate and said, “You really need to quit wasting food.”

    “They always give me too much!” She protested as she fished around her pouch for her red ribbon.

    He munched on the omelet and said, “It’s why you’re so tiny you know, ’cause you never finish your damn food.”

    “Never hear you complaining Mister,” she put on a deep voice, trying pathetically to imitate him, “‘Oh you’re as light as a damn feather, Ladyship!'”

    He took the last bite of her food and jut the fork at her, “Hey. I do not sound like that.”

    Then he gave her a very salacious grin and she snickered at him and tied her braid off, keeping it over her shoulder.

    Serlas and Qetesh came into the inn then and looked around. Qetesh saw Bishop sitting at the small table flirting with this new red-head and crossed her arms and scoffed, incredulous, “Really Bishop? The minute your woman is gone and you’re off flirting with someone else already?”

    He grinned at Qetesh, “You know me, I just can’t help myself,” he looked right at Rona and pursed his lips, “Give us a kiss, love.”

    She giggled and looked over at Qetesh and said, “Just me!”

    Qetesh looked at her stunned, “Wha-?”

    “Ah,” Serlas said, “Going with a new look, Rona dear? Been a long time since you changed your hair – oh and your eyes too. Very lovely.”

    Rona smiled, “Thank you Ata, but it’s not permanent. Just until we finish up in Whiterun, since,” she scratched her cheek with a finger, “I’m not entirely sure I’m still welcome there.”

    “Because of the Stormcloak invasion, yes,” he said, nodding his head knowingly, “I suppose they might not be too friendly with you. Well then, we’re going to get a quick breakfast and leave shortly. Perhaps you two wouldn’t mind collecting our things?”

    “Sure,” Rona hopped up and Bishop followed her, grasping her hand as they went. She was glad he explained himself earlier. All the issues with Freya seemed to slowly be fading away and she could only hope the woman would control herself for the rest of their journey and then she and Bishop could leave her in Whiterun and move on without her interference.

    ~~~

    The ride to Whiterun was short. It only took a few hours to get there and they stabled their horses and made their way up the path to the city. Three out of four of the sisters could not stop talking about the house they were going to stay in. Even Bast was turning into a bit of a chatterbox when she’d been so quiet before.

    “I get the biggest bed!” She said laughing and skipping ahead of them and her sisters all scoffed.

    “No way,” Qetesh said, “I’m way bigger than any of you, I should get the biggest bed.”

    “Whoever gets there first gets it!” Bast shouted and ran ahead of them all.

    They approached the gates where two Stormcloak guards were watching the townsfolk and visitors coming and going. One of them stopped Serlas and said, “Halt. What business does a Thalmor have here?”

    Serlas raised his brows and said, “I beg your pardon sir, but I am not a Thalmor agent, if that is what you’re assuming.”

    “As if,” he scoffed, “Just look at you.”

    “I’ll have you know,” Serlas said firmly, “It’s quite rude to make assumptions based entirely off of one’s race. I may be an altmer, but I have served the Emperor and the Imperial Kingdom for over two hundred years.”

    Bishop groaned slapping a hand to his head and Rona laughed a little.

    Then Serlas put a finger to his mouth thoughtfully and said, “Well I suppose that sounds just as bad now doesn’t it?”

    “No Thalmor and no damned Imperials allowed,” the guard said harshly.

    “Wait,” the other guard stepped forward pulling her helmet off. It was Risla. She approached Serlas and said, “Mr. Thoraminh?”

    “Ah! The nice young woman from Ivarstead, how are you my dear?”

    “I’m well,” she smiled at him, “Were you finally able to find your daughter?”

    “Why yes, she’s right here,” he pointed back at his disguised daughter and Bishop groaned loudly again, throwing his head back.

    “Lady Rona?” Risla looked at her confused.

    Rona gave a weak smile and waved, “Hi Risla.”

    “You changed your hair and your… eyes?”

    “Well,” Bishop said loudly, “we were trying to stay incognito, but since we can guarantee the racist shitbag over here is going to blab to his friends, might as well go back to normal.”

    Rona sighed and dispelled the magic on her hair and her eyes.

    “The Dragonborn,” the other guard gaped at her and put a hand to his axe, “Good. I’ve been waiting to get revenge for all my friends you killed!”

    Risla shouted, “Stop! Are you mad!?”

    The guard looked at her and then looked back at the group, all of whom had drawn their own weapons (except, notably, Freya). Serlas was holding a blazing ball of fire in one hand and said dangerously, “Should you lay a hand on my daughter, then I will be forced to incinerate you.”

    Risla went right over to her comrade and snapped, “Don’t be stupid! Besides, she’s one of the Companions and Jarl Vignar already gave them a full pardon, including her!”

    The guard grumbled under his helmet and crossed his arms, “Fine… you can all pass.”

    Everyone stowed their weapons away and Serlas dispelled his magic then nodded to the guard and said kindly, “I thank you.”

    He and the girls all headed in and Bast called back, “Which house is it?”

    “Second to the right,” Rona said.

    They hurried along and Risla approached Rona and Bishop, brows knit together she said, “I’m so sorry about that.”

    Bishop crossed his arms and growled, “You know, every time we see you, you’re apologizing for these people. Hope you like the side you chose.”

    Risla averted her eyes and Rona elbowed Bishop in the ribs and asked her, “Why are you here in Whiterun? Is your brother with you?”

    “I got called to be stationed here after Jarl Ulfric took the city and no, Hamvak is still back in Ivarstead. He wanted to come with me but he’s still a bit too young,” she explained, then she said, “You were smart to try and hide your identity, my lady. A lot of the soldiers here are still angry with the Dragonborn for killing their comrades. They’ve even been giving the Companions a hard time too since they fought with you.”

    Rona looked at her curiously, “You’re not mad that I fought against the rebels?”

    “How could I be?” Risla said smiling kindly, “They attacked the city. I’m sure you were just protecting the civilians. It’s a tough thing, war… I… I must admit that even I’m…” she hesitated and second guessed her words as the other guard seemed to be listening closely to their conversation. “Um, nevermind. Oh! I wanted to apologize as well Lady Rona. Your horses! We were supposed to watch them and I swear that we had them secured away, but it seems someone stole them.”

    Rona completely forgot about that. Months ago they’d left their horses in Ivarstead while they made their way back up to High Hrothgar only to return to Riverwood by way of leaping off a cliff and then Sanguine kindly returned their steeds to them after a very drunk and eventful night with him.

    Rona smiled, “Don’t worry about it. We never ended up coming back through Ivarstead anyhow,” Risla seemed like she wanted to ask why or maybe even how, but Rona quickly said, “It’s a long story.”

    “Well, it’s very good to see you again my lady. Please take care of yourself and,” she lowered her voice, “avoid the Stormcloak soldiers if you can.”

    “Thank you Risla. Have a good day,” she waved at the woman and she and Bishop entered the city. They came up to her father and the four sisters who were all staring up at the house. Rona looked at it and said, “Oh…”

    Bishop uttered, “Uhh…”

    Then Freya laughed, looking at them both a mocking tone to her voice, “Do all your houses have big, gaping holes in them?”

    Rona had completely forgotten that the last time she was there her house had been hit with a flaming boulder when the city was under siege. It seemed that because the occupants hadn’t been around to pay to repair the damages that it never got fixed.

    Just then the front door opened and a redguard man in rags, a beggar, walked out holding a bottle of mead. He looked right at them all bleary-eyed and sputtered, “What are you doing in front of my house?”

    You’re house?” Bishop snarled at him.

    “Yeah. S’my house. Now whadya want?”

    “Uh, no,” Bishop said throwing a hand up motioning to Rona, “This is the Dragonborn’s house.”

    The man looked at her surprised and said, “Oh… is it?”

    Freya doubled over in laughter, “Oh this is too much! Not only did you offer us a house with a broken roof and wall, but one that a drifter went and made his home in! Aha! That’s amazing,” she sighed, wiping tears out of her eyes, “Yeah. I’ll be at the tavern getting a drink now. Have fun, sorting this one out.” She left them, heading for the Bannered Mare still laughing loudly to herself.

    The redguard man frowned and said, “So does that mean I gotta move out now?”

    “Yes!” Bishop barked at him.

    “Can I at least take a few parting gifts?” He asked.

    “NO!” Bishop roared. The beggar shrugged and tipped his bottle back and wandered off like nothing strange just happened.

    Rona hesitated to look inside, but she did anyways, getting a good look around at the mess. The entire place had been ransacked of all their belongings save for most of the furniture. It was a complete mess. She felt absolutely terrible about it too. Here she’d promised these women a home and next she didn’t have anything even remotely decent for them to make a home out of. She turned to apologize to them all when Bast walked in next and looked around.

    The biggest grin sprawled across her face and she ran over and started running her hand over the dusty kitchen counter and peeked into the side room. Qetesh and Venus joined her, looking the place over.

    “Not too shabby,” Qetesh said.

    Rona looked at them, stunned, “This… you’re okay with this?”

    Venus shrugged and said, “Sure. This is way nicer than anything or anywhere we’ve slept in a long time.”

    Bast ran up the stairs then and squealed with delight as she rounded into the master bedroom, “This room is huge!”

    “It’s mine!” Qetesh called up the stairs.

    “I’ll fight you for it!” Bast shouted back.

    Rona laughed a little and Bishop put a hand to her shoulder and smiled, “See? It’ll be fine. We’ll talk to Vignar and toss him some gold to fix the place up again. In the meantime,” he said addressing the sisters, “Jorrvaskr has plenty of extra beds you can all stay in until this place gets cleaned up.”

    “Sounds good to me,” Qetesh said and the others agreed.

    They all left the home. Rona shut the door and locked it, hoping to keep the drifter out, though he could just climb into the hole on the second floor wall to get in, which she suspected is what he’d already done. She then gave the key to Qetesh, trusting her with it. Serlas split off from the group to pay a visit to the Jarl’s Palace so that he could speak with Vignar and make arrangements for their homestead to be repaired.

    The rest of them went to Jorrvaskr and entered the old Mead Hall. Off in the open area near the large dining table were Nelkir and another boy, Rona presumed was his friend Blaise, practicing their sword arms while Vilkas kept a watchful eye on them.

    “Excellent form Nelkir… Watch your footing Blaise…” Vilkas instructed them from his seat, arms crossed. He was so focused on their sparring match that he didn’t notice the group come in. “Take the opening!” He shouted as Nelkir caught Blaise’s blade with his own and managed to throw it out of his grasp. Then he spun around and swiped Blaise right off his feet and pointed his sword at the boy’s chest. He grinned as Vilkas cried, “Well done Nelkir! I’d say you’ve finally mastered that move.”

    Blaise frowned at him, but Nelkir quickly sheathed his sword and held a hand out to his friend. The other boy took it and Nelkir pulled him to his feet. Blaise who was grinning now, said, “You’ll have to show me how you do that.”

    “I can show you when I get back,” Nelkir replied, then he noticed the familiar group by the doors.

    Bishop put a hand up and said, “Hey kid.”

    “Hey!” Nelkir ran over to them all and gave Rona a hug which she happily returned.

    He looked up at them, “What are you all doing here?”

    Bishop thumbed back at the girls and said, “Just bringing you all some new members.”

    Vilkas came over looking at them curiously and said, “Ay, we can definitely use some more people.”

    Everyone introduced themselves and Rona explained their situation. Vilkas listened intently and nodded saying, “Yeah, yes. We’ll definitely take you ladies in, especially if you can hold your own in a fight. I’d really like to test your arms though, see what you’re made of. But it’ll have to wait another time. Nelkir and I were just about to leave for Eastmarch.”

    “What’s in Eastmarch?” Rona asked.

    “Going to find more recruits,” Vilkas laughed, “Some new bloods – pups, if you will. Orphans and all that. Aela is dead set on getting as many of them in here as possible.”

    “I wouldn’t mind going with you,” Qetesh offered, “Could show you my sword arm… or rather my skill with my battleaxe,” she pound a fist back on the good edge of her enormous weapon.

    Vilkas eyed the thing and he said, “Hmm, yeah. That sounds like a good idea. Though you might want to talk to Eorlund about having your weapon repaired.”

    She smirked at him, “Nah, I prefer it this way. It’s a nice reminder of what I still need to do with the good edge,” she turned and grinned wickedly at Bishop, who pressed his lips together and took a step away from her. Rona had a feeling Qetesh never meant to make good on her threat, that she only liked to tease Bishop about it.

    “I see,” Vilkas said, raising a brow bemused.

    Aela, Farkas and Athis came upstairs then, followed by another little girl. They were all very pleased to see everyone.  Aela greeted Rona with a big, sisterly hug and introduced the child as Lucia, a young girl who’d been orphaned after her mother passed and her aunt and uncle kicked her off her own farm. She’d been begging on the streets of Whiterun until Aela took her in.

    Everyone joined the Companions for lunch and they got to talking and once again explained the four sisters’ situation. Aela was thrilled at the fact that the Companions would for once have enough women in the ranks to outnumber the men. Athis grumbled about it, idly mentioning that all their cycles would no doubt line up and they’d get all moody and wreak havoc on the place. Every woman there glared furiously at him and he quickly clammed up.

    Rona noticed that Farkas hadn’t stopped blushing in the presence of the two lovely women, Venus and Qetesh. It seemed that he was just as pleased as Aela by the many female warriors in their midst. Nelkir kept glancing over at Bast too. Granted she was five years older than the boy, but she was still closer in age to him than any of the other women.

    Rona laughed to herself realizing it would be very interesting with the four sisters there. She could only imagine how they’d react to Freya, who was arguably the most beautiful and temperamental of the four. She really hoped that Freya wouldn’t try to ruin it for them all too, as her three sisters seemed to really be happy with this new direction their lives were taking.

    Qetesh and Vilkas were getting along, right as rain and Aela was deep in conversation with Bast about her marksmanship and was talking about taking her out on a hunt. Venus was the only one who seemed a little unsure about joining the warriors and she admitted to Vilkas, “I’m not very good at fighting.”

    “What skills do you have?” He asked.

    “She’s good with her hands,” Qetesh said, “Crafting and all that.”

    Vilkas took a swig of mead and smiled, “We can see about getting you set up with Eorlund Gray-Mane as an apprentice. He works the Skyforge. His wife also makes jewelry and other trinkets if you prefer that sort of thing.”

    “Yes! I’d love that,” Venus said and she actually smiled. The expression almost looked foreign on her face since she normally had a scowl etched there instead.

    Rona leaned over to Bishop and said, “Looks like it’s going well.”

    “Yeah,” he said, but his face fell a bit, “I’m just wondering how Freya’s going to deal with this. She’s never been one to take orders before, unless there were threats behind it.”

    “I’m going to go try talking to her,” Rona said.

    He looked at her skeptically, “I don’t know Ladyship. She might try to claw your eyes out or something.”

    She stood up, laughing a little and said, “Yeah, maybe… but I’m pretty good at making friends with people that treat me like their enemy.”

    He shook his head, “You’re crazy, you know that?”

    She laughed, “You’ve seen my mother, where do you think I get it from?”

    “No really though,” he said, “Don’t be afraid to shout her down if she comes at you with those claws of hers. I’ve seen her take down plenty of women before.”

    Rona frowned at him. And he smirked, “You know, every time I ran off with another woman and she’d find out and then…catfight,” he coughed a little, “Just be careful.”

    She smirked at him and excused herself, heading back out towards the Bannered Mare. She went in and found Freya sitting at the bar. She was, at the moment, being harassed by the bard Mikael. Freya was clearly disinterested in the man, but he wouldn’t let up the flirting.

    “Come on beautiful,” he said leaning into her, “What do you say you and I go find a private room alone? I can sing you a love ballad.”

    She scoffed loudly, “Ugh, bards. I heard you singing earlier and it was atrocious. My ears still hurt. And would you mind? I’d rather you didn’t get any of your awful cologne on my tunic, thank you.” She pushed him off of her shoulder and dusted at her clothes then turned her head away from him.

    “Oh I see, playing hard to get,” he smiled and leaned in again. He really did not seem to get the hint and she put a hand to the sword on her hip, looking more annoyed than ever.

    Rona walked over quickly and said jovially, “Mikael! How are you?”

    He gave a start and turned back, “Ah! Lady Dragonborn…”

    “Would you mind letting me sit by my friend? We have a lot to catch up on,” she smiled at him.

    “Uh… sure, yes, of course my lady,” he stepped away from Freya, sulking a little as he went.

    Rona took up the seat next to Freya and asked, “He giving you trouble?”

    Freya gave her a side-eye glance and took a swig of her mead, “Nothing I couldn’t handle girlie. Didn’t need you to come rushing in all,” she threw a hand up, “Oh Dragonborn, save me!”

    Rona laughed a little, “Yeah. I figured, but I don’t think gutting him would have gone over well with the guards.”

    “Hmph,” Freya shrugged, “I could have handled that just fine as well… So, how are my little sisters liking the house with the hole in it?”

    “Surprisingly… they love it.”

    “Yeah they would,” Freya said looking into her mug of mead, disheartened.

    “Freya, I just want you to know, I’m not trying to upstage you with your sisters or anything like that.”

    Freya scoffed at her, cocking her head, “Oh like hell you’re not. You heard Qetesh… I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened to them and you’re the saving grace that’s finally come from the heavens above.”

    “I really do just want to help you all and I never meant to hurt you in any way by offering these things to you and your family.”

    Freya looked her over, as though she were trying to figure out what sort of angle Rona had and then she took another swig of mead and asked, “Why are you being so nice to me?”

    “Because you and your sisters are important to Bishop and he’s important to me,” she said, blushing.

    Freya leaned on the counter, head in hand, “Come to rub that in my face too?”

    “No, Freya. It’s just the truth,” Rona said firmly. She really was trying, but she did not know how to get through to this woman. She decided to just stick with honesty. She took a breath and said, “Look, I know it bothers you that he and I are… in a relationship. It bothered me a lot having you around, knowing your past with him, but I accepted it. You and your sisters are a part of his history, you might as well be his family.”

    She looked somberly into her drink, “Some family we were to him, considering he abandoned us.”

    Rona looked sadly at her and said, “I can’t speak for Bishop. But I do know that his brother was his world to him and being the one that killed him…he broke, Freya. He couldn’t cope with it, so he ran away.”

    Freya looked morose as she stared harder into the mug, “You know what Thorn did to me right? Qetesh went and told you?”

    “I do,” Rona said, “I know now what kind of man he is and what he’s capable of. He’s threatened my life too.”

    Freya looked over at her, wide-eyed, then her eyes darted away again, like she was trying to hide the worry she just expressed for the woman she was trying so hard to continue hating. Then she said, “You’d probably be able to kill him. Being the Dragonborn and all that… I always wanted to be the one that gut that sick fuck,” she grit her teeth, getting angry, “I dream of it sometimes, the way I’d kill him, hurting him like he hurt me,” but her face fell when she said, “I’d never be strong enough though. I don’t have magic and I certainly can’t do whatever the hell it is you do. If you ever see him… stick your sword into his belly for me. Twist it around and make it hurt.”

    “I will. Although… to be honest I hope I never see him.”

    “Yeah, me too,” Freya said taking another sip of mead, “I’d never wish that on anyone. Not even you.”

    Rona smiled a little, “Well, thanks I think.”

    “I don’t hate you, by the way,” Freya said suddenly, “I just don’t like you.”

    Rona laughed, “That’s fine. I kind of feel the same way about you.”

    Freya smirked at her, “Good. At least we have that much in common.”

    “So,” Rona leaned into it, “How do you feel about joining the Companions?”

    Freya gave her a side-eye glance and shrugged, “Just another stop in the road I guess. Your father is supposed to be working on getting us out of Skyrim right? I’ll do it for however long I have to, until then.”

    “Can you promise me something?” Rona asked.

    Freya snorted a laugh into her mug and said, “I don’t know about that.”

    “Try not to break all the men’s hearts,” Rona smirked at her, “The brothers, Vilkas and Farkas, I already know they’ll be quite taken with you. Oh… and my little brother is a Companion too, so, if you could be kind to him, I’d appreciate it.”

    Freya looked her over and said, “Damn girlie, you really think I’m just going to run through there and fuck shit up, don’t you?”

    Rona leaned into the counter turning her head, “Well…”

    Freya chuckled and sighed, “Yeah I know. I’m…. trying to reel it back, my attitude. Qetesh was right, everything she said,” then she looked Rona right in the eyes and frowned, “I’m sorry for everything I did to you. I was mad at Bishop and I took it out on you. Took it out on him too actually,” she finished off her mug and stood up.

    “Thanks, that means a lot,” Rona said standing too and smiling. She held out a hand, “Truce?”

    Freya smirked at her and took it, “Truce… now let’s go meet these warrior friends of yours. This should be a real hoot.”

    Rona laughed again and led Freya out of the inn and back to Jorrvaskr. She was feeling a lot better about the woman. She wondered if this was how Bishop felt about Casavir. Not really liking each other, but still coming to some sort of understanding between one another.

    The minute Freya walked in with her she saw the look of desire in the brother’s eyes. She really hoped that Freya would stay true to her word and not try to manipulate them, string them along or do anything to break their poor hearts. Vilkas was the type who probably wouldn’t put up with her behavior for very long, she worried about Farkas though, being as thick as he was. He was a real sweetheart and she didn’t want to see him get hurt, especially after losing most of the people he called family as well as Kodlak, who was the only father he’d known his whole life.

    Freya was flirty but kind to them, joining her sisters at the table and making the effort to make new friends. Bishop came up to Rona then and said, “I see you still have both eyes intact.”

    Rona chuckled, “Yeah. Thankfully she didn’t come at me with her claws.”

    He looked over at the four sisters curiously then asked, “How do you do it?”

    “What?”

    “Make friends with everyone like that?” She just shrugged and he said, “It’s not fair you know. I got my nose broken and lost a damn tooth for you when Casavir was groping all over you. But you,” he paused looking her up and down, “you just come out totally unscathed.”

    “Aw, you mad two beautiful women aren’t fighting over you?” She teased, nudging him with her hip.

    “If I’m to be honest, yes, Ladyship. By all means, pick a fight with her. Oh but if you could do it in your underwear, that would be nice,” he grinned salaciously at her and she just kissed him on the cheek.

    “I’ll always fight for you Bishop, but it’ll more than likely be against dragons.”

    He sighed, “Well that’s not even remotely as sexy. Although, if you fight the dragons in another nice dress, with your hair and makeup all done, I’d like that very much.”

    She giggled and leaned into him, “You’re so weird.”

    “I’m just saying, fighting alongside you all this time now, I’ve learned a few new things about myself and seeing a feisty woman in a ripped dress, hair all messed up, makeup smeared around, swords in hand,” he gave a playful growl and prod himself against her rear, “that really gets me going.”

    She laughed and hugged him a little closer, enjoying their flirting, enjoying the normalcy, however brief it would be. She had a feeling things would be getting so much more intense very soon, but hoped it would lead them to the Elder Scroll and soon to the death of the World Eater.

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 73

    The Dragon Scholar

     

    They didn’t stay in Whiterun for too long. It was still early in the day and they wanted to get moving again. Riverwood was only an hour’s ride away and Serlas was also eager to speak with Delphine and see what she knew about the man the Thalmor were desperately searching for.

    The three of them said their farewells to the sisters four and the Companions. Nelkir gave Rona and Bishop big hugs and said, “When am I going to see you again?”

    Rona sighed knitting her brows together, “I don’t really know. We’re getting that much closer to finding the Elder Scroll so I can finish my journey and we can’t stop now.”

    “Promise you’ll come see me first before you fight Alduin?” He pleaded.

    Rona squeezed him a little tighter and said, “Absolutely! I promise not to go run off and battle the World Eater before I come see you again.”

    “I can help you know,” he said.

    She smiled at him, running a hand through his short hair, “I know. Take care of yourself Nelkir.” She gave him a kiss on the head.

    Bishop pat him on the shoulder and said, “Watch Vilkas’ back while you’re out there kid.” Nelkir grinned at him and they parted. They rode very quickly to Riverwood, hardly speaking at all and focusing their attention on the task at hand. They would talk once they were in the safety of the walls of the Sleeping Giant.

    Upon arrival they were greeted by a very thrilled wolf. Bishop leapt off of Misty and ran over to his old friend letting Karnwyr pounce on him and knock him over to lick at his face. He just grinned and stroked the wolf’s fur, rubbing his ears and said, “You won’t believe it boy, met up with Freya and the others again. Gonna have to take you to see them sometime.”

    Rona and Serlas both dismounted their own steeds and Karnwyr leapt off of Bishop to greet her nearly knocking her over too, as he threw his paws over her shoulders. She gave the old wolf plenty of head scratches in his favorite spots right behind his ear and on part of his neck. “Missed you too Karnwyr,” she crooned at him.

    He fell off of her and got so excited he started running around in circles chasing his tail but then he saw the local dog and ran over, barking, to play with him instead.

    Bishop scoffed, “Pft, so easily distracted.”

    “Always,” Rona agreed with a laugh. They walked into the Sleeping Giant and found Orgnar in his usual place behind the bar, fixing a drink for the drunk Embry. He lowered his eyelids partway at the sight of them all.

    “Afternoon Orgnar,” Bishop grinned, greeting him.

    Orgnar motioned his head to Delphine’s room and said, “She’s been gettin’ antsy waiting around for you all. Better hurry on in before she comes up here and tells me to sweep the entryway again.”

    Bishop looked down at the entryway, which was covered in dirt and leaves and cocked a brow at the bartender, “Did you actually sweep it?”

    Orgnar grunted, “Nope.”

    Rona laughed a little and hurried along into Delphine’s room with Bishop and Serlas hot on her heels. They found Delphine with her back to them, stooped over a map of Skyrim and a bunch of papers and a few books. She was leaning with her forehead in hand and rapping the table impatiently with her fingers. She heard them come down but mindlessly said, “Not gonna tell you again Orgnar. Finish sweeping the entry and make sure you send that order slip off with a courier, we’re almost out of ale again. Damned Embry drinking the place dry…don’t know where he’s getting the gold to pay for it all.”

    Bishop said, “Probably my fault, I paid him a little too much for watching our horses last time.”

    Delphine jumped and spun around, clutching a hand to her sword hilt, “Gods! Don’t scare me like that!”

    “Why? You gonna gut us?”

    She took a breath and said, “Well with Serlas standing there I was about to.”

    Serlas chuckled, “Ah yes. I am afraid I bear too much of a resemblance to those who wish to see you mortally wounded. The Stormcloaks didn’t much care for me either,” he pulled the pile of dossiers out of a pocket in his robes and set them down on the table, “There you are Delphine! Nearly lost my life collecting those, I hope they serve us well.”

    She looked at him wide-eyed, “They caught you?”

    Bishop pursed his lips and turned his head away, “Uh… yeah.”

    Delphine scowled at him, “Whatever happened to being the best bandit in the Rift?”

    “So I’m a little rusty!” He said defensively.

    “It really didn’t help that we were attacked by a dragon too,” Rona added.

    Delphine gaped at them but Bishop waved her off, “No time to tell you. It’s a long story.”

    She nodded and looked over at the dossiers, shuffling through them. She held up Serlas’ papers and said, “Wow, that’s quite the file.”

    “Ah yes,” he agreed, “All two hundred and sixty-four years of my life summed up in a mere fifty pages of paperwork. I was a rather disappointed they didn’t at least embellish the more interesting parts.”

    “You read through them all?”

    “That I did,” Serlas said, clasping his hands together.

    “Mind giving me the cliff notes?”

    “Well to start, the Thalmor view myself, Rona dear, Bishop and even Ulfric Stormcloak as ‘uncooperative assets’. They mean to keep us alive for the time being, at least until we fulfill our roles in their conspiracy to conquer Skyrim. You however are considered a high priority of ‘catch or kill’, so I admit you have been right to be so paranoid. Now, as for this Esbern fellow -”

    Delphine’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head then and she shouted, “Esbern!? He’s alive!?”

    Serlas blinked and said, “Well, yes. According to these documents he is. He is listed as their highest priority and they wish to capture him alive, no doubt to see what sort of information he has on the dragon menace and quite possibly the Elder Scrolls. They’re seeking out a place called Cloud Ruler Temple which may have more information within. It seems Esbern might know where it is located.”

    Delphine put a hand to her chin, thinking. She nodded saying, “Yes, Esbern would definitely know,” she looked back up a Serlas,”He was one of the Blades archivists, back before the Thalmor smashed us in the Great War. He knew everything about the ancient dragon lore of the Blades. Obsessed with it, really. Nobody paid much attention back then. I guess he wasn’t as crazy as we all thought.”

    “And I thought you were crazy about dragons,” Bishop remarked.

    Delphine smirked at him, “I honestly never bothered with it until she showed up that fateful day,” she nodded to Rona, “charred to bits after the attack at Helgen. That’s when I realized Esbern had always been right about the dragons returning. I had to learn everything I could.” Then she asked, “So the Thalmor didn’t know anything about the dragons?”

    “Only as much as we did,” Rona said, “They know about the Elder Scroll too though. I’m worried that we’ll be in a race against them to find it now. If they get their hands on it they’ll try to use it as leverage to control me, to make me take sides in the war.”

    “Damn,” Delphine grit her teeth then said more seriously, “We’ve got to find Esbern before they do. He’ll have more information that can help us. Do they know where he is?”

    Bishop said, “We met a Ratway thief inside the Embassy. They were holding him prisoner and he mentioned that the Thalmor were looking for him in Riften. Seems he might be hiding out in the sewers there.”

    “You should all go to Riften then, as quickly as you can,” she said with urgency.

    Bishop scowled at her, “Why don’t you come with us? It’d be nice to see you risk your own hide and hair for once, instead of just ours.”

    “You heard him,” she said seriously, “They intend to capture or even kill me. But you all have a reason to be kept alive, so at the very least they’ll just try to maim you.” She smirked and Bishop rolled his eyes.

    “Ata,” Rona said, “You should stay here with Delphine.”

    He raised his brows, “Oh no, velvyn. I will not let you do this alone.”

    She smiled, “I’m not alone, I’ve got Bishop and Karnwyr, besides, the Ratway… it’s really cramped, not good for magic users. And we’ll be a lot faster with just the two of us.”

    “Rona dear,” he furrowed his brows looking worried.

    “We’ll be fine Ata, I promise. Besides, you should get Delphine up to speed on everything and share what you’ve both learned. We’ll be back soon, with Esbern.”

    She hugged her father and he returned the embrace and sighed, “Please take care of yourself velvyn… A tandile tye.”

    “A tandile tye, Ata,” she pulled away from him and moved to head up the stairs.

    Delphine called to her back, “Hey, when you find Esbern, well, if you think I’m paranoid,” she laughed, “you may have some trouble getting him to trust you. Just ask him where he was on the 30th of Frostfall. He’ll know what it means.”

     

    Rona said, “Thanks, will do,” and went up the stairs. Serlas clapped Bishop on the shoulder and the ranger gave him a reassuring nod.

    The two of them hurried back outside and mounted their steeds. Bishop whistled for Karnwyr who came running away from a young boy and the dog he’d been playing with earlier.

    Bishop looked over at her, “What do you think? Cut around Helgen?”

    “Yeah,” she said, “We don’t have time to take the long way. Besides, last time we went around there wasn’t anyone there.”

    “That we could see,” he said warily, “Still, stay on your guard, Lightfoot.”

    ~~~

    They passed around Helgen with no trouble at all. There were no bandits in sight and they moved far too quickly for it to make much of a difference anyhow. They rounded the path, weaving their way up into the mountains and slowed down a bit to give their steeds a break from the fast pace they’d held them at for the last two hours. Rona withdrew her cloak from her saddle bag and wrapped it around herself to stifle her shivering.

    Bishop looked over at her and smiled, “Can’t believe how long you’ve had that for.”

    “I love it,” she said drawing it closer around herself.

    “Yeah, but it’s getting a bit worn out,” he noted, pointing at a few of the scorch marks, holes and the frayed ends, “I’ll make you a new one when I get the time. I’ll be sure to make it even warmer too. Pad an extra layer of fur in it for you.”

    “That’s very sweet of you,” she said giving him a warm smile.

    “Only for you Ladyship,” he said returning it.

    “Not true!” She argued, “You’ve been very sweet to plenty of other people. Nelkir, Dagny, Freya and all her sisters.”

    “Well I’m just dripping with honey now, aren’t I?” He laughed.

    She blushed a little as she said, “You’re really good with kids.”

    He glanced at her cocking a brow, “What makes you say that?”

    “Well, I see how you interact with them. You treat Nelkir like your own little brother, which really means a lot to me. And I saw how you were with Bast when she was little,” she started blushing more, “in that dream.”

    “Yeah,” he said reminiscing, “It’s probably because I was surrounded by kids my whole life. You know I was the second oldest in the bunch.”

    “What were their names?” She asked him.

    “You mean all my brothers and sisters?”

    “Yeah, I’m just curious.”

    He took a breath and held up a hand, listing them off on his fingers, “Well let’s see, it was Jack, then me, then my sister Kari, then Ost – fucking hated him, he didn’t look much like Torban, but he sure acted like him. Jack, Kari and I were all Torban’s and Rina’s kids. Ost had a different mother. He was definitely Torban’s spawn though. Nasty bastard he was,” he continued, “Then after him was Jules, he was three years younger than me. Then it goes Morgen, Rina’s dunmer boy. Duful, Torban’s redguard son, then more of Rina’s kids from other men. Liesel, she was half bosmer, then the youngest Galric, some breton’s kid. Rina was already pregnant with another when I left. Never met the kid.”

    “Wow,” Rona said, “So ten of you total, nine brothers and sisters.”

    “Well, I say nine if you count me,” he laughed, “Guess it would be nine now if I stuck around, maybe even more at this point.”

    “You didn’t get along with any of them but Jules?”

    “Nope,” he said, “I mean, Jack and I got along alright. But he got tired of it all fast and was always looking for a way out. Kari was okay until Torban convinced her to start selling herself.” Rona looked at him aghast and he shrugged, “You asked Ladyship. She was a real freak. Thought of herself as a priestess of Mara, while at the same time sold her body for money. Gave all her earnings to Torban too, always wanting to please him. It was pretty sad.”

    “You said you and Jules left after you killed your father… what do you think happened to them?”

    “I don’t know,” he said, “Never really thought about it. I just, sort of wrote them off. It happened out in Cyrodiil. I couldn’t even tell you exactly where either, just out in a field somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I still remember the look on my mother’s face when I killed him too. She didn’t even care that I just saved her from the man who’d been abusing and beating her for years. She just said, ‘How am I going to pay for you now?‘” He gave a half-smirk and shook his head, “What a mother.”

    “I’m sorry,” she’d done it again. Asking about his past and drawing up awful memories.

    He just smiled at her though, “Don’t be, Rona. I don’t mind telling you these things. It doesn’t even hurt anymore to talk about. It’s like old scars, faded with time. They look pretty bad, but they don’t hurt.”

    She returned his smile and grasped his hand as their steeds trot along the path, heading out of the snow and into the Rift’s forests. He gripped her small hand reassuringly into his. They glanced over at Autumnwatch Tower off in the distance, two old towers standing tall and nearby was the path leading up to Arcwind Point. So many bad memories were made up there with the loss of friends and loved ones.

    “Hey,” he said suddenly, “In that dream, at the end of it, you were riding horseback out this way… Did that actually happen?”

    Rona went pink the cheeks and she said, “Uh… yeah, it did.”

    He looked at her stunned, “Wait. You were really here all those years ago?”

    “Yeah. I came back here about six years ago, remember, to visit with my mother? Well, she went off and disappeared on me again, like always, so I left. I was heading back to Bruma then. I honestly forgot all about it, but you really did almost get kicked by my horse.”

    He groaned putting a hand to his face, “Are you serious? So the first thing I ever said to you was, “Out of my way?” He started laughing.

    And she met his laughter with her own giggles and replied, “Well, it’s only slightly better than what you said to me when we first met in Riverwood.”

    “Ugh… you’re right. Wow. I sure know how to make an ass of myself.”

    She was still smiling when she let it slip, “It’ll be a funny one to tell our kids someday.” The second she realized she let the words slip her face turned so scarlet-red she could actually feel her cheeks burning. She quickly turned her face away from him and tried to hide her bright red ears under her hair.

    She could hear Bishop’s broad grin as he said, “Our kids, huh?”

    Her heart was fluttering at the very mention of the idea, she slowly turned back and said, “Oh wow… sorry, that… that was embarrassing.”

    He was still smiling and his eyes were full of affection as he grasped her hand again and said, “Don’t be embarrassed. I’ve thought about it too.”

    Of course that only served to make her heart leap about in her chest, while the butterflies in her stomach fluttered madly and she felt like she might pass out from the absolute joy bursting inside her. Bishop had actually thought about having a family – with her.

    He chuckled, “Wow Ladyship, I think this might be the reddest I’ve ever seen you. You going to be okay with all the blood rushing to your face like that?”

    She took a breath, trying to calm herself and mumbled, “It just… it makes me happy.”

    He made to pull her closer to him then, to kiss her when they heard voices ahead. They were very near the gates of Riften, at the backside of the city. They spotted two Thalmor Justiciars and four Aldmeri soldiers standing by two very dead Riften guards.

    Bishop and Rona quickly swept off the path with their horses, while Karnwyr followed them. They stopped their steeds in a thicket and both leapt off and crept closer to the city where they could hear one of the Justiciars speaking with his fellow in Aldmeri, “(She said he’s in the Ratway then?)”

    “(The thief they captured seemed to think so. That nord idiot, what was his name? Gissur? He’s down their now speaking with the Thieves Guild. Seeing if he can confirm the whereabouts of the Blade.)”

    “(We should head in. I don’t trust that filthy snow-back. Might try and capture the man himself then hold him for ransom or do some other idiotic thing.)”

    The other laughed haughtily, “(Hah! I’d love to see him try. Might make it easier on us if he did capture him. He’s a real pushover that one.)”

    They all cast invisibility over themselves and headed on into the city. Bishop and Rona watched the gates open and close with seemingly no one there.

    He looked over at her and asked, “What’d they say?”

    “One of their informants is already down in the Ratway talking to the Thieves Guild,” she explained, “trying to get more information it seems. They went in to try and capture Esbern themselves.”

    Bishop grit his teeth, “We better hurry.”

    They moved along quickly into the slowly darkening city and swept down the stairs near the dirty river. Rona stared down at the murky water, full of debris and held her nose, gagging a little.

    Bishop chuckled, “Just get used to it Ladyship, it’s going to be a thousand times worse inside.”

    She groaned and he led her into the disgusting tunnels. A thick layer of shiny slime coated all of the walls and even the floor. She took a breath and retched, “Oh gods. How do they – Ech! Why?

    Bishop smirked at her, “Because no one wants to go looking for anyone down here, it’s just that nasty. Come on, I know the fastest route through. We’re going to have a talk with my old friend Delvin Mallory.”

    He didn’t sound too keen on that notion and she asked, still covering her nose and mouth with a hand, “When was the last time you spoke with him?”

    “Last time I ever talked to him was the day Thorn decided to brutally execute four of the six Thieves that crossed him,” he glanced at her woefully.

    So Bishop hadn’t seen or spoken to Delvin since that terrible incident and then his brother got wrapped up in the Guild and he went and killed his brother. Rona wondered if the Guild knew about what happened. Elise had been a member too, there was a chance she’d told them all before leaving for Cyrodiil.

    “Just be ready to fight back,” he said, “No matter who it is, Thalmor or Guild members.”

    They wove around the path, stepping over two dead brutes that the Thalmor had already taken care of and came up to a section in the road with an upraised bridge.

    “Damn,” Bishop grit his teeth, “Would be faster if we could lower the bridge.”

    “Give me a boost,” she said.

    “What, like toss you?”

    “Yeah,” she said.

    They stood at the edge of the walkway and Bishop crouched, pressing his hands together. Karnwyr padded up to him and started sniffing his hands for food, Bishop shoved him off and said, “Karnwyr, no. Sit.” The wolf immediately sat down and waited, tongue lolling from his mouth. Rona looked at him and said, “I think he likes the way it smells in here.”

    “I’ve seen him eat vomit, Ladyship. He loves the way it smells in here.” He positioned himself again and Rona stepped into his hands, grasping his shoulders to stay steady and he said, “Ready? One – two – three!” He threw her up into the air and she kicked off the wall for one more boost before landing softly on the other side of the bridge.

    “Nice one!” he called, “There should be a lever over there.”

    She looked around and found the lever in question but it was disgusting, all slimy and dirty like everything else in that place. She reluctantly grasped it muttering, “Ew, ew, ew, eeww!” And pulled on it sending the bridge shuddering down.

    Bishop crossed right over and smirked at her, “Get used to it, Princess.” She quickly wiped her hands on the back of his cuirass and he shouted, “Hey!”

    She laughed and ran ahead of him, scrunching her nose at him, “Get used to it!” But then she looked forward and dodged right to the side as an axe came swinging for her, “YEEK!” Her shrill voice echoed through the tunnels and the vagrant coming after her quickly spun on toe, grunting and swinging at her. She deftly dodged each attack and Karnwyr quickly ran in snarling and buried his jaws into the man’s leg. He roared in pain and was immediately silenced when Bishop buried his sword into the man’s back.

    “Shit, Lightfoot, you alright?” He asked, pulling his blade from the man’s bloody back.

    She held a hand to her chest catching her breath, “Um… I’m okay. I was really trying not to shout, but I have a feeling everyone in here heard that.”

    “Probably,” he said laughing a little, “Never heard you squeak like that before. Was kind of cute.”

    She looked at him with half-lidded eyes, “Ha, ha. Very funny.” Then she turned and realized they were at the entrance to the Ragged Flagon. Although she’d never been there in person, she remembered it very vividly from Bishop’s dream.

    He put a hand to her shoulder and said, “Just stay close to me, alright?”

    She nodded and followed him in, with Karnwyr at their heels. The inside of the place looked nearly the same as in the dream, but she could actually smell it this time. Rona coughed a little at the taste it was leaving inside her mouth. They slowly walked around the scummy cistern and up the wooden planks towards the bar.

    Just like before, the same man from eight years ago stood in their path, arms crossed, looking quite intimidating. He looked Bishop up and down and muttered, “Well I’ll be damned. Never thought you’d grow a big enough pair to show your face here again.”

    “Just looking to have a chat with Mallory,” Bishop said.

    Rona leaned around the two of them and looked over into the tavern. Inside was the familiar woman with white-blonde hair, Vex, she recalled her name. She was leaning up against a wall looking rather bored. The bar tender was serving drinks to two other Thieves Guild members and one other woman a redguard sat by sorting through a pile of miscellaneous trinkets and piles of gold.

    Delvin Mallory was seated at the exact same table in the exact same place he had been eight years prior. It seemed that hardly anything had changed there and it was being run the same way it always had. The only difference was that Delvin wasn’t poring over a pile of papers this time, instead he was enjoying a tankard of ale when he looked over and spotted Rona staring at him.

    He grinned at her, showing off a small gap in his teeth where he was missing a tooth. She blushed and leaned back, but then Karnwyr loped over, around them all and went right up to Delvin and started sniffing at his boots.

    “Karnwyr, no!” Rona hurried after him, totally ignoring the two men right in front of her, staring each other down. She grasped the wolf by the scruff of his neck and said to Delvin, “Sorry. He just gets really curious sometimes.” Then she remembered, Delvin knew Karnwyr…

    “Hm, shouldn’t get mixed up with his type miss. You look too sweet to be getting all tangled up with a bandit.”

    Bishop scowled over at him, “Not a bandit anymore Mallory.”

    “So I’ve heard. What are yah now? Some kind of ranger? Still a murderer as far as I’m concerned,” Delvin gave him a look of disdain then glanced back at Rona and said, “If you’re wonderin’ miss, yeah, you heard right. He’s a murderer.”

    She just averted her eyes, tugging Karnwyr back with her. He looked at her curiously and Bishop said, “So says former Dark Brotherhood over here. Can we talk? Got some important business to discuss.”

    “You tryna bring me business or you looking to buy?”

    “Guess I’m buying,” Bishop said, annoyed.

    Delvin grinned and said, “Have a seat. Both a yah.”

    Rona pulled up a chair, which was a bit greasy, she tried to hold back the disgusted face she was making as she quickly wiped her hands on the sides of her dress.

    Karnwyr laid down at her side and Bishop pulled up a chair and asked, “Looking for a man named Esbern.”

    “Never heard of him,” Delvin said with a wry smirk.

    Bishop rolled his eyes and pulled out a coin purse, dropping it on the table, “How about now?”

    Delvin took it and sifted through the gold counting it, “Wow, Bish. You must stay busy working in the ranging business. Or is this all yours miss?” He asked looking right at Rona.

    “Does it matter?” Bishop said, “Now tell us where to find this guy.”

    Delvin took the entire coin purse and stuffed it into one of his many pockets and took a swig from his tankard, “Got a lot of people looking for this fella. He’s paid good money for nobody to know he’s down here.”

    Then Delvin stopped talking and Bishop stared at him and said, “Aaand?

    “Well that’s jus’ it. He paid us a lot more than you have to keep it a secret,” Delvin said sneering at him. Rona could tell he was enjoying ruffling Bishop’s feathers. Bishop started going red in the face and getting really angry.

    She quickly said, “Please, that’s all the gold we had with us. We really need to find him. His life is in danger.” She pleaded with her eyes and Delvin looked her over.

    He leaned back in his chair and sighed, “Damn… if I’m not a sucker for a pretty lady.” She gave him a kind smile and he said, “Alright, you say you’re here to help him?”

    “That’s right,” she said sincerely.

    “Well he’s holed up in the Ratway Warrens. Hardly ever leaves the place – has someone bring him food and such. Crazy old loon, from what I’ve heard. For that to stand out down here, he must really be off his nut.”

    “Did anyone else come asking about him?” Rona asked.

    “Some ugly brute did a bit earlier. Didn’t want to pay up though so I told him to piss off and he kicked bricks out of here,” he took another swig from his tankard and added, “Just so you know, I’d watch yourself out there, seems the Thalmor are looking for this Esbern fella too.”

    She stood up then and said, “We know. Thank you for your help,” Bishop got up too and she asked him, “Do you know where the warrens are?”

    “Sure do,” he said. They turned away, Karnwyr loping behind them when they noticed one of the Justiciars and a Thalmor soldier come in suddenly from the entryway. Bishop quickly grabbed Rona and pulled her down behind some crates.

    Gissur was with them and he was stammering to them, “I saw her – the Dragonborn! She just came in here! She has to be somewhere around here!”

    Rona looked apprehensively back at Delvin, who had a brow raised as he was studying her more closely now. She used her magic to cloak herself and Bishop and they held in their spot, quietly waiting.

    One of the Justiciars stalked over and up the board planks and demanded snidely, “Where is the Dragonborn?” Nobody in the bar said a word. They just threw bored looks at the Thalmor agent. Although Dirge stood quite firm in front of him.

    The Justiciar’s eyebrows curved more sharply over his eyes and he lit a flame in his hand and said, “I will not ask again, tell me where she is fetchers and I might allow you to keep your lives.”

    Karnwyr started growling at the Justiciar, baring his fangs and Delvin cocked his head and simply said, “You want information you pay. Threats don’t get you far round here.”

    Oh really?” The Justiciar said holding his fiery hand out to Delvin, ready to blast him away when a knife went swiftly flying through the air and shunted hard into the side of Justiciar’s skull. He let out a garbled, “URK!” and toppled over.

    The Thalmor guard across the way shouted and drew their weapon, ready to fight while Gissur looked incredibly terrified. Vex slowly stalked over and knelt down, stepping a foot to the Justiciar’s head while she pulled her knife from him with a nasty crunching noise. She looked over at Delvin and said, “They might pay for the Dragonborn you know.”

    Delvin smirked at her, “Nah, I doubt it. They’d promise, but they’d never cough it up, buncha cheapskates.”

    Vex shrugged and went back over to the bar, nonchalantly sheathing her blade and leaned back against her usual spot, arms crossed. “Hey Vekel, mix me up a Bloody Mary will you? I’m feeling a little thirsty.”

    “Comin’ right up,” the bar tender started mixing her drink and everyone acted so blasé about the situation. Even the Thalmor soldier seemed thrown by their behavior as he stammered, “We – We’ll remember this! We’ll be back!” He quickly ran back out the door and Gissur scurried along after him as well.

    Bishop and Rona stood up then, their invisibility dispelling. Bishop looked over at Delvin and said, “Thanks for not ratting us out.”

    Delvin shrugged, “Well, if they’d just paid up I’d have gladly given the information they wanted.” Rona gaped at him appalled and he flashed her his toothy grin, “Nothin’ personal sweetheart, it’s just business… Dragonborn though, eh?” His eyes wandered over to Bishop then, “My, my, you have been keeping busy, Bish.”

    Bishop said, “You have no idea Mallory,” he grasped Rona’s hand and pulled her along, out of that place. She took one last glance back at the strange thieves, most of whom seemed to be ignoring her. It was incredibly odd to her. There were very few places she could go and be invisible, just another face in the crowd, because the minute people found out she was Dragonborn people just couldn’t stop bothering her. But these people, they didn’t give two shits about her. She kind of liked it.

    They carefully wove their way through the tunnels and deeper into the Ratway, evading the Thalmor along the way and eventually finding themselves in the depths of the warrens. There were plenty of tunnels with dead ends in them and plenty more strange people who were all very touched in the head.

    At one point they entered a cavern with a staircase. Inside they heard a woman muttering a bunch of nonsense.

    “Inkpot, stone, bucket, book, knife, stone, no, no no! Go away. Go away! Knife. Yes. Book. Yes. Bucket. Yes. Inkpot? No. No…”

    Bishop exhaled and muttered under his breath, “Fucking crazy.”

    She whispered, “I really hope Esbern is sane.”

    “Guess we’ll find out.”

    They went up the stairs and saw an elderly, deranged looking man sitting on a chair behind a cell door. He was wearing a dirtied and yellowed chef’s uniform and scraping a pair of large butcher knives together and twitching a lot.

    Rona leaned into Bishop and said, “Do you think that’s him?”

    The man heard her and looked right at her with a devilish gaze in his eyes. He immediately stood up and shouted, “I am going to eat well tonight, my darling!” He rushed at the cell door and both Bishop and Rona quickly backed away while Karnwyr raised hackle, growling at him.

    Luckily for them, it appeared that the cell door had been locked. The madman ran one of his blades back and forth across the metal bars, making them scrape and clang loudly and then he started heavily drooling. His saliva dripped down his face and actually hit the floor. His eyes were locked on Rona as he uttered hungrily, “I’ve been waiting for you, my sweet one. Come closer. I won’t bite. Promise.” He started gnashing his teeth together and Rona stepped behind Bishop, while a shudder crawled up her spine.

    “Yeah, fuck that,” Bishop snarled drawing his bow. He nocked an arrow and took aim then let it loose straight into the lunatic’s head. It pierced right through his chef’s hat and he toppled over, dead.

    “I really want to get out of here,” Rona groaned.

    “You and me both.” They turned back on the upper landing and saw a very large and sturdy looking door with a window hatch across the way.

    She pointed at it and said, “You think that’s?”

    “Definitely,” Bishop said almost laughing.

    They went over to the door and knocked on it. There was no answer though. Bishop pound on it even harder then and the window flung open, a disheveled old man peered at them through the opening and shouted, “Go away!” Then the window snapped shut again.

    Rona laughed and said, “Esbern? Are you Esbern?”

    The window opened once more and he firmly said, “What?! No, that’s not me. I’m not Esbern. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    The window snapped shut again.

    Bishop sighed, crossing his arms and said, “Yeah, it’s definitely him,” then he shouted, “Hey old man! Open up already. Delphine sent us.”

    “Delphine? How do you?” He spoke through the door and then the window opened again and his eyes scanned over the both of them. They rested firmly on Rona however, looking up and down at her pointed ears and he shouted, “Aha! I see! So you’ve finally found her and she led you to me. And here I am, caught like a rat in a trap!”

    The window snapped shut.

    Bishop exhaled audibly and exasperated while Rona started to giggle under her breath.

    She stifled her laughter and said, “Esbern, please listen to us. The Thalmor have found you and we’re here to rescue you.”

    How shouted through the door again, “Oh, how reassuring! I can see that the Thalmor have found me! Since you are a Thalmor and this is just a trick to get me to open the door!”

    Bishop threw his hands out and said, “That’s it! I’m going to fucking beat the damn door down if I have to!”

    Rona put a hand to his arm and he grumbled crossing them again. She said, “Esbern, I assure you I’m not a Thalmor.”

    The window opened slightly, just enough so they could see his eyes glaring at her and he muttered, “That’s exactly what a Thalmor would say.”

    The window snapped shut again.

    Bishop cocked his head at her and said, “Well he’s got you there Lightfoot. That is definitely something a Thalmor would say.”

    She rolled her eyes, still giggling and thought for a minute, “What did Delphine say we should tell him?”

    Bishop tilted his head back slightly, “Oh yeah… shit I forgot. Something about Frostfall?”

    “The 30th of Frostfall!” Rona shouted, “Esbern, Delphine said to remember the 30th of Frostfall!”

    The window opened again and he looked curiously at her, “Ah. Indeed, indeed. I do remember… So Delphine really is alive, then?”

    “YES!” They both said in unison.

    “Well… You’d better come in then and tell me how you found me and what you want.”

    “Finally!” Bishop grumbled.

    They heard the sound of chains and locks being undone behind the door. Bishop started impatiently tapping his foot as Esbern grunted, struggling with the locks it seemed, “This’ll just take a moment… This one always sticks… there we go. Only a couple more,” the sounds of more locks clicking came from behind the door and Bishop and Rona both slowly looked at each other, making the same bewildered face.

    Suddenly the door swung open and Esbern said, “There we are! Come in, come in! Make yourselves at home! That’s better. Now we can talk.”

    The both stepped inside the dreary room. There was a dining table, and a bed and plenty of bookshelves. A writing desk sat in one of the corners and was covered in papers and books. In fact there were papers and books all over the place, with plenty of gibberish scrawled all over them. Bishop picked one of the pages up and muttered to her, “Sorry to say Ladyship, but it looks like he isn’t sane.”

    She looked over the words and snatched the page from him. “This is dragon tongue.” She looked over at Esbern who was busy collecting some personal belongings and stuffing them into a travel pack.

    She asked him, “You speak dragon tongue?”

    He glanced up at her, “Oh, well, not very well. I’ve been studying it for years. I can read and write it just fine, though I could hardly guess as to the pronunciation of some of the words.”

    “Well lucky you,” Bishop said, “Because she’s fluent.”

    Esbern looked her up and down, “Truly? Are you also a scholar of dragon lore?” He continued stuffing papers into his pack and ran over and started rifling through a trunk by his bed, tossing all kinds of trinkets out.

    Rona said, “No, I’m definitely not a scholar.”

    Bishop got a wry smirk on his face and said, “Should we tell him? I really want to tell him. See if he actually shits a brick.”

    “Tell me what?” He asked puzzled as he looked up at them from the chest he was rifling through.

    “I’m Dragonborn,” she said.

    His eyes looked like they might actually pop out of his head then and he abruptly stood up, holding a very large and old tome. “Dragonborn,” he whispered, “You’re…can it really be true? Dragonborn? Then…there is hope! The gods have not abandoned us! We must…we must… We must go, quickly now,” he started moving much faster then, still holding the large tome in hand and pacing back and forth as though he were trying to figure out what to do with it since his travel pack was clearly, very full. He ran over and shoved the book into Bishop’s arms and said, “Hold that for me – don’t lose it!

    He scurried around the room collecting several other artifacts and items which he obviously couldn’t live without rambling all the while, “But, give me… just a moment… I must gather a few things… I’ll need this… No, no, useless trash…where’d I put my annotated Anuad? One moment, I know, time is of the essence, but mustn’t leave secrets behind for the Thalmor…there’s one more thing I must bring…”

    Bishop looked at the large book in his arms. It was incredibly worn, the protective leather cover had tears and holes in places and there were hundreds of bits of papers sticking out of it. Bishop cracked it open and Rona leaned over to look inside it.

    The entire book was written entirely in dragon’s tongue and all the notes were translations of parts of the text. In every margin and available open area were translated words scrawled around. Bishop furrowed his brows and said, “The hell is this?”

    He closed the book again and looked at the cover. There was flakey gold lettering etched into the front of it but all of the words were written entirely in the scratchy symbols of dragon tongue and would not be readable by anyone who didn’t know the language.

    “What’s it say?” Bishop asked Rona.

    She said, “Fin vahdiin do dovah yolos,” she looked right at him, “It says, The Maiden of Dragon Flame.”

    Finally Esbern seemed ready to go and quickly said, “Please! Let’s hurry! Take me to Delphine. We have much to discuss,” he grabbed the book from Bishop, placing it securely under his arm and hurried along out of the warrens.

    The two of them followed after and Rona said, “Maybe we should take the lead.”

    “Hm? Oh yes, good idea.”

    ~~~

    They made it out of the Ratway with only a little trouble, managing to kill the other Thalmor Justiciar and soldiers as they went. Bishop even picked off Gissur who was making a run for it after all the Thalmor had been killed.

    They stepped outside the Ratway and Rona took a deep breath of the fresh air. It was still a bit scummy smelling, near the river, but it was so much better than being inside that awful place.

    It was the dead of night, around midnight or after Rona guessed from the position of the moon. The three of them took the back way through Riften and found their horses still off in the brush. Karnwyr padded over to them and touched noses with Misty, the one he was more familiar with. Though he gave a friendly bark and tail wag to Ember as well.

    Bishop climbed up on his horse and asked Esbern, “You know how to ride horseback, right?”

    “Of course I do,” Esbern said, almost puzzled by his question.

    “Good. Go ahead and take Rona’s horse. Ride with me Ladyship,” she grasped his hand and let him pull her up onto the mare. Esbern clambered up onto Ember and pulled on the stallion’s reins guiding him down the path back to Riverwood.

    They rode slowly and quietly through the night and Esbern looked over and said, “I don’t believe we were properly introduced in all the excitement.”

    “I’m Bishop.”

    “Rona,” she said.

    “Good to meet you both. Thank you for coming to my rescue as well. I doubt the Thalmor had good plans for me.”

    Rona looked over at Esbern. She had a million questions for him, but first and foremost she had to know, “Do you know the whereabouts of the Elder Scroll?”

    He raised a brow at her and said, “Not at all. Why do you ask?”

    She was extremely disheartened by his answer and said, “Because we need it to defeat Alduin.”

    “Really? And how will the scroll help you kill the World Eater?”

    “I can use it to learn the shout Dragonrend.”

    Esbern scratched the thin patch of hair on the side of his head thoughtfully. “You said you are fluent in dragon’s tongue?”

    She nodded. He took the huge tome from under his arm and passed it over to her. She grasped the heavy book and he said, “You should read that. I believe it may have the answers you seek.”

    “Have you already read it?” She asked.

    He shook his head, “I have tried, oh believe me, have I tried. I’ve spent years doing the best I could to translate that beast of a book. The history of the Maiden of Dragon Flame, starting with the first, Eira of White Fire, the second Kitaere of the Sun, then Aleile Auryne, Fralevi the Strong, Taanil Storm-Ire, Shexa the Sharp, Ja’anna Sihir and so on and so on all the way up to the last Maiden of Dragon Flame, Jillian of Heart Frost,” he paused looking her up and down and then said, “And well, now I suppose there is you. Tell me, have you been given a name?”

    Bishop scoffed, “She just told you her name, it’s Rona. Rona Lightfoot, or Thoraminh.”

    Esbern smiled, “No, no. Not her birth name, I mean have the women or the dragons granted you a name?”

    Rona said, “Eira called me Rona of Dragon Fangs,” she reached over her hip and drew one of her blades and said, “Probably because my swords are made of dragon bone.”

    He looked very interested in them and asked, “May I?”

    She passed him the sword and he looked it over, “Incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is made of dragon bone?”

    “Yes, both of them are.”

    He touched the flat edge of the sword and looked at it as it shimmered, pearlescent in the moonlight. Then he handed it back to her and said, “You truly are the Dragonborn, aren’t you?”

    Bishop sighed, “They’re always skeptical.”

    She smiled feebly and said, “Yeah I am.”

    Esbern studied her expression and said, “Hm, yes you definitely are. You despise it as much as the others too, I can see that.”

    “The others? You mean the other Dragonborn?”

    “Yes,” Esbern nodded, stroking at his beard, “It’s all right there in that book, written entirely in dragon’s tongue.”

    “Where did this book come from?” Rona asked, “Is there someone out there that knows all about their history and wrote about it? And why in dragon tongue?”

    “The Akaviri throughout the ages compiled their knowledge of the female Dragonborn and put it all in that book. Why they wrote it in dragon’s tongue I will never know for sure. To keep it a guarded secret perhaps? Because it was the language of the time? I couldn’t say. What I do know is that it has been very difficult to translate. But if you can easily read it, then perhaps you can translate for me.”

    Bishop frowned, “I thought you said you could read it and write the language.”

    “Oh I can, the problem is that this compiled textbook has multiple and varying versions of the language. Over the years the writing, the spelling of the letters has changed ever so slightly. It has made it difficult to read, so when two similar words slowly start to change and resemble one another it can be very tricky. It’s also good to understand the context to know the right word to pick, however… well, I won’t bore you with the details. Needless to say it’s been a frustrating endeavor to say the least.”

    Rona smiled kindly at him, “I’ll see what I can do to help you translate it.” And she would. She was most interested in Jillian’s story, the woman who came before her, who must have known Dragonrend. Who sent Alduin adrift in time and whose lover was crushed and killed by the beast.

    Esbern spoke suddenly, saying, “For so long, all I could do was watch our doom approach, helplessly. You have no idea how overjoyed I am to be meeting you Dragonborn. There is hope after all.”

    “So Alduin really will destroy the world without me?” She asked.

    Esbern nodded fervently, “With dragons returning, they are the final portent of the End of Days.”

    “You’re talking about,” Bishop hesitated, “the literal end of the world?”

    Esbern almost sounded too excited about it when he started ranting and raving, “Oh, yes! The prophecies made clear the signs that will precede the end times. One by one, I have seen them fulfilled. Alduin has returned, just like the prophecy said! The Dragon from the dawn of time, who devours the souls of the dead. No one can escape his hunger, here or in the afterlife. Alduin will devour all things and the world will end. Nothing can stop him! I tried to tell them. They wouldn’t listen. Fools. It’s all come true…all I could do was watch our doom approach…”

    Rona’s nerves were getting very on edge listening to him go on about the end of the world. But when he said, “And only the Dragonborn can stop him! It can be no one else. You are the one who will save us all! You will face Alduin and finally kill him,” she started to feel very queasy. She leaned into Bishop’s back, clutching his waist a bit tighter, trying to resist the urge to puke.

    Bishop looked over his shoulder at her, “You alright Ladyship? Need to stop?”

    She nodded quickly and he drew Misty aside off the path. Rona hopped off and ran away from them and started retching right into a bush.

    “Was it something I said?” Esbern muttered.

    Bishop looked after her, extremely concerned and said, “We should probably rest for the night.”

    “Oh no! No, no, no! We cannot wait – we must get to Delphine immediately!”

    Bishop scowled at him and said, “Well you go off if you want to, but she’s sick, it’s late and we’re stopping.”

    “But I… well,” Esbern looked back and forth at the road and sighed, “Alright then.”

    Bishop went over to her. Rona was on her knees holding her stomach and feeling lightheaded. He put a hand to her back and said softly, “Hey, what’s wrong?”

    “I can’t,” she mumbled taking slow steadying breaths, “It’s too much. All of this. End of the world, oh gods,” her stomach did another flop at the thought.

    Bishop sympathetically rubbed her back and pulled her hair from her face, “It’s going to be alright Ladyship. Tonight you don’t have to save the world or any of it. You can just sleep, okay?”

    She looked into his eyes, her brows knit tightly together. She reached for him, clutching at his back as she buried her face in his chest. She mumbled, “It’s real Bishop. The prophecy… it’s all real.”

    “I know,” he muttered quietly back, “We’re almost there Rona. We’ll make it.”

    He pulled away from her and told her to take a minute while he started unpacking their camping supplies and walked fairly far off the road to set up their campsite on the off chance more Thalmor came along. Esbern remained quiet the rest of the time, looking almost apologetically at Rona the few times their eyes did meet.

    She eventually pulled herself together and joined them at the camp. She sat close to the fire with Karnwyr at her side, gently petting him and trying to relax.

    Bishop was extremely worried for her. It had been a long time since she panicked so much about the dragons and her fate. It hadn’t been that bad since they met with Sanguine, but now with Esbern confirming that the prophecy was true, she was losing it again.

    Rona was a strong woman, definitely. She didn’t need anyone to protect her, but at the same time she was still human, dragon soul or not, and carrying these burdens on her shoulders, he could see how much it was crushing her. How she tried so hard to hide it, to remain strong and fulfill the damned destiny the gods gave her. Why did it have to be her?

    She just wanted to live peacefully, freely… even, have a family, with him. She’d thought about it too and it warmed his heart when she’d said it before so naturally, embarrassed as she was about it. But would they ever have that together? It seemed so far away in light of everything else. He loved her dearly and he wanted to save her, hell he would fight the World Eater in her place if he could have. But he knew that all he could do was stand by her side and let her lean on him whenever she had to.

    He watched as she reached a hand out and touched the campfire, igniting it with her own, beautiful golden fire. The entire thing was engulfed and started burning that beautiful, shimmering gold color. Bishop could tell Esbern was bursting with questions for her, but was grateful that the man kept his mouth shut. Then a strange song drifted around them and Bishop watched as Eira burned into being, seated at the fire by Rona.

    She started playing her lute and Rona completely ignored her. Eira was there because of her feelings, her internal conflict and emotions. When she couldn’t find the words or sing herself the others would appear and do it for her. They would come forth and try to ease her heart.

    (The Song is Misty Mountains by Malukah)

    “Far over the Misty Mountains cold
    To dungeons deep and caverns old
    We must away ere break of day
    To find our long-forgotten gold”

    Jillian appeared then and more of the women. They shimmered into being around Rona and sang her feelings as she sat there, staring into the fire, with her knees drawn up to her chest, looking miserable.

    “The pines were roaring on the height
    The winds were moaning in the night
    The fire was red, it flaming spread
    The trees like torches blazed with light”

    Fire. She wasn’t afraid of it anymore, but if the dragons grew stronger they would cover the world in it, setting everything aflame. She was afraid, that’s what this song told him.

    Bishop got up and stepped around the Dragonborn women, he could feel their eyes on him. Jillian’s gaze was always the most piercing. She stared at him like she was watching her lover Ronin die. It always made him uncomfortable, but he ignored it and sat down behind his beloved, throwing his legs out on either side of her. He pressed his face into her hair and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly, trying to give her some comfort.

    The Maidens of Dragon Flame all vanished, in their own colorful pillars of flame and Rona leaned back into him. He said the only thing he could think of. “I love you, Rona.”

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Skipping italicization/word emphasis because it’s laaate and I’m so sleepy but still wanted to post the new chapter because of a certain sexy someone. 😉

    I hope I wrote him well. Not sure if I totally captured his personality. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    —————————–

    Chapter 74

    The Children of the Sun

     

    They stepped into the Sleeping Giant and were immediately greeted by Delphine who was impatiently sweeping the floors. Orgnar looked just as agitated as she was probably barking out orders and giving him an all around hard time as she tried to find busywork to settle her nerves.

    Rona was still feeling just as anxious herself, though the passing day helped a bit to calm her, she couldn’t stop dwelling on the things that needed to be done. Esbern had tried to talk to her on the way back around Helgen, mumbling in awe about getting to see for himself quite a few of the Maidens of Dragon Flame the night before but she didn’t reply. When she felt so awful she often withdrew into herself, refusing to talk. She just couldn’t. She needed more time to try and process the feelings.

    “Welcome to the Sleeping Giant,” Delphine said quickly and mindlessly before she looked up from the chair she was sweeping under and gasped, “Esbern!”

    “Delphine!” he replied with just as much elation. They greeted one another embracing and clapping each other on the shoulders. He smiled, looking emotional and said, “I…it’s good to see you. It’s been…a long time.”

    Delphine returned his smile, brows knit together and said, “It’s good to see you, too, Esbern. It’s been too long, old friend. Too long. Well, then. You made it, safe and sound.”

    Bishop cleared his throat loudly and Delphine looked over at the two of them and chuckled, “And thanks to the both of you. Really, thank you.”

    “So does this mean we get free drinks for life? Because that would be the ideal compensation for something like this,” Bishop grinned.

    Delphine said with a laugh, “I don’t know about that, but I’ll definitely find a way to repay you both. Come on. I have a place where we can talk. Orgnar, hold down the bar for a minute, will you?”

    Orgnar gave a grunt of assent and the group headed down into the hidden room. Serlas was poring over the book Annals of the Dragonguard and stroking his beard thoughtfully. The minute Esbern saw him he gasped loudly and Rona quickly said, “Esbern, please, meet my ata – my father, Serlas.”

    Serlas looked up and said, “Ah! Velvyn, Bishop I am relieved to see you both well.” He stepped around the table and held out a hand to Esbern and said, “And you must be Esbern. It is an honor to make your acquaintance. I hear you are quite the scholar on dragon lore. I’d be ecstatic if you’d allow me to pick your mind over some of these texts.”

    Esbern’s fears melted from his face and he smiled and shook Serlas’ hand in friendly greeting, “The pleasure is all mine. The father of the Dragonborn?” He looked at Rona, “I suppose I should have realized it, half altmer are you?”

    She gave a weak smile, “Half altmer, half nord.”

    “Curious… Just the same as Taanil Storm-Ire. Do you have great skill with magic then?”

    Bishop snorted loudly and Rona blushed, “Er… not really. I’m great with healing and fire magic but everything else…”

    “I see,” Esbern paused a moment, taking in his surroundings and looking over the titles of the books on the shelves. He glanced down at the one on the table and gaped at it practically shouting, “You have it! Annals of the Dragonguard! I can’t believe it! But how!?”

    “I borrowed it out of the Imperial Library nearly ten months ago,” Serlas said.

    Esbern stared at him thunderstruck, “That cannot be possible. This is one of several books which the mages in the Imperial Kingdom guard so closely. It is the only one in existence, no copies have ever been made!”

    “Hm,” Serlas nodded, “Yes, I did have some difficulty convincing the librarian to loan this and the other out to me. But being the Arch-Mage of the Mage’s Guild tends to have its advantages.”

    Esbern looked Serlas over with a newfound reverence, “You are the Arch-Mage?”

    “Formerly,” Serlas clarified.

    “Yes of course,” Esbern seemed to be recalling something, “I’d heard of you, Master Thoraminh, the renowned destruction mage who served the Empire through the Oblivion Crisis! That is you!?” He turned back to Rona looking more wide-eyed than ever, “He is your father!?”

    Rona almost laughed and said, “Yes, my ata.”

    “I… well I have so many things I must ask you,” Esbern turned back to Serlas and the two of them began chattering away like old friends and scholars, delving into a great deal of history and discussing the Oblivion Crisis, the Great War, dragon lore and everything in between.

    Bishop stared at them, brow raised and leaned over to Rona, “I never thought we’d find someone just like your father and then… to stick them in the same room together?”

    She chuckled, “It’s very…”

    “Weird,” he finished for her. Then he nudged her laughing slightly, “Hey, picture it if we got these two together with old Arngeir. Could you imagine?”

    She could imagine it, three old men clucking away like chickens, chattering on endlessly about ancient history and their knowledge of anything and everything.

    Even Delphine looked a bit dumbfounded by the two men’s enthusiasm when she finally cleared her throat loudly and said, “Well! I’m very glad to see you both getting along so well, but we have other matters to attend to.” She motioned to Rona, “Dragonborn, remember?”

    “Oh yes of course!” Esbern shouted, remembering himself and his purpose for being there, “So tell me, what have you all discovered?”

    Serlas flipped open the book on the table and said, “I was reviewing this text, trying to understand just where the location of Sky Haven Temple is. I cannot decipher it though. It is the location of Alduin’s Wall and I believe it would be our next best lead.”

    Esbern took the book and skimmed over it, almost giddy with excitement as he touched the pages of a book which only Imperial mages and scholars had access to for hundreds of years. He took some time to read it over, everyone waited patiently for him to finish when finally he said, “I need a map.”

    Delphine pulled her map of Skyrim out from between several books on the shelf and unfolded it on the table. Esbern loomed over it, concentrating hard and traced a finger around an area to the west of Skyrim.

    “Right here,” he said, “Sky Haven Temple, constructed around one of the main Akaviri military camps in the Reach, during their conquest of Skyrim… So this is where they built Alduin’s Wall, to set down in stone all their accumulated dragon lore. A hedge against the forgetfulness of centuries. A wise and foresighted policy, in the event. Despite the far-reaching fame of Alduin’s Wall at the time – one of the wonders of the ancient world – its location was lost. Yes, it must be here.” He prod his finger in one spot on the map.

    Rona asked then, “What exactly is on Alduin’s Wall?”

    He looked over at her, “Alduin’s Wall was where the ancient Blades recorded all they knew of Alduin and his return. Part history, part prophecy. Its location has been lost for centuries, but we’ve found it again. Not lost, you see, just forgotten.”

    “Do you think Alduin’s Wall will have the secret to Dragonrend? Or perhaps the Elder Scrolls even?”

    “Possibly,” Esbern sounded unsure, “there’s no guarantee, of course.”

    “Sky Haven Temple it is, then,” Delphine said as she went over to her trunk and started pulling out her armor, “I knew you’d have something for us, Esbern. I know that area of the Reach, it’s near what’s now known as Karthspire, the Karth River canyon. We should get moving. It’s at least a day and a half trip there.”

    “Oh, you’re coming with this time?” Bishop asked mockingly, raising a brow.

    Delphine smiled at him, “Absolutely. I wouldn’t miss seeing this for myself. I’ll meet you all upstairs. Get something to eat and prepare yourselves for the journey.”

    They all left her, heading back up the stairs. Orgnar served them all fresh meat pies that he’d just pulled out of the oven and everyone ate quickly. Once again Rona couldn’t stomach much of hers, still feeling queasy and anxious about everything. It was a combination of anticipation and her worst fears muddling together. On the one hand they were getting that much closer to finding the Elder Scroll but on the other the sooner she learned Dragonrend the sooner she’d have to face Alduin and she didn’t feel ready at all.

    She pushed her food away, not even half eaten and hurried out of the inn. Serlas looked after her but Bishop said, “I’ll check on her.”

    She ran around to the side of the inn where the horses were and leaned her back against the wall. She felt so weak still. She hadn’t learned any new shouts since Arcwind Point, she hadn’t practiced her magic much at all, save for her fire and she hadn’t even had an opportunity to really stop and practice her shouts like Bishop suggested. She knew she was up to par with her sword fighting, but expected that even that could be improved upon.

    Bishop came over to her and leaned an arm against the wall, “How you feeling?”

    “Awful,” she said honestly.

    “We still have time Ladyship.”

    “We have no idea how much time we have left, Bishop,” she said agitated, not even looking at him, just staring at the ground, “Alduin has access to Sovngarde. He’s consuming the souls of the dead and growing stronger. He’s got his Generals watching me and testing me. I haven’t learned any new shouts, I’m still god awful with magic,” she looked into his eyes, showing the distress in her own, “You know I don’t even know how to use conjuration? I tried once… completely obliterated my professor’s desk and humiliated myself in front of my entire class,” she sunk to the ground then, putting her head in her hands, “I’m not ready. I’m not strong enough. There’s still so much I don’t know.”

    He sank down and sat beside her, “You don’t have to fight alone Rona. We’re here too. I’ve got your back, your father’s got all the magic you’ll ever need, we have the Companions at our side, and Tullius promised you the entire Legion.”

    Her face scrunched up as she took a breath and shook her head and she shouted, “NO! I won’t! I won’t risk anyone else’s life! This is my fight. I won’t let anyone die because of me!” She looked back into his eyes, her own filled with tears as she held them back and whispered, “I won’t let you die for me Bishop.” She let out a sob and he reached in, pulling her into a tight embrace, letting her cry against his chest.

    “I’m not gonna die, Rona,” he tried assuring her. “Besides,” he said, “This isn’t just your fight. We’re talking about the end of the world and if I have anything to say about it, I’m not going down without a fight. I’m pretty sure everyone else on Nirn feels the same way. So stop thinking that you have to do this alone.”

    She wanted to protest, to argue, to tell him no, no absolutely not! But instead she just cried it out. She felt pathetic. The Dragonborn weeping away like a damsel in distress, right into the arms of the man who loved her most and who she wanted nothing more than to protect and save and spend the rest of her life with in peace.

    She felt a lot better after crying. It alleviated her stress somewhat, giving it a physical outlet and releasing it from her body. As she pulled away, wiping at her reddened eyes with the palms of her hands Bishop just smiled at her, lifting her chin and kissing her sweetly and gently. She wanted to go be alone with him, spend the day in his arms, cuddling, kissing, touching. But they had things to do, such pressing things which were made more apparent when they heard Delphine at the door of the inn calling back to Orgnar, “This is it. Orgnar, the inn is yours. I’m probably never coming back here.”

    “Well, now,” he replied, “That’s something to think about.”

    “Take care of yourself, Orgnar. Goodbye.”

    “Yeah…sure. You, too, Delphine. You be safe.”

    Rona turned her face away as Delphine, Serlas and Esbern came around. They all looked concerned at the sight of her reddened face but thankfully Bishop had the sense to say, “You three go on ahead, we’ll catch up in a minute on Misty.”

    Esbern climbed up on Ember and pulled Delphine up behind him while Serlas took Whiskey and said to them, “We’re cutting through the river here and we’re going to stop by the farm to drop off some important documents. I will also be reinforcing the blood seal,” he pulled out two toothpicks and said, “If you could prick yourselves with these.”

    Bishop stood and took them, pricking his finger and passing it back to Serlas who dropped it into a metal container. Bishop knelt down and pricked Rona’s finger with the other as she continued to fervently look away from them all, embarrassed to be seen like that.

    Serlas took her blood stained toothpick, dropping it into the container and followed the other two over the bridge as they headed back through the thin forested area by the river.

    Rona took a deep breath, letting her tears dry and Karnwyr appeared, stalking up out of the river, he was soaking wet and started shaking himself off right there next to them.

    “Augh!” Bishop grumbled throwing his hands out, “Really Karnwyr?”

    Rona smiled a little as she got spattered with cold droplets of water and then the wolf immediately buried his wet head into her open hands, nuzzling her.

    The wolf gave a low whine, his tongue lolling happily from his mouth. Bishop pat the wolf on the back and said, “See? Even Karnwyr’s trying to cheer you up. You know, he’s not afraid of dragons anymore. I don’t know what happened to the old boy, but he’ll fight with you too,” Bishop stood up and held a hand out to her, “Come on Lightfoot. Let’s go learn that shout.”

    She smiled up at him and took his hand.

    ~~~

    They stopped by the farm briefly, watching as Serlas finished reinforcing the blood seal. He added both Delphine’s and Esbern’s blood to the mix as well so that they’d be free to come and go as needed. Illia was in good spirits and happy to see them all. Her garden had grown immensely. The farm was flourishing with tall stalks of plant life, flowers, alchemical ingredients and plenty of butterflies and other bugs. Karnwyr even managed to chase off a few rabbits that were chewing up the plants.

    She was a bit disappointed to see them leave so quickly but they were insistent on moving on. Serlas promised her that they would return soon and he made sure to stow away the precious Akaviri records inside the alchemy lab in a magically hidden safe in the wall.

    They rode along the entire day. Rona and Bishop were fairly quiet, mostly just listening to the endless chatter between Esbern and Serlas as the two men shared their thoughts on a variety of historical subject matter, though mostly sticking to dragon lore as Serlas tried to learn all he could from the man. They stopped at a place very close to Glenmoril Coven. The sun had already set and they decided to make camp for the evening and continue their journey in the morning.

    Bishop wandered off with Karnwyr to do a little hunting and probably secure the perimeter while Serlas and Esbern pored over the notes inside the very large tome, The Maiden of Dragon Flame. Unfortunately since Serlas didn’t speak the language in the slightest he couldn’t help translate any of it and Esbern seemed reluctant to bother Rona with his nagging questions about the mysteries within the book since she’d been so withdrawn since the night before.

    She was sitting by the fire, prodding it with a stick when Delphine came over and sat down beside her. She gave Rona a warm smile and said, “Those two,” she glanced at the two chattering old men, “If I didn’t know any better I’d say they were twins with the way they’re getting along.”

    Rona smiled feebly, “Yeah. You should meet Arngeir, he’s the same way. Just can’t stop talking history.”

    “I bet,” Delphine said. Then she leaned over looking into Rona’s face and said, “Getting worried?”

    “Already there,” she replied.

    “It must be tough for you. You’re so young, what are you, early twenties?”

    “Twenty five… I’ll be twenty six in a few months.”

    Delphine crooned, “Oh you’re still just a baby!”

    Rona laughed under her breath, “I feel like one. Wish I knew why they picked me.”

    “Who?”

    “The gods, or Akatosh or whoever. I mean really… why did they pick me?”

    Delphine leaned back on her hands, kicking her legs out, “Who knows? But I stand by what I said before. I think they were right to choose you, woman of action and all that.”

    “Sometimes I wonder if it’s because of my lineage. My mother being a nord and my ata is an altmer, then the Dominion comes in trying to take over Skyrim and the nords hate the elves and,” she sighed, “I’m the literal embodiment of two races that despise each other in one person. My parents didn’t even like each other.”

    Delphine chuckled, “Really?”

    Rona smirked and blushed a little, “I’m the product of a very drunk one night stand.”

    Delphine grinned saying more loudly, “Really?”

    “Yup. My mother was just as racist as the Stormcloaks too. She hated the elves, even used slurs like knife ear right in front of me.”

    “Did she ever refer to you by those slurs?”

    Rona thought for a moment and said, “No, she didn’t. But she always made it clear how much she couldn’t stand the elves. I think she loved me in her own strange way, but I don’t know. Not like it matters now, she’s dead and gone. Gods,” Rona laughed, “if she was here though and knew I was Dragonborn, she’d probably actually be proud of me. Maybe even envious.”

    “Do you think you can do it?” Delphine asked suddenly, “Do you think you can defeat Alduin?”

    Rona stared hard into the fire, “I don’t know. I’ve fought him before, almost died each time too. I just need more time to train. I need to go back to High Hrothgar and finish learning my shouts or something.”

    “There’s still time for that,” Delphine said.

    Rona looked over at her, brows knit together, “How can you be so sure?”

    “Well… I think we’d feel it if the world were about to end. But so far, each day has come and gone just the same as the last and we’re still here. You shouldn’t fret about it so much. If the gods aren’t intervening then you needn’t be worried. When they do start getting involved… hmph,” she smirked, “then that’s cause for concern.”

    Rona looked uncertain but Delphine gave her an encouraging pat on the back and stood up saying, “Get some sleep Rona. We’ll be at Sky Haven Temple tomorrow and I have a feeling the answers we’re looking for are there.”

    ~~~

    The next morning they all got up at dawn and packed up their camp, heading out on the road again. Rona had never been to the Reach and found the landscape to be quite different from the rest of Skyrim with steep, jagged cliff faces, narrow roads, deep canyons and rough rivers. The scenery was beautiful but almost looked angry and rushed in a way. Even the plant life was more wild looking, the way it grew, sticking up in cracks right in the middle of the road and wound up and down the sides of the mountains and through the rivers, doing whatever it pleased. There were also plenty of sabre cats to watch out for, many more than she’d seen before, but she and Bishop were quick to pick them off with their bows before they became too much of a threat.

    A half a day went by and it was around noon when they came up close to an Altar of Dibella. Bishop said, “Ah Dibella, my favorite of the nine divines.”

    “She’s probably still mad at you for desecrating her temple,” Rona said pointedly.

    His face fell, “Damn, I forgot all about that. Maybe I should leave an offering in apology.”

    Rona laughed at him, raising a brow, “You? Leave an offering of worship?”

    He grinned back at her and said, “Hey, if there’s any divine I’d want to worship, it’d be her.”

    Rona rolled her eyes and Bishop was looking back at her, glad to see she’d cheered up a bit when his face fell and he hissed urgently, “Off the road! Everyone off the road now!”

    The others looked back only to see a procession of twenty or more wild looking men and women clad in animal skins, covered in war paint and armed with some very dangerous looking weapons strapped to their hips and backs. The most notable thing about them, however, was that they were all riding elk.

    Rona clung to Bishop as he quickly pulled Misty off the path and they ran up into a thicket behind the Shrine. They had nowhere to run to with an enormous mountain blocking their way and a rough river on the other side of the road.

    Delphine hopped off of Ember and drew her sword, Esbern conjured up a large stone atronach, Serlas summoned crackling electrical magic into his hands and Karnwyr raised hackle, sensing everyone’s trepidation. Bishop drew his bow and aimed defensively for the man leading the procession.

    Rona got a good look at the man as he came up close. He was incredibly handsome and built strong and lean like Bishop. He had white-blonde hair, pale skin and thin, sharp scars over his eye and the corner of his mouth. His eyes were a bright blue, set against the dark war paint splashed on them, which had been allowed to drip down his cheeks. He wore some very revealing furs which barely covered his chest and waist. There were a variety of bizarre objects attached to his hips, most notably animal bones and what appeared to be a human skull. He also had a jagged looking sword hilted to his side.

    He looked like a wild man, yet he held himself with the air of a noble, like a proud king leading his people. His sharp eyes were firmly set on them as well and he stared them all down with a hidden viciousness underneath his calm exterior. He brought the procession to a halt and Bishop spoke dangerously, “Keep moving forsworn. Got nothing to see here.”

    When the man spoke, Rona was surprised. His voice was soft and gentle, yet powerful and forceful all the same, “What a strange assemblage of people to find at the Shrine of the Dibella. Two nords, a breton, an altmer -,” his eyes scanned over Rona then as she remained unarmed, holding Bishop’s waist and staring curiously at them all and he finished, “and a beauty.”

    “Cael,” a short haired woman next to him urged, “We don’t have time for this. Either we kill them or we move on.”

    “In a moment Robin,” he waved his hand dismissing her and the woman threw her head back sighing exasperated. He said again, in a calm voice, “I entreat you to turn back if you are traveling west. There are dragons nearby and it would grieve me to see such a beautiful woman be killed by them.”

    Rona did not reply, she just looked on at this strange man and his stranger group of people, studying him as he studied her. Though she saw a trace of desire cross his eyes as he gazed back into hers.

    He smiled a little and bowed his head slightly then began moving their procession along once more. As the group of twenty warriors slowly passed by on their elk, they continued to keep steady eyes on Bishop, Rona and the rest of them.

    The minute they were out of sight Bishop took a breath and lowered his bow then he looked back at her and barked irritably, “Why didn’t you draw Rona? Those were forsworn!”

    She looked up at him and asked, “What’s a forsworn?”

    Delphine laughed with disbelief and Bishop gaped at her and said, “You’re kidding right?” She just shrugged and he groaned into a hand, “Wow… well, I guess we’ve never visited the Reach before. Still it’s hard to believe you’ve never even heard of them.”

    Serlas said, “They do not teach about the wild Reachmen in Cyrodiil,” then he explained to Rona, “The forsworn are a mix of bretons and nords. They have been engaged in a centuries-old rebellion and bitter power struggle with the nords for control of the province’s western-most hold, or what they believe to be their homeland. Many of them have given up their hearts to the hagravens in order to become more powerful and dangerous. They are quite savage.”

    “Oh,” Rona said.

    “Yeah, oh,” Bishop retorted, “Next time, draw your weapons and be ready to shout. These are the kinds of freaks that would happily chop you into pieces and use your body parts for some bloody ritual.”

    “He said there are dragons ahead,” Rona noted, ignoring Bishop’s disturbing imagery, “Do you think they were going to fight them?”

    “It’s a possibility,” Delphine said, “There are many forsworn tribes living in the hills all around here. They might be going to aid a sister tribe.”

    “Maybe we can ask them?” Rona suggested.

    Bishop snorted loudly, “I don’t think so, Princess.”

    “He didn’t seem so bad,” Rona argued, “Maybe we could help them.”

    He scowled at her, “Don’t tell me that you’re falling for that creep’s honey-coated words. He’s just trying to lure you in and do gods know what to you. You heard that freak – you saw him – he couldn’t take his eyes off of you. If you think for one second I’m going to let you go off and have one of your ‘friend making’ little chats with one of those savages, you are sorely mistaken.”

    Bishop was serious and getting angry. It made her feel naive listening to him chew her out like that. It didn’t help her mood much either when her father added, “I must agree with Bishop, velvyn. I know they seemed like kind people, just passing through, but the forsworn are extremely dangerous.”

    Even Delphine agreed, “Best we avoid them altogether. We should wait a bit longer and let them get further up the road before we move on. Don’t want them to think we’re following them.”

    Rona clammed up then, withdrawing even more into herself and was left feeling like a small child being scolded by the adults. She felt stupid which only served to make her more irritated and resentful. She wanted this damn journey to just be over already.

    They waited around for a half hour or so before moving on again. Bishop noticed Rona was giving him the cold shoulder when he asked her if she wanted a bite of the apple he’d started munching on. She turned her head away from him, looking sour and he rolled his eyes and said, “I know what I’m talking about here, Ladyship. But go ahead and sulk if you prefer.”

    She didn’t like being treated like a little girl, as though he knew everything that was best for her and that was that. Her anger was really festering inside her. She wanted to lash out, to fight something, but held back.

    They trot along the path for another hour or so before they came up to a bridge and found quite a few saddled elk left nearby. They also noticed the large group of forsworn way ahead, across the bridge having a conversation with what appeared to be another tribe of forsworn.

    “Damn it,” Delphine muttered, “That’s the path to Karthspire.”

    “It’s also where the entrance to Sky Haven Temple is located,” Esbern said.

    Rona wanted to hear what the forsworn were talking about, but with the roaring river nearby and the softness of their leader’s voice, there would be no chance to hear a word.

    “I still think we should help them,” she said.

    Bishop growled back at her, “Enough Rona! I already told you, it’s suicide.”

    She shouted back, “If they’re having trouble with dragons we can help them! Then maybe they’ll let us pass through.”

    “I say we just gut them all right here, right now,” Bishop said drawing his sword.

    Rona scoffed at him and then they heard the low roars of multiple dragons carry over the mountains. The shouting of the forsworn leaders could be heard too.

    The one called Cael bellowed, “Prepare yourselves brothers! We battle for Karth River Canyon today!”

    The forsworn from both tribes drew their bows and ran ahead over the ridge.

    “This is perfect,” Delphine said, “With the dragons distracting them, we can just slip right in through the entrance.”

    “That’s a good idea,” Bishop said. Then he pointed over at an area covered in small trees and plenty of brush, “Let’s leave the horses there.”

    They hid the horses under the cover of the brambles and foliage and Bishop told Karnwyr to stay with them because he feared for the wolf’s safety amidst so many forsworn and dragons. The wolf sat obediently and didn’t follow when they left him. They drew their weapons, Bishop and Rona both using their bows while Serlas readied his destruction magic and Esbern brought to life another stone atronach. Delphine held her sword in hand as they ran across the bridge and went up and over the low hill. They were greeted by a horrific scene of a small tribal village set ablaze and covered in ice in parts while three dragons flew along, focusing their attention on incinerating and picking off the villagers.

    Rona was horrified as she watched entire families with small children running and screaming for their lives. But Bishop grabbed her arm, pulling her up a steep hill with the others like it didn’t even matter.

    “This is it!” She heard Esbern say because she absolutely could not tear her eyes from the scene. “Let’s head in and be wary, I’m sure there are forsworn inside, seeking cover from the dragons.”

    Rona’s heart was pounding in her chest. She couldn’t leave them. Savages or not, she couldn’t stand by and watch children and babies be killed like that.

    Bishop grabbed her arm again but she stood firmly rooted to the spot. He urged her, “Come on Ladyship! We’re nearly there!”

    “NO!” She roared the word and a woman exploded into being beside her.

    Bishop leapt back and shouted, “Forsworn!?”

    The woman, who was indeed dressed in forsworn furs stood at nearly the same height as Rona. She was petite and wild looking, with bright white hair, tied back on her head so that the ends pointed upright and a pair of long bangs caressed the sides of her pretty face. She had large green eyes, like Rona’s or even Eira’s, tan skin and two very sharp canine incisors that stood out along her crooked grin. She had a necklace made of dragon teeth and her weapon was a roughly made spear, the point was an entire dragon’s claw which was held to the ornate wooden shaft with a tightly wound leather binding.

    Bishop jut his sword at her and she hissed at him, like a cat, while still grinning madly.

    Esbern whispered, “The second Maiden of Dragon Flame… Kitaere of the Sun.”

    Bishop looked back over at Esbern and barked, “What!? She was a forsworn!?”

    Esbern confirmed it, “Yes, of course she was.”

    “What do you mean of course she was!?” He snarled back, then he shook his head and said, “Whatever! Come on Rona, let’s go!”

    “NO!” She shouted again, “I’m not just going to leave these people to die!”

    “Velvyn…please, you mustn’t,” Serlas pleaded with her.

    “Ata!” she shouted, pointing down at the burning village, “There are children and babies being murdered down there! I won’t stand for this!”

    (The song is Children of the Sun by Thomas Bergersen)

    The sound of speedy music burst in, echoing all around the canyon. Kitaere looked at her, wildly grinning and then turned swiftly and ran forward, leaping right off the cliff, lithe and cat-like. Rona turned away from them all as they shouted after her, joining the Dragonborn woman and leaping off after her. Kitaere started singing quickly and loudly,

    “Fighting and running from
    Turning from who we really are
    Cannot suppress
    So let’s find the one we have shaped so far

    Flying too close to the sun
    As if we’re invincible
    Cannot dictate
    Dominate the earth that we’re living on.”

    Rona had her bow in hand and looked up at the three beasts. One was up on a tall hill, getting pelted with fireballs by a hagraven and a group with bows. Another was far off to her left at the end of a wooden walkway over the river, roaring flames at a group of forsworn defenders. Some were engulfed by the fire while others leapt out of the way just in time.

    Then she saw the forsworn from earlier, the man called Cael, he was straight ahead of her, facing down a dragon which was blasting ice at him and two of his comrades. Kitaere seemed to be aiming for him, so she joined the wild woman, taking her lead and sprint swiftly alongside her.

    Cael was with the young woman from earlier, Robin, she and another long haired man were firing arrows into the dragon’s hide. They leapt to the sides as it blast frost at them. Cael was about to take the brunt of the shout when Rona and Kitaere somersaulted forward, getting leverage and they both cried, “YOL TOOR SHUL!” Blasting fire straight into the cloud of ice. The combination of their shouts washed over the dragon and it roared, flying backwards in the air.

    Rona and Kitaere landed in front of the man and stood defensively, watching and waiting for the dragon to make another move. It shook its head and shouted, “DOVAHKIIN!”

    Kitaere hissed at it and then looked left and right as the other two dragons heard what was spoken.

    Rona shouted against the beast of ice once more, “YOL TOOR SHUL!” And it roared as it was engulfed in flames that licked at its cold body. She spun on her toe and ran grabbing the arm of the very stunned looking forsworn man and dragged him along with her, “COME ON!” She bellowed back at him. He didn’t hesitate then and ran with her as all three dragons swooped down on them. One of them smashed right into the wooden walkway, breaking it. The floor beneath their feet splintered and cracked and they both fell right into the water below.

    They came up for air, only to be met with the face of one of the angry beasts as it opened its maw and made to shout fire. Cael grabbed Rona’s arm, dragging her underwater with him as the flames blast against the surface. She felt the skin on her back starting to burn as the water was instantly heated to boiling temperatures. She endured though as Cael pulled her along through the undertow into a cooler portion of the river and they came up on the other side, no longer hidden under the walkway.

    A dragon was flying high above looking right down at them and roared Marked For Death at them. Rona made to shield Cael from the shout when the golden fire within her burst forth all around them, incinerating the purplish shout right of the air. The dragon looked on at her bewildered and then Kitaere spun out of nowhere and slammed her spear right into the beast’s vicious and snarling face.

    She clung desperately on as it hissed and roared, lashing about. Then she scrambled up the monster’s roaring face and grasped its horn and reached for her spear, yanking it free and then buried it into the forehead of the monster repeatedly. It gave one last cry and splashed down into the water, dead. Kitaere leapt off of it as it burned up and ran off somewhere again singing, “We are, we are! We are the children of the sun!”

    Bishop was at the edge of the river shouting, “RONA!” She turned and swam over to the bank while Cael followed her. Bishop pulled her up out of the water, yanking her very close to him as he glared hatefully at Cael.

    (Recommended Song when the first finishes He Who Brings The Night by Two Steps From Hell)

    Serlas came up behind them then and started firing crackling electrical magic against the frost dragon that was swooping down on them all. Bishop let her go and started firing arrows into the creature’s wings and Rona shouted, “STRUN!” The sky clouded over and it began to rain heavily while lightning bolted through the sky. It lashed against some trees and tall structures and then a bolt shuddered down through the clouds and struck the dragon in front of them, only adding to the power of Serlas’ electrical destruction magic. The dragon roared its last and crumpled, falling out of the sky. It’s soul washed over her and the third came down on them, suddenly, alarmingly and snatched her up right off the ground.

    Rona screamed as Bishop and Serlas looked on horrified crying out for her. Rona twisted in its grasp and shouted at its belly, “YOL!” But she could only get the one word out as it clamped down on her, tighter, squeezing the breath right out of her. The shout, unfortunately did not harm it, because it was a dragon of fire.

    It hissed a laugh and she couldn’t get a breath in, her vision started to fade and then she saw a jagged sword spinning swiftly through the air. It missed her head by inches and shunted deep into the belly of the beast. The dragon roared in pain and released her, she took a deep breath and whispered the incantation needed to slow her fall. As she slowly floated down she got her bearings and looked over at the dragon, which was absolutely livid now and swept around in a circle, aiming for her.

    She was ready to kill the damn thing already, so she drew both her swords and, still slowly descending, waited for the right moment. As it flew in, opening its jaws, ready to snap them on her, she shouted, “WULD NAH KEST!” The shout gave her a burst of leverage and she somersaulted through the air, and slammed her blades right into the back of the dragon. She dug them in deeply, angrily and kicked off its back, running down the length of its body, dragging the swords with her and tearing its flesh apart. She leapt off the dragon, spinning through the air again and shouted correctly this time, “FO KRAH DIIN!” The ice breath smashed into its body sending it plummeting out of the air.

    Rona slowed her descent again, allowing herself to fall steadily down as she watched the dragon crash into the mountain beyond where it tumbled down the cliff face right into the river. She landed softly on the wooden walkway and Kitaere ran over to her, standing by her side as they looked out at the creature. It burned up and its soul washed over her.

    (Background Music The Mystic or Nature’s Altar by Peter Gundry)

    Rona sighed, breathing deeply and wiped the sweat from her brow. She noticed a smear of blood on her hands. She was nicked and cut in places and her back felt like it was still burning from the boiling water.

    She turned around then only to be staring down the point of a sword and at least a dozen arrows trained on her. Kitaere hissed at the forsworn, snapping her teeth together like an animal as she moved her body cat-like, as though she wanted to pounce at them.

    The person holding the sword was an older man. He had long peppery hair and thick dark eyebrows and his face was covered partially by a blue hand print – war paint. He studied her and the wild woman next to her and said, “Drop your weapons.”

    Rona let her swords fall and clatter on the wooden landing and raised her hands, though Kitaere wouldn’t move, still holding her spear and eyeing them all predatorily. Rona noticed that Bishop and the others were all on the ground, bound and being held like prisoners. Bishop was glaring up at the group of forsworn aiming their weapons at them all while Delphine, Serlas and Esbern stared over at her.

    Then Rona saw Cael making his way through the crowd of tribesmen and women. He needn’t push his way through, however, as people stepped aside, bowing their heads to him while he passed with his comrade Robin and the long haired man close at his heels.

    He stood beside the older man and said softly, “Chief Dreylas, might I be so bold as to suggest that you do not harm the Dragonborn? Taking into account that she just saved all of our lives and risked her own to do so?”

    The Chief pointed his sword at Kitaere then and said, “And what of this strange woman? She appears to be one of our own, if I’m not mistaken, yet she will not disarm.”

    Cael studied the lithe woman, who was now smiling very warmly back at him, as though she knew him.

    Rona said, “She is Kitaere of the Sun… an ancient Dragonborn.”

    The Chief looked at her confounded and said, “Impossible.”

    Rona glanced over at the woman, who stood proudly, her eyes glittering as the sky still crackled with lightning and rain pelted them all. Rona took a breath and willed the woman away. Kitaere began to fade, like a ghost, though she kept her eyes locked with Cael’s until she vanished entirely.

    Cael then looked over at Rona and gave a small smile and turned back to the Chief, “It would seem that the Dragonborn speaks the truth, surely such honesty should be rewarded with some small kindness?”

    Chief Dreylas frowned at Rona, but lowered his sword all the same. He looked to Cael and said, “Chief Cael, I am entrusting her and her companions to you. Should any of them attack our own, we will not hesitate to tear them apart.”

    Chief Dreylas left them then, calling on others from his tribe to check on the wounded and collect the dead.

    Cael addressed Rona then, “So… you are the Dragonborn. I must admit I am very surprised.”

    She sighed, “Everyone always is.”

    He smiled gently at her and said, “I have heard of your beauty, but the fact that you are speaking to me also shows your compassion. If I had known I would have introduced myself sooner,” he bowed his head and said, “I am Cael, but like you, I am known by other names. The Raven of the Reach, Chieftain of the Rudahan tribe.”

    She blushed at the forwardness of his compliments and awkwardly ran a hand through her hair wet hair, “You can just call me Rona.”

    He seemed pleased by her reaction to his words and boldly said, “So I made the Dragonborn blush,” he chuckled, “Is there another who can say the same perhaps? Wait! Don’t answer that. Let me live in the illusion.”

    Rona hadn’t felt this flustered by another man’s flirting since she met Bishop, but Cael was so different with it, using tender but daring words to flatter her. She hated to admit it, but she was feeling quite attracted to this savage, yet soft-spoken wild man. She shook it off though, remembering Bishop, her father, Delphine and Esbern all being held prisoner by these people.

    She looked over at them all and met Bishop’s eyes. His face held a mixture of anger and confusion and she said quickly to Cael, “Please, uh… Chief Cael? My companions, could you release them?”

    Cael looked over at them all and said, “Yes, that can be arranged,” he turned to his long haired companion and said, “Anu, see to it that the prisoners are released and unharmed. They are under the protection of the Rudahan tribe.”

    “You got it Chief Cael,” Anu said rather casually for someone addressing his superior.

    The woman, Robin, looked rather annoyed by the entire situation, while she stood there with her arms crossed and frowned harshly at Rona. She wondered if the woman was his lover. She’d be pretty annoyed too if her lover were flirting with someone else right in front of them… then she held back an internal groan realizing she was standing there flirting with Cael while Bishop sat by helplessly watching it happen.

    She knelt down and picked up her swords and sheathed them then made to move, to walk around Cael and go to the others when he stopped her, “May I ask you something Rona?”

    She raised her brows at the sound of her name without a title. She rarely heard it come out of the mouths of others, who were not very close to her, without some sort of appellative attached to it.

    “Yes, you may,” she replied.

    “Why did you fight with us today? It is unusual for an outsider to care for the plight of the forsworn and I must admit, even I struggle to believe that it is due to your unending compassion.”

    “I’m not one to stand by and watch children and infants get killed by dragons or anything else for that matter,” she said truthfully, “So, I did what I felt was right and I intervened. It helps that I knew I could actually stop them too,” she smiled at him.

    His blue eyes flickered with approval, whether it was because of her answer or her smile, she wasn’t sure. She started walking around him then and hurried down the stairs and towards the bank of the river where Anu was finishing freeing Delphine from her bonds. Bishop stood by, rubbing his wrists where the rope had been tied too tightly around him.

    He looked over at her, with hurt in his eyes and said stiffly, “You alright?”

    She averted her eyes shamefully and said, “Yeah, I’m,” she winced, feeling the stinging pain in her back and muttered, “I’m fine.”

    Serlas went right over to her, looking absolutely distressed as he ran glowing hands over her wounds, healing her. He didn’t say a word about her running off and battling three dragons though. Maybe he realized that scolding her for doing so made no difference or maybe he’d finally accepted that this was her fate, to be forced to face down and battle dragons for the rest of her life until they were all dead and gone once again.

    She continued to feel the stinging in her back, but ignored it. She didn’t want to admit, or to show them just how injured she really was.

    Delphine looked warily around at all the tribesmen and women that were watching them nearby and afar. She whispered, “Sooo… we can’t exactly sneak in anymore. Is there any chance you convinced these erm,” she tread carefully around her words, “nice folks to let us explore the cave?”

    Rona groaned, realizing she’d forgotten all about why they were there in the first place. She turned back and saw Cael approaching them as he hilted his bloodied sword to his hip. She gleaned that it was the same sword that had come flying through the sky and into the body of the dragon that almost killed her. Cael had saved her life…

    “Dragonborn, if you like, I can escort you and your companions out of Karth River. I must apologize for rushing you off, but my fellow, Chief Dreylas, while he is grateful for what you have done here today, he remains distrustful of outsiders and overprotective of his people.”

    “Actually,” Rona said, “We came here because there is a task I must fulfill inside that cave,” she pointed up at the cave in the distance.

    Cael looked back at it and then turned his head again, placing his thumb and forefinger over his chin thoughtfully. He met her gaze once more with his piercing one and said, “Unfortunately Karth River is not my land so I cannot make the decision to allow you within.”

    “It’s extremely important,” Rona said adamantly, “We have to get inside so that I might better defeat the dragon menace.”

    Cael smiled at her, flirtatiously and asked, “Better than you did today?”

    She blushed again and pressed her lips together, hating herself for feeling even remotely attracted to this man. “Yes. It’s very important, please,” she implored.

    “I will see what I can do for you Dragonborn. Give me a moment to speak with my fellow Chieftain,” he turned away again, walking up the hills towards the other Chieftain.

    “Let’s hope they let us pass,” Delphine said, “If they don’t though, Rona, you know what you’ll have to do.”

    Rona looked back at them all, brows knit together, but none of them hardly looked at her. She could sense everyone’s disappointment in her actions, but she felt so strongly about what she did and why… still, if the forsworn didn’t let them pass she would be forced to fight them all, which would completely contradict what she just finished doing, which was saving them.

    It wasn’t long before Cael returned, with both Robin and Anu at his side. He was smiling warmly and said, “Chieftain Dreylas has given you all permission to pass through the cave, provided we escort you.”

    Delphine sighed with relief and Rona did the same. She noticed Bishop’s scowl, which had been etched on his face for a while now, only deepen more. He didn’t like this situation one bit, but held his tongue considering their current company.

    “Come, allow me to guide you on your journey Rona,” Cael said, still smiling and flirting. He started up the slope and the rest of them followed.

    They were so damn close to the place, so close to finding Alduin’s Wall and hopefully the location of the Elder Scroll, or maybe even the shout itself. But Rona still felt uneasy. Not just because the likely end of her journey was drawing near, but because once again her relationship with Bishop was met with a very big bump in the road. She could only hope he would control himself in the presence of the forsworn Chief and his two companions. She started to worry, however, when she saw Bishop glaring vengefully at Cael’s back with a look that wanted to kill.

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 75

    Sky Haven Temple

     

    Bishop stood at the edge of the ridge by the cave and whistled sharply out towards the path they’d first crossed. In minutes Karnwyr came racing up the dirt road and skittered around some very startled forsworn all the way up the hill to them and threw his front paws onto Bishop’s chest. He smiled, scratching the wolf and then pushed him off. His eyes traveled back to Cael and his hateful glower returned.

    Rona ignored him though as she watched a slow procession of people carrying the wounded into the cave in front of them. Cael led the way inside, motioning for them to follow. They went in and found a spacious cavern with an upraised wooden landing built into it. There were women, children and plenty of warriors sitting by and laying on old bedrolls as two shamans worked on healing the wounded, focusing their attention to those in the worst shape.

    While most of the women and children were only scratched up and bruised there were plenty of warriors with severe burns, terrible frostbite and deep gashes on their bodies, a few were still bleeding heavily as the healthy among them did their best to apply salves and provide potions until the shamans could get to them.

    As they walked up the stairs and stepped around all the distraught people, Rona stopped in front of a pair of small children and a woman who were seated beside a man who was covered in burns. Half his face had been scorched and his eye was essentially sealed shut as the skin had literally melted together.

    Rona found herself kneeling beside the family, and asked, “May I heal him?”

    She wasn’t sure how these people felt about magic, although she did see the shamans using some kind of healing magic, it wasn’t quite the same as what she’d learned in restoration school.

    The woman, who had tears in her eyes nodded quickly and Rona pressed her healing hands to the man’s body, doing the best she could to mend him. She did not have the power to heal dragon’s fire, only to heal dragon’s frost. She could not remove the terrible magic the dragon had shouted over the man. The two small children were crying and calling out for their father. As her healing magic swept over him he took a deep breath of relief and the woman, she assumed must have been his wife, caressed his cheek and looked on at him lovingly.

    Rona cast a grand healing over them all, mending the small scrapes and cuts on her and her children.

    “Velvyn,” her father urged, “We must go…”

    She looked back at him, forlorn and said, “We should stay and heal them.”

    “There’s no time,” Delphine insisted.

    Rona relented and got up, moving along with them. Anu led the way ahead while Rona fell back behind the others though she noticed Bishop was lagging the furthest behind all of them with Karnwyr, staying alert and keeping his angry gaze steadily on the forsworn Chief.

    Cael came up walking alongside her then and smiled down at her. “That was kind what you did for them. To offer your healing hands to us… I feel very fortunate to meet an outsider that has such a gentle heart.”

    Rona blushed again and turned her head away and she mumbled, “Please, don’t think anything of it.” He seemed pleased to be making her blush so fiercely again. She tried to change the subject, steer it away from his flirting and asked, “Why does it seem so odd for someone to want to help you all?”

    He raised a brow at her and asked, “You do not find it odd?”

    “Should I?”

    His smile widened and he asked, “Do you know who we are?”

    She averted her eyes and rubbed her forearm, “I’d never heard of the forsworn until today.”

    He laughed lightly, “I see. So it is ignorance that lends your kindness to us.” She frowned at him but his smile only widened further as he said, “Forgive my impertinence, Rona, but I never thought to meet someone so open-minded in Skyrim. I do not mean to say that you are ignorant, only that your view of us has not been stained by those who would rather see us dead – like your scowling companion there,” he motioned his head back to Bishop who was still staring fiercely at the back of Cael’s head with his arms crossed. Cael’s mention of him only deepened his glare even further.

    Rona tried her best to ignore Bishop. She was just as mad at him. The fact that he ignored the plight of so many innocent people truly bothered her. She knew that Cael’s flirting was getting deep under his skin too and she let it. She felt like he deserved it for the way he treated her before. She’d been right to trust the forsworn, whether he liked it or not. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself.

    Cael said, “My people, we share the same ancestors that form your soul. We were born from the dragon tribes and we are steeped in the old ways. We remember the old gods while the nords today would forget them. They would prefer to see us removed from existence, but we forge ever onward, fighting to retake our lands and for our freedom, seeking to become the rulers we once were long ago. It is as Kitaere said, we are the children of the sun,” he grinned at her.

    She glanced at him and asked, “Kitaere… she looked at you as though she knew you. Why is that?”

    “She was once known as Kitaere Kovere. She was the second Maiden of Dragon Flame, born a century after Eira of White Fire to a tribe that called themselves the Children of the Sun. They worshipped the old gods of fire and light and… she was my ancestor.”

    “Truly!?” Esbern yelled astonished. He stopped and looked back at Cael, “Incredible! You are able to trace your lineage back that far? If you have any documentation or perhaps a family tree, I would very much like to see it.”

    Cael laughed lightly and said, “Unfortunately we do not have any written texts of these facts, only the tales and legends we orate from one generation to the next. There are some stone carvings in our lands which prove as much, but I am afraid I cannot bring you to them, for that would reveal my forests and put my people at risk.”

    “Yes… of course,” Esbern turned away and they continued through the caves and stopped in a long corridor. They were inside an open ravine. Rona looked up to see the rain she created earlier had started to slow to a steady drizzle and the clouds were beginning to loosen and drift apart. It was still light out as sunlight touched parts of the mountain. They noticed a staircase to their right and three stone pillars at the top.

    “Looks like a dead end,” Delphine said and she glanced back at Cael and asked, “How do we pass through?”

    “I could not say,” Cael replied, “As I said before, these are not my lands. I have never been within these tunnels. I am merely here at the request of my fellow to ensure that you do not attack the Karth River tribe.”

    Bishop grumbled loudly, “Ugh, useless.”

    Serlas and Esbern were already heading up the stairs to look over the stone pillars. Serlas touched a hand to the markings and said, “These appear to have some symbols on them. I believe it’s a puzzle of some kind.”

    Esbern was studying the carvings closely when he said thoughtfully, “Yes. These are Akaviri symbols. Let’s see…you have the symbol for King, Warrior and of course the symbol for Dragonborn.” He attempted to push on the stone and turn it, but it wouldn’t budge. Esbern grunted as he pressed against it with all the strength he had and said, “It’s no use! It won’t move.”

    Bishop stalked up the stairs then and tried to do the same, pushing hard against the stones but once again they wouldn’t turn. He looked over at Esbern and shrugged, “Maybe they aren’t meant to move.”

    “Perhaps the Dragonborn should try,” Cael suggested.

    Rona raised her brows at him and he merely offered his gentle smile in return. She went pink in the cheeks again and hurried up the stairs. Bishop stepped aside, hardly looking at her and she stood in front of the first stone and put a hand to it and pushed on it. It didn’t move at all.

    Bishop smirked at Cael then and said snidely, “Got any other bright ideas forsworn?”

    Rona started looking over the etchings and noticed that the word ‘yol’ had been carved repeatedly around the images in the scratchy lettering of dragon’s tongue. She said, “Everyone stand back.”

    The three men quickly went down the stairs and she moved back a bit and shouted, “YOL!” three times in succession at each stone pillar. The etchings lit up and glowed golden like her fire. They emitted a low ebbing sound and she touched the first one, pushing on it, easily making it spin.

    She moved each one so that the patterns matched but nothing changed. Esbern said, “Try the symbols for Dragonborn, that’s the one that appears to have a sort of arrow shape pointing downward at the bottom.”

    She turned them all to that symbol and there was a light clicking sound and then the bridge across the way shuddered and fell, crashing with a forceful thud onto the stone path. Rona carefully tread forward, further into the tunnel and reached a room full of pressure plates. They all had varying Akaviri symbols etched into them. Delphine stopped behind her and said, “Damn. Pressure plates. We’ll have to be careful.”

    “Back up,” Rona said. Delphine moved back and she shouted, “YOL!” against the floor. A series of pressure plates with the symbol for Dragonborn all lit up, revealing the path. Rona took a tentative step forward, onto the first one. It didn’t move, she glanced back at the crowd of people eagerly waiting for her to make another move.

    “Go on Dragonborn,” Delphine urged her.

    She stepped onto the next and the next, following the winding path all the way up to a tall stone structure with a chain hanging out of it. She yanked on it and a bridge across the way fell. The floor lit up entirely then, making it safe for them to cross. They continued along the winding path, with Rona leading them all.

    Esbern was getting excited as he said, “Yes, yes! I think we must be close to the entrance.”

    They stepped into a very large and spacious cavern with two tall trees and an enormous head carved into the wall beyond. Everyone wandered in looking in awe at the strange place that hadn’t been seen for centuries.

    Esbern walked right over to the enormous head and commented, “Wonderful! Remarkably well-preserved, too. You see how the ancient Blades revered Reman Cyrodiil. This whole place appears to be a shrine to Reman. He ended the Akaviri invasion under mysterious circumstances, you recall. After the so-called “battle” of Pale Pass, the Akaviri went into his service. This was the foundation stone of the Second Empire.”

    Serlas stooped down in front of a strange circular panel directly in front of the head on the wall and touched the etchings on the floor. “A blood seal,” he said.

    Esbern went to his side and nodded. “Indeed. Another of the lost Akaviri arts. No doubt triggered by…well, blood,” he looked over at Rona, “Your blood, Dragonborn.”

    “Esbern’s probably right,” Delphine agreed, “Try using your blood on the carved seal on the floor.”

    Rona frowned. She felt like she’d bled enough already that day, now she had to bleed some more? Her back was still hot and stinging too. She was going to have to have her father look at it soon.

    She sighed and went over to the blood seal. She knelt down in the center and remembered that she didn’t have her dagger anymore, she’d given it to Nelkir ages ago. She said, “Bishop, let me borrow your dagger.”

    He walked over to her, knelt beside her and held her palm up in his hand, then withdrew the dragon bone dagger she’d given him many months ago. Their eyes met for a moment and she could still see the hurt in his. She was so focused on his pained expression that she didn’t realize he’d gone to cut her until he swiped the blade sharply across her palm. She hissed painfully and yanked her hand back to her chest.

    He glared at her, leaning forward and uttered so only she could hear, “Stings, doesn’t it?” Then got back up and stalked away from her. She scowled at his back and held her bleeding palm out over the seal so that her blood dripped into it, pooling. The circular panel lit up completely, glowing a bright golden color revealing ancient Akaviri runes. The head in front of them shuddered and started to move upward, opening a new entrance.

    Esbern was elated and immediately ran in ahead of everyone else while Delphine followed close behind. Serlas stopped beside Rona and held a hand out to her. She took it with her uncut hand and he pulled her up. He asked quietly and with deep concern, “Is everything alright dear?”

    She gave him a very fake reassuring smile and said, “Everything’s fine Ata. We’re almost at Alduin’s Wall.”

    “Indeed we are. Shall we then?” It seemed like he was trying to usher her away from the two men who were quietly fighting for her affections. Granted, Bishop was utterly failing in that department, all things considered.

    She said, “Go on ahead Ata, I’ll catch up in a minute.”

    Serlas looked warily back at the three forsworn warriors and then turned back to her, brows knit together and said, “Please be careful velvyn,” he left her there and went into the temple entrance. Esbern’s voice was softly echoing back, “Fascinating! Original Akaviri bas-reliefs…almost entirely intact! Amazing…you can see how the Akaviri craftsmen were beginning to embrace the more flowing Nordic style…”

    Now that they were mostly alone, Bishop made his hateful glare that much more apparent. Even Karnwyr was looking at Cael and the other two guardedly, sensing Bishop’s ire.

    Robin glanced at the wolf and then said, “Alright Cael. We’ve entertained the nordic legend and her rabid wolves enough, let’s go already!”

    “Have patience Robin. At least allow me to bid farewell to the Maiden of Dragon Flame,” he smiled and Rona approached them all.

    She asked, “You’re leaving?”

    “Yes, it appears that you have reached your desired destination. We would take our leave of you shortly. We must return to our own village soon as it is plagued by the attacks of another,” he grasped a leather pouch on his hip then, untying it and handing it to her, “Before we go, take this,” Rona took the pouch and opened it, looking inside. It was filled with a strange sand that shimmered colorfully like the aurora borealis.

    “What is it?”

    “It is a rare ingredient, nymph’s heart. The heart of a nymph is like a beautiful pearl and when it is ground into this powder it can be used in healing potions to make them strangely potent. It is meant for those who are close to death. I doubt you will need its power, but it’s as unique as you.”

    She blushed furiously again, she honestly couldn’t help it and mumbled a quiet, “Thank you…”

    Cael smiled again, handsomely to say the least. Then his striking blue eyes shifted from her to look over at Bishop, who was standing by her side, arms crossed while he kept his hateful glare steadfastly on the forsworn chief.

    Cael laughed lightly, “Do I go too far? You companion looks like he will growl me to death if I compliment you once more,” his eyes fell on her again and he said, “Be wary Dragonborn, jealousy is a vulgar trait.”

    Bishop scoffed and his lip curled a little, “Jealous? Of you? Now that’s funny. I haven’t given two shits since you started talking forsworn.” That was definitely a lie. Rona could sense the rage burning inside of him. She could see it all over his face and it was apparent in his actions, considering he’d just viciously cut her a short while ago.

    Robin was looking just as angry and agitated when she snapped, “Alright, that’s it! Who cares if she’s the Dragonborn, Cael? We’d be doing her a favor if we got rid of this moron!”

    Bishop sneered at her, “Oh please try it. I’d love nothing better right now than to get rid of his whore.”

    Anu protested warningly, “Whoa – whoa -whoa! Robin is his sister! Speak about her like that and we’ll all cut out your eyes.”

    “Sister!?” Bishop snarled a laugh, “That’s his sister!? I’ve seen tavern wenches wearing more than what she – no, what all of you combined have on!”

    Cael was growing livid too and said, “Enough. All of you,” his eyes flashed dangerously at Bishop, “As for you, ranger, keep your eyes off my sister or I will hunt you down and remove them from your skull.”

    “Why not try your luck now? You skirt-wearing freak. It’ll be the first and last mistake you ever make about me,” Bishop started goading him as he reached for his dagger. Rona realized he was trying to pick a fight.

    “I was already considering it when you wounded Rona,” Cael retorted.

    Bishop growled and drew his dagger, saying, “Don’t say her name like you know her you dirty fucking savage -”

    In an instant Cael was on him, sword drawn, and pressed right to Bishop’s neck. None of them saw it coming, even Karnwyr was slow to react and Rona couldn’t stop herself, she shouted instinctively, “FUS!”

    Cael was thrown away from Bishop and he rolled across the ground. Rona leapt in front of him as Robin drew her daggers and ran forward, ready to kill. Rona threw her hands out and cast a wide wall of fire at the ground, separating a now barking and growling Karnwyr, herself and Bishop from the forsworn. Robin jumped back, away from the licking inferno and glared at both of them. Anu had his bow drawn and his arrow trained on her as well.

    “Stop,” Cael said as he pulled himself up off the ground. He adjusted his furs and sheathed his blade before approaching the wall of fire. He looked through the flames and smiled softly at Rona and she glared distrustfully back at him, holding her fiery hands up and was ready to shout if needed. She was done playing that game with him.

    “The strength you embody is a force that will not be reckoned with on the side of your enemy,” he said, “It pains me to become your enemy now.”

    Rona spoke grievously, each word etched with a tone of enmity for him, “If you wanted to prove that your people are not what outsiders see you as, that you’re not savages, then you’re doing a terrible job of it.”

    Cael smirked and looked away, “Hm… I apologize to you Dragonborn. I did not intend to offend you, nor was I going to kill your companion, I merely wished to give him a warning.”

    “The warning has been heard,” she replied tersely, “Goodbye Cael.”

    He pressed his lips together, bowed then gave her one last gentle smile and left with his companions.

    The minute they were all gone the wall of fire burned out and Bishop scoffed loudly, “See? What did I tell you? Just a bunch of savages looking for their next kill.”

    She felt her blood boiling in her own rage. She grit her teeth and rounded on him, furiously prodding his chest with a finger, shouting up into his face, “And you only have yourself to blame Bishop! Provoking them like that!? Drawing your dagger!? What did you expect!?”

    He glowered down at her, “I expect you to take me seriously when I tell you the truth about these people.”

    “The truth? The truth is that I was right!” she laughed incredulously, “We saved those people and they trusted us enough to let us pass through here! Just like I told you!”

    “Not before your skirt wearing friend there had to talk his cohort down from nearly stabbing you in the face!” He growled, “And do you honestly think that if you weren’t the Dragonborn that he would have even bothered trying to spare you from some bloody ritual!? Yeah don’t kid yourself, he knew what he was doing and you took the bait.”

    “Bait!? What are you talking about!? Cael was helping us!”

    “Oh come on Rona, did you really think he was interested in you?”

    She blushed at his words and tried to turn away when he grasped her chin, turning her face back to him and said, “This is exactly what I’m talking about. You blushing away like some girl flirting with her first love, right in front of me like that. You think I don’t see it – that I don’t notice it? If you really think that man was interested in you, then I have clearly misjudged your intelligence.”

    She had tears stinging the corners of her eyes now. She clenched her fists trying to keep her voice steady, “Don’t take me for some love-struck girl Bishop, I know what I’m doing.”

    He pulled his hand from her chin and crossed his arms again, cocking his head and sneered, “Well then, if you’re so smart, what do you think he wants?”

    She said nothing, only twisted her mouth angrily at him and his brows hovered sharply over his eyes as he nodded saying, “Yeah, that’s right. He just wants the Dragonborn, not you. A woman with the soul of a dragon would make for a thrilling hunt, don’t yah think? Doesn’t matter who that woman is. You do best to remember that next time he’s wielding that honey-coated dagger of a tongue.”

    Stop treating me like a child!” She shrieked at him, “I can take care of myself! Haven’t I already proved that!?”

    “No!” He snarled, “You haven’t! Every chance you get you run off and throw yourself in front of another blasted dragon – or three! And then the rest of us, namely me, have to run in and save your ass! Give me one good reason why I should let you keep putting yourself in danger for other people and especially for a bunch of damned savages who don’t give a shit about you!”

    “Because I can actually help them Bishop! I’m the Dragonborn! This is what I was fucking made for!”

    “Oh how so very nice of you!” He drawled mockingly, “Mighty Dragonborn roaming all over Skyrim and helping everyone in need while disregarding her own and those who travel with her! No one cares Sweetness, if any of us get hurt! Or have you still failed to realize that?”

    She slapped him hard across the face, it was certainly no sharp slash across his palm, but it fucking felt good. He glared warningly at her and snarled, “Don’t try that again.” Of course she went in for another, aiming to release her fury and of course he grabbed her hand hard, that time, “Do not treat me like your punching bag.”

    “But I should just let you cut me to ribbons whenever you’re mad at me!?”

    He flinched and let go of her hand. It had started to bleed again where he cut her. He looked at it regretfully and she took a breath, feeling her tears ready to fall, but didn’t want him to see, so she stormed off around him and he shouted at her back, “Going to run off again Rona!?”

    “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” She roared back and ran up the stairs, her tears spilling quickly over her cheeks. Why was he trying so hard to hurt her? Because of some preconceived notion that she was about to flounce off with every man that flirted with her? It was just like with Casavir all over again, only this time Bishop had been right. Cael tried to kill him or at least hurt him. She’d been such a fool.

    She stopped at the top of the stairs, listening to the voices of the others as they echoed into the tunnel. Both Esbern and Serlas were having a lengthy discussion with each other about some carvings and symbols they were looking over when Delphine said, “I’m getting worried, they still haven’t come up. I’m going to go check on them.”

    Rona started wiping at her tears and tried to pull herself together as Delphine nearly bumped into her, “Oh! There you are – you need to come see it,” she paused looking over her face, “Rona, are you alright? Your face is all red.”

    Rona sniffled and just said, “I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it.”

    Delphine gave her a sympathetic look. “Well if you do, I’m here to listen. Now come on. You’ve got to see Alduin’s Wall, it’s incredible.”

    Rona followed her into another spacious interior with two low staircases and an enormous stone table in the center of the room. It was relatively barren and rather grey, however, reminding her a lot of the monastery up on High Hrothgar. Off to their right was an enormous wall with detailed and vivid images carved into it. Rona looked on at it with sense of foreboding welling within her.

    She approached it slowly and stood by Esbern, staring up at it. He glanced over at her and asked, “Shall I explain it?” She nodded slowly, her eyes glued to the thing. He started at the left side of it pointing to the image of a dragon roaring fire, “Here is Alduin. This panel goes back to the beginning of time, when Alduin and the Dragon Cult ruled over Skyrim. Here, the humans rebel against their dragon overlords – the legendary Dragon War. Alduin’s defeat is the centerpiece of the Wall. You see, here he is falling from the sky as Jillian of Heart Frost leads the nord Tongues against him.”

    He was walking along the wall with her, explaining each section, “This here, coming from the mouths of the warriors – this is the Akaviri symbol for ‘shout’… A shout which can knock a dragon from the sky.”

    “Dragonrend,” Rona said. She knit her brows together, looking over the terrifying wall and shook her head, “But I need an Elder Scroll to learn it. It’s the only way.”

    Esbern asked, “How will the scroll allow you to learn this shout?”

    “I have to take it to the Throat of the World where Time itself was torn apart and use it to look into the past when Jillian and the Tongues sent Alduin through Time.”

    “Fascinating,” Esbern said stroking his beard.

    Rona urged him on, “What about the rest of the wall? What else does it say?”

    He continued on to the end of it and said, “It is the prophecy that brought the Akaviri to Tamriel in the first place, in search of the Dragonborn. Here are the Akaviri – the Blades – you see their distinctive long swords, they kneel, their ancient mission fulfilled, as the Last Dragonborn contends with Alduin at the end of time.”

    “The Last Dragonborn?” She asked looking at him, “I’m the last?”

    “Well,” Esbern said, still stroking his beard thoughtfully, “The Dragonborn exists solely to fight the dragon menace, that has always been their purpose. Once Alduin is destroyed, and all of the dragons are eradicated then there will be no need for another Dragonborn to be born… so yes, you would be the last.”

    “Let’s face it,” Delphine said, “If she doesn’t defeat Alduin then she will be the last no matter what… it will be the last for all of us.”

    Rona was feeling distressed again and not just because of her destiny, or because the damned wall said nothing about the damned Elder Scroll, but because she’d just had a nasty fight with Bishop, over a stupid, damned savage man who wouldn’t let up his flirtations and she just fed into it. She let it happen.

    Serlas could see the anxiety in her entire being and said, “There is a courtyard up those stairs Rona dear, perhaps you should get some fresh air.”

    She was very grateful for that. The place reminded her too much of High Hrothgar, but it was even worse than the monastery because it was completely and utterly useless to her. She wanted to scream and shout and kick something. She hurried up the stairs and burst through the doors outside.

    ~~~

    – 30 Minutes Ago –

    Bishop was done with it all. He was done with these damned forsworn freaks that were following them around and eyeing them all like prey on their hunt. And he was most definitely done watching the pretty boy, creep prowl around his woman like she was the tastiest piece of meat he’d seen in a while. Rona was like an innocent, naïve, little blushing doe, and this man was a vicious sabre cat, luring her in with his wiles and charms, waiting to pounce.

    He desired nothing more than to feel his dagger slide across that forsworn’s throat. So he started picking a fight with them. A few insults here and there, oh, looks like he called his sister a whore – good, but really? That was his sister? Ugh. A few more insults, point out their idiotic way of dressing – he couldn’t believe a bunch of warriors would wear so little armor – finally he’d started to draw a reaction from the soft spoken savage.

    Bishop felt his lips curling partly into a sneer as the forsworn man’s eyes flashed angrily at him, “As for you, ranger, keep your eyes off my sister or I will hunt you down and remove them from your skull.”

    He was on the right track it seemed and so he replied, “Why not try your luck now? You skirt-wearing freak. It’ll be the first and last mistake you ever make about me.” He put a hand to his dagger, it was intentional it was meant to be threatening.

    Then that pretty-boy prick had the gall to say her name again, like he knew her. “I was already considering it when you wounded Rona.”

    Bishop felt his rage bubbling then, ready to boil over. He growled and drew his dagger, snarling, “Don’t say her name like you know her you dirty fucking savage -”

    He didn’t have a chance to react, he didn’t see it coming. The man was fast. In a second his blade was unsheathed and pressing against his throat. Bishop was stunned. But then Rona moved and instinctively shouted, “FUS!” throwing the forsworn freak across the ground. She jumped in front of Bishop, moving to defend him from the savage woman, who drew daggers and came in flying, ready to kill. But Rona was too fast for her, casting angry fire at the ground, putting a roaring wall between them all. He was extremely disappointed that she hadn’t just incinerated them all instead. Karnwyr started barking and growling too.

    “Stop,” the forsworn man said as he pulled himself up off the ground. He adjusted his stupid skirt and useless top before sheathing his blade and approaching the wall of fire. His wicked grin curled across his face again as he said, “The strength you embody is a force that will not be reckoned with on the side of your enemy. It pains me to become your enemy now.”

    It didn’t pain Bishop. He was glad of it and even more pleased that she’d finally woken up to the obvious, that this man, this forsworn, was nothing more than a savage monster just waiting to kill him and do gods knew what with her.

    Thankfully, she wasn’t buying it anymore, which was apparent in the angry tone in her voice and her words, “If you wanted to prove that your people are not what outsiders see you as, that you’re not savages, then you’re doing a terrible job of it.”

    The pretty boy tried to keep up his flirtations, tried to woo her again with his devilish grin and a shy turn of his head, “Hm… I apologize to you Dragonborn. I did not intend to offend you, nor was I going to kill your companion, I merely wished to give him a warning.”

    “The warning has been heard,” she replied snappishly, “Goodbye Cael.”

    Finally, the damned tribal types took their leave and Bishop scoffed at her. He couldn’t stop himself, his nerves were all on edge, he didn’t get an opportunity to release his anger in a fight and he was still pissed at her. “See? What did I tell you? Just a bunch of savages looking for their next kill.”

    But then she rounded on him, furiously prodding his chest with a finger, and stood on tiptoe, roaring up into his face, “And you only have yourself to blame Bishop! Provoking them like that!? Drawing your dagger!? What did you expect!?”

    He glowered down at her, “I expect you to take me seriously when I tell you the truth about these people.”

    “The truth? The truth is that I was right!” She laughed, so proud of her own foolishness, “We saved those people and they trusted us enough to let us pass through here!”

    Bullshit she was right. The hell was she even talking about? They could have easily snuck in there and let the damned dragons make a feast of the forsworn freaks. But she just had to go all noble and moral at the last minute, nearly getting herself killed more than once in the process and even when it was all said and done the forsworn still captured them all and even threatened her, which he immediately pointed out to her.

    “Not before your skirt wearing friend there had to talk his cohort down from nearly stabbing you in the face!” He growled, “And do you honestly think that if you weren’t the Dragonborn that he would have even bothered trying to spare you from some bloody ritual!? Yeah don’t kid yourself, he knew what he was doing and you took the bait.”

    “Bait!? What are you talking about!? Cael was helping us!”

    How could she be so blind? Was she really that naive? “Oh come on Rona, did you really think he was interested in you?”

    She started blushing again, every time this woman blushed it absolutely gave her away. And as always she tried to turn away, to hide it, but he stopped her, grasping her chin, turning her face back to him and said, “This is exactly what I’m talking about. You blushing away like some girl flirting with her first love, right in front of me like that. You think I don’t see it – that I don’t notice it? If you really think that man was interested in you, then I have clearly misjudged your intelligence.”

    Shit. He was making her cry. He could see the tears welling up in her eyes. But he had to tell her. She was too goddamn stubborn and so focused on trying to rescue everyone else at her own peril. What did he have to do to open her goddamned eyes!? He heard her fighting against the quaver in her voice, “Don’t take me for some love-struck girl Bishop, I know what I’m doing.”

    He pulled his hand from her chin and crossed his arms again. Oh like hell she knew what she was doing. Was she trying to convince him or herself of that? He cocked his head at her, “Well then, if you’re so smart, what do you think he wants?”

    He watched as she struggled to find the words, to explain herself, but when she said nothing, he let her see just how angry he was at her incessant stupidity, furrowing his brows more sharply and nodding, “Yeah, that’s right. He just wants the Dragonborn, not you. A woman with the soul of a dragon would make for a thrilling hunt, don’t yah think? Doesn’t matter who that woman is. You do best to remember that next time he’s wielding that honey-coated dagger of a tongue.”

    Stop treating me like a child!” She shrieked back, “I can take care of myself! Haven’t I already proved that!?”

    “No!” He snarled, “You haven’t! Every chance you get you run off and throw yourself in front of another blasted dragon – or three! And then the rest of us, namely me, have to run in and save your ass! Give me one good reason why I should let you keep putting yourself in danger for other people and especially for a bunch of damned savages who don’t give a shit about you!”

    “Because I can actually help them Bishop! I’m the Dragonborn! This is what I was fucking made for!” Idiocy. It was pure idiocy. She didn’t even like being the Dragonborn, so why was she so intent on fulfilling her insane destiny? Not to mention putting his hide and hair in harm’s way for it!

    “Oh how so very nice of you!” He drawled mockingly, “Mighty Dragonborn roaming all over Skyrim and helping everyone in need while disregarding her own and those who travel with her! No one cares Sweetness, if any of us get hurt! Or have you still failed to realize that?”

    She slapped him across the face then. It never hurt him, but he wasn’t about to let any woman touch him like that. He warned her, “Don’t try that again.” And then she glared viciously at him and went for another. He snatched her hand right out of the air, holding it hard and growled, “Do not treat me like your punching bag.”

    “But I should just let you cut me to ribbons whenever you’re mad at me!?”

    He flinched and let go of her hand. He noticed the blood on his fingers, where he’d been pressing right into the cut he gave her earlier and felt a twinge of regret. He glanced down at her hand and saw a steady trickle of blood escaping the wound. Why hadn’t she healed it?

    She took a breath, looking like she wanted to say something, before she gave up and brushed past him, hurrying off towards the stairs. He was still mad at her though and wanted to hurt her a little more the way she always hurt him and he shouted at her back, “Going to run off again Rona!?”

    “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” She shrieked back at him before she ran up the stairs. And then he just felt bad. Her tears had started to fall heavily, he saw them, no matter how she tried to hide them.

    He sighed deeply, wearily. He just didn’t know how to make her understand. But she’d always been too trusting of others and she always tried so hard to see the good in people and do the right thing even if it meant risking her neck for them.

    She made it too hard to keep her safe. Like when she ran off to face down three dragons with that wild woman. The way she fought so fiercely, it never ceased to amaze him, but he could never shake off the gripping fear he felt every time she stood before a dragon. She had no idea just how small and how fragile she was. The tiniest, little elf woman he’d ever seen, battling dragons like she was actually a dragon herself. It was madness.

    And she’d almost died when one of them flew off with her, but then the forsworn man saved her. When his own arrows couldn’t reach her that man ran in and flung his blade with all the force in his body. Bishop felt a mixture of emotions then. He was angry at himself for not being able to protect her, he was even angrier that this forsworn man managed to do what he couldn’t. But he was also grateful because she’d be dead otherwise.

    Grateful and hateful. That’s how he felt about the man. Such a conflict of emotions, he almost didn’t know what to do with himself. Then he felt Karnwyr pressing his wet nose against his hand and he reached down, patting his old friend on the head. He sighed deeply and muttered, “Let’s go make up with her.”

    He went up the stairs and stopped at the top of them, just listening to hers and Esbern’s ongoing conversation about Alduin’s Wall. His heart dropped listening to her come to the realization that there was no mention of the Elder Scroll on the wall. Some more words were exchanged and then Serlas directed her to the courtyard to get some fresh air and Bishop heard her exit through the doors above.

    He rounded into the large room and walked by Serlas, heading up the stairs to go look for her when the old elf called, “You were very hard on her.”

    Bishop stopped walking, but kept his back to the man.

    Serlas said, “She has always been very sensitive to the plight of others. That is just her nature… But you were right to tell her, to try and show her what those people are capable of. I am afraid she has been far too naive and trusting for too long. Partly my fault, as I kept her rather sheltered in her youth. Be gentle with your words Bishop. She does not respond to aggressiveness and anger well at all, as I’m sure you already know… Do me a favor though and make sure she heals the cut on her hand and check the burn on her back for me as well.”

    Bishop slowly turned and looked down at Serlas, brow raised and asked, “How… how do you always know?”

    Serlas smirked and pointed to one of his large ears, “I’ve always had excellent hearing. Speaking of… I hear many things, some things I often would prefer not to, just so you know.”

    Bishop felt his face burning and said, “Yeah… I’ll keep that in mind.”

    Serlas nodded, smiling and said, “I appreciate that. And best of luck out there. I am sure you will need it. She seems ready to boil over in a wave of emotions I would not wish on any man. Oh and I would avoid standing near any steep cliffs if I were you.”

    “Right,” he said and made to leave when Serlas stopped him once more.

    “And one last thing Bishop,” he paused, making sure Bishop was looking back at him when he said slowly, “Do not cut her like that ever again,” his tone was severe, frightening even, “If you do, I will not hesitate to hurt you myself.” Bishop felt a deep shame welling up within over disappointing this old man whom he would have considered his own family. It hurt. He hadn’t meant to cut her that deeply. He was just so angry and allowed it to come out in a physical motion against her. He felt disgusted with himself for it.

    “Are we clear on that?” Serlas asked him as his sharp yellow eyes bore into him.

    “Crystal.”

    Serlas’ face softened and he said politely, “Good. Carry on then.” The elf turned away from him and swept along into one of the many rooms to go digging through old records with the other two.

    Bishop’s mouth twitched a little and he turned to hurry up the steps and outside into an old rundown courtyard. Straight ahead of him was a large stone ramada and off to his left was another covered patio with several archery targets. The cobblestone ground was overgrown with brambles and moss crept into the crevices of the stone. There were a few dead trees creating looming shadows as the sun slowly set in the distance.

    Bishop noticed Rona at the far end of the courtyard, leaning against a rock and staring out at the colorful sky, watching the sunset. A few thick clouds still remained from her earlier shout and were painted in shades of magenta, orange and yellow.

    He started to slowly approach her and with each step closer he was feeling worse and worse about the way he treated her. She’d been pretty miserable since they left the Ratway with Esbern. He could only imagine how awful she felt after everything he said to her and how he said it to her.

    (The Song is All I Need by Within Temptation)

    He stopped suddenly as the sound of strings plucked in the distance, echoing in from absolutely nowhere. She moved then, walking closer to the edge of the mountain and her perfect, beautiful and heartbreaking voice carried over to him. It felt like his very soul was being ripped apart by her words.

    “I’m dying to catch my breath
    Oh why don’t I ever learn?
    I’ve lost all my trust,
    Though I’ve surely tried to turn it around

    Can you still see the heart of me?
    All my agony fades away
    When you hold me in your embrace

    Don’t tear me down for all I need
    Make my heart a better place
    Give me something I can believe
    Don’t tear me down
    You’ve opened the door now, don’t let it close

    I’m here on the edge again
    I wish I could let it go
    I know that I’m only one step away
    From turning it around

    Can you still see the heart of me?
    All my agony fades away
    When you hold me in your embrace

    Don’t tear me down for all I need
    Make my heart a better place
    Give me something I can believe

    Don’t tear it down, what’s left of me
    Make my heart a better place

    I tried many times but nothing was real
    Make it fade away, don’t break me down
    I want to believe that this is for real
    Save me from my fear
    Don’t tear me down

    Don’t tear me down for all I need
    Make my heart a better place
    Don’t tear me down for all I need
    Make my heart a better place”

    He wanted to run to her. To embrace her, to hold her and to actually make all of her agony fade away. But he couldn’t bring himself to interrupt her song. He let her voice burn into him, he let her remind him over and over again why he loved her so much more than she would ever know, because he could never express it like her. He didn’t have a way with words like she did. He had wit definitely, but such unbearable beauty? Never. He wanted to fall to his knees and bare his soul to her.

    “Give me something I can believe
    Don’t tear it down, what’s left of me
    Make my heart a better place
    Make my heart a better place.”

    (Recommended background music In Quel Sorriso by Mattia Cupelli)

    It pained him to hear it end. How could he go to her and try to feebly make up for everything he’d just said to her after that? She just poured her heart out to the skies, singing about how all he’d done was tear her down and now he was going to try and make up with her?

    He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly and walked forward once more. Looking on at her back as she stared numbly out at the sky. Then he saw her raise her hands up to her eyes, wiping away the tears that were falling from them.

    It hurt to see her hurt. She let her hands fall to her sides and he saw the deep cut in her palm. The wound he’d given her out of rage. His burning shame returned at the sight of it. He promised he’d never hurt her and yet, there was the proof he’d done so staring him in the face. Why hadn’t she healed her hand? And Serlas said she was burned on her back too. Why wouldn’t she heal herself? Or have her father heal her? He didn’t understand.

    As he moved in closer to her, he found himself afraid to reach out. He didn’t want her to look at him like that again, like he was the most cruel person she’d ever known. He extended his hand reaching for hers, before pulling back when she gave a light sigh and she walked forward, standing right at the edge of the cliff.

    She shouted then, “Please! Just tell me what to do! Akatosh, Bormahu, Auri-El, whoever you are! Please!” And then her voice came in tearful whispers, “Just talk to me. What do I do now? Just tell me,” she let out a sob, pressing her hands to her chest and he cried for her, feeling her pain. No one had ever made him cry before except his brother, and only when he’d died in his arms.

    And then he met her and he’d cried more times than he could remember, with her, for her. It didn’t matter anymore. She allowed him to feel again, to actually have more than three emotions. She made the numbing pain he carried for so long fade away.

    He threw all his reservations aside and took three confident steps forward and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, crossing them over her chest and pressed his face into her hair and said, “I’m so sorry Rona, for yelling at you, for cutting you… for everything. Can you ever forgive me?”

    She gave another light sob and clutched at his arms, grasping them and leaned into him. He held her that way for what seemed like an eternity and it felt good. It felt right.

    Then she made to turn around, so he loosened his grasp and let her turn to face him, while still holding her close. She looked right into his apologetic and loving eyes with her beautiful green ones, still sparkling with tears and she said, “I forgive you, because I love you and I will always choose you Bishop, no matter who tries to come between us. Please know that.”

    He made to pull her in for a deeper embrace, but as he ran his hands across her back, she flinched under him.

    “Let me see,” he whispered. She knit her brows together and turned around. He reached under her hair and undid the button on her dress, she allowed it to fall down her shoulders partway and he got a good look at the awful burn traveling across her right shoulder blade and partway down her back. “Rona,” he muttered, dismayed, “Why didn’t you tell us?”

    “Because,” she was struggling to find the words again and mumbled, “I deserve it.”

    “How can you say that?”

    She held her hand up and stared at the awful gash he’d given her with his knife and she said, “Don’t I though? Always getting myself into trouble, always putting you and everyone I love into harm’s way. I need to feel this, I need it to remind me of how much I hurt everyone around me.”

    He pulled a potion and an old cloth out of his pocket and started to pour the liquid onto the cloth. He pressed it to the burn on her back and said, “You don’t deserve to be hurt… You’re a good person. Honest and compassionate. You follow your heart and do what you believe is right. Someone like you doesn’t deserve to suffer like this. I… I’m sorry that I ever made you feel like you deserved this.”

    She was quiet then. Letting him rub the potion into the burn on her back. The inflammation on it went down a bit, but he would have to get Serlas to work his magic on it. It wasn’t quite as bad as a burn made from direct fire but it was still blistered and red. “Let me see your hand,” he said, turning her around.

    She held it out and he poured some potion into her palm.  She winced with the pain but let him massage it into the wound with a cloth. He caused that wound so he would heal it himself. He’d never be a magic user, but he would learn alchemy, he’d study it more closely and learn to mix potions that could heal even better than her healing hands.

    He pulled the cloth away and the gash was looking a lot better and he said, “Mend it, please.”

    She let her hand go alight with white magic and they watched as the wound closed up entirely, leaving a thin white scar in its place. She flexed her hand and he looked down into her sweet face.

    She said, “Whenever I’m being stubborn or stupid, I’ll look at this scar to remind me you were right.”

    He sighed, “Sweetness…”

    “It’s true,” she said, “He tried to kill you, Bishop. I can’t trust anyone, not even myself.”

    “He saved you too,” Bishop said, partly frowning, “My arrows couldn’t reach you, but his sword did. You were right too. I let my jealousy get the better of me.”

    She touched his face and he leaned in to kiss her, slowly and deeply. He ran his fingers through her soft locks and pressed her closer to him, making their mouths meet more passionately. She barely parted from his desperate lips, for just a moment to whisper, “Make me forget. Make my agony fade away.”

    He knew what she meant and he wanted it too. He made their mouths meet again. He would do everything in his power to help her forget the their godsforsaken journey.

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 76

    Jillian of Heart Frost

     

    Their lovemaking was hurried and eager. Bishop pulled her to the other side of a large boulder, facing out at the slowly dying sun, away from any potential onlookers who might come out from the temple doors.

    Lips still locked, tongues exploring, he pushed her back to the smooth surface of the rock and ran his fingers down her already lowered dress top. His calloused hands roughly groped for her naked breast underneath her clothes, grasping, massaging and pulling at her budding nipple.

    She grasped the folds of her dress and yanked them up, hiking them into a bundle around her waist while his other hand tugged quickly at her panties. In several quick motions her underwear was sent trailing down her legs, where she kicked them off, and his trousers came undone and he grasped himself sliding his fully erect manhood out. He lifted her leg with one hand, while still kneading her breast with the other. She felt the tip of his member sliding across her dripping folds, urgently seeking entry within.

    She quickly grabbed his thickness, making him groan under her mouth and positioned him to her opening, pressing herself against him more, giving him the signal to go. In one swift thrust he was hilted within her making them both moan heavily against each other, but still unwilling to let their lips part.

    As he started his heavy thrusting into her he managed to grasp her tongue with his lips and began sucking hard, refusing to let go. She gave in to it all, letting him set her senses on fire with the long strokes of his cock within her, pressing perfectly against the sweet spot inside and began taking a taste of his mouth while he held her tongue with his lips.

    Finally, he released her from the desperate kiss and she took several breaths of air only to have each new breath come in short gasps as his thrusts sped up, pounding deep and hitting hard against her womb. It was as though they were made for one another, with her completely taking all of his hard length into her depths, and he filling her out and spreading her apart just right. They were a perfect fit.

    He managed to yank the top of her dress down more over her shoulders, forcing it to rest in the middle of her body and unclasped her bra with the other. He pushed that down too and moved his attention from staring lustfully into her flushed and aroused face down to her chest. He took her breast in his mouth, sucking hard and tracing her nipple with his tongue while his free hand grasped the other, cupping and kneading it. She rolled her head back, moaning loudly at the feeling of having her chest touched so forcefully while he continued the quick thrust of his hips sheathing himself inside her over and over again.

    She ran her fingers through his soft hair, pulling his face even closer to her tender breasts. He let the one in his mouth go so that he could rest his face there, enjoying the softness and the closeness of being so intimately connected to her. She felt his breath, hot against her chest and then his lips again as he started sucking and kissing at her soft skin, moving quickly back up her neck where he pressed his face into the crook, biting her sharply before running his tongue over the mark he left and pulled on it with his lips again, looking to leave traces of himself all along her body.

    It was hot, heavy, fast and forceful. But soon she was aching frantically with arousal and needed to find release. She grasped his shoulder with one hand and reached between her legs with the other, feeling how wet she was and spread two of her fingers in a ‘v’ shape, allowing them to slide down the sides of her dripping folds and felt his cock withdrawing and entering her.

    This new touch only made Bishop groan more needfully and he grasped her other leg in hand, lifting her off the ground and up higher where he could push himself even further inside her. She didn’t think she could take anymore of him, but he always found a way, panting deeply and pressing ever onward, thrusting hard against the end of her convulsing tunnel.

    He looked into her reddened face, with his own burning one and asked, “Do you like to feel my cock entering you, Sweetness?”

    “Yes,” she whimpered.

    “You want to know just how much of me you can take, don’t you?”

    “Mmhm,” she gave a pathetic, aroused whimper, nodding her head almost submissively so.

    “Here, let me show you just how much of myself I bury inside your tight, wet hole,” he groaned and slid himself out almost entirely again, so that the flared head of his cock rubbed between her fingers, before he thrust himself all the way inside, bottoming out. He started to do it over and over again, taking those long strokes of near withdrawal, allowing her to feel the tip of his prick penetrating her repeatedly. It made her so much wetter and so unbelievably aroused.

    He pressed his face against the side of hers, so that his breath tickled her ear and he whispered, “You’re tightening around me so much.” She gave out a pathetic mewl of yearning at his words as she continued to feel him, thrusting in and out. Then he said, “I want you to touch yourself.”

    She eagerly complied, moving her fingers up to the swollen bundle of nerves right above where he continued to swiftly slide himself into. Touching herself there was pure ecstasy, on top of him purposely rubbing himself hard against the most sensitive part inside she couldn’t help but cry out with pleasure.

    “How does it feel?” He asked her as he started nibbling on her ear.

    Good, sooo good!” She moaned.

    “Tell me how my cock feels.”

    She felt her eyes roll and murmured, “Hard… it’s hard.”

    “Louder, so I can hear you, Rona. Tell me how fucking good it feels to have my cock inside you.”

    “The best!” She cried, “You’re so hard, Bishop… and thick, it – it fills me up all the way! It’s the best! It’s too good!”

    He pulled back from nibbling at her ear and was smiling as he looked over her face, so pleased with the reactions he elicited from her. She moved her fingers quickly, pressing herself just right, timing it with his hard thrusts, so that each massage over her nub sent the most pleasure through her entire being and made her womanhood convulse more rapidly around him.

    “Mmm,” Bishop moaned, “Love it when you tighten up like that… gets me so close. Tell me Rona, where do you want me to come?”

    “Inside!” She begged, “Come inside me!” She always wanted it inside. Pumping her full, coming endlessly, it always felt so good. She couldn’t explain why, it was just an indescribable desire, a deep carnal need.

    “You love it, feeling me fill you?” She nodded quickly, gasping desperately. He leaned in so that his face was hovering above hers and she noticed a light redness burning over his cheeks and nose, “You know, yours wasn’t the only first that night. You’re the only woman I’ve ever come inside. You were my first for that,” he breathed, closing his eyes and groaning as he felt her tighten more at his words, then he opened them again, looking right into her eyes and said, “I’ve been addicted to you ever since. You’re the only woman I’ll ever fuck again and the only one I’ll empty myself into.”

    She let out a string of whimpering cries then, unable to form any kind of logical sentence as her senses were going wild and her head was fuzzy with pleasure as he buried himself into her over and over again. “Bishop! Bishop! I can’t! Oh! Oh please! Yes! There! I – I – I’m!”

    She felt herself peaking then and he groaned low, hot and heavy and said deeply, “Yes! Come with me Rona! Feel it! Take it all!”

    He gave several final quick thrusts before burying himself as deep as possible, pressing his hips unbelievably close to hers. He let out a very loud and pleasured cry alongside hers as they crested the wave of their incredibly passionate and shared orgasm and she felt him releasing deep within. It was so hot inside her, completely sating that instinctive urge to breed with him. He must have felt the same because he sent wave after wave of his seed inside, shuddering and groaning all while he ejaculated everything he had right into her womb. She wrapped her legs around his waist tightly, holding on, not wanting to let go.

    When it was over,they were left breathing heavily, utterly exhausted but unwilling to part. She liked to stay close to him after, keeping him sheathed within. Though her occasional aftershocks, when her muscles continued to tighten with her subsiding pleasure, often left him quickly withdrawing due to the sudden oversensitive feeling there. He sighed though, keeping himself there and just enjoying looking at her still blushing face.

    “You’re so fucking sexy,” he said suddenly.

    She laughed, catching her breath and asked, “What makes you say that?”

    “Well we just had some amazing sex and I don’t know. I think I want to do it again.”

    She smiled and said, “Give me another hour, I’m exhausted.”

    He chuckled and said, “That was pretty amazing though, wasn’t it? Something about fucking outside like this… just really gets me going.”

    “It was all your dirty talk for me,” she blushed again.

    “It’s not that hard to talk dirty, I got you to do it just now,” he grinned at her, “You just say what you’re feeling. Be honest with yourself and say the words. That’s what I do.” Then he laughed because her face turned crimson and he said, “What? Can’t bring yourself to tell me all the naughty things you want to do to me?”

    “It’s just… so embarrassing,” she mumbled.

    “Yeah,” he agreed, “but that’s what makes it so pleasurable, Princess. Saying things you wouldn’t normally say in every day conversation and besides, you’d only be saying it to me, so no need to feel shy about it. I love getting you to whimper and moan such sexy things to me and I’ll never get tired of hearing how my cock makes you feel.”

    She pressed her burning face into her hands and he chuckled some more and finally let her down, unsheathing his limpness from her. He passed her a clean cloth to wipe at the mess between her legs and they both fixed their clothes.

    They turned to look out at the steadily rising moon and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close.

    She was looking up at the bright stars and said, “It’s really beautiful up here.”

    “Yeah,” he agreed, “The Reach has some incredible scenery and the sky is always beautiful at night. Usually stays pretty clear of clouds out this way too.”

    She looked up at him and said, “You really have been all over Skyrim, haven’t you?”

    “Sure have. After Jules passed I spent a year out in Morrowind, to just… collect myself you know?” He looked down at her, “Did some deep soul searching or whatever you want to call it. I spent an entire year asking myself who the hell I really was and if I wanted to continue being the man I was before. I decided that I was going to change. I wasn’t going to let my past, my family or any of that define me anymore. That’s when I found work in ranging working for the locals out that way. Hunted plenty of cliff racers, I’ll tell you that much.”

    “When I finallygot sick of trudging through the ash and breathing it in no less – and don’t get me wrong, Morrowind is gorgeous even with all that dirt everywhere – I just needed to come home. Skyrim is where I was born and it’ll always be home to me. It’s where I spent the best days of my life with my brother. I wanted to really see Skyrim in its entirety when I came back and so I started traveling all over, just me and Karnwyr.”

    Rona could hardly believe how forthright Bishop was being, sharing details of his past with her so casually. It warmed her heart and made her feel so close to him. He could be so beautiful sometimes without even realizing it.

    “I want to show it to you Rona… take you all over to the best places out here in the Fatherland. To really see this place for once,” he smiled at her, “When your journey’s over, we’ll go wherever you want first, Valenwood maybe? Do a little hunting?” he cocked a brow, smirking, then said, “But when we come back to Skyrim, let me show it to you, just you and me.”

    “I’d like that,” she said hugging him tightly, “Very much.”

    But she wondered when that would be. It seemed that they’d hit a wall, Alduin’s Wall in fact, and it was useless to her. There was nothing about the Elder Scrolls on it and everything seemed so hopeless now. She didn’t know what to do anymore. Maybe it was a good time to start training more, she thought.

    ~~~

    When they reentered the Temple they found Serlas, Delphine and Esbern seated at the large table in the center with piles and piles of papers, books, scrolls and documents all laid out. The room was a lot brighter too as they’d gone around and lit all the wall sconces, they’d even found some old chairs to put around the table. It was a little bit cozier but could still use some couches and soft blankets, Rona thought, looking around at all the hard stone everywhere.

    Serlas and Esbern were poring over the books and pointing things out to each other as they came across different interesting facts or things that seemed pertinent to their quest. Karnwyr was laying next to Delphine’s feet, steadily snoozing and Bishop looked back to the doors and then back at Delphine. He must have brought the wolf out with him and then she let him back in.

    Delphine looked over at them and gave him a knowing wink. Rona just blushed furiously realizing she must have overheard them, quite possibly in the throes of passion. Then she waved a hand, motioning them over to her, “Come here you two, you won’t believe all the documents we’ve found.”

    “Oh, I believe you,” Bishop said snorting a laugh, “I can see it all over the table.”

    They went over to Delphine looking at everything and she grasped a thin raggedy book from a pile of other tomes and said, “This is very useful, Serlas found it.”

    Serlas stopped mid discussion with Esbern and looked up at the sound of his name and said, “Oh, velvyn, yes! You must read it! I think we may have found a solution to our problem!”

    Delphine held the book out to her, pointing to the start of a paragraph. Rona took it from her and Delphine said grinning, “Go ahead and read it out loud.”

    Rona started reading, “The Temple of the Ancestor Moths is located within the alps of the Jerall Mountains, within the province of Cyrodiil. This area is the home of the Cult of the Ancestor Moth, whose sole purpose is to care for, and even read the Elder Scrolls.”

    Her heart leapt up, elated, thrilled.

    “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before,” Serlas said, “The Moth Priests would know everything there is to know about the scrolls and would most certainly be hot on the trail of them. If anything they might even need some powerful warriors to go in search of the scrolls for them wherever they may have located them.”

    Rona beamed getting very excited at this new information, but even more so because, “We’re going back to Cyrodiil?”

    Serlas smiled widely, “Yes, I think it’s high time we paid a visit home. Get away from all the bitter frost and ice. Oh! Speaking of, I forgot to mention, Illia gave me a very expected invitation that we received not too long ago.”

    “An invitation for what?” She asked.

    Serlas shuffled around his robe pockets looking for something and after a minute of searching, shoving his hands in each pocket and occasionally setting aside a soul stone or a potion here and there, he finally pulled out a soft white envelope and held it out for her. She went around the table and took it from him, opening it and sliding out a very ornate card invitation. She opened it and a loose paper slipped out. It appeared to be two separate invitations. She read the card first.
    <p style=”text-align: left;”>Mr. and Mrs. Grolak Bashurn
    request the honor of your presence
    at the marriage of
    Miss Roxlin LaRoues
    to their son
    Magrob Bashurn
    Loredas, the sixth of Midyear
    two hundred and two
    at six o’clock in the evening
    At the Statue of Mara in The Arboretum
    Imperial City, Cyrodiil</p>
    She could hardly keep the grin from her face. Then she looked over the second sheet which read,

    You have always been there, more than just a friend

    You know who I am and everywhere I’ve been

    We’ve hacked and slashed and laughed and cried

    We’ve sang and danced and drank and sighed

    As warriors we’ve fought together time and time again

    You’ve had my back and I’ve had yours so let’s pop some Champagne

    No matter where life takes me, no matter where I roam

    When I am with you friend, my heart feels right at home

    So on my wedding day, I will need you more than ever

    Please be my maid of honor now and my best friend forever.

    Rona definitely could not stop smiling now. Roxlin had even managed to scribble a little picture of the two of them killing some goblins and she’d added plenty of red all over it, for blood effects. It was adorable and precious and she wanted so bad to see her. She wanted to see all of her friends. She felt her eyes brimming with tears she was so happy.

    Bishop was looking at her worried and she gave a pathetic sob overwhelmed with emotions and wailed, “She drew a picture of us, Ataaa,” then she hugged her father. He wrapped his arms around her and whispered, “There, there dear. It’s a lovely drawing isn’t it? Captured you two perfectly I think. Now I know things have been hard. But this is good news, isn’t it?”

    She pulled back from him, wiping at her tears and blubbering, “This is the best news I’ve had in forever. When can we go?”

    He chuckled and said, “Well, we can leave as early as you like.”

    She wanted to go right then and there. She was ready to get the hell away from Skyrim, away from all the dragons and all the problems and just go be with her friends and do something normal for once, like be her best friend’s maid of honor and celebrate with her!

    “Let’s see,” Serlas said thoughtfully, “I believe we’re still at the tail end of Rain’s Hand.”

    “It’s the twenty-sixth,” Delphine said.

    “Yes, so we have an entire month before the wedding, though I’m sure there’s still much to be done, you’ll need to be fitted for a dress and all those things. And I’m sure Miss LaRoues, soon to be Mrs. Bashurn, will want to celebrate her last day as an unmarried woman with an exuberant party.”

    “Let’s go!” Rona said and turned right around and started looking for the exit. She hesitated at the sight of the tunnel that led back down to the forsworn. She wasn’t entirely sure if she was still welcome among them after attacking Cael. Granted he attacked first, but she wouldn’t be surprised if he’d told them all his own version of the events. Still he didn’t seem like the type to hold a grudge. She was sure the man’s sister would though.

    Bishop looked over at her laughing, “Where are you going?” Then he turned to Serlas and said, “I take it her friends are having their wedding soon?”

    “Yes, that is correct,” Serlas confirmed, “It will be held in the Arboretum in the Imperial City. It’s a very beautiful garden in one of the many districts and a highly sought after location for weddings, parties and other formal gatherings. People often have to make reservations a year in advance to hold their spot.”

    Bishop raised a brow, “Sounds expensive.”

    “Oh, indeed it is,” he said, “However, both the Bashurn family and the LaRoues family are wealthy and prestigious and very well known in the Imperial City. Chances are they pulled some strings in their inner circles to reserve the Arboretum for the wedding and I have no doubt a marriage like this will be the talk of the city for quite some time.”

    Bishop looked even more skeptical, “The orc and the breton girl? Them? They’re wealthy nobles?

    Serlas chuckled, “Yes, very much so. The Fighter’s Guild in Cheydinhal is chock full of young people who come from prestigious stock.”

    Bishop looked over at Rona with half-lidded eyes. She blushed and protested, “I’m not a noble!”

    Bishop laughed and said, “Suuure you’re not,” then he walked over and said, “Hey, lemme see that drawing of you.”

    She passed him the invitation and the cute poem Roxlin wrote for her. Bishop first looked at the picture and laughed, “Wow. Now that’s impressive. It looks just like you! Big googly eyes and the crazy face and everything. The dragon horns, wings and tail are a nice touch. Now that’s dedication to accuracy.”

    Rona looked at it again, she hadn’t even noticed the dragon parts attached to her. She elbowed Bishop in the ribs for teasing her and snickered shaking her head at the silly, childish drawing. He nudged her back with his hip and smirked at her, then looked back over the poem and read it, snorting loudly again, “I had no idea this woman had such a way with words. ‘We’ve hacked and slashed’… damn. Well if she’s offering Champagne, I’m with you, let’s get going.”

    Delphine said, “We’ve already sealed off the entrance down there so the forsworn won’t be able to come through.”

    “How do we get out of here then?” Bishop asked, “Hope you’re not expecting us to climb down this mountain.”

    Delphine scoffed at him, “No. We found a hidden entrance that leads right down to the base of the mountain. It’s on the other side too, out of sight of Karthspire, thankfully. You shouldn’t be trying to hurry off this late at night though.”

    Serlas chuckled and said, “Yes, let’s spend the night here and we will make our trip back to the farm tomorrow. I will make preparations for our stop up in the Jerall Mountains where we will meet with the Moth Priests. I’m hoping that they will hold an audience with the Dragonborn without prior notice. We’ll stop there first, since it’s on our way near Bruma and then after that, perhaps you’d like to stop by Cheydinhal dear? Visit with the Guild for a week before we make our way to the Imperial City?”

    “It sounds perfect!” Rona started leaping up, just elated by all this great news. Bishop smirked at her, looking very happy himself. She knew it was because she was smiling again, feeling excited about everything and he was probably just as happy about the prospect of getting away from the dragons for a while too.

    They spent the night there then. Bishop and Rona went down the winding and hidden stairway through the mountain to check on their horses and get some food from their supplies for the night. They ended up bringing the steeds closer to the hidden entrance and went back up.

    Bishop fixed everyone an easy meal, while Serlas and Rona went about tearing off the old dusty sheets from the beds and thoroughly washing them with their magic. Serlas was more experienced in creating water from nothing and tried to demonstrate for her, explaining it was just ice before being melted down through a combination of fire and ice magic. She only managed to cast several shards of ice and ruined a pair of sheets with puncture marks before she gave up and stuck to just drying them. They fixed the beds, sat down for dinner and held light conversation through the evening.

    Esbern finally found a moment to give her the giant tome, The Maiden of Dragon Flame. “I hope you will take it with you and read through it. It is the history of your ancestors you know. Though many of Eira’s lines branched off and died out, the line from which you came managed to carry on all these years. I have a feeling that Jillian may have been your direct ancestor.”

    “What makes you say that?” She asked him.

    “She had a daughter named Rona, named for her lover Ronin. The name was passed on for generations. Were you named for anyone in particular?”

    Serlas chuckled and said, “She was named for Rona Benanius of Chorral. She was a maid servant in Castle Chorral in Cyrodiil before returning to Skyrim to join the Companions and fought during the Oblivion Crisis.”

    Bishop snorted at the sound of Rona’s middle name, even Delphine snickered a little.

    “Oh stop!” Rona chided them and pursed her lips pouting.

    Serlas smiled, “Yes, I wished to change it, but Claudia was very dead set on keeping the name as is. She absolutely worshipped the woman and everything she stood for. Ah well, it was always fun calling out to her in the Mage’s Guild between classes and using her full name in front of all her friends.”

    Rona turned beet red and blustered, “Ata! That was so mean!”

    Everyone broke into laughter and Bishop said, “Benanius, what a name!”

    “Keep that up and I’ll tell everyone your middle name!” She teased with a smirk.

    He stopped laughing and said, “You wouldn’t dare.”

    Delphine blurted out, “Laurence!”

    Bishop’s twisted to look right at her, “How!?

    “You spent a lot of coin in my tavern over the years Bishop,” she grinned at him,“It wasn’t even the first time you told me that story, Florence.” Rona fell into a fit of giggles and everyone shared in a laugh and Bishop even cracked a smile after a minute.

    Finally, Rona asked, “Ata, what name would you have given me?”

    He smiled warmly at her, “Well, I only chose a different middle name, because I quite like your first name dear. But I wanted you to be Rona Rielle.”

    “Aw, the word for beautiful? Really? That’s pretty,” she said, returning his smile.

    “I always thought so.”

    They finished up their suppers and as Rona picked up the tome and headed off to bed Esbern said, “You’ll let me know if my translations were accurate, I hope.”

    She nodded, “Of course.” She looked over the massive text in her arms and felt a bit overwhelmed by it. It was a lot of history to read through and she wished her father knew dragon’s tongue because it’d be much easier to give it to him and have him read it. Serlas was always good at absorbing voluminous books like that.

    But if they were going to be traveling through Cyrodiil she figured she might as well give it a read on the way. She wondered most about Jillian. She was the first Dragonborn she ever met and the woman had been plaguing her dreams and haunting her footsteps for nearly her entire journey. Then she asked Esbern, “You called her Jillian of Heart Frost. I’d never heard that name for her until you mentioned it. Why did she have that name?”

    Esbern sighed, “It’s quite tragic. I’m sure you already know her lover, Ronin, was killed by Alduin himself.” She nodded affirmatively.

    “Well… after Jillian lost the man she loved to Alduin, she set forth on a path of vengeance, one that tore her apart and made her quite cruel and cold hearted. She worked for years with the Blades seeking out and killing every last dragon she could find. By the end of it all, she was a very bitter and hateful old woman. Legends say she was killed by a dragon in her old age, though it is unknown which one did the deed. I am sure this book tells us, however I was unable to decipher much of her story. The language became so different by then. Anyhow, there you have it, Jillian of Heart Frost, a woman whose heart was turned as cold as ice at the loss of her beloved.”

    Rona looked over the book again, flicking her finger against one of the ripped pieces on the cover thoughtfully. She would start with Jillian’s story. It was the most similar to her own and she believed that Jillian held secrets that might help her defeat Alduin.

    Serlas, Esbern and Delphine took beds in a separate room and bid Bishop and Rona a good night. And as Rona laid down to sleep, with Bishop taking the bed behind her, she pulled up the big book and rest it on her upraised knees.

    Bishop looked over at her and mused, “Going to do a bit of light reading before bed, Ladyship?”

    She grinned at him, “Just a bit.”

    “Well, try not to stay up too late,” he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and said,“Night,” he pulled the fresh cleaned covers over himself and yawned loudly before stuffing his face in a pillow. Karnwyr of course came right over and started bothering him to move over. Bishop grumbled, “No, Karnwyr, there’s no room. Go pick a bed over there.”

    Karnwyr whined and panted, hopping up to lick at his face. “Ugh, fine…” Bishop somehow managed to squeeze over to the side allowing his wolf brother to lay on the bed next to him. Rona giggled at the sight and said, “Aw, how sweet.”

    She reached over and scratched a happy Karnwyr on his head as he settled in. Bishop grumbled some more but it wasn’t very long before she heard his light snoring. He complained but the man could easily sleep anywhere, squished between his wolf and her even, granted he preferred to be up right next to her, but she wasn’t about to try and fit herself on that bed with the both of them.

    She looked over his peacefully resting face for a moment. She still felt bad about before, with the endless flirting with Cael. Although she wasn’t exactly flirting back, but she did allow it to continue, wanting to get under Bishop’s skin a little. She could understand now why everyone was so afraid of the forsworn. The way Cael moved with such incredible speed, the force in which he brought his sword to Bishop’s neck… but he hadn’t gone through with it. Perhaps it was just a warning, but it was far too close for her comfort. She’d made the right decision then, to shout him down. She would always choose Bishop, every time. He was too important to her and definitely more important than some strange man she just met.

    She sighed and opened the massive book up, ready to dive into it and see what secrets it held. There was a table of contents in the front of the book, also written in dragon’s tongue. However, Esbern had already scribbled the translations of each section. They were the names of all of the Dragonborn women all the way up to Jillian. There had been at least thirty of them. That seemed about right, as there were at least a hundred or more men who had been Dragonborn.

    Rona found Jillian’s name at the very bottom of the list. Of course she’d be the last in there, she was the one who came before Rona. She flipped to the page where Jillian’s name was scrawled out in dragon’s tongue, very near the back of the book. Jillian Do Sil Fo, it read. Rona flipped over the next page and stared at the thin writing. It was definitely hard to read. She might have had the knowledge but even this hurt her brain to look at and she found herself mixing up words and struggling to understand the phrasing. It was much easier when she spoke it. Reading it though was a whole new challenge.

    She rubbed at her eyes, trying to understand but it didn’t make much sense. As she stared hard at the words though, they seemed to etch themselves deeper into the page, almost like they were glowing, like on a Word Wall. She felt drawn into them and heard a familiar chanting as her mind was slowly wiped away so that only one word entered her mind, over and over again, ‘fo’.

    Her throat felt cold then, like the word was chilling her insides. She was numb with cold and compelled to say it, no longer in control of her own mind it seemed. She let it go, “FO!”

    The shout crashed into the book and covered the letters in a chilling frost, lighting them up in an icy blue color. She leaned forward, looking closely at the words as the pages flipped swiftly before her eyes and then she felt herself falling and falling.

    ~~~

    An old woman trudged up the snowy mountain path. She was no ordinary woman though. She’d been hardened by years of battle and was covered in the scars that proved her fortitude. Her right arm was marked with the scar of a horrible burn and half her face was covered in dragon’s slash. There’d been one slash which took her eye, but she’d chosen the gift to heal Dragon’s Slash and so managed to remove the one on her eye, restoring her sight, leaving the other two permanently etched on her sharp lined face. Her long grey hair drifted in gentle wisps down to her waist and caught on the wind while her glinting great sword sparkled in the light of the sun.

    She approached the monastery, it had been years since she’d visited. Banished by the Greybeards themselves after she helped the Blades and the Tongues invade the place so that they might reach the Throat of the World and banish Alduin from existence. She’d brought war and violence to that place, she’d directly offended Kyne.

    And she was about to do it again.

    She let herself into the monastery. The Greybeards never locked the doors. Why would they? No one ever visited that high on the mountain except to leave offerings or to come and train if they were a Tongue or the Dragonborn.

    She swept into the foyer, all was silent and still, just as she remembered it. The Greybeards were surely around, sitting in quiet seclusion, meditating or perhaps outside, on their knees, worshipping Kynareth in all her glory.

    It didn’t matter though, she had one purpose for being there and intended to fulfill it. She’d be damned if she let them stop her now. She hurried up the steps and passed through the doors into the courtyard. Still no sign of any of them. Even the tower beyond was silent still. She continued on her path, steadily crossing the courtyard. As she approached the violent wind wall and made to shout it down she heard someone call at her back.

    “Jillian,” his voice was angry and distressed, but also incredibly old sounding.

    She turned to face her old master. She looked at him with eyes full of disdain, for him and for everything he believed in. He was so much older now, she honestly couldn’t believe he was still alive. He had to nearly be a hundred years old. He certainly looked it too, with his thin wrinkled face, only a few wisps of hair left on his head and age spots all over the top and sides of his head and a few on his cheeks. His hands had that extremely aged appearance too, bony but with the skin sagging between them and dark blue veins pressing through his paper thin skin. He was missing almost all of his teeth and his eyes seemed to be going as well seeing as they were quite clouded.

    “Master Araidh,” she replied tersely, but said nothing more. It was not a friendly greeting, it was only her acknowledging that she heard him.

    “Why are you here?” He said, his voice growing severe.

    “You know exactly why I’m here, to fulfill my destiny.”

    He breathed steadily, trying to keep himself calm, but she could hear the quaver in his voice, perhaps he was afraid or perhaps it was just his age. “You already fulfilled your destiny fifty years ago. Alduin is gone. You have no purpose here. Leave this sacred place.”

    “Will you try to stop me?” She asked him.

    His shriveled lips parted slightly, revealing the mostly empty gums, “I admit… I cannot stop you, nor will I try. When I die, I wish to go in peace to Lady Kyne, not in violent death from the Dragonborn herself.”

    “Then I shall take my leave of you,” she turned away from him.

    He stopped her once more saying, “No… I cannot stop you, but she will. She will never let you kill him.”

    Jillian’s eyes narrowed and her grey brows lowered sharply over them, “We shall see her try.”

    (The Song is Never Look Back by Evanescence)

    She shouted the way open and moved up the path. It was not long before she heard a piano playing in the distance, traveling all the way down the mountain. She was already there, at the top. She would be. Jillian rarely felt much anymore, but she did feel angry and it was an impassioned loathing and rage, one she’d carried with her for her entire life. Because of that the ghosts of the others often appeared easily for her.

    When she arrived at the peak of the mountain. She saw her there, the ghost of the woman who’d been following and tormenting her for her entire life, as always. Watching over the beast, protecting him. She was playing an enormous piano that looked as though it had been built into the Word Wall itself. She played swiftly, harshly, expressing her feelings and then the words came.

    “Everything is so dark
    And I know there’s something wrong but I can’t turn the light on
    In that split second change when you knew we couldn’t hold on
    I realized I lived to love you

    Save yourself, don’t look back
    Tearing us apart until it’s all gone
    The only world I’ve ever known sleeps beneath the waves
    But I remember

    I won’t give up on you
    I can feel you in my heart, just show me the way
    I don’t belong here
    Alone

    I can still see your face
    Where it’s burned into my mind I die every time
    I close my eyes, you’re always there

    Save yourself, don’t look back
    Tearing us apart until it’s all gone
    The only world I’ve ever known sleeps beneath the waves
    But I’m the one who’s drowning without your love
    I am lost and I can never go back home”

    She sang for him because she loved him. Jillian could not remember the feeling. She could not empathize and she’d never understand what it meant to love a dragon because she’d always hated them. She’d almost killed them all, save for the one that escaped to Morrowind and… him

    Paarthurnax stood perched upon the Wall, looking on longingly at the fiery redhead below as she begged him to save himself and she cried for them and their broken love with her beautiful heart wrenching song.

    Jillian felt no sympathy for her. She had none of that left. Only the bitter cold in her heart.

    “All across the ocean
    We are calling, calling

    Are, are you there?
    Nothing left for me ’til I find you because it’s

    All gone the only world I’ve ever known sleeps beneath the waves
    But I’m the one who’s drowning without your love
    I am lost and I can never go back
    I, I can never go back home.”

    Eira finished her song and the strange instrument in the Word Wall faded away. She turned back to Jillian, her bright green eyes meeting Jillian’s cold blue.

    “Don’t,” Eira begged, shaking her head, looking as though she might cry.

    Jillian drew her greatsword and held it at the ready, “I must. He cannot live Eira. He must pay for his sins.”

    Paarthurnax did not once look at her. The grey dragon was old, feeble and tired and only had eyes for his beloved. It seemed he might have accepted his fate and only wished to love her for whatever time he had left that day.

    Eira’s expression changed from one of sorrow to one of fiery anger quickly and she drew her rapier from its sheath. She pled her case once more, “You did not defeat Alduin. You only sent him adrift on the winds of time. He will return someday and the new Dragonborn will need him, she will need to train.”

    “It matters not to me,” Jillian replied, “The new Dragonborn will have to find her own way. Hopefully it will not be as painful an existence as mine has been…”

    “You had your child, a piece of him,” Eira argued, “But you pushed her away. You allowed your hatred to consume you and now she hates you too.”

    Eira was right. Rona did hate her. She’d been an awful mother, choosing vengeance over raising the girl every time. It wasn’t fair, he should have been there with her. They should have raised their daughter together, but he was taken before she even knew she was pregnant. And her daughter had long since moved on, made her own family and found her own happiness. She hadn’t seen Rona in twenty years, she wouldn’t allow herself to tarnish her daughter’s happiness with her bitter cold.

    “I did allow it to consume me and now the world is nearly free of the dragon menace that once plagued it. You lived under them Eira, suffering… can you not say that what I did was right?”

    “He has not harmed any humans in centuries. He gave us the gift of the Thu’um!”

    “It does not matter,” Jillian said, “I vowed to kill them all and so I shall.”

    It was time. She was ready… she’d spent ages writing this Song of Power. It belonged to her and she would use it to fulfill her vow, for him… for Ronin.

    (The Song is Jillian – I’d Give My Heart by Within Temptation)

    She raised her broadsword and ran in, making it fiercely clash with Eira’s thin rapier and then their shouts came as the sound of her music crashed over the mountain.

    “YOL TOOR SHUL!”

    “FO KRAH DIIN!”

    The two shouts smashed together, ice and fire, the power of the Thu’um of two fierce Dragonborn, The Maidens of Dragon Flame, the first and the last battling at the Throat of the World. It was a legend for the ages, a story made to be turned into a song.

    Eira leapt through the crossfire, swinging swiftly, aiming for the ankles and the wrists, always going for the soft spots. She was a quick one.

    Jillian was bigger than her, stronger, she used her strength and bulk to fight… but she was also older, so much older. Granted Eira was a ghost and she knew she’d never be able to kill a ghost. But she would cut her way through. She could stop her if she just got a good shout in. Eira was real enough at least, flesh and bone, thanks to Jillian’s hateful passion, so she knew she could at the very least hurt her, however long it lasted.

    She blocked each wild thrust from the rapier with her sword, making the two very opposite blades clang and clash as they danced through the snow and Jillian’s ire and her voice grew more powerful.

    She roared another, “FO KRAH DIIN!” blasting Eira off her feet. Paarthurnax roared, his wings flapping, but he made no other move. Eira stood again, clutching at her ribs where the ice had crashed against her and severely frostbitten her flesh.

    “Does it feel real?” Jillian asked her, “When you come back like this?”

    Eira snarled, “Why? Do you expect to die today? You want to know what feels like to be pulled from Sovngarde in order to aid the others?”

    Jillian smirked at her, “I’ve always been curious.”

    Eira returned the nasty smile and said, “It feels like dying all over again.”

    “Then die again!” She roared, “IIZ SLEN NUS”

    Eira tried to leap out of the way, but the shout hit her in the legs, freezing them over entirely and she cried out in pain. Still she was braver than someone living might have been when she roared fire over her own body, “YOL TOOR SHUL!” melting the ice. But Jillian had already run in, swinging, aiming for her head.

    And then she was hit with a shout from above, “FUS ROH DAH!” she was thrown fiercely through the air and smashed up against the mountain hard. She felt her bones crack and definitely some of them broke, it felt like her ribs. She grit her teeth and groaned. She was not a young woman anymore. Seventy-eight years of age was definitely much too old to be trying to fight dragons.

    Paarthurnax flew down, standing protectively in front of Eira. The red-headed woman cried, “[Paarthurnax no! I can die again and again but if she kills you, she will take your soul!]”

    He looked down at her and spoke deeply, “[I cannot watch you be hurt my love. Spirit or not, it pains me so. If I am to die today… then so be it, for it pains me even more to be apart from you. It is eternal agony.]”

    Eira clutch at his wing, looking up at him sadly.

    He looked back at Jillian and said, “[Do what you must Dragonborn. Though I am afraid to say that killing me will not sate your thirst for vengeance… I understand your feelings. I too once felt them for her… when Alduin stole her from me.]”

    Jillian pulled herself up, grasping her sword and shuddering with the pain her ribs. Good. At least he was making it easy. It was a habit though, shouting it, she wanted to keep him there.

    “JOOR ZAH FRUL!”

    Paarthurnax was bound by a blue light. He would be forced to stay, to be held. Because that is what Dragonrend did. It pulled them to the ground and chaining them there, making it that much easier to kill them.

    She took a sharp breath as her song peaked and ran forward aiming for his throat, getting ready to slash it and rip it open, it would be swift and mostly painless… he deserved that much, the old beast. The one who taught her everything she knew, the dragon she’d once befriended so long ago.

    Her sword sparkled in the light of the sun and she swung and then she stopped and felt it. She looked down at the fiery red-head, hateful tears in her bright green eyes, holding her rapier upward so that it pierced into Jillian’s chest.

    “I will see you in Sovngarde, Jillian,” her body flickered as that which bound her to the mortal plane slowly started to die.

    Jillian slumped into the snow, feeling the blood gushing swiftly. Eira had pierced her cold heart. She couldn’t understand why the blood was so warm when she was so sure she’d been frozen inside. She fell on her side, still clutching her blade. She wanted to die with it, it had been her only friend for so long, her tool of vengeance.

    She lay there, staining the snow with her blood and she smiled. Truly smiled with joy for the first time in so long. It was finally over. She didn’t have to keep fighting. She hadn’t killed them all but it didn’t matter anymore. She could die and finally be free from the curse, free from the pain, free from it all. She prayed for whoever was to come next, she pleaded with Akatosh, “Don’t let her suffer like I did… or I’ll come find you and kill you too you damned bastard.”

    Her vision faded and Eira vanished entirely then. The last thing she ever saw was the face of a blasted dragon… but it was Paarthurnax and that was okay. He’d been the only good one and she found herself grateful that he was still alive.

    ~~~

    Rona felt her vision returning as she slowly pulled free from what she just saw, there were muffled voices speaking around her, indistinguishable until she heard Delphine, “She’s crying now.”

    “Hang on,” Bishop said with worry etched in his voice. She saw the blurred outline of a hand snapping its fingers in front of her face and then he held it out flat, waving it up and down. “Rona, hey, you with me. Come on Sweetness, don’t do this again, please,” Bishop pleaded.

    She started to shake her head and blinked trying to throw the fuzziness off and her father said, “She’s coming to. Velvyn, are you alright, can you hear us?”

    She looked over to see everyone standing at her bedside, including Karnwyr who was sitting on the ground next to her with his head on her leg.

    “Uh,” she uttered still very confused, “what just happened?”

    Bishop looked relieved and said, “I could ask you the same thing. The hell was that? You just shouted at that book and then stared off into space for like five minutes. Scared the shit out of me.”

    She blinked, “It’s only been a few minutes?”

    “Yeah… why?” Bishop asked, crossing his arms.

    “Why did you shout at the book?” Esbern asked her anxiously.

    “I… because… I don’t know,” she mumbled. She wasn’t entirely sure how to explain what just happened.

    “That’s alright velvyn, take your time,” Serlas urged her, “Collect your thoughts.”

    She looked back at the book in her lap and carefully closed it. She really wasn’t in the mood to go back to that place or see more of whatever the book had to offer. She pushed it aside on the bed and turned to face them all, kicking her feet off the bed as Karnwyr came around to hop up next to her and pressed his head back into her lap. He licked at her hand and she scratched him, grounding herself back in reality.

    She took a breath and started to explain. She told them everything, what happened when she read the book and when she shouted and then everything that happened to Jillian.

    They all listened intently especially Esbern, he had to hold himself back from bombarding her with questions. When she finished he finally said, “I see now. It makes sense. The book was made for the Dragonborn. Certainly a layman could read it, if they wanted, they could find the history within, but the words… they were made to be read like those on your Word Walls, to be taken within, to show you in literal context. You can see what actually happened.”

    She was very tired, as insane and interesting as it all was, she just wanted to sleep.

    “I… I think I need to sleep,” she said.

    Serlas could see the exhaustion in her face and said, “Yes, we’ll talk more of this tomorrow. Rona has had a very long day, fighting dragons and reading very unusual books.”

    “Hm… indeed, tomorrow then,” Esbern conceded, “Before you take your leave we’ll speak a bit more. Well then, goodnight Lady Rona.”

    Delphine put a hand to Rona’s shoulder and asked, “You gonna be alright?”

    Rona gave her a tired smile, “I’m fine really. Just sleepy.”

    Delphine nodded and bid her goodnight. Serlas gave her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek before retiring as well.

    Bishop crawled back into his bed and said, “Warn a guy next time you plan to shout at any books okay?” She got up suddenly and went around to his bed and crawled in with him. He smiled and said, “Yeah, you want to cram into this tiny bed with me, Sweetness?” He moved over and she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his bare chest. He ran a hand through her hair and said, “You alright, Rona?”

    She shook her head and just held him. He sighed and pulled her closer, “It’ll be okay. I’m here.”

    She couldn’t stop seeing it, or hearing their voices, their songs. She’d sang that exact same song when she discovered she became Dragonborn. It seemed so long ago. That was Jillian’s Song of Power, the one she’d tried to use to kill Paarthurnax. Rona didn’t know how to feel about it all. She’d been so curious about the woman, but now she wanted to pull the knowledge back out of her head and put it back in that damn book.

    She closed her eyes and started to nod off listening to Bishop’s quiet snoring in her ear. He gave her so much comfort. They’d be going to Cyrodiil soon too. She tried to look forward to that. Things were going to be okay.

    “Joor zah frul,” she whispered. But she didn’t have the knowledge of that. If she did it would have made everything she saw worth it.

    ~~~

    Their trip back to the farm was quite uneventful, which was always good in their opinion. Delphine stayed behind with Esbern, talking about how she wanted to reform the Blades but first they’d need to get the Temple back in working order and go out to try and recruit. She said someday, hopefully soon, they’d have a powerful team of dragon slayers that could help Rona on her journey. She didn’t speak with Esbern too much about the book, but he made her take it with her, encouraging her to continue seeking out the mysteries within, no doubt he just wanted her to relay everything she saw to him.

    The three of them wished Delphine and Esbern well and promised to return as soon as they found out anything more on the Elder Scrolls. Delphine said she’d stop by the farm every now and again to check up on them as well, or she’d send word with a courier about anything they learned.

    It felt good to be back on the farm. It was quiet, peaceful and Illia had done such an amazing job of making it so beautiful. But even then Rona was anxious to get moving again, already wanting to run off to Cyrodiil and see everyone.

    Serlas of course said, “Have patience velvyn! We still need to properly equip ourselves for the journey. The Jerall Mountains are a force to be reckoned with and the Temple is quite deep in them. We will stay here for a week and rest as well. And I don’t know about you, but this old man needs some time to recover after all the adventures we’ve had.”

    She relented and calmed herself down. Bishop suggested, “You should try practicing your shouts. You’ve finally got the time Ladyship.”

    So she did. She spent half of the week there training out in the garden or by the lake, under Bishop’s watchful eye. Still as wary as ever about Thorn. But she had a feeling he’d left the area. Helgen had been completely vacant of any bandits for a long while and they hadn’t had any problems with unwanted visitors trying to pass through the blood seal. But they continued to treat her like she couldn’t take care of herself, like she wasn’t the all powerful Dragonborn and it was getting frustrating.

    Serlas and Illia had gone out to Whiterun to get some ingredients and potions that Falkreath did not offer. They were due back that evening and then they’d leave in another few days.

    They were already seven days in to their stay on the farm and Rona was itching to leave. A few more days was like a decade to her. She really could not sit still and wondered sometimes if she got that from her mother. It was no wonder she couldn’t train her magic well, she simply didn’t have the patience to sit around studying.

    “Take me out,” she pleaded with Bishop who was laying on the couch he hated, while Karnwyr sat near the fireplace gnawing on a deer leg from their earlier hunt. The wolf had gotten it down to mostly bone and was crunching hard on it.

    Bishop sighed loudly, “No. I’m tired, I hunted all day. I just want to nap.”

    “You should have taken me with you!”

    “You were stuck inside that book again,” he said.

    It was true. When she’d gotten bored enough she dared to venture into the stories of the others, reading into it, shouting at it and then falling into a new story.

    She’d just learned about the story of Ja’anna Sihir, a fourteen year old half khajiit, half nord girl. She looked like a khajiit though because her mother was one. She had a beautiful voice and was traveling by sea to go to Skyrim to train with the Greybeards after learning she was Dragonborn when the ship ran aground on some rocks just north of Ysgramor’s Tomb. She and the entire crew drowned. It was horrifying and Rona wanted so much to forget it.

    “And you couldn’t wait five minutes for me to come out of the book?” she scowled at him, feeling annoyed.

    Bishop looked up at her and frowned right back, “No, I couldn’t wait around. And it’s not always five minutes. Sometimes it’s way longer, like an hour or two.”

    “Bishop please,” she shifted her shoulders back and forth, getting antsy.

    He gave her a salacious grin and said, “I can think of something else we can do. We have until this evening you know and you can be as loud as you want.”

    “We already did it four times this morning! Gods,” she sputtered, exasperated, “All you ever think about is sex!”

    He chuckled at her frustration, “You know, I didn’t hear you complaining this morning.”

    She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. He just yawned and said, “Let’s lay down for a nap.”

    “I’m not tired! I need to do… something!

    He started getting annoyed and barked, “Then go run circles in the garden. Gods, you always get like this sitting around in one place for too long. Your father is right, you really do need to learn to have some patience.”

    “Easy for you to say,” she snapped back, “You get to run all over the place whenever you want!”

    He glared at her, “I am not doing this. You’re just picking a fight because of all that pent up energy.”

    “Bishop I just watched a little girl drown! I need to do something!”

    “What you need to do is quit looking at the fucking book every time you get bored. Because yesterday you saw that other woman get split in half by two dragons. So quit it already, put it away, fuck Esbern and his fucking need to know all that sick stuff. Now, I’m going to take a nap. So be good and go read a book or something – a normal book,” he added.

    “UGH!” She stormed outside and paced around the garden for a bit, trying to shake off the memory of it all. It wasn’t fair. She should be able to go and do something. She was the Dragonborn, she had the power to shout her enemies down and she just knew there was no way that man was still around. They were long gone, it had been too quiet.

    She looked out at the sparkling lake and then movement caught her eye in the window. She looked inside and saw Bishop looking at her, making a face that said, stay. She stuck her tongue out at him and he rolled his eyes, falling back onto the couch.

    Karnwyr came outside then, loping along over to her. She knelt down and started petting him and a smile curled at her lips, “Hey, let’s go for a walk. It’ll be fine if I have you with me, right Karnwyr? You’ll keep an eye out for me, right?”

    He gave a low whine and his tongue lolled happily from his mouth. She took it as a yes and clicked for him to follow. She wandered off down the hill and towards the lake. She wouldn’t go far, she wouldn’t run, she’d just sit by the lake, get a little peacefulness and serenity, try to scrub her mind of the horrors of the other Dragonborn women’s awful journeys.

    She slumped down at the edge of the lake and pulled her boots off and threw her feet into the water. It felt nice but she was getting antsy again as her mind kept wandering back to the awful things she’d seen. She started trying to skip rocks. She wasn’t good at it. Bishop could get at least five skips when she only ever got one before it plunked right into the water.

    Karnwyr seemed to be enjoying the water’s edge, or just being by her side. She enjoyed his company too, he was always so kind and actually seemed to worry for her every time she woke up with him by her side. He and Bishop knew her best. She leaned over and kissed him on his head and then she heard someone clear their throat behind her.

    She knew Bishop would be mad and she just said, “I’m fine. See, I’ve got Karnwyr with me.”

    “You are very fine little mouse,” her heart leapt in her chest and she spun around, ready to shout but they were all on her in seconds binding her mouth so she couldn’t shout, and tying her arms and legs tightly. Karnwyr barely got out a growl when they stabbed him in the gut.

    She couldn’t scream, she couldn’t shout, she couldn’t move. The terror she felt was beyond description. But when he knelt down in front of her with that wicked grin on his cruel face and he touched her, groping at her chest and caressing her face she shuddered.

    Then he spoke low, “Beautiful, sweet mouse. I’ve been waiting so long for your return. It seems the Thalmor have decided that they don’t care what happens to you, so I’ve decided to finally take you for myself. And oh, am I going to enjoy this. He pulled out a disgusting jagged dagger, covered in new and old blood and held it up to her face. “I can’t wait to see the look on your face when I penetrate you with this and not to mention when I penetrate you. Shame I won’t get to hear that beautiful voice of yours.”

    She was trembling fiercely and he laughed, “Yes, you should be scared.” Then he lifted her up too easily, throwing her over his shoulder like she was freshly wrapped product from the market. He called out to the other five, “Ready for some fun tonight boys!? Oh the games we’re going to play!”

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 77

    Taken

     

    Trigger Warning: Graphic Violence, Vulgar Language, Kidnapping, Molestation/Unwanted Touching, Humiliation, Attempted Rape, Attempted Murder

    ———————————————————-

    (Background Music is Raise the Darkness by Valentin Wiest)

    He was hiking up the hills with her, walking right by the farmhouse. Why did the plant stalks have to be so damn tall?! She shook her head and writhed against his shoulder and he just laughed, “Feisty one aren’t you? I knew you would be. I love the ones that fight back, so much more fun when I break them.”

    They’d stuffed a dirty rag into her mouth before pulling the other filthy piece of cloth around her head to hold it there. It hurt her jaw, splitting it open like that. She couldn’t even move her tongue around.

    Her heart was racing so fast as they passed right by the house.

    BISHOP! BISHOP! HELP! HELP ME! She was screaming inside her head. She wanted to say the words but couldn’t. She wanted to breathe fire, shout YOL! Do anything!

    She could summon them though. She thought of Eira and Jillian, she let those two wonderful, powerful Dragonborn women burn into her mind. SAVE ME!

    Thorn stopped his procession up the hill and muttered, “The hell?” Then she bounced around on his shoulder as he moved lunging out of the way and she saw Eira slashing past him fiercely.

    He moved again and she saw Jillian making an attack with her greatsword.

    “FUCKING BITCHES!” Thorn roared as he bound back and forth, making Rona bounce hard and uncomfortably against his massive shoulder. He called back to the others, “KILL THEM!”

    They were still close to the farm, maybe Bishop heard all his yelling. She prayed that he heard. And then she thought of Karnwyr, bleeding out at the edge of the lake. They had to get to him! Oh gods, why? Why hadn’t she just stayed put? Why hadn’t she listened?

    Thorn bound back again and this time she heard the sound of swords clashing and scraping. She couldn’t see but she figured he must have been fighting Jillian because Eira was down the hill fighting Bane. She recognized him from Bishop’s dream, a filthy nord man in leather armor. She was too fast for him and she cut him good, getting him in the wrist, nearly taking his hand. He grunted in pain and snarled, slashing back, “What the fuck is this Thorn!?”

    Then she heard Slash call out, “They’re her little ghost friends! I’ve seen them show up when she’s roaring fire and ice out here!”

    Thorn grunted loudly and all of a sudden she went tumbling off his shoulder and hit the ground hard on her side. She rolled a bit down the hill and saw Thorn struggling against Jillian, their blades scratching and sparking against one another. Rona wondered why they didn’t just shout at them all, then realized, it was because she was bound and gagged. So of course they wouldn’t be able to shout.

    Thorn threw Jillian off of him and got her right in the gut with his sword. Rona saw her wince in pain and fall to her knee. Eira had said that being brought back here was like dying all over again. But Jillian looked up at him, glaring fiercely at that horrible, sick man. She would continue to fight to save Rona, whether it felt like dying again or not.

    He just laughed and said, “So we can hurt them it seems.” He yanked his blade out of her body and kicked her hard in the face, sending her reeling backward.

    Out of the corner of her eye, Rona saw Eira struggling against the five other men, but she was really holding her own. Eira was very quick footed, dancing about, swiping rapidly at them all as they circled her. One of the men, a mage, she guessed was Lars, started casting sparks at her. Rona was surprised to see Eira knew how to use a ward.

    The woman blocked the attack, startling Lars and then leapt forward, swiping at him and getting him across the chest. He hissed with pain and then she got a quick thrust, right into the side of his neck. He looked utterly stunned and then she tore her sharp blade out of his flesh, spraying blood. YES! She hit an artery!

    Lars clutched at his throat and slumped over. Rona was cheering inside until Thorn came stomping over to her and stooped down, looking right into her face with his own furious expression. He withdrew that nasty dagger of his and grabbed her tightly bound wrists and yanked her up, nearly tearing her arms from their sockets in the process.

    She was so damn short and he was huge. He was much bigger than Bishop. His bulky muscles made him nearly the same size as Farkas and he had to be at least six feet tall, maybe a bit taller than Bishop. He held her up easily by her wrists, holding her out like he were showing off a freshly caught fish.

    Rona thrashed in the air, making only the most meek, muffled noises through her gag. She saw Jillian to her right, healed again and coming straight for him while Eira continued to swipe at the others, dancing between them as they tried to surround her, but remaining wary, especially now that she’d just killed one of their own.

    Jillian had a snarl on her face, holding her greatsword with both hands and was running. But Thorn just stared at her, like he did that day on the road when she and Bishop swept by him on horseback. He held the creepiest, most cruel smile she’d ever seen on someone. As Jillian drew closer, he aimed that disgusting dagger at Rona’s left side, right under her rib cage.

    He said menacingly, “Alright, let’s see what happens when we do this!” He pulled the blade back and slammed it into the soft spot in her side sharply. Rona’s eyes widened with the fierce licking pain that was buried inside her and she saw Jillian falter and her body flickered.

    Thorn’s lips curled into a triumphant grin. As Rona regained her bearings, trying her best to endure the searing pain, Jillian and Eira both turned solid again. Eira made to start her attacks once more and Slash shouted out, “Do it again!”

    Thorn twisted the dagger in her side and the pain began anew, licking up and down her abdomen, waist and ribcage like a fire worse than a dragon’s. It was agonizing and she felt sick from it. If she vomited now though, she’d choke on it, so she held back and just tried to ride with the pain, moaning under the gag and letting her tears spill over her cheeks.

    Jillian and Eira faded again with each new sharp cut inside her as he continued to twist it around. Thorn was very pleased with himself and then he threw her on the ground, letting her bounce a bit with the dagger still in her side. Oh gods it hurt so much. It was even worse than when Potema got her with the sword in the shoulder.

    Thorn climbed on top of her then, pressing his massive body against her much smaller one and looked into her face, biting and licking at his lips as his enormous hands groped her breasts. “You are beautiful, especially for a piss-skin. Never seen one like you before,” he pressed his rigid manhood against her leg, making her feel it. She felt disgusted and violated, but even more so she was in pain.

    “You make me so fucking hard. Gods, I wish I could hear you scream. I’d probably cream myself right then and there. I’ve been listening to your beautiful voice every time you come to visit here. I couldn’t hold back sweet mouse, I touched myself every time, stroking it and just thinking of how I’d make you shriek with that beautiful voice of yours. But, being Dragonborn and all… well, that makes things difficult. Though I did consider taking your tongue in my mouth,” he licked his lips again, “have a nice taste before I bit it right off.”

    Then he licked her cheek and she cringed and shook still. He moved his face down to her neck and started licking there too. It felt so disgusting. She didn’t want it. No one was allowed to touch her there like that, no one but Bishop. And then he bit her hard enough to draw blood. It hurt a lot, like he was trying to tear a piece of her away. He let go though and pulled back, looking her over, “Bet he never gives you love bites like that.”

    Love bites? Oh my gods he was such a sick fuck. Jillian flickered over her, she was looking down at them, looking distressed, unable to do anything without being in her full physical form.

    He glanced up at her, “You know, three really is a crowd. I have a feeling I know how to get rid of these cunts though.” He grabbed the dagger in her side again and twisted it some more, making her nerve endings ignite and she involuntarily spasmed all over, to her dismay, because that just made the pain so much worse. Then he yanked that disgusting thing out of her and she felt her blood spilling so quickly, too quickly.

    He gave her a wicked smile as he looked down at her, “Time to go pet. We still have a lot of fun to have and I didn’t bring any potions with me, so we’ll want to hurry before you bleed out entirely.”

    Jillian flickered and faded, and vanished as Rona felt her energy leaving her. Help… she thought. Please help. Bishop

    ~~~

    Bishop felt his back hurting again. That damned poufy couch was just the worst. He should have just laid down in their shared bed instead. He rolled over then and saw her hand next to his face. He yawned, closing his eyes over again, “Just let me get a few more winks in and I promise we’ll go out, okay Sweetness?”

    No reply. That was odd. He at least expected her to start whining and complaining again. He opened his eyes and jolted back, “The fuck!?” He took a breath and then uttered, “Eira?” He was incredibly confused now. Maybe Rona was practicing her shouts again? No… he’d have heard her and then he’d be the one grumbling and complaining.

    Eira looked distraught though and was pointing out at the lake. He got up and she opened her mouth, trying to speak and kept pointing very forcefully out at the lake.

    (Background Music is Legend of the Night by Valentin Wiest)

    “What? What is it?” He looked outside the windows, at the garden and then realized Rona was not there. His heart started to pound in his chest and he called, “Rona? Rona! Hey! Where are you!?”

    Something was wrong. Karnwyr was missing too. He was quick, grabbing all of his gear, quiver, bow, dagger and both swords, strapping everything to himself faster than ever.

    He ran down the hill outside and saw a strange mound of fur laying by the lakeside. His eyes widened in horror, “KARNWYR!” His pace quickened and he practically slid into the lake, skidding in the mud and fell down to his knees. Blood. There was blood all over his side. Karnwyr feebly looked up at him and whimpered.

    “Shit! Shit, shit, shit!” He rifled through his pockets and pulled out a potion, practically dropping it in the process because he was in such a hurry. He uncorked it and dumped it all over the wolf’s side where he was bleeding heavily. “What happened!? Where is she!?

    Bishop looked around and saw her boots. Just her boots? Had she gone for a swim? Had she drowned!?

    Eira appeared again, standing at the water’s edge, flickering, fading almost. She pointed once more, back up the hill. He looked up that way, but there was no sign of Rona anywhere. Panic overwhelmed him then. He looked down regretfully at Karnwyr and cried, “I’m sorry Karnwyr. I’m so sorry,” and he ran, leaving the wolf, praying that he wouldn’t get picked off by a predator while he was wounded.

    He watched as Eira kept flickering in and out of being ahead of him, guiding him. He chased after her, moving as fast as his feet would take him. He stopped on one of the low rolling hills where Eira was standing by and pointing at the ground. He looked and saw blood. So much fucking blood.

    He started shaking uncontrollably. “RONA! RONA! WHERE ARE YOU!? WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU!?” He roared for her, hopelessly so, because he already knew what happened, there was no other explanation and it made him sick just to think about it. Then he saw the body and it confirmed everything he thought. Lars lay in a crumpled heap, throat torn open nearby. She’d managed to kill one of them.

    Eira pointed again, back up the hill right where the trail of blood was leading. He followed it, sprinting faster now, racing for her life.

    The blood trail had grown thinner as he followed it all the way outside Falkreath and up into the hills and towards the mountains. She was losing too much blood, she was dying. He had to get to her, he had to save her.

    He came over the hill and wove through the thick trees and found it. Some old bandit’s den with a rickety wooden door and two of Thorn’s men standing outside, keeping a lookout. He took cover behind a thick tree, drew his bow and nocked an arrow, he fired the first shot swiftly – headshot. The other was startled and looked over for just a second before having the sense to draw his sword, but Bishop was already on it. Another headshot. He was more focused now than ever, nothing could stop him.

    Except for that hard blow to the back of the head that sent him tumbling face first into the leaf strewn ground. He felt dizzy and saw lights at the corners of his vision, then he felt them pulling his arms back hard and binding them tightly.

    Slash came around and knelt down in front him, lifting his chin up with a claw, digging it into his skin, forcing him to look at the old khajiit bastard in the face. Slash sneered, “Been expecting you Bish. Thorn’s been missing having you around. Gotta say, I’ve been looking forward to raking my claws over your flesh. I mean, your skin’s not as soft as I like, but I’ll enjoy it all the same, because it’s you.”

    Bishop’s head finally cleared and he snarled, “Where the fuck is she?

    “Thorn’s getting her ready right now,” Slash grinned.

    “You fucking disgusting pieces of dog shit! I WILL FUCKING KILL ALL OF YOU IF YOU TOUCH ONE HAIR ON HER HEAD!

    Slash laughed, “Didn’t you see the blood trail? That was all her. Don’t worry though, Thorn managed to get a potion in her. She’s still hanging in there… barely.”

    Bishop roared loudly to the skies as Sten and Vince hauled him off the ground and forced him down into the cave while Slash and Bane led the way.

    ~~~

    (Background Music is In Flux by C21FX)

    Thorn prowled around her. She watched his thick back muscles moving with each step as he stalked by her front again. He’d hung her up on a meat hook they’d bore into the ceiling and it seemed he was still trying to decide what horrible thing he wanted to do to her first as he looked her over like she really was a piece of meat hanging from that hook.

    He’d positioned her so she was forced to see his wall of disgusting torture tools. An assortment of hooks, daggers, swords, hammers, saws, pliers, and so on. All oddly shaped, all covered in old blood and stained against that filthy wall. His new torture chamber was quite a bit like his old one, with tables that had iron cuffs and stirrups nailed into them, a dirty torture cage in the corner, and the number of times she saw a skeever crawl by, not even the same one, made it that much more disgusting. It smelled awful too, like blood and feces.

    She felt very tired, exhausted, and weak. She’d lost a lot of blood, she knew it, because she’d passed out halfway there and only woke up again when he jammed the cork end of a potion into her gaping wound and smacked her hard across the face a few times. It had helped, but she really would have rather died. To endure this… she wasn’t ready for it, she never would be. To think this is what Freya and Elska had to suffer while the others were forced to watch. She was trapped in a nightmare.

    Rona’s head fell against her chest and she stared at the floor, watching as a trail of ants marched mindlessly by and a few roaches scurried around the wooden legs of the tables. An infestation of vermin were just waiting for the table scraps that she would provide them. She shuddered to think of it.

    Thorn was walking by again and noticed her little shiver. A vicious smile curled at his lips, “Your Thalmor friends are very unhappy with you. That piss-skinned bitch didn’t just stop the gold flowing either… no, no. She wrote a scathing letter about everything she wanted me to do to you. I was almost surprised that she was even more vicious than me. Gave me all sorts of ideas…”

    Elenwen would. The woman was a torturer herself and Rona suspected she was a sadist in her own right. How anyone could torture another person and just go on with life like that was okay… they had to be sick. Rona wanted to allow herself to feel the hatred boiling inside her for the woman, but she was just so tired, all she could do was concentrate on keeping slow and steady breaths coming through her nose.

    “I just can’t make up my mind,” he said, “I’ve dreamed of it for so long now… but there were so many different possibilities. I thought of them all you know and came, so fucking hard. Every. Single. Time.” Then he looked her up and down and said, “Let’s start top down then. How’s that sound little mouse?”

    He approached her and she found just enough energy to turn her head away from him. He just grabbed her hard by the hair and turned her back to face him, “You look even more beautiful when you’re nearly the shade of white. What lovely skin, so soft. He ran his grimy hands over her neck, grasping it and pressed his thumb on her windpipe, just feeling at first before he pressed harder, closing her throat over entirely, choking her. She still had the filthy gag in her mouth so it was already hard to breathe, but now…

    “There, there, just a little more… Mmm,” He groaned sexually. She wanted to breathe, her body was screaming for air. Was he trying to kill her now? Like this? “I just want to see your lips turn white too,” he gave another low groan as he studied her closely. He held his thumb there for what seemed like forever while her body begged her to breathe and her vision went blurry. Finally, with a satisfied and sexual gasp, he let go and she sucked the air in through her nostrils, feeling lightheaded and dizzy. She needed gulps of air, not just what she could get through her nose.

    It subsided though and he laughed dryly at her, “Dragonborn, pah!” He scoffed, “Who knew you’d be so weak? I suppose it’s only natural though, considering you’re just another cunt… That’s right, you are just a hole for men to stick their cocks into. That’s all you’re good for, that’s all you’ll ever be good for.”

    He took a clean dagger this time and aimed it at her chest. She tried to weakly steel herself for what he was going to do. She expected him to bury it into her sternum, but instead he pulled it down, cutting her dress open so that her bra was exposed. He laughed, “White hm? Like you’re some innocent virgin? Being with him I doubt it. How many times has he had you? Bishop always was the carnal one, following his dick wherever it took him. He never understood true pleasure. To dominate. To control. To own.”

    Then he took his knife again and slid it under her bra between her breasts and turned it on its side, the sharp edge cut her a little, making her bleed as he pulled it forward, snapping her bra and her breasts fell free. He took that blade and started running the flat edge across one of them and touched her other with his rough and dirty hand. A shudder crawled up her spine and she tried so hard to ignore it, shutting her eyes and turning her head away.

    Then she felt him pulling hard on her nipples as he said, “Do you have any idea how easy it would be to slice these right off? I’ve done it before, it’s quite the interesting look on a woman. Oh how they cry and beg me to kill them after, being mutilated like that. They think they’re ugly, but I find them all the more beautiful, makes me incredibly hard at least.”

    He started laughing again, just laughing for no real reason at all. Maybe he amused himself, she had no idea. He was very sick in the head. Some kind of monster. What had happened to this awful man to make him like this? Was been born this way? She didn’t care. She just wanted him to kill her and be done with it.

    Then she heard it, Bishop’s very loud and angry yelling. Thorn smiled widely and said, “Ah finally. I was waiting for him to find you. Seems you left just enough of a trail for him.”

    Rona didn’t know how to feel. Happy he’d found her, horrified they’d caught him, distressed that he would see her like that and afraid. Just afraid they would force him to watch all the terrible things they were going to do to her. They were going to break him.

    They dragged him in through the doorway behind her and she heard him gasp in horror at the sight of her hanging there. “Rona?” he choked out. Thorn peered around her, grinning cruelly at Bishop and spun her right around on the meat hook so she was facing him.

    She weakly looked at him and his entire face cringed painfully to see her that way, disheveled, half naked, pale as a ghost, bleeding from her side, bound and gagged. Then his face turned to hateful fury as Thorn reached around and groped her breasts.

    “Lucky man Bishop, these are very nice. Although I have to admit, she’s quite nice all around. Soft and delicate, just how I like them.” She felt his tongue on her neck again and Bishop roared every threat and profanity under the sun at the man.

    Thorn just laughed into her neck. He was enjoying tormenting Bishop this way. Torturing the man who’d been the cause of his downfall. He was getting revenge and using her to do it. Then he bit her hard again and she winced in pain.

    She couldn’t look at Bishop while this other man touched her. It was so awful. She felt humiliated and disgusted. But mostly just ashamed because she was the reason they were both there. It was her own damn fault for leaving the safety of the farm in the first place, because she had no patience and now they were both going to suffer for it and probably die down in that filthy, dingy chamber.

    “She is quite a sight,” Thorn said, “I think it’s high time I take what I really want from her though, what do you say Bishop? Ever wondered what it would look like to watch a cock tear her cunt apart?”

    “DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH HER YOU SICK FUCK!”

    Thorn pulled her dress up and slid his fingers across her panties. She shut her eyes tightly and tried to imagine she was somewhere else altogether, she loved Bishop dearly, but she absolutely could not be there right then, being violated and listening to him agonize over it. She tried to remember something better as her tears ran down her cheeks. Before she even had a chance to land on any good memory she felt the sharp pain in her side again. Her eyes snapped open and she saw him burying that dagger back into her, cutting her partly healed wound open once more.

    “No, no little mouse. You don’t get to pretend you’re not here. I already know that game. You will be present, for all of it.”

    “Rona,” she looked up at Bishop’s tear strewn face, “Rona, you have to fight. I know you have it in you. You don’t need your voice. You can beat them. You can still fight. Find that fire inside and let it out! FIGHT DAMN IT!” He roared, pleading with her and struggling violently against his captors.

    Bane went right up to Bishop and punched him hard across the face. He shook his hand after and said, “Damn that felt fucking good. Anyone else want to get one in?”

    “I’m ready to rip his bowels open,” Slash said, unsheathing his sharp claws.

    Thorn laughed and said, “Give it a minute. I still want him to see what we’re going to do to her and he can’t very well do that if his eyes are swollen shut and his guts are hanging out. Soon boys, very soon.”

    Fire… she needed her fire. But she’d always used her voice to summon it and she couldn’t-! The sharp pain twisted inside again and Thorn directed the others to come over and pull her down. They did so, yanking her off the meat hook and dropping her to the floor, with that knife still buried in her side, forcing her to steadily bleed out.

    “Time to play sweet mouse,” Thorn said as he lowered the furs around his waist and pulled his erection out. She looked away while he yanked her dress up, grasping her hips and pulling her towards him. She felt dizzy again, her vision was going and she started seeing two of everything, from loss of blood to the brain probably.

    She didn’t want to die like this. She could see Bishop screaming at her but couldn’t make out what he was saying. She fell into herself then, like when Potema tried to take her. She was in a space with whirling winds and a golden dragon loomed over her.

    The beast stepped forward and lowered its head to her. She put a hand to its snout and whispered, “I need fire.” The second the words came out she felt a great warmth billowing within.

    ~~~

    Bishop screamed for her, “RONA! RONA!”

    “Damn it,” Thorn looked pissed and said, “Get me another fucking potion to wake the bitch up.”

    (The Music is Inferni by Thomas Bergersen)

    The sounds of violent strings started to play throughout the tunnels. They all looked around, perplexed. But Bishop smiled through his tears, “That’s it Ladyship. Fucking kill these motherfuckers. BURN THEM ALIVE!

    Golden flames licked at the cloth gag around her mouth and immediately burned it up. Thorn looked down at her, stunned and her eyes opened slightly and she took a deep breath. Thorn reached to cover her mouth when she shouted with all the power in her tiny body at him, “YOL TOOR SHUL!” He was engulfed in flames and roared in pain as his flesh seared from his body.

    Then the fire within her licked at her own body, creating that wide and wild force it did, growing all around her. It washed over all of them, filling the room in golden light. The others screamed in pain and Bishop was free, his bindings burned off, yet the flames didn’t harm him in the slightest. He had eyes only for Thorn now. He watched as the man writhed in agony as his flesh was slowly seared and melted from his body. He drew his brother’s blade and ran forward, leaping over her and slammed his sword straight into Thorn’s chest. The man was still burning and he looked at Bishop in stunned agony.

    Bishop growled, “Go to Oblivion you fucking piece of trash.” He withdrew the blade and slammed it back into the monster over and over again. Thorn gasped and crumpled to the ground, burning still and for good measure Bishop hacked at his head until it came clean off his body.

    He heard the others still screaming and spun around, looking murderously at them all. There was so much rage inside of him and he fought with all of it, unleashing every ounce of hate he had into their guts, throats and chests. He utterly destroyed every single one of them and made sure they were all fucking dead.

    But as his rage subsided he realized there was no more inferno burning wildly around him. He looked down at Rona and ran to her side, sheathing his sword. He knelt down and looked her over. He touched her chest where her heart lay and felt a slow faint, heartbeat. She was still alive, but still bleeding too. He pulled the last potion he had from his pouch and carefully withdrew the dagger from her side and poured the liquid onto the wound. It didn’t do a whole lot to heal her. He cursed himself for not studying alchemy more closely and learning to make Qetesh’s best potion.

    (Background Music is Aura by Thomas Bergersen)

    He scooped her limp body into his arms and looked around for an exit because he was not about to go back through that bandit infested rat hole. He saw a door at the other end and ran over, kicking it down. He went through and found himself outside in the forests of Falkreath. It was dark out. He had to hurry. He had to get her back to the farm, Serlas and Illia would definitely be back by now.

    He ran with her in his arms, begging her to just hold on and to stay alive. He told her over and over again how much he loved her. He had no idea if she heard him, but if she did it would surely give her enough reason to cling to life.

    He kept her head close to his chest as he wove through the tight forest searching for the road. He saw the city just down below. Maybe there was a carriage, or hell, even a horse, there had to be someone there that could help him get her back to the farm. He ran down and saw, the innkeeper Valga emptying a wash bucket out on the side of the inn. He started screaming, “VALGA! VALGA! HELP!”

    She looked up, startled and as he approached her she dropped the bucket and clasped her hands over her mouth, “Bishop! What happened!?”

    “Thorn, it was Thorn,” he said quickly, “We need to get her back home, now. Her father is a healer! I need a horse, or anything!”

    Valga looked over at two horses that were stabled outside for the night and said, “I’ve got a pair of nobles staying here – just hold on, I’ll get them.”

    “There’s no time!” Bishop roared at her. He lifted Rona up and carefully tossed her over his shoulder and quickly mounted one of the steeds with one hand while holding onto her with the other.

    Valga looked apprehensive about what he was doing but didn’t try to stop him. He pulled Rona back down from his shoulder, setting her face forward on the steed and held her around her waist, feeling her blood still trickling from her wound. He grasped the reins with his free hand and without another word he spurred the horse on towards the farm.

    He thought for a moment that the horse seemed familiar, like he’d ridden it before. He was fast too, running much quicker than any horse he’d had before. He thought maybe it was just his own nervous energy though, maybe the stallion could sense his agitation and his desire to get to his destination swiftly and translated that into running speed. He appreciated it all the same.

    He spurred the stallion on faster sending him cantering down the cobblestone path with purpose through the cloudy night. The rain started to come in a slow and steady trickle and before he knew it he was being pelted hard with cold water. He worried for her. Already pale, weak and losing blood still, she’d freeze out there. He pulled her close to him, hoping he was nord enough to keep her warm.

    Finally he saw the farm ahead and guided the steed up the dirt path, beyond the first small house and saw light pouring out of the windows of the cottage Thank the gods they were home. He shouted, “SERLAS! SERLAS! ILLIA! HELP!” Bishop practically fell off the horse with her in his arms and Serlas and Illia came rushing out.

    The elf turned quite pale and cried, “What has happened!?”

    “Heal her! ” Bishop pleaded a choked sob caught in his throat, “She’s dying!”

    Serlas looked over his daughter, dress cut open, bleeding, sallow skin, looking dead already. He quickly pressed his hands to the wound in her side, casting a powerful healing spell over her then he said, “Hurry, bring her inside!”

    They ran in, getting out of the rain and Serlas said, “Lay her down on the bed, tear her dress open so I can clean the wound. Illia – I need you to get me two Elixirs of Regeneration and one Potion of Cure Disease from my stores in the atrium and the medical kit on the shelf above the books, quickly!”

    Bishop took his dagger and tore her dress open more, laying bare her entire upper body. Serlas said, “Step aside.” Bishop moved out of the way and watched as this man used all the power he had in his body to try and revive his daughter, casting spiraling white magic over her. He seemed incredibly focused, but Bishop knew how distraught he must have been inside and he felt guilty. It was all his fault. He knew how she could be, if he’d just fucking humored her then she wouldn’t have gone off alone.

    He stood there feeling useless and helpless. He felt faint and Serlas said, “Calm your breathing Bishop, you’re hyperventilating,” Bishop hadn’t even realized it, “I need you to sit down, take a moment and tell me everything.”

    Bishop swallowed hard and said, “Thorn. It was Thorn.”

    Serlas looked up at him with a mingled look of anger and horror.

    “He took her,” Bishop choked out, “Because I… I wouldn’t… and then she…” he fell into a chair and threw his hands to his face.

    “Is he still alive?” Serlas asked him soberly.

    Bishop furrowed his brows and clenched his teeth, “No. He’s fucking dead. I cut his fucking head off to be sure.”

    Serlas nodded, still working his magic on her wound and said, “Good.”

    Illia came in carrying the potions and the medical kit. Serlas said, “Hold her head up and depress her tongue and ease some of that potion in.”

    Illia did as instructed, carefully pouring some potion down Rona’s throat. After a minute of this she started to cough through it, she was coming to and Bishop’s heart jumped up. Serlas did not look relieved though. He said, “Illia, I need you to take some of the Cure Disease potion and press it into a cloth and hold it to her wound to clean for infection.”

    Once again Illia was quick to do as instructed. Serlas moved out of the way allowing Illia to press the cloth to her. He approached Bishop, who stood from the chair.

    Serlas put a hand to his shoulder and said severely, “Listen to me and listen closely. I need you to take a horse to Whiterun. I need you to ride as fast as you can. Go straight to the Temple of Kynareth. There is a priestess there named Danica Pure-Spring. You absolutely must bring her back here immediately.”

    Bishop shook his head, “You can’t heal her?”

    “No, I cannot. I am not a skilled healer, I never was and I curse myself for it every day. Danica is trained in restoring blood loss. Rona is teetering at the edge of death, she has lost far too much blood for her body to replenish itself. There are no potions or magic that I know of that can fix this. You will go there and you will throw that woman over your shoulder and drag her here if you must. You will cut down any and all in your path who might stand in your way or she will die. She cannot survive the night.”

    Bishop felt sick, but Serlas snapped him out of it, “FOCUS MY SON! You must fly like you’ve never flown before, take the shortcut through the river and ride like the wind. GO NOW!”

    Bishop didn’t need to hear another word. He took one last look at her weak and pale face and saw her chest slowly rising and falling. He steeled himself and ran out the door. He hurried through the garden thinking he would take Misty, but then he noticed that stallion from the inn. There was something very different about it though. It was… bigger, with black and red skin and it’s eyes burned like hot red coals. There were two bottles of wine strapped to its saddle and there was a strange staff with a frightening face and an elongated jaw hilted to the saddle as well.

    (Background Music Illusions by Thomas Bergersen)

    He practically laughed at the sight of it and ran over, quickly mounting it and snapped its reins sending the Daedric stallion racing forward through the rain. It seemed that Sanguine and Sheogorath were paying a visit to Falkreath. They were always watching and this time they were helping. If he hadn’t met them both he wouldn’t have believed it.

    He rode swiftly down the hill to the lake and then he remembered, “Karnwyr.”

    He stopped by the lake edge but there was no sign of the wolf anywhere. An aching pang of loss struck him. Had a predator gotten him? Maybe he’d healed enough to wander off somewhere safe. He had no time to worry about the wolf though. Rona was on the verge of death and as much as he loved his best friend, he loved her so much more. He couldn’t lose her.

    He spurred the steed ever onward, through the lake. It galloped heavily across the ground, trampling everything in its path and running unnaturally fast. He’d be in Whiterun in twenty minutes. He rode past Riverwood as the rain came down harder than ever. Were the gods crying for her? It always seemed to be raining when awful things happened to them.

    He rounded the path near the brewery and past a few farms. He was there shortly, riding the stallion all the way up to the front gates. The Stormcloak guards standing there drew their weapons and stood back, afraid of the beastly mount. Bishop didn’t care, he had a mission, quickly dismounted and ran to the gates.

    “HALT!” the guard shouted at him.

    He ignored the man and put his hands to the gates, intending to go in.

    “I said stop! Who do you think you think you are!?”

    “I need to get in here now!” Bishop roared at the idiot Stormcloak guard.

    The guard pointed his sword at him, “I don’t think so – whatever you are! Vampire or Daedra! You are not getting inside this city!”

    Bishop’s rage was boiling over again, he didn’t have time for this, “THE DRAGONBORN IS ABOUT TO DIE! I NEED TO GET A PRIESTESS OF KYNARETH TO SAVE HER YOU MORON!”

    The guard sneered, “Oh is that so? The Dragonborn? Well that’s a shame now isn’t it?”

    “How can you say that!?” Risla threw her helmet off and looked at Bishop, “Hurry! Go on in!”

    “I SAID NO!” The other guard roared, “That bitch killed half my friends! Besides, she’s a damned piss-skin if I ever saw one!”

    Their shouting and arguments were drawing the attention of the other guards stationed above in the turrets and on the walls.

    Bishop had enough, he turned right around and snatched Sheogorath’s insane staff from the steed. He thought of that stupid rabbit the Daedric Prince spawned once and jut the staff right at the man, in an instant he was changed into a rabbit. Risla stared astounded and Bishop burst in through the gates.

    He started running up the stairs to the left and nearly slipped in the rain and heard guards all around him shout, “HALT!”

    In seconds he was circled. He was furious. He didn’t have time for this shit. “OUT OF MY WAY!” He jut the staff again, changing more of those fools into rabbits, foxes and birds. Then the other guards lunged at him and he leapt out of the way. Risla and two other Whiterun guards came up behind the Stormcloak soldiers that were trying to attack him and they started beating them all over their heads, pummeling them into unconsciousness.

    The Whiterun Guards yanked their helmets off, it was Dagun and Sigrs. Risla said, “We want to help you!”

    Bishop laughed and said, “You’re crazy you know that?”

    Risla grinned back and waved a hand, “Ah well, I’ve been thinking about deserting for a long time now. If I can do it while helping the Lady Dragonborn, I will gladly do so.”

    “What about you two?” Bishop nodded to them.

    Sigrs snarled, “Been wanting to fuck up these Stormcloak bastards for a while now.”

    “Yeah,” Dagun agreed, “They treat us like dirt and walk all over us. Now tell us how we can help! You said Lady Rona is injured?”

    Bishop looked over them all and said, “Do me a favor and go get the Companions!” He pointed behind them, more Stormcloak guards had come along, armed to the teeth, ready to take down this new intruder and these traitors, “Tell the Harbinger that Rona is dying! Tell her I need help getting the fuck out of this city!”

    He turned and sprinted down the path then and the others followed him, only diverting when he ran into the Temple of Kynareth. He walked in, soaking wet, his boots squishing across the tiled floor.

    There were several priests hard at work on many wounded soldiers and other civilians who were just sick or dying. One of them, a woman, in temples robes looked up from a soldier she was healing and asked, “Can I help you?”

    “Danica Pure-Spring?”

    “Yes, that’s me,” she nodded. Bishop walked right over to her and lifted the woman right off her feet, throwing her over his shoulder. She started screaming, “What are you doing!? Put me down this instant!”

    He didn’t have time to try and convince her to go with him, this would be faster. He turned towards the doors, holding onto the struggling woman as her foot nearly kicked him in the face and she beat on his back with her fists.

    But the doorway was wide open and several Stormcloak soldiers were blocking his path.

    “Guards help!” Danica screamed.

    In seconds though there were soldiers getting attacked from the side and they started shouting and screaming. Bishop grinned when he saw Farkas and Freya run by wildly, taking the soldiers out one by one. Bishop hadn’t wanted to kill any of them, which was why he’d used Sheogorath’s staff at the time, but he figured at that point, what the hell. He tossed the staff aside and drew his blade.

    Aela came by looking in and said, “Heard you needed some help! Our little dragon’s in trouble?”

    “Follow me!” Bishop shouted at her. He ran out the door with Danica Pure-Spring still losing her shit and writhing against him. She noticed the Companions and cried, “Help me Harbinger! He’s kidnapping me!”

    Aela ran up to Bishop’s side, jogging alongside him and asked, “Not going to tell the poor woman what’s going on?”

    “No time!” He roared, “She’s lost too much blood!”

    Danica stopped her kicking and shouted, “Is that what this is all about!?”

    Bishop got irritated and roared, “YES! THE DRAGONBORN IS ON DEATH’S DOOR AND YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN SAVE HER!”

    “Alright! I’ll help you,” she cried, “Just put me down already you brute!”

    Bishop stopped and set the woman down. She scowled at him and fixed her robes and asked calmly, “Now where is she?”

    “No time! Just follow me!” He grabbed her hand and drug her along with him.

    They found Farkas and Freya fighting against more Stormcloaks at the front gates. The two of them finished picking them off, with Freya getting the last hit in, cutting a soldier’s throat right open. Farkas said, “Nice one babe.” She went right over to him and caressed the blood from his cheek and said, “Not as nice as you love,” she kissed him right on the lips and Bishop just stared, dumbfounded.

    Aela walked by him, laughing and patting him on the shoulder, “Yeah, things have been interesting, I’ll tell you that much.”

    Bast walked by too, holding her bow in hand and looked at Bishop, sticking her finger in her mouth and making a gagging face.

    Freya looked over and called to him, “Bish, what’s happened? They said Rona’s in trouble?”

    She was being friendly? She actually cared? This was too much for one day. He approached them and said, “No time to explain, I have to get this woman to Falkreath right away.”

    Freya looked uneasy and he said, “Don’t worry, Thorn’s fucking dead. I ripped his head off.” Her expression changed to one of relief but then back to concern and she said realizing, “Thorn… he?”

    “He took her,” Bishop confirmed. He went through the gates and mounted the enormous Daedric steed, finding Sheogorath’s bizarre staff, stuck to it again.

    He put a hand out for Danica to take and she and the others just gaped at him. He said, “Hurry up! I’ll explain everything later! Just meet me at the farm!”

    “Where’s the farm?” Freya asked.

    “I know where,” Aela said, “We’ll see you there Bishop! Eyes on the prey-”

    “Not on the horizon,” Bishop finished for her. Danica took his hand and he pulled her up onto the massive beast. He raced out of there, riding faster than ever back to the farm. The entire time he just hoped and he prayed that she would be alright, that she would live. And he still had to find Karnwyr…

    Why couldn’t she ever get a break? Was this her destiny as the Dragonborn? To forever be plagued by tragedy?

    No. This was Thorn. This was the monster he’d brought into her life. Thorn might never have interacted with her if not for him. This was his fault. He felt aching guilt for it. She was dying because he never finished what he started. He never went back and killed that piece of trash like he should have. Instead he ran away, because he was always running. Only this time he was running towards her.

    She had to live. If she died… he couldn’t do it anymore. Not without her. There would be no reason to go on. She was everything to him. As the rain drenched him, it ran over his face, masking his tears. Sometimes he cried with her, but this time he cried for her.

    ~~~

    (Background Music When Your World Ends (Reprise) by Exist Strategy)

    The race back was swift and easy with Sanguine’s beast of a mount. They arrived on the farm and Bishop ushered Danica right into Rona’s room where her father was still hard at work, focusing his healing magic on her. She looked the same as he left her. Her eyes were partly open as she stared up at the ceiling and breathed slowly and steadily. One of them had put a folded blanket over her breasts to cover her, giving her some modesty back.

    Serlas looked over at the two rain soaked people and Bishop saw his tear-strewn face. He’d never seen the old elf cry before. It was, unnerving to say the least.

    “Danica Pure-Spring?” Serlas choked.

    “Yes,” she said, “Let me have a look at her.”

    The woman went right to work on Rona, asking Serlas for certain medical supplies and potions he might have available. Bishop just numbly watched them work on her, standing by the door as the rain continued to fall. He’d done his job but now he felt useless again.

    He wanted to hold her in his arms and tell her how much he loved her. She knew… but he needed to say it. It pained him to see her like that. Finally he couldn’t bear to look anymore and stepped outside in the rain. He was startled when he saw two men standing in the garden and looking on through the windows at the people working to heal her.

    Well… to call them people wasn’t entirely accurate, because one of them was definitely very Daedric looking with his black and red stained skin and his curling horns and sharp claws. And the other was a very human looking Mad Prince with bright yellow eyes and sharp-slit pupils.

    “Told yah he’d make it in time,” Sanguine said, nudging Sheogorath, “Now pay up.”

    “I don’t think so my friend! You said he’d use the Wabbajack more, but he merely cast my beautiful, sweet staff aside after only eight shots from the thing! Seems we’re at a draw.”

    “Oh come on! You always do this, backing out of bets and acting like you’re some kind of, pft, mad man or something.”

    The two of them chortled like old friends and Bishop approached them, albeit warily.

    “Well, well, here he is now, the hero of the day! Or night,” Sheogorath looked up at the rainy sky, “Yup! Definitely night time. Just wanted to tell you lad, nice work with those soldiers. Really loved all the cute woodland creatures you turned them into. Could have had a bit more fun with it though, maybe tried a few dragons instead. Oh ho! Now that would have been entertaining!”

    “You didn’t even try the wine Bish,” Sanguine sulked, pulling the two bottles of ambrosia from his horses saddle, “You trying to keep a clear head or something? Where’s the fun in that?”

    Bishop gave a slight laugh at the both of them and cleared his throat, “Uh… sorry I disappointed, but thanks for the horse and the uh, crazy staff.”

    “Disappointed?” Sanguine smirked, “Are you kidding? The way you tore those bastards apart. Damn, that was impressive. A little gruesome, honestly, but hey, all the more reason to forget the bad times with some fine wine,” he held a bottle up, shaking it enticingly and grinned.

    “You did mighty fine lad, mighty fine,” Sheogorath pat him on the shoulder, “Can’t be having ourselves a dead Dragonborn now, not with the state of the Skyrim! Not that I don’t mind it. Seems rather mad having dragons flying around outside your house when you’re just trying to enjoy some tea and crumpets or you go out to have a quiet whiz behind a  tree and one comes flying by just to burn the damn thing down right in front of you! Hahaha!” Sheogorath chortled loudly again, “Anyhow, what was I saying? Oh right. You did well. Saved her too,” he nudged Bishop and said, “Guess we’ll see if this is what it took to make her lose her marbles though, eh?”

    Bishop frowned at the Daedric Prince, he couldn’t help it. He just felt awful. Something like that would definitely make someone go mad. He was pretty sure it made Freya go crazy at one time or another and she still had a few screws loose considering she just kissed Farkas earlier.

    Sanguine climbed up onto his steed and said with yawn, “Well, looks like it’s about that time. I still have a few more parties to make an appearance at, to, you know, get the wine flowing and all that.”

    “You always get invited to all the parties and you’re not even that fun!” Sheogorath complained, “At least I know how to give them some entertainment!”

    “I’d hardly call summoning a legion of dancing draugr entertaining,” Sanguine said and waved a hand opening a portal in front of him.

    “That’s because they didn’t give me a chance to finish! I was going to have them sing the Imperial Anthem while they juggled swords! Swords lit on fire!

    Sanguine chuckled, “Well you got me there, friend. Now that definitely would have been entertaining, messy definitely, but very entertaining.”

    They made to leave when Bishop couldn’t stop himself from asking, “How come you didn’t stop him yourselves?”

    Sanguine looked down at him, “What? Thorn?”

    “Yeah…”

    Sanguine smiled, “You know how it is, Bish. Mortal affairs are left to the mortals. We can’t always come running in and saving the day for you puny beings-”

    “-It would be oh sooo, boring!” Sheogorath interjected.

    “Not to mention Akatosh would have our heads,” he pursed his lips, “Whoops. You didn’t hear that from me.”

    “Akatosh doesn’t want you to interfere?” Bishop gleaned.

    “Well,” Sanguine shrugged, “Not as much as we would definitely like to. He’s Aedra, we’re Daedra, don’t exactly get along and he likes to keep things in your world… safe?” He laughed, “Of course he did birth the dragons right into your plane of existence, so who really knows what’s going on in his head.”

    “But you’re afraid of him?” Bishop was getting a lot bolder with his questions. Testing the waters. That was a mistake.

    Sanguine glared at him, which was a lot more terrifying to see on a Daedric Prince than on a normal person, especially when his eyes lit up like fiery red, coals, “Don’t test me mortal. I don’t mind humoring you and your little questions now and again, but I am still a god and I could easily crush you. So watch your words.”

    Bishop pressed his lips together and nodded. Sanguine’s eyes went back to normal and he regained his friendly tone of voice, “I left my wine for you on the table inside. You should celebrate when she’s done recovering. Oh and be sure to give my gift to the lovely bride and groom at their wedding.”

    Bishop cocked a brow at him and he said, “What? It’s just more wine. It’s a party! Should loosen up, have a little fun!”

    “Oh! Oh! Make sure they get my gift too! Open it right after they cut the cake!” Sheogorath chortled and stepped into the portal and disappeared.

    Sanguine leaned over and whispered, “Whatever you do, don’t open his gift, it’ll unleash a swarm of flammable torch bugs. Might want to toss that one into the lake. Oh! And before I forget,” he snapped his clawed fingers and a smaller portal next to the bigger one opened up, “Give a whistle.”

    Bishop looked at it and whistled sharply. In an instant Karnwyr leapt out of the thing and ran right over to Bishop, jumping on him, tail wagging madly and tongue lolling happily. He was completely healed and looking healthier than ever, in fact he looked even younger than he used to.

    Bishop hugged his best friend and lifted the wolf right off the ground while he got his face licked all over. “Karnwyr! You’re okay! I was so damn worried buddy!” He looked over at Sanguine and breathed, “Thank you.”

    Sanguine waved a hand at him, “Ah, it’s the least I can do. He’s a good wolf. Gave him back a few years on his life too. Should be like he’s five years old now.”

    Bishop laughed, he couldn’t believe it.

    Sanguine said, “Now maybe this time he’ll hear if anything gets too close to her. Take care of her, Bish. I’ll always have my eye on you. And don’t forget to try and have a little fun every now and again.” He winked and snapped his steed’s reins and rushed into the portal which swallowed him up entirely and the whole thing vanished on the spot along with the smaller one.

    Bishop put Karnwyr down and stroked his ears, happy to have his friend back. But as he looked over into the windows again, seeing everyone still hard at work, healing Rona he felt a mixture of guilt and grief plaguing him. There was nothing else he could do now but be there for her.

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 78

    Silence

     

    Bishop didn’t know what to do with himself. He went back inside the cottage and found himself peeking into Rona’s room every few minutes while Danica worked some strange magic on her. She was definitely looking a lot better, less pale, and sickly. Her eyes were closed over though, just resting. Karnwyr went inside and laid down at the foot of the bed, being wise enough to stay out of the way of the people tending to her, but still wanting to be nearby.

    Finally Serlas got up and came out into the living area, he stopped by Bishop, looking at him, brows knit tightly together, yellow eyes reddened from his own crying and he pat Bishop on the shoulder and said, “You did well my son.”

    Bishop lost it. Emotions were high for all of them and this man kept calling him son like he really was his son. He felt like he didn’t deserve it though, not after this. He broke down in front of the old elf and Serlas actually hugged him like a father would to his own son.

    Serlas let him go and gave him a firm look of thanks and walked by into the kitchen and mindlessly started to make some tea. It was almost like he kept forgetting what he was doing though because Bishop was sure he saw the man take out and put away the same tea cup three separate times. He just needed to do something with his hands, busy himself. Bishop knew that feeling. He needed to do the same and considered just taking a walk through the forest even with all the rain.

    Then Serlas asked, “What did that creature do to her?”

    Bishop’s face cringed and twisted. He shook his head and breathed, “Don’t do that to yourself Serlas.”

    “I need to know what that monster did to her.”

    Bishop could barely bring himself to go back there, the images of it all were flashing still fresh in his mind. Seeing her hung up on a hook like that, so pale, so sickly. Bleeding heavily out her side where a chunk of her flesh had been ripped wide open. Her weak stare and her mouth gagged while Thorn reached around and touched her…

    Bishop felt his stomach turn and forced the words out, “He stabbed her. He touched her… but he didn’t rape her. Didn’t get that far before she burned his skin off his body.”

    Serlas exhaled and set the tea cup aside, pressing his hands to the top of the counter and lowering his head. Bishop saw the old man’s body tremble and he knew he was crying again.

    Bishop looked away and just started talking. He had to do something and he really just wanted to get it all over with as fast as possible and never revisit the worst day of their lives ever again.

    “She wanted to go out. She got lost in that book again, saw something horrible and begged me to take her out,” he choked back his pain and said, “And I told her no. That I was too tired, told her to go run circles in the garden so I could fucking… I fucking napped. I was sleeping on this fucking couch when they took her. She went to the lake, took Karnwyr and,” Bishop sobbed, “I’m so sorry Serlas. I should have been there. I should have paid attention, gone with her,” he grit his teeth and clenched his fists, “I should have killed that fucker years ago when I still had the chance.

    It was quiet for a minute before Serlas said, “Don’t blame yourself. You found her… thank the gods you found her…”

    Both of them were trapped in their own anguish, not sure what to do with themselves in the aching silence. Fortunately quite a few distractions appeared at the door.

    “Hey,” Aela’s voice carried over from the side of the house where the door was still wide open. Bishop and Serlas looked over at the group of people. Aela, Farkas, Freya, Bast and Risla were all there.

    Serlas waved a hand, welcoming them all inside. They came in out of the rain and a few of them glanced into Rona’s room. Risla held a hand to her mouth, horrified and quickly asked, “Is there anything I can do to help? I know a bit of alchemy.”

    Serlas shook his head, still facing the counter and staring hard out the front windows, “No my dear. We’ve already taken care of it. I thank you for your offer though.”

    “Karnwyr!” Bast said smiling. The wolf looked up and opened his maw into a wide smile and started wagging his tail. He got up and hurried over to sniff at Bast’s and Freya’s feet and they both knelt down and gave him plenty of loving pets.

    “Wow! You hardly changed at all Karnwyr!” Freya said as she gave him a sweet kiss on the top of his happy head. He started to get excited and really got his butt wiggling with the wag of his tail. Bast giggled and hugged him right around his neck and he licked at her face.

    “Yeah,” Bishop smiled, “It’s like he gained a few years back in the last day.”

    Freya looked up at him and cocked a brow curiously. He said, “I’ll tell you later. Long story.” When Karnwyr had enough pets though he looked back into the room Rona was lying in and gave a low whine and returned to dutifully lay at the foot of her bed.

    “Wow,” Freya said, “He’s really worried about her.”

    “Always is,” Bishop said.

    Everyone stood there for a moment, hesitating to sit in the furniture, being soaking wet and all but Serlas started moving again, actually making tea this time and said to them, “Please sit down. I’m not concerned about ruining the fabric.”

    They all took seats then, Bast and Aela plopped down in two of the poufy chairs while Farkas took a seat on the couch and Freya curled up right next to him and Risla sat down at the other end of the couch.

    Bishop went over and grabbed one of the wooden chairs in the kitchen and brought that over to sit on backwards which he preferred over the other squishy furniture. He said, “I really can’t thank you all enough for what you did back there. You saved her life.”

    Aela smirked, “We’d do anything for our little dragon, you know that. Even get kicked out of Whiterun again.”

    Serlas came over, setting a tray of pastries, teacups and the hot kettle on the table. Risla and Bast grabbed some food and poured tea for themselves as Serlas sat unceremoniously into his own chair, still looking distraught but grateful for the new distraction. He asked, “What happened in Whiterun?”

    Bishop scratched his head awkwardly, “I uh… did what you suggested, Serlas. Started fighting down every idiot standing in my way and well… probably have a huge bounty on my head again.”

    “We helped,” Aela said laughing a little, “Made sure to get him and Danica out of there quick.”

    “I’m grateful,” Serlas said, “Truly. I will do whatever I can to assuage this issue, though I have to admit I have very little pull with Stormcloaks.”

    Aela sighed, crossing her arms, “I’ll write to Vignar again, see if there isn’t anything he can do about it. We did kill a lot of them though.”

    “Could always get the Imperials to take the city,” Farkas suggested. Bishop was surprised by his forethought because that didn’t sound like the worst idea.

    “That might be something,” Bishop said, “They were kind of a bunch of pushovers, all things considered.”

    Aela shook her head, “That’s the thing, they were a bunch of pushovers. I bet you anything Ulfric will be here in a day or two to remedy that.”

    “I will speak with him then,” Serlas said, “I will explain what happened.”

    Bishop frowned, “Serlas, you don’t know the man. Not only does he hate the high elves, he really hates the Imperials too and considering you’re a high elf that worked for the Emperor…”

    Serlas sighed and rubbed his fingers at the space between his eyes, “I would still try,” he looked at Aela, “Tell me when you know of his arrival. In the meantime you are all free to stay here on the farm. I apologize, we do not have any extra beds, but we have bedrolls and anyone is free to take the couch there. There is also the inn in Falkreath if you prefer, I will gladly cover the cost of your stays there.”

    Danica came out then, holding a rag, wiping the blood from her hands onto it and said, “She’s going to live. She needs plenty of bed rest and no running around or fighting or any of that. Her wound still needs some more time to heal on its own and I don’t want her to tear it open again because if she does she’ll start bleeding internally. I don’t know what happened to her, but that was by far one of the worst cuts I’ve ever seen, like she was stabbed repeatedly.”

    Bishop lowered his gaze, turning his face away. Danica noticed and knit her brows together, “Is that what happened?” He nodded slowly. She took a breath and repeated, “Bed rest. Plenty of it. Now, I heard you were offering beds? I’m quite tired and would like to get some sleep before I head back tomorrow.”

    “Of course,” Serlas stood and said, “I will gladly pay you for all the trouble as well Miss Pure-Spring.”

    She smiled at him. “That’s very kind of your Mister Thoraminh, but I was more than happy to save her life, despite initially being dragged here against my will,” she said narrowing her eyes at Bishop.

    He ran a hand through his hair and said, “Yeah, sorry about that.”

    “I accept your apology,” she said smiling, “And I understand now the urgency behind your actions.”

    Illia stepped in and said, “Serlas, go ahead and give her my bed for the night, I’m okay with a bedroll.”

    “Will that be acceptable Miss Pure-Spring?” Serlas asked.

    “Yes, thank you. I’d take a bedroll myself if my back weren’t in such bad shape,” she said rubbing a hand over her lower back.

    Serlas showed her to the room and she went to lay down right away.

    Bishop was drifting in and out of his thoughts, trying to stay in the present with everyone else while his mind wanted to keep revisiting the horrors he saw that night. Then he got to looking around at everyone and realized, “Hey Serlas,” the old elf took his spot back in one of the chairs and looked over, “How was everyone able to pass through the blood seal?”

    Serlas said, “I brought it down after you left so Danica could come in safely. You said you killed that man, so I felt it wasn’t necessary anymore.”

    Bishop looked worried and he said, “There were still plenty of bandits in that hideout. I wouldn’t put it past any of them to come here and try to take revenge.”

    Serlas stood right up again and demanded, “Take me there.”

    “I’ll help,” Aela said getting up too, “You’ve got the Companions at your back.”

    “I wouldn’t mind taking out some of those sick bastards myself,” Freya snarled. She and Farkas got up and then Bast stood and Freya pointed a finger at her and said, “I don’t think so. You’re staying right here.”

    Bast made to protest when Serlas said, “I agree with your sister Bastet. If you could stay here and look after Rona and protect the farm, I’d appreciate it. You’re a good marksman I take it?” He eyed her bow.

    She nodded and clutched at the bow strung over her chest then sighed and said, “Yeeaah. Alright. I’ll keep an eye out.”

    “I’d very much appreciate it,” he said.

    “I know I knocked out a few of those guards back in Whiterun,” Risla said, “but I’m really not much of a fighter. I’ll stay here too.”

    The rest of them left for the hideout. They walked through the rain, but Serlas cast a spell over them which kept them all dry during the downpour. It was about an hour’s walk there. The two bandits Bishop had killed earlier were still outside the door. It seemed that no one had come and gone or noticed or cared.

    Bishop wondered if any of them had fled until they crept down into that place and found it still full of bandits skulking about. They did not hesitate to start picking them off and Serlas rushed on ahead of them all. Bishop tried to keep up with the man but was surprisingly left behind more than once. He did come across each and every body that Serlas unleashed his rage into though and it was not a pretty sight. He left a trail of mangled and mutilated corpses, plenty of them with their chest cavities blown open like something had burst from inside of them.

    The man was angry and rightfully so. Bishop understood his feelings completely and let the old elf go on his rampage. Farkas and Aela moved on a ways ahead as well and Freya caught up with Bishop who’d fallen behind. He’d had his fill of killing that day already.

    She paced beside him and asked, “Did he hurt her?”

    “Yeah. He stabbed her repeatedly. You heard the priestess…”

    “You know what I mean Bishop,” Freya said looking right at him, brows knit together.

    He met her gaze and firmly said, “No. He didn’t get that far. He… he groped her. But she lit him on fire before he got a chance to do… that.”

    Good,” Freya practically snarled, “Wouldn’t have minded seeing that for myself.”

    Bishop shook his head looking morose. He would have rather none of it happened at all. He tried to take his mind away from it again as they passed by another mangled and charred corpse, “So you and Farkas, huh?”

    Freya blushed a little smiling, “Yeah…”

    “He’s a good man,” Bishop said, “Please don’t… hurt him.”

    She scowled at him, “Why does everyone think I’m like that?” Bishop looked at her with half-lidded eyes and she said, “Okay. Yeah. Fine. So I did attack him with my sword when he started flirting with me. But he wasn’t like the other men. He just… took it. Didn’t run away or anything.”

    Bishop looked at her incredulous, “You attacked him with your sword!?”

    “Well yeah… I have,” she pursed her lips, “issues.”

    “No shit,” Bishop muttered.

    “But I felt really bad afterwards. I cut his arms up pretty good. Sooo… I got one of Qetesh’s potions and found him and cleaned him up and apologized. After that we got to talking and he was really sweet.”

    “He is,” Bishop agreed, “he’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Quietest too.”

    Actually,” she smiled, “Farkas is quite the talker when you get him going. And,” she laughed a little, “he’s not as slow as everyone thinks he is. He’s actually really attentive to his surroundings and pretty smart.”

    “Huh,” Bishop said with genuine surprise. Although Farkas had occasionally expressed his foresight a few times since he’d known him.

    “He’s just really shy,” she mused.

    Bishop smirked at her and cocked a brow, “You fooled around with the big galoot yet?”

    She giggled, blushing a little and said, “Well, things did move kind of fast.”

    “Yeah, it’s only been a little over a week Freya,” Bishop laughed at her, “But you always did move pretty fast.”

    “Bish… it was great. Being with him,” she trailed off. She actually looked really happy and he felt happy for her.

    But he couldn’t help but joke, “Bet he breaks every bed he does it on.”

    She pushed him in the arm and said, “You have no idea! And you thought you were a wild man, tsk!” He laughed at her and then she said looking a little sad, “You know the last time I slept with a man after,” she hesitated, “after what Thorn did to me. It was over a year after the fact. When he saw my scars he thought I was disgusting.”

    Bishop looked over at her despondently and she continued smiling a little, “But with Farkas… he saw them and all he said was,” she laughed a little putting on a deeper voice, “‘You must be a strong warrior to survive scars like these’,” she started blushing again and smiling more.

    Bishop chuckled, “That definitely sounds like him.”

    “Thing is, I didn’t disgust him Bishop,” her face fell then and she looked at him tearfully and said, “She’s gonna scar, real bad, and not just like physical scars either. She’s going to be hurting. She might not want you to touch her either.”

    His heart dropped. They were talking about Rona now and Freya was giving him advice, preparing him for dealing with whatever trauma she might have.

    “Just be there for her and be patient. You’ll wait for her, right? However long it takes? She’s a nice woman and… she’s so good for you Bish, I see that now,” she looked right at him and said, “I’m sorry for how I treated you and her before. For everything I did and said. I want to change, I want us to be friends again.”

    Bishop nodded and said, “Yeah. Me too.”

    They continued on throughout the hideout, passing by every corpse Serlas destroyed and a few ash piles which Bishop assumed was the old elf’s handiwork as well. They stepped into a chamber and found Farkas and Aela with two bloodied and beaten nude women who only had a thin blanket each and were trying to cover themselves with.

    Aela looked over and said, “We found them inside that room,” she pointed to a dirty closet of a room, “We’re going to get them down to Falkreath and get them some help.”

    “I’ll go with you,” Freya said as she pulled her tunic off, leaving just a white undershirt on beneath. She passed it to one of the women and Farkas took his armor off and yanked his furs off and passed them to the other woman. They were huge on her but would cover her at least.

    Aela looked at Bishop and said, “You might want to check on the old elf. He was pretty worked up.”

    Bishop assured them he would and they left, heading back with the two women. He moved forward through a few more rooms and found Serlas standing in the doorway of Thorn’s torture chamber. Bishop stood beside him and without taking his eyes off the room, Serlas said firmly, “You’ll want to leave Bishop. I’m going to cave the place in entirely. Just waiting for the others to make their way out.”

    Bishop pat the man on his back and said, “I’m going to head back to the farm, so just… take all the time you need and if you need to talk, I’m your man.”

    Serlas nodded stiffly and Bishop left out the door he kicked in earlier. Everyone was in pain and they all had to find their own ways to work through it. For Serlas, it was unleashing and obliterating every bandit who might have had a hand in the harm of his daughter and then utterly destroying the place where they’d held her against her will. For Freya it was spending years being angry over what happened to her and then finding someone who loved her just as she was, scars and all. And for Bishop it was to be near Rona right then, watching over her until he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore.

    ~~~

    A soft morning light crept through the room. The ranger slept deeply, in a chair, with his face laying on top of his arms on the side of the bed. The Dragonborn opened her eyes and took in a quiet breath as she watched dust particles float through the sunbeams and just enjoyed the stillness and peacefulness in that moment. She looked on lovingly at her ranger, but couldn’t bring herself to wake him. If she did he would want to hold her, to touch her.

    And she didn’t want to be touched. She wanted to crawl into herself and hide and try to forget everything. Things were looking up before, but now she felt broken and she felt like it was her own damn fault. She never listened. People all around her were screaming in pain because of her and she just kept right on hurting them with her willfulness and obstinate behavior. She wanted to go back to a time and place where she wasn’t the Dragonborn. Where she didn’t have dragons, bandits, and the Thalmor all trying to kill her and everyone close to her. She wanted to go home.

    She’d heard the Priestess the night before though. She had to recover, which meant staying put and getting bed rest. They’d be stuck there for another week no doubt. She would have to have patience and she would now. She wasn’t about to make the same mistakes all over again.

    She laid there listening to her ranger breathe and his wolf’s light snoring at the foot of the bed. She smiled a little. Karnwyr was okay and he was there as always, worried for her.

    Bishop stirred then. She quickly closed her eyes. She didn’t want him to know she’d woken up. She didn’t want his form of comfort. Not yet. She wasn’t ready.

    ~~~

    He sat up, rubbing his eyes and looked over at her. She was still sleeping peacefully and he didn’t want to disturb her rest. She was looking so much better though. Her skin was a healthy pink again and she was breathing steadily. He got up and left the room, closing her door over. He went into the living space and glanced over at the five adults sleeping in bedrolls on the floor and the one sleeping girl on the couch. It was still very early.

    Bishop wondered if Serlas was back yet. He really had stayed up with her until he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore, which had been almost all night, but he hadn’t seen the elf come in.

    He tried to busy himself pulling together a simple breakfast, some sweet bread, milk and an apple. He started cutting it up and he heard Bast grumble from the couch, “Ow… my back hurts.”

    He chuckled a little and said quietly, “I could have told you that.”

    She sat up and looked over at him from her spot on the couch, “Did she wake up yet?”

    “No, she’s still resting,” he said as he cut the apple into slices, then he asked her, “You hungry?”

    “Yeah, watcha got?”

    He grabbed a sweet roll and held it up, she put her hands out to catch it and he tossed it to her.

    “You see the old man come in last night?”

    “Nope,” she said through a mouthful.

    Damn… he was actually starting to worry for Serlas. He hoped that he didn’t bring the whole bandit cave down on top of himself.

    “Speak of the Daedra,” he said as Serlas appeared in the garden. He came in looking absolutely exhausted and peeked in on Rona.

    He turned back to them and sighed relived, “She’s looking much better… Well if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get some sleep myself.” He quickly left them, heading up the stairs to his room.

    They looked after him. Bishop took a bite of his apple and shook his head. The elf must have found his own way to work through his grief all through the night. Bishop suspected he’d spent the entire evening drinking at Valga’s tavern. He couldn’t blame the man either, after seeing that disgusting and horrific place. Ale was a good way to scrub the mind of that shit.

    It wasn’t long before the others roused for the day. Bishop was actually glad to have the company. It took his mind off of the traumatic event that plagued his dreams all night and gave him something to do. He fixed them all their breakfast choices, insisting they make it as varied as possible so he’d be nice and busy, making snowberry crepes, horker omelets, and even Farkas’ ridiculously huge breakfast of seared strips of venison and plenty of helpings of eggs. Even Karnwyr came in, stretching and yawning looking for breakfast.

    Bishop was so damn happy just to have the wolf alive that he spoiled him like crazy, giving him a thick cut of horker meat and all kinds of table scraps.

    As noon rolled around, with no sign of Rona stirring from her peaceful rest Risla and Danica were getting ready to take their leave. Danica stepped into Rona’s room to check on the progress of her healing while Risla stood by the door and Bishop handed her a small travel pack with supplies, equipment and some gold.

    Bishop asked her, “What are you going to do now that you’ve deserted the Stormcloaks? You probably have a bounty on your head.”

    “I’m going to Riften,” she said, “I’ve been thinking of joining the priesthood there.”

    Bishop scoffed, “At the Temple of Mara?”

    “Yes,” she smiled, “I’m going to make a new life for myself. Change my name, take on a new identity and start over. For so long I’ve carried this hatred in my heart and I thought I could find revenge for my parents by joining the Stormcloaks. I really believed in their message… until I became one of them. Until I saw the way it changed my brother. Seeing the hatred in his heart come out like that, I knew it wasn’t right. So I’m off to replace the hate inside myself with love instead.”

    “Will you go back to your brother?”

    “No,” she smiled weakly, “I can’t now. I’d be putting him at risk by trying to see him.”

    “Next time we’re in Ivarstead, you want me to tell him about you?” Bishop offered.

    Risla smiled and said, “I’d appreciate that. I just hope Hamvak doesn’t turn me in to claim the bounty on my head.”

    Bishop raised a brow, “You think he would?”

    She said, “Honestly? I don’t know anymore.”

    Bishop gave her a feeble look and said, “Well, I wish you the best all the same. Maybe we’ll stop by if we’re ever out that way again.”

    “I’d like that,” Risla said. They shook hands and she said her farewells. Danica came out too and said Rona’s healing was going well but once again insisted she stay in bed for another few days before she try walking around. Bishop gave the woman a travel pack with supplies and gold and apologized to her again. She was kind and wished him all the best before taking her leave.

    As the day wore on, Farkas and Freya decided to go out for a stroll by the lake and Bast wandered off the grounds and found a tree to climb up in nearby. Illia and Aela were sitting at the table chatting about old Claudia and Rona’s striking resemblance to her.

    Bishop went back over to her room and looked in on her. Still sound asleep. He stepped in, closing the door over and pulled a chair up, sitting by her bedside again. He wanted so much for her to wake up already and greet him with her beautiful smile. It felt like Solitude all over again. He worried she’d be trapped in her dreams for days again. At least this time she wasn’t screaming through a nightmare.

    He grasped her hand and she pulled away, startling him, “Rona?” She opened her eyes and looked over at him. His lip trembled and he smiled weakly at her, “You’re awake? How long have you been awake, Sweetness?”

    She was silent and just turned her head away. He remembered what Freya had said. She’s going to be hurting. She might not want you to touch her either. He pulled his hands back and said, “Was really worried about you Ladyship. I…” he breathed, “I don’t even know where to start or what to say. If you want to talk though, I’m here.”

    She looked sadly at him and it pained his heart to see her like that. He wanted so much to just hold her but resisted that urge. Then she pushed herself up on the bed and winced, holding her side.

    “Still hurting?” He leaned back grabbing a bottle of potion on the dresser and passed it to her, “Here, for the pain.”

    She took it, still looking forlorn and drank it down quickly, putting it aside. She just sat there and stared at the blankets, looking miserable. He couldn’t figure out what was going through her head.

    “Talk to me Rona. Tell me everything on your mind, please,” he hadn’t realized how badly he wanted to hear her voice then, when he finally noticed she hadn’t said a single word to him since she woke up.

    She opened her mouth like she wanted to say something, but second guessed it and closed her mouth again. His face cringed and he said, “Please, Rona, just talk to me.”

    She looked right at him then and her tears came, flooding from her eyes and she clutched the base of her neck with a hand and started trembling all over.

    Bishop didn’t understand what was wrong. Was she hurting there too? Had they missed a wound?

    “Does it hurt? Should I get Illia or your father?” He asked standing.

    She looked up at him and opened her mouth to speak again, brows knit tightly together and she tapped at the base of her neck. He called out, “Illia! Illia quick!”

    Illia and Aela both came rushing in and Illia said, “Is everything alright? What is it?”

    “Something’s wrong,” Bishop said with shuddered breathing, “Something’s wrong with her throat, she can’t speak.”

    Illia took the chair by the bed and touched a hand to her shoulder. Rona pulled away quickly and started to shake. Illia pulled her hands back and asked, “Is there something wrong with your throat Rona?”

    She shook her head and closed her eyes and opened her mouth like she was screaming but nothing came out. Bishop stared wide-eyed as Rona struggled and failed to vocalize her thoughts and emotions. She buried her face in her hands and silently sobbed into them.

    It all crashed down on him then. She’d lost her voice. It was just, gone. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t shout… she couldn’t sing.

    Rona’s voice was everything to her. He could hardly count the number of times she’d told him, I love to sing! But now, she had no voice. No more joyous tavern songs, no more beautiful songs of love, or incredible songs of power. No more lullabies or gentle humming. No more sweet words of love.

    He’d believed the worst was behind them but this. He couldn’t cope with it. He stepped out of the room going outside and he just walked. He walked and walked with no idea where he was going.

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 79

    Journey through Jerall

     

    She’d begged and pleaded to the gods to take the curse from her for so long. But not like this. She definitely wasn’t the Dragonborn without her voice, but she wasn’t herself either. How could she ever sing again? Being able to sing was one of the greatest joys in her life and now it was gone.

    She couldn’t even use her magic anymore. Some could summon it through sheer willpower, but she’d always needed the incantations and the words to bring it forth. Rona relied so much on her voice, she never realized how much until it was gone.

    She couldn’t even tell Bishop how sorry she was or tell him how much she loved him anymore. He’d left, looking like he just couldn’t take it anymore. She worried for him, she wanted to go to him, but knew better. She had to stay put, she’d promised herself, she’d swore she wouldn’t move for once in her life.

    Even when her father came in, seeing her awake and when he broke down, bursting into tears and started pacing swiftly back and forth while rambling and yelling she wouldn’t leave. She’d never seen him so upset in her life.

    Why Rona? Why did you do it!? Why must you keep doing this!? I cannot cope with this anymore. I always hold my tongue. Always. But It’s too much. I thought I’d die of grief – seeing you like that. Do you understand now!? What your actions are doing!? Do you see!? Do you care!? I’ve already lost the most important woman in my life once before but to nearly lose you,” his words and his tears were swift and sharp. She cried too, watching him like that. She took the tongue lashing, she deserved it. Every word. He was right.

    He went on and on, with Aela and Illia right there too, both of them looking stunned, unable to bring themselves to try and stop him. He was so angry, hurt and upset.

    “I love you Rona, more than you can ever understand! You will never know until you have a child how painful it is to see them hurt like that – and I pray to the gods that you never experience what I experienced last night! It is agonizing! Do you understand!? That man took you! We tried so damned hard to protect you! I did everything to prevent it! And you just ran off alone like none of it mattered!” He roared, fists clenched, body trembling. And then he paused looking over her face and shook his head, choking out, “Do you have nothing to say for yourself!?”

    She swallowed hard and averted her gaze. She opened her mouth, she tried to speak, I’m sorry, Ata. But the words would not come.

    Illia stood up and said softly, “Serlas.”

    He glared at the woman daring her to challenge him. She put a gentle hand out and said, “Rona’s lost her voice.”

    His face crumbled completely and he looked back down at her. She couldn’t bear to look at him though as her tears came swift and steady. She wanted to crawl inside herself, but settled for crawling under the covers instead. She quietly lay her face into a pillow and shut her eyes, willing it all to go away.

    She heard her father utter a single word, “I…” and then he left, sweeping out of the room.

    Aela looked over sadly at Rona, tears sparkling in her own eyes and she tried to comfort her, “Hey. It’s going to be okay. Just give it a day, I’m sure your voice will come back in no time.”

    Rona sniffled and closed her eyes. Go away. Leave me alone.

    They did leave her alone then and she forced herself to sleep. It wasn’t hard either. She felt exhausted and sadder than she’d ever felt in her life.

    ~~~

    Two days went by and Rona just laid in bed, hardly eating or interacting with anyone. Bishop made the effort to coax her to eat something, but she’d just take two bites and push it away before laying back down, turning her back to him and ignoring him.

    Malborn arrived on the second day. Serlas had written him a week before, informing him they’d be leaving for Cyrodiil soon and he came along as anxious as ever, looking to go already. When Serlas told him their journey would be delayed another week it only made him more distressed and he demanded they make good on their promise. Naturally, Serlas ripped him a new one telling him his daughter had nearly just died and they were not leaving until she recovered, leaving the poor bosmer feeling like an idiot and an ass.

    The others stayed on the farm too, keeping Bishop company at least. He tried to stay in high spirits for Rona’s sake. He’d gotten all his anguish out when he realized she couldn’t speak. He walked along the lake for some time before literally walking right into it, clothes still on and everything. He stood in the center of it and just roared at the skies telling Akatosh to go fuck himself quite a few times and started slamming his hands onto the water and splashing around like a maniac.

    As Farkas and Freya walked by and saw him like that, Farkas assumed he was drowning and went out to rescue him, picking him right up out of the water while he continued to flail about and roar nonsensically until Freya managed to calm him down.

    Karnwyr stayed close to Rona, often sleeping on her bed with her. In fact, she seemed to prefer his company. He was the only living thing she allowed to touch her. She still recoiled at everyone else and none of them forced it, especially when Freya insisted that they give her, her space.

    By the fourth day Bishop went in to check on her while everyone ate lunch. She was in the same spot, staring at the wall, away from the door. He sat down in the chair by the bed and said, “You should try walking. Stretch your legs a little.”

    Silence.

    Bishop sighed and said, “Come on Ladyship. You have to do something. You can’t just lay in bed forever and keep being miserable.”

    She continued to ignore him and he twisted his face in frustration. Then Aela came in and said, “Hey, you should come down to the lake and bathe with us.”

    Rona glanced back then and Aela held up some soaps and hair tonics, “What do you say girl? Wash all the grime out of your hair? The boys won’t be around, we’re sending them off to have a drink at the tavern in Falkreath. You know, so this one doesn’t come along to snoop on us!”

    She prodded Bishop in the arm and he just rolled his eyes at her and turned back to Rona and said, “How’s that sound Ladyship? No men around? Just you and the girls?”

    She sat up then and nodded. She had been feeling pretty dirty the last four days and never managed to get around to bathing herself, feeling too depressed over the loss of her voice to do anything at all.

    Aela said, “Great! Alright, you head out with the men then Bishop and we’ll have a girl’s day out.” Aela smiled brightly at Rona and left the room. Bishop collected a towel and a white under dress from a drawer putting them on the dresser for her. He made to leave when Rona reached over, grabbing a piece of parchment from a pile they’d left her, if she wanted to try and communicate. She took a quill and scribbled a quick note and held it out for him.

    He took it and looked it over. He looked like he might cry then and swallowed hard choking out, “I love you too, Rona. I’ll wait for you, no matter how long it takes. I just want you to know that.”

    Then he left her, closing the door behind him. She threw her feet over the bed, nearly kicking Karnwyr who was sleeping on the floor nearby. He looked up at her and gave a low whine and she smiled at him. She tried to stand and wobbled a bit, holding onto the chair for support.

    Once she got up though she felt alright. Her side still hurt a lot though and she wanted to look at it. She hadn’t seen herself at all in four days while she recovered, so she stripped down naked and tentatively approached the floor length mirror in the corner. She knit her brows together looking at herself. She hardly recognized the woman who looked back.

    She was still very dirty. Her hair was a tangled mess and had dirt and even some twigs and leaves stuck in it. Her eyes looked swollen and tired from days of crying herself to sleep. But it as the enormous, jagged white scar in her side which stood out the most to her. It was awful and ugly. It curved towards her naval and was still a bit inflamed looking. That was where he’d stabbed her, repeatedly, healing it and then burying the knife in again and again, tearing her flesh wide open.

    Magic could do many things, but heal scars was not one of them. She would have that monster of a scar for the rest of her life, she would have to look at it every time she saw herself naked. And if she could ever bring herself to let Bishop touch her again, he too would have to see it, in all its horrific detail. A constant and painful reminder of what happened to her. She felt hideous and ashamed.

    Even the scars on her face were nothing compared to the way she felt about this. She recalled her first time up on High Hrothgar when the frost troll had given her three vicious slashes across her cheek and how Bishop so carefully and gently tended to the wound. He had checked it every day when they arrived there to make sure it wasn’t infected.

    On the fourth day she stood in their makeshift kitchen, holding a silver platter up to see her reflection since the Greybeards lacked any sort of mirror in the place, with Arngeir mumbling something about pridefulness and vanity when she’d asked for one. So she started rummaging around the kitchen for something shiny enough to see herself in. She peeled the bandages back and got a good look at her distorted reflection in the platter.

    Rona didn’t want to admit it then, but she was a bit upset by the fact that she had three sharp strikes permanently etched below her left eye. She wasn’t vain by any sense of the word, but she knew she was pretty and it hurt a bit seeing the face she’d known for so long somewhat disfigured.

    Bishop had come in and cocked a brow at her as he walked by, grabbing a bottle of mead and a piece of hard bread. “Getting a good look at your battle scars?” he’d teased her then.

    She pouted slightly and mumbled, “Is it ugly?”

    He chuckled, “Ugly? You?

    She nodded feebly.

    Then he’d stepped over to her, tipped her face up with a hand on her chin and said with genuine honesty, “Rona, you could never be ugly.”

    She knew Bishop, wouldn’t care. He had so many scars himself, all painful reminders of his own sordid past, he even had whip lashes and that long sword slash on his back. All scars that Thorn had given him too.

    She touched the jagged scar on her left side, tracing it across her hip and up where it stopped short on her abdomen, pointing at her naval. She looked hatefully at it and then leaned closer to the mirror, looking over the right side of her neck where Thorn had bitten her, not once but twice. Very light looking, white scarred, teeth impressions showed in two separate spots there. Just more reminders… at least with the scar in her side she could cover it up, but those, she’d always see unless she wore something around her neck.

    She sighed silently and turned away from her reflection, then grabbed the white under dress and pulled it on and put the towel under her arm. She stepped into the living area with Karnwyr following close by her. Illia was sitting at the table drinking some tea and reading a book. She looked up and smiled kindly at Rona, “The girls are already down at the lake if you want to meet them there.”

    Rona nodded feebly and quickly left the cottage making her way down to the shore. She saw Aela, Freya and Bast all soaking in the water already washing up. They were chatting lightly and sounded happy. She couldn’t believe how easy it was to forget what it felt like to be happy. In fact, it was right in that spot she stood in where any and all happiness she had was torn away from her so abruptly.

    But she wasn’t afraid to stand there and neither was Karnwyr as he immediately waded into the water and started paddling over to Bast who was clicking for him and saying, “Karnwyr! C’mere! Yeah, c’mere boy,” she started petting him all over as he dog paddled around with his tongue lolling out. Rona actually smiled a little. He was such a good companion to her over the last four days. She didn’t know what she’d have done with herself without him. When she needed someone to cuddle and hold onto Karnwyr let her and she loved him all the more for it.

    She noticed that Bast was wearing her bra and panties still, while Freya kept on a white under shirt. Aela didn’t give a damn though, swimming around totally nude. She noticed that even Aela had plenty of battle scars of her own and she didn’t mind sharing them with the world.

    Aela waved at her and said, “Come on in girl! The water’s not even that cold!”

    “If you’re a nord,” Bast scoffed.

    Freya laughed, “Well you’re half a nord and you’re doing just fine I’d say.”

    “It was still cold getting in though,” Bast argued.

    Freya looked over and said, “You’re half nord too right, Rona? So you should be fine.”

    The woman actually smiled at her and she didn’t know what to think about that. Rona decided to keep her under dress on though and waded into the water while the dress ballooned stupidly around her as the air got trapped in it. Bast laughed a little and said, “Maybe just take it off.”

    Rona shook her head quickly and forced the dress under the water.

    Aela swam over and gave her a bar of soap and pointed back at the shore, “Hair tonics are over there, take your pick.”

    Rona just nodded her head in thanks and Bast asked her, “Have you tried talking again? Maybe your voice is back.”

    Freya frowned and splashed her little sister, “You can be so rude sometimes!”

    Me!?” Bast barked incredulously at her, “Have you ever met yourself!?”

    Rona made to laugh, but there was no sound and she sulked a little. Bast noticed and said, “Sorry.”

    Rona just shrugged her shoulders and started to wash herself while the other three talked about what they were going to do about returning to Whiterun.

    “We left Athis with the pups,” Aela said, “I’m not sure how long he’ll be able to hold out for.”

    “You don’t think the Stormcloaks would go in and arrest him when he didn’t attack them, do you?” Freya wondered.

    “I don’t know,” Aela said, “I hope not. But I suppose Tilma could look after Blaise and Lucia in the meantime.”

    “What’s gonna happen when Qetesh and the others get back?” Bast asked.

    Aela scowled down at the water, “Good point… we have to get this resolved quickly. Not sure when to expect them all back.”

    Rona looked on at them all curiously, wanting to ask what had happened, but without her voice she could only quietly speculate.

    When they’d all finished washing up, they sat on the shore of the lake just sunbathing. It was kind of nice, Rona thought. It reminded her of spending time with her old girlfriends and she really wanted to go see them all. Now that she was up and walking she hoped they would leave soon.

    Bast got up and called to Karnwyr, taking him off to go play around the wooded area while she climbed trees. Aela nodded off, still totally nude by the lakeshore leaving just Rona and Freya sitting by one another to stare off at the lake and watch how it sparkled as the sunlight touched the ripples.

    Freya asked her, “How you doing? After all that?”

    Rona just shrugged and shifted her hand back and forth to say, okay.

    Freya chuckled and said, “Doing a lot better than I did after… well you know.”

    Silence. Awkward silence no less because Rona couldn’t even say anything.

    Freya cleared her throat and said, “Have you looked at it?”

    Rona took a breath and exhaled noisily, as noisily as one could without words.

    “That bad?” Freya said looking at her, brows knit together. Rona met her gaze and just nodded. Then Freya said, “Want to see mine?”

    Rona blushed a little pressing her lips together and Freya laughed, “I’m just saying, it might help you to know you’re not alone. I mean, not the only one who’s got some nasty scars from… him.”

    Rona looked over at her and nodded, as if to say, show me.

    Freya said, “Prepare yourself, it’s not pretty,” she lifted her shirt up, revealing her bare breasts underneath. Rona got a good view of three awful jagged white scars that looked horrifically like the one on her hip. In fact, Freya had one on her hip just like hers.

    She looked on morosely at them and then Freya put her shirt back down and said, “So… let me guess. He started in your hip right?”

    Rona nodded slowly.

    “Yeah, that was his thing. Get them in the hip, then move up the chest. Dig it into the breast and bury it in the collarbone. Gods he was such a sick fuck,” she snarled angrily and shook her head, then looked back at Rona and said, “You really roasted him alive? Like with your shout right?”

    Rona furrowed her brows and nodded firmly.

    Freya grinned at her, “Good. That fucker deserved it. I hope it hurt him… Bishop said he stabbed him fifty times and then cut his head right off too.”

    Rona shrugged. She couldn’t remember anything that happened after she shouted at that twisted freak because right after she did all she heard was his and the others agonized screams and Bishop’s furious snarling before everything faded out completely and she woke up again in her own bed with Illia pouring potion down her throat and her father desperately trying to revive her.

    Freya leaned back on her arms and said, “I’m glad for it. We don’t have to leave Skyrim anymore. They’re all gone,” she glanced at Rona, “I guess I owe you a lot of thanks for that. I mean, you’ve given us our lives back and now our freedom. I haven’t slept so soundly in the last six years than I did the night Bishop told me he was dead.”

    Rona wished she could say the same. Her nightmares had been plaguing her again, only this time it was a constant return to that awful place with that awful man.

    Freya seemed to glean that much from the look on her face when she said, “They’ll fade in time. The memories. Even the scars will start to fade. You’re gonna be alright. You’re one tiny woman but damn, you’re tough as nails girl,” Rona looked at her, smirking and cocking a brow and Freya chuckled, “No seriously. When I saw you fight that dragon out in Rorikstead. Gods… I’d never seen anything like it. You’ll get through this.”

    The women spent their day out by the lake before returning to the cottage around sundown. When Rona went in she was surprised to find Illia with a bunch of sewing materials and a huge swath of red fabric. She smiled at her, motioning her to come over.

    “Unfortunately we couldn’t salvage your dress,” she said, “so I stopped by Falkreath and picked up some fabric, leather and other materials so we could make you a new one! I even enchanted the fabric to make it fire and ice resistant.” Illia smiled at Rona as she stepped over and looked at the pretty red fabric. She’d originally gotten her dress in the Imperial city ages ago, it had been her favorite piece of clothing for so long, light with strong resistant material and very easy to move in.

    Rona ran her fingers across the new fabric, it felt nearly the same as the old stuff, just less worn. And being resistant to fire and ice was absolutely ideal considering nearly every dragon she met had fire, ice or both.

    Illia said, “I’m pretty good at sewing, so what do you say we work on this together and get you fitted for a whole new dress?”

    Rona smiled and nodded fervently. It felt good to do something again, even if it was just sewing. Aela and Freya went to work on making dinner while Bast laid on her stomach by the fireplace making faces at Karnwyr and scratched him on the head. Rona and Illia started measuring out fabric, cutting and pulling it all together, doing their best to match it to her old one, which lay draped over a chair, tattered and ruined.

    It really was a nice evening and exactly what she’d needed to come out of her depression. She especially found herself missing Bishop and was looking forward to seeing him that evening.

    ~~~

    The four men sat at a large table at the Dead Man’s Drink in Falkreath. They were playing a game of dice to pass the time. Both Bishop and Serlas were hitting the bottle pretty heavily too while Malborn remained steadfastly sober and got restless every time someone new walked into the tavern.

    After the fourth time someone came in and Malborn jumped knocking a drink over, Bishop kicked him and growled, “Would you stop that!? You’re making me anxious.”

    “I… I think I’m going to rent a room and just lay down for a bit,” Malborn said finally, getting up and leaving his money and cards on the table.

    Bishop rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, don’t forget to barricade the door too while you’re at it. Fucking lunatic.”

    “Malborn is right to be paranoid,” Serlas said, “The Thalmor are very meticulous and no matter how lowly they might deem someone, if you cross them they will do everything in their power to destroy you.”

    “Yeah,” Bishop’s lip curled as he stared at his shitty hand, “I know.”

    More silence. Bishop was so tired of the quiet. He wanted noise. He wanted to hear people talking. No, that wasn’t right. He couldn’t care less about what anyone else had to say. He wanted to hear Rona’s voice, he wanted to hear it more than anything in his life. He’d have given his own voice just for hers to be returned. He hardly needed his. He knew how to express himself just fine without it. But would she ever let him express himself to her again? She wouldn’t even let him touch her and he hadn’t tried since he held her hand that night four days before. She hadn’t reached out for him either. It was starting to feel painfully lonely without her touch.

    She’d actually gotten up when Aela talked to her. He’d been wondering for days if she was angry with him because she wouldn’t even look at him. He couldn’t stop blaming himself for it and wanted to know so badly if she did too. But then she wrote him that note before he left earlier. The first words she’d given to him since the day it all happened.

    I love you. I’m sorry.

    Why was she apologizing? Because she blamed herself. Of course she would. That’s just how she was. Not only was she carrying the burden of the world on her shoulders, but she would always take the blame for everything and keep blaming herself until it tore her apart.

    Finally Farkas said, “She still hasn’t talked?”

    “Nope,” Bishop said shortly.

    “Shame,” Farkas said, folding his hand and taking a sip of his mead, “She had a pretty voice.”

    Bishop just felt annoyed, but then Serlas said almost mindlessly, “A beautiful voice…”

    Bishop had noticed that the elf had been very withdrawn the last four days. He’d wanted to ask what was eating him, but Aela had already told him how Serlas lost it and admonished Rona for everything only to ask her what she had to say for herself and then to find out she had no voice, he could only imagine Serlas was beating himself up for that one.

    “Maybe try singing to her,” Farkas said to Bishop, taking another sip of his mead.

    Bishop furrowed his brows and scoffed, “What?”

    “Well, she can’t sing, but she can still play music, right? Bet she’d like it if you sang to her.”

    Bishop snorted a laugh and said, “You really are an ice brain. I’m not a bard. Like I could sing.”

    “Doesn’t have to be good,” Farkas said, “Bet she wouldn’t care if it sounded like two sabre cats howling in the night. She’d just be happy you tried.”

    Bishop twisted his lips and thought about it. He had sang to her once before, the first night they’d ever slept together. It was a night of first’s really and definitely his most cherished memory with her. It had been sad recalling how he felt, singing to Jules when he was little, but to let it out to her, without being judged, without anything but affection from her. It was just the beginning of his healing. And now he had to heal her.

    He would try. He doubted it would be any good, but she seemed to like his voice well enough before.

    “Yeah,” Bishop said, “I might try that. I’m also going to fold this shit hand of mine.”

    Serlas smirked a little and swiped their cards back up, shuffling them before dealing them out again.

    ~~~

    They were nearly finished with the dress and Rona was eager to wear it. Illia had been so thorough with every single stitch and made her try it on multiple times while putting it together to make sure the fit was perfect.

    She finished up with the last few stitches on the sleeve and held it up smiling, “Go ahead, see how it fits.”

    Rona grabbed it and ran back into her room, closing the door over and changed out of the white under dress, and then yanked the new dress on and smoothed out the creases in it. She looked at herself in the full length mirror and smiled. She actually recognized herself. She looked like herself again and spun in a circle, letting her dress rise. She wanted to go out and explore a ruin or a cave or something just to break it in but settled on taking a walk with Karnwyr outside instead.

    With no more bandits around it seemed safe enough to go out on her own, but she made sure to stay close to the farm. She did notice Bast following behind a ways and when Rona finally settled on a little hill, overlooking the lake, Bast went and climbed up a tree nearby. She pet on Karnwyr and laid back in the grass, looking up at the stars. It was peaceful and nice. She felt ready to leave though, getting those itchy, antsy feelings again and trying her damndest to stifle them.

    She laid there for a long time before she heard Bishop, “Hey kid, she around?”

    Bast pointed over the hill and Bishop came walking up to her. She stayed laying down and looked up at him as he stood over her. She smiled up at him and he smiled back, “I see you’re feeling better. Looking great too,” he chuckled, “Nice dress.”

    He sat down in the grass next to her, making sure to keep the space between them. She appreciated his respect for that because she still wasn’t quite ready for human contact.

    “So if you’re feeling well enough, we’re thinking of leaving tomorrow. How’s that sound?”

    She sat right up and nodded very quickly. He laughed and said, “Well alright. Start a new journey in the morning. I won’t lie, I’ve been itching to get on the move again too. Get the hell out of Skyrim for a while. That’ll be nice.”

    They were quiet for a bit then. Rona could sense Bishop’s desire to hold her. She wanted it too but didn’t want to recoil in his arms either. She’d spent hours being forcibly touched by some awful man and still couldn’t find a way to scrub her brain of that memory. She was afraid Bishop’s touch would feel like that somehow and she didn’t want to associate the two in any shape or form.

    He sighed loudly then and looked over at her, “I’ve been dying to know what’s going on in your head these last few days Lightfoot. Wish you could talk. It’s killing me not hearing your voice.”

    She looked on sadly at him and nodded in understanding. She opened her mouth again, trying to speak but once more nothing came out.

    “Illia thinks it’s shock. That the trauma just… took it away. I’m sure it will come back,” he said, sounding very unsure.

    She shrugged and started to pick at the grass. She didn’t want to talk about the loss of her voice. It was the only thing she’d thought about the last four days. Maybe if she stopped thinking about it, it would come back. She stuck a hand in her pocket and pulled out some parchment and a quill. She started to scribble a note on it and passed it to him.

    Please, talk about something else.

    He smirked and ran a hand through his hair, “Sorry. It’s just been heavy on our minds,” he cleared his throat and said, “Alright. So when we get to Cyrodiil, what’s the first thing you want to do?”

    He passed the paper back and she scribbled on it.

    Go out drinking with everyone!

    He smiled, “Yeah, you got some good taverns in Cheydinhal?”

    Okay ones in Cheydinhal. Best ones in Imperial City! Expensive but fun!

    “We could dance,” he suggested, “Get piss-ass drunk and dance like a couple of idiots.”

    Dance until my feet fall off! She made to laugh.

    They went back and forth like that. Having a slow and quiet conversation, him speaking and her writing, even flirting and poking fun at each other. It was pleasant, but wasn’t quite the same without her voice. And as they finally stood, getting ready to turn in for the night he looked down at her, nervously putting a hand to his neck and asked, “Can I… just a hug?”

    Her face fell and she scribbled another note.

    I still need more time.

    He looked like a boy who just confessed to a girl he liked and got rejected. He tried to hide it and said, “I understand. I’ll wait Ladyship. However long it takes.”

    ~~~

    The next morning they were all getting ready to leave. Aela had just gotten a letter from Athis, who had apparently managed to get Vignar to call the guard off of them due to ‘extenuating circumstances’. It seemed that Ulfric was too busy pushing for Markarth to take much of an interest in the state of Whiterun, leaving it to Vignar to sort out.

    They knew their return would be met with more hatred from the Stormcloaks but Aela just rolled with the punches, every time. Illia was sad to see everyone leaving so suddenly as well, but Freya and Bast promised they’d come visit every chance they got.

    They saw the Companions off and then Bishop, Rona, Serlas and Malborn all set out. Rona insisted she ride alone, so Bishop got stuck with Malborn leaving him feeling quite irritated every time the bosmer leaned over to stare harshly at the passersby or when he swiveled around suddenly thinking someone was coming to get him from behind.

    They were nearly at the border of Cyrodiil and Malborn kept fidgeting and peering around Bishop, trying to see who was waiting for them at the border. Finally Bishop had enough. He twisted in his seat and grabbed Malborn by the neck of his clothes and growled through grit teeth, “If you squirm around one more time I’m throwing you off and then you can chase us on foot the rest of the way.”

    Rona smirked to herself glad to see things back to normal as always. They approached the border crossing, between a thin split in the mountains where plenty of Imperials were stationed, seeing who was coming and going to and from Skyrim and Cyrodiil. Serlas was already prepared with papers for the four of them, granted two of them were in fact forged, both Bishop and Malborn were given fake identities so they could easily pass through undetected.

    Serlas handed over all the paperwork to a Legate standing nearby a guard’s tower with several windows in it. He looked them over and went wide-eyed, looking back up at Serlas and said, “Welcome home Arch-Mage,” then he raised a brow at Rona and nodded, “Dragonborn.”

    She forced a smile and they were all allowed to pass through. Of course when they saw a Thalmor Justiciar and several Thalmor soldiers flanking him, Malborn nearly fell off the horse in a panic. Bishop turned right around and yanked the bosmer’s hood up on his cloak and told him to keep his mouth shut and to hold still.

    The Justiciar immediately strode over to Serlas upon seeing him and sneered in Aldmeri, “(Well, if it isn’t former Arch-Mage Thoraminh. What brings you back to Cyrodiil?)”

    “I’ve just returned with my daughter for a wedding Ondelemar,” Serlas insisted on speaking in Cyrodiilic, “unfortunately we’ve no time to chat. She is the bride’s maid of honor and still must be fitted for her dress and has many parties she’ll need to appear at. So it’s very important we continue moving.”

    Ondelemar looked rather smug, returning the conversation in Cyrodiilic, “Well, if I do remember right, you and she both have a warrant out for your arrests for infiltrating the Thalmor Embassy in Skyrim and stealing important documents from the Ambassador herself.”

    “Actually Ondelemar, if I may correct you, that was all a huge misunderstanding. You see the Embassy was attacked by a vicious dragon at the time and we took refuge within the Ambassador’s Solar so that we might avoid being killed. But it’s quite alright, I have a full pardon from Emperor Titus the second right here, if you’d like to look it over,” Serlas pulled out a set of very formal looking papers from his pocket and held them out to the Justiciar. He snatched them from Serlas and read them over and his smug look was wiped right off his face.

    “I see,” he drawled and looked at Serlas with half-lidded eyes, “Well, it appears that these check out.” He handed them back to Serlas who quickly stuffed them back into his robes and the old elf smiled kindly at the Justiciar.

    They spurred their horses onward and Ondelemar called back to Serlas, “(The Emperor will not always be there to protect you Serlas. Just know, when the Dominion finally does crush Cyrodiil and your little Empire, you are the first on their list of blood-traitors. You and that half-breed brat of yours.)”

    Rona just rolled her eyes. More idle threats from the Thalmor, as always. She looked over at her father and he glanced back at her. She gave him a smile, glad that he had the foresight to contact the Emperor for a full pardon for the events at the Embassy. He returned the smile and they moved on, taking their next left to head on into the Jerall Mountains towards the Temple of the Ancestor Moths.

    Rona worried that the monks wouldn’t meet with them. They hadn’t sent word of their impending arrival and without her voice to prove she was Dragonborn, they didn’t know what to expect, but Serlas wanted to try either way.

    She pulled her white cloak over her shoulders, shivering a bit in the high altitude. Soon they were met with snow. They traveled for two days through the rough mountain terrain. There were still plenty of pines and plants growing along, so they weren’t too high up. Rona made sure to pack some very warm fur blankets for the trip, otherwise she’d freeze to death in her sleep. Karnwyr helped to keep her warm at night and Bishop looked disappointed every time she went to sleep without pulling him along with her.

    After the third day of travel they finally arrived at the temple, having to hike through a lush forested area with plenty of snow all around and they passed through some thick, broken stone walls that flanked the entrance. The Temple of the Ancestor Moths was surprisingly huge. It was an enormous building which wrapped around in a ‘U’ shape. The grey and white building went up at least three stories tall and had three round roofed towers on each section of the building.

    It had great arches built into it where plenty of rounded windows sat and more arches at the bottom of the building, leading into several entryways. There was an enormous courtyard centered in the middle of the building and standing front and center was a giant statute of an old monk dressed in robes, probably someone important that they revered, maybe the founder of their cult.

    The courtyard was lightly landscaped with some bushes and pines here and there to accent the blank walls between windows and arches. The most unusual thing about the place however, were the number of moths flying around the lit sconces all along the walls and at the larger roaring sconces in the courtyard. There was an unusually large number of them, she thought, especially considering the climate. She wondered if perhaps they were a type of moth that thrived in the cold, which would explain why there were so many of them.

    They noticed only a few monks braving the snowfall and cold outside as they wandered the grounds and occasionally stopped to quietly pray. The group left their horses by the stairs and headed into the courtyard. There was a real sense of peace to the place and definitely a lot of quiet.

    One of the monks looked over, taking notice of the group and slowly approached them, holding his hands together, under his robes as the Greybeards did, so that the sleeves cascaded together. He was wearing white robes and had a stark white beard and a shaved head. Rona noticed that he had very kind eyes and when he spoke it was with a soft voice, “Welcome travelers to the Temple of Ancestor Moths. I apologize, but we were not expecting the arrival of any visitors.”

    “The apologies are mine,” Serlas replied, “My name is Serlas Thoraminh and this is my daughter Rona Thoraminh. We have come here seeking the knowledge of the Elder Scrolls. I was hoping you might grant us an audience, despite not sending correspondence first. You see it is very urgent that we speak with the Moth Priests about matters concerning the return of the dragons.”

    The monk looked on at both of them with deep curiosity in his eyes and said, “Well, it would be highly unusual for us to share our knowledge or secrets of the Elder Scrolls with outsiders. May I ask what exactly it is about the dragons in particular that brings you here?”

    “Of course,” Serlas said, “Sir?”

    The monk chuckled and said, “Ah, I am Brother Dexion Evicus. I am one of the Moth Priests.”

    “A pleasure to make your acquaintance Brother Evicus. Well, I shall get quickly into it. I am sure you have heard all about the return of dragons to Skyrim.”

    “Yes,” Brother Evicus nodded, “That we have. We have even heard them among our own mountains, fortunately they have chosen to avoid our humble temple at this time.”

    Rona shared an anxious glance with Bishop, both knowing that her presence there was putting those people in danger if the dragons nearby could sense her.

    “Are you aware that the World Eater has returned?” Serlas asked him.

    Brother Evicus looked on at Serlas with genuine surprise then and he said, “No. As I said before we do not often get visitors to our humble chapel. This is dire news indeed.”

    “Would you believe me, Brother Evicus, if I told you that my daughter is the only one who can stop this fiend?”

    He turned his kind gaze to her then, regarding her and pulled a hand from his sleeve to stroke at his beard, “Well, if that were true, then that would mean she is Dragonborn.”

    “She is,” Serlas said.

    Brother Evicus nodded politely to her and said, “It is an honor Dragonborn. I never thought to meet one in my lifetime and no less a Maiden of Dragon Flame, an even greater rarity.”

    She bowed her head politely back but then he said, “Perhaps I could see a demonstration of your power? Not that I doubt you, but it would certainly solidify the fact that you are who you claim to be.”

    Rona pressed her lips together. She knew she couldn’t. She’d been trying to shout and speak for the entire two days of travel there to no avail.

    Brother Evicus looked at her expectantly and smiled, “A bit shy, perhaps?”

    Serlas interjected, “I am afraid Rona will not be able to shout for you at this time. She recently experienced a severe trauma which has taken her voice from her.”

    Brother Evicus parted his lips and said, “Ah… well…”

    Rona shivered fiercely as a cold gust of wind blew by and the kindly monk, took notice and said, “Please, come inside and out of this cold. We do not have much, but we do have warmth.”

    They followed the kindly monk through the courtyard and into the temple. Rona was relieved to be inside, finally, after days of shivering, even under the warmth of the fur blankets she’d brought and with Karnwyr sleeping by her. She never realized how warm Bishop actually was until she slept in the snow without him.

    Brother Evicus motioned to a nearby table with long benches and they all took a seat, except for Bishop who leaned against a wall with Karnwyr near his feet.

    Serlas said, “I promise you Brother Evicus, we would not have hiked all this way just to take advantage of your hospitality. My daughter has reached a dead end in her journey to defeat the World Eater. She must find an Elder Scroll and take it to the Throat of the World and use it to look into the past so that she might learn a dragon’s shout which will allow her to defeat this beast of Oblivion.”

    Brother Evicus nodded knowingly and said, “I see. Yes, that sounds right. It is told that the Elder Scroll of Dragon is the one that Jillian and the ancient Tongues used to send the World Eater out of our realm.”

    “That is only partly true,” Serlas said, “Alduin was not merely sent out of our realm, he was in fact sent adrift through time and came bursting out into our time now. He has since been resurrecting the dragons of old and attempting to regain a dominant hold over the lands of Skyrim and I am sure he intends to move on to the rest of Nirn when he’s finished there.”

    “That is… alarming,” Brother Evicus said with real worry.

    Serlas pressed him, “Do you know where we might find the Elder Scroll of Dragon? Do you have any ideas as to its whereabouts?”

    Brother Evicus took a breath and looked between them all and said, “I am sorry, but I cannot share those details.”

    “Why not!?” Bishop barked from his position against the wall, “The world is going to end if we don’t find it! That means the world ends for all of you too!”

    Brother Evicus looked at him and said, “If perhaps the young lady could prove she were Dragonborn, then I might be able to share my knowledge, but I am afraid that without further evidence I simply cannot reveal what we know. You understand my caution, I hope. There are many who seek the Elder Scrolls, not just us, but those who would use them for wrongdoing and to take power for themselves.”

    Bishop grumbled loudly and just shook his head. Rona felt just as angry and frustrated. Especially when the monk said, “When you regain your voice Dragonborn, please return to us and we will gladly speak with you then.”

    She got right up and left, storming out of there and back into the snow. She hated it. Being without her voice. She was completely useless without it. They’d come so far only to hit another wall. They were so damn close! She could feel it. She could literally feel her blood boiling that’s how close they were. At least that’s why she thought her blood was boiling. Until she realized that she was getting that feeling because of the two pale white dragons perched above on the thick stone walls were staring at her murderously.

    She completely froze, she just stood there, staring right back at them. She had nothing, no shouts, no magic… she had her swords. She drew them both and one of the dragons let out a low growl at her while the other eyed her, twisting it’s head back and forth like a bird before saying, “[She is the Dragonborn? She is very weak my brother. I can hardly sense her. Are you sure it is this mortal?]”

    “[Look upon her blades brother],” the other said, “[They are made from the bones of our kin. She is the one. She is Rona of Dragon Fangs.]”

    “[If we kill her…]”

    “[Yes],” the other growled a sneer, “[Lord Alduin will reward us greatly. Freeze her.]”

    The other raised its head and made to shout when an arrow whistled by and hit it in the neck. Bishop roared, “RONA RUN!”

    She twisted on the spot and ran back towards him, racing towards the building. She had to get cover. She could not fight them. But the other flew down suddenly, stomping down right in front of her, blocking her path. She tried to shout but nothing came out. Why? Why Akatosh!? WHY!?

    The beast snapped at her but Bishop grabbed her arm hard, pulling her out of the way. She recoiled from his grip and then the beast yowled in pain. Karnwyr was biting viciously into its leg. Bishop looked desperately at her, “COME ON!”

    She ran with him as he whistled for Karnwyr and the wolf let go, before the dragon had a chance to bite him. They ran around the side of the temple, narrowly missing being hit by a shout of ice from the other that still had an arrow in its neck. They slid under the cover of an overhang and then they heard the blasts of destruction magic from the other side of the building. Serlas was facing off against one of them. The other came slithering and stomping down towards them, looking at them under the overhang. Bishop nocked an arrow and snarled firing a perfect shot right into one of its eyes. It roared furiously and they turned and sprint into the forests.

    Why couldn’t she do anything? She couldn’t summon the fire within, she couldn’t call forth the Dragonborn of yore, she couldn’t shout or bring forth music or do any of it! She felt so utterly useless. They heard the loud crash and cracking of trees behind them as the dragon came hurtling after them and roared its icy breath at them. Bishop shoved her out of the way and grunted in pain. She looked back at him, fearfully but he just urged her onward, “MOVE! MOVE!”

    Karnwyr was racing alongside them through the thick nestling of pines and the beast struggled to weave its way through. It roared ice at them and they quickly took cover behind a thick tree. Rona looked over at Bishop, worried for him, but he just focused on the task at hand. He looked at her and said, “Draw your bow! Swords aren’t going to do you any good right now!”

    She sheathed her blades and drew her bow. He said, “On my count we fire! Aim for its face! Get the other eye if you can!”

    She nocked her bow and Bishop counted, “One – two – three!” They both peered around the tree and there was nothing. The dragon was gone. Until they heard its roar above them and the tree they were under shuddered and cracked and then the roots came up right under them as the tree toppled, lifting them high up into the air.

    Karnwyr was down below barking madly and trying to figure out how to get to them. Rona tried to scream but even that wouldn’t come out. Bishop reached for her as he clung with his forearm to one of the thick roots, still holding his bow. “RONA! TAKE MY HAND! PLEASE!”

    She hesitated to take his hand as she hung desperately on watched her own bow fall far down to the ground. She couldn’t slow their fall without her magic, and she saw the furious dragon hissing and clutching at the enormous tree as it forced it to essentially flip over. “RONA!” Bishop roared at her. She gave in. Bishop would never hurt her and right now he was just trying to protect her. She reached for him but it was too late. With another shudder the tree split apart and she fell, Bishop fell too and then she felt it as a dragon’s soul entered her body and instead of hitting the ground hard she floated safely down.

    She looked back and saw her father, angrier than she’d ever seen him, casting powerful destruction magic against the dragon that was chasing after them. He cast an inferno over the beast and it writhed in pain, shouting its ice to combat it. It flapped backwards trying to escape and then flew high up, evading the fire before giving up and fleeing over the mountains beyond.

    Serlas ran to her and knelt down beside her, taking care not to lay hands on her, not knowing how she’d react and breathed, “Are you alright velvyn?”

    She nodded and looked around for Bishop, he was safely on the ground too, with Karnwyr right at his side, but was on his knees and clutching at his arm. Rona scrambled to her feet and ran to him. He looked up at her as she approached before averting his gaze. Serlas came over and said, “Let me see your wound Bishop.”

    Bishop undid the buckles on his clothes and revealed the horrible frostbite on his upper arm. Rona threw her hands to her mouth. She had the power to heal Dragon’s Frost. She could fix this. She held her hands out to him and tried to will the fires within to melt the frost. They watched her struggle and try over and over again to heal him, but nothing happened.

    “Ladyship,” Bishop whispered.

    She looked on at him, mortified and hating herself every second.

    Serlas said, “It will be alright velvyn. I will do what I can for it.” He cast a few healing spells over Bishop which seemed to stem the speed at which the frostbite was spreading, but did not heal or stop it altogether.

    She got up then and turned away from them and started walking towards an old pine. She started to pummel it with her fists, kicking it furiously and screaming silently to the skies. Why was this happening!? Why couldn’t she do anything about it!? Were they punishing her!? Because she hadn’t completed her journey!? Because she couldn’t figure out what to do next!?

    She screamed and screamed with no voice and then she fell to her knees, slumping against the tree and buried her face in her knees and cried. Bishop was going to be consumed by Dragon’s Frost and she could do nothing to save him. He was going to die because of her. Because of her weakness and failures, just like he nearly died a week before when Thorn took her and ruined her. The man was dead but he’d still taken everything from her. She was nothing without her voice.

    ~~~

    After letting her cry it out and with great urging from her father and Bishop she returned to the Temple of Ancestor Moths.

    Brother Evicus and the other monks had seen everything from the safety of their windows. They’d seen the dragon soul enter her body when Serlas managed to bring the one down.

    That’s when Brother Evicus sat down with them and said, “We know the scroll is in Skyrim. We suspect its within a Dwemer Ruin, but we have not located where.”

    This news just left Rona slumping miserably at the table. She ran her fingers through her hair and lowered her face to the table and just stared at it. Another dead end. More uselessness. It was over. There was nothing else to do but scour every Dwemer ruin in Skyrim and hope they’d find the Elder Scroll of Dragon and that could take years and by then Alduin probably would have conquered Skyrim and started to consume the world.

    Brother Evicus kindly offered them beds for the night and he allowed Serlas to take a look at their personal library on everything Elder Scroll so that he might see if there were any clues as to which Dwemer ruin the scroll presided in. Bishop sat on a bed, petting a worried Karnwyr and tried not to show just how much his arm was hurting him.

    Rona could only imagine how painful it was and yet he was there, staying strong for her, while she just laid there on a bed, staring miserably at the ceiling.

    Malborn was still as anxious as ever, especially now that he’d seen dragons attack them all. He was extremely jumpy and every time the sound of a door closing or the step on a staircase squeaked he practically leapt out of his skin.

    Bishop got annoyed with it and got up. He went over to Rona and looked down at her and said, “Come on, let’s go for a walk.” She stared back at him despondently and he pleaded, “Please Ladyship. Just a walk. That’s all I ask.”

    She relented and went with him, pulling her cloak over herself.

    Malborn saw them going and stammered, “W-Wait! Where are you going?”

    “Going for a walk to get away from you, yah paranoid lunatic!” Bishop barked back.

    “B-But I-!”

    Bishop turned back and looked at Karnwyr who was following them. He pointed to Malborn and said, “Stay with him boy.” Karnwyr whined, but did as told and went over to Malborn, sitting by his feet. “There. Now you’ve got plenty of protection.”

    Malborn didn’t look so sure but they left before he could say another word.

    Bishop led her outside and walked over to where the horses were stabled for the night. He unclipped her lute from Ember and went back over to her, getting her to follow him. They wandered a ways into the forested area behind the temple until Bishop found a cozy overhang nestled under the mountain, surrounded by a thicket of trees and brush. It was enough to protect them from the chill wind. He told her to sit down and gave her, the lute while he went about collecting some firewood and put together a small campfire for them.

    Rona sat close to it and just held her lute. She had no desire to play anything at all. She felt like there was no point if she couldn’t sing. But Bishop handed her a book then and said, “Open it up to page twenty-two and play that song for me, okay?”

    She looked at the book. It was Songs of Skyrim. The songbook a traveling minstrel had given her a long time ago. She touched the flakey gold lettering for a moment, just remembered how happy she was to sing with the man back then.

    “Please?” Bishop said suddenly and she broke from her reverie. She turned the pages and looked over the title of the song, Words That We Couldn’t Say. She looked up at him with half-lidded eyes and he just chuckled, “Come on Ladyship. Just play it already. Been missing the sound of your lute.”

    (The Song is Words That We Couldn’t Say by Steve Conte)

    She sighed and started playing the song on her lute. The tune was fairly intricate and fun to play and she enjoyed the sound. But she was completely startled when Bishop started to sing the words and he did so surprisingly well.

    “We couldn’t say them, so now we just pray them,
    Words that we couldn’t say.

    Funny, ain’t it? Games people play,
    Scratch it, paint it, one in the same,
    We couldn’t find them, so we tried to hide them,
    Words that we couldn’t say.

    It hurts, don’t it? Fools on parade,
    Taint it, own it, chase it away,
    We couldn’t make them, so we had to break them,
    Words that we couldn’t say.”

    She smiled brightly at him and he grinned back at her as she played the very intricate solo portion on her lute. She felt her cheeks burning red at the way he looked at her but especially how he looked at her when he put all his passion into the words, trying his damndest to sing it well. And he did. He had a beautiful voice. Her heart leapt when he sang again.

    “Sometimes baby, we make mistakes,
    Dark and hazy, prices we pay,
    I sit here in my shelf, just talking to myself,
    Words that we couldn’t say.

    Someday, maybe, We’ll make it right,
    Until that day, long endless nights,
    We couldn’t say them, so now we just pray them,
    Words that we couldn’t say.

    We couldn’t say them, so now we just pray them,
    Words that we couldn’t say.

    Someday, maybe, we’ll make it right,
    Until that day, long endless nights,
    We couldn’t say them, so now we just pray them,
    Words that we couldn’t say.”

    She was almost sad that it was over. But then she set the lute aside and got up. He watched her as she knelt down beside him, silent still, but looking on lovingly at him and he returned the gaze. She felt her tears cascading quickly then and she finally did what she’d wanted to do for so long. She threw her arms around him and buried her face into the side of his neck and let him wrap his much bigger, stronger and protective arms around her.

    He held her tightly and she heard him crying too as he choked out, “I love you Rona. I love you more than you’ll ever know. Gods I love you.”

    They held each other for so long and he whispered his words of love and comfort over and over to her and it felt good. It felt right.

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 80

    No Place Like Home

     

    They spent the night together back in the temple and he just held her in his arms and it was wonderful. She had no nightmares. Her sleep was dreamless and peaceful. When she woke in his arms that was just as wonderful because he was already awake, gently stroking her hair and looking on at her lovingly and then she kissed him and that was perfect too.

    She initiated all of it, he let her make the first moves and responded according to her reactions. All of it was positive and exactly what she’d needed. But although she was so happy to have human contact again, when she made to speak there was still nothing. He just kissed her and told her it would be okay, that she was on the road to healing. She let herself believe him and allowed him to comfort her aching heart.

    They left the Temple of the Ancestor Moths that day. Serlas thanked the monks for their hospitality and gave them the location of their farm, asking that they please write and inform them should they discover anything new. Brother Evicus promised that he would send word the minute he heard anything new about the Elder Scroll in question.

    They spent another two days, traveling through those rough mountains and Rona slept beside Bishop every night which he seemed quite happy about because he was smiling every day now, except when he tried to hide the physical pain in his arm from her.

    Serlas was keeping track of the Dragon’s Frost and did everything in his power to slow it each day. He even gave Bishop a few of Qetesh’s best potions, which he’d learned to make himself and that seemed to help him quite a bit, at least with the pain. Still, on the third day, when they’d arrived near the border again, Rona saw it. Bishop stood in a private area, around a ridge, while Serlas tried once again to slow the move of the mark. It had already moved up his shoulder and down towards his hand. The whole thing was threatening to overtake him. Rona panicked inwardly at the sight of it. She had to regain her voice somehow, she just didn’t know how.

    They stopped in Bruma that evening and spent the night at the Jerall View Inn. Bishop and Rona got a private room together and went to lay down for bed. Bishop had been keeping his cuirass on, initially he said because of the cold. But she knew better, the man could probably strip down naked and take a swim in an icy lake treating it like a hot summer’s day. Now he had no excuse and as she stood there in just her own under dress she tugged on his shirt and he smirked at her saying sarcastically, “What? Feeling frisky Ladyship?”

    She scowled at him and started to undo the buckles herself and he grasped her hands and shook his head, “I don’t want you to stress over it, Sweetness. If you worry about my wound, then your voice might never come back. Just try to relax.” She looked into his warm amber eyes tearfully.

    He kissed her on the forehead and whispered, “No more tears Ladyship. We’ve all done enough crying to drain and refill Lake Ilinalta twice over already.”

    She sighed and just hugged him, pressing her face to his chest and he hugged her back. He pulled her over to the bed and held her, falling asleep fairly quickly beside her, snoring lightly as always. She stared woefully at him and blamed herself.

    All of it was her fault. If she hadn’t left the farm that day, none of it would have happened. She wouldn’t have lost her voice and Bishop wouldn’t have been hurt by the dragon’s shout because she would’ve been able to fight back. He told her not to worry but how could she not? He was everything to her and all the pain he’d suffered since the start of their journey was her fault.

    When his hand was burned the first time she killed a dragon, her fault. When his arm was snapped in pieces against the dragon outside Whiterun, her fault. When thirty dragons attacked Solitude and burned up his leg, her fault. When Alduin realized he was the most important person to her and trained the others to attack him first… it was her fault. It was all her fault. Every time Bishop got hurt it was because of her.

    There was only one way to stop it all… but she couldn’t bear that thought. Memories of what Kodlak had told her at Arcwind Point resurfaced. It is a path that will break your hearts. And when she’d asked the seer how to save him, she’d touched her hand and said, You already know the answer to that.

    She closed her eyes tightly. No. She wouldn’t do that. She couldn’t. If anything would kill Bishop… it would be that. She touched his sleeping face and kissed him. Falling into a new dream this time.

    ~~~

    (Background music Silva Maleficas by Peter Gundry)

    Jillian stood by at the Throat of the World, standing at the edge of the mountain, watching as the Blades continued their battles against the dragon menace far below. News was spreading fast from one dragon to the next and they were starting to retreat. Alduin was gone, banished from that plane. Their great leader, the firstborn of Akatosh, had been defeated.

    But her heart ached painfully and her tears came steadily. Ronin was dead. He would never come back. She’d found her power up there. Ignited her freezing flames of blue fire and Eira gave her the power to heal Dragon’s Slash. But it was already too late and it was no slash that killed Ronin, it was the literal crushing and tearing apart of his entire being. There was no coming back from that.

    She half considered stepping off the edge then. Her destiny was fulfilled, she’d done what the gods wanted of her and yet she felt so empty and lost. When she’d told him what she was to do, he couldn’t bear it, he refused to let her go and told her to give it up, to run away with him. He didn’t want to fight anymore. He didn’t want to see her die. Their last conversation was one of anger.

    “I won’t allow you to do this, Jillian! Why do you feel that you must give your life for these people!? They do not know you, they do not care! You are but a tool for their war!”

    “You are a Blade Ronin, you know very well why I fight.”

    He’d clenched his fists in anger and said, “I was once. But no longer, I cannot be a part of it anymore. I refuse to be a part of the cause that would so easily throw your life away for their own gain!”

    “Ronin… whether you leave the Blades or not, it changes nothing. My dreams grow ever stronger, plaguing me. The Maidens of yore follow me everywhere I go, pushing me onward. This is my destiny, the path laid out for me,” she’d argued.

    “And what of me?” He’d pressed a hand to his strong chest and looked on at her, golden brows knit tightly together, silver eyes sharply boring into her own, “Do I not matter? My thoughts? My feelings?”

    She looked on at him, pained that he would even suggest such a thing and breathed, “Of course you matter Ronin, you are everything to me…”

    “When you joined us, wishing to fight alongside us, I couldn’t have been happier then. But it was for entirely selfish reasons,” he said, “At first it was just knowing that we had the Dragonborn on our side. But then we grew so close and I couldn’t treat you the same as the others, as though you were just some tool, some hidden weapon at our disposal. And every time I saw you wounded, every time I watched you face off against another vile wyrm, recklessly risking your life for our cause,” he shut his eyes, shaking his head and grit his teeth, “I cannot be a part of it anymore! Your life has value! It has meaning, if not to them then to me! I continued to fight trying to save you from this forlorn path you follow. I love you Jillian! Does that mean nothing to you?”

    “And I love you Ronin-”

    “Yet still you go on, chasing the dragons and for what? For them? For the Blades!? They care not for you! You can never kill them all, no one has ever come close to removing their blight from our world – I see that now! Neither the Tongues the Blades nor any Dragonborn before could stop them! Alduin is too powerful, he will destroy you as he has done to all the others!”

    “I must fight!” She cried, “I fight for you! For us! I want to live in a world of peace with you and so long as they are here they will find me and pursue us both to the end of our lives! So I can either run or I can fight! And I choose the latter.”

    He roared, “Then go you foolish woman! I will not watch you die!

    He’d left her then and she carried on without him, fighting for him, believing what she was doing was right. She led the Tongues and the Blades to the Throat of the World, executing their plan. She overthrew the Greybeards in their monastery, bringing war and violence to that place. They’d bound and gagged them and she felt aggrieved over it, but knew it had to be done. It was the place prophesized in the scroll where the World Eater’s downfall would be.

    But then one of the Blades came to her crying, “Lady Jillian! Lord Ronin has returned! He leads the others at the foot of the mountain!”

    He was fighting back. But Alduin knew. He knew who Ronin was. For so long this one man had led the Blades against the dragons and was the greatest thorn in the beast’s side. But he also knew who he was to her. Alduin wanted nothing more than to destroy the man for many reasons, but most of all to crush her soul. Ronin was her greatest weakness and Alduin knew that. She raced back down the mountain, forsaking them all, because he mattered more, he’d always mattered more. And then she watched him die…

    (The Song is Forgiven by Within Temptation)

    She stood on that mountain, watching the dragons retreating, fleeing to the far corners of Skyrim. Her heart felt cold and empty and she hated them all.

    She blamed herself and sang to the skies letting her emotions go.

    “Couldn’t save you from the start
    Love you so it hurts my soul
    Can you forgive me for trying again
    Your silence makes me hold my breath
    Oh time has passed you by

    Ooh, for so long I’ve tried to shield you from the world
    Ooh, you couldn’t face the freedom on your own
    Here I am left in silence

    You gave up the fight
    You left me behind
    All that’s done’s forgiven
    You’ll always be mine
    I know deep inside
    All that’s done’s forgiven.”

    Rona was standing there on that mountain with her then as the song continued all around them. Jillian looked back at her and said, “Come to me Dragonborn.”

    She approached the nord woman who’d followed her for so long, who’d shown her so many things and taught her so many songs. She stood much shorter than Jillian who was nearly a head taller than her.

    “There is no pain greater than losing the one you love,” she said, arms crossed as she stared out at the war ensuing before them,”I have followed you for some time now and I see how much you care for him. You wish to save him, do you not?”

    Rona nodded quickly.

    “But you have lost your voice. Do you know why it will not return?”

    She shook her head.

    “It is because of the blame you carry within. It is a great burden we bear, the troubles of  all the world, but even we are unable to withstand the heaviness of it all. Dragon soul or not, there is only so much we mortals can carry within until we break. You must release it and forgive yourself.”

    Forgive herself? How could she ever…

    “I know it seems easier to hold on to it. To continue to not be the Dragonborn; for what Dragonborn was there that had no voice?”

    Rona looked at her incredulously. She thought she was carrying the blame on purpose? So that she wouldn’t have to be the Dragonborn?

    “You do not believe that is why you carry it, but there is a part inside of you that deeply desires the freedom it grants you. To be human again… it is nearly always the greatest yearning of the Dragonborn. Very few take up the torch as pure bred heroes and those that do often die like the fools they are,” Jillian looked down at her, putting a hand to Rona’s shoulder, “It might seem easier, to give up the power, but it will never get easier and if he should die you too will die from your own anguish… or you shall turn like me,” she pressed a hand to her chest, “You will become cold-hearted and bitter and die a lonely death in a desolate place. Forgive yourself Rona and fight back.”

    Rona met her sharp gaze and nodded. Then the dream started to break, fading in a great haze while dragons everywhere continued to roar around them and Jillian gave her a few last parting words, “Steel yourself for what you must do. You know it is the only way to save him.”

    ~~~

    Her eyes snapped open and she breathed as the words Jillian’s sad song slowly faded from her mind. She looked over, Bishop was still sleeping steadily beside her. She rubbed her eyes, trying to shake off the dream. Bishop woke up from her sudden movement, but he groaned a bit, painfully. Of course realizing she was right there he tried to stifle it and hide it. He looked very tired, sickly even and she couldn’t help but give him a concerned look.

    He forced a smile, “What did I tell you about worrying about me?” Her lip trembled and he quickly kissed her, trying to suppress her fears and worries. And as he pulled away, pressing his forehead to hers, he looked into her eyes said, “Be happy today. We’re almost there, in your hometown. You’ll show me around, right?”

    She sucked it up, pushing all her sorrows back inside of herself and nodded. He smiled and they pulled apart, getting up to greet the day. Serlas stopped by their room and said, “Bishop, I’d like to take a look at your arm again.”

    “Sure,” Bishop turned to Rona and said, “I’ll be out in a minute.” He closed the door, locking her out but she listened quietly at the door and heard her father’s troubled sigh.

    Bishop spoke quietly, “Just do what you can for it. I’ll be fine.”

    “Bishop, you’re looking incredibly ill. I don’t know how much longer this can go on for…”

    “So give me another of Qetesh’s Best already. Really, it’s ok. You’ve slowed it down. Got another day or so, don’t I?”

    “Let us pray her voice returns by then…” Serlas sounded very worried. She regretted listening, she shouldn’t have because all it did was distress her and she felt crippled with guilt and blamed herself even more.

    Still, Bishop looked quite a bit better after meeting with her father and they set out on horseback, first heading towards the north entrance of the Imperial City where Serlas would meet with his contact and send Malborn on his way. She took a saddle with Bishop, holding him tightly and keeping the side of her face pressed to his back and every once in a while he’d just tenderly stroke her arm, trying to reassure her that he was okay.

    But when they finally left the rugged mountains and reached the warm rolling grasslands of Cyrodiil, Rona felt her heart bursting with joy. She was finally home and Cheydinhal was only another day away.

    They made it down to the northern entrance to the Imperial City while it was still daylight out, only around three in the afternoon. Serlas met with his contact there who was able to give Malborn asylum. The bosmer was incredibly grateful, albeit still quite on edge. He thanked Serlas for everything and they wished him well before mounting their steeds and making their way east towards Cheydinhal.

    Rona took up saddle on her own horse again and they rode steadily along the path and she soaked up the sights of all the lush, gently swaying grass, the rolling hills, the fields of wildflowers, the enormous trees and the local wildlife. Karnwyr seemed to enjoy the wildlife too because he could not stop sprinting around chasing birds, wild boars and the larger jackrabbits. Even Bishop was getting excited saying, “Damn. It’s been way too long since I’ve been out this way. Over a decade at least. Forgot how nice it was.”

    “Yes,” Serlas said, “I have to admit I hadn’t realized how homesick I was until being back. I’m looking forward to returning to the Imperial City. Oh how I do miss the city life! Busy and bustling as it always is.”

    “Personally I’d rather camp out here under the stars,” Bishop said,”The city’s fine for a few things, like a good place to drink and a warm bed, but I’ll always be an outdoorsman at heart.”

    Serlas chuckled, “That’s probably why you’re so well suited to Skyrim’s harsh climates and rugged terrains.”

    Bishop laughed, “Nah, I think that’s just ’cause I’m a nord. Lately though, that place has been taking it out of me. Think I’ve had enough encounters with dragons to last me a lifetime.”

    “I couldn’t agree more,” Serlas said and then he pulled on Whiskey’s reins, stopping him suddenly, “Well I’ll be…”

    “What?” Bishop asked, bringing Misty to a halt. Rona stopped Ember and looked over too.

    Serlas pointed up to a tall hill in the distance where a loan oak tree stood. He looked over at Rona and smiled, “Do you remember that tree Rona dear? We camped there when you were just a girl. What do you say we pay it a visit?”

    She smiled and nodded. They steered their horses up the hill and Bishop asked, “Something special about this tree?”

    “Not so much the tree, no, but years and years ago, when Rona was about, twelve years old? She was struggling with her destruction magic quite a bit, so I offered to take her out and practice far, far away from where she might accidentally blow something or someone up!”

    Bishop snorted a laugh and looked over at her, “Wow Lightfoot… definitely a good thing you left for the Fighter’s Guild.”

    She looked at him with half-lidded eyes and Serlas agreed saying, “It certainly eased my poor heart at the time. Anyhow, we camped up on this hill and practiced for three days. It’s a fond old memory of mine.”

    It was a fond memory for her too. She hopped off of Ember and wandered over to the big oak tree, getting a good look at the curling and winding roots which bumped out of the ground. She was very happy to see it still standing especially considering she’d nearly burned the thing down years ago.

    Her father came up beside her and pointed, “There it is, the old scars you left on the dear old boy.”

    She frowned and touched them, old burn marks that had healed over after a decade.

    Serlas noticed her sad expression and said, “You cannot blame yourself velvynen. You were still learning and it was only an accident. And besides, see how well it’s healed? The entire thing has grown quite massive in fact. It’s a beautiful tree,” he looked up admiring it and chuckled, “If only Miss Bastet were here, I’m sure she’d quite enjoy climbing this one.”

    Rona smiled and sat down at the base of the oak tree, running her fingers over the roots. She let the peacefulness of the place permeate her mind and body. Blame. She couldn’t blame herself for any of it anymore. She had to let it all go, just like she did once long ago when she’d blamed herself for nearly killing a poor, harmless tree.

    She’d forgiven herself then and it healed and grew stronger than ever. Bishop came over and sat down beside her. She had to let go of the blame so that she could heal him. She was still learning, she was going to make mistakes, bad things would happen. There wasn’t much she could do about that except do what Aela always did and just roll with the punches.

    She was home too, far, far away from the dragons for once in a place she loved. She took it all in and allowed herself to feel happy and at peace. She forgave herself. Her mind was brimming with a song wanting to burst forth. She wasn’t sure if she could sing it, but she quickly got up and Serlas and Bishop both watched her as she rifled through her saddle bag and found her flute and unclipped her lute from the butt of the horse.

    She quickly sat back down, putting the flute aside and held her lute in hand, touching the strings. Bishop smiled and asked, “Going to try playing something?”

    She wanted to do more than just play a song, she wanted to sing. She allowed the sounds of music to fill her mind and spread from within. Bishop and Serlas both watched her hopefully.

    (The Song is Home Sweet Home by Erutan)

    She strummed her lute a few times and then let out the most beautiful sound that both men had been wanting to hear for so long.

    “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,

    Be it ever so humble

    There’s no place like home

    A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there

    Which seek thro’ the world

    Is ne’er met with elsewhere

    Home, home, sweet, sweet home

    There’s no place like home

    There’s no place like home”

    She beamed, feeling the joy within and picked up her flute then and started to play that. Serlas held a hand to his face and a wide smile sprawled across his lips, despite the tears pouring from his eyes. Bishop couldn’t stop grinning either, tears sitting in his eyes as he just took in the sound of her wonderful music.

    He closed his eyes and leaned back against that enormous oak and was reminded once more just why he loved this woman. Not just for her beauty, her gentleness, her compassion, or her incredible power, but because of how strong she was. She’d been through so much and she struggled every day, but always found a way to overcome it all and bounce back.

    He truly envied her in that regard. She looked small and fragile but she was probably the strongest person he’d ever known. He gave a deep and relaxed sigh and when she started to sing again, he let it wash over him, trying to memorize it so he’d never forget the sound of her beautiful voice ever again.

    “To thee, I’ll return, overburdened with care

    The heart’s dearest solace will smile on me there

    No more from that cottage again will I roam

    Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home

    Home, home, sweet, sweet home

    There’s no place like home

    There’s no place like home”

    Serlas looked down at her and she smiled brightly up at him, tears tracing her cheeks and they immediately embraced in a deep hug and she sobbed, “I’m so sorry Ata! I wanted to apologize for everything for so long!”

    “No, velvyn,” he cried, “It is I who should apologize. I should not have lost my temper with you, not after all that happened.”

    “You were right in everything you said though! I’m so sorry!I love you Ata!”

    “And I love you too velvynen, I’m just so grateful. So happy. Your voice, your wonderful sweet voice my dear…”

    Bishop just smiled, starting to get choked up himself. Emotions had been high for so long and he was tired of crying. He was ready to just rest for once from their journey without anymore worries or stresses related to her Dragonborn destiny.

    He felt a pain in his arm though and quickly undid his buckles, taking his cuirass off, held his arm out and said, “Hey, mind healing this?”

    Rona looked over at him and with wide eyes and shouted, “Bishop! How could you hide this from me!? You could have died!”

    He just grinned at her and said, “Please keep yelling at me Ladyship! Pick a fight, I want to fight so bad, you have no idea! I’ll take hearing your angry shrieking over nothing at all!” He laughed loudly despite the fact that the frostbite had traveled all the way up his shoulder and started moving into his chest and touched down the top of his hand. His entire arm was a mottled black color, it looked horrible.

    Rona got up and knelt right beside him, grasping his arm and summoned her fire within. The golden flames from her hands burned brightly and ignited the blackened wound like fire to oil and burned the frostbite away entirely. She wobbled afterwards though, because it took everything out of her to do that. Bishop caught her in his arms and kissed her on the forehead. “Thanks Lightfoot.”

    She smiled up at him and they just held their gazes to one another for a while. Serlas looked away from the two lovebirds, blushing a bit himself, before clearing his throat and saying, “Well, I shall collect some firewood. I’d like to camp here for the night if you both don’t mind and then tomorrow we shall arrive in Cheydinhal with three weeks still before the wedding!”

    He hurried off humming loudly and happily to himself and gave them their privacy. She couldn’t appreciate her father more. Bishop stroked her bangs from her eyes and she grasped his shoulders, weakly pulling herself up to kiss him and he returned it with more passion than he had in a long time.

    Everything was going to be okay, she told herself. She was the Dragonborn again, she had her voice. They’d take this long needed break from it all and then they would find that damned Elder Scroll and end her journey finally.

    ~~~

    (Background music Newcastle and/or Star Above the Garter by Erutan)

    With the dawn of a new day, she simply couldn’t stop herself from riding swiftly along the road towards Cheydinhal with Bishop barely keeping up with her and Serlas lagging behind because Whiskey wasn’t a young stallion anymore. Karnwyr was doing a fine job of keeping pace, very happily sprinting as fast as he could to keep up with her.

    Finally they were there, just outside the walls of the hold. The place she’d called home since she was fourteen years old. Not only did she have her voice back but she was incredibly eager to see her friends again. They left their horses at the nearby stable outside and she went right for the gates. The Cheydinhal guards regarded her and one said, “Oy! Miss Rona, been a long time. How was your mother?”

    Rona couldn’t suppress her smile or excitement and replied, “Oh, she died! Anyways, good to see you Landon!” The guard looked at her flabbergasted as she pushed through the gates and went right on in. Bishop chuckled at her back and took in the sights.

    It was a beautiful city with old fashioned timber framed buildings, all painted white with reddish-pink, steepled roofing. The cobblestone pathways were outlined by healthy lush grass and there was plenty of colorful flora and fauna all throughout. A sparkling, clear creek ran through the middle of city with several ornate arched bridges crossing over it to allow people to pass from one side of the creek to the next with ease. Far off to the north were enormous stone walls surrounding what appeared to be a castle as the red steepled roofing of that building was far more complex and structured closely together with tall towers and turrets.

    “Have you ever been to Cheydinhal, Bishop?” Serlas asked him.

    “Not that I remember,” he said as he looked in awe at the place, “And I think I’d remember a town like this. Wow… it’s nice.”

    “Yes, it is certainly one of the finer holds in Cyrodiil,” Serlas agreed.

    Rona was already sprinting around the path ahead of them, Karnwyr close at her heels and Bishop ran after her calling, “Hold up Lightfoot! You promised to show me the sights, remember?”

    “Later!” She shouted back and ran through a small courtyard where a well and plenty of townsfolk were gathered around, going about their daily routines. She went around a large white building, decorated with the red flags that had the sword and shield crest of the Fighter’s Guild on them. She took the steps two at a time and burst through the doors only to be immediately greeted by two husky dogs that toppled her right over and started licking at her face.

    She started laughing and cried, “Ah! Someone help! I’m getting licked to death by Boomer and Bear!”

    She heard Roxlin squeal loudly and scream, “RONAAA!”

    Magrob quickly pulled the two dogs off of her, only for her to get squashed again by Roxlin who sat right on her and grabbed her shoulders and squealed, “You made it! You made it! Oh we’re going to have so much fun woman! You have no idea! And you’re here early too! Oh my gods this is great!”

    Rona quickly hugged her best friend and they rolled back and forth while Bishop started laughing his ass off and tried to keep Karnwyr wrangled as the wolf and the two huskies started to bark and howl madly in response to each other.

    “Roxlin, honey, might want to give her a breather,” Magrob suggested as he easily held onto both huskies.

    “No! No! No! I’m never letting go, she’s mine!” She cackled until Charissa came over and kicked the wild breton hard in the side, making her topple off of Rona. Charissa grinned and held a hand out, which Rona gratefully took, allowing the redguard to pull her to her feet and then pulled her into a big hug.

    “Missed you girl!” Charissa said, “Glad you’re here too, because things have been nuts with this damned blasted wedding planning and all the other nonsense. Trying to keep up with contracts and ugh! It’s been a disaster!”

    Marco and Linel both came upstairs then to see what all the racket was about.

    “Gods! I was trying to get a nap in!” Marco grumbled twisting his pinky in his ear, “Can’t you keep those two dogs under control? Thought they were trained,” then he saw Rona and said, “Oh. The maid of honor has arrived I see.”

    “Marco! Linel!” Rona ran over and embraced Linel in a hug.

    Linel chuckled and said, “Hey sweetie! How’ve you been?”

    She just buried her face in his chest and mumbled, “I don’t wanna…”

    He laughed a little and Marco held a hand to his ear and said, “What was that Lightfoot? Can’t hear you. You know for a woman who can shout entire dragons across the sky you’re very quiet.”

    “I don’t wanna talk about it,” she said pouting as she held tightly onto Linel’s thin waist.

    Linel kindly stroked her hair and said, “Oh dear. Well we certainly don’t have to. There’s plenty of other things to discuss, like which aunt ruined the centerpiece arrangements or suddenly changed the colors of all the bridesmaids dresses this time.”

    Rona pulled back and gaped at him and then slowly turned back at Roxlin and stared at her aghast. Roxlin just threw her hands up exasperated. “Rona you have no idea!” She whined.

    “Wait until you hear what her sisters did to get revenge,” Magrob chuckled, still trying to heel the barking dogs. Finally he roared at them in orsimer, “Beshk!”

    Both dogs sat immediately and stopped barking. Karnwyr on the other hand kept up the barking and whining and Bishop clutched hard on the nape of the wolf’s neck, as Karnwyr dragged him forward a few paces in the dirt outside. Bishop dug his heels into the ground and grunted, “Maybe I should have left him outside the city!”

    Magrob looked him up and down with his one good eye and said, “Is that a wolf?

    “Sure is!” Bishop said, gritting his teeth and hanging on.

    “Interesting,” Magrob stroked at the small amount of well groomed hair on his chin, “I can loan you a harness for him.”

    Bishop scoffed and said, “He’s never worn one! Don’t know how he’ll handle that!”

    Rona went over and put her hands to her hips and looked right at Karnwyr and said, “Sit!”

    Karnwyr sat right down, taking Bishop with him. “Oof! What the-? How did you do that?”

    She smirked at him and said, “Just been spending a lot of time with him is all.”

    Bishop looked at her with half-lidded eyes and Serlas came around then, holding a pair of wine bottles in hand, “Good afternoon all! Many congratulations to the bride and groom!”

    “Attie!” Roxlin squealed hopping up and down. She ran right over and hugged the old elf and he smiled kindly at her, returning the hug before parting and handing her one of the bottles.

    “Thought I’d pick some wine up at the local tavern and we could celebrate a little!”

    “Are you kidding?” Charissa said, “We’re going to rent the entire tavern out just for you guys!”

    “Sounds great to me,” Bishop said as he walked around Karnwyr and put an arm over Rona’s shoulder.

    Marco looked at the both of them and whistled, “Good thing Casavir’s not around.”

    Bishop smirked and cocked a brow at the Imperial.

    Linel elbowed Marco and said, “Oh stop it.”

    Marco said, “I’m just saying, it’s a good thing he’s not here, because it looks like I lost that wager. Damn…”

    Rona scowled at him, “What wager?

    Charissa snorted, “Marco bet that you and the ranger here wouldn’t last another month together. Casavir disagreed to say the least.”

    “Really now?” Bishop asked looking amused, “Oh and by the way, I have a name you know.”

    “Yeah, Bishop?” Charissa spat mockingly and then challenged him, “Go ahead and tell me my name.”

    He pursed his lips realizing what he just walked into.

    Charissa waved a hand out, smirking, “How about the rest of us? Hm?”

    “Err…” Bishop mumbled.

    Rona started prodding him hard in the ribs and scoffed, “Are you serious!? You can’t remember any of my friend’s names!?”

    He chuckled and pushed her poking hand away and said, “Okay! Alright! So I’m bad with names. S’why I have so many for you, Ladyship.”

    “Charissa,” she introduced herself and held her hand out to him and he took it. She said, “Sorry I gave you such a hard time, last we met.”

    “No hard feelings,” Bishop said genuinely.

    The others all reintroduced themselves and this time he made the effort to remember their names, pointing at them all and naming them off, “Okay got it. Roxlin, the lovely bride to be, Magrob, I still remember you, my friend from the hospital wing, Charissa the woman who I think wanted to gut me last time we met,” she laughed, “Marco, right? Imperial flute man?” Marco just raised his brows, “and Linel one of the twin bosmers,” then Bishop narrowed his eyes at the elf and said,”oh, by the way, Linel, I catch you holding my woman like that again and we’ll be having words.”

    Everyone burst into laughter, to Bishop’s utter confusion and Linel put a hand to his cheek and said coyly, “Hm, well if it makes you feel any better Bishop, I find you far more eye-catching than Rona here.”

    Bishop’s face burned, “What!? Seriously?”

    “Yes seriously,” Rona said smirking up at him, “Gods you’re forgetful.”

    “My mistake,” he mumbled stupidly and laughed at himself.

    Then Rona shouted, “Let’s go out! I want to catch up with you all!”

    “It’s only a quarter past one,” Charissa laughed.

    “I don’t care!” Rona shouted again, “Let’s get lunch!”

    Roxlin said, “Ooh yeah! Let’s!” She ran right over pulling Rona out of Bishop’s grasp and dragged her along back down the steps. Serlas and the others started to follow along.

    Bishop whistled for Karnwyr and Magrob paced alongside him chuckling, “Going to be a long three weeks with both of them together, coupla firebrands.”

    Charissa sighed, “Seriously, the tiny troublemakers back together? And working on wedding plans? This is going to be interesting.”

    Bishop laughed, “Really? They’re that bad together huh?”

    “I wouldn’t say bad, per se,” Charissa said, “Just rambunctious.”

    “Wait until Lorrie gets here,” Linel added smiling.

    The group all groaned inwardly and laughed amongst themselves, and Magrob said, “Hopefully they’ll take out all that energy on Roxlin’s aunts instead of the rest of us.”

    “I would pay to see that,” Charissa smirked, “Get ready for lots of singing too!”

    “Non-stop singing,” Marco chuckled.

    “I’m just glad she can sing again,” Bishop said and then pressed his lips together realizing his slip.

    They all looked at him and Charissa said, “What do you mean again?

    “Er…” Bishop looked at them all and scratched the back of his head awkwardly. Rona and Roxlin went right into the local inn way ahead of them, with Serlas following close behind and the others all stared at him expectantly. He said, “Look, please don’t ask her about it. She’s been through a lot since she last saw you all and she just wants this time to enjoy herself for a change.”

    Charissa looked worried and asked, “Has her journey been that bad?”

    “Yeah,” Bishop said morosely, “I can tell you right now, she’s not going to want to talk about it.”

    “We’ll do whatever we can to take her mind off it,” Linel said sympathetically.

    Magrob grunted, “Got plenty of wedding planning she can partake in to keep her busy.”

    The rest of them joined the girls and Serlas at the Cheydinhal Bridge Inn. It was a quaint little inn and tavern with a few other patrons already seated inside. Bishop was surprised to see a pair of khajiit sitting at a table when he was so used to them being banned from the cities in Skyrim.

    They all pulled up chairs at a very large table in the center of the tavern and a kind Imperial waitress came by taking all of their lunch and drink orders.

    Rona immediately yelled excitedly, “Tell me everything Roxie!”

    “Ooh Rona! It’s been awful. My aunts Miriam, Marigold and Mina have all been trying to take over my wedding! My poor mother’s been doing her best to honor my wishes, but even she can hardly keep up with those wicked witches,” she pound a fist on the table, “They’ve sabotaged almost everything, changing all the colors, cancelling our caterers and the entertainment only to hire new ones in their place! UGH!” She threw her hands up in frustration and crossed her arms scowling furiously.

    Magrob chuckled and pat her on the shoulder, “Turns out being married multiple times themselves isn’t enough and they want to relive the fantasy through our wedding. Been considering sicking the family dogs on them all more than once already.”

    Rona chuckled, “Now that would be a sight to see.”

    “You mean those two little husky dogs back there?” Bishop asked skeptically.

    “No I mean all our dogs. My father breeds war dogs. It’s the family business. Got an entire estate with hundreds of ’em,” Magrob grinned at Bishop’s astonished look.

    “You’re kidding…”

    “Nope,” Magrob said, “In fact you’ll all get to see soon enough because we’ll be having the rehearsal dinner at my family’s home in a few weeks.”

    Bishop frowned and glanced over at Rona, “Ugh… more formal clothes?”

    She grinned at him and nodded, “Yup! You’re going to look so dashing in your handsome doublet.” She started fussing with his cuirass teasingly.

    Bishop swatted her hands away and groaned annoyed but Rona just ignored him and asked, “So what have your sisters been doing to get revenge?”

    Roxlin got a mischievous look on her face, “Well my big sissy Richelle has been the mastermind behind it all. She’s been upping the ante every time my aunts change something. It started out with small things, like accidentally throwing the dirty dish water out the window right when they were leaving for a party, all dressed in their finest. Then they moved on to replacing all their hair tonics with pure honey. They put moths in their closets, poisoned their evening tea with sleeping draughts and laxatives and they put powdered irritant in their makeup,” she snickered and Rona started laughing.

    Bishop said, “Wow. This is going to be one hell of a wedding isn’t it? So just how big of a ceremony are we talking here?”

    Roxlin sighed, “Well, Mama insisted on inviting the whole family, so it’s all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and all my sisters and my little brother.”

    “How many siblings do you have?” Bishop asked curiously.

    “I have seven sisters!” Roxlin shouted jubilantly, “I’m the youngest of them all and then after me is my little brother Rahdex.”

    “Shit,” Bishop gaped at her, crossing his arms, “And I thought I had a big family.”

    Roxlin asked, “How many siblings for you?”

    “I’m one of nine. But gods, eight older sisters? Damn, do I feel for your little brother.”

    “Aw we spoil our baby brother to bits!” She said grinning.

    Then Bishop looked over at Magrob and asked him, “What about you, Magrob? Got a big family too?”

    “Nope, just me and my older brother Gromak. He’s taking on the family business thankfully which allows me to pursue my own interests.”

    “Speaking of!” Roxlin declared, “We’re going back with you to Skyrim after the wedding!”

    “What?” Rona looked stunned. “Why?”

    “Joining up with the Dawnguard,” Magrob said, “One of my father’s oldest clients, a man named Isran, is reforming the Dawnguard out that way. Seems the vampire menace has been growing as of late and I intend to join and fight with them.”

    Bishop snorted loudly, “Uh, I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, but I definitely haven’t noticed any vampire menace out that way.”

    Rona said, “Well, we did take out that huge vampire den by the farm a while back.”

    “Yeah,” Bishop said, “And how many vampires have you seen since then?”

    She thought for a moment and shrugged, “None I guess.”

    Magrob chuckled, “Even so, it’s always been a dream of mine to join the ranks of the Dawnguard, even if it’s not the original guild. I’ll be able to put my skills to good use out there, making crossbows and bolts and of course personally breeding and training our war dogs for them.”

    Charissa sighed, “Which means we’re down two more people and it’ll just be me, Linel and the horn-dog over here,” she thumbed to Marco who was thoroughly proving her point as his eyes followed the ass of the waitress while she served them their drinks.

    He mindlessly said, “I resent that you know,” and then he flashed a white smile and gave a flirty wink to the unimpressed waitress.

    “What about you Roxie?” Rona asked, “You looking forward to fighting vampires?”

    “I’m just happy to be fighting alongside my honey bun no matter what or where it is!” She made kissy faces at Magrob who quickly returned them and they smooched, leaving most of the group chuckling and Charissa making a gagging face before she barked, “Ugh, get a room you two!”

    The group spent half the day chatting and catching up. Roxlin eventually asked Rona how her journey as Dragonborn was going but Rona quickly waved her off and promised to tell her all about it another time. Then she insisted they both go and sing tavern songs which everyone enjoyed, but Serlas and Bishop enjoyed it most out of all of them. They were ecstatic that she had her voice back and appreciated it all the more having gone with miserable silence for too long.

    Sometime around seven in the evening after a day of catching up and enjoying the company of Cheydinhal’s Finest, Serlas stood and said, “Well then, I’d best head out before it gets too late.”

    “Where are you going Ata?” Rona asked.

    “I’m due back in the Imperial City in a day or so,” he explained, “I have an audience with Emperor Titus and we have much to discuss regarding your journey and I would like to move along quickly. When you all do arrive in the city though, you can find me in my old housing quarters in the Arcane University and I will be sure to wear my finest robes for the big day!”

    “No white!” Roxlin teased.

    “Absolutely not,” Serlas chuckled, “Wouldn’t want to steal the lovely bride’s spotlight now would I?”

    The group shared in a laugh and Rona hugged her father and bid him a safe journey back, promising to go see him as soon as they arrived in the city. He left and the others all got up to leave too.

    “Gonna come stay with us in the Guild barracks?” Charrisa asked them.

    “No,” Rona said, “I’m going to pay a visit to Mrs. Gilseene and see if she’s been getting my rent letters.”

    “Oh she has,” Charissa laughed, “She keeps stopping by to see if you’re around and insists that she’s keeping your room dusted while you’re away. I think the old leather bag’s been missing you or something.”

    Roxlin scrunched her nose, “She keeps baking the worst cookies and leaving them with us like we’re going to eat them too!”

    “I saw Marco eating them once,” Linel laughed.

    Marco stuck his tongue out, “I thought they were chocolate chip! But no… fish eggs.” He held a hand to his mouth as he gagged a little.

    Rona laughed and said, “Oh nooo! Not her famous River Betty Biscuits!”

    Bishop just raised a brow and Rona pushed him on through the door and said, “Just wait, you’ll see!”

    The group split up and Rona promised them all they’d stop by in the morning and help Charissa with her contracts, to her great relief.

    As they walked along the cobblestone path, with Karnwyr following close by and occasionally wandering off to get a whiff of a nearby bush, Bishop threw his hands up behind his head and said, “Thought we were going to take a break? Now you’re promising to go do mercenary work for the guild?”

    “Oh, it’ll be fun,” she said, “And easy with my shouts.” She smiled to herself, realizing just how pleased she was to be the Dragonborn again.

    Bishop sighed, “Whatever makes you happy Ladyship.”

    (Background music Loibre Risen by Erutan)

    After a brisk walk through the city, with Rona pointing out a few of the shops and telling him what everything was and naming off a few of the well known town local’s homes, they crossed over one of the bridges spanning the creek and arrived at a charming old household. It was three stories tall and nearly identical to all the surrounding buildings. It had its own well in the back of the building, however Mrs. Gilseene said that it had run dry years ago and was useless.

    Rona knocked loudly on the door and after a few minutes Bishop said, “You live here right? Don’t you have a key?”

    “I do,” Rona said, “But Mrs. Gilseene is eighty-seven years old and the last thing I want to do is frighten her to death by bringing you and Karnwyr in unannounced.”

    “Damn,” Bishop gaped at her, “Eighty-seven?”

    Rona knocked loudly one more time and heard a faint call, “Just a minute.”

    After another full minute went by, the door finally opened and the most wrinkled, old argonian woman peered out. She had pale white scales, with a few peach-colored ones accenting her snout and eyes. The two short horns on the back of her head were a bit flakey looking, as though they were shedding. Her eyes were a dull orange in color, save for her pupils which had clouded over quite a bit. She wore a pair of custom fitted, square spectacles on her snout and had on some very comfortable looking, purple robes, along with a beige knitted shawl on her shoulders.

    Rona smiled at the woman and said loudly, “Hi Mrs. Gilseene, do you remember me?”

    She squinted and leaned forward, adjusting her glasses a bit, before she said, “Oh! If it isn’t Miss Rona. How are you dear?” Then her gaze slowly turned to Bishop and she said, “Oh my and you bring such handsome company with you.”

    Bishop flashed a charming grin at the old woman and she waved them both in, turning around to hobble, slowly along with her knotted wood cane in hand. “Come in, come in,” she insisted.

    They followed her, with Karnwyr at their heels. Bishop looked around at the place which really did look like it was occupied by a grandmotherly argonian woman. She had poufy pink furniture and white doilies on nearly every shelf and table. There were ceramic fishes all over the place as well and fine paintings of lakes, rivers and marshes on every wall.

    She wandered into the sitting room and slowly took a spot on one of the couches and said, “Sit, sit.”

    They both took seats on the surprisingly hard furniture and Rona asked the old woman loudly, “How have you been?”

    “I’m well enough dear. My knee has been bothering me a tad and I think my tail has a crick in it. My son stopped by the other day to take me to the alchemist for my hip which has been making the worst popping noise lately. Well they made me a potion that fixed it up right, but it seems I’ll need to go back for regular checkups… other than that things have been well.”

    “Good,” Rona smiled kindly, but really wished the woman would speak a little faster and ramble a little less. Still she continued to maintain an air of politeness all the same, “Have you been getting my rent payments?”

    “Oh yes,” Mrs. Gilseene said, “I was finally able to fix that leaky spot in the roof you’d been complaining about,” she spoke so slowly, sooo slowly.

    Rona pressed her, “I’m glad to hear it. Mrs. Gilseene, I’m going to be staying here for a few weeks with my companion Bishop and our wolf Karnwyr, if that’s alright with you.”

    Mrs. Gilseene looked between the both of them and smiled, “He is a very handsome man, for a human. You two make a charming couple. Is he your fiancé?”

    Rona blushed furiously and Bishop just laughed.

    When neither made a reply to that question the old argonian woman seemed to forget she even asked and said, “Stay as long as you like. I’ll even make your favorite…”

    Rona knit her brows together and smiled taking a guess, “Your river betty biscuits?”

    “Mm hm,” Mrs. Gilseene nodded shakily, “Oh and herring pie too. I have plenty of leftovers if you’re hungry.”

    Bishop was trying so hard to stifle his laughter as Rona said with a fake voice, “Mmm. Sounds good. But we just ate, so we’re going to get off to bed now. It’s really good to see you again Mrs. Gilseene.”

    She quickly stood up, yanking Bishop along with her before the old argonian woman had a chance to drone on more and still heard her going on as she hurried up the stairs. “I made sure to dust your room dear. Kept it nice and tidy for you.”

    Bishop was practically crying with laughter once they reached the top of the stairs on the third floor. He thumbed back through his choked breaths, “You rent an attic from her? Holy shit Lightfoot, that woman’s about to kick the bucket any day now and herring pie? River betty biscuits? Gods woman, don’t tell me she’s serious.”

    “Oh she’s dead serious,” Rona said chuckling a little as she opened the door to her incredibly dusty attic space.

    Bishop waved a hand to his face and coughed a little as they kicked up dust off the floor just walking over it. “Thought she said she dusted up here.”

    “She’s senile Bishop. She probably imagined she did, but the woman can’t even make it up to the second floor anymore.” She went around the room and started lighting the candles on the end tables and on top of her dresser revealing a quaint living space.

    She had a small, two person bed pressed to a wall, facing one of the attic windows, a light wood dresser and wardrobe sat between the alcove windows and she had a matching floor length mirror in the corner. There was a large trunk placed at the foot of the bed and a few dead plants stuck in large pots in the corners of the room.

    There was an old fireplace with some very dry firewood nearby and a small assortment of cookware. There were plenty of miscellaneous items and other junk piled on the far side of the room, all things she’d collected on her adventures with the Fighter’s Guild. Plenty of old weaponry such as swords, shields and bows, several pieces of unused furniture, a light wood table and a pair of matching wood chairs and a large wash basin. She had a bookshelf full of dusty tomes, some spell books and others just entertaining reads.

    Bishop looked around and said, “Cozy.”

    She went into the first alcove and opened the window to let some fresh air in. Bishop did the same with the other and peered outside, looking up at the night sky, “Nice place you got here.”

    She smiled and went back in and grabbed a broom and instructed him to take the bedding and beat the dust out of it. They spent a good hour just dusting and cleaning up the space, with Rona using her magic to do most of the work. She cast a block of ice into the wash basin and melted it with her fire before thoroughly washing the bedding in it and then dried it afterwards.

    When they finished cleaning up they both laid down on the bed and Bishop asked, “How often did you actually stay here?”

    “Not very often,” she admitted, “Like I said, it was really just a place to store my things.”

    He eyed the wall of junk in the corner and said, “Yeah, I can see that. You really do have way too much stuff Ladyship.”

    She smirked to herself and closed her eyes for a minute, just taking in the fact that she was finally home, her voice returned and with the man she cared most for. She felt his hand grasping hers then and she looked over at him.

    He said, “Been a while since we’ve been alone like this.”

    She blushed a little realizing he was right. It had been over two weeks since they were intimate. But it had also been over two weeks since she was assaulted by that horrible man. She thought of the scar on her hip and the feelings of disgust and shame overwhelmed her again. Bishop saw it all over her face and said, “You know I don’t care about things like scars right?”

    She looked over at him, brows knit tightly together and nodded.

    “I’ll understand if you need more time before we’re intimate again…”

    She sat up and leaned over him and said, “No. I don’t want to wait anymore, but I won’t lie… it… it’s so ugly Bishop.”

    He cupped her face with a hand, tracing the scars on her cheek with his thumb and smiled lovingly at her. “You could never be ugly Rona.”

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 81

    Healing Scars

    I’m just going to take a minute to pimp out one of my favorite musical artists, Exist Strategy. You can get his music for free over at https://existstrategy.bandcamp.com/ but if you really like his music, I suggest giving $1 – $5 or more for each album. It’s just good stuff, seriously. Been listening to him for years and can’t get enough of his beautiful music.

    —————————————-

    (Background music literally anything by Exist Strategy, suggestions: Sunrise, Manual Breathing, St. Catherine, Time Stood Still, Mirror of Kalandra Pt. 2, September 22nd, Let Go – VIP, etc.)

    Bishop threw some logs into the fireplace and lit it with a bit of flint on stone, giving the room a relaxed ambience as well as a spot for Karnwyr to snooze by. Rona was sitting at the edge of the bed feeling nervous, but as Bishop came over and sat down beside her he managed to ease all her apprehension with just his words alone.

    “We’ll take it slow,” he said softly as he leaned into her, “Do whatever you feel comfortable with and when you want to stop just say so and I’ll pause everything.” She felt his facial stubble tenderly brushing her cheek. He went in to nibble on her ear while wrapping his strong hands around her thin waist just holding her gently and paying very close attention to her reactions.

    She leaned into him as his lips traced up and down her ear and he nipped delicately, making her shiver all over. Bishop did like to get forceful and rough at times, but he knew exactly what she needed in that moment and gave her an affectionate touch.

    He traced his lips down her neck, gently kissing the scars another had left behind. He was healing them in his own way, reminding her what it felt like to be touched out of love. His gentle kissing traveled back up again and across her cheek, before his handsome golden eyes met hers for just a moment and then she closed the distance, touching her full parted lips with his. Their kiss was soft and tender, taking the time to lazily explore each other’s mouths.

    Bishop kept his hands at her hips, waiting for her command. With her hands clutching at his arms, she took his lower lip in her teeth, carefully biting and tugging before pulling away to whisper, “Touch me.”

    His hands started to roam then, doing what they did best, starting with the gentle circular motions of his thumbs to her hips as they slowly moved up her abdomen, just rubbing over her clothes first, familiarizing her with the sensation. Taking it slow.

    Then he started to move them up to her breasts and she flinched a bit. He stopped and asked, “You okay?”

    She nodded, “I… I’m alright.”

    “Whatever you want, Sweetness. If that’s off limits just say the words.” How could he be so caring? He was everything she’d ever wanted in a man, in a lover. He cared so much, that to think at one time he pretended not to care, that he once shut out everyone around him because of his own pain, it was unimaginable. She felt the world must have been a darker place before Bishop came out of his shell, certainly her world would have been much darker without his compassion.

    She reached around under her hair and undid the button on her dress and pulled it down over her shoulders revealing her white lacy bra. She pulled her arms out of the sleeves, but left her dress sitting at her midriff, still hiding the scar in her side. She grasped the tops of his hands and lifted them, pressing them to her breasts, making herself blush at what she was doing. He touched her there, cupping, stroking and massaging through the fabric. It felt good. Everything about the way he touched her only ever felt good. There was no pain or intent to harm behind his actions.

    His hands slowly moved around the fabric of her bra and curved around her back and he asked, “Can I take it off?”

    She nodded in the affirmative and he undid it, pulling her brassier off over her arms revealing her beautiful, firm chest. He ran his hands back around, carefully touching and playing with her and she moaned in response to the feeling. Then he pressed his face into her cleavage and she enjoyed his warm breath between her breasts and the sensation of him running his fingers over her budding nipples.

    She moaned and leaned into him more and he took one in his mouth, flicking and playing with his tongue.  She was getting excited and reached over to the straining bulge in his trousers, grabbing a handful making him groan in surprise. He let her breast fall from his mouth and gave her a salacious grin. She continued to fondle him there, stroking up and down through his clothes when finally he pulled away and started to undo the buckles on his leather cuirass.

    He took it off and grasped her hands then, tugging her closer to him. He held her finger in hand and started to trace up and down the scars all along his muscular abdomen and chest. They were old faded marks from vicious whip lashes, two which curved around his rib cage and one that crossed over his chest. There were so many other marks too, from his abusive childhood when his father would beat him with objects and plenty more from their own battles against the dragons.

    “See Ladyship? Lots and lots of scars. I’ve got plenty of my own,” he turned to show her the ones on his back, three more vicious whip strikes crisscrossing on his back and a single, thin scar, that reached from his shoulder down to his hip, the one from the tip of a sword.

    She traced a finger along that one and asked, “Do they ever bother you? Seeing them?”

    He was quiet for a moment, thinking when he said, “They used to bother me. Used to think of myself as disfigured, but I started to look at them as reminders of what I survived instead. They became marks of strength. That long one, you’re touching now?” She blushed but didn’t move her hand, “That one saved Karnwyr’s life and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Same with these whip marks… all worth it.”

    He turned back to her and said, “Your scars too, they’re proof of your strength. That’s why they’ll never be ugly.”

    She smiled, the heat settling in her cheeks and then she stood up and moved in front of him, holding her dress at her waist. He put his hands to his knees and gave her a warm smile. She took a breath and let her dress drop to the floor, revealing the awful, jagged, white scar on her hip.

    Bishop didn’t recoil or look disgusted though, instead he held his hands out, motioning for her to come closer. She took a step forward and he looked at the mark, running his fingers across it, feeling all the strange bumps and curves it left on her skin. And then he pressed his lips gently to it, kissing it up and down and he turned his head, resting his cheek on her abdomen so that she could curl her fingers through his hair and run her nails along his scalp.

    He said, “It hurt so much watching him give it to you. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you from that.”

    She cupped his face in her hands, turning his head up to look at her and she said, “But you did save me Bishop. You found me and you took me home.”

    He had tears in his eyes and he shook his head, “No… I should have been with you.”

    “Don’t blame yourself for that,” she said and sat down on the bed beside him, “No more blame. I lost my voice because of the guilt I was carrying, putting you and Ata through all that. I met Jillian in a dream and she told me I had to forgive myself, so I did… So forgive yourself, Bishop. Don’t carry it around, you don’t deserve that.”

    “Ladyship…” he whispered.

    She was feeling like her old self again, confident and beautiful. She wanted to put it all behind them and move forward. She wanted to make love to this man.

    She grasped his shoulders, pulling herself up to kiss him again, more forcefully this time. He gave a low desirable growl to her sudden eagerness and kissed her with great passion in return. He started to get more bold with his touching, running his hands over her body, touching her in all her favorite places and making her moan in reply.

    As he was nipping into her neck, sharply biting and tugging at her skin, she smiled and said, “Get naked and lay down on the bed.”

    He complied immediately, standing to tear the rest of his clothes off and centered himself in the middle of the bed. His thick erection lay back against his abdomen and she got between his legs and grasped him with her small hands. She leaned down and flashed him a sexy smile before taking him into her mouth which he obviously enjoyed very much when he groaned deeply and bucked his hips a little.

    She licked all up and down his shaft, holding what she couldn’t fit inside her mouth with her hand and stroking him up and down with the motions of her mouth. She enjoyed it a lot, pleasuring him like that and really liked watching his eyes roll and listening to  him gasp and sigh with each pass over the soft head of his cock. She licked all under the crown, making him very sensitive. He started twitching and moaned, “Unng! Ladyship, that’s – yeah – right there!”

    She started to suck hard, just at the tip, feeling his precum coating the tip of her tongue, making her saliva thicken and adding to the abundant lubrication all over his member. She started to let it get messier around her lips and all over his crotch, which seemed to really turn him on more. He laced his fingers through her hair, grabbing a handful and started to thrust a bit harder into her mouth, panting with each new inch taken until he hit the back of her throat and she pulled back.

    “Ah… sorry,” he breathed, “Forgot you didn’t use that spell.” He gave a breathy chuckle and she just smiled at him, wiping the mess from her face. She sat upright on her knees and slid her panties down, then fell back on her rear and finished kicking them off. She climbed up on top of him, nestling her very wet folds around his throbbing cock.

    He grinned up at her and said, “Mmm, I like this. Going to have your way with me?”

    “For a little while,” she said, “But I’d like to do this all night if we can. Every position imaginable!”

    He rest his hands on her hips and said, “Oh definitely, Princess. All night, through the morning and on until tomorrow evening and more. Whenever you want, however you want, I am your man.”

    She leaned over him, her breasts pressing against his chest and she said, “And I’m you’re woman, Bishop. Always.”

    A fire seemed to ignite behind his golden eyes at her declaration and he couldn’t stop himself from rolling his hips and grinding himself against her. She gasped and then he caught her lips with his and wrapped his hands tightly to her ass. She felt the ridge of his penis sliding up against her hardened nub which made them both moan deeply against each other’s mouths. Finally she couldn’t wait any longer, she was absolutely ready for him and he her. She pulled away from his coiling tongue, drawing a single strand of saliva between them. She sat up and positioned the tip of his incredibly hard cock with her dripping opening and then she pushed herself swiftly down taking him all at once and bottoming out.

    “Ooouuuhh!” Bishop let out a very mixed sound at the feeling of his prick pressing so hard and so suddenly at the opening to her womb. He took a breath, grinning and said, “Careful now. Don’t want to make me lose it too quick.”

    She gave him a mischievous smirk and said, “Let’s see if I can make you come first.”

    He quickly sat upright, startling her so that they were suddenly face to face. “Oh? Is that a challenge?” he asked. His playful grin became rather devilish and he said, “Because I never lose a challenge beautiful.”

    She bit her lip and started grinding her hips on him, making him groan more. She leaned close to his face, so that their open mouths were very close and she said, “Bring it on ranger.”

    They turned it into a playful game then, one where he took long, hard strokes within her, bucking his hips hard against her sweet spot inside and she massaged her swollen pleasure center and made her slick walls convulse and grip him tighter than ever, sending him reeling more than once.

    She was impressed with how well he was holding back too. After an hour of intense and wild fucking in many positions, he had her on her knees, both dripping with sweat. He thrust sloppily and deeply into her, making his heavy testicles slap against her, so that the erotic sound of skin on skin filled her ears. The gentle slap, slap, slap of that part of him aroused her so much. She wanted to drain it already. She absolutely needed to come. She was unbelievably wet and rubbing herself raw, trying so hard and failing to make him come first.

    She felt him lean over her back suddenly, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist and pressing himself so much closer to her and filling her even deeper too. She moaned loudly and felt his breath tickling at her ear when he said, “I can tell you’re ready to give up Ladyship. You’re tightening around me so much. It’s alright to give in to the pleasure.”

    “No, nooo, I won’t lose,” she moaned pathetically.

    He chuckled against her ear, “As soon as you come Rona, I’ll give you what you really want. I’ll empty myself all inside and fill you to the brim.”

    Ooh he was bad! He was cheating! He knew exactly how to flip her switch. She moaned in a submissive fashion then, wanting nothing more than to just give in. Then she felt the combination of his hand reaching up and press hard on her very swollen and raw nub and his teeth and tongue nipping tenderly at the tip of her ear making her senses go alight all over. She couldn’t hold back anymore, she didn’t want to. She let it happen.

    Her face flushed crimson and she cried out loudly as her convulsive, mind blowing orgasm sent shockwave after shockwave through her entire being. Over and over again her muscles contracted tightly, gripping him harder than ever, begging him to release within. She heard him grunt heavily and felt him picking up his pace until finally, after several hard thrusts that wonderful thickening and twitching of his cock filled her to the core, as he sent wave after wave of delicious warmth within.

    Her knees gave out and she melted into a puddle of satiated goo, he seemed to do the same as she suddenly felt his heaviness relaxing on top of her. She didn’t care though, she rather liked being squished by him, especially when he stayed sheathed within.

    They were both hot and sticky and breathing heavily. Finally Bishop rolled off of her and she looked over at him, still feeling dazed from her own orgasm. She watched his masculine chest rise and fall quickly with each breath.

    He sighed and looked over at her, “Damn woman… I’ll admit you almost had me a few times.”

    She smiled and forced herself up and over him. She kissed him full on the mouth then pulled back and said, “Thank you.”

    He grinned, “For the incredible orgasm?”

    She laughed lightly, kissing him again, “For everything.”

    ~~~

    They didn’t get to sleep in too late because Karnwyr was scratching and whining at the door, needing to go out and do his business. They rolled out of bed, Bishop taking a quick wash first and dressing himself when he said with a yawn, “Meet you out there Lightfoot. I think he’s gonna piss himself if I don’t hurry up.”

    “Okay,” she called back as she was finishing washing herself over the wash basin, “Just watch out for Mrs. Gilseene. She might try and force her pirate perch pancakes on you.”

    He grimaced, “Eyugh… I’ll keep that in mind.”

    He hurried down the stairs and heard the old argonian fussing around in the kitchen as dishware clattered around. The smell of cooking fish filled his nostrils and Karnwyr seemed distracted by the scent too, wanting to go towards it. Bishop quickly put a foot out, redirecting the wolf back towards the front door and said, “I don’t think so. I am not eating fish anything for breakfast and neither are you.”

    Karnwyr whined but turned around and Bishop let him out. He idly watched people passing by and milling about, going about their daily routines while the wolf looked for the best shrub to do his business on. He heard the sound of a child playing two doors down and peered around.

    A little girl with curly, short bobbed brown hair was running around her front yard, stabbing at invisible enemies with a wooden sword. He heard her shouting, “And then she lanced the evil werebunnies in the heart! Saving the prince from certain death! And the whole kingdom cheered for their great hero!” She made the sound of a crowd cheering and threw her arms up.

    Bishop chuckled to himself and then the front door of her house opened and a familiar voice called, “Holly sweetie, come in and have your breakfast. We still have a lot to do today.”

    Bishop felt like his heart just stopped as he stared harder at the little girl.

    She said, “Ok Mama. I just finished saving the prince anyways.”

    When she went inside and the door closed behind her with a light click, he realized then that he had moved a full house closer and was just staring at the door. It couldn’t be. Elise? Holly?

    He knew in his heart it was them. Bishop was eighteen years old when Holly was born. By now she was nine, going on ten. It had been eight years since he’d seen either of them, the last time being when he’d given Elise Jules’ amulet and left.

    He’d been there for Holly’s birth, having managed to get away from Thorn and all his cronies for a short while with the help of Freya and the others. He still remembered cradling that sweet girl in his arms for the first time and remembered that she had Jules’ eyes. He wanted so much to see her eyes, to prove it was her. He had to know.

    A hand touched his arm and broke him from his reverie, startling him. He looked down and Rona was looking up at him curiously, “Everything alright? You were just staring off into space for a minute.”

    “Huh? Oh… yeah, everything’s fine Ladyship,” he faked a yawn, “Just uh, still a little tired.”

    She smiled and said, “Well come on, let’s get going. Charissa has a pile of contracts she wants us to take care of.”

    He groaned, “Whatever happened to taking time off again?”

    She laughed and moved ahead of him, with Karnwyr following close by, “Come on! It’ll be fun.”

    “That’s what you said about the vampire den,” he called back. He took one last glance at the house before moving on again, following her off to the Fighter’s Guild.

    ~~~

    They rode steadily along the path to their first contract where they were tasked with clearing out a cave of goblins that had been harassing a local farmer.

    Bishop started to wonder why he’d lied to Rona. He never lied to her about anything. So why this? Because he was afraid. He had no doubt Elise knew what he did. Back then Casavir probably couldn’t stop himself from painting him as the murderer he believed him to be.

    If she saw him again would she hear him out? Or would she just blindly believe the Paladin? But… he had killed Jules. Stabbed his own brother right in his heart. He started reliving that memory over and over again, wondering why he’d done it. They could have escaped together through all the chaos. But Jules had attacked him. Why? He couldn’t understand it.

    Rona noticed his brooding and leaned over asking, “Bishop, are you alright?”

    He snapped out of it and tried to brush it off, “Yeah. Fine. Why do you ask?”

    “You just seem kind of down.”

    “Not down, just a little achy. Last night took a lot out of me,” more lies.

    She smirked, blushing a little and said, “Sorry about that.”

    “Never apologize for that, Ladyship,” he said, “I’ll be fine and I always have plenty more to give,” he tossed her a salacious grin.

    She smirked, blushing more and they continued on with their day, taking out goblin infestation after goblin infestation. It was fairly easy mercenary work, especially with Rona’s shouts and songs of power at play again. Bishop hardly had to lift a finger which gave him all the more time to brood over his past instead.

    After a week of non-stop contract clearing, regular evenings of drinking at the tavern with Rona’s friends, and night after night of passionate sex with her, Bishop found himself completely exhausted. On the eighth morning of their stay in the city, she was already up bright and early and getting ready to go while he stayed in bed with a heavy hangover from the evening before.

    She sat down beside him and pouted, “Aw, feeling sick?”

    He looked up at her with dark circles under his eyes and said, “I think I need a day off Lightfoot. I don’t know how you do it.”

    She kissed him on the cheek and said, “It’s okay if you want to stay here today. I can handle the rest of the contracts with the girls instead. We’re down to the last of them anyways. I’ve never seen Charissa so happy honestly. Then tomorrow we’re heading out to the Imperial City and we’ll be staying there for the next few weeks before the wedding.”

    “Oh good,” he said, “I was getting a little worried that we were keeping up Mrs. Scaleskin with all our howling.”

    “Mrs. Gilseene,” Rona emphasized, correcting him.

    “Right. Mrs. Leatherbag, whatever,” she rolled her eyes at him and he continued, “She hasn’t been looking so good. I think she’s on her last legs Lightfoot. Might want to let her family know before she croaks in the kitchen and stinks up the place worse than her cooking.”

    Rona made a face at him and laughed a little, “Okay, I’ll write a letter to her son letting him know. How sweet of you to care though.”

    “Like I said, Ladyship, I just don’t want her to croak and stink up the place while we’re still here. She’s nuts by the way. She keeps asking me to put all her dishes up so high for her. What’s the point if she’s never going to be able to reach them?”

    Rona giggled, getting up and said, “Pretty sure she’s using it as an excuse to get a look at your ass.”

    He raised a brow and said, “Wow, never considered that. Damn that’s smart.”

    Rona laughed more and then clicked for Karnwyr.

    “Hey,” Bishop said, “Leave him with me today. He needs a break too. Gonna shave those five years Sanguine gave him back right off again with all this guild work.”

    “Well alright. He’s gonna miss his new friends though, aren’t you boy?” She said kneeling down to Karnwyr to scratch him behind the ears.

    “He’s going to miss humping on them,” Bishop snorted, “I think he’s getting jealous of us fooling around so much and not getting any for himself.”

    “Or it could be because Bear is in heat,” she said standing again.

    Bishop cocked a brow at her, “What? Wait – one of those dogs is female?”

    “Yes! Bear is a girl.”

    “Oh. I just thought he was getting confused or fancied males like your bosmer friend.”

    Rona laughed and waved a hand, “See you tonight, love.”

    “Watch yourself out there Lightfoot!” He called as she left the room.

    “Always!” He heard her shout back.

    He waited around patiently for another hour to roll on by before he got up and dressed himself. It wasn’t a total lie. He was in fact unbelievably exhausted from the non-stop guild work and he did have a pretty nasty hangover from their wild night of getting piss-ass drunk and dancing in the tavern, but he really wanted to see Holly and maybe even talk to Elise.

    He knew he would need Karnwyr’s charms to make that a whole lot easier too. He coaxed the wolf along and narrowly avoided Mrs. Gilseene, who he honestly thought was dead on her couch until she moved slightly, mumbling some nonsense that sounded like ‘dithis’ which he thought was her trying to ask him to put more dishes away. But then she fell right back to sleep to his relief. He quickly stepped outside, not worrying about shutting the door loudly since the woman was practically deaf anyways.

    He started his slow walk past the first house, eyeing the yard of the second one where he saw Holly playing in the yard. She was very busy building a little house out of twigs and rocks with her back to the road. Bishop set his plan into motion, fishing around his pocket for a piece of jerky, which Karnwyr immediately saw and pressed his nose to Bishop’s hand.

    He wouldn’t let him have it just yet. He glanced around the area. There were no townsfolk in sight, which was a good thing, because to an outsider, what he was doing would seem pretty creepy.

    He walked by the yard, very close to the gates and tossed the jerky right up behind the girl’s back while she continued to busy herself with her work. In seconds Karnwyr hurried over, rounding around the short brick wall into the yard and bit into the piece of dried meat on the ground. Bishop kept walking though, slowly, waiting for her to notice.

    When she did she turned right around and sounded surprised, “Ah! Oh… someone’s doggy… Excuse me, mister! Is this your dog?”

    He turned around and said, “Tsk! What do you think you’re doing boy?” He walked over and into the yard, grasping the wolf by the scruff of his neck and said, “I’m really sorry about that, kid. Sometimes he just gets curious.”

    He got a good look at her then and his heart twisted in his chest. There was no doubt in his mind. It was Holly, she had his brother’s eyes and even his dark curly hair. Everything else was Elise though.

    She seemed curious about the wolf and said, “You have a pretty dog. What’s his name?”

    “His name is Karnwyr,” he said and her eyes lit up.

    She smiled sweetly at him and said, “My papa had a wolf named Karnwyr!”

    He frowned inwardly at himself, realizing how stupid it was to tell her that. Not only because Elise would have told her all about Karnwyr but Holly would definitely tell her mother all about meeting a ‘dog’ named Karnwyr too.

    Still, he was too happy talking to his brother’s daughter to stop now. He said, “Really? That’s amazing. Not a very common name.”

    “Can I pet him?” She asked.

    He smiled and said, “Sure.”

    “How old is he?” She asked as Karnwyr enjoyed the ear and neck scratches she was giving him.

    “About five years old now,” he said, which was partially true. Karnwyr was ten years old at least, but with Sanguine giving him half his life back he was actually much younger now.

    “He’s really nice,” she said.

    “Yeah,” he agreed, “he is,” then he looked over her little building and he asked, “What are you making?”

    “Just a castle. I still have to dig out the moat,” she said as she turned her attention back to the building and took a twig, sticking it into the dirt and started carving a river around it.

    He wasn’t sure how much longer he could carry on a conversation with her without it being too weird. He was a complete stranger to her, but he wanted so much to not be. She was all the family he had left, at least the family he cared about. He wanted her to know who he was and he found himself saying the words without meaning to, “You know, this is the same wolf your pa had.” She looked up at him curiously and he kept talking, “I used to know him. Jules right? He was my… he was my best friend.”

    The little girl’s mouth parted slightly as she really started to study him but before she had a chance to say anything the door opened and a pretty blonde nord woman with dark eyes and a curvy figure stepped out. She was holding a sword in hand and said quickly, “Holly, get inside right now.”

    Her daughter got up immediately, though her eyes were still glued to Bishop and he would not break the gaze until Elise stepped firmly in the middle of his view, sword firmly clutched in hand.

    He uttered, “I – I’m sorry…”

    She was furious, “What in Oblivion do you think you’re doing? Talking to her, telling her you knew her father? How dare you? How dare you come back here after everything you did. How did you even find us!?”

    He looked away shamefully, “It wasn’t on purpose, I swear Elise. I just,” he sighed, “I’m here on… business and I just saw her and… gods,” he put a hand to his face. It was not going like he’d hoped, but it was going just like he expected.

    “You murdered him Bishop,” she stepped forward, angry tears in her eyes, pointing the sword out at him, “So how dare you stand here and act like you have any right to talk to his child! Get out of here. I never want to see your face here again. If I do I swear I will kill you myself.”

    He pressed his lips together and nodded shortly, uttering another ‘sorry’ and quickly turned and left. He didn’t go back to Rona’s attic space though, instead he wove his way through the city and wandered into an old lodge across the street from their usual tavern. He needed a drink.

    ~~~

    It was very late when Rona, Charissa and Roxlin got back from their contracts. They were all exhausted and ready for bed already.

    “Go ahead and sleep in Rona,” Roxlin said with a yawn and she stretched tiredly, “I know I am. We’ll meet here around noon before we head out for the Imperial City.”

    “Alright,” Rona replied, “See you tomorrow, goodnight!” She waved at them both and moved along. She was ready for a quiet night in bed with Bishop, kind of hoping he was still tired because she did not have it in her for another round of sex.

    She looked up at the full moon and figured it must have been about midnight already. She came around the winding path and saw the house in the distance. She noticed a dark figure walking down the steps as though they were leaving. They walked around the building and were illuminated by the moonlight.

    It looked like Mrs. Gilseene and Rona worried that she might be lost or confused. She was very old and most of the time she just slept, so for her to be up and about that late was a bit alarming. Rona moved a little quicker and went around the left side of the house. She saw the argonian woman and another dark figure with their backs facing her, standing in front of the old well.

    “There’s not much time left,” she heard Mrs. Gilseene say, “Let us go and speak with her swiftly now.”

    The voice of the other person was strange. He sounded almost giddy with excitement as he tittered, “Ooh! Perhaps Mother will choose Cicero! Oh how delightful that would be! To finally hear Mother’s sweet, whispers of death.”

    “She will not choose you Cicero,” Mrs. Gilseene said firmly, “If she chose you then who would be Keeper? Come now, help this old woman down will you? I’m not a young hatchling anymore.”

    Cicero sighed annoyed and said “Yeesss Listener.”

    The strange man helped the old argonian into the well then while Rona watched from the side of the house, utterly bewildered by what was happening. She must have been seeing things, hearing things. This was far too strange. Not to mention Mrs. Gilseene sounded almost, normal and spoke quickly even.

    She couldn’t help herself then. She followed after them and looked down into the old well. She glanced around in the quiet night and then quickly climbed in. Down inside she found herself in a very dark chamber. She heard their voices again and cloaked herself in her magic.

    “Light that torch, will you Cicero? My cataracts are bothering me. Can’t see much anymore…”

    Rona saw a the flicker of a light then, illuminating a spacious stone interior, although it was completely vacant of any decor. It looked like an old tomb. She saw the light moving down a hallway and she followed.

    The man giggled and said sing-song, “Happy, happy, happy.”

    “You are happy Cicero?” Mrs. Gilseene asked him mindlessly.

    “Oh very much so, Listener. For Mother is to choose a new Listener and you shall die and be dead! And Cicero will no longer have to bow the old lizard’s whims, oh no. Cicero will have a new Listener to follow, a better, kinder, younger Listener.”

    Mrs. Gilseene chuckled and said, “We shall see Cicero. Perhaps she will choose another just like myself.” She cackled madly at him and Rona could hear the scowl in his voice.

    “Let us pray to Sithis that is not the case,” he grumbled.

    The two of them continued around the winding halls before stopping in another dark chamber. It was empty of anything except for a single sarcophagus standing center against the far wall. The two of them approached it and Rona realized that her heart was pounding frantically in her chest. The whole thing was so eerie and strange. She had to be dreaming, but her dreams were never like this.

    Mrs. Gilseene said, “Open it. I wish to look upon our nightly matron once more.”

    Cicero stepped up to the sarcophagus and Rona finally got a good look at the man. He was a short breton man with pale sickly skin, that contrasted starkly with his absurd outfit, for he was dressed head to toe in red and black jester’s clothes.

    He undid a latch and pulled open the sarcophagus revealing the terror within. Rona had to stifle her gasp as she looked on at the mummified remains of a dead woman, wrapped in dirty grey cloth with her arms crossed over her chest. She’d been tied together with rope and her face was mangled in a horrific way, with her mouth agape, displaying her yellowed teeth and her eyes were sewn shut. Her head was cocked in a way that made her like as though she’d died in pain, like she was buried alive.

    Rona held her hands to her mouth and tried to stop her sudden shaking as she watched Mrs. Gilseene bow to the corpse and said, “Dearest Night Mother, my time comes hastily. In my old age I have not been able to serve our dark lord Sithis and so the Black Hand, the mark upon my arm grows with every life I am unable to send forth to the void. It moves now to claim my soul in their place. Allow me to perform my final rite as Listener, tell me who is to take my place.”

    There was a long pause, a deep, deafening silence. Rona was sure that they would hear her heart thudding hard against her ribcage.

    Finally Mrs. Gilseene spoke again, “The Dragonborn?”

    Rona was sure her heart stopped then. There was no way, absolutely no way they knew she was there.

    “The girl? Truly? She is to be the new one?”

    Another long pause. Rona wanted to move, she willed her legs to move, to leave immediately but she was frozen there, frozen in terror. Bishop would have scoffed at her, “You can face down dragons but you can’t shout down a decrepit old woman, a corpse and a jester?” But this whole situation was just too strange. Too surreal.

    “I see… Yes, Night Mother. I will make sure it is done.”

    Mrs. Gilseene turned around then and her eyes fell on Rona, or rather the spot she was crouched in, still invisible, for how much longer she was not sure. Cicero looked on curiously at Mrs. Gilseene and then turned to look where she was looking, still quite confused as he bobbed his head around, almost comically.

    The old argonian woman started to fish around in her robe pocket then and pulled something out, something that Rona noticed glinted in the firelight. Something metal. Mrs. Gilseene tried to conceal it but Rona had already seen. She prepared herself, realizing she was not dealing with just some crotchety old woman anymore. She was dealing with someone else entirely, someone dangerous.

    “It is time now, Cicero,” she breathed, “She drew up the sleeve of her robes revealing a large black mark that looked like a handprint, starting at her wrist and clutching the entire underside of her arm. Rona even saw it moving slightly, just like Dragon’s Frost.

    “Here?” Cicero said surprised, “Now? But there is no one else here! Oh no, no, no! You cannot kill yourself now Listener! We have no new Listener to take your place!”

    “She is here. She stands before us now a very special woman indeed. Rona Lightfoot… Yes, that is what I have known you as since you were just a young girl. But now, you are Dragonborn. You hid that secret well child, I had no idea. Very special indeed. You have also been chosen by the Night Mother to take my place as Listener. I know you will not want it but we have lost so many of our own that now we must rely on outsiders to fill the void,” she smiled wickedly and gave a rattled laugh as she held her arm out, wrist up.

    “I go to Sithis now and you shall take my place. Serve us well Rona of Dragon Fangs.”

    (The song is Malefic Time by Peter Gundry)

    Rona watched as Mrs. Gilseene swiped a dagger across her wrist deeply, making her blood pour in thick rivulets onto the ground. There was something strange about it though. It was an inky black in color and it started moving along the floor, creeping towards her.

    Her fight or flight reflexes kicked in so hard then. She fled, breaking her invisibility spell as Mrs. Gilseene cried out, “DO NOT LET HER ESCAPE CICERO! SHE IS THE ONE! SHE HAS BEEN CHOSEN!”

    Cicero cackled madly and she heard him racing after her. Rona chanced a glance back and saw not only the jester but the blood chasing after her. The strange inky blood had formed into a dark hand on the ground, with long snaking fingers that were searching for her.

    She shouted, “TIID KLO UL!”

    Time slowed way down, slowing the pace of the madman, but not the terrifying blood mark that chased her, quite possibly because it was not human in nature, it was something evil and otherworldly. She kept running and started to notice all the banners hanging on the pillars. Solid red banners with a black handprint on them. The sign of the Dark Brotherhood.

    She realized then that in her terror she’d run right past the ladder leading up to the well. She kept going though, hoping and praying for a way out until she nearly slammed into the most horrifying door she’d ever seen. It was a black stone door with the carvings of a skull on it. A red handprint bore into the center of that skull and there were the skeletons of an adult and many children below it. She couldn’t pass through.

    She turned around and saw the blood drawing ever closer and she remembered, you’re the fucking Dragonborn!

    She summoned the inferno within, sending out her golden fires. The flames burned up the banners in the room and the moment the flames touched the inky blood fingers, they recoiled and hissed. She could swear she heard the terrifying screams of the dead come from it. She allowed the flames to continue to permeate her body, focusing entirely on that and quickly moved back around, racing towards the escape hatch.

    She realized her shout had ended however when she heard the voice of the madman, “Wait! Listener! No please wait! Oh Listener, lovely, sweet, powerful Listener. You cannot go, you must stay, you must serve the Night Mother and Sithis. It has been done. You cannot leave, ” he pleaded but avoided her flames as they were hot to him, she made sure of it.

    She shook her head at the lunatic and quickly climbed the ladder leading up and out of that terrifying place. The second she climbed out of that well she ran, not looking back, flames still burning brightly around her, terrified the Black Hand would find her still. Mrs. Gilseene was dead. She was dead. She cut herself, bled out some kind of horrible piece of Oblivion and it nearly took her. She needed to find Bishop. She stopped herself, halfway across the city and looked back, “Oh gods… Bishop… he’s still.” She threw her hands to her mouth. She’d have to go back.

    Just then right on cue, the doors to an old lodge on her right burst open and Bishop stepped out with Karnwyr right at his side. He looked awful. He was absolutely plastered drunk and practically stumbled out the door. He looked over at her and slurred, “Laaadyship? What’s with the… with the” he waved his hands out in a circular motion, “all this?”

    She wouldn’t let up the fire though, still utterly paranoid the black blood was coming to get her. He squinted at her, noticing her shaking and mumbled, “You alright Ladyfoot? Looking kinda shook up…”

    Her lips were trembling too and she said, “We have to leave. We have to leave right now.”

    “Why?” he squinted. Gods, why did he have to be drunk right then? It was such a bad time for it. Not to mention… why was he getting drunk alone?

    She turned in a circle, checking every which way before letting her fires disperse. She went up to him, grasping his arms and said, “Please Bishop. I can’t explain right now, but please can we leave? Just, sleep outside the city for a night. I can’t stay here.”

    He took a breath trying very hard to see straight it seemed as he blinked a few times and muttered, “Uh yeah, sure. Whatever you want Lady… Ladyness,” he shook his head, “Yeah Rona, whatever you want.”

    She grabbed his hand and pulled him along with her. She made him ride with her on one of their horses. She rode for a good hour, trying to get as far from the city as she could. Bishop fell asleep, leaning heavily on her back, but she didn’t care. At least he wasn’t complaining about how far she was going.

    When she felt safe enough, out in the middle of a field with plenty of oak trees for cover, she woke him up and he grumbled a bit but helped her set up a camp for the night. She went around doing her best to put down some protective runes on the off chance the mad jester found her somehow.

    She curled up next to Bishop on a bedroll and he promptly fell asleep again. She was a bit irritated with him, wanting so much to have him be awake and alert to keep an eye out for her.

    She started going over all the details in her mind. Everything that happened. Mrs. Gilseene was a member of the Dark Brotherhood, without a doubt. Rona had a feeling she was speaking or praying or communicating somehow with that mummified corpse. How else could she have not only known she was there but that she was the Dragonborn? She even used the name Eira gave her, Rona of Dragon Fangs and very few people knew her by that name. She was positive that Mrs. Gilseene had just killed herself too. She’d kept talking about what little time she had left and the insane jester kept rambling about her dying and wanting her to die. The whole thing was just totally insane. She kept rolling these thoughts over and over through her mind until she started to slowly nod off and drifted into sleep.

    ————————–

    10 points to whoever figured it out at ‘dithis’. lmao

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Trigger Warning: Graphic depictions of gore

    ——————————————————

     

    Chapter 82

    Living Like Royals

     

    Rona was pacing around the camp very early. She was as paranoid and panicked as Bishop had been after the Thalmor tried to blackmail him. Maybe even more so. He was still out cold from the night before and she was dying to talk to him already. Karnwyr was looking quite agitated too, he’d stayed up with her almost the entire night, getting up every time she did. The poor wolf looked like he just wanted to sleep.

    Suddenly, Bishop rolled over and with a yawn mumbled, “Where are we?”

    She shouted, “FINALLY!

    He groaned, covering his ears and said, “Please don’t yell Ladyship. My head is killing me…”

    She stood in front of him, fists to hips and barked, “Why did you get drunk all alone last night!? What the hell Bishop! WHY!?”

    He squinted up at her and said, “Well I… uh…”

    “Oh good!” She snapped at him scornfully, “I’m glad we cleared that up!”

    He scowled at her, “What’s your problem? Why are you mad at me? And why the hell are we out here in the middle of nowhere?”

    She started rambling almost nonsensically, due to a lack of sleep and nerves, “Well as it turns out Mrs. Gilseene just so happens to be a member of the Dark Brotherhood! Oh and she’s dead by the way! She killed herself right in front of me, slashed her wrist up real good,” she swiped a hand briskly over her wrist, “and then a crazy fucking jester came chasing after me and I was almost swallowed up by the woman’s magic blood that turned into a black hand and I narrowly escaped with my life, thank you very much! Luckily I got away only to find YOU completely shit-faced at a tavern, all alone no less, for apparently no real reason at all!” She finished her rant with a nervous laugh and sat right down on a tree stump, crossing her arms over. She glared at him still fuming and he just stared at her, brow raised, baffled.

    He scrunched his eyes and rubbed at his temples and said, “What? Wait… what?

    She took a deep breath then and her face crumbled and she said with real fear in her voice then, “Bishop the Dark Brotherhood is after me.”

    He looked skeptically at her and said, “Sooo… let me get this straight. Your elderly landlord is a member of the Dark Brotherhood and there’s a hit out on you? Ladyship, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think you’ve been hitting the bottle too hard. You need to lay off the wine and all the guild work. You’re seriously overworking yourself.”

    She stood up, fists curled and screamed at him agitated, “OH I NEED TO LAY OFF THE BOTTLE!? I’M BEING SERIOUS BISHOP! They’re after me!”

    He winced at her shrieking, but said tentatively, “You sure this wasn’t just another nightmare?”

    YES!

    “Okay, okay,” he raised his hands, “Just, calm down already. Sit down and start from the beginning. Slowly this time.”

    She tried to calm herself down and started from the beginning, telling him every crazy thing she heard and saw the night before.

    Bishop listened closely, frowning a little more and more with each new piece of information given. When she finished he asked, “What’s a Listener?”

    She snapped, “I don’t know! I don’t want to know!”

    “So… they’re not trying to kill you. They’re trying to recruit you?”

    She nodded, her brows knit tightly together.

    He sighed and stood up then, “So show me.”

    She shook her head, terrified and said, “No. No way! I’m not going back there!”

    “Look, Ladyship, if the Dark Brotherhood is living under your house, you might want to tell the local guard about that.”

    She kept thinking of the creepy black hand chasing her with its long fingers, thinking it would still find her. Her fire burst from her body again, involuntarily, as it had done nearly all night when she snapped awake over and over again out of paranoid fear. It was her only protective measure against the thing.

    Bishop stared at her with half lidded eyes, “Feeling anxious?”

    “YES! Of course I am. Gods Bishop, if you saw it too you’d… you would,” she fidgeted with her hands.

    “I’d burst into flames?” He chuckled.

    She scowled at him and she quickly forced the fire to disperse then helped him pack up their small camp. They both rode back to the city together to her great reluctance. Once inside Rona clutched at Bishop’s arm the entire time, looking around nervously at every little movement out of the corner of her eye.

    Finally, he yanked his arm away from her grasp and snarled, “Would you stop that!? You’re worse than that bosmer refugee!”

    “Wait,” she said, “Let’s get the others. I really don’t want to go back there without more people.”

    He sighed and said, “Whatever you say, Ladyship.” Clearly Bishop was still skeptical of her story and that bothered her a lot. She had no reason to lie about something as insane as this.

    They hurried along to the Fighter’s Guild and stepped inside where they found the others finishing up their lunch at a large table.

    Roxlin saw her and waved, “Oh Rona! Ready to go? We’ve got a big surprise for you all and you’re gonna love it!”

    “Not quite ready to go yet,” Bishop said acutely.

    They all looked on curiously and Bishop explained what was going on. Rona was grateful that her friends at least took it seriously and were quick to act, getting fully equipped with their gear as they headed right over to the house. Charissa informed the local guard what was happening and requested their assistance. With the entire Fighter’s Guild and five of the guard standing around the front of the home, they ultimately started to draw the attention of the local townsfolk who came around to rubberneck.

    Rona stood anxiously back with Roxlin and Linel and tried so damn hard to keep her fires from bursting out of her, lest she scream to the entire city, Dragonborn over here!

    Bishop, Magrob, Charissa and Marco all peered down into the well.

    “Definitely looks like it goes somewhere,” Magrob said.

    Marco scoffed as he looked into the dark well, “You could not pay me enough to go down that filthy hole.”

    Charissa rolled her eyes and said, “Outta my way.” She was the first to climb in and Rona felt her pulse quicken, worrying deeply for her friend.

    Bishop called, “What do you see?”

    “There’s an entire antechamber in here. Come on down!”

    Magrob went in next and Bishop followed. Everyone waited anxiously, but Rona was the worst, fidgeting still and twisting at the hem of her dress. Roxlin pulled her into a reassuring hug.

    After what seemed like hours, but was only a good twenty minutes, Charissa came up out of the well with Bishop and Magrob following close behind.

    Magrob was holding something bright red wrapped under his arm and he unfurled it in front of everyone revealing a tattered banner with the sign of the Black Hand pressed to it. Everyone in the immediate vicinity gasped, some people held their hands to their mouths and the head of the guard instructed some of his own to go in and search the well and told one other to inform the Captain of the guard.

    Magrob approached Rona and said, “Looks like they vacated the place completely, no sign of the sarcophagus you mentioned. This was the only banner left down there. That and the door.”

    “That’s the creepiest fucking door I’ve ever fucking seen,” Charissa muttered.

    Bishop looked up at the house and said, “It goes under the house. I think it connects inside.”

    “You’re probably right,” Charissa agreed, looking back at it.

    Bishop went right up to Rona and said, “Sorry I doubted you Lightfoot. Here, give me your house key, we’re going in.”

    She found the key in her pouch and handed it to him. He went up to the door and unlocked it, opened it and stepped inside while the others followed only for Charissa to shout, “Oh my gods!

    “Shit…” Bishop muttered.

    “What?” Roxlin called, “What is it?”

    Magrob held a hand out and said, “Just stay there sweetie. You don’t want to see this.”

    Bishop looked on at Mrs. Gilseene, or whatever was left of her mutilated corpse. She had been splayed, sitting upright across her own couch and gutted so that her entrails spilled out halfway across the floor. Argonians already had quite wide maws, but hers had been slit wide open and her tongue removed and pressed into the palm of her left hand and her entire right arm had been completely ripped from its socket. Her blood was smeared all over the walls too, but right above her, in dripping black blood were the words,

    The Black Hand comes for you Listener. There is no escape.

    Bishop felt angry then. Not even disgusted. Just furious. How could they do this to her? Rona already had enough to deal with but now the Dark Brotherhood was coming for her? This was sick. It was wrong.

    “What in Oblivion is a Listener?” Charissa mumbled.

    Magrob looked at the staircase behind them and opened the door saying, “Looks like an old cellar. Bet the other side of that door is in here.”

    He went down the steps and the other two followed. It looked like a normal old dingy cellar. But Magrob eyed a large shelf on the back wall and grabbed the side of it, throwing it forward so that it crashed heavily onto the ground. It revealed an opening in the brick stone wall that led into a creepy red lit corridor. They went in and followed the short path where they were met with the other side of the black door.

    They just looked at it and Charissa said, “How long do you think it’s been here?”

    Magrob studied it and stroked the tuft of hair on his chin, “Long time. Probably even longer than the house has been here.”

    “So Rona’s been living above the Dark Brotherhood headquarters since she came here?” Bishop speculated.

    “Well, luckily she usually stayed in the guild barracks,” Charissa said, “But yeah, it looks that way.”

    Magrob touched the door then and a horrible hissing whisper filled the room.

    “What is the color of night?”

    “Holy shit!” Charissa snapped, leaping backward, “It talked!”

    “It’s a spell,” Magrob said, “A password spell it looks like.”

    “What do you think the answer is?” Bishop asked chuckling nervously, “Black you think? These freaks seem to like that color.”

    Then the door hissed again, “You are not worthy.”

    Magrob was quick to react and rushed both Bishop and Charissa, throwing his arms out and forcing them to fall backward just as a slew of spears shunted out from the walls around the door, crisscrossing over one another. They would have all been skewered to death otherwise.

    Bishop swore under his breath and Charissa barked, “Out! I’m out!” She scrambled to her feet and immediately went for the exit.

    Magrob looked back and said, “That was a close one. Next time a creepy door asks you a question, try not to answer it.”

    “Yeah,” Bishop breathed, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

    They went back upstairs and found the entirety of the city guard already surveying Mrs. Gilseene’s corpse. Charissa told them about the black door and insisted they avoid the thing because it was protected with a deadly spear trap.

    Bishop went back outside and walked over to Rona. She looked up at him, brows knit together and asked, “Well? What did you find?”

    He shook his head, “It’s a mess Ladyship. Your landlord is dead in there. So, whatever you do, don’t go in there,” he hesitated to tell her what was written on the wall but felt she had a right to know, “That’s not the only thing.”

    “What?” She looked absolutely terrified but he relented and told her anyway.

    “They left a message on the wall… it says ‘The Black Hand comes for you Listener. There is no escape.'”

    She looked like she was going to be sick and nearly fell over when he caught her.

    “Ladyship!”

    “Rona!” Both Linel and Roxlin cried simultaneously. They looked on at her worried.

    “Why?” She moaned, “Why me?”

    Bishop wondered that too, but didn’t say anything about it. He just held her and as the crowd grew larger, trying to see inside the home Bishop noticed a blonde woman standing by her gate looking around as she stroked her daughter’s dark curly hair.

    Their eyes met for a moment before he turned away from her. He couldn’t let that get to him anymore. Not now, not with this new much more pressing matter at hand. The Dark Brotherhood were extremely shady and dangerous. They were trained assassins and were nothing like anything they’d faced before. Not even the Windhelm murderer, The Butcher, could compare to this. These people were organized and knew how to cover their tracks. They would have to take extra precautions. He would not let anyone take her from him again. Never.

    ~~~

    After sharing everything she knew with the Cheydinhal guard, Rona had Bishop collect a few of her things from the attic and then the group left for the Imperial City. It was a day’s travel for them, but she was looking forward to staying there. There was plenty to do in the city to keep everyone busy and entertained for the next two weeks before the wedding and keep her mind off the new threat against her.

    (The Music is Welcome to Cork by Erutan)

    She felt a lot safer with everyone else as well and they had quite a bit of fun, singing and dancing around their campfire that night. They brought the dogs too and Karnwyr was having a blast with his new husky friends. They ran around wildly, barking and chasing one another before Karnwyr caught sight of a jackrabbit and started to bound off after it.

    Bear and Boomer attempted to follow, but Magrob kept them in check, “Golz!” They stopped immediately, waiting, tails wagging and then he’d say, “Aht!” and they’d come to him.

    Bishop was leaning back on his arms, listening to Rona’s lute, and Marco’s flute with the others when he looked over at the two well behaved dogs. “Got them well trained,” he said to Magrob.

    Magrob tore a couple pieces of dried meat off from a thick swatch of it in his pocket and tossed them to the two waiting dogs. “Got to start them off when they’re pups,” he said. Then he glanced over at Karnwyr who was digging madly at a jackrabbit den under a large oak tree and asked, “Ever considered trying to train your boy?”

    Bishop scoffed, “Karnwyr? Nah. He’s a wild animal. Why would I try and train him? He’s just fine exactly the way he is.” He leaned over, grabbing a blanket and balled it up and used it as a pillow as he laid back on his bedroll.

    Magrob chuckled, “He’s pretty tame for a wolf. Bet my pa would be interested in studding him.”

    Bishop looked back over at the orc, raising a brow, “What? You mean like letting him fuck your dogs?”

    Roxlin snorted a laugh, “Well if you want to put it like that.”

    Charissa said, “Wow, could you get any more vulgar?”

    Bishop grinned at them, “Let Karnwyr fuck those bitches huh?” he clarified for profanity’s sake, “I’m sure he’d enjoy that plenty. Been a while since he’s gotten any, that I can recall, anyhow.”

    Rona looked over and said, “Karnwyr’s mated with other wolves?”

    “Sometimes,” Bishop said, “He does what he wants. Caught him a few times tied to some pretty little thing out in the forest.”

    Rona blushed furiously and the others started laughing. Marco put his flute down and sneered, “You really are a crude one aren’t you? What in the world do you see in the man Rona?”

    She smirked, blushing still and tried to hide her face under her hair.

    “Rona likes a bad boy!” Roxlin shouted, teasing her.

    “That she does,” Linel tittered.

    “Which is odd,” Marco said, “Considering he’s the complete opposite of Casavir.”

    “What can I say?” Bishop said with a broad grin, “I know how to keep her warm at night.”

    Rona picked up a stick and threw it at him, “Would you quit it!”

    “Careful now,” Charissa laughed, “girl’s gonna catch fire if you keep up the tease like that.”

    “She does that already without anyone else’s help,” Bishop said smirking at her, “Go on Ladyship, show ’em your golden fire.”

    “I don’t think so,” she said as she continued to strum her lute, “Done plenty of that already.”

    “So how’s the dragon fighting been?” Roxlin asked.

    Rona’s face fell and she hummed, “Mmm you know… killed lots and lots of them…”

    Bishop stayed silent. If she wanted to tell them, he’d let her, but he wasn’t about to be the one to share all the awful things they’d experienced and make her revisit those memories.

    “That’s it?” Roxlin pressed her, “Come on, Rona, you haven’t said a word about your journey since you got here.”

    She sighed and shrugged, blowing a bang out of her face, “I don’t really want to talk about it. It’s been bad. Just… really bad.”

    “Aw, Rona, I’m sorry,” Roxlin said sincerely,”I didn’t mean to pry.”

    “It’s okay. A lot happened… a lot of friends… died,” she said.

    Everyone got really quiet then and to break the awkward silence Charissa said, “Hey! Sing To My Dear Friends will you? Been a while since I heard it.”

    (The Song is To My Dear Friends by Erutan)

    Rona smiled and started to play and sing the song while Marco continued to back her up on the flute. Bishop relaxed on his bedroll, closing his eyes. He remembered the song well because it was the first song he’d ever heard her sing that day in the carriage outside Whiterun.

    He’d thought it was funny at first, as he often looked down on bards and minstrels, like they were just a bunch of fanciful fools wasting their time singing songs of merriment. It was silly to him. But as he’d listened to her song, her gentle voice had started to capture him even then and he’d found himself wanting to hear more, something he could never say about himself when it came to listening to any bard sing.

    Over time, with each new song he’d felt his affection for her grow more and more until it got to a point where he couldn’t even sleep soundly without the lull of her voice at night. His happiest moment was the night when he confessed his love to her and she returned the words over and over again. He was at his happiest then, knowing he’d won her heart, in fact, he could hardly believe at all that such a beautiful and talented woman like her ever had any interest in him, especially after all the times he’d been so snarky and rude to her. Granted she was pretty good at returning the snark.

    He really did love her with his entire being and with all the talk of her friend’s wedding plans and with everything else that had been happening, he’d had something hard on his mind. He’d been saving gold for some time, stowing away a little bit here and there for her. He’d had to dip into his own savings a few times for some other things, but he always tried to replace it when he could. He knew she’d be willing to give him any amount of gold he’d needed, they were practically swimming in it at that point, but he wanted this to be from him. From his hard work to scrimp and save. This was more important to him than anything and it was most important that it came from him.

    He’d already gathered the gemstones for it too. He was thrilled when he stumbled upon a rough uncut diamond chunk in a cave they’d been scavenging in ages ago. It was pretty big too and exactly what he’d need because this would be custom made. He’d also found a beautiful piece of morganite in a chest on a bandit raid. He’d liked it a lot because it shimmered a rose color, almost like the shade of her hair.

    Then there was the final piece he needed, which he’d taken care of very recently. After an evening of passionate lovemaking, when she’d finally fallen into a deep sleep, exhausted from their efforts as well as a long day of guild work, he’d taken a string and wrapped it around her ring finger, getting the exact size. He tied that little string off and put it in his pocket for safekeeping and occasionally found himself pulling it out to look at it, smiling to himself like the love-struck fool he was.

    He knew he’d find a good jeweler in the Imperial City. This was his only chance and he was not about to pass it up. He was ready and he hoped she was too.

    He almost nodded off, listening to her song. And then it ended and everyone tucked in for the night. Rona crawled up next to him and he draped an arm over her waist and gave her a gentle kiss to the cheek. She returned it and gave him that sweet smile that he could only hope he’d see more often than not. Of course, he was really looking forward to how beautiful that smile would be when he finally proposed.

    ~~~

    (Background music Youtube Oblivion – Music & Ambience – Towns 10 Hours)

    They all got a good night’s rest and the next morning they were off again, finally arriving at the Imperial City.They stabled their horses and brought Karnwyr and the other dogs along with them. Bishop was in awe of the place. It had been years since he’d been and he had forgotten just how enormous the city was, not to mention how busy it was, with hundreds of people bustling about. Merchants, travelers, mercenaries, guardsmen, beggars, and even a few thieves, he noticed, were all in abundance as they visited the marketplaces and met in the streets.

    People of all age groups were in attendance as well, several children ran by them, playing a game of tag, a little argonian boy and two dunmer children in fact. There were plenty of elderly types shuffling around and young people flirting, greeting and making general conversation.

    The buildings wrapped in large circles around the central pavilions which served as small parks or places where a statue or monument was set. The homes and buildings were two, three and even four stories tall, towering high above them all. There were arches and pillars everywhere, a very specific architectural design seen mainly in Cyrodiil. Most of the walls were decorated with the red Imperial banners with the black insignia of a diamond crested dragon on them. It wasn’t all stone and brick though, there was plenty of landscaping done along the edges of the brick pathways with tall thin trees that were well pruned and lots of other green shrubbery and even colorful arrangements of flowers.

    The place was surprisingly clean, on the surface, Bishop thought. He recalled the Waterfront which was the dirtier part of the city where the more unsavory types hung around. He looked up where in the very heart of the city was the Imperial Palace, a round structure with a tall central point that rose high into the sky so as to be seen from a great distance.

    He was sure there were some extremely wealthy types living in that pillar which was adorned with large windows for an amazing view. Certainly the Emperor himself lived up there, at the top he assumed, so that he might be able to look down on all his citizenry, watching over them.

    “So are we going to your family’s estate first Roxie?” Rona asked.

    “Yeah! We still have to get everyone fitted in their formalwear,” Roxlin said leading them all along.

    Linel said, “We’re going to stop by the Arcane University to get Lorrie first, remember?”

    “Right! Right!” Roxlin said hopping up and down, “We’ll see Attie too!”

    Rona smiled at her and glanced at Bishop, noticing that he was looking around at everything and said, “I thought you’ve been here before.”

    “Been a looong time, Ladyship,” he said, still staring at all the busy merchant stalls and the assortment of people. There were mostly Imperials in the city, of course, but there were plenty of other races too. Argonians, khajiits, redguards, bretons, every version of ‘mer’ you could think of and even a few nords and with surprisingly no animosity between any of them, in fact people looked rather happy.

    “Do you think he cares?” Bishop asked her suddenly.

    “Who?”

    “The Emperor. I mean look at these people,” he waved a hand out to them,”They’re all so damn happy. Everything is so peaceful here, but back in Skyrim it’s just chaos with the civil war and the return of the dragons.”

    “I’m sure Emperor Titus cares Bishop,” she said, “He works directly with the Imperial guard and gets regular updates on the happenings of the war.”

    He looked right at her and said, “He didn’t care enough to let Tullius go when he tried to execute you.”

    She pressed her lips together but then they curled into a smirk and she said, “Maybe we’ll see him and then you can ask him yourself.”

    He scoffed, “As if I’d ever get a chance to meet the Emperor.”

    “Are you forgetting who my ata is?”

    He gave her a side-eye glance, “You really think we might meet the Emperor?”

    “Wouldn’t be my first time. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him though.”

    “How long?”

    “I was thirteen the last time I met with him,” she laughed a little, “He came to my ballet recital with Ata.”

    Bishop furrowed his brows at her, “Ballet? You did ballet?”

    “Gods you’re forgetful,” she looked up at him, “Remember my dance on the lake?”

    “Mmm… damn how could I forget? You even wrote me that lovely song.”

    She blushed and said, “Exactly… Well I did ballet between the ages of eleven and thirteen. Ata encouraged me to do it, thought it would help get all that extra energy out of my system. I liked it and was actually pretty good at it, but I hated doing magic so much more and had to get away.”

    “Right, then you ran off to join these guys,” he thumbed to all her friends.

    “Mmhm!” She said perkily, “Best decision of my life!”

    “The best huh?” He gave her a meaningful look and she blushed quite a bit at that. He grinned at her and chuckled.

    They passed through the Market District and went along into the Central District where they could see the Imperial Palace up close. They continued around the circling path until they came up to another pair of tall gates which had already been opened for the day. It led right into the Arboretum; a gorgeous lush park flourishing with all kinds of plant life. There were statues set all around the circling gardens, representing one of each of the Nine Divines, or so Bishop thought until he realized that there was no shrine for Talos.

    He leaned over to Rona and said, “I take it the Thalmor probably made them get rid of the Shrine for Talos?”

    “See that temple in the center,” she pointed to a small round building in the middle of the Arboretum, “That was the Shrine of Talos, or Tiber Septim here. But they closed it after the Emperor signed the White-Gold Concordat.”

    “Of course they did.”

    “You sound disappointed,” she said.

    He scoffed, “Not disappointed, just frustrated that these Imperials are so damn spineless.”

    “Hey!” Marco called back, “I heard that!”

    “And I stand by my remark,” Bishop said giving him a challenging look.

    Marco narrowed his eyes at him and then turned away, while the others chuckled at his back. They passed through the Arboretum and through another set of gates leading to a section outside the city where a very tall building stood in the distance across a long bridge over the lake. This one had three tall pillars with pointed roofing on each pillar.

    Right in front of the building were two strange lights made of glowing cubes which floated around and rearranged themselves into different shapes while their hue changed between purple and blue. Bishop eyed the things warily and groaned inwardly. “Are there going to be a bunch of students learning magic here?”

    Rona flashed him a wide grin and said, “Yup!”

    He grumbled to himself and she grasped his arm and pulled him along. They went through another pair of gates leading into yet another courtyard with more cubed light structures scattered throughout and plenty of wild alchemical ingredients growing all around.

    The place was busy with students wandering the grounds, some practicing their magics while others were poring over large tomes and some were picking at the plants, collecting ingredients. A pair of Imperial battle mages stood by the gates and one of them said, “Oh! Miss Thoraminh! Mister Dorngrove! Good to see you both again.”

    “Hello Vineas,” Linel greeted the battle mage kindly.

    “What brings you and the Fighter’s Guild here?”

    “Just come to get my sissy so we can finish up with Roxlin’s wedding plans. We have to get her fitted for her dress and us in our doublets and then attend the rehearsal dinner and so on in the coming weeks.”

    Vineas chuckled, “Right of course! Congratulations to the happy couple! Oh –and Miss Thoraminh, your father just left for the Imperial Palace.”

    “That’s alright,” she replied, “We’re just here for Lorrie. We’ll catch up with him later.”

    “I’ll let him know you stopped by.”

    “Thank you,” she said politely and they moved along into the courtyard, but before they could get very far Lorrie came running out of nowhere and threw herself at Bishop, wrapping her arms right around his neck and cried, “Oh Bishop! I’m so glad you’re finally here!”

    Bishop was stunned and just held his arms out and stammered, “Ah – wha!? I – we – uhh…”

    Lorrie leaned back from him and looked over at a rotund and homely looking breton mage in blue robes. He had blonde hair which had been cut in a neat circle around his head and quite a few large pimples dotting his face and plenty more on his large, bulbous nose.

    “See Bernard! I told you my boyfriend would be here any minute!” She kissed Bishop right on the cheek and Rona fell into a fit of giggles along with the others who were snickering loudly as the breton mage looked on at her, absolutely crushed.

    “B-But Lorrie… we… I thought we…”

    “Well, got to go,” Lorrie said sweetly, “My best friend Roxie’s getting married you know and I honestly think Bishop might just propose to me soon too!”

    Bishop just gaped at her and she whispered to him, “For the love of Y’ffre, play along.

    He caught on and got right into it then, flashing her his most charming grin and said, “Great to see you darlin’. You ready to go slip into that sexy dress for me?”

    Lorrie cocked a brow at him, blushing a little at his forwardness, fake as it was, and quickly said, “Yes I am my love! Let’s go! Mustn’t waste daylight!” She grasped his hand, dragging him along with her and the others all turned right around and followed them out of the courtyard and back onto the bridge.

    The minute they were through the gates Lorrie let go of his hand and broke into a sprint, holding her green mages robes up a bit as she ran. Rona and Roxlin chased after her, crying with laughter while Karnwyr and the dogs ran alongside them in all the excitement. Rona shouted, “Another one Lorrie!? Are you serious!?”

    “I was just testing it! It was supposed to be for Aiden but that troll Bernard drank it instead! Ugh!”

    They ran into the Arboretum and Lorrie stopped to catch her breath while Rona and Roxlin both leaned against a wall, bowled over in laughter. Roxlin sank to the ground, almost in tears and said, “Oh my gods Lorrie. His face! Eyugh!”

    “He didn’t even have the pimples until he drank it,” Lorrie frowned, crossing her arms, “Must’ve been a side effect. I’m going to have to work on the recipe…”

    “Wait,” Rona breathed, holding a hand out while she clutched her stomach, “Aiden’s that burly Imperial mage, right?”

    Lorrie blushed and said wryly, “Maaaybeee.”

    The others all caught up then and Linel snapped at her, “Honestly sister! Poisoning another fool with your love potions!? How could you do that to the poor soul?”

    “It wasn’t for him,” she tried to explain.

    Linel crossed his arms and scowled at her.

    “It was for Aiden,” she said with a smirk.

    Linel blushed and said, “Gods, that hunk of man-meat? With the rippling biceps bigger than his head?”

    She grinned and nodded fiercely.

    “What I wouldn’t give for him to peg me right in the…” he blushed then remembering his current company.

    Charissa threw her hands up and barked, “You are all ridiculous! Just a bunch of horny animals!”

    “Got that right,” Magrob said, grasping Roxlin around the waist very easily with his enormous hand. She gave him a flirty look and they smooched, not caring who was there.

    Charissa threw her head back and exhaled exasperated, “Good gods, all of you are perverts!”

    Lorrie looked at Bishop and said, “Thanks for saving me Mr. Handsome.”

    “My pleasure m’lady,” he winked at her, “I could never leave a damsel in distress and definitely not with a creature like that. Although I gotta ask, why exactly did he think you two were…?”

    “Love potion,” Rona said smirking, “Lorrie here seems to think she knows how to make a love potion and has been trying them out on every attractive man in the Mage’s Guild for years now.”

    “Love potions are real?” Bishop asked doubtfully.

    “No,” Linel said, “They are not. But they do have potions that you can brew to make someone very infatuated with you for a brief period of time. They’re not exactly… legal.”

    Lorrie pursed her lips and turned away, humming to herself, “So? Off to the estate then? Can’t wait to see your aunties again Roxie!”

    Roxlin scowled at the thought and said, “Maybe you and Rona can do me a favor and just light those three witches on fire for me. Or better yet, shout them into the lake Rona! Please!

    The three of them walked ahead of the group, chattering and giggling to one another. Bishop paced by Magrob and Charissa and said, “Wow, you were not kidding. Those three…”

    “The tiny troublemakers,” Charissa smirked.

    “You haven’t seen anything yet,” Magrob said, “You’re about to meet all seven of her older sisters.” He snorted a laugh.

    ~~~

    They had to travel a ways northwest to get to the estate which was just outside the city, beyond the Elven Gardens District which was the upper class residential district.

    Bishop thought he’d seen everything, just looking at all the wealthy nobles’ excessive homesteads there with their perfect white painted walls, shining windows, fountains and perfectly manicured yards, but as they passed through the enormous gates leading outside the main residential district he was floored. They were greeted by an extravagant and flourishing estate. It was surrounded by tall, pointed fencing and square trimmed shrubs, made for privacy. There were long rolling lawns of green grass and the manor sat on the far end, right on the water. It was huge, on par with the Imperial Palace itself, but much nicer looking.

    The home was designed with the common Cyrodiil architecture, with plenty of arches and marble columns. It was painted white and had enormous windows, spacious patios, verandas and a vast garden all its own which connected to an atrium on the left side of the house. There were even a pair of large single homes, no doubt the servants quarters set off to the side of the home near the gardens.

    Roxlin went right up to the gates where two private guards stood. The moment they saw her they opened the gates and bowed their heads, “Miss LaRoues.”

    She smiled and nodded politely to them both and led the group in. They walked along a beautifully paved white walkway and Magrob waved a hand out, shouting, “Ek!” And both Boomer and Bear took off on the grounds with Karnwyr chasing after them.

    They reached the front doors and Roxlin let herself and the rest of them in, showing them into an enormous foyer, with white marbled flooring and a beautiful curving staircase leading up to the second floor. The entire home was outfitted in the finest paintings, with ornate gold frames, marble carved statues of beautiful women draped in cloth, expensive looking khajiiti rugs and plenty of gold and navy colored chairs and couches. An intricate chandelier hung high above them, lit with lights made from magic it seemed. No expense was spared in the beautiful home.

    Bishop found it all to be incredibly overwhelming to say the least. He thought he’d seen it all just visiting the palaces in Skyrim, but these people made them look like dirty peasants in comparison.

    They were greeted by an older woman with thick blonde hair, which had been tied up onto the top of her head and left some thick coiling curls that fell down the back. She wore an elegant and lacy lavender gown. Her neckline, ears and wrists were all adorned in glittering diamond jewelry, set in gold.

    She smiled a perfect white smile and cried, “Roxie!” She came quickly down the stairs, each step clicking lightly from her heeled shoes. She threw her arms out over her daughter’s shoulders, embracing her and kissed her on both cheeks, “Oh how I’ve missed you dearest!”

    Roxlin laughed and said, “Mama, we just saw you last week.”

    She grasped her daughter’s hands and said, “I know dear, but a mother always misses her children. Oh my darling, aren’t you just thrilled? Two more weeks and my youngest daughter will finally be married! – oh Magrob!”

    Then she ran right over and gave the orc a big hug and did the same with him, kissing him on his cheeks while he blushed a bit and grunted, “Mimi, good to see you.”

    Mimi looked over the rest of the group and cried, “Just look at you all! This is wonderful Roxie dear. We can have them all fitted for their formalwear. I’ll go collect your sisters and let them know you’re here,” she waved a hand, motioning them off to a room on the right, “Please, please, go on into the sitting room and I’ll have some tea served.”

    She hurried back up the stairs calling, “Richelle – girls! Your sister and all her friends are here!”

    Roxlin ushered them all into the sitting room then, which had pristine white carpets and dark wood walls. An enormous marble fireplace sat against the far wall and there was an assortment of more of the same gold and navy couches and chairs all around, with plenty of dark wood end tables and coffee tables spaced between them. There was a even a white grand piano facing a wall of glass windows which gave an incredible view of the lake outside as that side of the house was right on the water.

    Sitting on one of the couches near the fireplace was a much older looking breton man with dark hair, streaked on the sides with grey and a neatly trimmed dark moustache and beard. He wore fine nobles clothes, a black doublet with a white undershirt and black trousers. He was looking over some paperwork while enjoying a glass of brandy.

    He glanced back at everyone as he heard them come in and said, “Ah, Roxlin, Magrob. Welcome home and I see you’ve brought your friends. Excellent, excellent. Please have a seat.”

    Everyone found a place to sit around the fireplace and Mr. LaRoues continued to look over his paperwork, “I do apologize for not greeting you all more properly, but I have quite the workload this evening,” he looked up and smiled kindly at his daughter, “Getting excited dear? Wedding’s just around the corner.”

    “I am,” she said, “But the three mean matrons keep ruining everything! I already had to send word to our caterer for the fourth time this week that we’re still on! I even gave them a password this time to keep auntie Miriam from cancelling again!”

    “That’s nice dear,” her father said mindlessly as he was already back to reviewing his papers.

    Roxlin pursed her lips and whined, “Papa! You’re not even listening!”

    “No worries Roxie!” Another woman dressed in a simple blue dress, with straight long blonde hair and bright red lips, and who had a toddler on her hip appeared. She was flanked by six other blonde women, also all wearing simple dresses and who were of varying ages. “The witches won’t be bothering us today or tomorrow or the next day since they all received invitations to a lavish party all the way out in Anvil. They’re the guests of honor you know.”

    She winked and Roxlin grinned, “You didn’t Richelle!”

    “Oh I definitely did,” she said with an rascally smirk.

    Roxlin leapt up and ran into the midst of her giggling sisters. She introduced every single one of them, by age, but Bishop could hardly remember their names as they all started with the letter ‘R’ and they all looked practically the same to him. They were beautiful, definitely, but they could have been a group of identical siblings as far as he was concerned. The only one he could differentiate from them all was Roxlin and only because her hair was shorter than the rest of them.

    “Alright ladies! We’re pairing off!” Richelle pointed to four of her sisters including Roxlin and said, “You get the girls!” Then she pointed to herself and three others and said, “And we get the boys!”

    Everyone got up then and Bishop followed suit, just going with the flow because he was lost otherwise. Then Rona went along with Roxlin and he made to follow but Magrob grabbed him, yanking him along with their group instead.

    Rona called over to him from the opposite side of the second floor landing, “See you in a bit! Try not to get too annoyed.”

    He looked at her confused but went along with it, “We’re just fitting for clothes right?” He asked Magrob.

    The orc smirked at him and said, “Getting custom tailored clothing. Mimi is a tailor and passed those skills on to all the girls. Richelle here runs the Divine Elegance over in the Market District, a high end clothing boutique.”

    Richelle smiled at him and said, “So we’re going to get you the best fit for your clothes.”

    The men were ushered into a large room outfitted with the same gold and navy furniture as the rest of the home. The room was incredibly messy with fabric strewn across tables and draped over chairs and even a pair of privacy dividers. There were pincushions and spools of thread set in baskets everywhere too.

    The women got right to work taking measurements first, starting with Linel and then Marco. Bishop looked at Magrob when they called the next person and he grinned and said, “Alright got my doublet and breeches made months ago.”

    Bishop grumbled and got up. The lovely blonde breton women seemed to be sizing him up as they giggled and blushed while they poked and prodded him, making him raise his arms and spread his legs out so they could get all his measurements. He could hardly complain though having four very attractive women fussing over him and groping him very close to his package.

    After they took measurements the men spent the rest of their time waiting while the women began the arduous process of sewing clothes for them. Richelle passed her baby boy off to Magrob to look after while they worked. Magrob seemed to be at a loss with the baby and Bishop said, “Pass him here.” He looked after the little blonde boy for the rest of the evening, making faces at him and getting him to laugh.

    “Wow,” Magrob said, “Never would have guessed you were good with kids.”

    Bishop smirked at him and said, “I was the second oldest of a brood of nine. Trust me, I know how to look after a little one.”

    Linel even got a little interested, taking a seat next to Bishop to fuss over the baby before Richelle would call one of them over to try on a piece of clothing they were working on so they could pin it to them.

    Bishop started to understand exactly what Rona meant when she said try not to get too annoyed, especially after he got stuck in the arms and legs a few times with pins and grumbled loudly so they’d all know. The women just giggled and tittered at him giving a few apologies here and there.

    Eventually a young boy with short blonde hair, around Bast’s age came in with a tray of bottles and glasses and said, “Pa sent up some wine and brandy for you all, in case you’re thirsty.”

    “Thanks Rahdex,” Magrob said, taking the tray, “Tell Alaonard we appreciate it.”

    The lad leaned against a chair and said, “They driving you crazy yet?”

    “Stuck me a few times,” Marco said, as he poured himself a glass of brandy, “Think they’re doing it on purpose, honestly.”

    Magrob chuckled, sipping his own drink, “Probably because you keep staring at them in places you shouldn’t.”

    Rahdex laughed and said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mess with my sisters if I were you. You should see the things they’ve been doing to our aunts.”

    Marco made a face saying, “Riiigghht… I’ll keep that in mind.”

    Bishop laid off the drinks since he was stuck looking after the baby. Magrob spent most of the evening telling him about his father’s dog breeding business and told him just how much a tamed wolf like Karnwyr would be worth for studding.

    Bishop got along best with the orc. He was the easiest to talk to out of all of them and considering Rona and Roxlin were such close friends they had that much in common as they laughed about the two women and their incessant need to sing and rush into battle.

    After several more hours, as the daylight waned and the moon started to rise the women finished their work. The others had left the sewing room, retiring down in the dining room to have supper leaving just Bishop and Richelle as she finished up his breeches.

    He handed the babe back off to her, as she passed him the entire outfit to try on. He went around the changing divider and pulled the clothes on, impressed with the fit and the feel. “These aren’t half bad,” he said, “They’re actually comfortable.”

    “Great!” Richelle said enthusiastically. He came around and with her baby now on her hip she went around and tugged at the clothes in places, “Looks good. You clean up nicely. What was your name again?”

    “Bishop,” he said holding a hand out to her.

    She shook it and said, “Hey, hold Quinn again for me.” She promptly passed the baby off to him and he held the infant out, hoping the boy wouldn’t decide right then and there to shit all over his new clothes. She grabbed his worn leather cuirass and trousers and said, “These are nice, well, were at one point. How would you feel if I remade these for you? Same style and everything, only the fit will be a little better.”

    “I don’t know,” he said, “I’m pretty attached to my armor, made them myself.”

    “Wow,” she said, “I’m impressed.”

    He snorted a laugh and the baby started smiling at him. He grinned at the little one and stuck his tongue out.

    “No really,” she said as she went over to her large sewing table and set his clothes on it, “You’re the one who travels with Rona right?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Roxlin told me all about it,” she said as she started quickly sketching out the look of his old armor on a piece of parchment, “So you fight dragons and plenty of other mean and nasty things up that way, out in the mountains?”

    “Something like that,” he chuckled as he cradled the baby in his arms and kept making faces to entertain him.

    “I could enchant the new ones for you, fortify your magic resistance against fire and ice,” she said.

    “How much is this going to cost me?” He asked seriously. He couldn’t afford to dip into his engagement ring savings just for a set of new leather armor.

    “Nothing at all,” she said smiling over at him.

    “Seriously?”

    “Rona might as well be one of my many little sisters, you know. She’s been good to Roxie and I want to see that she and her own are taken care of. It’s really no problem.”

    “Shit,” he muttered and then looked at the baby and said, “Uh, sorry – Well if you’re offering I really can’t decline. Brand new enchanted leather armor? Sounds great to me.”

    “Excellent,” she said, “I’ll get started on it right away. But you’ll have to go without your old ones for a few days, will that be okay?”

    “Those are my only clothes,” he laughed.

    She went over to an old trunk and rifled through it before pulling out a white shirt and some brown trousers, “Will these work for now? I’ve got plenty more old clothes you can try, was just keeping them around for the fabric.”

    He traded her the baby back for the clothes and said, “Let’s see.” He took off his formalwear and tried on the simple clothing which reminded him a lot of the clothes he’d worn to the Thalmor Embassy, though the shirt was more snug. He shrugged, “Guess it’ll do for now.”

    “Just a few days, I promise!”

    He left the formalwear there as they planned to return the day of the wedding to change and he and Richelle went downstairs and met with the others, grabbing plates to fill with food which had been laid out on white clothed tables in the dining room and then they took seats at one of the three large dining tables, joining the group of Cheydinhal’s Finest, while Roxlin’s parents and siblings all dined at another table nearby.

    Rona looked Bishop over and asked, “Going casual?”

    “Getting new clothes,” he said as he took a bite of a pork chop.

    “I like it,” she said, tugging on his long sleeve. Then she turned and asked Roxlin, “Where are we all staying tonight?”

    Roxlin shouted, “That’s my surprise!”

    Magrob chuckled through his own dinner and said, “Can’t fit you all here.”

    Bishop laughed and looked around the huge manor, “Really? Because I could swear you’ve got plenty of space for a few more bedrolls.”

    Roxlin scrunched her nose and said, “Ooh, don’t let Mama hear you say that. She’d absolutely hate the idea of anyone going without a bed.”

    Bishop looked at her with half-lidded eyes, “She ever take a walk around the Waterfront? Plenty of folk out that way looking for beds.”

    Roxlin rolled her eyes and said, “I mean as guests here. So! My whole family is arriving in the next day or two and we don’t have enough beds to accommodate you guys, so Papa talked to some of his friends on the Elder Council and arranged to have you all stay in the Imperial Palace!”

    Bishop’s eyes widened and Rona said, “Wow, really?”

    “You mean up in that big tower in the middle?” Bishop asked.

    Roxlin nodded quickly, “And not just that, everyone gets their own rooms, well except you two, figured you’d prefer to share a room.”

    Rona blushed and Bishop smirked, “Yes, definitely! Wait – do they allow wolves?”

    “Um, probably not,” Roxlin conceded, scratching at her temple.

    “Karnwyr can stay here,” Magrob said, “Boomer and Bear will keep him company.”

    Bishop laughed, “Sounds good – great actually. He’ll like it better being able to run around and stretch his legs.”

    ~~~

    With the fittings taken care of and Mimi, the perfect hostess she was, making sure everyone was well fed, Roxlin and Magrob sent the rest of their group off to the Imperial Palace, each with a letter stating their reason for being there and a key to their own rooms.

    Bishop was neither excited nor disappointed with staying in the Imperial Palace, he’d have been just fine sleeping in a bedroll outdoors under a tree, but he did prefer this because he felt Rona would be so much safer there. The Dark Brotherhood had little chance of getting into the same building that the Emperor himself stayed in, considering the high security in the place. And there was definitely high security.

    Upon arrival they all had to disarm and leave their weapons in the armory and they were all pat down and checked for any concealed weapons as well. Some battle mages even used some spells to check them all over, Rona said to check for weapons concealed inside the body which Bishop had never considered.

    A kindly altmer man showed them to their rooms within the high tower, which was only accessible through a magic portal that only he and other authorized persons could activate. It was one of the wildest things Bishop had ever experienced because it essentially made him levitate and launched him up. It was almost as terrifying as falling, except he was flying upwards with absolutely no control over his position in the air.

    The minute he was set down by whatever invisible force it was, he clutched his stomach and wobbled. The others, who’d gone first, before him, because he insisted on going last, were already headed off to their rooms. Rona touched his shoulder and asked sympathetically, “You alright?”

    “Never gonna get used to all this magic stuff Ladyship…”

    “Come on,” she said, grasping his hand and tugging him along.

    He leaned on her shoulder, wrapping his arm around her and asked, “You ever been up here before?”

    “No,” she said, “I never had a reason to visit the Imperial Suites.”

    They passed by a few haughty nobles that turned their noses up at them and started whispering to each other under their breath. Bishop made sure to give them all dirty looks in return and said, “Bet these snobs are wondering why people like us are up here.”

    “Oh I’m sure they are,” she said and then she groped his ass, taking him by surprise. He looked down at her, brow raised and she said playfully, “Let’s see how much we can annoy them.”

    His lips curled into the biggest grin and he pulled her in a little closer. Gods he loved this woman.

    They passed by a few large balconies that led outside to an incredible view of the city and the rolling grasslands of Cyrodiil and continued going around the red carpeted hall until they reached their room. It looked like Charissa, Linel, Lorrie and Marco already found their rooms because they didn’t come across them again.

    Bishop was already getting very frisky too, reaching around to fondle her and running his hand up and down her rear. He started to feel rather excited at the idea of ruining a very expensive noble’s suite by fucking on all the furniture.

    Rona quickly let them into the room and Bishop threw the door shut behind them. He didn’t even stop to look at the place, which was dark anyhow, due to a lack of candlelight and it being night time. His hands found their way under her clothes and his lips met her neck. She moaned in reply and they were both quick to undress.

    He had her pressed up against a wall and found his way inside her very quickly, surprised by how ready she was for him. It seemed she also enjoyed the idea of messing up that fancy place with their naked and entwined bodies.

    He grunted hard and thrust into her harder and she screamed with ecstasy which made his eyes roll. Her voice did so many things to him, but that sound, which was only reserved for him gave him more pleasure than he could ever imagine.

    He wanted more of her though and lifted her legs up so that she could wrap them around his waist. With a quick glance around the darkened room he spotted the bed and carried her over, fucking her still with each step. The second he was at the edge of it though he threw her down onto it, watching her and her lovely breasts bounce through the sliver of moonlight that cascaded into the room from a large window.

    He grasped one of her legs, drawing it up his chest and buried himself right back into her tightness. It was hot and rough and she gave in to it, returning all his lust with her own and more. They did it until they couldn’t anymore and collapsed in an exhausted heap on the bed. Bishop lay there, holding that beautiful, sexy woman close in his arms feeling completely content and euphoric and wondered if that’s what it felt like to be a king.

    Rona
    Participant
    Post count: 117

    Chapter 83

    Jewel Thieves

     

    (Background Music YouTube – Skyrim – Music & Ambience – Rainy Towns)

    The sound of rain pattering the windows was what roused him from his sleep. Bishop woke up feeling more well rested than he had in a long time. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the amazing sex the night before or if it was the enormous four person bed he found himself on.

    Both he and Rona were curled up in the middle of it, laying on red silk sheets. He sat up scratching his chest and looked around at the room. It was incredible and by far one of the most expensive places he’d ever stayed in. It was just a single room, as far as he could see from his vantage point, with the enormous bed set against one of the walls, facing a spacious light wood and white marble kitchen set one step up, dividing the room between red carpeted floors on the bed side and dark wood floors on the kitchen side.

    To his left, near the large shining windows was a sitting area with red fabric couches and chairs and dark wood tables, all placed in a way so that one could enjoy the incredible view outside. The walls were decorated in beautiful paintings set in ornate gold frames and depicting varying landscapes from all across Tamriel as he recognized quite a few of the places.

    He noticed a door near the kitchen and figured that must be the bathing room. He needed to take a leak anyhow, so he got up, leaving Rona mumbling some nonsense in her half-sleep stupor and went in only to be met with a very clean bathroom, with large beige tiles on the floor and walls and a white tub made for six inset in the floor near a wall with a gold plated spigot sticking out of it. He grinned thinking of all the fun they were going to have in that huge tub.

    The back wall was fitted with wooden shelves full of bathing products, soaps, hair tonics, and perfumes. There was a beautiful vanity centered between the shelves, covered with an assortment of makeup products and a large square mirror had been mounted to the wall and fitted into a shimmering pearlescent frame. Next to that appeared to be a walk in closet which he peeked into and found was full of all kinds of clothing, mostly formalwear, evening gowns and dresses in all colors and sizes and plenty of grey and black doublets and breeches, with a few varying colors like dark reds, blues and greens.

    He found the toilet nearby, next to a sink, both facing opposite to the tub and even that looked impressive to him. It was probably the cleanest porcelain shitter he’d ever seen in his life.

    He finished taking care of his business and went back into the kitchen and looked around. He started opening the cupboards and found them full of fresh food, plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, breads and spices. The amount of spices was insane to him. He smirked already knowing he was going to be pocketing nearly all of them when they left. He also found a huge selection of liquor in one of the cupboards. It was the good stuff too, all of it very expensive, like Cyrodiilic Brandy, a variety of Surilie Brothers Vintage Wines, Rosethorn Mead, and even a single bottle of Shadowbanish Wine which was a real rarity. He peeked into the icebox last and found it chock full of fresh fish and red meats. It seemed the place had been prepared just for their arrival.

    He was feeling amazing about it all too. He’d never experienced that kind of luxury before and luckily it came with no real strings attached. He just had to attend one wedding and wear some surprisingly comfortable formalwear. He didn’t have any expectations placed on his shoulders or have to do anything else except be with his beautiful, wonderful woman. He looked back at her still sleeping form, totally naked on that huge bed and surrounded in red silk sheets.

    He felt his lust growing at the sight of her and quickly crossed the room again, crawled back onto the bed and leaned over her.

    She opened her lovely green eyes a bit and looked up at him grinning down at her. She returned the smile and said sweetly, “Morning handsome. You look like you’re in a good mood.”

    “A great mood, Ladyship,” he laid down next to her, on his side, holding his head up with an arm. He started stroking her hair and said, “I ever tell you how much I love you?”

    She laughed a little and replied, “You could always tell me more often, I wouldn’t complain.”

    He leaned over her, looking deeply into her eyes and traced her lips with his and breathed, “I love you more than you will ever know Rona. You’ve given me the greatest joy in my life, you’ve allowed me to experience things with you that I never would have experienced otherwise… but the best part of it all, is that it’s been with you.”

    Her eyes were wide, her face was burning bright red and she could hardly stop her lovely smile from curling at her perfect pink lips. He loved it all, every part of her. She was so beautiful to him, she had no idea.

    “Wow, Bishop, that was… almost poetic,” she mumbled bashfully.

    “Going shy on me are you?” He chuckled and started nibbling at her lips.

    “Mmm,” she moaned under him and he let his hands roam all over her, feeling every perfect curve, every inch of her supple body, but most especially the warm wetness between her legs. She pulled her lips away to whisper, “Maybe we should bathe…”

    “Hmm,” he mumbled mindlessly as he kept touching her and rubbing all over her swollen nub, “Oh because of the mess from last night? I don’t mind that at all Sweetness. It actually makes me harder, especially knowing that it’s all from me.” He wrapped his legs around one of hers, giving her a feel of his throbbing erection against her thigh.

    “Oooh Bishop…” She moaned.

    “Yes, Rona? Do you have something you want to say?” He gave her a salacious grin. Her blushing was endless, she could be so shy at times and he said, “Remember in Solitude, when I tied you up? Let it out. Talk dirty to me, Princess. I want to hear every naughty thing you’ve ever thought of doing to me.”

    She seemed to muster up her nerve then and breathed some very enticing things indeed, “I want it all the time, I just want to fuck endlessly, fall into our own world of pleasure again, like at the falls, after the first time. I want you to take me over and over Bishop, to hold me tightly and…”

    “And?” He encouraged her, waiting with bated breath.

    “I want you to come inside me and fill me up, it feels so good, it feels so amazing, everything you do to me is amazing. Sometimes I can’t stop thinking about it, about the way you look at me, the way you touch me,” she pushed him back on the bed and mounted him to his surprise. She grabbed a hold of his thickness, pressing him to her tight slit and he slipped right in. He got a good look at her impassioned, blushing face as she lost control and started riding him hard, doing everything she could to draw it out of him while she moaned, “I love it! I love this feeling! I want you inside me always, just rubbing me in all the right ways! Oh Bishop! Fuck me! Fuck me! Make me come!”

    Holy shit. He’d asked for and he got it. Granted he wanted it to last longer, but her lovely voice, her innocent lips shouting such lewd things while she straddled and stroked him over and over again with her tight pussy was very overwhelming. He was about to lose it, but he really, really wanted to make her come first and see what else she had to say.

    He quickly grabbed a hold of her hips and held her, making her stop the motions for a moment. She grinned broadly down at him, realizing she’d almost set him off and asked coyly, “Am I going to win this time?”

    He groaned, “If you keep that up you will. Gods woman. Where does it come from?” He kept talking, catching his breath, distracting her, “One minute you’re the shyest little doe I’ve ever seen and then the next you’re this confident and very vocal minx.”

    She bucked her hips on him, smirking still and he could see the mischievous look in her eyes. He clenched his teeth, holding it all back as her velvety insides writhed all over his throbbing member.

    “I don’t know,” she said smiling, “I guess it’s… a mental block. I have to overcome it in order to let go?”

    “Well keep it up-aaaAAahh!” She was doing that thing again, twisting her muscles around him, trying to stroke it out of him while she looked down at him with half lidded eyes, biting her lip. He reached around behind her and spanked her firm ass hard making her yelp. He grinned and said, “Keep that up love and I’ll have to start punishing you.”

    She pulled her hands up, caressing her own body, sliding her fingers over her blushing nipples and around her neck. She reached up running her hands through her hair and flashed him the absolute sexiest look he’d ever seen as she moaned, “I just can’t help myself Bishop. Your cock feels sooo thick and hard inside me.”

    “Oh fuck, you bad, bad girl,” he muttered and started bucking his hips sharply into her. He groaned heavily feeling the way she gripped him but especially the way the tip of his prick felt pressing hard against her every time he bottomed out. “Mmnnn, you want it that bad? I’ll give it to you then,” he said and pushed himself up on the bed so that they were face to face. This always seemed to surprise her, or perhaps it was just the fact that it pushed his cock a little further inside.

    She threw her arms around his neck and he grasped tightly to her waist and started to bounce her on his lap. He enjoyed the view of her soft breasts pressing up against his firm chest and how they rounded out so nicely, accentuating her cleavage. But his eyes traveled back up and met with her hooded ones. She was very aroused, he could see it all over her face and feel it in her body. She was even more beautiful to him in this state. She gave him a view, an expression, which only he would ever have the pleasure of witnessing and he loved it.

    He started kissing the nape of her neck and wrapped his arms tightly around her back and listened to her lovely whimpers and moans as he continued his thorough thrusting within her. He was absolutely determined to make her come and he’d always been very good at holding back, still he’d need a better position to get access to the other sweet spot on her that would make that happen.

    He got a few more good looks at her flushed and aroused face and then laid her back down on the bed.

    “Mmm,” she moaned, “Changing positions?”

    “You wanted to come Sweetness, so I’m going to do just that. I’m going to make you come,” he said with determination. Her eyes flashed with desire at his words. With her on her back, he laid down on his side, withdrawing for just a moment, so that her pert rear was pressed right up against his crotch, as though she were sitting on his lap in a laying position. He held one of her legs up and took the other between his two and found his way back inside her. He still had an amazing view of her firm bouncing breasts and his hand had perfect access to her swollen pleasure center.

    He let go of her leg, letting it rest on his hip and reached between them where he grasped himself for a moment, feeling the way her wet folds gripped him between their legs. The touch made her whimper with need, so he started to trace her there, feeling all around her entrance and spread her essence everywhere. It was a divine feeling, rubbing that all over the base of his cock. He was ready to start rutting into her again though, so he slowly slid two of his fingers up to the hooded nub above the space where his thick manhood was being slowly sucked in by her quivering hole and started pressing hard there making her howl with pleasure. He heard his name begin to trail quickly from her lips and he enjoyed that very much, feeling his prick throb a little with each breathy whisper of, “Bishop! Ooh Bishop! More!”

    He started moving his hips, going slow and steady at first, keeping up a rhythmic pace, and paying close attention to her reactions he acted accordingly. He started to pick up the pace though as her words became nonsensical strings of ‘more’ and ‘yes’ and ‘there’.

    Breathing heavy and aching with a need to get this lustful woman off he started to pound harder into her, slapping his hips against her tight ass. He pressed roughly on her nub with his thick fingers, occasionally kneading it between his thumb and forefinger while he hilted himself repeatedly, stirring her up inside.

    He could feel it coming, her orgasm at least, as she got that much wetter and tighter around him. He groaned needfully at the feeling and practically lifted himself over her just so he could get her even deeper. Soon her lovely lips shaped into a very perfect ‘o’ shape as she screamed with the wave of her incredible orgasm. He kept the pace up, feeling his own rising high and shouted, “Where do you want it Sweetness?”

    She cried out, “All over me!”

    That was all he needed to hear. He quickly withdrew, and stood on his knees between her legs and took two hard strokes with his hand before he felt the pressure of his seed rising. With his cockhead flaring and his shaft pumping he felt the full-throated surge of his ejaculation coming and shot many thick ropes of warm, white come all across her heaving chest and stomach. He really enjoyed the look of pleasured awe on her face with each spurt of his copious load landing in messy puddles on her pink and blushing skin. Gods, what a sight.There was just something about making such a mess all over his beautiful woman that truly sated his lust.

    With a deep sigh and a now very sticky hand, he sat back down and just admired her while he caught his breath. He’d managed to get her across the cheek a bit and definitely hit the sheets a few times. She didn’t seem to mind though, still basking in the afterglow of her own orgasm.

    “That was fun,” he said with a grin, “Been a while since we did that. You know, this is a good look for you.”

    She gave a light laugh and asked, “Now can we bathe?”

    “We can certainly try,” he said as he carefully sidled to the edge of the bed, trying not to wipe anymore of his semen all over the nice sheets, “Wait until you see that tub, Ladyship. I’m not sure we’ll have much time for bathing with all the things I’m going to do to you in there.”

    They both headed for the bathing room and filled the tub with water which Rona quickly heated to an ideal temperature with her flames spell. She immediately stepped in, rinsing his essence from her face and body before she relaxed against the edge.

    He was standing by the shelves, looking over all the different smelling soaps and hair tonics before selecting a soap he liked for himself and a pair of lightly perfumed choices for her. He got in, sitting across from her on the other side of the tub and passed her his selections.

    “Honey and vanilla?” She said sniffing the hair tonic and raising a brow.

    He shrugged, “You go a bit too heavy on those flowery ones Ladyship. I like a softer scent, one that doesn’t mask your own musk completely.”

    She rolled her eyes but started washing her hair with it anyhow.

    He soaped up a bit himself, rinsing all the sweat off his body and sighed, “Feels like a real vacation for once.”

    “It’s nice,” she said, “I mean aside from what happened in Cheydinhal… it’s been really nice.”

    “I’m glad to hear it Sweetness… you know I worry about you sometimes, with all these burdens pressing on your shoulders. If you ever need to talk about it, you know I’m here.”

    “That’s just it,” she said as she started pushing soap bubbles around the surface of the water, “I try not to think about it because whenever I do, it just makes me worry.”

    “I figured,” he said, “But I learned from you that keeping it all bottled up inside isn’t healthy either.” He gave her a kind smile and she returned it.

    She slunk through the water and moved over to his side of the large tub, sitting beside him on the two-person seat. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and let her lean into him. She looked up at him and said, “You know what always makes me feel better?”

    “What?”

    “When you sing to me,” she laughed.

    He groaned, “Oh no. You’re not getting me to do that again.”

    “But you sing so well Bishop! I mean the first time was a little off-key, but the last time you did it, it was beautiful.”

    Now he was the one turning red. He chuckled, “That’s because I practiced with your father’s help, because I can’t read scales.”

    “Ata got to hear you sing!?” She cried excitedly.

    He rolled his eyes at himself and said, “Yes… ugh… Ladyship I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life than when your father was acting like the maestro of an orchestra and complimenting me on my baritones and my melody and whatever other nonsense he was talking about.”

    She giggled and it made him smile just to see her smile. Still he really wanted to redirect that conversation to a new route because he was not about to sing anything to her again any time soon.

    “So, you excited for the wedding?”

    “Absolutely!” Rona said, “You should see the bridesmaids dresses Bishop! They’re sooo pretty. She’s going with seafoam green gowns and beautiful vivid oranges for all the flower arrangements. The dresses are short too! Like up to my knee.”

    “Mmm,” he moaned salaciously, “Looking forward to seeing you all dressed up again.”

    She laughed, “And maybe this time you’ll actually get a chance to tear it off of me.”

    “Damn, that’s right. Every other time there was…”

    “A damn dragon!” She snapped but then carried on, prattling about the wedding, “So it’s just me and Lorrie who are going to be bridesmaids. Charissa didn’t want to bother with dressing up and Roxie wanted to keep her group of bridesmaids small anyhow since Magrob only has two groomsmen, his brother and his cousin. Oh Bishop! You should see Roxlin’s dress! It’s just gorgeous – a beautiful floor length gown with a slit in the front that exposes the legs through a sheer lacy chiffon…”

    He chuckled at how excited she was getting telling him all the little details of her friend’s wedding. When she finally slowed her chattering he asked her, “You ever think about it?”

    “Hm?” She looked at him curiously.

    “Marriage.”

    Her face burned red and he smiled at her as she turned her head away and said, “Well I… I think about it sometimes. Settling down when it’s all over, this whole insane journey… I’ve always imagined myself being married with a family someday.”

    “Me too,” he said grasping her hand under the water and she looked up at him. He cleared his throat, “Well… I never did before. But… now…”

    She looked on at him with a deep affection burning in her eyes for him and he kissed her. He felt confident in his decision then. He just needed to find a way to go off to the Market District alone and as they dressed for the day, both wearing their cloaks because of the heavy downpour outside, and made their way down onto the first floor of the Imperial Palace his perfect distraction came strolling right along.

    “Ata!” Rona cried at the sight of her father as he stepped out of the central chamber in the main hall. Several other older men and a few women walked by him. It appeared that a meeting with the Elder Council had just concluded.

    “Ah, velvyn, Bishop.” He approached them and said, “I’d heard you were both staying here. Well isn’t this fortunate, crossing paths like this. We were just breaking for lunch, would you two care to join me?”

    “That sounds great!” Rona said, “We can spend the day together and then we have a party to go to tonight with Roxie and the others.”

    “Excellent,” Serlas said, “I know of the most charming bosmeri bistro right around the corner from here.”

    “Actually,” Bishop said, “You two go on without me.”

    Rona pouted, “Aw, you’re staying here?”

    “No, I’ve just been wanting to explore the city a little more. Pay a visit to the Market District and pick up a few things. I know of a great fletcher here and have been meaning to get some nice enchanted arrows, figured now’s the time while we’re here.”

    “Are you sure?” She said, “We could eat and then I could go with you.”

    He waved a hand, “No it’s fine. You should spend the day with your father. Have a father, daughter day together.” He gave her a reassuring smile.

    “Alright,” she sighed, “But don’t forget about tonight!”

    “Right, the Bloated Float Inn over in the Waterfront District. Got it.” They stepped outside into the downpour, throwing their hoods up, while Serlas used a spell to deflect the water from himself and she gave Bishop a quick kiss on the cheek before departing.

    “You know velvyn, I’ve been meaning to teach you some of these simpler spells for everyday use…”

    “I don’t know Ata, now that we’re here in the city again I’m worried I might accidentally blow something up…”

    He heard their voices trail off, laughing to himself. He was on a mission now. He had everything he needed in his pockets, his gold, the diamond chunk and the morganite. He also grabbed his dragon-bone dagger from the armory, figuring that, along with his gruffest demeanor, would be enough to scare off any thieves that were skulking around the Market District, picking pockets.

    He wove his way around the Central District first and went through the gates leading into the Market District. The number of people from the day before had dwindled to only a few now who bothered to brave the rain. He circled around the place a few times, reading all of the shop signs and trying to navigate his way around the confusing layout.

    Almost all the buildings were in the same shade of grey so he ended up passing by the same set of shops twice over. Finally, he went into an old book emporium, the First Edition, and asked for directions to the nearest jeweler. The kind shopkeeper pointed him off towards the northwest and told him to look for the Red Diamond. After another confusing turn around the District, and sticking to the outer walls he found the shop with a solid black sign painted with bright red lettering that said; Red Diamond Jewelry.

    He entered the well lit and sparkling shop. The floors were carpeted in a light beige and there were rows and rows of glass cases all lined up along the walls with glittering jewelry in them. Bishop was surprised to see that the proprietor was a nord man. He was an older fellow with short, bright white hair, rectangular spectacles and a very fine black doublet with a white undershirt, all buttoned up neatly. He also wore a few pieces of masculine jewelry, a simple gold necklace and some gold rings on his fingers. He stood behind the display cases looking intently at some gemstones on a piece of black velvet with a magnifying glass.

    “Welcome to the Red Diamond,” he said mindlessly but the second he looked up and saw Bishop he jumped, looking frightened and muttered something Bishop didn’t catch. Bishop lowered his cloak hood and the man seemed to relax a little but still eyed him warily asking, “What can I do for you today?”

    Bishop approached the counter and said, “Looking to have an engagement ring made.”

    The man looked him up and down curiously, “Something custom?”

    “Yeah.”

    “I have to be honest with you, lad,” Bishop lowered his eyelids at the word, “custom pieces get rather pricey. Are you sure I couldn’t interest you in any of my other fine sets?” He waved a hand out to an entire display case full of some very beautiful engagement ring sets but Bishop shook his head.

    “No, I know exactly what I want,” he pulled the thick coin purse out of his pocket and set it on the counter, “Will this cover the cost?”

    The man opened it and took a moment to count it out then looked at him wide-eyed, “Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re probably the shabbiest noble I’ve ever seen. You have enough here for quite a few pieces.”

    Bishop grinned, “Not a noble, just really good at my job.” Then he took out the gemstones and set them on the counter, “I want the centerpiece made with this morganite and you can use this for the diamonds.”

    The man looked over the gemstones then, taking his magnifier and holding them up to some candlelight getting a close look, “Gods, lad… wherever did you get these?”

    “I’m a mercenary,” he said, “Been in plenty of caves and ruins and just got lucky.”

    The man looked him over again, scrutinizing him more closely, “I don’t take stolen goods here.”

    Bishop scowled at him and scoffed, “Stolen? The hell makes you think I stole any of this? Just because I’m not dressed like the damn Emperor you assume I must have swiped it from somewhere?”

    The man’s gaze softened a little and he leaned on his counter and asked, “What’s your name lad?”

    “Who’s asking?” Bishop tossed back.

    The nord man grinned and held out a hand, “Havnor Red-Tooth. You can call me Havnor.”

    Bishop looked at him, scowl still etched all over his face but took his hand and said, “Bishop.”

    Havnor raised a brow at him, “And your surname?”

    “Do you need it?”

    Havnor released his hand and said, “Not necessary, no.”

    “So, are you done questioning me? Or will I have to take my business elsewhere?”

    “I apologize,” Havnor said sincerely, “You just reminded me of someone I knew once… not a pleasant person, unfortunately.”

    Bishop kept a straight face. He had a strong feeling he knew exactly who the jeweler was talking about but wasn’t about to share that secret.

    Havnor looked back down at the gemstones and said, “She must be a very special woman for you to go to all this trouble and the amount of coin, that’s quite astounding as well.”

    “She’s the love of my life,” Bishop said with a soft smirk, “That’s why I want this to be perfect.”

    “So, what did you have in mind?”

    Bishop pulled out a piece of parchment from his pocket and unfolded it. It was a small sketch he’d made of his idea, “It’s a bit rough, I’m no artist, but this is what I was thinking.”

    Havnor looked it over. “Complicated,” he said, which Bishop frowned at, but then Havnor said, “but beautiful. Well you came to the right place young man. I’ve been in the business of designing jewelry for over forty years now. Everything you see here is my own artistry. And I do like a challenge. I’ll have to make a few changes, some of the details simply wouldn’t be practical for a ring, but I’ll see what I can do.”

    “Glad to hear it,” Bishop said smiling now, “I’m thinking rose gold for the setting. Couldn’t find any of that where I’m from though.”

    “I can provide that. Yes, that’ll be quite lovely for this. Tell me about her,” Havnor said as he started opening drawers behind his counter.

    Bishop furrowed his brows, “What for?”

    Havnor glanced up at him, “Well, when I’m working on a custom piece I find it important to know who I’m making it for. I like to put my passion into my art, make sure it’s tailored to fit the personality of the person in question. What are her interests? What does she do for work?”

    Bishop nearly snorted a laugh thinking, oh, well she’s the Dragonborn. Havnor looked up at him peculiarly and Bishop quickly said, “She loves to sing.”

    He went back to rifling through his drawers and pulled out a few items, setting them on the counter. “Ah, a bard?” He said it more as a statement than a question.

    “Sort of,” Bishop said, “She’s a member of the Fighter’s Guild in Cheydinhal.”

    “I see,” Havnor smiled, “Two mercenaries, makes sense. Did you two meet on the job then?”

    Bishop’s mouth twitched, “Uh… not exactly.”

    “Go on young man, tell me the story,” he smiled kindly, “in my line of work I live to bring lovers together in the most significant way – in marriage. Your story goes directly into my work, into the ring itself. No need to be shy about it, I promise I keep all my client’s information confidential, especially my well paying ones,” he chuckled and knelt down to get to a drawer closer to the floor.

    Bishop thought for a moment, really debating on telling this man their story, who she was, everything. But if it really would go into the designing of this ring, his greatest gift to her… he wanted it to be perfect.

    “She’s the Dragonborn,” he said.

    The sounds of items being shuffled around in a drawer stopped suddenly. Havnor peered up at him with a mixture of bewilderment and skepticism. Then he pulled himself up and just stared at him.

    Bishop pressed his lips together and said, “But I met her before I knew she was the Dragonborn.”

    The jeweler let out a single laugh, “Hah… you’re serious.”

    “As serious as a burn from dragon’s fire,” Bishop said smirking.

    Havnor leaned against his counter and said, “I’ve heard about the dragons returning to Skyrim and the rise of the Dragonborn out that way. Didn’t know she was a woman. There’s not much talk about it here, though I get a few details from my suppliers who bring me my silver from Markarth and my jewels from Solitude. Said they’d seen some of the dragons themselves, thankfully from a distance…”

    “Yeah,” Bishop said, “fought plenty of those nasty fire breathing lizards.”

    “Tell me,” Havnor said with deep intrigue, “I would very much like to hear this story.”

    Bishop gave a light laugh and said, “Got a chair? Because it’s a long one.”

    Havnor actually did offer him a seat then, inviting him upstairs into his living quarters. He closed up shop, saying there wouldn’t be any business due to the rain anyways. Bishop took a seat on one of the firm, green cushioned chairs nestled in a nook near some bay windows. Havnor set out some tea and sweet rolls on the table between them and took a spot on the chair opposite to him.

    Bishop honestly couldn’t believe how much he told the man, but once he got started talking about her, about all they’d been through together he just couldn’t stop. He left out the worst of it all, not wanting to stain their love story with the horrors of Thorn or even the Dark Brotherhood.

    Havnor seemed to absorb all of it though, from his talk of meeting her for the first time, covered in soot outside the inn, to her discovering she was Dragonborn, through their travels from High Hrothgar and their first night of intimacy by the falls, and on through the chaos that was Solitude and then when he confessed his love for her on a moonlit night under the aurora borealis at the most important place in the world to him.

    Havnor was absolutely enthralled and finally when Bishop finished his tale he said, “Every day it’s something awful for her and I just… if it’s the end for either of us, I want it to be as husband and wife, not just, two lovers who happen to be traveling together. She’s everything to me. All I care about is her safety and her happiness, they’re the only things that matter to me anymore.”

    “Yes,” Havnor said firmly then he leapt up suddenly throwing his hands out, “YES! This! This is the kind of love and romance I live to design for! Your tale – your story!” He grasped Bishop’s hands and cried, “I will do it! I shall design an engagement ring for a living legend! For the Dragonborn! Young man, I cannot tell you how inspired I am. I have not felt this way about my work since I was asked to design a pair of rings for two star-crossed lovers – a thief and an assassin some twenty years ago!” He let go of Bishop’s hands then and said, “I have an idea. Have you ever heard of dragon’s breath?”

    “Uh yeah,” Bishop scoffed and raised his right pant leg up, showing off his fiery scar from Solitude, “I’ve survived it.”

    “No, no, no, no, no,” Havnor said quickly waving his hands, “Dragon’s breath is a gemstone, a beautiful gemstone in fact, extremely rare, very expensive. I have a sample of it, let me show you.”

    He ran over to a large oak wood cabinet with a thick lock on it. He pulled a key out undoing the lock and opened the cabinet which was full of more drawers. He said, “The morganite is lovely, certainly, but this,” he paused as he pulled open drawer after drawer and then said, “Aha! My most precious gem,” he pulled it out and came back over to Bishop showing it to him.

    “Go on,” Havnor encouraged him, “Take it, take a look.”

    Bishop took the tiny smooth gem from the man and looked it over. It was amazing. It was shades of bright pink and deep red mixed with dark sparkling blues. It almost looked like a collision of stars in the night sky and definitely reminded him of both dragon’s fire and ice. It was beyond perfect.

    “How much for it?”

    “Too much,” Havnor said, “More than you can afford I’m afraid and this piece is not big enough for her ring, definitely not.”

    Bishop scowled at him but Havnor waved a finger and smiled, “The Arena. There is a big event coming up at the end of this week there and first prize is one hundred thousand septims.” Bishop gaped at the man and Havnor continued, “From what you’ve told me lad, you are more than capable of winning that event easily. But you’ll have to start out in the lower ranks first. You’ll need to qualify and that means fighting in plenty of rounds in the days leading up to the event.”

    Bishop looked unsure. He’d really wanted to spend his time in Cyrodiil leisurely with Rona, not doing more fighting than he already did back in Skyrim. But then Havnor grasped his shoulders and shook him shouting, “Do it for love lad!”

    Bishop laughed and shook his head, “I guess I’m joining the gladiators then.”

    “Excellent!” Havnor cried as he hit his hand with a fist, “Now, a few more details, you have her ring size I hope?”

    “Oh right,” Bishop pulled the precious piece of string he’d tied around her finger several nights ago and handed it to the man.

    “Very good,” he said, “Come, let us head back down and go over the rest of the particulars. I don’t want to miss a single detail.”

    But as they came down the stairs the first thing Bishop noticed was that the front door of the shop was wide open and then someone brushed right past him, nearly bowling him over. He looked back at the counter and saw that everything he’d left sitting there was gone and plenty of the glass display cases had been broken into as well.

    Havnor shouted, “THIEVES!”

    “SHIT!” Bishop snarled and ran right out the door chasing after the person skirting around the buildings. He skid in the rain, but caught himself and followed the thief through a slew of dark and dirty alleyways. It was times like these when he wished he’d brought his bow or Karnwyr with him.

    “STOP!” He roared at the thief. They looked back for just a brief moment, their head was covered in a cloak and their face was obscured by a thick, tattered scarf. They booked it even faster then and he regretted shouting anything at all. He put all his weight into his steps then, bursting after the damned fetcher.

    The thief looked back and realized that Bishop was gaining on him and so he quickly wove his way out of the alleys and ran into the central market square, aiming for a small crowd of people, forcing Bishop to slow down just to avoid slamming into them. He definitely crashed into and threw a few people of his way though as he kept up the chase. The thief went right into the Central District then and belted around the Imperial Palace.

    It was like chasing Rona, he just couldn’t keep up. He was determined to catch that fucker and strangle him with his bare hands though. The thief ran along, leaping over low walls and hurried off into the Temple District.

    “Of course,” Bishop growled. The thief was aiming for the Waterfront where all the poor, the beggars and the thieves made their homes. He knew the place like the back of his hand because his own family had lived out that way for several years before fleeing the city, thanks to Torban’s actions once again, when he’d murdered two guardsmen in a drunken stupor.

    They rounded the enormous Temple of the One, which was now a monument to Martin Septim, who’d become a dragon god just to save the world from literal Oblivion, during the Crisis. His enormous stone dragon body stood center inside the broken building Mehrune’s Dagon crushed some two hundred years ago. The thief leapt right through the building and ran between the dragon’s legs before scrambling up a wall to get around faster.

    Bishop took the long route, trying his damndest not to lose his footing and slip in the rain as he sprinted around the monument. He smirked when the thief slipped in the rain though, toppling right over and worked to scramble to his feet. They were just outside the gates to the Waterfront. The thief nearly got to his feet when Bishop growled viciously, pulling his dagger out and tackled the man with his entire body.

    He pinned the thief down and held his blade to his face and snarled, “Hand it over thief. All of it.”

    Then he heard a loud yell to his right and saw a blade coming for his face. He leapt back a bit, narrowly avoiding the attack and then the thief, with his legs now free kicked him hard in the chest toppling him over. The young woman who’d nearly stabbed him in the eye called to her cohort, “Come on!” and grasped the young man’s dark hand as his scarf fell from his face.

    They ran through the gate and on into the Waterfront and Bishop made no move to chase them. Instead he just stared off at their fleeing backs taking note of the girl in her tattered temple’s cloaks with her medium length honey-brown hair and bright golden eyes. The redguard boy could have been his twin, if he’d had darker skin and thick black curly hair.

    “Kari? Duful?” Bishop stared, mouth agape.

    ~~~

    Rona had enjoyed spending the day with her father. It was a nice change of pace from all the contract work she’d done in the last week for the guild as well as all the wedding planning she’d been helping Roxlin with.

    She’d really missed his company and enjoyed sharing in a conversation in Aldmeri with him as they reminisced about her childhood and laughed about all the times she’d wreaked havoc on her poor classmates and professors, all by accident of course.

    They’d gone back to the Arcane University and were relaxing in Serlas’ living quarters, which were quite similar to his living quarters at the College of Winterhold, although a bit smaller with only one small loft for his bed.

    As the day was coming to a close and night was falling, she knew she’d have to leave soon to meet with the others for their get together. She’d been debating telling her father about what happened with the Dark Brotherhood not wanting to worry him or ruin their fun day out. But finally she did, telling him everything that happened. He looked extremely concerned for her but even more so when she told him about them choosing her as a Listener, which she still didn’t know what that meant.

    Serlas sighed, “(I wish you’d told me sooner daughter. The Dark Brotherhood are extremely organized and very dangerous, we’re incredibly lucky that they didn’t try to capture you out here in the streets.)”

    She said sadly, “(I know Father. I just didn’t want to upset you or ruin our day together.)”

    He nodded in understanding and then stood up, crossing the room to peruse through his books, “(What do you know of the Dark Brotherhood?)”

    “(Not much),” she said, “(Just basic things, that they kill people for money, that you have to perform a horrible ritual in order to summon them. Things like that…)”

    Serlas pulled two books from his shelf and walked back over to her taking his seat again and started talking history, “(During the Great War, in the year one hundred and eighty-eight, when you were just twelve years old, there was a sanctuary discovered in a crypt in Bravil. The Imperial Legion raided it and discovered the remnants of a dunmer woman’s mummified corpse as well as a young breton woman who appeared to be praying to the corpse and several others. It turned out that this woman was not only a member of the Dark Brotherhood, but one of the most important persons in the group. She was Alisanne Dupre, the Listener chosen by the Night Mother.)”

    “What happened to her Ata?” Rona asked anxiously, not realizing she’d started speaking in Cyrodiilic.

    “She and her Speakers were burned to death,” Serlas said gravely, “Though there were a few who escaped, taking the Night Mother’s body with them.”

    Rona looked on at him, mortified.

    Serlas said, “Allow me to explain Rona dear. It is pertinent that you understand the inner workings of this so-called guild especially now that… gods,” he looked away for a moment, pressing a hand to his head, seeming very distressed. She was glad she waited until the end of the evening to tell him, even with the risk, this definitely would have ruined the lovely day they’d shared.

    He flipped open one of the books then and held it up, showing her the mark of the Black Hand on a full page. It sent a shiver up her spine and reminded her all too much of the creepy blood hand that had chased her through the antechamber under the well.

    “There are five fingers to a hand, each finger represents certain high ranking members within this group,” he flipped a few pages and read, “So, what group of individuals is strong enough to command the assassins of the Dark Brotherhood? A group called the Black Hand. Like any hand, the group consists of five members: four fingers and a thumb, as it were. The members corresponding to the fingers are called the Speakers, while the member representing the thumb is called the Listener. These are titles and ranks, and as ridiculous as they may sound to anyone not steeped in the lore of the cult, the assassins take these terms very seriously.”

    He skimmed over some of the book, flipping another page and read more, “The Black Hand claims that a near-deific figure known as either the Shadow Matriarch, the Dark Woman, or the Night Mother leads the Dark Brotherhood. Apparently, no one ever sees this Dark Woman. Instead, she whispers commands to the Listener, who then selects one of the Speakers to pass the commands along. And, yes, most of these commands relate to murder.”

    He licked a finger and flipped another page, “What does the Listener hear? Details, as you can imagine, are sketchy, but an educated guess allows us to assume that the Dark Woman provides either the name of the client or the target that has been named for the kill. The Listener passes this information on to one of the Speakers, who then either personally selects an assassin to carry out the deed or provides the information to a minor functionary to assign the contract.”

    He closed the book then and set it on the table. The title page read, The Black Hand by Geon Alinie.

    He looked seriously at her then, brows knit tightly together and said, “Do you understand now the serious danger you’re in velvynen? If you are chosen as Listener, you are the most important piece of their organization. They cannot exist without you. They will do anything to take you.”

    “Ata,” she whispered. She felt truly sick then. She’d had no idea what it meant to be this Listener, but it all made sense now, when Mrs. Gilseene just stood there in silence for a moment, that corpse was speaking to her… telling her exactly where Rona was standing in the darkness and everything else about her.

    Serlas breathed, “To think that they escaped with the Night Mother to Cheydinhal… that you – you lived above one of their sanctuaries all this time! And I’d thought Ocheeva Gilseene was a kind elderly woman… but no, an assassin? A murderer! And now they wish to take you velvyn.”

    She watched as her father got teary eyed and she leapt up and raced over to embrace him. He held her, pressing his face to her hair and choked back his tears, “My heart aches for you Rona. Every day I pray to Auri-El to watch over you, to protect you, and yet he forsakes me each and every time by instead inflicting a new curse upon you. I cannot bear the thought of someone taking you again velvyn, someone so awful that they might hurt you like that… that monster…”

    She didn’t know what to say. She was scared too but she just wanted to comfort her father more than anything. It hurt to see him so pained like that.

    “I love you Ata,” she sniffled, “I’ll be okay… really.”

    He just squeezed her tighter in reply.

    He gave her the books, The Black Hand, The Brothers of Darkness, The Night Mother’s Truth and Sithis. He encouraged her to read all of them and learn everything she could about the new threat against her. He made sure to escort her to Roxlin’s family’s estate as well and saw to it that she was in the presence and care of the others before taking his leave.

    “Is Attie alright?” Roxlin asked her as they walked back to the manor.

    “I told him about what happened in Cheydinhal,” she said.

    Roxlin knit her brows together, “No wonder he’s so upset.”

    “Honestly Roxie… it’s a lot worse than we thought.”

    “Yeah…?”

    “I’m in for the fight of my life,” she breathed.

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