Skyrim Chronicles: Blade and Shadow – Part 4

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A chill wind drove-off the rain as evening encroached, nuzzling past Rohinda’s cloak, questing into the warm interior, sinking its icy teeth into her neck. It pummeled her, staggering her, forcing her backward. But there could be no going back, not now, not ever. There was only the path forward.

Gritting her teeth, a low growl at the back of her throat, she bent into the wind, forcing her way north and west along the path, one step then another, over and again.

She threw a quick look over her shoulder, once, to see if he was still following. But the long road behind was stark and empty. Stiv had returned to his farm, perhaps. He hadn’t followed, racing to catch her, as she’d secretly hoped.

Silly girl. What would she’d have done if he had breathlessly joined her? How could she explain why she was hiding in Skyrim? Or to whom she was now employed, even if only temporarily? She could almost imagine how that conversation might go – I’m a part-time assassin, although I’ve only taken one contract so far. He was a helpless beggar, sick with disease, and not long for this world in any case. Doing him a favor, in truth. I’m quite nice, really. Pathetic.

There was no room in her life for love or even friendship. Her sole companion these many years was the road, as eternal and unchanging as the tides. It had been there for her as a little girl lost of home, and it would continue on, unerringly, long after she’d gone back to dirt. There was comfort in that kind of stability.

The sky darkened. There was perhaps an hour of daylight left. She’d thought herself so wise, buying a cloak to keep the rain from her shoulders, and a tent to pass the nights. After all, she was accustomed to the demands of the road and knew what to expect. But she’d not given thought to the cold, and now, as her teeth chattered hard enough she feared they might splinter, the cold was all she could think about.

Slippers and finger-less gloves were superior implements for the business of killing, but they were next to useless for keeping warm. Rohinda eyed the trees, thinking perhaps it was time to stop and build a fire, driving off the cold before it was too late. But then she realized she had nothing to cut the wood with. Stiv had carried an axe. She chuckled at the irony.

Rohinda was on the verge of setting a tree on fire and warming herself beside the conflagration when she spied a cluster of buildings. She squinted against the driving wind. A mill, and two or three low structures. Smoke curdled from chimneys. Where there was smoke, there was fire, and fire meant warmth.

She plunged through snow drifts with renewed urgency. She couldn’t distinguish one toe from the other any more – her feet just felt like two lumps of ice.

A couple of men worked the great saw, cutting logs into smaller bits of lumber. They ignored her, intent on completing their business before dusk fell.

Rohinda tried the first door she came to. Locked. Cursing, she moved to the next building. The door wouldn’t budge. Well, she could fix that. Dropping to her knees, she picked the lock, not caring if anyone saw her.

Thawing cold bones A fire crackled invitingly inside. Rohinda stood beside its warmth for a long time. Sensation came back slowly, tingling and painful. When she felt warm enough, she searched the house for something warmer to wear, furs or a better cloak. There was nothing of the sort, so she took the bit of gold she found instead. She was no thief, but for some reason she felt irritated at the homeowner for not having any warm clothing on hand. It was an irrational response and childish, but dammit if it didn’t make her feel better.

She returned outside and used the remaining moments of daylight to look for her next contract. There were only three people living and working at the mill – a woman and two men – and the contract was none of them.

The orange glow of a fire brightened the sky to the west. Another town? There was nothing on her map to suggest a settlement so close to the mill, but Rohinda didn’t know how accurate the map could be, and besides, something was obviously nearby. She hurried toward the light, mindful of how quickly the chill night was leeching heat from her body again.

Sneaking up on preyA solitary man sat with his back to a roaring fire, facing into the darkness. Like he didn’t even need the fire and used it only for light. And why not? He was bundled under so many furry layers that Rohinda thought he must be part beast himself.

A tent of piled furs sat nearby, the interior dark. It’d be warm inside that tent. Warm enough to forget about the cold until dawn.

She crept up behind the man, her knife out. She’d not survive the cold night equipped as she was, that was painfully clear. It was kill or be killed.

Her road did not end here.

The man gave a shout of surprise as she gripped his shoulder for purchase. Her dagger cut the cry short. She pushed him face-down so that he might not stain the white furs with blood. She was mostly successful, and as she began to pull the furs from his still-warm body, Rohinda realized she was becoming rather adept at this business of killing. It was a sobering realization, one that bore further reflection in the warmth of day, but for now, she was too busy relishing her new furs to care.

New warm clothes

The fire  crackled merrily, warming her face and hands. She ate a small supper but it felt rather celebratory. She’d come close to death upon the road this day. Much too close. The furs would keep her from freezing so quickly next time, but they alone wouldn’t be enough. Fire was life in these frozen lands. She needed a way to make her own campfires. In the morning, she’d venture back to the mill and take an ax.

After supper, she reluctantly dragged herself from the fire. Best deal with the body before it drew wolves.

Hoarfrost coated the man’s eyes and lips, and the ugly gash in his throat had iced over. She tossed him into the river and then searched his pack. A folded, partially torn letter lay at the bottom. A letter of introduction of some kind, meant for Jarl Ulfric. She read the man’s name and did a double-take. By happy circumstance, she’d just completed the second of her three contracts.

Only one more to go, but this last was located in Dawnstar, in Skyrim’s far north. It would be colder there and more inhospitable.

But that was a concern for tomorrow. Today she was warm and went to sleep with a full belly.

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