The Fort

Previously: Ivarstead

Dawn came and the couple headed onward south to Riften, still following the river. The sun beamed down, ever warming as the snowy clime of Windhelm seemed ever so distant. They didn't talk this time, and Roggvir could sense his betrothed was in a "mood". He felt a little guilty; she'd saved his life, helped him escape Solitude, and kept him clothed, fed, and comfortably sleeping in inns all the way across Skyrim. Yet when she spoke of something that would make her happy, he told her no.

The pangs of guilt led to feelings of shame which then led to feelings of determination. Roggvir was resolved not to be like his brother-in-law, Addvar, a perpetually poor man living in a rich city. Once they reached Markarth, Roggvir was willing to do whatever it took--hunt, fish, mine, even hire himself out as a sellsword--if it meant he could give Zahra and their future children a good life.

Roggvir suddenly remembered his niece Svari, tiny and blond, ever following him around her father's house. It felt strange to suddenly think of her; his older memories of her seemed fresh and clear while the more recent memories felt clouded and vague.

His thoughts inevitably turned to sister Greta; he missed her as he realized that despite her years of nagging and being overbearing, she'd always loved him and looked out for his best interests. Zahra was but the latest example of that. He could imagine his sister spotting the beautiful stranger in town, wearing clean mage robes and comfortably paying for things. He bet Greta sidled up to her rather casually and started a conversation, learning her name, her age, and that she was unmarried. He chuckled to himself, imaging how Greta's eyes must have lit up then.

Roggvir suddenly noticed his betrothed had stopped walking. She was once again mesmerized by rivers and falls, but this time, there was none of her optimism. Instead, she gazed forlornly upon the waters, as though this were the last time she'd see them.

"You know," he murmured playfully, "the waterfalls of Markarth are said to be the most beautiful in Skyrim. The whole city is full of them."

"It's not the same," she said. "Water is meant to run wild and free, not be caged up in the city."

Roggvir didn't know what to say to that, so they continued their journey in silence. Zahra seemed to have a preoccupation with being "free"; it appeared her life as a sheltered ward had created a longing for the outdoors.

Roggvir was a city boy; even in his poverty he couldn't tolerate the idea of living in some small village or humble settlement somewhere. He needed the bright torchlit street, the sounds of people out and about late into the night, and the sight of fine houses and great castles...even if he could never live in them.

He wondered what Zahra's life was like growing up, if she initially lived in a big house and had servants. She was extremely well-read; he wondered if she had many tutors growing up. She'd said that Psymia, her last guardian, had treated her like a servant. With the amount of gold Zahra carried, Roggvir wondered if perhaps Psymia had been some wealthy woman with a great house.

And yet, some things were "off" about Zahra. She didn't seem to favor pretty clothes or other finery, and she always wore her hair in the same, simple style. It was as though on the one hand, she was well-bred, yet on the other she was very much a commoner. The contradiction was fascinating.

As the sun began to set and they drew closer to Riften, they came across a fort. At first it seemed like just another abandoned, ruined Skyrim fort, but a voice called out from atop the gate, "That's far enough!"

Zahra was much closer to the fort than Roggvir; while he paused, confused and cautious, she boldly gazed up at the voice. Her body tensed, but she didn't panic. It took Roggvir a full minute to realize that her fingers...were sparkling.

Without warning or hesitation, Zahra threw lightning like a god of old, knocking the fur-clad bandit from the battlement. Their body gracelessly hit the dirt with a loud thud. As the other bandits began to converge on the entrance, Zahra pressed her assault while Roggvir stood frozen behind her. It took him another minute to remember his bow and arrows.

Zahra hated bandits. Every time she found peace and stability as a child, bandits would suddenly invade whatever cave or fort she was living in. She would lose caregivers and have to be rushed away to some new place to start over. But she wasn't a child anymore. She didn't need anyone to protect her now.

And it was a good thing too, judging by the way Roggvir's arrows kept missing their targets.

There were only four bandits at this fort and killing them was easy. Forgetting all about her betrothed, Zahra mercilessly wielded lightning as she strode through the fort, climbing the stairs all the way to the top to fry the last bandit standing. She felt vindicated by the slaughter, for she painfully remembered a time when it was fellow necromancers lying dead at her feat.

Roggvir joined her atop the fort as the sun went down; he approached cautiously, eyes wide as saw a dead Nord lying at Zahra's feet. 

He's never killed before, Zahra blinked in realization. She winced. Now he's going to be scared of me.

He seemed eerily fascinated by the fresh corpse, staring at it for several moments, as he subconsciously touched his own neck.

Zahra sighed. Not this again.

"Should we go?" he asked nervously. "We could be in Riften by nightfall."

Zahra snorted derisively. "Why? The fort is ours, at least for the night."

"But what if there are more?"

"It's unlikely," Zahra shrugged, "but that's why we should leave the bodies near the entrance, as a warning."

He stared as her, as though she were a complete stranger all over again. "You've done this before."

"I've traveled all over Skyrim," she raised an eyebrow. "There's always someone or something trying to kill you in Skyrim."

Next: Newlyweds


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