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Dragon's Light: A Wild Bear Chase - Chapter Four

by Aritheanie

In the end, the rain had gone on, and on, and on for a whole two days and nights, counting the day I’d reached Pell’s Gate, before it finally slackened to a reluctant stop, giving over to weak sunshine amidst scudding, ragged clouds. This change marked my third morning in the Sleeping Mare Inn, and I would be glad to see it recede behind me. Replenishing my supplies of dried biscuit and hardtack from the inn’s stores, I packed them into my saddlebags and went out to Crystal, whom I had not seen for very long in the past few days except for a quick turn around the local pasture in between rain showers. She neighed when she saw me, and was mollified with an offering of two sugar cubes and an apple. I was probably spoiling her terribly, but I couldn’t bring myself to worry about it.

Evidently Crystal was as eager as I was to get back on the road, because she was full of restless energy this day, shifting, almost prancing about under me in her impatience. I tugged a little to get her to mind me and settle down, which she did eventually, though her ears remained pricked at the slightest sound.

The road was winding, wet and slippery, very nearly washed out by mud in places, and I put Crystal to a slow trot, since the very last thing I wanted was for her to lose her footing on a bad patch of road and break a leg. We still made fairly good time, however, despite having to ride around fallen trees and branches at several spots.

I estimated we were now perhaps three-quarters of the way to Bravil by the end of the day, having passed by the turnoff headed to the Inn of Ill Omen (the name always made me wonder); and I should make it to Bravil by sundown on the morrow. Despite the pervasive dampness of the ground, which made my bedroll rather cold that night, my spirits were high. I’d be meeting with Clesyne, and with all possibility, she’d have found Frothi by now; perhaps she even had the bears with her, and merely awaited my coming before we got the animals back to the Imperial City together.

It was evening when I reached Bravil. I would’ve arrived sooner than that, except that the condition of the last stretch of the Green Road, where it split into a branch road leading to Bravil was an absolute mess, completely washed out by the rains, which obviously had been just as heavy if not worse than at Pell’s Gate. Late though it was, I paid for Crystal’s stabling at the Bay Roan Stables, just outside of the city, and trudged up towards the city walls.

I really didn’t like Bravil. Still don’t, and probably never will. It might be one of the oldest settlements in Cyrodiil, dating all the way back to the First Era and Alessia’s day, but it sure didn’t look like it. The town was, to put it lightly, uninviting, and that’s not considering the “decorations” a visitor could spot, or more likely smell, coming from a long way off. The wind was blowing briskly in my direction as I approached the outer gates of the city, and I heartily wished that it hadn’t been.

Above the outer gates, a faded signboard hung bidding visitors WELCOME TO BRAVIL. The cheeriness of the message sharply contrasted with the swaying, rotting corpses hanging from the walls, presumably victims of the last anti-crime sweep ordered by the Count when central Imperial authority’s complaints about the lawlessness of his county capital grew too loud to ignore. Any traveller entering the city would have to first walk past and under that silent object lesson. I took shallow breaths, tried not to shudder, and sped up as much as I could without actually running, as I crossed the wooden bridge which joined the Nibenay Valley at this point to the isles that the town sat on.

It was with relief that I entered the city proper, and from there took a brisk jog to Silverhome-on-the-Water, which was close to the main gate. This inn was generally considered the better kept of the two in town, with a more savoury clientele — though seeing as this was Bravil, ‘better-kept’ was mostly relative. One couldn’t really complain though: the Silverhome’s interior was clean, if a little shabby; the air was sweeter compared to outside, and the service was not much worse than other inns elsewhere.

I kept one hand discreetly on my sword hilt: Bravil was Cyrodiil’s armpit, or as Gilgondorin, the Altmer who ran the inn I was headed to had more than once colourfully put it, “Tamriel’s cloaca”. It was the poorest town in Cyrodiil, and ruffians and gangs walked the streets openly, even in the daylight.

I reached the inn soon enough, and Gilgondorin greeted me with his usual polite, if terse greeting. It’s old news about town that Gilgondorin was reluctant to stay in Bravil and maintain the inn, and only did so out of his perceived duty to the family business. That’s not to say that he was a poor innkeep, far from it; but he’d made clear more than once his heart wasn’t in his work. I never saw him happy for long. Sometimes I wished I had the courage to tell him to sell off his business and go be an artist, as gossip had it was his heart’s ambition. His frustration was going to ruin him eventually, if not now, then in some years. Still, it wasn’t my business what Gilgondorin chose to do with his life. I had no standing to advise him anyway, not with how my life’d turned out so far.

I paid the 20 coppers for a room, and added another 5 to my bill for a hot bowl of boiled rice noodles in beef soup. As I ate, I quizzed Gilgondorin on whether Clesyne had been here.

“Your sister was here, about three, no, four days ago; she stayed the night and then left, didn’t come back. No, she didn’t leave any messages.” That was disappointing, but I then asked if anyone answering to Frothi’s description, with or without any exotic animals in his train, had been in town recently.

“A Nord, named Frothi, you said?” Gilgondorin frowned, thinking. “I may have heard someone mention his name in passing. He left a week ago, not very long before your sister arrived, if my memory serves me — yes, he had caged bears with him,” he shuddered at that point, “Such savage beasts! He was keeping company with quite a number of the local riff-raff during his stay,” a sneer flitted at the corner of his thin lips, as he proceeded to list off several notorious rogues about town, “I would suggest you talk with Bogrum gro-Galash, at the Lonely Suitor — ” he made a face here at the name of his competitor, ” — since your man stayed there. He, or one of his regulars might know where Frothi was headed to.”

“Anything new around Bravil these few mm-months, otherwise?” I asked the mer. Having an ear to the ground was always a good idea — who was new in town, who not to anger, who had a new scheme, which gang was on the outs with another gang — that was always worth knowing.

Gilgondorin frowned. “No, nothing much is new. Though — I hear that Ursanne Loche’s husband, Aleron, went missing, a few days ago. I don’t know what could’ve happened to him, but his wife’s beside herself with grief, going to the chapel every day and crying to Mara for his safety. Poor woman’s absolutely distracted.” The mer shook his head. “Just between you and me — I hear the man’s run up a lot of debts gambling. He doesn’t seem the type, but perhaps he took off to avoid the debt collectors coming after him.”

That had to content me for the night — I ate, spent the remnants of the evening thinking of what I had to do the next day, and wondering just where Clesyne had gone. Did she know that our man had flown the coop? She must have found out at some point that Frothi wasn’t here any longer. Presumably she’d also found out where he might be headed to next, so why hadn’t she left a message or something for me, telling me her next destination, or where to meet her? I couldn’t help but worry for her now. The circles this Frothi ran in were hardly lawful or civilised ones, it seemed, a darker grey than our own associations with Sal and his like.

The sounds of roisterers engaging in very loud, very painfully off-key revelry filtered through the plastered and stuccoed timber walls as I tossed on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position in the muggy heat, and wishing for something to plug my ears with. Dozing off, I twitched awake at the slightest sounds, until I finally managed to get some sleep, however fitful it might be.

An insistent knocking at my door woke me from a strange dream of dark tunnels and shrieks. The inn’s maidservant had brought up water for washing, and was being rather impatient about it, it seemed. I was rather tempted to ignore that rattling, but well, the noise was hardly conducive to burrowing under the covers and going back to sleep.

I sat up, rather bleary and scrubbed at my face and eyelids hard. “Coming!” I shouted and rolled out of bed, wrapping the blanket around me and opening the door. The surly woman pushed past, set the bucket down with a thump and slosh. Still glaring, she retrieved the (unused) chamberpot, then strode out. Well. What a cheerful start to the morning.

I greeted Gilgondorin, who responded to my morning greeting with a unimpressed look; ate a breakfast of bacon and boiled beans on bread whilst staring around at the genteelly shabby decor, then started walking towards the southern parts of town. My destination was on the lesser second isle, joined to the main isle by a bridge. It was a fairly long walk, particularly since the Main Street didn’t go through the town, but curved around it like a snake east to west and down to the south.

Now, no city or town in all of Cyrodiil approaches the Imperial City for grandeur or beauty: while its buildings and bridges could be somewhat monotone with its materials of white marble and heavy gray stone, the stonework was carved with gorgeous motifs in many of the older sections, harking back to the First Era and the Reman Empire; its roads and thoroughfares were clean, and the masses of people in silks and velvets and gaily-dyed motley and homespun thronging its streets made it bright and colourful like a jewel in the sun.

Bravil however took ugliness in architectural form to new levels. This town had no huge populace, and its buildings were worn wood and dull stone. It was hardly attractive even in the dark, to say nothing of its appearance by day. Not even the kindly cloak of night could hide the fact that the town was best described as a squalid dump. The city walls were solid stone, but the houses enclosed were not: many had stone foundations, but the majority were constructed only partly of stone, with the rest of the building assembled from rough wood and timbers crusted with moss, lichen and various fungi. More than a few buildings were totally slapdash in construction, cramped together and stacked crazily atop one another like a child’s wooden blocks, and with as much care; all in the name of getting away from the pervasive damp of the soil. A great many were in poor condition, death traps for the inhabitants should a fire break out. The streets were filled with rubbish that gave off a stomach turning stink.

The situation was hardly helped by the town’s proximity to the Larsius River, which served as a means of transport, the town sewers, water source and the communal dumping ground for everything ranging from food remnants to the dead bodies of murder victims. Slow and meandering, the river flowed through the town center, and then curved around it before emptying into the Niben Bay. The stench of rot, damp, waste, and the peculiarly flammable gas I notice hangs around marshlands created a noxious miasma that just couldn’t be good for the health.

Passing by the Great Chapel of Mara, which stood apart from the other buildings like a rock in a whirlpool, I had a sudden fancy to walk in — I’d gone by its doors more than once, but never actually entered to pay my respects at the goddess’ altar there. The day was growing rather warm, anyway, and the idea of stopping for a while in the shade was appealing.

With the goal of surreptitiously cooling off, I entered the Chapel’s Great Hall. Like so many other temples to the Divines I’d seen in Cyrodiil, the Great Chapel of Mara was built in a shape similar to a horseshoe. From the outside, the chapel and its steeple soared upwards to the heavens; only the Count’s castle challenging it for domination of the Bravilian skyline. The building itself was an imposingly solid, if rather blockish affair of smooth grey granite and stone. Inside, tall fluted columns held up the high vaulted ceilings. Up above towards the roof, large, arched stained glass windows allowed the brilliant sunlight to spill through, the mosaics of coloured glass and the rose windows shedding the light onto the lower half of the chapel in a blaze of blues, reds and greens. The air was filled with the scents of sacred lotus and lavender from the vases filled with bouquets and the incense burners stationed in discreet corners. More huge glass mosaic windows closer to ground level depicted the Eight and One, a smaller altar to each under their respective windows. As was fitting for Her Chapel, Mara’s window was the largest and centermost, directly behind the great altar to the Nine that was the focus of the place.

An elderly Breton woman was knelt in front of the altar, deep in prayer. As I stepped towards the altar to make my own salutations I caught sight of the silent tears falling to the floor. I wondered who the woman was, though I did have a very good idea who she might be. It was the middle of the day, hardly the usual time for worshippers to be at Chapel.

I bowed once in the direction of the Goddess’ altar, then washed my hands and lips with the water in the ceremonial font, sprinkling the water remaining on my hands over my head before kneeling myself, carefully remaining at a distance from the other woman, and murmured a prayer to Mara, our Lady and Merciful Mother of All to watch over my sister, since I was beginning to worry over the prolonged silence on her part, and added a word or two for Phintias and Rohssan as well as Jeelius.

I got up, dusting my trousers off and rubbing a little feeling back into my knees; the stone floors were hard, despite the thick woven rugs set out for worshippers. The other woman too was also rising from the floor, wiping hard at her eyes and pushing stray silver hairs away from her face and back into the severe bun she wore. Our gazes met for an instant before we looked away again; both abashed at the emotion on display.

“Is something tt-the matter?” I asked her.

She was taken aback for an instant, but then her expression firmed up. “Oh, no. It’s nothing, really, but — have you seen my husband? Aleron Loche, he’s a Breton, around my age…”

I shook my head. “I only just came in t-ttown last night. I’m sorry.”

“I beg your pardon?” The woman leaned in closer as though that would help her understand me better. I repeated my answer, and watched the hope in the woman’s eyes dim behind her tears as she blinked hard. “There anything I can do to help you?” I found myself saying. I immediately regretted the words, but they were out now; why on earth did I even offer —

The old woman’s smile was brave, and very false. “No, no, I couldn’t possibly trouble you with this.” Her hands wrung her skirts, crumpling them even further. “I trust in Mara’s grace; She will bring my Aleron home.”

“I — I’ll be going. I stay at the Silverhome; see for me there if you… change your mind,” was my feeble response. The woman, who I now knew for certain to be Ursanne Loche, nodded, faintly, as she sat on a bench and produced a book, probably some tract on the goddess or other. I hurried out of the chapel, feeling distinctly awkward.

Don’t get involved. There’s no time for this. You’re not a do-gooder or stupid, where’s the money in that, Arliene?

I couldn’t afford to help her, despite what I’d said. Really, I couldn’t. If a tip on Frothi came in at any point I’d have to drop any investigation here into Aleron Loche’s whereabouts. If Clesyne sent word to meet somewhere, I’d definitely have to hurry and leave the town. It wasn’t my business anyway. Why should I help her? Gilgondorin’s information put the Loches as being neck-deep in debt; finding the missing man was hardly likely to be a profitable transaction. But…

I growled at myself. Forget the woman, forget how miserable she looked, forget how brave her false smile was, even as she tried not to break down any further in a stranger’s presence…


The Lonely Suitor Lodge had a romantic name, a more prosaic public face, and a seedy underbelly. The rougher sort who frequented the place came not just for the food, drink and cheap rooms — numerous “lonely suitors” who lodged at that inn often were there precisely so they didn’t stay lonely for the night, if you take my meaning.

It was late afternoon, and I stepped into the warm interior of the inn, its doors opened wide presumably in deference to the late afternoon heat. Though it was barely three-quarters of the way to nightfall, the inn’s grimy, somewhat decrepit interior was already partly filled with men drinking themselves into boisterous racket or quiet stupors as their natures would have them be. I resisted the urge to pinch my nose shut and breathed in shallowly, as the sour smell of alcohol-sodden sweat that permeated the air and clashed with the scents of food and other unnamed things hit in a gut turning fashion. I avoided one man’s flailings as he summoned the maid for another cup, turned to avoid an attempted pinch of my bottom, and leaned across the counter to meet with Bogrum gro-Galash, the innkeeper.

“Hail, innkeep. A m-mug of grog, if you will.” I put down my coin, and thumped my backside on one of the stools in front of the bar. The Orc brought my drink over, and I sipped a small mouthful of the fruity, somewhat sourish brew, trying not to wince at the taste. “Thank you.” He grunted in reply, and resumed his earlier task of clearing emptied mugs off the counter.

“How’s business here been?” I thought starting off with small talk before easing into the reasons for my coming here would be easier rather than pumping him directly for information would be. Bogrum however stared hard at me with some distaste, before replying.

“I know you’re not here just to drink, Breton. You’ve a look about you… Wait, didn’t I see you around last week? What is it you’re after now? Make it quick, I’m not very fond of your type.”

Well I’d obviously been made, thanks to Clesyne. At least I now knew for certain she’d been here before me. No point beating around the bush now, which was a relief of sorts. “I have a couple of questions for you, yeah.” I spoke rather slowly, wanting to make myself clear straight off. “First thing: Has a Nord, Frothi seen here? He might’ve had c-b-bears with him.”

The Orc’s frown deepened. “A Nord with bears? Yes, he was here a few days, and then he left with half his bill unpaid, the scoundrel.” Something unfriendly sparked in the man’s eye as he asked, casually, “He a friend of yours?”

“Hardly. I was t-tasked to find him. Someone else he owes things to decided he’s taking too long with payment.”

The Orc’s laugh was deep and unamused. “You want to know where he might’ve ended up, eh? Go talk with Kurdan the moneylender. He’ll know, if anyone does in this town. He and that bastard were thick as thieves together.”

“Kurdan?” I asked. The name wasn’t familiar.

“Kurdan gro-Dragol. He’s just out at the moment, had something to do and won’t be back till tonight or tomorrow morning. So either you sit down and order something else, or come back later. I’ve got a business to run, no place for people who’ll just sit here for hours with the one cheap drink, all right?”

I nodded and stood up to leave. “Thanks, friend.” The Orc innkeeper merely harrumphed at that. I got out the door, and was reminded that my stock of good steel tipped arrows was running a tad low when I saw the archery store opposite. Daenlin, the owner, did make good arrows, better than anyone else I’d ever seen. A quick stop in and I’d said hello, bought a bundle of arrows and left, in less than a quarter of a candlemark.

I hurried along back to the Silverhome, again passing by the Chapel. My eyes strayed to the outside of the Chapel, where a slight figure was just exiting the doorway, but I kept walking. It really wasn’t any of my business. I should know better than to get involved. It wasn’t as though the last time ended that well, now. I realised then that I’d slowed down, and increased my pace again.

“You! Wait! Please!” I turned around. Madam Loche was a little ways behind me, huffing a bit; obviously she’d run after me from the Chapel steps to catch up. “Please,” I moved closer as the elderly woman bent over a little to catch her breath. Her next words came in a rush.

“You offered to help, earlier in the Chapel.” Her face was set, but in her eyes was a pleading look. “I’d like to take you up on your offer; I really need your help: My husband, Aleron is missing, and has been for more than three days now. I’m sorry to impose on you like this, but I’m in need of assistance, and I don’t know what to do. I prayed to Mara, and I asked Her for help and you came and…” I took her hands gently in mine, as she struggled not to break down weeping again.

“All right, all right. I’ll yelp” — a quick shake of my head, damn my unwieldy tongue — “help you. Can we go somewhere else to t-talk? This isn’t the right place for this.”

Madam Loche nodded, much calmer now. “Come with me. We can go back to my house and I’ll tell you what I know.”

I followed her back to her home, which was close to the Chapel. The house was part of a simple timber and rough stone building, a cramped one room affair typical of the common dwellings here. Looking around surreptitiously, I noticed it was all quite neat and tidy, even if the owners’ poverty was evident from the worn chest of drawers and ramshackle shelving along one wall, and the thinning bedspread over the large double bed in one corner.

My examination of the house was curtailed as the mistress of the house motioned me to a spare chair, and offered me a clay cup filled with water. I thanked her, took a large sip, which was much preferable to the fruity sludge that passed for cheap alcohol at the Lonely Suitor, and prepared to hear her tale of woe.

“It all began when Aleron became foolish, and started gambling.” She sighed, the lines in her face deepening with her frown as she continued, her brusque words quick and bitten off. “He’d visit the arena every week and spend our hard earned money on bets. I told him to stop, but he didn’t listen. He was certain he could win us a fortune and move us somewhere else, somewhere nicer like the Imperial City.” Madam Loche gulped down a large swallow of the liquid in her own cup before setting it down. Whatever was in it was definitely not water, from the smell; some form of tea, perhaps? I blinked and redevoted my attention to her story, which was sadly a familiar one and just as I’d expected. Divines, it’s a common enough sob story amongst people not born to castles and money, even if I hadn’t had personal experience with the like.

“It didn’t take long for Aleron to begin losing,” here her voice seemed to take on a marked resentment, as she clasped her hands together, the knuckles white, “The silly man resorted to borrowing money from an usurer to cover his losses and place new bets. As you can imagine, it didn’t pay off. He ended up owing around 500 gold — as far as I could get Aleron to tell me of his debts. We could never have that kind of money to pay back the usurer.”

I nodded and made sympathetic noises. “So what happened to Aleron? You speak he was missing?”

Madam Loche nodded. “Three days ago now, the usurer, Kurdan gro-Dragol, sent for my husband to meet him at the Lonely Suitor Lodge. Aleron was worried, but he’d hoped to be given more time. He hasn’t returned since.” She breathed in sharply, even as the anxiety which had haunted her expression returned in full. “I fear for his life. Kurdan isn’t known for his patience. Please,” her voice had lost the earlier resentment and her plea was heart-felt, “I’m not wealthy, but I’d give anything to see Aleron again.”

Kurdan gro-Dragol. What were the odds that the man I needed to see just so happened to be the same person who Madam Loche directed me to in looking for her lost husband?

“Kurdan gro-Dragol? The Orc m-moneylender at t-the Lonely Suitor Lodge? I… have business to see him on, tomorrow morning. Nothing to do with money, don’t worry.” I tried to smile but it fell flat. Madam Loche nodded, though her expression had taken on a warier cast. “I’ll help you, ask him if he knows anything about where your husband might’ve gone.”

“You — you will?” I nodded. “Oh thank you! Please be careful,” Madam Loche implored. “I don’t wish any harm to befall you either.”

“I will, don’t worry.” Honestly, I was having an increasingly bad feeling about this. “The meeting place is public; he can’t do too much harm to me there.”

The bad feeling only deepened with Madam Loche’s parting words: “Farewell, and be careful. Kurdan is not to be trusted.”

Dinner at the Silverhome for me was a desultory affair, despite the good food and drink Gilgondorin supplied. The humid heat that had succeeded the rains was stifling my appetite, though if I were honest with myself it was more the thought of what might happen on the morrow, when I would meet Kurdan gro-Dragol. There was no one I could rely on in Bravil should anything happen to me, and the Orc didn’t sound like a man whose affairs it’d be healthy to inquire into too closely — and yet I would be doing just that twice over. Bloody wonderful.

I asked Gilgondorin if he would be so kind as to send a message to my sister, telling her of my whereabouts should I not return within 2 days. The innkeeper agreed, with the minimal fee of another two coppers. That done, I ascended the stairs and turned in for the night. No telling what time Kurdan would return to the Lonely Suitor; best be there as soon as possible to meet him.

After dinner, I went up to my room and proceeded to run maintenance on my gear, checking if my weapons and armour were still in good condition. I reckoned it would be best if I went to that meeting as fully armed as possible; “disappearing” like Aleron had was to be avoided. I buffed off the dirt and grime from my cuirass and reoiled the leather, re-checked and tested the sharpness of the small hunting knife I kept in my boot, the longer utility knife attached to my belt at the waist where it would be hidden by my cuirass, my hip dagger, and then the condition of my sword and bow, though I didn’t plan on carrying the bow with me to meet Kurdan. The sword and the daggers needed some time with my whetstone to be fully ready, and I set about my work, sharpening the edges. The repetitive motion of the blades against the stone was soothing, a meditative exercise in its own right, and I went to bed in a calmer frame of mind than had happened for some time.

Morning came and I was again roused by the thumping of the maid on my door with the wash water. I washed, dressed and put on my armor, then quickly strapped on the rest of my weaponry; lastly I buckled on my sword. I hoped that by going armed, and with at least one visible weapon to hand, it would signal I was obviously ready for trouble; which might get Kurdan to think twice about making any sudden violent moves. Breakfast was light: apple slices, tea, smoked meat and buttered bread, which I forced myself to eat, slowly chewing and swallowing, though each mouthful felt like a lump of stone in my stomach.

Saying goodbye to Gilgondorin, I walked out the door and strode off on the road I had taken yesterday through the town. The stench of the streets was just as bad this early; worse, perhaps, since the smell of vomit and piss along with other fluids and refuse was still fresh, carried in the mirk coming off the river. Passing by the Great Chapel of Mara yet again, I sent up a silent prayer to the goddess for good luck. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was going to need it.

Walking into the Lonely Suitor’s taproom in the morning was not much better on my sense of smell than walking in during the previous afternoon had been, save that the lingering smell of vomit was less prominent. I nodded to Bogrum, who merely stared back, even as I ordered a bottle of ale and two tankards. As the innkeeper plunked the requested items in front of me, I asked discreetly if Kurdan had returned.

“Over there, at that table by the window. Keep any rough business out of my inn, get it?” The Orc’s scowl was impressive. Bawdhouse or no, he was proud of his establishment and wouldn’t take kindly to anyone breaking things in it.

“I understand. Tthhank you, master Bogrum,” I said, picking up the bottle and the tankards in my left hand, and went over to where he’d indicated. Here I got my first look at this man who haunted the Loche family’s nightmares.

Kurdan gro-Dragol was currently sitting down, tearing into a plate of meat; but he looked to be tall, even for an Orcish male; I judged he was almost 6 foot, and very husky; the bulk of his muscles were clear under his clothing. He was clad in boiled leather armour, and his scant head of hair was done up in a series of warrior braids that were a greasy black against his green skin. I silenced the instinctive gibber that arose when considering whether I could take him on and win, then rearranged my features into a neutral slate before crossing over, plonking the ale and tankards in front of him on the table.

Kurdan looked up at me, a deep flash of irritation crossing his face. “Yeah? What do you want? This better be good!” Clearly he wasn’t happy about being disturbed at his meal.

The Orc squinted and leaned forwards, staring at me, before he went, with a disappointed air, “Oh. It’s yer again. Frothi not there huh?” I blinked. I hadn’t even gotten to mention what I was after — How did he —?

“I’m sorry, but we haven’t let — sorry, met. But yes, I’m looking for Frothi, if you’re referring to Frothi Iron-Fists, from Winterhold. He might’ve had a couple of bears with —”

“Whachyer talking about? Don’t waste yer breath denying it now. I met yer, little Breton, even if your pretty head what’s top full o’ fluff and nothin’ don’t remember it nohow.” Kurdan’s voice was rising from a growl into a half-shout. “Last week Tirdas. You asked nice, and I told yer last I knew he was going to Anvil, bound back to Skyrim and Winterhold! If’n yer can’t find him, ‘s no fuckin’ problem o’ mine so’s I told yer, and I don’t give two shits on Dibella’s tits if you done killed horses or something speedin’ back here to tell me so!”

“There’s been a m-misunders-s—” I was feeling a tad flustered at the Orc’s reaction. “Look, you got it wrong, all right? I’m n-not the woman you talked to.”

The Orc’s reaction was a rude snort. “Ey, pull the other leg, pretty!” He leered and stared at me from top down, making my skin prickle with distaste. I had a sudden longing for a very hot bath. “If you’re not the woman, then I dunno, yer her ghost or something?”

“I believe you saw my twin.” I left off saying more than that.

The Orc jeered. “Twins? Like peas in a pod! Well yer both are a sight.” I ignored the vulgar gestures he was making. What the hell had Clesyne done meeting him? Clearly she hadn’t set him on fire, and at this point I was really wishing she had.

I would’ve left by then, but there was another thing I had left to do: ask the whereabouts of Aleron Loche. “Where’s Aleron Loche and what did you do to him?” Kurdan’s face immediately turned uglier than it already was in his anger.

“Whachyer saying huh? If I knew who this Aleron fellow was, and I don’t, what’s it to yer? None of yer damn business!”

“Ursanne Loche asked me if I’d come ask, seeing you called him to meet you here, and he’s not been eye since! Easy question: Do you or do you not know where he’s gone?”

The Orc’s scowl deepened until he looked almost bestial. “I’m not liking your tone, pretty. Mebbe I do know him. Mebbe I don’t. I’d tell you if I liked you… and I don’t care for your in-sine-yernations.”

Time to tread carefully. “Innkeeper! Another round of ale please!” I was hoping that more alcohol might mollify this brute; I didn’t like the looks he’d been giving me at all: cold, angry, cunning edged with something I really didn’t want to think about.

The requested ale arrived, even as Kurdan humphed. “Don’t go thinkin’ this makes me like yer any more than before,” he muttered, but he did seem to relax as he drank most of the bottle. I ordered a third bottle, and watched him down that too. I was very careful to give the impression of matching him drink for drink whilst only wetting my lips; getting the slightest bit tipsy around this man would be a big mistake, I felt.

“I’m sorry if I gave you the impression earlier you knew anything of Aleron Loche’s disappearance,” I began again, carefully. “However, his wife was under the impression you and he had dealings…”

The Orc grumbled. “Malacath’s hammer, woman! Will yer stop bleating about that Maileron wosshissname already! I told yer I wouldn’t know where he’s gone, since I don’t know him to look at, you get me?”

“Still… Madam Loche said you met her husband here.” I remained firm, whilst moving my hands out of reach, as subtly as I could — the Orc was beginning to get handsy.

“Pah! All right. And if I did meet with that Lock, or whatever his name is, here, which I’m not sayin’ I did, mind! — how in Malacath’s name should I remember where he went to after, eh?” There was a distinct slur to his words.

“Surely you remember something?” I used my best innocent wheedling tone. Gods help me, I even batted my eyelashes — subtly! — at the bruiser.

The Orc grumbled to himself inaudibly, before chuckling. “Oh all right. I still ssshhay I don’t ezhackly remember where yer man’s gone. But since yer so interested, I know somethin’ that could jar my memory. To that, I got a prop-ersishun for yer.” I leaned forward, displaying blatant interest. I wondered if I was overdoing it, but reckoned that as tipsy as he seemed, and as unsubtle as Orcs were reputed to be, he might not care that I was hamming it up a bit.

“And what might your proposition be?” I spoke slowly, as much to get my words out clearly as to make sure my tipsy adversary heard and understood me.

“I just learned that a family heirloom, the Axe of Dragol, which one of my stupid relatives lost, is located on Fort Grief Island, in Niben Bay. My inf-f-f—informant tellssh me ‘ss hidden in the main keep at the center. Dunno what’s guardin’ it, but I’m sss-shure you can handle it. If you go there and bring it back to me, I’ll tell you exactly where Aleron is.”

I restrained my expression, but only just. That — didn’t quite sound like he was really tipsy to me. Perhaps I’d let my ingrained Breton biases against anyone with Orc heritage and Kurdan’s brutish exterior get the better of my sense, and underestimated this particular Orc. I paid even keener attention to his facial expressions, watching, waiting for the tiniest slip. There! That mean glint in his eye… Shamming drunk, was he now? I resolved to take nothing he said next as the full truth.

“And if I dess-der- choose not to find your axe?” I said, slowly, though I knew what his answer would be, invariably.

“Then Aleron may not be coming home from his… ahhh, journey, for a very long time. Like permanently.” The Orc let out a deep, grating laugh. “Now are yer gonna find my axe or no? Time’s wastin’. He’s safe… for now. Might not stay that way, who knows what’s out there?”

All this smelled of a trap to me, though I didn’t fathom what his purpose was in trying to draw me in. All the common sense I had was screaming at me to walk away and not get involved further. Not getting involved was the sane, safe decision. I had business to take care of. I could go back and tell Ursanne Loche her fears for her husband were confirmed, at least, and that we knew where he was likely being held. That was all I’d been asked to do. Madam Loche hadn’t outright asked me to rescue her husband, only to locate him, which I had.

Somewhere out there, there was a hapless man, in Divines knew what condition, praying for a rescue that was unlikely to arrive at all: The Loches were deep in debt, Ursanne likely didn’t have any money to hire someone from the Fighter’s Guild to go after her husband. Aleron Loche was up shit creek with no paddle — unless I did something. Could I live with that knowledge?

Should I — could I ignore this? Deliver the news to Ursanne Loche and then go, as though nothing else had happened? I struggled with myself. Where’s the money in this? my practical side screamed. This isn’t your fight, don’t jump in like a stupid espesie s’impétue!

But… I remember walking away once, when I was younger. There were only foggy details of the memory now — damned head injuries — but the remorse that came from it was very clear.

I took a deep breath, and then another, decision made. No. Damn my soft heart, damn my noisy conscience, or just my plain idiocy; but I couldn’t walk away from this, no matter how stupid and mad the act would be, intervening in the situation. Julianos knows, I’ve never had much in the way of common sense anyhow.

Oh, if my sister only knew now what I was walking into, eyes wide open… I’d never hear the end of it.

“I’ll go it — the island. What’s your axe look like?” Time to take the minotaur by the horns and hope to survive the ride.

“Good. It’s a battleaxe with the word “Dragol” carved into the haft. Huge. You can’t miss it. I ain’t gonna draw you a picture.” The Orc was still leering at me. I was frankly rather unnerved by it, and devoutly hoped he didn’t realise what effect he was having.

“I’m going to f-f-need to get some things first. How do I get to the island?” If I was going to spring the trap, I wanted every bit of equipment I had with me. My instincts were telling me I’d need everything I had to counter whatever Kurdan had waiting, because he had to be lying about the straightforwardness of this job, if nothing else.

“Lucky for you, I’m in a giving mood — I’m not making you swim!” The Orc laughed at his own joke before turning serious again. “Whenever you’re ready — and it better be soon, there’ll be a boat to take yer over to it. Go down to the water, and you’ll find a boat waitin’ for you at the dock next to the magic shop.” The Orc looked highly satisfied at that, which did no favours for my confidence. “Now you got something to find, so get outta my sight.”

I paid, quickly, and left as fast as I could without outright running, all the while feeling as though I were being watched. I restrained myself from looking around or outwardly indicating I was nervous on the way back to my inn; show no weakness and all that.

I had a man to save.
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