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A Wild Bear Chase - Chapter Three

by Aritheanie

Jeelius and Tandilwe were both competent healers. This also meant they were the type who couldn’t stand seeing hurt or broken people and things without trying to do something about it. To put it less politely, they were inveterate meddlers. Well-meaning, to be sure, like the maiden aunts who’d helped raise Clesyne and me; but still meddlers. I felt like I was being smothered under the weight of their dual concern.

I was in the Temple healing rooms for another two days, before both Jeelius and Tandilwe declared themselves satisfied with my condition enough to let me travel. By this time I was already edgy and plotting ways out the Temple and escaping the duo’s tender mercies.

The two were also horribly naggy about my health and further care. I knew they meant well, but I was hardly a 10 year old who needed to be told to wrap up warmly! I had multiple lectures on “taking it easy” and “rest often, don’t try and push through the night!” and so on. The repeated lectures had grown horribly boring long before I could make my escape.

J’mhad, who was a fairly knowledgeable healer in his own right, though he served mainly as groundskeeper for the Temple, merely shook his head at their attempts at cosseting. Not that he didn’t keep me to regular hours; the old cat was strict with his few patients in his own way. It however didn’t stop him from sneaking me treats in between the horrible tasting medicines and bland foods, with a wink and a twitch of his whiskers — as our usual agreement was.

I was really going to have to figure out something nice to get him as a present, this Harvest’s End festival.

Once again, I made my way through the City’s districts, enjoying the warmth of the late summer sun. The days were still bright and fairly long this early in Last Seed, and the breeze was fresh as it blew in my face under an overcast sky. I bought a hot sweetroll from a street vendor and ate as I walked, enjoying the bursts of sweet honey with each bite, and taking in the crowds and snippets of overheard gossip as I passed.

I noticed something was rather odd though; more whispers were flowing behind covered mouths than usual, even in the poorer boroughs, and the whisperers went absolutely silent when a member of the Imperial Watch went by. The mood of the City was nervous, but what about? So far I hadn’t heard anything unusual was on the horizon, and the City’s politics had been quiet, as far as I could tell; no murders or great scandals had come to light recently.

I didn’t have much to go on though, and any speculation soon lost to other, more pressing issues. Clesyne had left word with the Temple, on the night she’d brought me there, that she was still headed out towards Bravil; and as no word had come back to say any different thus far in the week since, I was determined to meet her there. With any luck Frothi (and the bears) would be in Bravil, and our business with him would be swiftly concluded.

I was relieved when I reached the stables on the outskirts of the city; I had been fighting the urge to look over my shoulder for Jeelius or Tandilwe all the way from the Temple District. The nagging feeling that one or the other would appear and drag me back to a bed was haunting me like a bad itch that couldn’t be scratched.

No overly-concerned healers showed their faces, though, and I claimed my horse without incident from the stables. Saddling, securing my tack, pack and saddlebags to the lovely chestnut mare my sister had left in the stables’ care was an unexpected joy: I was no great judge of horseflesh, but I could tell Clesyne had lucked out with this one. Once astride her back, I felt the thrill of setting out again prickle in my veins, more invigorating than cold water on a hot summer afternoon.

Riding out over the great Talos Bridge that joined the City Isle to the banks of the Rumare, I noticed the increased presence of the Watch at both ends of the bridge, keeping an eye on the masses of people that flowed in both directions in and out of the City. They didn’t give me any trouble though, and I was soon across and amongst the lingering poor houses and shanties that clung to the shorelines and spread away from them in a stretch nearly a quarter mile wide. These poor livings were the true outskirts of the Imperial City, overflow from the City proper.

I looked to the sky. What had been overcast, if mostly sunny weather was now a threatening grey — rain would be here by nightfall at the latest, and the late summer rains that extended into early autumn in Cyrodiil were cold and long-lived affairs, promising misery for man or beast caught out in it with no shelter.

I thought that I could do with some more exercise in any case, and my horse seemed to agree, being as lively as she was; so I decided to push on to the small village of Weye, which was still some miles distant, and the first true independent settlement in the area around the Imperial City.

A light drizzle was already falling when I finally reached Weye, about an hour or two after leaving the Imperial City. Grey clouds scudded high above, as the wind, strengthening already began to drive the rain before it.

I pulled up in front of the Wawnet Inn, the small, squat-looking two storey hostelry that mostly catered to west-bound travellers from the City, and paid the ostler to see that my horse was safely housed in the inn’s stables, with a little extra for her hay and some grain mash, then unsaddled her and removed my pack and the saddlebags. I then entered the inn proper, and not a moment too soon, because the rain finally came bucketing down, as it had threatened to all afternoon.

Nerussa the publican was her usual enthusiastic self about wines. She queried me if I’d seen any of the rare Shadowbanish wine she was still missing from her extensive collection. When I admitted that I hadn’t been in Cyrodiil since our last meeting, making it impossible to look for the vintage, she was distinctly disappointed, but perked up when I renewed my promise to look out for it, should my journey take me near any more Legion forts.

There were few customers in the inn tonight, so I enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of the common room, which was warm, and watched the rain lash at the windows. Dinner was served at around 6 in the evening, a choice of Colovian-style barley and rabbit stew with rye bread, or mushroom and creamed rice with honey glazed carrots.

I went up to bed at around ten of the watch, hoping to gain an early start in the morning. Listening to the wind and rain whistle through the thatch, I wondered how Clesyne was doing, and whether or not she’d found our man by now. Snuggling down under the blankets, which were warm, if a tad scratchy, I shut my eyes and went to sleep.

The weather had not improved greatly when I awoke the next morning, alas. The skies were still grey and drizzling, but at least the thunder and lightning had tapered off.

I was not fond of the weather conditions either, but the sooner I got to Clesyne, the sooner things would be settled and we could browbeat Sal into letting us off on a vacation of sorts.

I entered the stables and looked for my horse, which was in one of the end stalls. It seemed she knew me already, because she whickered as I drew near. I patted her nose and gave her a bit of carrot, which she delicately nipped from between my finger with a satisfied snort. I indulged myself and stroked her velvety nose one more time, and scritched her ears, before entering the stall to check her over and saddle up.

Leaving Weye behind, I continued out onto the Red Ring Road, so called because it encircled the area surrounding Lake Rumare and the Imperial City, as well as the outlying settlements and villages in its influence. My goal here was to make for where it met the Green Road, which stretched away south and west along the Niben Bay towards Leyawiin. At the rate I could take my horse, I estimated it would be another day or two before I hit that meetpoint, assuming that the weather did not turn absolutely foul and force me to hole up somewhere in a lean-to.

Still, it wasn’t raining heavily yet, and the light drizzle was almost like a cool mist, if rather a heavy one that made seeing into the distance somewhat difficult. There were worse weathers to be travelling in.

I amused myself by trying to decide on a name for my horse; a passing Watchman eyed me rather dubiously, probably wondering what the Breton woman riding past him was doing, talking out loud to herself. “I can’t just keep name you ‘horse’. I’ll call you… ‘Chestnut’? No, that’s just uncreative — Clesyne would laugh herself sick. How about ‘Amber’? Do you think it sounds too grand? Or maybe ‘Rosie’, or ‘Bonnie’ — ?” My horse continued on at the smooth, mile-eating jog she’d dropped into not long after we left Weye.

“I really should’ve asked the stablehands what they called you, girl. I’m afraid your new mistress isn’t the best with names.” A horsey snort greeted that admission, even as I slowed her pace to a brisk walk. We’d been riding for a solid two hours, judging by the sun’s position through the clouds; it would be a good idea to stop soon for a short break to rest my back and thighs, and some water and grazing for my horse. I recalled there was a small spring nearby, which would serve admirably.

The spring announced its presence in a clearing just off the road with a cheery blurble of moving water. I dismounted, and slid the saddlebags off my mare, rummaging about for the dried biscuits and a waterskin. I then led my horse over to the runoff from the spring, and tethered her securely to a nearby tree. I left her with enough slack so she could drink and crop at the grass, which was long and just beginning to turn a faded yellow-green.

I stretched and walked about the small clearing, working out the kinks and restoring feeling to my back and hindquarters, which were just starting to feel mildly sore. Sitting down under the same tree I’d tied my horse to, I munched on the biscuits and then took a long pull of water, stale, warmed and tasting a little of the leather skin it’d been in.

The sun came out from the clouds it’d hid behind most of the day, and the woodland clearing, still damp from the rain sparkled in its beaming light. I stared idly at one large drop of rainwater, trembling like a large liquid diamond, hanging on a wayward blade of grass. Plop!

“Heya, horse. How about I call you Crystal, hmm?” I asked the red mare, who had wandered back into my reach, and was now contentedly munching on the grass she could reach, flanks gleaming in the sunlight. A nicker was all the answer I got.

“Crystal it is, then.” I grinned and reached up to pat her flank, only to stiffen. Crystal’s ears were pricked up, twitching; her muscles under my hand were tense and quivering, obviously ready to bolt. Cautiously, I kept close to Crystal, trusting her bulk to shield me from the sight of whatever might be approaching. I worked to quickly untether her, even as I slowly loosened and drew my sword from where it was stowed with the saddlebags.

“This one suggests you drop your weapon if you value your life,” the Khajiit bandit rasped from across the clearing. The male, young but quite tall for his species and form, had an arrow nocked, aimed and ready to fire in my direction.

Well, shit.

“Can’t we discuss tt-this ll-like rational beings?” Stall, stall, stall. Think faster, Arliene, think!

“Khajiit thinks we already are. You have your sword, I have this arrow. If you wish to see which moves faster, Khajiit is ready to oblige you.”

That… wasn’t helpful in the slightest. He seemed like a talker, though. Perhaps I’d lose my money and some other things, but it might be possible to negotiate leaving me enough to work with, particularly my horse. “How about I put down my sword, you put down that bow and arrow, and we discuss what you want?”

“What Khajiit wants is very simple. Khajiit wants your money and your goods. Whether or not you die in the process, this one does not care.”

Wonderful. Just my luck to meet this joker off the road too, where we were out of sight of the Watch patrols. Crystal was growing restive, sensing the tension in the air that crackled between me and my would-be robber.

“All right ttth-then. I’m ppp…putting down my weapon now, see?” Suiting action to words, I set the drawn blade carefully on the ground and backed away a little from it, watching the cat-man’s aim all the while, wary of his movements as he came forward, bow now relaxed but his arrow still at the ready. He didn’t look like one of those who were addled by skooma, something that I knew happened rather frequently in Elsweyr; but one never did know.

I kept my hand on Crystal’s flank, both as a reassurance, and as part of a wild idea that had just occurred to me…

“Mind she-shea… p-putting up your weapon, friend?” I was deliberately casual. “You’re scaring my horse, and she doesn’t take well to being scared.”

The Khajiit snorted. “Does the smooth-skin take this one for a fool? One did not leave his mother’s teat the day before yesterday!”

“I agree. It’s too bad, you really shouldn’t have left your mother,” I nodded amiably at his enraged face, even as I ducked behind Crystal and slapped her withers to get her to leap forward. She responded beautifully, bearing down on the bandit at high speed in her fear, forcing him to roll aside, or get trampled as she fled towards the road.

Twang! I ducked out of reflex, before realising he wasn’t shooting at me. The Khajiit bastard was aiming at my horse, damn him! If he lamed her, or managed to kill her… I ran, picking up a large pebble and threw it at him.

Missed. Fuck!

The throw wasn’t completely useless — got him on the head, ha! The furbag yowled, letting his bow drop, blood already beginning to flow. Dropping his bow, he charged me, growling. I ran, dropping to the ground to avoid a wild slash to my back, rolling the last few feet to reach my sword, back on my feet just in time to up and block the angry slash of claws and long knife headed towards my face. The whistle and rush of air his claws made as they streaked past made me blink and backpedal in a hurry.

We traded blows, his long knife against my sword. Slash, thrust, parry, dodge— too close fuck! And then I blinked, finding myself disarmed. I jumped on him, and we wrestled over and on the ground, slipping on the wet grass, rolling over and over trying to pin the other down for a killing stroke. I was quick, but the Khajiit had more mass, was very quick himself, with more reach; and his lethally sharp claws meant he had a weapon even after I forced his knife out of his hand. Gods, if only— the backup dagger in my boot!

Just like that, it was over; pinned under the bandit, his claws at my neck as I choked for air. Gods rot him, and myself most of all, for letting him catch me off-guard in the first place. Being slowed from the headache attack of a few days ago was no excuse. I’d been sloppy, and I was going to die for it.

I looked him in the eyes, this young Khajiit male, who’d proved a wily and smart fighter. What a waste of potential he represented. “Finish it.” For the first time in our encounter, those large golden eyes grew uncertain.

If I were going to die, I had rather it be quick, and not this drawn-out waiting lark with my heart thumping in my ears. Waiting around is for cows, sheep and rich people. “Go on! What’re you waiting for, an invite?” Still the hesitance, the lack of claws or knife slicing into my skin —

I wondered — surely not, and yet — perhaps…

“You’ve — never actually — done ttt-this before — have you? Killed s-someone?” Khajiit and Argonian expressions are renowned for being difficult for humans and mer to interpret, but I knew my words had hit home. He was young, and our verbal spar from earlier had told me that this was very much still an overconfident youngling I was dealing with: Any other bandit on these roads would have shot me dead while I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, and then been gone long since, my corpse left for the crows. This was no time to lose focus, though, not with sharp claws pricking my skin. The growing lack of air was also a concern.

“Khajiit has killed before, men and women, soft-skins like you!” Nice try at bravado, but I knew he was bluffing.

“You’ve sstolen — maybe you’ve sack people, but I don’t tt-think you’ve killed — anyone, ever. Your hands and claws wouldn’t — aah! — be s-shaking so much if you had.” I winced, hearing my cracking voice rise sharply into a squeak as his hand spasmed. The claws nicked the side of my neck a little, enough to sting. A warm trickle started down the side of my neck.

I tried for as persuasive a tone I could produce, dredging up what I’d learned from watching Clesyne cajole and persuade merchants, truculent clients and the like. “Your hands haven’t got blood on them yet. Don’t start now.”

The young Khajiit bandit was obviously conflicted, and I breathed very shallowly as I waited to see if I would live, or die on those sharp claws. Finally, I felt his claws retract. I tried not to let my relief show too obviously, though my harsh breathing was out of my control, as he moved off me, making it easier to draw in a full breath, and another.

I sat up, rubbing at my neck and wiping off my fingers on the grass, the blood already drying as I eyed the would-be highwayman. The Khajiit retreated to a distance of about twenty yards away, deliberately not looking in my direction.

“Tt-thhank you,” I called out in his direction. I meant it. He didn’t have to let me go; he could’ve made the jump to murderer right then. I thought it best he not get any more ideas along those lines, and resolved to be polite.

All I had in return was a glare, though.

“You’re still alive. Now get lost!” I could see how it was; his pride had been sorely pricked. Now that I wasn’t in immediate danger of dying, I actually felt sorry for the bugger. First things first though: I needed to see where Crystal had ended up. I devoutly hoped that she hadn’t been terrified enough to have run off far enough I couldn’t find her again.

Luckily for me, or perhaps not so much luck as it was good training, Crystal had stopped fairly close by down the road, and all my things were still safely on her back. A bit skittish at first, I spent a good half an hour calming her down before I deemed her calmed enough from her earlier experience, and she allowed me to lead her back to the clearing without protest. She did snort and grow uneasy as we entered the clearing again, particularly around the Khajiit, who was also watching us.

I led Crystal back to the tree she’d been tethered to previously, and began checking her feet over for any injuries or other problems while she drank thirstily from the spring. I found no signs of injury or loose stones in her hooves, for which I was very grateful.

The Khajiit was still looking at me every so often, rather sullen. Well, it wouldn’t do for him to have second thoughts. He was a good fighter, obviously not bad with a sword, and very skilled in hand to hand techniques. I didn’t want him to hang around still angry with me — I’d had enough of bruises and scratches and cuts from our earlier fisticuffs.

I went through my saddlebags and found what I was looking for: the fresh honeyed sweetrolls I’d bought as a treat for myself from the Wawnet Inn this morning. My new Khajiit acquaintance could probably do with something to sweeten his disposition, after all.

I walked right up to him, which surprised him; his claws flicked out in reflexive defence. I broke off an end of the roll I was holding, and put it in my mouth, chewed and swallowed; then held out the remainder to him.

“Fresh honey sweetrolls, baked just t-this morning. I solemnly swear I haven’t drugged or poisoned them.” I tossed the roll gently in his direction, and he picked it out of the air without thinking. “There’s a few left here, if you want mm-more after you’re done. You’re welcome.”

I went back over to where Crystal was, and sat down, deliberately turning my back to him while making sure he could see me — and that I hadn’t fallen over frothing or unconscious from poison.

I heard him come up from behind me; somewhat unusual considering that Khajiit were capable of being silent enough to sneak up on a deer at 40 paces, and routinely did so to everybody they met. “This one would have robbed you, and tried to kill you. So why are you being so kind to this one?” He sounded genuinely puzzled.

I turned about to face him and looked up, squinting against the sun as I answered him. “You’re young. Desperate enough to flip to robbing people on the highways. Stupid enough to t-try it without being hardened enough to kill.” I shrugged. “I remember being that young and desperate once.”

“But not stupid?” The Khajiit’s rasp had a hint of mocking laughter in the midst of his curiosity.

“I never said that I wasn’t stupid back then,” I smiled back at him. “Stupid some other way, yes.” I patted the ground in front of me. “Come and sit down. You’ll give me a neck pain otherwise trying to t-talk to you.”

The Khajiit snorted, but did as I’d bade him. “This one thanks you for the sweetroll. It has been some time since this one had anything so good to eat now.” His face was wistful as he eyed the pile of rolls on the cloth next to me.

I set the bundle between the both of us. “Take what you will of these, friend.” I watched as he devoured one roll, then another, but stopped at the last. Young, and hungry. Now that I had the leisure and presence of mind to observe him at close range, I could see that his face was thin, raw-boned; obviously he had not been eating all that regularly.

I decided to be blunt, figuring I might get a straight answer from the cat-man. “You’re young, strong and a good fighter. Why are you out here robbing people, when you could make a better coins in the Fighter’s Guild, or escorting caravans?” He blinked, not understanding, one ear twitching towards me. I repeated my question, slower this time, more careful with my pronunciation.

The Khajiit hissed. “This one came from Ne Quin-al — what you call Anequina in your tongue that is hard to speak — in the train of a caravan master of that city. One did not like that service, so one left him and went out looking for other work. However, this one found that Cyrodiil, for all it is the heart of the Septim Empire and boasts of being the home of all races, does not like Khajiit much, no.” He shook his head, the rings in his left ear tinkling faintly with the motion.

“This one but took what he had needed from that caravan master; the caravan master was Khajiit, and with this one being Khajiit too, you would think he understood the needs of a clan-mate in these lands. That was my mistake,” his teeth bared in a grin that had less of laughter than it did of anger about it, “the caravan master accused one of taking what does not belong to him, so now the Imperial Watch tries to arrest me on sight if I try to go into a town. Khajiit wants to go home. He misses the warm sands of the desert and the sugar in his food, where beautiful Ta’agra lilts in the air instead of your barbarian language. He cannot do so while he has no money and his belly is empty, and he cannot earn gold while the Watch tries to arrest him everywhere he goes. So…” The Khajiit shrugged, rather philosophical about the whole situation.

I nodded. “So you’re stuck here with no money to pay your fines and go home, then?”

“Khajiit has been living off rabbits, deer, fruits and wild berries; he also sneaked food from travellers’ camps, when he finds them. Those have been growing fewer and fewer however, and the snows grow closer. This one does not like the cold without a roof or tent over his head, that he does not.”

“If I were you, I’d go find an Ayleid ruin to explore — there’s a couple around this area, you know? They usually have things worth sale to collectors in them; and if you’re lucky, they won’t be occupied by other bandits already. Why not try your luck there? You might get full to be able to pay off your fines. Unless you’re telling me you’ve got a really high p-price on your head?”

“This one… may have been seen running away, a time or two,” the Khajiit admitted, rubbing an ear nervously.

I sighed. Divines, had I ever been quite so young and rash as this cat was turning out to be? “Your clan mother must have despaired of you when you were still in Anequina,” I muttered.

“My clan mother may have commented before that she was sure I was a kit of Merrunz’s get, yes,” he agreed mildly.

“Take my word and go loot some dead Ayleids, not live travellers. You live longer that way, and still get as much action out of it.” I wrapped up the last of the sweet rolls in its cloth and handed it to him. “If it comes down to it, serving jail time in the winter months will get you fed and out of the weather, will it not?”

“Khajiit would still prefer not to have to go to jail at all,” he remarked with some asperity. “Khajiit does not like being shut away from the sun and winds. He had rather stay away from the Watch and towns. This one admits it is proving troublesome however.”

“Better make sure you can sneak past the Watch and get your stuff — not thief! — to a merchant quickly, so you can pay off your fines then. Though if your bounty is that high by now, going to jail might be less troublesome.”

“This one will take his chances as S’rendarr sends them,” the Khajiit muttered. He didn’t seem enamoured of my ideas, though he could hardly be blamed for it. Jail time for who knew how long, against clearing ruins that were probably infested with bandits, who wouldn’t take kindly to another bandit trying to get into their base of operations. Neither option was appealing, in all likelihood.

“Going home will be worth it, believe me.” I hadn’t been in his exact situation before, but I fancied I knew personally a little of what it was like to be unable to return home. I stood up and moved to check on the saddlebags, checking the saddle girth, cinching it tight to make sure it wouldn’t slip loose with me still in the saddle.

“You are leaving?” The Khajiit seemed surprised. Perhaps he thought I was going to camp there for the rest of the evening? I certainly wouldn’t; sure he seemed like a decent sort, once you got past the attempted robbery and possible murder: but I was not going to tempt his better nature any further by camping near where he could slip his hands into my bags. Besides, I’d wasted enough time here already.

“I have a sister waiting for me down south,” I replied. “Her temper with me will be high if I don’t come up when I’m supposed to.” That brought on a chuckle.

“Farewell. May you walk always on warm sands.” Despite my continued misgivings, I couldn’t help but return his smile. What a charming rogue.

I left the Khajiit bandit at that spring sometime around 4 hours after noon; as soon as I was out of sight, I rode Crystal hard to clear a good distance between us and the earlier campsite, crossing the first of two bridges across the White Rose River. By the time I stopped to let her rest again, already blowing hard, it was late evening and the first stars were out in the sky.

I made camp for the night well off the road, within sight of the ancient doomstone named for the sign of the Tower. The distant circle of stones brought back recollections of lectures at the Arcane University, what felt like a lifetime ago now.

I’d never really been one for lectures though, and I barely remembered anything from my mandatory classes dealing with the stones, mostly thanks to the lecturer who’d held that particular class. The Mage Scholar, one Plumbeus Ampullor, or “Old Leadenwater”, as we apprentices used to refer to him, delivered all his talks, no matter how fascinating the subject, in a deadly dull intonation that was dry as sawdust, and as effective at choking any interest in the subject at hand. No one ever asked him anything in the allotted question time after the end of a lecture, because no one was ever awake for it. Needless to say, the grades from his examinations were amongst the lowest every year.

In any case, replaying the sound of his voice, even only in memory, was still a sovereign remedy for sleeplessness; I fell asleep much quicker than usual that night.

The next morning, I woke up wishing for a warm bath, as I was starting to feel rather sore from the long hours of riding I’d been doing for the past two days. I checked my map and reckoned my location by the sun, and found I was now a fairly close ride from the village of Pell’s Gate, which was some distance after the Old Bridge, a few miles ahead from my present location.

The village lay almost directly south in a straight line from the Imperial City, and was not far from the crossings where the Red Ring Road met the Green. I looked over my horse’s condition; looked again at the sky, which was very much threatening another heavy downpour, and decided that a night at an inn was in order, despite the cost.

In spite of my hopes and Crystal’s gallant attempt at more speed, the skies opened up with a cold deluge before we rode at a slow pace through the main entrance to Pell’s Gate. The village itself was not a large one, having only some two dozen wood-framed houses, with their households, and a small sized inn; its main income derived from resupplying the people and caravans that travelled between the Imperial City and the southern parts of Cyrodiil.

I stabled Crystal myself, with hands that felt more like ice blocks than limbs — here at the Sleeping Mare Inn, there was no dedicated ostler who knew his business, only a new and very green stable boy who didn’t look as though he could tell oats from barley grain. Still, he managed well enough once I instructed him on the proper way to care for and rub down a horse that had taken a soaking from bad weather — meaning plenty of rugs and blankets, a stall that was snug and warm, a good brushing and a firm rubdown with braided straw, and extra hay in the feeder.

Once I was satisfied by my observations that the boy was doing as I’d told him, I then hurried back out into the bucketing rains. Arms over my head in a futile effort to keep the rain off, I fairly ran into the inn’s common room, tracking rivulets of water and muck onto the sturdy, if roughly made flagstone floor and trying not to slip. The innkeeper, Candice Corgine hurried over with offers of warmed towels to dry myself with, and outright dismay at the muck and water I was freely dripping all over her clean floor.

It rained through the night, and kept on raining heavily well into the morning, and throughout the whole day and again into the night, with strong winds that blew the rain nearly sideways. Being shut indoors thanks to the weather, I was feeling restless and bored, and getting rather claustrophobic by the second day of rain, since the inn was small and cramped with rather low wooden ceilings and walls.

Apart from gossiping with Candice, there was nothing much to do in the inn. It wasn’t so bad talking with her; the Breton innkeeper had no family around and thus was often lonely, and she had a fondness for tales of adventure and travel. Exchanging news with the regular patrons and transients was also a source of amusement. Still, too much of the same thing makes it boring, and those pastimes grew stale after the first morning. Otherwise I could spend my time sleeping, and eating the prepared meals, which were filling but rather bland, nothing to write home about. Candice mourned the fact that the Imperial cook just couldn’t understand how to properly cook Breton-style dishes, a situation with which I commiserated.

There was little in the way of intellectual stimulation possible. What few books were on hand were useless to me. The inn had a thriving sideline in sales of potions, basic alchemical reagents and equipment, along with miscellaneous magickal bric-a-brac, but I wasn’t in the mood for attempting any advanced alchemical experimentation either — the results of my experiments would probably result in Candice throwing me out onto the road into the rain. Her resources and usually good temper was already rather strained by the unusuallly large influx of travellers seeking shelter, and anything that disrupted the peace of her common room wouldn’t win me any favours.

I prayed to Kynareth and asked her to speed the rains on their way elsewhere. Bravil was still two days’ ride away, and that estimate might rise further if the extreme rain and winds had managed to wash out a section of the road or otherwise make it impassable. The main roads were well maintained and patrolled by the Legion, but all the same they had been known to give way in part in some lower-lying areas, and there was always the possibility of fallen trees blocking the road that I would have to ride around.

I stared out the window at the grey skies and watched water sheet down the cloudy glass, and wondered how Clesyne was faring. Was she safely indoors? Or perhaps it was raining too, but not quite as heavily in Bravil. Maybe the weather there was sunny and not a drop of rain to speak of. If that were so, lucky her.

Outside, the interminable rain went on and on.
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