Chapter 1: Helgen
The sun was barely rising over the land as the two figures made their way down the road. One, an aging Dunmer with an ever expanding gut, and white hair was riding a horse, and was dressed in fine clothes. Covered in expensive jewelry, it was clear that this man had never done a hard day’s work in his entire life.
The other was on foot. Dressed in rags, and blindfolded, the young Khajiit woman stumbled along behind her master’s horse, her bound hands connected to a rope, which was tied to the Dunmer’s saddle. A heavy iron collar was around her neck, signifying her status as a slave, and she wore a square of wood hanging off an earring in her right ear. It had the number forty-two burned in to it, indicating that she was the forty second out of her particular batch of slaves.
In contrast to the overweight Dunmer on horseback, she was thin to the point of emaciation, her cheeks were sunken, and all her bones and joints stood out in sharp contrast. Her fur and skin practically hung off her body, and she was so covered in dust and grime that whatever color her fur might be, one couldn’t be certain.
The aging Dunmer looked back in annoyance as the Khajiit stumbled again. Tugging hard on the rope he spoke, irritation dripping from every word, “Do hurry up will you, you useless piece of fur.”
The Khajiit responded in the only way she could: a vigorous nod of her head before breaking in to a pathetic looking jog, the pain she was in obvious in every step despite how she tried to hide it.
“Honestly, I don’t even know why I keep you around anymore,” the Dunmer continued while turning his attention back to the road ahead, “You’re absolutely worthless,” he continued. “Still, I suppose I might get a fair price for you once we get to Skyrim. I’m sure some rich noble up there could find a use for you if we’re very lucky, otherwise I’ll simply have to dispose of you myself, and you know how I hate getting my hands dirty. You wouldn’t want to make me do that now would you, you piece of garbage?” he asked, looking at the Khajiit again.
She shook her head to show she understood. This line of inquiry was beginning to concern her, less so because of the possibility of death, but because Master was obviously displeased with her, and as a slave her one goal was to please her master or mistress. Should she fail at this task, her master had every right to punish her, or even to kill her. Master did not deign to speak to her again and so she was left alone with her thoughts as she jogged along behind her master’s horse.
Not that her thoughts were her own, she reminded herself. No, her thoughts and her body belonged only to her master as was proper. Most people would be angered by the fact that not even in the innermost corners of their mind were they truly their own, but for her that was just the way things were. The master made the rules and they were followed, no arguments, no conflict, simply obedience. And from this arrangement came a certain peace for her, as never in her life had she had to make a decision for herself. From the day she was born, she had been a slave, and her masters and trainers had made every decision for her, meaning all she had to do was obey.
As master and slave continued their journey, nothing of real interest occurred and the dunmer did not speak again. Soon the two found themselves at the border of Skyrim, with the sun beginning to set, painting the sky a vibrant orange. As they entered a clearing, ready to make camp for the night, a huge commotion suddenly erupted all around them.
Men in blue and brown armor suddenly came pouring out of the trees, with men in red and brown armor following in hot pursuit, all of them yelling like mad. All she could do though, with the blindfold on, was listen to the screaming and clashing of weapons all around her. She heard a loud thump as a body hit the ground next to her, not knowing that it was her late master’s who had taken an arrow through the skull in the confusion.
Forty-two stood stock still in the middle of all the chaos, not daring to move an inch without orders, and soon heard a shrill scream as the horse she was tied to died a violent death. She was jerked forward as the rope binding her wrists to the saddle tightened, and felt something heavy slam in to the back of her head. Shouldn’t have moved without permission, she scolded herself, as she lost consciousness
Waking slowly to the sensation of movement, forty-two noticed three things right away. She was still blindfolded, her hands were still bound, and her head was throbbing as if a mammoth had stepped on it. She had no idea where she was, or where her master was, and this was more frightening than anything. Master was the one that told her what she should be doing and thinking. Without him, she was utterly lost, as if a ship without a rudder.
“Hey you, you’re finally awake,” a voice from above her spoke, drawing her attention. “You were trying to cross the border right? Walked straight in to that imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there.”
The voice continued to speak, but was it directed at her? She didn’t know! She didn’t know! What should she do? She began to panic until a memory surfaced. Her masters had done this before hadn’t they? Yes…back when she was being trained. They had disappeared, so she had been left alone in a room, with no instruction for hours. Too afraid to move, she had stayed put, frozen in place for hours until her masters had returned. They had said nothing to her at the time but had given her a nod in the affirmative, and that night she had received extra bread.
So she would wait then. Wait and see what happened, and when master returned, he would tell her what to do, and things would go back to normal…right? The realization that she was no longer moving brought her back from her thoughts.
“Get these prisoners out of the carts! Move it,” a woman’s voice said.
Forty-two heard footsteps and the creaking of wood as those around her began to move, and so she followed, crawling on hands and knees in the direction the woman’s voice had come from until all of a sudden, there was no more wood under her hands. For a split second she hovered, teetering on the edge of balance, before gravity won out and she tumbled from the cart, landing hard on her back and knocking all the wind from her lungs.
She lay on the ground for what seemed like forever. Stunned, she tried to get air in to her lungs, until finally, a breath of air made it in to her lungs.
Then she heard the woman’s voice again, gruff and irritated. “Get up cat. This isn’t a vacation and you aren’t here to relax.”
Rough hands grabbed her and dragged her to her feet. She tensed at the contact, as in the past, touch had always meant pain.
“Step towards the block when we call your name, one at a time!” The woman again.
A male voice began calling out names until Lokir of Rorikstead was called. She didn’t know who he was, but it didn’t matter, as after arguing for a while, he ran and was quickly cut down by what she presumed to be arrow fire. She hoped never to be so foolish as to disobey an order from a superior. It only brought on punishment, as she knew all too well.
“Wait a minute,” the male said, pausing in his listing off names. “Who are you Khajiit? You’re not with one of the trade caravans are you? What’s your name?”
Khajiit, she wondered. Does he mean me? Reaching up with her bound hands, she displayed the tag on her ear, the only name she knew of was carved in to it after all. She hoped she wasn’t stepping out of line here.
“Captain,” the male voice spoke once more, sounding uncertain. “What should we do? She’s not on the list?”
“Forget the list,” the woman’s voice barked. “She goes to the block!” She sounded almost gleeful about it if you asked her.
Her thoughts were interrupted again as she heard the thwack of metal on bone, and the smell of fresh blood filled her nostrils.
“Next the cat,” the woman proclaimed, and Forty-two could swear once more, she sounded almost gleeful about it.
Rough hands shoved her in the direction of the woman’s voice, and she stumbled forward to where she was caught, smacked hard across the face by what felt like a gauntleted fist, and shoved to her knees. A foot on her back pressed her head and neck down on to smooth stone, coated in blood. So it’s to be death then. Master must be very displeased, she thought to herself as she waited for the axe, (she assumed it was an axe, what else would you use for and execution?) to fall.
Instead, a mighty roar echoed all around her, and the earth shook as something massive landed heavily nearby. The ground shook again as a massive wave of energy sent her tumbling head over heels till she came to rest against a wall, getting thoroughly bruised and scraped in the process, and banging her head against the wall in the same spot she had been hit in the ambush.
Once again she was too dazed to move. All around her she could hear screams, and smell burning wood, flesh and a lot of fresh blood. Not to mention the crashing of stones all around her that sounded like they were falling out of the sky. And through it all, the roars of the beast causing the destruction echoed in her ears. Vaguely, she was aware of being pulled across the ground by her still bound wrists, her arms stretched out over her head, small sharp rocks digging in to her back.
“Come on! The gods wont give us another chance!” The male voice from the cart was speaking to her. At least, she thought it was the same voice, but she wasn’t sure of anything at the moment save that she was moving.
Ulfric Stormcloak watched as Ralof entered the tower they had taken shelter in. He was carrying the blindfolded Khajiit in his arms, and from the looks of her, she was in bad shape.
“She’s coming with us,” Ralof responded to his questioning look.
By Talos why did he have to choose now to be a hero? Ulfric thought to himself. He was about to refuse, and tell Ralof to leave her. She would only slow them down after all, and besides, she wasn’t even a Nord; why she he care what happened to her? But something stopped him. He wasn’t sure what, whether it was the small movement the Khajiit made in Ralof’s arms, or the fact that she simply looked so helpless, lying there nearly unconscious, but Ulfric’s gut told him to help her, and he had come to trust his instincts over the years. They had kept him alive too many times to pass it off as mere coincidence. “Fine,” he barked. “Give her to me. We need to move now! Up through the tower, let’s go! Before that dragon kills us!” Ralof handed the girl over to Ulfric, and took point as they moved up the stairs.
The run through Helgen was frantic and desperate, until finally the two men and the Khajiit made it to the relative safety of the stone keep, where they took a moment to rest and catch their breath. She was finally beginning to regain her senses as she felt the blindfold being removed.
Forty-two blinked against the light, and gazed up at the face of the large Nord crouched above her. His golden hair seemed to shine even in the candlelight, and his striking blue eyes, to peer in to her very soul. He was dressed in fine robes and boots that screamed wealth, and even now this man radiated authority. She knew a noble when she saw one, having served them her whole life, and this man was most certainly of noble birth.
Quickly, she averted her eyes, choosing instead to look at the ground. You do not make eye contact with your betters, slime, she reminded herself. She sincerely hoped he did not notice her lapse.
“Can you stand,” the large Nord asked her. “We need to get moving.”
She nodded, and stood on wobbly legs, using the wall for support. Her head spun, but she was upright.
“Ralof,” the noblemen spoke again. “See if you can get one of those gates open. I’m going to get our friend here equipped.”
She watched the other Nord’s feet move off and he responded with, “Aye.” as he did so.
“Right then,” the richer of the two began. “You may as well take Gunjar’s gear. He won’t be needing it anymore.”
She watched as the Nord bent over the dead body, and stripped it of armor and weapons.
“On second thought, perhaps just his weapon,” the man continued. “The armor probably weighs more than you do.”
With her eyes trained on the ground, she barely saw the axe as the Nord tossed it to her, but somehow managed to catch it without dropping it, though its weight quickly overwhelmed her, and the dead of the weapon met the floor, even as she maintained her grip on the handle. She strained to lift it, but to no avail. It was too much for her to handle.
The noble grunted in annoyance as he took the axe from her and a small dagger was pressed in to her hands. “That’s probably more your size,” he said. “Ralof, any luck with those gates?”
An annoyed grunt came from across the room. “No Jarl Ulfric,” Ralof replied. “They’re locked tight. I’m afraid we’re stuck.”
It was then she became aware of just what it was she was holding. She had a weapon! Slaves weren’t supposed to even look at a weapon, much less hold one. What was she doing with this in her hand? Surely she would be punished for this. Ulfric seemed to sense her reluctance. “I’d keep hold of that dagger if I were you.” he told her. “Unless you want to be killed.” Her ingrained obedience to following orders won out over her apprehension at holding a weapon. If master said weapons, then weapons it would be. And that was it wasn’t it? This man was her new master; therefore she must obey.
“Damn,” her master yelled. “Trapped like rats in a sinking ship!” He kicked angrily at the barred door, and to his surprise, it gave slightly under his kick. A few more strong kicks, and the door burst open. “Thank Talos, let’s go!” he shouted. The three of them moved out, with Ulfric leading and Ralof in the middle. She followed behind, like a proper slave.
Chapter 2: Delusions
The fight through Helgen’s keep, and the subsequent underground tunnels was a vicious, and desperate, close quarters affair. Mostly she stayed in the back, and allowed the two Nords to fight unimpeded. She wasn’t trained in combat, and she knew it. You don’t train a slave to fight, lest they turn against you. Besides, dressed in rags, and armed only with a dagger, what use would she be anyway?
Before long, they came to a tunnel where a few spider webs hung from the walls and ceiling, and as they moved forward, more and more webs could be seen covering every inch of the rocks, until they came to a cavern that was absolutely inundated with webbing. Bodies hung from the ceiling as well, and large bulging egg sacks could be seen in every crevice.
“Frostbites,” Ulfric said. “Disgusting. Be on your guard.”
The three crept carefully in to the open room, but apparently they weren’t careful enough, as several large frostbite spiders dropped from the ceiling as soon as the trio set foot inside. Ulfric and Ralof immediately rushed forward, weapons raised, and war cries ringing from their lips. She stayed behind so as to watch their backs and not get in the way.
She watched Ulfric and Ralof as they fought against the frostbite spiders, admiring their strength, and speed. She thought herself lucky to have such powerful masters. Her thoughts were interrupted, however by a chorus of shrieks and clicks coming from her right. Turning, she was alarmed to see a horde of frostbite spiders descending on the two occupied fighters.
The Nords didn’t seem to notice the new arrivals, as they were preoccupied with the spiders already there. Instinctively she threw herself in between the two men, and the oncoming wave. As a slave, she was ready to give her life for her master at a moments notice. Her life meant nothing. She wasn’t a person. She was property. To use and dispose of at her master’s whim, and if she was required to give her life, to save her master’s then that was simply her fate.
Her intervention seemed to work, as the spiders shifted their attention off of the men, and began scuttling towards her instead, gnashing their fangs, intent on making her their supper. When the spiders reached her, she lashed out in every direction with her little dagger, trying desperately to stem the tide and keep the monsters away from her masters. There were far too many spiders however, and her dagger was soon knocked from her hand as they swarmed over her, dragging her down to the ground and sinking their fangs in over and over.
Ralof and Ulfric turned after finishing off the last of the spiders, only to see the monstrous bunch of arachnids swarming over the Khajiit.
“No,” Ralof shouted.
“Damn! Get her out of there,” was Ulfric’s response. They were nothing if not honorable, and they had promised to defend this girl, especially when she had clearly just saved both of their lives by keeping this new horde of spiders busy. They charged in to the fray once more, flinging spiders left and right, as they fought to save the young Khajiit currently buried in them. In the face of the two Nords’ might, the spiders soon retreated back to their caves and crevices in the rocks, hissing at the bipeds the entire time.
From her position on the ground, curled up in a ball with her arms across her face, forty-two felt the weight of the spiders disappear suddenly. Cautiously, she unwrapped herself and looked around. The spiders were gone, and her masters were looking at her, so she scrambled to her feet, eyes on the ground and fixed her hands together in front of her.
“We’d best get out of here.” Ulfric said.
They moved off again, passing a chamber with a bear, which Ulfric easily dispatched. As they walked, she began to feel increasingly odd. She began to stumble more and more, and her vision began to spin and blur. It was becoming harder and harder to breathe, and soon she was stumbling along, gasping for air like a fish out of water.
As they neared the exit to the caves, she could no longer fight the dizziness, and collapsed. She would have vomited but since she hadn’t eaten anything in quite a while, all she could do was dry heave over and over again uncontrollably. Forty-two felt her-self moving. She wasn’t sure how, but she was not on the cave floor anymore, but she couldn’t open her eyes to see how as she was too busy fighting the pain.
“Shit,” Ralof said as he turned at the sound, to find the Khajiit lying on the ground, attempting to puke her guts out.
“The poison is starting to affect her.” Ulfric said. “We need to get her to a healer, fast.” He scooped her up in his arms and ran out of the cave with Ralof trailing close behind. It was night out when they exited the cave, and the two men jogged quickly through the night, heading for Windhelm, however, they had just spent the day fighting their way out of Helgen and avoiding being eaten by a dragon and eventually they had to stop and make camp in the mountains east of Valtheim Towers.
The two men now sat around the campfire, exhausted but glad to be out of Helgen, with the Khajiit wrapped in a sleeping roll next to the fire. Every so often she would move erratically as if caught in some nightmare between sleep and conscious thought, and Ulfric believed that was exactly where she was at the moment.
“I’ll take first watch my Jarl,” Ralof said. “You should rest.”
“Very well. Wake me if anything changes,” Ulfric replied.
Ralof nodded and moved off to a stump that overlooked the road, and sat down.
After a last look at the Khajiit, Ulfric wrapped himself in his bedroll and was asleep almost instantly.
It was midnight when the bandits struck, creeping in silently from the mountains around the camp. With Ralof’s attention focused on the road below, he made an easy target, and was quickly knocked out. Ulfric remained asleep, and unaware of the world around him as they grabbed the young slave girl and dragged her off in to the mountains. In her delusional state, she wasn’t sure what was happening, but she felt hands on her, and she fought them.
Normally, she wouldn’t have dared to fight back against her masters, but floating in limbo as she was, her conscious mind was not in control. The bandit carrying her was not amused by her actions. “Damn it,” the man, a large Nord, cursed. “She just kicked me in the balls again. I swear if the boss didn’t want her alive, I’d kill her right now. Why do we have to be out here anyway? I’m freezing. The boss should’ve sent Logrolf’s team.”
“Oh shut up Drax,” his Argonian companion said. “You think we like this either? Besides, Logrolf’s team got the caravan raid job. We got this one, so get over it and do your job.”
The Breton woman in the lead spoke then, “Both of you cram it. The boss said we get a big reward if we do this job right. Said it’d probably be enough for all of us to retire and live the rest of our lives in luxury. You think you can stand being rich?” It was certainly a pleasant thought, and the two men grinned at each other before falling silent and continuing their run in to the night.
Four hours of travel saw the kidnappers at the entrance to a large cave in Whiterun Hold. Passing through the entrance, they made their way to the back where a rudimentary shelter had been set up. A wooden floor, bed, tables and chairs, all separated from the main cave area by a flimsy wooden wall and crooked door. Depositing their burden at the feet of their leader, the three waited eagerly for the large Redguard’s reaction. The large man rose from his chair, and crouched in front of the unconscious catkin, who was currently making small erratic movements as whatever plagued her in her sleep did not seem to want to let go.
The Breton woman spoke, a proud grin on her face. “Here she is boss, all yours, just like I promised.” The Redguard grinned maliciously.
“Well done Amara.” He said, his voice deep and heavily accented. “I knew I could count on you.”
Drax cleared his throat impatiently. “So care to tell us why we froze our asses off carrying her all the way back here boss?”
The large Redguard glared up at him. “Isn’t it obvious?” He sighed when the Nord clearly showed no understanding. “Idiots.” He murmured under his breath. “She was with the Jarl of Windhelm, and his man,” he said slowly, as if speaking to children, as he rose to his feet. “Clearly they were protecting her, so clearly she’s important to them.” He paused to give the three a chance to process the information.
Both Drax and the Argonian still seemed clueless, but Amara rolled her eyes in irritation. “So obviously he’ll pay to get her back you idiots,” she informed them as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. The men at least knew enough to look sheepish.
“Right then,” the boss said gleefully. “Chain her up, and I’ll get to work on the ransom letter. We are going to be rich ladies and gentlemen.”
The three goons smiled to each other as they got to work.
Forty-two opened her eyes to find herself in a familiar setting. A small cylinder shaped room with barely enough room to stretch her legs. The walls were made of sandstone, and the pitch dark made it impossible to see anything, even her own hand practically right in front of her face. Confused, she felt all around her, but it was all here, just as she remembered it: an empty cylindrical room with a metal door. It was like she was back in training.
All of a sudden the door opened with a screech, and it was like she was staring in to her past, for standing in the doorway was none other than Master Rasham, the man who was responsible for turning her in to the proper slave she was. The large Redguard with the distinctive crescent moon shaped scar on his left cheek filled the doorway with an intimidating presence. Instinctively, she flipped on to her knees, and pressed her forehead in to the ground, the proper form of respect from slave to master.
“Up filth,” the Redguard spoke harshly to her.
She rose from her position, keeping her gaze towards the ground, only to be slammed in to the wall with great force. Startled she looked up, intending only to raise her view to her master’s chin, but instead was met with the horrifying visage of a frostbite spider. Rasham’s entire head had been replaced by the eight-legged creature, its mandibles moving rhythmically, and limbs flailing. Her mouth opened in silent horror as the spider head shrieked and clicked at her, and when she did, she instantly regretted it. The spider head took hold of her jaws with its legs, keeping them open, and began spewing a black foul tasting liquid down her throat. Forty-two writhed and struggled in the beast’s grasp, but could not pull away, no matter how she tried.
Sinking to her knees, the young Khajiit, clenched her eyes shut as the liquid brought with it an unbearable pain throughout her entire body, which grew by the second. She swelled, and felt herself growing and growing, the liquid never ceasing, body becoming hugely bloated and grotesque. When she was sure she could stand the pain no longer, her body burst, sending blood, guts and bones everywhere, yet somehow she was still present. Now she was viewing the room from above, and from her new angle, she watched as millions of tiny spiders scurried from the innards of her desiccated corpse.
“Idiot,” Ulfric yelled at Ralof, shaking the other man, the Jarl’s hold tight on the front of his armor. “You were supposed to be watching her! What happened?” His breath steamed in the early morning air as he vented his fury at his soldier, the thu’um entering his voice enough to make it rumble off the surrounding cliffs.
Ralof’s gaze was fixed firmly on his feet as he spoke, humility and shame coating every word. “I’m sorry my Jarl, I don’t know what happened. One minute I was keeping watch, and the next, I was waking up in the morning with the worst headache.” He rubbed at his temple, wincing at the large bump, which throbbed painfully with every beat of his heart.
Ulfric pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance. “Never mind,” he growled. “I’ll deal with you later, but first we have to find her. Who knows where she could’ve disappeared to?”
The two men spread out, scanning around the campsite in ever increasing circles, searching for any sign of the wayward Khajiit. Neither man found anything however, as much of the land around them was solid rock, not susceptible to footprints or other such signs of humanoid traffic.
“Anything,” Ulfric shouted over to Ralof as the Jarl examined some scraggly bushes for signs of disturbance.
“No my Jarl,” Ralof shouted back. “Whatever happened, she’s vanished without a trace!”
“Damn!” Ulfric cursed loudly, kicking the offending bush as if it was responsible for the woman’s disappearance. “We swore to protect her,” he spoke sullenly as Ralof moved up beside him. “And we failed. Who knows where she is now, what kind of danger she’s encountered. For all we know she could be dead!” He kicked the bush again and huffed in annoyance.
“My Lord,” Ralof ventured cautiously. “Perhaps we should return to Windhelm. From there we could send out search parties, or alert our camps. Perhaps one of them would have seen her. This way we’ll at least be in one place should there be news of her.”
Ulfric sighed heavily. “Fine,” he snapped. “I suppose that makes sense. Come on then. Let’s get on the road to Windhelm.” The two moved off, heading Northeast towards the city of Ysgramor. Ulfric couldn’t help thinking of that Khajiit, lost out there somewhere in the dangerous wilds of Skyrim, perhaps wounded, maybe even dead, and it was all their fault.
She jerked awake suddenly, pain filling her body as she did so. The hard floor she was lying on, and the heavy manacles on her wrists were not helping matters. Not to mention the splitting headache that throbbed with each beat of her heart, as if her head was going to simply explode. Looking around groggily, as best she could determine from her position flat on her back, Forty-two was in some sort of cave. Her vision swam and blurred every time she blinked, and it felt as if her head was full of mammoth cheese. Hardly a coherent thought to be found.
“Well, well,” an unfamiliar raspy voice spoke above her, as an Argonian’s head came in to view. “Look who’s awake. Give me any trouble and you’re gonna wish you weren’t I swear. Here,” the Argonian snapped, tossing a piece of bread down. “Eat this and be quiet will you?” He stalked off, mumbling about Khajiit and the unfairness of the world. Why should he have to waste his time guarding her when she clearly wasn’t going anywhere?
Sliding her head forward, the young woman took a few bites of the bread before feeling the darkness encroaching once more.
This time when she opened her eyes, she found herself in a room she did not recognize. Most of it was shrouded in darkness except for a small light towards the center, perhaps a candle. Enveloped by warmth, Forty-two looked around her, everything seeming to be much larger than it normally was, and found herself held in two comforting arms. They were covered in fur, of what color she couldn’t determine, and the face of the person holding her was also covered in shadow. As small and insignificant as she felt, this person radiated comfort and safety, as if none of the terrors of the world could reach her as long as she was in these arms.
A soft melody came from above, a woman’s voice on the edge of her mind that she couldn’t quite make out, or understand the words to the song, but it was soothing nonetheless. The song was so relaxing, that she felt herself drifting towards sleep, contentment filling her being. However, this sensation quickly vanished as she felt herself grabbed by rough hands and pulled away from her sanctuary of warm arms, and soothing melodies. A woman’s voice could be heard shrieking, until a sudden crunching sound of metal on bone brought silence, as the light towards the center grew more and more distant. A pinching pain in her ear, and the world around her began to fade away, the cries of an infant following her in to oblivion.
The cave ceiling above her once again swam in to focus, the ever-present pain returning along with her consciousness. She managed to eat a bit more bread, and the Argonian guard forced some water down her throat, much of it ending up on her chest, and leaving her sputtering for air. Afterwards, a Redguard man came, asking her questions about Ulfric that even if she had known the answers to, she could not respond to. For her “disobedience,” he had a large Nord break one of her legs, the pain sending her in to blackness once more. When she awoke again, the process was repeated with the same results, both legs now broken and bleeding, adding to her pain, and she went under, deeper and longer than ever before.
Images flashed before her eyes, almost faster than she could process: A hall, fireplace crackling in the center, warriors gathered round it, food and drink aplenty. A tower, wreathed in flames, surrounded by the corpses of soldiers, wearing unknown livery. A castle, covered in snow and ice. A magnificent hall of stone, music playing in the background, people drinking and laughing and dancing.
She wore an elegant gown, and as she looked around, a man, face covered in shadow, reached out his hand. She took it and the two began to dance, the music indistinct but the dance intimate, bodies pressed close together.
A great army stood before her, waiting for something, a command perhaps, and as she turned, a massive city came in to view, great walls of whitewashed stone surrounding a tower stretching up to touch the heavens. A great roar and a sound like thunder boomed all around her, and she and the army looked up to the sky. The army cheered. Before she could see what had the men in such an uproar, the scenery began to fade once more. She grasped at the images, willing them to return and explain themselves, for something, ANYTHING to make sense, but nothing worked, and soon they were gone, and she saw no more.
Chapter 3: Hope
Farkas sheathed his sword and looked down at the sight presented to him. He was covered in the blood of the bandits that he and Vilkas had just finished slaughtering. That, he had expected, as after all, that’s what he and his brother had been hired to do. What he had not expected to find in this cave was the small Khajiit girl chained to the wall in front of him. She was lying on the ground, dressed in rags, with her wrists chained behind her and attached to the wall. Her legs were splayed out at odd angles, and he could see they were obviously broken. She lay on her back and stared up at him with a blank expression on her face, that bespoke pain, and utter hopelessness.
Farkas’ heart broke at the sight. No one should be treated the way she was, regardless of race and gender, and Farkas had always had a soft heart anyway. He hated to see people suffer, and always did everything he could to help those in need. That was one reason he loved being a companion. He could help those who couldn’t help themselves. And this girl clearly needed his help.
He crouched down in front of the girl. “Hey,” he said, nearly whispering, “I’m gonna get you outta here alright?”
The girl simply stared at him, with the same blank expression on her face.
“Can you hear me,” he asked, and reached out towards her. This got a reaction, as Farkas could see her whole body tense up as soon as he extended his hand towards her. Clearly she expected him to hurt her, which was something he was determined not to do, as from what he could see, she had already suffered a great deal. Letting out a grunt, he rose to his feet, and moved to the wall where the chain was anchored. He tugged on it several times, and then took a firmer grip and pulled with all his might. No good, it wasn’t budging.
Vilkas glanced over from where he was looting the corpses of anything useful. He sighed when he noticed Farkas tugging at the chains. “Farkas, what are you doing?” he asked his brother.
“What does it look like,” Farkas responded. “I’m saving her.”
“Farkas,” Vilkas said placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder, “We don’t even know who she is. We can’t waste time on her.”
Farkas paused and turned to face his brother. “You do what you want. I’m gonna help her,” he stated matter-of-factly, and resumed his tugging.
Vilkas pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. There was no arguing with Farkas when he got like this.
“Alright,” he said “Fine. But you aren’t going to get anywhere like that. Come on, help me look around, I’m sure one of these bandits must have the key to those shackles.”
Farkas gave him a grateful look, and went to help him search. Before long they managed to find the key, and returned to the Khajiit who had been staring listlessly up at the ceiling while they conducted their search. She barely moved when Farkas unlocked the shackles from around her wrists but when he picked her up in his arms, he felt her entire body go rigid instantly. Has she ever felt a touch that hasn’t brought her pain, he wondered.
“Come on,” he said to Vilkas. “Let’s get her out of here.” As they headed towards the entrance to the cave, the Khajiit’s body went limp in his arms all of a sudden, and when Farkas looked down at her, he could see that she had passed out. He increased his pace, being careful not to jostle her broken legs.
She was floating, or at least she felt like she was floating. She wasn’t quite sure where she was or what was going on as she awoke to the world around her. As her blurry vision cleared, she could see a stone ceiling above her, and stone walls, and floor too as she looked around. She wasn’t in the cave anymore that much was clear. She began to notice that she was lying on something soft, with soft things draped around her as well. She looked down at herself, and her eyes widened in shock. A bed! She was in a bed! Why was she in a bed? She was a slave she belonged on the floor, not in a soft bed like the one she was in, with equally soft blankets around her. She had to get out of this bed, if she was caught, she would be punished severely for her transgression. She knew this, and she wondered who put her here, and if they knew.
She began to try to get up, but found that she was too weak to do much more than wiggle around in the bed, an action which brought a stab of pain from her injured legs. She fell back on to the sheets, breathing hard, waiting for the pain to go away, and when it finally did, she let out a shaky breath. It was time to consider her options. Her legs were far from healed so walking was out of the question. She couldn’t call for help even if she wanted to. She had never made a sound in her life, and she doubted she could. Besides, slaves were there to serve, not talk, and no one would probably help her anyway. So what should she do? It seemed like all she could do was lay there and let whatever happened happen.
After what seemed like hours, she heard a door open, and someone came in to the room. She couldn’t see who it was from behind the privacy screen, but she strained her neck to try and see around it anyway.
When he showed himself, she was presented with the sight of another hulking Nord wearing heavy armor. He had a giant great-sword on his back as well, and his long black hair reached down to just tickle his shoulders. When he spoke, it sounded like he was gargling sand paper, but it was also somehow oddly comforting.
“Hey, you’re awake,” he said, a huge smile breaking out on his face as he crouched down next to the bed. “How are you feeling? You were in pretty rough shape there for a while what with the fever, and all that frostbite venom in your system. But don’t worry between Danica’s healing magic and Tilma’s homemade remedies we managed to set ya straight. Your legs are gonna take a bit longer, but they’ll heal up just fine given some time. Oh, by the way, my name’s Farkas, its good to meet ya. So, what’s your story?”
She blinked in confusion, and realized she was looking right in to his eyes! She quickly averted her gaze to her hands where they were laying on top of the blankets, ears flattening against her head in trepidation. Have you forgotten all your training already you filthy excrement? No eye contact with your betters, she berated herself in her mind.
Farkas’ face shifted to one of concern when she looked away from him. “Hey,” he said. “You ok? Are you in pain? I bet Tilma’s pain potion wore off, don’t worry I’ll go get her.”
“Farkas, leave the poor girl be.” A woman’s voice this time. When she came around the screen, the young Khajiit was presented with a woman dressed in rather revealing clothes that could barely be construed as armor, shoulder length reddish brown hair, and distinctive green war paint, which slashed across her face as if she had been scarred. She had a dagger at her hip, and a bow slung across her back.
This time she remembered not to make eye contact, as the woman approached the bed, instead keeping her eyes focused on the woman’s feet.
“Sorry he’s giving you trouble. He means well but he can be a bit overbearing sometimes.” The woman spoke. “My name’s Aela, welcome to Jorrvaskr, mead hall of the Companions.”
The young Khajiit simply continued to stare at her hands. Did they expect her to respond? She hoped not, as the two Nords would be disappointed, and she would probably be punished.
The silence that had prevailed, since Aela had introduced herself was broken by Farkas. “Say you must be hungry after being out for so long. I’ll get you some food ok? Don’t worry, you’ll be feeling better in no time.” He left the room then, presumably to get her, her food.
This confused her. They were going to feed her already, what had she done to earn it? Always in the past, she had to work for her food, and if she didn’t do a satisfactory job, she went without. This place was so strange. These two masters were strange.
She was beginning to worry. What was expected of her here? These two weren’t following the general rules that masters usually followed. They had yet to punish her, they spoke to her as if she was a person, not a thing, and now they were getting her food? Added to that, they seemed genuinely concerned for her well being, and wanted to help her heal? Was it just so she could get back to work faster, or was there some other reason that she wasn’t aware of? She wished they would just tell her what to do already so she could find some sense of normalcy in this situation. Another rule came to mind, making her feel guilty for her previous thought about these two Nords: Never think ill of your master. Oops. She hoped they didn’t find out about that somehow.
Aela thought it was strange that the girl said nothing. She just lay there and stared at her hands. She didn’t even make eye contact. Then again, this young Khajiit had obviously been through hell. She looked absolutely exhausted, and she was so skinny, that every joint stood out like an Altmer among Argonians. The poor thing probably never had a decent meal in her life, Aela thought to herself.
“You probably want to rest more than anything,” Aela said. “I’ll leave you to it, and Farkas should be here with your food soon. Eat if you want but don’t overdo it ok? Let us know if you need anything. I’ll be close by, or if you can’t find us, Tilma will take good care of you.”
She left the room then, leaving the Khajiit to her thoughts, which consisted primarily of confusion. She was to call on them if she needed anything? It was supposed to be the other way around. She was the one to be called on. She was supposed to serve, not be served. That was her place in life. It always had been. You are nothing, she reminded herself. You are shit. You are filth. These reminders from her training soothed her troubled mind, and before she knew it, she was asleep again.
When she woke again, she found a tray of food sitting by the bedside. It was light fare, like she was used to at least. This time sitting up was actually possible though her body protested every second of movement. She ate the bread slowly, and drank the glass of water down, the whole time wondering what she would have to do to actually earn it.
She set the tray back on the nightstand, nearly falling out of the bed in the process, the act of leaning making her dizzy, and she had to grip the bed hard to stay upright. Now what? She gripped the sheets in consternation, looking about the room for some sort of sign. Her ears were flattened on her head, eyes wide with unease. Throughout her life, things were always decided for her. At every moment, she knew what she should be doing, and what she should be thinking. Her masters made sure of it. Now however…
She released a calming breath from her nose, attempting to soothe her self. You have masters 42. You met them, she reasoned. Just wait and they’ll tell you what you should be doing. That’s how it works. That’s how it always works.
In the meantime, why not familiarize herself with her new surroundings? It would probably help once she was given a task if she at least understood something of her immediate area.
She looked around, taking stock. Furniture? That was made of wood. She didn’t know much about carpentry but it looked sturdy, of good condition. The walls? Those were stone, and had a curve to them that suggested the building, or at least this part of it, was underground. That much at least was familiar to her. Having spent the whole of her life underground, first in the facility where she had been trained as a slave, then in the underground homes of the Dunmer in Morrowind, she was quite used to the damp, dark conditions of underground living.
This building, however, was neither damp, nor dark, despite being underground. No, this room was brightly lit with a myriad of candles. It was rather cozy, if a bit smoke filled. And, much like the homes of the Dunmer, it was pleasantly cool, though she knew nothing of the climate outside.
A shuffling outside the room drew her attention away from the stonework, her ears flicking up to better take in the sound. It sounded like footsteps, slow, steady footprints, unhurried and sure. An older person then, but someone not yet falling prey to the weaknesses of age.
The door creaked and the shuffling entered the room. Her nose twitched, taking in the scent of leather, metal and oil. But there was something else. A stench to the person, that didn’t seem like it was supposed to be there. Sickness. That’s what it was. It had taken her a moment to determine that whoever this was, was sick. The Dunmer of Morrowind didn’t often succumb to sickness, and they led such long lives that it was rare for her to encounter this type of smell, but sickness it was.
Before long, the source of the sound and the smell revealed its self to be an old man in shiny metal armor. Does everyone wear armor here? She wondered, before dismissing the thought. It wasn’t her place to worry about what her masters wore.
The old man lowered himself to the chair next to the bed with a groan, and a sigh. Briefly, she examined him, taking in his heavy armor, the sword at his hip, and the long shock of white hair that framed his face. Flattening her ears in submission, she focused on his lips, as was proper, trying not to knead the bed sheets too much.
For a long time, the room was silent, nothing but the breathing of the two, the old man’s somewhat heavy and labored, hers, light and nervous. She sat straight, aware of what was happening.
He’s evaluating you. Make a good showing or you’re done for. It wasn’t the first time she had been evaluated, and she doubted it would be the last, however, this was the first time it had taken place with both of her legs broken. This made her nervous. Because of her injury, she couldn’t prostrate herself as was proper. She hoped he didn’t punish her too harshly for this. What are you thinking? She corrected herself immediately. If you can’t greet your master properly of course you’re going to be punished. You DESERVE to be punished. Filth.
“So lass,” the old man finally spoke. His voice rumbled in his chest, and had a slight rasp to it. It was pleasant to the ears, and the man had an aura about him. It was soothing, something about this man relaxing her unlike anything she had experienced before. “I heard you had woken up.”
She nodded in confirmation.
The man chuckled. “No need to be so nervous ‘round me girl. At my age, my bark’s worse than my bite! Ha!”
She nodded again, not sure what that meant but not daring to disagree.
The old man sighed, and she tensed. Had she already done something wrong?
“Do an old man a favor and look me in the eyes when I’m talking to you. I don’t favor having a conversation with a forehead.”
A quiet battle raged inside her for a moment. The instinct to obey battling with the knowledge that looking a master in the eyes was forbidden. In the end however, her instinct to obey was stronger. Slowly, hesitantly, she raised her eyes to meet his, the crinkles of a smile forming around his kind light grey gaze.
“There,” he stated happily. “That’s better, no?”
Again she nodded, agreeing immediately on instinct.
He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t talk much do you lass?”
She shook her head no. Of course she didn’t.
He chuckled. “That’s alright. I probably do enough blabbing for the both of us.” For a while the two simply watched each other, the old man thoughtful, while she was nervous, waiting for whatever was going to happen next. “Oh,” he suddenly remarked, straightening in his seat. “Where are my manners? We haven’t been properly introduced.” He placed a hand on his chest. “I am Kodlak Whitemane, Harbinger for the Companions here in Jorrvaskr. I’m sort of an advisor to the group, though each man and woman here leads their own lives.” He smiled at her. “And what, may I ask, is your name?”
This stunned her to say the least. Name? He wanted her name? Names were for people, not property, and she knew very clearly which she was. How was she supposed to answer a question she had no viable answer to? Still, master had asked a direct question, despite the oddity of it and the way he asked it, and she had no choice but to think of something.
In a moment of perhaps not inspiration, but desperation, she reached up, fingering the wooden tile hanging from her ear, presenting it to the man as if in answer.
“Hmm?” he raised his eyebrow, his eyes moving to the tile. “Forty two eh? I must admit, I’ve never met someone with a number for a name, but then who am I to judge?” He shrugged. “Alright then. Forty two it is.” He nodded, as if that was the end of the matter, which, as far as she was concerned, it was.
He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his thighs and lacing his fingers together. “Listen,” he spoke seriously, looking her right in the eyes, his mouth set firm. “I know you’ve been through quite a tough time lately. You’re hurt, and you’re frightened but I can tell you that it’s over. You’re safe here, and you will be for as long as you choose to stay.”
He placed a hand on her thigh, and she stiffened, expecting to be struck, confused by his words, and confused by his actions. She had no idea what the future held.
“No one will hurt you, so long as I have a say in it.” He spoke confidently.
All she could do was nod once more. Better to agree with master than risk his wrath she reckoned. Of course, her stomach chose that moment to announce its hunger and she stiffened again, expecting a reprimand. She shouldn’t be desiring food she hadn’t earned. However, master surprised her again by simply laughing.
“Hungry eh,” he asked. “Good idea. Come to think of it, I could use a bite to eat myself.” He stood, cracking his back with a groan. “I’ll send Tilma in with something for you. Eat up lass! We’ve got to put some meat back on those bones of yours!” He laughed heartily as he left the room.
She could only stare after him in confusion, once again unsure of exactly where she stood here, and what was expected of her. Her masters seemed pleasant enough, and they had yet to punish her, so she must be doing something right. She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Whatever happened, she’d take it like she always did, one day at a time; simply living to obey and please her masters, and everything would work out. She felt content about the situation for the first time since waking, and if she didn’t know any better she would almost say she felt…hopeful.