Shadow of the Druadachs - Part II: A Champion Awaits

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    PART II.
    A CHAMPION AWAITS

      

     

     

    It was a misty Tirdas morning in Rain’s Hand when Ysa All-Risen left her home in the City of Stone behind for the last time.

     

    The carved granite metropolis where she had lived all of her 19 years was bathed in fog and sunlight. Had she known she would never return to Markarth, she might have packed her knapsack a little differently, taken some favorite tokens from her father with her, and exchanged heartfelt goodbyes to friends, family, those she had known her life entire.

     

    As she walked through the streets of Markarth, a sense of peace and purpose broke over her: she was heading out to brave the rugged unknowns of the Reach, to bring closure to a family who had been waiting for Edryg to return. Ysa knew that this would not be an easy task, requiring her to shed the comforts of a warm hearth and cozy bed for some nights, but she looked forward to braving the craggy wilds, imparting good will, and granting peace to those who needed it, however taxing it might be. And though the Reach was notorious throughout Skyrim for its many dangers, Ysa had made ample preparations for her journey.

     

    In the few days since her discussion with Kyrtos, she had spent the time practicing her spells with renewed zeal and commitment. The court wizard could hardly believe the enthusiasm and attention to detail during her last lesson: her wards were stronger, her simple healing spell was longer and more steady, and her focus was sharper than he had ever seen it. As she skipped out the door, the Mer chuckled to himself and scratched his head, puzzling over what had taken root in her.

     

    Ysa also visited to the smith in the city and purchased a steel shortsword and hide armor for her journey, procured some potions from the alchemist, rations from the market, and a bedroll from the general goods shop. While Ysa had left the city before, she had never done so alone and on foot. She reasoned she would spend one night camped under the vast sky, one night at the tavern in Karthwasten, and perhaps make camp on last night on her journey home. It was a short trip, to be sure, but nonetheless, it was best to be prepared, and Ysa was anxious to breathe the wild air, and break through the monotony of the city that now seemed to trap her, its grasp tightening every day.

     

    As she descended the smooth stone steps that lead toward the city gates, her gaze fell upon the clay dome at the water's edge. The smelter had grown cold, and a hard lump formed in Ysa’s throat. The smelter had been abandoned since the day she spoke with the prisoners, since the day Kyrtos had entrusted her with this mission, and given her his charge. Her thoughts grew dark, and she shuddered in the cool, spring air. The guards now stood just at the mouth of the mine, towering and unmoving, speaking not even to one another, arms crossly folded. She looked away, unable to think any longer about the fate of the men she had come to know.

     

    Her resolve now doubled, bent on ensuring whatever their unknown fate was not in vain, she quickened her pace as the carved, aurulent city gates came into view. It was early yet, but she had no wish to dally in the market and draw any unnecessary attention to her departure. While now an adult, she was unsure how her father might react if he had later heard she had set out alone and unchaperoned for a few days; regardless, it was best to avoid raising any eyebrows. She pulled the hood of her traveling cloak further down over her forehead as she strode through the market stalls.

     

    At the gate, she laid a hand softly on the cold, etched surface, and with a deep breath, pushed the heavy door open, without looking back.

     



    Mist floated through the light-dappled air, overgrown moss cascading from the gilded towers swayed in the breeze, the rock warblers sang, and the Karth River flowed steadily on nearby. Ysa set one foot firmly in front of the other as she descended the city’s sloping steps. Her mind a wellspring of excitement bubbling just under the surface of the solemn expression she wore. With each step she felt more certain, more alive. As she strode across the wet grass, the stables along the side of the road came into view, and the heavy sound of pawing at the ground and a gate slowly opening echoed off the stone walls behind her. Through the shifting fog, the silhouette of a man and a large, wiry-haired dog trotting along at his heels came into view.

     

    “Good morning to yeh!” the Nord waved. “Here to hire a carriage? It’s just o’er that way.”

     

    Ysa was taken aback. While she had not intended to hire a carriage to take her, the notion set her on her heels. Could it have really been so simple? She blushed as she second guessed the nature of this expedition and herself. A prickling wave of doubt broke over her, but the prospect of retreating, of taking the easy way out unnerved her. Despite her good intentions, she had always been a bit stubborn for her own good, and too set in her own ways and intentions. Perhaps because she could not be exactly sure where she was going, perhaps because she had already committed to the idea, or perhaps because she needed to prove something to herself, she shook the lingering thoughts from her mind.

     

    She straightened her posture, “Thank you, but no--I’m just heading to Karthwasten.”

     

    The gruff Nord looked her up and down, narrowing his eyes. “Oh, aye…” he trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck. “On yer own then?”

     

    Ysa’s palms grew clammy. “Aye,” she cleared her throat “But it isn’t far--”

     

    “--If it’s money--” the stableman started, eyes looking nervously around.

     

    “It’s not.” She countered flatly. “Thank you, but I’m fine on my own.”

     

    The Nord bit his lower lip, sizing Ysa up. Skyrim’s wilderness was a dangerous place, especially for a young and inexperienced lady. “Well, you ought really to have another set of eyes watchin’ yer hide. If you’re set on heading out alone, you should consider purchasing one of our fine wardogs. They’re fast, sharp, loyal. Could save yer life in a jam.”

     

    A sales pitch! Ysa mused, relieved. She glanced down at the tall, muscular dog sitting next to the Nord. What on Nirn would I do with a dog?, she wondered. Sad, honey-hued eyes peered up at her as the canine wagged his bushy tail, and without warning, something small in Ysa’s heart gave away.

     

    “This here is Champion. You can call ‘em Champ. He comes from a long line of warhounds, and was bred, born, and trained to see action. You couldn’t be safer than with Champ here. I’ll let him go fer just…” He nervously paused,  “400 septims. Now normally we charge more than that...”

     

    While Ysa had more money back in her room, she knew better than to carry too much with her and become a target for bandit highwaymen. She had only packed a little more than 400 for the entirety of her trip, and did not relish the thought of turning around and walking back through the city gates. “I’m sorry friend, but that is a bit more than I can spend just now--”

     

    “Alright 300 septims,” the shrewd man countered briskly.

     

    Ysa bit her bottom lip. She had not intended to purchase an animal today. Champion let out a small whine and looked up at his Nord master, tail wagging again, sweeping dirt back and forth across the patchy grass. “It’s just that--” Ysa started.

     

    “Well just tell me what you think is fair, then. What you can manage,” the man was clearly agitated and it was beginning to show. “Look,” he started again, “You seem like a nice girl and Champ here, he likes you. If he isn’t everything I’ve said he is, then you just bring him back here when you come back and you’ll get yer money back. Deal?”

     

    Ysa’s heart pounded. “200 septims and it’s a deal,” she extended her hand.

     

    “Deal,” responded the Nord shaking her hand. “I’ll g’fetch his papers.”

     

    Ysa retrieved the coin purse from her knapsack, and began removing the pre-counted, parchment-rolled septims. 25… 50… Champion paced the small pasture. 100… 125…

     

    “Pardon me!” came a familiar deep and sonorous voice. “I’m here on behalf of Commander Caecius, who wanted to see about getting some horses re-shod.”

     

    Ysa stopped counting. Unbelievable. Instinctively, her eyelids slowly closed, and she wished she could vanish into the mist. Maybe he’d fail to recognize her with her cloak’s hood up. Champ barked and then rolled on the ground, belly pointed skyward.

     

    “Hey fella,” came Hjald’s voice. He knelt over Champ and scratched the dog’s furry anterior as he rolled gleefully around in the grass and dirt. “S’this your dog, miss? Is the farrier around?”

     

    There was no way out. Even if she answered without turning to face him, he would almost certainly know her voice, just as she had immediately known his. Her mind raced at what explanation for standing there in armor, with a shortsword and wardog she might possibly give to the boy who had grown up with her, who knew her family and their station.

     

    Ysa turned and lifted her hood. “More like I’m borrowing him, I suppose.”

     

    Hjald’s mouth hung open. “Ysa??” he stammered, surveying her. “What in Oblivion... What’s happened?? Are you going somewhere? Is it your father?” he spat out.

     

    Holding his gaze, and cautiously weighing her options, she evenly reassured him, “I’m only headed down the road.”

     

    “Where?” came his immediate and equally cautious response.

     

    “Just to Karthwasten,” she coolly replied.

     

    “With whom? By carriage?” He countered.

     

    Ysa paused. She had not planned on an interrogation and could see no circumstances under which Hjald would calmly accept her heading out alone. She broke from his gaze and looked at Champ, running possible permutations as she remained silent.

     

    Hjald took a couple steps closer, “Ysa… is something wrong? Please, I can help. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

     

    Her insides began to tremble and quake. She felt as if she were a little girl again, and had been caught sneaking a honey nut treat before dinner, or that she had been caught in a lie about who had actually broken an expensive family heirloom.

     

    As Hjald drew nearer still, she looked up at him, attempting to gauge his intentions and the level of risk he posed to her expedition. Hjald searched Ysa’s eyes, trying to break through whatever wall secured the secret she was withholding. Champ paced nervously, chuffing slightly.

     

    “Hjald, I can’t.”

     

    “Ysa, please--” he pleaded.

     

    “I won’t be gone more than a few days,” Ysa tried again to reassure him.

     

    “You’re going alone?” he pressed, incredulous.

     

    “I have Champion.”

     

    “I’ll accompany you then.” he stubbornly huffed, hands on his hips.

     

    Ysa’s eyes grew wide, and after a moment’s deliberation, she firmly resolved the matter, “No.”

     

    She cared for Hjald, but she could not ask him to abandon his post with the Legion, and she needed to prove to herself that she could complete this small task on her own. She had no need or want of a chaperone. Or a guardian. She did not want to hire a courier. The sheltered existence and the high walls which encircled it had begun to squeeze her in a way she could no longer tolerate. In the few days since the encounter with the prisoners, a clear voice had emerged inside her that she could no longer ignore.

     

    “Ysa--” Hjald dropped his hands heavily, and his voice began to crack, “I can’t let you go. You don’t know what’s out there. It’s not safe.”

     

    Overwhelmed and nearing indignation, Ysa’s glassy eyes began to well and she only sighed huffily as she looked back and Hjald in silence. Sunlight streamed through the shifting fog and burned it away more steadily, as the Nord stableman’s clear voice pierced the tension, “Yer lookin’ fer the farrier then?” The man emerged from the stables, carrying a rolled bit of parchment and a small leather pouch.

     

    He approached, “Champion’s details of lineage, terms of sale, and a few notes about his disposition and training. You can call him by name, whistle, or both. Here too are some bits for him. Dried meat nibs fer when he’s well-behaved. Need any more, we sell it here in bulk. He’s a good dog, so I’m sure we’ll be seein’ you before too long,” he chuckled heartily and as he handed Ysa the rolled parchment and leather drawstring sack.

     

    “Thank you,” Ysa managed with a small smile as she pressed the tightly rolled septims into the stableman's outstretched palm. She looked at Hjald, and took his hand. Ysa squeezed it slightly as she held his gaze, “We won’t be long,” she added.

     

    “Safe travels,” remarked the Nord pointedly, as Ysa released Hjald’s hand. She gave a small smile and called for Champion.

     

    “How many horses was it then?” the stableman asked, turning to Hjald. But the legionnaire heard nothing as he watched Ysa vanish into the mist of the Karth’s river valley.

     

     

    << PART I  

Comments

13 Comments   |   Legion and 9 others like this.
  • Duvain
    Duvain   ·  October 1
    I will also have to agree with what GailOlm said, she has a good combination of innocence and willpower. Willpower is a great characteristic for character development.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  September 9
    Beautiful descriptions and lovely character development. I'm a big fan of dogs, so any story with a dog in it is going to win me over. I can't wait to read more of this, and thanks for adding a new word to my vocabulary. Aurulent. Any ideas when we'll see...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  July 1
    It's not often we get the pleasure to read a chapter or poem of yours Edana but when we do.........
    I fully agree with GailOlm here....
    The innocence depicted with Ysa and her determined nature is so well balanced. Nothing like having a faith...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  June 20
    "M ist floated through the light-dappled air, overgrown moss cascaded from the gilded towers swaying in the breeze, the rock warblers sang, and the Karth River flowed steadily on nearby." Poetic, peaceful, and a lovely metaphor for trees, it is nice to se...  more
  • GailOlm
    GailOlm   ·  June 8
    I love Ysa's combination of innocence and determination. I'm glad that she has Champion with her as a traveling companion. :)
    • Edana
      Edana
      GailOlm
      GailOlm
      GailOlm
      I love Ysa's combination of innocence and determination. I'm glad that she has Champion with her as a traveling companion. :)
        ·  June 9
      Thanks, Gail! I couldn't bear to send her out on her own. :)
  • Golden Fool
    Golden Fool   ·  June 7
    Well this is a surprise, it's been so long since part 1 that I'd forgotten you were writing a story. I'm going to have to thank Phil for indirectly causing me to notice this part, I spotted it while checking to see if he'd posted the next part in his story.
    • Edana
      Edana
      Golden Fool
      Golden Fool
      Golden Fool
      Well this is a surprise, it's been so long since part 1 that I'd forgotten you were writing a story. I'm going to have to thank Phil for indirectly causing me to notice this part, I spotted it while checking to see if he'd posted the next part in his story.
        ·  June 9
      I can only work at a snail's pace, I'm afraid. :) Thanks for stopping by, Golds.
  • BlueDremora
    BlueDremora   ·  June 7
    This is so well written. Like, when I read your writing it just flows into place: no awkward pauses, no weird commas, no misplaced words. It's like floating down a wide, lazy river with small goldfish jumping from the water to add a joke or an interesting...  more
    • Edana
      Edana
      BlueDremora
      BlueDremora
      BlueDremora
      This is so well written. Like, when I read your writing it just flows into place: no awkward pauses, no weird commas, no misplaced words. It's like floating down a wide, lazy river with small goldfish jumping from the water to add a joke or an interesting...  more
        ·  June 9
      Thanks for the kind words.  :$ I try to put a lot of thought into my word choice to paint exactly the picture I want, but as concisely as I can say it. This chapter is a little less flowery than my last, primarily because of all the dialogue, I think...  more
  • Mottyskills
    Mottyskills   ·  June 7
    loving your use of less obvious adjectives like "cascading" pickling"...you've got me drawn in E! A healer and her hound :)
    • Edana
      Edana
      Mottyskills
      Mottyskills
      Mottyskills
      loving your use of less obvious adjectives like "cascading" pickling"...you've got me drawn in E! A healer and her hound :)
        ·  June 7
      Lol. Oops. That second one was supposed to "prickling," damn computers not reading my mind when I type a thing wrong. XD 


      Thank you for the kind words though, Motty. It's been a while since I'd touched this. I've had this second ...  more
      • Mottyskills
        Mottyskills
        Edana
        Edana
        Edana
        Lol. Oops. That second one was supposed to "prickling," damn computers not reading my mind when I type a thing wrong. XD 


        Thank you for the kind words though, Motty. It's been a while since I'd touched this. I've had this second chapter ready sinc...  more
          ·  June 7
        I kind of liked pickling lol looking forward to more