A.D.w.D. Chapter 3: Today's Special

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    Amari pressed her back to the wall, ready to dash past the courtyard and into the kitchens at the first opening. Behind her she could sense the bandits’ auras milling about the dried and cracked grounds outside as they prepared for lunch. It had been over a month since the last rain; no one ever thinks of Skyrim for its dry, warm weather, but there actually was a good solid month when the regionwasn’t freezing. Although, that could change at a moment’s notice, especially once the dragons started ‘arguing’. Ever since the Fall of Alduin, the now divided dragons would often clash over some dispute beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, rending the skies apart with their Voice and leaving terrible storms or droughts in their wake.

     

    A single long blast from the sentry’s horn interrupted her musings, signalling the return of a raid party. The bandits jumped to their feet and rushed toward the gate, eager to see what new loot and tales awaited. Amari used the distraction to sprint across the courtyard. Halfway there, a bandit stopped and called out to his comrade:

     

    “Oh hold on, I gotta grab somethin’ first.”

     

    Amari dove behind a tree stump before the bandit could see her. 

     

    “Go on, I’ll keep your share safe,” his comrade assured.

     

    “Yah better keep your whoring mitts off it!”

     

    The first bandit took something from a tent then ran off to rejoin the group. Amari let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Mushrooms were growing from the stump; Mora Tapinella. Another inedible one that eating raw would cramp your stomach all day; it should mix well with her Imp Stool.

     

    She reached the kitchens without further incidents and spilled her ingredients onto the counter: Skeever, Imp Stool, and Mora Tapillena. With the swing of a cleaver she removed the tail, which was known for its alchemical properties. What was so special about the tail? Why not the teeth, or saliva, or something?

     

    The camp didn’t have an alembic or retort for distilling, so she could only grind the ingredients into a paste. She sniffed it: a strong earth scent with hints of decay. It was a good thing the gruel, still warm from the coals underneath, had its own pungent smell to mask the poison. The one tail wouldn’t go far; maybe only enough to taint two dishes.

     

    Her hands started shaking as she ladled the gruel into the bowls again. The sickening crunch of the sentry landing kept replaying in her head. Amari gripped the edge of the counter, forcing her hands still and took a deep breath. Breathe, whether its pain or nerves, breathing stills the mind; panic is the true killer. Her father always told her that and it helped calm her now. Her mind was already decided, any hesitation now was due only to fear. She scooped the poison into the bowls before she could bail and carried the first tray out of the kitchens.

     

    Most of the men had already gathered in the courtyard seated on an odd variety of furniture ranging from stolen tables to felled tree stumps and were bagging their shares from the raid. Sadly, she didn’t see Silver, which probably meant he was dead. He was the one newer bandits and one of the rare few she actually liked. He was the only one that treated her like a human and now he was gone. Breathe. Her hands stilled and her heart slowed; a certain relief came with knowing you were past point of no return. It was the waiting and indecisiveness beforehand that always got to her. No one paid any heed to her passing and bits of their conversation trickled in:

     

     “…tried the new girl at the Frostfruit; I tell you the name of the place suits ‘er too well…”

     

    “So who do you think would win in fight? Molag Bal or the dragon of our mountain, what’s its name? ”
    “Fierce Child Eater?” “Angry Wind Rat?” “Ice Hoard Overlord?”
    “No, no, none those are even close! Anyway, the winner would obviously be…”

     

    “It’s bullshit is what it is! Not even close to a fair cut, how am I gonna sell this shit?”

     

    She set one of the ‘specials’ before the captain, a cold, battle scarred Redguard with eyes that were always scanning, calculating. The same eyes she saw lead the ambush against her parents last year. He was a cold and heartless monster clad as an officer of the Imperial Legion. She could see why the Legion exiled him, her only regret was they hadn't executed him instead. The bandits once brought a pregnant woman back among that raid's captives and he slit her throat like a lamb to the slaughter simple because she was a 'liability to the camp's resources.'

     

    The captain spared her a brief glance before resuming his conversation with two of the raid leaders, the third and the one she was saving the second special for hadn’t arrived yet.

     

    “Fools,” the captain was reprimanding, “you think this golden age will last? Once the war ends the legion and holds will turn their forces inwards, on us.”

     

    “Relax! You worry too much.” That was from the Nord raid leader overflowing with jewelry and excess weight. He was called ‘The Crusher.’ Why? To his face it was because of the war hammer he wielded with ease, otherwise it was because every seat feared his girth. “Enjoy life for once! They send a small force, we smash them; they send a large force, we go to ground, just like we always have.”

     

    “So your plan is to hide in hole? This is rare opportunity! Both sides have bled themselves dry; the bandits actually outnumber the standing armies and are equally equipped from looting battlefields. The Chief of Helga and I are of the same mind in this. If we form an alliance with Helga, The Two Towers on the White River, and Broken Oar Grotto outside the Solitude docks, then we can control most the trade routes throughout Skyrim. United we could face down armies, apart we are nothing!”

     

    “Aw, is Captain on his high horse again?” The last raid leader arrived; ‘The Toad.’ He was all whipcord muscle, but had some affliction that bloated his gut and turned his eyes a pale yellow; eyes that still haunted her dreams from the day he pinned her to the forest floor while her parents were hacked to pieces behind her. Many thought he was fat and he padded his clothing to encourage the image. People often underestimated his speed, once.

     

    “This ain't the Legion, you got to start with the small stuff, like a proper table!” He lashed out with a kick, sending the cobbled together table flying through the air and spilling the other officers’ gruel.

     

    The captain still hadn’t eaten any! Amari realized with horror. He gestured, ignoring his comrades’ glares, and a couple bandits came from around a corner with an ornate solid oak table stacked with silver wares that were completely out of place with the rest of the camp. They dropped the table before the Captain and began setting the silverware with mock flourish. The Captain watched the show with cold, unimpressed eyes.

     

    The Toad looked up and saw Amari was still there with one bowl left, the last special. He licked his lips. “That table’s owners had a girl that looked a bit like you.  Why don’t yah be a good lass and bring that bowl here.”

     

      She would love to, but it was the captain that held everyone together. “…but, um, the Captain always eats first.”

     

    “Nonsense.” He grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap. One hand slipped under her bodice, the other took a spoon and traced up her body towards the bowl she clutched. She squeezed her eyes shut; there was nothing else she could do. He spoke into her ear, “We can’t have our captain eating from such a dirty bowl.”

     

    A sharp wind whipped across Amari’s face followed by the ring of steel. She warily opened her eyes, the captain, still seated, had his scimitar resting against the Toad’s neck and the bowl of gruel had two pieces of a spoon floating in it.

     

    “Challenge my authority again and I will gut you where you stand.” His voice was flat, as if stating a simple fact.

     

    “Whoa, whoa! Easy there, it’s just a bowl.” The Toad raised his hands in surrender. Amari used the opportunity to duck underneath the blade that had stopped a hair’s breadth before her nose and slip away towards the kitchens.  

     

    “Count yourself lucky that is all it was; elsewise you would already be dead. Now pass it over.”

     

    “Okay... I’m sorry.” He pushed the ‘special’ back towards the captain, then the captain poured the contents into a silver bowl and began eating. He coughed once, then dug back in.

     

    “So, your raid was successful…” Discipline was shown; now all was back to normal. Amari snorted in disgust, they were just a pack of dogs; good luck carving your kingdom with them, if you survive the meal that is. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is always someone out there that can bring you down; even a dragon god learned this.

     

    CRACK!

     

    “Daydreaming again girl! Maybe I’m not hitting you hard enough.”

     

    Yep, Gnarly Nan is back, Amari thought rubbing where the spoon hit her head. She was wearing the new boots Amari noticed. 

     

    “I swear, I leave for just a few minutes and you’re slacking off again. The men still haven’t even been served yet! Get back out there!” She shoved a loaded tray of bowls at her sent her back out. The captain seemed fine, did she make it potent enough?

     

    As she passed The Toad again he grabbed her by the thigh, uncomfortably high, and whispered, “One of these days, you will be alone, I will find you, and no one will hear you.”

     

    “You chasing after that girl again? I bet you like to eat all the green berries too.” Taunted the second raid leader, a Bosmer who just went by ‘Elf’, turning the insult into a name that shamed those he defeated.  

     

    “Mind your own damn business!”

     

    “But it is; none of us want you breaking her in before we get a go; we’ve seen how you leave them.  Guess I can’t really blame you though, probably the only way you can get something to feel tight on your member.”

     

    “The day a Bosmer calls me small!”

     

    Amari broke free as the two started yelling. She quickly served the rest and retreated back into the kitchens. She felt dirty, violated. She could feel their eyes prying into her, eyes filling with darker thoughts every day.  Time was running out.

     

    She collapsed against the kitchen stove, clawing at her skin and stifling back sobs. The Captain needed to hurry up and die; she needed to escape! Gnarly Nan came over, and for once didn’t hit her with a spoon. She held both of Amari’s hand still and said, “Runt!” Cleared her throat, “Amari. Just remember this: no matter what they do to you, only you choose when you’re broken.”

     

    Amari looked up at Hjorta, realization dawning on her. “They did… are doing the same to you?”

     

    She nodded. That explained so much; Amari found it difficult to keep calling her Gnarly Nan in light of the news. Maybe Hjorta could help her. “Have, have you ever thought of escape?”

     

     Hjorta flinched back and touched an old scar on her neck. “No, and you shouldn’t either. Also, don’t think this will get you out of cleaning.” She tossed Amari a scrubbing brush and pointed at the stoves, then stalked out of the room. Maybe it wouldn’t so hard to keep calling her Gnarly Nan.

     

    A few hours later the kitchens were sparkling clean. Amari had kept her hands busy working in a vain attempt to distract her mind. How long did the poison’s effects take to start? How long did she have? What if it didn’t work? Was she doomed to become the next Gnarly Nan? What if he drinks a cure, or finds out it was her? The questions looped endlessly in mind; she hated waiting!

     

    A commotion erupted outside. Was this it! She rushed outside to find the bandits gathered around a body, two were gesturing emphatically as they explained the story.  She snuck a look from between the men and saw with a sinking feeling that it wasn’t the captain.

     

    The body was half eaten by tiny teeth and only a skull remained of the face, but she knew who it was. They finally found the sentry and cleared out the Skeevers in the cove. Amari spotted the captain off to the side looking far too healthy. He briefly raised a handkerchief to his mouth before turning away. She knew the sight of body wouldn’t turn him, so she opened her sight and looked again. A red chaos was tearing at his innards, so the poison was working! The bastard just refused to show any signs of weakness to his men.  He caught her watching and she quickly turned away. Did he suspect her? Those cold eyes seemed to bore through her and forced a shudder from her. She knew they would send her to clean up the mess in the cove, but for once she looked forward to it. With that many tails, she could craft enough poison for the whole camp. 

     

    Down in the cove she was forgotten, even the new sentry largely ignored her. He looked like he was trying to hold his breathe against the scent of bloated skeever for his whole shift. Amari had stuffed her nose with rag bits and covered her mouth with a handkerchief to ward against the smell. There were so many little corpses! She counted over 30 as she bagged them. Before tossing the Skeever in the bag, she would turn her back to sentry and slice of the tail with a steak knife and drop the tail in a bucket where she was also collecting any mushrooms she found. She had nabbed the knife, a mortar and pestle, and a small strainer from the kitchens beforehand. She hoped Hjorta wouldn’t notice them missing. She could explain the knife; she would tell Nan it was to end her own life and hopefully that would distract the woman enough not to question why the other items were missing too.

     

    Honestly, the thought had crossed her mind when she realized what fate they had planned for her, but she wouldn’t be broken! She had survived this long, Hjorta had survived, and if she ended her life, they would just find another poor girl. No, she looked at the bucket now full of tails and assorted mushrooms; she would see them all fall before that happened. She reached in the bag around her neck; her familiar’s presence always gave her strength. She tranced the twisting eddy of a rune across its skull. Her mother’s sacrifice; she couldn’t let them down; she would fight to her last breath.

     

     She finished bagging the skeevers and spoiled meat, then tossed the sacks into the cove. The current would carry the bags downstream and provide a feast for some lucky creature. She piled all her supplies into the meat locker out of sight of the sentry: tails, Mora Tapinella, Imp Stool, Fly Amentia, Namira’s Rot, and Blisterwort, a mortar and pestle, a strainer, and empty bottles of mead and Skooma. The sentry seemed content to let her be, assuming that she was only cleaning the inside of the locker. The Skeevers had apparently been able to smell the frozen meat through the stone and earth walls, and burrowed a hole through the wall. Once the seal was broken, the ice melted and the Skeevers started nesting.

     

    She let Scuttles out of the bag and woke him with a short effusion of energy. She laughed as he jumped up and climbed about her as if she was a tree.

     

    “Stay close, you can’t be seen no matter what.”

     

    A skeletal squirrel covered in runes is difficult to explain anywhere, but here it would be her death sentence. It tittered with a ghostly echo of a voice back at her then bounded out of the room.

     

    Careful! She sent the thought through her link to it.

     

    The creature was still unruly and wild, but it did know how to evade notice. It spent its living years evading hawks and its skills had only grown in undeath. She could feel its movements as it explored the shadows of the cove through their link and not even the fish stirred as Scuttles darted by. The squirrel would be fine, so she focused back on the alchemy.

     

    She knew the last potion worked, so she started by combining the same ingredients into a paste again first, but this time she strained the plant and Skeever fibers out and poured the liquid into the empty bottles. There was almost a bucket’s worth this time and hopefully it would be more potent.  She tinkered with mixing the other remaining ingredients together and tentatively tasted each one, just like they always tell you not to do. Most just tasted gross, but one made her feel irrationally angry and agitated; she made more of those, it could be useful.

     

    A signal from the link to Scuttles set a cold shiver down her spine. Did they find him? No, she could feel he was safely hiding, but he saw something. She hit herself on the head, she’d stopped focusing on her sight while she worked; anyone could have snuck up on her! She cast the spell again, expanding her awareness beyond the locker wall and found the flames of another aura speaking with the sentry. Probably Gnarly Nan checking on what was taking her so long. She hurriedly started packing the filled bottles and other paraphernalia into the Skeever tunnel, then pushed a few meat hanging racks in front of it.

     

    She saw the sentry’s purple aura ascend the ladder; that wasn’t right, he still had at least an hour before the next shift. The other Aura waited a few moments after the sentry left, then started walking towards the locker.

     

    Fear built up like a pit in her stomach, she didn’t know who was coming, but it wasn’t Gnarls. She slipped an arm behind the racks and fumbled around for the steak knife and one of the lingering poisons. She managed to coat the blade and hide the stash again by time the form reached the locker.

     

    “Well, well little lass. I told you I would find you. Alone.”

     

    Amari spun around, careful to keep the knife out of sight behind her. Before her stood the silhouette of theToad. His form blocked the doorway and only his leer was lit by the flame of his torch.

     

    He shut the metal door behind him with an echoing clang. “And that there would be no one to hear you.”

     

    She clutched the knife with bone white knuckles. She was alone, even Scuttles was trapped outside. She took a deep breath, only I choose when I’m broken.

     

     

     

     

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Comments

21 Comments   |   Felkros likes this.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 13
    Thanks for reading! Well I see you've already read the next chapter :) FYI I based poisons from skeever tails somewhat after arsenic poisoning.
  • Felkros
    Felkros   ·  September 12
    Wow. I thought Toad would just, like, die before he could carry out a threat, but wow. He's really going for it. Hopefully she, like, does squirrel-jistu or something and kills him :P By the way, did I mention how much I love the poisons in these chapters...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  February 10, 2016
    Fixed. Haha, you tell him!
    It's been awhile since I looked at this chapter, ah the nostalgia of when bandits were her biggest problem. You have to be creative when your out gunned, and no seats shall escape the Crusher!
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  February 10, 2016
    Oh god, this chapter ending gave me a heart attack. Go away Toad! I second Lissette's comment, I wish Albee could swoop in and save her! Or even my Kjeld and Reidar. Those two knuckleheads wouldn't just walk right by.
    Oh! The first mention of Mora ...  more
  • Idesto a'Shinbira
    Idesto a'Shinbira   ·  January 15, 2016
    What's your job, Karver? I want it!
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  December 17, 2015
    Yeah. Lissette tells me I´m naughty. Hiding in the basement and reading when I should be working. Shame on me. Shame on me.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  December 17, 2015
    A much better use of work time, haha
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  December 17, 2015
    Looking forward to it. Hopefully I´ll find some time today in work to read it.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  December 17, 2015
    Not every chapter has magic, but the next one should sate you. Ch.4 is pivotal to the whole story line. The finale to Arc I is the craziest shit I've written so far, though Ch.16, which I'm revising now, may contend that.
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  December 17, 2015
    It´s just detect life. I wanna some Exuro weird magic shit!  
    Yeah, superstitious Nords. Someone should do something about them.