U.O.T.W. chapter 213 Northward Bound

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    It was a good few hours after Sotek and the Imperial army first approached Ivarstead to the far east of Whiterun that Aela was overwhelmed with the sense of loneliness. She knew from what the Harbinger had told her that communication was probably restricted due to leaks and infiltration but that never stopped her from feeling so alone. She didn’t even feel this bad when her father left some years before.

     

    She meant what she had told Farkas, she really tried. There were so many times in the past week she held herself in check, bottling up as much as she could but inside she finally admitted it. Not only did she love Sotek but she needed him as well. Such a sentiment wasn’t easy for her. She was no typical woman, she didn’t want to be. She couldn’t be. Having a man in her life wasn’t something she thought about or even considered for the later years of her life and yet here she was; dependent on another soul. A part of her hated him for that; a dark part of her soul which had spent so many years hurting over the loss of her mother; the betrayal of her father when he left her behind to fend for herself.

     

    Since then that is what she did, she fended for herself. It made no difference if it was a man in the Bannered mare trying to steal a kiss or a saber cat trying to claim a kill. All were prey to be hunted down and defeated. Sometimes with a bow and arrow; other times all it needed was a fist.

    A faint memory from years before played out before her. She was about sixteen and this evening in question she and her ‘brothers’ were in the Bannered Mare. A young Nord had his eye on the wild young lass for a while, as did all the boys there. She attracted them to her like bees to honey. Not that she did anything to attract such attention deliberately; she hated it when they approached her.

     

    There was a wildness to her; a wild flower’s attractiveness. She was the wild place all the young men of Whiterun wanted to go to. The wild meat all the teenage men wanted to taste.

     

    One such boy had drunk too much mead. He started daring the other lads and soon a wager was struck. Golden septims started filling a bowl amidst the rowdy group while the unsuspecting Companions looked on.

     

    Not even Farkas or Vilkas knew what was going on. All they could do was watch as time seemed to stand still.

     

    Aela headed to the bar and ordered three more drinks when the boy approached her. He lightly tugged on her shoulder, spinning her around. She looked at him in curiosity, wondering what he had to say when he leaned forwards and pecked the Huntress on the lips.

     

    Such a memory was all but lost to Aela. She earned a reputation that evening, one which stayed with her until the green scaly Argonian arrived at Whiterun’s gate. She looked behind her at Farkas and Vilkas; knowing they were out of her sight and tears started swelling her eyes. She growled loudly, strengthening her resolve. No matter how the others played it, they were not him. She felt so frustrated when she laid out a kill for them both and they just looked at it, unsure as to what they should do.

     

    With her and Sotek it was pure instinct. Instinct drove them to the hunt and every week she watched him in both his forms. She watched and smiled inside every time when his forms blended together a little bit more like two mists slowly entwining together forming a single mass of cloud. One thing she regretted with him was she never said how pleased she was with him. When he received his first blessing she felt so proud with her mate. He was a werewolf just as much as she was and he was getting stronger every time.

     

    Instinct drove them when they were on the plains and it was instinct which drove her now. She ran as hard as she could up the hillside northwards away from the plains. Just for a few seconds she turned around and looked down at their home, Red’s and Scarface’s. There she could make out Farkas watching; she knew they couldn’t follow but that meant little to her. Facing north once again she transformed into Red a second time then the werewolf ran as hard as she could.

     

    As she started running along a trail which would lead her deeper in the mountain range that formed the southern borders of Morthal, an unfortunate goat ran from cover in front of her. Instead of choosing life by running down the mountainside across the hills to safety it ran straight along the path Red was travelling on. She caught the scent of it before it even revealed itself but now she could see it; there was no stopping her… Growling and spitting saliva, Red lurched forwards and bolted towards her prey. The chase was on.

     

    It was over in a moment as the goat had no chance what so ever. Red tore it apart and fed with no remorse at ending the life of a defenseless animal; she needed to feed so she fed. The circle of life and death turned once more. The goat was small so it eased her hunger only by a fraction but it certainly helped. An hour later, to the north of her position, she could see the marshlands and beyond. In the distance, the outlines of the northern mountains called to her. It was there where Red would find her mate. Somewhere in between those distant mountains was the Imperial camp. With such thoughts clouding her judgment, Red ran harder down the hillside.

     

    Whether it was from knowing in a few hours she would be feeling the warmth of his fur against her or just the desire to see him, to know he was safe, it mattered not; she ran as hard as she could down the hillside leaving caution behind; a little too far behind as it just so happened.

     

    Suddenly she found herself unable to keep pace with her speed. Red’s paws failed her and she fell. With a wailing cry she slid down the slope and slammed into a large rock; one of the last remnants of the mountain range which had dominated the hillside.

     

    Red cried out in pain from the impact. Her hip took the blunt of it but she was lucky in the fact that it wasn’t broken. Despite the narrow escape, Red couldn’t run on it. She howled out in frustration, pain and anger then Aela changed back. The Huntress tried to stand but the pain was too great, forcing her to the ground where she sat on the rock she had previously collided with.

     

    Aela grimaced and looked down at her hip. She was shocked at the fact that it was already near black from the bruising, moments after her adrenalin died down she realized she hurt it more than she initially thought.

     

    Before Sotek arrived at Jorrvaskr, she never bothered with healing potions. She just took a few basic ones and left the more potent ones behind. Since they become one, things changed. That was the main thing he stood his ground with her on. He literally forced her to take plenty of potions with her when she went out, but not the basic ones, his potions. They were far superior to everyone else’s. No one knew how he would manage it but even Arcadia couldn’t equal his potions potency. All they knew was that Sotek looked odd when he dressed himself in a fur helmet every time he set about to make several batches of potions for the Companions. He even had two rings which he wore as well as a bracer.

     

    She took off her pack and removed one such potion. After pulling out the stopper, she held the potion up towards the sun then started gently swirling it around. Even she didn’t know how he did it but today she was grateful. She downed the potion as fast as she could. Warmth filled her and radiated from her gut as it flowed through her body. Even as she watched, the bruising vanished before her very eyes and in mere moments her hip felt better.

     

    Aela lifted up her knee, half expecting her hip to hurt once again but there was no pain at all. She put on her pack then changed into Red. The female werewolf slowly stood up on her hind legs and tensed up, half expecting a searing, crippling pain to bring her down. Thanks to the potion Aela had drunk, the wound was little more than a dull ache. Thankful it gave her hardly any pain at all, she fell to all fours with a thump. Giving it little more thought she was off once more, albeit a bit more cautious to her terrain and surroundings than before.

     

    Once she reached the base of the hill, the ground become a lot softer. Red knew she was reaching the edge of the marsh but she also knew from experience that it wasn’t overly deep. One day Aela would bring Sotek here. There were a few burial sites around the perimeter; no doubt some of them held something of interest but the main purpose of their visit would be the marsh itself. It held an abundance of bugs, fish and plant life. She felt sure there would be something that Sotek would be after, and maybe the odd poisonous attribute for herself.

     

    As Red started to enter the marsh, an arrow shot passed her. It flew close by in a wild arc, missing her by a few feet. Red paused for a moment and, for a second at least, she wondered if it was meant for something else but then she dismissed the thought almost as quickly as it entered her head. As she ran she turned to the east from where the missile had come from. There at a burial site was a single skeletal archer. It notched another arrow and fired, once again missing by miles.

     

    Red ran straight at it, she never even bothered to swipe out. Running as fast as she could muster, just as the skeleton prepared to fire a third time, Red ran headlong into it. The impact of the werewolf and all her weight colliding into the frail form of the skeleton was too much. The undead creature’s form was completely obliterated. Bits of bone and fragments went flying in all directions.

     

    Red stopped and circled around the burial site as she growled her warnings; there was no door or anything just a few pillars and a sarcophagus in the middle of the site. She howled out furiously at the sarcophaguses, warning whoever was buried inside to be wearier as to who passed by. With a blurring pace of speed she was off once more, through the marshes to the base of the northernmost mountain range. It was here that she was so sure that she would be reunited with Scarface.

     

    Red paused for a second; there on the wind she could smell his scent. Although it was old, she knew he was in the area. With her heart pounding with desire and need, her paws hammered on the now frozen ground as she headed up the mountain side. Every claw in her paws gripped and scratched the frozen earth as she ran.

     

    As she followed Scarface’s scent through the mountain side she started picking up something else, something she knew far better than even Scarface’s or Soteks own smell. It was the scent of blood. She ran harder following the smell, her senses working overtime. There in the distance she saw a camp but as she got closer the smell of blood was almost overwhelming.

     

    As she entered the site she recognized it as a Stormcloak one. Red cautiously examined the different tents, but there were no survivors. Instead, all she found were bodies of the dead. Every Stormcloak was killed; slain where they fought. She recognized the ‘workmanship’ as it were; Scarface was here, of that she had no doubt. Her mate killed them all and obviously fed on everyone. She still couldn’t get over how much he had to feed to sustain himself. She would feed off three at the most after that she felt bloated and sluggish, most wolves wouldn’t eat to their fullness for the same reasons, but Scarface; he had to feed, his metabolism, his healing capabilities and the sheer bulk of his form demanded nothing less. It was a constant hunger, an undeniable thirst.

     

    Red could easily separate Scarface’s paw prints to the other animals that had so obviously came here to feed on the carcasses. She saw various paw prints from foxes, wolves and even a troll had been here to investigate the scene and to feed. Now though there was just rotting corpses. Red turned towards the northeast and followed Scarface’s old trail as best she could.

     

    The elements of the northern mountains hampered her way then they played the worst trick of all. Scarface’s trail was gone, covered in fresh snow or blown away by the wind. Despite this though, Red had a rough idea on which direction he had travelled. Although he had turned north and east a few times throughout his journey he roughly kept to the same heading. With nowhere else to go Red continued along that direction. After an hour she came to a well used path which followed the base of a large jagged rocky formation, like a mountain but on a much smaller scale. It even looked like a mountain but in fact was nothing more than a small pointed hill.

     

    As she made her way around it she felt she was close, she could almost feel the presence of Scarface; his scent was there once again but it was very feint. As she turned the last corner to where she believed the camp to be, she finally saw it; the camp. Aela changed form. She stood there for several seconds then she screamed out and dropped to her knees.

    “No, no… Noo!!!”

     

    Sotek had been there, she could sense him but the entire camp had moved on; Sotek with it. All Aela had for her journey was an old burnt out fire and an abandoned campsite.

     

    She kicked out at a rock sending it flying down the mountainside towards the sea. She stood there looking out at the vast ocean as desperation and abandonment tore at her soul. She screamed out in a rage as frustration overwhelmed her.

    “You fucking bastard!!! Where are you?”

     

    She shouted out for all she was worthwhile loneliness, desperation and a feeling of hopelessness took over. Without meaning to she changed form. Red ran to the old fire and swiped out at it sending ash and burnt timbers flying in all directions, then she slumped down to the ground, exhausted, tired, upset and alone.

     

    At some point she changed back to her Nordic form. Aela had no idea how long Red laid there in the snow. It was only when she started to gather up some of the wood to make herself a fire that she realized the sun was setting. The nights chill was starting to take hold and for the first time since she arrived at the old camp Aela realized she had no shelter. She tried to think of where there might be an animal cave she could use, but her mind was too foggy with her emotions being tipped way off the scale for her to think clearly. All she could do was sit there and gaze at the fire.

     

    She started thinking about the warmth of Jorrvaskr and all the times she was cold Sotek would be there and cover her up with extra furs. She looked up at the sky and was a bit shocked as to how dark it actually was; without realizing it she had sat there for over an hour.

     

    Being afraid of the dark was one thing Aela didn’t worry about. She had spent many nights out by herself. She wasn’t afraid of Skyrim’s wildlife either; it was the wildlife that was afraid of her.

     

     Behind her, she felt a presence. She could smell a Khajiit approach her location.

    “Good, I’m just in the mood for this!” She thought to herself. The Huntress jumped up and drew her bow. Within a second an arrow was notched and aiming at the Khajiit trader that stood before her.

     

    “Aela? What are you doing here? Where’s your shelter? Are you ok?” Ri’saad asked. Even in the faded light he could see she was somewhat distraught.

     

    She recognized him by the markings on his fur and she lowered her bow. She never bothered with them at all, regarding them as everyone else did; thieves, and rouges. That was until Sotek came along. He accepted them far easier than everyone else did and whenever Ri’saad’s trading caravan was set up outside Whiterun Sotek always traded with him first.

     

    Aela was introduced to Ri’saad during one particular day when the Companions returned to Whiterun after clearing a pack of wolves from Rorikstead’s farm. In fact it was him that Aela went to buy lock picks from. Many an evening Sotek and she would ignore the inn and sit with the Khajiit and his fellow traders outside Whiterun. Gradually over time she learnt to be less pessimistic of them and see them differently as Sotek did, as friends.

     

    She un-notched the arrow and returned it to her quiver and apologized for her rash actions.

    “Sorry about that I…” her voice broke and she fell silent. The Huntress struggled to speak, every word refused to take form.

     

    Knowing of the state she was in which was all too easy to spot, Ri’saad walked over to her and wrapped a fur around her. She timidly smiled as she clutched on to the warm fur.

    “Thank you”.

     

    “Do not mention it. That’s twenty gold please!” He held out his hand and watched as Aela’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. The Khajiit started laughing, leaving Aela gasping in shock.

     

    She shot him a look then realized he was joking then she started laughing too. He smiled warmly and took her by the hand, moving her away from the fire.

    “Come, we can’t leave you here by yourself. Sotek wouldn’t like it if we did”.

     

    He waved his arm high in the air and moments later the other Khajiit’s came into sight with a wagon.

    “We sometimes set up camp near the Imperial camp here but it would seem they have moved. No matter, we will camp here tonight. I trust you will accept our hospitality? Tomorrow we will get you home”.

     

    “I can make my own way home but I would be thankful for the shelter tonight”.

     

    “No! I insist. You and Sotek make Whiterun so much more profitable I would be a trader with an empty cart if I let you go by yourself”.

     

    Aela looked at him as she tried to work out what he had said but she kept such thoughts to herself; at least initially.

     

    Once the camp was set up, the five of them sat around the fire. Atahbah a female Khajiit whose job it was to basically run the camp, cooked up some food then shared it amongst them all. As Aela ate she asked what Ri’saad had meant earlier.

    “What did you mean when you said you would be like a trader with an empty cart if you let me head back by myself?”

     

    Khayla, another female Khajiit, gave a slight laugh. She wore heavy armor and Aela knew she was the guard to the caravan.

    “A trader with an empty cart is a fool. How can you sell if your cart’s empty?”

     

    “So you would think yourself foolish if you left me to make my own way back? I have travelled these paths before you know”. As she spoke she kept her voice soft not wishing to offend the Khajiit’s hospitality.

     

    Ri’saad brushed her words aside with a welcoming smile.

    “We know you are well travelled friend. Far less than Sotek is but he struggles with the directions of the nine holds. He is a good friend and he has asked that we deal with you as we do himself so no; we will get you to Whiterun. You are upset yes? So that’s final, you are with us and in the morning we set off to Whiterun”.

     

    Ma’randru-jo looked across the fire at him and grumbled at the news.

    “But we are not due to head for Whiterun for another two weeks! Sales will be poor there. Why don’t we escort her or rather by the looks of her, she escort us to Solitude? She can travel by carriage to Whiterun”.

     

    “I’m happy doing that!” Aela exclaimed. “So we’ll head to Solitude”.

     

    Ri’saad gave a sigh and shook his head.

    “Aela you know not the way of a trader. Ma’randru-jo, there is more gold to be made at Whiterun than any other hold. We have something far more precious than wares. No Aela, we will not go to Solitude. If we deliver you to Sotek, we would make a great deal of profit. No; we head to Whiterun”.

     

    “Profit?” Aela glared at him, feeling somewhat used.

     

    Ri’ssad noticed the glaring look on Aela’s face but he wasn’t deterred. Instead he explained himself to her.

    “Every Khajiit looks for profit. We will not ask for payment but Sotek would offer it and then we will accept. You will see. Now tell us why are you upset? Where is he? Why is he not here with you?”

     

    Aela explained about the legion and Sotek joining them then she went on about how much she had been missing him and of her journey when she set off to find him, but all she found was an empty camp.

     

    Atahbah all too easily sympathized with her.

    “We too miss our home; the warm sands, my kits. Three I have at home with my husband. It will be months until we return home, but even then give it a month we will be back. Soon they will be older and travel with us. Eventually I hope to have my own caravan and teach them the trader’s way”.

     

    A little while later they all made their way to their tents. Aela fell asleep within minutes but the last thought she had was of Sotek. She couldn’t but help think of where he was and whether he was thinking just as much of her.

     

    In the morning Aela awoke to the hustle and bustle of the traders packing up the camp. She got up and was surprised as to how quick they packed up the various tents. The whole operation of dismantling the entire campsite took mere moments as everything was designed to be repacked as fast as possible. She watched in amazement at the effectiveness of it all.

     

    Ri’saad looked over to her and smiled as he explained the reasons for their ways.

    “An hour spent packing and unpacking is an hour lost trading so we pack up quickly so we can be on warm sands”.

     

    She smiled back and offered her assistance; not that in such a situation she knew what to do.

    “What can I do to help?” Even as she spoke she was lightly pushed sideways. Her tent literally disappeared as it was collapsed then packed up within minutes.

     

    “Oh nothing, just be ready to leave”. Khayla said with a big grin.

     

    Within ten minutes of Aela getting up the camp was clear and ready to move. Without wasting any time the caravan set off along the southern road towards Whiterun.

    “We should be there by evening”. Ri’ssad stated as he tugged on the reins of the horse.

     

    Aela sat back on the caravan and listened as Ma’randru-jo started playing a lute. Atahbah joined in with a light cheerful whistling tune. By late afternoon they had reached the plains and as Ri’saad predicted they arrived at Whiterun an hour before the sun started to set. The Khajiits said their goodbyes to Aela as she headed through the gatehouse. When she got to the gate she paused and looked back at the camp. Already two tents were erected. She wondered if they had shown Sotek about camping because he always managed to set his tent up a lot faster than anyone else in the Companions. With a cheerful grin she headed inside.

     

    Aela walked up to the doors of Jorrvaskr then entered. She felt hesitant as she didn’t know what sort of greeting was waiting for her but she had needn’t have worried. The Harbinger looked up at her as she walked inside, he could see she was a bit upset, but he could tell she was also unusually very much in control. She looked across the table at the other Companions while the Harbinger approached her and gave her a much needed hug.

    “I’m sorry for heading off like that. I shouldn’t have”.

     

    Farkas shrugged it off and he enquired about her search despite everyone knowing it was fruitless.

    “Did you find him? You didn’t, did you?”

     

    Aela fought back a tear as she spoke.

    “No, the camp was gone”.

     

    The Harbinger was still holding her. He unconsciously squeezed her harder as a tear swelled up in his eye. He had a single report and it made his stomach turn.

    “We had a report from Irileth. Its bad news I’m afraid. Come, sit down with me”.

     

    “No!!” Her teeth were locked together, giving her a wild fearful look which was aided by the two fists held tightly by her sides. “What news? What’s happened? Tell me damn it”. Aela pushed him away a foot or so as she practically shouted out at him.

     

    Fearful for what such news would do to her, Kodlak was hesitant but he knew she needed to know. With a deep breath he relayed the report to her and prepared himself for the onslaught.

    “There was a camp near Dawnstar. We don’t know if it was Imperial or Stormcloak but we know it was wiped out. There were no survivors. Aela I’ve been told it was a blood bath; no one could be recognized”.

     

    Aela broke into a smile then she burst out laughing almost hysterically; totally confusing them all.

    “It was a Stormcloak camp! The Imperial camp had moved off! The Stormcloak camp was the one you’ve been told about. Scarface did it, his scents all over the camp. Their uniforms were torn to pieces because he fed on them all. Don’t you see? Scarface wasn’t a casualty, he was the cause”.

     

    The Harbinger felt a sigh of relief and he held on to Aela for support. He felt weak at the knees and wished he had stayed in his chair.

    “I was hoping Sotek wasn’t a victim but I’ve been dreading telling you in case he was”.

     

    “Sorry for shoving you. It’s been a hard twenty four hours for me, I’m sorry”. The Huntress said apologetically as she wrapped herself up in the Harbinger’s arms.

     

    Kodlak understood and all too easily forgave her. He knew the burdens which tormented the young Huntress and time hadn’t made things easy for her.

    “No; it’s been a hard week for you. However, young lady; if you are up to it, as it would seem that Sotek is alive and extremely well fed; a job has come up which is best suited to your particular skill set. I was going to leave it but as the news isn’t as bad as I thought, would you be willing to look into it?”

     

    “What’s the job?” Aela wasn’t in the mood for any task but at least it might help take her mind off things. She guessed that was what the Harbinger was thinking and maybe he was right. It was time to get busy.

     

    “There’s a bear that’s been plaguing a mill. They asked for someone to sort it out and generally that’s your sort of job”. Kodlak said with a sneaky smirk. Whenever Aela was upset a hunt would always help ease her tormented mind. Now was no exception.

     

    Aela nodded then looked across the hall at her two brothers. She felt some guilt at leaving them and a window of opportunity to rectify such matters revealed itself.

    “Farkas, Vilkas could you both come along with me? I don’t want to be alone at the moment”. It was true of course but it wasn’t them she wanted to be with; it was someone else.

     

    Vilkas got up from the table and gave his brother a light kick in the shin, forcing him up to his feet.

    “Sure! We’ll pack some lunch and travel by carriage then we can eat and rest as we go”.

     

    Kodlak suggested they left the next morning but Aela shook her head in disagreement.

    “No, we’ll leave as soon as their ready. We could be there by midday tomorrow then with some luck the inn will have a spare room for the night”.

     

    Fifteen minutes later they left Jorrvaskr and headed to the stables. When Aela passed the Khajiit camp she walked over to the main tent and handed to Ri’ssad a bag containing various bottles of mead.

    “For you all tonight and thanks again for your help”.

     

    Ri’saad smiled back at her and licked his lips as he pulled out one of the bottles.

    “You are most welcome”.

     

    With no other business to attend to, Aela joined the other two Companions who were already sitting on the back of the carriage. With a friendly wave to say goodbye, Aela said her farewells to the Khajiits as the wagon set off.

     

     

Comments

1 Comment   |   DeltaFox and 5 others like this.
  • Harrow
    Harrow   ·  May 1
    Good to see at least the Khajiit are as practical as ever. Everyone else runs quite high off of their emotional fuel.