Freta sat on a stump on the other side of the campfire, across from where Tara sat on a similar stump.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
Freta studied her. “Not the campfire.”
“No.” Tara took a deep breath. “Burning scrolls. Old arguments. Sorry.” Tara ran her fingers through her hair. She heard Freta’s breathing change. Tara’s heart skipped a beat.
She looked up at the sky. Tonight, cloudless, the stars shown bright. They were camped outside Fort Variela, which lay abandoned, like so many Imperial forts after the Great War. Tomorrow, they’d enter Bravil, and Tara would get her first glimpse of the city, the one citizens in Skingrad had made disparaging remarks about. Freta had a lead on a job that could keep them busy for weeks. Tara had her own lead to follow. Rumors were a mage from the College of Whispers lived in Bravil, and she intended to find them.
Tonight, though, away from any city lights, even the Imperial City’s lights faded this far away, the stars took over the sky. Masser was rising, with Secunda soon to follow. A lifetime under the moons, and Masser still took her breath away. Its red surface and size simply demanded attention. Tara wondered if it really was the sundered corpus of Lorkhan, as the books said.
“Tell me about these burning scrolls,” Freta interrupted her thoughts.
Tara studied her, deciding.
Freta wore a white merchant’s shirt. She’d loosened the strings around the collar, and Tara caught glimpses of cleavage in the firelight. Freta also wore leather pants and thick, cuffed boots. The pants outlined her long, muscled legs. Tara made herself glance away, but not before Freta gave her a knowing look.
They’d been traveling together for two weeks now and Tara could feel the attraction between them growing. Tara had never met a woman like her. The confidence; the boldness. Matched only by her physical size. She was at least half a foot taller than Tara, and was all muscle and gentle curves. She kept her honey blonde hair tied up in a loose ponytail most days, only releasing it to spill over her shoulders in the evenings. Tara preferred her own hair be caught up in a bun. It was also much shorter, falling just above her shoulders in relaxed waves.
True to her word, Freta was training her to use her axe. In between the two jobs Freta had arranged in Skingrad, one was killing timber wolves harassing a nearby farm, the other escorting a merchant along the Gold Road to just outside Kvatch, Freta had shown her the essential arm swings and footwork that made the axe powerful. They sparred often with thick, shortened branches Freta had carved to simulate basic axes. She still lost every session to Freta, but she was getting her licks in now, knocking her down once or twice. She’d win soon enough, she knew. She had a speed Freta couldn’t keep up with for long.
The sparring got Tara’s blood flowing, and not from battle excitement. Tara had always known she was attracted to women. That emotional pull towards them was part of her earliest memories. There were no words to distinguish who one was attracted to, of course, you simply liked who you liked and most people did not care. Unless you were nobility.
Nobles were expected to have children. To pass on the name, lands, power, and money of the family. And giving birth to children was something same sex couples couldn’t do. Which was part of the pain with her father and his obsession with nobility.
Tara looked back at Freta. No, she wasn’t ready to discuss that part of the old arguments.
“Burning scrolls,” Tara said. “Did I tell you Barlin tried to give me scrolls as we left Anvil?”
Freta rested her chin in her hand and gave her a soft gaze and smile, settling in for a long story.
“You did not.”
The morning after agreeing to travel with Freta, Tara had gone to see Barlin. She wanted to tell him the news, maybe setup a schedule where they wrote to each other every few months. They’d been staying in touch after she was kicked out of the Synod, hanging out near the docks, or strolling the streets in the merchant district.
She’d quickly caught him outside that morning, she didn’t want to step inside and see Farris or Tomar again, especially after what she’d done to Lucas. Tomar had given her the nastiest of looks while healing Lucas’ hands and nose. Barlin had agreed for them to meet again that night, have dinner and another stroll. Tara would be leaving the next morning.
Dinner had been wonderful. Barlin was progressing quickly now, and was considered Adept level in Restoration magic. He even showed Tara his newest mage hood, enchanted for restoration, which gave it a soft, golden glow.
They strolled along the docks, Tara wanting to breathe in the sea air, something she’d never gotten enough of at home in Wayrest. Tara had just taken some letters from Barlin, promising to deliver them to his parents when she got to Skingrad.
“I’ve got some things for you, too,” he said. “To help you on your adventures.” He pulled out four magic scrolls from his satchel and held them out to Tara, smiling.
“Barlin! You shouldn’t have,” Tara said, taking them from him and examining them. Magic scrolls could be useful. When one had no magic ability, or, didn’t know a particular spell, a scroll could be read to produce the spell written on it, just once. Tara hadn’t advanced her magic at all, she was still stuck on a minimal healing spell and, well, whatever her natural fire abilities were. That she’d been afraid to test further.
She smiled initially as she studied the scrolls. He’d given her a master level Healing spell, a Heal Others spell and…Tara paused. Then, frowned. She realized her hands were shaking.
He doesn’t know. No one does. He doesn’t realize what he’s done.
She steadied her hands as tears filled her eyes. He’d given her two scrolls of Calm.
Her voice caught. “Why…why did you give me these?” She looked at him, as the tears slowly flowed down her cheeks.
“I…thought they’d help. You know, against any wild animals you might encounter. Lots of wolves and bears about, even this far south.” He gave her a confused look. “Why are you upset? I don’t understand.”
Of course he didn’t. Tara wondered if any mages truly understood what using these spells did to people. To her. They should know. Mira should’ve known. Tara felt her anger build.
“Promise me you’ll never use a calm spell on a person. Ever,” she said through clenched teeth.
Barlin stepped back. “Tara, I don’t plan to, but, as part of my training, I might…”
“Never. Promise me, Barlin.”
Barlin studied her, fighting against a sense of indignation at her request, but wanting to understand.
“Tara,” he said softly, “I don’t understand what the big deal is…”
“Promise me!” she roared at him. She ignored the dock workers who looked their way.
“All right. I promise. If it means so much to you.” He held his hand out. “Just give me the scrolls back and…”
He jumped back as Tara lit her hands afire. The scrolls burst into flame and turned to ash. The dock breeze blew the ashes into the water, where they floated briefly, the fading sunlight turning them into dark specks on golden water, before sinking below the surface.
“That was uncalled for!” Barlin said. “It took me hours to create those for you.”
Tara glared at him. How could she make him understand? Anyone? She tried to steady her voice.
“Barlin. There is magic worse than necromancy. Magic you all study as if it’s not. I better never learn you’ve used calm, or fury, on anyone.” She held his gaze in hers, hoping the message was getting through.
“Fine! Whatever! I don’t care for illusion spells anyway,” he said and started walking away. “Just, give my letters to my parents, please. And, good luck on your ‘adventures’.”
He left her standing at the docks.
Tara hadn’t tried to write him yet. And had arranged a courier to deliver the letters to his parents.
Tara paused in her story and stared into the campfire.
Freta didn’t care much for magic. She’d told Tara early in their travels she was a “true Nord” and magic was something to be left to the Divines.
“So,” she said. “What was so terrible about those scrolls?”
Tara looked up at her. Freta gave her a quiet look. She was studying her, yearning to understand, without judgement. Maybe she could trust Freta. She needed to tell someone, didn’t she?
“When I was…” Tara paused and felt herself on the edge of tears. “I’m sorry. I can’t,” she finished.
Freta stood up and walked around the fire toward her. She sat down on the stump with her. Her hip pressed against Tara’s. Tara felt her heart race.
Freta reached out her hand, touched Tara’s face and slowly turned it towards hers. They gazed at each other. Tara felt she was swimming in the glacier blue of her eyes. Freta’s hand lightly moved towards her hair and brushed a strand behind Tara’s ear. Tara’s tears stopped and her nerves took over.
“I…” she started.
“Shhhh,” Freta said. She kissed her.
Tara’s nerves vanished. She leaned into the kiss with a different kind of fire.
(shout out to froztee for Shield Sisters Re-Imaged mod)