The bandits attacked them from all directions.
Tara and Freta were camping in the Great Forest, near the western edge, having found a small clearing surrounded by the gigantic oaks, pines, and other trees Tara didn’t recognize, that made up much of the forest. The clearing was a ways in, far from the road, so they had a sense of privacy and peace. It was the perfect spot for their final night before heading into Chorrol the next day. The clearing had a gentle rolling hill on one side that the first two bandits came from.
Tara and Freta had just finished setting up camp in the late afternoon. It seemed a better idea to find a good spot and relax a bit, than to keep traveling until nightfall. They wouldn’t have made it to Chorrol today, either way.
The two bandits rushed from over the hill, one of them yelling “Going to split your belly like an old woman’s purse!”. Both were charging with greatswords.
Tara saw Freta draw her own greatsword and run at the one to Tara’s left. She grabbed both her axes and darted towards the one on the right. In one swift motion, she threw her left axe at the bandit and caught him in his right shoulder. He stumbled and fell. Tara was on him a second later and drove her right axe deep into his chest.
The bandit gurgled and coughed up blood. He stared at her as the life in his eyes faded to an empty stare. A young Redguard, he couldn’t have been any older than she was, now nineteen. Tara pulled her axes out of him and stumbled back, nauseous. He was her first kill. For all the animals she’d hunted or slaughtered, this was different. She’d killed a person. One second she’d been at peace, the next, she’d snapped into attack mode and taken a life.
She looked over at Freta, who was pulling her sword out of the other bandit’s body. Another Redguard. They looked at each other. Before Tara could say anything, an arrow clipped her left shoulder and embedded itself in a nearby tree.
“Behind us! Three of them!” Freta yelled.
Tara turned around to see the three, all Redguards. Two were archers and the other charged at Freta with his sword and shield.
Tara charged the nearest archer, ducking and rolling, as he reloaded his bow and shot at her. He wasn’t bad, getting off two shots at her before she swung both axes low, knocking him off his feet, and then buried her right axe in his chest, killing him. Both his arrows had whipped past her head. Good thing she was fast and agile from her Fighter’s Guild training.
The other archer was about fifty meters away, barely past the trees at the edge of the clearing. He was focused on Freta, taking careful aim. Out of the corner of her eye, Tara saw Freta destroying the final bandit’s shield and plunging her greatsword into him. Tara charged at the archer as he fired off a shot. He was lowering his bow, before realizing Tara was almost on him. He turned and started to raise it again, while also trying to pull an arrow from his quiver. Too late for him, Tara buried her left axe in his skull.
Panting hard, she pulled her axe out of his skull. For all the decapitating of chickens she’d killed in her life, pulling the axe out of the man’s skull made her queasier than she thought possible. She’d never had a problem with blood and guts; one couldn’t on a farm where Mom made you kill whatever livestock was up for dinner, or too sick to heal. Killing a person was different, though. She’d just killed three men in a matter of minutes.
She was wiping her axes in the grass, to get the worst of the blood off, when she realized it was too quiet.
“Freta?” she turned and looked where Freta had been fighting the bandit. Freta lay on her back, on the ground next to the bandit’s dead corpse.
“Freta!” Tara was at her side in a second. The arrow from the archer had caught her in the neck. Blood was pouring from the wound, soaking the ground below Freta’s neck, head, and upper body. Freta’s eyes fixed on Tara, and she tried to speak, but only a soft gurgle emerged.
“Hold on! Let me get something to heal you,” Tara said. So much blood. Too much blood. By the Gods, why didn’t she know Heal Other? She could use it right now, even a weak one would close the worst of the wound. But, she didn’t. She still barely knew Heal for herself.
The scrolls Barlin had given her! One of them was Heal Other. She could use it and…
You destroyed all of them.
A sob escaped her. She had destroyed all the scrolls Barlin had given her, not just the Calm ones that had upset her so much. The memory floated up into her mind; her hands catching fire and all four scrolls bursting into flames, right before Barlin’s shocked face.
She’d been so angry at him, she hadn’t paused to only destroy the ones that upset her.
Freta’s hand suddenly gripped her left arm tightly, her fingers digging deep into Tara’s skin.
Through tears, Tara said, “Hold on, I need to stop the bleeding.”
Freta’s eyes were bright, intense. She shook her head a minuscule amount. She knew. They both did. Too much blood.
Shakily, Freta lifted her other arm and reached for Tara’s face. A small smile formed on Freta’s face, as her fingers brushed Tara’s hair. Then, the light faded from her eyes.
Her arms fell to her sides and Freta breathed no more.
“No! No, no, no, no, no!” Tara cried. She held Freta’s head in her hands and bent her face down to hers.
Deer and rabbits scattered before the booming waves and falling trees.
The cries of anguish coming from the small woman in the clearing, alone in the Great Forest, had no words attached to them. The sound was the deep sorrow of animals who know death approaches, the deep sorrow of a mother losing her child, the deep sorrow of a partner losing their love after decades together. The guttural sounds of deep grief cannot be described, only felt by the unlucky few who experience love at its highest level.
For the sentient creatures close enough to hear Tara, the area was suddenly dangerous. Waves of a booming force, an unrelenting push emanated from her. Young saplings fell first, even their flexibility couldn’t prevent them from being uprooted.
Towering pines came next, decades of root systems could not hold them in the ground. Countless rabbits didn’t survive the shock waves. More than a few deer broke a leg trying to escape.
The waves continued for a time, as late afternoon turned to night and the sun set on this worst of days.
Whether physical exhaustion, emotional drain, or the Divines finally taking pity on her, Tara passed out next to Freta. The booming waves ceased and the Great Forest became quiet again, alluding to a peace no longer in existence.