Tara knelt down in front of Freta’s gravestone. It was simple, like all the others Tara could see in the cemetery. So many others. Falkreath buried a lot of dead. A few citizens she’d met spoke nearly with pride over their suffering, how many they lost to war, or other great events.
Placing her left hand on the gravestone and right around the Talos amulet, Tara said, “Talos guide you.”
Was Freta in Sovngarde? Was she drinking and feasting with legendary Nord heroes? Was this old life nothing to her anymore? Tara hoped so.
The Snow-Shields no longer lived in Falkreath. The innkeeper, an apparent source of gossip, had told her that morning when she inquired where they lived.
“Think they went to Windhelm. A proper Nord city,” he’d said while sweeping up before morning patrons arrived. “Left a couple months after Freta came home. Don’t think they could stand it, you know. Second child in that cemetery.” He’d shaken his head.
Freta had told Tara of her younger brother. Killed by a troll high up in the mountains when he was only fifteen. Tara looked at the gravestone next to Freta and saw his. Would she stay in a town where her children were buried? She didn’t know.
A branch snapped behind her. Tara whirled around to see Katla Hammerheart standing at the edge of the cemetery, near a large, ancient oak. Her face glowed in the morning light. She wore hide armor, sleeveless and hugging her curves. A bow made of dark, carved wood, with blue steel tips rested on her back along with a quiver of steel arrows. So she was an archer.
“Visiting your friend?” she asked, sheepishly.
Tara slowly stood. She looked down at Freta’s gravestone one more time. Perhaps Talos was guiding. Or Dibella.
Smiling at Katla, she said, “It seemed a better answer than ‘visiting my dead girlfriend’s grave’.”
Katla studied her with a somber look. She nodded. “Understood.” She stepped closer. “I didn’t mean to intrude. Was passing nearby and saw you. Curiosity got the better of me.”
Tara shrugged. “It’s okay. I was finished.” She tilted her head at Katla. “Hunting and fishing in these parts?”
Katla reached back and lightly touched her bow. She chuckled. “Don’t trust leaving it at the inn when I’m not there.” She nodded at Tara’s axes. “Same for you?”
Tara smiled and nodded. “Finished with your errands for the day?”
Katla’s eyes dropped to the ground for a moment. “Not yet. We still on for this evening?”
“I’ll see you then,” Katla winked and headed off towards the center of town. Tara considered following her, then thought better of it. Katla was hiding something. But, why not? They’d just met. Neither owed the other anything.
Tara spent the day visiting the blacksmith, Lod. He let her sharpen her axes on his grindstone while he repaired some minor damage to her leather armor from the bear attack. She stopped in the alchemist shop, Grave Concoctions, for a few more healing potions.
When Katla came back to the inn later that day, Tara was already sitting at a quiet table in the corner, nursing an ale. Tara had changed out of her armor into one of her new shirts. She wore a soft gray merchant’s shirt with black leather pants, and soft leather boots. She’d found a belt with a wolf’s head buckle in Bruma before leaving and thought it set off the pants well.
Katla emerged from her room wearing a dark green Imperial style dress, similar to the one the day before. Her hair was the same as yesterday, the rich brown reached past her shoulders, framing her face and neck. She approached the table just as Tara was saying no to the second man who’d asked her to dance.
Katla watched the dejected Nord leave and raised an eyebrow at Tara as she sat down.
Tara slid an ale towards her and smiled. “At least they take no for an answer here. I’d hate to have to break someone’s nose.”
Katla laughed and sipped her ale. “Many Nords don’t take no for an answer. Perhaps the intense look in your eyes scared them.”
Tara laughed and shrugged. “Whatever works.”
“And if I asked you for a dance?” There was a mischievous grin on Katla’s face.
Tara stood, grabbed Katla’s hand, and pulled her towards the center of the inn. The bard was playing an upbeat tune on his lute. Tara led Katla in a simple dance she’d learned as a child, as part of her father trying to prepare her for meeting a noble boy. She’d been taught to follow, of course, but had memorized the lead’s steps instead. Katla laughed as they twirled and moved smoothly around the inn. She followed well, seemed a fast learner.
Several patrons joined in dancing as well. The mood in the tavern brightened instantly. The bard took the hint and continued with a few more peppy songs on his lute.
After the third song, Katla said, “Oh my, I need a break.” She pulled Tara back to their table and they drained their ales. Tara ordered another round and they sat in happy silence while they waited.
After the fresh ales arrived, they crowd watched for a while, keeping the conversation light. Tara realized she was staring at Katla. Katla caught her gaze and held it. Her eyes mesmerized. There was a seriousness in them, tempered by genuine curiosity and humor.
Tara cleared her throat. “I’m finished with my business in Falkreath. Ready to leave at any time. Will you be in town much longer?”
“I need a few more days to finish up my business.”
“If you like,” Tara said. She was nervous. “I can hang around until you’re ready to leave.”
Katla smiled. “I’d like that.” Her voice was soft, with a warmth matching the fire in the hearth. She sipped her ale and gave Tara a long look. “Where are you off to next?”
“I’m not sure. Need to go to Winterhold. For the College. But, there’s no real hurry. Thought I’d explore Skyrim and see where adventure takes me as I make my way there. I haven’t even decided what direction to go yet. Maybe towards the town of Rorikstead. Seems the closest, with Helgen destroyed.”
“That’s a good path,” Katla said. “One can make their way to Whiterun from there. You’d probably want to go that way before heading towards Winterhold.”
Katla sat back, sipped her ale a few times. She studied Tara, then grew thoughtful. Tara watched her and waited. Katla finally leaned forward.
“Would you like company? A…traveling companion?” she asked.
“Yes!” Tara realized she’d shouted, as several patrons looked their way. “That would be wonderful,” she said, much quieter.
Katla smiled. “Take your time. Think it over…”
They both laughed.
“I need to make my way to Whiterun,” Katla said. “Your company would be quite welcome.”
Two days later, when they headed out from Falkreath, on a road that led to Rorikstead, Tara still hadn’t decided if Talos or Dibella was doing the guiding.