Tara and Katla crouched behind a rock and studied the entrance to Redoran’s Retreat. The cave had an actual door, so it was probably a former mine, Katla had said.
They were northeast of Rorikstead and northwest of Whiterun. The goal was to clear out the bandits, then head down to Whiterun and claim the bounty. Katla said Whiterun was a larger city than Falkreath, and she preferred it. She still hadn’t told Tara where she was from.
What Tara did know was how good of an archer Katla was. She’d hit the bullseye on targets in Rorikstead without missing, and done some trick shots. Under pressure with moving targets, bandits, might be different, but Tara was confident enough in her abilities.
She’d proven hers with some axe throwing and dummy work. Also, had killed a chicken for Lemkil and his daughters for dinner one night, but there was little skill in that, except giving the chicken a quick death so it didn’t suffer.
“Damn that door. Might make noise when we open it. We’ll need to be ready,” Tara said. “Stay behind me like we discussed. Plan to aim over my left shoulder as much as you can. I’ll keep favoring my right side.” Tara looked at Katla, evaluating. “I think that’ll work for our size difference.”
Katla winked at her. “Aye, aye, Captain. You’re the boss.”
“Focus,” Tara said. “Please.”
Katla’s face turned serious. “Got it. I’m serious when it counts,” she said. Her voice was dead serious on that last sentence.
The door groaned slightly when they opened it. A dog rushed them the second they were inside. Tara swung her right axe, catching it in the throat, hoping to reduce any final sounds it made. She hated killing dogs. She’d had to kill a few over the years, when they’d invade the farm, looking for the easy pickings of the chickens.
As she knocked the worst of the dog’s blood off her axe, she and Katla stayed silent and listened for any sounds. They were in a tunnel, which turned to the right. They both crouched, instinctively, and slowly made their way forward. At the bend in the tunnel, Tara heard the shuffling feet of a bandit.
Tara risked a quick look around the corner. A solitary bandit was walking near some barrels, as if deciding which to open. Tara waved Katla forward. Katla crept next to her and assessed the bandit. She already had an arrow notched. She quickly took aim and fired a shot. The arrow hit its mark, catching him at the base of his neck. He died without a sound.
Tara felt herself inhale. Neck shot. Like what killed Freta. She was going to have to get used to such shots, she realized. She looked at Katla and nodded. Katla gave her a long, serious look.
Tara crept forward, then stood. They were in a small chamber, with storage barrels and a few heavy burlap sacks along a wall. A tunnel was on the other side of the chamber. They both crouched again and moved along this tunnel. Almost immediately, Tara could hear a bandit muttering to himself about some card game, and cheating.
She almost missed the other bandit, a woman, walking unknowingly toward them in the tunnel.
“What the..?” The bandit woman exclaimed, alerted to them, just as an arrow from Katla hit her square in the heart. She collapsed with a moan.
Katla had killed two bandits. Tara, a dog.
She got her chance an instant later. The dying woman’s moan alerted the other bandit and Tara heard him draw his sword. She quickly stepped into the larger chamber, with a pillar of rock in the middle holding up the ceiling. This chamber was the living quarters, it seemed. Tara spied sleeping bags and one framed bed in the corner, plus a table with a few lit candles. On the other side of the pillar a small campfire was burning, smoke billowing up and out a small crevice in the cave’s ceiling.
The bandit with the sword, a two-handed sword, was clearly the leader. He wore steel armor, and was a hulk of a Nord. He rushed Tara, yelling he’d kill her. Tara stepped around the pillar and avoided the first swing of his sword. She heard an arrow from Katla bounce off his chest plate.
Tara side stepped his second swing and swung her left axe under his arm, catching him at the armor’s weak point, the armpit. He screamed and blood spurted as his right arm failed. With her right axe, Tara hit him in the neck, just under his helmet. He went down without another word, falling against some crates near the campfire.
Panting heavy, Tara looked around. They were alone. The cave was at its end, no more tunnels or chambers came off of this one. Two chambers and a couple of tunnels were all there was to Redoran’s Retreat, it seemed.
She looked at Katla. “I think we’ve done it.”
Katla smiled and relaxed. “We have. Guess we’re…bounty hunters now.” She winked.
Tara laughed. How was she laughing while standing next to a dead bandit?
“Impressive shooting,” she said.
Katla tilted her head, looking purposely cocky. “Two bandits for me. One for you.”
“Hey now. He had on steel armor. And the dog counts.”
“The dog does not count,” Katla said. “I will give you one and a half on the bandit, though. He was a big man.”
“Fair enough,” Tara said and smiled. “Let’s see if they have any useful supplies.”
They dug through several barrels, and a chest. Some gold, ale, and a rabbit haunch were all they considered worthy to take. Katla collected her shot arrow, and pulled some steel ones out of a quiver she found in the corner.
They made camp for the night out in the open, against a small rock formation. They’d agreed not to camp inside Redoran’s Retreat.
“I’m not camping where we just killed people,” Tara had said.
They were close to a giant camp, with pacing mammoths and a huge fire, at least the size of a small house. “The giants should keep away trouble,” Katla had said. Tara liked her thinking.
Dinner was quick and quiet, as if they were both contemplating what they’d accomplished.
Tara thought for a minute. What had they accomplished, really? They’d killed three people. And a dog. Had those bandits been killers? Had they’d murdered innocents? Or were they just low life thieves. She’d never know.
Katla handed her an ale and sat across the fire from her. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
Tara took a sip of ale, then ran her hand through her hair. She sighed. “I’m trying to decide if killing three people was an accomplishment.”
“It was a task,” Katla said. Her voice held a firmness. “We can’t know if they were ‘worth it’. The jarl thought they were. If we didn’t kill them, someone else would have.”
Tara nodded slowly. “I guess you’re right.”
Katla’s voice softened. “We worked well as a team.”
Tara gave a small smile. “We did. Thanks for letting me take the lead.”
Katla winked. “I liked you being forceful.”
Tara laughed and her smile grew. She put on a sultry tone. “Good. To. Know.”
Clearing her throat, Tara said, “Tell me where you’re from.”
Katla took a gulp of ale. “Dragon Bridge. It’s in the northwest, in Haafingar hold. Named after, well, the bridge. Most impressive thing about the place.”
“Go back often?”
“So many questions.” Katla looked at her. “I have one for you.”
Tara held her gaze. “Sure.”
“You inhaled deeply when I shot that bandit in the neck. Why?”
Tara straightened up and gave Katla her full attention. “It’s how Freta died. A bandit shot her in the neck.” She continued before Katla could interrupt. “We were setting up camp outside Chorrol. In the Great Forest. Five of them attacked. Couple of them were archers. I didn’t get to the last one in time. And I didn’t know Heal Other or have a…scroll of it to use on her. Wound might have been too great, anyway.” Tara let her gaze drop to the camp fire.
Katla was silent for a minute. “That had to be terrible for you,” she finally said. “Then for me to make a kill like that…”
“It was the shot to take,” Tara interrupted. “Always take the kill shot. Don’t ever hesitate.”
Katla smiled and nodded. “Understood.”
“I needed to see it,” Tara said. “To…I don’t know…process it? I’m okay. I’m glad it was your shot, not some crap bandit’s.”
They were silent for a bit, then chatted lightly. Finally, Katla stood and stretched. “Want me to take first watch?”
Tara shook her head. “No. I’ve got it. Get some rest.”
“Don’t let me sleep through the second watch this time,” Katla said. “You need some beauty rest sometimes.” She winked.
Tara gave a small laugh. “Yes, milady.”
“Who said I was a lady?”
Tara burst out laughing at that one.
She kept her word and spent her watch looking off at Whiterun in the distance. What other adventures awaited them?