Tara heard a rustle in the bushes and shot to her feet.
The assassin struck, but was a split second too late. His dagger glanced off her bracer, as she managed to get her right arm up in time. With her left hand, she pulled out her axe and swung at his hooded head. Dark Brotherhood, based on the red and black leather armor he was wearing.
The assassin was quick and rolled away from her swing. Tara pulled out her right axe and leapt right as he lunged again with his dagger. Tara kicked with her left leg and caught him under the chin, sending him sprawling on the ground. That was all she needed.
She landed the first blow between his shoulder blades. If he’d lived any longer, he would’ve been paralyzed. She put her right axe through his skull.
Tara looked at Katla as she climbed out of her tent, a look of shock on her face. How long had Tara been on watch? Four hours? She’d certainly watched over Katla. She assumed after the assassin killed her, he’d have killed Katla, just so there were no witnesses.
“Dark Brotherhood,” Tara said. “I have no idea why someone would want me dead.” She bent down to check for a note, or contract. Didn’t they carry one?
“I don’t think…”
“Lucky I heard him,” Tara continued. She carefully rolled over the assassin. A Khajiit. She found a small bag attached to his belt and opened it. “Makes no sense for someone to come after me.”
Tara pulled out a piece of folded paper and read it. She read it again, to be sure. She looked up at Katla, who now looked scared.
“Why is your name on this note?”
“It’s a long story. Can we break camp first? Get out of here.”
“Sure.” Tara nodded and tucked the note into her satchel. Her tone was clipped. She was angry. There was a contract out on Katla. Why the fuck hadn’t she told her that?! There was protecting someone; then there was protecting someone from professional assassins.
They packed up the camp quickly. Tara took the daedric dagger off the assassin. She’d never seen one up close. It was both gorgeous and deadly looking, with its dark, ebony metal and red stripe in the center of the blade. Rumor was you needed a daedric heart to smith such a blade.
“Where to?” Tara asked. They hadn’t yet planned where to go after Whiterun.
“Riverwood,” Katla said. “Small and quiet town. We can rent a room at the inn and…regroup.” She avoided Tara’s gaze.
Tara lit a lantern as they started their walk. Masser and Secunda were both in a new moon phase, lending to a dark night. Clouds had rolled in, hiding the stars from sight. With dawn hours away, they needed the extra light, though Tara loathed them standing out like oversized torch bugs.
They passed a few guards along the road as they made their way towards, and then past, Honningbrew Meadery, which seemed an unofficial edge of Whiterun. Otherwise, the roads were quiet. Even the wildlife seemed asleep. Tara stayed quiet, focused on their surroundings and staying alert. She was also afraid of what words might come out of her mouth if she dared open it.
Maybe Katla didn’t know there was a contract on her. Not like the Dark Brotherhood would announce themselves ahead of time, right?
But she knew that assassin was meant for her, not you.
She had. Someone was after her and had, what, grown desperate enough to hire assassins? Why?
“You saved my life,” Katla said. “Thank you.”
They were working their way up a winding road, as the elevation changed from the flat farmland of Whiterun into the lowest levels of the surrounding mountains. A roaring river was to their left.
Tara spared a glance at her. Katla’s expression was a mix of fear and wonder.
“Don’t mention it,” Tara said. She hadn’t thought of that. It seemed an aside to taking out an attacking assassin. She’d protected Katla, while saving herself from certain death. That was all.
“Seriously,” Katla insisted. “I’d be dead right now if…”
“I’d be dead right now if I hadn’t heard him in the bushes at the last second.” Tara interrupted. “Would’ve been nice to know there was an assassin coming after you.”
“I didn’t know,” Katla said.
Tara stopped and turned to her. “You knew someone was after you. Do you think I haven’t seen how you scope out inns, safe camping spots?”
“Look, I should have said something sooner…”
“Yes. You fucking should have.” Tara interrupted again.
The wonder was gone from Katla’s face. She was angry.
“Hey! Don’t yell at me! I didn’t know assassins were after me!”
Tara took a step closer to her. The height difference had her tilt her head. She imagined she might have looked like a spoiled teenager angry at her parent. She didn’t care.
“You knew someone was after you! I’ve been guarding you for days! At least a heads up, you know? ‘Hey, Tara, some people might be after me. People out to hurt me,’” she argued back. “I didn’t need details. Just some basics.”
Katla glared at her, then stepped back and dropped her gaze. She sighed.
“I’m sorry. You’re right.” She looked at Tara, tears forming in her eyes. “I should’ve trusted you. I…I just wanted to make sure you weren’t one of them. Like, someone trying to gain my trust to then…” she trailed off.
“Come on,” Tara said. Her voice still felt on edge. She was still on edge. “Let’s get to Riverwood. I need sleep.”
Riverwood was quaint and downright charming, Tara thought. They climbed along the road some more, then crossed a stone bridge over the river and entered the town. Hold guards stood atop the wooden walls marking the entrance. The streets were empty, not surprising at this hour. A lumber mill sat along the river, shut down for the night. Tara noted a general goods store and a blacksmith. Places that might come in handy. The log houses making up the rest of the town all looked snug. Quiet little homes in a quiet town.
The tavern and inn was named Sleeping Giant Inn, and they quickly stepped inside it. One patron sat at a table along the far wall. A man stood behind the bar, and an older, blond Breton woman wore innkeeper clothes.
That’s not an innkeeper, Tara thought. Or, not just an innkeeper. She carried herself differently. Like a warrior. Perhaps she’d fought in the Great War, then retired to owning an inn. She looked to be the right age.
“Welcome to the Sleeping Giant Inn. Name’s Orgnar,” the man said as they approached. “Delphine and I run the place. What can we help you with?”
“We need a room,” Tara said. Delphine had looked their way, then turned away. Tara felt like she’d been sized up.
We’ve only got single beds available right now,” Orgnar said, glancing at them. “Just one room for you both?”
“Yes,” Tara answered. “I assume the room has a chair, as well?”
“Then, it’ll do. Thank you.” Tara paid and they were escorted to a room off to the side of the bar. It was narrow, clearly meant for one person. A single bed, side table, wooden chair, and wardrobe cabinet took up most of the space.
“Maybe we should rent another room,” Katla said. She was assessing the uncomfortable looking chair.
“We need to stick together. I don’t want you out of my sight right now. Well, figuratively,” Tara said. “I’m going to sleep. You get the chair and watch.” A yawn escaped her. She was exhausted. She shivered for a moment.
A few hours ago, she’d almost died. That hadn’t really sunk in until now. Now that her anger had died down. No wonder she still felt on edge. For all the bandits she’d dealt with, this was different. A professional killer, someone who’d taken who knows how many lives had nearly plunged a dagger into her. By Dibella’s grace, she’d avoided death.
She sat on the bed to remove her boots. She looked over at Katla, who was watching her, a mix of interest and sadness on her face.
“Are we good?” Tara asked.
Katla nodded. “Still up for some questions and answers tomorr..uh, later today?”
Tara smiled. “Yes.”
“Then, sleep well, Tara,” Katla said. “I’ll watch over you.”
Tara was asleep the minute her head hit the pillow.