Tara opened her eyes to see Katla’s soft, brown ones watching her. A smile crept across Katla’s face.
“This isn’t how I thought our first night sharing a tent would go,” she said.
Tara laughed. “Me, either. Something told me to stay with you last night, though.”
Katla raised herself up on one elbow and raised an eyebrow. “Do tell.”
Tara matched the elbow raising and weighed how to word everything.
Had Freta been a vision? A dream? Another premonition? Some combination of it all?
Tara wasn’t sure. What she knew was it was the next morning, and she and Katla were safe, here in front of High Hrothgar.
“Do you believe in premonitions?” she asked Katla.
“I do.” Katla kept a steady gaze on her. Interest piqued.
Be honest with her.
“Freta visited me last night. As a premonition, I think,” she said.
“You’ve left me speechless,” Katla said. “Well, almost.”
Tara gave her a soft smile. “I’ve had this recurring premonition for over a year now. I thought it was just a dream, but Freta always insisted it was more than that. The premonition involves me protecting a woman named Rigmor. Name mean anything to you?”
Katla shook her head. “Never heard that name before.”
“It happened a couple of times when I was with Freta. I’ve also had it…since. There’s not much to it. I know what this Rigmor looks like and I have a sense I’m protecting, guarding, her. Not much more.”
Tara sat up. She kept the furs around her. She could hear the steady wind outside the tent, as if the cold was just waiting for one of them to risk stepping outside the insulating warmth of the tent and furs.
“Last night, it was different, but similar,” Tara continued. “Freta appeared. Like a vision. She told me to protect Rigmor. But…” Tara gave Katla an intense look. “She said to protect you first. That first I’d protect you, and then Rigmor and another.”
Katla sat up. She looked lost in thought for a minute. “I…well, I don’t know what to say.”
“Since I met you,” Tara said. “I’ve been drawn to you…”
“I’ve been drawn to you, too.” Katla reminded her.
“…and I’ve had a sense…no, desire…to protect you.” Tara finished. “I like helping people, but I’ve never felt this need to protect someone. Not like with you.” Tara cleared her throat. “It’s separate from being, you know, attracted to you.”
Katla smiled and looked down for a moment. Her hair fell forward, its deep brown hiding her face. She swept her hand through it, pushing the thick hair away, behind her ear.
Tara caught her breath. Katla looked back up. She’d heard that.
“Maybe it all has something to do with this.” Katla reached into her pouch, which had been lying next to her, and pulled out a soul gem.
Tara stared at the geode. She’d seen a few soul gems in her time. Strange geodes, which contained souls. Captured souls. Souls ripped from animals or people, by magic, and instead of being released to whatever afterlife they deserved, they sat trapped in these gems. To be used for enchanting armor or weapons. Tara wasn’t sure what happened to the souls after the gems were used.
The magic spell, called Soul Trap, was part of the Conjuration school. Part of necromancy. Tara had never had an interest in it.
The soul gem Katla held looked to be a black soul gem. The kind that held human souls. Unlike any she’d read about, though, this one glowed red. Not blue, or purple, as described in books, or as the ones she’d seen at the College of Whispers did.
It made her nervous.
“Why is it red?”
Katla shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “There’s so much I don’t understand about it. Or why these necromancers are after it.” Her voice caught. “Or why they killed my parents over it.”
Katla put it back in the pouch. They both stared at the pouch for a moment.
“Thank you,” Tara said. “Thank you for trusting me enough to show it.”
She leaned forward and kissed Katla.
She meant it as a quick, soft peck. An initial touch and exploration. The kind of kiss one took a chance on, to see if the spark between two people was real.
Katla leaned into the kiss. They both pulled away, breathless.
“Wow. You’re forward,” Katla said.
“I…” Tara started.
Katla interrupted her with a return kiss.
A second, or eternity, later, Tara found herself on top of Katla, more kisses being exchanged, and the two of them laughing.
“Very forward,” Katla finally said.
Tara sat back up. “It was supposed to be a peck.”
Katla raised herself up on her elbows. “I should be more open with you.” She winked.
“Come on. We need to go,” Tara said. She looked at the tent flap. The morning light was strong around its edges. The day was going to get away from them soon. They had to get off this highest of mountains.
They packed up the camp and started making their way down the mountainside. Tara kept two of Katla’s furs on top of the ones she owned, all of them covering her leather armor. She suddenly regretted having sleeveless armor.
“Tell me about Freta,” Katla asked.
Tara spent the trip down telling her everything about Freta. How she looked, Freta’s boldness and confidence, some of her favorite memories. She didn’t hold back.
“Was she your first?” Katla asked somewhere between the fourth and fifth wayshrine.
“I’m not telling you all the gory details.” Tara laughed. “She was my first true girlfriend.” She gave Katla a look. “And, yes, my first.”
Katla nodded. “I could hear that in your voice,” she simply said. “You really loved her.”
“She told me I was never meant to protect her,” Tara said, her tone quiet. They were near the bottom now, the wind and snow had been left behind. Autumn was back in its glory on these last few hundred steps. Tara took off the furs.
Katla stopped. “Last night?”
“Will you tell me how she died? The whole story?”
Tara thought for a moment. She thought of the Heal Other scroll. She thought of her waves.
“Soon,” she said. “There’s a lot to it. I should tell you other stories first.”
Katla nodded and they continued on.
“I should tell you why I want to head to Shor’s Stone,” Katla said. They had nearly reached the bottom of the mountain, nearly finished with the seven thousand steps. Again.
Tara hadn’t given much thought to Katla’s plan to get to Riften. She hadn’t checked the map to see where Shor’s Stone was in relation to Ivarstead and Riften. She’d assumed it was on the way.
They’d reached the first wayshrine. Finally at the end.
Katla pulled out her map of Skyrim and spread it out on top of the wayshrine. She pointed.
Tara saw that Shor’s Stone was not a direct path to Riften. At least, not the quickest from Ivarstead. The most sensible path to Riften would be to head south, then southeast as the road turned and swung around Lake Honrich. There seemed to be some farms and a mill along the way.
Shor’s Stone, on the other hand, while also southeast of Ivarstead, was more east, and the roads leading to it took one north for a bit, coming close to Eastmarch Hold, and around more mountainous terrain. One would still need to travel south to get to Riften, along the eastern border of Skyrim. This time of year, with the weather turning colder, the rougher terrain might be more problematic.
Katla pointed to a cave marked on the map, near Shor’s Stone. She’d handwritten in Boulderfall.
“I don’t care about Shor’s Stone,” she said. “I got information in Falkreath that some necromancers are living in Boulderfall cave. I want to kill them.”
Her eyes were serious and voice firm. She was on a mission.
“Do you think they’re related to the ones after you?” Tara asked.
“I don’t know.” Katla paused. There was a fire in her eyes. “I don’t care. I mean, I want to question them, in case they know something.” She held Tara’s gaze. “I want them dead, either way.”
Tara studied the map and thought. How did she feel about killing some mages outright?
She’d never cared for Conjuration magic. And agreed necromancy should be banned. That soul gem in Katla’s pouch seemed proof enough it was a dangerous school of magic. The kind one should avoid. Her time at the College of Whispers hadn’t challenged her thinking. No one there was studying it, though she’d known they didn’t ban the practice.
Was it truly worse than Illusion magic, though? The school that taught Calm spells, and others, that manipulated the mind. Had manipulated her? Had ruined her ability with magic?
Not ruined. Not yet. The College of Winterhold would fix that. It had to.
“I’ve never taken on mages in an actual fight,” she said.
“I have,” Katla said. “We’ll need to plan, but, avoiding magic is a lot like dodging arrows. Don’t get hit by a spell, and they should be easy enough. They never wear armor.”
Am I really going to kill some mages? Tara thought.
Stay with her. Protect her.
She thought about the strange red soul gem, dangling in a pouch on Katla’s hip. She thought about their first kiss and the brief feel of those hips against her body this morning.
“Okay,” she said. She looked at Katla, making sure her green eyes bored into her.
“I need you to keep being honest with me, though. Telling me these intentions sooner. Please.” She softened her voice and gaze with that last word.
Katla nodded. Her eyes had softened as well, the fire in them dampened. “I will.”
“Then, let’s get something to eat at the inn and make a plan,” Tara said, as Katla rolled up the map and they crossed the bridge, and river, that divided The Throat of the World from the town of Ivarstead.