Tara listened to Katla’s breathing and stared at the ceiling. She’d been awake an hour. She still wasn’t ready to wake her. The feeling of Katla near her. This was cozy. This was perfect. She didn’t want to disturb it.
Today was the day. She should wake Katla. They had plenty to do before hitting the road. Before leaving Riften and heading north. To Windhelm, and, eventually, Winterhold and the College there.
Spring was finally arriving, it was now mid First Seed. Winter had loosened its grip on Skyrim. These months in Riften were finally over.
Riften wasn’t bad, though, Tara had to admit. She liked the city. She wouldn’t want to settle down here, no, but it had a charm. She loved the architecture, liked so many of the people here. Brand-Shei, the market merchant, especially. He had a natural kindness Tara admired.
The crime element was strong; too strong. With the Black-Briars around and the Thieves Guild somewhere nearby, Tara suspected the Ratway, in the sewers, where they belonged, it’d never be a city she’d love. But the land outside the city walls? The beauty of it had continued to amaze her. She could see herself owning a farm nearby. With all the aspens and their blazing colors for scenery.
Yes, The Rift was her favorite region in Skyrim. Time to leave it behind, though, and head into Eastmarch Hold, and what towns, cities, and adventures awaited in the north. Katla had warned her this was the coldest area of Skyrim they were headed into.
Tara turned and gazed at Katla’s sleeping face. So relaxed, so vulnerable. Katla was snuggled up against Tara, her warm breath gentling brushing Tara’s face, tickling her ear.
Katla was the other reason to always like Riften. These past few months, the evolution of their relationship into an actual couple. Riften was the place it’d happened. Now, to hold onto it and build their relationship even more. As they had last night.
“Tell me about losing Freta,” Katla said. “Please.”
They were sitting in The Bee and Barb, sharing a final bout of special drinks from Talen-Jei. This was their last night in Riften. Tomorrow, they were heading north.
Tara avoided ordering the Cliff Racer, and stuck to the White-Gold Tower drink, a tasty blend of heavy cream and mead. Katla had, against her own judgment, had two Cliff Racers.
Tara looked at Katla. Yes, that second Cliff Racer had gotten to her. She’d had one fit of hiccups, way cuter than Tara’s hiccups, and now her eyes were watery as she asked Tara.
That was the drink making her eyes water, right?
“Maybe I should order myself a Cliff Racer,” Tara said.
“I just…” Katla paused.
She wants to open up and tell you about her parents. Be honest.
“I know,” Tara said. She finished her second White-Gold Tower and ordered another from Talen-Jei. A third one should get her drunk enough to handle this.
“I told you we were on our way to Chorrol. We’d been staying in Cheydinhal, doing odd jobs, but the work had run out.” Tara took a gulp of her drink, as soon as Talen-Jei delivered it. “I’d wanted to go to Bruma, but Freta insisted on Chorrol.” Tara let her eyes water from that memory.
She told Katla about the trip between the two cities, how uneventful the traveling was. Until they’d decided to camp in the Great Forest.
“It was late in the day, and we wouldn’t make Chorrol before nightfall. We both thought it’d be quieter, and safer, if we spent one night camping before entering the city.”
“You couldn’t have known,” Katla said.
Tara had been staring at the table. She looked up at Katla. Here she was, drunk, and still showing empathy. Tara swallowed more of her drink.
She continued on and detailed the battle. “I’d never killed anyone before,” she added.
“I was so sick after my first kill,” Katla said. “Couldn’t eat for days.”
Tara nodded. She finished describing the battle, the moment of realizing Freta had been hit by that arrow. Their last exchange.
Tara wiped her eyes and blew her nose. The drink had given her liquid courage, but the tears still flowed unimpeded. Would she ever stop crying over this moment? Would she ever want to be numb to that moment?
Tell her. Be honest.
She needed to tell her about the grief. The destroyed trees.
“I…” Tara paused.
“It’s okay,” Katla said. “The pain of that moment. Has to be so hard.”
“When she died…” Tara paused again. “When I saw life leave her eyes…”
“I understand,” Katla interrupted. “You don’t have to say more. Maybe I shouldn’t have pushed for this.”
Tara nodded. She finished off her third drink. Gods, they went down so smooth.
Tell her! Be honest!
How to tell her? How not to frighten her? What would Freta’s reaction have been to Tara’s waves? Tara had never told her, never been set off and had any…fits…while with Freta. Would Freta have been like that girl, Ginette, frightened of Tara’s temper, and the violence that came with it? Would Katla?
Katla had seen her kill, of course. In protection of her. Of them. But…
Tell her, Tara. Please.
Tara had confessed to a temper, had heard the caution in Katla’s questions about her temper, back in Riverwood.
“…Have you ever lost your temper at someone you cared about?” she asked. “Ever hurt them?”
Katla was nervous about Tara’s anger. What would revealing the waves, the lack of control, do? Make her more nervous, less trusting? Plus, Katla’s fear of dark mages, understandable, but…would she hold on to the belief that Tara would never become one?
That was part of why they’d come to Riften first. Katla had not confessed to it, but Tara wasn’t stupid. Katla did not want to bring that red soul gem to a place filled with mages. One dark mage or one tempted mage might be all it took to lose the gem, lose everything. Katla didn’t distrust magic the way Freta had. But, she didn’t trust mages. She understood the reality that people with power…many of them…couldn’t be trusted not to abuse that power.
What would Katla think of someone, her girlfriend, having a temper, and this crazy magic power she could not control? Could Tara trust her with that knowledge? Or, should she wait a little longer? Just a little.
Tara. Tell her. Trust her.
“I saw my parents die, but didn’t get a chance to look into their eyes,” Katla said.
Tara exhaled. Speaking of trust.
Katla took a swallow of mead, no more Cliff Racer drinks for her.
“Earlier in the day, my dad, Ralof was his name, had given me my bow.” She patted her bow, leaning against the table, along with Tara’s axes.
“It was one of his older ones. He’d had it cleaned up and repaired. He was going to give it to me for my birthday, I think, but he was too excited, so he gave it to me early.”
Katla took a big gulp of her mead.
“We practiced all afternoon. I was already a good shot by then. Dad had been showing me how to shoot since I was five or six. After the Great War, he thought it was important for everyone to know how to defend themselves.” She took a sip of mead. “He’d say, ‘Katla, one should know how to defend themselves. Stand up for what they believe and love. You don’t have to be in an army, but you should know how to protect yourself and others, when times call for it.’”
She wiped away tears. “You see why it was so hard for me that they were necromancers?”
“He was always spouting off little wisdoms. He’d been an archer in the war, fighting for the Empire. He’d seemed exactly what you wanted in a good man. Never an unkind word, not abusive in any way.” Katla shook her head. “Mom, too. She taught me all the ‘ladylike’ things, of course. But, gardening, too. And she loved to read.”
Katla sighed. “I still don’t understand.”
Tara watched her as she was lost in thought again, her eyes trained on the ceiling. After a minute, Katla looked at her, and leaned forward.
“We practiced shooting targets until dinner. Dad made some minor adjustments to the bow. I took to it quickly. We then went in for dinner.”
She leaned back, then forward again. Her voice dropped. “They broke in while we were eating.” Katla’s voice caught in her throat for a moment. “They broke down the door, some blast of magic.”
Tara saw Katla’s hands tremble. “There were six of them. They grabbed the three of us before I knew what was going on. Dragged us down into our basement. Into the hidden lab and shrine.”
Katla swallowed. “I had no idea. They had a false bookcase in the basement, a hidden button, and it opened to a small cave where they…practiced.”
Katla’s eyes locked onto Tara’s. “There were bodies in that cave, Tara. Skeletons, but also…freshly dead. Body parts, too, dissected body parts lying…everywhere. They had a shrine to Molag Bal in there. Plus, some other statue, carved rock. I didn’t recognize it or who it was dedicated to.” Katla sat back and wiped her eyes.
“The necromancers, the ones who broke in, they lined us all against the wall near the shrine. One of them started yelling at Dad. Kept asking him where it was, saying to give it to him. When Dad refused, they started beating Mom. And worse.”
Katla fell silent. Tara didn’t move.
“All six of them got…distracted…by what they were doing to Mom. I saw my chance…I escaped the cave…they didn’t even notice. I hurried upstairs to my parents’ bedroom. Dad kept his main bow, and the one he’d just given me, in their room. I was going to kill them all, you know.”
She wiped fresh tears away. “I grabbed both bows, some arrows, and then I saw it. The red soul gem.”
She looked at Tara again, her eyes shown with a fresh light, fierceness mixed with a dark edge.
“I knew instantly it was what they were looking for,” she whispered. “It was on the nightstand, uncovered, throbbing, calling. Had they simply searched our house, they would’ve found it. Could’ve just taken it and left. They wouldn’t have had to…”
Katla shook her head, as if trying to dismiss an image from her mind. “I grabbed it, ran to my bedroom, grabbed my pouch and put it in there. I have no idea why it was lying out like that, what my parents were thinking having it loose like that.”
Katla took another sip of mead. “I was steeling myself to go back to the basement, to kill them all. I could still hear Mom screaming, you know. Dad begging for them to stop. Then I heard one of them, the same one that had demanded the gem from Dad, yell, ‘Where is she?!’ They realized I’d escaped.”
Tara held her breath.
“I heard Dad yell, ‘Katla! Run!’”
Katla looked down at her empty mead bottle. “So, I ran.”
Fresh tears slid down Katla’s face, tracing the sides of her nose.
“I’d barely made it to our shed, not even hundred meters, when the house exploded. I was blasted off my feet, landed in the woods surrounding our land. Blessing from the Gods I didn’t hit a tree and crack my skull open.” Katla wiped her face again.
“I heard screams and yelling coming from the house. I wanted to go back, but the fire, Tara, the flames. Everything in the yard was catching on fire. I…”
Katla eyes bored into Tara’s. She was searching for…forgiveness?
“I heard them screaming. I heard my parents dying. I couldn’t save them.”
Katla straightened up and wiped her face one more time.
“I stayed in the woods, watching, listening. I couldn’t move. Didn’t know what to do. Maybe I fell asleep, I don’t know. At some point I realized it was dawn, and I saw three of the necromancers emerge.”
Tara raised an eyebrow. Katla continued before she could ask how they’d survived.
“Not from the ruins of the house. It was still burning. The cave. It must have had a tunnel, another entrance, maybe another room. I hadn’t had a chance to look around and get a good look. But, I know who emerged. The one, the leader, and two others. They came from around some rocks at the edge of our property, opposite of where I was. Thankfully, they didn’t see me or even search the area. I think they wanted to get away, before anyone showed up to see what had happened. I realized I couldn’t stick around, either. I was surprised no one had come by yet. But, there had been a huge bard festival in the city, so I think a lot of our neighbors were there. Was the perfect time to strike, I think.”
Katla took a deep breath. “I made my way to Bruma, then here to Skyrim. While I was in Bruma, it struck me that they’d be searching for me. At some point they’d realize I must have the soul gem, or know where it was.”
Katla gave Tara a slight smile. “You know the rest, mostly. I’ve traveled much of Skyrim, looking for answers, but mostly staying on the run.”
Tara leaned forward, fully across the table, her feet lifted off the floor, and gave Katla a gentle kiss. “Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry.”
They’d spent the rest of the night in bed, Tara holding Katla. There wasn’t anything to say, anything that would lessen the fresh waves of grief that spread through them both. Tara wondered briefly how many tears one could really shed at a time. They’d fallen asleep at some point, though Tara had no idea at what hour.
Tara blinked away the memory of last night and looked again at Katla. Time to wake her up. Time for them to go. Not on the run, anymore. Looking for answers.
They were on the road by mid-morning, heading to Shor’s Stone, and up to the hot springs area. Katla said she knew of some places to hunt and camp, that she’d heard the hot springs had rejuvenating properties. Or, at the least, would offer a great place to bathe.
Tara didn’t think again of telling her about the waves until it was too late.