“I have to say, that was rejuvenating,” Tara said.
Katla laughed, gave her a wicked look, and sent a wave of warm water at her. “Don’t think it was the water that was rejuvenating.”
Tara matched her look and sent her own splash of water back.
They were bathing in a small, spring fed pool, having made camp at a tucked away spot off the winding road that would lead them to Kynesgrove, a small town close to their target city of Windhelm. Katla estimated they’d hit Kynesgrove tomorrow.
This volcanic area in Skyrim was vast and held its own beauty. At a glance, it was stark, with less grass, sporadic weeds, fewer trees, plus plenty of dead trees. The colors were browns and the pale green of heated water. The geysers and steam pools were numerous, dotting the landscape with constant gurgling spouts and steam rolling through the air…a constant fog.
Too close to a hot spring and one would be boiled to death. Along the edges, though, in small pools furthest from a geyser, the water was tepid and full of minerals. Muscles relaxed immediately when you slipped in.
Few animals were in the area, outside of the mammoths being guarded by giants. The giants gave them a sense of safety. Easily provoked and protective of their mammoths, bandits and the like tended to stay away from giant camps, as not to get crushed by them. As long as you left them alone, though, and kept a respectful distance, they wouldn’t bother you.
The wading pool was in a perfect spot, just far enough away from one such camp. Tara and Katla could watch the giants herd their mammoths around, but not be seen as a threat. It was as if the giants were their bodyguards for a day.
“I wish we could stay here longer,” Katla said. “This is amazing. Bathing outside in this glorious warm water. I love this.”
Tara smiled. Katla’s face had taken on a childlike aura, a wonder and peaceful look usually reserved for the youngest and innocent.
“We need to return here at least once every season,” Tara said. She nodded for emphasis.
Katla swam over and sat down on the smooth rock Tara was sitting on. Tara caught her breath as their hips touched. They’d just had their fun, and still…
“I hear there’s a dragon burial ground near Kynesgrove,” Katla said. “I’d like to see it. Maybe we can pick up a bounty, too. Earn some coin.”
Tara nodded, still dwelling on Katla’s hips. “A dragon burial ground? I had no idea.”
“There’s one near Evergreen Grove, saw it once when I was hunting. They’re massive. Just stones and dirt, but…impressive.”
“Skyrim is so amazing,” Tara said. “None of those in High Rock.”
“You ever want to go back to High Rock?”
Tara bit her lower lip. “High Rock itself? Yes. Even Wayrest. Just…not right now. Maybe after more years pass.”
When my parents are dead, she thought.
“As for bounties,” Tara said. She needed to change the subject. Today was too perfect to ruin with family. “I…I’m not a fan of killing without cause. Though, I don’t want to go after giants, either. Maybe we can do some farm work or something in Kynesgrove, instead. Explore a Nord ruin for treasure. Only kill bandits if they bother us.”
Katla studied her for a minute, then nodded. “Okay. Just…we made a good team against those bandits in Whiterun.”
Tara smiled and gave her a sideways look. “We do fight well together. I love how we seem to read each other. We’re natural together.”
They relaxed silently for a while, letting the progression of the day’s light change the colors and tone. Finally dragging themselves out of the water, they dressed and started making dinner.
Tara put together a stew of leeks, carrots, and potatoes while Katla pulled out some deer jerky for them to share.
Their conversation was light through dinner. One of the giants had herded a mammoth back and forth at least three times today, and they spent time talking about both great beasts.
Katla grew more serious as dinner drew to a close. Tara noticed she seemed lost in thought, contemplating something.
“What? What is it?” She finally asked her.
“Obvious, huh?” Katla said. “I’ve been thinking…” She paused and took a deep breath, leveling her eyes at Tara. “You said your sister is a mage.”
And the day was going so well, Tara thought.
“Yes,” Tara quipped.
“Instead of us going to the College of Winterhold,” Katla said. Her voice grew louder, as if she was getting excited. “Maybe we reach out to her. About the soul gem.”
Gods, not that.
Tara tried to keep her voice steady. “We haven’t spoken in over a year. I don’t even know where she is.”
Katla gave her with a quizzical look. “But, you could write to her. The couriers would find her, eventually.” Excitement was still in her voice. “You said she was powerful, knowledgeable. Surely, she might know something about this gem. Could tell us more than Wylandriah did.”
“Why don’t you want to go to the College?” Tara asked. Her voice wavered. She didn’t want to explain Mira to Katla. Not yet. Not after such a wonderful, relaxing day.
Katla now wavered. “That’s a lot of mages in one place…”
“I hear they have a huge library with thousands of books,” Tara interjected. “Surely, we can browse the books, avoid people if you want…”
Katla steadied her voice. “You know that won’t happen. You want to go. You want to learn there.”
“You don’t want me to study magic?” Tara asked.
Katla was silent for a minute. “Your family has purposely kept you away from magic, right?”
Tara’s face flushed. “Right.” She felt her jaw clench.
Katla swallowed. “There must be a reason.”
Tara’s mouth dropped open. She closed it. This conversation was going wrong. This day was going wrong.
“They…their reasons…it’s not my fault,” Tara said. She could hear the anger in her own voice.
Katla’s eyes softened. “Will you tell me why? Please.”
Tara looked into Katla’s eyes…the warmth, the yearning to understand. Her anger quelled.
“They…I…” Tara gathered herself. “I showed a strong aptitude for magic when I was little. Instead of encouraging it, my parents, and Mira…suppressed it.”
“I’m sorry,” Katla said. Her voice had dropped to a soft whisper.
“I know with the right teachers, I can learn,” Tara said. “I learned some things at the College of Whispers. I was improving. Before Mira ruined that.”
Katla nodded. She took a deep breath. “Okay, no Mira. The College of Winterhold it is.”
Tara also took a deep breath. The day was not ruined. Katla wasn’t prying, digging for details she wasn’t ready to give.
“We’ll keep the soul gem with us at all times,” Tara said. “Any hint of dangerous mages, or anything untoward, and we’ll be out of there.” She gave Katla a huge smile. “I’m still your bodyguard. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Katla smiled back. “My little guardian.”
“Who you calling ‘little’?!”
“My short guardian?”
They enjoyed time together in Katla’s tent, before Tara took first watch.
The night sky was clear and she studied the stars until it was her time to sleep.