Tara wiped tears from her eyes and leaned her head back. A sigh escaped. The kind of tired sigh that hinted at defeat, if one were inclined to give in. She wasn’t. She was tired of talking, though. She’d spent the last hour, or was it two, telling Katla everything about her family. The magic suppression, the beatings, and the waves.
Well, almost everything. There was one story left. Could she tell it?
She was sitting on the floor, leaning against the door of their room, left leg stretched out, right leg bent at the knee, with her right arm resting on it. Her shoulder still ached from the arrow from the now dead assassin. The wound hadn’t left much of a scar. Her scars from the bear attack were the impressive ones on that arm. But, the arrow had left an ache. She briefly wondered if it’d been a poisoned arrow. It’d never crossed her mind to check. Maybe it just needed time to heal. A lot of things were only repaired by time.
Katla sat on the floor, cross-legged, across from Tara, pressed against the far wall of their room. She, too, was wiping tears from her eyes. What a way to start their time in Windhelm.
Gods, Tara hated Windhelm. There was nothing to like about this city.
Insufferably cold. The snow and wind here was relentless. For all the high, ancient stone walls surrounding this city, the wind seemed to squeeze through every crevice and make its presence felt. It was bitter, resentful anyone dared live in its brutal wake.
So many of the people were as cold as the weather. More than one Nord had accused Tara of being a Thalmor spy, just because she wasn’t a Nord. As if the Bretons didn’t have as much reason to dislike those high elves as Nords. How many eras had elves thought less of Bretons, and their Nedic ancestors? How many elves could not stand the existence of a human people descended from the mixing of elves and humans?
Her harassment was nothing compared to what she saw the dark elves, and Argonians, suffer, though. Dunmer, dark elves, were not the same as high elves, the Altmer, the ones who’d started the Great War. Dunmer came from Morrowind, a different land. Not even all Altimer were Thalmor, not all served in their armies or government. Tara knew enough history of the Summerset Isles, the home of Altimer. This turn towards elven dominance wasn’t shared by all of them. Just as not all Nords were as racist as the Stormcloaks dominating the city. Katla was nothing like the Nords here. Neither had Freta been.
This was Ulfric Stormcloaks’s city, though. He was jarl, sitting on the throne of the city that had once been the main capital, the original palace of High Kings of Skyrim, of the First Empire of Nords. But that was so many lifetimes ago.
For a city with such a long and fascinating history, it was decrepit and downtrodden. Perhaps due to Ulfric’s family line. Tara wasn’t sure. If he was anything like most of the people here, she had no interest in ever meeting the man.
He’d been the one to kill High King Torygg in some duel, with some shout. He was the cause of this brewing civil war with the Empire. No, Tara did not like this city at all. The sooner they left, the better.
Katla joined Tara in a big sigh.
“Everything…it’s terrible, Tara,” she said. “I’m so sorry your family hurt you like that.” Her eyes were red from crying. Her voice was low. “I can’t imagine it all.”
She climbed up from the floor and came over to Tara, knelt in front of her, so much like Freta had in that dream premonition. She gently touched Tara’s forehead with her hand, before giving her a soft kiss.
Tara closed her eyes. A moment of peace at her touch. A moment of rightness in the world.
Katla sat next to Tara, matching her, sticking out her right leg instead, so their legs touched. Their hips touched as well. Tara smiled at the difference, at how much longer Katla’s legs were compared to hers. She leaned against her, her shoulder against Katla’s arm.
“You scared me,” Katla said. Her voice remained a near whisper. “First, when that arrow hit you and I heard your cry of pain. Then, I lost sight of you while I focused on the assassins, but I heard the fire, and heard that assassin’s screams. I remembered you said you could do something with fire. To incinerate someone, though. I had no idea.”
Katla was silent for a minute.
“And then…that…wave. When they went flying away from me.” Katla looked at her. “The power from it. I…I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that.”
Katla looked away, staring across the room.
“It scared me. To see that kind of magic force.”
Her gaze returned to Tara. There was a seriousness in her eyes. Something tempering the kindness from a moment ago.
“You scare me sometimes.”
Tara swallowed and nodded.
“I have not felt safe for over two years, Tara,” Katla continued. “Since my life was…torn asunder by learning my parents were necromancers on the same day they died.”
She wiped a fresh tear away.
“Then I met you. I wanted to trust you immediately. I’ve felt safe…protected…with you. I can’t even explain why.”
Katla was quiet again. She put her arm around Tara, pulling her closer.
“So, thank you. I know that wasn’t easy to talk about. To be open and honest about it all.”
Tara nodded again. What to say to Katla? The walk to Windhelm, the focus on finding a safe place to stay. They’d settled on a spare room in an old Dunmer’s home in the Gray Quarter, the poor, downtrodden part of the city the Nords insisted the Dunmer live in, hoping to stay out of sight of anyone that might turn them in, or tip off the Dark Brotherhood. They’d hardly talked the whole time. Until now. Maybe they’d both needed to cool off. To think.
Through the day and half since killing the assassins, Tara had felt guilt and shame. She’d known she needed to be honest and open with Katla, but she’d feared losing her. Scaring her with the truth. Her family had always reacted with fear to the waves. And Katla, with her questions about Tara’s temper. It’d seemed obvious she might leave her. Keeping it from her had only caused pain, though.
What was she feeling now? Relief?
Some. One more story. One more bit of shame to tell.
“The wave didn’t affect me,” Katla said, pulling Tara out of her thoughts. “Did you do that? Aim it at them only?”
Tara sat up straighter and look at Katla. She was right. It’d thrown those assassins clear, but left Katla steady as ever on the rock.
“No. I’ve never been able to control them,” Tara said. “Outside of stopping them from erupting, once they burst out of me, I have no control. They’ve always hit everything in their path. Except…”
Tara thought back. “When Freta died.” Tara teared up at the memory. “The waves didn’t touch her body. Everything else was destroyed.”
“Maybe that’s something,” Katla said.
Tara thought. Since that confrontation with Mira, and then Algar at the College of Whispers, she hadn’t had any waves. What was different? Katla? Her feelings for Katla?
She hadn’t thought about Freta’s body being right next to her when she’d collapsed in grief. Never considered that she woke up the next day with her still right there. Yet the bandits’ bodies were scattered and battered.
“Maybe,” she replied. “I’m grateful it didn’t hurt you.”
They looked at each other a minute.
Be honest. Stay with her.
She needed to tell her.
“Thank you,” Tara said. “For accepting me. I’ve been so afraid I’d lose you if you knew about my…history with my family. And magic.”
Katla’s eyes softened. She pulled Tara back into an embrace. “Of course. I…”
“I have one more story to tell you,” Tara said. “You need to know about the day I left home for good.”
“Okay,” Katla said. Her voice had dropped. Somehow she pulled Tara closer. “Go on.”
(I use the mod, Windhelm Expansion – Grey Quarter, to help expand Windhelm)