“Leave her alone,” Tara said.
She stood up from the table inside the Sheepshead Inn in Granite Hill, where she and some of the garrison were enjoying food and drinks after another day of patrols.
They’d been stationed here for a few weeks, since the Battle for Fort Sungard. Captain Torell’s garrison had been assigned to Granite Hill, a town located at a key crossroads where Whiterun Hold and Falkreath Hold met.
The town paid taxes to Falkreath, so had been considered a victory for the Imperials to hold. It had a long history of being a pivotal point for battles. Tara remembered reading about it from a book covering the First Era. If she remembered correctly, it’d been where the dragon Vuljotnaak was defeated during the Dragon War. Either way, it was an old Nord town that had seen much over its years.
Tara liked the feel of the place. It looked over the plains of Whitrun, but sat at the edge of the mountains and deep forest that dominated Falkreath. Tara still preferred the beauty of The Rift, but she could see herself settling here one day. It wouldn’t be a bad life. There was even a house available, though the note on the door from the mayor, John, said the owner was missing, as was the key to the home. Whoever found the key was welcome to it. Maybe when her Legion days were over, Tara thought, she could go look for it.
The town had several stores, a blacksmith, and open air market. Even a statue and shrine to Talos that the Thalmor had not destroyed.
Legate Rikke and the rest of the garrisons involved in the battle for the fort were camped around the fort, which sat up on the cliff above Granite Hill. Preparations were being made for them to leave. Word had spread like fire everyone was headed to Windhelm. This was the final push to eliminate the Stormcloaks and win the war. Tara’s garrison was staying behind, as there were still Stormcloak camps in the Reach and Falkreath. General Tullius was leaving garrisons scattered throughout Skyrim, to stop any Stormcloak reinforcements heading to Windhelm.
“Stay out of it, Breton,” Norring said back to Tara.
Norring had been harassing Laila, the inn’s server, since they’d been assigned here. Every night after patrols, most of them would come to the inn for drinks and a meal. Tara had enjoyed listening to the bard, Lova, sing. She had a soft, soothing voice and knew all the popular songs. The mead was good, too.
If only Norring would stop coming in here.
Laila was flirtatious. She had a sultry voice that enticed. Norring’s attention, though, she didn’t seem to want. Tara had watched over the past weeks as she first politely turned down his offers for company.
After her polite rejections failed, Laila had moved to the rude rejections, telling him to ‘bugger off’, ‘go enjoy your hand for the night’, and a few other choice phrases.
Her withering rejections should have stomped his ego enough to move on to easier prey, but Norring instead had become more aggressive. He’d been complaining there was nothing to do; all their patrols were quiet. He seemed bitter about the garrison not being chosen to go to the final battle.
Tonight, Laila had sat down for a quick break after checking all the tables and dishing out food and drinks. She’d chosen a chair in the back corner of the inn, away from everyone. A place to get a snippet of peace.
Norring had walked across the inn to get to her, as if he’d been watching her all night, waiting for her to be vulnerable. He stood with his back to Tara and most of the inn, blocking Laila from getting up from the chair. He’d leaned down, put his hands on both arms of the chair, whispering something to her. He was too close, too intimate.
Tara had watched Laila’s face first display disgust at him, as she’d said something back to him, clearly another rude rejection by the harsh moves of her jaws and lips. She’d almost seemed to spit at him.
He’d said something else and leaned in even closer. Color had drained from Laila’s face. She seemed to shrink.
Tara had to do something.
When Norring had first started harassing Laila, Pilper and a couple other men had said something to him. Nothing more than a ‘knock it off’, ‘leave her alone’, or ‘maybe you aren’t her type’. Their behavior made Tara as angry at them as much she was at Norring. No one was pushing the point, truly making him back off. The phrases were the weak efforts Tara had spent a lifetime observing between men. More so since she joined the Legion.
As if they were good guys for saying something, even if there was no power behind their words. None of them were standing up, calling his behavior what it was. Same as they had with his harassment of her. Same as any men when she’d been harassed in other inns, and on the streets of Wayrest as a teen. No one actually stood up. Tara broke noses because no one else would.
Tara didn’t want to be rescued by anyone, but letting blatant bullying and harassment go unchecked, with only halfhearted push back from one’s peers? That felt like cowardice. The men should be policing their behavior towards women. Not leaving it to those on the receiving end of the harassment. Most women couldn’t fight back.
“Leave her alone,” Tara said again. She straightened her stance, pushing her shoulders back, pushing out her chest, all in an effort to make herself as tall as possible.
Norring turned his head to her this time. He kept himself leaning over Laila, his hands still on the armrests. Laila was still coiled back from him, but she spared a glance at Tara. Tara wondered what he’d said to elicit that fear in her eyes.
“I told you to stay out of it, Breton,” he said, his voice a growling rumble.
“Get away from her before I make you,” Tara answered. Her voiced sounded loud. She realized the inn had gone quiet. She’d been sitting in the center of the inn, which meant her and Norring’s conversation was loud enough for everyone to hear.
Norring straightened up, but still stood in front of Laila. The height difference between Tara and him was obvious, even this far apart. Norring looked to be at least a foot taller than Tara. She briefly thought of Shum gro-Ulfish and their fight in Anvil, at The Count’s Arms Inn, those years ago. She wondered if he still walked with a limp.
“You’re going to make me?” Norring asked. He laughed at her. He finally stepped back from Laila. “You’re in for a world of hurt, Breton.”
Pilfer spoke up, “Leave them both alone, Norring.”
“Stay out of it,” Norring spate at him. “I was just flirting.”
Laila stayed coiled back in her chair, her eyes flitting between Tara and Norring.
“No, you weren’t,” Tara said. She felt heat rising in her face. Maybe Norring would back down, now that Pilfer had found an ounce of courage to say something. But what about tomorrow? He’d been harassing Laila for weeks. He wasn’t finished.
He’d not left Tara alone, either. After she shamed him at the fort over taking the dead Stormcloak’s gold, he’d gone back to the shoves and lewd comments. She was tired of him. Maybe she, too, was growing restless from easy patrols. Too much energy. Too much anger at the status quo here with men like Norring.
“Why are you all up in my business?” Norring said. He stepped towards Tara, and seemed to stretch himself up to his full height. “You finally want a taste of me?” He added a sneer to the last word, reached between his legs and grabbed himself.
Several men laughed.
“She only likes the ladies,” someone called out. Another man whistled.
Norring studied her for a second, cocking his head to the side slightly. His eyes read her head to toe, as if he was seeing her for the first time.
“Ah,” he spat. “A real milk drinker.” Someone behind Tara chuckled.
She knew Nords used milk drinker as an insult. Katla had explained it one night, back during their time in Riften, after an especially drunk Vulwulf Snow-Shod had called Talen-Jei one after he refused to serve him any more drinks.
“Means you’re weak, can’t handle your drink, so you have to have milk, like a baby,” Katla had said. “You know Nord men. If you’re not fighting and drinking, especially if you’re not a Nord, you must be a milk drinker.”
Tara thought of Katla, and what she loved about Nord culture. Why she loved being in Skyrim. They were upfront, not pretentious. They built their homes, and longhouses, in a way that felt closer to nature. They worked the land with respect and awe. Paid real tribute to the mountains, trees, and wildlife. You could almost feel Kyne here, the Divine true Nords considered the mother of men and beasts. Their politics were simpler, the games less. These people were closer to the earth, grounded. For all their faults, she loved what was good about them.
She realized she was itching for the one thing they did too much of. Fight.
“You’re the milk drinker,” Tara said to Norring. “An insult to that armor you wear. To the Legion. To true Nords.”
Tara watched his eyes flash. He perhaps thought of her insulting him before, at the fort. Calling him out for his dishonorable behavior.
“You better watch your mouth, Breton,” he growled.
Tara held her arms out, as if welcoming him. “Why? I thought a true Nord never backs down.” She grinned at him.
He flushed red.
“Take it outside,” Helana, the innkeeper said from the bar.
Tara raised an eyebrow at Norring. “How about it, milk drinker? Want me to show you how to treat a woman?”
“After you,” Norring said, pointing at the door. “I’m going to beat your ass.”
Violence isn’t the way.
Tara didn’t care. She wasn’t going to have another Rorikstead here.
Norring came up right behind Tara as she stepped through the door of the inn. She felt his hot breath on her neck as he whispered at her, making sure no one else could hear, “I’m going to fuck you up your ass after I beat it, bitch.”
As soon as she was clear of the inn’s door, Tara stepped to her right and pivoted around to face Norring. She immediately ducked, as he was mid-swing with a punch.
He’d tried to take her out before she was ready. Before the inn’s crowd came outside to watch the fight.
She stayed low and rushed him, shoving him in the gut. Off balance, he stumbled down the stairs that led up to the inn before regaining his balance.
Tara shook her head slowly at him, to shame him. She kept her eyes on him as she walked down the stairs. He didn’t approach, probably suspecting she’d be able to kick him in the head while she had the higher ground.
She heard people coming out of the inn. There were mumbles of ‘fight’, but otherwise the crowd was silent. Here for the show.
Norring had positioned himself in the middle of the street, arms raised, ready to punch.
Tara circled him, also raising her fists. He wasn’t as big as Shum gro-Ulfish, but she couldn’t let him land punches. She needed him to go down fast.
They circled each other, looking for an opening. Tara could hear mumbling, but not make out anything the crowd was saying. She needed to focus.
Norring lunged at her and swung. She dodged it easily, but he kept pressing, and she found herself backpedaling. They were the two best melee fighters Torell had in the garrison, and Norring’s footwork proved it. Tara found herself ducking, then rolling to stay away from his fists. Their paces matched, each able to switch direction and keep the other from getting behind them, or find any advantage.
Wear him out, she thought. He wasn’t giving her any chance to step in. She needed him tired, so he’d make a mistake.
He went for a leg sweep. Tara saw it in time, jumped over the swinging leg, then shot out her left leg. Her kick landed, and she heard the crunch of his ribs as she cracked them.
He roared as he dropped to a knee, clutching his side.
She went in for the finishing shot, meaning to break his nose with a punch.
He twisted on her, though, in spite of the cracked ribs, and she missed. Before she could recover and back away, Norring’s return punch landed. Tara felt her nose break.
The crush of bones was loud in her head. The pain was sharp, spikes stabbing her everywhere. Trying to pull in a breath, she couldn’t, until her brain remembered to use her mouth now. Her nose was useless. Blood seem to be flowing from everywhere.
This was what it felt like, she realized. All those noses she’d broken. She had no idea. No wonder it usually had ended previous fights.
She thought of all the beatings by Father. He’d never broken a bone. Deep bruises, cuts, deep pain, yes. Never the sharp shock of a broken bone.
Even the bear attack hadn’t broken a bone. Torn all her muscles and tendons, yes. Nearly killed her, yes. Broken bone, no.
She needed to get up. She needed to heal her face. Her hands were slick with blood. Why did faces bleed so much? The punch had knocked her to her knees. Tara shifted into one knee down position, left knee still bent, her right foot planted on the ground, ready to push her to her feet.
She looked toward Norring, in time to see his left boot inches from her face, about to kick her in the head and end this.
She heard Mira’s voice in her head.
The wave exploded from her.
Perhaps it was because he was off balance as he swung his leg. Perhaps it was the height difference, Tara still in a kneeling position, Norring standing. Tara didn’t know how high any waves emanating from her were. She knew they shot out in every direction, but was it a wall of force that slammed into people? The height of the wave determined by her height?
Whatever its size, the wave lifted Norring into the air and flung him far. He flew down the road and into the posts at the top of the stairs that led to the shop, Oddities and Curiosities, which sat at least fifty meters from the inn.
The sound of Norring’s bones breaking was loud, distinct. Far louder than his cracked ribs or her broken nose.
He landed with an audible thud. Tara could tell by his screams and the way his legs lay angled wrong, turned away from his upper body, that she’d broken not only his legs, but his pelvis, too.
She climbed to her feet and looked at him. He was staring at her, his face a jumble of pain, surprise, and hatred. She kept her eyes on him as she cast a healing spell on herself, biting her tongue to keep from yelling in pain as her nose stitched itself back together. She didn’t want him to hear her cry out. She couldn’t show him any weakness.
She couldn’t heal him. Someone needed to, though. And fast.
Their eyes remained locked for another moment. Tara considered saying something to him. But, what? She wasn’t even sure what message her eyes were sending him. Not pity and not empathy. She felt cold, numb to his suffering.
“You…bitch,” he muttered, as if speaking took effort.
No. She didn’t have anything to say to him.
She turned around and saw the crowd. Everyone was silent. Giving her the same look people did when her waves made an appearance. Shock and fear. A struggle to understand.
She felt too tired to care. In this moment, she wanted to go lie down and sleep for a few days. This wasn’t a victory, just something long overdue.
One thought fought through. The crowd was silent. And still standing.
Her wave hadn’t hurt them. Only Norring.
Mira’s teaching had worked.
Several Legion solders came around the corner and rushed over to Norring. A battle mage was among them. Tara watched her start a healing spell on him.
“Come with me.” Captain Torell was suddenly standing in front of her, his face stern, angry. Had he seen any of the fight?
Tara sighed and followed him.
(check out the mod, Granite Hill, by Skyking2020, at the Nexus)