Tara stood still and studied Legate Rikke as she read some fresh notes a soldier had brought her.
Captain Torell stood on the right side of the war table, Tara in front, and Rikke behind it. They were in her commander’s tent, parked just outside Fort Sungard. Torell was standing at attention. Tara had followed his lead and done the same.
She spared a glance at the war table. Little wood and leather flags, red and blue, were pinned across it. The blue flags had the Stormcloak bear emblem on them, while the red ones had the Imperial dragon sigil. Nearly all the table was red. Windhelm remained pinned by a blue flag, as did several places Tara took to be known Stormcloak camps. The war really was almost over, she realized.
Rikke finished reading the new notes, set them down on the table, next to larger pieces of parchment that comprised two stacks.
She was wearing her armor, without the helmet. Her dark blonde hair shone, as did the armor. She must have had a chance to bathe, to be fresh before her garrison and most others left tomorrow. Captain Alansen and his garrison were staying behind to man Fort Sungard, while Torell’s unit stayed in Granite Hill.
Tara gave herself a moment to study Rikke’s face. She thought of Freta. The two women didn’t look alike, outside of strong chins. The differences with Katla were even more pronounced. Katla had a much rounder, softer face than both. Plus, that luscious, deep brown hair.
Rikke had a commanding presence. It fit she was a legate; second in command in Skyrim. In that, Tara sensed a similarity to Freta. Rikke felt like how Freta had been. Dominating. The one in charge, without question.
Katla didn’t dominate. Tara led more often, but even that didn’t feel accurate. Tara led in the sense she was protecting Katla, and took charge to keep Katla safe. Otherwise, they were equal. Decisions were shared. More compromises made. Bedroom behaviors, too, had balanced out, once they’d spent more time learning each other’s tastes. Tara was Katla’s first girlfriend, while Katla was not Tara’s. Once the initial inexperience had worn off, Katla had become more assertive in the bedroom, to match the assertiveness she showed in all other aspects of their relationship.
Freta’s words floated up in Tara’s mind.
You were the love of my life, Tara. I was never going to be yours, though.
The truth struck Tara in the chest. Had Freta lived, they would not have lasted as a couple. Freta had understood this, and would have stayed with her as long as she could, because she loved Tara so much.
What would’ve broken them apart?
Freta would’ve been more resistant to magic than Katla. Tara felt that in her bones. Freta had never trusted magic and insisted Tara not pursue it. She would not have reacted well to her temper or waves. Something in them would’ve frightened Freta. Katla’s resistance had been specific to necromancers and conjuration magic. Understandable, considering everything.
Freta had also been dominating in their relationship. Too controlling. Their eight year age difference had been a factor. She had to be in charge, in control. She was thoughtful and tender, too, but Tara couldn’t picture being with anyone so controlling now. She wasn’t her eighteen year old self. So much had changed.
Freta had been with her as long as life had let them be. Only in this moment, did Tara understand how much Freta loved her, yet was aware of the differences that would’ve driven them apart. Freta probably knew Tara was hiding things from her. She’d simply been patient. Waiting. Enjoying what she could between them while it lasted. For that, Tara loved her a little more.
Katla. Gods, she missed her. Standing here in front of Rikke, waiting for the yelling that was sure to come. Waiting to be thrown out of the Legion. Maybe spend some time in the fort prison. She had, after all, just beaten up a fellow soldier. Injured him significantly, maybe permanently. There had to be a price to pay.
More than anything right now, Tara wanted Katla’s warm eyes, soft voice, and the empathy that she exuded. Katla saw right into Tara’s soul, and calmed it.
Here, too, was another moment of realization. Katla was moments of peace that otherwise eluded Tara. Inside her sat a pit of deep pain, with anger the boiling lava within the pit. Ready to explode without warning.
Except with Katla. Those eyes, her words, her gentle breath brushing Tara’s neck as she slept next to her. Katla was the calm Tara sought. The acceptance she sought. Katla was the love of her life. Tara couldn’t afford to lose her.
She had to find a way to see her. They couldn’t continue to be so far apart. Even if they weren’t together long while they searched for, and destroyed, the Order of the Fire Queen. They’d have to find a way to visit. No matter how brief. Tara would find a way. Standing in this tent, waiting for judgement, she felt alone. She missed Katla too much.
Rikke shuffled through a few of the larger notes on her table, read them briefly, and then straightened up. Standing tall. She ignored Tara and looked at Captain Torell.
“One of the duties of lieutenants and captains is to handle squabbles between soldiers in a garrison. So their legate doesn’t have to,” she said to Torell.
Rikke’s volume was the same as if they were discussing war tactics, deciding on troop movements. Her tone bit, though, cutting one’s skin.
“I recommended you to General Tullius for promotion when Jirich was lost, Torell,” she said.
Torell visibly paled. He kept his eyes facing forward, staring at the tent wall.
Rikke picked up one of the smaller notes. “Your job is to help your garrison work as a team, to be one unit, fierce in battle.” She paused. “If your two best fighters can’t get along, the unit is affected.”
She picked up a different note. “You were either blind to their troubles or ignored them. The rest of the garrison seems to know what was going on between Blaton and Black-Nail.”
Torell’s voice sounded raw when he spoke. “I’d told Black-Nail to leave her alone.” Torell glanced at Tara. “Didn’t realize he hadn’t stopped.”
Rikke kept her eyes on Torell. “We need every soldier in this war. Losing one to this…foolishness is inexcusable.” Rikke set the parchment down. Torell swallowed.
“Do better next time,” Rikke said.
Torell nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m transferring Black-Nail to my unit,” Rikke said. “If he can walk well enough, he can have his glory in Windhelm, assuming he survives. Or he’ll sit it out in the healer’s tent. We’ll see how he likes having a woman as his commander.”
Torell nodded stiffly.
“I’ll have Lieutenant Vanin send one of my top swordsman to you to replace him.”
Torell nodded again. “Thank you, Legate.”
“Go meet with Captain Alansen. Coordinate your patrols of the fort and Granite Hill. He’ll need help with the fort, as I’m taking some of his men to Windhelm. Dismissed.”
Torell saluted Rikke, turned, gave Tara a baleful look, and left the tent.
Tara stayed at attention. Her throat felt dry. She didn’t dare swallow.
Rikke picked up one of the larger parchments and read it. After a moment, she looked from it to Tara. They studied each other.
“You were in Rorikstead, under Captain Havilguss?”
Tara felt color drain from her face. She nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I heard about what happened. I didn’t realize you were the soldier.” Rikke’s voice was quiet, almost gentle. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
Tara closed her eyes for a moment, to fight back the sudden tears. She blinked them back, opened her eyes, and held Rikke’s gaze. “Thank you, ma’am,” she said, her voice quiet. She nodded stiffly.
“You may be happy to hear Havilguss died in a skirmish near Ivarstead a couple months back,” Rikke said. She put down the parchment she’d been holding and picked up another. “Calidia is now captain and leads the garrison.”
Tara closed her eyes for a moment. How did she feel? Relieved?
“Calidia is a good man,” she said.
“He is,” Rikke said. “I’d wanted him as captain, not Havilguss. General Tullius ignored my advice.” Rikke looked at the parchment again.
“Did you know Calidia wrote addendums to every report Havilguss wrote about you?”
Tara felt her eyes widen. “No, ma’am.”
“Seems Calidia didn’t think much of Havilguss’ assessment of you.”
Rikke put down the second parchment and paced slowly behind the table.
“The incident in Rorikstead I’m curious about is the one where you single-handedly took on twenty-five Stormcloaks, preventing them from attacking the town.”
Tara felt color drain from her face again.
“Every single one of them injured, mostly broken bones. Easy pickings when the rest of your garrison got there.” Rikke leveled her eyes on Tara. “Three of your fellow soldiers were injured, though. By some force. The same force that injured the Stormcloaks. A force reports say came from you. The same force that threw Black-Nail into those posts and ended your fight with him.”
Tara stayed silent. How to explain it?
“Who healed your nose?” Rikke asked.
“What…oh,” Tara lightly touched her nose. She was still covered in dried blood. She could feel it caked on her face, her hands were stained red. Plus, the blood on her leather armor that would take hours to clean. She and Torell had come straight to Rikke’s tent after the fight. She’d not been given a chance to clean up.
“I healed it myself,” Tara said.
“Are you a mage, Blaton?”
“No, ma’am,” Tara said.
Rikke kept her eyes leveled at her. Tara matched her stare.
“You didn’t try to heal Black-Nail after you broke his bones. Nor the three soldiers in Rorikstead.”
“I can’t heal other people, ma’am,” she answered. “I know a little magic. Enough to heal myself from some injuries. Not all, though.” Tara pointed to her right arm. The scars from the bear attack stood out, running well past the short sleeves of her armor.
Rikke studied her arm and nodded.
“In Rorikstead, some soldiers claimed you must know a Thu’um. That you’d shouted at the Stormcloaks.”
“No, ma’am,” Tara said. “It’s not a shout.”
“But it’s magic of some sort.” Rikke’s eyes felt more intense. She demanded an answer.
Tara shifted her feet. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “It’s magical, but not something I can control. Not really, anyway.” She sighed. “My sister, a mage, is researching it. It may be unique to me.”
Rikke nodded slowly. She seemed satisfied.
“Saving a town from attack is normally the kind of action that gets one promoted,” she said. “But you’re still a private.” Rikke shuffled through a few of the parchments. “Seems for every good deed you performed, which Calidia made a point to highlight in his addendums, you got into as many fights with fellow soldiers.”
Tara nodded. No reason to argue the truth.
Rikke paced. “What to do with you,” she said, almost under her breath.
After a few minutes, Rikke stopped, pulled out two fresh pieces of parchment from a stack near the end of the table, dipped her quiver in her inkwell, and started writing. Tara watched her write something short on one, fold it, and seal it with hot wax that sat next to the inkwell.
Tara realized she must have been writing some correspondence before the fight had interrupted her.
Rikke wrote on the second parchment, for a longer time, then sealed it with wax, as well. She held out both to Tara, who took them.
The name on the outside of one read Captain Torell. The other was a name Tara didn’t recognize. Commander Maro.
“When your garrison receives news we’ve taken Windhelm and ended this infernal war, give Captain Torell his letter,” Rikke said. “It releases you, on my orders, from the Legion.”
“Ma’am?” Tara asked.
“Take the second letter to Dragonbridge,” Rikke continued. “Give that to Commander Maro only. He leads the Penitus Oculatus branch here in Skyrim. Which may be here awhile, if the news out of Cyrodiil is true.” Rikke’s voice trailed off on the last part, as if she’d been thinking out loud.
“I don’t understand,” Tara said.
“The Legion is not right for you,” Rikke said. Her voice had now restored itself to be commanding. She was giving orders. “I do think you have a lot to offer. Join the Penitus Oculatus. You can still serve the Empire. They’re better suited to your skills and temperament. The soldiers there are far more disciplined. I don’t foresee you having the…challenges you’ve faced in the Legion.”
Tara looked down at the two letters. This was not what she’d been expecting.
She looked back up at Rikke. “Thank you…”
“Get cleaned up. Get that blood out of your armor, soldier,” Rikke said. She paused, softened her voice. “Good luck. Dismissed.”
Tara saluted her and left the tent.
She held the letters close to her heart as she walked. She had new orders. A new purpose.
(Rikke’s look from Bijin NPC’s SE.)