Katla folded Tara’s letter and wiped her eyes.
Oh, Tara, she thought. If only she could hold her right now.
Tara had written about the fight with Norring, the new orders from Legate Rikke, and, finally, about what else had happened in Rorikstead. Not the wave she’d used to stop those twenty-five Stormcloaks soldiers. She’d written about them months ago. This was something else. It’d happened after the Stormcloak attack. The real reason she’d been transferred to a new garrison.
The real reason Tara’s tone and mood in her last few letters had seemed off. She’d not given details, one didn’t need to, but she’d told Katla the general facts of what her captain had done. Nothing else needed saying in a letter. Perhaps ever.
Katla thought of her mother. What had happened to her on that last, terrible night.
She closed her eyes again. Gods, she missed Tara. She needed to see her. For both their sakes. She’d thought this separation was smart, the right thing to do. To get away from assassins and to push Tara away from magic.
The idea seemed silly now. Tara had stepped away from magic without Katla’s leaving. And who better than Tara to protect her from assassins? What had she been thinking?
You were scared of her. Her temper.
Her capacity for violence. Though, Tara had never been that way with her. Not even a little. Their arguments were so…normal. A little yelling, mostly angry tones, with each other speaking their mind over an issue. Gods, they didn’t even resort to name calling.
How stupid to have left her. Look at what had happened to her since.
Maybe the Divines had planned it. Had put the idea in Katla’s head to leave. She wasn’t sure she believed it, but Tara did have premonitions going on. She’d written to Katla about the new, second one.
Besides the nightly ones of Rigmor, Tara had detailed another one. She’d thought it a nightmare at first, but it occurred every night, too, with little change in details. In the premonition, Tara was chasing Katla, or sometimes Freta, in a forest, until another woman stepped in at the last moment. Fire would engulf her, ending the dream.
Tara said the mystery woman kept promising to “bring her back”. Katla had suggested the dream must be related to the Fire Queen. Why else would fire be in the dream?
“Bring her back”? Who? Tara Geonette?
Or, Katla thought, maybe she needed to go back. This was the warning that she and Tara needed to be reunited.
“Everything okay?” Mira asked, startling her.
Katla almost dropped the letter. She put it away, tucking it back into her robes. She was still wearing mage robes and a hood, pretending to be Mira’s young assistant.
She and Mira were in the library again, in the reserved alcove, as they’d been for a few months now. Pouring over more books, taking notes on cult members. It’d been slow and laborious.
“Yes,” Katla said. “A letter from…you know who.” Even here, they were avoiding using Tara’s name, just in case there were listening ears. “I didn’t get a chance to read it this morning before you arrived to get me,” she finished.
Mira studied her with her piercing pale blue eyes. “Is she okay?” Her tone indicated she could tell Tara wasn’t.
“She’ll be retiring from the Legion soon,” Katla said. “Joining the Penitus Oculatus. I assume she’ll write to you with details.”
The Penitus Oculatus! Katla hadn’t even considered what that meant.
Katla decided against giving Mira any of the details from Tara’s letter. Katla was grateful Tara was writing Mira, that all three were staying in touch. She didn’t know what Tara was telling Mira in the letters between them, but something told Katla Tara was staying focused on the cult with her, and not much else.
What had happened in Rorikstead, even the fight with Norring, all seemed to be things Tara didn’t want Mira to know. How long before the two rebuilt their relationship? Would they ever? Could you ever trust someone who’d violated you so deeply?
Katla did like Mira. She’d been surprised by how much she liked her. The two sisters were so different. She’d wanted to distrust her, considering what Tara had told her. Spending this time with Mira, though, she couldn’t help but gain respect for her. People were drawn to her, and Katla found herself one of them.
She had a combination of confidence, knowledge, and directness that worked. At times she was condescending, yes, though that had been useful at keeping people away from them while researching. Her sense of humor was lacking, too. The woman couldn’t catch a joke if it landed in her lap.
She was studious and quiet, as if lost in thought examining the deeper meanings of life. Yet, when she wanted attention, to command a room, she could turn on a confident charm that infected you.
What Katla really admired was her concern for Tara. It felt genuine. Even now, in asking if Tara was okay, Katla had seen that look in her eyes. Probing from worry. Perhaps guilt she’d never drop over what she’d done to Tara. There was something to be said for a woman who kept trying to help those she’d hurt the most.
“Okay,” Mira answered. She didn’t push for more. “As long as she’s okay.” Mira handed over a piece of parchment.
“The names you’ve been gathering. I’ve marked on here the ones I know are noble families.”
Katla looked at the parchment. She whistled softly. “That’s a lot of them.”
“I thought so, too,” Mira nodded. “Even by Breton standards.” Mira cleared her throat. “I’m meeting this week with a few nobles. I’m going to take a closer look around their homes, if I can. See if that symbol is anywhere. Maybe ask gentle questions about their ancestors. There’s a chance their family name isn’t related to the ones we’re finding from the Second Era cultists, but I doubt it.”
“You think they married into these families on purpose?” Katla asked.
“Perhaps. They could’ve gained nobility after being cultists. That’s what I want you to find out today,” Mira said. She stood and walked over to the bookcase behind Katla. Her robes were splendid again. Today’s robes were a deep purple that seemed to highlight her pale skin. The robes flowed around her, as if alive and protective of her.
She pulled down an old book, the last on the shelf Katla hadn’t read yet.
“I think this one will help.” Mira handed it over. Noble Origins, the title stated. “This book traces families from the late First Era through about the year 250 of the Third. Please go through it and see if you can find when these families became nobility. If it’s noted, write down who the first noble person was.”
Katla took the book, glad she’d already put on the tundra cotton gloves she’d been given to handle the delicate books.
They worked in silence for a time, Katla slowly turning pages and updating Mira’s parchment. Mira focused on another parchment, the one they’d started with any information they could find about red soul gems. It was mostly blank, as they’d not found much. Mira was now reading a book about natural stones and rocks in High Rock. They weren’t even sure yet if any geodes were naturally red, Mira telling her she’d only ever seen bluish geodes in all her years.
“Master Blaton.” A male voice broke their silence.
Katla looked up to see Master Hawkcroft, the same mage that had interrupted them on the first day of their research here. He’d come by at least once a week, to ask Mira this or that. Mira always pulled him outside the alcove, so Katla rarely heard what they were discussing.
His eyes rested on Katla. She pulled her hood lower over her head, to hide her face in shadow more. A thought occurred. She looked down at her parchment.
“Master Hawkcroft,” Mira said, standing. “Twice in as many days.” Her tone offered mild annoyance. “How may I help you today?” Mira held her arms, such as to steer Master Hawkcroft outside the alcove, just as she had yesterday.
He didn’t move. Katla stole glances and watched as he looked from Mira to her. As if he wanted to stare at her, but Mira was in his way.
“A…few questions, um, if you’re seeing Lady Moorhart this week?” he said.
“I do have a meeting with her this week.” Mira indicated again that Master Hawkcroft should step out of the alcove with her, gently motioning her arms. He still didn’t move.
Katla searched the parchment of names. She went pale.
“What are your questions?” Mira asked. She let her full annoyance shine through now.
“I wonder if you might ask her…to reach out to me,” Master Hawkcroft said. Katla risked a glance up at him. He was staring at her, seemingly distracted in his conversation with Mira.
Mira sensed it, and stepped left, closer to him, blocking his view of Katla. Katla looked back down at the parchment, to check herself. She felt chilled.
“…regarding her son’s interest in joining the Synod,” he finished. “I’ve not yet heard back regarding a message I sent last week.”
Katla heard Mira sigh. “As I’ve told you before, I can’t be tasked with Synod business, as I’m not a member.”
“I’m, uh, I know, but…” Master Hawkcroft stammered. “But I haven’t heard back, and it seemed important to him in his letter. I just thought you could mention, ah, meeting me and it, uh, coming up in conversation.”
Katla finished checking her work. Her hands trembled. Stop it, she thought. Get a grip on yourself.
“Fine,” Mira said. She’d assumed her condescending voice. “I’ll ask if I get a chance. Was there anything else?”
“No, ah, thank you so much,” Master Hawkcroft said. Katla heard him walk away, his boots clicking and fading on the stone floor of the library.
Mira turned back to Katla. “Why does he keep asking me such mundane…what’s wrong?”
She sat in her chair and studied Katla.
Katla turned the parchment around and pointed to a name. Hawkcroft wasn’t marked as a noble name. It was on the list, though. They’d discovered two Hawkcroft’s as original order members.
“He’s figured out who you are,” Mira said. She stood and paced. “You have to leave Wayrest. High Rock.”
Katla blinked. “He’s a member of the order?”
“We have to assume any descendant from a name on that list is one,” Mira said. “Any other member of your family might be one. My parents might be.”
Katla thought. “Wouldn’t that put you in danger, too?”
Mira sat and thought. “I’m a direct Geonette descendant. I suspect that makes me special. And safe to some degree.”
Katla wrapped her arms around herself. The heart of the beast.
“But they’ve gone after Tara. Assassins…”
Mira leaned forward and lowered her voice. Her tone slipped to condescending. She was not brokering an argument. “Assassins were after you. For the soul gem. They weren’t order members. Just hired hands.”
Katla stood. “Right. I’ll leave first thing in the morn…”
“No. Now.” Mira stood. “Let’s pack up books and notes I want you to take with you.”
Faster than Katla expected they’d packed up the alcove and Mira escorted her out of the library.
Back at the inn, Mira helped her pack up her room. “I’ll escort you until we have you on a boat. I know someone to take you. I trust him completely. I suggest Hammerfell. Then, I don’t know which is safer for you, Skyrim or Cyrodiil.”
“I’ll take it from there,” Katla said. “I’m used to being on the run, remember?”
Mira nodded. “You’re right.”
She looked at Katla’s wardrobe. “I think it’s time you wear your new armor. Forget the robes.”
“I…good thinking,” Katla said. She pulled out the new armor and started changing.
Mira had arranged for a new, light armor for Katla. It’d taken her by surprise.
On one of her early visits to the inn to pick her up, Mira had studied her current armor, a leather set Katla really liked, but was, perhaps, showing its age. She also had to admit it didn’t offer much protection, exposing her arms and shoulders completely.
“You need some metal, at least over your chest and shoulders,” Mira had said. “Light armor still, to keep your movement and speed as an archer, but something that can deflect an arrow or two.”
“How do you know anything about armor?” Katla had asked. “Mage robes aren’t exactly protective.”
Mira had laughed. “I’ve met quite a few battle mages in my day. A blacksmith or two, in my time caring for ill citizens during my travels.”
“Doesn’t matter. I don’t have the gold for new armor,” Katla had said.
“Leave it to me,” Mira had said. “I’m not wealthy, but plenty comfortable. I can’t have Tara’s favorite person taking an arrow to the knee or heart.”
Mira had brought a blacksmith to meet Katla, and take measurements. Designs had been drawn up and a month later, Katla had her armor. Outside of trying it on, she hadn’t worn it.
She finished putting it on and took a moment to admire herself in it.
The breastplate and pauldrons were steel, oiled and treated to give it a slightly brown tone, making it easier to blend into foliage. Leather straps fed through the pauldrons to keep the breastplate aligned and comfortable. The plate had been bowed out slightly, to give her chest room and keep the proper angle for the deflection of arrows. An intricate design was attached to the plate, with the stop-rib, to again deflect blows and arrows. All while looking stylish. Underneath, and covering the rest of her upper body and arms was layers of thin silk, thick fabric, leather, and some chainmail. Colored a gray blue, it brought out her hair and eyes. Her pants were a thick leather, which matched her boots and the leather gloves.
She had movement, more protection, and looked good without being garish. She loved it.
“Thank you again,” Katla said to Mira.
“Let’s get you out of here,” Mira said.
As they walked to the docks, Mira rattled off instructions; what she wanted Katla to research, how often they should write. “Make a copy of all your notes and send them to me. I’ll do the same for you. We have to keep up the research.”
Reaching the docks, Mira guided her to the far end, to a set of short docks with a few small boats. This area was far quieter, less busy than the core section, with its towering ships and constant traffic of people loading or unloading cargo.
The boats they approached were simple, mostly rowboats and single sail boats.
“Wait here.” Mira stopped Katla near some barrels and crates stacked against an old wooden storehouse near the edge. Katla watched Mira approach an older, grey bearded man, working near one of the sailboats.
They greeted each other warmly, with the man constantly bowing at Mira, as if he couldn’t thank her enough for something.
Mira motioned Katla over.
“My friend, Ella,” Mira introduced Katla. “Ella, this is Agrore. He’s on his way to Sentinel, which is perfect for you, I think?”
Katla smiled at Agrore. “That would be wonderful.”
Agrore smiled and shook Katla’s hand. “Any friend of Mira is one of mine. Did she tell you how she saved both my daughter and son’s lives when they contracted dampworm?”
Katla smiled. “She did not.”
Agrore raised his index finger in the air. “I shall regale you with that story and the other great magic I have seen her perform on the trip.”
Katla turned to Mira, “I guess this is goodbye.”
Mira nodded. “I hope it’s not for too long.” She put her hand on Katla’s shoulder. “Stay safe. When I finish my work here, we’ll meet up again.”
Agrore was ready to leave within the half hour. Katla waited in the boat, and Mira stood on the dock until they pulled away. As Agrore turned the boat away from shore, pointing it towards Hammerfell, Katla raised her hand in a farewell. Mira returned it, then turned away from them and walked away.
Katla turned her eyes to the coast of Hammerfell. She’d never been, but remembered Tara telling her how much she loved Rihad. Katla realized she’d have to study a map and figure out the best way back to Skyrim.
Back to Tara.