Tara crouched behind the rock and watched the approaching Thalmor patrol. Being short had its advantages and right now was one of them. Crouching down on the cliff above the road, she was hard to spot. As long as sunlight didn’t glance off her red hair, creating a distracting burst of color, they wouldn’t see her. She’d picked the side of the road drenched in shadow for a reason.
The patrol consisted of three Thalmor agents and their prisoner, a young Nord man with stringy, blond hair and a large build. Two of the Thalmor were typical soldiers, in heavy Elven armor. The third was Tara’s biggest concern. A Thalmor wizard, dressed in high ranking robes. Altmer elves were known for their exceptional magic skills. Thalmor wizards tended to be proficient in all the destruction spells, especially anything lightning related. She’d need to take him out first, before he could electrocute her.
Her orders were to rescue the Nord and bring him to Dragon Bridge. He had information the Penitus Oculatus wanted. Information they didn’t want the Thalmor to torture out of the man.
Of course, this meant eliminating the patrol, too.
Leave no witnesses. No one can know you’re an agent, either.
Kill three Thalmor without killing the prisoner, or getting herself killed. All by herself. Right. Tara wondered when she’d get an easy assignment. Like patrol duty or bodyguard.
Commander Maro kept sending her on these solo assignments to kill people. Why?
Tara shook her head. She couldn’t dwell. Time to attack and get her job done.
The two Thalmor soldiers were in the lead as the group approached. The Nord man, dressed in rough fabric and with his hands bound in front of him, came next, with the wizard behind him. If it’d been up to Tara, she’d have one soldier in front and the second one at the rear, to provide better melee protection for the wizard. Powerful mage or not, their robes wouldn’t help much against an arrow. Or axe.
This formation felt lazy. They were not expecting trouble on the roads of Skyrim.
Tara ran through her attack plan one more time. She closed her eyes and pulled in a deep breath. As long as the first step worked, she should survive this.
The patrol passed by her. As soon as the wizard was past the cliff, she leapt down onto the road behind him, performing a forward roll to reduce the impact of her landing. Fortunately, the cliff peaked at about nine feet, so the jump down hadn’t concerned her. The wizard was the first to hear her and turn around.
Tara let loose with a wave, hoping she had enough control for what she wanted to accomplish.
The wizard and soldiers went flying into the overgrowth along the road. The Nord was knocked down, but still on the road. Separated from the Thalmor.
“Get to cover!” Tara yelled at him, pointing to a gangly tree on the opposite side of the road from the Thalmor. Like most of the trees in The Reach region, its trunk was stunted and twisted, with few leaves. Still, it offered some protection in this rocky, grassland area.
He did as told. Tara pulled out Katla’s bow, hers now, and notched an arrow. She let it fly at the wizard, who was just climbing to his feet. The arrow hit true, catching him in his heart. He staggered for a moment, his hands lit with electricity he’d been about to unleash. Then, he collapsed in the deep grass, blades of it charring underneath where his hands fell. The magic faded. Threat eliminated.
The Thalmor soldiers were rushing towards her, both with greatswords drawn. Neither had a bow, lucky for Tara. If they’d had, they could’ve flanked her, one covering the other.
Again, this patrol seemed lazy. Whomever had issued orders deserved a reprimand.
Tara backed up and fired an arrow at the closest warrior. She got lucky and it caught him under his raised arm, at a weak point of the armor. He screamed and dropped his sword.
She notched and fired an arrow towards the second Thalmor, but he ducked it easily, as she’d aimed too high.
Tara sheathed Katla’s bow and pulled out her axes. One on one, then.
The uninjured Thalmor reached her and swung. Tara easily side stepped, then rushed in with a swing of both axes. She caught him at the knees, knocking him off his feet. She was on top of him in a second and drove her right axe into his neck, just under his chin, where his helmet couldn’t protect him.
She leapt off the dying man as the now injured Thalmor reached her. He’d dropped his greatsword, as he needed two hands for it, and pulled out an elven dagger. Sunlight glinted off the golden metal of the handle as he lunged at her with his uninjured arm.
He caught her right arm. Tara resisted a scream as the blade easily split skin and muscle along her bicep. She swung her left axe at his right elbow, aiming for another weak point in the armor. Her aim was off, and instead she heard the distinct clang of metal on metal as she caught his gauntlet. It was enough to knock the dagger out of his hand, though.
Weaponless, he staggered back and started running, retreating. She caught up to him within a few seconds, running full speed to tackle him. Altmer elves were the tallest of all the races. One reason they were nicknamed high elves. He was more than a foot taller than her, but tackled onto the ground, his head and neck were easy to reach. Tara killed him the same as the other, driving her axe into his neck. He managed a “mercy!” before the final blow.
She stood up and looked at his dead body. She had no mercy to spare. How many lives had the Thalmor destroyed with their starting of the Great War? A war from before she was born that still resonated today. She had no doubt a second war would break out, eventually. Would Skyrim’s civil war had happened if the Great one had never happened? She never would have joined the Imperial Legion to fight in it.
Rorikstead wouldn’t have happened.
Tara shook her head. The premonition of Rigmor. She was meant to be in the Penitus Oculatus. Being in the Legion had gotten her into it. That was something.
Ruminating on what might have been wouldn’t solve anything.
She cleaned her axes quickly on the grass, then cast a healing spell on her right arm. The slice from the dagger closed quickly and left no scars. Her poor right arm had enough already.
She walked back over to the tree the Nord had hidden behind, giving herself time to catch her breath after the fighting and running.
He wasn’t there.
She scanned around her and spotted him, a good two hundred meters away. Running, with his hands still bound.
“Oh, come on,” she muttered and took off after him. Why was he running?
Probably because I’m dressed in my leather armor, she thought. He’d have no idea who she was. That she was here to protect him. For all he knew, she was some assassin.
“Stop!” She yelled as she sprinted after him. He ignored her and kept running.
She caught him in less than a minute. Sticking out her leg, she tripped him mid-sprint. Fortunately, they were in a field of thick grass, so his fall was as soft as possible.
“Leave me alone!” he yelled, as he rolled to his knees, trying to get to his feet.
Tara pressed her boot into his chest, threatening to knock him down again.
“Let me go!” he said.
“I’m here to escort you to safety,” she said. She kept her tone even, to calm him. “Let me free your hands.”
He paused a moment, his sharp blue eyes stared at her, suspicious. He held out his hands, though.
Probably thinks he can take me in a fight, Tara thought. Hopefully, he knew better than to try.
She pulled out her ebony dagger. Varro’s face flashed before her eyes, reminding her she’d killed him with it. The dagger easily sliced through the ropes, freeing the Nord’s hands.
Tara stepped back and let him climb to his feet.
“I’m Tara,” she said. “You are?”
The Nord rubbed his wrists. The skin around them looked irritated, red from how tightly he’d been bound.
“Jesper Foxbite.” He nodded. “Thank you for saving me from the Thalmor. But, who are you?”
Tara nodded and pointed towards the road. “Your escort to the town of Dragon Bridge.”
“Dragon Bridge? I live in Winterhold. I need to get back to my family…”
“Jesper,” Tara said. She pulled herself up to her full height. He beat her by at least nine inches. “I’m an agent of the Penitus Oculatus. I have orders to bring you to Dragon Bridge.”
Jesper’s face fell at that news. “Ah,” he said.
Tara raised an eyebrow, waiting to see if he’d elaborate, but he remained silent. She pointed again to the road and they headed northeast.
They didn’t pass many people. One caravan of Khajiit merchants heading to Markarth, plus a few guard patrols were all they saw. Tara wondered who would find the dead Thalmor and if anyone would suspect them.
Night approached and they found a rocky overhang to camp. Jesper had remained silent as they made their way, Tara catching his side glances at her. Did he plan to escape?
He gathered wood for a fire. Tara cooked them a simple meal of smoked rabbit and baked potatoes. She’d not brought many supplies with her, wanting to travel light. She’d left Twilight in Dragon Bridge. Having a horse with her would’ve made it harder to stake out the patrol.
Conversation during dinner was light. Tara asked him about his family, but he shook his head and remained quiet. He kept his eye on her while he ate. He seemed to be sizing her up.
“I want to be back on the road early,” Tara said as soon as they finished eating. She tossed him her bedroll. “Get some sleep. I’ll keep watch.”
“When will you sleep?” Jesper asked.
Jesper grunted. “You mean you’re watching me. So I don’t run again.”
As Jesper slept, Tara watched the stars. The moons, Masser and Secunda, rose close together, small Secunda partially hidden by Masser’s overwhelming red.
The constellation of The Lady shone brightly with the moons. Another reminder fall had arrived, here in the month of Hearthfire. The night cooled quickly and Tara put on her cloak to stay warm. She’d need to wear furs soon, even in this temperate area of Skyrim, fall and winter became brutally cold.
She smiled as she thought of her first winter in Skyrim. Of walking the seven thousand steps to High Hrothgar with Katla. Of that first time realizing how cold Skyrim could be.
Of that first night sharing a tent with Katla. That first kiss the next morning.
She’d not seen her much over the past five months. Assignment after assignment took her away from Solitude. From home.
Would she ever get used to the cold here? Probably not. She loved Skyrim, though. It’d gotten into her bones, the simple life people lived here. When her time with the Penitus Oculatus was over, and whatever events lay ahead with this Rigmor from her dreams, she’d settle back here with Katla.
Jesper’s snoring pulled her back to the present. She noted the position of The Lady and passed the time watching the fire slowly die and making notes in her journal.
Katla had encouraged her to keep one.
“For when the job’s tough,” she’d said before pausing. “Or, the memories are.”
Most of her entries felt like field notes. She didn’t detail her assignments; that was unsafe and against the rules. She knew Katla meant for her to write down her feelings in the journal. That felt unsafe, too.
What if someone read it? She couldn’t have her fears, nightmares, any of it written down. She couldn’t be vulnerable like that. She couldn’t risk someone using her pain against her.
She made an entry for today noting she’d killed three Thalmor, but not why or how, noted what she’d had for dinner. She looked up at the sky and quickly sketched in the moons and The Lady. They were a highlight to the day.
She let Jesper sleep for five hours before waking him. The Lady had traveled across half the sky, while Masser and Secunda were slowly setting. The sun wouldn’t appear for a couple of hours. Tara estimated they’d nearly be at Dragon Bridge by then.
Jesper impressed her by waking up alert and ready to go. She wondered if he needed to be a quick riser for his job or had been on the run from the Thalmor, learning to be ready to escape at a moment’s notice.
They made good time. As the sun spread its first rays across the road, painting pale color across the sky and distant mountains, the sight of the great dragon bridge came into view.
Jesper had remained silent for the journey, stealing glances at Tara.
“Do you even know why they want me?” he asked as they reached the bridge’s first stones.
Tara stopped and looked at him. Like so many Nord men, he carried a proud face, his chin lifted in defiance. His eyes revealed fear, though.
Jesper shook his head. “Maybe you should ask questions.”
Varro’s face briefly floated in front her. That night, the questions he’d asked before she’d killed him. The subject he’d been hinting at.
“We might be sent anywhere in Tamriel. Anywhere in Nirn, if the Emperor wants.”
“And that’s okay with you?”
“Lots of ways to serve, I think.”
“Across the bridge,” Tara pointed. “We’re almost there.”
Was Jesper another spy? Or a Nord who knew something he’d regretted learning? Would knowing this have helped her do her job?
She’d taken an oath. Taking assignments without question was part of the job. Loyalty.
Jesper shook his head again, as if disappointed in her, then they crossed the bridge.
She handed him off to another agent and then sat and wrote a report. She placed it on Maro’s desk, then found him outside the outpost, near the forge, where another agent was repairing some armor.
Maro nodded at her. “Good job.”
“Thank you, sir. Report’s on your desk.”
“How many Thalmor were with him?”
“Three. Two soldiers and a wizard.”
Tara considered for a moment before asking, “Jesper seems as scared of us as he was of the Thalmor.”
“We have a reputation, Blaton. Most people are scared of us.”
“This wasn’t that, sir.”
Maro looked at her. One corner of his mouth had lifted. She wasn’t sure if the smirk was approval. “I don’t know what he knows, but the orders came from the Lord Chancellor himself.”
“But the Emperor disbanded us.”
“Lord Chancellor Blackwell serves the throne, no matter who sits on it,” Maro said. “He looks out for the Empire at all costs.”
Tara nodded. “Anything else, sir?”
“You’re due for a vacation. Take a few weeks off,” Maro said. “I’ll send word when I have another assignment for you.”
Tara enjoyed the ride back to Solitude. Twilight was frisky, after not seeing her for a couple of weeks, so Tara took her time and they galloped on some small dirt roads, meandering off, then back to the main road. Tara realized she felt good. At peace.
Early afternoon arrived, and the wind picked up, bringing cooler air.
“You’ve had your fun,” she said to Twilight. “Let’s get home.”
Katla pulled her into a warm embrace as soon as she arrived. Time froze while they held each other.
Tara washed off the past few days. When she came back downstairs, the rich smell of a baking meat pie enveloped her.
Katla sat on the main couch, with two letters and an old, burnt journal next to her.
“Smells wonderful,” Tara said.
Katla gave her a small smile. “Should be ready in another half hour.” She patted the couch next to her. “Sit.”
“What’s wrong?” Tara asked.
“Mira wrote,” Katla tapped the two letters next to her. “She needs us. Plus, we need to discuss my parents’ journal.” She tapped the journal. Her eyes betrayed a mix of emotions her calm voice hid.
The night went long as they discussed both.