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The Elder Scrolls IV: Whiterun - Chapter 2

Hrotti did her best to keep the corpses beyond the edges of her vision as she searched the campsite for tracks indicating where the attackers went. This was not her first time seeing dead bodies, but she always found them unsettling. It was not the blood; as a hunter she was used to that. It wasn’t the idea of death either, for she had killed plenty of animals.

There was just something different about the bodies of fellow speaking races. Even though she did not know them personally, she could imagine them walking and talking like she did. That’s how they should be. Seeing them absolutely still; there was just something unnatural about it. Perhaps it came down to the fact that she was like them, and it was very possible that she could be here, lying motionless like they were.

Hrotti shook the thought from her mind and focused on her search for a trail. There were tracks leading inwards from all directions around the clearing; the attackers had surrounded the camp before striking the Imperial convoy. Just as she spotted where around a dozen different tracks headed out back into the forest, she overheard the conversation near the central tent.

“They killed the Emperor’s son?” Hrotti said, approaching Terrfyg and Freya. “I guess these Horme really are serious about their goals.”

Freya shook her head, “Something tells me there’s more to it. The Horme aren’t bold enough to carry out an attack like this.”

“Well the local Horme were definitely involved, and we’ve been contracted to get rid of them,” Terrfyg stated. “If there’s something else behind this attack, I suppose we’ll soon find out. Anything from the tracks?”

“I found a group of them headed into the trees there,” Hrotti pointed to where she saw the tracks.

“There’s two sets of hoofprints leading out of the clearing,” Bakir added as he rejoined them. “Back towards the main road, in a gallop. They might be survivors from the Imperial side.”

Terrfyg considered for a moment, “They’re probably headed towards Falkreath in a hurry to report what happened to Imperial officials. They could know more about the attack, but if we try to catch up with them, the Horme might be long gone by the time we get back.”

“We follow the tracks into the forest, then?” Freya asked.

Terrfyg nodded, “Huntress, stay here and watch our horses. We’ll be back once we’ve dealt with the Horme.”

“There’s still a dozen of them alive, maybe more,” replied Hrotti. “I can help.”

“The three of us can handle a dozen bandits easily,” Freya claimed.

“You said it yourself, there’s something else going on here,” Hrotti argued. “They took out a royal convoy and a knight of the Blades.”

“They had the element of surprise,” said Bakir.

“And arrows to best use that surprise,” Hrotti gestured at the site of the skirmish around them, where several bodies were sprouting arrows. “None of you seem to be archers.”

“She makes a good point,” Terrfyg admitted. “Tie our horses near the main road. If there’s wolves or bears nearby, there should be enough fresh meat in the clearing to keep them busy. We’ll be back by nightfall if we can’t find the Horme.”

They led the three horses back down the path to a spot closer to the main road, but still deep enough within the forest to be concealed from any passers-by in case of opportunistic theft. The Companions tied their steeds to the trees and began retrieving any supplies they needed from the saddlebags.

Having brought no horse of her own, Hrotti was watching their preparations when Freya approached her. She had her shield on her back and her blade sheathed. In her left hand she carried her helmet by one of its horns while in the right she held a second sword still in its sheath, the one that had sat by her saddle earlier.

“If you’re coming with us, you’ll need this,” the armoured woman said as she offered the sword to Hrotti. “Shooting your enemies from afar is all good, but once they get close, that little hunting knife you carry isn’t going to help you much.”

“You’re sure you don’t need it?” Hrotti asked, taking the blade

“No, I only have two hands and I like to fight with a shield in one. I just bring an extra blade in case something happens to my main sword. I travel heavy enough as it is,” Freya patted the steel plate on her leg with her now free hand. “If you weren’t here I’d leave it with my horse.”

“Thank you.”

“You know how to use it, right?”

“Not as well as you, I imagine. But my father taught me how to handle a sword. I just don’t carry one when out hunting.”

Hrotti attached the sword to her belt by the sheath. When she had finished, the Companions were ready to depart as well. The four of them made their way back into the clearing towards the tracks that Hrotti had identified earlier.

The huntress led the way as they followed the trail deeper into the forest. Hrotti was sure that the others knew just as much about tracking. Bakir had searched for tracks alongside her earlier and every once in a while Terrfyg knelt down as well to examine the prints. They must have let her lead the way as she hunted in these woods regularly.

That turned out to be a very good choice. Hrotti suddenly had a suspicion on where the trail was leading them. There was another clearing ahead. She camped there a few times many years ago with a boy she had fancied. Though it was only the two of them then, the clearing could house a small bandit encampment of twenty or more.

“I think I know where they are,” Hrotti announced, drawing the attention of the Companions. “It’s another clearing, large enough for the group that attacked the convoy to set up camp.”

“Anything you know about the clearing that could help us?” Bakir asked.

Hrotti nodded. “There’s a rocky area to one side. I could get on the rocks, pick off a few of them from higher ground.”

“Good. If the Horme are in that clearing, take position on those rocks,” Terrfyg ordered. “Freya, accompany the huntress and deal with anyone who comes for her. Bakir and I will flank them when you have their attention.”

It was a solid plan, and the others nodded. They continued through the trees for several more minutes until they heard voices coming from the distance. The group paused and Hrotti looked around, recognizing the terrain.

“They’re in the clearing,” she stated, then pointed to the right. “The rocks are this way.”

Terrfyg gestured to the left, “We’ll circle around the other way then. Strike when you see an opportunity. We’ll be ready.”

Freya slipped her helmet over her head, then removed her shield from her back and drew her sword as quietly as she could. Hrotti waited until she was fully armed before making her way over to the rocks. She climbed atop them swiftly while Freya only took a few steps up as her plate armour made too much noise trying to move from boulder to boulder.

Bow in hand, Hrotti looked down at the encampment below. She counted fourteen people, eleven of whom were Nords wearing furs, hides, leathers and the odd pieces of armour. The Nords were gathered around a central campfire, talking with loud voices and downing bottles of mead as if they were in the middle of a tavern. The other three were wearing the same red robes as the bodies at the Imperial camp and kept to themselves on the side of the clearing.

Notching an arrow, Hrotti selected her first target- a large man, tall even for a Nord, and wearing a metal plate over his chest that would make him harder to take down than the others. Hrotti had never shot a man before, but she had shot rabbits, some of which were roughly the size of a man’s head. Taking a breath and steadying herself, the huntress lined the shot carefully before letting the arrow fly. It whizzed through the air and struck its target in the head. It was as simple as hunting a hare.

The man dropped instantly. His friends yelled in surprise and anger, but even then they were already springing to action, grabbing their weapons and spreading out across the clearing. They didn’t know which direction the arrow came from yet, and Hrotti took full advantage of that. She notched a second arrow, picked her next target, and fired again.

This time, it was a less clean kill. Her target had moved and the arrow struck her in the side instead of squarely in the centre of her chest as Hrotti intended. The woman fell onto the ground and struggled. Hrotti winced at the sight; a hunter never liked a botched kill, especially when the prey was a fellow Nord.

Hrotti was shaken from her thoughts as lightning flashed through the air. It took her a moment to realize that the lightning did not come from the sky, which was still as clear as before. The lightning came from one of the robed figures in the clearing, arcing through the air in her general direction.

“They’ve got mages!” Freya exclaimed behind her.

Fortunately, the first mage had not discerned her exact location and the lightning hit the rocks, causing a black scorch mark but doing no harm. The second mage did manage to identify where Hrotti was, however. She ducked down just in time as a ball of fire streaked over her head, dissipating in the sky above.

The huntress quickly drew another arrow and fired it towards one of the mages. It was not a particularly well-aimed shot, but a hit anywhere on someone wearing robes would be enough to take them out of the fight. That was, if they were still wearing robes. By the time Hrotti let go of the bowstring, the three mages were suddenly clad from head to toe in full armour. Her arrow shattered on impact. The mages advanced on her position armed with weapons that Hrotti never saw them pick up, as if they simply materialized in their hands.

It was then that Terrfyg and Bakir burst into the clearing. Hrotti had never seen someone wield a spear like Terrfyg before. He did not simply use it to jab at his opponents, but spun it about himself. In a series of fluid motions, Terrfyg slashed one Horme across the neck with the edge of his spearhead, slammed a second hard on the head with the back of the weapon before impaling the spear through a third. He didn’t waste time dislodging the weapon, letting the spear fall with the body while he reached to his side and drew his sword.

Bakir was just as much of a wonder to behold. His twin scimitars moved like a whirlwind and it was impossible to see where each individual blade was. It reminded Hrotti of the performance of a fire dancer from Morrowind she had once seen when their troupe passed through Riverwood. Three Nords tried to close in on the Redguard warrior from all sides and found themselves cut down simultaneously by the speed of Bakir’s blows.

Two of the armoured mages spun around to engage the new arrivals, leaving one to continue towards Hrotti and Freya with the three remaining Nords. The huntress let loose another arrow, going for one of the Horme wearing hide armour. The shot hit the man in the shoulder and knocked him to the ground. Her next shot was interrupted as the mage unleashed another bolt of lightning, forcing her to leap to the side and causing the arrow to miss completely.

Then, the enemy was upon them. Freya leapt into action, slamming the mage with her shield as he tried to reach Hrotti. He tumbled down the rocks and the two Nords behind him charged, both of them attacking Freya at once. One was a woman with a large two-handed axe, the other a man wielding a sword and a shield.

Freya parried the sword with her own shield and took a step towards the woman swinging the greataxe. Her blade caught the axe by the handle and turned it away, then swiftly came up again, slashing the Horme bandit across the neck. The woman let go of the axe as she stumbled back, grasping at the fatal wound.

The second Horme struck again with his blade, but despite the heavy armour, Freya moved surprisingly quickly, parrying the blow and countering. She swiped low and the man brought his shield down. He blocked the swing, but failed to realize that the sword was not the real attack. As he protected his legs, the edge of Freya’s shield hit his face hard. He fell back onto the ground, his face bloody. It wasn’t certain if he would get up again, but Freya clearly didn’t want to take the chance, immediately plunging her blade through his chest and finishing him off.

Meanwhile, Hrotti had set aside her bow and drawn the sword she was given. The mage who fell off the rocks was slowly rising back to his feet. It was too late to grab her bow and fire at him, and given what happened with the last arrow she had shot at one of the armoured mages, she doubted it would make much difference. Freya had dealt with the two others by now and turned to meet the mage, and she was sure the Companion had this in hand.

As the two met each other in combat, Hrotti noticed that the man she had hit in the shoulder had also gotten back up and made his way over. He climbed onto the rocks from a different side while Freya was preoccupied with the mage. His right arm was limp at his side, but his left clutched a war axe.

Letting out a cry of fury and perhaps pain, the Horme swung the axe at Hrotti. She parried the blow with her sword, but the man caught the blade beneath his axe handle, forcing it aside. Fortunately, his other arm was wounded and Hrotti’s was not. She threw a punch at his injured shoulder, where the man appears to have broken off the arrow. The tip was still embedded within him, as evidenced by the bit of shaft sticking out of his hide armour, and her fist drove it deeper inside. The bandit stumbled back, yelling now more in pain than anger.

The man came at her again, but he was hurt and clumsy. Hrotti sidestepped the blow easily, then drove her blade between his ribs. He froze for a moment and then suddenly slumped, his weight dragging the sword down with him. Hrotti let go of the handle, taking a step back as the man convulsed and struggled for breath.

She had killed two of his fellows already with arrows, but she didn’t have to watch them die up close. Hrotti glanced away for a moment, noticing that the Companions had defeated their mage opponents. She wanted to keep looking away, but she steeled herself and turned her gaze back to the dying man, in case he mustered the strength to grab his axe and strike her with his final breath.

He didn’t. Before long, he went completely still. Hrotti remembered that the sword belonged to Freya and she shouldn’t leave it in the dead man. She took a deep breath and grabbed the handle of the blade with one hand, pushing the body with the other as she yanked the blade out. It was thick with blood, and she decided against returning it to its sheath just yet.

Instead, she made her way towards Freya holding the blade. The armoured woman had set her shield on her back and was dragging the body of the mage she had fought towards Terrfyg and Bakir. Only it wasn’t a body. The mage’s armour had disappeared and he was in his robes again, which Hrotti just noticed was more decorated than those of his peers, but also red. He was bruised and dazed, but breathing.

“Did you save this one for me because you know how much I hate mages?” Bakir asked.

Freya shook her head, “I was thinking we take this one alive.”

“What? Why?” Bakir gave her an incredulous look. “Our contract is to kill the Horme, not capture them.”

Reaching down with a gauntleted hand, Freya pulled back the hood to reveal long pointed ears, sharp facial features and inwardly slanted eyes- the unmistakable features of an elf. Judging by the golden hue of his skin, this was a High Elf, an Altmer from the distant southern islands known as the Summerset Isles. Here in Skyrim, on the other side of the continent from their homeland, they were not a common sight, and it was unlikely for one to be a member of the Horme.

“He’s not Horme,” Freya stated.

“He worked with the Horme and fought against us,” argued Bakir. “Let’s just kill him and be done with it.”

“He worked with the Horme to kill the Emperor’s son. I think someone will want to question him about who he is and why he was involved.”

“That’s not our business.”

“Isn’t it? We’re citizens of the Empire too.”

“Bakir’s right, this isn’t what we were asked to do,” Terrfyg joined the conversation after retrieving his spear. “But I think we can agree this has gotten much bigger than our contract.”

The three Companions paused their discussion when a fourth voice spoke. It was a coarse male voice that was neither Bakir nor Terrfyg’s, and it took Hrotti a moment to realize that it came from the elf.

“There is…no place for you. For your mercenary ways…after…after the dawn,” he muttered. “You…will burn…in the cleansing…unbelievers.”

“Great,” Bakir shook his head. “He’s not just a mage, he’s some crazy elven zealot too.”

Terrfyg looked to Freya, “You’re the one who decided not to kill him here and now. If you’re willing to watch him on the journey, then we take him with us to Whiterun.”

“I’ll keep my eye on him,” promised Freya. “And if he tries anything, I’ll finish the job.”

“We’ll let the Harbinger decide what to do with him once we’re back,” Terrfyg stated.

Freya hoisted the elf up by his robes, ready to haul him away when she turned her head and noticed Hrotti. The other Nord woman looked her over and Hrotti saw a slight smile forming behind her helmet as her eyes drifted down to the bloodied blade.

“You fought well today, huntress,” Freya remarked.

Hrotti bowed her head, “It’s a great honour to receive such a compliment from a Companion.”

“You can have a greater honour yet,” said Terrfyg. “I would be happy to have you at my side as a Shield-Sister.”

The other two Companions offered nods of agreement and Hrotti stared at Terrfyg, unable to believe what she was hearing, “You’re…inviting me to join the Companions?”

“The Harbinger chooses who’s allowed to join our ranks,” Terrfyg explained. “But with my recommendation as a member of the Circle, I doubt she’ll reject you. Come with us to Jorrvaskr, Hrotti.”

Hrotti didn’t know what to say. She had never thought joining a group such as the Companions would ever be a possibility. Hrotti was a village girl, a humble hunter. She was good with the bow and knew how to handle herself in a fight like any Nord, but she hadn’t even killed another person before today. And now she was being asked to join the most prestigious band of warriors in Skyrim?

She didn’t like killing people, but she had to admit she enjoyed the adrenaline of the battle like she did the exhilaration of a good hunt. Besides, she had heard much of the Companions and their deeds. They didn’t always fight other people and were known for taking down fearsome beasts as well. When they did fight people, it was usually bandits and murderers such as these Horme, criminals who deserved what was coming.

As any young Nord, Hrotti dreamed of a life of adventure and a heroic legacy upon that life’s ending. This was truly the opportunity of a lifetime.

“It would be my privilege to join you,” she finally answered.

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