The Lioness and the Bear
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Solveig ran her fingers through her hair, pushing past the tent flap and inhaling the salt of the ocean. The bath had made her feel anew, not only would she keep herself from smelling like shit from the bottle she'd almost finished by herself and just the general stench of being on the road, but there was something therapeutic in baths. To sit and think, but as with anyone who'd lead a similar life as hers, too much time to sit and think wasn't always good. "Where are you off to, my little Thane?"
She turned to see her mother returning from the vendors' stalls with fresh food, she was probably making soup tonight. As for the woman herself, in a matter of hours, the news of her husband had made whatever years time's hands were holding back to come crashing down on her. Her voice was but a reedy whisper, and her shoulders slouched forward rather than proudly back as they usually were. Even on her father's longest times away, they'd never done this to her. She returned her own smile at her mother's sad one, one she could tell she was putting tremendous effort into keeping. Part of Solveig wanted to tell her that she didn't have to try so hard at keeping her happy, then the rest of her made her realize the smile her mother had wasn't for keeping her daughter together, it was for herself.
"Just... going out for a stroll." She smiled. "I'll be back-"
And with a quickness she'd never seen from her mother, she stepped forward and clamped bother hands around one of her wrists, "Please."
"No more, Solveig. No more going around being a mercenary, please." She reached up and her mother's fingers traced along her bent jaw and the notch cut out from her bottom lip, "I noticed. Your father never told me, but I knew."
Solveig took her mother's hand in her own and returned it to her side, embracing her. She didn't have the strength to tell her mother that this was her living. She wasn't a good potter. The spear came to her better than the arts ever did. Standing in the Circle or in the middle of a battle was what she was used to now. And above all, she couldn't tell her mother what a stupid, stupid quest she was about to undertake with Leif come the morrow. She let her mother go, smiled, and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. With that, she left for town, embarking on that stroll she'd said she would take.
She caught glimpses of the others from the Company milling about, but she kept her distance, the idea of company just not quite feeling right. All up until she caught sight of Sadri and Cilo, the former probably chastising the latter over something and she managed to crack a smile. It was too late before she realized she hadn't stopped walking while she was gawping at that old mer when she collided with something sturdy. She stepped back, realizing she'd gotten stew all over her cloak, she raised a brow, "I apologize, I should've watched where I was going..."
She trailed off as she took in the sight before her. A Khajiit with a blade almost as tall as her and bulked down with Nord-plate. The two remained like that for a moment, before Solveig opened her mouth to speak again, "I...I'd be more than happy to buy you another stew, I was heading to the inn myself."
"Are you normally this oblivious or is it just when you're traipsng around like a perfumed whore?" Khazki snarled, the slits of her eyes narrowing at the red-haired Nord. The stew that she'd been almost literally dreaming about for two weeks of foraging and trapping laid splashed across the dirt, the wooden bowl lay bottom up like a dome. Her stomach growled in protest. "I bet you are heading to the inn, all right. So clean and tidy, using up precious clean water and soaps and Gods knows what else. You a comfort woman? You're a bit rough around the edges, but what do I know? People get desperate in war times. I'll just take the coin and get it myself." she said with an air of finality. She wasn't in the mood to parlay with an inconsiderate broad who had the situational awareness of a toddler and the spine of a slug. She was meek for a Nord, that much seemed obvious. Nords never apologized.
"Now, you listen, you fu-" She clenched her jaw shut and took a breath, trying to stop wondering if she could free her knife from her sheath faster than this razor-tongued bitch could draw her big fuck-off blade off her back, "I'm not taking any cold septims out of my purse unless they're going into a tavernkeep's hands." She folded her arms, "I wouldn't try to get any out of me. I'm going to the inn to get stew, feel free to come with, I'll even let you sling insults at me like an old hag if it'll make you happy." With that, she gave a frown and stepped past her.
Khazki snorted. "So you have the coin on you? I thought you'd have to give sad felatio to one of the mercenaries before you could afford a meal." She retorted, turning and following Solveig back the way she'd come. "Not much of a fighter, are you? I was expecting a thrown punch, or the very least a slap. Did you forget where you were for a moment, or is it just my lucky day I've found the one Nord in Dawnstar who doesn't want to gut me?"
"It may be like that down in the shit-filled spat of sand you folk come from where you eat skooma when you're not gutting your own, but we tend to wait for actual reasons to draw Circles in the dirt. Bumping into a scowling fucking cunt of a rug isn't a good enough reason to me." She near kicked the door off its hinges, settling for pushing it open so hard it smacked and rattled off the inside wall, waving a patronizing hand inside, "Cunts first."
Giving a theatrical bow, with her hand on her chest and her other arm extend out behind her holding the grip of her sword which ran down the length of her arm, Khazki walked into the now-familiar tavern, immensely disliking the redundancy. "Pale skin like you wouldn't last a week in Senchal before someone took a fancy to that big mouth of yours, doesn't matter if the head was attached to the body." The Khajiit remarked when Solveig stepped in behind her. Her nose wrinkled. "Do Nord taverns usually smell like a hyena's gas bloated corpse that burst in the heat? At least you figured out basic hygene."
Not waiting for an invitation to head back to the innkeep where she placed the order with to begin with, Khazki remarked, "You strike me as someone who has a reason for trying to avoid trouble. You kick like a horse and you stared me down without hesitating, but this whole charity thing doesn't fit. So lady Huscarl or whatever, what's the occassion?"
"Ah, the raping of corpses, so what kind of sick and disgusting acts of depravity aren't allowed in Khajiiti culture?" She rolled her eyes and her jaw, wanting to land a hammer-blow on the back of that Khajiit's damned neck. When the conversation turned from insulting each other to small-talk, the transition was almost jarring. "A good Nord makes amends where they've done wrong. And my reason for not wanting to punch you in the teeth is that Ashav frowns upon his mercenaries assaulting civilians." She gave the woman another once-over, "Fucking Gods, I swear, when it comes to you cats, it's either monk's robes and a fucking twig or fifty pounds of metal strapped to your shoulders and a sword big enough to signal to everyone that you're insecure about something. What brings you to the northern end of Tamriel?"
Khazki glanced over at Solveig, blinking slowly. "You... ah, damn it all." she tilted her head back until it jerked to a stop against the steel collar of her armour. "Two for two and I'm starting to see why old Ashav was so eager to sign on any and all comers. Looks like we're collegues now; try not to look excited." she said, pulling up a chair at a table, not paying attention to the two men already seated there. She leaned the blade against the table and folded her intertwined fingers on her lap, keeping eye contact with Solveig.
"I've met your 'monk'. He isn't that; he's just dressed like every other sad sack of shit who doesn't have a coin to his name back home. Explains why he can't afford steel to fight with. And lady? Call me insecure again and I'll show you how little I regard that no punching rule you have." she said, reaching forward and stealing a tankard from one of the men, who glared at her. She responded with a wink, her claws extended around the mug. He decided against retaliation and instead turned more away from Khazki, who sniffed at the mug, grimmacing. "You sure this shit isn't fermented meat?" she asked before throwing caution into the wind and downing a portion of it.
"I guess since you're so kindly replacing what I'm owed, I'll tell you what I'm doing here. Looking for work, like anyone else. There's a story to be told about me one day, I just have to find where it is. Figured Morrowind was screwy enough with living gods and giant mushroom houses that I'd stick out, but I didn't fancy getting caught up with the whole 'Grey or Get Out' sentiment that swept the nation, kind of like your Stormcloak assholes and their irrational hatred of anyone who doesn't grow a beard that looks like an overgrown patch of pubic hair." She replied, setting the mug down and sliding it back to the man with her fingers. "Main reason I'm here here is because those Snow Demons are always a day or two away no matter where I go, so the only way I was getting on a ship was to sign up for your merry band of mix-matched cunts. You guys get someone who knows how to use a sword better than most, and I get a way off this frozen rock when the ugly brutes come knocking."
"Not all of those Stormcloaks were assholes. I wear the Blue for a reason, Khajiit, and it isn't because it's my favorite color. My father was as good a man as any and he fought for Ulfric. Or at least his Chief did." She shrugged, "And I can call that beggar with a twig my friend. My name is Solveig, by the way, but I can tell you're the type who'll just call me everything but that." When the tavern-maid stepped up, she held up two fingers, "Two stews."
She opened the same hand and inside were five septims, taken readily by the maid. "I don't suppose 'This One', as you folk say, has a name."
"Well, you are replacing my food, and I might have been slighty less than agreeable, so I'll call you whatever you want... Solveig." Khazki replied, trying the name out for the first, pleasantly surprised to find she pronounced it correctly. "I'm Khazki. No 'this one', or 'Khajiit'. Just Khazki. And you're friends with that guy? Gods, you really are charitable."
"He saved my life after a Kamal almost broke my head open during the Siege of Windhelm. It's an understatement to say I owe him a favor. Hasn't left my damned side ever since, and I'm pretty sure he was requested by my father to dote on me like a child. Ironic, seeing as I've had to stand between him and whatever better-armored fuck trying to kill the two of us." She frowned, looking up and away in a moment's thought, "Not to say he's a bad fighter. Just wouldn't stick him in the frontlines, s'all. And nice to meet you, Khazki. At least I know you'll fit in with a bunch of foul-mouthed mercenaries from our first words with each other." She pursed her lips, nodding now that she noticed the lack of similarity between the way Khazki and Karth talked, "So, how long have you been away from the sands down south?"
Khazki let out a rueful laugh. "Oh, the day I fit in anywhere is the day I'm buried in an unmarked grave with all the others who've fallen before me. You probably noticed I'm not cute and cuddly like your friend, that's partially by design, partially because it's just simpler that way. You aren't so bad, you let shit roll off you and not let it compromise your principles. I respect that." the Khajiit said with a nod. She exhaled as her gaze went to the ceiling, her face contorting in thought as she searched her memory. "I think about a decade, give or take a year. It's not really been a huge incentive for me to keep track of time, and the seasons are so different depending where you are. I just wasn't finding what I wanted out of life in Pelletine, and I sure as shit was not wasting my time with those desert nomads in the North."
"Good enough reason as any." She nodded. She gestured to the general area around the two of them, "Welcome to Skyrim, can't go five years without someone finding a reason to start a war. O'course, this one isn't our fault, I guess. Doesn't change its place on the scale from Oblivion Crisis to Civil War, seeing as it took my father." She shook her head, drumming her fingers on the table, "You have any family back in, uh, Anequina?"
"Your father?" Khazki asked, immediately regretting not thinking of the implication before opening her mouth. "I'm sorry. It can't be easy, I hope you two weren't close. My family really... wasn't that." she said, streching her fingers with her thumb in a balled fist. "Horrible as it is to say, but I don't think I'd care if any of them were alive or not. All I can say about them is they did the bare minimum to keep me alive into adolecence instead of throwing me into the Bay or drowning me in the sugar fields, but I'm not going to thank them for struggling past the basic line of decency." she glanced over. "Pelletine. Different kingdom entirely from Anequina, it would be like if I called Skyrim Cyrodiil because Bruma happens to take after Nordic culture."
"Ah, I don't find myself reading much about other places or straying any farther south than Whiterun, so..." She shrugged, "And I'm sorry your family sounds like a bunch of cunts. My father... tried his best, at least when he was around. After the tax-man took the tailor shop away, the sword came off the mantel. I got tired of his graying old arse running off to put himself in danger, so I chased after him across the breadth of Skyrim. And then the Kamal came. If two wars couldn't kill him, I'm holding out on the hope that the third one isn't the charm and he's at least alive if not well." She chuckled at herself for even saying it now that she wasn't drunker than shit, "I'm fixing to strike out and find him. Saying 'fuck this war' and going somewhere new if I do. If I don't..." She let that hang in the air, not wanting to weigh in on that possibility.
"Ah, so I was right. That's why you're keeping a low profile and didn't get physical from my provocations." Khazki said, noticing the waiter coming back with two bowls. "Don't worry, I'm not going to say anything to anyone about you wandering off. I'm not going to pretend it's a smart idea, because honestly I don't think you'll make it that far East with what's going on, but I'm not going to run off and tell people what you're up to. I don't know what it's like to care about someone enough that you'd risk everything to save them, but I guess it shows a certain character to you that you put another life above your own." She looked back at Solveig, expression quite serious. "But I don't think you can walk away from this war so easily if you do succeed. It's forced me to join the fray, and I'm a fighter. Sooner or later, those snow demon fucks are going to force everyone to either take up arms against them or be treated like cattle and submit. I'll kill any of them that try to take me, but I'm not doing it alone. Even I'm not that stubborn."
"Well, I've got another coming with me, if that counts as me not doing it alone." She said with a half-smile, "And caring about someone that much really only feels great when the sentiment isn't being put to work. Quite honest, I feel like shit. I'm torn between telling my lover and just disappearing, but I couldn't do that." She glanced down at the stew being placed down, steaming hot still. "And I give you my thanks. You are right, I can't run away and expect someone else to fight the war for me. I've got ten duels under my belt that say the contrary to that."
She sighed, grabbing her spoon and taking in a mouthful of the stew before chewing and swallowing, "About that fifty pounds of metal on your shoulders and the big fuck-off blade of yours... well, why fifty pounds of metal and a big fuck-off blade?"
"Your lover?" Khazki asked, blinking. "Look, I'm not an expert on the mushy sentimental crap, but at the very least you should ask him... or her... what they think of you doing something like that." she said as the stew arrived and was set down before them. Her stomach started to growl once more. Picking up the spoon, she greedily gulped some of it down and felt one of the few true moments of bliss she'd had in quite a while. Regaining her composure, she continued. "I don't know if you've considered this, but this lover of yours is probably going to be pretty broken up if you go away and die, and in the end, doesn't your father want you to be happy? Would he even want you to go after him? It's just a lot of risk for a maybe. That's just my take, do with it what you will." she said, shrugging the 'fifty pounds of metal'. "You said it yourself, what says 'fuck-off' better than a greatsword? I don't fight unless I have to, dying for stupid shit isn't how I plan on going about my life. The blade is a deterent, and when that fails, most assholes aren't going to get close enough before I tear into them. This," she said, rapping her knuckles on the armoured plating, "Is in case they get by the sword. If you can outlast your opponent and not tire out before them, they die, you live another day. Besides, the sword's an obvious threat. It's the subtle shit that gets them in the end that isn't as apparent as a few kilos of Skyforge steel." she concluded with a grin.
Solveig gave a grin of her own, "I like you." She let the grin go and nodded, "You're right, though. Fucking gods damn it," She leaned back and let her arms dangle at her sides, shaking her head, "He's just my fucking father, s'all, right when I get close to the Gods damned gray-head, this shit happens." She concluded with a sigh and a clench-toothed, "Fuck."
"You'll figure it out. If your old man's anything like you, Solveig, he's probably stubbornly trying to make his way back now. Who knows? Maybe he'll beat you to it. Just don't do anything without a clear head and resolve, check your doubt. If you aren't second guessing your decision, then it must be the right one. Even if it wasn't the smart thing to do, you still acted, which sometimes is better than sitting on your ass and waiting for things to sort themselves out. Go find the idiot who got smitten by you and do right by him, because otherwise you're going to hurt him worse than a knife in the back." Khazki said, standing up from the table and taking the bowl with her. "Just whatever you decide to do, try not to die. It's rare to find someone I don't want to hit. Thanks for the grub and the chat. I needed a bit of both, turns out." the Khajiit said, picking up her sword and effortlessly swinging it up to rest upon her shoulder. Holding up the bowl as if to say cheers, the Khajiit wandered off towards the exit once more, the same easy going and arrogant stride that bumped into Solveig to begin with having a bit more spring in the step.
Solveig watched her go, probably one of few people in this Company she felt like she could trust not to steal her shit while she slept. She shook her head at her retreating back, spooning a couple more mouthfuls down the hatch before leaving this place herself. There was 'the idiot who got smitten' by her that she needed to have a chat with. Sometime. Soon. When she gave this whole rushing off to find her father quest some good thought, at least. The sky was darkening by the time she got back to the fire, seeing her mother and Cleftjaw sitting at it. "Told you I'd be back." She smiled and her mother got up, dusted the front of her skirt, and hugged her.