By @LeidenschaftThe Reach
The rain may have given up, but the wind was still determined as ever to ruin Solveig's day. The Reach was known for the stuff, nothing but rocks, hills, and wind. And Forsworn, she thought, looking at her bandaged palm, the fabric turned brown where the knife had stuck right through her hand. The one holding it thankfully fared far worse than her. It had been a long time since she'd seen the others, for all she knew, the Forsworn had got them. She closed her eyes and sighed at the thought, then shook her head and put her hands out to the pitiful fire she'd managed to light. Wood was not one of those three things the Reach was known for. Her eyes turned to the darkening sky, what she would give for some company. Or a map. Or to just be back home with ma or that crotchety Long-Ear she called her husband. Especially him, she reckoned she had some explaining and some apologizing to do after how she left.
The sound of clinking armour and the sounds of loose stones being disturbed upon the rocky landscape of the Reach suddenly broke the calm of the night, a decidedly man-made disruption to the natural order that was not elk, bear, nor wolf, but the sound of an intelligent and well-off danger that was doubtless attracted to the light. Soon, the darkened steel plates of Nord-crafted steel reflected the fire's light back towards Solveig, and the figure's eyes reflected back in an eerie amber glow. Adorned in the armour was a Khajiit woman, a striking greatsword in one hand, and a pair of dead snared hares in the other.
She stood outside of the pictured safe ring of the encampment and stared back at the Nord woman. "I need that." she said, raising her massive blade towards the flames. Without asking for permission, the Khajiit stepped forward, taking a knee by the fire and setting the hares down. The sword remained in her grasp.
"I'll share the fire if you share the food." Solveig said. One of her requests was answered, at least. Though, she was really hoping for some other kind of company, the kind that didn't step out in full armor with a big fuck-off blade in hand. After learning how shitty being stabbed with a little blade was, she didn't fancy the prospect of seeing if it hurt more the bigger the blade was. Even so, she'd never seen a Khajiit running with Forsworn. But bandits... "Are four of your friends waiting farther back while one of them nocks an arrow at me?"
"People are a liability. If I really wanted to take what you have, we wouldn't be having this little chat. I misplaced my tinderbox about five leagues East, so rather than eat raw meat, I decided to make due with what little choice I have." She looked up at Solveig, her expression unchanging, before deciding the woman wasn't going to do anything stupid. Setting herself down into a cross-legged seating position, the Khajiit set down her sword and pulled an orcish dagger from her hip and began to cut into one of the hares.
"I misplaced my band somewhere between here and another nameless hill. Seems we both lost something then." The half-drawn knife returned to its place at the small of her back as she rested her forearms against her knees, sitting in the same cross-leg style the Khajiit was. "I don't see many Khajiit wearing full-armor, much less full Nord plate. Or carrying blades big as yours." Solveig sucked her teeth as she took in the Khajiit while she set to work on one of the hares.
The Khajiit didn't look up from her task, pulling the pelt from the hare with a single firm tug. It clearly wasn't the first time she'd done this. "And now you have. How observant." She replied deadpan, continuing to work on dressing the animal.
Her eyes went back up to the sky for two reasons, to roll, and to ask the Gods why they loved to laugh at her. She should've asked for friendly company, but it was too late for that now. What was it the Khajiit said, make due with what little choice she had? She shifted in her seat on the dirt and sighed. "Spent much time in Skyrim?" She tried at some kind of conversation again.
The Khajiit glanced up. "For a Nord, you ask a lot of questions. I've spent enough time in Skyrim to know it's about as miserable and inhospitable as anywhere else I've been, just a lot colder. Same wildlife wants to eat you," she punctuated this by cracking open the hare's ribs with the tip of the tagged blade. "Bandits don't really change much. People see a lone woman traveling and think you're someone to fuck with. Doesn't really matter where you are, really. Nothing changes between place to place that actually matters." she said, rolling her jaw. Her manner of speaking was decidedly quite different from Do'Karth's, and even her accent was greatly diminished. "Skyrim. Morrowind. Cyrodiil. Argonia. Trees, lakes, and utterly hostile when you leave cities. I will say I don't miss the damned swamps and diseases down South, though. I prefer things I can kill that don't involve me having to knock back a pint of piss-flavoured elixir."
"I see." Solveig clucked her tongue, picking at a fingernail. If she wasn't such a bitch, maybe she'd like her. She remembered that was how one of Rorik Four-Faces band was, right before she scarred him in the Circle. She wasn't in any mind to draw Circles in the dirt for no reason, so she'd have to put up with this woman until she moved on. "Yet you're still on the roads, eh? I knew a Khajiit traveler once, friends with my father." 'He was nicer than you' she left unsaid, "Told me the only ones that leave Elsweyr have to have some damn good reasons."
The Khajiit remained quiet for a moment, her butchery of her meal slowed down in thought. "He wasn't wrong. I'm looking for someone that I probably will never find, but he's the reason I'm alive... not by choice." she added with some slight reluctance. "It's a task that will likely never be concluded, but it's one I have to do. It isn't something you simply walk away from." the edge in her voice had diminished somewhat, but there was hardly warmth. "Rare for a Nord to befriend a Khajiit. Usually your kin like to lock them out of the cities, probably because they're afraid of eating something that's cooked with more appeal than boiled mutton and whatever passes as fish up here."
She nodded, eyes going back to a face she hadn't seen in a long while, "I had the same quest once. I found him, tried to get answers, tried to get him to settle down. I loved him," She shook her head, "I still do, I mean, all the good it did for anything. Men don't learn, they think they're right all up until they run into something that proves they aren't." She shrugged.
"I'm not like most. Nord or woman." She chuckled, "I do admit that we're not known for our chefs or food. High Rock's back west if you're looking for banquet halls and sweet-meats." Both sounded good right then.
"Who was he?" the Khajiit asked. "I find most people don't really learn, men or women. Get an idea in their head, and they tend to not let it go easily. I speak from personal experience. As for High Rock, I'm actually heading there now, figure it's easier to pass through Hammerfell than go up into the far North. I can't say I cherish the idea; High Rock sounds like the most pompous place imaginable with people who smile to your face and stab you in the back. At least with Nords one knows where you stand. Your people are straight forward. I admire that." she said, finished with the one hare, setting it down on her pack as she found a decently thick stick to start wittling down with her blade.
"Not lover, nothing like that. That man's still alive, he's probably deep in his books. The one I was looking for was my father. His name was Jorwen Red-Bear, a good man to most that knew him." She frowned, clearing her throat in a fist before asking, "The man you're after, love him or hate him?"
"Never met him. Half-brother." She made an annoyed huff out her nostril. "Probably sounds insane and stupid, and I agree. Doesn't change the need."
She raised an eyebrow, "Still doesn't answer my question."
The Khajiit snorted. "Of course it does. How can you love someone you've never met? A part of me resents him, but that's countered by the fact the only reason I am alive is because of him. Tragedy befell my family, he was taken, I was what they got in turn. It wasn't a good upbringing. So, does my interrogator have a name?"
"Solveig. I don't like my earned one." She said simply, "Yours?"
"Marassa. You mean to say you aren't fond of the strange cultural relic Nords cling to that being called a silly name validates you?" she asked with a terse smile.
"Not the Name it gave me. Bad memories. I was supposed to put down my spear after what I did. 'I'm not my father,' I'd said." She shrugged, "I cheated, I just left the spear at home for this last job. I suppose the Mister is clucking his tongue and rolling his eye at that," A soft smile as she stared into the fire, remembering she had a Dunmer waiting for her at home, before it fell away, "It's not a nice, honorable, heroic story behind it."
"Never apologise for surviving. Anyone who tries to tell you what you've done is immoral or wrong has never had to make a difficult decision in their life that would have had a difficult outcome regardless." Marassa said, staring at Solveig with a determined glare. "All deciding to put your weapon down results in is the situation where it won't be there when you need it most. Your enemies won't ever grow softer. Make sure they never grow older."
Solveig gave her old wolf's grin, "I like that." She said, replacing that fierce smile she'd earned her Name with with a softer one, "And I wish you told me that seven years ago. The path that takes you to down to the blackest deeds isn't rough or steep, you hardly know you've gotten any lower until you look back at where you started and notice it hurts to look back up that far. 'You pick a path' my father said, 'you tell yourself it'll only be for today or a couple more, you only realize its too late to go back before you realize you picked it for life.'"
"I made sure the men that wronged my father were nothing but ash and I spitted the fucker's head that took him from me. 'I'm not my father' I said, even though everyone around me was telling me otherwise." She shrugged, "It is what it is. Reckon he'd like you though, my father."
"Why, because he's fond of collecting cats?" Marassa asked half-jokingly.
Solveig gave a little laugh, "He and I can appreciate a fellow warrior. He was fond of big fuck-off blades like yours too. His was older than me even."
Marassa picked up her sword with both hands, it was obviously quite well-used, but meticulously cared for. "Skyforge Steel. It was a gift from my mentor when I was younger before I set out on my journey. He was an adventurer, wrote a few books, decided to open a dojo instead of fully retiring. All the money I paid him over the years to teach me how to use a blade was put aside for this weapon. He said, 'A blade is only as good as the one who wields it, but a good blade will never fail you'. I suppose he wanted to make sure I had the best chance possible, given that I wasn't going to be deterred." she replied, setting it down across her knees.
"I can't imagine your father would care for me for long. Companions come and go, but I've never subscribed to lofty ideals or causes. All that matters is doing what I set out to do, to Oblivion to anyone else. Thing is, a legacy and reputation are something that others give you. It only matters if you bother to listen and take it to heart, and I really do not. Some on the trail behind me would describe me as a feral beast who cut down their brothers and fathers without feeling only to pick their pockets clean. Others would describe me as someone who saved them from rapists, thieves, and murderers. To them, I could do no wrong. What does it matter? I won't see those people again, and even if I did, I know who I am, they can come up with whatever tale suits their feeble needs." the Khajiit explained, starting work on the second hare.
"Solveig, you aren't your father... Jorwen, was it? People want to pair you up with him because you share blood. It's stupid. If you live your life trying to prove how different you are, or how similar you are, to him, then all you're doing is suiting their needs. You are your own person, your own warrior. To Oblivion with anyone who gets in the way of that. They don't get to decide your fate. You do." Marassa concluded, eyes down on her work.
"Aye, I've stopped trying to apologize or hating myself for the things I've done. I've tried to live my life not giving a single stray fleck of piss about people's opinions. Being young, though, you do it for the wrong reasons. It's more spite than it is for my own independence. I was more a boat being pushed along by the tides than I realized, and the worst part is I was the only person on that boat, crossing my arms and refusing to pick up the oars." She shook her head, "For what it's worth, Marassa, I hope you find your half-brother. And I hope it goes the way you've seen it going. If not, we Nords have a saying, should the sail fail you, take to the oars. Men are stubborn and they only get more stubborn as they age. My husband is a hundred or more summers old, think on that." She laughed.
Marassa chuckled. "I know all about making stupid and wrong decisions due to youth. It's how I got where I am today. The boat analogy is somewhat lost on me, I'm afraid; I've never been on one in my life, but I think I understand what you're saying. Do not be stubborn for the sake of pride and do your part if it's better for everyone." She said, finishing the second hair and repeating the wittling ritual. "I appreciate that. I honestly don't expect to find him, but I can't say the road's entirely bad. Maybe I'll find something that seems more important than chasing down ghosts, but I sure haven't found it yet."
She looked over at Solveig, crooking her head. "What exactly do you have in common with someone who's lived your life five times over?" she asked, more out of curiosity than cruelty.
Solveig smiled softly and shrugged, "Love is a strange thing. I told you I'm not like most- Nord or woman. Especially both, in my marriage. A Nord usually doesn't find what she wants in a Long-Ear." She chuckled, "And you aren't missing much with boats. You wouldn't be able to get me on one with the experiences I've had on them." She cringed with the memories. "I know I don't have to tell you this, but you often do find more important things than living your life for someone else. In my pursuit of my father, I found the man who would be my husband. He's half the reason I put down my spear."
"I can't say I could compare journals on love, it simply hasn't factored into my life. So, is this elf husband of yours with your misplaced companions? Seems like he shouldn't have left your side if you were traveling together." Marassa observed. "Something happens on the road, no one ever friends out. I don't have anyone waiting for me, so if I finally find someone better than me, there's never going to be someone wondering why I never made it home. You, however, have a lot riding on your return. How did you get separated?"
"He's home. He put down his sword, I wasn't going to make him betray his own promises. There was an argument before I left, I told him Id' be home. If the things we faced down together couldn't kill me, then nothing could, I said." She held up her bandaged hand, "It doesn't keep some from trying. Reachmen here don't take kindly to Nords in their hills and mountains."
Marassa smiled tersely. "Try being a Khajiit anywhere but Elsweyr. You would think all the lords and Jarls had an open season on our hides. Reachmen are vicious, but they sure are underwhelming in the equipment. I've actually cut a man in half in these parts; it was rather unexpected." she said. "I'm not sure what made you decide to walk the road again instead of joining him in the pursuit of getting old and fat, but if you have need of another sword to find where you're going, you need only ask. From one woman to another, traveling alone is dangerous and stupid. I tell myself that every day when I wake up, keeps my expectations for strangers modest."
"Well, I'm not a big, ugly bandit missing half his teeth that hasn't seen a woman who would rip his guts out if he so much as turned in her direction." Solveig chuckled, "If we do spend the next few days on the road, we'd be heading away from your destination, sadly. I live back in Whiterun, where I started my life. Figure there's something ironically poetic in spending your life only to go back to where you started it. Whiterun feels like home though."
"I'll have to take you at your word; Skyrim doesn't tend to let Khajiit inside of the walls. It's mostly the caravans, but imagine how you reacted when you first saw me multiplied by a number of individuals who think that Khajiit are only thieves and smugglers and you end up with a lot of nights out of doors." She shrugged, handing off one of the hares on a stick to Solveig. "Besides, that's one of the perks of searching for eternity; you've nothing but time. I've been at this a few years. Sometimes to get where you need to go, you have to walk the way you came."
Solveig took the offered hare and held it over the fire, her eyes going to the dirt under her at what Marassa just said. Getting old and fat wasn't something she was ready for, nor did she feel she would ever be. Even if that scarred Long-Ear was at her side the whole way. Sometimes, though, to get where you need to go, you have to walk the way you came. She smiled softly at that, huffing out of her nose quietly at that unintentional piece of wisdom, "Aye, sometimes you do, I reckon." She nodded, "My name's a little known. The guards shouldn't hassle you if they see a Nord with you. I am glad we crossed paths, for every woman like me, there's ten men."
The Khajiit nodded. "Might as well use your name for something useful. I'm relieved I found a traveling companion that seems to have a good head and at least a number of good tales under her belt. The road can be dull, I'm grateful to have stumbled across your light." she said with a slight smile.
Her eyes went up to the sky for the third time that night, maybe the Gods weren't so malicious after all. She slowly turned the spit with thumb and forefinger, a smile on her face and a good companion at her fire. The wind had died down somewhat sometime between Marassa's rough arrival and her gradual opening-up. It was turning out to not be a bad night, hopefully by this time in two days, she'd be back with that gumpy-arse of a Dunmer at their hearth, sharing tales with Marassa, if she stayed. Sure enough, she'd have some good tales to tell, being traveled. "Aye, always good to find those who are the dependable sort."