“Wait! Get Down!” Hadvar urged in hushed tones. Rona knelt down behind a boulder as the enormous black dragon soared over them and roared loud enough to shake the ground beneath their feet. She caught her breath and watched as the beast sailed over the mountains beyond.
“We’d best keep moving,” Hadvar said, “Riverwood is just down this path a ways. Come on, my Uncle Alvor is the blacksmith there, he can help us out.”
Rona stood and followed him as she mindlessly wiped at the blood and sweat from her brow with her ash covered hands making her face an even more blackened dirty mess than it already was. She rubbed her hands into her knee-length, red dress staining the sides with soot.
She was lucky to find all of her things tucked into a chest in the keep they’d found refuge in. She had her bow and arrows, her dagger and her clothes; a bright red Brigida day dress, a pair of tall leather boots, and some fingerless leather gloves. She knew she was a mess but didn’t care. Not only had she evaded a beheadingbut she'd survived a dragon attack.
The entire walk down and all the way up to their meeting with Hadvar’s uncle Alvor was all a blur to her. Something about Stormcloaks and dragons and Jarls and murders and conspiracies, it was too much to process. She was exhausted and ready to pass out. Alvor’s wife was kind enough to notice.
“Here dear, take this.” She pressed forty gold into Rona’s hand, “Get a room at the Sleeping Giant Inn just down the road from us. I’d let you stay here but we only have one extra bedroll and I think you deserve a good night’s sleep after what you’ve been through.”
“Thank you,” Rona mumbled.
Alvor crossed his arms and looked straight into her eyes. His voice more serious than before, “Might I ask what’s next for you stranger? Whereabouts do you plan to go from here?”
“I need to go to Falkreath - urgently,” she added, “to meet with my mother. I received a letter a week ago indicating that she’s ill and bedridden.”
“I see,” Alvor sighed, “I don’t want to impede you on your journey, however we have a very pressing matter at hand here. Riverwood is in great danger with a dragon about and we’re sorely lacking in defense. We must get word to the Jarl of Whiterun, immediately, so we might be able to defend ourselves. Would it be too much to ask you to halt your journey home for another day?”
“Well I -,” she paused looking over the desperation on his face. Her mother’s letter spoke as though she were on her deathbed, though she was known to greatly exaggerate her health. Chances are she wouldn’t even be there when she arrived, as she often had a habit of flouncing off to gods knew where and disappearing for days or even months at a time. Rona couldn’t just ignore the plight of the townsfolk that took her in, it simply wasn’t in her nature and maybe, just maybe, this was the sort of excuse she was looking for to avoid the dreadful woman she hadn’t seen in over five years, “I’ll go. I’ll go to Whiterun first thing tomorrow.”
Alvor gave a sigh of relief and put his hands on his knees.
“Thank you,” he said.
They spoke briefly, giving her details and information on just how to get to the city as well as what to expect when she arrived.
Rona thanked Hadvar and his family for their hospitality and stepped outside to a dimming sunset. She turned to her left and made her way towards the inn just up the road. Two rowdy drunks were standing around hurling catcalls at each and every woman that passed by. Rona was no exception to this, but too tired to care she ignored them and walked up the steps to the warm inviting inn when again she was stopped by another man, a ranger, only this one was standing idly by the door staring at her quizzically, an eyebrow raised.
She wasn’t even sure why she said it, but the words slipped from her lips before she could stop them, “What are you looking at?”
He smirked and retorted, “Well, honestly Princess, I’m not entirely sure myself…you’ve got a little – something,” he held up a hand and motioned it over the entirety of his face, “right here.”
Normally she wouldn’t be afraid to go toe to toe with a jackass like him, exchanging witty retorts back and forth on a good day, but today was a bad day. A very, very bad day. Her face burned hot at his insult, a mixture of embarrassment and anger.
He laughed, “I mean, with the way that those drunks were whistling at you I’d have thought they caught sight of a real beauty,although just the other day they wolf-whistled the blacksmith, so clearly their standards aren’t very high.”
Rona glared daggers at him then shoved the door open and brushed past him. Just another drunkard to ignore, she reminded herself. She hurried up to the counter and asked the bar tender for a room, he also looked at her slightly puzzled.
“Just got back from working in the mines, eh? It’s ten gold pieces for a night –“
“Orgnar,” a middle aged blonde woman came in from a room on their right, “Orgnar! Are you listening?”
“Hard not to.”
“The ale is going bad. We need to get a new batch. Did you hear me?”
“Yep. Ale’s going bad.”
“I guess you don’t have potatoes in your ears after all. Just make sure we get a fresh batch in soon.”
She glanced at Rona, “Oh wow, what happened to you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Rona said tersely, “Do you have a wash basin I could use?”
“No, but you can wash up in the river outside if you’d like,” she said crossing her arms, “In fact I’d rather you did before you use the bed.”
Rona frowned at the rude woman but turned briskly around and stepped outside again, fervently ignoring the ranger watching her from behind as well as the drunks howling at her on her left. She walked up to the edge of the river, pulled off her gloves and leaned over it. Just a quick rinse and then I can sleep, she thought.
But as she splashed her face she felt the presence of someone behind her. Instinctively her hand rose to her dagger and she pulled it swiftly from its sheath whirling up and catching the six-foot brute by the hair yanking his head down to her much shorter height and pressing the blade to his throat – but in her exhaustion she forgot to account for the second drunk who came up on her right roaring, “DAMN WENCH!” his arm swinging for her.
In an instant the ranger had appeared and gave him a hard right hook to the face, forcing his teeth to jettison from his mouth, he then grabbed the drunk’s shoulders and thrust him downward right into his up-swinging knee which landed hard into the brute’s gut knocking the wind out of him.The man collapsed on the ground with a loud groan.
The drunk under her blade sputtered, “Come on now! We were just fixing to say hello. Weren’t doing nothin’ wrong!”
But she pressed the blade harder into his throat, drawing blood and unleashed her fury on them, “LOOK! I just survived a godsforsaken hell on Nirn - was almost executed by a bunch of Imperial bastards and then nearly murdered by a dragon, I am not in the mood for you perverts or your vile, shady behavior!” She released her blade and shoved him down on the ground and snapped her fingers, lighting a flame in her hand, “Now get the hell out of my sight before I turn those twigs you call dicks into tinder!”
The ranger kicked the second drunk in the head and growled, “You heard the lady, now get lost.”
They both scrambled to their feet and ran for it, not even daring to glance back. Rona sighed and released the spell from her hand and not a moment too soon because the ranger was staring at her again, only this time with a friendlier smirk on his face, hands on his hips, “Well I’ll be damned woman, you’ve got some real fight in you. And shit –,” he leaned in to look at her more closely, “I take back everything I said beautiful, those dimwits were right to admire you. What are you, half bosmer?”
“Altmer,” she replied pulling away from his gaze, “and thanks for the help, but I’m not in the mood for your shady bullshit either.”
“Whoa, whoa,” he protested throwing his hands up, “Nothin’ shady going on here. Those two have been harassing every pair of legs that's crossed their path for days and I've been itching to pick a fight with them, so when I saw themsneaking up behind you, well, there's my excuse. Thought I was coming to your rescue, but you really know how to handle yourself,” he held out a hand, “The name’s Bishop.”
She looked skeptically at his hand then at him. Sure, what the hell, she shrugged and shook his hand.
“I’m Rona. Rona Lightfoot.”
He raised a brow, “Rona? Like Rona with an ‘O’?”
She squinted at him. “Yeah...yes. Rona with an ‘O’.”
He chuckled, “Just checking. Hey, let me buy you a drink Lady Lightfoot, sounds like you’ve had a rough day.”
She agreed to have one drink with him and they stepped back inside the Sleeping Giant Inn where Bishop ordered them two pints. They pulled up a couple of chairs by the hearth.
“Mind if I ask you something?”
Rona took a sip of her warmed mead. “Shoot,” she said.
“Where'd you learn to fight like that?”
She put her elbow on the arm of her chair and rest her chin on her hand and yawned. “Well, I'm a member of the Fighter’s Guild back in Cyrodiil. I’ve worked as a mercenary for about ten years now, since I was fifteen.”
“Wow, that’s pretty young to start that line of work.”
“I started out training in the Mage’s Guild since I was a kid. My ata," she glanced at him and clarified, "Ah, that means father. He works there but I never really had much of a knack for magic despite his best efforts to train me. So I ran off to join the Fighter's Guild instead.”
“So those flames you bust out back there?”
“Just some measly level one destruction magic,” she admitted.
Bishop laughed, “Well you scared the absolute shit out of those two, I don’t think they’ll be coming back here any time soon.”
“You two managed to chase off those drunks for me?”
The older blonde innkeeper leaned against the bar holding a steaming mug in her hands.
“Actually Delphine, you have this lovely young lady to thank for that. She really held her own, though I managed to get a few swings in too.”
Delphine smiled, “Well I appreciate it. Was getting tired of them scaring off our patrons. Thank you stranger.”
Rona gave her a nod and Bishop took a swig of his drink.
“Sooo,” he said leading into it, “What did you mean about all that stuff you said back there? Dragons, executions - what was that all about?”
Rona stared down into her pint, she felt the stares of both Delphine and Bishop hard on her now. Ah yes, what about all the craziness I blurt out, what was that all about indeed, she wondered thoughtfully. The room was silent except for the occasional snore coming from the red-faced drunk on the floor.
She sighed and took a sip from her drink. “I received a letter from my mother about a week ago summoning me to her farm in Falkreath. So I packed up my horse in Cheydinhal and made my way here to Skyrim. I had no idea the civil war was that bad up here and there’s not much talk about it anywhere in Cyrodiil - least none that I’d heard.”
“Typical,” Delphine scoffed shaking her head, “The Empire likes keeping these matters as quiet as possible – oh, sorry to interrupt, go on.”
Rona pressed her lips together and continued, “Well I managed to make my way across the border when I saw some nord soldiers come around the path ahead of me. Next thing I know an entire Legion of Imperials were attacking them! Then some guy on horseback came rushing at me which spooked my horse and threw me off. I must’ve blacked out because when I woke up I was sitting in a carriage with the jerk that spooked my mare and two nord soldiers. I guess…one of them was the leader of the rebellion or something?”
She glanced up at Delphine whose mouth was agape and Bishop who was half laughing.
“You’re telling me the Imperials captured Ulfric - the Ulfric Stormcloak?” he said incredulously.
“Yeah, well they did…briefly,” Rona clarified, “They took all of us down to a chopping block in Helgen. I tried to explain my situation, to tell them I wasn’t one of those people!" Rona threw her hands up, exasperated, "I wasn’t a spy or any of that nonsense - but they’d stripped me of all my belongings including my mother’s letter so I had no proof for why I was there and they weren’t even willing to listen to me. I really thought it was all over when it was my turn, but when I looked up at the headsman ready to swing his axe I saw it - a huge black dragon came crashing down on the keep and then it just – well, it...it wasn’t a roar, more like a-”
“Shout,” Delphine finished for her.
“Yeah...a shout,” Rona shrugged.
“No you don’t understand,” Delphine said as she stood up from behind the counter to walk over to them, “Dragons have always used shouts. It’s their way of speaking Words of Power.”
Bishop set his pint down and put a hand to his head, “You’re seriously buying all this Delphine?”
“Hush,” Delphine cautioned him then urged Rona to continue, “What happened after the dragon shouted?”
Rona went on remembering every awful detail all too vividly, “Fire started raining from the sky. It blasted apart homes and crushed so many people. A Stormcloak helped me get to my feet, but it was an Imperial soldier who lead me out of Helgen. We went through some underground network below the city and when we got out of the caverns we saw the dragon fly off over this way. Hadvar and his family asked me to go to Whiterun to inform the Jarl which I intend to do straight away tomorrow morning.”
Delphine nodded approvingly, “Good. I’m glad to hear it. We’re going to need all the help we can get if the dragons are back in Skyrim.”
Bishop scoffed looking at Delphine and motioning a hand to Rona, "If dragons are back? You're just as crazy as her if you believe this shit," he looked at Rona and spoke with dripping sarcasm, "And what next? You’ll have to ride your unicorn off into the sunset to rescue a falmer princess after all that?”
She balked at him, “Believe me or not, but Riverwood is in serious danger! I have to get to Whiterun to tell the Jarl so he can send soldiers here to protect these people!”
"I don't doubt you for a second dear," Delphine said with a morose look, "It's always been foretold that the dragons would return someday and when I saw you come in this afternoon, bloody and burnt all over, I knew something terrible must have happened. But dragons..."
Delphine paused, she seemed to be thinking hard about something. She noticed they were looking at her and she smiled and said to Bishop, "You know, I think she's exactly the kind of companion you've been looking for Bishop. She's got experience with the Fighter's Guild and survived a dragon attack? I wouldn't pass her up."She pat him on the shoulder, turned away and disappeared into her room.
"What’s she talking about?"
Bishop leaned back in his chair. He downed the rest of his drink sighed and looked into Rona's eyes, his gaze piercing, "I was tracking my wolf, Karnwyr, around here. We were separated while hunting a week ago. I've been hearing rumors of bandits holding pit fights somewhere this side of Skyrim. He's all I've got and that's the only lead. So I'm off to shut them down before something happens to him."
"So you're looking to hire a mercenary to help you?"
“Not really looking to hire anyone sweetheart,” he rubbed between his eyes with a free hand, "but if they're running a ring like that there's bound to be more than a few bandits. I hate to admit it, but I need the help, so if you want to come along I wouldn't complain. I could certainly do worse for company."
Rona paused, her eyelids drooping lightly from fatigue. She rubbed her eye.
"You know I have to go to Whiterun and then come back to Falkreath, right?"
"Yeah I get that. I heard you. Still...I've been hanging around here for days looking for someone capable and honestly, you're the first capable person I've come across. Look, how about we call it a night? Sleep on it and let me know tomorrow. I know you have your other, uh, errands to run, and that's fine, I won't stop you there, but I could help you too. I know Skyrim like the back of my hand. So think about it."
He grasped her pint which was slowly tipping out of her hands in exhaustion, taking it from her and finishing it off in one gulp, then with a beguiling smirk he said, "Goodnight Princess," and disappeared into his room.
The sound of birds chirping and people milling about the inn woke her. Rona yawned and rolled out of bed stretching. She found Bishop sipping a drink at the bar.
“Bit early to get your drink on,” she said as she walked up to him.
“Oh this? Just some milk. Here, have a sweet roll on me, sweetie,” he said winking and handed her the pastry.
She raised an eyebrow at him, but took the food anyway and bit into it.
“You actually managed to spook Delphine off with all your talk of dragons,” he said, “Saw her slipping out in the middle of the night armed to the teeth.”
“She’s just out to get some supplies from Whiterun.”
“Sure she is Orgnar,” Bishop said smirking at him and stroking his chin stubble. “You should have heard the way she went on about the dragons last night. If you ask me she’s probably not coming back.”
Orgnar snorted and leaned against the counter ignoring Bishop’s remark. Bishop grabbed half a loaf of bread and tossed a gold piece on the bar then turned to walk outside. Rona finished off her sweet roll and hurried after him.
“So, been thinking about what I said last night?" he asked her as they stepped into a sunny clear day.
She pulled a red ribbon out of her pouch and used it to tie her hair up, pulling strawberry blonde strands from her face, "I did. I'll help you but on one condition."
Bishop crossed his arms and said, "That being...?"
"That as soon as we finish in Whiterun we head straight for Falkreath. After that I'm all yours."
He smirked, "All mine, huh?"
She rolled her eyes at him.
He chuckled, "I know, got to go see your mother on her little farm. No problem Princess, sounds like we have a deal. Oh and when we do find my wolf, don't go thinking you can let him lick your hand or anything. Karnwyr is not a pet. That wolf and I have been together since I was seventeen. He's closer to me than...than a brother. Got that?"
"Understood," she said raising her brows at him. What a moody guy, she thought. Though her gaze turned towards Hadvar who was heading straight for them.
Hadvar held out a knapsack for her, “Sigrid asked me to give you this. Just some supplies for your trip to Whiterun,” he then gave Bishop a quick once over and a disapproving look, “I’d watch out for this one, he’s known trouble in these parts.”
Bishop crossed his arms and snarled back at him, “Oh please, can’t be any more trouble than someone who’s got an entire legion of Stormcloaks after him, let alone dragons.”
Hadvar frowned at him then turned to Rona, “If you’re ever up in Solitude the Legion could really use someone like you. I know you got a bad first impression yesterday, but if you’re willing to give them another chance you should really sign up. Take care of yourself Rona.”
He shook her hand and left them. Rona turned on foot and hurried off down the path away from town catching Bishop off guard who had to jog a bit just to catch up with her.
"Damn woman, you're fast!"
She cocked her head at him, "How do you think I got the name? My comrades called me Lightfoot for several reasons."
"Several reasons, hmm? I wouldn't mind getting to know what the other reasons are," he said provocatively as he got into a comfortable stride walking alongside her.
"Are you always this...suggestive?" she asked cringing her nose at him.
"Not always, I can be more...sensual if you prefer," he grinned broadly at her.
She quickened her pace forcing him to fall behind.
"I honestly don't mind this angle either. Mmhm! Got a nice view of those lovely hips of yours!"
This is going to be a long journey, she thought.