The reporter from the Black Horse Courier had been given an assignment to go to Falkreath, just over the border in Skyrim. He was to investigate a distant cousin of the late Emperor, who might just be the nearest relative left. She was a descendent of the same branch of the Septim line that Cephorus II came from, several generations back, but via a sister of his forebear, so she didn't have the Septim name. Apparently this information had come from the ambassador from Shornhelm. He could well imagine how Taminwe got it.

The trails in that area of the border were treacherous, and often obscured by snow and ice, so they would have one of the Mountain Riders act as his guide. He'd meet up with her at the Riders' Lodge outside Bruma. Claudia would be there for her regular break from her patrol, and she'd take him the rest of the way.

He'd heard of the Mountain Riders, but had never met one. He knew that they were all women, and rode bears rather than horses, but not much else.

When he had to travel, he would try to accompany the Legion patrol along as much of the road as he could. They weren't the most inspiring company, but they'd sometimes have news of events along their route, and of course it was much safer travelling with them. He'd appreciate having a Mountain Rider escort up in the mountains, and hoped she'd be a better travelling companion than the usual legionaries.

When he entered the Lodge, the only person he saw was the barman. His name was Magnus, and he'd seen Claudia go downstairs with Timo just before the reporter arrived. He suggested that the reporter have an ale while he waited, as she wouldn't want to be interrupted. "Or you could go up to the office and see Captain Gudrun. She might have some further instructions for you."

There wasn't any good reason not to do both, so he downed a quick small ale, and then headed up the stairs. He knocked on the office door, and was commanded to enter.

Captain Gudrun was a leggy blonde Nord in her late twenties or early thirties with an apparent aversion to being too covered up. Her uniform consisted of a plate metal bikini with some decorative shoulder plates, and a pair of (high-heeled) plated riding boots, but mostly smooth, tanned skin. A broad smile revealed perfect white teeth, and her hair was carefully coiled into a bun to make her look even taller. She bent over the map she'd placed on her desk, to make sure he caught her good side.

Gudrun had been expecting him, and already knew who he was, and where he was going. She pointed out a mark, up by the borders of Hammerfell and Skyrim. "That's Sky's Edge Cave," she told him. "Claudia knows where that is, because her bear was delivered there. You'll most likely use it as a place to meet up again after you've been across the border to Falkreath, so I suggested to her that you stop on the way there. Did you meet Claudia yet?"

"Magnus told me she was down in the basement with Timo. He mentioned something about recharging."

Gudrun gave him a mischievous smile, and reached behind her back to where her armor fastened. "Then she won't mind if I welcome you to the Lodge myself,"

"Well, that was a warm welcome!" he thought as he walked down to the bar in the morning to look for Claudia. He saw a young Redguard sitting at a table with a mug of ale and caught her eye. She beckoned him over to join her. He got himself a bottle and tankard from Magnus and did so.

When he got closer, he saw that she shared her taste in outfits with Gudrun, except that her top was plain iron, and didn't flaunt her cleavage the way the Captain's did. It was still cropped short, and between it and her boots was the minimum amount of cloth to stop her getting arrested. She noticed that he'd noticed. "Standard Bear Rider uniform", she explained. "Everything's strongly enchanted with Frost Shield to keep me warm, and safe."

She told him how the bears they rode had issues with armor trapping their fur, so they needed something that would protect them, and keep them warm, but not irritate the bear. They'd tried wearing thick woolen dresses, but they couldn't fight well in those, and they didn't provide much protection. Eventually the Legion had paid the extra for magical defense instead. Why so much skin on show? The bears liked it better that way.

Gudrun wore plate panties that the bears wouldn't tolerate, but she didn't ride. Her job in public relations, which mainly consisted of looking good, called for a ceremonial outfit, rather than an operational one. It still had the Frost Shield, in case she had to stand out in the cold wearing it. "And don't underestimate her fighting ability. I've seen how she handles a Claymore, and she's quite impressive." He'd been quite impressed by Gudrun, too.

They'd finished their ales, so it was time to head out along the trail. Claudia took the lead, and her bear brought up the rear. He couldn't ride a bear himself, and he'd never keep up if she rode, so they'd have to do the journey on foot. It would be a bit slower that way, but that just meant she'd have some company for a longer time.

After watching her derriere swaying along the path for while, he decided it would be better for his sanity if he walked at her side, at least while there was a clear trail to follow. That made conversation easier, too.

A reporter likes to ask questions, and there's no better subject than the pretty girl you're walking with, so he soon found himself listening to her life story. She was half-Nord, with two Nord grandfathers, and she'd always dreamt of being a Mountain Rider..

But she'd had to put that idea on hold for a while, as her family all moved to the Imperial City. Claudia much preferred the mountains, and revived her idea of joing the Legion as a Mountain Rider as soon as she was old enough. Her father thought it was a good idea for her to get the military training, so she could look after herself. Her mother agreed, but for other reasons. Riders were the most sought-after as wives when they retired, and so mothers encouraged their daughters to aspire to the service.

Now she'd been a Rider for a time, she'd begun to understand why. The bears had a reputation for preferring riders who were pretty, as well as strong and athletic. The uniform didn't hurt their attractiveness either. But what r eally made the women desirable was they'd be away from men on their patrols for months on end, and would practically throw themselves at anything male.

"Gudrun's doing a good job as our Captain," Claudia allowed. "She recruiited Timo to do our recharging, when we take our break at the Lodge. He's made it a lot less of a strain."

"It's a bit ironic that I went from trying to keep the Watch Captains out of my bed, to the opposite extreme overnight, but that's the way it was. The Lodge didn't get built until months after I started my patrol." She told him how the Champion of Cyrodill had played a part in both.

That reminded her of another story about how Timo thought he was becoming a dog. The Champion had found him a cure, but he'd learned a few new tricks in the meantime. The reporter got the impression that, in Claudia's opinion, Timo needed a few more.

They were climbing higher into the mountains now, and he stopped to put on another layer of furs. He was starting to understand how the magical armor she wore made perfect sense up here, and the high heeled boots that seemed impractical before, were giving her better grip on the ice than his ordinary leather ones.

Dusk was falling and she lit a torch, as they walked up to the Hermaeus Mora shrine. The worshippers there appeared to be oblivious to the cold, although a small pile of empty bottles suggested a reason why. They continued down the other side of the ridge into a snow-filled valley.

There didn't appear to be a trail here, so he was following her again. At least it was dark now, and he was following the torch rather than the girl. He could hear wolves howling not too far away, but it appeared that they didn't want to come near the bear, and nothing crossed their path.

Soon another trail could be seen through the snow, and she picked up her pace a little. "We're nearly at the cave."

Sky's Edge Cave was small and cozy, You could light a fire and the smoke would escape through a hole at the top of the rock, and there were a lot of crates you could stack up to block the cold breeze blowing under the door. Someone had already done that, and there was a comfortable-looking bedroll nestled among them.

Claudia told him that the cave was used as a impromptu warehouse by the traders who moved goods across the borders. They'd pack and unpack crates here, separating the wares that were headed for Hammerfell from those going to Skyrim, or coming the other way. She didn't normally come here as part of her patrol.. That stopped at the entrance to the shrine, but she'd add the extra stretch on until he returned.

There was a pile of firewood and kindling already waiting to be lit in a hearth near the bedroll. Claudia advised him to do the same for the next traveller who came through. She used a minor fire spell to start it, and sat down to take off her boots as soon as its warmth began to fill the cave. Her bear got up and moved a bit further away from the fire. "Hey, I don't have smelly feet, do I?"

She didn't; the bear just preferred to be a bit cooler, but he was reminded that bears have an excellent sense of smell. Gudrun had told him that was one of the reasons they preferred women riders. They just smelled better than men.

He watched as the bear piled up some hay and made itself a pillow, and settled down to sleep. When he looked back at Claudia, she had taken off her cuirass and was waxing the leather of the straps. She hadn't been wearing anything under it, and if her backside was a distraction, the front view was even more so.

He wondered why she wasn't shivering, as he still needed a layer of fur to keep out the cold air, but she still had the one item of her uniform in place. He could see that the Frost Shield would need to be strongest on that, for it didn't offer much defense.

She stood up, picked up a big pile of wolf and bear pelts and made a couple of layers on top of the bedroll. Then she slid between the layers, and called him to join her. "Once I get these off, I'll need you to keep me warm," she said.

He didn't have the advantage of using her method, so he was quite aware of the chill in the cave by the time he'd taken off his furs and snuggled in with her. Her hands were warm, and soon undid the effects of the cold air.

When they woke in the morning, she reached out and re-kindled the fire before squirming back into her frost-proof panties. She held his clothes close to the flames, one piece at a time, so they'd be warm enough to put on without too much of a shock. Once he was wearing enough to stand beside her, she turned her attention to breakfast. She put on her boots, and walked over to a barrel by the cave wall and looked inside.

She pulled out a sweetroll, and a loaf of bread. Turning back to him, she held out one in each hand and asked which he preferred. Since she hadn't yet put on her cuirass, he had plenty of opportunity to misunderstand her question, and spend a few moments admiring both of them.

She gave him the bread, and looked back in the barrel for something for the bear. Perfect, berries!

When they had all finished eating she put her top on and picked up her claymore. Time to head for the border.

They walked a little way further along the trail they'd followed the night before. Claudia pointed to a gap between the rocks up ahead. "Once you go between those rocks, you'll be able to see Falkreath," she told him. "The rocks are right on the border, and I'm not allowed to go into Skyrim without a pass. You have yours, don't you?" Gudrun had given him that before he left Bruma.

"I'll see you back at the cave in a week," he promised. "Keep safe!".

She stood and watched as he trudged through the snow towards the border. One part of her mind was thinking "What's wrong with me? I haven't retired yet, and I'm throwing myself at men already." Another part was telling her that it proved she was normal, and she should only get worried when they started throwing her back.