Behind one of the rocks was a small hut, and a guard emerged from it. The tabard over his mail bore the Stag's head insignia of Falkreath. He looked briefly at the papers the reporter showed him, and pointed down the valley. The small town of Falkreath was just below the ridge.

Most of the houses looked relatively new, as if the town had had to be rebuilt not too long ago. That wasn't too surprising, as it stood next to two disputed borders, and must have seen more than its share of sieges. That impression was augmented by the large graveyard he passed, presumably the resting place of the armies that had fought here.

He'd been told to ask at the Jarl's house for directions, as it was always politic to let the authorities know why you were there. Unless, of course, you didn't want them to know. This time, any help from the Jarl would be useful. They knew where to find Kintyra, and wished him the best of luck with her.

The building at the other end of the street, that he'd been directed to, turned out to be a tavern. Behind the bar was a young Nord woman who was selling ale, and advertising milk. But when he looked up from her ample cleavage, her face made him wish he hadn't.

It would have been a very pretty face if it didn't have a sour expression that let you know the answer was an emphatic "No", whatever the question was. He wondered if she ever did any business. He asked for an ale anyway, and was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable price she charged him, if not by the tone of her voice. He took the bottle and tankard and walked over to a table in the corner, where an old man sat drinking alone.

When he asked about Kintyra, the old man indicated the woman behind the bar. "That's her. Used to be the friendliest barmaid in town, until she met that Redguard. Broke her heart, he did, running off with another woman, just when she thought he was going to marry her. I reckon she'd have chased after him and killed him, if she didn't have to stay here and care for her mother."

"Oh, her mother's still alive, is she?" asked the reporter. "I'd heard that Anya died on the road from Whiterun. Wasn't there an attack by trolls on their caravan, or something?"

"Aye, she nearly died in that, and was missing for a while. When they found her, they thought she was dead, but the dog that they used to track her wouldn't let them bury her. He knew she was still alive,.but she seemed to be totally paralyzed. She can swallow liquids and move her eyes, but she can't move her limbs, or talk. Kintyra or a servant has to attend to her constantly."

That changed his mission a bit. The older woman would be ahead of her daughter in succession to the throne, if they indeed had any claim. In her current condition, Kintyra would have to act for her, so you could argue that she'd still hold the power. But the Elder Council wouldn't want a Regency at a time when the throne was weak anyway.

Still, if the lineage wasn't right, it would all be moot. He still had to make the same inquiries, and find out more about their family tree. It would just be more complicated than he'd expected. The first thing he had to do now was to try and find a cure for Anya, so he could get her story.

He asked around the town, and found that the local healer had tried the usual Cure Disease and Cure Paralysis spells on her, but they'd had no effect. She'd even tried Dispel, in case it was a spell with a long duration, not that anyone knew of one that lasted that long. There had been a brief flicker of movement, but it disappeared as quickly as it came.

They'd even carried her to the local shrine, in case that could cast a more powerful cure than the healer could manage. That had just got Anya more worried - you could tell it from her eyes - as the shrine was in the graveyard!

He was getting nowhere. He'd have to do what he'd been putting off, and try to talk with Kintyra.

She was snappy and unpleasant at first, but once she realized he was trying to help her mother, she softened considerably. Not enough to remove the permanent scowl, but sufficient to sustain a conversation, and get him permission to visit the older woman.

Anya was propped up in her bed, so she could see what was going on around her. They had dressed her in one of her favorite blue mage robes, with matching suede slippers. Her expression was an unchanging one of surprise, as if she hadn't been expecting whatever had afflicted her.

When he entered the room, her eyes met his, but then looked down at her hands as if she'd not seen who she'd hoped. He noticed that she wore several rings, as most mages did. Often they'd provide defense, or increased magicka or health, without diminishing the caster's ability to use spells the way armor would.

He turned to ask Kintyra some details about the prior attempts to cure her, and when he turned back, she again looked him in the eyes, and then down at her hands. She was trying to tell him something, he was sure.

He moved to the bed and took Anya's hands in his own. She looked back at him, and he began to understand. She looked down at her left hand, in particular. She wore two rings on that hand, a gold one with an emerald set in it, and a plain ebony band. He held the hand up closer to her face, so she could look at the rings. Her eyes seemed to indicate the gold one. Her slipped it off her finger, and felt her other hand grasp his shoulder.

It was a few seconds before she could speak, as she'd been severely weakened by the the long period of paralysis. Her first words were "My own fault".

Then she wanted a loaf of crusty bread, so she could chew on something. They'd had to feed her liquids while she was held immobile by the spell, and what she wanted most was something solid. That kept her from telling the story for a while longer.

When the trolls had attacked, she had of course hit back with fireballs, with considerable success. However, her magicka reserves were soon running low. She'd drunk all the restore magicka and sorcery potions she carried, and needed more. She decided to swap her defensive ring of aegis with one that fortified magicka, and rummaged in her jewelry bag for it. Unfortunately, she had another ring that looked just like it, and in her haste, pulled out the wrong one.

The Ring of Imprisonment he'd just removed from her finger was like a portable jail. You could just sit a captive down in a chair, preferably one with arms, so he couldn't fall off sideways, and make him put on the ring. He'd be unable to move, or call out, until you took the ring off again.

Perhaps it had saved her life, as the trolls thought she was dead, and ignored her as she rolled off the trail. Perhaps not, as she could no longer participate in the battle. She didn't think that would go well without her firepower. It did leave her stuck in the ravine, until the dog found her.

She wanted to reward that dog, as she was sure they'd have buried her alive, if he hadn't stopped them. Kintyra told her mother that Ingvar, the dog's owner, had already decided he was worth breeding after all, and she doubted he'd get a better reward than that. Kintyra actually smiled when she said that, proving that her face could compete with her other charms. It didn't last.

Anya hadn't really known anyone in the caravan that was attacked, they were all just strangers travelling together for safety. But she still wanted to know if anyone else had survived. Kintyra wasn't sure. Something had made the patrol go looking for them, but she didn't know if a survivor had reached town, or if someone had an expected visitor overdue.

Then Anya was quizzing Kintyra about all the things that had happened while she was paralyzed. That touched a raw nerve when the Redguard's name came up. The black clouds came back across the sun in the daughter's face. As the two women talked, it became clear to him that Kintyra had turned her full attention to her stricken mother, as soon as she had been brought back to Falkreath. Her lover had probably felt cut off and unwanted, so it wasn't surprising that he'd looked elsewhere. But how was he going to explain that to her? She was in no mood to hear that sort of thing from a stranger.

But now that Anya had her faculties back, she was the one he needed to talk to. She sent her daughter back to tend the bar, telling her to lighten up, or she'd drive away the customers.

Eventually he managed to steer the conversation round to ancestry. Anya could trace back through her mother, and her grandmother, to Jorgard of Solitude, whose brother Jargrim had married Jolethe Septim, daughter of Magnus Septim, and sister of Pelagius III. That wasn't as close as he'd thought when he was sent here. They'd believed she was descended from the other brother, and Jolethe. Cephorus II had come from that line, and he'd had aunts and uncles and cousins whose descendents would be closer to the late Uriel VII than were Anya and Kintyra.

So now he could turn his attention to Kintyra's problem. He told Anya about his earlier conclusions, and she agreed with his reasoning. "She's a stubborn one, and doesn't like to ask anyone else for help. Probably comes from being an only child, and from her father."

Anya's late husband Darci had been very similar, in many ways. He was a Redguard, and they don't like to use magic, so he'd resisted her offers to enchant his armor, or teach him any useful spells. He had no problem with her using all the magical ways she wanted. That was her choice, not his, and he wouldn't interfere.

And it was part of why he loved her. They were complementary, rather than alike. Each had aspects that the other admired, but would never take for themselves. He could never persuade her to wear armor, or use a weapon. But he'd be there to protect her, and vice-versa.

Together, there was nothing they couldn't achieve, but separated, they were incomplete. He would never ask for her help, but he wouldn't reject it either. And when they fought side by side, they covered each other's weaknesses.

He'd died in a fight with a will-o-the-wisp, that she could have easily killed with a couple of fireballs, if only she'd been there with him. But she was pregnant with Kintyra at the time, and stuck at home resting.

Her daughter had grown up without a father, because Anya had never found anyone who could replace Darci. She'd had a few lovers over the years, but none had quite measured up.

Kintyra had matured with an attitude of independence, and self-sufficiency, that let her have fun with the boys without getting too emotionally involved. She was attractive enough to have her pick of boyfriends, but didn't stay with any of them long enough to get bored with them. She didn't expect any kind of fidelity from them either. So why was this Redguard getting under her skin?

Anya suspected that Kintyra was getting broody. She wasn't pregnant yet; Anya could use detect life in more ways than the reporter knew about. But she'd probably decided that he was going to be the one, and he'd messed up her plans by leaving her. Kintyra wouldn't have told him of her intentions, it wasn't her way of doing things. And she'd most likely have dumped him if she didn't get what she wanted. "I probably taught her that" Anya admitted. "Kintyra never saw Darci and me together, so she has no idea what that was like."

"So it's my job to undo it. Let me work on her for a while. I can be quite needy, and take my time recovering, so that she won't go running after him, and trying to kill him."

The reporter was wondering why he still felt involved. He'd found out the information he'd been sent for, and Anya and Kintyra could be crossed off the Elder Council's list. But he still had a few days before Claudia was expecting him back at the cave, so it wouldn't hurt to spend them helping Kintyra and her mother. He rather suspected that Anya was hoping to kill two birds with one stone, and have Kintyra reward him for her cure, at the same time as he filled the void left by the Redguard.

That wasn't an unpleasant prospect. He'd seen what Kintyra could be when she smiled, and he wouldn't mind helping that happen again. He just had to make sure she didn't think "husband".

After talking to her mother, Kintyra's mood had changed from angry to sad, so he still had some work to do, but that was a much easier place to start from. He'd much rather have her cry on his shoulder than pound her fists on it.

And by the time he waved farewell to a laughing Kintyra and her mother, he felt well compensated for his time. Kintyra had insisted that her mother provide her own reward, and she'd been persuaded to enchant a couple of silver rings with Frost resistance. Now he wouldn't have to struggle to keep the furs in place when he met back up with Claudia.

Of course, slipping a ring on her finger, and sliding her panties off, had Claudia almost thinking "husband" for a while. "It's only my dedication to duty that saved you" she told him. Her bear snorted, as if it understood what she'd said. Maybe it did.

Claudia was naturally familiar with the sensation of Frost protection magic, so she'd realized what he was giving her. The rings did provide a freedom they hadn't had the last time. It no longer mattered when the furs fell off the bedroll, and they could see what they doing, instead of hiding inder the covers all the time. So it wasn't long before she remarked "Timo never does that."

"Then teach him," he replied. "The other Riders will thank you for it." It was time for him to tell her more about his own past, in particular his stay at Gweden, and all the things he'd learned there. And of course, show her a few of them.

"You did it with Daedra?" she exclaimed. Claudia had only encountered Scamps, Clannfear and Flame Atronachs, so her ideas were a bit far from reality. He had to explain that Dremora, Mazken and Aureals were just immortal people, not scary monsters. She was almost as big as they were, where it mattered. Silanu, on the other hand...

Now Claudia was feeling very ordinary and unexciting, and he had to convince her that she wasn't. She was a Mountain Rider, and her bear knew she was special, or she wouldn't be one. And she was unique, as the only Redguard Rider he knew of. Which reminded him, she had a duty to be different from the other Riders when she was with Timo. "Put some variety into his routine, and he'll respond in kind."

"We'll be returning to the Lodge tomorrow," he mused. "Will any of the other Riders be there?"

"Why, did you want to sample something different from the menu? I thought Gudrun had already shown you how Nords do it."

"No, I was just wondering if Timo had ever had two of you there at once. I presume Legion rules wouldn't let you share him with Gudrun, her being your commanding officer."

"And what if I was the one wanting two partners? Would you share me with Timo?"

"Why not? If you could keep the entire city watch happy...."

"Hey, it was just the Captains, and I never said it was more than one at a time."

"And here I was, thinking you were really special." he laughed.