When Sugar and the reporter arrived back at the Red Dragon Club, Taminwe was looking for both of them, with an important bit of news. Apparently Gortwog hadn't completely trusted Queen Elysana with her "wife" gambit, and had sent his own spy to keep an eye on what happened. "We got a note just after you went out last night, asking us to arrange a private channel with Orsinium."

"I suspect Gortwog had this planned for some time, and was just waiting for the right moment," she continued. "Your recent trip to Falkreath makes it possible for us to capitalize on this opportunity and get a direct line to Gortwog established."

She explained that now he had contacts in Falkreath, they could use that as a rendezvous point with an Orc agent. There was a bear trainer in the town that already traded with Orsinium, providing bears for patrols in the Wrothgarians. Gortwog could send couriers to her without raising any suspicion. If the couriers made other contacts while they were there, nobody would know.

"Will this become a regular trip?" he asked, thinking of Claudia, and Kintyra, and the possible complications of seeing them too often.

Taminwe was ahead of him there. "Yes, and I've already sent word to Gudrun about putting a rotation on the route to Sky's Edge, so you won't have a problem. Not until you have four or five problems, that is."

"And you'll be too busy in Falkreath. The courier will be an Orc Bear Rider, naturally. That's why I need Sugar to stay here a while, and give you some extra training." Sugar gave him a wicked grin. She was obviously anticipating having way more fun than he would.

He was fortunate that he liked the taste of blackberries and apples, with the number of Restore Fatigue / Fortify Endurance potions he had to drink over the next few days. The aftertaste of Monkshood wasn't quite as pleasant.

But before long, Sugar wasn't holding anything back and she found herself reaching for the potion bottle. She reluctantly pronounced him ready for duty, to his great relief.

When the reporter opened the door to the Riders' Lodge at Bruma, he was surprised to see the five Riders all there at once. He wasn't so surprised to see a contented smile on Timo's face.

Gudrun introduced them to him. "You already know Claudia, of course. This is Pala, the redhead is Svana, and Ystrel is the Dunmer. You'll be going with Unna on this trip, as her route is adjacent to Claudia's and she already knows the way to get there."

Unna had long blonde hair, and a patch over one eye that promised a story to break the ice. "When Claudia found out I was taking the first duty, she lent me this ring," she told him. "Did you remember to bring yours?"

OK, forget the need for ice-breaking. Claudia had told them already.

Gudrun sent them all back out to their patrols, right after the briefing. Unna and Claudia both had to travel to the Hermaeus Mora shrine, so he had one on either side of him all the way there. At the foot of the slope up to the shrine, Claudia turned back and mounted her bear, and left him to Unna to take the rest of the way.

Although it was dark, Unna didn't light a torch as they left the shrine. She just flipped up her eyepatch and carried on into the night. When she noticed he wasn't following, she came back for him. "Just put your hand here," she told him, "and try to keep up." He wasn't sure if she was walking slowly after that just to keep in contact, or because of where she'd told him to put his hand, but they reached the cave without any problems.

He'd guessed that she'd been using Night-eye, but hadn't seen her cast a spell, or drink a potion. Unna explained about how she'd got it permanently from a Daedra's shock attack, and a botched attempt to heal her. She amazed him with yet another story about the Champion. He seemed to be involved in everything where these women were concerned.

Right now, Unna wanted him to get involved. He hoped Claudia hadn't been telling fishermen's tales about him, and he could actually meet her expectations. She certainly met his.

The next morning he took the short walk across the border to Falkreath. He didn't know how long he'd have to wait for the Orc agent to arrive, so he made no promises to Unna. She let him know when she'd be going back to the Lodge. Svana was the next for this duty, so it was possible he'd find her in the cave when he got back.

He went to find the bear-trainer, as she'd know whether the Orc was already in town. Meija was a tanned Nord, who wore even less than the Legion girls. She didn't need armor, she explained, as she was just training the bears, not riding a patrol. She needed sleeves, to protect her arns from being lashed by branches when the bear ran through the forest, and boots, for when she walked, but apart from that she could be naked. "The bears would prefer that, but the watch don't allow it."

Her compromise indicated that she put more weight on the bears' side of the argument. The lower half of her outfit was almost non-existent, and the top was guaranteed to keep her cool. She anticipated his question. "I have an amulet with Frost Resistance that's enough to make me immune from the cold," she told him. "Nords are half-way there from birth, so it doesn't take much."

He began to wonder if the woman was psychic with the next thing she said. "After you left last time, Kintyra took up with that Jokull, the trader. So she'll be glad to see you again, but not as much as you might have hoped." That let him off the hook there, but it also left him wondering if Meija had any motives of her own for telling him.

He asked if anyone had arrived from Orsinium, and Meija nodded. "She's with the bear now, getting to know him." Meija led him down the slope opposite the tavern to a snowy clearing.

Uzgash gra-Marghak dismounted and walked over to them. The pre-arranged handclasp let her know she had the right man, and left him with an appreciation for the strength of her grip.

He knew that Sugar was considered well-featured for an Orc, and this woman had everything she had and more. And yet her face was more to his human tastes than most. Very attractive, if you were the kind of person who liked tusks. She was built, and dressed, like a Bear Rider, too.

She tactfully separated them from Meija and the bear, and him led to where nobody could listen to their conversation.

It was an indication of the importance Gortwog placed on this mission that he'd sent one of his own daughters. He asked if she was using a pseudonym, but gra-Marghak was real. Her mother hadn't married Gortwog, as she already had everything a marriage would bring, and it left him free to make a political alliance if he needed to do so. He'd acknowledged all his children, and they had no less respect under their mother's name. As adults, they were expected to earn their own respect anyway. So she used her real name. One less lie to get caught in.

"I'll be riding real patrols in the Wrothgarians, too. Having a bear of my own will reassure my father of my safety, although he already respects my ability in a fight. I'll only need the one bear, of course. I'll need another reason for visiting Falkreath whenever I have information to pass on. That's where you come in."

She let the implications of that sink in for a moment before she continued. "We have to be known as an item. Which means we'll have to be quite indiscreet about it. You aren't the type who's easily embarassed, I hope?"

No, but he'd have to explain why they didn't just build a cabin and stay here.

"Duty, of course. I have my patrol to attend to, and my personal wishes are subordinate to that. You have a job to go back to, don't you?"

Her bear had wandered over to them as they talked. It had clearly taken to her in the short time they'd been together, which was a good sign. He already trusted the bears' judgement when it came to women.

The bear turned its head towards the town. He looked in that direction and saw Meija's head appear above the rise. He pulled Uzgash closer to him and put his arms around her. This was as good a time to start putting on the show as any.

When Meija got closer, Uzgash turned so she could see her, repositioning the reporter's hands to make as clear a statement as possible. The expression on Meija's face indicated that she'd got the message. There was just a hint of jealousy showing, too. That was probably why she'd been so quick to tell him about Kintyra.

This time she just wanted to tell Uzgash that the assay on the gems she'd brought more than covered the cost of the bear, and she was free to take it back to Orsinium. Right away, if she wanted. Meija stomped off back towards the tavern.

"We might have to do something about that one," Uzgash said when she was gone. "We don't want her on the wrong side. And you can't be unfaithful to me, because then I'd have to kill you. This could be tricky."

"Sorry, but you're going to have to learn to share." he told her. "I can't do my job if you tie my hands that much."

"It's not your hands, it's your..."

"Stop being so literal. Anyway, it's only been my hands so far." He squeezed gently to reinforce the point.

She laughed. "And I'm only going to be faithful to you because I won't have any choice on patrol. It's just that everyone here thinks they know about Orcs and their sense of commitment and honor. They'd be the first to tell me if you slept with Meija. That's what makes them the perfect accomplices for our cover story."

"So you have to become the exception that won't turn homicidal if I wander a bit. Meija knows about Bear Riders, and every one of those that I've met has been practically a nymphomaniac. Won't she expect you to be that way too?" He reminded her that her actions so far had done nothing to contradict that picture.

"But then I'd have to show that by going with someone else. There's nobody here I'd want to do that with."

"Actually there's one other way. You can disarm Meija's threat by sharing me voluntarily."

"Share you with another woman? I haven't had proof yet that you can handle just me." She regretted using the word "handle" as soon as she said it, and squeezed back.

"No, you just need to tell her to keep me warm for you when you leave. Give her permission, whenever you're not around. Most likely I won't be around either, so it's not much of a concession. Let her know you're more Bear Rider in your morality than you are Orc, and everyone else will know before long. Besides, they already know about me and Kintyra."

"That was in the past, before you met me, so it doesn't count. But you're right, I'm going to have to share. The only problem I can see is having to put a damper on the men's expectations." He had to admit she had a lot to offer, and her outfit, like any Bear Rider's, put it all on show.

He told her about Sugar's party tricks, and her eyes widened. "An Orc male that brave is a rare find," she told him. "This Sugar has customers who let her do that?"

He told her how Sugar conned them into it. They often had an audience looking on at the Gweden Brothel, and an Orc can't show fear when other races are watching. The wine would bolster their courage, or recklessness, too. Not to mention that she was good at it, so they didn't just take the first opportunity to stop her. He pointed out that most men and mer weren't anything like brave enough to risk it, and if Uzgash had the right reputation....

He himself wouldn't have been that brave, if he hadn't known that others had survived to want a repeat. Uzgash looked at him with a new respect. "How do I develop this skill?" she asked him. He paled at the thought of trying to teach her. Fortunately he didn't have to, she just had to know how to talk about it as if she did. Even if Uzgash was intending to put on a public show, it didn't have to include that.

"I wasn't considering going that far" she admitted. "You can fondle me in public, but anything more is going to happen where we can be heard, but not seen." That would be a room at the tavern, of course. The walls were thick, but there were enough gaps between the logs to let the noise escape. And anyone on the floor below would have a good idea what was going on.

Uzgash wanted to know more about how she'd get her scary reputation established. That was where Meija was important. As long as she didn't have any hang-ups about doing it, he could let her know Uzgash liked doing it too. "You're devious," she told him. "I like that in a spy."