Black Queen's Gambit - Part 3

The following morning, they crossed the road leading to Lord Drad's estate and headed towards Arkay's wayshrine. He and Rinnala both took advantage of the blessing of health, causing Morgiah to remark on how exhausting the previous night's activities must have been.

It was hard to miss the sight of Kvatch's ruined walls on the hill. Although the Oblivion Gates were gone, the place where the great siege engine had breached the wall was still visible, even from this distance. Clark asked them if there had been Oblivion Gates in their part of the Summerset Isle.

"There was one that opened not far outside the city of Firsthold," replied Morgiah. "But all that happened were a few Daedra wandered out and looked around for a while. I instructed the local militia to watch and wait, and not take any action until the Daedra got close enough to be a direct danger to anyone. It seemed that they were waiting for a signal from somewhere, perhaps intending to attack all the cities at once. Anyway, the Gate disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived. I later learned that all the Gates went together, just after the Crystal Tower fell."

She didn't mention those Thalmor that Lathenil had told him about. If they had indeed claimed responsibility for closing the Gates, it hadn't been reported in Firsthold.

He told her that the same had happened in Cyrodiil; all the Gates had closed at once, after Mehrunes Dagon and Akatosh fought their battle-by-avatar in the Temple of the One. And he asked her about the Mythic Dawn. Again, they appeared to be unknown in Firsthold. By then Kvatch was dwindling on the horizon.

They carried on past Bodean Camp, which was deserted. That was a good omen, he hoped. If all the campsites were empty, they'd be in a better mood for talking, than if they had to fight for them.

He steered them clear of the Forts, and the Ayleid ruins, but those were easy to see. Both had been built where they had commanding views of the countryside, and that worked both ways. He was more careful in avoiding Shattered Mine. The last report he'd had placed bandits there, but mines were always popular with goblins, and you often didn't see the entrances until you were right on top of them.

Fort Linchal got an especially wide berth. He'd heard about that place from Virgilia. It was where the Necromancers had taken her friend, Randonil. The Champion had helped to rescue him, and he was now the chapter head for the Mages Guild in Anvil. Clark had heard a few more Necromancer stories from him, too. He didn't mention Necromancers to Morgiah yet, that was a topic that needed more time, and they needed to get to Brotch camp first.

The shadows were getting longer as they approached Brotch Camp. Nothing significant had troubled their journey so far. A few wolves had seen them, but they were dispatched by fireballs before they even got close. A boar that they flushed from a bush around lunchtime had provided their lunch, as well as a bit of shortsword practice for Rinnala.

There was a plume of smoke drifting up from a campfire, so his hope that it would be empty proved false. The question was, how many bandits were in residence, and what sort of opposition would they present?

Clark had learned the benefit of spell reflection and absorption from his run-in with the Dibella cult, so he was wearing the same outfit today. He also had a sturdy shield, in case they were using regular weapons. Morgiah was completely unarmored, but he knew she would use spells for defense. Rinnala paired her shortsword with a buckler, favoring speed over anything else. He'd seen her in action against the boar, and thought he detected a shield enchantment, so he wasn't too concerned about her. They should be good against anything but archers.

Luckily, the pair of Khajiiti were armed with blunts. The female had a heavy warhammer, and the male an axe and shield. Rinnala picked the female and pointed him to the male. Morgiah would hold off and use ranged spells. They had the advantage of numbers, which should be more than enough to balance the armor advantage of their opponents.

His own blade skill was not that great, but when he went out with the sisters he'd done well enough by blocking his opponent until one of them could assist. His blocking skill had advanced much more than any offensive one. He hoped that tactic would work with these two, as well.

He edged around the Khajiit, trying to put him between himself and Morgiah, so that she'd get a clear shot at his back. It would also put him further from Rinnala and her bandit, so the two battles would stay separate. The cat swung his axe, and Clark raised his shield at just the right time to deflect it. As the axe slid off his shield, he saw Morgiah hurl her first spell.

When he came to, he was aware of Morgiah's hand on his forehead. "Sorry I didn't warn you," she said contritely. "I used a spell with an area effect, and got both of you. The Khajiit got more of it, and it looked like some reflected from you onto him. Your head doesn't hurt, does it? That spell's supposed to knock you out, but I forget if it feels like it."

It didn't, although it hadn't been pleasant at the time, and she had at least dispelled it before it could have any after-effects.

The Khajjit, however, was still unconscious. He had taken most of the spell's effect. Rinnala had laid him out on a bedroll, taken off his cuirass, and was tying his wrists securely to tent-stakes.

"What about the female?" He asked.

"Dead," Morgiah responded. "Rinnala didn't want to have to kill her, but she ran onto her sword. Those warhammers have a lot of momentum, and you can't help going with them."

He helped Rinnala pull the male's boots and greaves off, and they tied his ankles to another pair of stakes.

"I'm glad we could keep the male alive," said Morgiah. "There aren't a lot a of Khajiiti in the Summerset Isle, and certainly none around the court. Rinnala probably doesn't know about their peculiarities."

Rinnala was bit annoyed about being discussed in her presence as if she wasn't there. "What peculiarities?"

"Well, why don't you wake him up and ask him?" Morgiah could barely keep a straight face.

Rinnala used the same touch spell that Morgiah had used to bring him round. It took a few moments before his eyes could focus, and when he saw the three of them standing over him, his first reaction was to flee. But he was securely tied down, and couldn't move. After a short struggle, he saw that it was futile, and subsided.

"Why'd you keep this one alive?" he asked. "Even a Necromancer prefers a dead victim."

"Education," replied Morgiah. "My ... friend ... has something to learn, and I'm sure you'll learn from your failure today, too."

"So you're going to torture this one, are you?"

"Not exactly. Rinnala, would you take your shirt off, please? Show our prisoner what you have under there."

Rinnala looked puzzled, but she did as her mother asked.

"Nice pair, but there is no understanding," he grinned. "Where's the pain in looking at those?"

Clark was feeling mild discomfort, and had to adjust his clothing. The other presumably didn't find elves quite as arousing as he did, or maybe it was just fear. Either way, Morgiah instructed her daughter to strip off completely.

A fully nude woman had the effect Morgiah was expecting. As Rinnala watched, it became apparent to her what her mother had meant.

Rinnala knelt down and took a closer look. She reached out a finger and touched the barbs. Her gentle touch almost was the torture the poor Khajiit had feared. He moaned involuntarily and she snatched her hand back.

"That looks very uncomfortable," the young woman told her mother. "How do they ever persuade the females to mate with them?"

"Mostly, they don't." Clark told her all he knew about the Khajiiti. How the females were completely under the control of the moons' cycles, and all but oblivious when they mated. "They're even more driven to it than you are."

"It's not as bad as it looks, either," Morgiah joined in. "Your grandmother did it with a Khajiit called Therris, back when she was your age. She told me it was one of the most intense experiences she'd ever had. Mind you, Barenziah was an exceptional woman."

"Anyhow, you're in the driving seat here. You can do whatever you want, because he's not going anywhere for a while. Take all the time you need, and be sure to teach him something while you're at it. Meanwhile, there's another bedroll over there, and Clark has something I need to attend to."