Black Queen's Gambit - Part 5

Their next destination was Lakeside Camp near the road out of Chorrol, only a couple of hours away. They'd be able to bathe there, and If they got there early enough, they'd have time to try fishing for their supper, too. This was only a short journey, but there weren't any other campsites in Chorrol County, so their options were limited. Clark had already guessed where they'd head after that, as Bruma County was equally sparse.

It made sense that they'd be going north of the Imperial City. Although there were more campsites for a southern route, they'd have to cross the Niben somewhere. Morgiah would expect the bridges to be watched. That could also be an issue with the few trails through the mountains, but that was a much less hospitable area to lie in wait.

And some of that was patrolled by the Mountain Riders. He wasn't sure if their routes had changed, but Unna had been on the Lipsand Tarn to Hermaeus Mora Shrine stretch, and Claudia from there to the trail into Bruma. They'd likely see Pala between Dragon Claw Rock and the campsite, part of which was right on the trail. Then the next day's journey would probably see Svana and Ystrel, if they were headed for the Morrowind border where he expected. Most of the trip would be safe from whatever Morgiah feared.

That was assuming they didn't go through part of Skyrim. He didn't think that was probable, as Falkreath lay at the only border crossing, and they wanted to avoid towns. He didn't know much of Skyrim either, and he'd been told he'd be with them until the Morrowind border. So that meant going north-east of Cheydinhal somewhere.

But he was thinking too far ahead. It wasn't too far to Chorrol, and he needed to steer a little further North to avoid going too close to Pillaged Mine. They didn't want to get involved with any goblins.

So in avoiding the goblins, they met a troll instead. He and Rinnala readied their shields to block the beast's attack, while Morgiah began building up for a fireball. It seemed to hesitate for a moment, trying to decide which one of them it should charge first, when the fireball struck.

"Morgiah must have trained with the same teacher as Delphine Jend," Clark though to himself, as the troll's body flew through the air to land somewhere in the woods. "I'm just glad it didn't get close, or we'd have all been caught in that blast!" Rinnala must have been thinking something similar, because the look she gave her mother spoke volumes.

That was their only adversary, and the campsite was empty when they arrived. It wasn't far from Chorrol, and he doubted it got used much. Most honest people would get a room in town, and anyone who didn't dare show their face there would camp further away, or hide in a cave or mine. He asked Morgiah if she wouldn't prefer one of those options, but she didn't want to get trapped in a place with only one or two exits. Campsites out in the open were much safer, even here near the city. And he already knew there weren't any others they could reach before dark.

There was a small boat tied up at one end of the little lake. Since you could walk all round the edge in a few minutes, it obviously wasn't for getting to the other side. That meant there could well be fish to catch. They looked around the campsite for rods, or hooks, but found nothing.

"We'll have to use the Argonian method," Morgiah announced.

Clark looked puzzled until Rinnala explained. "Go down there and join them. If you don't have claws, a touch paralysis spell will catch a fish just as well as a hook. You just have to patient and let them come close to you."

"Well you can go do that, while I try to find a pan to cook it in," he replied. "I don't know that spell, and I only just learned to breathe underwater the other day."

He didn't find a pan, but there were a few plates, and one of them was metal. He hoped it would stand up to being used as a makeshift skillet. It didn't have to. Rinnala had found the cooking equipment in a chest on the bottom of the lake. Why it was there was a mystery, it didn't look worth stealing.

"My guess would be that whoever set up this camp didn't want to make it too hospitable, or he'd be run off by bandits. Probably an Argonian, if he hid the stuff under the water." Morgiah's idea seemed to make sense, except for one thing.

"But why would an Argonian need a boat?"

Rinnala's hasty retreat from the water gave them the answer. "There are Slaughterfish in there!"

"Then you won't have any problems persuading them to come to you," Morgiah gave Rinnala an evil grin and sent her back in. "Just look tasty."

"I wasn't scared of them, I was just startled to see any in a lake that small," she explained while they ate the creature that had tried to eat her. "I don't understand how they find enough to eat."

"Maybe the boat-owner feeds them," he suggested. "There's not many places around here you could catch one, so they'd fetch a decent price. And the scales are valuable to alchemists, so he could have been trading those too."

Morgiah wondered what they'd been fed on. "You didn't see any skeletons down there, did you?" she asked her daughter."It would be the perfect way to dispose of people who you need to disappear."

"No, and I'm not going back to look."

The day was only half over, but they weren't travelling any further until the next morning. That left them with nothing to do but read a book, or sunbathe on the shore of the lake. Clark tried to do the former, but with both women lying naked in the sun, he was finding it hard to concentrate on the story.

He decided to join them. Maybe if he were to lie down over there, then Morgiah would block his view of Rinnala, and he'd only have half the problem. And he wanted to talk to Morgiah about Mannimarco and the necromancers. He'd have enough time for that today.

Tomorrow they'd be passing near Echo Cave, where the Champion had fought Mannimarco. It would likely be an area where they could expect to run into necromancers, and any influence she still had with them would be worth knowing about. That gave hm the perfect excuse for bringing up the subject.

Morgiah was surprised to hear that Mannimarco had returned to Nirn. She hadn't been in Wayrest at the time of the Numidium event; she'd been on her way to Firsthold, but she had heard that Mannimarco had got his wish of becoming a god. Wasn't there something called the Necromancer's Moon to prove it?

At the time she'd dealt with him, he'd already been a Lich. He'd achieved a limited immortality, in that age and disease couldn't touch him, but he was still vulnerable to violence. Surrounding himself with trusted people helped that, but most of them were mortal, and needed replacing after a time. He'd also had to give something up to become a Lich, and putting aside the frailties of the flesh took away some of the pleasures, too.

Her problem with approaching King Karoodil was the opportunity he needed. Morgiah couldn't remember who'd contacted whom, but Mannimarco had agreed to help Karoodil speak with his dead son, if Morgiah would let him share her mind on her first night with her new husband.

Morgiah had experienced a lot of different things when it came to sex, but having someone else in her mind sounded like it might be creepy enough to spoil her fun. And, "Mine, not his?" she'd asked. She assumed that Mannimarco would be missing that side of the dance.

"Oh, I already know what it's like to sleep with you," he'd chuckled, in that disturbing way that only Liches can. "I leave it to you to guess which of your lovers had my help. ... Or how many."

She looked at Clark in a strange way. "You're experienced beyond your apparent years," she told him. "It almost makes me wonder if you haven't got an ancient Lich riding along with you."

Clark was used to Taminwe messing with his mind with off-the-wall comments like that, but that one was different. It left him more than a little uneasy.

The Mannimarco that the Champion had described didn't fit her picture either. He wasn't a Lich at all, and just appeared to be a normal Altmer, albeit one of prodigious magical ability. Apparently when the Jills of Akatosh repaired the Warp in the West and reconciled the branches of time, they chose to revert Mannimarco to his mortal form. Or maybe that was only part of him. Something kept the Necromancer's Moon functioning, and that hadn't stopped when the mortal Mannimarco died. Clark decided that he'd never understand the metaphysical.

The physical, he could handle, and that appeared to be what Morgiah felt, too. Rinnala had found the book Clark had abandoned, and was reading it as she let the warm sun work on her back. He slipped quietly into the main tent with Morgiah.

She didn't mind discussing the Necromancers, as long as it didn't distract him too much from what she wanted. And she preferred to do so where Rinnala wasn't listening. They weren't a group she had any sympathy for, and she didn't want her daughter getting curious about them. They were, at the time, a tool to be used. She wanted Karoodil, and only Mannimarco offered a means.

The information she gave him merely confirmed what he already knew about them. It appeared that any influence she might have had was lost by now. She'd had little contact with any necromancers in Firsthold, and only a few mer were likely to still be around from those she'd met in Wayrest. The chance of any of them being in Cyrodiil was minimal.