Black Queen's Gambit - Part 6

They continued around the outskirts of Chorrol, taking care stay in the shadows of the trees. When they reached the trail leading north towards Cloud Top, they followed it for a while, before branching off east. At the first small bridge, Morgiah stopped to survey the hills above them. This was a likely spot for an ambush, as any travellers would have only one way across the small ravine. She cast a Detect Life spell, which revealed nothing, and they continued across.

Although the trail was narrow, Morgiah didn't seem so concerned about following it. They could get off the cleared path if they had to, and the higher ground was an awkward place for an attacker to reach. "Once we get up above the tree line, there won't be anywhere for them to hide," she reasoned.

With the trail itself as guide, Clark could spend some time talking to Rinnala as they walked. Taminwe had told him a lot less about her, than about her mother.

He asked about her combat teacher, the Orc that he knew was Gortwog's son, but she believed was just a hired mercenary. He'd obviously taught her shortsword, and he'd seen her in action, so he knew how skilled she was. "What about other weapons?" he asked.

Lumog (not his real name) had given her lessons in all the weapons, from Dagger to Claymore in Blades, and Maces to Warhammers, and all sizes of Axe in Blunts. She'd trained with bucklers, tower shields, and everything in between. He'd seen that her speed was more of an advantage than the reach of a longer, but slower, weapon, and had steered her to shortword, which could both cut and stab quickly. She preferred a light shield, too, for the same reasons.

"And the bow?" Clark asked. "Did you learn any archery, or do you use spells at range?"

Rinnala grinned broadly. "I didn't have the concentration to be a good archer. If there was a man anywhere near me, I'd be watching him instead of the target."

Clark hadn't seen her use any ranged spells. Morgiah had already mentioned teaching her some, so he presumed she had at least a little natural ability with magic. "Armor? I'd assume Orcish wouldn't be your style."

"No, it's as light as possible for me. And you can enchant leather to make it as impenetrable as steel or glass, so what's the point of anything heavy? Besides, tight leather can almost be a weapon for a woman."

"But I did learn to use any type of armor I might find. Lumog told me, too, that training in the armor would teach me what its limitations were. That would help me exploit them when my opponent was wearing it. So I'm proficient in Heavy Armor, even if I don't use it."

"You must have spent a lot of time with him," Clark reasoned. "That's a lot of ground to cover."

"Well, my brother and I started quite young. Kids are always getting into fights, and my mother wanted to be sure we'd win! And when I got older, she had other reasons for keeping me out of trouble. She trusted Lumog enough to let him teach me other things."

"Was he your only teacher, then?"

"Oh, no. There were other tutors for the academic subjects. Mostly boring old Altmer that spent all their time lecturing me, or making me write essays. The Alchemy tutor was a woman, and she taught me to make a few potions that a woman would find useful, and a male tutor might not have known about. And I did pay attention in philosophy classes. My mother had told me that one attribute men like in a woman is depth."

Clark managed to keep a straight face, and asked about speechcraft. That would be essential around the court. Did she have a special tutor for that?

Morgiah had taken that responsibility herself. What she taught wasn't just etiquette, but all the things a young princess would need. How to flatter an older man with her attentions, how to act naiive and innocent, and the one that her mother had learned from Elysana - how to act dumb when you weren't.

She winked at him when she said that.

They were interrupted by the sound of a bear galloping along the trail towards them. Instead of the usual angry roar, though, they heard the delighted call of a Nord rider. Unna coaxed her bear to a halt, and leaped off to come and greet them. Rinnala was somewhat amazed at how little the Nord was wearing, and Clark had to explain about the bears' issues with armor, and frost shield, and everything.

"So Nords are resistant to Frost, like we're resistant to Fire." It made sense to her at last. "That makes them a good match to the requirements of the job. I suppose there aren't any Dunmer in the Mountain Riders."

Clark knew there was at least one, and there was a chance they'd meet Ystrel near the end of the trip. That would depend on where they intended to cross into Morrowind.

Morgiah had come over to them, and he introduced Unna. He didn't mention that his travelling companions were the Queen and Princess of Firsthold, but he did use their real names. Unna could be trusted, and besides, he'd forgotten if they'd ever decided on any false ones.

Unna told them that she'd met up with Claudia near the Hermaeus Mora Shrine, and she'd reported clearing a few bandits off her section of the trail. "Good, it usually takes a few days before any more come back. That means we might get through the mountains without any opposition." Clark was pleased with the news, even if the timing also meant he was less likely to see Claudia.

"You'll probably meet wolves, though. And without a bear of your own, you could find a wandering brown bear crossing your path. They know when Thor's coming, and steer clear of us." Unna was proud of her mount, and grateful for his help.

Unna remounted and headed off along the trail they'd come along. They could count on the next section being clear of any threat, if she'd done her job.

The statue at the Hermaeus Mora shrine was visible from the trail. It was a little higher up the mountainside, and the main path curved away from it, with a side-trail winding up to the shrine. "Do we go past the shrine, or the other way?" asked Morgiah. "I'm detecting three life signs up there, and I don't know if they're hostile or not."

Three was the right number for the usual worshippers. He'd met them when he and Claudia passed them on the way to Sky's Edge Cave and Falkreath. An odd bunch, but not what you'd call dangerous. And anyway, they weren't going that way today. "We take the lower path," he replied.

Now they were a little closer to the shrine, he could just hear the drunking singing of Norasa. She'd apparently got another bottle from Unna, and he could picture her dancing in her underwear while the men watched. No, not dangerous, although the way Norasa sang might attract wolves.

The next part of their journey took them across several small bridges. Morgiah was extra-alert when they crossed each one, but nothing disturbed their passage. They heard wolves in the distance at one point, but didn't see any.

Before long, the trail forked again. Clark knew that to the West was Sancre Tor, not somewhere he'd want to go, especially with people he wanted to protect. They needed to go East, towards Bruma. This was the end-point of Claudia's route, and they hadn't met her. That could mean she was heading for the Lodge for a break, or that she'd been off the trail when they passed. Clark was hoping it was the first, as she'd have gone ahead of them along this next part of the trail. It was a section that didn't have a regular rider assigned. Gudrun had talked about riding the spare bear, the one that had been Uzgash's, along this way. Clark didn't know if that happened or not, and it wasn't likely to be often.

They'd soon be passing near Echo Cave. If there were any Necromancers left in the area, that was where they'd be. After that, there were Legion foresters that kept things relatively safe, although he'd had to duck an arrow or two when there were deer to hunt. At least they weren't actually aiming at him.

They left the trail when they got close to Bruma itself. It would have taken them too close to the city, and Morgiah didn't want that. It meant skirting around the Ayleid ruin at Rielle, too.

As they crossed the road that lead north to Cloud Ruler Temple, it was late afternoon. They'd need to make better progress if they were going to make it to Two-Decker Camp before nightfall. They chose to pass the battlefield where the wreck of the Great Siege Engine still lay among the rubble of the Gates. It was an area that wild animals still seemed to avoid, even this long after the battle was over. Rinnala and Morgiah gazed in awe at the size of the Daedric war machine, but nobody wanted to stop for a closer look.

They met Pala at Dragon Claw Rock. She'd just cleared a pair of bandits out of the camp they were headed for. "Yes, I know you did most of the work," she said to her bear, who seemed to understand what she was saying to them. "And you'll get your reward as soon as we get to the Lodge." Pala was clearly on her way for her break, so he didn't hold her up any longer than necessary.

"Give my regards to Timo," he called after her, as she headed down the road.

"Who's Timo?" asked Rinnala.

Clark had to explain why the Mountain Riders needed recharging services. "They go that long without?" Rinnala was incredulous. "That's definitely not a job for a Dunmer."