Black Queen's Gambit - Part 8

"You really surprised me when you asked Rinnala to keep in touch with you," Morgiah told him as they travelled towards Walker Camp. "Most men are only too pleased to let a young woman go after they've had their fun. But then again, this was the first time I've known her to sleep with the same man she's already seduced once. Perhaps she'll learn something from that!"

"I don't think either of us would regret a rematch," Clark agreed. "But I doubt we'll get much chance for that. I want her to know she's made a friend, and not just a memory. And I really am curious about Morrowind. I've heard a lot of tales, but most were from before the Daedra came. The rest weren't much help, as they just went on about what had been lost, and told me nothing of what remains."

Morgiah, being Queen of Firsthold, tended to see everything from the political viewpoint, and undoubtedly there was the same bias in all communication she received from her brother, Helseth. "The deaths of Dagoth Ur, Sotha Sil and Almalexia would have been the bigger disruption, and the Daedra had nothing to do with that, as far as I know. My brother's decision to renounce the slave trade wasn't either."

"I'd heard that Ald'ruhn was destroyed, much the same as Kvatch was," Clark pointed out. "That was entirely the result of Dagon's invasion."

"And many are saying that they took Vivec from us," Morgiah conceded. "But that's as likely to have been the Nerevarine's doing. The power struggles after all that will be with us for years."

"These are turbulent times in the land of the Dunmer," Clark agreed, "but I have to see things from a larger perspective. The Guild of Prostitutes, who sent me on this trip, have interests in all the provinces, and they're getting worried about the same Altmers that have you concerned. There's a disruptive force in all of Tamriel that we can't pin down, and the more we find out, the better."

Morgiah's interests were more narrowly focused, but she agreed that keeping each other informed about those Altmer was useful to both of them. "How do Rinnala and I contact you once we part company at Walker Camp?"

"You can always reach me through the Red Dragon Club," he told her. "They never close, and there's always someone who can pass on a message to me. If we can get one of the signalling devices set up for you, it will be even easier."

"There's still a privacy issue about that method that concerns me. I can trust a courier, at least of my own, not to open a letter he carries. Whoever operates the signalling system sees the content they're sending."

"So use it yourself, it's not complicated."

"But how do I know it's you, and not a servant, at the other end?"

"Well, for the few times you need to be sure, just ask me a question to which nobody else knows the answer. Such as details of this trip."

Morgiah seemed satisfied with that idea. He wondered what she might want to tell him that needed that kind of security, but it was likely she was just being careful. Sometimes it paid to assume the worst that could happen.

Clark made a point of telling Rinnala the same, and let her know that her mother was agreeable. If Morgiah wanted to change her mind later, a bit of pressure from Rinnala might make a difference.

They were starting to come down below the tree line, and Morgiah was wary of what might be waiting for them among the trees. She cast a Detect life spell and saw a small cluster of life signs in the distance. "What's over there?" she asked, pointing.

Clark sighted along her outstretched arm. "The Azura Shrine is in that direction, and there are always a small group of worshippers there. It's up a side trail, and we can check again when we reach it. This trail goes around it, without ever getting any closer than this."

"We'll also be passing the Temple of the Ancestor Moths, and the Rugdumph Estate, later. They'll both be off the trail, and nobody should be aware that we're going by," he continued. "And we turn off to get to Walker Camp well before we reach Cheydinhal."

"What about that one? It seems to be on our path, and coming our way."

"It could be Svana, another of the Bear Riders. This is her patrol route, and we haven't passed her yet. Or it could be a wild animal. She's mentioned wolves, bears and even mountain lions in the area."

It was Svana, and she reported that the trail was clear ahead of them. At least to the Temple turn-off, she didn't patrol past there. "But then you're getting close to the Rugdumph Estate, and Ystrel's patrol starts just beyond that at the Ayleid ruin. It's not likely you'll run into anything."

The ruin was Fanacas, a little beyond Walker Camp, so they most likely wouldn't see Ystrel.

"Oh, yes you might," Svana corrected him. "The trail goes to both, so Ystrel has to pass near the camp to get there."

Ystrel was at the camp, chatting to the Camonna Tong. "Don't let me catch you with any skooma, and we won't have any issues," she was telling them. "My job is keeping the trails safe, not collecting duties. Do we have an understanding?"

"We're just the couriers, so half the time we have no idea what's in the crates we're moving across the border. It doesn't pay to be nosy, and look inside them, if you know what I mean."

"So if you don't know what you've got, it's most likely skooma?"

"Something like that. But we don't ask."

"They know what they've got this time," Morgiah announced as she strode into the camp. "And I'm sure Rinnala won't mind if they peek inside the wrappings."

Clark made the introductions, but it appeared that he wasn't getting names for the two from Morrowind. Ystrel was happy to see him again, but she didn't have any time to stop and ... be social ... now. Perhaps she'd see him at the Lodge? She made sure Clark knew when she'd be off-duty next.

Ystrel's bear was sniffing curiously at the two women. They looked a little alarmed at the huge creature's interest, but Ystrel was quick to calm their fears. "He's just deciding if he likes you. He did that to me the first time we met, and it was a week before he'd let me ride him. He'd trained with Nords, and hadn't got used to Dunmer. I had to eat like a Nord, and drink like a Nord before I smelt like one, and he'd accept me. Now he's used to me, it's a different story."

"The way Gudrun explains it, it was sleeping with a Nord that made the difference," Clark laughed.

"Can't just be that, or he'd never let me go out on patrol," Ystrel retorted. "He'd insist that I spend more time with Timo."

Rinnala continued to be amazed that Ystrel was prepared to spend as long as she did away from the Lodge. The two young Dunmer chatted a bit longer before Ystrel really couldn't stay, and mounted her bear again.

"I couldn't do her job," Rinnala said. Morgiah reminded her that she had a different destiny at court.

"She probably couldn't stand being stuck inside a palace all day. And entertaining boring old dignitaries from other provinces, and all the other things you'll be doing."

"It's not that appealing to me either, but I know I can do it if I have to. I'm glad I've had this trip to get away from all that, and I hope you'll let me see a bit of Morrowind too."

"That will have to wait until we know the situation at Mournhold. It will be safer than the Summerset Isle, or we wouldn't have left, but how much, I don't yet know."

"You'll let me know, too, won't you?" asked Clark. "I'd like to keep in contact with Rinnala."

"We'll keep in touch," Morgiah assured him. "Send me one of those things you mentioned, as soon as you can."

Clark took the hint that she didn't want the Camonna Tong to know about those, at least until she understood what advantage they gave her. He nodded, and reluctantly left the camp to head into Cheydinhal.