Part 12 - Road to Riften

They returned to Whiterun to drop Lydia off, and Gilda and Clark headed towards Riften.

Clark hadn't heard from his daughter, Karliah, in ages, and he was beginning to get worried about her. She'd followed in her mother's footsteps, as one of Nocturnal's Nightingales, and the last he'd heard was heavily involved with one of the others, an Imperial called Gallus Desidenius. The third Nightingale was Mercer Frey, the current head of the Thieves Guild, which had its headquarters in Riften.

Gilda had shown promise with her stealth, and the two places you went to train that further were the Thieves Guild or the Dark Brotherhood. It wasn't a difficult choice between those. And if Gilda was going to become a successful merchant, she needed to know how thieves operate. If she did well, she might get some level of immunity, too.

The other attraction was the uniform. She knew she looked good in tight leather, and theirs would make the most of her assets. For the journey, however, she was wearing a merchant's dress, and looking just like the apprentice she was.

Their wagon was stopped by a bandit demanding a toll, outside Valtheim Towers. Clark got down from the wagon, and put himself between the bandit and the horse, while he argued with her. Gilda could see another bandit out on the bridge, so she moved the wagon into the shadow of the tower where it would be safe from archers.

The one on the ground saw her do it, and broke off her conversation with Clark to draw an axe. Clark sent a lightning bolt through her at close range, then cast his Ebonyflesh spell in case any more bandits came down. An arrow flew past him, fired from the top of the tower.

Gilda and Clark rushed into the base of the tower and ran up the stairs. "If we meet more archers, stay behind my ward, and use that Ice Spike to shoot back," Clark instructed.

They met another axe-wielder first, coming down the stairs. Clark blocked and Gilda thrust past him with her sword, before the man could react. One more down. Clark peeked through the window slit and saw an archer waiting on the bridge, with his bow half-drawn, and aiming at the door. He cast a strong ward and stepped through the door, with Gilda firing Ice Spikes past him. The archer went over the side of the bridge, but not before Clark had taken an arrow. They retreated into the tower as Clark removed it and healed the wound.

"We'd better clear this tower first, or we'll just get shot in the back trying to get over the bridge," he reasoned. "Didn't you say there was another archer at the top of this one?"

Gilda nodded and was first up the stairs towards the top. She was sneaking up, hoping to catch the archer unaware, as she usually preferred. She found him peering over the edge, wondering when they'd come out onto the bridge. She struck silently with her dagger. If he hadn't already been dead, the fall would have killed him.

Sneaking up.

When they got back to the bridge level, two more were coming across looking for them. Neither carried bows, and the bridge was too narrow for them to dodge Gilda's Ice Spikes. But her magicka reserves ran out just as the lead one dropped. The other stepped over his body triumphantly, and ran towards her. Clark pulled her back into the tower where they could both engage the man with their swords. Lydia had taught her well, and as she dodged back, Clark struck the man's side. When he tried to retaliate, Clark stepped back, and the bandit's swing missed him. Gilda stepped forward and thrust her sword at his flank. He flailed at the two of them alternately, each time getting hit by the other.

"That's the way to do it," Clark smiled over the corpse. "If you find yourself in the opposite situation, just keep going after the same one, and don't let him recover. Especially if you have a shield facing the other one."

"I'm putting on some of their armour before we cross to the other tower," Gilda responded. "Close tactics are one thing, but they'll have the same advantage I just did while we're on the bridge."

"Except that you'll have your magicka back, and will be able to return fire." Clark handed her a restorative potion. "In case you run out again, drink this. Oh, and since they'll have room to dodge, use the lightning instead of the ice. It's faster, even if it doesn't hit so hard."

Clark went first, running across the bridge. He couldn't zig-zag, but he varied his speed so the archers couldn't predict where he'd be so easily. Gilda noted that, and copied when she followed, at one point stopping completely to make the archer try to duck a bolt of shock. She was pleasantly surprised when he failed to do so, and staggered back from the parapet. She didn't think she'd killed him, but he wouldn't have much left.

She found Clark just inside in a mages' duel. Both parties had their wards up, and spells weren't getting through. Gilda stepped around and used her sword instead. Scratch one mage.

She let Clark know about the archer at the top of the tower. "Better go up there next before he can heal."

They had to go out onto the ramp, and came under fire from someone on the rocks. But the ramp circled around the back of the tower and they were quickly out of reach of the arrows. The archer at the top got off his knees as they appeared, and drew a dagger. It didn't help him, as Gilda gave him another dose of shock before he got close.

"Just the one on the rocks?" Gilda asked. Clark hadn't seen any more than one, but he'd been more interested in getting behind the tower than in counting. He peeked over the edge of the parapet, and saw the archer still watching the ramp. "He knows we have to come down."

Gilda drank Clark's potion and cast a lightning bolt with both hands. "Now he can stop waiting."

The bandits didn't have a lot of gold stashed in the various chests around the towers. Presumably the tolls hadn't been making them much. A few restorative potions, and discarded weapons were the only other things they found. Since they had a wagon, they collected all the bandits' armour and weapons. Usually they'd be too heavy to be worth taking, but this time was different.

"Are there any more places like this between here and Riften?" Gilda asked. "If there are, I'll stay in armour."

"No, not until we reach Fort Greenwall, just before Riften. And I want to stop at Darkwater Crossing tonight. There's a small mining village there, and they welcome traders. We'll trade at Shor's Stone tomorrow as well, but that's not far from Riften, so we'll not need to stay the night there."

They reached Darkwater Crossing without further incident, unless you count wolves. They were always a nuisance, wherever you went in Skyrim, but not a real threat to a competent traveller. Gilda thought she heard a bear, too, but it didn't come onto the road, and they didn't stop to look for it.

After trading with the miners, mainly food and trinkets for ores and ingots, they put the boards across the wagon to make their bed for the night. "Before we turn in, come this way," Clark told Gilda, and led her north past the smelter.

Clark led her down a slight slope to a pool. "Feel the water," he said.

"Ooh! It's warm! I wasn't expecting that."

Soaking at Darkwater Crossing.

"The water here bubbles up out of the ground hot, not far from here, and the pools around the edge are just right for soaking in. You don't want to stay in too long, as there's a lot of dissolved minerals that will start to make your skin itch. But it's just the thing for a dip before bedtime."

They luxuriated in the warm waters for a while, floating easily on their backs. It seemed that the heavy mineral concentration in the water buoyed them up more than usual.

Clark wasn't sure, but he thought he saw a dragon fly over, heading toward the Throat of the World. There were rumbling sounds coming from that direction, too. Perhaps the Greybeards were practising their Shouts.

They were just climbing out and towelling off when Annekke and Verner walked down the slope. "Oh, it's you two," Annekke said. "If it was the other miners, I'd be worried that the water would be dirty. They'll all probably be here in a minute."

The two Nords stripped off and took Clark and Gilda's places in the pool.

"Mining must be good exercise," Gilda remarked, as she and Clark climbed into the back of the wagon and pulled the furs over themselves. "Verner's in excellent shape. And I know you were peeking at Annekke."

"We'll probably meet their daughter tomorrow in Shor's Stone. She's a miner there."

"Really? They have a grown daughter? I didn't think they were that old."

"Let's just say that Annekke may have been a bit adventurous when she was young, and wasn't very old when she had Sylgja. She'd still be happier as an adventurer than a miner, but when she found this place, it was too good an opportunity to miss. With Verner's family being mining folk, and Sylgja on the way, they settled. Since her daughter grew up and moved out, though, she's getting restless again."

Verner and Annekke gave them a letter to take to Sylgja, since they were going that way. "And ask her why she hasn't been to visit," Annekke added. "She's probably found herself a man, and forgotten her parents."

Gilda would have liked to forget hers, but she said nothing.