Part 32 - Pinewatch

"This isn't a bad location," Clark was thinking. "Decent view of the lake, protected from the wind by the rocks to the east, and far enough off the roads either side for some privacy. There's enough level ground for quite a large building, too."

He wandered around a little, and found several ore veins, and clay deposits, nearby. Those would be useful, as they'd provide quite a bit of the building materials a house would take. There were quite a few mature trees that someone had already started logging. That could have been Gerdur in Riverwood, or maybe Hert at Half-moon Mill. He'd have to go to one of the mills to get lumber sawn anyway, and they hauled it as part of the price.

He heard Gilda calling him. She was waiting outside the door of Pinewatch, beckoning him over.

"The item's not in the cottage, and I found a secret opening behind some shelves in the basement. It looks like there's a whole set of caves leading off beneath the hills. And I found a note that suggests a gang of bandits is based here. That makes a lot more sense of why the Guild sent me."

"I take it you'd like some assistance?"

"If only to carry out the loot," she replied. "Who knows what else they have stashed down there."

"Do we go and get the housecarls from Whiterun, and do it tomorrow in force?" he suggested.

"No, I left a dead bandit in the basement. If we don't do it now, they'll be expecting us."

Gilda stepped out of the tunnel onto a platform overlooking a large cave. "It's like a warehouse! This cave alone must be twice the size of the house above."

Certainly there was a resemblance. Shelves held crates and barrels on two distinct levels. A walkway wound around to give access to the upper level, and it seemed to lead off to another cave beyond. Someone was coming from that direction, and he'd probably spot them soon.

When he did, he had no option but to approach along the walkway, and fell to Gilda and Clark's ranged spells before he could use his warhammer. But the archer who emerged behind him didn't have that problem.

Clark pulled an arrow from his arm and cast a healing spell, as Gilda finished off the archer.

"I should have cast my armour quicker, but I didn't think I'd need it right away. I won't repeat that mistake."

"Then cast now, because I think I hear another one."

Clark did, and followed with a ward. The bandit wasn't carrying a weapon, and that usually meant mage. Her frost spell bounced harmlessly off, and Gilda was on her before she could change tactics.

They surprised a trio of bandits around a table in the next cave. Clark sent in a fireball before they could get up, and that made up for their lack of numbers. One of them was already dead in his chair, and the other two down to half their health before they started to fight.

Clark and Gilda paused to heal, and for Clark to get his magicka back. They might need that fireball again. Gilda took the opportunity to look around the cave for the silver mould. She didn't really expect to find it. They hadn't encountered the bandit chief yet, someone called Rigel Strong-Arm, according to the note Gilda had found in the house.

The next tunnel took them into what looked like part of a Nordic barrow. There were coffins around the walls, upright, in the ancient style, and the remains of draugr lying scattered on the floor. It appeared that the bandits had had some clearing of their own to do when they moved in.

One lone bandit was patrolling the area. He didn't put up much opposition. There were two ways out, and no clear choice between them. The first just led into a closed room. "But look what's here!" exclaimed Gilda. "Another of those gems."

There was quite a bit of other bandit loot, but no sign of the silver mould, or of Rigel.

They took the other exit, and soon found themselves entering the bandit gang's main sleeping area. Several of the beds were occupied, but they were all spread out along the wall, and Clark's fireball wasn't going to be very effective. They stopped at the entrance, and Clark put up a ward, while Gilda fired Ice Spikes at the sleeping bandits. With the slowing effect of the frost spell, the bandits could only reach them one at a time, and Clark and Gilda were able to use their swords to good effect.

"There's more coming from the next room"

Gilda responded to Clark's warning by firing Ice in that direction. The bandit slowed in the opening, effectively blocking it for those behind him. That gave Clark time to drink a potion and replenish his magicka. He raised his ward again, for another round of the same tactics.

Still no Rigel Strong-arm. She had to be farther in, probably guarding a chest with that silver mould in it. Gilda stopped Clark at the entrance to the next room. There were bone rattles hanging from the ceiling everywhere, and an area screened off at the far end.

"I'd bet anything Rigel's behind that screen, probably asleep," she whispered. "In which case, this is a stealth job."

Gilda crept silently across the room, easily avoiding all the rattles, and disappeared around the corner. She emerged a few minutes later and beckoned Clark over to sneak after her. "I just learned how to do this, and I've been itching to try it," she whispered when he arrived.

Gilda pointed at Rigel, naked on her bed. "I pickpocketed her armour, right off her back."

Rigel rolled onto her back, snoring loudly. "Now isn't that pretty?" Clark mused.

"How sure are we that she's the last one?" he asked Gilda.

"Fairly sure. There's only the one door out of here, and it's locked. With this key, which she had safely hidden in her armour."

Clark whispered in Gilda's ear, and she giggled. "Ooh, that's mean. Let's do it!"

Rigel's wrists and ankles were quickly tied to the bedposts. She struggled mightily, but she couldn't stop them. Clark reached into his backpack and pulled out Madesi's Dwemer-powered dildo.

"We're not going to hurt you, Rigel. Quite the opposite."

"I think she just passed out. She took more than I thought she could."

Clark watched her breasts rise and fall. She was breathing well, so they hadn't killed her. Gilda untied her wrists and ankles and he healed them, where the leather strips had dug in as she struggled.

"I think it's safe to leave her like this. She won't have any stamina left."

Clark remained on the edge of the bed watching the unconscious Rigel.

"Are you finished with staring at her boobs, or do I have to get mine out to lure you away?"

"That won't be necessary, but if you feel like it..."

Gilda pulled him to his feet, and pushed him through the door behind her.

"Careful, you almost pushed me into a trap."

There was a plate on the floor that obviously triggered something. Clark backed up and looked around. "Up there, that beam's set to swing down when it's released. I should be able to set it off without getting hit. There!"

The beam dropped, and swung past him. "Now let's move, before the trap resets."

There were two more traps on the way to Rigel's treasure cache. A dart trap, rigged to another plate on the floor, and a mace trap behind the last door. None of them a problem, because they were expected. A further pressure plate was in front of an altar, but they just went around the other side. The altar was covered in gold coins, gems, ingots, ores, and the silver mould Gilda had been looking for. There were a couple of candlesticks, that looked like they'd been made from the mould, too. Clark piled it all into their backpacks, and hefted one.

"This is about all I can carry. Can you manage yours? I know you have Rigel's armour already."

"No problem," Gilda replied. "The Guild armor fortifies my carrying ability. I don't wear it only to make me look good."

There was a barred door beyond the altar, but the bar was on this side. It led out onto the walkway in the first part of the cave, near the tunnel where they'd come in. They followed it back up to the basement.

Clark dragged the body of the bandit Gilda had killed into the tunnel and pushed the button that closed the secret door. He briefly considered destroying the mechanism, and sealing the place off, but they'd left Rigel alive down there. She'd need to get out, eventually.

They sold the armour, and most of the heavier valuables, in Falkreath. Clark found that he had enough gold with him to purchase the plot of land he'd just looked at.

Since he didn't have to deal with Siddgeir for that, just the steward Nenya, he dropped into the Longhouse and made the transaction. A shapely Redguard woman in steel armour and an Alik'r headscarf approached him as he opened the door to leave. "I'm Rayya, your housecarl. The Jarl has decided to make you Thane of Falkreath, now that you own property in his hold. Please come with me, so he can do the formalities."

So he had to meet with Siddgeir after all. The man was as slimy as ever, and told him that he'd have all sorts of interesting work available for Clark now he was Thane. Clark imagined that none of it would be honest.

Clark had to tell Rayya that he didn't actually have a house yet, just a piece of land to build one. "That's no problem," she replied. "Nenya will have had supplies sent to the site, enough to put up the beginnings of your home. I can help you make a start."

"You do that, and I'll go ahead to Markarth," Gilda told him. "You can meet me there when you have Rayya settled in."