Part 68 - Red Witch

Clark was looking forward to a few days of relaxation once Jordis left with Illdi. Unless, of course, Elisif needed him,or Gilda made another of her unannounced appearances. But the knock on his door was from someone else. First Mate Hélène had come ashore with an invitation for him to visit the Red Witch and meet Captain Clarisse.

The Redwave was docked in Solitude, and Clark had imagined from the names that the Red Witch would be a sister ship. He wasn't prepared to find a vessel more than twice the size looming out of the fog as the rowboat approached. Nor for it to be armed with catapults taken from Dwemer ruins, and mounted on the fore and after decks. Each of them looked capable of putting a hole in a ship's hull, and sending it to the bottom.

Clarisse was as impressive as her ship. Tall for a Breton, and dark-haired, with piercing blue eyes. Clark guessed that half her ancestry might be Nord, at least. She wore a blouse of fine silk and lace, that he couldn't quite see through, but it was apparent that she was wearing nothing beneath it. A short kilt hovered tantalisingly over tall leather boots, and a long red sleeveless tailcoat overall.

She took Clark to her large cabin aft, and dismissed the First Mate. "I can handle things from here," she told her.

"Erikur tells me you prefer wine to ale or mead," she continued, once the cabin door was closed. "I'd imagine an Imperial would favour Skingrad wines, but those are hard to find up here in the north. I hope you'll find the Illiac Bay wines a close second."

Clark tasted the clear golden liquid he was offered. Tamika's and the Surilie Brothers wineries generally made reds, and this was quite different. A little sweeter, and with a flowery overtone that brought a name from his memory. "Bretony, isn't it? I can't recall how long ago I tasted this, or even where I was at the time."

"Yes, but which side of the island?"

"They only grow the grapes on the south side, so it had better be from there."

"I thought that was Balfiera."

"It's both. And it's probably true for some of the other islands in the bay, not that the others produce much wine. You need a south-facing slope to grow decent grapes, and some protection from the wind helps, too. The mainland on the High Rock side of the bay produces more wine than the Hammerfell side, for the same reason. Once you go any further south, you're getting into the desert."

"We've only taken the Witch south to the Bay once. Most of the time we've sailed the northern coast of High Rock. But we did pick up some wine while we were there, direct from the islands."

"I presume your charter is from Farrun, as that was the pennant I saw you flying." Clark continued "Is that where the Red Witch comes from?"

"The ship's as much a mongrel as its crew," Clarisse responded. "She started life as a cargo vessel, and we think she used to work the West coast until the Aldmeri Dominion cut off the trade. Then she moved onto the northern routes, and we-refitted her with the current weapons, which came from the East Empire Company when they left Solstheim."

"That was some time ago," Clark noted. "They must have been used for another purpose in between."

"Farrun tried using them for shore protection, but they really needed more of them for that job. It made more sense to mount the few of them on a ship and make them mobile. But that takes a large ship, like the Red Witch. We made a deal with the port authorities, which included our charter."

"That was made possible by the re-opening of Raven Rock mine. Now there's trade with island again, the shipping routes are viable once more, and of course, there's a new crop of pirates. The East Empire Company used to handle all that, and of course the Morrowind routes, too, but the Red Mountain all but put their Windhelm operation out of business, so now there's nobody keeping those pirates in check."

"So why are you here, rather than Windhelm, if that's where the pirates are?"

"Because we're on more than the one commission. And we're open to more. We have the pirates to deal with where we find them, but we're also tracking some bounties, and even carrying some goods that need the extra protection. Erikur, here in Solitude, often has items he needs carried discreetly."

"I'm sure he wouldn't indulge in smuggling, so I'll assume you're just keeping things quiet from his competitors. Which would include me, so why are you telling me this?"

"To see if you make any counter-offer, of course. Whether it's for information, or similar services, it's all part of the game. And if you believe that Erikur wouldn't smuggle, then I've totally misjudged you."

"Erikur would never admit that the smuggling was his intent. There would be back-up documents to show that duties had been paid after all. Or it would be your fault, not his, that they hadn't."

"No, he wouldn't try to pin blame on me for anything," Clarisse replied confidently. "I know things that Erikur wouldn't like revealed."

"Are any of the bounties for Erikur?" Clark asked. "It would not surprise me if he's made himself unpopular in the other ports he trades with."

"Remarkably, no. But there are a few interesting ones among them. For example, we're hunting a pair of fugitives from Hammerfell, and one of them is hunting the other. Iman is a noble from one of the prominent families that live near the Alik'r Desert. She made the mistake of pointing out that the family feuds, which date back to the Crowns and Forebears of centuries past, are aiding the cause of the Aldmeri Dominion. Another family took that as an accusation that they were on the Thalmor's side, and promptly accused her of treason, in retaliation. When Kematu, (a sadistic bounty-hunter who likes to capture his female targets alive, so he can be nasty to them,) heard about it, he went looking for her. There's a bounty on him, too. We'll definitely want to collect that one if we can, but the one on Iman we might not. Especially if she offers anything for keeping quiet about her."

Clark had seen some of Kematu's men sniffing around Whiterun. One of them had got himself arrested, and was rotting in a Dragonreach dungeon. The rest of the Alik'r were now banned from entering the city. It was reasonable to assume that Iman would have taken advantage of that refuge, if she wasn't in Whiterun before the Alik'r arrived.

"She has quite a distinctive scar on her cheek that she got during her escape from Hammerfell. It won't be hard to recognise her when we find her," Clarisse added. "We know where Whiterun is, of course, but can you show me the best route to get there? I see from my map that there are forts on the roads, and I have no information which mught prove hostile."

Clarisse took off her coat and tricorn hat and hung them on the back of a chair. She led Clark over to a map table in the corner of the cabin, and took a roll of parchment from the shelf. She unrolled it across the table, and revealed a map of the north-east of Skyrim, with Whiterun in one corner, and Solitude near the opposite one.

"The forts are usually in the hands of one side or other in the Civil war," Clark explained, "but sometimes the battle to take it leaves the victorious side too weak to defend it from bandits. Possession tends to be transient, but last time I passed, this one was held by the Empire, so travelling from Solitude, you'd have no problems." He pointed to a location on the chart, and she leaned over to look.


Sailors know their knots, so it probably wasn't an accident when her blouse fell untied, and Clark was presented with an impressive display of Clarisse's assets. She started to tie it back up, but "changed her mind".

"You've seen them now, so what's the point. And they might help me persuade you to come with us to Whiterun. Since you know the place, and the people, it will make it easier to ferret out Iman, if you're there."

Clark was always amenable to being persuaded, and he'd already decided he'd want to be there, so he let Clarisse have her fun. She quickly realised that he was playing her along, but by that time, she didn't care.

She wasn't wearing anything beneath her skirt, he found out. And the high heels on her boots lifted her to a comfortable height for all sorts of interesting positions. "When you start out on a small ship that only has hammocks for the crew, you learn to adapt," she told him. "Don't try making love in a hammock."

Negotiating just when they'd make the trip continued for some time, and concluded in her bed. Clark needed to wait until Jordis was back at Proudspire, although Clarisse was eager to start out for Whiterun as soon as she could. They'd be accompanied by the first mate, and some of the crew. It wasn't clear to Clark if they'd be coming to keep Hélène occupied, or to help deal with Kematu's men. Maybe both, he decided.