Chapter 82: Rocky Road

Back in town, the day seemed brilliant with warm sunlight and full of promise, but we’re not long out of Rorikstead before the clouds start to roll in.   Serves us right for staying in town for so long — now we’ve not only lost a lot of time, but we’ve also missed the best of the weather.  As if to emphasize the point, a sudden gust of wind whips up around us, bringing with it the scent of rain.  I glance up at the sky and grimace.  Great, that’s all we need.  It’s a long way to Solitude, and the inn is well behind us.  If we end up having to pitch a tent out in the rain, I will not be a happy camper.

I’m ruminating on these gloomy thoughts when I spot a substantial and comfortable-looking farmhouse near the road, and I slow down for a closer look.   This place is easily comparable to the commodious farms of Rorikstead, and quite a bit better than most.  I notice someone outside chopping wood near the house, and on the spur of the moment, I guide my horse into the farmyard.  I’m hoping that I can speak to the owner, and see if Jenassa and I can make an arrangement to stay here overnight, in case the rain catches up to us and we’re forced to turn back.  At any rate, I figure it couldn’t hurt to ask.

If you’re stuck in farm country, at least find a nice farm in which to be stuck.

Jenassa seems somewhat dubious about this plan, but she agrees to wait by the road while I approach the farmer and his wife.   Fortunately both of them seem like the friendly sort, and since the farmer is still busy chopping wood, I start up a pleasant conversation with his wife seated on a nearby bench.   Everything seems to be going well, and I’m mentally patting myself on the back for thinking of a reasonably good backup plan — when suddenly our talk is interrupted by a distinctive thwack.  Startled, I turn to see an arrow buried deep in a timber of the farmhouse, just above the head of the now-panicking farmer.

Let me guess.  I bet by “someone”, you mean “me”.

As the farmer and his wife make a dash for the house, a bandit, with a surprising level of dexterity, vaults the stone wall surrounding the farm and charges straight toward us.  I ready my bow, but Jenassa whips out her blades and sprints forward to engage the enemy.  Their weapons clash with a sound like a bucket of knives dropped on an anvil.  I’m just lining up a good shot on the invader currently trampling through the crops, when another arrow whizzes right past my ear.  Glancing up, I spot another bandit firing from a high outcropping of rock across the road — and several more racing in to join the party.

Nice of the bandits to provide some fresh mulch.

Shifting my aim, I line up a shot on the sniper perched on the cliff, and manage to take him out of the fight — and out of the land of the living.  Now that he’s no longer providing cover for his bandit buddies, Jenassa goes into high gear, cutting a swath through the remaining outlaws like a bladed cyclone.  I back up — way back — to give her all the room she needs.  Sometimes, maintaining a successful marriage means you have to give your partner some space and be as supportive as possible.

Love how she’s got them all neatly lined up for maximum slicing.

Pretty soon there are no more bandits in the farmyard, or at least none alive and willing to join the suicide pact.  We look around to assess how much damage was done to the farmer’s property, and for once there seems to be a surprising lack of destruction.  Other than a couple of dead chickens and a few trampled vegetables, everything seems to be in relatively good shape.  Well, except for the dead bodies littering the fields, but I’m told blood and bones make great fertilizer.

This chicken is clearly channeling its past self as a raptor.

Now that the excitement is over, I politely knock on the door of the farmhouse to let them know it’s safe to come out.  But everything remains quiet, and the door stays locked.  At first I’m irritated — after all that, not even a lousy thank you? — but then as we return to the horses and head back on the road, I start to consider the situation from the couple’s point of view.

Perhaps it’s not too surprising that the farmers didn’t answer the door, given that the bandits arrived right after we did.   They weren’t around to watch the fighting as they were too busy running for their lives, and for all they know, Jenassa and I were part of the invasion all along.   To their way of thinking, we might have been sent as scouts for the bandits to see if the farm was an easy mark.

I’m distracted by these thoughts when we come to a fork in the road.  But it’s not the road itself which attracts my attention.  It’s the cart in the middle of the road containing a large chest — not to mention the dead guy face down in front of it.

Looks like some kind of hit-and-run. We’d better detain the chest for questioning.

At first glance, the dead guy seems like he might’ve been a part of that bandit gang back at the farm — same slovenly look, same dirt-encrusted armour, same really bad smell.   As I dismount to take a better look at the body, the wind whips up afresh, renewing the scent of rain and tossing the long grass around us like waves on the sea.  Wincing, I look up at the heavy clouds piling up overhead.  I really don’t want to find out if wet bandits smell even worse.

I’m sure the chest is hiding something.  We’ll have to do a thorough search to get to the bottom of this.

As I’m looting the chest, my wife bends down to examine the body — and almost immediately straightens up again with an alarmed look on her face.  I’m about to ask her what’s wrong, when we both hear a soft rustling in the grass nearby.  I’m instantly on the alert.   That sure didn’t sound like the wind.

Jenassa, slowly reaching for her bow, motions for me to forget the chest, retrieve our mounts, and retrace our steps.  I nod as I gradually back up toward where the horses are standing, and once there, I reach for the reins.  At that moment, with a loud whinny of fright, both horses turn and run as my hand clasps nothing but empty air — just as a deadly shape with a lot of teeth explodes from the grass.

NICE KITTY!  NICE KITTY!  BAD KITTY!

The sabre cat, in its eagerness to reach us, knocks another dead body out from the long grass onto the road.  Apparently it was using the corpse as a chew toy — which is about as disturbing as it sounds.  Jenassa manages to fire off a couple of shots before the beast bears down on us, but this doesn’t slow it down at all.    Stumbling backward, we barely have time to scramble for our blades as the cat closes the distance in a matter of seconds.

Sorry, kitty — playtime’s over!

The beast puts up a good fight, but we manage to pin it against a boulder, and it soon loses the battle to our combined assault.  Once the savage cat is dispatched, I return Dawnbreaker to its sheath and turn back toward the road — but apparently I was a little too quick to put away my weapon.  It seems this animal was not traveling alone.

Apparently these corpses were stuffed with catnip.

Fortunately, the carnivore seems to be more interested in eating the dead bandit than us, which is probably why it didn’t attack us when our backs were turned.  But now that we’ve turned in the cat’s direction, it crouches over the corpse defensively, assuming that we intend to steal its prey.  Normally I’d be all for avoiding the big scary beast, but it’s put itself directly in our path.  Because of course it has.

Trying not to make any sudden moves, I slowly reach for my bow.  The intelligent animal realizes I’m up to no good, and it prepares itself to attack.

It must be getting hot out here, because now I’m suddenly damp with sweat.  I take a single deep breath,  swallow, and barely manage to fire off a single shot just before it pounces.

The next few moments are a terrifying blur.  As my arrow pierces the sabre cat’s side, Jenassa charges forward and deflects the predator, knocking it away from me and off into the grass.  The outraged feline hits the ground hard, snarls deep in its throat, and flips over on its back to display a thicket of razor-sharp claws that easily rival our blades.  My wife backpedals, barely avoiding disembowelment as I approach with my bow raised.  I waste no time in peppering the beast with arrows, aiming directly at its chest and soft underbelly.  Taken by surprise, the cat tries to scramble to its feet, falters, and gives up the ghost right there in the grass.

One hungry sabre cat is bad enough.  Two cats are way too close for comfort.

As we’re putting away our weapons and looking around for our horses, a deep rumble rolls heavily across the sky.  Curtains of rain appear in the distance, shrouding the mountains to the northwest, and the wind is driving it toward us at a rapid pace.  Great, now we have to find somewhere to camp — and fast.

Jenassa spots the horses some distance away near a waterfall.  It’s the first sign of fresh water we’ve seen since leaving Rorikstead, so instead of calling the horses to us, we go to meet them instead.

Fortunately the waterfall feeds a shallow stream from which our horses have been drinking, and on the opposite bank is a relatively level patch of ground.  The ground is a lot stonier than I’d like, but there’s no time to be finicky.  With the thunder closing in and the wind starting to rise in earnest, we just manage to start  a campfire and pitch a tent before the storm finally breaks.

It’s a decent emergency campsite.  Thanks, horses!

But like everything else today, even this is not without its downside.  In our haste to get ourselves under shelter, we end up using the wrong tent for the weather.  As the storm overhead starts drenching the landscape, the fur tent gets absolutely soaked, and soon the steady drip-drip-drip from several leaks can be heard over the wind and rain outside.

Jenassa and I scramble to grab some empty containers from our packs, and we manage to contain the leaks before our sleeping furs get overly wet.  But even though the fire keeps us warm, our spirits, like everything else, are dampened.  Since we obviously aren’t going anywhere for awhile, we figure we might as well eat our lunch a bit early.

After our unappetizing and tepid meal, Jenassa decides she might as well take a nap.  Since I’m not very tired, I volunteer to keep watch and let her know when the weather starts to clear.  As she turns over and closes her eyes, I peer out at the endless grey curtains of rain with a sigh.

It’s not that I mind keeping a weather eye on things, but this is really a bit much.

They say when it rains, it pours.  I just didn’t expect it to be so literal.

 

Travel Map 53.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Chapter 82: Rocky Road

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s