Chapter 83: Early Warning

Normally, it would be a lovely relaxing experience to listen to the rain, intermingled with my wife’s breathing as she sleeps peacefully beside me.  But it’s a distinctly less pleasant affair when I’m wide awake, stuck in a leaky tent, and the rain shower is more like a thunderstorm.   Not to mention, it’s barely noon.  The possibility of being stranded here all day and into the night is not an inviting prospect.  Already I’m about to die of boredom, and desperately wishing someone in Skyrim had invented a pack of cards.

And while I’m on the subject, the books in Skyrim are way too short.

So it’s with a great deal of relief when I hear the incessant rain slow to a drizzle.  I peek outside to make sure I’m not having some kind of aural hallucination — but hallelujah!  It’s true!  The sky is looking brighter already!  Elated that we’re not going to be trapped in a dripping wet tent all day, I find myself spontaneously clapping my hands in joy — and I accidentally wake Jenassa.  Whoops.

My wife jerks into consciousness with a start, her hands flying to grab a weapon even before her eyes are completely open.  I have to dodge out of the way before she skewers me, which is not an easy maneuver in such a narrow space, and I manage to grab her arm before she slashes a hole in our shelter.   It’s only then that she fully wakes up — and she immediately freezes, her eyes widening as she realizes what I’ve barely managed to prevent.

“Good morning, sunshine,” I say as I slowly release her arm.  “I know it’s a bit dim in this tent, but I really don’t think we need a skylight.”

Jenassa starts to speak, thinks better of it, and shakes her head to clear the last ragged remnants of sleep.  “I do apologize, my love,” she replies.   “I’m very glad I didn’t hurt you just now, but a loud noise roused me from my nap.”

“Oh, really?”  I ask, trying to keep my tone casual.  “Maybe it was a dream.  I didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary myself.” (Which was technically true.)   But look…” I hurry along as Jenassa begins to narrow her eyes.  “The rain’s finally stopped!  Isn’t that great?”  I brush the tent flap aside with my arm, making a sweeping gesture at the rapidly brightening sky.

I move aside, letting my wife peer out of the tent to see for herself.  “Excellent,” she says briskly, already starting to pack up.  “Then I suggest we get back on the road as soon as possible.  It’s still a long way to Solitude, and we’ve already lost a great deal of time.”

Sunshine brings new meaning to the phrase “travel light”.

As we finish packing up and mount our horses to find our way back to the road, the last of the dark clouds pass away.  The rain-scented air and brilliant sunshine make for an intoxicating atmosphere, redolent with the promise of adventure.  Even our horses seem to be more lively, and Frost practically kicks up his heels as he playfully splashes his way through the sparkling mountain stream.

But when we reach the road, someone appears to be waiting for us.   A large wolf reveals itself from the long grass and watches our approach, with a calm demeanour that could rival the serenity of a Greybeard.  The horses are instantly on the alert, unwilling to get any closer to the predator — but something in the proud animal’s behaviour tells me that it wants to communicate with us.  Well, more specifically, with me.  Wolf-to-wolf.  Werewolf-to-wolf.  Whatever.

Jenassa is understandably a bit concerned and apprehensive when I tell her that I intend to dismount and see what the wolf wants.  (Specifically, she calls me a brainless s’wit.)  However, she’s certainly noticed that we haven’t had a lupine attack for awhile now, and she’s well aware that I can defend myself if things go wrong.  So I leave Jenassa to look after the agitated horses, and I slowly walk toward the wolf.

Timmy better not have fallen down the well again.  Stupid kid.

The wolf turns and ambles down the road as I approach, looking over his shoulder every few steps to make sure I’m following.  I turn and shrug at Jenassa, who’s looking both impatient and supremely irritated about this turn of events.  Now I really hope we won’t be pitching the tent later on, because I get the feeling that if we do, I’ll be sleeping outside tonight.

Sighing to myself, I resume following my animal guide.  Not far away is the corpse of another wolf — perhaps his mate — and the flies are just starting to show up for the funeral.  I have to admit, I’m somewhat nonplussed by this.  I mean, my deepest condolences and all that, but what exactly am I supposed to do about it?

Oh, I see. I’m guessing your mate isn’t just sunbathing.

But my furry friend doesn’t stop there.  We keep heading down the road, but now the wolf pulls his ears back, snarls, and starts to lash his tail back and forth.  However, he’s not displaying this behaviour in my direction — in fact, he makes a point of raising his ears and dropping his tail whenever he glances at me.  Danger ahead, he’s saying.  Enemies.  Beware.  They killed my mate.  His message is so clear that I find myself baring my teeth out of instinct and sympathy.

A stone bridge comes into view, crossing a wide river, and the wolf suddenly drops to the ground in a defensive crouch.  I follow suit.  With a low growl, he slinks off the road and through the grass, so stealthily that he barely stirs a blade of it.

I’m somewhat at a loss for a few moments.  Does he expect me to Change into a werewolf and follow him through the grass?  I seriously hope not.  Not only is my Beast Form the exact opposite of stealthy, I’ve also been waiting for the right opportunity to let Jenassa know that I’m a werewolf.  And I’m pretty sure this would not be a good way to tell her.  I’d have a dozen arrows in my back before I finished Changing, and they wouldn’t need to be silver to kill me.

But the wolf doesn’t seem to expect this course of action.  Instead, he stops near a boulder close to the side of the road, and backs up a few steps before lying on the ground with his head raised, using his nose to point to the space ahead of him as if inviting me to occupy that spot near the rock.  I hesitate for a moment, but the wolf makes a slightly impatient snort through his nostrils and points again.  Okay okay, I get it.  Jeez.  Keep your fur on.

Now what?  Want me to huff and puff and blow the bridge down?

The wolf seems to be waiting for something, so I settle into a reasonably comfortable position and try not to think of Jenassa back there, babysitting the horses against her will.  Tapping her foot, no doubt.  Still swearing at me in Dunmer.  Wondering what the deal is with this wolf.  And I also don’t want to think about how much my extremely observant wife has figured out already, or how much love I’ll need to inspire in her heart to prevent her from killing me in my sleep when she does.  I’m sure I wouldn’t even feel a thing.

I’m totally not busy thinking about all these uncomfortable subjects, when the wolf snorts again, only this time the message is more like pay attention. Then as I watch, a peddler appears from a fork in the road, passing by on his way to the bridge.  He’s not even halfway across when the vermin attack.

The peddler doesn’t even have time to scream.  In seconds, he’s face down on the bridge with an arrow through his eye, and the bandit gang descends in a swarm, racing out from a ramshackle structure on the opposite side of the river.  They soon dispense of the peddler’s pack and clothing, roughly dividing up the goods, and pretty soon his corpse is floating in the water.   The whole thing is over in a few minutes.

Feeling somewhat sickened at the pointless murder I’ve just witnessed, I turn to look back at my lupine friend, but he’s already gone.  Only a patch of flattened grass shows that he was ever there.

Moments later, I glance up to see Jenassa walking slowly down the road toward me.  She makes a movement with her hand, indicating I should stay hidden, and soon she’s huddled down behind me, occupying the space left by the wolf.

“I saw what happened to the peddler just now,” she says in a low voice.  “Is that what your — animal friend — wanted you to see?”

I nod, pointing to the remains on the road.  “The bandits also killed his mate,” I murmur.

She considers my reply for a moment.  “And he wanted someone to avenge her?”

“I don’t know about that,” I admit.  “I think he was just trying to warn us.”

Jenassa looks at me for a long moment. “I may not have had the honour of conversing with him myself,”  she says.  “Nevertheless, I’m quite certain of his motives.  If someone had dispatched my mate with such disregard and cruelty, I would most certainly seek vengeance — and it would not be swift.”

I stare at her for a minute, almost blinking back tears… and then I grin.  “Dearest wife, I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

She grins back.  “Then I think we are in agreement?”

“Revenge it is,” I concur, reaching for my bow.  “Would you prefer to lead the assault?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, my love,” she demurs.  “The wolf expected you to have that honour.  But rest assured, I’ll have your back.”

“As you always do,” I whisper, leaning in for a long, tender kiss.

Then I leap to my feet, and charge.

FOR WOLVENKIND!!!

 

MapC83
Travel Map 54.

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