Chapter 87: Local Heroes

Early the next morning, I awaken with my stomach already rumbling.  It’s been happening quite often lately, and it’s not exactly pleasant.  In fact, the time I can stay comfortably satiated between meals seems to be getting shorter and shorter.  Now my hunger often appears within a few scant hours of my last meal, making it near-impossible to sleep through the night.

And as if that isn’t enough, my dreams have been distinctly strange lately.  Disturbing, even, although I can’t quite call them nightmares.  Although I usually don’t remember very much about them, they tend to leave me with a strong sense of disorientation when I first wake up, as I always expect to find myself sleeping on the ground somewhere deep in the wilds.  It’s not too pronounced if I’ve spent the night in a tent — but here in an unfamiliar place with four walls around me, my first reaction is that I’ve been caught in a trap, and I start to panic before I realize that I’m safe in a rented bed.   Like now, for instance.

After taking a few deep breaths to calm myself, I turn over — and my anxiety instantly spikes up again.  Jenassa’s not here.   I sit up in bed, alarmed, and quickly look around the room.  Her clothing is gone.  Her weapons are gone.  Her backpack and gear are nowhere to be seen.  There’s no trace of her.

Oh gods, it’s happened — the day I’ve been dreading has finally arrived.  Jenassa must have left me.  She’s figured out what I’ve become, and she’s decided she can’t live with it any longer.   At this realization, I slump down in the furs, utterly depressed — but then I charge out of bed with a surge of energy and start preparing to leave as soon as possible.  It must be barely dawn, so it’s possible she only left a short time ago.  I might be able to catch up to her on the road if I leave right away, and when I do I’ll beg her to reconsider.

Okay, so I’m a werewolf now, but a successful marriage always requires some compromise.  I’m sure we can work it out, I’ll tell her.  I’ll transform somewhere else where she won’t have to see it, we’ll do everything we can to keep our adopted daughter safe, and we won’t even mention the whole werewolf thing if it makes her uncomfortable.  I can’t do much about being hungry all the time, but can do all the hunting from now on.  I’ll volunteer to do all the cooking as well, and I’ll even promise not to keep dropping my clothes on the floor.  I know how Jenassa dislikes anything untidy.  She won’t have to lift a finger ever again…

Now dressed, packed, and ready to go, I fling open the door and prepare to race after my wife — but it turns out I don’t have to travel far after all.

…Oh, thanks be to Mara.  I mean, good morning honey!

In fact, I nearly charge straight into my wife, but I manage to halt just in time.  Slightly alarmed now herself, she asks if anything’s wrong.  No!  I mean, no dear, not at all.  Everything’s fine.  Had a sort of nightmare, that’s all — nothing to worry about.  And don’t you look wonderful today!

Still slightly concerned, she reaches out and touches my face, then smiles and takes my hand, silently leading me out to the main room.   She stops in front of a large table that’s absolutely loaded down with food — I can practically hear the wood groaning under its weight.  With an impish grin, she indicates the laden table in a playful, over-the-top dramatic gesture — and I suddenly remember that I’m absolutely famished.

Best thing I’ve ever seen.  And the food looks great too.

“I thought, after saving the town last night, you could use some extra sustenance,” says my wonderfully considerate wife.  Tempting as the food looks, I turn to give her a big hug before I sit down and start wolfing it dow… I mean, before I start stuffing my face.  It’s true that I already had a big meal last night, but I’m hardly inclined to protest — especially when my mouth is full.

Mind you, this makes it hard to respond coherently to all the relieved residents of Dragon Bridge, who start arriving a few minutes after I sit down.  Despite the early hour, it seems that half the town has decided to show up to the inn and thank us heartily for slaying the dragon.  Needless to say, our breakfast takes quite a long time as a result.

Eventually, Jenassa manages to remind me that our stock of potions is running pretty low.  Fortunately I’ve been collecting fresh materials as we travel, so I have plenty of ingredients with which to experiment.  So as the innkeeper starts clearing the dishes and shooing our fan club out the door, I stand up and make my way to the back of the inn, where a handy alchemy table is set up for general use.

So the eye of a frost dragon can be used to make a slow poison.  Makes sense.

Crafting completed, Jenassa and I gather our belongings and head outside.  It’s true that the town of Dragon Bridge isn’t all that big, but while I was simultaneously trying to eat, talk, have my hand shaken and my back slapped (why do people even do that?), my wife was making some inquiries about the local services.

According to the innkeeper, the Imperial guard brought in their own blacksmith some time ago, and lately one of the townsfolk took up shopkeeping, remaking part of their house into a general store.  Jenassa suggests we visit both places before we leave town, and I readily agree.  After that huge breakfast, a nice casual stroll around town sounds like an excellent idea.

Of course the Imperials are in charge here.  Otherwise Dragon Bridge wouldn’t have dragon banners.

The local blacksmith’s working area turns out to be an extension of the Penitus Oculatus outpost.  Among other things, this building houses the Emperor’s personal security force, and it appears to be extremely well-equipped.  Seeing us approach from the inn, the resident blacksmith stops lounging on the railing and starts working away at the grindstone.  Not sure if his morning break is over or if he just wants to look busy in front of the famous dragonslayers.

It’s fine, dude.  Slack off all you want.  Just as long as you buy our stuff.

As we’re selling off various weapons and bits of armour that we picked up from our “tour” of the bandit camp, Jenassa and I overhear a discussion between two members of the Pentius Oculatus who are passing by.  One of them happens to mention the Thalmor party at the Embassy, the same one that Delphine expects me to attend.  Exchanging glances, Jenassa and I casually edge closer to hear more, and I surreptitiously cross my fingers.  If I’m lucky, maybe the party was rescheduled in the past few days and I’ve missed the whole thing.

Sadly this is not the case, but the news isn’t all bad.   Turns out the party isn’t for another couple of days, so we haven’t lost as much travel time as we originally thought.  But by now, one of the agents has noticed us and he seems to be getting a bit suspicious — so I grab Jenassa’s arm, steer her off toward the road, and loudly inform her that a general merchant must be around here somewhere.  

Unlike the blacksmith, the location of the store proves hard to find — but it’s a bright sunny day, and we’re in no particular hurry.  After walking around for awhile, we find ourselves behind the inn close to the guard tower — and something tells me we may have stood in this exact same spot last night.

I just know these things sometimes.  Call me psychic.

As we’re busy enjoying the view, a small boy scampers up to us, along with what appears to be his pet goat.  He’s genuinely excited to find the town dragonslayers standing right beside the remains, and babbles at us in a breathless kind of way about heroes and monsters and epic battles.  It’s actually pretty adorable to be the object of such overwhelming admiration.

The goat just looks up at us and chews its cud, unimpressed.   Tough customer.

So which kid is the kid’s kid?  Never mind, just kidding around.

Finally the boy stops for breath, and we manage to ask for directions to the general store.  As we do so, I can’t help but be reminded of Rorikstead.  Funny how the shops in these small settlements are so hard to find.  I guess if the store is simply part of a house, and everyone already knows where it is, then there’s no obvious reason to make it more… well… obvious.

And this place hides the sign under a porch.  It’s like they don’t want out-of-towners to find them at all.

The kid actually gives us decent directions (the boy, not the goat), and eventually we locate the shop.  As we step inside, the woman sweeping the floor behind the counter glances up nervously, which seems a strange way to react to potential customers.  You’d think she’d be used to dealing with people, especially since there’s a fairly large contingent of Imperial soldiers around, in addition to the actual townsfolk.

Then I notice the big blue banner hanging on the wall behind her.  Oh.  Right.  Yeah, if I were displaying that in my place of business here in Dragon Bridge, I’d also be concerned about random strangers.

I’m guessing you don’t get much in the way of Imperial business, then.

Realizing we’re the dragonslayers who helped save the town last night, and that we’re not here to harass or arrest her, she relaxes and greets us warmly.  She also seems more than willing to buy our less-than-useful items, which is definitely my preferred characteristic in a merchant.

Nice little place, but depending how the civil war goes, you might have to get used to being behind bars.

As we exit the shop, Jenassa and I start discussing our travel plans.  Now that we know we don’t have to be in Solitude by tonight, we decide to take care of the assignment given to us by the Companions first.  As I recall, it was something about clearing out pesky beasts from a cave.  Since we just dispatched a dragon last night, I doubt it’ll be much of a problem.

I’m in the middle of saying this to Jenassa, when one of the town guards walks by.  Having heard only part of our conversation, he nevertheless feels the need to express his viewpoint.

Just came on shift and heard the news, did we?

It’s somewhat tempting to remain in town for awhile longer, soaking up more praise from the locals for our part in last night’s events, but I have to admit there’s no compelling reason to hang around and even less reason to waste the daylight.  As we walk back through the town and retrieve our horses from the hitching posts, we respond with smiles to the friendly waves and good wishes from the townsfolk.  Even some of the Penitus Oculatus nod in our direction as we pass by the outpost.

Okay, so we didn’t exactly keep a low profile while we were here.  But it never hurts to be reminded how much we can actually help people — and even though being the big damn hero can be a real pain in the arse, I have to admit that times like this make it worth the hardship.

That being said, I don’t want to see another dragon for awhile.  A nice, good, long while.  If the Divines can manage it for once.

A fond farewell to all our local fans.  And may the dragons forget your address!

 

 

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