Chapter 91: Reality Check

Perhaps it’s due to the unforeseen aftereffects of utter exhaustion, or of nearly freezing to death, or just simple stress  — but that night, my dreams are intensely disturbing.  Although I haven’t thought about him in a very long time, I find myself dreaming about Roddy, my former business partner — the one who deceived me, stole ownership of my pub from me, and destroyed the life I had built for myself back in High Rock.

In the strange way of dreams, he’s no longer simply my friend and partner, but also my lover –the singular focus of all my attention and desire.  We live in the same house (which, oddly, looks like a combination of the Drunken Horker and Breezehome ) and sleep in the same bed, where we also make energetic and passionate love that leaves me begging for more.  In real life, I had never been remotely attracted to Roddy, nor had I ever wanted to see him without so much as his shirt on — but in my dreams he is utterly delicious, powerfully muscled and ardently virile, seemingly inexhaustible as he brings me to the brink of orgasm over and over.

Then my dream abruptly shifts.  Suddenly I’m no longer in bed with Roddy, but instead I’m walking into the bedroom after closing the pub — only to find him just as ardently demonstrating his virility with another woman.  Pinned beneath Roddy’s heaving body, with perspiration gleaming like pearls of light on her dusky skin, her face is obscured by shadow — but something in the movement of her graceful limbs and her moaning, delirious fervor seems achingly familiar.  In my dreams, I’m instantly filled with rage — and in my shock and anger, I spontaneously transform into a werewolf, intending to murder them both.

But then Roddy suddenly swings around at the last moment, just as I’m about to sink my claws into his sweat-soaked back.  In his hand, he clutches an ornate silver dagger — and pealing with raucous laughter, he plunges the weapon deep into my heart just as the other woman screams in exquisite climax.

And then — only then — do I recognize her.  It’s Jenassa.

This acutely distressing dream, with minor variations, seems to repeat itself endlessly during the night.  Sometimes the house or just the bed looks different, or the dream focuses more on my lover’s adoration and tenderness toward me than on our lovemaking.  But the ending is always the same, with my uncontrollable rage, my transformation into a dire beast, and Roddy’s fatal blow in that moment of ultimate betrayal.

Finally, when the anguished and bleeding shreds of my unconscious self can take no more of this torture, I open my eyes.

For in this sleep of death, what dreams may come..?

As soon as I realize that the dagger beneath Jenassa’s pillow is not merely a figment of my fevered imagination, I’m instantly awake.  The emotional blow is like a punch to the gut.  Almost in one motion, I roll out of bed and race upstairs, gasping for air as if the punch actually happened.

Through the window, the early morning sun on the ocean creates dancing spangles of shimmering light, illuminating the interior of the cabin as if it’s a precious jewel.  The peace and beauty of the rising dawn almost seems like a mockery to my reeling senses, but it also lends me a certain measure of badly needed control.   Those cruel dreams, abhorrent as they were, have served to remind me that I don’t have the luxury of transforming into a raging beast whenever I happen to be shocked or angry.  My very survival depends on holding myself in check… for as long as I possibly can.

After sitting beside the fire for awhile and watching the dawn, I regain some of my composure and start retrieving my armour.  We left most of my gear upstairs overnight to dry by the fire, and in a few minutes I’m dressed.  I don’t even bother trying to eat — my stomach is still churning from the stress.  Trying to remain calm, I take a deep breath, and slowly head back down the stairs.

It’s clear that now I will have to confront Jenassa directly, and accuse her of deception and betrayal — the last thing I ever thought I’d have to do.

By the time I get downstairs, Jenassa is already dressed and kneeling on the bed with her head bowed, reaching behind her head to fasten the clasp of her necklace.  She lifts her head and gives me a playful little wink as I walk into the room, a gesture that normally makes my heart skip a beat.  But now, my heart feels frozen in my chest, and at my stony glare, my wife’s expression changes from flirtatious to one of loving concern.  This makes me almost hate her.  How can she appear to still care about me so much, when she was obviously planning to kill me?

I decide to barrel straight ahead.  “Hope you didn’t lose that shiny silver dagger of yours in the furs.  Looks like it could really hurt, if you got stabbed in the back.”

The silence is deafening.  If I had been expecting protests, or excuses, or denials, then I’d have been disappointed.  As it is, I don’t exactly know what I had been expecting — but it certainly wasn’t that Jenassa would keep right on looking loving and concerned.

After a minute or two, she sighs.  “You found it under my pillow.”  It’s not a question, but a flat statement of fact, spoken without expression.

“Yeah, just as I woke up.”  I bite off the words — they leave a bitter taste in my mouth.  “Didn’t feel like staying in bed after that.”

She spreads out her arms in a gesture of resignation.  “Then tell me what you want to know.”  She meets my gaze openly, her eyes sweeping my face.  “Ask me anything you like.  I haven’t gone anywhere — I’m still here.  And I will answer you honestly. ”

A difficult conversation.

Profoundly angry at her seemingly open demeanour, I glare at her.  “Well, for starters, what is it even doing here?  Last I remember, that dagger was on the corpse of someone who was trying very hard to kill me.”

Jenassa regards me levelly. “Someone who was trying very hard to kill us, you mean, ” she says.  “You and me.  As in, both of us.  I received my share of injuries as well from that encounter, and I’ve no doubt they were meant to be just as fatal.”

“Give me a break, Jenassa!!!” My temper, that I’ve been trying to hold back since I woke up, finally breaks loose.  “You and I both know that I’ve been the real target all along.  Especially for the Silver Hand!  The Vigilants might’ve been after me anyway because of Meridia and Dawnbreaker, but the Silver Hand don’t show up unless…”

I choke on my next words, stuttering to a sudden halt.  My wife folds her arms.

“Unless… they’re hunting down a werewolf.”  Her words are measured and quiet, dropping from her lips one by one, like stones sinking to the bottom of a depthless pool.   Suddenly, I’m no longer certain I have the moral ground.  I rack my brain for something to say… but Jenassa speaks first.

“Why didn’t you simply tell me?”  she asks, still in that quiet, dreadful voice.  “Don’t ask me when I first recognized what you were… I no longer remember that myself.   Suffice it to say that I’ve known for a very long time.  And ever since, I’ve been waiting until you were ready to tell me, so we could deal with it together.”

I snort, spearing her with a look of contempt.  “Deal with it together?  Really?!  And where exactly does a hidden silver dagger come in?”  I gesture toward the pillow.  “Or by together, do you really mean whenever Morien is off her guard and I’m sure I can kill her?!”

As soon as I say this, Jenassa’s expression changes.  With a pained look, she slowly rises from the bed… and, involuntarily, I take a step backward.

“I didn’t want to state the obvious,” she says.  “But, since you’ve forced my hand, I must.  If I truly wanted you dead, it would’ve been the work of a single, swift, painless moment — and you’d never have known it was coming before it was already over.  And then…” she continues, trying to speak around a sudden catch in her throat.  “Immediately afterward, I would have taken my blade in my hand, and used it to carve out my own heart.  Because, my love, that would be less of a torment for me, than trying to live without you.”

And just like that, all my outrage drains away.  I open my mouth, but no words come out, leaving me as helpless as a stranded fish gasping on the shore.  Then, with a low sound very much like a muffled sob, my wife swings her backpack onto her shoulders and strides past me toward the stairs.  Her slow footfalls seem to echo throughout the cabin before silence descends once again.

What just happened…?

After what seems like an age, my feet remember how to move.  I sprint up the stairs to see my wife staring into the fire, lost in her own thoughts.  She turns as I enter the room, but before I can say anything, she speaks.

“I realize that I haven’t yet answered your question, and it deserves an answer.  But first I must ask one of my own.  Do you recall our encounter with Sinding, and why it happened?”

I pause for a moment, then I reply in as steady a voice as I can manage.  “Sinding was the werewolf in Falkreath.  He was jailed for slaughtering a little girl.  Hircine told us that Sinding had stolen an enchanted ring from him, which Hircine then cursed.  So at his request, we tracked Sinding down and killed him.”

Jenassa nods.  “Yes.  And both Sinding and Hircine said that the curse caused him to transform without warning, and so Sinding was unable to control his savage impulses.   Therefore, we decided he was likely still a danger to others — and it didn’t seem smart to defy a Daedric Prince.  For this, Hircine rewarded you with Sinding’s hide — which you have worn ever since.”

I start to say something, but she holds up her hand.  “One moment.  You asked earlier why I had a silver dagger hidden beneath my pillow.  Perhaps you don’t know that I’ve been carrying other hidden daggers close to me, ever since I first realized you were a werewolf.   This is merely the first time I’ve been able to procure one made of silver.  Believe me, it’s not easy to find such a weapon.”

As I stand there, stunned by this revelation, Jenassa removes her backpack and opens it to reveal several daggers, all small enough to be easily concealed, all finely honed to a razor-sharp edge.

“But why?!”  I cry out in confusion.  My head is suddenly reeling, and my legs feel weak.   I lean against the doorway for support as Jenassa continues.

“Because, my love, the only experiences I’ve had with werewolves are those we’ve both had since we’ve been traveling together.  And what kind of werewolves have we encountered?  The deranged werewolf in the woods near Riften, clearly raving and out of control.  Sinding, who disemboweled a little girl, and who even Hircine said was out of control.  And you, who I assume became a werewolf after the one in the Rift attacked and bit you — the same werewolf that murdered my former mentor.”

I swallow hard.  “So you’ve been carrying a dagger all this time… just in case I go the same way as the others?  Raving, violent, out of control… insane?”

Resigned, she nods.  “Yes.  If that happened, it would be unforgivably irresponsible of me to let you live.  I doubt I could control you, and the danger to others would be too great.  Innocent blood would likely be spilled.  Especially now that we’ve adopted our daughter…”  Her sentence trails off, but in that moment, I suddenly understand — and I reel back in horror, as a flood of appalling and brutal images fill my mind.

Inhaling deeply, Jenassa continues.  “If that happened, I determined that I would do my best to… escort you from this world… as swiftly, and as painlessly, as possible.  My regular weapons would be insufficient for the task.”  She puts the small collection of daggers down on the table, including the one made of silver.  “I cannot express how much I’ve hated carrying these with me, and all this distasteful subterfuge.  I never wanted there to be any secrets between us.  But, as much as I’ve thought about it, I couldn’t bring myself to tell you any of this — not until you first trusted me with your own secret.”

More sickening images fill my mind, as I hazily recall a certain night of transformation in Falkreath, and my inability to recall at the time if I’d inadvertently killed our housecarl.  Reaching for my cloak, I wrap it around myself for comfort as well as warmth — and when I speak next, it’s in a whisper.

“I understand… and, given everything you said just now… I’m a little confused.  Why haven’t you used one of these daggers on me already?”

My wife smiles wryly.  “Perhaps it might be considered foolish, or overly optimistic, but I haven’t yet seen any evidence that you’re going insane.   And, of course…” she takes a step forward, with an intense, serious look on her face.  “Because I love you, my wife.”

Breathing is easy, once you’ve cleared the air.

After a few tender moments, where we’re happy to communicate without words, I lightly run my armoured fingers across the daggers spread out on the table.  But as I touch the silver dagger, a distinctly unpleasant sensation travels up my arm, even through the protective gloves.  Startled, I snatch my hand away as Jenassa looks on in surprise, and I come to a swift decision.

“Keep the other daggers on you,” I tell her. “I don’t like it much, but until we know that I’m going to be okay… as a werewolf… you’d better have them handy.  But this one…”  I gesture to the ornate silver weapon.  “I’m going to keep for myself, at least until we get to a forge.  Then I intend to melt it down, because I don’t want anyone — even you — having that damned thing anywhere near me.”

My wife frowns for a moment. “Not that I really want to talk about this, my love… but we don’t even know if normal weapons will work effectively.  You wear Sinding’s hide, which Hircine has clearly enchanted for your benefit — and you’ve been surprisingly resilient to the wounds of regular weapons ever since.  Also…” she gestures to the faint mark of a wound I sustained the day before, now fully closed. “You heal very quickly these days.  I’m not entirely certain I could… with a normal dagger…”

“No.”  I cut her off flat.  “I trust you to… do whatever you may have to do… but definitely not with this.”  I wrap one corner of my cloak around my hand, gingerly pick up the silver weapon, and stuff it into the deepest pocket of my backpack.

With a gesture of resignation, Jenassa slowly nods her assent.  In silence, we turn away from each other and start packing up our things… when I suddenly realize that neither of us has eaten our morning meal yet.

And just like that, I’m starving. 

Grabbing food from my pack in handfuls, I immediately start stuffing my face.  Jenassa looks up, startled, and I realize with some embarrassment that, because I’m no longer trying to hide what I am, I’m… well, I’m wolfing down my meal.   And despite her stated acceptance of my true self, I’m making my wife somewhat uncomfortable in the process.  To be fair, this is the first time I’ve fully succumbed to my instincts and ravenously devoured a meal in her presence — and I suppose it’s not a pretty sight.

Realizing this, I make an honest attempt to slow down my consumption, but I’m simply too hungry, and the food tastes too good.  So, with a large sample of protein-rich provisions, I head outside to partake of my breakfast al fresco.

As I stare out over the ocean, I heave a sigh of mild regret — then I return to attack my food with renewed enthusiasm.

I guess we still need a period of adjustment.  Mind you, I don’t think it’s that unusual for two people to discover that there’s a distinct difference in their individual appetites.  It’s just that our situation happens to be somewhat… unique.

But then, really — what marriage isn’t?

And speaking of appetites, that dead horker’s looking mighty tempting.

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