Chapter 92: Beach Bums

Outside, I’m still in the middle of devouring my breakfast — and enjoying it quite a lot — when the door to the cabin opens.  Glancing around, I watch as Jenassa steps out to join me on the weather-beaten porch, wincing as the frigid wind hits her in the face.  Fortunately, it’s not quite as cold as it was yesterday evening, but I’m also not about to plan a beach vacation out here anytime soon.

Shutting the door behind her, my wife puts a hand on the porch railing and looks me in the eye.  It’s clear from the expression on her face that she has something to say, so I decide not to speak in case I interrupt her train of thought.

And also because my mouth happens to be really, really full.

“You didn’t have to leave the room when you started eating breakfast, my love,” Jenassa says.  “I know you were just trying to be polite, but you need to trust me when I say that I accept you as a werewolf.  And that means you mustn’t retreat like this whenever you think your behaviour might bother me.  It’s important that we adapt to anything that happens during the course of our lives, regardless of what those changes might be.  And above all, we must never find ourselves keeping secrets from each other.”

During this short speech, I’ve been nodding my head between sentences, trying to chew and swallow as inconspicuously as possible.  But when she finishes speaking, I have a moment of panic.  There’s no way I can reply just yet, so I settle for  making an intelligent-sounding non-verbal response to show her that I understand.  I furrow my brow to show her how seriously I’m taking all this, but the only sound I can manage is an unintelligible grunt, which, if it were spelled out, might resemble something like, “Mrrwlfm.”

Jenassa’s lips start to twitch in amusement.  Fine, so I didn’t exactly come off as serious and thoughtful just now, but there’s no need to laugh at me, dear.

Then the wind decides to change direction at that exact moment, and a strong gust abruptly whips off my hood, sending my hair flying in all directions.  Naturally I’m taken by surprise at this sudden change, causing me to raise an eyebrow and grunt again — only this time, it sounds more like, “Mrffl?”

And then, for some inexplicable reason, my beloved wife finds it impossible to keep a straight face.  I watch helplessly as Jenassa’s expression goes from one of  amusement to outright hilarity as she starts laughing so hard that she has to lean against the railing for support.  I’m mildly insulted by this until I consider how I must look, with my face reddened from the cold salty breeze, hood blown off, hair flying around, and cheeks pouched out like a guilty kid with a stolen sweetroll.

Rolling my eyes, I manage to finish my problematic mouthful while my wife tries, with limited success, to collect herself.  I glance down and see that she’s been busy while she was indoors, as she’s brought out the rest of our gear, neatly organized and ready to go.  I give her a peck on her icy cheek as I grab some things and head over to the stable, loading up the horses and swinging myself into the saddle.  I was half-expecting our mounts to be nothing but frozen slabs of horsemeat in this frigid region, but Frost gives me a contented nicker as if he spent last night back in his cozy stall in Falkreath.

Skyrim horses, best horses. Tough and adorable.

Jenassa joins me a short time later, and after a moment to get our bearings, we head down the beach in the general direction of Solitude.   The early morning sky is clear, which bodes well for a day of travel.   With any luck — and no distractions — we might make it to the city by sunset.

Does checking out a shipwreck count as a distraction?

Not long after we leave the cabin, we notice a strange shape on the horizon next to a thin plume of smoke.  As we come closer, the shape resolves into a shipwreck, which seems to have run aground on a narrow spit of land jutting out into the ocean.  Beside the wreck is a large tent pitched at a jaunty angle on the sand, and nearby a small campfire is burning brightly.

We slow down as a precaution, scanning the area for signs of life, and I start to feel rather sorry for the sailors.   Poor bastards.  Assuming they’re alive, they could probably use some help.  We could try to escort them to the ranger cabin, or at the very least give them directions — if they aren’t too badly injured to move.

As we come closer, we see a figure stand up and approach us, waving his hands and yelling.  Oh, good.  That sailor seems capable enough.  We should go over and see what he needs, maybe help them out of their predicament… wait a minute.  Why is he suddenly brandishing a really big stick?   And why is that other person aiming a bow directly at us?

Figures. No Good Samaritan goes unpunished.

As if on cue, an ominous figure in dark robes appears on the deck of the wrecked ship, looking just as friendly as the rest of them.  Next thing we know, Jenassa and I are dodging a lethal combination of razor-sharp arrows and conjured ice, while the guy with the big stick (overcompensating much?) is so intent on reaching us that he actually beelines through the shallow water in his zeal to attack.  Worse yet, his yelling has alerted a woman in ragged furs who suddenly emerges from a line of windswept bushes.  She likewise brandishes a long pole and runs straight at me, with the clear intent of knocking me off my horse.

Bandits.  Of course.  It’s tempting to simply spur on the horses and outpace these idiots, leaving them stranded along with their ship.  But just as I’m about to suggest this to my wife, I hear a muffled cry of pain behind me.  I whip my head around to see Jenassa bent double over her horse, an icy spear jutting out from her shoulder… and suddenly I’m infuriated.  Without stopping to think, I leap down from my horse, unsheathe my weapon, and charge toward the nearest enemy.

You seem a bit chilly. Let me warm you up.

Slowed by the effects of the ice spike, Jenassa dismounts several moments later, after I’ve already turned the bandit into a blazing torch.  Seeing that I have the immediate situation under control, she spins in place, dodges another frigid missile, and sends a crossbow bolt straight toward the man in the water.  He gives a strangled grunt and topples over like a felled tree, causing a loud splash and a tidy circle of bloodstained ripples.

The sight of an accomplice literally dead in the water seems to anger the mage.  She moves in closer and slings more ice spikes at us, several at a time, with deadly accuracy.  Jenassa, being closer, takes the brunt of the onslaught, while I switch to my bow and release a rapid volley of arrows.  Most of them hit nothing but seawater, but fortunately one arrow manages to find its mark in the spellcaster herself.  Seconds later there’s another splash as she collapses, and the waves are stained once again with crimson.

These sudden ice storms can be murder.

Meanwhile, the archer hasn’t been idle, although I must admit I’ve forgotten about her in the midst of all the excitement.  During this time, she’s been slowly working her way around us, quiet as a stalking cat, carefully staying out of our line of sight.  I fail to notice her change of position until I hear a soft noise behind me, one that makes my hair stand on end.  It distinctly sounds like a dagger being pulled out of its sheath — and it’s far too close for comfort.

I’m pretty fast when I spin around in a panic, but I’m not nearly as fast as my wife.  Now that the mage is dead, Jenassa has managed to shake off the slowing effect of the frost spell and she’s back in the fray.  In the corner of my eye, my beautiful and badass wife is nothing but a blur as she aims her crossbow and fires.  The bolt whistles past me as I reach for Dawnbreaker, and I see it stagger the bandit just before I attack.  Then, using the momentum of my spin, I swing my blade hard with all the force I can muster.

Apparently, I’m quite the swinger.

The piercing shriek of my would-be backstabber abruptly cuts off as I thrust my blade home, but not before rousing someone else.  Cursing loudly, a half-dressed outlaw emerges from the tent, lurching unsteadily and wiping the sleep from his eyes.  Crossbow still in hand, Jenassa fires a bolt deep into his ribcage before he even raises his head.   Stunned, he stares at the bolt sticking out of his torso for a moment before collapsing in a heap next to a wooden chest, dead as a doornail before he even hits the dirt.

Good thing we saved him from tripping over that chest.  He could’ve hurt himself.

Tensed, we brace ourselves for another sudden bandit appearance, but after a few moments we can tell that no one else is here.  Slowly we replace our weapons, grin at each other, and turn our attention to the less hectic and more civilized sequel to these encounters — the part where we take all the bad guys’ stuff.

Kneeling beside the latest corpse, I retrieve a pick from one of the pouches around my waist and quickly spring the lock on the chest.  As I raise the lid, however, I can’t help but notice that there’s a lot of empty space in here.  Not to mention that I can actually see straight to the bottom of the half-rotted crate.

Colour me underwhelmed.  I think my lockpick was worth more than this.

Annoyed, I crash down the lid, stand up, and poke my head inside the tent. I’m not really surprised to find very little in here, just some filthy bedrolls, a lot of empty bottles, a couple of cheese wheels, and a half-empty keg of Black-Briar mead.

At least it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

I emerge from the tent, still irked, and wordlessly reply to Jenassa’s inquisitive expression with a shake of my head.  She shrugs as she empties out the chest and turns to loot one of the corpses.   As usual, she has the better attitude in the face of adversity, but I’m finding it hard to appreciate her pragmatism at the moment.

Looking around, I decide to head over to the only other structure in this camp — the shipwreck itself.  I’m seriously hoping there’s a stash of decent loot somewhere on board, or else Jenassa and I just wiped out the most pathetic bandit gang in all of Skyrim.  Of course, it’s also possible that the real treasure is lost somewhere beneath the wreck, resting at the bottom of the Sea of Ghosts — but I’m not willing to immerse myself in that icy ocean in search of it, die of hypothermia, and become just another lonely ghost in the mist of this bitter sea.

Good thing I can reach the ship from here.  These boots may be warm, but I doubt they’re waterproof.

After some semi-agile maneuvering on the slippery deck, I manage to find my way to the door of the ship’s cabin.  Disappointingly, the interior is just as bare as the tent on the beach.  Nothing seems to be in here except a single bedroll, a minor potion, a couple of barrels, and some battered pieces of overturned furniture.  Great.  So much for my lavish golden fantasies of hidden pirate treasure.

Not the most luxurious cruise accommodations.

Searching the place thoroughly, I’m delighted when I discover another chest behind an upturned table in the corner.  Suddenly my hands are trembling — whether from excitement or from the cold, I can’t tell.  I reach for another lockpick, but to my chagrin, it drops from my chilly fingers and vanishes straight through a gap between the planks at my feet.

Closing my hand in a fist, I thump the wooden lid of the chest in frustration — and I can’t help but notice that it bounces back to meet my hand.  Interesting.  I decide that must mean the chest isn’t actually locked… which, when I think about it, really should have given me a clue.

The bandits may not have defeated me, but these chests sure did.

With a heavy sigh, I empty the paltry contents of the chest into my pack and head back out to the beach to rejoin Jenassa.  My wife has been spending the intervening time in stripping dead bandits of their valuables — although calling any of this stuff “valuable” is a stretch.   Aside from the odd weapon and the occasional soul gem, there’s just not much worth taking.   For the most part, we end up leaving much of the available loot right where we found it.

Mind you, I’m kinda glad I didn’t get stabbed with that.

After a disconsolate walk around the camp to make sure we didn’t overlook anything worthwhile, I notice that the cold has been slowly creeping up on me.  I guess wandering around on a frozen beach doesn’t get the blood pumping like fighting for your life does.  Go figure.

My wife is starting to feel the chill as well, and suggests that we fetch the horses, bring them closer to the fire, and have something to eat.  For a moment, I’m genuinely confused, thinking she intends for us to cook and eat the horses.  But then I realize what she actually meant, and I give my head a shake.  It’s just another example of the weirdness that seems to come with this carnivore brain.   No wonder some of us turn into gibbering lunatics.  Werewolf problems.

In any case, my beloved wife is right as usual — it’s definitely time for a snack.  Never mind that it’s always time for a snack in my world.  There’s no point in wasting a perfectly good campfire, and besides, those cheese wheels won’t eat themselves.

A steaming hot bowl of fish stew sounds pretty good right now.  Pass me some brain food, Jenassa!

 

Travel Map 60.

 

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