The deer entered the clearing cautiously. A slight rustle from somewhere off to the left alerted it enough to stop, twitch its ears and look around. Seemingly satisfied that all was clear it made its way forward to the centre of the clearing in the forest. The wind whistled mournfully through the trees and the leafless branches clinked together softly in the breeze. The snow was melted in the clearing on account of the sun being able to get through the canopy of treetops. The grass had begun to grow, and a rough winter had made the deer greedy enough to prioritise eating over its own safety.
From the bushes, two pairs of bright blue eyes watched intently. One set blinked softly as a lock of bright red hair fell in front of them. Iriella had been waiting for almost Two hours for the deer to graze, and Four the day before. This would feed her and Rune for at least a week if they could only time this right. The big wolf crouched next to her was almost invisible in the snow, waiting patiently for its mistress’s order. Iriella’s stomach threatened to start growling if she waited any longer, this would be their first decent meal in almost Twelve days, winter has been hard on her too. She nodded silently to Rune, who began to move himself into a flanking position. They had to hunt as a team, Iriella was useless with a bow, and without Rune she would not be able to catch the beast to kill it, she relied on him to bring the animal down for her.
Rune reached his position and sank low to the ground, waiting. Iriella readied her blade in silence, and just as she was about to give Rune the nod an arrow whizzed past her and landed in the deer’s neck with a squelch. The animal reared up in pain and as its hooves reconnected with the earth another arrow landed, inches from the first. The beast fell to the ground, its suffering was short; the shots had been perfect for the kill. Iriella knew of only one that could have been that accurate. She lay in wait, until a familiar hooded figure came up over the rise and past her hiding place. As it bent over the corpse of the animal now expired on the floor, she lunged at it and grabbed hold of its head and brought her other arm around its chest, her blade inches from its throat.
The Bosmer cried out in surprise and pain,
“Iriella! Stop this!!” He yelled as he saw Rune amble out from the bush. “Rune!! You know me!!” his eyes darting from left to right, as if he were trying to make sure it was actually her behind him.
“That was our dinner Faendal” she hissed into a pointed ear as she tightened her grip on the tuft of hair he had scooped up into a tail on the top of his head.
“I’ll share, I’ll share!! He cried. She let him go with a soft chuckle and he whirled around to face her rubbing his head where her hands had been. “Dammit woman there’s no need to be so rough!” He looked down at his fingers, as if checking for blood but he was not injured, save for a smarting hairline. She took a step backwards and folded her arms across her chest. Bright red tendrils of hair were escaping from her hood, her eyes flashed angrily, and her mouth was set in a thin mulish line; the image of defiance.
“When you’ve not eaten a proper meal in nearly Thirteen nights, Faendal…” she began, her tone cutting and sharp
“Okay, okay” he held his hands up in defence. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” She narrowed her eyes at him and opened her mouth to argue, but he cut her short raising his hand again. “look, let’s get this to my house, I’ll skin it for you, cut myself a few bits off the flank then you take the rest.”
“And the skin?” God she must be hungry he thought to himself, she was hard enough to deal with under normal circumstances.
“I will dry it out for you, and you can come and collect it in a day or two, okay?” Finally, she seemed appeased, in truth she was just too hungry to argue anymore, and Faendal was a stubborn elf.
“Okay” she bowed her head and ducked past him to heave the dead animal up onto her shoulder. Faendal knew better than to attempt to offer to carry the beast, besides, Iriella was probably twice as strong as he was.
Faendal’s house consisted of only one room. He didn’t really need anymore seeing as it was just him that lived there. The wind whistled occasionally under the heavy wooden door, he dragged a bear skin draft block under it, to keep the cold out. There was a small bed on the right wall, with a deerskin throw on it that he used to keep warm at night. A few chairs and a small wooden table were on the right of the door. Iriella was sat in one of them quietly watching as Faendal pottered about the other side of the room, the carcass was now laid out on the big table next to the fireplace in the centre of the room. Faendal was a good skinner and had already hung the skin up on the left wall to dry out. He removed the huge cast iron kettle and poured them both tea.
“Here, drink this” He motioned toward the mug with his chin before staggering back over to the fire place, almost tripping over Rune as he did so. “Jeez Rune, you do pick some places to lie” The wolf picked up his head, cocked it to one side and looked up at the elf enquiringly. Faendal chuckled and reached down to scratch the back of his head “you know” he said fondly, “for a fierce creature you certainly are a soft sod”.
Iriella smiled thinly, she was quite fond of Faendal really, though she did her best not to show it. He was a kind soul and was always good to her and Rune, despite her best efforts to rebuff his friendship for the first few years she had been in Riverwood.
“He’s only so soft on you because you feed him” she grumbled in mock disgust as Rune laid on his back for Faendal to rub his tummy. The other reason she allowed the Bosmer into her life at all was because she had quickly realised that she was not popular in the small town, and he was the only one who had any time for her.
Her arrival in Riverwood had caused something of a stir some years back, an outlandish Nord woman who could put most men to shame in a fight had been chased right into the middle of the quiet town by a bear; only to turn around and slay the beast in broad daylight in front of half of the denizens. She’d refused any aid of course and had camped outside the town for a good few months, before the strange old lady Anise who had occupied a cabin just outside town had upped and left to join a coven of witches, leaving the cabin to her. Iriella had moved in and that was that.
“You know, you really should let me try get you a room at the sleeping giant, just for a few nights while this storm is on” Faendal spoke, interrupting her reverie.
“We don’t need one” she set her mouth firmly and he knew she meant it.
“But that cabin, it’s full of holes and it must be freezing”
“We’re fine.” She looked at him hard enough for him to know he was fighting a losing battle. Raising his hands once more in defence he sighed and turned back to dealing with the deer. He’d removed the meat, taken a small portion for himself and was packaging up the rest of it into two bundles wrapped in small skins. He finished tying up the skins and held them both out to Iriella, now with her cloak back on she was busy hoisting her scabbard over her shoulder. She took the slightly larger of the two parcels and lifted it over her back, tying the length of string coming from it to one of the many leather buckles she had about her person. Faendal held out the second one to her and she shook her head,
“No.” He stared at her with a puzzled look on his face, his crimson eyes searching her face for some sort of explanation. “You need to eat too elf, you’re too skinny as it is.” Without another word, she pulled up the hood of her cloak, and disappeared out into the blizzard.
The door slammed shut behind her and Faendal looked down at the parcel of meat he still held in his hands and shook his head. He would never figure that woman out, one minute she would have a blade to his throat, and the next she’s telling him to eat more. He’d never known anyone quite like her. He’d persevered with their friendship, partly because he felt sorry for her being alone; and partly because he had so few friends himself. He liked the other inhabitants of the town well enough, but never really socialised with any of them outside a select few. He picked up a broom and began to sweep up the white hair left on the rug by Rune, damn that dog could moult. He smiled to himself thinking about how wonderful the bond between the wolf and his mistress was; Iriella seldom spoke of herself or her past but she had once explained to Alvor, the local blacksmith that Rune had been a gift from her Father. She said that a local Farmer to Windhelm had rescued Rune as a pup when his mother was killed by some poachers. He was a very rare breed of snow-wolf, and their fur was worth a fortune on the black market, if you could find a fence brave enough to sell it for you. It was considered very unlucky to kill a snow wolf, they were supposedly blessed by Hircine himself if you spoke to some people; they had the gift of long life and were far more intelligent than your average canine companion. This was something Faendal had been unwilling to believe until he had encountered Rune, sometimes it was if the animal understood human tongue, and he was very different to interact with compared to other dogs. He bent down to scoop the hair up onto a small shovel head he kept by the door, and deposited it outside quickly, the wind was frightful now. Later, when he was settled for bed, he couldn’t help feeling guilty about letting Iriella go back to the cabin, but then it wasn’t as if you could make her do anything, the girl was as stubborn as a mule. He shook his head, hoped she would be all right and pulled the deerskin up around his face; watching the flames dance in the fireplace as he fell asleep.
Iriella herself was curled up sleeping next to Rune, each of them providing some warmth for the other. They had amassed a fair few skins over the months preceding winter, so although the cabin was terribly draughty, they didn’t really get too cold. The cabin set in a small clearing slightly North West of Riverwood had once belonged to an elderly woman by the name of Anise. She had resided there for years, coming into the town every now and then for supplies but never speaking to anyone. Hilde, one of the town’s oldest residents called her a witch, though as Hilde’s word wasn’t always the most reliable, people were inclined to take it with a pinch of salt. For once however, the old woman’s word had proved to be true, when Anise had left the cabin, taking some belongings and leaving a note to “The Red-Haired Nord” where she left the cabin to Iriella; thanking her for helping her with a skeever problem she had in the past, and how she was now returning the favour. Upon some further investigation it was discovered she had gone off to join a witch’s coven, or start one, people weren’t really sure which, but Iriella found a diary of sorts in the little damp basement and had produced it for the residents one night at the Sleeping Giant inn.
It was a quaint little place, an ‘L’ shaped wooden building, with a small garden, a basement and one large window. Of course, there were some other gaps in the wood work which Iriella had filled in with more wood or covered over with skins or fleeces to keep the cold out. She had also had to make a door, as the cabin was lacking one when she moved in. Alvor and Hod, two of the men from Riverwood had come and helped fill in the holes in the roof, so the place was waterproof now. She and Rune lived quite comfortably there, it was far enough away from town that she didn’t have to deal with people too much, but close enough should she ever feel the desire to socialise, and for when she needed to buy supplies. She also worked for Gerdur or Alvor occasionally, to make a few extra septims when she couldn’t sell meat or skins to the travelling traders.
Selling anything to the traders meant a trip to Whiterun to see Ri’ssad’s Caravan; the Kajit were unpopular in general and had never been welcome in the smaller towns such as Riverwood. Iriella had always got on with them fine, they were pleasant and didn’t query much when some of her items were of ‘questionable origin’. She suspected Ri’ssad had been involved in the Skooma racket in Riften before winter had set in. One of the travellers stopping at the inn had told everyone about some Dunmer by the name of Idren who had been caught supplying Skooma to the Rift. Apparently, he’d been killed and a whole shipment of Skooma and possibly Moonsugar had gone “missing”. Oddly enough when she’d visited Whiterun a few days later Ri’ssad had been in a better mood than usual and paid more for goods than he normally would. He’d also thrown in a bottle of mead with his trade, so she figured he’d had some part in the missing shipment, or at least the profits from it.
Recently though, the snow had just been too bad to make it over to Whiterun, it was a good Twenty to Thirty-minute walk from the cabin, especially laden down with skins, food, weapons and armour to be sold. Not to mention roaming packs of hungry wolves to contend with. Without a horse it was near impossible to get through the snow, which drifted up to the average persons waist in places. The recent weeks had been tough for everyone, Alvor hitched a cart up as often as he could to get down to the city, but that was just to get enough food for the town to get by; he would have no room for Iriella and her wares for the Kajit. During the warmer months she would often accompany Alvor on his trips, which would be a lot more frequent but for now the snow was just too deep. As much as she hated socialising, she was very much part of the Riverwood population, and not so selfish as to put herself before the supplies for the rest of the town through the snow season.