By the second week of First Seed the snow had all gone and the wildlife had returned. Dragonflies danced close to the surface of the river as salmon made their way up it towards their mating grounds. Lush green grass grew around the towns surrounding woodland, birds nested in trees and sang constantly. Iriella had been to visit Ri’ssad, she’d sold him some hide armour and some jewellery that she recovered on a trip into Bleak Falls barrow. Bandits were always leaving things lying around there so you never had to go far in to get a decent haul. You just had to pick the right times or have some sort of distraction.
One evening just before the first night of Rain’s Hand, Iriella had spent the day helping Alvor’s wife Sigrid clearing the garden behind the sleeping Giant Inn; the couple were grateful and had offered to take her to the inn for something to eat in the evening. As she had not felt like she wanted to offend their kind gesture she agreed to dine with them and their daughter Dorthe.
After dinner she was sat around the firepit with Alvor, Faendal, Hod and Embry, a local resident at the inn; Sigrid had taken Dorthe home to bed, and Gerdur had not accompanied her husband Hod when he had come in for his evening drink. Delphine the innkeeper had just brought them another round of ales; with a sharp look in Iriella’s direction, she sashayed off toward the table on the left of the door where two Nord men were seated.
“Another round gentlemen?”
“This one’s on me Delphine” Alvor raised his tankard toward the two men, who returned the gesture. “Why don’t you join us, it’s been some time since we’ve drunk together my old friends” Alvor beamed cheerfully at them. “Delphine, can we move some more chairs in here?”
“There’sh one in my room” Embry slurred and wobbled off to fetch it.
“Here” Delphine returned from one of the rooms nearby with a second chair and handed it to the taller of the men. She went off to the bar to fetch their drinks and by the time she returned other chairs had been shuffled over to make room for them around the fire.
The men talked of a few things while Iriella sat listening. One of the men she had seen with Alvor before, Skjor she thought his name was. He was a thick set bald man bearing some red warpaint on his face. He had a glass eye which she found rather disconcerting, as it had no iris or pupil, it was just a white glass eyeball. He wore the traditional ‘Wolf armour’ that identified him as one of the Companions from Jorrvaskr, the mead hall in whiterun. The other man was wearing the same armour though he looked younger and more fresh faced than the bald man. He wore no warpaint but had piercing blue eyes, much like Iriella’s own, though more like Rune’s. The big wolf had greeted both men like old friends, and they had paid him more mind than Iriella herself, whom only received a mere nod where Rune got his head scratched and his belly rubbed. She opened her mouth to say something but sat back in her chair with a grimace after being shot a look from Faendal that told her this wasn’t the time to lose her temper.
Presently the conversation turned to the latest bandit raid, apart from the constant camp up at the barrow there had recently been an ambush on some workers in Embershard mine. The Jarl of Whiterun had sent over some extra muscle to go and clear them out.
“It’s just getting closer and closer to home” Hod shook his head in dismay.
“That’s only a few minutes’ walk from here” Faendal added “Soon it seems nowhere will be safe.
“Pah, these bandits, they wouldn’t know a real fight if it leapt up and bit them.” The younger of the Companions spoke for the first time, “you don’t need to worry about bandits, why do you think they spend so much time skulking in caves?” He looked as though he were ready to go and take on a few right there and then. Skjor looked at the others startled faces and laughed.
“Easy Vilkas, these people are gentle folk, they aren’t likely equipped to handle bandits, apart from Alvor here.” He grinned at his friend and the big blacksmith smiled good naturedly.
“It’s true, some of us used to be in armies, Lod’s brother in law is in the Stormcloak army now but he doesn’t spend much time here. In truth we have very little to protect us from bandits”.
Iriella shuffled in her chair irritably, she wasn’t scared of bandits; her and Rune had seen off a full camp by themselves before now.
“You have something to say?” Vilkas read her body language correctly. She felt her cheeks flame a little as all eyes turned toward her.
“Not really” She feigned boredom in the hope he would not press her for any further comments.
“Not really? Either you do or you don’t, it’s fairly simple.” Vilkas wasn’t going to let it go despite Skjor’s sharp look in his direction. What input did this woman have?
“Bandits are mostly milk-drinkers” she said finally, which earned raised eyebrows from both companions.
“Haha” Hod laughed heartily, his blue eyes resting on Iriella. “Our Iriella here could take them on singlehandedly” he was being sincere, and she flushed at this unexpected praise.
“That so?” Vilkas folded his arms across his chest and appraised her. She didn’t look much, she was fairly thick set for a woman; she clearly had no regard for feminine dress as she was clad in leather armour and her hair was scooped back into some sort of tail, with a fair amount of it escaping the leather band giving her a somewhat ‘feral’ look. He wondered what Aela would make of her, short work probably he scoffed to himself.
“You fight?” Skjor was the first to speak, interrupting Vilkas’ thoughts.
“If I need to” she responded tartly, she wasn’t about to start a fight but at the same time she didn’t want these “Companions” thinking she was a pushover.
“When might you need to fight living in this town?” Vilkas asked her pointedly.
“She lives just outside of the town” Hod interjected, he recognised Iriella’s obstinate face and didn’t want a scene being caused. Besides, they all knew she could hold her own, especially with Rune at her side. “In a cabin up on the hill across the river”.
“The crazy old woman’s cabin? What happened to her?” Skjor looked at Alvor for an explanation, and so one was produced. It really had been some years since he’d visited Riverwood.
He and Vilkas were travelling back from a hunt, they’d been away for some weeks and it would be good to get home, they had planned to arrive back at Jorrvaskr earlier but getting caught up with by a bandit on the road had delayed them somewhat. As night was falling, they had thought it best to stop at Riverwood, the road between the small town and Whiterun was treacherous at the best of times, bandits, bears, giants even dragons. It would not do for the two of them to get caught out, so they stopped at The Sleeping Giant. Skjor was old friends with Alvor, they had known each other back when Alvor lived in Whiterun for a time, before he moved to Riverwood to trade as a blacksmith. City life had never suited him, and when he took up with Sigrid who was already living in the small town it just made sense for him to move. Still Skjor and he had remained friends and often shared a drink at The Bannered Mare when Alvor visited Whiterun with his cart, or even at Jorrvaskr; though Alvor felt a little uncomfortable there as it was home to all the Companions and they were a tight-knit bunch and kept themselves to themselves.
A good hour or so later Iriella rose to leave, she nodded to Delphine, who returned the nod but gave her an arctic look when her back was turned. Iriella had caused trouble in her inn on more than one occasion, and she didn’t have much time for the hardy Nord. Though she had to admit, coin was coin, and despite her attitude Iriella always paid her way and tipped generously.
“You’re off home then?” Alvor raised his tankard.
“I am, good evening gentlemen, Rune! Come on, home.” The wolf stretched lazily and got up, he’d been enjoying lying by the fire pit but as always, was ready to go wherever his beloved mistress did.
“You’re walking back to that cabin alone?” Vilkas asked incredulously, Iriella turned and gave him a cold stare.
“Is there a problem with that?” she asked icily. Vilkas chuckled at how short her temper was.
“Not at all, I just didn’t give you enough credit before, you must be fairly brave to walk up there in the dark alone”
“I won’t be alone” she motioned to Rune who was now stood by her side, looking ready to defend her at a moments notice.
“That is a fine creature you have there” Skjor interjected. “Where did you get him?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but he was a gift from my father.”
“Easy girl, I meant no offence, I’m interested because he is one of the rarest breeds you can find, I’ve never seen a snow wolf in the flesh before.” Iriella softened her gaze slightly at the praise of her companion.
“He’s been with me since I was a small child” she scratched the big animal’s ear fondly “We’ve travelled a long way together, he’s my companion.”
“You should consider coming to Jorrvaskr”
“You could find yourself with more companions” Skjor smirked at his own pun.
“We don’t need any. Thank you” with a nod in Faendal’s direction she left the inn.
“She’s a feisty one” Skjor scratched his head and looked thoughtful.
“I can’t say I cared for her” Vilkas put in bluntly.
“She’s not all bad” Faendal felt like he should defend his friend. “Plus, she can swing a sword better than any man in this town. She’s hopeless with a bow and arrow but I would pit her against anyone, and she would give them a run for their money.”
“Pah” Vilkas scoffed “She wouldn’t know what a real fight was if it leapt up and bit her” Skjor shook his head,
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. The wolf has seen a lot of combat, you can see in his eyes. If they have spent all that time together, he will have seen it with her, and he is devoted to her too”. Vilkas didn’t agree but said nothing, he knew his place, and that was not to argue with Skjor.”
Iriella stomped down the path to the bridge, Rune trotted along beside her, wondering what had made her so irritated.
“Who did he think he was?” Rune looked up to her and cocked his head to one side, sometimes it was really like he understood every word she said. “I mean, really, the cheek! Telling me I am brave for walking home in the dark, like I’m some kind of milk-drinker? Then the other one telling me we should join their stupid Companions?” Rune put his ears flat down and she had to laugh at him. “I’m not angry with you, silly puppy.” She stopped and crouched down and put her arms around the great wolfs neck. “Nothing could ever make me mad at you” she sat back on her heels and regarded him “It’s me and you Rune, always” she put her forehead to his before getting up and continuing across the bridge. She picked her way up the riverside once they were across the other side, the moonlight bathing their path in an eerie silver glow. Torchbugs hovered near the surface of the river in little clouds, giving the place a very fairy like look. The glimmer of a rare Lunar moth wing here or there added to the effect.
They started to climb the hill toward the cabin, both of them on alert, this was where they were at their most vulnerable, Rune was moving silently, sticking to the shadows while Iriella stayed in the light, if anyone attached her, he would be ready. Finally, they crossed the clearing to the cabin, they would be safe here, Iriella wasn’t sure what the old woman had done to the place but literally no wildlife or people ever came near the it. She opened the door and went inside, she lit a few of the lamps then went back out to check the skin she had hung earlier that day, it was only small, belonging to a goat, she would roll it up and take it to Ri’ssad tomorrow if it had dried.
She heard a twig snap behind her and sensed she was being watched. Rune was crouching just behind the doorway, waiting for the signal. She took a deep breath and in one swift motion whirled around, drawing her sword and instantly placing it at the neck of the person behind her.
“You made it up here in one piece then?” Vilkas smirked at her. “You can put that down; I mean you no harm.”
“What are you doing here? This is OUR house; outsiders are not welcome.” She re sheathed her sword and stood with her arms folded glaring angrily at him. Rune had come out of the house and was sniffing Vilkas carefully, as if trying to identify him.
“I had to see the place for myself”
“Ok, you’ve seen it, now leave.”
“You’re not very hospitable.”
“I don’t need to be”
“Why are you so angry?”
“Why are you so nosey?” Iriella was struggling to keep her temper, Rune put his ears flat down and slunk back into the house. Vilkas raised his hands apologetically
“I’m sorry ok, I was just curious; forgive me, I really do mean no harm.”
“How did you get here so quickly? You weren’t following us, Rune or I would have heard you.” Iriella’s eyes narrowed.
“Hah, that’s my little secret.” He grinned at her and turned to leave, she watched him make his way across the clearing to the brow of the hill “Be seeing you, milk-drinker” he called without turning around. He smiled to himself in the dark knowing his antagonistic comment would have set off that fiery temper of hers.