Iriella woke the next morning at the sound of a door being slammed. She sat up startled, wondering for a moment where she was. She looked around the room at the other beds, everyone occupying them was still sleeping soundly. She had always been a light sleeper; she was normally woken by the sunrise but down here there were no windows. She felt it must be sometime near dawn. Climbing out of bed she donned her soft leather armour, her ‘indoor’ set as Faendal had once referred to it. As quietly as she could she made her way out of the room and out into the corridor. Still slightly disorientated she looked around trying to recall which door led upstairs, finally she remembered the table as she had entered the corridor and heaved the heavy door next to it open. Seeing the set of stairs behind it she felt relieved, it wouldn’t do to go wandering into someone else’s quarters.
The main living area was eerily quiet, she was sure she had heard a door slam so someone must have come up here just before her. A movement at the far end of the room caught her eye, the elderly woman was bringing a tray of food out from a door off to the far side of the hall. Iriella approached her and the old woman looked up a little startled. She had kindly eyes and wrinkled skin. Her shoulder length grey hair was down, tucked behind her ears on each side. She wore a pale-yellow floor-length dress and had an apron tied around her waist.
“Morning, my dear,” she said, smiling, “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, thank you.” Iriella replied. “Can I help you with that?” she asked gesturing toward the enormous tray of food that the woman carried on her spindly arms.
“This? Oh no, you go sit down, it’s not often I have company at this time of day.” She placed the tray on the table and motioned for Iriella to sit. “That’s right, now how about I make you a hot drink?” without waiting for an answer she disappeared off into the kitchen. Iriella took some bread and some cooked tomatoes and put them on the plate in front of her. The bread was freshly made and still warm, the tomatoes were slightly spicy. The elderly woman returned with a mug of some brown steaming liquid and placed it down next to her. “Warm cocoa milk.” She explained, catching Iriella’s puzzled look.
“Thank you, I’ve never had this before.” she took a sip, goodness it was sweet!
“We don’t have much of it, cocoa is a rarity, but I get some from the market now and then, if anyone has managed to procure some. I’m Tilma, I take care of the Companions, I have done for generations.” She extended a skeletal like hand and Iriella shook it.
“Iriella.” she took another sip of the drink “This is good.” she smiled up at Tilma and the old woman looked pleased.
“Don’t get too used to it,” she winked “It’s only for a treat now and then, and don’t get telling the others, or they will all be wanting some!” She pottered off to the kitchen again and Iriella finished her breakfast and the very sweet cocoa milk alone.
Iriella sat in the great hall feeling replete, she still had no idea what time it was. Everything was quiet save from Tilma humming softly to herself as she carried out various chores. Eventually the old woman went downstairs and Iriella sat and looked around the room. There were numerous weapons and armour displayed on the walls, a few shields lay dotted about, presumably waiting for their owners to need them. A fire pit of huge proportions dominated the centre of the room, the table surrounded three sides of it, the open side being closest to the front entrance. Some banners and tapestries hung hap-hazard on the walls and from the wooden beams in the roof, and there were a few large barrels containing various alcoholic beverages.
The front door suddenly swung open and Vilkas filled it, peering past him she could just see that it was only just getting light, it must have been earlier than she thought. He came in and slammed the door shut behind him and removed his cloak. He was hanging it on a hook near the door alongside the others when he suddenly realised, he was not alone.
“Morning, Red.” he said gruffly, without turning around. How had he known it was her? She decided to try for amiable for a change.
“Morning, Milk-Drinker.” Well, it was almost amiable she thought to herself. He turned around and glared at her.
“It’s too early for insults,” he grumbled, “What are you doing up at this hour?”
“I might ask you the same!” she retorted, then added “I was woken up by a door slamming.” For a split second he almost looked guilty, and she realised it must have been he who had made the noise.
“Truth be told, I’m a light sleeper, I usually wake when the sun rises…”
“But there’s no windows downstairs.” he finished for her. She nodded and poured herself some cold Juniper berry juice. “Hmph.” Vilkas grunted and he strode over to the long side of the table and sat down heavily, pouring himself a mug of the fresh liquid. “You want to be careful; people will think you’re a vampire if you go telling them you can tell when the sun is rising from a room with no windows.” he mumbled.
“I didn’t.” she said icily “I was woken up by the door.”
“And yet somehow you knew it was morning and got up.” he said, without looking at her. Really! This man was infuriating! She drained her mug and put it down on the table, a little harder than she would have liked, her temper was fraying badly. She was tired, and her heart was aching still at the loss of Rune. Why did this man feel the need to be so beastly?
Keeping what little decorum she could manage she rose silently and headed for the door, perhaps a walk would do her good; she hoped it wasn’t too cold, her cloak was still downstairs, but she didn’t want to spend another second in the company of Vilkas.
“Be seeing you, Red.” he called after her. Stopping just before the door she turned slowly and looked straight at him. He stared right back at her, his eyes bore into her like gimlets, challenging her to speak. She held her tongue and whirled back to the door and left the hall.
She stomped down toward the market area, the air held a little early morning chill, but it wasn’t too bad, she was hardy and used to the cold. The city was still quiet, one or two of the market traders were setting up their stalls, she felt about her person for her coin pouch and was relieved to find it secured to her belt. She thought about purchasing come fresh fruit and was suddenly stuck with another idea. She plodded down the city streets towards the gate, she only had two of her small daggers on her for protection, but she didn’t have far to go for what she had in mind. She nodded politely to the guards at the gates and waited patiently for one for them to open it for her. Making her way towards the stables she saw the tell-tale sight of smoke rising up from just outside the city wall. Smiling to herself she jogged down the walkway that lead away from the gates. Rounding a corner, she saw a familiar large fur tent, the smell of hot stew hung faintly in the air.
“Well, look at this one. If it isn’t my favourite Nordic princess.” Ri’saad uncurled himself from his sitting position in the tent doorway and got up to greet her. “I do not see you for a long time, Iriella, I almost worried about you.” He blinked slowly at her and smiled, showing his cat teeth. “Come, you will sit with Ri’saad, tell me of your troubles. I heard about your wolf friend. Khajiit do not usually like canine creatures but your Rune, he was one of the beautiful ones. I am very sad to hear of his passing.” She bowed to him and raised her fist to her chest in greeting.
“It is good to see you, Ri’saad.” she said. She nodded towards Khayla, the ‘bodyguard’ for the caravan before sitting down next to Ri’saad who had already sat back down on his mat. The other two Khajiit who travelled with him would likely be sleeping. Khayla would be up early to keep watch, she was a fearsome warrior, for a cat, and devilishly sneaky when she needed to be.
Iriella sat with Ri’saad for an hour, they talked about recent happenings, she told him the full story of the events in Riverwood, and he listened with a furrowed brow.
“And now you join with the Companions yes?” he asked when she had finished.
“Yes.” she replied a little sullenly.
“You do not like it there. I can see it. If you were a Khajiit you would come and live with Ri’saad. We would give you a good home, travel with our caravan.” He grinned at her and in spite of her low mood she grinned back.
“I would love to, though I have some business that needs tending to, and I think I am lacking some fur.” Ri’saad chuckled softly.
“You will come to see Ri’saad again soon, yes?” She assured him that she would and got up to leave.
“Before I go, I do need to buy something from you.” The Khajiit’s green eyes lit up at the prospect of coin and he rose once again.
“This is good, you will come into the tent, old Ri’saad, he will have something for you.” He motioned her into the tent, and she reached for her coin pouch.
Back in Whiterun and armed with a paper covered box she walked back up to Jorrvaskr. The market was now occupied with all its local traders and Belathor was stood outside his shop. He nodded to Iriella and she inclined her head in return. Back in the mead hall some of the others had arisen, though a fair few were still downstairs. It seemed getting up early was not a requirement for the Companions, Iriella was glad, at least it meant she would have a quiet part of the day to herself. She nodded politely to Aela and Skjor, who were eating at the table. Farkas was fidgeting with some leather straps and what looked like some greaves in one of the corners. Vilkas was nowhere to be seen, and Ria was sat by herself. She gave Iriella a bright smile and continued eating her breakfast. Not wanting to interrupt people eating, Iriella made straight for the kitchen. Finding it empty she scanned the room for charcoal. On a small table just inside the door she found a piece and wrote ‘For Tilma’ on the paper covering the box. Depositing it on the table she left the room and went downstairs.
She walked down the living quarters corridor, Kodlak was once again seated at the little table just outside his own quarters. He smiled at Iriella and motioned for her to join him.
“Come, sit with me.” She sat down in the vacant chair and looked at the old man expectantly. “You want to know why I joined the Companions, don’t you?” He asked softly. Feeling her cheeks pink a little Iriella shifted in her chair.
“Yes,” She replied after a pause.
“Very well” he stroked his beard with a well weathered hand. “I joined the Companions for the same reason most of the others here did. I lost my own family and found a new one. I travelled all over Tamriel, learning everything I could about the sword and the axe. I was serving a lord as a bodyguard in Hammerfell when I met Askar.”
“Askar?” Iriella asked.
“Yes, Askar, he was my predecessor. He brought me back here, to Jorrvaskr. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was home.”
“I wouldn’t know what that feels like.” Iriella’s face darkened somewhat and Kodlak looked at her;
“You never felt at home in Riverwood?”
“Almost.” she said thoughtfully
“This may feel like home one day.” He ventured, almost sounding hopeful.
“With people like Vilkas here?” she scoffed “I hardly think so.” Kodlak’s eyes widened at her little outburst, she was forthright indeed. Iriella, sensing he was less than impressed with her mulish manner did her best to look contrite. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude I just-” Kodlak raised a hand, halting her apologies.
“I understand, you need not explain yourself,” He took a deep breath and sighed “Vilkas and Farkas, they have been here a long time. Farkas is strong, calm, he doesn’t like to think a lot. Vilkas on the other hand, he thinks a lot. It hurt him when Jergen left for the war, though he doesn’t admit it.”
“Jergen?” Iriella asked
“Yes, Jergen,” the old man considered and then continued “He brought the boys here when they were just pups. Raised them with our help, then he left. Never knew if he was their real father or not, Farkas took it all in his stride when he left but Vilkas…” Kodlak’s face softened as he looked at Iriella. “He’s kind at heart.”
“Vilkas? He has an odd way of showing it.” Iriella snorted and Kodlak chuckled
“A little like someone else you know?” He smiled kindly at her and she rose, worried he was going to start asking her any more questions about her past.
“Give it a chance.” He said softly as she walked towards her quarters, she turned back to face him.
“I will do my best.” She bowed her head respectfully
“That is all we can ever ask of ourselves.” He looked wistful and almost sad. Iriella slipped into the quarters she had slept in and was relieved to see all her belongings still where she had left them. She still had her reservations about this place.
After washing she made her way back up to the hall in search of Aela or Farkas thinking she may as well try and get some work thrown her way; what money she had left would run out eventually.
“Ah, there you are,” Farkas’ voice came from behind her, she whirled around to face him. “Always on your guard.” he smiled pleasantly at her and she managed a small grin.
“Have to be,” she murmured, “You never know who could sneak up on you.”
“Hmpf,” grunted Farkas, “Sneaking isn’t really my thing.” He looked down at his own large frame and Iriella permitted herself a wry chuckle.
“No, I suppose you’re not really built for stealth.” He smiled good humouredly.
“So, do you have something for me to do?” She asked. Farkas scratched the back of his neck
“I may have a little job or two that need doing.” He grinned lazily.
“Alright, what are they?”
“Well, depends what you’re in for…if you fancy a good old-fashioned brawl then there’s a merchant looking for some hired muscle to sort out a thief. If brawling isn’t your thing there’s some rich treasure hunters looking to explore a cave that has a bit of an animal problem.”
“Animal problem?” Iriella raised an eyebrow, Farkas didn’t know her well enough to have learned of her love of all creatures. As a child she’d rescue birds, mice, even rescued a skeever from a trap once, much to her mother’s distress. Her father had taught her to love all animals, from chirping insects to mighty trolls.
“Yeah, bears, I think. Family of ‘em in the cave they want to explore, looking for some lute or something.”
“Pah!” Iriella scoffed loudly, making Farkas jump. “I’ll not be moving a family of bears out of their home for any fancy treasure hunter! Good job they didn’t ask me themselves, I’d have fed them to the bears as dinner!” She spoke with such vehemence that Farkas raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“You may have a point there.” he seemed to be genuine, Iriella peered at him curiously
“May have a point? Do you think it’s fair to move a big beautiful creature out of it’s home, or worse kill it and it’s children, all so some rich folk can go in there for one day, take what they please then never go there again?” She asked incredulously. Farkas raised his hands in defence
“Hey look, I agree, ok? How about I don’t offer you any of the extermination jobs again huh?”
“I’ll exterminate people quite happily.” she grunted, Farkas wasn’t sure if she was being serious or not.
“Well, the contract we have here is to just rough this guy up a little and remind him who’s boss, the merchant doesn’t want him killed, this isn’t the Dark Brotherhood.” Farkas decided he’d better make things clear, in case the woman was being serious. She shrugged impassively; her earlier passion dissipated.
“Okay, who’s the guy?” Farkas handed her a scrap of parchment.
“S’all on there.” She eyed the scrawling’s on the page and looked back up to Farkas expectantly.
“How long do I have to do it?”
“However long you need as long as it’s done right and we get paid, no one really minds.” Iriella nodded and Farkas raised a fist to his chest and bowed his head “Fight well.”
“Or die well.” Iriella finished, mirroring his movement. Iriella may have been a little unruly but she was very respectful to Nord traditions.
Farkas departed and she stood looking at the scrap of parchment she had been given.
I would respectfully ask that a reminder be given to a male Imperial by the name of Louis. Whether this is his real name I do not know.
What I do know is that he may be at the Drunken Huntsman, I believe he was asked to leave the Bannered Mare.
I would also like him to return the items he stole from my shop on Morndas just passed.
Belathor? Iriella stuffed the parchment into a pocket and made her way into her sleeping quarters to retrieve her gear. May as well get this done and out of the way with. She’d have to ask around about out this ‘Louis’ character. It was not a name she recognised, a traveller perhaps. One lacking in respect for the place he would temporarily call home if he was stealing from Belathor.
Wearing her better armour and armed with her sword, a short-handled axe, a smaller sword and two daggers she left Jorrvaskr in search of the thief. Now, where to start? Reaching into her pocket she pulled out the now slightly crumpled parchment. ‘Asked to leave the Bannered Mare’ Best start there she thought to herself and strode off in the direction of the inn. On her way down the stone steps she almost collided with a rather red-faced Nord woman.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. Oh, Iriella, it’s you!”
“Ysolda.” Iriella nodded to the breathless woman. “Where are you running to?”
“Oh, it’s not so much to, it’s from. I’m so embarrassed.” Iriella got a sinking feeling she was going to regret asking the woman any questions. “It’s Mikael,” Ysolda continued without invitation, “I only asked him if he would like to dine with me tonight and do you know what he did?” Iriella opened her mouth to reply that she did not but Ysolda did not wait for an answer. “He LAUGHED!” Her eyes looked like they were about to fill with tears. “Can you believe it? He laughed, at me!” Iriella suddenly put her hands on Ysolda’s shoulders sharply; she looked up at Iriella with her eyes wide.
“You need to pull yourself together!” She raised her voice a little in an effort to snap the other woman out of her hysterics. “You’re worth more than that! Don’t you dare let some silly little Bard make you feel this way!” She released the startled woman and stepped back.
“I’m sorry, Iriella. You’re right,” She gave a little bow of her head and smiled, “Thank you.” There was warmth in her voice. Despite generally having little time for others, Iriella was quite fond of Ysolda. She traded with the Khajiit sometimes and knew how to hold her tongue when she needed to. She also paid good coin for certain herbs that were only reachable by braver souls than she.
Sending the Nord on her way Iriella trotted up the steps to the Bannered Mare. Swinging the door open she felt the warmth from the fire pit on her legs. Hulda, the Innkeeper was cleaning a table near the door. She looked up and smiled at Iriella,
“Come in for a drink?” She asked. Iriella would often have stopped for a drink on her trips to Whiterun with Alvor, especially if he got talking to Ulfberth.
“Not today.” Hulda went back to the bar and Iriella followed her.
“Do you need something?” Iriella looked around to make sure no one was listening and Hulda eyed her curiously.
“It’s someone I need. Not something.” She seated herself at a barstool and Hulda leaned over the bar, her hand outstretched suggestively. Iriella slid some septims across the polished wood and Hulda gathered them up efficiently.
“Alright, I’m listening.” She said in a low voice, after also checking to make sure they weren’t being heard. Iriella smiled grimly, it was amusing how easily people’s tongues could be listened for a few coins.
“Well, I’m looking for a man, goes by the name of Louis.” Hulda tilted her head to one side, considering. “I believe you recently threw him out of here?” Hulda’s eyes widened slowly and she leaned further forward.
“Yes, I got Sinmir to ask him to leave, not more than four or so nights ago!” She whispered conspiratorially. “He was an Imperial, now far be it from me to gossip but…” Iriella grinned as she knew full well that Hulda was highly likely to gossip and settle to listen to what she had to say.
She left the Bannered Mare, having heard all about this ‘Louis’. Despite Hulda’s attempts not to gossip, she had of course told her all bout how he had staggered into the inn, having already consumed a fair amount of Ale. He’d just been a bit loud at first but being loud had turned into yelling at anyone who entered the inn; demanding they buy him more drink and listen to how the Imperial soldiers; his kin had cast him out. When Hulda had asked him to stop badgering her customers he’d threatened her, at which point Sinmir’s services had been enlisted to ‘remove’ him. Sinmir was a thick set Nordic warrior. Rumour had it that he was once one of the highest paid sell swords of the region. Somehow or other he had ended up living in the Bannered Mare, though no one really knew how. He never hid his dislike for all things Imperial and had given this Louis quite a hiding before hurling him out of the door and halfway down the steps of the inn. Hulda had not wanted the fracas talked about, lest some travellers hear it, it was bad for business.
Though Hulda had not known where the renegade Imperial had gone, Iriella suspected the Drunken Huntsman would be a good place to start. They served just about anyone in there and as this fellow would likely still be injured from his run in with Sinmir, he would not have gone far. Entering the building she looked around. The Bosmer Elrindir was at his usual place behind the counter, cleaning a mug.
“Iriella” He nodded to her politely and his eyes lit up a little. She had often brought fresh meat in for him from Faendal.
“Elrindir” She nodded back and approached the counter. As she arrived another Bosmer appeared out of one of the rooms and clapped her on the back.
“If it isn’t one of our honorary kin.” He grinned and she smiled politely back. Elrindir’s brother Anoriath had always been a little ‘over-friendly’ for her liking but she had tolerated him on account of Faendal.
“What can we do for you, Iriella?” Asked Elrindir with a smile identical to his brother’s. “Here for a drink? How is life in Whiterun? I hear you have joined up with the Companions now.”
“I’m not here for drinks, Whiterun is fine. As for joining the Companions…” She surveyed the room quickly. Nazeem, a Redguard sat at the corner table with a mug of Ale and some bread. He nodded to her and turned back to his food. At the only other table in the room she spied her quarry, there was no mistaking the large bruise over his right cheek, sunken eyes from too much drink; well worn and ragged Imperial uniform, or what was left of one. He sat staring at Iriella, he thought about saying something rude to her but decided to hold his tongue, he had drawn enough attention to himself already.
Tossing a small pouch of loose change across the counter to Elrindir she nodded to Anoriath and walked over to the Imperial.
“Louis.” It was a statement rather than a question.
“Who’s askin’?” He grumbled. “Let me be woman can’t you see a man hard on his luck?”
“All I see is a thief who drinks to much, who brought so much dishonour to his kinsmen they turned him away.” Her eyes glittered dangerously and Anoriath slipped behind the counter with his brother. He knew better than to get in Iriella’s way, plus there was that bag of coin she had given them…
“Ha!” Louis got up “Back down woman, you know nothing!”
“I will give you one opportunity to return the stolen items to me now, or I will drag you back to the place you stole them from and make you return them personally.” She said calmly, folding her arms across her chest. She was not scared of this runt of a man, why should she not have a little fun while she was carrying out her duties?
“You think that I am going anywhere with you?” The Imperial had guts she thought to herself.
“I know you will be coming with me unless you hand over the stolen goods now.” She was still calm and unruffled, which infuriated the Imperial man even more.
He lunged at her with his fists, she stepped deftly sideways, and he stumbled past her. Turning on her furiously he drew his fists up to his face.
“Fine, you fight me and win, and you can take me anywhere you like. Not that you will walk out of here yourself of course!” She put her hands on her hips, he eyed the hilt of her sword which had been hidden by her cloak. “No weapons.” He added. Iriella noticed he was not armed, and she nodded.
“Seems fair.” She grinned and raised her own fists beckoning for him to attack her. He swung at her with great force and missed, she jabbed at his face with her left, but he surprised her by blocking her quite smartly. “A man who knows how to fight?” She taunted and he flew at her again, this time he caught her on the shoulder, it barely stung and she returned his punch almost immediately while his guard was still down and caught him square on the cheek. Elrindir, Anoriath and Nazeem winced in synchronisation as the Imperial staggered back clutching his face. Iriella had a powerful arm and he had not been expecting a blow with such force. Regaining his balance he ran at her, catching the glint of a dagger he had produced from somewhere on his person; she span around neatly and grabbed his arm with lightening speed. Twisting it painfully behind his back she removed the small dagger from his hand and dropped it to the floor, looking at it disdainfully. Using her free hand, she grabbed his hair and held his head back sharply, he stopped struggling to try and avoid the pain.
“Owwoowow!” he exclaimed, “I yield!”
“You said no weapons” her voice was low, and her teeth clenched. She really did not have time for petty thieves, least of all those with no honour.
Letting go of his head but keeping her vice-like grip on his wrist she motioned towards his pack.
“Bring that. You’ll be returning those items now.” With a shaking hand he picked up the backpack.
“Alright, alright” he grumbled. “I’ll go quietly, you can let me go.”
“Not a chance after your little stunt with the dagger.” She said gruffly and ushered him towards the door past the open mouthed Bosmers and Nazeem. “Gentlemen.” she nodded to the three of them and made her way back out into the streets of Whiterun with the Imperial in front of her, ignoring his protests at being frog-marched up the cobblestone path to the general goods store Belathor ran.
People turned to look at the commotion as they passed. Some admiring glances from one or two of the guards caught her eye. Clearly this Imperial had been causing trouble for some time if they were not stopping her. Belathor came out of Arcadia’s cauldron as they arrived at the well in the centre of the market. He had been in there trading some herbs and he looked at the Imperial in surprise, not realising for a moment that Iriella was behind him.
“I believe this man has somethings of yours?” She stepped to the side and Belathor smiled grimly.
“I believe he does.” He looked around at the crowd now gathered in the marketplace, the Imperials face was the colour of fresh snowberries and various comments and whispers could be heard.
“Goodness me they don’t tolerate thieves here.” murmured someone.
“Nice to see wrongs being out right.” Ventured someone else.
“Perhaps you can bring him inside the shop?” Belathor thought it best to take this off the street, as much of a pleasure as it was seeing justice being served, he did not want to be at the centre of city gossip for any longer than he needed to and he motioned for Iriella to bring the thief into the shop, shutting the door behind them. The crowd dispersed; the citizens and travellers returned to their various businesses and the general chatter of the marketplace rose up once more. Standing unseen at the top of the steps leading down to the market was Vilkas. Quite an impressive little show, he had thought to himself while watching Iriella at work. Smiling to himself he turned away and walked back toward Jorrvaskr.