A String of Bad Decisions
My life is basically a string of bad decisions. Mistakes lined up in a long row—their backs brushing up against each other.
But having sex with Vera—the strange ghost-witch who materialized from Dawnstar night—and then swearing myself into her service…that is probably the worst thing I have ever done.
Or the best. I cannot decide just yet.
The night after we met, she took me south. Out of that blasted wasteland of a country that some Dark Wizard ruined, and into the mountain country east of Whiterun. A peaceful land.
Vera didn’t have any clothes, so I gave her a tattered cloak from my pack and a pair of deerskin pants. She had a way of moving her hips while she walked that I could not ignore. Every inch of her body whispered a natural kind of seduction into my ear.
“Tell me more about yourself, Faron,” she said without turning around after we’d been walking for a few hours.
“Not much to tell.”
“But there is something.”
I fiddled with the hilt of my sword for a few paces, trying to figure out a good answer.
“I guess I’m what you call a wayward soul.”
Best I could muster.
“How did that happen?” Vera asked.
“Couldn’t say exactly.” I looked off to the west, where the plains stretched out for hundreds of leagues. “Guess I just sort of lost my way. Never spent much time trying to find it again.”
Vera nodded at that. Seemed satisfied with the answer.
“Are you any good with that sword?”
“Nobody’s put me in the ground yet,” I responded carefully. “But plenty have tried.”
Vera turned and glanced at me. Red hair drifting in front of her pale green eyes. She smiled.
“Good. There will be people coming after me.”
“What kind of people?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.
Midafternoon, a rabbit scampered across the road and I shot it with my bow. Lucky shot, right through the eye. Vera didn’t object to lunch, so I got a fire going and butchered the rabbit with my knife. Skewered the chunks of rabbit across a few pine sticks and rubbed the meat down with pepper and some sprigs of rosemary that I’d been saving. Roasted them over the fire.
Vera ate more than I did.
“My last bite of food was…quite a while ago,” she said between bites. “You forget what a good piece of meat tastes like.”
“How long since your last man?” I asked without really thinking. “Before last night, I mean.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Jealous?”
I took my last bite of rabbit. “Curious, I guess.”
Vera wiped her fingers off in the grass and then stood. Brushed off the leather cloak and pants.
“We should press on,” she said. “If we push ourselves, might be we can get there before nightfall.”
“And where exactly is ‘there?’”
Vera scanned the mountains rising ahead of us.
“What kind of cave?” I asked.
“One that I used to live in.”
I was getting the sense that Vera would be ignoring the vast majority of my questions.
Vera was right, we reached the cave just as the sun is burning its orange and yellow way across the rocks of a hill that’s trying desperately to be a mountain. This country is like that—every part aspiring to become something greater.
The opposite of me.
“It looks empty,” I said, after running my hand through some thick cobwebs and seeing the moss grown over the stones leading to the mouth of the cave.
“Should we go in?” I asked. Vera had a foggy kind of look about her.
“Not yet,” she said after a while. It was getting dark. “Let’s camp here. Some things are better done during daylight.”
That seemed like a strange request from a ghost who burned her way out of the night, but I didn’t say that. I just started a fire and dug through my pack for some salted meat that’s probably three months old.
“There are four men coming to kill me,” Vera says about an hour later, her body stiffening all the sudden. I am splayed out on my bedroll and about to fall asleep.
“Is there something you can do about it?” Sometimes, I wonder about the origin of the words that come from my mouth, and the idiot inside of me who produces them.
Vera shakes her head. “I am not myself yet.”
I sigh. Scan the darkness for these intruders. Then suck in five careful breaths to get the oxygen flowing through my veins. If it’s going to be a fight, I’ll need the air.
“Do you know anything else about them?”
Vera smiles at that and I don’t know why.
“Two of them are wearing light chainmail. The others have a dark kind of plate that looks like smoke rising up into the night sky.”
I get my bow and five arrows. Ebony bounces arrows like still pools reflect sunlight. Chainmail, not so much.
“Stay by the fire, let them get close,” I say. “Four men is doable.”
Vera doesn’t look scared, and that makes me more afraid. The only people who don’t get scared before a fight are sorceresses and morons.
“I’ll take care of them,” I say. “A promise is a promise.”
She doesn’t say anything back.
I slink my way between two squat pine trees about sixty strides away from the fire. Slam four arrows into the ground in front of me and nock the fifth. Draw my bow halfway and wait.
Take some more of those deep breaths that you need before a killing.