Two Old Friends Meet Outside Falkreath
It had been raining in Falkreath for six days. The smell of pine mixed with damp, rotting wood like a nightmare mixes with a child’s fear. Sem rode alone on a black horse, nothing but a sword on his hip and a bedroll on the back of his saddle.
Sem found the man he’d been hunting half a day’s ride north of Falkreath, long after his cloak and his armor and everything else had been soaked through. Even Sem’s lungs felt wet, if that was possible.
The man was afoot, waiting for him in the middle of the road.
“Hello, Sem,” he said.
They considered each other. The one man ahorse and clad from head to heel in the dark wolf armor of the Companions. The other wore bits and pieces from one dead man or another. Orcish on his feet and hands. Ebony on his chest. Nothing on his face. Wallace never wore a helm – too hard to see the man who’s trying to kill you, he always said. His dark, wild hair fell down almost to his waist.
“I see you’ve taken up the wolf mantle. You a Companion now?” Wallace asked.
Sem shrugged. “They’ve taken me into their pack, for a time. I did what was needed to track you down. The wolves can always find a scent, even in the rain.”
Wallace spat and fiddled with the hilt of his blade – a silver scimitar taken off an Alik’r mercenary he’d killed in a tavern fight six years ago. Something about a ruby gem. Sem had been there – he remembered laughing with Wallace as the Alik’r twisted on the sawdust covered floor, dying. “I piss on the wolves,” Wallace said. “And their honor is thinner than a wisp of short hairs if they’ll take on bandit-scum like you.”
Sem ignored that. “I had not thought to meet you here,” he said. “The talk was you’d moved further north, into Haafingar, even. I envisioned this business being done over white snow, not among gray mist and rain.”
“North, aye. I was headed that direction. Killed some farmers and a Khajiit caravan along the way.”
“I passed the farms. The caravan, too.”
“I do not need more reasons to see you dead.”
Wallace let out a low guttural noise. An animal laugh. “I felt you behind me, tugging on my hair like a bratty child begging me to slow down. Figured it best to settle things before I kept on towards Haafingar.”
There was a silence. The sound of rain falling on pine trees.
“Let’s settle it, then,” Sem said.
He lowered himself gracefully from his horse. Even in heavy armor, he was fluid as a stream.
Wallace snorted. “A smarter man would have run me down. No need to even unsheathe his sword.”
In response, Sem ripped free his ebony blade. The dark edge reflected no light.
Wallace didn’t move. He squinted his eyes and squeezed his hands into tight fists. Released them. Then he pulled his own sword free – silver and curved and deadly.
“Make your move,” Wallace said.
A scimitar was not a good weapon for a duel. Both men knew this. The blade was designed for sweeping cuts done on the move from those swift desert horses the Alik’r favored. It was not good for blocking, and it did not have the piercing power of Sem’s ebony sword. Yet Wallace had buried a small graveyard worth of men with his foreign blade in single combat. Sem had seen him do it many times.
Parrying and piercing mattered little when you moved like a saber cat. Wallace was the fastest swordsman Sem had ever known. His only chance was to strike him first.
So Sem bulled forward and cut at his enemy with a powerful side attack. Wallace slid to his left, dodging the strike easily. Sem whirled, trying to get his sword up in time for the riposte, but he was too slow.
The scimitar bit into his right pauldron with a deep sting, and then Wallace was dancing away again, his feet moving like a wood-sprite over a pile of leaves, not a man ankle-deep in mud. Sem gritted his teeth and followed his dancing as best he could, trying to keep his weight balanced.
I have not come this far just to get killed. He thought to himself. You can beat him.
In an instant, Wallace was no longer dancing backwards, but rushing forward in a spray of mud and rain and black hair. Sem just managed to twist his blade across his body and parry the sweeping attack that was over as soon as it started. Wallace continued past and Sem whipped around to follow his movement but found nothing except the empty road when he turned around.
Wallace’s blade struck him in the side of his helm from somewhere he couldn’t see, and Sem’s world turned white.
His knees crumpled and his mouth filled with mud. Sem’s vision went from white to colored spots to a very blurry version of the waterlogged road an inch away from his eyes.
Wallace was laughing.
“It’s too bad, your new wolf armor was spotless when you showed up. A shame I had to ruin such good steel, it’ll be worth less than goat shit when I sell it to a blacksmith.”
Sem felt warmth spreading down the right side of his face. Blood. His hands were empty. He’d dropped his sword. Sem tried to pull his helm off, but it had been dented so badly it wouldn’t budge without another bout of blinding pain.
“You never should have come after me, Sem.” Wallace’s voice wandered as he circled one direction and then the other. “You don’t have the right. You’re no better than me when it comes down to it. Hell, I say you’re worse than me, trying to dress yourself up in pretty armor and calling yourself a true Nord. At least I’m honest about what we are.”
Sem hadn’t wanted to use the poison, but there wasn’t any other option left. He slipped his right hand into a pouch on his belt and removed the green bottle. Clutched it in his fist and stood up as best he could.
“And what’s that?” Sem mumbled through the mud in his mouth.
Wallace had stopped in front of him. He was ten feet away and uninjured. Smiling.
“We’re the bad men. Rotten all the way down our spines.”
Sem put up his fists. The bottle was invisible in his palm. “Once, maybe.”
“Always,” Wallace replied. “Fruit doesn’t go unrotten. And people don’t change.” Wallace tossed his sword from one hand to the other a few times. “See you on the other side, old friend.”
Wallace burst forward with an animal snarl. Sem knew he wasn’t fast enough to dodge him, so he guessed. Right-high seemed as good a direction for Wallace to kill him from as any.
So Sem ducked low and lunged right. The scimitar ripped through the air above his head like a dragon’s wing, but missed. In one smooth motion, Sem rose and crammed his fist into Wallace’s face – the bottle shattered and the paralysis poison consumed him in a green cloud.
Wallace’s body stiffened and then fell over in the mud like an oak fresh hewn by a lumberjack. The scimitar fell from his frozen hands.
Twenty seconds, the alchemist had told him. The strongest poison she had.
Sem grabbed his helm with both hands and ripped it off. He felt a chunk of skin and hair pull away from his scalp, but he didn’t care. Wallace would look upon his face before he died.
He didn’t see his own sword on the ground, so Sem picked up the scimitar. This was a job the curved blade was better suited for.
“I’d ask you for some last words, but…” Sem shrugged. Wallace’s eyes were stuck open – twin white orbs of fear. Sem hefted the blade over his shoulder.
“See you on the other side, old friend.”
Wallace’s fingers had just begun to twitch again when Sem brought the blade down on his neck.
Afterwards, the sound of the rain was the only thing left.