Lies and Murder in Cidhna Mine
“Welcome to hell, cat,” the jailor said.
Then he threw a pickaxe on the ground, locked the gate behind me, and walked away. His footsteps grew softer and softer until they disappeared.
The mine reeked of Orc sweat and mushrooms. A musty kind of odor that left me longing for the fresh air of the Forsworn Mountains. The metal clang of steel-on-stone echoed up from the tunnel in front of me.
I left the pickaxe where it was, and went down into Cidhna Mine.
Every outlaw in The Reach has heard stories of Markarth’s subterranean prison. They have worried that a cruel twist of fate would one day deliver them into her earthy jaws.
Even the hardest of criminals can be broken by the mine—a five year sentence has been known to whittle a fierce killer down into nothing more than a cowering nub of a creature, no more dangerous than a baby mud crab.
I didn’t have plans to stay for very long, though. So I tried not to think of an extended visit’s consequences.
The tunnel wormed its way through the earth for fifty or sixty paces, then opened up into an inn-sized cavern. Rotting wood had been used to build a number of different scaffolds and platforms along the walls. About two dozen men and women worked on different sections, each of them toiling away on their own private section of punishment.
None of them were Khajiit.
Eyes turned to me as I sauntered down the main scaffold. I am sure that is was difficult to behold a newcomer’s straight back and confident stride.
It reminded them of the vitality they had lost.
I waited until the pickaxes had stopped their pounding, and everyone was staring at me. I let my paws hang low and relaxed by my sides, but did not draw my claws.
“I am looking for three Khajiit,” I said. “Sisters. They would have arrived a week ago, maybe less.”
Nobody answered with their mouths, but their faces shouted the truth—sideways glances and widening eyes. All of them connecting my words to a reality of this hellhole.
Renji and her sisters were here, somewhere.
“I don’t want any trouble,” I continued, after a prolonged silence. “I just want the three Khajiit.”
One by one, the prisoners turned away from me and resumed their work.
“You came to the wrong place, cat,” a voice rumbled from behind me.
I twisted around to find a seven-foot tall Orc filling the entrance to a side passageway. He had a white skull painted across his face. His forearms were the same size as my legs.
“Funny, I’m pretty sure I came to exactly the right place,” I said, turning to face him head on.
“You say that you don’t want trouble. That you do want to see other cats.” The Orcs voice sounded like two metal stones being ground together. “Nobody sees the cats. Everybody gets trouble.”
I nodded my head towards the dark passageway behind the Greenskin.
“Are they down there?” I asked.
“Fill that mangy paw with a pickaxe,” the Orc said, ignoring my question. “And get to work. I do not repeat things.”
Haste had taken me this far, so I decided to test the limits of its usefulness.
“You’re the boss,” I said, then took three purposeful steps towards a pickaxe that was propped up against a small rock. On the third step, I flicked my tail unexpectedly. The Orc’s eyes shifted away from my body, distracted by the sudden movement.
I pivoted by weight and darted forward—burning away the distance between me and the Orc in seven rapid steps. I unsheathed my claws on the eighth step.
Jammed my right fist into his stomach on the ninth.
I grabbed a big fistful of intestines and ripped them out, spilling them all over the dusty ground of the cave.
The Orc released a horrendously disturbing howl, then tried to take a swing at me with a meaty arm. I skipped away easily. The force of his attack put a lot of strain on his stomach, and finished the disemboweling work that I had begun.
He collapsed onto the earth, panting hard and dying fast. I turned to face the prisoners again. They gaped at me. Most of them had dropped their pickaxes and put their hands over their mouths.
“I will ask again. Where are the three Khajiit?”
There was a long silence, but this time, nobody turned back to their mining work. Eventually, a spindly old man—who looked more like a dying tree then a person—shuffled to the front. It was strange, I had not noticed him until just then.
“Your friends are being kept by Lothar Burel,” he said with a weak, sandy voice.
“Down there?” I motioned towards the doorway that the Orc had guarded.
“No.” The old man shook his head. “That way is only…more Orsimer. They will rage when they learn Groback-Dan has been slain…”
I took a step forward. Everyone else in the room took a step back except for the old man.
“Where is this Lothar Burel, then?”
“That way.” The old man pointed towards a narrow passageway in the far corner of the cavern. “He has guards, but none so strong as Groback was.”
The old man smiled at me. I narrowed my eyes at him. Something was wrong.
The smells did not add up.
I couldn’t smell any more Orcs down the passageway Groback had guarded. Just the vague scent of muddy pools and fungus. But the place where the old man was pointing…even from across the room I could smell warm bodies down there. A lot of them.
“You’re lying,” I hissed.
The man’s gentle smile didn’t drop for a second.
A dozen men had appeared from the shadows and the gloom of the cavern. These were not frail prisoners—they had strong, well-fed frames. They carried clubs and shivs and pickaxes. All of them had thick blue rings tattooed around their arms.
“Groback-Dan was right, Khajiit,” the old man continued. “You came to the wrong place.”