Horse Charms and Warning Signs

 Horse Charms

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Babette was a pretty terrible rider considering she’d had three-hundred years to practice.

The pubescent vampire rode next to me on a chestnut-brown courser. She couldn’t seem to balance her weight properly, so she kept tipping her stirrups to one side, then the next. Struggling with the reigns and hissing angry curses at her horse.

Astrid, of course, rode with the same frustrating grace that accompanied all of her actions.

The other two Brothers we’d taken with us were initiates, but both seemed decent on a horse, at least. One was a silent Dunmer named Nivos, who had almost as many tattoos as I do. He also carried twin Daedric short swords on each hip, so I had to give him points for style.

The other was Dondir, the half-breed archer I’d met at the Solstice party. He rode with the hints of a smile constantly flickering around the edges of his lips.

I’d wanted to bring Gabriella, but Astrid insisted on these two. “Only one way to turn an initiate into a killer,” she’d said.

I caught myself wishing Arnbjorn was with us like the last time I rode north for a contract. We could have used his warhammer for job like this. A werewolf never hurts, either.

After Babette cropped her horse for the fourth time in an hour, I decided to draw up next to her. “It isn’t the horse’s fault,” I said, “it’s yours.”

Babette scowled at me. “You worry about your mount, Narova. And I will worry about mine.”

I shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Just for fun, I used an old Bosmer trick to charm Babette’s horse. It’s all about pheromones with animals—a Wood Elf who knows her business can turn a raging bear tame if she wants to. It seemed like a trifling skill compared to teleportation and tattoo-fueled shockwaves, but I figured what the hell?

After the horse was charmed, I spurred my own mount and galloped into the hills east of the road. Babette’s courser followed immediately, whinnying happily and rushing to match pace.

“Hey! What the fuck Narova?” Babette squealed, struggling with her reigns and losing her balance.

I guided my horse over a little hillock and then took him splashing down into the river that we were following out of the Reach. The cold water felt good on my feet and thighs after a long day of riding in the baking sun. I reached down to scoop up a handful of icy-coolness and splashed it on the back of my necking, laughing the entire time.

Babette’s horse nickered at my side. Babette herself did not seem to be enjoying the water nearly as much as I was.

“If you weren’t in the Family,” she whispered under her breath, fangs showing a little, “I would suck that bony body of yours dry, Narova.”

“Do you really think I’m bony?” I examined my wrists and arms carefully. “I always thought of myself as lean. Lean and lithe, you know?”

Babette was about to say something else, but Astrid appeared on the far side of the riverbank and silenced her.

“Having fun, are we?” her voice and face were difficult to read. There was no sign of the old, familiar fury I had once managed to summon inside of her no matter what I did.

“Just brushing up on my horse-charming,” I said. “Babette volunteered to help me practice.”

Astrid’s face tightened. “The Night Mother is a maternal figure,” she said. “I am not. If the two of you do not stop bickering, I will kill you both in your sleep when we reach the inn. Are we clear?”

There was a period of silence.

“Sure, Astrid. We’re clear,” I said after a while.

“Crystal,” Babette said, still seething.

The fun was over.

We cantered back to the road and fell into formation. Astrid at the head, the rest of us forming a lazy arrow fanning out behind her. Dondir’s veiled smile had turned into a full-blown affair. Nivos just frowned and glanced down at my mask, which I kept tied to my hip at all times.

Besides Veezara, nobody knew what I could do with the mask.

Nivos was a tricky one to figure out—I was curious about him. He was obviously sharp, and you don’t see too many Brotherhood initiates walking around with 60,000 Septims worth of sword slung around their waist.

There wasn’t time to chat, though. We were passing through Forsworn territory. All of us kept a quiet watch on the hillside, listening for the hum of an arrow heading our way. Luckily, nobody attacked us and we passed the valley without incident.

Even Forsworn think twice before attacking the Brotherhood.

***

We stopped for the night at a rickety, three-room inn built from slats of pine. The roof was festooned with moss and mushrooms grew thick in the corners, but the common room had a warm fire and the innkeeper gave us free food and drink.

I could tell from his quivering hand that his generosity probably wasn’t motivated by a charitable disposition. The man was terrified.

Besides us, there were only three other patrons: A big-chested female bard who didn’t even bother singing for us—she just ate her food and went to bed early, cradling her lute like it was a child. An Orc who wore a blacksmith’s apron and smelled of soot (not a lot of mystery there).

And a lone traveler in a tattered cloak with black hair and an iron sword at his hip.

It was a simple weapon, but easy to see he knew how to use it. The grip was sweat-stained and molded to an expert hand. But I was more interested in the canvass satchel he had next to him—there was a very interesting smell coming from that bag.

“We leave an hour before dawn,” Astrid announced, wiping her mouth on a cloth napkin and getting up from our table after she was done eating. “Don’t get too drunk.”

Then she went to bed. The others soon followed.

So I ordered another jug of Alto wine and sat down across from the traveler.

“I’m Narova Black Hair,” I said, pouring my wine into a goblet.

Faron,” he muttered, barely looking at me. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked like he hadn’t shaved or bathed in about a month.

“You smell like a marsh,” I said.

“I came from a marsh.” He took a gulp from a large stoneware jug he had on the table. Then gave me a good long glare. “I’m not interested in fucking you,” he said after a while.

I smiled. “That’s okay. I’m not really interested in fucking you, either. You stink.” I nodded towards the satchel. “But I am interested in the contents of that bag. What do you have in there?”

“A turtle’s heart.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That so? Was it a magical turtle or something? It smells…familiar.”

“Yes.”

I leaned forward and lowered my head so I could see his face better. “Do you have a lot of experience with that sort of thing?” I asked.

“With what?”

“Magic.”

He made a noise that was somewhere between a sigh and a laugh. I couldn’t really tell which. “I’ve had some experience. What about you?”

“A bit.” I smiled and leaned back in my chair. “Where you headed, Faron? Might be we share the road tomorrow.”

“I highly doubt that, Narova Black Hair.” He got up from the table. “I tend to go my own way.” Then he disappeared into the one private room of the inn, taking the jug and the satchel with him.

The familiar, brimstone smell of the Netherworld lingered in the common room for a long time after he had gone.

Somehow, I knew that I’d see Faron again soon.

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