Tattoos and Silk
Mortimer found the girl near dusk, when the dying of the sun had thrown up a weary assortment of reds and oranges into the sky. A last stitch effort to make an impression before nightfall. He’d known a whore in Riften who used to prattle on about the majesty and beauty of those final pieces of daylight. Used to say it gave her a reason to live.
But the sunset did not move Mortimer. Few things did these days.
Half of northern Skyrim had been covered in that steaming purple water—farms and valleys turned into boiling lakes overnight. Thousand-year tundra pines burned down to nubs in the space of an afternoon. Some said the entire population of Dawnstar was boiled alive and then raised back to life through some unnatural process. Set to roaming the scorched countryside with murderous intent.
How could a pretty bunch of pretty colors above compete with such ugliness below?
And besides all that, Mortimer had been out in the wilds for near a month now—trapping elk and bears and not having much success at it. His old partner, Ajorn, had promised him an easy stretch of labor followed by a long stint filled with all the brandy and ale he could stomach.
And Mortimer could stomach quite a bit of both.
But Ajorn had slipped and shot himself in the face with his own damned crossbow, and that left Mortimer to his own devices. He’d played his hand at a number of trades in his life and come up on the losing end each time:
Alchemy in his youth, which he’d had to abandon after accidentally blinding a man. Soldiering for the empire in his prime, until he took an arrow to the knee and had to give it up. Then banditry, for lack of a better idea. All that had earned him was betrayals and jail time.
There was no denying it, each of Mortimer’s vocations had been filled and punctuated with failure.
Trapping was no different.
So Mortimer had been left wandering the outskirts of the Flooded Lands, hoping to stumble on something of value that had washed clear in all that ruin and destruction.
There were stories of Daedric armor and priceless gems being found in areas where the waters had started to subside.
Instead, he found the girl.
Mortimer squatted on a flat rock—leaning back on his haunches and picking at his teeth with the point of his dagger—and watched her.
She was naked. Probably a Bosmer, although it was difficult to tell for sure with her body curled up and her jet-black hair covering her face and ears. She had the lean limbs of a Wood Elf, at least.
But it wasn’t her nakedness that held the lion’s share of Mortimer’s attention just then. And the odd way that the current of steaming water had diverted around the girl on both sides—leaving her to sleep unharmed on an island or sorts—was certainly curious, seeing as the waters seems bent on destroying most everything else available. But that strangeness wasn’t particularly compelling to him, either.
No. Mortimer’s attention was almost entirely focused on the sword she had between her arms. She cradled the thing like a mother might hold a newborn. The scabbard was made from polished ebony wood, inlaid with silver. The grip wrapped in what looked like red silk.
That was a sword that a man could sell, Mortimer figured. Stay drunk for a month or two off the coin he made.
And all Mortimer had to do was hop over and grab it.