"You, girl, what is your name?" The guard captain said, his voice reminding her of boots crunching on snow. She glared at him through the steel bars of the jail cell, but said nothing.
"Please tell me your name." He asked again, softer this time. She looked very familiar somehow, but he couldn't quite place the memory.
"Lunara," she replied, keeping her voice even. She saw recognition flicker in his eyes, replaced by a forced blankness; her face oscillated between suspicion and curiosity, settling on the latter.
"Why do you want to know?" she asked.
"Were your guardians Velan and Sosia Aeresius of Bruma?" He asked and Lunara thought she heard a hint of hope in his tone. Lunara narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion. She hadn't heard those names in fifteen years.
"Yes, they were. They died a long time ago. Bandits," she replied.
"I know," he said, his voice thick. "After the bandit attack, I was the commander of the detachment sent to survey the damage, and I found your family. Your uncle was already dead, and your aunt died in my arms. You had a twin sister, correct? Where is she?" He watched as her eyes grew to the size of saucers and a flash of recognition showed in her eyes now.
"Captain Pelus?" she said. He nodded, unable to speak. Lunara stared at him, unable to believe he stood before her. There were deeper lines around his eyes and mouth, and his curly hair had more silver than she remembered, but his voice and manner were familiar to her.
"She's dead," Lunara replied. "She died three months ago; a poisoned dagger in her stomach. I couldn't save her." She paused, trying to decide whether to say any more.
"I-I don't understand," she said, shaking her head. "Why are you here?"
"I am the commander of the city guard now. The guard that brought you in informed me you were being uncooperative. When that happens, I am required to speak with the prisoners myself, before we take more extreme measures. Will you tell me what happened?" he said. She studied him for a long time, trying to decide how to answer.
"Do you want to know about my sister's death or about what I did that got me brought in here?" she asked.
"Both, but let's start with the reason you're in here." he said.
"Sit down, it's quite the tale," she replied, and he took a seat in the empty chair across the walkway from her cell. He crossed his arms and waited for her to begin.
"After my sister's death, I was grief stricken and made poor life decisions—obviously," she said, gesturing around the cell and shrugging. "We had been living on the streets for about four years before she died, so I had a lot of practice at stealing food and pick-pocketing coin so we could sometimes have a bed for the night. I decided that I should be the one to take on these because Solara was too gentle, too kind to be a criminal." Her lips curled into a tight smile when she spoke her sister's name. She paused, watching him, and he nodded for her to continue.
"After her death, I drank too much one night and tried to pickpocket the wrong person. Turns out, it was Valuxus Nirelli, leader of the Shadow Syndicate. In exchange for him not killing me and throwing my body in a river, he said I must join the Syndicate. I refused and told him I would rather die and he should just kill me." Captain Pelus made a noise that sounded like he was being strangled and she looked at him, puzzled by the outburst.
"The reason I got arrested is that Valuxus sent another thief, Silas, and I to work a job. We had instructions to clean out the safe and get out; he told us there wouldn't be any guards around. Silas and I had agreed this would be our last job, and we'd split the payout and escape, but when we tried to sneak out, the guards chased us and shot Silas in the back. I tried to heal him, but there wasn't enough time. The guards caught up and arrested me, now here I am." Captain Pelus regarded her for a moment, unsure how to proceed. She had told him everything he needed to know for her sentencing, but he had a feeling there was more to the story. After several moments of silence passed between them, he spoke again.
"Tell me what happened to your sister," he said, unsure if he wanted to know.
"I-I can't. It hurts too much and I will break apart, I swear it," she said, shaking her head. She buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.
"Tell me what happened to your sister," he pleaded. "I think there is a connection between your sister's death and your friend's. I don't know why and I don't have any proof, but it is worth investigating."
"Fine," she said. "There was a festival going on in the marketplace. I planned to go there to lift a few coin purses and get us a warm bed for the night, so I found a hiding spot for her to wait. It was cold, and threatening to snow, so I left Solara there and told her to stay quiet and hidden. I felt like I was being watched as I left the alley, but shook it off because I had a job to do. After about three hours, I had lifted a decent amount of coin purses from the drunk nobles, so I went to the fruit stall and bought apples for Solara because they were her favorite. When I got back to our hiding spot, I could smell the blood and I could hear her moaning. Someone had thrust a dagger in her stomach and I had tried to heal her, but it just made things worse. I killed her." she said, her voice cracking, and she leaned against the wall of the cell for support before sliding to a puddle on the floor.
"Oh sweet child, that's not true, you tried to save her." His voice cracked as his own tears threatened to fall.
"It is my fault, if I had known better or tried to get her to a real healer or—anything other than what I did. My recklessness and selfishness are why my sister is dead." Lunara said. Silence fell again, and it was a long time before either of them spoke.
"The merchant he sent you to rob has friends in very high places, or maybe very low ones. It doesn't matter, the sentence for your crime is execution. You will go to the executioner's block tomorrow morning at dawn," Pelus said as he stood on wobbly legs. "I'm sorry."
"Good. It's what I deserve. Not one but two people I cared about died because I tried to help them and I can't do this anymore. The only time I'm not in pain is when I'm blackout drunk, and sometimes that's not enough. I'm just done. Go now, and let me meet my end," she laid on her side on the cold stone floor, curling into a ball to keep warm.
"No, you do not deserve to die for trying to save a life. It is not your fault your sister died. Even if you had taken her to a more experienced healer, she still might have died from the way you described her wound. And as for your friend, I think someone tipped the guards off, possibly Valuxus himself," he said.
"It doesn't matter now. They're both gone and nothing will bring them back. I am alone now, and the worst part is I do not understand why. Why was I spared? Why do the gods hate me so much that they would cause me to suffer this way? I don't believe they exist anymore, if I did at all," she said.
Captain Pelus stood in the walkway considering his options. He would not see this girl dead, regardless of how she felt about the matter. Lunara didn't deserve to die; she deserved the chance to hone her skills and become a healer, but she couldn't do it in Bruma. He turned toward the exit and said, "I'll be back in a few hours. You will not be going to the block in the morning."
"No!" she yelled. "I will take my punishment and I will find peace in death."
"It isn't up to you now," he replied. "Since you refuse to fight for your own life, I will fight for you. Your story doesn't end here. I will be back in a few hours and we will break you out of here."
"Fine! I am leaving here either by death or some other way; it matters little to me how. If I'm captured, the consequence is still death. So, either way everyone gets what they want…" she grumbled, and the captain cut her off.
"Shush girl, you will not be dying today so long as you do as I say," he said. He unlocked the cell and held out his hand, waiting for her to decide. Sighing, she stood and put her hand in his, allowing him to lead her through the twisting pathways.
The two of them emerged from the jail through a side door leading into an alley where a carriage waited. Darkness surrounded them like a cloak as he helped her into the carriage and positioned between stacked crates of Colovian Brandy. After she was as comfortable as she could be, he held out a leather satchel filled with enough food to make the three-day journey to the border, a waterskin, and a small coin pouch.
"I guess I'm not the only thing getting smuggled across the border today," she said with a slight smile, nodding toward the brandy crates. Pelus looked embarrassed, then cleared his throat.
"Good luck," he said. "When you get to Skyrim, try to move on. It won't be easy, but time has a way of making everything work out." He gave her a sad smile as she nodded and he threw several wolf and bear pelts over her, draping them strategically to both cover and not suffocate her. She felt the wagon shift as the driver climbed into the seat. There was the clink of gold coins and two male voices spoke in murmured tones too low for her to make out any words. The driver then clicked his tongue at the horses, and the wagon creaked into motion. The bottles of Colovian Brandy clinked together as the gentle sway of the wagon along the cobblestone road lulled her into an uneasy sleep.
Lunara's head cracked against the side of the wagon as it rumbled over an enormous stone in the road. Her eyes snapped open, and she saw stars dancing in the corners of her vision. "Shor's balls," she muttered. "I'm awake now. Ow," she said as she rubbed the growing knot on the back of her head. The wagon slowed, and she heard someone call out.
"Halt. If you are not a registered merchant with the Empire, the Pass is closed. Do you have papers?" a muffled voice said.
Lunara lifted the corner of the furs, trying to listen to the conversation. The voice had a haughty accent Lunara recognized at once. Damn Thalmor. As a child, Lunara was used to seeing the golden-skinned elves on the streets of Bruma. They had harassed her about Talos worship multiple times over her years growing up in an orphanage. Her foster parents had taught her to pray to the gods, but she didn't believe they were listening, which made it easy to not draw the attention of the Thalmor.
"Papers. Now," the Altmer demanded, drawing her back to the present.
"All right, all right, don't get your knickers in a twist," The driver muttered. The seat creaked as he shifted his weight to pull his merchant registration papers from his coat pocket and thrust them in her direction. "Here!"
The Altmer glared at him, then scrutinized the crumpled papers in front of her. He's hiding something, he's too nervous. "Hmm, these look fine, but we must search the wagon. Smuggling contraband is a crime, you know," she said, glaring at him "and the punishment is the executioner's block."
The driver swallowed, took a deep breath, and said, "Aye, I am aware. Search it if you must, but there's nothing in there but a bunch of supplies and pelts bound for the inn and blacksmith in Falkreath."
The elf circled the wagon, rifling through crates of onions and turnips and lifting pelts. Lunara could hear the elf's movements around the wagon, stopping near where she laid. She closed her eyes and prayed with all her might that she would be invisible when her hiding place was discovered. She let out a silent breath as another voice called out. Lunara didn't know if the gods had answered her prayer or if it was excellent timing, nor did she care.
"You must come now, there is activity just off the road ahead. It looks like the Imperial army captured Ulfric Stormcloak!" another Altmer voice shouted. The elf searching the wagon moved away and returned the driver's papers. Catching smugglers would have to wait until another day. She must get details about the capture to Elenwyn. If she was the first to report, maybe she could pull guard duty somewhere other than this gods forsaken pass road.
"You may pass. Do be careful on the roads, now. We wouldn't want anything to happen to you," she said, smirking at him. He nodded, taking the papers and stuffing them back into his coat. He clicked his tongue at the horses and the wagon jolted into movement once more.