A/N: The next few chapters aren't that great, and when I get some extra time I will do some more editing.
Lunara spent the rest of the day out in the main hall of the inn, ordering wine and watching the people come and go. She listened to Lynly's soft lute playing and even tipped her once, thinking she might try her hand at the lute one day. Maybe she'd become a bard. She smiled into her cup at the thought. No, she should probably just stick to what she knows, potions. She ordered some stew and bread for her supper and then made her way to her room. Once she finished eating she undressed and crawled into her rented bed, falling face first into the pillow and was asleep in minutes.
Tendrils of soft light filtering through the windows of the room woke her. It wasn't often that she slept all night without waking up, but she'd take it. She yawned and stretched, throwing back the furs and climbing out of bed. The stone floor was icy on her bare feet and gooseflesh ran up her skin at the chill in the room. She dressed in her armor as quickly as she could and went out to the main room to warm herself by the hearth. The room was empty, the other patrons had gone home or were asleep in their rooms. Once her fingers no longer felt like icicles, she went back to her room and rummaged through her pack for some jerky and cheese. She ate quickly, stuffing items into her pack as she did. When she finished, she picked up her pack and left the inn.
Lunara found Allie next to the trees where she'd left her the night before. She muttered a word of thanks that whatever bear had attacked the guard captain had left her horse alone. From what she had seen, Ivarstead didn't have a carriage available, and she really didn't want to walk the rest of the way to Riften, or back to Whiterun. She tied the saddlebags on, mounted the horse and set off toward Riften.
Lunara mused at the amount of practice she got shooting creatures from the back of her horse as she made her way along the road. She couldn't believe how many animals lived in the wilds of Skyrim. As far back as she could remember she had lived within the walls of a city and there wasn't much chance of seeing woodland creatures there. She was gaining alchemy ingredients and wolf pelts at an alarming rate and was contemplating stopping to give Allie a rest and summon her chest when she heard someone yell, "never should have come here!" She counted three bandits coming toward her with weapons drawn. This was not how she wanted to spend her day, but she guessed life had other plans. She slid off of Allie with her bow drawn and gave the horse a smack on the hindquarters and she took off into the woods. Lunara nocked an arrow and fired at the bandit closest to her, putting an arrow through his neck. One down, two to go, she thought.
She slung her bow across her back and drew her daggers. She took the fighting stance like Amren had shown her and she waited for them to come closer. The next bandit crossed her invisible line, and she threw her dagger, burying it in his eye. The third bandit hesitated to come closer, and Lunara watched, waiting for her to decide. The bandit girl let out a battle cry and ran screaming at Lunara, her battle axe held high, ready to strike. She was weaving too much for Lunara to accurately throw her remaining dagger, so she ran toward the bandit with a scream of her own. The bandit swung her axe down, trying to cleave Lunara's head in two. Lunara ducked and rolled to the side, close enough to the second bandit to grab her dagger from his skull. She stood up, and the two circled each other until the bandit lunged forward again. Lunara ducked and rolled forward, coming up directly in front of the bandit and burying her daggers in the bandit's chest. Lunara watched as the life drained from the bandit girl's eyes before pulling her daggers free and wiping them on the dead girl's cloak.
The bandit girl's blood stained Lunara's hands a dark crimson, but otherwise she seemed unharmed besides a few scratches on her arms from dodging attacks. She looked around, now where in Oblivion had her horse gone? She let out a long, loud whistle just like Skulvar had taught her and heard hoofbeats coming from behind her. Allie trotted up and stopped shaking her head.
"There you are, glad you kept yourself out of trouble," Lunara said to the horse as she untied her waterskin from the saddle and poured it over her hands. The horse snorted a response. Once her hands were no longer sticky, she did a quick search of the bodies and found several septims, some gold and silver jewelry, potions and alchemy ingredients. She took the first bandit's dagger since it looked to be in the best shape, thinking maybe she could improve it and get a few septims for it. She tried to retrieve her arrow, but the shaft broke and she tossed it aside in frustration. "Shor's balls," she growled. "Gonna have to get better at retrieving arrows, Lunara. Do you see a damn forge around here anywhere to make more?" Gods, she hadn't even been on the road two full days and she was already talking to herself. She shrugged and summoned her chest, loading it up with the ingredients and items she'd collected. She banished it and climbed up on the horse. She nudged the horse forward, and they were off again.
The rest of the journey to Riften was uneventful, save for the occasional wolf. Lunara was glad she didn't cross paths with any more bandits. The ordeal had left her stamina somewhat depleted, and she only had a few stamina potions in her pack and she wanted to save them for more dire circumstances than right now. I've gotten soft living in the temple for so long, she thought, smiling a little. She guessed she'd be what the Nords referred to as a 'milk-drinker'. Although she failed to see how that was really an insult. Milk was actually good for the body and helped to build strength, so why would one not want to be a milk-drinker? She was busy pondering this question as she reached the stables of Riften.
She slid off Allie's back and unhooked her bags, slinging them over her shoulder. She fished out a few coins from her purse and she handed them and the reins to a redguard stable hand who nodded and went on his way. She walked towards the gate and was about to enter when a guard stopped her.
"Halt," he said. "Before I let you in, you need to pay the visitor's tax."
Lunara narrowed her eyes at the guard. She'd seen this kind of thing done before in Bruma, but played along for the moment. "What's the tax for?" she asked, acting innocent.
"For the privilege of entering the city, what does it matter?" the guard replied gruffly.
Lunara crossed her arms and glared at him. "It matters because this is obviously a shakedown and it's horseshit," she spat. "Who the fuck do you think you are taking advantage of travelers like this? From what I've seen so far, I don't think entering this city will be that much of a privilege, so you should rethink that as a reason."
Another guard standing to the side of the gate sputtered and coughed as the guard that stopped Lunara glared at her. "All right, all right. I'll unlock the gate. Just keep your voice down," he said.
"That's better," Lunara said.
The guard turned back to her and said, "the gate's unlocked, you can go in now."
"Thank you," Lunara said, pushing the gates open and entering the city. The smell of rotting wood and stale mead assaulted washed over her as the gates closed behind her. She wrinkled her nose and tried to breathe through her mouth. She started walking toward the center of the city. A large Nord stopped her clad in a set of ill fitting heavy armor, and the shoddy workmanship so thoroughly absorbed her attention she didn't notice right away that he spoke. "I'm sorry, what?" she said.
The man growled at her and said, "I don't know you. You in Riften looking for trouble?"
"Uh, no," Lunara said, "I'm here to sell a few things and move on."
"Good," he said, "the last thing the Black-Briars need is someone poking around in their business."
"Whatever," she said, rolling her eyes. "I really don't give two septims stuck in Dibella's ass about the Black-Briars, whoever they are."
"I'm watching you," he grumbled as she passed him.
"Yeah," she said over her shoulder, "you can watch my ass as I walk away." She kept walking, muttering a string of curses all the way to the marketplace.
It was busy here, and Lunara spent most of the morning just wandering around taking in the sights. Once she got past the smell, it was actually a quaint old city, and as she wandered around, she picked up some errands she thought she might handle on her travels. Balimund needed fire salts, those seemed difficult but not impossible to come by, and Madesi the jeweler needed some sapphires, a mammoth tusk, and some gold ore. She figured the jewelry he would make with those items would be gorgeous-and expensive.
The marketplace had cleared out for the midday meal and Lunara took a walk around the docks. "Sorry," she said as she almost ran into an argonian woman. She'd been too busy looking at the trees of the Rift forest to pay attention to where she was going. The woman moaned and said nothing. "Excuse me," said Lunara, "are you alright?"
"Oh, my aching head," she said, "why do I do this to myself?"
"Do you need help?" Lunara asked.
"Can you help me? If you can't help me I will lose my job here at the fishery," the woman said.
"I can try to help. What's your name?"
"Wujeeta," she said. "I need to get my hands on a health potion. I tried some skooma a year ago and ever since then I can't stop. Bolli says if I show up to work like this again I'm out."
"Is that all?" Lunara said, digging in her satchel. "Here you go."
"I will never forget your kindness. Here take this," she said, handing Lunara a small silver peridot ring. "It's all I can offer for what you've done."
"Thank you," Lunara said, dropping the ring into her satchel. Wujeeta nodded and left. Lunara stood on the docks for a while, watching the dragonflies flit across the water late into the afternoon, then retreated inside the city walls. She entered the inn and rented a room, paying extra for the private bath. The door locked behind her and she stood in front of an enormous wooden tub filled with steaming water. Oh, this will be lovely, she thought, stripping out of her armor and laying it in the basket next to the door. She relaxed in the bath for over an hour, washing her hair with dragon's tongue soap, only getting out once the water grew cold and her skin wrinkled.
She put her armor with her pack and sat down to braid her hair. She was just about done when there was a knock at the door. An argonian man who introduced himself as Talen-Jei came to invite her down for dinner. The inn's special for the evening was apple cabbage stew. Lunara shrugged and agreed to join, following him downstairs.
She seated herself at a table and Talen-Jei brought a bowl of stew. Talen-Jei took a seat across from her. "Would you care for one of my special drinks, milady?" he asked as color rose to her cheeks. She kept her eyes on the bowl before her, avoiding his gaze. No one had ever referred to her as anything remotely close to a lady before. "What do you have?"
"There are three, the Velvet LeChance, the White-Gold Tower, and the Cliffracer."
"What's in the Cliffracer?" she asked.
"Firebrand Wine, Cyrodiilic Brandy, Flin and Sujamma."
"I'll have two of those," she said. She should sleep well tonight, she thought.
Talen-Jei left the table and returned a few minutes later with two flagons. She paid him for the drinks, took a sip and closed her eyes in pleasure as the warm heat of the Firebrand wine and Cyrodiilic Brandy warmed her body from the inside out. Talen Jei had seated himself at the table again, taking a break between serving customers. She had almost finished her first flagon and was feeling pleasantly lightheaded. "So how did you meet Keerava?" she asked.
"I met her when I first wandered into Riften several years ago. I've been smitten with her ever since," he said, smiling in her direction. "In fact," he said in a voice just above a whisper, "I've been thinking of asking her to marry me. I already have the ring, I just need three flawless amethysts to complete it." Lunara finished her flagon and said, "I can get those for you. It might take a few weeks, since I'd have to go back to Whiterun to get them, but they are yours when I do."
"You'd do that?" he asked. "Absolutely," she said, her words running together. "I think it's romantic and Skyrim definitely needs more happiness right now." She took a long drink from the second flagon, almost finishing it. "Why is there no bard here?" she asked. "There should be music, and dancing here." Talen-Jei rolled his eyes and shook his head. Humans and their low alcohol tolerance.
Lunara stood up, swaying slightly on her feet, with no idea what possessed her to clear her throat and started singing 'Jenny of Oldstones'. It was a song her Aunt Sosia used to sing to her and her sister to get them to sleep. By the time she had finished the song, the inn had gone quiet and everyone watched her as she flushed a deep shade of pink and sat back down in her chair. Slowly, people started coming to her table and giving her small tokens or septims for her song. Lunara finished her drink and complemented Talen-Jei on the drink and he just nodded, still stunned by her performance. Then she stumbled up the stairs to her room, locking the door behind her. She fell face first into the bed, not bothering to take off her boots.