The boat struck the edge of the dock with a heavy thud, the sudden impact waking me from my slight nap. The trip from the village of Khuul had taken more than six hours, and with nothing much to do but wait, I had drowsed off. I slid off the crate I had been sitting on and slung my empty bag over my shoulder.
The boat's captain lifted up the hatch and called down below, "We're here. Everybody up top." Two men appeared from the small crew quarters beyond the hatch and made for the ladder, completely ignoring me. I followed them up and immediately shielded my eyes from the bright white sky above us, my eyes having long since gotten used to the dim candlelight of the cargo hold of the ship. I stepped out onto the deck and glanced back at the sea behind us, separating me from the island country of Vvardenfell.
"Don't waste time, lass," the captain called to me.
I turned away from the sea and crossed the deck. The two crew members lugged past me, carrying baskets of fruit and small crates of supplies. I hopped over the railing and landed on the slippery dock, almost losing my footing. The captain tossed me a thick rope and I quickly tied it to one of the dock posts.
"You can stay and help us unload if you want," he said. "I'll pay you a few septims for your trouble."
"Thank you," I said. I'd spent the last of my purse buying passage on the boat and did not have a septim to my name, so the prospect of coming ashore with some money was very welcome. They swung a thick plank over the edge onto the dock and began hauling crates and barrels off the ship. I couldn't carry the heavy crates, but I managed to unload half a dozen baskets and helped the captain carry out a few barrels of wheat.
Two Imperial guards watched us from the edge of the dock near the beach and a few other men stood around at one of the other docks, but none of them made a move toward us. Finally, when we were nearly finished unloading the boat, the guards decided to come over. I leaned against the crates of supplies, acting as if I belonged there. Both guards eyed me up casually, but said nothing as they approached the captain.
"Here you go, lads," he said, handing one of them a cargo manifest. "Just put a stamp on there and I'll be on my way."
The guard scanned the list, his expression hardening. "No wine? No drink of any kind?"
"None that anyone told me about," the captain said. "Just what's on the list."
The guard swore to himself and pulled a stamp from a pouch on his belt. He marked the manifest and thrust it back at the captain angrily. "Fine, be off then. The wagon is coming to pick this up."
"Pleasure doing business," the captain said with a toothy smile. He tore off the second sheet of the manifest and handed it to the guards. I got the distinct impression that he and the Imperials weren't on very good terms, but it was none of my concern.
The crew members untied the rope and tossed it back on the deck, and then walked back onto the boat and pulled the plank up. The captain leaned over the railing and waved at me. "Have a good one, lass," he said, dropping down a small pouch. I caught it in both hands and opened it to see at least 30 septims inside.
"This is as much as I paid you for the trip," I said, surprised.
The captain nodded. "I feel guilty having people pay me to bring them to this godforsaken place. Keep the money, lass. If you get sick of it here and want a ride back to Vvardenfell, I deliver here every week. Take care of yourself, now."
I tucked the pouch into my belt. "Thank you," I said.
With that, they shoved the boat off and began the trip back to Khuul. I watched the boat for a few moments and then turned to look at the new place before me. The shoreline was completely devoid of trees or plants, nothing but rocky sand in either direction. Waves slapped tiredly against the lifeless shore.
A cold breeze blew along the dock and I shivered, rubbing my hands together. Working to unload the boat had warmed me, but now that I was standing around, the cold weather was more noticeable. I was not dressed for this weather, wearing only thin leather shoes, pants, and a wool tunic. They were the same clothes I had when they first dropped me off in Seyda Neen just a few days before. I didn't anticipate Solstheim being so much colder, since even at Khuul it had been fairly warm. I was accustomed to the cold, but I would need better clothes if I wanted to stay here, although that was not even my first concern.
First, I had to find somewhere to stay. There had to be a village or something around here, and my newly-full purse would be at least enough to buy a night's stay at an inn and perhaps a hot meal tonight.
I walked over to the guards who were going through the items on the dock and checking them against their copy of the manifest. I stood for a moment, waiting for one of them to notice me, but they seemed intent to ignore me instead.
"Excuse me," I said. "Which way is the closest inn?"
His back to me, one of the guards hooked his thumb over his shoulder. "Follow the dirt road there. Takes you all the way to the fort."
"Frostmoth. All new arrivals go there."
"There's not a village nearby?"
"None closer than the fort, and none that take kindly to newcomers. Now get out of our way, girl. We have work to do."
I shrugged at his rudeness and walked off the dock, again bracing myself against a cold breeze. I wrapped my arms around myself and walked off the wooden dock to the ground. The ground seemed frozen beneath my feet as I headed up the beach to the wide dirt road leading inland.
I still wasn't entirely sure what I intended to do here on Solstheim. When they had first set me free in Seyda Neen, my only goal had been to get off of Vvardenfell and out of Morrowind completely. I ignored their directions to Balmora and threw away the package for my contact there.
Instead, I traveled up the coast until I made it to Khuul, stealing and begging along the way. I had hoped to buy passage to Skyrim from there, but I was told the next cargo ship making that trek would not return for another two weeks. The boat leaving for Solstheim left much sooner, and I didn't have the money or the patience to remain in Khuul. Surely, I could find some village on the coast that had ships going to Skyrim. I was anxious to return home.