30

I woke up to the sound of someone knocking on the bunk room door. I blinked away sleep and rolled over to see Gaea was already awake and getting her armor on.

"Artoria," someone out in the hallway said. "The Captain wants to see you as soon as possible."

Gaea went and opened the door. "Tell him I'll be down in just a minute," she said to the guard outside. She pulled on her belt and scabbard and buckled up.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Nothing important," Gaea said. "Cavorian is arranging a team to send to Raven Rock to make sure everything is under control. He sent some men yesterday afternoon, but they haven't sent a message back yet."

I sat up in bed and rubbed my head, mussing up my hair. "Does he think something has happened to them?"

"Probably not," Gaea said. She picked up her helmet and then shrugged. "But who knows? That's why we're sending more people, just in case."

"Are you going?"

"I don't know yet. That's up to the Captain to decide." As she went out to the hallway, she placed her hand on the door frame and turned back to look at me. "I'll probably be busy today again, so I might not have time to see you. But tonight we can talk again?"

"Sure," I said. "Of course."

After a quick trip to the privy, I returned to the bunk room and got dressed. I slipped on a thick pair of pants and pulled a heavy wool sweater over my undershirt. Then I slipped on my boots, made sure my knives were tucked inside, and grabbed my jacket. There was dried blood smeared across the right sleeve from my injured arm, and more blood spotted across the front, from when I helped Mirisa. Despite the blood, I pulled the jacket on. It was warm and had served me well so far.

I jogged out of the room, sword and scabbard in hand, and hurried down the stairs. I had promised Liman to help with breakfast, but it looked like I was going to break that promise again. I'm sure he would forgive me.

Outside, the bright morning sun blinded me momentarily, and I crossed the inner yard on the way to the Cult offices, when the front doors opened and Cavorian stepped outside, followed by a group of guards, including Gaea.

" – as quickly as possible," he was saying. "We need to know what's going on, we can't wait any longer. You should probably pack some ..."

His voice trailed off when he saw me approaching them. His bushy mustache twitched, and an amused smile spread across his face. The other guards spread out across the yard, and Gaea gave me a questioning look that soon also turned into a smile.

"Well, Miss Frost-Wind," Cavorian said, putting his hands on his hips. "How nice to see you out this early in the morning."

"If you're sending people to Raven Rock, I'd like to come along," I said.

"Why am I not surprised?"

"You're just a smart man, I guess."

He laughed heartily. "Well, since you are not under my command, I certainly can't order you not to go. You can do whatever you like."

"Thank you for your permission, just the same."

He chuckled once more and rubbed his mustache. He pointed at two of his men. "Morvian, Dashus, go fetch some supplies from the kitchen. A few packs of bread, some dried meat,that should do it. And hurry up about it."

They ran off, and Cavorian turned to Gaea. "Eight men should be enough, along with our little Nord here. Like I said, get there as soon as possible. No detours. If you discover that we're too late, send a man back here immediately. We must know the status of Raven Rock."

"Yes, sir," Gaea said.

"And be careful. Our enemies almost certainly have an advantage over us. All of you should be on your guard."

"We'll be okay. I'm more concerned about what we'll find once we get there."

"Well," Cavorian said somewhat hesitantly, "let's hope our fears are unfounded."

He gave his men one last inspection and then sent them off, wishing us luck. The two other guards returned with two packs of supplies, food and some healing potions, just in case, and Gaea ordered them forward. We marched out of the rear gate and headed through the clearing to the tree line beyond.

I stayed in the back of the group, fastening my belt and pulling on my gloves. It was brisk and cold, but there was very little wind, so it didn't feel too cold. Besides, at a quick pace, we should not have a problem staying warm. My sword slapped against my thigh as I trotted into the trees, once more going along the path that Gaea and I had traveled just a few days before.

Gaea fell back and matched pace with me. "Sasha, what are you doing?" she asked, trying to keep a smile from her face.

"Oh, come on," I said. "You didn't think I was just going to let you run off to Raven Rock, did you? I don't like being left behind. Besides, Cavorian didn't seem too surprised."

Gaea shrugged. "He expected you to come to the meeting with me. I think he was happy to see you come along."

"Of course he was."

"I have to stay up front," she said, giving me a gentle squeeze on the shoulder. "Stay out of trouble back here, okay?"

"Yes, commander."

"Very funny."

Gaea ran back up to the front of the group. Since she was technically in command, and besides that she was the one who knew the way to Raven Rock, so she had to lead the group. Since I wasn't a member of the Legion, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to go in front as well, so I stayed behind and brought up the rear.

We trampled through the snow and headed through the trees, steadily going up higher in elevation as we topped a low ridge and marched along the top. Snow hung heavy on the branches of the trees, and occasionally I spotted movement out in the woods, a passing wolf or maybe something else. The other guards were just as observant, and we all traveled with swords in hand, ready to fight at a moment's notice.

The last time Gaea and I had made the trip, we had not encountered anything on our way there, but on our way back to the fort we ran into a trio of berserkers. When I thought back on that fight, I remembered that Reinhardt Red-Spear had appeared to help us. I had not thought about him all the previous day.

What had happened to him in Thirsk? I suspected he had run off when some Nords found him, but why hadn't he come back to the fort after that? He must have known that I was no longer in Thirsk. I wondered if maybe something worse had happened to him. In any case, there was no sense in me worrying about it now. I hoped he was okay, and if he was okay and I ran into him again, I would give him a piece of my mind.

One of the Legion soldiers slowed his pace to walk beside me. "And here I thought you were just a simple serving wench," he said. "Had I known you were a hero, I would have been more polite."

"Do I know you?" I asked amusedly.

"Name's Dannus. We spoke last night."

"Ah, of course. I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you with your helmet on."

"And I hardly recognized you. Last night you carried plates of food, and today you're carrying a sword."

"I'm a woman of many talents."

He chuckled and nodded to himself. "You know this area pretty well then, I suppose? You must be from here."

"Actually, no. I'm from Skyrim. I've only been here for a few weeks."

"Oh. Well, I guess Skyrim is much the same as this. Mountains, open sky, lots of snow and the bitter cold. I've been stationed there as well. Not a bad place, except that the Nords all hated my guts and wished me dead."

I decided not to comment on that, as he was probably trying to draw me out into some kind of political discussion. Instead, I commented, "You've been stationed in Skyrim as well as Sadrith Mora? You're very well traveled."

"Oh, I've been lots of places, sweetheart," he said with a grin. He cast a sideways glance down at me, his eyes performing a visual examination of my body. "I can think of a few other nice places I haven't been yet, but I'd certainly like a chance to go there for a visit. If you know what I mean."

I almost laughed at his casual, overt sexism. He must have considered himself a real sweet talker. But if he thought that calling me vaguely degrading names like "wench" and "sweetheart" was going to impress me, he was sorely mistaken. I had a hard time actually being offended though, because his tone and manner were so oblivious, it seemed more funny to me than anything else.

"Well, there are lots of nice places here on Solstheim," I said pleasantly. "But some of them are very hard to get to. You should probably find a more hospitable location to spend your time."

"Where's the fun in that?" he replied, eyeing me up again and not even trying to be discreet about it. "I like a good challenge. Besides," he added, arching his neck to look up to the front of the group, where Gaea was walking, "I'm afraid my choices are rather limited in this matter."

At that, I did laugh out loud. If he hadn't been so crude and sexist, I might have found him charming. He wasn't my type anyway, even if I was interested in being with anyone right now. My last attempt at a relationship had not ended well, and I was not quite over that yet. Dannus was entertaining though, I had to give him that. At least his running commentary and clumsy sexual innuendos made the trip a little less boring.