My boots squished against the wet ground as I trudged through the small town of Riverwood.
The recent rains had softened the earth and the ground was slick with mud. My leather boots were caked in it. Springtime in Skyrim was a messy experience but the gradual shift towards warmer weather was more than welcome. Being half an elf in the Nordic homeland meant I spent a great deal of time in the southern regions and staying as far away as possible from the bitter cold of the north. I tried to ignore the persistent squashing sound as I made my way to the Sleeping Giant Inn. Despite it's shabby appearance both inside and out, the place actually did have great wine. I'd stop there for the night and hopefully get a good nights rest before making my way to see the Jarl of Falkreath.
The sun was setting and the guards were out lighting the small town's lanterns before nightfall. Only a few citizens still lingered outdoors, they too, would soon turn in for the night. Travelling alone was anxious business between the dragons, bandits and civil war. Few people dared to try. Life was harsh and unforgiving enough before the world went crazy. Now it was just overkill.
The calm atmosphere of the small settlement finally sunk in and I managed to relax as I approached the steps of the Inn. Even through closed doors, the scent of fresh bread and cooked meat was strong enough to make my mouth water. My feet felt heavier with each step I took as I climbed the creaking wooden stairs that would lead to a hot meal and a decent bed.
Once I'd reached the top step I noticed a man I'd never seen before. He was covered in a dark, studded leather armour from the neck down. His hair was a soft brown color and stood out against his black armour. He was armed with a bow on his back and a knife sheathed in his belt. He just stood there, leaning against the wall by the door, arms crossed and staring at me with bright golden eyes. He was attractive, in a rough around the edges sort of way and I blushed a little at the attention I was receiving.
Being the Dragonborn, I received a number of looks wherever I traveled. It was a frequent occurrence that I'd never quite gotten used to. Something about his look was different though. He didn't stare at me in awe or fear like others would. Instead, his eyes seemed to be searching for something. The intensity of his eyes as he stared made me uneasy and I found myself shifting my feet a little.
"What?" I asked when he didn't say anything.
He shifted his stance and smirked as he spoke in a low tone. "So you're someone who doesn't lip wrestle. Got it. Or, maybe you're just looking for someone to kiss your boots. If it's the latter, I'd suggest asking elsewhere." His voice was gruff but not at all unpleasant to the ears.
"What are you talking about?" I asked, having no idea what he was getting at.
He scoffed at my question. "You didn't hear those two idiots, cat calling you on the way up here?" he asked while gesturing behind me. "So are you just so used to those kinds of comments, that you turn up your nose at all of them like some damned noble?"
I spun around to see just what he was talking about and spotted two men down the path, staring lecherously at me from under the branches of a large tree. When they realized they had my attention, they started up again. "Oh." I frowned and turned back to the man that stood before me. "I guess I didn't notice them." I answered, feeling slightly embarrassed at my own lack of awareness.
"Really?" he didn't bother hiding his surprise. "They weren't yelling it at your back loud enough? Maybe I should give them some tips, since I'm the only one who landed a conversation. They've been harassing every pair of legs that's crossed their path for days. Yesterday they got so drunk they even wolf whistled the blacksmith. You're the first they've been right to admire though. Anyway, just give them a wide birth." I blushed at his compliment. But a frown inevitably came to my face when I remembered he wouldn't say such things if he'd seen my scars. There was a reason I was covered from the neck down and it certainly wasn't a pretty one.
One might argue that scars gave a person character. My scars however, only gave me nightmares.
I pushed those thoughts away for later and focused on the man in front of me. "Days huh? And what do you do around here, hold up the wall?"
He smirked. "Maybe I'm here to stop noble ladies for drinks, before they go in there and have the dullest night of their lives with these closed-minded villagers." I nearly rolled my eyes but his tone had changed and he was suddenly serious. "I was tracking my wolf- Karnwyr. We were separated while hunting a week ago. I've been hearing rumors of bandits holding pit fights, this side of Skyrim. He's all I've got, and that's the only lead. So, I'm off to shut them down before something happens to him."
Pit fights. I'd heard of those. Bandits would trap animals in the wild and starve them til they were little more than desperate killing machines. Then they would force the poor creatures to kill each other and place bets on which one would survive. It was cruel to treat any living thing in such a way. I knew all too well how it felt to be bound by the ice cold bars of a steel cage and my heart broke for his companion.
"I don't mean to impose, but since you offered that information up so freely, are you in need of assistance? I'm quite good with a bow." I gestured with my thumb to the ebony bow I carried on my back with a smile and he studied me for a moment before he responded. "Enthusiasm like that could get a pretty girl like you in trouble." I felt the heat return to my cheeks at his forwardness.
He sighed. "But if they're running a ring, there's probably going to be more than a few bandits. If you want to come, I wouldn't complain about my odds. I could certainly do worse for company."
"I was planning on staying here for the night but I'm sure you'll want to leave as soon as possible. I'll just need a few minutes to purchase a few provisions. I won't be long." I assured him before pulling the door handle. I paused, the door open only by a few inches, the soft strumming of a lute being played could be heard. "My name is Anja by the way. And yours?"
He seemed to hesitate. Like he was debating on whether or not he really wanted to answer. How odd I thought.
"Bishop," he finally said after a moment. I gave a short nod and made my way into the warm, inviting Inn.