Chapter 4 - The Redguard Woman
Arian sat in the back of the carriage, his hands resting behind his head as he stared up at the blue sky. Occasionally they'd go over a large rock on the path and Arian would wince as he was thrown upwards, but otherwise he was content to let Olarg take the wheel as the horse driven carriage made its way to Whiterun.
"Don't get too comfortable," Olarg instructed as Arian let a piece of wheat hang from his mouth. "Bandits are notorious for picking on unsuspecting drivers."
"We're not exactly unsuspecting," Arian replied, and reaching down he rested a hand on his new sword. "I'll take care of anything coming our way."
Looking back up at the blue sky, Arian contemplated what to do when he reached Whiterun. He could talk to someone at a tavern, see if they had ever heard of the red-headed mystery girl from his dream. If not, he could see if there was a bounty or anything else he could go after for some gold. There were lots of options, and Arian admitted it was challenging trying to narrow down what he wanted to do first.
As he considered these options, Arian let his mind wander and before he knew it they were arriving at the Whiterun stables. Arian sat up and looked around at all the people gathered around in the area as the carriage made its way up the hill leading to Whiterun. He was taken aback at how much was going on, this being the first time in his memory he had seen so many people.
There were Khajit camping around the outside of Whiterun selling their goods, the stables where farm hands were helping to sell and rear in horses. Out by the farms were workers like Olarg and Isaldi, but in greater numbers tending greater fields. Guards wearing face-covering helmets in tan armor were walking up and down the pathway, and were standing on stonewalls that surrounded the city and walkway into.
Arian stared in wonderment, and as the two crossed over a drawbridge, Arian leapt out of the back of the carriage to walk alongside it. He grabbed the sword and sheathed it across his back, using the new sheathe Olarg had given him. As they approached the front doors, the guard promptly stopped them.
"What's your business in Whiterun today?" the guard asked, his voice think with a Nordic accent.
"Fire at my farm yesterday," Olarg explained. I'm here to trade my goods for some building supplies."
The guard nodded, and then looked to Arian and questioned, "And what about you?" Olarg looked down to Arian as well, and Arian suddenly realized he never really decided what he was going to do first in Whiterun.
"Um… I'm here to explore the city," Arian answered apprehensively. "I've never been here before so I want to look around."
Arian said it far more suspiciously than he had intended, and the guard didn't take his gaze off of him. Arian couldn't see the guard's eyes, but it was a fair bet he was being judged pretty harshly underneath that helmet.
"Very well. But no funny business in the city," the guard said. Arian smiled in understanding, and then the guard motioned for them to continue into Whiterun.
Arian let out a little sigh of relief, worried they wouldn't let him in the city for a moment. But then as they walked through the front doors, his concerns were washed away as he took in the sights and sounds that were Whiterun. It was a city made of stone roads and wooden buildings, clearly built from nothing in the prairies of Skyrim. However due to its location at the heart of the province, it was the trade capital and blossomed quickly into the large city now before Arian.
Across the entrance bridge to Arian's right there was a blacksmith, a Redguard woman, working hard at forging steel. To his left a guard tower and a hill leading up to residences. Down the path, Arian saw shops, a couple of inns, and a plaza where merchants were waiting at their stalls to sell their goods. People were walking to and fro in all directions around the city, and Arian could hear chatter about varying subjects as he and Olarg made their way through to the plaza. Some were discussing dragons, others the civil war. No one seemed to really talk about the vampire threat, which disconcerted Arian because he knew how real it was.
Olarg stopped his carriage then, just outside a shop called Belethor's General Goods. Olarg jumped down from his carriage then and Arian moved along the side of it to properly address the old man.
"Well Arian, I guess this is where we part ways," Olarg stated, and Arian felt a tinge of sadness at the prospect. He was getting used to travel in company, and didn't much like the prospect of being on his own again. Olarg then reached out and beckoned for Arian's hand. Arian extended it, expecting to shake with Olarg, but Olarg instead dropped a pouch which jingled as it landed in Arian's hand. Just by feeling it, Arian could tell it was filled with gold.
"This is for helping yesterday," Olarg explained. "It won't be enough to buy you any new equipment, but you'll be able to buy some food for your travels."
"I…thanks Olarg, I appreciate it," Arian said, warm fuzzy feelings enveloping him.
"Just promise you'll come back to visit sometime," Olarg said. "And while you're here, look up our daughter Ysolda. She'd be happy to lend you a hand as well."
"I will," Arian responded, and before he could say more Olarg wrapped his arms around Arian and hugged him. Arian chuckled and hugged him back. The two then said their farewells and Olarg walked into Belethor's General Goods while Arian walked out into the middle of the plaza and looked around aimlessly.
Arian really had no idea what to do next. He looked from the merchants, to the guards patrolling the streets, to the taverns that surrounded him. His apparent confusion was obvious, as a blonde man in iron armor leaning against one of the supporting posts of Belethor's General Goods addressed him.
"You look lost traveller. Can I help you find something?" Arian turned around and looked at him.
Scratching the back of his head, Arian admitted, "Um yeah. I'm looking for work I guess."
"Well then traveler, your best bet is probably The Bannered Mare," the man explained. "The inn keep can give you a bounty to go hunt."
"Thanks," Arian said. "What's your name?"
"Jon Battle-Born, of the Battle-Born clan," the man said.
"Thanks Jon. I'm Arian," Arian added with a smile, and then he turned to walk away, when Jon called after him.
"Just a warning traveller, you might want to watch where you stick your nose in this city," Jon said, and Arian turned around in confusion to look at him.
"Between my family's conflict with the Gray-Manes and all the other secrets in this city, a traveller would be wise to stay out of conflicts that don't concern him," Jon finished. Arian raised an eyebrow in curiosity, not fully sure he understood what Jon meant. With a resigned shrug he turned and walked up the staircase leading into The Bannered Mare.
Upon entering, Arian looked around at the dim lighting of the tavern. A controlled fire in the middle did most of the work, but little lanterns hanging from the roof lit up small areas and created bigger shadows. There was a man banging on a pair of drums he carried in his other hand and sang a song, though Arian wished he wouldn't his voice was atrocious. There were a few men and women in armor sitting around the fire, mostly in silence as they drank, but a couple were talking.
To the right of the entrance was the bar itself, and standing there was an older woman wiping down the wood with a little cloth. Arian could see a staircase in the back that must have led upstairs, as well as a back room, but Arian figured the older woman at the bar must have been the inn keep.
As he walked over, she asked, "What can I do for you?"
Arian pondered the question, not sure where to begin. She gave him an incredulous look, like he was wasting her time, and once Arian noticed he decided to pick his first inquiry more quickly.
"I'm looking for any work that can be had. A bounty or anything like that," Arian stated. The woman raised an eyebrow and looked past Arian at the other warriors sitting around the fire.
"Whiterun doesn't really need any more fighters. I can give you a bounty, but you might be making more enemies than you think," she explained. Arian took a look around and examined the other people in the inn, and sized them up compared to the bandits and vampires he had fought. Then he remembered he had managed to kill a dragon, and shrugged it off.
"I think I'll be alright," Arian said with a dismissive wave.
"Alright traveller," the older woman started to say as she reached underneath the bar, grabbing a slip of parchment.
"Arian. My name is Arian," Arian said, not fond of being called traveller. The woman stood up with the parchment with a raised eyebrow, and then she passed Arian the page.
"I'm Hulda. A pleasure to meet you," Hulda responded. "Take that to the Jarl's steward, Proventus Avenicci with proof if you kill her."
"Thanks Hulda," Arian said with a smile. Hulda managed a smile and scratched the back of her head.
"You're welcome Arian. It's not often we get bounty hunters with manners," she concluded, and Arian turned and walked away.
However he wasn't quite out of earshot as she muttered to herself, "Or a man who looks half as delicious as you. If I was twenty years younger…"
A little shudder went up Arian's back, because although he was flattered to hear that she was quite a bit older then him. Arian looked at the bounty then as he walked back to the entrance of the inn, intent on getting some gold fast. A problem arose however when the bounty read, 'Bandit chief wanted dead or alive. Found at Valtheim Towers.'
Arian had no idea where that was, meaning he still needed a map. As this thought crossed his mind, he heard a bit of commotion in a room to the left of The Bannered Mare's entrance. It caught his attention, but a look around the inn showed none of the other warriors seemed to care. Not entirely sure why he was doing it, Arian wandered over to the room to see what was going on. He grew apprehensive as he neared, and opt to take a look from a distance what was going on.
Arian stood about a little ways from the door, just enough to hear the conversation in the room. Inside it was what looked like a kitchen, a large black pot sitting over a fire with some kind of stew inside and fresh vegetables and meat lined the walls. A staircase to the back led upstairs to presumably more rooms. In there were two women, one a middle-aged Imperial from what Arian could figure, and the other was a young Redguard woman who must have been about Arian's age.
The Redguard woman stood there looking aghast at the Nord, a bowl with overturned stew at her feet on the floor which must have been the source of the commotion. The Imperial woman was reaching out with a hand on the Redguard woman's shoulder, trying to visibly calm her down.
"Are-are you sure? They were here?" the Redguard woman asked.
"Yes, Saadia. They were asking for a Redguard girl about your age, claiming you were a fugitive. I told them I had never seen or heard about anyone like that here in Whiterun, but they didn't believe me," the other woman explained.
Saadia, Arian deduced, seemed panicked and frenzied at this as she said, "This can't be. How did they find me?"
"I don't know, but I'll do everything I can to keep them off your trail," the Imperial continued. "I didn't help smuggle you in for nothing, I know you're innocent."
"Thank you Carlotta. You have been a true friend to me," Saadia said, tears forming in her eyes. "But you have to take care of your daughter first, don't let anything happen to little Mila because of me."
Carlotta smiled, but then turned to leave the room. Arian realized it was super obvious he had been eavesdropping, and immediately pretended to be dancing to whatever awful song the bard was playing then. Once Carlotta had walked past not noticing Arian, Arian looked back to Saadia, who sat on a little stool, weeping in her hands.
He felt bad for her, and wanted to do something to help. Arian seemed to have an innate need to help people he didn't quite understand, but considering all it had done for him with Olarg and Isaldi, he figured it was no bad thing. It didn't hurt either that Saadia was easy on the eyes too. Arian hadn't had much of chance to see a lot of woman around his age, and Saadia was a good looking, well-proportioned girl. Her short hair cat framed her face beautifully, and Arian couldn't help but be attracted to her.
However at the moment all he wanted was for her to stop crying, and so Arian decided to walk into the kitchen.
"Hi," Arian said as he walked in. Saadia looked up between sobs and saw Arian, who stood there with his hands awkwardly at his sides.
"I couldn't help but overhear. Is there anything I can do to help?" Arian offered with a smile.
She looked up at Arian in confusion for many moments, but then a radiant smile popped on her face and she wiped the tears from her eyes.
"You…you want to help me?" she asked.
"Well, sure," Arian said, grabbing a little stool across the way from her. "Sounds like you're in trouble, and maybe I can do something about it."
Saadia's smile was overwhelming, and Arian couldn't help but feel like he was doing the right thing. Once she got her crying a little more under control, wiping away a few more tears and taking a few deep breaths, she looked more seriously at Arian.
"That's so kind of you," she stated. "I will do what I can to reward you for your kindness."
"The best reward for a good deed is the deed itself," Arian said, even though the prospect of a reward made this all the more enticing. He could use whatever he could get his hands on.
"I have people here call me Saadia, even though that's not my real name. I'll have to ask you call me that as well for the time being, at least until its safe," Saadia started in a lower tone. She leaned forward while saying this, and Arian did likewise to hear her better.
"My real name is Iman, and back in Hammerfell I was a noblewoman of the House Suda. However I have had to renounce that name after I spoke out publicly against the Aldemeri Dominion," Saadia continued. Arian nodded in understanding, while staying in Reundelf's hut he had read about them. They were an empire from the Summerset Isles run by high elves who called themselves Thalmor and had a presence in Skyrim at the time. To Arian's knowledge, most of Tamriel had taken a knee to their power, so Saadia's claim of speaking out against them wouldn't work out well for her.
"I had to flee soon after, because they hired Alik'r assassins to kill me. Carlotta was sympathetic to my cause and helped me set up a fake identity here in Whiterun, but the assassins have followed me to Skyrim," Saadia continued. "They've been searching here for months, but it sounds like they've finally pinned down my location to Whiterun. They're not allowed into the city's having snuck into the provinces themselves, but that won't stop them forever."
"So what do you need from me?" Arian asked, keen on figuring out how to win this beautiful girl's affections. To him, it was like she was a princess and he the noble knight could save her. Arian knew that was romanticizing it, but he was enjoying the fantasy.
"I need you to kill them," Saadia finished. Arian was taken slightly aback at this. This bold request was not fitting the image of the fair maiden in front of him. Arian had no problem killing people deserved it, but it didn't seem right coming from her lips.
"Umm…I'm not sure," Arian responded. "Like, couldn't we help you escape to somewhere else or something?"
Saadia for a split moment seemed severely put out at Arian's reluctance to her initial request. But then her expression changed to helplessness as she looked to her knees.
"I've finally built a life here, I don't want to have to abandon another one," Saadia lamented. "What kind of life is that? Always running, creating a new identity wherever you go?" Arian let that sink in and understood what she meant. For some reason he was still apprehensive, as killing for her just seemed wrong.
"I don't have much money to reward you with," Saadia continued, but then she gently placed her hand on Arian's legs. "But…maybe there is another way I can repay you?" Then she moved leg higher up Arian's thigh, and Arian felt a warm sensation run up his body.
"Ummm….ummm…" Arian stuttered, his face turning red at the prospect. Saadia smirked a little then, her hand running up ever so slightly higher Arian's thigh. By this point Arian's brain was a brick of cheese melting on a hot summer day.
"Duh duh duh…I'll do it. I'll kill the bad men," was all Arian could muster,
"So where can I find these assassins?" Arian asked. Saadia stood up and walked over to a chest lying in the corner of the room. She opened it and pulled out a large parchment, a map of Skyrim.
"I've known of their presence in Skyrim for a while, and I've narrowed their location a cave called the Swindler's Den," Saadia explained as she handed Arian the map. Arian was a bit confused that she already knew the location, something seemingly off about it.
But then Saadia leaned forward and whispered, "The sooner they're dead, the sooner I'll grant you your reward."
That reset Arian's thought process to kill all of the assassins mode, and soon after Arian was leaving The Bannered Mare. It was mid-day, Arian quickly dashed to one of the merchants and used the money Olarg had gave him to buy rations for his journey. What felt like only moments later he had started his walk out of Whiterun. Before leaving the main gates he took a look at the map Saadia had given him, and made note of the red X she had drawn onto it. Putting that away in his pack, Arian steeled himself for the walk. At least this time he had a better idea of where he was going.
The sun set as Arian walked along the road leading west out of Whiterun. Swindler's Den was supposed to be located just a few kilometres outside of the city. As Arian walked along the road, he was grateful that the greater Whiterun area was a safer passage than the forest he had been walking through a couple nights before. Guards patrolled up and down the trail, and Arian took solace that no wolves or sabre cats had picked a fight with him yet.
A short time later after the sun had set, Arian was still on the move towards Swindlers Den. He hadn't stopped to eat yet, thought of Saadia carrying him every step of the way. The rock road had since changed into a dirt one, a sign that Arian was no longer on a policed road and grew more cautious. His trail had led him over hills and plateaus, where sharp jagged rocks poked out. A couple of times Arian heard growling noises peaking stirring from behind the crevices in the boulders, and Arian would grip the hilt of his sword in preparation. Each time whatever animal was hunting him would back off.
Finally having followed what he believed to be the right trail, Arian stopped in his tracks and pulled out the map. It was in this moment Arian lamented having not brought a torch with him because he could barely read said map. To make matters worse, there weren't any other markings or anything he could really use to identify if it was the right area. Arian grumbled and put the map away, not seeing any caves in his immediate vicinity. He continued along the road for a few more minutes, keeping his eyes peeled for anything that could look like the Swindlers Den.
At one point Arian was between two hills, both marked by large jagged rocks. Letting out a sigh Arian scratched the back of his head while he stopped walking. It felt like he had gone too far north, so Arian pulled the map out again. Taking a quick glance up, Arian saw a large mountain ahead of him to the north. Down at the map, Arian saw that mountain at the very least was on the map. From what he could tell Arian may have been near the Swindler's Den, but by what he could read the entrance should have been right beside him. It was nowhere to be seen, leading Arian to believe he was reading it wrong. It was made all the more difficult by the dark shroud of night, as it made every crack and crevice look like a possible cave entrance. It turned his search into looking for a needle in a hay stack.
"Man…what am I doing?" Arian asked himself. His stomach began to rumble, and Arian questioned how badly he wanted to do this for Saadia. It still felt like he didn't know her full story and he was being led along. Reaching into his pack Arian brought out a piece of bread and took a bite as he contemplated is life decisions.
Then he heard a scratching noise come from his right, so Arian turned to see what it was. Between two large jagged rocks there was a small crack that Arian could see a little behind. Something moved quickly past it then, creating a shadow that alarmed Arian. It may be a wolf, Arian figured, and that wasn't too concerning considering he had killed one before with his bare hands.
However that shadow was followed by a large roar and the pattering sound of four large feet running across the ground. The sound went from behind the rocks to further up the trail, when suddenly from a large crevice in the rocks emerged a large bear. Arian let go off the hilt of his sword, not sure it would be enough to take a bear. Roaring again, the bear charged at Arian. There was no way to outrun it, so Arian would have to out maneuver it.
A look to his left revealed a crevice a few feet off the ground just large enough for him to fit through, and so Arian jumped for it. He heard the snapping of the bear's jaws behind him, an attack that would have easily snapped his ankle in half. Arian expected to land on the side of the hill as he came through the other side of the crevice. To his surprise, he fell down into darkness.
Arian hit rock floor with a hard thud. It was a jarring landing, and the only thing that snapped Arian to reality was the roar of the bear behind him. He looked back up to where he had fallen from, only to realize he couldn't see it. Wherever he was, it was too dark. Much to his relief the bear sound didn't follow him, so the crevice wasn't quite big enough for the bear to follow after. Arian shakily stood up and rubbed his arms and legs, trying to get the shock out of his system.
He considered his options for a few moments, trying to decide what to do when he was able to hear the sound of running water. Arian followed the noise until his feet began to feel damp, and he knelt down. Placing his hand in the water, he realized it was a small stream. It seemed to be running from where Arian had just jumped, and Arian figured his best course might be to go where it was flowing to.
So Arian walked in darkness for several minutes, his hands outstretched in front of him blindly searching for a wall face so he wouldn't crash into it. Arian started to consider this plan a bad one, when suddenly the sound of rushing water picked up substantially, echoing louder and louder off the cave walls. Arian found himself trying to walk more cautiously, getting ready for when the water would begin to flow more heavily.
Much to his clumsy dismay, Arian's foot failed to touch down where he planned right when there was sudden drop in the water, and he fell over top of himself unexpectedly into chest high water. The water was picking up momentum and Arian was tumbling in the water as it carried him into deeper and deeper water. Arian barely managed to get his head above the water where he gasped for air and he tried to slow his descent but the water was flowing too quickly.
The roar of the water and the darkness greatly disoriented Arian and he did his best to try and figure out which part of his body was where when things started getting brighter in the tunnel. Arian turned to see the source of the light, and could see an opening in the tunnel he was in. Letting out a little sigh of relief, Arian was grateful that he'd finally be able to see what he was doing. But then as the tunnel opened, Arian's eyes widened to see the tunnel opened to a drop.
"My luck," Arian muttered, and he let out an unwilling scream as he fell down the water fall into a pool of water twenty feet below. In his descent he saw he was in a cave that had torches illuminating the whole area, revealing the dark greyish blue of the walls. That was all Arian had time to process, as he hit the water with a splash. He was lucky the pool was deep enough to take his impact, as he came very close to hitting his head on a rock and ending it all there.
The water flowed less quickly there, and Arian managed to swim to the edge of the pool and drag himself onto the rocks. He fell onto his stomach and shut his eyes, trying to get water out of everywhere it had seeped into. Coughing the water out of his lungs he put his hands to the ground and got on all fours.
Just as he opened his eyes, he looked up the point of a sword. Standing in front of him, clad in chainmail armor and telltale turbans, were four Redguard soldiers who seemed unimpressed with Arian.
"Uh…don't suppose you guys wouldn't mind talking this out huh?" Arian asked.
In the next few moments the Alik'r warriors were walking Arian through the cave. Walking with one in front, one on either side and one in the back, Arian was pretty much boxed in. They had taken away his great sword and held a blade to his back to keep him in line. Arian figured his best chance of getting through this would be to play along, and strike when they had taken him to their leader. This was overlooking the fact that he was unarmed, but Arian was trying to think positive.
The cave system they led him through was reinforced by support beams in a couple places, and Arian made note of the scaffolding that had been constructed in large open sections of the cave. Whoever had built all this had the intention of staying, Arian realized, which made him confused as to why the Alik'r assassins would go through all this trouble if they just wanted to kill one woman.
Arian was led into a large room, with a slope that curved upwards. Tables and maps were everywhere to be seen, leaving Arian believe to he was in some kind of war room. Additionally there were even more Redguard warriors in there, scimitars strapped to their sides. Arian's eyes darted around the room, trying to think up a strategy he could use to fight. There wasn't a lot of time to consider it as the Redguard in front of Arian stopped walking mid-way up the slope, making Arian bump into him in surprise.
"Kematu, sir! We caught an intruder," one Redguard soldier said, and Arian looked past the man in front of him to see a taller Redguard soldier turn to address him. The Redguard in front of Arian moved out of the way over to a table as the taller one, Kematu, walked closer to inspect Arian.
"Well, what do we have here?" Kematu asked, his voice deep and menacing. "What were you doing lurking in this cave? Hunting the bandits we had already evicted?"
"Sure, let's go with that," Arian answered with a coy smile. Kematu eyed him suspiciously for several moments, and then shook his head.
"Did Iman send you to kill us?" Kematu asked.
"Can you read minds?" Arian asked back, perplexed as to how Kematu could know that.
"No. But you just told me regardless," Kematu replied with a smile. Arian's eyes went down as he realized his own stupidity.
"You do realize she's lying to you?" Kematu questioned as he walked away. "What did she tell you, that we were Alik'r assassins sent to kill you?"
Arian's confused silence answered for him, and Kematu grabbed a bottle of alto wine from a nearby table. Taking a drink Kematu stated, "That woman has been using everyone she came across since first coming to Skyrim. Her real story paints her in a much more negative light."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Arian asked, anger seeping in. Saadia, that beautiful woman a liar? Arian didn't believe it for a second and it frustrated him to hear her accused as such.
"Iman was a Redguard noble, that was no lie," Kematu explained. "However what really happened is she sold secrets to Aldmeri kingdom which led to the fall of the city Taneth in our war with them.
"Since then we've been hunting her down to bring her back, not for a price, but so she can see justice in our homeland of Hammerfell," Kematu finished.
Arian let the story sink in, trying to digest it all. It was entirely possible, Saadia may have been using Arian as a means to an end. If that were true, Arian should have just sold her out to the Redguard warriors for trying to use him.
The thought of Saadia's warm smile and the idea of her hand running up and down his leg changed his mind though. There was no way she was lying. These men must have been doing it to use him to get to her. And that wasn't going to happen.
"Well, even if I did believe you, I would still kick your asses for sounding like pompous assholes," Arian commented.
Kematu managed a little chuckle and shook his head in disappointment. Placing the Alto wine back down, he then asked, "What did she promise you that you're so captivated by her? Gold?"
Then cocking his head to the side, Kematu judgementally questioned, "Or did she offer you lust?"
Arian said nothing, and Kematu nodded in understanding.
"That explains much. She is a beautiful woman, and a night with her would surely be apt reward for a hero like yourself," Kematu commented. "However, once we have our hands on her, all she will be is a pretty little corpse. More than we can say for you."
This angered Arian enough into action. Arian spun and slapped the scimitar digging into his back away, so fast the Redguard using it didn't have to react. All around him Redguard stood up from their tables and all drew their scimitars in preparation. His sword was strapped across that Redguard's back, and he lunged forward with a free hand and grabbed his neck.
Arian than stepped to the side and threw the man by the neck down past him, sending his face into the floor. With a spin Arian used his other hand and grabbed his great sword from the Redguard's back as the man fell. Coming out of his spin Arian brought his sword up and parried a vertical swing from the Redguard on his left. The Redguard was caught off guard and Arian quickly recoiled his arm and then swung out wildly and slashed the soldier across his throat.
That one fell over dead with a blood splatter as the one to Arian's other side charged in. He swung horizontally, and Arian instinctively spun and ducked low. Arian dodged the attack by doing so and then he tucked his sword into his side. With a quick lunge forward Arian impaled the man on his sword, but only for a brief moment as Arian extracted it and then hit the man with the butt of his sword across the Redguard's face. The Redguard tumbled over, and Arian looked back up at Kematu as he stabbed down into the first Redguard's back, who still hadn't got off the floor yet.
Blood from the Redguard's smeared Arian's skin as that last Redguard twitched on the ground. The other six Redguard in the room were now assembled on the ridge in front of Arian beside Kematu. Kematu had grown serious now, and eyed Arian with distaste.
"Kill him," the leader commanded, and they charged Arian with their scimitars ready. Arian lifted his sword up and held it by his right shoulder in a fighting stance as they ran in. Six against one? Arian felt confident.
He back stepped down the slope and let the Redguard warriors surround him in a circle. One from Arian's right ran in and hacked at him, and Arian blocked the blow. As he held that sword in place one from Arian's left swung in with his sword raised above his head. Still holding that first sword in place Arian kicked upwards into the second Redguard's face and knocked him back.
Arian then dropped his shoulder and charged forward at the first Redguard soldier dodging two attacks on either side of him in the process. The Redguard stumbled backwards and as Arian broke their circle he spun and swung his sword out wide. He slashed two Redguard soldiers across the chest. Then Arian reversed his on the sword and stabbed backwards. It impaled the Redguard behind him who had attempted to charge in.
This left three Redguard soldiers, one with a broken nose from Arian's kick, who were now apprehensive over fighting Arian. They all waited to charge in, hoping Arian would give them an opportunity. He didn't.
Arian slashed out wide at the Redguard on the left, forcing him to bring up his scimitar to block the attack. He blocked Arian's swing but the hit made him stutter backwards. Arian then swung his sword diagonally in the other direction so fast the Redguard couldn't prepare. Blood spurted out from the Redguard's chest as Arian slashed him, and then Arian used his momentum from the swing and held his sword behind his back and blocked an attack from behind.
The Redguard who attempted to sneak up on Arian recoiled in surprise, not expecting Arian to block his attack in such a manner. Arian then pivoted his foot and quickly turned, bringing his sword down low in the process. With a quick bound Arian leapt past the stunned Redguard and swung his mighty great sword. That Redguard fell to the floor in two pieces, disconnected at the waist. Finally the last Redguard dropped his sword and fell to his knees in surrender.
"Please, one woman isn't worth dying over!" the Redguard pleaded. Arian looked to him, kind of surprised that this was happening, but also glad there was one less life he had to take. But then to Arian's shock the Redguard's head was suddenly removed from his body with the swing of a scimitar. Kematu was standing behind the headless corpse, holding duel scimitars and staring intently at Arian.
"I have no need for cowards in my ranks," Kematu explained, his smile well gone from earlier. "Now, one last chance to surrender and I'll make your death as quick as his."
"Like hell," Arian responded, and he charged at Kematu. Kematu held on scimitar low and the other high in a fighting posture Arian knew he had never seen before.
Arian hacked horizontally at the Kematu, and Kematu took one quick side step and swatted his low sword at Arian's weapon. The scimitar impacted the great sword and knocked it off to the side making Arian stutter, and then Kematu swung downward with the higher blade. Barely able to do so, Arian spun off to the side and avoided the attack, but tripped over his own two feet.
Kematu was there and attacked Arian with both blades, swinging his swords in a criss-cross pattern. Arian blocked the attack by having one hand on the hilt of his sword and the other along the blade, giving him enough support to not be taken by Kematu's strength. Kematu seemed to expect the strong block as he barely recoiled, and rather as his swords scraped against Arian's he let them go down low and then he suddenly stabbed forward at Arian.
Like swinging a golf club Arian swung his sword in a low arc and knocked the scimitars off to the side and saved himself form getting skewered. Again Kematu rolled with his momentum and he spun in a full circle and swung at Arian with both blades. Arian just managed to block that attack but the force was more than he could handle and he felt himself stuttering backwards. Once Arian was able to get his feet properly on the ground, he looked to Kematu who was swinging his swords in different angles at Arian.
He managed to hold his sword at just enough of an angle to block both attacks, but the awkwardness of it gave him fortitude and he again found himself scrambling to stay upright as he fell backwards. That became difficult as his back was against cavern wall then, and he was still crouched over trying to stand back up. Kematu made his life even more difficult by swinging downwards with both blades, and Arian was just able to block the blow, holding his sword over his head. As the blades connected Kemtau pushed down firmly, pressing his advantage against Arian.
"Well then…this is awkward," Arian stated as he strained against Kematu's swords.
"If Iman sent you to kill us, that must mean we were close to finding her. She's in Whiterun, isn't she?" Kematu asked, his devilish smile returning. Arian grimaced, giving Kematu all the information he needed.
"What name is she going as now? Lendora? Saadia? Just so once I sneak into the city, I'll have an easier time ending her pitiful life," Kematu continued. Arian's head went to thoughts of Saadia, and the image of her had been polluted by Kematu's story. Regardless, he wasn't about to let this jerk be the one to end him.
"It's just a shame she tricked such a capable warrior like yourself. You have such potential, but let that devil whore use like a dumb pack mule," Kematu finished.
"Shut!" Arian started as he let go off his sword with one of his hands. Using that hand he punched forward as hard as he could and hit Kematu right in the groin.
"Up!" Kematu lurched forward in shock and pain, the pressure of blades easing considerably. Arian used that to punch them away with his great sword as Arian stood up. Arian then took a step past Kematu and beat him in the back of the head with the pommel of his sword. Kematu stumbled towards the wall, unable to process what was happening to him. The Redguard warrior just managed to spin around to properly face Arian as he shot a palm into the Kematu's face.
Arian palm thrust Kematu's with such force and power the once formidable warrior's head caved in a bloody explosion as it hit the wall. Kematu crumpled into a lifeless form, and Arian stood there panting and staring at his bloody hand in a mix of awe and disgust. He had no idea he was so strong, and was taken a bit aback at his own actions.
After spending a bit of time in the cave resting, washing the blood off himself and eating the meal he had bought earlier in Whiterun, Arian found the cave's proper entrance and left. It was still night but Arian was intent on returning to the city to get answers from Saadia. His reward didn't even really matter to him anymore. For all he knew the Redguard's had been telling the truth, and if so he had just murdered a bunch of innocent people. That wasn't something he was going to stand for.
Upon returning to Whiterun, Arian instantly made his way back to The Bannered Mare. The sun had just poked up over the horizon, and the people of Whiterun were all beginning their daily routines. A couple of people who claimed to be from the Clouds District, a supposedly nicer part of the city, all gave Arian trouble for smelling so bad, but Arian ignored them and pushed on. He needed answers.
Barging in the Bannered Mare, Arian saw Hulda walking around and cleaning the front of the inn. She was startled by Arian's entrance and she found herself grasping her chest. Exasperated she said, "Oh my, have you killed that bounty already?"
Arian had completely forgotten he had even taken the bounty. The events of the prior day seemed like a lifetime ago after what he had been through with the Redguard warriors.
"No, not yet. Where's Saadia?" Arian asked.
"Saadia? She's in her room upstairs from the kitchen," Hulda answered, perplexed by the question. Arian nodded in thanks and proceeded to where she had specified.
"Wait! She's probably not even-" Arian didn't hear the end of the statement as he rushed up the stairs to Saadia's room. Not even bothering to knock, Arian opened the door to address Saadia and realized Hulda was going to say Saadia's probably not even decent.
Saadia stood with her back to Arian as she pulled on her dress, her top exposed. She looked over her shoulder in surprise, and then smiled upon seeing Arian. Arian's face flushed red and he looked away while Saadia finished pulling her dress on.
"No need to be so bashful," Saadia stated. "You may be seeing more of that in a few moments anyway." Arian let that thought sink in for a few moments, but then he quickly shook his head as he remembered what he needed to say.
"Are the Redguards dead?" she asked walking over to him.
"Yeah, but they told me something interesting," Arian responded standing tall as she neared him.
"What's that?" Saadia questioned, standing only a few inches away from Arian seductively.
"Did you sell out Hammerfell to the Aldmeri?" Arian asked, crossing his arms. Arian intently studied Saadia's face for several moments as her eyes went to the floor.
"Don't you trust me?" she asked, looking up at Arian sadly. Her face retained the smoulder it still had from a few moments before, and Arian realized she was still trying to seduce him.
"Answer the question. Those weren't assassins here to kill you, were they?" Arian pressed on. Saadia's little frown then turned into an evil little smile and she remained silent. Arian felt rage set into his body as the image of the Redguards he murdered took forefront in his mind.
"Were they!?" Arian shouted at her. Saadia did not give up her stance, rather she eyed Arian from head to toe with an almost renewed interest.
"Well…how else was I supposed to get away without telling a little white lie?" Saadia asked. "What does it matter? Dead is dead." She then reached up to stroke his face but Arian harshly grabbed her wrist before she could do so.
Saadia almost seemed impressed, and took all of Arian's willpower to not strike her. Her eyes seemed to be egging him on, daring him to do it. With an exasperated sigh he let her hand go and turned to walk away.
"You don't want your reward?" she asked as Arian started to walk down the stairs.
"Keep it," Arian responded. "The only person who can please you is yourself."
Arian didn't turn to see Saadia's appalled reaction to that comment, but Arian knew he would take little satisfaction in it anyway. He walked into the Bannered Mare's lobby and stood there for a few moments. Hulda looked at him concerned, his expression clearly one of distraught. Before she could ask any questions, Arian left the inn.
He spent the rest of that day buying supplies in Whiterun. There was still a little gold left from what Olarg had gave him, and Arian didn't have much desire to go out gallivanting after the bounty right away. With his money he bought more food and some cooking supplies, not too keen on just eating bread all the time. Arian also weighed how much he wanted new armor. He spent a lot of time at Warmaiden's the local blacksmith, trying to decide if he wanted a grey set of iron armor. It would protect his torso better and maybe free him up to take a couple of hits in battle. However he decided to wait and make the purchase when he had a little more gold.
By the end of the day, as the sun was setting, Arian sat on the steps leading up to the Bannered Mare. He had considered renting a room there for the night, but the thought of seeing Saadia again made him sick. So Arian sat on the stairs thinking about what he could do for accommodations that night seeing as The Bannered Mare was Whiterun's only inn.
"Hello?" asked a gentle voice. Arian looked up, and in front of him stood a young woman with short red hair in a blue dress. She was quite pretty, gentle features marking her face, but there was a hardness there that must have come from years of hard work.
"Uh, hi," Arian responded.
"Are you Arian?" she asked, and Arian nodded.
"I'm Ysolda. My father Olarg said to keep an eye out for you," she explained and Arian recalled that Olarg had said she lived in Whiterun.
"Oh, hi! It's nice to meet you," Arian said standing up. He extended a hand and she shook it gently. Her hands were rough but her touch was soft, and Arian felt a few butterflies in his stomach. She motioned for him to sit back down, and so the two of them sat on the steps outside of the inn.
Ysolda explained to Arian that she wanted to be a merchant and that Hulda had said she would give her the inn one day. She also had spent a lot of time with the Khajit, studying their merchant ways. Arian didn't want to say anything, and was actually perfectly happy to let her speak, but she pried and Arian eventually told her what had happened with Saadia and the Redguards.
"I'm more ashamed than anything else," Arian said at the end of his story. "I can't believe I let myself get used like that."
"Skyrim has a lot of people who are just out to use you," Ysolda responded. She didn't seem to be judging him at all for his decision making skills, making Arian feel relieved. "You have to be careful who you trust."
"Well, I'm getting the feeling you can't trust anyone," Arian lamented. Ysolda gave Arian a sad look, but then she smiled and put a hand on his knee.
"I feel like I can trust you," she said, and Arian looked to her.
"You just met me," he responded with a chuckle.
"Yes, but my father told me what you did for them. How you saved their farm. And you were willing to take a stranger at their word because you thought it was the right thing to do" Ysolda countered. "You have good inside you. My father could see that from the little time he spent with you."
Arian smiled and looked to the ground as he said, "Thanks."
Ysolda then looked away and muttered under breath unintentionally loud enough for Arian to hear, "He did not mention how attractive you were." Arian's eyebrows raised in surprise.
Then clearing her throat Ysolda asked, "Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?" Arian shook his head and she stood up offering him a hand.
"Stay with me. It's the least I can do for saving my parents farm," Ysolda offered. Arian looked into her eyes for many moments, captivated.
"Sure, why not?" Arian answered, and she led him back to her house. Located behind the Bannered Mare was Ysolda's house, one of Whiterun's smaller buildings. As Arian entered he saw she had to use her space consciously, the kitchen and living room pretty much the same room.
"Make yourself at home," Ysolda stated as she walked over to a cabinet. Arian nodded and then realized how badly he wanted to sleep. It had been almost forty-eight hours since the last time he slept, and a good night's sleep in a good bed could put his head in a better place. Then Arian realized there was a slight problem with that idea, noticing there was only one bed.
"Um, where do I sleep?" Arian asked, looking at the other side of the rom from where Ysolda was standing.
"In the bed," she answered from behind Arian's back.
"Yeah but there's only one," Arian argued, and he turned to face her.
"I'm aware," Ysolda responded.
So much for a good night's sleep, Arian realized. But that didn't really matter. At the end of the day, he still got his reward.