Katja and Anders continued up the road, little more than a dirt track, as morning gave way to early afternoon. They had been trying to find the path to a mountaintop altar where, according to the bounty letter she had gotten from the Jarl of Markarth, a dragon had taken up residence and was menacing the countryside. Above a hill that obscured the view ahead, around the next bend, Katja spotted black smoke rising. “Is there a town near here?” she asked Anders. Nothing was showing on her magic map, though sometimes villages would not appear on it until you had either walked right into them or been sent on a quest to their locations.
“No, there’s not much of anything up this way,” Anders replied. In his decade of roaming the province, he had been to most places that were worth visiting. As they continued up the road, they soon realized there was no town – only an isolated farmstead. Or what was left of it. A wheat field to their left smoldered, nothing but blackened stubble. The slightly charred carcass of a cow lay, partially eaten, in a paddock that had had its fence smashed to the ground on two sides. Most of the smoke was coming from a small house, now partially collapsed and open to the sky.
“This has to be the work of that dragon,” Katja said quietly, her voice laced with suppressed anger. A Nord man, wood axe in his hand, lay crumpled face up on the front walk. His clothing and face were blackened. Picking her way gingerly inside the remains of the house, Katja looked around. The corpse of a Nord woman lay face down on the floor, blackened like the man who had probably been her husband. And protruding from beneath a fallen roof beam, Katja could see a pair of pathetic little feet.
Fury filled her heart. A child, slaughtered with her family, and for what? A few mouthfuls of beef? But just then, she thought she detected some slight movement of those feet. “Anders!” she cried, moving to the spot in an instant. “Help me!” He lent his prodigious strength, and between the two of them they were able to pull the beam away to reveal the still, pale form of a little girl no more than five years old. There was a purple weal across her forehead, and she remained unconscious. But it appeared that she was breathing slightly.
Katja knelt beside the tiny form, feeling for a pulse. There was one, though it was faint. Yanking her map out of her shirt, one arm wrapped around the child, she wished them all back to the Luxury Suite. Anders looked around, slightly disconcerted. Usually Kat gave him some warning before sending them hopping around the province.
Katja carried the little girl, cradling her tenderly in her arms, up across the deck and through the front doors to the main floor of the Suite. Then she hurried up a short flight of stairs to one of the mezzanine’s beds and laid the child down, carefully, before applying the Healing Hands spell to her patient. The girl’s injuries seemed to melt away and her breathing became deeper and more regular, but she did not wake.
Katja peered at her anxiously. The child was pale of skin, with shoulder-length hair a slightly darker shade of auburn than Katja’s own. Anders stood at the foot of the bed, watching as Kat mothered the little girl. It filled him with a curious sense of longing. This side of his lover was rarely revealed, but it made him think of an impossible dream he sometimes entertained, that someday they might be married and have a family together. It was hard to imagine The Dragonborn doing domestic chores, though!
As Katja sat there at the bedside holding the girl’s hand and watching her, the little one’s eyelids fluttered and she opened eyes that were a warm shade of brown – like Anders’ own. Should he and Kat ever have a daughter, he thought, she might look just like that. It was a riveting thought. The girl blinked in confusion, then struggled into a sitting position, gazing owl-eyed at Katja. “Are you… are you my mother?” she asked tentatively. The blow to her head, or perhaps the trauma of the dragon attack, seemed to have erased her memory. Anders realized now why Kat had waited until they had brought the girl here before healing her. What would it be like to awaken in the destroyed remains of your home, surrounded by the charred corpses of your loved ones?
Katja answered her thoughtfully. “No… I’m your Auntie Kat.” “Auntie Kat? … Where’s my mother?” Katja changed the subject by asking a question: “What’s your name, little one?” The girl’s face took on a look of surprise, followed by consternation. “I don’t know.” It was as Katja had feared. Not only had the memory of the recent cataclysmic events been erased from the girl’s mind, she had lost her identity as well. But since she was now a homeless orphan, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. “If you don’t mind,” Katja told her, “I think I’ll call you Anja.”
The girl considered that for a moment. It sounded all right. “All right Auntie Kat, I can be Anja if you want.” Katja spontaneously gathered the girl up in her arms and gave her gentle hug, lightly kissing the top of her head. “Good! Anja, this is the Luxury Suite and it’s going to be your home for a while. This man here is Uncle Anders, and we have some other aunts and uncles for you to meet later. In the meantime, would you like something to eat?”
Anja took all of this in seriously, still trying to reconcile herself to the new information she was being given. And still missing the memories of her past, short as it had been. She felt as if she should have a mother and a father and a home that was not here, but all that was a blank – and in the way of young children, she was willing to let it pass. The idea of food drove all other considerations out of her mind.
Anja gave Katja a radiant smile and said, “Yes, please!” Katja took her by the hand and walked her down past the central bathing pool and over to the bar. She was glad that at the moment there were no long-donged naked men hanging around in it. The people of Tamriel in general were somewhat casual about nudity, but who knew what this girl’s upbringing had been? She might well never have seen any adults in her life beyond her parents and the odd peddler or other traveler.
Katja boosted Anja up onto a stool at the bar, which the fire-haired youngster enjoyed quite a lot. It was fun to be perched up high like this, and even more fun to have “Uncle Lane” give her a honey-nut treat to eat. The Suite didn’t stock any milk, so she had a glass of water to wash it down with. Katja had some experience with kids, having a younger brother and sister at home in High Rock, and she asked Lane to get some goat’s milk as soon as possible.
While Anja ate her treat, Katja spoke quietly with Anders. “We need to go kill that scaly son of a bitch dragon,” she said. “I’ll get Lydia to look after Anja and keep her entertained while we’re figuring out what we’re going to do about finding her a new home.” He looked thoughtful. “Yeah, I suppose it would be insane to just have her live here with us…” She smiled. “Can you imagine the effect a five-year-old would have on the usual Suite guests? No, she needs a nice home, in a town where there are other children, somebody to look after her all the time, and not quite so many naked people running around.”
“But, Lydia?” Anders asked. Katja’s mouth quirked. “I know, she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who will get along with children. But who else have we got? Wyll? She’s always been a dutiful housecarl, and now she’s just going to get a new duty. I’ll give her some regular clothes so she won’t be so intimidating.” As Anders stayed at the bar with Anja, Katja went and found some clothing in an appropriate size for the lush-bodied housecarl. She gave the dress and slippers to Lydia, and explained what she needed.
Katja was somewhat surprised at Lydia’s reaction. She had expected the usual stiff, “As my Thane commands” response, but Lydia’s eyes actually sparkled and the faintest of smiles hovered about her lips as she followed Katja back to the common room and was introduced to Anja. “Hello Anja,” she said. “I’m your Aunt Lydia, and I’ll be staying with you while Auntie Kat and Uncle Anders are gone. I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun together. Will you like that?”
Anja examined her solemnly, then smiled and said, “You’re pretty! Okay…” Katja and Anders watched in bemused astonishment as a broad smile spread across Lydia’s lovely features and she reached to give Anja a little hug. Katja exchanged glances with Anders and mouthed, “Who knew?” with a shrug and a smile. Before they departed on their expedition, Anja insisted on giving each of them a hug and a kiss. “Bye bye!” she cried, as they took their leave.