Nightfall was Arodel’s favourite time of day; not just because Magnus’ last warm rays graced the Valenwood’s foliage with their golden light so artfully, sending a myriad of brilliant speckles dancing all over the lush thicket, but also because of the promise it harboured: the promise of sleep, the only appreciable antidote against the emptiness that was eating away at her substance in every waking moment.
Arodel was headed to Marbruk, where an well-heeled apothecary was waiting for the herbs safely tucked away in one of the elf’s saddle bags. The amicable Khajiit was willing to part with enough of her money to ensure the battered Altmer lass a graciously light-headed evening at the Parchment & Horn. It had become a habit for her to induce sleep rather than to wait for it to occur naturally, and what would have been better suited to serve as a catalyst than Eldumoril’s home made honey rum.
The brewer was quite the handsome fellow by Arodel’s standards, and he was surely part of the reason why she kept coming back to look for jobs in this particular establishment. Maybe she simply enjoyed the drinks. But as Eldumoril liked to say: “Mead from meat, wine from grapes… by the end of the night it all tastes the same”, and Arodel was inclined to agree.
Maybe I even get enough to pay for a proper meal this time, the woman thought. In any case she wasn’t picky; whatever could keep her body going was fine. The only thing that mattered was the booze to knock her out at the end of an arduous day.
“Relax, Wolf, no rush. Let’s enjoy the scenery a little longer” Arodel muttered as they trudged along the trail that connected Bramblebreach with Marbruk, and she gave the ashen dire wolf who carried her a soft pat on his massive head. Thankful to be able to rest her legs for a while she produced a piece of jerky from the pouch sitting atop the remodelled horse saddle and chucked it in the general direction of his muzzle. Wolf gracefully caught it between his finger-long incisors and swallowed it whole without slowing down even a little. “Good boy” she whispered and scratched him between his ears.
Getting jobs done to make ends meet was considerably simplified by Wolf’s ability to cover great distances much better than Arodel’s legs ever could, but even the unmatched stamina of her quadruped partner paled in comparison to the invaluable company he provided. Hopefully he would never leave. The thought alone was unsettling.
She threw back her head and took a deep breath. The air smelled spicy after the shower of rain that came down upon Greenshade earlier, and the buzzing and wailing of the wildlife around her temporarily drowned out the gloomy thoughts that so persistently lurked in the corners of her dusty consciousness.
It was an unfortunate moment to be abstracted. The shadows behind the trees grew long and untethered themselves from the motionless giants. Three pairs of eyes secretly peeked through the wind-swept canopy and soundlessly followed Arodel down the beaten path. So enraptured was she by the manifold sensations of the Valenwood that the shadows started chuckling and whispering to each other, teeth gnashing and claws grinding. They grew impatient, eager to lay their greedy hands upon the oblivious prey.
Ew. Altmer. They smell.
And this one carries her nose so high like only their ghastly child-queen would otherwise.
An odious dinner, but dinner nonetheless.
I get the eyes.
And I get the fingers!
Get her, get her, quick! Kill the pest that defiles our lands!
Death to the trespassers!
The silhouettes started twisting and turning wildly, outgrowing their vaguely merish forms into something more suitable for the hunt that lay ahead of them. Snarling they pressed onward, traversing the brake as gracefully as a herd of deer, but their razor-sharp claws augured ill for the unsuspecting dalliers.
The world plunged into darkness before even Wolf could sense the Houndsmen coming.