"We should make camp for the night," Lydia heard Reydi say to her.
A long and painful three months had passed since the attack: a time during which the town of Falkreath had not been idle. Lydia had always been the more emotional of the two, and had wanted nothing more than to act swiftly and without mercy against the men and women responsible for the sacking of her home and the murders of her parents. And yet, Reydi was the voice of moderation. The town needed help reconstructing, and Reydi knew full well that every pair of hands available needed to be active in the restoration. Lydia knew it too, if she was honest with herself. But the anger and grief that she kept bottled up during that period of time had not benefited from the wasted time. It festered inside her like a wound left untreated for days, making her cold and abrasive, and setting her constantly on edge. Yet Reydi had convinced her to remain and help Falkreath in whatever ways they could. 'It's what they would have wanted.' What did Reydi know about that? Lydia had always been the one at home. The one who put food on the table. The one who looked after the house while her parents were away. Reydi was always off doing divines-know-what abroad.
Stop it, Lydia commanded herself. If she let herself begin to resent her elder sister, she'd have lost everyone. And she would have no one to blame but herself for pushing her sole remaining family away. Her mother had always warned her to control her emotions, and Lydia had never been good at it. Reydi and her mother were alike in that way. Strong, stoic, and somewhat aloof. 'Free Spirits,' her father had always called them. Maybe that was why she had always connected more with her father . . .
"There's a nice cave up ahead. It looks habitable. We should be able to stay the night." Reydi's voice wrenched her from her thoughts. Lydia agreed without question. It was getting dark. Even she had to admit that they needed a rest.
Reydi and Lydia had been on the road since the last day of reconstruction on the town of Falkreath. Both of them knew that they had little worth remaining in Falkreath for. It had been Reydi who had suggested that they join the Imperial Legion in the city of Solitude.
At first, the idea had surprised Lydia. The Civil War that was brewing in Skyrim had always seemed somewhat far off. Almost as though it were happening in a land far from the comfort of Falkreath's lush forest. And yet reality had struck hard and fast. The Stormcloaks, in an attempt to secure the Hold of Falkreath for their cause, had launched the attack on the town. It seemed that they still hoped to avoid open warfare for as long as possible, as they had used bandits to attack, presumably in an effort to disconnect the Stormcloak cause from the assault. The conflict was still in its infancy, although the inevitability of it loomed over Skyrim like a dark cloud, or a nightmare that nagged at the back of everyone's minds but was not allowed to reach the forefront. Times, it seemed, were changing. If the Stormcloak Rebellion could cause such destruction, then their forces must have been stronger than everyone thought. If they were capable of such brutality in the name of freedom, Reydi and Lydia agreed that they could not in good conscience stand idly by as other families suffered the same fate as their own.
The mouth of the cave was before them now, it's craggy face roughly carved into the side of the mountain. The cave was shallow, Lydia noticed as she entered it. It extended maybe six or seven yards back, and then was cut off.
They had made good progress that day, and they now sat upon the edge of Falkreath Hold where it bordered the Hold of Whiterun. Their path took them to the northwest of the town of Falkreath until the reached the shores of Lake Ilinalta; a point from which the turned back east, following along the White River which extended from the great lake, toward the Throat of the World. The Throat was an impressive peak, renowned as the tallest point in all of Tamriel. Its highest point reached far beyond the clouds, and it towered over the low, sweeping plains that sprawled across its base where it met with the Hold of Whiterun.
The pine forests of Falkreath still persisted at its edge, and it was a simple task to gather the necessary wood to start a cozily crackling fire just inside the cave. Lydia and Reydi spoke little to each other as they set about the preparations. Even as they unwrapped the venison from its oiled cloth in their packs and prepared their meal, there was little conversation between them. The sisters had their own matters to come to terms with. As the two moons rose and began their slow path toward the return of the daylight, a calm and cool darkness settled over Skyrim. Despite the beauty of the night outside the cave, Lydia's thoughts were as troubled as they had been over the past three months, even as she slowly drifted off to sleep.
* * *
When Lydia next awoke, she heard voices. Every instinct screamed at her to bolt up and see who was talking, but she remained absolutely still, continuing the steady breathing she had maintained in sleep. The conversation seemed to have stopped. After several intense moments of listening, moments in which all normal sounds of the night outside seemed to be infinitely heightened, she slowly reached down to her sack and fished out her dagger. Even as she slowly and deliberately tucked the blade under her pillow she overheard the voices once more, louder this time.
"... useless trip. Why would some tired travelers have anything of value?" asked one man in a gruff voice.
"They're travelers, they'll have at least some coin!" exclaimed a harsh female voice in a hushed tone. What a lovely surprise, Lydia thought. More bandits.
Lydia slipped her hand beneath her pillow and tightened her grip around her dagger. After another moment of listening, she allowed her eyes to flicker open for the barest of moments. Just as quickly as she had opened them, she slammed them shut in horror. Reydi was not beside her where she had been when the night fell. She was sure her knuckles must have been white from her hold on the blade. She struggled to control her breathing and stop her body from shaking. If the bandits were to become aware that she had noticed them--
"Wait! I think there's still someone there. Strange, she looks a bit like that Stormcloak woman who met with the Chief recently."
"What?" the woman asked peevishly as Lydia heard her shuffling through her pack. "Shut up and get the job done. She's still asleep. Just kill her quick and quiet while I look around."
Lydia heard the obedient shuffle of an axe as it was pulled from a belt, and the shuffling footsteps of a heavy man approaching her bedroll. As soon as she knew he was close enough, she didn't hesitate. She flung her eyes open and thrust the dagger between the plates in the man's heavy armor and into his chest. A look of shock passed over his face momentarily, and he went slack, a steady trickle of blood running down from the wound as his knees buckled and he fell forward.
Lydia quickly rolled from her position as the corpse of the heavyset man fell toward her. She whorled around and, seeing the other bandit who had seemingly recovered from the unanticipated death of her companion running towards her, Lydia drove her knee into the charging form. Caught by surprise, Lydia's blade soon found it's mark in the woman's leg, bringing her down to the ground with a shriek of pain. Looking down at her, Lydia was reminded of he attack three months past. The anger returned, and she so desperately wanted to kill the woman before her, but she shoved the impulse down forcefully. The bandit would be useful.
"What did you do with the other one who slept here?" she asked the bandit through gritted teeth.
"Please! She's further down in the cave, through the covered trapdoor over there. I don't know what they've done with her. They had her unconscious in one of the cages last I knew. That's all I know, I swear!" Lydia smiled in satisfaction. The bandit had given up the information more quickly than she had thought. She gathered her sword, shield, bow, and arrows, and left the bandit where she lay, clutching at the dagger she left in her thigh.
The trapdoor was covered in moss and stones which she quickly swept aside. It creaked open as she pulled on the ring handle, and she lowered herself into the hidden portion of the cavern. As Lydia snuck down the narrow passage she found herself in, which opened into a small room where she could count at least three rusted cages. The room was dimly lit by a few blazing braziers, lighting up the cavern just enough for Lydia to see Reydi, still unconscious, occupying the leftmost cage.
Off to the right two more bandits sat around the brazier, warming their hands over the flames and talking in hushed but noticeably drunken tones. It seemed that they hadn't yet noticed her. Lydia quietly raised her bow, knocked an arrow, and drew back. The bowstring made a small noise as she drew it back that seemed to rumble with the sound of a thousand storms in the intense quiet.
"Wha' wuss tha--"
The intoxicated bandit was quickly cut off as the arrow pierced his back and forced itself through his chest. Lydia didn't have time to check if he was dead; she had already dropped her bow and raised her shield, charging at the second bandit before he had time to react. With her shield in front for protection and the blade of her sword pushed against its edge and sticking out beyond, the bandit was hit in the chest both with the blunt force of the shield and the piercing tip of the blade. He was killed quickly.
The first bandit, having toppled from his seat, was sprawled on the ground, bleeding profusely and still struggling with the wooden shaft buried deep in his chest. His pain was over with a quick thrust to his exposed throat.
With the two guards dealt with, Lydia hurried over to where Reydi was caged and gave the padlock a powerful bash with her shield, breaking the rusted iron.
Reydi was still out cold. She knew she couldn't carry her shield and bow with the added burden of her sister. Part of her wanted to venture further into the cavern to recover the supplies that the bandits had undoubtedly stole from above. That part of her was the one that still yearned to see the spilled blood of bandits and their ilk; the types of mer, men, and women who had murdered her parents and sacked her village. However, she restrained herself, if only because she knew she'd be putting Reydi at risk to do so. After sheathing her shield, she dragged Reydi out of the cage and hoisted her up into her arms.
By the time she'd laboriously brought her sister up the passage and through rather inconvenient the trapdoor, the moons were already gone, replaced by a slowly rising sun. The bandit she had left behind was already gone, which only worried Lydia slightly. While it was still possible that the woman would return, her wounds were likely grievous enough to warn her off of any further encounters with Lydia. She smiled in satisfaction at the thought.
As the sun rose of Skyrim's craggy peaks, Reydi's eyes began to flutter open. She stared groggily at the cave's ceiling for a moment, and then sat bolt upright with a wild, panicked look in her eyes.
"Lydia! The bandits-- our supplies! Where . . . ?" She caught sight of Lydia and breathed out a sight of relief.
"Quiet, I haven't killed all of them," Lydia admonished through a grin as her sister sat up. "You'll wake the dead if you carry on shouting like that." Reydi smiled and laughed at her sister. But the light and humorous tone was gone as quickly as it had come.
"Our supplies . . . ?" Reydi inquired, but even as she said it Lydia was shaking her head.
"All gone. I had to leave even my shield and bow behind to carry you out from the cavern below. I could try to go back for them--"
"No, too dangerous. There could be more," Reydi said, quickly cutting her off. She looked troubled. "We won't last too much longer without more supplies. We'll need to stop at Whiterun on our way to Solitude." Reydi grimaced at the thought of the holdup.
"Doesn't seem as though we have much of a choice, does it?" Lydia said. Reydi shrugged unhappily.
"It'll slow us down, but what must be done must be done. We'd best get moving."
They pair of them packed up what little they had left and exited the cave into the rich sunlight. Lydia was glad of the streaming daylight; the night had been altogether too eventful for her comfort.