It was a two-day journey before Lydia and Reydi got their first glimpse of the bustling trade city of Whiterun. Caravans came to and from the city in droves, headed by merchants wandering the dangerous roads of Skyrim in search of a place to sell their wares. Lydia could just make them out as they drew nearer, carefully making their way down the steep hillside. The ground of Whiterun's open boreal plains and sparse tundra had rocky and unfertile soil, making agriculture a small industry in the area. Instead, the Hold turned to train as its main source of income. Its roads were renowned throughout the province as the safest for merchant travel in Skyrim. Until the war, that is. Its wealth of flowing rivers made another easy trade route for fishermen and the like. All this combined with Whiterun's central location within the province of Skyrim made it the biggest market center in all of Skyrim.
The city was situated on a massive rocky outcrop that jutted out of the highest point in the sweeping plains. The old and crumbling walls surrounded clusters of houses and market areas, all of which were passed by a stone brick path that meandered up the outcrop and to the upper city. Towering over it all, the lone spire among the squat houses and rolling grassy hills, was Dragonsreach, the Jarl's palace. The massive structure towered from the Cloud District, where the larger and fancier houses were located surround the great Temple of Kynareth.
Lydia and Reydi were within a stone's throw of the city's walls in under two hours by which time it was nearly nightfall. They were greeted by a powerful stone outer gate colored with the gently flapping yellow banner ofWhiterun, emblazoned with its traditional coat-of-arms, a sturdy and mighty horse. The path to the base of the rock outcrop where the wall began wound over a small rivulet that slowly plodded on down the sloap and into the White River. Their armored boots clanked against the wood as they walked across the drawbridge to the main city gate. The massive double doors that marked the entrance to the city were flanked by two yellow-uniformed guardsmen.
"What is your business in Whiterun?" one of them asked in a bored tone, his voice heavy with a thick Nordic accent.
"We're travelers, passing through for some rest and supplies," Reydi answered him.
"Alright, move along," he said, waving them through the gate as he pulled on the wrought-iron hinge to the door. As they stepped through, they were greeted by the warm and welcoming glow of torchlight along the streets. Despite the late hour and the rising moons overhead, people still wandered the pathways between the buildings.
Reydi turned to Lydia briskly. "That blacksmith there, Warmaiden's, should be open. I'll pick up some supplies for myself in there to replace the ones that those gods-damned bandits stole. You can head up to the inn and get us a place to sleep. I'll meet you there." Lydia nodded, bidding her sister goodbye, and walked further up the streets of Whiterun. Shops and houses crowded the cobbled pathway as she made her way up to the central market square. Passing several market stalls and general goods store, she found her way to a small, cozy-looking tavern. A sign hung outside it bearing a rearing steed ridden by a banner-bearing Knight. "The Bannered Mare." Lydia could here boisterous laughing from within. Smiling to herself, she stepped inside.
The wooden interior and crackling central hearth made for a cozy scene. Patrons sat around the fire, in corner tables, and on stools at the bar. The room was small and filled with a healthy number of drinkers and diners. As she walked in, the brown-haired woman behind the bar glanced her way and called to the serving girl.
"Saadia, wake up dear!"
"Oh, yes ma'am," replied a startled Redguard woman from the corner. She set the frothy mugs she was carrying on the table and waded her way through the crowd to Lydia.
"What are ya looking for? Food? Drink?"
"A drink sounds great, and I'll need a room for two," Lydia replied. The thought of a belly full of mead after the long journey made her feel warmer already.
"For the room, you'll have to talk to Hulda, behind the counter over there. I can get you your mead if you wait around here for a minute," the woman who the innkeeper had called Saadia replied.
After paying for the room, Lydia finally allowed herself a seat at the bar, taking a long swig of mead from her mug.
"Did you hear?" Lydia's senses had now gotten used to being heightened, and she picked up on a conversation happening in a corner to her right. "Jarl Balgruuf's looking for some new recruits. These bandit attacks are becoming unbearable, and more and more common by the day. It's those Stormcloaks, I'd reckon. They've only brought trouble to Skyrim. Don't understand why Balgruuf won't allow Tullius to send in Imperial legionnaires. They'd offer some much-needed protection. Kynareth knows this Caius man is a useless bastard if I ever saw one . . ."
Lydia scowled at the mention of the rebels. Their name still burned something inside her. She'd gotten better at controlling herself, but still, all too often it wasn't enough.
"I 'erd that the Stormcloaks got a bit of a boost in funds after that attack on Falkreath a few months ago. Targeted a wealthy family of Imperial supporters, from what I hear," continued the owner.
"Bah," grumbled one of the patrons. "The Stormcloaks only want to give Skyrim the freedom it deserves. What has the Empire ever done for us? By the nine, they've taken our gods away from us because they were too damn cowardly to fight them High Elf bastards. They're the real reason we're fightin' this war. The Aldmeri Dominion wants to control anything. Not Skyrim, though. We ain't goin' down without a fight. If their deaths helped the Stormcloaks cause, those Imperial boot-lickers from Falkreath deserved . . ."
The man never finished his sentence, for Lydia's fist connected with the man's jaw before she realized what she was doing. Such was her fury, she thought she might actually explode from it. The man toppled from his seat at the bar, sprawling out onto the floor behind him and nearly knocking into several other patrons. She would get in trouble for this, she knew, but what did it matter? The man struggled up from the floor, his face a picture of dumb fury.
"Whaddya think you're doin'!?" he shouted at her in a rage. "You never should have come here," he yelled as his fist swung powerfully at Lydia's head. Lydia nimbly ducked out of his way, landing a solid uppercut to the man's ribs. Fury fueled her movements. The man was doubled over in pain. Lydia was tempted to take out her dagger, but had just enough self-restraint to avoid that, and contented herself with landing another blow to the man's cheek. He was out cold on the floor.
That was when Reydi burst through the door, looking incredulously at Lydia, who stood over the unconscious body of the man that had spit on her family's memory.
"Lydia, what have you -- ?" Reydi stammered in shock.
"He insulted our parents," Lydia said back, her voice surprisingly cool and calm. "I gave him what he asked for." The woman behind the bar stared at them, barely pretending to be wiping off the counter. Reydi looked furious. Lydia was surprised. How was she not as angry at this man as she was? Reydi gestured to the room Lydia had rented for the two of them with a sharp, angry motion. Reluctantly, Lydia followed her up the stairs.
"WHAT do you think you're doing?" Reydi stormed once they had closed the door. "What if you had killed him? What then? What if someone in the bar was a Stormcloak - - ?"
"You would have done the same if you heard him," Lydia replied, again in the surprisingly calm tone. "That man got what he deserved." Reydi looked ready to rant on, but breathed in deeply and sighed.
"Look, I understand you're angry, but you can't let your emotions get the better of you again. Carelessness could get you killed." She sat down heavily on her bed, sighing. "Get a good night's rest. I have something I need to take care of tomorrow, and then we'll head out."
Lydia climbed into bed herself, resenting Reydi slightly for her condescending tone. Reydi had no right to reprimand her for defending her family's honor. Deep down, she knew Reydi was right, and that only made it worse. She had acted rashly. As she rolled over, she wondered where Reydi was going in the morning. She doubted very much whether it would do any good to ask her.
* * *
When Lydia awoke the next morning, her sister was gone, as she had expected. Light streamed through the windows. She had slept fitfully. Despite that, she felt wide awake. She gathered up her supplies and, after buying some food from the innkeeper, who seemed a bit too eager to please her, she left the inn.
* * *
It had been hours, and Reydi still hadn't returned from whatever she had been doing. Lydia was starting to worry. Why would she be gone so long? She began to ask around the city. Most people just gave her a shrug when she asked, not bothering to give the matter a second thought. As she neared the Cloud District, she asked a well-dressed Redguard man if he had seen her.
"Have you seen a Nord girl around? Long dark hair in a ponytail, probably wearing armor." The Redguard looked at her scornfully.
"I think I saw one like that recently. Yes. She was with the guards when they came through."
"The guards?" Lydia asked, confused.
"Oh, did you not see them?" he said in his nasal voice, sneering at her ignorance. "They dragged a bunch of captured bandits up to Dragnosreach. Someone like the one you described, a Nord girl. She was with the prisoners."