“We need a bounty job,” said Lydia as she watched Elspeth pack up another box of elixirs for Arcadia.
“A what?” asked Elspeth.
“Occasionally, Jarls will put out a bounty—a single job that nets a good amount of coin. Usually it involves clearing an abandoned tower or camp of bandits. I should check in with Proventus and see if he has anything.”
For several weeks, Elspeth and Lydia had been working odd jobs around Whiterun saving up coin for their trip to the College of Winterhold. There was no shortage of jobs but they didn’t pay well. They had consulted with Balgruuf’s court wizard, the socially inept Farengar Secret-Fire, who explained that the mages at the college probably would not accept money for information. Elspeth would have to enroll at the college either as an apprentice or visiting mage. Also, Lydia would have to stay in town since the college wasn’t in the habit of hosting non-mages. After making several deliveries for him—including frost salts to Arcadia who confessed she was going to use them in a love potion that she intended to test on the awkward wizard—Farengar offered to write a letter of introduction on behalf of Elspeth to his former mentor, Tolfdir, the Master Alteration mage at the College.
At one point they considered joining the Companions, a collective of warriors and mercenaries whose headquarters, Jorrvaskr, was located right in Whiterun. It was, by far, the best way to earn a great deal of coin but Lydia had heard rumors of conflict in their upper ranks. Moreover, the commitment required was considerable and more than either of them felt comfortable making at this point.
“That sounds like a good idea,” agreed Elspeth. “Why don’t you go to Dragonsreach while I bring these elixirs to Arcadia?”
They parted ways in the market. At Arcadia’s Elspeth attempted to buy some dragon’s tongue but Arcadia told her take whatever she wanted. Elspeth helped herself to dragons tongue and some inexpensive supplies for her own stash of health and stamina elixirs. Back outside, she stopped to talk to Carlotta Valentia and her daughter Mila. She and Elspeth had become friendly since Elspeth had very effectively convinced Mikael-the-Bard to stop his pathetic attempts at courting her.
When Carlotta had customers, Elspeth excused herself and raced with Mila up the steps to the Gildergreen and approached the shrine to Talos—it was a sort of makeshift shrine set up every day by the priest Heimskr, who was engaging in his daily proselytizing in defiance of the White-Gold Concordat’s prohibition of Talos worship, with oration that was part sermon and part tirade:
“Talos the Mighty! Talos the unerring! Talos the unassailable! To you we give Praise! We are but maggots writhing in the filth of our own corruption! While you have ascended from the dung of mortality, and now walk among the stars! But you were once man! Aye! And as man you said, “Let me show you the power of Talos, Stormcrown, born of the North, where my breath is long winter. I breathe now in royalty and reshape this land, which is mine. I do this for you, Red Legions, for I love you.”
He smiled when Elspeth stopped by the shrine and left her offering of dragon’s tongue. In Bruma—which at one time housed the Great Chapel of Talos—people kept shrines in their basements for prayer. In public, they made offerings of coin and snowberries and wormwood at the feet of Tiber Septim’s statue. It was allowed because it wasn’t explicit worship and also because the Thalmor had a made a point of ignoring Bruma for reasons no one quite understood.
After Elspeth returned to Bruma from Arcane University, Xeri quickly thwarted her more vocal and overt attempts at revolt promising her, “a time for justice and transformation and healing.” In the interim, they went back to the mountains for a long year of intensive training. And then she came to Skyrim for this very important task—the significance of which Elspeth was still not entirely certain. But it was a chance to leave Cyrodill. It was a chance to meet Runa’s family. If her time was now, she had no idea.
She also didn’t know if her offering at the Whiterun shrine mattered, but it was comforting and it seemed to make Heimskr, the self-appointed “chosen of Talos,” happy. In any case, it felt like solidarity and quiet defiance, which was a start.
“Have you come to learn about Talos, Breton?” Normally, Heimskr simply nodded as she came by his shrine. Today he stopped his sermon to talk.
Elspeth smiled and said, “I know about Talos. I grew up in Bruma.”
“Ah! They still worship Talos there?” He sounded surprised.
“They do what they can,” Elspeth replied as she nodded and turned to leave.
“Talos guide you, Breton.” And then, resuming his sermon, he shouted, “Trust in me, Whiterun! Trust in the words of Heimskr! For I am the chosen of Talos! I alone have been anointed by the Ninth to spread his holy word!”
Elspeth skipped back down the steps back to Breezehome. It was a beautiful day—clear and sunny. She was itching for some action—bandits would do. However, part of her hoped that Lydia would come back without work and they could spend another afternoon sparring with Farkas and Aela from the Companions. It would be time to leave Whiterun soon and that made her a little sad.
Lydia was reading at the table when Elspeth arrived home. “Hello there,” she said while Elspeth headed into the back room to sort her alchemy ingredients .
“What did you find out at Dragonsreach?”
“The current bounty is to take care of a hostile giant at Bleakwind Basin. I guess we’ll have to keep taking small jobs for now…wait, what are you doing?” she shouted after Elspeth who ran upstairs, suddenly very excited about something.
“Getting my armor. Shouldn’t you be getting ready?”
“Getting ready for what?” She shook her head, “You can’t be serious. We can’t go kill a giant by ourselves. The Companions never send less than three people out for a giant. We should at least get someone else.”
“Then we’ll have to split the take. Come on. I’ve killed at least one of every creature in Cyrodill by myself! Including an ogre or two. Hurry up or I’m going without you.” Elspeth threw her bag over her shoulder and filled it with elixirs. She also tossed in a couple of poison potions.
“Elspeth, this is a very bad idea,” warned Lydia.
“Okay then, I will see you in a couple of hours.” And she turned around and left.
Lydia looked after her in horror. Xeri had mentioned that Elspeth could be a bit zealous at times. She ran upstairs and put her armor on as quickly as possible, grabbed her axe and some bows and arrows, and ran out of the house. As she left Breezehome, Toki the guard came running up to her, “Lydia! I think Elspeth is about to do something rather rash. She took directions to Bleakwind.”
“Thanks Toki,” Lydia said as she ran down the street. “I’ll talk her out of it!” Outside the gate, she had to run to find Elspeth who was almost half way to the giant’s camp when Lydia finally caught up with her.
“If you’re itching to kill something,” asked Lydia as she ran up alongside, “Why didn’t you start with that dragon?” She hoped to catch her off guard but Elspeth was a little too sharp to have her nerve so easily undermined.
“I had no weapon, armor, or even magicka,” replied Elspeth. “Besides, it was a dragon. This is just a giant who, from what I understand, does not fly and breath fire.”
“Oh okay; you’re the expert,” Lydia rolled her eyes. “Okay, I can see the fire from the camp. Let’s at least try to sneak up…dear gods, will you please slow down and wait?” Elspeth had gotten ahead again but this time she stopped and waited by a large boulder. Lydia thought perhaps she had decided to be patient, but when she saw her, she almost laughed aloud at the look of astonishment on Elspeth’s face.
“He’s HUGE,” Elspeth gasped.
“It’s a GIANT. What exactly did you expect?”
“He’s almost twice the size of an ogre. Why didn’t you mention that?”
“Come on, let’s go back to town and see if we can find Uthgerd or—”
“Oh no,” Elspeth protested, “I’m not going back there without a dead giant behind me.”
“Great,” said Lydia, “Zealous AND stubborn.”
“Traits that have served me well so far,” she said. She handed Lydia a bottle, “Here. You can poison the tips of your arrow with this—I’m assuming we’re not taking giant meat home for dinner.”
Lydia shook her head and prepared her arrows. She thanked the Divines it was a lone giant—without a mammoth even. This was sometimes the case when they went hostile; they would break off from their group and start attacking trading caravans or bandits or other wanderers. She took her time preparing the arrows, hoping to give Elspeth a chance to realize what an incredibly stupid idea this was.
Elspeth, it turned out, was too proud to back down. And so when Lydia nodded that she was ready, they both took a deep breath and, after sneaking in a little closer, they struck—Lydia with the arrows and Elspeth with a strong fire spell. Then they ran in opposite directions. When the giant chased Lydia, Elspeth got him from behind with more fire. And when he switched and chased Elspeth, Lydia attacked with more arrows. By sheer chance, since she was aiming for his chest, she managed to pierce his hammer-wielding arm and he howled in pain and dropped his weapon. That arm went limp and Elspeth managed to hit his other arm with a lightening spell. He ran toward her, leaving the hammer behind.
They danced like this for almost two hours, running around in circles. The giant was strong and fast, but the women were also fast, light on their feet, and had good aim. He had high levels of health and stamina and they had potions. At some point, he focused on catching Elspeth and ignored Lydia as she bombarded his back with arrows. When he caught up to her, he attempted to kick her and Elspeth ran straight back into his legs, cutting with her sword as best she could while still running. It was a risky move and one that almost ended badly. When the giant started to stagger, Lydia yelled, “I’m going in,” and she charged forward, cutting the backs of his knees with her axe. He howled again and knocked Lydia over as he came crashing down. Lydia kicked herself out of the way and Elspeth ran in with her sword, sinking it deep into the giant’s lower back. She pulled it out and he turned around and with the backside of his arm, knocked her across the grass. He was weakened considerably, however, and he fell backwards. Before he could recover, Lydia came up and cut into his neck with her axe. She staggered backwards toward Elspeth and when she was certain that the giant was dead, collapsed next to her.
They were exhausted and sore and so they just lay on their backs for a while trying to catch their breath. The stamina potions were gone and Lydia wasn’t even sure how close they were to the giant’s camp or Whiterun. It could be a long very long walk home. She looked up and around and saw two figures some distance behind them heading their way. She put her head back down and said, “Someone’s coming.”
“Good,” responded Elspeth, “maybe they’re bandits and they’ll finish us off. You were right. This was a very bad idea.”
Lydia let out a weak laugh and said, “I was just going to say that you were right. We are absolutely capable of killing a giant.” She let out a low groan and tried to get up but it hurt too much.
“LYDIA!” A man’s voice shouted. “ELSPETH!”
Lydia was still too weak and tired to stand so she put her hand straight up in the air and waved a bit. “We’re alive,” she said as she heard them approach.
Elspeth opened her eyes and looked at the two men now standing over them—shaking their heads and scowling. It was Idolaf and one of the twins…though with the sun in her eyes, she wasn’t sure which one.
“Lydia, which one is that?” she said without moving.
Lydia looked and squinted her eyes, “Vilkas.” She didn’t move either.
“Oh good,” said Elspeth, “The cranky one.”
“You two!” said Idolaf. “I don’t even want to know what you were thinking.” Vilkas just continued to frown. If pushed, he would have admitted to being impressed but since no one was asking, he made his disapproval clear.
“We killed a giant,” said Elspeth with a huge grin on her face.
“Here,” said Idolaf as he knelt down. He gave them each a strong stamina potion and helped them to their feet. “When you didn’t come back, Toki became concerned.”
“Thanks for coming,” said Lydia, “We’re really okay though.”
“Yeah, you’re in great shape,” said Vilkas sarcastically as he watched both women limp across the grass. When he saw that they could move on their own, he turned back toward Whiterun. Everyone was quiet until Elspeth asked, “Vilkas, where do giants come from?” He was also known as the smarter twin and she meant to test this as a way of breaking the silence.
“What?” said Vilkas, not expecting questions or conversation of any sort. He only knew Elspeth from watching his brother spar with her and Lydia occasionally. He had come along because he happened to be standing next to Idolaf in the market when Toki approached in a panic. He wasn’t inclined to do favors for the Battle Born clan, but he also wasn’t going to leave the women to fight a giant on their own. “Well,” he said eventually, “They are native to Skyrim. I think they’ve always been here.”
“No, I mean…are there baby giants? Are there female giants?”
“Oh, I see what you mean.” Vilkas laughed. “I heard once that the giants lost their wives and they roam Skyrim looking for them. But no one has ever seen their wives. In fact, these are probably the last of giants.”
“Well,” said Elspeth, “that’s actually sort of sad.”
“It is,” he agreed. “Farkas, Njada, and I killed one last year and I spent an hour just examining the markings on his skin. There was a discernible pattern. They make and cook food and adorn themselves with tokens from their kill. They’re not just monsters. As primitive as it may be, they have a culture—with rituals and symbols. It’s not all that different from ours; it’s just not quite as developed.”
Elspeth nodded. He seemed thoughtful as well as intelligent; perhaps he did have the brains of Ysgramor as his brother Farkas claimed. “They sort of live in both worlds you know?” she said, “Monster and human. I’ve always been curious about creatures like that—who of straddle two worlds, vampires, werewolves, hagravens—”
Vilkas interrupted her suddenly, “Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that,” he said sternly as his face returned to its typical scowl. As they approached the gate he walked on ahead, leaving Elspeth shaking her head and muttering under her breath: “And now we’re back to cranky.”
She waited for Idolaf and Lydia to catch up and the three of them walked through town together. He left them at the steps of Dragonsreach and indicated that he didn’t care how tired and sore they might be, they were expected to have dinner at House Battle Born the next evening.
At Dragonsreach, Proventus shook his head in disbelief as he paid them. And with the bounty, they had enough now for many weeks of travel through Skyrim. Barring any delays, they would set out for Winterhold in two days time.