“Wake up! That’s right, it’s time to wake up you drunken blasphemer.”
Lydia’s head was pounding as she came around, confused and scared. She had no idea where she was or what she had done. All she knew was that the priestess in gold robes in front of her was livid and that she was in trouble. Big trouble.
“Wha…what happened? Where am I?” she asked, her voice was shaking. Looking around, she could see that she was in a temple. A rather messy temple—baskets and books and bottles were strewn everywhere.
“You are in the Temple of Dibella, in Markarth. I’m guessing you don’t remember coming in here and blathering on about marriage or a goat. Which means you don’t remember your friend losing his temper and throwing trash all over the place.” Senna, the priestess, scowled. “Who are you?”
Marriage? Goat? Markarth? How did she get to Markarth? Lydia scrambled to her feet. She gulped, but before she could respond, there was a crash from the other side of the temple and a man came staggering over. It was Vipir.
“Allura!” he said. “Oh my gods! What did we do?”
Allura? What? Lydia was bewildered but remained silent. She would go along with his ruse for now.
He turned to the Senna to apologize. “I am so sorry,” he said. “We just got a little carried away with our friend last night.” The priestess seemed unmoved, so he continued. “My name is Sven and this is my wife, Allura. I do want to apologize and make this right. Perhaps if we cleaned the temple and made a generous donation? Surely, Dibella would find it in her heart to forgive a simple night of debauchery.”
She continued to glower at the couple but after a few very uncomfortable moments agreed. When she turned away, Vipir hooked his arm around Lydia’s waist. “What happened last night?” he whispered, his tone betraying a mix of confusion and amusement. “Did we lose that drinking contest?”
“I don’t know,” Lydia’s voice was still shaking with anxiety. “I just want to get out of here.” She pulled away from him and immediately set about cleaning, her face red with shame and embarrassment. She looked back at him as he put fallen barrels upright and her heart sunk a little. Despite his affection just moments ago, she assumed he was terribly angry with her. She couldn’t actually recall, but she was certain to have accepted the challenge for them. She was always doing things like that—to prove she was just as capable as warriors like Vilkas and Farkas. But that was always in the safe confines of the Bannered Mare or Jorrvaskr.
“I think we’re done here.” Vipir sidled up behind her, which startled her.
“Vipir!” she said. “I’m so sorry!”
Her face betrayed genuine sadness and regret, which caused Vipir to catch the laugh in his throat before he asked, “Whatever for?”
“For getting us into this…mess,” she said as she looked around the temple.
“Oh please,” he said as he put his arm around her. “I’ve gotten in far worse messes.” As they walked back toward the front of the temple, he handed her a note. “Sam left this. It looks like we gathered these ingredients to fix the staff. I think we need to locate him figure out what is going on.”
“I don’t know,” she said. She just wanted to go home and never touch another tankard of mead again. “Although, we should probably find out if we trashed any other temples.” She cringed at the thought, but it was the right thing to do.
From Senna, they learned that they had arrived last night with a friend. They were all ranting and raving, and their voices were slurred but there was much chatter about having just arrived from Rorikstead.
Rorikstead was in Whiterun hold. This made Lydia’s stomach lurch and she felt dizzy. Vipir suggested going by horseback. She was spun and just looked at him blankly, saying that she would defer to his judgment. When he asked what was wrong, all she could do was shake her head.
Lydia spent the entire ride out of Markarth hyperventilating, while Vipir held her upright and tried to comfort her. All attempts at consolation, however, were futile. When they arrived in the small farming town they had barely dismounted from their horse when Ennis, a local farmer, confronted them.
“You two! You both have a lot of nerve showing up in this town again! What do you have to say for yourself?”
Lydia simply couldn’t speak, so Vipir took charge, attempting to simultaneously apologize and extract some information from the angry farmer.
“Sorry’s not good enough! Not while my Gleda is still out there, alone and afraid. You kidnapped her and sold her to that Giant!”
“What!” Lydia gasped, steadying herself against Vipir.
“What if we were to pay or retrieve the goat for you?” asked Vipir, his tone steady and persuasive.
Ennis insisted that he would never breed another prize-winning goat and soon Lydia found herself following Vipir across the tundra, eventually arriving within stone’s throwing distance of a lone giant and Gleda the goat.
“How are we going to get the goat?” she asked harshly, looking over the boulder at the ambling giant.
Vipir remained calm. “We’ll wait until it’s dark,” he explained. “Then I will snatch it and we’ll run back to Rorikstead.” He leaned back against the boulder and grinned.
His carefree disposition had been what attracted Lydia to Vipir in the first place. But as they stood there, planning to steal a goat from a giant, she wondered how she could have been so stupid. Not knowing quite how to respond—other than to ask if he was insane—she turned and sat on the ground with her face in her hands.
“Hey,” he said as he knelt down beside her and touched her shoulder.
Lydia looked up and shook her head. “I’ve never been in this much trouble before.”
He moved closer to her and took her in his arms. “Come here,” he said. “You’re not in trouble.” She buried her face in his shoulder. “Lydia,” he said after a few moments. “I am not joking when I say I have been caught in worse situations.” Good gods, he thought. Where would he begin if she asked? “We’ll figure out what happened. Then, we will find that Sam and punch him repeatedly until he hands over the staff we have by now rightfully earned.”
She managed a slight grin. The overwhelming anxiety plateaued, and she let him hold her until night came and it was time to snatch the goat from the giant. Lydia stayed behind and Vipir crept forward and quickly grabbed the animal. Then they ran as fast as they could, not even looking back to see if they had disturbed the giant.
Back in town, Ennis was pleased to have his goat and said that the note they left when they stole it said something about repaying Ysolda in Whiterun.
“Oh gods,” Lydia’s voice croaked as her knees buckled.
“What is it?” asked Vipir, catching and holding her steady.
“I’m from Whiterun remember!” she exclaimed, as if it should have been obvious. “I know Ysolda…oh gods, what have I done?”
“Come on,” he said and helped her on to the horse. “We’ll get this figured out.”
On the ride to Whiterun, Lydia had all but determined that she would be thrown out of Balgruuf’s court in disgrace when they arrived. The thought made her sick and dizzy and several times she came close to throwing up. Vipir didn’t bother trying to console her this time. He had never seen anyone in such a state.
She insisted on waiting until evening before entering Whiterun to avoid having to interact with anyone other than Ysolda. It was just after ten o’clock when they slipped in and walked directly to her house.
“Hello!” she said, as she opened the door. “Come in! How was the wedding?”
“The wedding? Yes of course, the wedding!” exclaimed Vipir as they entered. He paused for a moment, thinking very carefully about what he would say next. “It seems we have some sort of repayment to settle with you?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “Well, I gave you that ring on credit because Lydia assured me that he was a guest of Jarl Laila’s and payment would be forthcoming.”
Upon hearing this, Lydia covered her mouth and groaned loudly as she slid down the wall and sat on the floor.
“What’s wrong with Lydia?” asked Ysolda.
“She hasn’t been feeling well all day.” He looked back and tried give Lydia a reassuring nod, but she was staring at the ground, holding her stomach. “Listen,” he began, as he turned back to Ysolda, “it seems that our groom skipped town. On behalf of Jarl Laila, I’ll be settling his debt with you.”
“I appreciate that,” she said, as he paid for the ring. “I just feel terrible for his betrothed.”
“Indeed,” he agreed. “We need to go talk to her now.” Vipir paused again. “And I’m not even sure where we can find her. He didn’t say anything to you when he was choosing the ring, did he?”
“Yes,” said Ysolda. “Well, that was sort of confusing. He kept prattling on about Morvunskar and about Witchmist Grove being a special place. Isn’t Morvunskar an old military fort? That seems like a strange place to have a wedding…so, maybe it’s in the grove.” Vipir nodded in agreement. “You know,” she added. “If you find him and can get the ring, I will buy it back. It’s one of my best pieces and I hate to see such a beautiful wedding ring not be worn as it was intended.”
He nodded in agreement as he thanked Ysolda and then helped the still very distressed Lydia up from the floor.
Outside, he immediately started strategizing their next move. “I’m not so sure about this grove, but Morvunskar is an abandoned fort probably occupied by marauders or necromancers so if you don’t have spare armor, we should go back to Riften first and get yours.” He paused and furrowed his brow. “If Sam is at the fort, he’s probably dead.” Lydia just stared at him, so he kept talking. “What are we doing for the night? If you need to stay at Dragonsreach, I can get a room….” His voice trailed off and he looked uncomfortable.
“No,” she replied, her voice sounded as if she were struggling to keep it steady. “We can both stay at my house.” She turned and walked briskly toward the main road.
“You have a house!” exclaimed Vipir in disbelief as he hurried after her.
Inside Breezehome, Vipir was a little overwhelmed. Suddenly, the Cistern didn’t feel somewhat inadequate—it felt wholly inadequate. He had been in so many houses, but it had been a while since he felt like he was in someone’s home. Before he could say anything, however, Lydia whipped around and looked at him sharply. “How…how do you do that?” she stammered; her tone was accusatory and harsh.
“Do what?” Vipir was starting to feel bad, like he’d done something wrong even though he was the one keeping things together for her. With any other woman, he would have scoffed and told her to back off. But Lydia didn’t inspire feelings of defensiveness. She made him feel protective and patient, which was unusual and scaredhim a bit.
“How can you be so calm?” She was astonished at how things had gone with Ysolda, but she still felt frantic and thoughts of strange groves and dungeon delving were doing little to settle her nerves. She couldn’t get her head around his self-assurance and now it was only adding to her angst.
He thought for a moment. In his line of work anxiety led to being caught. Also, thievery wasn’t simply about sneaking and stealing. The best thieves knew how to exploit their surroundings—all their surroundings, objects, conversations, and so forth—the very things he had used to handle Ennis and Ysolda. There was also the simple fact that he had far less to lose than she did. Finally, he moved closer and took her hand. “I know why you’re worried. It’s just…I was an orphan and I spent most of my childhood in some sort of trouble. And until someone has me by the neck…well, I don’t see the point of getting all worked up.” This wasn’t a lie, but how could he possibly explain it otherwise?
She considered this for a moment and reluctantly nodded. Her anxiety was beginning to subside. Or maybe she was just too tired to care.
Vipir studied her carefully. Even in her distressed state, her dress rumpled from their adventure, she still looked beautiful. “Look,” he said, “if there is one thing I know about Skyrim, it’s that there is precious little that can’t be smoothed over with coin or a favor.” He tugged her hand, trying to gauge her feelings toward him. Her face had softened and he pulled into a warm embrace. They stood there, holding each other for several moments until Lydia led him upstairs, where they slept for a few hours before heading out again.
Early the next morning, they rode to Witchmist Grove. When they arrived, they found a small barricaded cabin. Vipir surveyed the area before dismounting the horse, which he had taken to calling Pidge. The name sounded like something out of a Loredas morning cartoon. But Vipir had never watched Loredas morning cartoons as a child. Not because he was an orphan, but because there are no Loredas morning cartoons in Skyrim.
The grove was beautiful, but eerie and the barricaded cabin perplexed them. “Hello!” called Lydia, taking care not to be too loud. After a few moments, a haggard cry sounded from the cabin. They moved a little closer with their hands on the hilts of their weapons. Soon an old hagraven came out. Rather than attack, however, she held her arms out and made a beeline toward Vipir.
“Darling!” she cried out, her voice gravely and deep. “I’ve been waiting for you to return, to consummate our love.”
Vipir’s eyes grew wide with horror and he looked back at Lydia who had covered her mouth, not sure if she wanted to laugh or scream.
“I thought Sam was the groom,” he said. “What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to kill a creature that isn’t hostile.”
“Then go consummate with your hjarta and get the ring so we can get out of here,” said Lydia, trying to stifle her laughter.
He glowered at her and turned back to the hagraven. “Ah no,” he said, rather uncomfortably. “I was hoping to get the ring back.”
“What!” bellowed the hagraven. “You want it for that hussy Esmerelda, with the dark feathers, don’t you? I won’t let her have you.” When she charged, Vipir had never been so happy to have a woman attack him—for once it just made everything easier. She scratched at his face and he knocked her over–he would have preferred not to kill her but once she started with magic, he had little choice. After taking a few spells to the chest, he dodged a fireball and ran his sword into her gut. After he took the ring from her hand, he turned to find Lydia sitting on the ground, laughing at him.
Whatever irritation Vipir had felt before was quelled upon seeing Lydia laugh and he couldn’t help but smile as well. “Here,” he said as he sat down beside her, “you should take this.” He turned her hand over and placed the ring in her palm.
Lydia’s eyes grew wide. “What!” she exclaimed, not quite certain what to make of this gesture.
Oh shit, thought Vipir. He struggled with what to say—he didn’t want to embarrass her but he also didn’t want to give her the wrong impression.
“To bring back to Ysolda,” he explained. When he saw her face flush with embarrassment, he jumped up and pulled her with him. Then he threw his arms around her and gave her a quick, playful kiss. “It’s good to see you laughing,” he said.
“We still have Morvunskar,” she said, her smile turning downward.
The fort wasn’t far from the grove and they arrived just in time to meet, Keith, a Breton mage from the College of Winterhold and his Nord companion, Hunk, a mercenary—a spellsword, skilled in both combat and magic—from Kynesgrove. Keith and Hunk had defeated the five warlocks guarding Morvunskar and Vipir, not feeling all that confident about confronting a fort full of powerful mages, also paid Hunk’s fee so they could tag along and benefit from his destruction magic prowess. Vipir, who otherwise did not care for mercenaries, later commented that Hunk was worth every septim he was paid. He and Keith devastated the various conjurers and sorcerers, while Lydia and Vipir watched, only occasionally pitching in with poisoned arrows.
Keith and Hunk parted after they found the books they were seeking and looted most of the fort’s supplies of unusual potions and soul gems. Lydia and Vipir lit torches and searched amongst the collapsed walls and dark corners, but there was no sign of the droopy-eyed Breton, Sam.
As they were about to leave, they made one final pass through an open room with an elevated landing. At the top of the steps, they saw a large glowing sphere. They approached cautiously and when they got close, Lydia could see an ethereal tunnel and she grabbed Vipir’s hand and pulled him in, as if compelled gently by some otherworldly force.
Lydia gasped as she stepped down onto a stone path that was lit with lanterns and flanked by gentle waterfalls and autumn-turned trees. The air was misty and cool. Wherever they were it was peaceful and Vipir swore he could hear a lute playing in the background. He grasped Lydia’s hand and they made their way slowly down the path.
The path opened to a small area with a table at which a group of people were drinking and eating. Sam was there and he turned as they approached.
“You’re here!” he exclaimed. “I was beginning to think you might not make it.”
Both Vipir and Lydia had entertained fantasies of punching Sam in the face, but the grove had a calming, dream-like effect on both of them.
“What is this place?” asked Lydia.
“I thought you might not remember your first trip here. You had a big night. You’ve more than earned the staff,” he said.
“We have all the things to repair it,” said Vipir as he pulled the hagraven feathers, Giant’s toe, and holy water out of his armor pockets.
“Oh, the hagraven feathers and all that? You can throw those out. You see…” Sam’s voice trailed off and within seconds there was an explosion of blinding purple light. When the light faded, a tall figure dressed in full Daedric armor stood before him. He had horns on his head and blackened and blood red skin. Lydia and Vipir stepped back slowly, frightened but still a bit tranquil.
The Daedric figure kept talking as if nothing had changed. “I really just needed something to encourage you to go out in the world and spread merriment. And you did just that! I haven’t been so entertained in at least a hundred years.”
“For a Daedra, he seems awfully chipper,” whispered Viper to Lydia, who simply clutched his hand in silence. “Who are you?” he asked.
The Daedra narrowed his eyes and gave Vipir a knowing look. “I am Sanguine, Daedric Prince of Debauchery.”
“Oh my gods, Sanguine!” Lydia threw her hand over her mouth and Vipir grabbed her waist, worried that she was going to collapse.
“I know, I know! How could I lie to you both? Well, how could I trust you until we’d shared a few drinks?”
There was a twisted sort of logic in his words and both Vipir and Lydia found themselves nodding in agreement—or perhaps it was just the mist.
“Anyway,” he continued, “it wasn’t long before I realized that either one of you’d make a more interesting bearer of my not-quite-holy staff than this waste of flesh.”
“But why us?” asked Vipir.
“Well, let’s be honest. I don’t always think my decisions through,” he explained. “But,” he gestured toward Vipir, “you’re someone who can handle himself.” He paused and looked intently at Lydia, furrowing his brow at her. “And you! You need to lighten up a bit, eh! Maybe a little influence from your old Uncle Sanguine can help wrench that Jarl-shaped stick from your prat, no?”
“Hey!” said Vipir, though not as harshly as he should have. After all, the mist.
“No,” conceded Lydia. “He’s probably right. Everyone says that.” She dropped her head onto Vipir’s shoulder. “Can we go soon?”
“I will be happy to take care of that,” said Sanguine.
Everything went dark and within seconds they were back sitting at their table in the Bee and Barb. For a moment it seemed that nothing had changed. But Vipir was holding the staff, the infamous Sanguine Rose. Lydia still had the wedding ring in her pocket and she was wearing her spare armor.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go to bed.”
They went up to her room, where Lydia removed her armor and sat on the edge of the bed with her head down. When Vipir sat down beside, he saw that she had tears in her eyes. His heart and stomach sunk as he prepared himself for what she was about to say. He began to pull away from her and was surprised when she looked up and lunged toward him, wrapping her legs around his waist and kissing him aggressively.
When they stopped, she pressed her forehead into his shoulder and sobbed.
“What is wrong?” he asked. He was terribly confused.
Lydia looked up and took his face in her hands. She shook her head. “I almost lost everything. If it hadn’t been for you, I…I can’t even say it. I am indebted to you.”
Vipir smiled warmly at her and shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything.” He wanted to tell her that in just their short time together, she’d given him something no other woman had. But he didn’t have the words to describe that feeling of completeness that he seemed to suddenly be dancing around. He wasn’t there yet. But this was the closest he had come, and all he wanted was just to keep going.