The Khajiit Murders – Chapter 4

A Night In Jail

J’zargo roused himself from the stupor into which he’d fallen since the hold guards had thrown him into this makeshift cell. The town jail was a one-room building with two cells of hastily thrown-together steel bars taking up a quarter of it. A solid wall separated the two cells; no fraternizing among the prisoners, apparently. At first, after they’d pushed him in here, and put Brelyna somewhat less roughly into the adjacent cell, he’d been consumed by plans for revenge on these insolent Nords who dared insult his pride. Then he’d tried to sleep, but failed, given the racket of the growing mob outside the jail. The noise had subsided in the wee hours, but still sleep wouldn’t come. He could hear Brelyna pacing in the cell next door, but every time they tried to talk, the guards rapped on the cell bars with their swords, telling them to keep quiet.

Pic of a jail in Skyrim with a guard seated nearby

The crowds had returned with the morning light. Occasional shouts made it through the unintelligible din, mostly calling for the cat’s head on a pike. Which only reminded him of the pain in his head from the lump one of the guards had given him before they brought him down. Well, he thought, at least J’zargo gave better than he got.

Now he was relying on those same guards to keep him and Brelyna safe from the mob outside. They kept the door firmly barred, but this did little to allay his fears. If the crowd were to burst in, he would show them what a Khajiit mage could do, going out in one last blaze of greatness. For the time being, he’d tried to ignore them, falling into a state half-dreaming and half-wakeful.

The crowd hushed at the clatter of horses’ hooves on the cobbled road approaching from the north. He sat up. This must be Deirdre, come to release him and Brelyna. Good. Everyone would see J’zargo had the queen’s favor. That would show these impudent Nord peons.

Instead of the immediate succor he’d expected, he heard a woman’s voice he didn’t recognize. It was too soft for him to make out her words, but the crowd’s grumbling grew more strident. Then a man’s voice rose above them. Something about justice being served, but it would take time. This only caused more grumbling. “The only thing that needs serving is the cat’s head on a platter!” one called.

“Enough!” That was Lydia’s voice, no mistake. The crowd went silent, allowing J’zargo to hear the clatter of Lydia’s armor as she dismounted and the clank of her steel boots striking the pavement. “That’s a hero of Whiterun you’re talking about. Without J’zargo, and Brelyna as well, many Nordlings and Nord women would have perished at the hands of the High Elves. Now make way for your Queen, and we will get to the bottom of this.” J’zargo’s anticipation at seeing his friends was rivaled only by his surprise at Lydia’s words of praise. For J’zargo’s greatness to be recognized at last, and from such an unexpected source!

There was the sound of shuffling feet, and he imagined the crowd parting as Lydia marched up the steps, Deirdre and the rest following in her wake. The crowd muttered, but now it sounded as if the people were turning over all that Lydia had said. At last the door opened and there was the woman herself, her plate armor glinting in the morning sun for a moment before she stepped over the threshold.

She looked over at J’zargo and Brelyna, a smile playing across her lips. “Well, friends, a fine pickle you’ve found yourselves in, eh?” Behind her came Deirdre, dressed for riding in a tunic, loose trousers, and boots. This was an improvement over her usual arch-mage’s robes. It was a pity these females had to hide their seductive forms in such heavy raiment, but this seemed to be the way of Skyrim, where these mild days were what they called summer. The crown Deirdre wore was quite becoming, at least.

Behind Deirdre came another woman, also wearing a crown-like circlet, and a tall man with a red beard. The guards at the door, having dropped to one knee on Deirdre’s entrance, now rose, welcoming her and Jarl Elisif in turn, then gesturing toward the cells.

J’zargo tried to speak, demanding to be let out at once, but the words caught in his throat, ending in a rough cough.

A guard rapped on the bars of his cell. “What’s the matter, got a hairball? Kneel before the High Queen of Skyrim!”

“There’s no need for that,” Deirdre said before J’zargo could protest. He’d felt great respect for his friend and former classmate, ever since she’d helped him test his flame cloak spell back in their first days at the college. But kneeling before anyone? Not the great J’zargo!

“I don’t like all this kneeling, in the first place,” Deirdre went on, “though Jarl Elisif has convinced me my subjects must maintain respect for my position. And neither of you are citizens of Skyrim, but our guests, so there’s no need at all. But come, you sound parched. Have you had no food or drink? Guards, release them! And bring refreshment.” She turned to the one the guards had called Elisif. “With your Jarl’s permission, of course.”

Pic of Elisif the Fair, Jarl of Haafingar Hold
Elisif

“With both you and Lydia vouching for them, I see no reason not to release them from their cells. Falk?” The redbeard next to her nodded, though he looked none too happy.

There was some to-do with finding the holder of the keys. While they waited, Deirdre said, “Lydia’s right, this is a fine mess you’ve landed in. How did it ever come about?” J’zargo knew she was merely trying to lighten the mood, but he was glad that his throat was still too dry for speech.

“Other than ride into town at the wrong moment, you mean?” Brelyna’s tone was thick with sarcasm, yet it was still good to hear her voice. “Other than that, I have no idea. And from the sound of that crowd, it’s no joking matter.”

Deirdre grew more sober. “No, I have some experience with Nord mobs driven by fear. And the murders were truly ghastly, by all accounts. But still, it’s not the worst scrape you’ve been in, if I’m not mistaken. Nothing compared to the dragon priest of Labyrinthian, or an army of High Elves.”

“If you put it that way,” said Brelyna, sounding unconvinced.

“Rest assured, this will soon be behind you.”

The cells were opened and J’zargo was glad to receive a hug from Deirdre and a sisterly clap on the shoulder from Lydia. Hugging her through all that armor would have brought no pleasure anyway. Brelyna turned to clasp him tightly. “You silly fool,” she said in his ear. “I thought you were going to get yourself killed.” She held him at arm’s length and put on her most lecturing expression.

“Pffft. Those silly Nord guards would have died first,” he croaked, “if J’zargo hadn’t restrained himself.”

“Now friends,” Deirdre said, serving them herself from the pitcher and mugs a guard had brought over. “We’ll sort that out later. Refresh yourselves for now — please.” She looked around the one-room building. “Is there nothing else at hand? No ale? No food?”

“Only a bit of hardtack, your Grace. It’s just a makeshift jail, and rarely used.”

Pic of the Four Shields Tavern sign

“Then send across the street to the Four Shields. Give my compliments to Faida and bring back a flagon of mead, a pot of juniper tea, and whatever in the way of a late breakfast she can put together. I had no time to break my fast before riding here, and I’m sure these two are starved.”

J’zargo’s voice was working better now. “This one looks forward to the repast, of course, but wonders even more, when do we get out of this place?”

A pained look crossed Deirdre’s face, and she glanced at Elisif. “Were it up to me, I’d have you out of here right now. But this is Elisif, Jarl of Haafingar Hold, and I must allow her to do the duty of her office. Then there’s the crowd outside. It will do no good to antagonize them.”

Falk stepped in for the first time. “The captain of the guard is on his way to Rorikstead to check out your story…”

“It is no story,” J’zargo growled, “it is the truth!”

“Then your statement, if you will, that you passed through Rorikstead at mid-day. If he corroborates that fact, then you are exonerated and you can go free. He should be back before evening. It will take longer to confirm your presence in Whiterun on the day before, but there will be no need to wait that long.”

“And until then we are to remain here, with that crowd outside, baying for our blood?”

“You must have heard Captain Ravenwood’s words before we entered,” said Elisif. “She calmed them considerably, where we could not. I promise you, the people will do you no harm. I’ve stationed additional guards outside the building to keep the peace. But you must see we need to investigate every trail of evidence that could lead us to the culprit behind these terrible deeds. Releasing suspects with no investigation will only undermine our authority and further jeopardize your safety.”

“On top of that,” said Falk, “we’ve made no headway in solving the first crime, though it pains me to say it. If we had better success, this second one might not have happened. Now is not the time to appear to be slacking off.”

“So that’s what this is, a show to keep the people calm?” J’zargo swished his tail back and forth, a bad habit whenever he tried to control his anger.

“We understand completely,” said Brelyna. “Don’t we, J’zargo?” He grunted as she dug him in the ribs. “I can only imagine how the people are feeling. A whole family murdered in their own home! And this the second such crime. No one must feel safe.”

“But why do they suspect a Khajiit? This land has many creatures with sharp claws.”

Here Falk looked uncomfortable. “Because of the claw marks left on the bodies, unlike any seen in wild animal attacks, but very similar to the marks you made on that guard’s face. And… bits of… fur, or hair, found near the bodies, and even under the fingernails of the mother. She must have fought desperately for her life and those of her children.”

Elisif shivered. “It’s too awful to contemplate.”

“In fact…” Falk turned to one of the guards. “Do you have a sample of the hair you found?”

“Aye, sir.” The guard went to a desk in one corner of the room and brought back a folded piece of paper.

Pic of Falk Firebeard
Falk Firebeard

Falk removed a tuft of hair from within it and looked it over. “If you’ll forgive me…” he said to J’zargo, and held the hair up next to his face. “You must admit, it is very like your own, not like the fur of a wolf or bear, though this sample is a bit more yellow in color.”

“That proves it! As you can see, J’zargo’s hair ranges from cream to gray and black.”

“Yes, what I can see of it. But I would spare you the indignity of showing me all of your fur. In fact, we don’t know what, if any, clothing the culprit wore. We do know he was barefoot, and the footprints found at both crime scenes further confirm that this was the work of a Khajiit. If it wasn’t so dangerous to move you right now, I’d take you to the Jurards’ house and compare your own print to the one made by the killer.”

“Ha! What Khajiit would go barefoot in this cold land? J’zargo always wears boots, as you can see. No Khajiit would give himself away by taking his shoes off before committing a crime. Not that this one ever has to think about such matters.”

J’zargo didn’t like the way Falk’s eyes bored into him now, as if deciding whether he spoke true, or perhaps protested too much. J’zargo held his gaze.

Finally Falk looked away. “I have yet to examine the bodies or visit the crime scene myself. I will take my leave, and we’ll hope your alibi proves your innocence.”

“And I must join you,” Elisif said, swallowing. J’zargo guessed that examining bodies was the last duty she wanted to take on.

“Lydia and I will come as well,” said Deirdre, “if you don’t mind our assistance. We’ll join you once I am sure my friends are well provided for.”

Falk and Elisif left, and the four friends sat down at the long plank table at one end of the room. It was hardly the reunion J’zargo had been looking for, but soon breakfast arrived and they began reminiscing about old times between mouthfuls of eggs and cheese.

But amidst all the tales of dragons and draugr and Dwemer machines, they could recall none of it without remembering the one now absent: Onmund, their companion and fellow student at Winterhold, who had fallen during the retreat from Whiterun. J’zargo found himself sniffing as they each recounted their fondest memory of their friend. For Brelyna it was the time in Labyrinthian when Onmund had surprised them all by knowing the spell of detect magic. “Without that spell, we would all still be wandering around in there.”

For Deirdre, it was Onmund befriending her on her first days at the college. “No offense to either of you, but Brelyna, you were so touchy about your magical skills I never knew what to say, and J’zargo, you were so, well… so J’zargo. Onmund was the only one I could talk to without either giving or taking offense. And he certainly could put away that Colovian fire brandy.” The three mages laughed, remembering cold nights around a roaring bonfire in the circular courtyard of the college.

Lydia now spoke up. “You all know my first impression of Onmund wasn’t the greatest. He seemed so timid at first. But he proved himself in the end. He was steadfast in Alftand and Blackreach.” She gave a laugh. “That time he attacked the mechanical spider left by the Dwemer! He didn’t know what he was getting into, but he was determined to show he was no coward. To think how I underestimated him!”

“Yes, that took quite a bit of healing, if I’m not mistaken,” said Brelyna. “But tell me, do you remember anything of him during the retreat from Whiterun? You must have been one of the last to see him.”

That was true, J’zargo thought. He and Brelyna had been busy across the river, shielding the retreating children and elders with their ward spells while Lydia and Onmund and the remaining warriors held the bridge. He’d never heard Lydia talk of it.

Nor did he now. “I’d rather not speak of that,” Lydia said, her eyes suddenly downcast.

J’zargo had heard the tale from the other warriors who stood with Lydia after the poisoned arrow found a gap in her armor: Aela and Vilkas dragging her from the field, the elves advancing on them, then Onmund racing past, blasting the elves with fireballs and lightning bolts, shouting “For Lydia!” and “For Skyrim!” and “For Deirdre!”, then falling in a hail of arrows. He’d bought the warriors the time they needed to pull Lydia back to safety. Even thinking about it still made him sniff and his eyes grow unusually wet.

Everyone was sniffling now, even the guards standing nearby, and they raised their glasses to their dead friend. “To Onmund!”

“Just think,” said J’zargo, setting his glass down. “If only Onmund could have been with us yesterday. Maybe it would have prevented this mess.”

“Is that all you can think about?” Lydia demanded. “That having a Nord along might have saved your skin?” Now that was the Lydia he knew of old, never putting up with his nonsense, though he preferred to think of it as confidence, mingled with more than his fair share of charm.

Still, Lydia’s words stung. He was unaccustomed to these — feelings — pitiable things that only stood in his way on the path to greatness. But he’d thought Onmund would always be there, marching beside him on that path — or maybe slightly behind, to be honest.

“No,” he said, “Onmund was a good friend to J’zargo. And this one hopes J’zargo was a good friend to Onmund as well.”

“Really?” said Deirdre. “I’m pleased, and a bit surprised, to hear you speak this way.”

“As am I,” said Brelyna, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Afterward, all you could talk about was how he’d died a heroic death.”

What could he say? That this was the only way he could make sense of his friend’s passing, or patch the hole Onmund’s loss had left within him? Instead, he shook his head, gave another sniff, and told his own story.

Pic of Onmund and J'zargo preparing to cast spells
Onmund and J’zargo

“This one spent many hours consoling Onmund when his heart was aching and breaking for Deirdre. Silly, J’zargo thought, and told him so — to lose his head over one female when there are so many in the world. ‘There are many fish in sea, no?’ J’zargo told him. But it did no good. True, he had not J’zargo’s charms or prowess with females” — and here he paused, waiting for acknowledgement from Brelyna, receiving a cuff about the ears instead.

“J’zargo took him to The Frozen Hearth in Winterhold, but he would only stare into his mug of ale and pay no attention to the Nord lasses nearby. Even tales of J’zargo’s many exploits with females, and the little tips this one gave him, they did no good. But still, we became good friends, as boring as it was for J’zargo to put up with such sentimentality.”

“Now that’s the J’zargo we all know and, well, tolerate anyway,” said Deirdre.

“Indeed,” said Brelyna. “With such advice, it’s a wonder Onmund didn’t throw himself into the Sea of Ghosts.”

At that, Lydia stood up from the table. Except for the reprimand, she’d been quiet since the first mention of the retreat from Whiterun. “Come, my Queen, Falk and Elisif could use our help.”

Deirdre rose as well. “They can. And I may be Queen, but I must go where my love bids me.”

She grasped Lydia’s hand and J’zargo gave a little purr. “Lydia, that is impressive new armor you’re wearing,” he said. “Only, this one wonders, are there no smiths in Skyrim who can make armor more fitting to your attractive woman’s form?”

Lydia in boobplate armor

“Oh, aye,” said Lydia, “loads of them. Many are the male smiths who’ve told me, ‘I’ll make armor for you, lass. The breastplate will really knock ’em dead, if you know what I mean.’ And many are the smiths lucky to come away with all their fingers working properly. No, J’zargo, I’d be the one who ended up dead if I wore the kind of armor you’re thinking of.”

J’zargo grinned, letting his eyes run up and down her body. “This one can see you in such armor now. Riskier, yes, but more enticing, no?”

Lydia’s eyes narrowed to slits, and her voice was acid with sarcasm. “It’s what I live for, to make myself enticing to every lascivious Khajiit who comes along.”

With that, Lydia and Deirdre left the building and J’zargo tipped back in his chair with a satisfied purr, his reputation restored. He hardly noticed when Brelyna gave him another cuff about the ears.

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