The Khajiit Murders – Chapter 7

Murder in Morthal

A semi-clothed Khajiit
A semi-clothed Khajiit (art by ImperialAgent1992 via YouTube)

J’zargo stared down at the dead Khajiit, whose body had been tossed into a disused cellar beneath Morthal’s Highmoon Hall. He was large, probably a head taller than J’zargo. His fur did seem to match the tufts Falk had shown them, tawnier than J’zargo’s own. His feet were black with mud from the swamps, and the claws of his hands were caked with dark, dried blood. He wore only a dirty pair of trousers, more holes than cloth.

In the name of the Sugar God, what were you doing here, my friend? J’zargo still couldn’t believe a fellow Khajiit could be capable of such random, unprovoked killings. And then the Nords dumped him down here.

“Nords treat Khajiit like a sack of potatoes,” he growled. Just one more humiliation among too many to count these last days.

They’d dashed out of Castle Dour immediately on receiving the news of this third attack. It was too bad. They were on the brink of hearing the rest of Deirdre’s plans for him and for Brelyna. Sending them on diplomatic missions? It made little sense, even when he considered Brelyna’s experience with politics. He was glad for her to receive such recognition from the queen. But what was his role? There must be more Deirdre wasn’t telling them.

But the queen had been in a rush. Having now crossed into a second hold, the murder spree clearly fell under the High Queen’s jurisdiction. Deirdre had barely taken the time to throw on her arch-mage’s robes, much less wait for a complement of guards to accompany them. Lydia had protested, but Deirdre had persuaded her that the whole retinue would only slow them down.

For himself, J’zargo was eager to get to the bottom of these killings. They reflected poorly on Khajiits, and therefore on J’zargo. Maybe if he showed how helpful a Khajiit could be in such matters, Khajiits’ reputation would improve. Or at least get back to normal, the Nords treating the great J’zargo only with mild disdain, not outright hostility. And maybe he would rise in Brelyna’s estimation as well.

They’d reached Morthal late in the day, receiving a perfunctory greeting from Jarl Idgrod upon entering Highmoon Hall. “You’re lucky we haven’t burned the body by now, after what that animal did to poor Samil,” she’d said.

Jarl Idgrod, seated, with Gorm in the background

J’zargo had given a growl at this statement, but Brelyna had restrained him. He’d already received many hostile looks on the road here, and even some flying fruit; at least the jarl was comparatively neutral, greeting him with the same lack of interest she showed the rest of the party.

“I’m surprised you came at all,” she went on, addressing Deirdre. “Our people managed what yours could not, and now the whole affair is over. And lucky for you, too. The people were starting to grumble about what good a high queen is, if she can’t protect them from such lawlessness.”

Deirdre appeared calm, giving the jarl a half smile. “And I am surprised that one of your imminent foresight didn’t predict our coming, or even the murders themselves.”

J’zargo grinned. Idgrod was known for spending more time seeking out visions than helping her people. He looked eagerly from one to the other, hoping for more verbal jousting. But Brelyna, standing nearest to Deirdre, cleared her throat loudly before she could go on, putting an end to that line of talk.

The jarl turned them over to her housecarl, claiming she had other business to attend to — staring off into the distance hoping for a vision, J’zargo assumed. Now the four of them were gathered around the murderer’s body in the hall’s cellars, with Gorm, the housecarl, standing to one side.

Pic of a cellar in Skyrim
A cellar in Skyrim

“Here,” Deirdre said. “Let’s at least lay him out properly.” Between the two of them, they got him stretched out on his back with his hands crossed over his chest, but not before J’zargo noticed a gaping hole in his back.

Lydia noticed it too. “That’s a nasty puncture wound.”

“Aye,” said Gorm, “a pickaxe will do that.”

“How did it come about?” said Deirdre. “Tell us everything. And remember, even the smallest detail could be important.”

“Well, your Grace, I’ll tell you what I know, but you’d do better to talk to Jori and the others who were there, or the hold guards who brought the bodies back. I got it all second-hand from them.”

“And where will I find this Jori?”

“In the Moorside Inn, getting drunk no doubt, after what he and his friends saw today.”

“Then we’ll talk to him and the others in the morning. Tell us what you know.”

“Well, it was like this. Samil was out in the swamps this morning, working on a dike that had got a hole in it. Big drainage project up that way. He was off by himself, out of sight of the other men. They heard yellin’ and screamin’ and came running and saw this Khajiit tearing into Samil something awful. He was fighting back with his shovel, but Samil was no brawler, and he was already bleeding pretty bad. The men, four of them there were, set on the Khajiit with their own tools, but he fought back like a caged animal.”

“Yet Khajiit’s death wound came from behind,” J’zargo said. “Just like Nords, to hit him in the back while he ran away.”

“No, begging your pardon Master J’zargo, they had him surrounded. They thought to bring him to justice, not kill him outright. Y’see, we may not get many Khajiits around here, but we know you are people, cat-like though you appear. And so the boys thought to arrest him, not put him down like a wild beast. They had him surrounded, thought he’d give in, but he didn’t say a word when they told him to surrender, just made this strange groaning sound. He went after two of the lads, and had ’em both backed up against a hawthorn bush. We’d like to’ve had two more dead, but for Jori putting his pick in the fellow’s back. And now at least the terror is over, though Samil had to die for it.”

Yes, the terror is over, J’zargo thought. Yet when he looked to his friends, it seemed they still weren’t convinced. Each was looking pensively at the Khajiit’s body.

“What?” Gorm asked. “We ought at least celebrate the end of these murders, oughtn’t we?”

“If only it were that simple,” Deirdre said. She explained the evidence of poisoning. “So we suspect at least one other accomplice, and the murders might not be over. Did the men see no one else at the scene?”

“No! I mean, I didn’t think to ask, but I’m sure they’d a told me if they had.”

“And did the murderer have any gear with him? A pack with potions, or alchemy supplies perhaps?”

“No, he was just as you see him, no shirt, no shoes, just those ragged trousers.”

Now J’zargo realized that was the strangest thing about his dead countryman. “What was Khajiit doing, running around cold Skyrim wearing only pants? That’s what J’zargo wants to know.”

“A good question,” said Deirdre. “At the very least, if he was acting alone, he must have had more clothing or other gear with him, maybe stored nearby. Did the guards search the vicinity for any possessions he might have left behind?”

“You’ll have to ask the guards. I believe the situation seemed obvious, and they didn’t think to look into it further.”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “A lone Khajiit in the swamps, far from anywhere, and without any supplies, clothing, even a small backpack? They didn’t stop to wonder how he got there, or if he maybe had a camp nearby? I’d have some words with them if they were under my command.”

J’zargo felt sorry for the man, who now looked abashed at this chiding from one of such renown.

“No, I suspect they could do with some more training, but Hjaalmarch is a small hold, not like Whiterun or Haafingar, and things like this don’t happen so often. I guess they were just preoccupied with getting Samil’s body back home to his family, and one of the other lads had a nasty wound that needed tending.”

Lydia looked hopeful for a moment. “How did they bring the bodies back? Surely they didn’t carry them?”

“No, by wagon. See, the quickest way to the work site on foot is to go straight north and then a bit east across the swamps. But if they had a load of tools or rock for the dikes, they’d have to go around by way of the roads, south out of town to strike the main road, then east and northeast. That’s the way the guards took the wagon once Jori came running back here to raise the alarm.”

Deirdre and Lydia looked at each other. “And I trust no Khajiits have been seen traveling that road?” Deirdre asked.

“Only the usual caravan, but it came past last week, headed east. But as I said, the road passes south of town, and we don’t see everyone on it.”

“How about other travelers?”

“Oh, the usual, Nords mostly, Bretons, Redguards. Not many Imperials of late, of course. Wagons and horseback mostly, not many travelers afoot in these parts, unless they’re local.”

“So if the Khajiit was acting alone, it’s unlikely he would have taken the risk of passing by on the main road. He could have come directly across the swamps from Dragon Bridge. And in that case, he must have had a camp somewhere nearby. But if more than one person is involved, then a wagon could have passed by town unnoticed. Perhaps the Khajiit was hidden somehow, to avoid suspicion. They could have stopped not too far from the worksite, without the workers noticing.”

“Aye, it’s possible.”

“We’ll need to do a thorough search of the area, in case the attacker did have a camp, or maybe we can spot some wagon tracks. And that will have to wait for the morrow. Will Idgrod put us up here, or should we go to the inn?”

Gorm glanced at J’zargo. “Probably safer all around if you stayed here. Will you be wanting four rooms, or three, or…?”

“One will be fine for the two of us,” Deirdre said, placing a hand on Lydia’s pauldroned shoulder. She nodded toward Brelyna and J’zargo.

“One will be fine for us as well,” said Brelyna. “We wouldn’t want to put you out.” J’zargo gave a purr.

“Then I’ll see to your rooms. Supper is at seven.”

He turned to go, but then spun back around. “How could I forget? It was the strangest thing. Jori said that, right before the last life went out of the Khajiit, they thought they heard him whisper, ‘Thank you.’ I didn’t know what to make of it.”

J’zargo looked darkly at his companions, but said nothing. One particularly vile explanation for the Khajiit’s strange behavior crossed his mind. Deirdre seemed to share it, her look was so grim.

One thing was certain: Skyrim would not be getting back to normal any time soon.

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