Exciting Day at the Watchtower
“What I wouldn’t give for a mug of mead right about now,” said Erik.
“The same as every day, right about now,” replied Torsten. It was always the same sad song. More than an hour still to go on their watch, and Erik’s mead would start calling to him.
Torsten was just thinking about asking for a new watch partner when he heard a wagon approaching, coming up the hill from the north. By the time he turned to get a look at it, it had disappeared behind the outcroppings of rock beneath the tower. Probably just another miner carrying ore up the hill.
Torsten was the only one standing watch, again as usual. Erik was tipping back in a chair, making a game of balancing it on two legs. Typical. The lad never took his work seriously. Nordlings these days! Not like when Torsten had come up through the guard ranks. That was long ago, and he’d seen much since then. He’d been given this soft post to serve out his days until retirement.
And the work was easy, though you wouldn’t know it to hear Erik talk. Relieve the afternoon shift at midnight, take turns keeping watch until six, then both were to stand watch until noon. Traffic on the road below them didn’t pick up until mid-morning, and there wasn’t much even then, just traders and farmers and miners, plus the passenger wagons that ran between Riften and Windhelm. Then they were relieved at noon, and it was a short walk back to the village of Shor’s Stone where they had their quarters. The whole afternoon would stretch before them to fill as they pleased, then they could get some shut-eye (or not, in Erik’s case) before their next shift began all over again. The pay was good, and all you had to do was keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. The lad didn’t know how good he had it.
“But it’s so boring,” Erik would moan when Torsten encouraged him to take his work more seriously.
It was true, the last time anything “interesting” had happened was seven months ago, back during the Civil War, when they’d been called out to protect Riften from the Imperials attacking over the Rift Pass. That had been a little too interesting. They’d been outnumbered ten to one, and most of them were hold guards, green ones like Erik, not the hardened soldiers of the Imperial Army. Torsten thought for sure it was his day to walk the death road to Sovngarde, should he acquit himself well. That, or he’d end up rotting in some Imperial dungeon. Erik was too young and foolish even to be afraid.
But then the Dragonborn had swooped down on the back of her dragon, using her Shouts while the dragon roasted a goodly number of Imperials alive. Then she’d driven the invaders back over the pass with threats of more of the same. The Dragonborn had saved their lives, and now Torsten was happy to call her his queen.
“Come on, lad,” he said, trying to sound encouraging. “Look lively. We’ve only got an hour left, and traffic’s starting to pick up. Look, here comes a wagon now.” The wagon was just coming into view again, moving slowly up the hill toward them.
“Yeah, sure, another farmer or miner, what difference does it make?”
“You never know, it could be that Breton we’re supposed to look out for.” Just that morning, a soldier had come down from Fort Greenwall, telling them to be on the lookout for a suspect in the awful murders in the western holds. They’d heard about those crimes, of course, but it all seemed far away. Nothing like that ever happened at this sleepy outpost. Still, he’d made sure the horses stabled next to the tower were ready to ride, just in case.
“Look, this one has a lone driver, just like the soldier said.”
“Of course, don’t they all?”
“And this one’s pulled by a single horse.”
That did seem unusual. The miners and farmers hereabouts all used two horses to get their heavy loads up the steep hills. Only the passenger carriages used a single horse. Even Erik was sitting up and looking out now.
“By Talos, that horse does seem to have a limp.”
“And it’s hard to tell from here,” said Erik, so excited that his words rushed together, “but that fellow could be a Breton.”
“Grab your bow and let’s go!” shouted Torsten, taking up his own shield. “By the Nine, we have work to do!”
They hurtled down the stairs of the watchtower and emerged just as the wagon was drawing even with it. It was picking up speed, having reached level ground, but not so fast that they couldn’t catch it on a run.
“Halt, in the name of the Jarl!” Torsten shouted, but the driver didn’t seem to hear. “I said halt! Don’t make us shoot you in the back.” He nodded at Erik, who nocked an arrow and aimed at the driver’s back, the wagon now having passed them.
Suddenly the fellow in the wagon twisted toward them and a ball of red light flashed from his hand, hitting Erik square in the chest. With no warning, Erik turned the bow on Torsten.
“Hey, watch that thing!” Torsten yelled. He got his shield up just in time to catch the arrow. “Have you lost your mind, lad?” He brandished his shield at the young fellow.
“I, I, didn’t mean to!” Erik dropped his bow, drew his sword, and lunged at Torsten.
“Stop it, what’s gotten into you?” Torsten easily blocked the lad’s thrust.
“I don’t know, I can’t help myself!” The lad took another swing. “Just keep blocking! For Talos’s sake, I don’t want to hurt you!”
“Hah, with those sword skills?” For once he was happy for the lad’s lack of diligence in training.
But he shouldn’t make jests. The Breton was probably getting away. He couldn’t even look over his shoulder to be sure, he was so busy blocking blows.
Erik struck his shield particularly hard, and Torsten responded out of reflex. Fortunately he was able to turn his sword just in time, instead whacking Erik on the helmet with the hilt.
“Ow! I said I can’t help it!”
“I know, lad, but it’s a melee, after all.” Maybe the best thing would be to just knock him out. But difficult to do with the thick iron face-guards attached to their iron helms.
Finally the spell wore off and Erik lowered his weapon, panting. “I’m glad that’s over.”
“And be glad neither of us is dead.” Torsten looked down the road, but the mage was long gone.
“Come on, to the horses!”
“But he’ll just hex one of us again! If he hexes you, I’m done for!”
“We’ll keep our distance. Let me think what to do while we give chase.”
They caught sight of the wagon just as it turned onto the dirt track that bypassed Shor’s Stone and Fort Greenwall. Erik was right, they couldn’t do this alone. There was only one thing for it: ride like Oblivion to the fort and get help. With luck, they’d cut the wagon off before it rejoined the main road.
“Come on, lad!” Torsten dug his boots into his horse’s flanks and they dashed toward Shor’s Stone.