2920, The Last Year of the First Era
By Carlovac Townway
The strange trees on all sides resembled knobby piles crowned with great bursts of reds, yellows, and oranges, like insect mounds caught fire. The Wrothgarian Mountains were fading into the misty afternoon. Turala marveled at the sight, so alien, so different from Morrowind, as she plodded the horse forward into an open pasture. Behind her, head nodding against his chest, Cassyr slept, cradling Bosriel. For a moment, Turala considered jumping the low painted fence that crossed the field, but she thought better of it. Let Cassyr sleep for a few more hours before giving him the reins.
As the horse passed into the field, Turala saw the small green house on the next hill, half-hidden in forest. So picturesque was the image, she felt herself lull into a pleasant half-sleeping state. A blast of a horn brought her back to reality with a shudder. Cassyr opened his eyes.
"Where are we?" he hissed.
"I don't know," Turala stammered, wide-eyed. "What is that sound?"
"Orcs," he whispered. "A hunting party. Head for the thicket quickly."
Turala trotted the horse into the small collection of trees. Cassyr handed her the child and dismounted. He began pulling their bags off next, throwing them into the bushes. A sound started then, a distant rumbling of footfall, growing louder and closer. Turala climbed off carefully and helped Cassyr unburden the horse. All the while, Bosriel watched open-eyed. Turala sometimes worried that her baby never cried. Now she was grateful for it. With the last of the luggage off, Cassyr slapped the horse's rear, sending it galloping into the field. Taking Turala's hand, he hunkered down in the bushes.
"With luck," he murmured. "They'll think she's wild or belongs to the farm and won't go looking for the rider."
As he spoke, a horde of Orcs surged into the field, blasting their horns. Turala had seen Orcs before, but never in such abundance, never with such bestial confidence. Roaring with delight at the horse and its confused state, they hastened past the timber where Cassyr, Turala, and Bosriel hid. The wildflowers flew into the air at their stampede, powdering the air with seeds. Turala tried to hold back a sneeze, and thought she succeeded. One of the Orcs heard something though, and brought another with him to investigate.
Cassyr quietly unsheathed his sword, mustering all the confidence he could. His skills, such as they were, were in spying, not combat, but he vowed to protect Turala and her babe for as long as he could. Perhaps he would slay these two, he reasoned, but not before they cried out and brought the rest of the horde.
Suddenly, something invisible swept through the bushes like a wind. The Orcs flew backwards, falling dead on their backs. Turala turned and saw a wrinkled crone with bright red hair emerge from a nearby bush.
"I thought you were going to bring them right to me," she whispered, smiling. "Best come with me."
The three followed the old woman through a deep crevasse of bramble bushes that ran through the field toward the house on the hill. As they emerged on the other side, the woman turned to look at the Orcs feasting on the remains of the horse, a blood-soaked orgy to the beat of multiple horns.
"That horse yours?" she asked. When Cassyr nodded, she laughed loudly. "That's rich meat, that is. Those monsters'll have bellyaches and flatulence in the morning. Serves 'em right."
"Shouldn't we keep moving?" whispered Turala, unnerved by the woman's laughter.
"They won't come up here," she grinned, looking at Bosriel who smiled back. "They're too afraid of us."
Turala turned to Cassyr, who shook his head. "Witches. Am I correct in assuming that this is Old Barbyn's Farm, the home of the Skeffington Coven?"
"You are, pet," the old woman giggled girlishly, pleased to be so infamous. "I am Mynista Skeffington."
"What did you do to those Orcs?" asked Turala. "Back there in the thicket?"
"Spirit fist right side the head," Mynista said, continuing the climb up the hill. Ahead of them was the farmhouse grounds, a well, a chicken coop, a pond, women of all ages doing chores, the laughter of children at play. The old woman turned and saw that Turala did not understand. "Don't you have witches where you come from, child?"
"None that I know of," she said.
"There are all sorts of wielders of magic in Tamriel," she explained. "The Psijics study magic like it's their painful duty. The battlemages in the army on the other end of the scale hurl spells like arrows. We witches commune and conjure and celebrate. To fell those Orcs, I merely whispered to the spirits of the air, Amaro, Pina, Tallatha, the fingers of Kynareth, and the breath of the world, with whom I have an intimate acquaintance, to smack those bastards dead. You see, conjuration is not about might, or solving riddles, or agonizing over musty old scrolls. It's about fostering relations. Being friendly, you might say."
"Well, we certainly appreciate you being friendly with us," said Cassyr.
"As well you might," coughed Mynista. "Your kind destroyed the Orc homeland two thousand years ago. Before that, they never came all the way up here and bothered us. Now let's get you cleaned up and fed."
With that, Mynista led them into the farm, and Turala met the family of the Skeffington Coven.