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A flower in the snow

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"Did we have an appointment? No... was it a delivery? I can't remember."

"You asked for hired muscle. Here's your hired muscle. It's me. Ma'am." Njada added the polite phrase as an afterthought, just in case the wizard was one of those types who demanded respect at all times and considered any non-wizard to be far below them. The woman in front of her didn't seem like that kind of wizard, but you never knew with those weirdoes, Njada thought.

"Oh... of course. The hired muscle. How excellent of you to arrive so quickly. Now, what did I need you for..." Wylandriah looked lost in thought.

"Your letter mentioned some flower," Njada volunteered. "Some frost flower, or whatever. But if you don't need it anymore then I'll be on my way. All the same to me, as long as you pay." She turned towards the door, but Wylandriah called out to her.

"No, wait, I remember. The red-starred frosted blue mountain flower, yes. You see, I need a specimen for my potion. I want to transfigurate the sub-elemental properties of the harmonic energy of frost troll fat. I believe it will allow me to de-fix the magical inversion of... What was it again?" It took Njada a few moments to realise that the wizard wasn't talking to herself, but asking her a question.

"No idea. Just tell me who you need smacked in the face, that's my line of work."

"Ah, you're absolutely right. The flower is guarded by frost trolls. Well, not exactly guarded; I'm afraid those creatures don't possess the intellect to grasp that concept, but the result is the same. I asked some of the palace guards but they refused, saying that they had more important things to take care of. Can you believe it?" Wylandriah scowled.

"Yeah. So were are these trolls?" Trolls weren't easy foes, but she'd manage, Njada thought. The wizard looked useless in a fight, but Njada had taken on giants and lived. A few trolls wouldn't make a dent in her breastplate.

"Oh, right! The flower is only a short walk to the south, near a mountain. If we leave now, I'm sure we'll be back in time before dinner."

"Let's go then. Do you need to take any equipment with you? If it's heavy, I'll carry it."

"Just my pouch and my staff. No need to worry, I can carry those myself." With that, they left.

Three hours later they were knee-deep in snow, and probably still a long way from their destination, Njada thought. They were near a mountain, but in these parts of the Rift you always were near a mountain. Their journey had started of rather well. Near the city and in the lower valleys there was no snow, so they had been making good progress. What's more, Wylandriah apparently had a lot of esoteric knowledge about every plant they passed by, and she was more than happy to share any fact or thought that popped up in her head with Njada. She wasn't sure if everything the wizard said was true, but that didn't really matter. Either way, Wylandriah proved an unexpectantly pleasant companion. She never complained, unlike some of Njada's Shield-Siblings, and she was completely different from Farengar, Whiterun's court wizard, who seemed to focus more on his ego than his job. Njada wasn't a social person, but Wylandriah's babbling was comforting. Or rather, it had been comforting; she'd stopped commenting on their surroundings when the snow got too thick for plants to push through, about an hour ago. Njada wondered how they were even supposed to find that flower. It was still light, but she knew the sun would set soon. They'd have to halt for the night and set up a camp quickly, whether they would find that flower or not. Walking around in the mountains in the dark wouldn't be bravery, just stupidity.

Lost in thought as she was, she almost walked into Wylandriah, who had stopped walking and was staring in the distance. She glanced absentmindedly at Njada and then pointed to a nearby elevation, maybe a 200 feet away.

"Behind that hill we should find the flowers. I can feel their transharmonic vibrations extending towards us. And I can feel the chaotic emotions in the minds of the guardians. They will not let us take a flower without a struggle."

Njada needed no further encouragement. She got her bow from her back and took some arrows in her hand. They were made of firewood and she'd dipped them in a bottle of firesalt water back in Whiterun. Most ice trolls would flee after being hit by one or two of these. The rest would have the honour of meeting her sword. She started walking towards the hill, but stopped when she heard Wylandriah coming after her.

"It's better if you wait here. You might get hit by a troll. They don't care if you're unarmed, they're not picky."

"I'm not unarmed; I have my staff."

"A piece of wood won't impress them."

"It's more than a piece of wood." Wylandriah looked a little offended. "My staff has been imbued with magical powers, spells passed on from times immemorial. If you wish to fight the trolls on your own, then that is fine with my. But I wish to observe your work. The energies flowing on a field of battle, where life energy is spilled, provide great inspiration to those who study the arcane."

"Alright then." Njada continued towards the hill. Even if that staff was indeed magical, she doubted that the wizard would remember which end you were supposed to hold and which to point at your enemy.

She were almost near the top of the hill, Wylandriah trailing a little behind her, when she noticed a standing stone. Next to it sat five trolls, eating from the remains of what looked like a deer or a horse. They must have smelt her or heard her, and now they saw her too. She drew her bow but before could fire an arrow they were already running towards her. She'd forgotten how fast the creatures were, deceptively fast for their size. Not that it would matter, she thought. Her first arrow hit one of the trolls straight in the chest and send it running the other way, in search of water to extinguish the fire it must have thought erupted in its chest. Her second arrow send another troll running, but then the three that remained were already too close and she quickly put her bow away, dropping her remaining arrows on the ground. She drew her sword and readied her shield.

Trolls were animals, and they fought in a predictable way. Njada recognised that the one in the middle must be their leader, and would claim the first hit, marking her as its prey. The others would wait until their leader was finished with her. If she killed their leader, however, they wouldn't bother waiting their turn, and just jump her together. That would make things difficult, but she'd just have to manage.

The troll in the middle came running at her and jumped. She extended her shield to meet its outstretched arms. The weight and speed of the troll gave it an enormous momentum, but she'd use that to her advantage. When her shield and its fist connected she moved her left arm along with the flow--trying to really block the troll would crush her arm, or even tear it off. Instead, she transferred the force to her right arm, stabbing her sword straight into the mouth of the troll, penetrating its palate and its brain. She quickly pulled her sword back and stepped aside to avoid being flattened by the now lifeless body that fell to the ground.

The other two trolls hesitated for a few seconds, and then jumped at her, one from each side. Unlike their leader they jumped from a standstill, and their attack had much less force behind it, so Njada could block them at the same time without too much trouble. After that the trolls started beating at her. They didn't put much thought into their blows and she could easily reflect them. However, the constant barrage of hits meant that she wasn't able to do anything back. The moment she'd turn to face one troll would be the moment the other one would get an opening. A direct hit to her body was guaranteed to cripple her, if not outright kill her. She'd have to trade places with one of them. If she put herself on the side and one of the trolls in the middle, she could finish that one off while the other one had to move around its companion to hit her.

She eyed the trolls while blocking their attacks, analysing their movements and trying to find an opening to jump behind one of them. Then she realised that she made a mistake. Trolls were strong and fast, but not agile. However, since they were knee-deep in snow, neither was Njada. Rolling and sprinting was nigh impossible in these conditions. Unless one of her enemies gave her a massive opening--unlikely--it would be a battle of endurance--not her strongest suit. What now? If this continued for too long she'd fall to the ground from exhaustion. She had to come up with a new plan, before one of them--

FWOOOM! An explosion of light blinded her. It took her a few seconds before she could make out her surroundings again. To the right of her stood one of the trolls, but it didn't pay her any attention. Instead, it stared at the charred spot to the left of her, where not too long ago its companion had been. It shot her a quick look and then turned around, running away even faster than it had come. She turned around and saw Wylandriah a few steps behind her, a triumphant smile on her face.

"You looked like you were in need of assistance. As I told you, my staff is no ordinary piece of wood. It enables me to create an energetical manifestation that excites the magical vibrations surrounding a target, engulfing it with a high temperature. As a consequence of the third law of... What was that guy's name again? Well, what matters is that the target undergoes a transformation similar to... What was it again?"

"Beats me. I didn't need help, but thanks." Njada motioned downhill, towards the standing stone. "Looks like that was all. Let's get your flower." Without waiting for a response she made her way down. She needed to calm down a bit from the fight, and she definitely didn't need the wizard to know that she had needed help. A minute later they were both near the stone, and Wylandriah sat down on her knees. She put her arm into the snow and pulled a small flower out. Njada had no idea how she could have found it so quickly. Maybe there was some truth in her rambling about magical energies after all?

"There we are! A very fine specimen. This will suit my purposes marvellously. Now, let us go back to the castle. I have expended a large amount of energy and need to replenish my strength." She walked a few steps and stopped again. "Which way again?"

"We're not going back tonight. We have to set up a camp now. If we walk at night we'll get lost." Njada took of her backpack and setting up her tent.

"I didn't bring a tent with me, I'm afraid."

"Don't be silly. My tent fits two."

"That is kind of you." Wylandriah came closer, while Njada wrestled the tent pegs into the ground through the snow. After she'd convinced herself that it wouldn't collapse or be blown away she crept in, followed by Wylandriah. It wasn't spacious by any means, but they could lie down next to each other without touching. At least, that's what Njada thought, until Wylandriah pressed her body against Njada's.

"What are you doing, wizard?" She turned on her side, creating a little distance between them, and stared at her. Wylandriah turned on her side as well and, not discouraged by the cold response she'd received, put an arm around Njada and pulled herself in, pressing their bodies together.

"It's cold. Our mortal bodies generate some thermal energy, eventually heating this enclosed space, but it will be warmer and quicker if we cuddle." She slipped her other arm under Njada's unresisting side and embraced her tightly. Then she started rubbing her back. Njada blushed.

"Well, uhh... That's true, but..." She wasn't sure what to say. "It's not that cold. I'm doing fine."

"I can feel your goosebumps," Wylandriah said, while stroking Njada's neck, causing her to blush even more.

"Well, alright then. Just for this night, you get it? But stop rubbing me, it's unnerving." She put an arm around the wizard and closed her eyes, not wanting to risk seeing her smiling smugly. Her fear was unnecessary, because Wylandriah leant her head into her chest. She could feel her warm breath on her collarbone. If it's just for one night, it's okay, Njada thought. After the trek through the mountains and the fight with the trolls, the soft body of a woman in her arms was a welcome reward, though she'd never admit that. Her Shield-Siblings would be amused if they found out about her soft side, but no one was around, so they never would. She was about to close her eyes and fall asleep when Wylandriah started talking again.

"It would be even warmer if we stripped."


"If we took of our clothing and put in on top of us, like a blanket, it would be even warmer. I'd have stripped already, but that would be futile, because touching your metal armour would just cool me off, since the flow of thermo--"

"Forget it." Njada was blushing furiously. She was glad for the short twilights in the mountains, glad it had become completely dark.

"But, thermally speaking--"

"No." She tightened her grip around the wizard, just in case she'd get any funny ideas, but the rest of the night was uneventful.