When Strength Fails
The morning was brisk. The mists over the marshes were turned a faint purpled hue as the sun peeked over the horizon, the cabin just another silhouette amongst the twisted shadows of trees and stone. All was silent, save for...
Crack. Thunk. Crack. Thunk.
Asynja hefted the axe, swinging it above her head, muscles tensing, ready to bring it down upon her foe -
- the common log. As the wood split in twain, she tossed the pieces onto the small pile already gathered. The Nord paused, sniffing and wiping her nose. Green eyes swept over her handiwork. Seemingly satisfied, she gave the axe one final swing, burying it into the tree trunk below with a grunt. Scooping up the pile of kindling into her arms, Asynja glanced back to the horizon.
The sun rose slowly.
A sleepy murmur came from the cabin as she entered. "Arni? Is that you?" The woman lay on a bed of furs near the embers of a dying fire, hair wispy and white. Her face was beautiful once, eyes alert, body strong - but now she was like a dried husk doll, tiny and thin.
"No, mama. I brought firewood." It wasn't the first time she had been mistaken for the youngest of her elder brothers, and it wasn't likely to be the last. She'd long since given up trying to correct her mother - her mind was old, clouded, and not easily changed. Asynja knelt to the fireside, sweeping away the ashes before carefully arranging the kindling.
"Will take more than that to warm these bones." Came a mumble from beneath the furs. "Do check on the herbs."
Asynja sighed, sweeping the tangled mass of ginger hair out of her face before striking the flint together, sparks leaping to the damp wood. "The garden's fine, I checked it this morning on my way to get wood. D'you want me to get you some-"
"The herbs, Asynja." Her mother's voice was remarkably alert, back to the commanding tone it once held - Priestess Signe, lady of Arkay, rising forth from the tiny frame. It wasn't so much the tone that caught Asynja off guard, however - it was the use of her name.
Her mother hadn't called her by it in a year.
Realizing her mouth had fallen agape, she cleared her throat and poked at the fire to ensure it was properly stirred from its slumber. Signe had fallen back into her bed of furs, mumbling away to herself again - was it just another hallucination from the sickness in the old woman's mind, Asynja wondered, or was it a momentary glimpse of sanity?
In any case - she'd nothing more to do for the morning. It was worth it to check, if only to calm her mother if the issue arose again.
- - -
A sudden blast of wind from the north - icy and smelling of the sea - greeted her as she exited the cabin. Memories of her father drifted back to her at the scent of salty air, and she winced in spite of herself. Gathering her cloak, she walked to the cabin's south side, where a wicker fence enclosure guarded their collection of herbs and vegetables from the rare rabbit.
The gate was open. Her eyes grew wide. It was closed just a half-hour ago, surely it must have been the wind. She glanced around, listening carefully, then entered the small enclosure, peering carefully at the plants.
There was no sign of an animal's feeding, no stray leaves and plant matter strewn about, no half-eaten remains. A frown. Everything seemed to be in order - until her eyes alighted on a slight difference in color in the small blue mountain flower bush in the corner. She pushed away little branches until she found the source - one of the branches had been cut, neatly, as if by a blade. It was in such a location that had she not been looking, she would not have noticed...
Asynja began to thoroughly investigate the other greenery, now, looking for the slightest differences. Someone had done the same to the lavender, she soon discovered - but naught else. Crouched on her boots, her brow furrowed. Blue mountain flower and lavender. What would a thief want with them? The latter was rare in Hjaalmarch, to be sure, but the former could be found growing even between the homes of Morthal...
She made certain to lock the door behind her upon re-entering the cabin. It was warm and inviting now, and her mother had found stockings to darn. The scent of woodsmoke and the familiar sound of her mother's humming was almost enough to drown her worries from her mind. But not quite.
Brushing back her hood, she strode over to the single wooden plank that served as the household bookshelf. A tome on burial rights, no, a prayerbook, no, myths of old nordic heroes, no, marriage rites - no. Her fingers traced over the spines as she squinted, looking for the familiar green lettering...
Medicinal Herbs of Skyrim. Yes.
Asynja flipped through the pages as quickly as she dared. Many of the words were unfamiliar to her, but the pictures were not - and thankfully, for the sake of academia, there were many pictures.
Her eyes narrowed, as if it would force some great meaning to come forth from the words. Yet all she found listed for the two ingredients were properties of boosting constitution and vigor - no warnings as to poisonous qualities. It must've been a roaming traveller who'd no concern as to the property of others, or maybe it was a hunter in an emergency...
What should have calmed her did little to soothe her nerves. The gate was closed when she left in the morning, and she would have seen anyone walking to or from the cabin. There was the possibility that she'd simply overlooked it or been fooled, but she was a watcher, a guard, and her confidence in her own abilities was enough that there must have been something else.
A great sigh escaped her lungs as Asynja set the tome back on the shelf, turning to her mother. It would be several hours more before her watch of the nearby tomb - the very reason for the presence of she and her mother so far from civilization. She couldn't shake the feeling of wrong that pervaded.
That night was going to be a long one. She let herself fall into the pile of furs, forcing herself into sleep with that idea in mind. She needed to be alert.
She was the eyes for those that had none.