The road to Windhelm was fraught with...nothing. Well, not nothing, but close enough to it. There were a few wolves, a few skeevers. There were bandits, but the total number of them weren't enough to keep track of on more than one hand, and all but one were busy getting slaughtered by a khajiit merchant and his human wife near Steamcrag. I took the opportunities presented to practice. I remembered my training with Delphine but my body at that time had been hardened by years of travel and combat and mining. Needless to say, these are not things I had been doing in college, and this softer, unscarred body did not care for the rigors. I had blisters on my hands and feet after the first day of travel.
I also stopped at every node of ore I came across and mined a few chunks from them with a pickaxe I liberated from Shor's Stone's mine while I was killing their spiders. I didn't find anything of real quality, except for one lucky strike of silver, but mining is an excellent whole body workout. Before I left, I had even considered working in the mine in Shor's Stone for awhile, just to build up some muscle and make some money. Three steps into the mine with the actual intent to do so dissuaded me from the thought - my body began shaking more with each step and then, apparently, I knocked over three people as I blindly flailed my way back out. I don't actually remember that part. All I remember was stepping into the mine and feeling panic settle over me like a shroud, and then I was outside gasping for air in a rainstorm. Lesson learned: I could enter mines as long as I wasn't planning on doing any actual mining.
Probably for the best, anyway. I could imagine someone coming up to me while I was working and my body reflexively bending to offer itself for their pleasure. I had been trained well in that hellhole.
Mining outside was a different story. I didn't have flashbacks from the act itself. Just the opposite - it was oddly soothing, once my new/old body adjusted to the rhythm that my brain remembered. I spent much more time than I intended on the first iron node I came across. It was exceedingly poor quality iron, of course - if decent ore could be found so easily, the whole world would be a strip mine - but I fell into my mindless pattern of swing-twist-pull and didn't come out of it until the sky had gone dark and I was up to my knees in chunks of rock and ore. I made camp and spent some time digging through the pile for anything useful (three nodes out of hundreds was my final tally) and went to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I could barely move from the pain. From that moment, I forced myself to limit my time at each node to exactly fifty swings.
The single bandit who decided to attack me taught me a lot. Specifically, she taught me that I needed a lot more practice, because I was sloooooooooowwww. I could see what I needed to do but my body was too weak to respond appropriately. The sword felt heavy in my hands and would not move in the way my brain commanded it. I shouted at her from time to time, which only served to show me what she looked like when she was confused. At the end, I resorted to fire. It was an odd thing - long ago, in my previous...well, my second previous life, Pare had taught me to use magic. In the years that followed, I almost never actually used it, other than the shouts. As the bandit bitch screamed and dropped her sword as my flames engulfed her, I began to wonder why. All those times I had been captured, beaten, raped, and/or enslaved - how many of them would have been avoided had my first and only instinct not been to rush at my enemies with a sword and engage them in melee combat? I had magic and a bow - yet another neglected tool during my second life - and no reason to get so personal with people bent on having their way with me.
This important lesson was not the only positive thing to come from my lone bandit encounter. The other was a ruby as large as my thumb. This ruby was not important for its exquisite beauty - which it had, I have not to this day seen a gem of its like that was not attached to royal vestments. I've spent much idle time wondering how she came across such a rare thing and why she chose to play the role of highway robber when she could have just sold it and lived in reasonable comfort for years - but because it provided me with the thing that I most needed in order to survive this world: a horse, which was the first thing I procured when I finally made it to Windhelm.
The stables are right in front of the long causeway that leads to the city proper and it took little time to find Ulundil, who was sitting just inside the stable doing...something presumably horse care related with a bunch of what looked like scrap leather. He gave me a glance as I approached and I must have looked shabby because he turned back to his work without so much as blinking.
"Carriage is outside," he said.
"I know, I don't want the carriage. I want to buy a horse."
He looked up again, giving me a longer appraisal. "Sure." He stood and led the way to the end stall. A horse peered at us from over the door, and by "horse," I mean the oldest, frailest equine to ever somehow still be alive. "One thousand gold."
Apparently I looked like a sucker as well. "Not that one. That one." I pointed at the big dun in the middle stall. The dun seemed to notice, because he looked back at me with intelligent eyes and a slight toss of his head. Or I might have imagined it.
Ulundil didn't even have the decency to pretend - he laughed. Loudly. The jerk. "Sure! Sure. A mere thirty-thousand gold and he is...oh."
He stopped because, as you have probably surmised, it was at this point that I pulled out the ruby and held it in front of his face.
"Where...where did you..."
"Don't be rude. Do we have a deal or not?"
"Um..." He hedged but I knew from the avarice in his eyes that the horse - I decided to call him Ruby - was mine. "That is a nice...gem, but it's not worth..."
"Oh, please. It's worth three times the amount you just quoted me. I know it, you know it, and I know that you know it. If I had more time, I would sell it for its proper worth, but that would require months. Give me the horse, fully equipped and ready to travel, with fresh shoes, and it's yours."
'Fine." His hand snaked out but I snatched the gem back before he could grab it.
"Not so fast. I want the papers written up and signed first. I don't want you deciding to tell everyone that I stole your horse."
"I would never!" The look of shock and dismay on his face softened me. "What a thing to suggest! I have built a reputation as the finest..."
Dammit, no time for this. "Fine, I apologize for impugning your reputation. Here's the gem, but I'm not leaving until I have those papers."
He huffed as he took the gem but then moved to a desk at the other end of the stable and quickly gathered, signed, and stamped a scroll. I read it over his shoulder and nodded when he glanced at me for approval, then he rolled it up and sealed it and handed it to me.
"Thank you. I'll be back in a couple of hours. Please have Ruby ready for me then."
"His name is Sandca..."
"Not anymore. See you soon."
I left him there still fretting about the name and walked into Windhelm to have my second conversation with Pare.
Don't feed the bastards. Feed yourself instead.