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Sloan's Story part 18 - Hope Springs Eternal

jfraser

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Sloan threw her sword down the hill then jumped after it,  sliding through slewing rocks and dirt on her butt as another arrow arched through the air above her. When her body finally stopped, she laid back and took in deep gulps of air for a bit before heaving herself to her feet. As she had expected (and hoped), the archers had not been keen on leaving their roost to chase their quarry, especially when the walls of Falkreath were now in sight.  It took a few moments to retrieve her sword and only a few more to make her way to the eastern gate of the town. One of the guards grinned at her.

 

"Ah, you found the Bridge Gang, did you?"

 

"I...yes. I suppose I did. So you know about them?"

 

"Oh, aye. I know what you're going to say," he held up a forestalling hand as Sloan started to speak again, "but we don't have the manpower to do anything about it right now. They're cowards who run at the first sign of trouble and they have hidey holes all over those hills. We've tried to deal with them in the past but until the war is over, we just don't have the men to do it properly."

 

"I...well, I guess that makes sense." Sloan sighed as she rubbed her sore behind. "Well, since we're talking, perhaps you can help me. I'm trying to find my parents."

 

"Ah, refugees? Did you ask at Helgen? Yes, you just came from that direction, didn't you. Well, it's possible. We have some refugees here. What are their names?"

 

"Um...I don't know." Sloan cursed at herself inwardly for not asking more questions. Or maybe going through the books when she was at Riften. Once Grelod was dead, Constance had taken over the orphanage and she was much more...

 

"You don't know your own parents' names?" Both guards looked at her as if she was crazy.

 

"I never knew them. They put me in the Honorhall orphanage when I was a baby and..."

 

"Ah." The second guard nodded. "So they're not new refugees. If they were at Helgen when it was attacked by the dragon - and survived - they probably did come here. Most of those people were already poor before they got here. The only jobs they could find were as servants or whores. I'd recommend checking with the nobles - you'll probably find your parents' lips planted on one of their backsides."

 

Both guards laughed, ignoring Sloan's glare. "Well. Thank you. I guess."

 

"Sure thing," the first guard replied. Then he sighed and held out a placating hand. "Ah. don't be that way, lass. It was just a joke. I hope you find them safe and sound, I truly do."

 

Sloan looked at him for another moment before she softened with a sigh. "I know. I'm sorry. I just...I didn't even know they existed, and now it turns out they might be dead after all. It's...a little much."

 

"I understand. It was a joke, but it's still good advice - if they're here, the nobles are the ones who would know. They keep track of that kind of thing. Good luck."

 

"Thank you." This time with a smile and a little more conviction. They returned the smile and gave her little salutes as she passed through the gateway and into the town itself with the first vague touches of hope.

 

A week later she sat on a bench in the Dead Man's Drink with a drink and a headache and a full onset of despair and a dwindling purse. Finding people whose names you do not know and faces you cannot describe was turning out to be more difficult than she had imagined. Although, come to think of it, she hadn't really tried to imagine it before. She had just kind of assumed that some answer would magically appear. In retrospect, it had been a foolish notion.

 

Her reverie was interrupted by a commotion at a table near the back of the inn. A man stood with one of the city guards over the table, gesturing and loudly accusing someone of stealing something, from what Sloan could tell. The entire inn grew silent as every head turned to watch.

 

The guard didn't seem too impressed by the man's rantings. "How can you be sure? Didn't you say your horse was stolen years ago?"

 

"Of course I'm sure! She fell off the mountain, right into our camp! How could I forget something like that? We gave her food and let her sleep with us..."

 

Sloan couldn't stop the snigger that bubbled out but it didn't matter - hers was swallowed by the rest of the crowd's. The accuser looked around with a flushed face. "Not like that! She just...y'know, slept! Said she was a pilgrim, just visitin' the Greybeards, but I knew better! The Greybeards don't let nobody go up there!"

 

The guard sighed and looked back down at the table. With the two men standing over it, Sloan couldn't see the person being accused. She shifted back a little to try to peer around.

 

"Hey!"

 

Sloan blinked up at the man she had not seen, and whom she had therefore just headbutted.

 

"Oh! I'm sorry! I..."

 

The man gaped at her. "Melissa?"

 

"Wha..."

 

"No. No, it couldn't be. She would be...much older now. I apologize, I mistook you for someone else."

 

Sloan's eyes widened and she stood, barely noticing the squad of Stormcloak soldiers who suddenly pushed their way past on the way to the altercation in the corner.

 

"Wait. Do I look like someone you know?"

 

The man waited for the soldiers to pass before responding. "Yes. Your eyes are...just like hers. It's uncanny. And your nose..." He stopped as his stare intensified.

 

Sloan touched her nose self-consciously. "Um..."

 

"Who are you? Wait, don't answer that." The man's voice had dropped to a whisper, although he needent have bothered - the rest of the room remained fixated on the far corner, where the person at the table was just standing up. "Meet me at the lumber mill in twenty minutes. Make sure you're not followed."

 

"Not...what?"

 

But the man had already turned and started to walk away. Sloan watched him leave the inn just ahead of the guard and the soldiers, who were escorting a trio of people that Sloan still could not see clearly. Once the group had left the room, it felt a lot larger. Sloan barely noticed when the bard began playing and the crowd resumed talking. Someone had recognized her, had called her...Melissa. Could it be that she finally knew her mother's name? Trepidation and excitement ran counterpoints down her spine until she couldn't stand it any longer. She had no idea if twenty minutes had passed, but she stood and handed the barmaid probably too much coin and hurried out the door.

 

As she approached the sawmill, she began to understand why he had chosen it. He had seemed keen to keep their conversation between the two of them and the mill was loud enough that it seemed unlikely anyone would overhear them.

 

Or maybe he just worked there. She had no idea. Her head swiveled from side to side as she stepped around piles of planks and breathed in the pleasant smell of sawdust, and finally saw him near the edge of the mill.

 

"That wasn't twenty minutes," he said as she approached. She noticed his eyes did not sit still for even a moment - he seemed to be trying to see in all directions at once.

 

"I'm sorry. I couldn't wait any longer. Who is Melissa?"

 

"Shh! Don't say her name out loud. I should never have said it myself. Are you sure you weren't followed?"

 

Sloan blinked. She hadn't even thought about checking, so eager had she been to talk to him. "Yes. Who are you?"

 

"My name is Dargon. I fought in the war with...well, with your parents, I suspect."

 

The burst of excitement that leaped through Sloan's chest matched the burst from her mouth: "So you DO know them!" 

 

"SSSSHHHH!" Dargon waved his hands up and down in a 'quiet' motion, his eyes still searching the surrounding area.

 

"Yes. Tallin and Melissa are their names. You...wait, which...what is your name, girl?"

 

"Sloan." His paranoid vibe had begun to affect her - she found herself looking all around. She didn't see anything but the mill, the trees, and the sky. And the man who had the answers she had been seeking.

 

He nodded fervently. "Yes. Sloan to Honorhall. Yes? You were in the orphanage?"

 

She frowned. "Yes." It came out flat and dark, but he didn't appear to notice.

 

"Great, that's what I thought. I know where they are. Not far away from here, as it happens - they live in the hills outside of town. Under different names, of course. But they will be so happy to see you again." A grin flashed across the face at the thought, and Sloan found herself smiling in response, though with the answers he provided, she found herself asking questions that she had somehow never thought to ask before.

 

"Why...if they're alive, why did they..."

 

"For your own protection. Come on, no one  is watching. I'll take you to them."

 

"Wh...now?"

 

"Yes, now. Do you have something else to do?"

 

"I...no." She frowned as it occurred to her that she had no idea who Dargon really was. Gong with him meant putting her life in his hands. It could be a trap or...

 

She shook her head. The greatest skill she had learned at the Vixen was to read people. Especially men. He was telling the truth, she was certain of it. She steeled herself and nodded. "Let's go."

 

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