Light armor or heavy?
One look at the stranger approaching The Scorched Hammer told Balimund all that he needed to know about her.
She was a young Nord, with few battle scars on her tanned and wind-chapped skin. Her gear was a wreck of mismatched pieces— a dented iron helm, tarnished Dwarven gauntlets, worn leather boots, and an Ancient Nordic cuirass, the likes of which hadn’t been worn in over a century. A battered bow hung from her back and an iron shortsword, the leather coming unraveled from the pommel, was tucked into a makeshift belt at her hip. A conspicuously heavy-looking purse hung around her waist, clinking and jangling with every step.
Balimund knew her type. A young adventurer, returning from an expedition with her new-found loot and looking to upgrade. And yet, whereas most adventurers would be riding high with their victory, a lightness in their step and maybe even a song on their lips, she seemed defeated. She stared blankly at the tips of her threadbare boots, avoiding the eyes of everyone in the busy marketplace as she plodded onward.
Balimund put aside a half-finished sword and stood from his place at the grindstone to meet her. “Evening ma’am. Welcome to The Scorched Hammer. I’m Balimund, and this is my forge.”
The woman sighed, leaning wearily against a nearby post. “I’m Mara.”
Balimund smiled warmly. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you Mara. What can I help you with? Are you looking for
weapons or armor?”
“Excellent! Light or heavy?”
Mara hesitated. “I—I don’t know.” She slumped forward, resting her head on the post. “I’m kind of new at this and I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Well, I think we can fix that.” Balimund pulled out a couple of stools and offered one to Mara, who collapsed onto it wearily. He then instructed her to remove her gauntlets and began measuring her hands.
“What’s your weapon of choice?”
“I’m okay with a sword, but I prefer the bow.”
“Alright. Sounds like light armor might be your best bet. What kind of adventuring will you be doing? Hunting? Mercenary work? Exploring ruins?”
Mara stiffened, yanking her hand away. She shivered in the cool evening air, wrapped her arms around her torso as though hugging herself. “I have a quest. But I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know how I’m—“ She stopped, covering her face with her hands and breathing deeply as she fought to collect herself. With a final fortifying breath, Mara reached into her pack and pulled out a few pieces of splintered wood that Balimund recognized as bits of a broken bow. “I’ll be fighting dragons. Though how I’m supposed to do that and save hundreds of lives when I can’t even protect one person, I have no idea. Faendal trusted me, believed in me, and this--” she said, gesturing to the broken bow, “this is all that’s left of him.”
Something about Mara tugged at Balimund’s heartstrings. She seemed defeated, from the bleakness in her eyes to the slump of her shoulders, as though she was carrying a too-heavy burden that she desperately wanted to be rid of. And yet at the same time, there was a quiet determination in the set of her jaw and the way she clung tightly to the shattered bow. Balimund decided right then and there that he liked this woman. He carefully took the splintered wood from her and set it aside before taking her much smaller hand between his own callused ones. “I don’t know that I can do much, but I want to help. Come back in one week and I’ll have your new gear ready.”
Over the next six days, Mara stayed hidden away in her room at The Bee and Barb. She slept restlessly. When she awoke with the sun and looked out her window, it was to see Balimund already busy at the forge. At night, she was lulled to sleep by the distant but steady clink clinking of a hammer.
On the seventh day, Mara met Balimund at the forge. She was expecting to discuss payment first and was therefore completely unprepared for Balimund to, without even a word of greeting, usher her over to his workbench and sweep aside a pile of furs, revealing the gear hidden underneath.
The armor and weapons were beautiful, green glass seeming to glow in early dawn light. Her hands hovered over them, wanting to touch, to trace the intricate engraving, but she hesitated.
“I can’t pay for this.”
“Sure you can. It’s only 150 gold.”
Mara stared at Balimund in disbelief. “You and I both know that this is worth far more than 150 gold. I can’t accept this.”
He returned her stare with a smile. “If you don’t have the money, consider it a gift.”
Mara gave into temptation and lifted the bow. It was perfectly balanced. Apparently, he really could work miracles with his forge. Her fingertips ghosted over the etchings, her throat catching as she found a single word blended into the design.
“I’ll give you no less than 400, and I consider that a down payment.”
Balimund chuckled, the sound rumbling from deep within his chest. “That’s not what I intended, but I have a feeling that arguing with you would be futile.”
Reluctantly, Mara set the bow aside. Turning to Balimund, she placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. “Thank you. If there’s anything I can do to repay you, you have simply to name it.”
Balimund stared into the forge, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “You mentioned dragons. If you happen to come across any scales or bones, I’d appreciate it if you threw a few my way. Might be interesting to experiment with them.”
For the first time since setting foot in Skyrim, Mara laughed. “Consider it done.”
1. An arrow that can kill a dragon
2. Advice from an old hero
This is the longer version of a ficlet for the Weekly Community Challenge at tes_skyrim
. I'll have to to trim it up a bit before I can get it all into one comment though.