She had no choice but to walk away now.
As the flames ruptured skyward, engulfing all that remained of the house she’d once called home, Yngrid was acutely aware of the distant howling of the wolves. Even through the livid inferno, she could hear them – she always heard them, now, even when they weren’t there.
Age had been particularly unkind to the woman; but then, she’d never been a beauty. In the gloom of midnight, with only the harsh light of the conflagration, her face was dominated by an overlong, pointed nose, and a well-lined brow. Her brown-black eyes glittered with malice, deeply sunken and underscored by low-slung cheekbones. Thin lips parted slightly to expose her teeth to the wind and heat, and she breathed into the smoke before grimacing at the scent – all her life until now, consigned to the fire.
She’d expected to feel fearful, to feel angry – to feel something. But everything seemed distant, now, and the pain of her losses was blunted to nothing more than a dull ache that somehow managed to run like a stitch through the fiber of each moment. Leaving it all behind was queerly effortless; what had remained was only the skeleton of her existence, lacking all substance. Once the idea had been planted, it seemed the obvious step to take.
The fire raged, rapacious and roaring, intensely hot. Yngrid could taste the salt in the air, the estuary’s bitterness bleeding into the wind, but it was the forest which haunted her nightmares, the brooding pines and feral brambles where death lurked unseen.
The ocean had been her life’s blood for as long as she could remember. Born a fisherman’s daughter, grown to a fisherman’s wife, with a fisherman son and countless cousins, she had a fisherman’s obsession with the seas – and a mariner’s mistrust of solid land, scorn for those who eked out a living pecking at seeds and soils. She’d never feared the rocks and trees – they seemed dull and lifeless when compared to the waves that provided her livelihood. Tough and capable, she’d never considered turning her back to the water, always wary for the next storm that might devastate her family.
An ocean death was a clean death, a thing worth honoring and remembering. Tragedy was common among fisherfolk, to be taken in stride and born with the strength of conviction and family. But what had happened to her husband – to her son, her only son – had been a twist of fate that only the Daedra themselves could be held accountable for; Yngrid was no wilting lily. She was a fisherman’s daughter with seawater in her veins and steel in her spine, and there was nothing left to lose.
Turning her back at last to the intense heat, she hefted the travel sack over her shoulder and resolved herself to the pain in her joints. A storm was coming. She could feel it in her arthritic bones, but she had many miles to travel before the night’s end, and nothing so small as weather would stop her.