In Both Life and Death

  • He squinted, as what little light that had managed to make its way through the smattering of planks that passed for a roof, finally crept its way across his eyes. That it had moved this far since he woke told him he’d been lying awake for roughly half an hour, in the past he would have quite literally jumped to his feet the moment he awoke but now it would take everything he had just to stand up.

     

    The last half-hour had been spent attempting to work out a way to sit up and swing his legs over the edge of the bed without aggravating every ache and stiff joint that made up his body. Years ago, he’d realised that much like removing an arrow there was no avoiding the pain and the best way to do it was with one swift motion; or what passed for swift at his age, and yet each morning he wasted precious time agonizing over it. At this rate, he wouldn’t make it back to Whiterun before nightfall. But the pain. So, what? Would he just lie there until someone came along to carry him? No! For the love of Kyne he was no weakling, what was a little pain to him?

     

    Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to sit upright. Pain. His body cried out as the sudden movement forced his rockjoint riddled body to bend, his joint’s cries of protest were accompanied by countless others from the many old wounds he had suffered over the years. The moment the pain subsided he swung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed himself away from it only to end up swaying on his feet for a moment before stepping away from the bed.

     

    Looking around he was honestly surprised that he’d managed to find the bed the night before, as he’d been so exhausted after clearing the ancient towers to have been just as likely collapsed on the floor beside it. He stood in a walled off area of the second tower’s upper level, in what could have only been the Chief’s personal chambers. Scattered around the “room” were empty wine bottles and several books that he would have considered too advanced for a bandit. After going through what little else there was in the room and finding nothing of value, he made his way through the opening in the wall to search the rest of the tower.

     

    His attention was immediately grabbed by the sight of his old Warhammer still sticking out of the crushed remains of the bandit chief’s head, it was odd as the corpse should not have been enough to hold the hammer upright. As he shuffled towards the hammer his foot struck something solid and he looked down to see his crossbow lying abandoned on the floor. Retrieving the bow from its resting place took longer than he would have liked as his body fought every moment of it. When he finally had it back in his possession he secured it to his belt before resuming his shuffle across the room.

     

    Sounds of wood creaking and snapping accompanied the head of his hammer as he pulled it from where it stood. That explained it, not only had the hammer caved in the chief’s head it had also punched its way through the floorboard underneath.

     

    With his Warhammer now strapped to his back, he busied himself with picking through the bandits’ belongings in the hopes of finding something he could sell. Either the bandits hadn’t been all that successful or they’d been hiding their spoils elsewhere, as all he managed to find were a couple of healing potions to replace the ones he’d seemingly used the night before. Resigning himself to only earning the bandits’ bounty, he started the slow trek back to Whiterun.

     

    *****

     

    The Bannered Mare was much livelier than when he had left it several days before, in order to complete the bounty. The main room was packed with people who all seemed to be focused on a small group of soldiers. The soldiers were all dressed the chainmail shirts most often seen in use by the guards of Skyrim’s cities, over the top of which they wore a tunic of yellow and a fiery red which marked them as belonging to the Dragonborn’s personal guard; men and women of Whiterun who had sworn to fight alongside her in both life and death. At the sight of them his mind was filled with memories of fighting alongside the Dragonborn as the captain of her guard and a part of him longed to re-join them, but no she’d released him from his vow so that in her words “His soul could rest in peace”.

     

    He still remembered how difficult it had been to convince the Dragonborn to let them help her, back when she had first learned that she could absorb the souls of dragons she had used the bones of bandits so as to avoid taking men and women away from their families. Eventually that stopped being enough and it had been clear that she needed more help, and so with a handful of guards who she had saved over those first couple of years, he had gone before Jarl Balgruuf to gain his permission for the guards to leave their posts…

     

    His mind was snapped back to the present by the sight of Ysolda; the inn’s current owner, walking towards him. “So, you survived, did you? I was starting to think I could sell off your things.”

     

    “Hah, you’d like that wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, though I’m still alive and kicking.” He had known Ysolda for years and had even helped her get the money to buy the inn from its previous owner, so the repetition of the same old exchange brought a smile to his face, one which she returned.

     

    “So, you looking for another bounty or are you finally going to stick around for a change? I’ve made sure that there’s always a spot ready next to the fire for you.”

     

    Every time he returned she made him the same offer and each time he turned it down. After so many years spent fighting, he just wasn’t sure he’d know what to do with himself if he stopped. In an attempt to avoid answering her question he asked one of his own.

     

    “So how long has she been back in Whiterun?”

     

    Letting out a sigh at his attempt to change the subject Ysolda decided to play along, “She got back the day after you left, apparently some dragon is making its way here and she wanted talk to the Jarl about how to deal with it.” In the relative silence that followed her answer, she gave him a worried look as she tried to work out what he was thinking. Letting out a second sigh Ysolda resumed talking, “Lilia hasn’t come down from Dragonsreach since she returned and I haven’t been able to get much out of her Dead Legion, so I have no clue when the Dragon will turn up or if it is even still heading this way.”

     

    Ysolda’s use of the name Dead Legion caused him to chuckle, it had never been the official name of the Dragonborn’s Guards but once the true meaning of their vow had sunk in with the people of Whiterun it had become a sort of nickname for the group. Not that it was all that accurate as there’d never been more than a dozen members at a time, let alone enough for a legion. The name had always embarrassed him and he had initially attempted to stop people from using it, but the Dragonborn had insisted on letting them as a sort of revenge against him for forming the group. Before long the name had spread throughout the province and by that time there was no way he could avoid it.

     

    Having heard enough to make up his mind, he spoke, “I think I’ll actually stick around this time. Since I have some business with someone, I’d appreciate it if you could bring me the usual.”

     

    Ysolda was left standing by the entrance with a worried look upon her face as he made his way further into the inn. It wasn’t long before he’d forced his way through the crowd to where the Dragonborn’s guards were seated. Of the five people sitting before him, he only recognised one; an old Redguard woman that had joined not long before he had been released from his vow. After a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed a free chair from another table and pulled it over. As he sat down the Redguard and her companions looked up at him. Instead of greeting them as he guessed they thought he would, he instead busied himself with caring for his Warhammer. While his hands were busy he let his eyes wonder across the others at the table. Of the four that he did not recognise, two were Nords; a man who was almost the same age as him and a girl who looked to be only on the cusp of womanhood, there was also a battle-scarred Orc Woman and a scrawny Argonian who looked like he wouldn’t be much help in a fight. The four of them looking at him with confusion as it was rare for someone to so casually join them, only the Redguard woman showed any sign of recognising who he was as she sat across from with a scowl fixed on her face.

     

    Having finished checking over his Warhammer, he rested it against the edge of the table and then looked up at the Redguard.

     

    “No.” Before he even had the chance to open his mouth she had turned him down, having guessed what he was going to say the moment he sat down. He was prevented from responding by the arrival of Ysolda with a tankard of mead and a bread bowl filled with stew. As she placed the food on the table in front of him, she gave the Redguard a concerned look and then hurried off to serve one of the other patrons.

     

    Once she was out of earshot, he spoke up, “Adara, I’m coming with you, whether you agree or not.”

     

    The Redguard woman was clearly surprised that he had remembered her name, for it took her a moment to respond, “Lort, listen to me, you don’t have to pick this fight anymore, she released you from that. And if you come with us and end up dead she’d have my head.”

     

    “Not that it would make much difference, your sworn to die for her.”

     

    “But you aren’t, not anymore. It’s only because Lilia’s afraid of driving you from Whiterun, that she hasn’t tried to stop you from taking any more bounties. She doesn’t want to see you die.”

     

    It took a while for her words to properly sink in, as he waited for his mind to catch up Lort turned his attention to the food in front of him. After what seemed like an age had passed he looked up and spoke, “It’s going to happen eventually, Lilia’s an Altmer and I happen to be a Nord; a very old one at that. Also, it was never her vow to rescind, it was mine and has been ever since I left High Hrothgar, so why don’t we leave it at that for the moment and enjoy the time we have before she calls for us.”

     

    Seeming to see no way to convince him to change his mind, Adara remained silent and turned her gaze to the fire.

     

    *****

     

    The main room fell silent as the front door burst open to let in a well-dressed Altmer with bright red hair, Lilia. Realising that she had everyone’s attention she spoke, “The dragon has been spotted to the south, everyone is ordered to remain indoors until the all clear is given.” She scanned the room and finding who she was looking for she spoke again, “Adara, take your men and have them ready to fight on the plains to the south of the gate.” Before anyone could respond she spun on the spot and then was gone. For a moment, the only noise was that of the door slamming shut behind her, it was not long until panicked whispers could be heard throughout the inn only for them to fall silent once more as Adara rose from her seat.

     

    “Well? You heard her, get moving!” At her words Lort and the others stood and made their way out of the inn.

     

    The road leading from the Bannered Mare to the main gate was empty other than the occasional guard running to man the walls. It wasn’t long before they’d made their way through the massive doors that marked the entrance to the city. Once all of them were safely passed the wall, Lort heard one of the guards shout something which was followed by the doors slamming shut and the sound of a thick wooden bar being dropped into place on the other side.

     

    By the time they had caught up with the Dragonborn, Lort was starting to feel his lungs tightening, hopefully it wasn’t showing. Lilia was standing in the middle of the tundra readying a spell; presumably some sort of protective enchantment. As the last words left her tongue and magicka poured from her finger tips to complete the spell, she looked up and immediately noticed him standing among her guard. She watched on with a look of dismay as he unstrapped his Warhammer from his back and set about readying for combat. When he didn’t look at her, she turned towards Adara who did her best to avoid her gaze.

     

    Before she could confront him, the Orc woman called out that she could see something heading their way. Each of them stopped their preparations and looked in the direction the Orc had indicated, surely enough there it was; a dark shape was quickly growing larger in the sky.

     

    Lilia; for a moment forgetting her dismay at seeing Lort with them, called for each of them to finish their preparations and form up on either side of her. As they were scrambling to follow her orders, she bent to pick up a lute that had been resting beside her. Once everyone was in position she started to play, it was a tune Lort recognised from when Lilia had first come to High Hrothgar, in between their training he would sit for hours listening to her practice and this song was the first one she had ever written. With each note the music washed over him imbuing him with the magic that it carried, he felt his body become lighter and his breathing become easier. He smiled for it was a familiar feeling; one he had felt each time they had fought a dragon together.

     

    Looking up he noted that the dragon had gotten much closer since they’d first noticed it and with each second its silhouette grew in size. The beast was larger than most dragons Lort had ever seen, no wonder Lilia had spent so much time in Dragonsreach planning.

     

    Lort was hit with the sudden dread that he’d always felt when faced with a beast of such size and he had to fight to prevent his knees from buckling. As the dragon drew closer it appeared as though it was going to ignore them, but before it could fly passed, Lort heard Lilia utter something in the Dragon Language which was followed by a gout of flame leaping up from her mouth towards the beast. With the Dragon’s attention now squarely focused on them it let out a terrifying roar of its own and then dove straight towards them. The moment it hit the ground the Nord girl ran towards it with a battle axe in hand. The elderly Nord placed himself between the dragon and Lilia and planted a massive shield in front of himself. The Argonian revealed himself to be a powerful mage as his magic flew through the air to splash against the dragon’s scales.

     

    In the time Lort had spent watching the fight unfold, the Orc and Adara had followed the Nord girl with their weapons in hand and throughout all of it Lilia had not missed a note, her music now punctuated by lines of the Dragon Language directed at both the dragon and her guards. Realising he’d yet to move Lort walked towards the beast with his hammer at the ready.

     

    Before he could reach the dragon’s side something heavy came flying towards him and he was lifted from his feet to go tumbling away from the fight. When he had finally stopped moving and was able to lift his head to look around he noticed that he’d somehow been sent flying to the left of Lilia and her guards. Looking down at what had knocked him off is feet he realised it was the Orc woman; who was now badly burned, but still seemed to be breathing; for the moment. It was only once he had freed himself from underneath her that he noticed something was wrong, Lilia’s lute had fallen silent.

     

    Looking back towards where he had last seen Lilia, he was just in time to see the dragon toss the elderly Nord to the side, his shield now lying useless on the ground. The girl and Adara were doing their best to distract the beast but it payed them no mind and instead advanced upon the Argonian who stood over a dazed Lilia, his arms outstretched as though to cast some powerful spell.

     

    Realising that he was too far away to be able to make it in time to help, he desperately looked around for his crossbow, but at some point during his tumble he’d lost it. Seeing no other option Lort got to his feet as fast as his battered body would allow. “Hopefully I still remember how to do this.” As the words left his mouth, Lort planted his feet on the ground and squared his shoulders, taking a deep breath, his mind raced through his memories in search of what few words he’d learnt all those years ago. After what seemed like an eternity he found what he was looking for and let the words flood his mind before shouting with all the power he could muster. The force of the Thu’um leaving his body forced him to his knees and left him coughing violently.

     

    When he was finally able to stop the coughing, he noticed that the group in front of him was splattered with blood and his throat was crying out in pain. Lort supposed this was the cost he had to pay for using the Thu’um in battle when he wasn’t the Dragonborn. It was only then that he noticed the ground shaking and looking up he saw the dragon bearing down on him, his shout must have drawn its attention.

     

    Unable to move he just sat there and waited. He didn’t have to wait long for the dragon to reach him, once it had it snatched him up between its jaws and shook him violently. He felt searing pain as its teeth sank further and further into his flesh. Just when he thought it would never end the dragon tossed him to the side and turned back towards Lilia and her remaining guards.

     

    The next thing Lort knew, he could feel no pain and Lilia was kneeling over him with tears streaming down her face. As he sat up he noticed that his wounds had not been healed and instead they remained open to the wind, so then why wasn’t he racked with pain? He got his answer when he glanced at Lilia and his mind put the pieces together. He’d died and she’d done what she needed, to defeat the dragon.

     

    Unlike when he’d been alive he seemed to feel nothing at all, other than an overwhelming urge to pick up his Warhammer and throw himself at the dragon. He could already feel his thoughts being pushed aside by that one urge. Fighting it the best he could he bent to pick up his hammer from where it lay beside him. The weight proved to be too much for his arm; which was one of the spots the dragon’s teeth had dug into, and as he straightened up, his right hand and most of his forearm tore away. He was left standing there with one less hand and no weapon. Looking around for something else he could use he noticed the Orc woman still had a mace strapped to her belt, that would have to do.

     

    With the mace firmly grasped in his remaining hand he turned to face the dragon, but was stopped by Lilia’s hand grasping his intact arm. As he looked down at he she fought through her sobbing to speak, “I… I’m sorry I had to… we needed your help…”

     

    When she could talk no more, Lort fought against her magic for control of his mouth, he was only partially successful, “Don’sh… be” managing to slur out what little he could he attempted to smile so as to comfort her but only ended up causing his facial muscles to spasm, which only intensified her sobbing.

     

    Turning back to face the dragon he finally released all control to her magic and felt himself slip away from his body.

Comments

4 Comments   |   Paws and 3 others like this.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  August 28
    A real nice piece here GF. 
    A funny ending though... Not a bad one, it just leaves me with a mixed feeling of sadness and at the same time joy in a strange sort of way. It's sad yes yet I can't help but feel he is happy in some form or other.&n...  more
    • Golden Fool
      Golden Fool
      Sotek
      Sotek
      Sotek
      A real nice piece here GF. 
      A funny ending though... Not a bad one, it just leaves me with a mixed feeling of sadness and at the same time joy in a strange sort of way. It's sad yes yet I can't help but feel he is happy in some form or other. 
      Odd......
        ·  August 28
      Excellent  (6)
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  August 27
    Lort is a fantastic name, don't let anyone tell you otherwise :p I like this, Golds, the ending is very powerful in an understated way. There is a subtext throughout that isn't defined, leaving the reader to interepret the relationship between Lilia and L...  more
    • Golden Fool
      Golden Fool
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Lort is a fantastic name, don't let anyone tell you otherwise :p I like this, Golds, the ending is very powerful in an understated way. There is a subtext throughout that isn't defined, leaving the reader to interepret the relationship between Lilia and L...  more
        ·  August 27
      Just before I went to sleep last night I considered re-writing the ending from the point of view of Lilia (previously female Cyre but she needed her own name :P) but decided against it due to two parts laziness and one part thinking the current ending wou...  more