Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter VIII: Of Mules and the Poet

  • Jon Battle-Born took another slow sip of mead and felt the effects of it spin the room. That kind of pleasing spin that feels good, when you know the mead is seeping deep into the body. When you know you’ve had far too much, but at the same time, you don’t particularly care. Tonight was a night for mead and celebration. Let the hangovers come tomorrow with all of Kyne’s stormy fury attached. He was ready for it.

     

    It’s not every day a dragon is killed.

     

    And in the span of a week, two were now dead. That was still a lot to take in. Just the magnitude of it. What it meant. The talk of the end times and that the Dragonborn, what was supposed to be the epitome of ancient Nord traditions, wasn’t a Nord.  Jon sighed and settled his back against the chair at his corner table at the Bannered Mare. Settled back to his poem.  There would be no “Ragnar the Red”s from him. Mikael could sing that rubbish well enough. No, tonight he’d honor the brave warriors a different way. The wax from half-spent candles had puddled on its scuffed surface from his time there and there was a bowl of cold, half-eaten beef stew among the scattered bottles of mead. The table was close to a wall and a little out of the way from the center of activity, but it gave him a strong vantage point to observe everyone else at the inn. He sniffed away his drunken congestion and eyed the parchment before him, like a hero facing a grand enemy, ignoring the loud roars of drunken laughter and mock battle cries coming from the giant hearth. Ignoring the clang of tankards flying and the crash of a chair that made the Khajiit from the caravan look up in surprise, ears straight.  Alright, his eyes were not ready for the parchment quite yet and he looked up to. Vilkas must have seen the snowberry lip stain Farkas put on him when he was caught dozing off. First to nod off always got something. Either made up like a woman, eyebrows shaved, beard painted, or worst, underbreeches crammed into the inn’s ice box. Jon’s family jewels shrank instinctively at the very notion. Nord traditions. It was clear the Khajiit were not used to Nord inns, though Ysolda was doing her best to explain things to them.

     

    “It’s tradition among Nords, Ri’Saad. Whomever falls asleep first at a party, is the subject of a…” Ysolda scrunched her face in thought. “Uh… think of it like a joke. Like how Baan Dar taught Khajiit to be clever against those who are not.”

     

    They were seated at the table next to Jon’s, though their guard was leaning cautiously against the wall, her steel-clad body wound like a tight spring, her tail twitching. That she was not allowed her weapons inside the city furthered her agitation. Extremely nervous about being in the city.

     

    The grey-haired Khajiit nodded, fiddling with the gold embroidery of his tunic. “Ah, this one understands. A trick.”

     

    “Exactly.” Ysolda smiled, resuming her meal.

     

    The guard leaned closer to her caravan leader, one eye still on Vilkas noisily scuffling with his brother. “If this is how they take pranks, then it is best Khajiit remain cautious and not cause offense.”

     

    “The Jarl, this one suspects, already knows what was done.” The caravan leader sighed.  His ears flicked to ward off a buzzing fly and his pale green eyes then acknowledged his guard. “Do not fret so, Khayla. He said to wait here, and we will.” The old cat took a sip of mead and resumed watching the crowd and Jon couldn’t quite tell if the Khajiit was worried or amused. “The old Knight is not one to let harm befall those he calls friends. In the meantime.” Ri’saad’s whiskers twitched and his eyes narrowed. “This grey cat will continue watching these Nords act like they have been dunked in a vat of Balmoral Blue.” He sniffed his tankard before taking another sip. “It is fascinating what this mead does to them, no?”

     

    Jon smirked.  Ri’saad wasn’t that far off the mark. They were acting crazy. Nords certainly knew how to celebrate. His proximity to the wall allowed another sound to filter through to his mead-dulled ears and he was sure the cats were also getting an ear full.  It was the sound of a bed steadily creaking in that telltale rhythm along with muffled groans of pleasure. Aye, Nords knew how to celebrate victory.  Jon’s smile broadened, it was probably Honthjolf and Morgen or Helga and Bjorn. Or both, there was certainly more than one room at the Bannered Mare for that sort of thing. It was one of them, or perhaps the Dunmer mercenary, and his briefly raised his eyes from the parchment to scan the room. His gaze was rewarded with her buxom form, the brown leather bodice molding her shape, her tundra cotton white shirt sliding a little from a creamy shoulder the way it always does when Olfina was in a hurry. She pushed away a stray silver lock of her braided hair from her forehead after she set two tankards of mead down in front of a laughing and joking Torbar and Jurgen. Aye, finally Jon could tell them apart. They looked so different without their guard uniforms.     

     

    In fact, armor and helm had long been tossed to the floor in heaps based on who owned what. Soot-stained guard armor was piled alongside Jorrvaskr’s wolf armor. And none of them had bothered washing up, save their hands to avoid eating the dragon soot and blood.  Washing and primping after battle wasn’t the Nord way. When you celebrate victory, you come as you are; scars and glory on full display. The place smelled of sweat, blood, smoke, mead, metal, food, and leather. It was a heady mix of battle funk that isn’t offensive if one is a Nord. It was the smell of victory and Jon was proud to be in the same inn as these men and women celebrating. A dragon was dead tonight and he’d honor them today. 

     

    Especially the one who was eying the counter from his seat next to Skjor and Aela, a serious quiet amidst the burley loudness. Unusually contemplative in this night of revelry; looking almost sad to Jon. As if he was thinking on something else. His long, lined face was still streaked with soot, his hair sported smoke stains and the braids he had worn were coming undone in places. The blood over his brow was drying over the bruised pale skin and the bright eyes were watering. Seemed, to Jon that they were more sensitive to smoke than a Nords’ eyes.  He caught himself studying the Mer, his quill itching to try again. From the nose down, he looked almost like a Nord in the middle of his life’s hard battle through the Arena, full of beard and firm of jaw. The nose definitely had character and Jon wondered if he would ever do justice to its distinctive hook. He had tried sketching the Elf several times before, but it wasn’t easy. He usually got it wrong when it came to the Elven parts; the slant to the almond eyes, the more prominent brow bone, the hard cut to the cheekbones. The skin was also hard to render. He was pale, but not fair like a Nord, no shade of flesh tones; neither ruddy or olive. His skin nearly matched his hair, with a greying of the skin around his eyes and the hollows of his cheeks, though sometimes the lightest flush of red blood could be seen under it too. When he wore the armor that was now carefully set in an isolated corner of the inn, though, he cut, to Jon, an image almost from another time and place.  An image that made poetry flow from quill.

     

    Jon’s eyes drifted back the parchment again.  

     

    “Green orbs intent upon the dashing bear… no, that’s not right.” He mumbled, scratching away the line with a quick slash from his quill. One slash became four, this stanza would be moved.  Jon rested the tip of the feather quill on his chin, his eyes narrowing in thought. He liked the stanza, the bear imagery very appropriate for the Elf they all now affectionately referred to as Snow Bear and the dragon’s eyes were green. Like emerald fire really, but it didn’t work with the syllable count he was bound to. Poetry for another time.  Jon knew their color first hand when the beast made a close pass over the city wall. Jon had been perched there to get a better look and witnessed lot of the battle. Then the flames came. Like Red Mountain’s fury from that dragon’s maw. Well, there was nothing like, nothing in all of Nirn and he thanked Talos that he survived unscathed, quickly ducking under cover. And, of course, when the flames died, he climbed right up that wall to continue watching. He had to. He had to see. A tale to tell your own younglings, Jon. “Unsung heroes, Whiterun pursues…” Jon mused, tapping the quill rhythmically against his lips.

     

    The White Elf was a hero. Was he the one who struck the most blows against the beast?   No, the Companions, with their closer combat did, but he drove the beast away from the city. He ran, leaving himself vulnerable to the dragon’s attack, sacrificing his safety while the hold guards and his Shield-Siblings had the benefit of cover. “Not withering ‘neath evil’s baleful glare.” Baleful, that was a new word.  Words from an older tradition, but new to him and Jon soaked them up from the Altmer like a bone-dry washcloth tossed in a bucket of water. Jon didn’t want to just be a singer of songs at the local inn, he wanted to spread Nordic traditions in the old way. The Skald way. Traveling the roads of Tamriel to sing of living history. It was ironic that he was learning this old way from his people’s traditional enemy.  Jon had asked the Altmer once how he knew Skald poetry and the Mer’s face turned doleful, the lines on it deepening and the bright eyes going faraway, far to the south.

     

     “Because once among my people there was an Outsider who made his way back in, giving my family their traditions.” Softly spoken with an air of tragedy that made Jon press the Mer no further, though nothing of what he said really made sense.

     

    Jurgen’s hearty laugh suddenly tore Jon’s eyes away from the parchment and back to Olfina. The hold guard reached out his hand towards her and Jon watched, finding himself keenly possessive of her at that moment.  He quickly suppressed it and then relaxed when it became a friendly pat on the shoulder and Jurgen brought Olfina to sit on his knee. She hugged him and gave him a sweet peck on his soot-stained cheek and all three at the table laughed. Jon knew the difference between Olfina being friendly and a guard being inappropriate and this was the former.  Ysmir’s Beard, all of them practically grew up together. She got up off Jurgen’s knee and started wiping his dirty face with her dish rag, doting on the seasoned warrior as if he was clinging to his mother’s skirts all over again.  

     

    “You stink!” She wrinkled her nose while she wiped while he squirmed. Jon chuckled. “How are you going to catch a pretty young thing, Jurgen, if she can’t even see you under all this? Ha! There’s a clean spot now! Gotta show off those dancing green eyes—“

     

    Torbar leaned in. “Ho! And this one wants to be a shield-maiden! Don’t you know dragon perfume is the latest fashion?”

     

    Before any of them could react, the tankard of mead was promptly poured over Torbar’s head and the foaming amber liquid coated his blond hair.  The inn erupted in laughter. You don’t insult Olfina Grey-Mane.  All the years calling her “old hag” because of her silver hair when they were but pups running amok in Whiterun with scratched-up knees gave him enough lickings to know the truth in that. He grinned, letting the mead fuel his own lust. Those lovely knees weren’t scratched up now, though he knew, deep down, she’d prefer them to be. 

     

    “And I will be.” Olfina growled, giving Torbar a shove for good measure. “Just because I’m wearing a dress and serving you drinks doesn’t mean I can’t give you a thrashing.”  

     

    “Shor’s Bones, Olfina!  I know we are Nords, but try to act a bit more like a lady and less like a Companion!” Hulda glared, though her eyes weren’t angry. They all understood Olfina’s frustration. The war had been difficult for Clan Grey-Mane and Jon saw a once proud family, a family with the greatest smith in all of Skyrim and warriors to be reckoned with, reduced to selling jewelry and serving tables to make ends meet. That it was his own clan who made that happen, after years of close friendship, shamed him to the point where looking in his father’s eyes grew more difficult with each passing day. She was poised to join the Companions, to be a Shield-Sister. She had even trained with Aela. She was to be a warrior like her brothers Thorald and Avulstein, but now she was serving drinks to warriors.  It was a cruel fate for a great family. A family he had grown up with and now could no longer acknowledge.  At least in public. Privately was another matter and he and Olfina were definitely playing with fire. As if he wasn’t fueling it enough with his father already by wanting to be a bard instead of a respectable merchant. He was the warrior-poet and she, the pure warrior.

     

    “Horse shit, Hulda! Plain horse shit!” Slurred Uthgerd from her corner of the inn. She was casually reclined in her favorite chair, the Elf’s husky managing to sleep at her feet, despite the noise.  Clad in her worn steel plate, her scarred face puffy from mead. Uthgerd had spent most of the evening closely listening to the banter of the dragon battle, of the guards showing how they threw spears, fired arrows. How they joined Jorrvaskr on this epic battle. All the while, her eyes were on Kodlak Whitemane.  She was  masking her resentful bitterness under a façade of inebriation, probably replaying the moment where he didn’t allow her to join on account of her killing the whelp they put her against for her initiation.  The Companions didn’t venture much into the Bannered Mare, preferring their own Mead Hall, but when they did, Uthgerd was often moody for several days afterwards, leaving it to the local crowd to pull her out of her brooding.  Her eyes then narrowed and Jon was surprised when the twinkle of Uthgerd’s brand of good humor shone through. “We all know you don’t really know a Nord woman unless you’ve exchanged blows and shared strong drink with ‘em!” She grinned slyly. Maybe she wasn’t so bad off this time, Jon thought to himself.  His eyes darted to the Elf quietly making his way to the counter, attempting to appear tiny. Well, Snow Bear was around, and he tended to calm everybody down.  “And Torbar just got both from Olfina!” Uthgerd finished with a small belch, very satisfied with her bad joke.

     

    “Off to the Temple of Mara with the both them!” Chimed in Jurgen, playfully slapping Olfina on the backside.

     

    Olfina wasn’t having any of that and she snatched Jurgen’s tankard. “You want a mead bath too? Anything would help at this point.”

     

    The hold guard threw back his head in laughter, before shaking it vigorously and holding his hands up in surrender. “No, no, no. No baths for me. I’m done with you wiping my face. You’re not my Ma. And I didn’t even like it when she did it!” He widened his green eyes. “Tonight I’m gonna be stinky!” More laughter when Jurgen then slid off his chair and fell to his knees begging when she started walking away. “Now sweet Olfina, gentle Olfina. I need my mead. Please?” He whimpered.

     

    “That’s better.” She grinned, handing him the tankard.

     

    “Talos bless ya.” He groaned when he tried to get back to his chair. “I give up, I’ll stay here.”  

     

    “Like Oblivion you will.” Hulda smirked from her counter.  Jurgen dismissed her with a wave of his hand and leaned against a table leg, looking like he wasn’t too far from dozing off as he worked on drink, scratching his chest. “And Olfina,” Hulda continued. “Throw that dish rag in with the  washin’. I’ve seen a lot in my days, but what is coming off these dragonslayers is… “She let out a gust of air and waved her hand in front of her nose. “Shor’s Bones! It’ll take weeks to get rid of the smell.”

     

    “You love us anyway, Hulda.” Beamed Jurgen from the floor while Torbar was wringing his hair of mead.

     

    The innkeeper’s crow’s feet grew along with her warm smile. “Aye, that I do, you smelly bastards.” She then looked up and saw the Mer smiling at her. That grin with those perfect teeth. Jon gave the Mer a lot of credit. He had no idea how teeth over two hundred years old could still be so damned white. Perhaps the milk offset the sugar? Because he sure had a lot of both tonight. Honey nut treats, milk, sweet pies, dumplings, in addition to the two bowls of venison stew. Snow Bear could sure put away food.

     

    “Hulda?” The Mer began politely, searching for his coin purse, sporting his best ‘look how civilized I am’ tone. “I have come to discuss the matter of—Auri-El’s bow, where did I leave that thing—I am sorry, the matter of—“  

     

    “By Shor’s golden balls—I mean halls, Skjor!  I told you to bloody watch him!” Kodlak barked, quickly standing up before realizing it was a bad idea. “You! Stop! Right now!” He pointed at the Elf, who froze immediately. The inn was now silent, though Jon saw shoulders shake with suppressed merriment. It was not the first time the Elf had been caught red-handed.

     

    “Or what?” The Elf turned to face Kodlak, leaning against the counter.

     

    The Harbinger took a large gulp of mead, draining his tankard dry. Jon watched the streams of it course down the old warrior’s beard and onto his woolen shirt, down his swollen belly. Even clearly drunk and clad in only the brown woolen shirt and trousers favored by Jorrvaskr’s crew, Whitemane was a powerful presence in the Bannered Mare. He was only a little younger than his own father and Vignar Gray-Mane, but it was as if he had not aged for years, still as vital as he was the day he made Jorrvaskr his home some time before the Great War.  Jon’s entire generation grew up with Whitemane in their city. He was the symbol of Nord tradition in the flesh, a worthy captain of the Jorrvaskr, respected by both Stormcloak and Imperial loyalist alike.  His pale grey eyes were sharp as knives as they eyed the taller Elf at the counter and Jon swore that he’d never want to face that stare when the Harbinger was really angry. The tankard flew from the Nord’s hand towards the Elf. Battle lines had been drawn. The Harbinger had opted for a ranged attack this time.

     

    The laughter rang in the inn as the Elf nimbly dodged the tankard. He wasn’t drunk. “Old man, you could not hit a mammoth at five paces the way you throw.” He turned back to Hulda. “As I was saying, dear Hulda, I will be—“

     

    “He will not be!” Kodlak bellowed, now huffing towards the Elf, barely making it to the counter without tripping.  Jon grinned. It was the fifth time the Harbinger was forced to get up from his place to stop the Elf from talking to Hulda. “Stubborn billy goat of a Mer.” He blustered, though his eyes were twinkling through the mead. “If he offers to pay for our drinks one more time—“

     

    “But I promised.” The Altmer protested. “I promised, as we battled.”

     

    “To Oblivion with your promises. Nobody heard you.”

     

    “But—“

     

    “You’re a Mer drunk on sugar, forget your vows to Orial for one damn night.”

     

    “Auri—“

     

    “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!” Kodlak interrupted, teetering to keep his balance.  They faced each other and their faces initially suggested that they’d come to blows. But then they burst out laughing, making everybody else release their suppressed humor. “That’s better, laugh.” Whitemane nodded, putting a beefy arm around the Altmer’s shoulder and giving it a sound squeeze. A move like that would have put Jon on the floor, but the Elf was powerfully built and definitely holding his own against Jorrvaskr’s often rough behavior.  “I don’t care what you promised your god and I don’t care about what words that coward of a dragon spewed at you in its death throes that has had you brooding ever since, when you should be celebrating. I won’t have you sulking in the corner, not tonight, old Mer.” The Harbinger’s eyes then turned sincere and he leaned in closer. “You saved my life, Snow Bear. Drinks are on me. I insist.”

     

    “It was only a ward.” The Mer replied, bending his head. “All I did was extend my hand like a fool, as if doing so would somehow magically save you.”

     

    “Well, it did.”

     

    “I do not know how, only that I could not let you die.” Their eyes met and the depth to their looks made Jon wonder what was going on for a moment. 

     

    “I didn’t, Snow Bear.” Kodlak reassured. “You saved me with that fancy ward of yours.”

     

    “It is strange because I never really studied that group of spells. I knew about them, of course, but you know.” He gave his left arm some sound pats. “Shield arm, remember? Dumb luck, says I.” Äelberon shrugged.

     

    “Like the fourteenth?” The Harbinger smiled.

     

    “Aye.” Wistfully spoken.

     

    “Then perhaps the gods are showing you a better way to use those magicks of yours, Snow Bear. A new way for a new enemy.” Kodlak Whitemane flashed his teeth. “Like for example, humoring your Harbinger for once, eh? Don’t be so… so…”

     

    “Stubborn! Fucking Stubborn! Mer is more stubborn than ol’ Big Toe!” yelled Skjor from his place. “Remember when he came back to Skulvar after Teineeva won him in that bet? Did that three times before the mule figured it out that he didn't belong there anymore.” He pointed to the Elf. “We should just call you Big Toe and not Snow Bear.”

     

    “Who is this Big Toe?” The Altmer asked, puzzled. His eyes widened slightly. “And you know Teineeva?” Then the red-orange eyes narrowed under those bushy brows in understanding and the last question definitely had its coating of sarcasm. “What has he done now?”

     

    Drunk Nords and an Altmer full of sugar, Jon sighed. Let the tangents begin. It gave him time to decide where to put the stanza and he resumed working, though one eye was kept on the conversation.

     

    “Well, if you did your job, Veteran, and watch him, I wouldn’t have to keep getting up.” The Harbinger shouted. “And in my current state, this is a bad idea.” He was having two conversations at once, one with Skjor and one with the Elf.  “You know Teineeva, Snow Bear?” He asked, attempting to change the subject.

     

    “It’s what you say all the time, Kodlak. Every man his own—“Skjor shot back, resting his head against his crossed arms while he leaned back against his chair.  Skjor wasn’t backing down yet.

     

    “You shut up, too. I know what I say.” He waved a finger at Skjor. “Bucket duty.” The Harbinger warned.

     

    “Dare ya.” Skjor challenged with a smile.

     

    Kodlak rolled his eyes before facing Hulda. “Ysmir’s Beard, woman, see what I have to put up with? Mutiny in the ranks.”

     

    “I know, I know.” The innkeeper nodded in sympathy.

     

    “Make it better?” The Harbinger asked and Jon swore he saw the Harbinger pout.

     

    “Sure, but you won’t feel better tomorrow...”

     

    “Bah! That’s what Tilma’s warm milk is for. You know what to do.” Kodlak smiled broadly and slammed his palm on the counter, making some of the patrons jump.  A bottle of Black Briar was set before him, and Jon shook his head in disbelief. Hulda. It never ceased to amaze him how she automatically knew the preferred poison of everyone in Whiterun. He patted the Elf again before tossing a heavy coin purse on the counter. “At least this one is behaving properly. No mutinous behaviors, and no sassing his Harbinger.” Kodlak laughed before gesturing with his bottle towards Skjor and Aela. “A perfect gentlemer. Virtuous and true. Unlike those two ruffians there.  Crafty pair. Making me old before my time.”

     

    “Verily you exaggerate, Harbinger.” The Altmer countered.

     

    Kodlak laughed and slapped the Mer’s broad back, moving him forward a little. That also would’ve knocked Jon to the floor. Damn all these powerful warriors.  “Harbinger? Verily? A bit stiff still, aren’t we?  Ah, Hulda, it’ll take a while before we beat the Old Mary out of this one, eh?”

     

    “Don’t beat it all out of him, he at least cleans up after himself.”  Hulda quipped, taking the coin purse. Judging by her broad smile, Jon knew the Bannered Mare, for all the cleanup from the dragon’s soot, was going to have a very profitable night.

     

    “Big Toe?” The Altmer questioned again, steering the conversation back on course. 

     

    “Ah yes. Now that I have my mead. Long story involving giants and an eccentric Argonian with a gambling problem.” The Harbinger explained, “And, yes, we know Teineeva. And by your ‘what has he done now’, I can certainly tell you know him as well.  Tilma told me you know that Old Blade over in that shit fort of his in the Rift. How do you know them? They don’t seem your crowd.”

     

    Äelberon drummed his long fingers on the countertop. “They are rough around the edges, aye, but they are good people.  Whether one serves gods or serves coin, so long as service to the people is done, it is to be commended.  They would stop by Bruma occasionally on their way to jobs in Cyrrod, and I would make some of their member’s specialty equipment, but I did not know Teineeva had a mule? That is new.” The brow furrowed and he tilted his head to the side. “Seems he finally sort of took my advice then when last we spoke. If I recall, he was rather fond of my last horse in Cyrrod, Reman. Used to sneak him apples thinking I was not looking. Told him to get a horse. Would make his traveling easier, but he is Black Marsh native and horses there are not common.” He nodded, a grin finding his features. “A mule would be something he would do instead. Cheaper and smarter. Big Toe the name?” A gruff chuckle escaped the Mer’s mouth. “He will have to tell me how he came up with that one. Another time…” The voice trailed off.

     

    “Well, he won it in a bet.” The Harbinger smirked, opening his bottle of mead.

     

    The Elf nodded in understanding. “Is that so? Aye, I heard Skjor mentioning… Oh, that explains much. He is a gambler for sure.”

     

    “Give me a stallion over a mule any day.” Purred Saadia as she slinked past the Harbinger and the Elf on her way to serve a group of guards seated near the twins, her breasts practically bursting the confines of her bodice. Her hand lingered on the Elf’s forearm, tracing the grey wool of his shirt with her fingertips, when she spoke and Jon faintly heard Farkas snicker.

     

    “Why, Saadia?” The Elf questioned. “A mule runs just as fast, carries more, and is often smarter. Stallions can be very temperamental.” The Redguard lass was smiling, her hand still on Äelberon’s forearm. “If you are keen to ride, Saadia, consider purchasing a gelding.  They are more suited for a young lady to ride anyway. Gentler. ”

     

    “A gelding isn’t a stallion.” Winked Skjor.

     

    “I don’t think Saadia wants ride something gently.” Quipped Vilkas into Farkas’ ear. Jon could hear their whispering, but the Elf seemed not to.

     

    “He has no idea.” Farkas whispered back.

     

    “She’s been sweet on him for weeks.” His twin answered.

     

    “A thing for a large, white stallions, eh?”

     

    “Aye, with long flowing manes.” Vilkas bat his eyelashes, as he tried to flip his hair.

     

    “Why would that matter?” The Elf shook his head at Skjor.

     

    “Believe me, it matters.” Saadia replied, giving the Elf’s forearm a squeeze.

     

    “You do not seem to know much about horses, Saadia.” The Altmer interjected, placing his hand on hers with a fatherly pat before resting it on the counter. “Perhaps we should pay a visit to the stables and I will help you select something proper to ride.”

     

    “Yes she does…” Farkas whispered and Jon saw both twins’ shoulders shake. Even the Harbinger looked amused while he drank his mead. They were all funning the Elf now.

     

    “I think she’s ridden just about every horse in Whiterun by now.” Vilkas joked back to his brother, making the Nord sputter his mead.

     

    “Perhaps we should go the stables, but I think I would like to try out a stallion.” The Redguard was throwing bear fat into the fire, thrusting her smooth, clay-colored cleavage forward.  Skjor looked he was about to cry, he was trying so hard not to burst out laughing.

     

    “Well, Saadia, you really must see things from Teineeva’s point of view.” The Mer explained, oblivious to her behavior.  “Besides all the qualities I have already mentioned, they are far less expensive than horses.  Very practical. In fact, my first mount in Cyrrod was a very fine mule by the name of Xarxes—“

     

    Skjor’s mead flew from his mouth in a spray.

     

    “What is so bloody funny?” Äelberon asked, his eyes darting about the room.

     

    The Elf had no idea, Jon shook his head in sympathy.  And he saw it right there, where to put the stanza. He began scribbling in earnest. He didn’t have much time before the Nords in the inn would be too drunk to appreciate his work.   

     

    “Never mind them, my Thane.” Saadia continued, narrowing her blue eyes at the laughing Nords. Jon admitted to himself, she was pretty. Pretty in that exotic Redguard way. She would dance for them on occasion while he played the drums. Strange dancing where her supple belly muscles moved in a way that made the men at the inn very excited. But it was quite clear she wanted to do a different sort of dancing with the Elf.  A lot of the women were feeling the effects of the Dragonborn tonight and the Mer, for all of his intelligence, did not understand their many messages.  Puffed breasts, pursed lips stained a glossy snowberry red, batting eyelashes, lingering touches, all ignored. 

     

    “What?” The Mer repeated, confused.  “I do not understand.”

     

    “Your first mount, eh?” Teased Skjor. Aela leaned against the Veteran Companion and chuckled over her mead.

     

    “Yes, a mule was my first mount.” Äelberon explained, now scratching his head.

     

    “You can mount anything you’d like, my Thane.” Replied Saadia, batting her eyelashes.

     

    “Another moment longer and she’ll throw herself at him.” Smirked Skjor.

     

    “Stop teasing him, he really doesn’t understand.” Aela whispered in Skjor’s ear.

     

    “I don’t buy it.” The Nord retorted.

     

    Jon swore he could feel both Olfina and Aela roll their eyes.

     

    “Exactly.” The Elf nodded, carrying on the public conversation. “A mule is just as good as a horse. I have used both.”

     

    “Thought your first mount was on your birthday on the roof of an Imperial City brothel with a trusty old blade—“

     

    The tips of the Elf’s ears suddenly turned a shade of crimson and his red-orange eyes widened. Now he understood their banter and his palm struck his face.  “Bloody Oblivion! That is what you mean! Oh confounded, the lot of you are drunk! Horses! Riding horses! Not people!” More laughter. “And now I am feeding you with every word I choose. Gods above, you put sex in everything!” He turned to Saadia, placing his hand on his heart in apology, “Forgiven them, my dear child, for their uncouth insinuations.” He flashed an annoyed glare at them, like a magister, or worse, a priest. “They will pay come the morrow, for the mead will work its dark magicks. Hmph, perhaps I shall even encourage Heimskr to preach on the evils of alcohol on Sundas next.” 

     

    She wilted at the Elf’s priestly demeanor, her hopes of a stable ride dashed.  Gone was the virile image of the Dragonborn, a hero tall and muscled with straight teeth and long silver hair. In his place, was almost a Grandfather figure, old, weary, and Jon wondered on that.  It was such a quick change to his personality. As if he was deflecting Saadia’s advances somehow. He caught Skjor pausing from his mead to regard Äelberon for a few seconds, his brow lowering, suddenly keenly sober.  

     

    Jon was struggling to follow the conversation that was went from Teineeva’s new mule to sex.   There was too much going on in the inn. The conversation between Snow Bear and Kodlak Whitemane a single note within the cacophony of the Bannered Mare. He loved it when it was like this. The inn, tonight, was alive with noise and he wrote his best poetry like this. Feeding off their energy, watching their faces, hearing their words.

     

    “They do visit then?” Äelberon changed the subject back to the Goldpact Knights, but his tone was now different. His mind was on something else and Jon wondered if he had been insulted. He was very hard to read at that moment, slipping into his "Altmerness". 

     

    “In Morning Star? Fuck no!” Chuckled Skjor, continuing to work on his mead, his former seriousness vanishing. “That soft Imperial won’t show his ugly face here until at least First Seed and the Argonian? Bet he’s still sleeping. He’ll wake up maybe by Second Seed. Bunch of princesses in that fort.”

     

    “If my memories of those two are clear, be lucky they are not here to hear your words.” The Mer retorted.

     

    “Nah.” Skjor shook his head. “If Dec was around, he’d know I’m just teasing. Very few in Skyrim match that bastard with a blade. And the lizard, for all his crazy shit, is still one tough mother fucker.”

     

    “Goldpact has nothing on Jorrvaskr.” Kodlak puffed up with pride.

     

    “True.” The Elf rumbled, though Jon sensed the subtle Altmer ‘tone’. “Jorrvaskr is special indeed.” The tone made Kodlak shift uncomfortably as if there was something hidden between the two, but the Elf quickly smiled as he continued. “Though it is fortunate that you will more than likely not remember much of what you said today. I do not think Dec would remember much either. He drinks like a fish.”

     

    “True, very true.” The Old Nord gave the Elf another pat on his shoulder, their eyes locking briefly. He squeezed the tight muscle and frowned. “You need to relax. Try drinking something stronger.”

     

    Äelberon sighed and sank into one of the stools. “Hulda, if you would, please?” A bottle was slid over the counter towards the Elf’s open hand. He caught it and popped open the cork.  

     

    “Milk isn’t stronger, old Mer. Try some mead.” He waved his hand, beckoning Hulda over. “Hulda, give this Mer something better. A bottle of Black Briar Res—“

     

    “No.” It was said in such a way that stopped Whitemane in his tracks. Not loudly, but like a warning growl from an angry bear and it was incredible to Jon how the inn was suddenly deathly silent. Old Snow Bear was definitely being his namesake tonight. Sometimes comical and sometimes grouchy. “My apologies.” He later mumbled before taking a sip of milk. “I do not drink, Kodlak, you know that. It is a vow, not something to be thrown away so lightly.”

     

    The Harbinger leaned against the counter next to the Mer, his eyes now scanning the Elf like an owl. “Alright, so what’s got you so moody while the rest of us are acting like drunken buffoons and having a fine time of it?  And don’t tell me it’s that you’re not drinking. I’ve seen you pull all sorts of mischief at parties and not take a single drink of the demon stuff.”

     

    Jon set down his quill, now finished with his poem, and devoted his full attention to the conversation.

     

    “I am trying to figure out what to say to the families of the fallen when I go with Captain Caius tomorrow.” The Mer responded.  

     

    The crowd’s jovial mood was killed by the somber reality of the Elf’s melancholy. Jon cringed. He was an Elf and didn’t quite understand that all this celebration was the Nord way. The fallen were in Sovngarde now, they were certainly in a better place than the war-torn province that was their homeland.

     

    “Snow Bear, don’t think about this here.” Kodlak explained. “They’re in Sovngarde.”

     

    “I try to think on what I could have done differently…” The Mer continued softly, chewing the inside of his lip.

     

    “No, no, no.”  Skjor shook his head. “You did enough.”

     

    “There are dead.”  He replied. “I failed them.”

     

    “Aye, there are dead.” Everybody turned to face Jurgen, who was still on the floor. Jon had thought he was asleep. “Nothing you could’ve done to prevent that, my Thane. You are a brave person. Braver than most, I’ll wager, and one Oblivion of a fighter, but you are not a god.  You are flesh and blood and can only do so much.  People die. People go to Sovngarde. It’s the way of things. Besides, don’t you remember what you told everybody at the Watchtower?”

     

    “Then by Talos!” The Elf spoke, his eyes seemingly traveling to that stormy night. “Why are the lot of you so damn glum, even your helmets are long!” He turned to Jurgen, his eyes going normal again, “They laughed at that part.”

     

    “It’s funny.” The hold guard grinned. “For an Old Mary, you are pretty funny.”

     

    “But you were not there.” Äelberon questioned.

     

    “But I am friend to Honthjolf, who is friend to you and he was there. And mark my words, Thane, there is not a guard in all Whiterun that does not know the words you spoke that night. ‘Be of good cheer!’” The hold guard then started. “’What have you to dread? What is there to despair? You live; you stay among your family and friends and drink at the Bannered Mare. You die; you are still among family and friends and you still drink mead in Sovngarde’. That is what you said and we take those words into our Nord hearts, not just for dragons, but in all that we do. You understand us very well, better than you think, Old Mary, and better than some of our own.” Jurgen pointed at Äelberon. “Trust me. You speak those words to the families who have lost and if they are Nords worth a fucking damn, they will take comfort in them, I promise you.”

     

    Äelberon managed a smiled and nodded. “You are right, Jurgen. Forgive me for dishonoring your people with my despair.”

     

    Jurgen dismissed him with an uncoordinated flick of his wrist and burped. “Nah, for your kind, the pole up your arse is really very tiny. And we'll get it out of you eventually. Fetch me another mead and all is forgiven.”

     

    “Bloody Oblivion, Jurgen, he’s the thane!” Torbor exclaimed rising from his chair. “You can’t talk to the thane like th—“

     

    “Easy lad.” Äelberon replied. “Jurgen spoke true and I am no high and mighty Old Mary that cannot fetch a bottle of mead for a good friend, which all of you here are. If you please, Hulda, the reserve.” He then chuckled to himself, as if he had thought of something very funny, and those red-orange eyes snapped with spirit. “You can put it on Kodlak’s bill.”

     

    “You asshole!” Kodlak roared, but then exploded in laughter as Äelberon brought the mead to Jurgen. “Well met, Snow Bear, well met.” The Harbinger, wiping his eyes before nodding at Skjor. “He’s finally learning, eh?”

     

    “Aye, though be careful how much he—“ Before the Veteran could finish, the door to the Bannered Mare swung open and a small figure dashed inside from the night, a blur of red and blue. Jon furrowed his brow. Who was that?

     

    “Come in!” Invited Hulda, first following the trajectory of the form with her eyes.  Straight for Snow Bear. 

     

    “Wait child! My apolo—“A voice from the door shouted.

     

    “Snow Bear!” Cried Dorthe, colliding into Äelberon just as the Mer stood up from handing Jurgen his drink. The Mer grunted at the child’s impact, but he scooped her up quickly, giving her a hug.   

     

    “This is a wonderful surprise!” He exclaimed as she returned his hug, hard, oblivious to the soot that still covered his face.

     

    “My apologies, my Thane. Dorthe ought to know better than to just run up to you like that.” Alvor apologized as he moved towards Äelberon, not even bothering to remove his cloak.

     

    “Can I get you something, Alvor?” Hulda asked.

     

    The smith shook his head. “No, no, no, I won’t be here long. Dorthe, get down from the poor Mer, please.”

     

    By this time, the Elf had the child propped on his hip, her head resting on his shoulder. “It is alright, Alvor.”

     

    Dorthe looked up at him. “We were so worried.” Her eyes scanned every inch his face, pausing when she saw the dried blood over his eye. “Oh no!” A small hand went right to the cut. “You’re hurt.”

     

    “P’shaw! But a scratch.” He smiled and narrowed his eyes. “This old bear can take a lot. Barely even feel it.”

     

    “Did the dragon really scratch you?” She asked, her eyes wider than septims.

     

    “No, but he knocked me flat on my backside a few times.” He pointed to the cut above his eye while he spoke to her. “No, this I got by being a clumsy oaf and tripping over a rock.”

     

    “What!”

     

    “Aye, fighting dragons is not particularly graceful, Dorthe. There is a fair amount of dodging and running, lots of running, and falling.”

     

    “Don’t forget hiding, my Thane. We all did a fair amount of hiding.” Kodlak grinned.

     

    “I ran more.” Volunteered Aela.

     

    “And made about half your shots.” Skjor smirked.  That earned him a shove from the huntress.

     

    “At least I made mine.” She countered.

     

    “I ducked.”

     

    “I may have shitted myself.”

     

    “Blasted Torbar! There’s a child in the room!” Hulda exclaimed, throwing her dish rag on the counter in exasperation.

     

    “You weren’t the only one. That dragon was one big fu—“

     

    “Riverwood sustained no damage, I hope.” Äelberon interrupted quickly before Farkas could finish and before Hulda could throw something at the Companion, though Jon couldn’t deny that that would have been great to see. “I was worried too. When I glanced back as I rode, I could not see my little Dorthe anywhere.” He gave the child another squeeze and held her close to him. “You should not be giving one so old such a fright, little one. Our weary hearts cannot take the abuse.”

     

    “You were scared?”

     

    “Aye. Kept thinking who is going to make all those nails for your father?” The Elf’s clever jest was rewarded by a hearty laugh from Alvor and a smack on his shoulder from the girl, making the Elf grunt. "Girl hits almost as hard as my lenya."

     

    Jon wanted to meet this lenya, if that beast of a Mer could feel her blows, then she was one Oblivion of a She-elf to reckon with..

     

    “Stop teasing!  I hid under the steps to the Sleeping  Giant with Frodnar and Stump .” She sulked. “We didn’t see anything. Just running feet.”

     

    “You have more sense than I then.” The Mer chuckled.  “You did right. Better to see running feet than dragon’s teeth, says I.”

     

    Jon noticed Skjor’s eyes narrow again and there was not a woman in the inn who wasn’t all warm and fuzzy from the affection the Mer showed the child.

     

    “No, Äelberon, Riverwood was spared,” Replied Alvor. The Elf looked puzzled.

     

    “Then why are you here, Alvor? What?”

     

    “You don’t remember, do you?”

     

    “Remember what? Is there something wrong with the armor?”

     

    “No, armor is fine. Well, child, show him. You’re the one that wanted to make this trip.”

     

    Jon saw the child remove from a pocket in her skirts a worn leather  coin purse and the Elf’s eyes went wide before he quickly reached towards his belt while his supported Dorthe with one arm. “I found it Snow Bear. You left it. You can’t be without money.”

     

    “The transaction. We never finished it… The dragon came.” Äelberon recalled.

     

    “She found your purse while we adults were still running the streets like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.” Alvor’s eyes warmed with pride. “She would not rest until she saw it safe to you.  We waited ‘til they sent word that the dragon was slain and we made the journey.”

     

    “Oh Alvor, it is late.” The Elf chided.

     

    “You don’t think I didn’t tell Dorthe this?” He leaned closer to Äelberon. “She is as stubborn as Sigrid is.”

     

    “Da! I am not!” Dorthe crossed her arms over her chest, frowning. The girl then extended one hand with the coin purse towards Äelberon. “Take it, Snow Bear.”

     

    “I must have dropped it. Silly old Mer. “

     

    “You are silly.” The child giggled.

     

    “Aye, you bolted out of Riverwood like you had all of Oblivion on your heels." Continued Alvor. "You were so concerned about the dragon. You were easy to find. All we had to do was follow the noise and well… the soot.”

     

    “You stink, Snow Bear.” Dorthe wrinkled her nose.

     

    “Dorthe.”

     

    “She is absolutely right, Alvor. I do stink.” He laughed. “But I am not one to knock Nord traditions and came as I was to this celebration. Thank you, Alvor, and thank you, Dorthe.”

     

    She kissed the Elf’s grimy cheek and wrapped her arms around him again. Hugging her big stuffed toy bear. Äelberon sighed and Jon saw the ears turn red again. They were staring at him. Dragonborns and women, Jon smirked. And that this one likes children too! Poor sod.

     

    “I took the liberty of adding the 375 for the armor set.” The smith continued.

     

    “Again, thank you. Ha!” The Elf suddenly laughed, “I would have had to chop wood all week to pay the bill for these people!”

     

    “See, I was preventing disaster.” The Harbinger nodded.

     

    “Aye, that you were.” Äelberon agreed.

     

    “We’ll be taking our leave then. C’mon, Dorthe.”

     

    “Ah Da!”

     

    “It’s late child. Far past your bedtime.”

     

    “Can I ask him, please?” The girl pleaded, not budging from the Mer’s hold yet.

     

    “Ah child, he’s done a lot today, he’ll want to rest tomorrow.”

     

    Äelberon glanced at Alvor. “What?”

     

    The girl scrunched her face in thought and then sighed. “Ah…  You’re right, Da.” She then rested her head on the Mer’s shoulder. Another sigh. They started early with the manipulation, Jon smirked.

     

    “What? Why such a long face now?” Elf took the bait straight away.

     

    “Nothin’.  We were going to go fishing tomorrow.” Dorthe explained.

     

    “What time?” Jon watched the Elf’s features light up.

     

    “After today, whenever I get up.” The smith joked. “She was going to invite you before the drag—“

     

    “I will be there. But can it be later in the day? I must make the rounds and inform the families of the fallen.”

     

    “You will!” Her head came off his shoulder faster than Jon could say “Talos”.

     

    “Aye, young lass, nothing comes between a Dusken and his po—fishing pole, fishing pole.” He quickly correctly. He glared at the crowd at the Bannered Mare and Jon shook his head from his table trying not to laugh. The Mer was definitely learning. “Not even dragons.” He gave Alvor a sidelong glance. “I need to be careful what I say around this crowd. The mead has been freely flowing and I have already been the butt of several jokes.”

     

    “I’m sure it has.” Alvor whispered, while Äelberon set down a beaming Dorthe. Alvor faced the crowd. “And you have Riverwood’s gratitude. We’ll be raising tankards to you brave folk for days.” He nodded to Kodlak Whitemane. “Give Eorlund and Fralia my regards.”

     

    “Will do, Alvor.” The Harbinger smiled, leaning heavily on the counter. He looked, to Jon, like he would turn in soon.

     

    The smith then gave the Elf’s shoulder a squeeze. “We’ll wait for you then.  After today, I could stand a morning sleeping in myself. The real glory of fishing, though, is that it is a fine excuse for grown men to doze.   I’ll have Sigrid fix a hearty lunch. That will make the dozing easier. I’m sure Hod, Frodnar, and Faendal will tag along.”

     

    “I never turn down a meal made by Sigrid.  I will be there by late morning, afternoon at the latest. At your doorstep, fishing pole in hand.” He looked up at the sky peeking through the timbers of the Bannered Mare's roof. “Auri-El’s bow, the stars are out!” The Mer put a hand on Dorthe’s shoulder, but his eyes were on Alvor. “You sure you should be traveling now? Give me a few moments and I will ready my things to escort you. Or I will pay for your board?”

     

    That got looks from the guards and the Companions. He didn’t stop, did he, thought Jon from his table.

     

    “Easy, old Mer.” Alvor put a hand on the Elf’s shoulder.  “Put that Paladin’s mind to rest. I’ve traveled the road from Whiterun to Riverwood many a time, morning, noon, and night, Warhammer in hand. Your offer is kindly appreciated, but a better day tomorrow will be had by you if you rest.”

     

    “If he rests, it is a miracle.” Ri’saad grumbled from his table. “If they let him rest. They will come.”

     

    “That’s our Snow Bear.” Jon smirked, swirling his tankard, understanding the Khajiit’s concern. Snow Bear, ever the Paladin. Ever concerned for the gentlefolk. He was wondering when the Jarl was going to show for it was no secret the Khajiit were also in the inn, sitting at one of the tables.  Sitting among Nords, within city walls.  Thieves and tricksters to most. Snow Bear tended to speak his mind and Jon speculated if the Jarl would be an exception to that rule. At any rate, it was going to be an interesting conversation, especially if Proventus came from behind, licking the Jarl’s arse.  

     

    “Oh no! We’ll be fine. Don’t trouble yourself. Yes, I will give Sigrid your best. And Äelberon, thank you for today.” Alvor nodded, leading Dorthe towards the door of the inn. The crowd settled again to their celebrating.

    “Hulda, I think I’ll turn in. Thank you, for not kicking me out.” Kodlak grinned, setting down his bottle.

     

    “Thank you for behaving, Harbinger.” The innkeeper replied.

     

    “I always behave.”

     

    “Sure you do.”

     

    “Watch over the rest of my ruffians, my fair Hulda?”

     

    “So long as Farkas is house-broken.” She mumbled.

     

    “Depends on how much he’s drunk.” He joked, grabbing her attention. Jon had his theories about Kodlak and Hulda. The familiarity was there. She was the right age, and Jon was certain Kodlak had his fair share of the women in Whiterun. He was slowing down, but judging by the look he gave the innkeeper, he wasn’t stopping. She blushed and swatted at him with her dish rag.

     

    “Get out of here, Old Man, before I put you on Bucket duty.”

     

    The Harbinger only flashed a smile that made the innkeeper’s blush intensify.

     

    “I will take my leave as well.” Äelberon agreed. “Cannot disappoint Dorthe.” He took a final sip of milk and set down his bottle. “Thank you, Hulda for your hospitali—“

     

    The door to the inn opened and everybody looked up. The Harbinger and the Dragonborn weren’t going anywhere just yet.

     

    “My Jarl!” Exclaimed a guard in surprise, making an unsteady bow and moving quickly out of the way to allow the Jarl of Whiterun to enter.  Avenicci was not far behind, wrinkling his nose at the sulfur smell. Ri’saad immediately stiffened at his seat, his tail twitching. The khajiit glanced nervously at the Altmer near the entrance and Äelberon nodded reassuringly while he and Kodlak returned to the counter.

     

    “Ah, Harbinger, Dragonborn. Do sit. I wish words.”  Jon saw Kodlak mumble something in the Elf’s ear that made the Mer chortle and both of them resumed their places at the counter.

     

    “Seems you’re not rid of me yet, Hulda.” Kodlak quipped, but Jon sensed the tension in the words now. Both watched as the Jarl took his place, adjusting his noble clothes. He was on official business, Jon knew this. When the Jarl did his normal “secret” trips to the Bannered Mare, he was usually dressed in simple clothes and he could be one of the rowdiest, yet good-natured patrons.  Full of stories on the Great War and his trip to High Hrothgar.  He was a Jarl who just enjoyed the company of his own people.

     

    “The usual, Hulda. Irileth isn’t stalking me today.” That got a chiding frown from Avenicci, but the Jarl chuckled it away. “Last I checked, Avenicci, none of you were listed in my birth records as my mother, Talos bless her. I have a right to sit and drink with my own men, don’t I?”

     

    “Of course you do, my Jarl. But with assassins—“

     

    “Ah, for the love of Talos, take the pole out of your arse, Avenicci, and let Balgruuf enjoy a drink.” Whitemane raised his arms in exasperation. “Do any of us look like Dark Brotherhood to you?” He released a hearty laugh. “Besides, the lot of us in here are so drunk that we can barely lift our weapons let alone use them. And of the two that can still wield weapons…” He gestured to Äelberon. “One is standing right next to me and wouldn’t on account that it would violate some precious Orial oath of life-taking or whatnot. And the other…” He gestured towards the back room of the inn. “Got so aroused from seeing the dragon die.” The Jarl looked puzzled and Kodlak put a hand on Balgruuf’s shoulder. “Don’t ask me about that, Bally, those ex-Morag tong are a sick bunch. Well, she’s um, busy in the back, if you catch your meaning.” He stared at Avenicci again. “My point is, Avenicci, is that we can all sit down and have a nice round with our Jarl and no one, I think, I will die. We might vomit, but we won’t die.”

     

    The Steward’s mouth hung open like a gasping fish and Jon almost felt sorry for him. Almost. It was quite evident that Adrianne took after her mother.

     

    Jarl Balgruuf chuckled. “You are drunk, Kodlak.”

     

    “Stone drunk, my Jarl.” The Harbinger smiled sleepily, “And was about to turn in like the old Fart I am, until you showed up.  But I will sacrifice myself and share a final drink of the evening with you.” His hand slapped the counter and Hulda provided him with another bottle. “And I will regret none of it tomorrow. Let my head pound like Oblivion’s hammer!” He lifted bottle to the air. “Right Warriors?!”

     

    “Aye!” The word thundered through the inn while tankards crashed and feet stomped against the wooden floor in response.

     

    “And what of our oath-abiding friend, here. No drink—nevermind.” Jarl Balgruff stopped himself before Äelberon could answer. “You do not drink, I remember.”

     

    “No my Jarl, I do not.”

     

    “You look a mess, friend.” The Jarl observed.

     

    The Mer tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. “Dragonslaying is messy business, my Jarl.” His eyes then found the crowd in the inn. “But we did it.  They did it.” He took a deep breath and faced the Jarl. “I hope you know the men you have, Jarl Balgruuf.  I certainly know them and am proud to have them at my side. Proud to have them fight with me. The dragon took some, but.” He furrowed his brow and then cleared his face of emotion. “But they are with Ysgramor and the warriors of old now. A better place.”

     

    Balgruuf rested a hand on the Mer’s shoulder. “Believe me, I know. And I would have you accompany me to tell the families?”

     

    “I was planning on it, my Jarl.” The Mer made a small bow. “Simply say the word and I will be there.”

     

    “Tomorrow morning then, be at Dragonsreach. Captain Caius is compiling the list as we sit. Thank the Divines, it is not a large one. You did well, Thane.”

     

    “Ah, I had wondered why he had left so early. He fought bravely, my Jarl. All here did.” The Mer replied, raising his bottle to them. “I owe them my gratitude and my life.”

     

    “Milk-drinker!” Barked Jurgen, laughing loudly. Jon raised his eyebrows, bastard wasn’t asleep yet. “He’s toasting us with milk! Gah! Nobody is perfect.” He raised his bottle to the Mer. “Here’s to you, you Milk-drinking, Old Mary, Dragonborn. We won’t hold all that shit against you. Our swords, axes, spears, pitchforks, forks, tankards, whatever, are yours. Just scream ‘dragon’ like the pretty princess that you are and we’ll say ‘let’s go fuck it up’.” He took a big gulp and then threw the bottle to the ground, breaking it. Several of the warriors followed suit and while Jon thought the show of solidarity was incredible, he knew Hulda, Olfina, and Saadia were going to have one Oblivion of a time cleaning up the inn tomorrow. Ah, who was he kidding, he’d help.  

     

    The Jarl then raised his own tankard to the air. “I raise my tankard to you, warriors of Whiterun, guards and Companions alike. I raise it to my dedicated Thane and the noble Kodlak Whitemane. And I will hear the tale of this beast soon enough, for I see young Battle-Born crammed in his little corner table…” Jon looked up suddenly upon hearing his own name. “And I see the parchment, quill, and half-spent candles. I know he has been writing.”

     

    “I can sing of the Dragonborn. I learned it at the Bard’s College.” Mikael volunteered.

     

    “No, I don’t want that song.” The Jarl waved his hand in dismissal. “Besides, that’s not a song about the actual dragon battle.” The Jarl was looking directly at Jon now and he couldn’t deny, he was breaking out in a nervous sweat. 

     

    “Well, it’s not quite a song yet, my Jarl. Not yet set to music.” Jon explained.

     

    “A poem then?” The Jarl asked.

     

    Jon nodded. “Aye, a poem, my Jarl.”

     

    “If it is about the dragon battle, then it is something I would enjoy hearing. Whitemane has told me of your singing at Jorrvaskr.”

     

    “He is a fine bard, my Jarl, knocking knees aside.” The Harbinger smirked.

     

    Jon could feel his face turn as red as a tomato. “I will do my best with minimal knee-knocking.” 

     

    The Jarl brought his tankard down. “But before I hear of this dragon, there is a small matter we need to discuss.”

     

    Jon took his seat again. It was coming.

     

    “You are new to our city and perhaps do not understand some of our customs.” Avenicci began. Jon saw the Khajiit tense up, but the Mer only straightened his body language, making him look even larger.

     

    “I thought it was the Jarl who was going to have words with me.” He spoke, crossing his arms over his chest.

     

    When a bear is bitten, they usually bite back, thought Jon. Elf certainly had a pair. Avenicci’s mouth hung open, in shock while Kodlak let out a whistle, his eyes twinkling. 

     

    “Indeed you are right, Äelberon of Dusk.” Jarl Balgruuf nodded. “The words are between you and I.  I noticed that our friends from the Caravan have joined us.”

     

    Ri’saad stood from his place at the table near the entrance about to speak, his tail twitching. His guard had her hand on his shoulder, ready to protect him. Ysolda was reassuring the other two Khajiit.

     

    For a while, the Elf was silent, his eyes downcast, as if thinking on what to say. He then faced the Jarl. “Do they not deserve to live as much as anyone else does?”   

     

    “There is an edict of the Jarl.” Pointed out Avenicci quickly. “As Thane, you’re expected to uphold the Jarl’s laws.”

     

    The old Mer frowned. “This is the second time, Avenicci, that you have interrupted words between the Jarl and his Thane.” The look he then gave Avenicci was enough to make a bear piss itself. “But I will answer your question with another question. Is it not the highest duty of a Jarl to protect those of his hold?”

     

    Avenicci frowned, leaning closer to the Jarl. “Are you going to let him insu—“

     

    “That’s enough, Avenicci.”

     

    “But the insolence!” The Imperial protested.

     

    “Avenicci, you are a fine steward, but you are no warrior. And you have interrupted a conversation between two warriors; a Jarl and his Thane. Don’t do it again, please.”  Avenicci stared at the Jarl, but was silent.

     

    “Very good, my Jarl. Shall I go back to Dragonsreach and assist Captain Caius?”

     

    “That would be best.” He nodded. Avenicci took a slow bow and left quickly, though the glare at the Elf was telling. It was clear that some did not like Snow Bear or his more outspoken ways.  “Besides, I can find my way back to my own bloody palace.” The Jarl muttered, taking another sip of mead.

     

    “He means well.” Kodlak offered.

     

    “Between him and Irileth, I feel like I am in my mother’s womb again. I fought the Great War. Saw the Red Ring with my own eyes. I do not need a babysitter. I just need an axe.” He turned back to the Elf. “Where were we?” The blue eyes twinkled. “Ah, yes. You look like you are going to say something and I might not like it.”

     

    “Huh?”

     

    “Aye, Kodlak told me this about you too.”

     

    The Harbinger gave the Jarl a sidelong glance and chuckled over his mead.

     

    Äelberon opened his mouth to speak, but the Jarl cut him off with a raised hand. “Wait. Let me get another sip in me first.”  Balgruuf took a large gulp of mead. “Alright, go.”   

     

    “I let them in, my Jarl! It was me.” Heads whipped rapidly towards the source of the voice. It was Torbar, his hair still damp and now sticky from his mead bath.

     

    “I don’t understand, I thought it was you.” The Jarl questioned, his eyes on the Elf.

     

    “Torbar. Who told you to let them in?” Äelberon asked.

     

    “But—“

     

    “Who?” The Mer insisted, raising his eyebrows.

     

    Torbar sank back to his chair and everybody heard the “Shit” he muttered under his breath. There was no getting the Mer out this situation, though Jon admired how the guards stuck up for the Mer tonight. Fighting alongside them, that definitely earns a Nord's respect, and he had done it twice already.  

     

    “Exactly. The lad was just following my orders, my Jarl.” He reclined a bit on his chair and to Jon, he looked very confident. “And ah well, if Kodlak has already prepared you for my stubbornness, I do not see the need to hold back. I cannot deny who I am. I am a Priest, first. Above everything else. I am Honor-bound by my Order to protect the innocent, as you are Honor-bound to protect those of your hold. All of them. The Khajiit of the caravan included. I could not, in my conscience, see them die. Edicts be damned. If I can provide them the protection they need, I will. Now, if being your Thane will impede me from traveling the path that my Order demands of me, then let me know and I will return from Jorrvaskr shortly, with your axe, asking that you find another more suited to this responsibility.”

     

    The Jarl chewed on the Mer’s words for a spell and the inn was so quiet, one could hear a pin drop.  Watching, waiting for his response. “If any other soul told me what you told me now, I’d think they were bullshitting me.  I’m an experienced enough leader to have had my share of wanderers and sycophants licking my boots. But you, I believe.” Jarl Balgruuf took a sip of his mead and rested a hand on the Elf’s shoulder again. “You are the last person I want leaving a Thaneship, despite the fact that you have yet to buy a home. Poor Lydia is still in Dragonsreach.”

     

    “I do not serve Whiterun for a house, my Jarl.  All I did was help the guards kill a dragon.”

     

    “Two dragons. And you are right. If I were there, I would not idly standby either. Edicts be damned when dragons roam the skies.” Balgruuf rose from his chair and turned towards the Khajiit. “Come with me, please, my thane.” Äelberon left his chair and followed the Jarl. Ri’Saad removed his guard’s hand from his shoulder and faced them.

     

    “Your name?” The Jarl asked.

     

    “This one is called Ri’Saad. Khajiit manages the caravan trade routes in Skyrim.” He bowed low. “Khajiit are in your debt for allowing us sanctuary in your city.”

     

    “Did you sustain damage? Were lives lost?”

     

    “No, Jarl. Only the tents were destroyed. Little loss when it could have been much more. Khajiit thanks Ra’Pelin for his service against the dragon. Word will spread through the caravans at the kindness we were shown today.”

     

    “Hmm, your tent?” The Jarl clarified.

     

    “Yes.”

     

    “Well, Ri’Saad. It is a good thing, I think, to have a priest as a Thane.” The Jarl smiled slyly. “And he is much more subtle with his preaching than Heimskr is too. He speaks true and no, regardless of the relationship between our races, the dragons are a menace to us all, and I have seen enough slaughtering in my day to know that I do not want that in my hold. I hereby grant you and your caravan permission to remain in the city while your tents are being repaired. Furthermore, I would like to meet with you personally to see if we can come up with a better solution for your caravan location. Somewhere safer. I warn you, it may not be fully inside the city, since many would object, but I think we can compromise.”

     

    “Some will not like this decision, Jarl Balgruuf. But Khajiit will always hold you in high esteem for your wisdom in these dark times.”

     

    The Jarl put his hand on the Khajiit’s shoulder. “Ha! I have been unpopular among the Empire and the Stormcloaks for some time for remaining neutral in this conflict. What’s one more thing?”

     

    Jon exchanged looks with Ysolda. It was an about face that no one expected, but it was an important one.  Jon knew though that some of the thanes would not take highly to Balgruuf showing Äelberon such favor.  When those bastards go out and slay dragons, then they can stand in the same place. Right now, those who were strong and who sacrificed for the safety of Whiterun Hold had the Jarl’s sway and that was a good thing in Jon’s eyes. Meant that Balgruuf was still wise enough to see past the dirty dealings and political back-stabbing that were now plaguing the Rift and the Reach.

     

    “This one expresses his gratitude.” Ri'Saad bowed again. His guard finally, after hours, allowed herself to relax and Jon wondered if she would indeed have killed to protect Ri'Saad. He knew of the reputation of Khajiit warriors. There was one in the caravan based off Dawnstar and Riften who was formidable, clad in full steel-plate armor. That route was full of dangers. 

     

    The Jarl looked puzzled. “This one? Is that how all Khajiit speak?” Ri’Saad opened his mouth to answer, but the Jarl swung an arm around the old cat’s shoulder and started leading him towards the counter. “You can explain it all over some mead. Come sit with me and Ra’Pelin is it? What does that mean?”

     

    “Honored Knight in our language, Jarl Balgruuf.” Ri’saad answered.

     

    “That is a fitting name. We Nords call him Snow Bear.”

     

    “Khajiit has seen such beasts.” And it was Ri’Saad’s turn to grin, exposing his teeth. “You Nords are not far off the mark either.”

     

    “I feel like I am being insulted.” The Mer chuckled, taking his place next to Kodlak.

     

    “You are.” The Harbinger laughed.

     

    “Hulda, give Ri’Saad and his caravan your best. Food if they wish it.” The Jarl took his seat and gazed into the crowd of warriors and patrons at the inn while he grabbed another bottle of Black Briar Reserve. “I feel good.” He began. “It is a comfort to me knowing that my Hold has the best defenders in all the realm. We need this strength as war encroaches upon our borders, as the dragons try to reclaim the land. Thank you again, my warriors. Thank you again, Jorrvaskr.”

     

    “You know we’ll always rise up to defend the city, though we are neutral in the war, my Jarl.” Kodlak replied. “Whiterun is our home.”

     

    “I know. And thank you, priest, for carrying us through yet another attack. Yes, my warriors are capable, Jorrvaskr strong and mighty, but you, you have something in you, old Mer. You keep to those vows of yours. We Nords don’t always understand and we’ll make fun of you for it, but they are not bad vows to have. Honor, justice, charity, and goodness…” Jarl Balgruuf gave Äelberon a pat on the back. “They are hard qualities to come by in this world that would now seem to prefer that every man live for himself.”

     

    “Your people showed me kindness when they could have left me to die. When they could have turned me away. I am in their debt.”  the Mer bowed.

     

    “Enough of this sentimentality, I want to hear a good poem and then over mead, we can analyze it, go over it's imagery and symbolism.  I am rather fond of poetry. Where is Battle-Born?” The Jarl’s Skyrim blues honed right on Jon. “Ah, there you are.”  

     

    Jon took a deep breath and stood from his seat. Don’t knock your knees. Hmm? Stand behind the table so they don’t see your knees?  No, you can’t really move now. All eyes are on you Jon Battle-Born warrior-poet—oh, who are you kidding—nervous bard wannabe. And now you’re going to read a poem in front of the Jarl and you haven’t even shown the Elf yet. He’s going to hate it. And Ysmir’s Beard, Olfina’s looking at you and you can see her try not to laugh because she knows you’re nervous.  Her breasts look great today. Breathe, Jon, breathe and take the paper. 

     

    Battle-born’s hand reached for the paper and then he stopped. You’ve just written it, you know it. It is a part of you now. Jon cleared his throat.

     

    “I saw what happened from the Western Watchtower, but just like everyone else, I was in the crowd. We watched from the stables in the pouring rain. Through night’s dark shroud, we could see flashes of fire, lightning, and then what looked, to me, like dawn’s delicate pure morning to me. I saw, but I didn’t know. Didn’t know the screams of the men that died. Or the cries of the injured. Or the mud that clung to the brave men and women that fought that night. We then heard two words thundered in the sky.” His eyes found Äelberon. “The cry of the Dragonborn.” Jon paused for effect. “And then the cry of the Greybeards. And legend became flesh.

     

    “But the sun shown today, gracing us with Aetherial rays that teasingly promise us what is beyond Kyne’s blue. A clear day and I saw today what I didn’t see last time. I know the sacrifice that was made.” He said, his voice now lowering a little. He had learned this from troupes of traveling performers that sometimes stopped at Whiterun before the war made such frivolity go away. They deepened their voices for projection. His favorite was a troupe led by a family of Altmer. They were the group that made him want to be a bard. Their son was about 10-15 years older than Jon had been at the time and showed him around the troupe’s camp when his questions could no longer be contained.  Rumarin, he even remembered the name. Amazing what you remember when you’re nervous as fuck. His mind traveled to their final performance before they left; a grand lay of an Elf knight high upon a Tower of Crystal and his battle with a demon of unspeakable evil. Recited by the young mer’s mother in a voice that had given Jon gooseflesh, and pantomimed by Rumarin and his father as the demon. Rumarin had laughed about the long white wig he had to wear and how uncomfortable the armor was—Jon’s throat suddenly caught, his mouth opening. And for what felt like an eternity, he could not make works.

     

    He now knew who the knight of that story was.  

     

    “I know.” He repeated. “I will share what I know with you. Let what I say be passed to the legend that is the Poetic Edda.” He gave the Mer a humble nod and he felt his nerves fly away, born upon the winds of memory. “And may my words be worthy of you, my teacher, noble white Knight of Crystal-Like-Law.”

     

    “Jon…” The Elf whispered, unable to look anybody in the eye at the moment. Moved. Yeah, I know who you are, you old shit and my mind is blown away. Kodlak’s hand moved to the Mer’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Jon Battle-Born began his poem, speaking with great command. They watched him in silence as he recited. There was no need for the paper, this was poetry from his soul.

     

    Stirring stories of heroes old

    Proclaimed upon soil, charred

    Spirits lifted over Whiterun Hold

    To glory, or to Sovngarde.

     

    Mailed men rallied by valour's horn

    Winded by the one

    Our thane, our hero, the Dragonborn

    A pale mer the fates have spun.

     

    Spear tips gleaming with hope's light

    Fear fought, sharp as the Shield-Maiden's tongue

    Courage encouraged by his blazing sight

    The poetic edda has a new verse sung.

     

    Then wing beats of silent death

    Graceful evil on thermals soared

    A fiery thu'um of immolating breath

    The chase began with a shattering roar.

     

    White razor teeth reflecting sun

    Wings cast shadow o'er those below

    Churning mud, the Snow Bear's run

    Pelt inviting Sovngarde's glow

     

    Green orbs intent upon the dashing bear

    Like heroes Whiterun pursues

    Not withering under evil's baleful glare

    Chain-clad and yellow-cloaked 'neath Kyne's blue.

     

    Voice roaring like thunder on high

    Serpent-bird dives to devour the prey

    An eagle's arrow rips the sky

    Forever barring the light of day

     

    Mud and blood drop like rain

    Scales slam to the war horn's call

    Old snake stilled upon the plain

    Man's steel claws rise and fall.

     

    Companions charge, wolves upon carrion

    Battle-lust then consumes

    Dovahkiin's Voice cries, a clarion

    Fire once more blooms.

     

    Jorrvaskr's tears, grief intense

    Blood-stirred fury, a flurry of violence

    Holy magic, the last defence

    A final flicker before the wyrm is silenced.

     

    This chapter of Straag Rod deserves a special thanks. When I decided to revisit this chapter and edit it, I decided I wanted to give the bards of Skyrim a voice, which meant poetry. Aelberon has his own poetry, which is written in a distictive style. I did not want the same style for Jon's poem. So I turned to my good friend here on the Vault, Phil. Phil gave me this beauty and will now serves as Jon's poetic voice in Straag Rod. It was wonderful working with him and I am very grateful for this beautiful writing. Another special nod goes out to Teineeva for borrowing his Argonian namesake and Gnewna for letting me flesh out Rumarin a bit.

    Straag Rod, Book 1 ToC

    Part 2, Chapter VIIPart 2, Chapter IX

Comments

15 Comments   |   A Shadow Under the Moons and 10 others like this.
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 31
    Still waiting for Aelberon to meet Rumarin. It might turn into a comedy as some points but without the laugh tracks.
  • Teineeva
    Teineeva   ·  May 10
    I'll be honest; despite having an idea of what was ahead I couldn't stop myself from smiling like a damn idiot throughout this chapter. Love it Liss.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Teineeva
      Teineeva
      Teineeva
      I'll be honest; despite having an idea of what was ahead I couldn't stop myself from smiling like a damn idiot throughout this chapter. Love it Liss.
        ·  May 10
      Thanks, Teineeva. Was really fun to work with Phil on this. 
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 7
    A wonderful scene and atmosphere in the Bannered Mare here Lissette. The play on words was great especially when Albee realized what they were referring to. 
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  April 21
    How Albee can be so clever in some ways and so naive in others, haha. Hope Jon's reveal doesn't end up attracting more Thalmor; and Jenassa... she confuses my pants :-P
    #KhajiitHaveRightsTooYes?
  • Gnewna
    Gnewna   ·  April 13
    *squeals and flails around all over the place* RUMAAAAAAAAARIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND JON! AND ALBEEEEEE! AND UTHGERD! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!


    *is coherent*
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Gnewna
      Gnewna
      Gnewna
      *squeals and flails around all over the place* RUMAAAAAAAAARIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND JON! AND ALBEEEEEE! AND UTHGERD! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!


      *is coherent*
        ·  April 17
      yes, thanks. Didn't see your comment. Blah, I read through it again and found a ton of errors. I'll fix them later. Sisterbane found soooooo much. lol, but this is what happens when the writing is edited from something that is over 2 years old. 
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  April 13
    A party!  <:o) 
    Though in my opinion it lacks a bar brawl. Because it isn't a Nord party if there's no drunken bar brawl!
    Gods be damned, Aelberon. You seriously have one thick head. Just a few chapters ago you were making '...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      A party!  <:o) 
      Though in my opinion it lacks a bar brawl. Because it isn't a Nord party if there's no drunken bar brawl!
      Gods be damned, Aelberon. You seriously have one thick head. Just a few chapters ago you were making 'sword' jokes...  more
        ·  April 13
      There was a brawl, Vilkas and Farkas, after Farkas put lipstick on his brother. :D 


      Albee is Albee. 


      And Phil is epic. 
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  April 13
    Nothing like a "we're alive, the fucker's dead" party! Everyone goes bottoms up, hearts are pumping and all that needs a release. Saadia certainly makes my heart beat faster, as well as the mention of Janessa. I think I'll have something exotic tonight......  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Nothing like a "we're alive, the fucker's dead" party! Everyone goes bottoms up, hearts are pumping and all that needs a release. Saadia certainly makes my heart beat faster, as well as the mention of Janessa. I think I'll have something exotic tonight......  more
        ·  April 13
      I couldn't not mention Jenassa. She is pretty badass and creepy. And Kodlak and Hulda. Tehehe. 
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  April 13
    Great chapter, Lis! The relaxed atmosphere of the Bannered Mare and friendly banter was a thoroughly needed wind down from the dragon fight. I have to say, too, that  TES V missed a trick. Saadia Snake-Hips? That's inspired, I will not be able to loo...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Great chapter, Lis! The relaxed atmosphere of the Bannered Mare and friendly banter was a thoroughly needed wind down from the dragon fight. I have to say, too, that  TES V missed a trick. Saadia Snake-Hips? That's inspired, I will not be able to loo...  more
        ·  April 13
      Yes, I wanted her to do something exotic and interesting and it makes sense to me that she would use whatever tools necessary to incorporate herself into the society at Whiterun. 
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  April 12
    Another fine display of Lissette-ko's expertise at writing organic characters, and a very well done poem by Phil-jo. These slow chapters are some of my favourite parts of Straag Rod.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Another fine display of Lissette-ko's expertise at writing organic characters, and a very well done poem by Phil-jo. These slow chapters are some of my favourite parts of Straag Rod.
        ·  April 12
      Thanks Harrow. I appreciate your kind words. To me, it's these slower chapters that really let you enjoy pure character development and watching them interact. I had fun at the Bannered Mare and hope you did too. These folks really seem to know how to thr...  more