Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter IX: Playing Dumb

  • Warning: Adult themes and foul language

     

    Where was he, thought Skjor. He had not seen him leave, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found. He wanted to leave, for he already saw Aela sneak out of the Bannered Mare and he was eager to follow. Very eager. Damn, you should be fucking following her, because you are horny as Oblivion and she was beautiful today. Skjor sighed. No, she didn’t miss a single shot in that dragon fight, he was just funning her.  She and Äelberon were something else with the bow, but he didn’t love that old fat bear. No, what he loved was graceful and cunning with wind-blown auburn hair and perpetual dirt smudges on her face. As wild and free as the tundras of Skyrim. A brave heart and a fine soul for all her rough edges. Never his type, he shrugged his shoulders. The women before her were all fine Cyrrodiil types or the painted ladies from the blur of brothels in his lifetime. But Aela and Hircine’s Gift were all arguments that the life he was leading before was the wrong life. Tomorrow, he’d speak with the old man again about her joining them on the big jobs; the vampires and the ferals. She was ready. He smiled as he climbed the creaky stairs leading to the loft bedroom. You should be going to her.

     

    But you’re not going to her. No, you’re not heading for a night of wild sex. No, you’re going to see a moody old fart. Because something in the way Äelberon acted tonight didn’t seem right to you and despite those fucking knife ears, he’s your brother.   

     

    It seemed, however, that the old fart had disappeared without a trace. Old man left long ago, soon after the Jarl did, practically popping with mead, but Snow Bear wasn’t with them. He wasn’t with Jon’s group either, nor was he with Vilkas and Farkas or the guards.  He even tried the back room, only to find Jenassa with three hold guards in a position that made Skjor blink twice and his jaw gape before quietly shutting the door, and not much made him blink anymore.  That image would stay in his brain for a while. She’s crazy and those guards were definitely going to feel it come morning, but he wasn’t going to lie to himself, he’d try some of that on Aela tonight. Jenassa seemed to be liking it a whole damn lot.  It was morning, early morning. “Where the fuck are you, old Mer?” He mumbled aloud. Shor’s Bones, do you know how to make yourself invisible too? Ha! Skjor didn’t blame him, the women were mad with lust tonight and when the Jarl left, it only got worse. And Skjor didn’t buy that innocent, “I have no idea what you’re talking about” act.  The Elf wasn’t lying, but he was playing dumb. Nobody on Nirn can be that stupid.

     

    Skjor climbed up the stairs into the loft, suddenly quieting his steps when he saw the little beggar girl sleeping on the bed. So this is where Snow Bear had set her up? Lucia, that was her name, scrawny little waif that people mostly ignored or tossed a septim or two to her out of pity before going on with their lives. But not the old fart. No, he can't leave shit alone, especially when he feels it's not right.  Skjor grinned. Aye, I know your little secrets, old Mer. Didn’t take long to get it out of Jon that Äelberon was sending Hulda money  in secret through the lad so the child would have a place to sleep every night, food in her belly, and training so she could earn her way in the world without begging. You sure know Nords, don’t you, old Mer? We’re not a begging people.

     

    “Fast asleep, eh, little brat?” Skjor murmured, letting his laugh lines wrinkle. “You have to be dead drunk to not hear the racket downstairs. Ha! Maybe Ysolda’s been slipping you some shit.” The street rat turned in the large bed, making Skjor stop, holding his breath. He wouldn’t hear the end of it, if he fucking woke the kid.  She then hugged her pillow tightly and settled back to sleep with a sigh and Skjor understood, seeing the frayed edges of her night shirt, her worn shoes at the foot of the bed. Well, I’d sleep like that too if I didn’t have anything like that before. The reality of this Civil Warr left people in the dust sometimes and he found himself setting his jaw at the brutal memories. He moved towards her and shifted the blanket a bit so she would be more comfortable. Her little heart beat slow and steady and for a second he felt Hircine’s call, making his own heart skip a beat.

     

    She is unworthy prey, my Lord.

     

    The burning pressure in his chest stopped after a few deep breaths and he gave her a small pat. There was never any threat. The entire inn had been full of the sounds of life; heartbeats, their smells, their warmth. Thank Hircine that their gift gave them such superior control. Farkas and Vilkas were a little wild in the beginning, but with time, even they calmed down. They could be like beasts, but they weren’t monsters. Skjor looked up, it was time to check the little alcove beyond the bed.

     

    And there he was.

     

    Like an eagle. Nah, more like an old grey owl now; perched on one of the support beams that crossed the great columns that held up the roof of the inn, his knees raised, and his arms crossed over them, watching the festivities beneath. The expression on his face was curious, as if he was studying the Nords below him. Almost wanting to be with them and at the same time, not wanting to be, and Skjor wondered if he could hear the conversations below.  Possibly. Elven ears were sharp, not as sharp as a werewolf’s, but he definitely remembered times when Athis would hear him approach when he thought he was being silent. How did you get your fat arse up here, old Mer? The answer came when he saw the Mer’s big white feet.  Was that how he climbed up there without being noticed?  Bloody Oblivion, you are more agile than I thought you were. Skjor looked around the small sitting alcove and nodded when he saw the Mer’s boots with his woolen foot coverings draped over them. The Veteran leaned over the carved wooden railing and looked down and then looked at the beam, letting out a whistle.

     

    I am probably too drunk for this.

     

    “Skjor!” Äelberon whispered suddenly, making the Veteran jump.

     

    “Color me impressed. Beam strong enough to support your fat arse?”

     

    “Aye, they are really rather sturdy. Easy three to four men can sit on this without structural compromise. The way your people build for sturdiness is quite impressive.” He rested a hand on the column. “Just look at the way the beams have been attached to the support columns.  I shall have to study the schematic—“blah blah blah, the bastard didn’t know when to shut up sometimes. Old Mary’s. Skjor tuned most of it out. Something about talking to Hulda when he had a spare moment—“I am more comfortable than I’ve been all evening.” The Elf continued. “More quiet here… sometimes, quiet is a grand thing.” The Elf furrowed his brow, snapping back to reality. “I saw Aela leave, why are you not with her?”

     

    “Because I’m stupid.” The Nord grinned.

     

    “Then good night, friend, you should not keep her waiting.” Äelberon flashed a naughty smile. No, no way, you had no clue back there with Saadia. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. “My Shield-Sister has a temper when she does not get what she wants.” He added with a knowing nod.

     

    Skjor shook his head. “Maybe I’m too drunk, but let’s test your theory, Old Mary.”

     

    “You are not much lighter than me.” The Mer smirked.  “And you had far more drink than I. What if you fall?”

     

    “Then I literally crash the party.” Skjor laughed silently, giving a quick look down. “Eh, Farkas should break my fall.” Skjor stooped to remove his boots, but left his foot coverings, wrinkling his nose at the smell. Dang, smelly feet. He’d have to give them a quick dunk at the moat at Dragonsreach before he saw Aela.  He put his boots down and eyed the beam. He could probably make the cross with his boots on, but they’d be noisy. That’s why the Mer took them off. You didn’t want anybody finding you, huh? Well, this hunter is pretty smart, Old Mary.  

     

    Skjor took a deep breath and climbed over the railing onto the support beam, a little nervous when the beam creaked under his weight. He could see Äelberon barely contain his laughter watching him cross. There were a few wobbles and once, both of them held their breath, bracing for a fall that would’ve set the Bannered Mare roaring. How many bottles have you drunk tonight? Ah fuck it, I don’t remember. A lot.  The Mer flashed him a cheeky smile and Skjor almost lost his balance when he gave the Mer the middle finger, making the Elf’s shoulders shake all the more. It was worth it. You like watching me attempt not to die, eh?  Bet this little cross was nothing for you.  Yeah, I can tell by your smile that I look like a fool

     

    “Take that, you fucker.” Skjor whispered as he sat triumphantly next to the Elf, wincing when his knees cracked.

     

    “We are both going to feel it tomorrow.” The Elf sighed.

     

    “Heard my knees, eh?”

     

    “They are nearly as loud as Dec’s is.”

     

    “Good, old-fashioned Imperial Legion fuckery will do that to you.” Skjor chuckled, rubbing his knees.

     

    “Come find me tomorrow when you drag yourself out of bed and I will fix the hangover and the knees.” Äelberon volunteered.

     

    “You can cure hangovers?”

     

    The Elf laughed.  “Ah, Skjor, put your priorities in order. The knees are more important. I know a great cure for a hangover…”

     

    “Stop drinking? Fuck that shit.”  Skjor let out a gust of air and leaned his back on the side of the column facing the railing to stop the room's drunken spinning, while Äelberon was on the beam perpendicular, also leaning against the column. The Whiterun guards and their Shield-Siblings were directly below them, enjoying the comforts of food and drink; unaware that they were being watched from above. And it was strangely quiet up here, though he could still make out conversations. “Didn’t expect it to be so quiet up here. Like everything’s been channeled and muffled.”

     

    “It is nice.” The Altmer replied. “Peaceful.” 

     

    “Funny, I would prefer having tits shoved in my face.” Skjor said, placing the bait.

     

    “Well, there is a pair of tits waiting for you, so why do you not go to them?”

     

    The Mer took it and by the tone of his voice, he was annoyed. A short-tempered bear tonight.

     

    “Why don’t you?” Skjor countered. That got a look from the Mer that almost made Skjor regret saying what he said, but he wasn’t going to back down.  “Who are you hiding from?” He whispered, leaning towards the Elf. “Because, if I recall the Jorrvaskr party, you were very different.”

     

    “That was before the dragons.” Äelberon mumbled.

     

    “Nope, not buying the dragon bullshit.” Skjor shook his head. “Yeah, that fucker got under your skin.  So much so that I think you’re going to go right back to Lost Tongue as soon as you rest up.” He rubbed his stubble in thought, feeling the Altmer’s stare. He had the exact card to play now. “The old man will have a cow if he finds out.”

     

    The Elf looked right at him. “You would tell him?” The eyes narrowed. “I thought every man his own.”

     

    “Hmph, well Kodlak is of a mind that dragons are exceptions to the rules. He wants Shield-Siblings to go with you.”

     

    “When did he say this? You lie!”

     

    Skjor blinked at the whispered outburst. The Mer was getting agitated now but he remained calm. “I said he’s of a mind.” Skjor pointed to the cut above the Mer’s eye. “Do you think you can take a dragon on your own?”

     

    “I slew Bet.” That was almost growled. Keep poking sticks at the grumpy bear and you’re gonna get bit, Skjor.

     

    “My arithmetic may be rusty, but that was over two hundred years ago.”  He gave the Elf a once-over. “And today, you look every one of your two-hundred forty-three years.”

     

    Äelberon’s shoulders stooped sullenly and he looked away.  “Jon’s poem was a fine poem and I am proud of him, but it did not paint the complete picture of the battle.”

     

    “I thought he did a great job. Jarl was certainly all over it.” Skjor nodded. “I didn’t know he liked poetry that much. I almost threw up from all the intellectual shit from the three of you. If Farengar had showed up—“

     

    The Elf’s shoulders shook with a silent chuckle that broke through his melancholy. “Not much for books, eh?”

     

    “Not going to lie, I tune out about half of the shit you say in Jorrvaskr.” Skjor admitted. “And when your nose is in a book I run in the opposite direction because I know you will want to talk about it.”

     

    “Do you know what the dragon said to me?”

     

    “In that dragon language? Can’t make sense of it. All I know is that you’ve not been the same since. You going to tell me? ” Skjor asked, knowing the answer. 

     

    “I need to tell somebody. And for some reason, Skjor… perhaps because you remind me of Dec and despite the two of us being like apples and oranges.” He looked down. “I could tell him anything.” A gruff laugh. “He certainly told me everything. Sometimes was like hearing confession! The things he did!”

     

    The Mer was letting his guard down and that took Skjor aback. He knew Old Marys, or at least, he thought he did. They were an aloof people. Prideful and arrogant. And it wasn’t that Äelberon wasn’t those things. He could be a huge pain in the arse sometimes, but when the knight’s perfect crystal wall cracked, the personality revealed underneath was something that Skjor related to, an underlying humanity, and he could understand why Decimus called this Elf ‘friend’.  Skjor smiled. “Now, I can stand being compared to the Old Blade. Good man.  In fact, don’t tell the Nords below us, but I can boast a bit of Colovian on my father’s side. Was born in the Imperial City.”

     

    “A fine place to be born.”

     

    “Yeah.” Skjor shifted in his seat, eager to drive the conversation forward before his arse went numb “So, yeah. You’re going to tell me?”

     

    “Aye.”

     

    “But not the old man.”

     

    “The old man put me in a terrible position today.” The Mer faced Skjor again. “What if one of you had died?”

     

    “Snow Bear, I’m not afraid of where I go if I die and neither is Aela.”

     

    The Mer’s expression turned grave. “But Kodlak wants Sovngarde, Skjor. What if that ward did not come?”

     

    It was Skjor’s turn to stew. “Yeah, I know.” It was said for both what almost happened and for what Kodlak did indeed want.   Fuck you, Farkas for being a dumb shit and changing in front of a demon hunter. This was going to come up and bite Jorrvaskr in the arse.  Skjor did the math in his brain. He and Aela were loyal to the Beast Blood. Kodlak was against it as was Vilkas, both feeling betrayed. Farkas was the swing vote, but now Äelberon had disrupted things. Old man was probably very confident that his “White Knight” would find them a cure and then he and Aela had to face the prospect of leaving if the old man decided to go on a cleansing crusade. He was fine with it, but Aela. He clenched his jaw at the notion, feeling his chest become heavy. Being a Companion was in her blood. It was all generations of her kin ever knew. To be forced to choose would break her. “I don’t want to talk about this.” He muttered. It was all he could say.

     

    “Neither do I.” The Mer understood, seeing Skjor’s weight. “Let us change the subject then. Hmph, you Nords have it reversed. Altmer do small talk first, then the deep conversation. You go the other way.”

     

    “Tits!” Skjor laughed.

     

    “You do not want to hear what the dragon said to me then?”

     

    Skjor sank a bit against the column. He had forgotten about that. “Alright, I’ll hear it and…” Skjor raised his finger. “I’ll even not tell the Old Man that you’re going back to Lost Tongue, but…”

     

    “But what?”

     

    “We gotta talk tits afterwards. ‘Cause, see, something just doesn’t add up to me. We have a deal?” He held out his hand.

     

    The Elf’s pale hand with those long fingers clasped Skjor’s forearm and gave it a firm shake. A good Nord shake. “You are insane from mead, but I will humor you.”

     

    “Done, now what did the fucker say?” Skjor asked, settling back against the column.

     

    “I need to kill them on my own, Skjor. I need to send a message to the dragons.”

     

    “Two dead already is a pretty strong message, Snow Bear.”

     

    “It is not enough, my friend.” The Elf’s tone was full of foreboding, somber.  “It is not enough.” The last words were spoken with a hung head and followed with a heavy sigh. He then straightened his back and gazed into the distance beyond the walls of the Bannered Mare. Skjor saw the Mer’s eyes snap like fire and the image of the dragon’s eyes flashed before his eyes. They were similar in the way they blazed. “Hi los nid Dovahkiin.”  The Elf began, but the voice suddenly seemed to Skjor like a lower version of Aelberon’s voice, rumbling deep like the dragon’s had.

     

    “Äelberon, you alright?”

     

     “Krosis.  Zu'u vodahmaan tol hi dreh ni mindok vun, dii fahdon.” The Mer continued.

     

    This wasn’t Snow Bear and Skjor felt himself tense up. “Huh?”  

     

    Äelberon raised his hand in a gesture of reassurance and his eyes resumed their normal look. “I am sorry, Skjor. Sometimes I slip into the tongue, their memories haunting me in my dreams.  And also when I am awake.”  He took a deep breath and his next words were laced with sorrow. “It is finished.  In our language the dragon said, ‘You are no Dragonborn. You are nothing when you need Nord worms to kill for you. I fell to them today, not you. It is them I yield to today, not you. I hope my soul drives you mad with the shame of that knowledge’.”  He let the back of his head hit the column in frustration. “I am a joke to them, Skjor.”

     

    Skjor couldn’t help but feel the Mer’s pain. No one, no one who calls himself a warrior wants to be considered a joke to the enemy. It was what the Witch Elf Thalmor thought of men during the Great War and it almost brought the Empire to its knees. It did in some ways. But at the same time, what Äelberon was thinking on doing bordered on fool-hardy, which wasn’t how he typically was. It was as if his pride drove him. The pride from being that great knight from long ago. “And killing them on your own is going to make a difference?” He asked.

     

    “Probably not.” Snow Bear sighed and the two friends were silent for several moments. “But I will feel better for at least trying.”

     

    That was a rationale that Skjor could understand. No, he would say nothing to the Old Man and leave the Mer to carve out his own fate. There were just paths one had to travel in their battle through the Arena. His years of whoring and drinking, a dark pathetic path, but a path he needed to go on. If he hadn’t done that, Kodlak would never have found him.  “Being dragonborn is a pain in the arse, isn’t it?” Skjor observed.

     

    “It is.” The Elf agreed.

     

    “Though I do like the new one.”

     

    “New one what?”

     

    “Oh the fire-breathing shit you showed us after those lights went in you when the dragon died.” Skjor explained.

     

    “The thu’um?”

     

    “Aye, that. That was one big, fucking fireball that came out of your mouth. What a show.”

     

    Äelberon chortled. “Verily I will burn down Jorrvaskr with that one.”

     

    “Aye, you are terrible with those things.” Skjor grinned, slumping further against the column, feeling the mead. “Save your fancy shouting for the outdoors, away from wood and all things flammable.” He paused. “Or… Hey! I have an idea.” Skjor turned to the Mer. “We’ll take you to vampire dens. Been trying to tell the Old Man for weeks that Aela’s ready to handle them, but he won’t let her go. Now if I bring you too…”

     

    “Could work. Would be nice to know my thu’um is useful for something other than shouting myself into lakes and knocking my head on rocks.”

     

    “Aye, I saw that. That was funny.” His giggle was higher pitched than he intended, but it was funny.

     

    The Mer’s head went into his hands in embarrassment and he groaned, the tips of his white ears reddening. “Auri-El’s bow! Did everybody see that?” he moaned into his hands.

     

    “Pretty much. Nice of Jon not to slap that in his poem, but aye, you kissed that rock pretty hard. Jurgen is right, though, makes you not a god out of a bad storybook and I think that is why the hold guards like you so much. Not fear, but actually like and respect. Why Jorrvaskr feels it when you’re gone, even though you’ve only been with us a short time. You get in there with us, Äelberon.  You bleed just like we do. You’re not some distant, unrelatable hero. You knock your head and your armor leaves cuts in your skin when you fall. Just like us. You have fears, wants, and needs. Just like—“ 

     

    “Breasts, Skjor. I was hiding from the numerous pairs of breasts that have been thrust in my face since this evening has begun.” The Elf finally confessed, blurting it out rapidly.

     

    In his mind, Skjor danced a jester’s dance. I love being right and I knew I’d get it out of you.

     

    “And you’re surprised?” The Nord laughed.

     

    “Well, considering that the entire town knows that I am a celibate priest, yes! I am quite surprised.” Äelberon replied, his eyebrows shooting up.

     

    “Drink and Dragonborns do strange things to Nord women.”

     

    Äelberon pointed a finger downwards at the crowd of revelers and the light of the hearth heightened his features, blood, soot and all. Gods, thought Skjor, he looked awful. They both did, still covered in the dragon’s muck. Aela looked bad too. Tonight would be fun. But tomorrow, Eorlund was going to kill the lot of them for having to have to clean all their armor, if any of them even managed to get out of bed. “Not every women down there is a Nord, Skjor. What is their excuse?” The Mer pointed out.

     

    “Same? Drink and Dragonborns?” Skjor replied.

     

    The Elf flung his hands up in exasperation. “How am I going to deal with this?”

     

    Skjor beamed, his light grey eye twinkling lewdly. “Well, I do know a way—“

     

    That is not an option.” Interrupted the Priest, furrowing his silver brows. With his ‘tone’ and everything. “Bah! You are terrible!” He chuckled, waving the Nord away with his hand, but it was a forced chuckle, “Go away! Go find your Huntress. She is waiting, and like I said, she has a temper.” The tips of his ears were still red and Skjor could now perceive a quickening heartbeat. What’s got you so uncomfortable, Old Mer. It made him more curious than ever. Aela, he hoped, would understand. They had been trying to crack through his shell for weeks.

     

    “So, tell me something, ‘cause I know you’re not allowed to lie.”

     

    “What?”

     

    “You knew exactly what Saadia wanted from you, didn’t you?”

     

    He opened his mouth, as if about to speak, but the Mer hesitated, the eyes looking very uncertain. 

     

    “Well?” Skjor pressed, crossing his arms over his chest.

     

    The Elf shot him a look. “You are impossible.” He wasn’t playing anymore and neither was Skjor.

     

    “You knew back there, didn’t you?” Skjor asked again.

     

    “I am a priest.” The Mer looked away.

     

    “Don’t pull that shit. I see Priests with women all the time. And Priestesses of Dibella! We all know how they are! No drink, no women? One or the other, but gods, Äelberon, not both!”  Skjor’s words were met with a strange silence and it prompted him to reach for the Mer’s shoulder, turning it so that Skjor could look him in the eye. Hircine’s spear, he looked so old then when their eyes finally met. “You going to tell me, or are you going to hide behind your scripture and your academic rhetoric. I’m not some barmaid, you know. I’m your Shield-Brother and you are mine. It’s a bit strange and they are going to continue to behave that way around you. Tiber Septim had plenty of lovers. Power does that. You can’t hide forever, Snow Bear. Especially since I know it’s not required of your Order.” Äelberon looked at Skjor, his eyes widening as if Skjor had discovered some dark secret, genuinely  caught off guard, “Surprised, huh? Yeah, believe it or not, I do know how to read. Why be celibate if you don’t have to be?” Skjor had hit a nerve, he could tell by the Elf’s expression.

     

    “How does one marry in Skyrim?” Äelberon suddenly asked.

     

    Skjor furrowed his brow. Elf was heading somewhere with this question and Skjor would follow the logic. “When Nords fall in love or when they find a match they’re willing to put up with, They tend to see the priests at the Temple of Mara over at Riften.  For a fee, you purchase an amulet of Mara. You put it on and it reveals your intention to the person you are wanting to court.  Both then agree to marriage and the ceremony is performed the next day at the temple if they want. Though sometimes, if people want to make grand affairs of it, the planning takes longer. You know nobles and shit like that. What color cushions, what flowers, that bullshit.”

     

    “The very next day!?” Exclaimed the Elf in disbelief.

     

    “Aye,” Answered the Nord, his face puzzled, “You choose someone, they usually agree. Go to the temple, get married. It can be that simple. Though some don’t even bother with that shit, they just shack up. It’s actually the old way, before the Empire made marriage the custom. You are just known as somebody’s ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and that’s it. Babies are legitimate without marriage, you just need your da acknowledging that you are his.”

     

    It was his next expression that puzzled Skjor a great deal. It was almost awe, tinged with sadness. He didn’t like that look. “You are allowed to choose?” The Mer whispered, as if it was something both beautiful and terrible to him at the same time.

     

    “Of course you are! How else do you pick a wife… or a husband if you swing that way?” Skjor regarded his Shield-Brother. Nah, he didn’t swing that way. He definitely liked women, it was clear from the way Saadia made him blush, though probably Redquards weren’t his type.

     

    “You are allowed to choose?” Äelberon repeated, his voice barely audible.

     

    “What? Didn’t I just say that? Isn’t it done this way everywhere?”

     

    “No, my Brother. It is not.” That was spoken with the weight of an iron ingot being dropped to the floor, the Mer’s face going longer than it already was.

     

    Alright, Skjor thought, he was going to bite. “How does one get married in the Summerset Isles?”

     

    The Mer’s face turned as cold and distant as a snowy mountain. “The names of all citizens eligible for marriage are placed in a pool with detailed information on their familial lines and station in life. Then, the Elders of the great houses meet and decide upon the set number of sanctioned marriages each year. If your name comes up in the pool, and there is a suitable match. You are then assigned a bride.”

     

    The Nord raised his eyebrows. “Assigned? Like a fucking job?”

     

    “Yes, assigned. We have no say in the match. The Elders make their decisions based on social rank, intelligence, skills, and racial purity to ensure the best quality outcome with regard to offspring. More so now than before.” He stopped. “There was a time, long ago, when there was more, but no, not now.” He resumed his formal demeanor again, as if he was reading from an established book of regulations. “You then agree to the match and after a year of tests to ensure fertility, you are married. Complicated rites are performed. I did many of them, watched their practiced, emotionless faces as they stood before me...”

     

    Ysmir’s Beard, now he knew why Altmer were so miserable all the time. He had to ask.

     

    “Have you ever been, uh, assigned?”

     

    “Yes.”

     

    That one word hit like a whole pile of ingots.

     

    “You’re married!” Skjor whispered; his eyes wide. Hircine's Spear! That brat could sleep through a herd of mammoths plowing through the Bannered Mare.

     

     Äelberon shook his head. “No, I am not married. I refused the match.” 

     

    “Why?” Skjor leaned in, letting a smirk form, “Was she ugly?”

     

    The Elf furrowed his brow, clearly hurt, and Skjor knew he had crossed a line. “Do you think me so superficial?”

     

    He shook his head. “No brother, I’m sorry. Please continue.”

     

    “Besides, does it matter whether she was ugly or not? Does it? But if it satisfies your curiosity. No, she was not ugly.” Skjor saw the Mer’s eyes change, looking as if they were now seeing something precious to him.  “Ah, how can you have me to put into words that which is Calianwe Laurenayne?”

     

    “That a person?” Old Marys and their damn names.

     

    “Aye, Skjor. Picture in your mind hair of spun gold, longer than mine and with the sheen of rippling silk. Picture in your mind eyes the color of sping sunbeams passing through a glass jar of liquid honey. Picture in your mind a golden Elf maid full of the grace and beauty of the bending willow, cloaked in the finest of indigo velvet. Like your Kyne’s fairest summer all rolled into one being. And now imagine that the beauty of her outside is outmatched tenfold by what dwells within.  That  is Calianwe Laurenayne, daughter of House Stormwatch, Grand Lady of House Adorin.” He paused. “Queen of Eton Nir, Queen of Cloudrest. All that is good and beautiful about my People. Not the Thalmor.” His voice broke at his last words and the Elf looked away from Skjor, biting his lip to suppress his emotion.  Äelberon cleared his throat and continued. “And what was I by comparison? A lowly Elf, of mixed blood. A mongrel to the Thalmor. The son of a blacksmith and a fishermer. Nothing to my people and yet, she treated me with such kindness and compassion that I could not hurt her so.”

     

    “I don’t understand. You love her.”

     

    “Yes, I do.” The eyes were beginning to mist and Skjor opened his mouth, only for the Elf to resume. “But the way a brother loves a sister who shares an Order. As one who shared the love of the god they both served. When I took my final vows, when I was at the height of who I was, a Knight of the Crystal Tower, the mage I guarded, her grand uncle, thinking that it would serve the people, had us assigned. He thought he was acting in our best interests.” He quickly added. “In Summerset’s best interests.”

     

    “And you refused? Why?”

     

    “Did I not tell you that I loved her as if she was my own blood? But Skjor, I did not love her, nor she me. Altmer marry for life, and as you can now garner, most marriages are not happy ones, for we are not allowed to choose like your people are. Strangers are thrown together and then expected to breed. She loved another, the way you love Aela.” Skjor shook his head. It was his turn to look away, suddenly uncomfortable. “No, do not deny that you love her.” Äelberon chided, his brow lowering. “For in my many years of life, after so many rites of marriage. There is one thing I do know. It is when someone loves, and you son, though you won’t admit it quite yet, love. Just as Calianwe loved the Mer she wanted to be with. Now, tell me this, could I, in good faith, condemn my sister to centuries of dutiful sorrow, when she could instead know hevla?”

     

    “Hevla?”

     

    “Joy.” The word was spoken so quietly that Skjor almost didn't hear it. Like to speak it aloud was a crime.  The Mer blinked away the moisture in his eyes. “So, I refused the match, not wanting to be the cause of her suffering.”

     

    Skjor studied Äelberon’s scarred face carefully. He was trying to be the stoic, unreadable Altmer, but it he was failing. “You were punished, weren’t you?”

     

    Äelberon nodded and managed a slight smile, the grief morphing into almost a defiant pride.  

     

    “Oh yes, I was. In the form of heavy fines and the ridicule of those who did not understand why I could make such a decision. Or by those who hated the match in the first place. Both our names were put back into the pool and through Auri-El’s benevolent grace, he answered my prayers and she was assigned to the very person she loved later that year. It ended well for her and my punishment was well worth her happiness. Hers is one of the few happy Altmeri marriages I have ever seen and we remained very close friends.” His face then lit up and the next words were spoken with almost a Grandfather’s doting. “Four children, Skjor, she had four. We Altmer rarely have more than two. She even saved my life, but that is another story for another time.”

     

    “And you?” He hated asking, but there was no holding back now.

     

    “I opted for choice, Skjor. Choice! I did not want to be assigned a bride. Not that way. I resented not being able to choose for myself. Who were they to know better what I wanted?! I know what I want. And…” Äelberon stopped suddenly and his eyes became unsure again.

     

    “And what do you want?”

     

    The Mer chuckled, retreating again like a clam into its shell. “It is selfish to want.”

     

    “But you do want?” Skjor pressed.

     

    A wistful sigh escaped Äelberon’s lips. “The sad fantasies that spring from the troubled dreams of an old Mer. What I want, Skjor, does not exist. Jone’s pallor against backdrop kisses of ebony night. The fire of stars glittering in her eyes. A many-time muse of poems and songs, but ey, ey…” He pounded his fist against his knee. “A phantasm produced by the mists of the hole that is my empty heart.” 

     

    Skjor was dumbfounded by the beautiful, bitter tragedy of Äelberon’s words. He was in love. With nothing. It didn’t make bloody sense. Aye, beautiful to listen to, but sterile, like a painting you can’t ever touch.  Fuck it, he was too… No, the Elf was very... Sensual was a bad word to use, but it fit best. Everything with him was, unlike other Altmer, was done with feeling. He had passion, a zest for life. Too much so to just love an…Skjor furrowed his brow, an image. There had to be a reason.

     

    “So you never married?”

     

    “No.”

     

    “Why?”

     

    “Look at me and tell me what you see?” The Mer asked, his face turning cold, the way it did when he was speaking of the marriage customs.

     

    “You look fine. I mean, you’re a fucking Old Mary and the lot of you are ugly, but…” Skjor narrowed his eyes. “You got lucky, you’re not so bad as most of them with their pointed shit. Good square jaw and a beard that’d now make Ysgramor proud. Those scars tell any woman that you can handle yourself, and brother…” Skjor leaned in closer. “You have all your damn teeth. That's really important.”

     

    Äelberon smirked at Skjor’s words. “One man’s treasure is another's trash. The standard of Altmeri beauty is a face that forms a perfect inverted isosceles triangle with fine features. Gold skin. Eyes in shades of green, yellow, or amber are acceptable. Other than healthy hair upon the scalp, there is to be little or no body or facial hair while you are being considered for the pool. Your body must be slender, long of limb, toned, and lacking of blemish. No scars. The ones on my face were the first of the many that, you know, cover this Knight’s body. Received at the tender age of forty-two, during a time when scars meant little to me. Now, Skjor, tell me what you see.” The Mer looked away. “And then ask me again why I never married because no She-Elf would ever want me.”

     

    Skjor wanted to open his mouth, to offer some sort of protest, to tell the Mer that he was fucking wrong, but then the faces of all the Old Marys he saw in the Great War flashed through his eyes and the words never escaped his throat. Fuck, they were like copies of each other. All of them. “What did you do?” It was all he could manage after some silence.

     

    “I had but one option that I still had control over rather than languish in the marriage pools.  Celibacy. Priests could opt for celibacy if they paid a yearly tax, so I paid it. Out of the desire to have control over my life, more than anything else. Hmph!” He looked down, “As you may have guessed, my biggest sin is pride, Skjor. The desire to choose my own path in life. I am really a terrible Altmer, because damned if I will ever follow the sheep in Alinor.” He smiled and Skjor could tell that he enjoyed the irony. “Too damn independent. Too spirited, too Dusken.  So the years passed and I paid the tax. No council of Elders was going to tell me what to do with my body. To farm me for children so they could then make an army? No… That is disgusting and an insult to love and what is in the nature of mortals to feel. I am not a construct, but a Mer, living and breathing.” He laughed gruffly again and the eyes began to blaze with suppressed anger. “The Altmeri people are the constructs of the Thalmor. Hmph, at least the Dwemer had the decency not to farm their own people like cattle, they used the Falmer for that, and machines, which is disgusting, but the Altmer? What they have done is worse. But they never used me that way. My body is mine! Mine! My mind too!”

     

    All Skjor could do was let out a blast of air after the Elf's outburst and then he smiled. Oh, you're not off the hook yet, brother. “Well, that’s just marriage. I’m not married and I still…” He stopped when he saw the pained look on the Mer’s face and Skjor then understood. “You’ve… you’ve…” The tips of the knife ears turned red again.

     

    “I entered my Order very young, my brother. Well, young for an Altmer. Seventeen.” The Elf completed Skjor ‘s thought.

     

    “Wait, you’ve never?” He could feel his brow shoot up.

     

    “One does not miss what one does not know.” Äelberon paused. “A clichéd line.”

     

    “Wait, wait, wait, this is wrong. How long have you been away from Alinor? Come on.” He slapped the Mer’s shoulder. “Over a hundred years, right?”

     

    “Aye.”

     

    “You can’t tell me that you’ve not fucked a single time. I get it while you were there. The tax and all that.” He pointed a finger at the Elf. “And I can even understand why when you were running because that is a hard, hard life, but, brother…” Skjor put a hand on the Elf’s shoulder. “You are free now.” He brought up his hands. “Fuck Alinor, fuck the Thalmor and their poles up their arses. You can do what you want here and Saadia, she was willing.”

     

    “No I cannot.” There was something in Äelberon’s tone that gave Skjor a sick-feeling to his stomach.

     

    “What?” He argued. “Because you’re too old? No, not buying that, not with the way you can run around and kill dragons. You are strong. Shit, even Vignar can get it up.”

     

    “How did you lose your eye, Skjor?”

     

    “What?” Another random fucking question.

     

    “You heard me, your eye? How did you lose it?”

     

    “Some Thalmor took—“Skjor then stopped mid-sentence. “Oh shit.” He cursed, hating himself that he was now staring at the Mer’s crotch, unable to think or move. Stop staring at it, dammit!

     

    The knock to his head almost made him fall over, but he was caught by a steady hand. “They did not cut it off, ya nitwit!” The Elf laughed heartily. “I piss just like every other male in Jorrvaskr does, standin’ up.” The face then sobered up. “I just no longer work that way. Since the war.”

     

    “What happened?”

     

    “Well, you have been captured, so you know what they are capable of. I was captured too." Skjor wanted to ask how, but the Mer kept speaking. "My interrogator liked needles, infused with elemental powders. And she found very creative places to put them, when I refused to give her what she wanted.” The last words were delivered with a smug satisfaction and his eyes snapped with their Dovah’s fire as he remembered. Skjor knew what he meant by ‘give’. The shit that makes war horrid, the shit that kills the soul. “She hated that, you know.” The Mer continued after a small pause. “That I would not give in. That I would not submit to her desires. I may have lost that that day, but ultimately, I kept my freedom and my dignity in the eyes of the god I served. Sacrificing like a wolf who chews its paw off to escape a trap. I take great pleasure in knowing that she failed, yet again, when my head did not roll in Helgen. You Nords speak of grudges, try ones that last for over a century. Perhaps only Dunmer do grudges better than Altmer. Hmm, maybe Orcs too, but that is more of a collective racial grudge, rather than that of a single person. They just do not really live long enough to qualify for personal grudges.” Äelberon took a deep breath and then regarded Skjor, his nostrils flaring in that Altmer pride. “I can see your face. I see the pity in your eyes and if you value me as a Shield-Brother, you will not do such insult to me.  I do not pity you for the loss of your eye, do I?”

     

    “No, you don’t.” He whispered the response.

     

    “Then I hope you are only whispering because you do not wish to wake Lucia, that is it, correct?” The Mer asked, raising an eyebrow.

     

    They locked eyes and Skjor quickly shook his head. “Yeah, don’t want to wake up the brat.” He joked, but inside it was different.

     

    The Mer seemed satisfied with Skjor’s answer, but the eyes were still narrow, his back straight. “I could have done two things after what happened to me. I could have wallowed in despair, because you are right. Circumstances had changed. The Thalmor were not as dogged in their pursuit of me and after seventy years in Cyrrod, I was confident enough to consider purchasing a home in Bruma. I had started saving up for it. And I was in a place where not every woman thought me ugly. I got looks that I never got in Summerset and it felt good. Tits are a nice thing, Skjor, and I have oogled my share of them in my time. Ha!” He flashed Skjor a grin. “I was over three times Vignar’s age then, and I kid you not, I definitely still worked.  And I was thinking as you thought when I spoke of the lovely Phantasm of my mind's musings. Better to have something real.” He sighed. “But, it seems, it was not my fate to live that life. And I am, as you see me here before you. Hale and strong…” Äelberon paused, his expression turning thoughtful. “Save one small detail. Kodlak’s White Knight.” The great red-orange eyes grew distant again. “Pure, like marble and crystal. A virgin, now a forever servant to my Lord, Auri-El.” Another small chuckle. “I am so prone to dramatics!  Pretty speech for an older time. Well, rather than wallow in despair, I chose to become this with all my heart and being. And after so long, it has become part of who I am.  I do not live a horrid life, do I? I do not think I do.” Äelberon shrugged his shoulders. “A hard one, yes, I admit, but not without its own hevlai.” Skjor had trouble looking him the eye at that moment. Damn, here I am going to bang a woman, we teased him the whole night, and he tells me this?  “Skjor.” The Mer interupted his thoughts.

     

    “What?” No pity, he doesn’t want pity. Skjor looked him right in the eye.

     

    “To finally answer your question. I knew exactly what Saadia wanted from me and it is something I can never give a woman. Why disappoint her? So, in that situation, I ask you, it is not better to play dumb? One does not miss, what one does not know and no one is hurt…” The Altmer let his voice trail off and lowered his legs so that they now dangled from the beam. The closed body now became more open and Skjor saw how the expression on his face was now more relaxed. “Thank you.” He said softly from his perch. “You are a good friend to me, brother, for wanting to know what was wrong with me and I am better for telling you. One survivor to another. They did not beat us.” The Elf’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “But you are indeed very stupid.”

     

    “Huh? You fucking—“

     

    “She’s WAIting.” Mer intoned, letting his voice modulate in pitch as he watched the crowd. “And there will be no hiding under my cloak tomorrow when you have to face her wrath. That red hair does not lie and I will have no part of that. I am an Elf with a very healthy sense of mortality.”

     

    “You sure?”

     

    “Go, friend, with my blessings. You know Tyranus, before he passed to Aetherius, told me to live for the little moments. I try to live by that advice and you should too, my brother. I will see to your knees tomorrow.” The smile morphed into a knowing grin and he winked. “I expect them to be worse for wear. Especially if you try what was going on in the back room.” Skjor’s jaw dropped and the Elf let out a whistle.  “Auri-El’s Bow! Dunmer women sure are something else! I think those guards will be paying me a visit tomorrow too.”

     

    Skjor shook his head as he began to stand up to make his journey across the beam. You fucking sly fox.

     

    “Be mindful of Lucia.” The Elf warned quietly.

     

    He waved a hand dismissing Äelberon as he walked across. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t wake up the brat.” He whispered. “Go bang Aela. See you for bad knees tomorrow.” Skjor turned his head one last time. “You rest up to, and Snow Bear?”

     

    The Mer looked up from the crowd. “What?”

     

    “Go send those dragons a fucking message they won't soon forget.”

     

    “Auri-El’s Grace that it be done. Goodnight, Skjor." Snow Bear’s head turned to resume watching the crowd and Skjor left him there. The drum of the Mer’s pumping heart the last thing to reach Skjor’s ears as he walked away. A warrior’s heart, too great for the aging body it was trapped in.  

     

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Part 2, Chapter VIIIPart 2, Chapter X

     

Comments

15 Comments   |   Harrow and 10 others like this.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 7
    ..... 
    Nope.. 
    We spoke about the chapter and I gave it a like so there... Time to move on...
    Stop rolling your eyes at me.....
  • Gnewna
    Gnewna   ·  April 15
    *spits on needle-using cow*
    • Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      Gnewna
      Gnewna
      Gnewna
      *spits on needle-using cow*
        ·  April 15
      Ah, lol, yeah. Hard to believe they were once close friends, right?
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  April 15
    There´s only one truth that really matters here. Jenassa and three guards! Thanks, Lis, now I can´t get the image out of my head...
      Also it´s good to see that Aelberon finally came up with the truth, told someone that shit. Also Skjor...if an...  more
    • Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      There´s only one truth that really matters here. Jenassa and three guards! Thanks, Lis, now I can´t get the image out of my head...
        Also it´s good to see that Aelberon finally came up with the truth, told someone that shit. Also Skjor...if anything...  more
        ·  April 15
      It also reveals that I need to spell Colovian correctly. Dammit. I'll fix that right away. 
    • KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      There´s only one truth that really matters here. Jenassa and three guards! Thanks, Lis, now I can´t get the image out of my head...
        Also it´s good to see that Aelberon finally came up with the truth, told someone that shit. Also Skjor...if anything...  more
        ·  April 15
      Hmm... that raises a question. Is the term 'Colovian' only subjected to Imperials born in Colovia, or could any other race be called Colovian as long as they have a tinge of Colovian ancestry in their blood? 
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  April 15
    I wonder how Aelberon would cope with twitter? "blah blah blah, the bastard didn’t know when to shut up sometimes." If it can be said in less than 140 characters then it isn't worth saying, for you miss out on poetic sentences such as: "What I want, Skjor...  more
    • Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      I wonder how Aelberon would cope with twitter? "blah blah blah, the bastard didn’t know when to shut up sometimes." If it can be said in less than 140 characters then it isn't worth saying, for you miss out on poetic sentences such as: "What I want, Skjor...  more
        ·  April 15
      God dammit. I see I need more space...


      Hmm, a very moving chapter Lis. The difference between love and being in love, the pain of self esteem in a society who views you as ugly, and a person whose choices prompted by these things ver...  more
      • Lissette Long-Chapper
        Lissette Long-Chapper
        Paws
        Paws
        Paws
        God dammit. I see I need more space...


        Hmm, a very moving chapter Lis. The difference between love and being in love, the pain of self esteem in a society who views you as ugly, and a person whose choices prompted by these things very much defines who...  more
          ·  April 15
        Yeah, it's a bit sad that he has to even explain himself, but Nord are far more outgoing in Straag and they just don't understand his behavior. Skjor was concerned. For all his crustiness, he was being as good a brother as he could be and laying the found...  more
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  April 15
    I find this chapter very informative, especially about Altmeri marriage customs.
    • Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      KaiserSoSay
      I find this chapter very informative, especially about Altmeri marriage customs.
        ·  April 15
      This is pure speculation on my part, please don't take it as lore. All I did was base it on some scant sources and let my imagination run wild. 
  • Harrow
    Harrow   ·  April 14
    I find myself very interested in Elenwen's needles...
    • Lissette Long-Chapper
      Lissette Long-Chapper
      Harrow
      Harrow
      Harrow
      I find myself very interested in Elenwen's needles...
        ·  April 15
      Are you? 
    • Ben W
      Ben W
      Harrow
      Harrow
      Harrow
      I find myself very interested in Elenwen's needles...
        ·  April 15
      Oh god
      • Lissette Long-Chapper
        Lissette Long-Chapper
        Ben W
        Ben W
        Ben W
        Oh god
          ·  April 15
        Hahaha.