Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter XI: Away from the Light

  • Tavia was in charge of tending the flames of the Beacon today. To make sure the fire always burned, so that Stendarr’s light could be seen even in the darkness that was Skyrim these days. The war, the dragons, the threats that retreated into the night when the sun rose.  She dropped the last pile of wood upon the floor of the Beacon roof and let out a steaming gust of air that let her know just how cold the air was.  Skyrim winters were going to be hard to get used to and Brother Adalvald smiled when he said that this was a mild one. Mild? She could barely feel her fingers and toes half the time, she thought, wiping her forehead, before she added the dropped wood carefully to the pit, wishing that she had remembered her gloves back at the tent when a tiny splinter found its way into her little finger.

     

    “Walk the light, walk the light, walk the light…” she grumbled, smelling the cooking eggs drift up the Beacon’s steps. “Stendarr, I really want to walk towards the eggs. Well, you are the Apologist of Men. You’re going to be doing a lot of apologizing for me until I get the hang of things.”

     

    She could feel the god laughing at her. Bet they didn’t have to worry about food.

     

    Chopping wood and tending to an overgrown campfire sure weren’t the most glorious aspects of being a Vigilant of Stendarr, but she did her duty with the understanding of what it meant.  Keeping the Beacon lit was a symbol that they would not be defeated and Keeper Theodard was adamant that it would remain lit. The destruction of the Hall almost broke the Vigilants, but Brother Theodard had managed to pick up the pieces after Keeper Carcette’s death.   Carcette had at least wielded a warhammer, a warrior among their ranks, despite her small size, but Theodard?   At first glance, he didn’t look like much at all to Tavia.  He was fine-boned, soft-bodied, and with the fair skin and bulging eyes that hinted of a lifetime with his rodent’s nose stuck in a book. You’re taller than him, she thought, wiping her hands on her robes, and you can probably easily take him in a fist fight. He didn’t look like much, but he rose to the challenge and being next in rank to be actually alive, he took the mantle of Keeper.  And… Tavia paused from her work to start picking at the splinter; he was doing a fine job, leaving her fellow Vigilants full of surprise and admiration for the man that she could only describe as ‘plucky’. The former librarian and scholar of the Vigilants sure could keep them organized. In the small amount of time between the fall of the Hall and now, he had managed to recall most of the Vigilants of Stendarr to the Beacon, reorganize the ranks to cover the loss of hierarchy and begin work on a more permanent structure to serve as their new home. Tavia couldn’t figure if he even slept, he had done so much already.  

     

    He definitely walked the light and you need to keep it lit, Tavia. The eggs can wait, she smiled.  Tavia was about to descend the steps again to retrieve the oil, when she saw a rider come up the road leading to the Beacon. Even from faraway, she knew the horse. Her high, proud step, her coat a glossy black tinged with the sun’s copper, her fiery spirit. And upon that horse…

     

    Tavia flew down the stone spiral stairs, nearly colliding with Brother Adalvald.

     

    “Child, the light!” He called after her when she shoved past him.

     

    “It comes!” The words flew out of her mouth faster than she could think on them, her smile broadening.

     

    “What? The light is up there! Child, come back!”

     

    ‘You’ll see!” She could hear his Nordic cursing as he charged up the steps to tend to the Beacon, but she ignored him and ran full-speed towards the black charger.

     

    “Big Brother! Big Brother!” Tavia called out making him look from his saddle. The horse stomped and snorted in excitement and she heard rumble an ‘easy Allie’. A flurry of black and white sped in front of the rider to intercept and before Tavia could realize it, his husky was running by her side, his tongue lolling and his tail wagging. The blue eyes sparkling.

     

    Brother Äelberon now wore the armor of their fallen Brother Tyranus. It suited the elegant High Elf extremely well, for it made him look taller than his old steel set, and very much the grand Knight of Auri-El.  Tavia stopped running just short of the horse, still huffing from her run. 

     

    “Brother.” She panted while Koor ran circles around her.

     

    “Easy, little one.” The Mer smirked. “I am worth no one running for. Though I will say, you verily have the Alik’r winds at your back when you run!” 

     

    Tavia beamed as she caught her breath. She had missed those ‘verily’s and arcane speech a great deal. “I had to be fast to catch up with my brothers.” She grabbed at the horse’s reins and laughed when Allie’s fuzzy muzzle found her shoulder, knocking her back a bit.

     

    “She remembers you fondly. As does Koor.” The Elf smiled. “As do I. Hold her while I dismount.”

     

    “Aye.” She nodded, her eyes finding the Mer. Her brow lowered. He looked so different.  It was Tyranus’ armor for sure, fitted beautifully for him, but now that she was closer, she could see that it was covered in places with black, oily soot and then a strange ice-blue residue. Äelberon also did not wear a helmet anymore. Instead he had on a mage’s hood of worn brown leather and that old cloak of bearskin. Said he got it from an Orc.  She watched the thick ruff of its collar blow in the light breeze. That Orc must have killed a boar bear to get it. Slightly slung upon his back was an unstrung bow of…

     

    “What is it, child. Your jaw has hit the floor.”

     

    “It’s beautiful.” She managed.

     

    “What? Ha!” He looked around at himself. “Surely not me! Nothing of mine is beautiful!” Äelberon chuckled warmly, clearly funning.

     

    “That, silly brother. I know you’re ugly.” Tavia replied, pointing at the bow before crossing her arms over her chest.  The husky snorted in agreement.  A robust laugh escaped his lips, only to be snapped back and silenced with a sudden sharp grunt, as if laughing for him wasn’t the best idea. It was a brighter gold than the broken Thalmor bow her father had proudly on display at their home in Hammerfell.   Intricately carved.  A regal weapon with long limbs like its master.  It looked like it could both strike from a distance and be used on horseback.

     

    The Mer nodded thoughtfully. “Aye, Okriim is a grand weapon. My Lenya made fine bows and I never boast, but I think she would have been proud that her son carried on her traditions.”

     

    “Okriim?”

     

    “Eagle.” He said with pride.

     

    “Oh…” She let her voice trail off, distracted by other new things to see.

     

    The quiver was just as exquisitely made, though it now had some bad scuffing and was empty.  A rich brown leather with only hints of Elven gilding. Slung at his side for easy reach and adapted to hold labeled arrows of various types.  He labeled his arrows? At his waist, she could make out a scabbard that held a new blade, the glint of its silver sheen just visible under a hilt of gold and moonstone.  Some things were not new though. As beat up as his cloak, his steel shield was mounted on a slot near the front saddlebag of his horse, and upon another slot was a staff of very strange make. It looked like a… she narrowed her eyes. A Dunmer with… horns?

     

    Äelberon dismounted, stowing away his bow and quiver and Tavia’s smile of wonderment turned to a frown of concern. He was so slow and stiff in his movements and his face betrayed a great deal of pain. When he was clear of his horse, he immediately hugged her, holding her close to him, resting his chin upon the top of her head, to make fun of her height. He pulled away from his embrace and held her shoulders for a moment and Tavia got a good look at the Mer’s face. Her eyes widened and her mouth opened in shock.  He looked terrible, scratches, bruises, the lines deeper than she remembered, the circles under his eyes darker.  With a gauntleted hand and a half-smile under that new full beard, he lifted her jaw to close her mouth and let out a rumble of a chuckle.  

     

    “I look that bad, eh? Ah, the eyes of younglings, they never lie.” He said, his red-orange eyes kind.

     

    Tavia bent her head. “I’m sorry.”

     

    He squeezed the tip of her chin with his thumb and index finger and she heard another low chuckle. “Never apologize for the truth, little sister.” He playfully chided. The great eyes then betrayed the weight of his age, the bushy brows hooding them like a bird of prey’s does.  “You are right to be concerned. Much has happened since we last spoke.”  They walked side by side toward the Beacon, his husky following.

     

    “I like the beard.” She offered in apology. Äelberon laughed again and she grinned when he put his hand around her shoulder, making her feel even smaller. His laugh was infectious. “The paint too, that is new.”

     

    “A mark, from my Shield-Siblings.”

     

    “Red though? It’s a strange pattern, covers you mouth.”

     

    “Aye…” He paused and Tavia wondered why his face changed suddenly. “Red upon my mouth. Just as my dream. Hmm. Gods, was there foreshadowing even then?” He muttered to himself.

     

    “Brother Äelberon?” Tavia asked. “Are you alright?”

     

    He shook his head. “No.” the brow creased. “Well, no and yes at the same time.”

     

    Tavia bent her head as they continued walking and her eyes found the black soot that had rubbed off upon her robes of her cuirass when they embraced. “What is this?” she asked.  It smelled so strongly of sulfur, like he had battled a mage or something magical… She stopped.

     

    Äelberon also stopped, looking down to meet Tavia’s eyes. He looked like a sweet grandfather to her. A kindly old knight. She had fine memories of their trip to the Beacon, riding that spirited mare, eating apples, and their jokes.  He made the passing of Calvus much easier to bear.

     

    “It comes from dragons.” He replied, his eyes twinkling, like he knew she would ask.  “Now, see what being nosy has gotten you?”

     

    “Dragons?” She repeated, letting it sink in.  “So it’s true then. We had heard that there was a Dragonborn. That a dragon attacked Whiterun.  You? You are the Dragonborn?” She could see her brother’s face grow serious.

     

    “Yes, Tavia, it is true.” He gestured almost impatiently to the Beacon, “Come, child, there is much to discuss and I need to see Brother Theodard.”

     

    “He’s inside. We’ve been very busy here.”

     

    The High Elf glanced around the Beacon, noting the many tents and she saw his eyes linger upon the construction around the Beacon, studying it. “I can see that. There is already building?”

     

    “It’s Broth—I mean Keeper Theodard.” Tavia let out a gust of air. “He’s everywhere. I didn’t know Bretons had so much.”

     

    “Energy.” The Mer completed.  “Aye, they are a busy race. As if they fear the end will come too quick for them to finish what they started. Like a falling star, little sister. Burns bright, burns strong, and then promptly burns out, many times before it even crashes upon the ground.” A smirk formed on the Mer’s lips. “All the worse that he is a rather potent mage.”

     

    “I don’t think he sleeps.” Tavia whispered, shaking her head.

     

    Äelberon chuckled. “I barely sleep either. This will happen to you as you age. You have strong magicks in you, I can tell.”

     

    “Really?” She felt her eyes widen.

     

    “Aye, you be doing a lot more than healing yourself.” He winked at her. “The spell of tea-making!”

     

    “Of course, big brother.” She laughed, her blue eyes shining. Äelberon and his tea.  She leaned against his chest, enjoying his warmth despite the stink off the soot and felt another affectionate squeeze to her shoulder and then quick kiss to the top of the head while they walked.  Most of his kind despised even being touched. Less than a day they knew each other, but he had that way to him. Know him for a day, and he treats you like a friend of a hundred years. She knew he was here on a serious matter, that something burdened him a great deal, but he still joked with her. It was comforting. 

     

     

     

     

    “Brother Theodard!”

     

    There was no mistaking that voice and the Breton turned to the sound of the booming baritone.  His hazel eyes greeted the broad expanse of a metallic, plated chest. Look up, fool. By the Eight, the armor made the High Elf look even taller. More tall? He was already past forty-two pertans. What do they feed Elves from Dusk? Damn, he hated being so short. Theodard waved and approached Tavia and Brother Äelberon, quickly. He wrinkled his nose. What have you done with Tyranus’ armor, crazy Mer? Roll around in a campfire?

     

    “You are a mess.” The Breton quipped as he clasped Äelberon’s forearm in warm greeting. By Phynaster's dainty feet! Those fingers were going to leave marks on his arm and he didn’t even look down to know that his own hand could not close over that bear’s wrist. “Stendarr’s mercy be with you, Brother Äelberon.” He gasped.

     

    The High Elf nodded slowly, releasing Theodard’s arm before it fell off. He just didn’t know his strength. Well, he’s used to greeting Nords. Brother Tolan had to be careful not to knock him down with a slap to the back. “And also with you, Keeper.” Äelberon replied.

     

    Brother Theodard gestured to the fire. “Aye, this tiny librarian’s Keeper now. Highest rank that still has a beating heart. Well, come, sit. Make yourself welcome, friend. Food? Drink?” He narrowed his eyes and cocked an eyebrow. “Ah, yes, I know you. Tavia?”

     

    “He’s already asked for it.” She grinned slyly.

     

    “Well, then bring it! I could use a tankard myself. Need to go over some plans later. Oh, and Tavia!”

     

    “Yes?” The Redguard paused at the entrance to the Beacon.

     

    “See to Brother Äelberon’s horse.” Theodard turned to the Mer. “You plan on staying long?”

     

    “I am not sure.” Äelberon replied, fiddling with the collar of his cloak, as if he was not sure he wanted to unfasten it or not. ”But she could use the rest. Koor, go with Tavia.” The Elf’s husky snorted. “Go.”

     

    Tavia gave the animal an ear rub and the beast then eagerly followed.

     

    “Whore. Go anyway, do anything for an ear rub.” The Mer muttered under his breath, only to realize where he was. “My apologies.” He bowed towards Theodard.

     

    Keeper Theodard made a sweeping gesture with his hands, “Do not worry. As you can plainly see, I have been very busy since our last meeting. For all practical purposes, the Beacon is our headquarters now.” He crashed his backside upon a bedroll and sighed. Is this the first time you’ve sat down today, Theo? He nodded to himself, aye.  He extended a hand towards the other bedroll for Äelberon to sit.  “Chairs are coming in from Riften in a few days. Chairs and tables. From charitable donations, yes, but they are welcome. My arse will personally enjoy the change of pace.” The High Elf sat with some effort, his face contorting in pain, making Theodard frown with concern. “I know you’ve cracks in those old bones, Brother, but that isn’t just your normal aches and pains. You are injured. What happened? Do you need—“

     

    The Mer released a sigh and Theodard saw the build of sweat upon his brow from his efforts to restrain his pain.  He nodded, though it was a reluctant one. “Yes, Brother, I will indeed require healing, if you can spare the magicks for an unworthy knight.” Theodard tried to mask his eye roll, but this was typical of Order of Auri-El. The extreme humility in the presence of others. The antithesis of their race’s typical behavior.  “That is generous of you to offer.” He waved his hand slightly when Theodard made to approach the Elf, “But later, later, when we have finished our words.” He shifted his positon on the bedroll and groaned when his back cracked audibly, “I broke my back.”

     

    “And you still stand?” Theodard asked in disbelief.  He had heard that older mages devoted to the healing arts could perform such feats. If a single part of a being was alive, a powerful mage could bring that person back from what seemed to be death. It was not necromancy. There was still a part of the person still alive. If one part lived, it could be used to heal the rest, though the concentration, the effort it took was beyond the skill of most. He had seen one such master mage in High Rock do it once. They were usually associated with a religious order, he found, because to heal others, you had to also give of yourself.

     

    “I have been healing others since I was seventeen, Brother. I know the body, my body.” The Elf’s hand gestured to the sky. “And I prayed that I could heal my body so I could continue the path laid for me by the god of my Order.” The eyes found the cooking fire. “I had broken it fighting a dragon. Fortunately, my prayers were answered, and I was blessed enough heal my back somewhat and give death to the beast.” Brother Theodard stared hard at the Elf. Äelberon rubbed his temple as he sat by the fire, a bit uncomfortable by the Breton’s probe. “All I can say is that I am very glad that I was blessed with rudimentary knowledge of such magicks.”

     

    Theodard smirked. No Altmer he knew ever referred to his skill as rudimentary. Ah, priests of Auri-El. “You will have to explain what happened. The process behind it. As a fellow healer, I am very curious about what you did.”

     

    “It was not at all pleasant.” The Mer grumbled.

     

    “Did you go into stasis?” Theodard asked, unable to restrain himself. This was Third Era magicks, possibly even earlier and he always had a fascination for such things. They were so limited now, by comparison.

     

    “I think so.”

     

    “You don’t know?”

     

    The Mer gave him a sheepish look. “I must have. I healed did I not? The only thing I could use to correctly describe how it felt is uh…” Äelberon paused, shrugging his shoulders as if he did not want to admit it. “Well, it is a sin.”

     

    “Sex?” Theodard’s brow shot up. “That’s not a sin.”

     

    Äelberon groaned and Theodard could have sworn he saw the Elf’s cheeks color up a little. “No! No!” He cleared his throat, leaning closer to the Breton.  “Coming off a really bad batch of skooma.” He added quickly.  

     

    ‘You’ve taken the stuff!”

     

    “It is not against my Order. Not here, of course.  It is illegal and I uphold the laws of the lands where I dwell. But I have been to Elsweyr several times.”  The Mer looked the other way. “But, aye, it is verily like coming off a bad blaze. That is why I am here. We need to talk about what I saw when I came out of it—“

     

    “Stendarr’s mercy, you’ve had to deal with Daedra and demons, Thalmor too. And now dragons. I do not blame you for taking the stuff. If it keeps you sane, Brother.” He leaned forward, narrowing his eyes and reaching to touch some of the residue on Äelberon’s cuirass. “What the Oblivion is this?” He asked, not liking that it was rather sticky and cold to the touch.

     

    The Knight rubbed his cuirass with both hands and chuckled when the residue stuck to his gauntlets. He shook his hands to get it off, but then let his hands drop with a smile, acknowledging the futility.

     

    “Be comfortable, friend, remove those things.” Theodard insisted.

     

    “You are right; I am not fighting anything now.” Äelberon nodded, beginning to unfasten the buckles that secured them. “The foul mess you are curious about comes from dragon’s breath.  A frost dragon specifically, or at least, that is what I will call them for now. The black is well, soot. That is what it is. Fascinating creatures. If I was not charged with hunting them, I would be studying them.” He rolled his eyes when one buckle, covered in soot, took longer than he wanted to come undone. “It gets everywhere, nook and cranny. Deep, and ‘tis murder to remove from armor.” He chuckled again, making a sour face.  “Eorlund Grey-Mane over at Jorrvaskr will have my hide, for it is not the first time I have returned home covered in the stuff.” The Mer laid the gauntlets next to him upon the ground, away from the bedroll, revealing his bruised hands. The Mer cracked his knuckles and reached for his hood. “Might as well give my hair a breather. It is still a little damp.”

     

    “It hasn’t rained.” Theodard observed.

     

    “No, friend, ‘tis damp from the sweat that comes from heavy battle and nightmares.” Äelberon unclasped his hood and removed it, setting it down next to him on the bed roll. Theodard gasped. The top-knot, it was gone! Äelberon pulled his hair from his cuirass and then stopped mid-pull when he heard the Vigilant.  

     

    “My hair, yes, my hair. I have some explaining to do, I know.  It ties into the reason for my visit today.” He finished pulling his hair from his cuirass and it fell. It was in a far simpler style now, just gathered loosely at his nape, bound by his priestly leathers, and it fell past his waist, the ends touching the bedroll as he sat. “I should have braided it today, but there was no time.” He mumbled. There was a lock that was significantly shorter than the others that now fell upon his face. Äelberon brushed the unruly lock aside with his hand. He scratched his head and then another chuckle escaped his lips, but one that Theodard could tell was laced with a certain measure of bitterness.

     

    “No, skooma is not what keeps me sane.  Though, there are days where I long for a good smoke. They are few and far between. I do not know the customs of this land so well yet to know if what I want to do is legal or not. I think it is.  How do I stay sane then? I pray, my Brother. I pray a great deal. It was extremely difficult in the beginning. To be Dragonborn was not something I ever wanted.” The Elf’s face darkened a bit and he shook his head, “’Want’ is a poor word to use. I will never ‘want’ this, for I do not crave power.  ‘Acceptance’ is far better. I have ‘accepted’ being Dragonborn.” He sighed, his eyes washing with grief, “But I can never go home again. That was a bitter brew to swallow, the tears flowing freely that first night when I learned what I was.  The anguish. Every Nord’s dream, an abomination to the Altmer. My people will never take me back now.” He bent his head. “I had always hoped…”

     

    “I know, every exile has that glimmer of hope, don’t they?” Theodard offered, but it sounded like bad small talk to him and he almost regretted saying it.

     

    “That they do.” The Mer answered candidly. “But I have made peace with the path that Auri-El has set before me and as His servant; I will always do His will. Always…” He gestured to the Shrine of Stendarr, “Just as you endeavor to do Stendarr’s will.”

     

    “Koor is watching Brother Tolan cook.” Tavia said absently as she came in with two tankards of boiled water and some small bags of dried canis root.

     

    “He enjoys eggs.” The Mer remarked.

     

    She made a little scream of surprise when she saw his hair, nearly dropping the tankards in the process. Theodard beckoned her over. He understood the shock of the child. The top-knots of the Order of Auri-El were the stuff of Tamrielic legend among the holy orders of the land. Worn under hoods, under helmets. Comfort mattered not to this most austere order of priests and paladins. The ritualistic binding and unbinding of their hair, their symbolic connection to their “Time Dragon”. The longer the hair, the longer the service. What it meant when a priest of that Order was not sporting one.

     

    “I know, I know, Tavia.” The Elf sighed. “I miss it too. It was a part of me for so very long. Thank you, little sister.” She knelt next to him and Äelberon took from her the small bag of dried canis root and began to steep his tea, letting out a yawn, which he quickly covered with his hand. “My apologies, Keeper Theodard. In my fatigue, I have forgotten my manners.  It has been a difficult few days.”

     

    “You’re among friends, Brother Äelberon, we will allow you the occasional yawn.”

     

    Äelberon smiled, his laugh lines creasing a little. “Ah, I can tell we are no longer in Alinor. I was not allowed such relaxation there. Your indulgence is appreciated, Keeper Theodard, and I will probably forget my manners a few more times before I finish my visit today.” All three then sat in silence for several moments while their tea steeped. Theodard observed the Mer. His eyes were closed and he almost looked to be meditating, his lips moving slightly. The Breton’s eyes narrowed. No, the Elf was praying. He glanced at Tavia who raised her shoulders in confusion, not understanding either. What is making you pray, priest? Before he could open his mouth and break the silence with that question, Äelberon’s eyes fluttered open and he calmly removed the tea bag and took a long sip of tea.  They both noticed the old Knight sag upon taking a sip and the Mer’s eyes drifted to Tavia.  “Yes, child, my hair is now unbound and bless you for the tea.”

     

    “Why?” Tavia started. Child spoke out of turn, but Theodard let it go. The Mer may open up more with her present.  

     

    “For the love of a Shield-Brother, I now do penance for my Order.” The Mer began. “I am disgraced, yes, but am I ashamed?  No, on the contrary, I bear my disgrace with great honor, for even as I violated a tenet of my Order, I fulfilled my Order’s most sacred tenet with my actions; to be merciful.”

     

    “What tenet did you violate, Brother Äelberon?” Brother Theodard asked. 

     

    Äelberon’s face grew very serious. Grim, and his red-orange eyes blazed in the fire light. “Ah, Keeper Theodard, Sister Tavia, I am not normally a Mer of secrecy, but what I say to the two of you now cannot ever leave this room. Do I have your words as Vigilants on this?”

     

    He was asking for their promise and Theodard saw Tavia stiffen. He reassured her with a nod.  He was going to see where this was headed. He had to give some leeway to the Mer who selflessly delivered the bodies of both Brother Calvus and Brother Tyranus for burial. Theodard watched Äelberon take another sip of tea. Whatever he was about to say, it was not easy for him. “You have my word, as Keeper of the Vigilants.”

     

    The Mer nodded in appreciation. “May the gods bless you for your wisdom, Keeper Theodard. I will continue. What would you do if one of your dear brothers or sisters became a vampire? By accident or cruel twist of fate? Would you embrace Stendarr’s might or Stendarr’s mercy?”

     

    Theodard rubbed his chin. The Mer was putting the question to them, so he was probably faced with some sort of moral dilemma. “If it was something they did not wish, we would have them seek out a cure. Send them to Falion over at Morthal.”

     

    Äelberon raised his eyebrows. “Falion? He is here, back in Skyrim? Did he not leave after his falling out with Winterhold?”

     

    “Yes, he did leave, but the Redguard Conjurer has returned.” Theodard muttered.

     

    “You do not approve?”

     

    “It’s his methods, Brother Äelberon. Too frequently does he delve into the plains of Oblivion.”  Theodard shook his head uneasily. 

     

    “He does it to help.  For him to be back, it must be tied to the vampires, because he could not abide the college’s Arch-Mage.” He looked up from his tea. “The vampires are growing bolder.  And he is the only one that I know of that can perform the rites.” The voice became hushed. “He is the only one because he understands them.”

     

    All were silent then. Falion was a point of contention among the Vigilants before the Hall fell and Carcette was unsure whether or not to act on the Redguard’s return to Skyrim. He was close to Äelberon, according to some of their sources, seemingly owed the Mer some heavy debt that the Vigilants had not yet learned the nature of, but the Vigilants considered both of them more unorthodox with their methods. Äelberon was a little easier to swallow, however, as he did not practice such dark magicks.

     

    Theodard nodded, taking another sip of tea.  “Yes, and it is he we send Vigilants too when unfortunate accidents happen.”  His eyes met Äelberon’s. “I am assuming we are talking about your family at Jorrvaskr?  Did one of your Shield-Siblings accidently become a vampire? I know they frequently clear their foul dens. They do very honorable work.”

     

    “Oh no, Keeper, if it were that, we would not be sitting here having this conversation. Vampirism I can deal with, especially with Falion around. No,” He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. It was what Theodard typically did when he felt a headache coming. “This is different, and far more complex a problem. For what afflicts my family, there is no longer a documented cure. But yes, we speak of my family in Jorrvaskr.” He took a sip of tea and bent his head. “If one of your brothers were afflicted, what lengths would you personally go through to cure them? To cleanse their souls?”

     

    “Brother Äelberon, what are you saying?” Theodard’s eyes narrowed. These were very strange questions.

     

    “What if Stendarr showed you the way to cure your afflicted brother, but in order to do so, you needed step away from his light and walk a dark, dark path… Abandon all that you are and become something else?”

     

    Theodard shook his head. “Stendarr would never ask that of any Vigilant. Äelberon, you are not making any sense.”

     

    Äelberon closed his eyes and his voice was no more than a whisper. “Lycanthropy, Keeper Theodard. My family is afflicted with Lycanthropy. They are the Bitter-Cursed of Hircine.”

     

    Tavia gasped and put her hand to her mouth. Brother Theodard’s jaw dropped, but he quickly regained his composure and put a hand upon Äelberon’s forearm.

     

    “How do you know?”

     

    The Elf’s nostrils flared as if he were trying to suppress his building emotion. “On my trial to join their ranks, we were attacked by Silver Hand.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I wondered, why them? What were they doing in the crypt? And then my heart would not stop pounding.” Äelberon pressed his hand against his chest and his head bent in sorrow. “When I realized it was my own Shield-Brother they were after…”

     

    Theodard set down his tankard and rested his head in his hands, thinking. Think Theo, think. He raised his head quickly. “You let him live, didn’t you?”

     

    “I cannot kill the people who saved me.” The voice broke at those words and Theodard saw the great eyes mist with tears, saw the Mer bite his lip to try not to cry. “They are my family.”

     

    “Now, I know why you do penance.” Pressed Theodard.

     

    “Yes.” The Mer whispered, groaning softly as he brushed tears away.

     

    “Brother, there is no cure for Lycanthropy. There was once, but that died with the last Glenmoril witches in Cyrodiil. That was over one hundred years ago.  Be merciful and end their lives. They are lost.” His face became cold, “Or, we will do it for you.” 

     

    Äelberon glared at Brother Theodard, his eyes blazing. “You would have me kill my family? Keeper, I have already killed a family to vampirism and the grief nearly destroyed me. I cannot go through that again.”

     

    “They go down that path, they are not fam—“

     

    “You tell that to the Lenya who bore me!” Äelberon snapped. “Who I cradled in my arms as I sent her to Aetherius! You tell that to the Ata who raised me!  The Ata who is now cursed to Coldharbour for my failure! Who are you to tell me that they were lost to me the moment they changed! Who are you to think you know my pain?” The raw outburst was a surprise from such a normally restrained priest and the Mer quickly composed himself. “Forgive me, Keeper.” He whispered, averting his eyes as if he was ashamed. “My parents were forced on that path. Their deaths, the mercy of a son’s love… and his shortcomings.”

     

    Divines, he blamed himself for their death? It was what? Over one hundred years? And still such terrible guilt. Brother Theodard tentatively reached for the Mer’s forearm again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

     

    “Brother Äelberon? It couldn’t have been your fau—“

     

    “Tavia, please.” Theodard interrupted the child and she now sat with her knees up, her arms locked around them. She shouldn’t be here, he sighed. Too young, too inexperienced to deal with such horrors yet. “Äelberon, you need to tell the Whiterun authorities immediately The Companions are lost, you cannot save them. Their souls are bound for the Hunting grounds. There is no hope, Äelberon, no hope. You cannot cure them.” The Elf faced the flames, wiping the remnant tears from his eyes. He regarded the fire for a small spell, watching the flames flicker and dance. “Brother?”  The Mer turned to Theodard and managed a smiled.  It was a peaceful smile, a resigned smile. And Theodard didn’t like it at all.  

     

    “Light, in all forms, is a beautiful thing, is it not?” Äelberon began. “From the flames to the stars. To the very sun. There is all the talk of gods and what god is represented by what light and whatnot, but it is deeper than that, no? Primitive. Elves hate that word, but there was a time where we were primitive, where phenomena touched us at a different level than it does now. More viscerally. Altmer liked the sun especially, whereas Ayleids liked the stars.” He sighed. “Did you know that I have Ayleid blood? On my Ata’s side. I love starlight. The fire of cold purity lies in it and that is so beautiful to me.” Theodard opened his mouth to speak only for the Mer to continue. “But, I love the sun and fire too.” His face became thoughtful, and there was that terrible resignation again. “They are warm and give life.” He chuckled. “Must be the Snow Elf in me; from my Lenya’s side of the family. Surrounded by snow and ice, it makes sense that they would most love the light that gives warmth. Ayleids knew a warm climate; they would like the light that is cool, like summer’s evening breeze.”  The sadness returned and Äelberon with great reluctance, it seemed to Theodard, turned away from the light to face him. “Light is light. But I must step away from it now, Brother Theodard, and walk in the darkness… I must abandon all that I am, and become something else. To cleanse, I must first become soiled.”

     

    Tavia’s eyes filled with tears and Brother Theodard’s eyes widened in horror at the Altmer’s cryptic words. He could not, no, Äelberon could not mean this. He could not do this. First Tyranus? Now him too? Was Stendarr snuffing out all their lights?

     

     

    Äelberon told them of his dream, leaving out no detail, regardless of how small. From the circle of fire, to the number of ravens, everything. Nothing escaped him and he both marveled and despised how his infernal memory worked for him then, for it made him replay the dream vividly in his mind.  The blood, the gore, the stench of the ravens, the demon’s yellow eyes. Several times, he could feel his stomach turn and once he gagged, almost losing his tea. He even told them how it had haunted his nights since Dustman’s Cairn. The endless torment from not understanding what he was seeing. The deep guilt he felt for refusing to answer Auri-El’s call from the beginning. That he would not heed the message out of fear. He found it odd that he did not mention his vision when he came out from his injury, of the storm and jagged stones, but he knew it was unrelated to the plight of his family and there was something in it that made him want to keep it to himself.

     

    Their reactions spoke volumes. Brother Theodard was dead silent and Tavia had put her face to her hands, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Äelberon stared into the flames, his face long. They were thus for a few moments, until he could bear her weeping no longer. He leaned next to her and put a hand on her shoulder.

     

    “Tavia, please. No more.” He whispered. The child turned to him and he held her tightly, stroking her hair, as she cried into his shoulder, the sobs no longer silent. “Shh, little one.” He rocked her gently. “This old fart is worth no one’s tears.”

     

    “Yes you are.” She choked, still crying. He looked at Brother Theodard, his tortured eyes begging for justification.

     

    The leader of the Vigilants shook his head in disbelief, the hazel eyes very unsure. “You can’t do this, Äelberon. You can’t.” He finally said.

     

    Äelberon turned away from the Vigilant, still holding the child. “You would have me go against the will of my God?”

     

    “Yes, if He commands you to be damned!” Theodard retorted. “It’s not right. It’s not how things are done.”

     

    Äelberon then raised his voice and his eyes intensified. “Keeper, I am damned if I go AGAINST His Word! I am damned either way, but this way,” He pulled Tavia from him, trying to wipe her tears. “I save lives, little sister.” His fingers passed over her cheek while he searched her eyes. Like a baby’s blue, they were to him and he hated seeing them flow with tears. “I save souls.”  

     

    “You can’t…” Sobbed Tavia.

     

    He squeezed her shoulders gently. “Think of my family. I cannot abandon my family…”

     

    Brother Theodard shook his head again and Äelberon knew convincing the Vigilant would be difficult. Making him understand.  It was unreal, what was being proposed.  Here, inside Stendarr’s holy Beacon. He let Tavia sink against him again. She was making things terribly difficult and he wished that Brother Theodard has sent her away. He covered her in the folds of his cloak when he caught her shivering. It was not from the cold, but from the emotional stress.

     

    “No, you have to be wrong.” Theodard continued his argument, doing a far better job maintaining his composure. “Maybe you misinterpreted your dream?”

     

    “Keeper, no, I do not think so. The wolf had my eyes, my scars! It was me! I vanquished Hircine’s Aspect, I believe, in my dream.  He fell to me as Molag Bal did when I battled him for Tyranus’ soul.  Auri-El’s own words were to ‘turn the hunt inside out’. I am supposed to do this.” Äelberon took a deep breath.  “Can you not see that this is ultimately a good thing? That we are doing good works? People will be saved.”

     

    “How do you know it was Auri-El that spoke to you, and not Hircine and his trickery? We mortals fall for such things all the time.”

     

    Äelberon turned slowly to face the Keeper, knowing he was making the Breton blanch with his look. He felt the blood upon his face and his breathing quickened. A wave of anger overwhelmed him.  

     

    “You doubt me?!” He thundered, his eyes widening.  The child pulled away from him and he could smell her fear. No, youngling, I am not your friend at this moment, not the happy priest you snatch apples from in jest. I think the lot of you sometimes forget who I am and what I do as his servant. He was revealing his age then. Revealing his nature to these mortal men. “How dare you! I am Hokziiah. Demonhunter. Zu'u los Ok Kendov Sonaak! I am HIS Warrior-Priest! I have belonged in his Holy Order long before you even dwelled Mundus, Vigilant of Stendarr. Mine is an ancient Order, before the Vigilants! Before even the Eras of Men. Is it not my purpose to cleanse in my Father’s name? To heal those who are afflicted if it is within my power? Whether I cleanse with magic or might? Zu’u shun!” Those words rumbled like his thu’um over the tundra had. “I cleanse!  With the divine spark that He gave me when I took His orders long, long ago. Daedra do not merely send Atronachs and dremora for Vigilants to smite with a sword or banish with a little spell.” He saw Theodard open his mouth to interrupt, but no, he did not let him speak. He was Elder, he would say his piece first. “If you think they only capable of this, then you are sorely mistaken, and you need to wake up, Keeper. Now! Or the Vigilants will die as an Order. The gates to Oblivion may be long closed, but that does not mean they have not found more subtle ways to engage and manipulate Mundus. Ways you do not wish to imagine.” The last words were practically snarled and his eyes bore into Theodard’s. “Rejoice that you have not seen what I have seen.”

     

    For a while Keeper Theodard did not speak.  “I’m sorry, Äelberon. This is just very distressing. Forgive me, I did not mean to doubt you or anger you. You’re right. We cannot question the gods like that.” He saw the Breton pause, as if he was trying to choose the best words. “It’s just that He’s asking you to give up so much.”

     

    Äelberon’s shoulders stooped and his expression softened. He ought not to have raged so. They cared for him too. He rubbed his beard and he again became the kindly Äelberon. “I am sorry, Brother Theodard. I understand that this is quite a shock. It was for me as well when I first came to understand what He was showing me.” He turned to Tavia and touched her cheek tenderly, hoping that she would not pull away after his display. She did not and he was relieved.  Younglings were not used to such things. Even Theodard, an experienced Vigilant had turned pale.  Old Mer! Save the intimidation for you enemies, not the people who love you.

     

     “I am sorry if I frightened you, little sister, for that is never my intention. I am intense sometimes, I know, and the very young are often frightened.” He smiled when she relaxed and he wiped her tears and then turned to Brother Theodard to continue, “The moment I entered Jorrvaskr, I knew in my soul that something dark hung over that place, like a veil. A shame. A betrayal. I did not know it was the Beast Blood, but I knew it was something. Then, when I learned of their Lycanthropy, that night, I prayed to Auri-El to help me; to guide me towards the path that would help my Shield-Siblings, for I knew several sought the cure and they had stopped giving in to the Call.”

     

    Theodard, furrowed his brow. “They stopped giving in to the blood?” He asked.

     

    “Yes, three did, I could smell it. They are fighting, Brother. Hard. The Harbinger, he wishes Sovngarde. I wish to give him that. As you yourself said, they do noble work for the people of Skyrim. They are not monsters. That very night I learned what they were, I had the dream I told you of. Only I would wake before the truth was revealed to me. Why? Because I too feared, just as you do now. Because to be damned is indeed a terrible, terrible thing. It is a naked thing. It was only when I opened myself through near death yesterday, at Northwind Summit, that I finally understood and the rest of the dream was revealed to me. No, Theodard, this was Auri-El who spoke to me, and I know full well what I will lose when I do this.”

     

    “And yet, you still will do this?” The Keeper asked. 

     

    “It is His will, and I am His servant.” Äelberon answered resolutely.

     

    “But He Himself will turn His back on you. That is what happens when you take the Beast Blood.” The Breton argued.

     

    “I know. I know.”

     

    “Why? What are these people to you?”

     

    Äelberon stared had at Brother Theodard. “You even need to ask? They are innocents in this. They are in need. That in and of itself is more than enough for me to do this. But, they are more, so much more. They are my family. They saved me as I lay dying upon the stone floors of their grand Mead Hall when I first arrived in Skyrim, poisoned by a torturer’s blade. Without even knowing me, save for how I handled myself with blade and a shield. They became my family and I their brother. I cannot abandon them.”

     

    “You will then damn yourself for them?”

     

    “Yes.”

     

    Brother Theodard leaned in closer to Äelberon and put his hand on his shoulder. “Äelberon, think. Think this through very carefully. You will no longer be able to enter the Beacon. Holy places will be shut from you. No Temples, no healings from a priest, no shrine blessings. The Vigilants who do not know me will hunt you. The Silver Hand will hunt you, and we both know how they treat Werewolves. The Skinner, Äelberon, she’s in Skyrim.”

     

    Äelberon frowned, his brow hooding his eyes. “She is here?”

     

    “Aye, I don’t know where, but she’s here. We’ve come across werewolf carcasses bearing her signature cruelty. People at best will shun you, at worst, they will kill you. And these are just the social ramifications.”

     

    “I understand the risks.”

     

    Brother Theodard then scowled, crossing his arms over his thin chest. “Do you? Do you really? Wait, I will bring something for you. Do not go anywhere. You need to understand exactly what you are getting yourself into.” Brother Theodard quickly stood and left the Beacon, leaving Äelberon and Tavia alone.

     

    “Why?” She asked feebly, spent from crying.

     

    He put his arm around her shoulder “Ah, child, did I not tell you already?” He answered, his head bent. He remembered the first day they had met. Her silence, then her non-stop questions. Äelberon could have ignored her, left her to her fate. “When we met, did I leave you to your fate?”

     

    “No.” She hung her head.

     

    “And I did not know you.”

     

    “No, you didn’t.”

     

    “And yet I helped.”

     

    “Yes.” She admitted.

     

    “Then how, child, is this any different? You can be two types of people in the world, Tavia. The people that walk past, or the people that stop. I choose to be the person who stops. Do you understand me?”

     

    “Yes.” She said softly, though her head was still bent and he could see fresh tears.

     

    “Tavia?”

     

    “Yes, big brother?”

     

    “When I do this, will you pray for me? Pray for my soul?”

     

    Tavia took his hand in hers, or as much as she could fit of it in her palm, and squeezed. “Of course I will pray for you.” She wiped her nose with the back of her gauntlet and sniffed.

     

    He wanted to hold her again and tell her that it would work, for he had faith. It was going to work. It had to. Auri-El would not have revealed it otherwise. She was so young, and to her, such a thing was as a death sentence. He started to move towards her when Brother Theodard walked briskly into the Beacon, his arms full of books. He unloaded them in front of Äelberon and then took a place next to him, cross-legged. Äelberon knew the books; The Physicalities of Werewolves, On Lycanthropy, A Werewolf Hunter’s Advice, Dealing with Werewolves, A Werewolf’s Confession, and Our Curse and Our Glory.

     

    “I have been Hokziiah for over two hundred years, Keeper Theodard, I have read all of these books; multiple times.” Äelberon pointed out, knowing that he was sporting his ‘tone’.

     

    The Breton was not intimidated in the least. “See, I don’t think you have, because if you have truly read these books, you would not be even considering what you are considering now.” Brother Theodard then produced a leather journal. “You have not read this, however. These are my field notes on lycanthropy.” Tavia started thumbing through the Physicalities of Werewolves, while Theodard began to summarize from his journal to Äelberon.

     

    “You will suffer, Äelberon, you will suffer. First is the transformation itself. It can be extremely painful and you will not know who you are when you are in the form of the Beast, nor will you remember what you did. Second is the sleep. You think you sleep poorly now! It is far, far worse with the Beast blood.  Some go mad from lack of rest. Third, is the thirst. That terrible thirst that water cannot quench. Many turn to heavy drink, which makes everything worse.”

     

    Aye, Äelberon knew of all these things. He lived with his Shield-Siblings, he saw the effects first hand.

     

    Brother Theodard scanned his journal and then poked a page hard, showing it to Äelberon, “See, look here.” The Breton was practically shaking the journal at him. “You will be allergic to silver. You wield silver, you use it against the undead. How will you fight vampires now? And look, canis root… Canis root! You drink the tea like it is water! Hmm… Belladonna, and Wolfsbane. These can kill you. And most plant-based foods will disagree with you at best, make you violently sick at worst.” Damn it, Äelberon thought, no more canis root tea. Things were going to be much harder.

     

    Tavia threw down the book and stood up, making both look up from the journal. “I need to get some air, excuse me.”

     

    Äelberon followed her with his eyes as she left the Beacon. “Brother Äelberon, leave her. This is important.” Brother Theodard grabbed him by the forearm and showed him more of his journal.

     

    “You already have keen senses for you’re an Elf, now imagine them heightened; uncomfortably intense. Oh Äelberon, are you sure, are you sure? By the Eight, you could go feral if you cannot control your transformations. And many transform every night in the beginning. Every night! Others cannot control the desire to kill. Äelberon, you are a Mer of peace! What if you kill uncontrollably? Have you not thought this through?”

     

    “I have, Brother Theodard. I have.”  He had, resigned to his fate, but it did not stop the encroaching fear of what would be the greatest trial of his life. Something he had never faced before. Aye, he had lost much in his life, lived alone, but the connection to his God was always there. By doing this, he would now…

     

    He would be alone. Truly alone for the first time in his life. Even in the first year of his exile, when he dwelled the mountains, he was never alone, for he was connected to Auri-El. He was never spiritually alone.

     

    Brother Theodard continued to turn pages and Äelberon began to find the noise exacerbating, only compounding his terror. “You will lose the ability to cast spells. An Altmer without magicka!”

     

    No magicka, to not feel the streams course through his body. What it would do to him, he knew not. Do not think on this now. Think on doing Auri-El’s work. You are doing his work.  

     

    “The power will be taken from you.” Theodard was raising his voice, not out of anger, but out of growing dread. “How will you survive a dragon attack, Äelberon? How?! The last one broke your back and you needed Auri-El’s intervention to help you. Are you listening?”

     

    “Yes.” His voice frailer than he expected from his stomach doing summersaults in his body.

     

    “Brother Äelberon, Auri-El will not heed your prayer while you carry the Beast Blood. Do you understand this? He may have told you to do this, but He will abandon you.  All the gods will.” Theodard counted out with his fingers. “No Syrabane, no Phynaster, no Xarxes, no Mara, no one. All who you pray to.” Brother Theodard suddenly stopped and threw his journal upon his lap in frustration. “Gods! When you die, you will forever dwell in Hircines’ Hunting grounds and I won’t even describe what is in that place. What torment awaits you there when Hircine has you in his clutches? Is this what you want?”

     

    “Is there anything in that journal of yours about a cure?” Äelberon asked, hearing the bitterness in his own voice.

     

    Theodard thumbed through the journal. “Just the damn Glenmoril Wyrd, but Äelberon, they are long gone. Or… a powerful vampire can turn you.”

     

    Äelberon glared at Brother Theodard. “That is not an option.” He growled.

     

    Theodard crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head in disagreement. “Well, it may well be an option. At least we can cure vampirism! I’m just trying to exercise all possibilities. I’m trying to help you.”

     

    “I know.” The despair was beginning to creep in and he could not let it. He blinked away the sting of tears and clenched his jaw.

     

    The Breton let out a gust of air. “A question; it was ravens that attacked you in your dream, correct?”

     

    “Aye, ravens.”

     

    “Ravens are associated with Glenmoril. How many did the silver wolf, well you, as you interpreted it, kill again?”

     

    “Five, I killed five in my dream.”

     

    “How many are afflicted?”

     

    “Five, Brother Theodard, five of my siblings are afflicted.”

     

    The Breton furrowed his brow. “No, Äelberon you are wrong.  Six will be afflicted if you do this.” Brother Theodard’s face grew very pale again, and he put a hand on Äelberon’s shoulder, whispering. “Äelberon, if you do this, you won’t be cured. The numbers don’t match.”

     

    Äelberon turned to the fire again, his eyes distant. “I know. I know they do not match.”

     

    “Gods, yet you still aim to do this, this crazy, crazy thi—“

     

    “I KNOW! I KNOW!” Äelberon suddenly cried, burying his head in his hands, shaking his head. “I know ‘tis madness, utter madness!” He pounded his fist on his thigh and looked up again, facing the flames. “And I venture into such darkness, such unknown. I am only left with my Faith.”

     

    You are beyond my grace now. You must find your own.

     

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Part 2, Chapter XPart 2, Chapter XII

     

Comments

8 Comments   |   The Wolf Of Atmora and 6 others like this.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  April 26
    Bah, you should always question your gods, make sure they're not slackin up there (I know, I'm a horrible heathen :-P )
    I'm looking forward to this take on the companions questline and turning the hunt inside out, but the game left spoilers about th...  more
    • Exuro
      Exuro
      Exuro
      Exuro
      Exuro
      Bah, you should always question your gods, make sure they're not slackin up there (I know, I'm a horrible heathen :-P )
      I'm looking forward to this take on the companions questline and turning the hunt inside out, but the game left spoilers about the rave...  more
        ·  April 26
      P.s. dont forget Sotek is guarding the hunting grounds :-D
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  April 25
    It was nice to see Tavia again. She last appeared in CA iirc so I know she's ok later, but still! Also, a lot of heavy things here, so much weight on the mer's shoulders. I applaud the depth of tangled emotions here written, especially as on the surface t...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      It was nice to see Tavia again. She last appeared in CA iirc so I know she's ok later, but still! Also, a lot of heavy things here, so much weight on the mer's shoulders. I applaud the depth of tangled emotions here written, especially as on the surface t...  more
        ·  April 25
      Yeah, I just really wanted to make more of the choice than what happens in game. 
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  April 21
    So becoming a werewolf cuts your connection to Aetherius? That's the only thing I can think of that removes the ability to access Magicka. Is this actual lore or something specifically put in for SR?
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      So becoming a werewolf cuts your connection to Aetherius? That's the only thing I can think of that removes the ability to access Magicka. Is this actual lore or something specifically put in for SR?
        ·  April 21
      Lol, I had to consult loremaster Karver on this one because he and I had this discussion a good while ago. It is actual lore. From the Totems of Hircine. "Through these totems, we channel and focus our energies of the beast. While werewolves give up the p...  more
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  April 21
    Yeah, this is really difficult thing to chew over. How far will you go for your god? Where is the line that makes your actions your own out of your own free will or just pure fanatism? Very subtle dilemma here. And it´s good to see Vigilants slowly rebuil...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Yeah, this is really difficult thing to chew over. How far will you go for your god? Where is the line that makes your actions your own out of your own free will or just pure fanatism? Very subtle dilemma here. And it´s good to see Vigilants slowly rebuil...  more
        ·  April 21
      I think also Theodard hit the nail on the head rather nicely too. "Divines, he blamed himself for their deaths? It was what? Over one hundred years? And still such terrible guilt." 


      But yes, I agree, it's definitely a dilemma. more