Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter XIV: Old Buzzard

  • 1st of Sun's Dawn, 4E 202

     

    “You will owe me a lot more than just one case of Black Briar for this, Veteran.” Griped Eorlund Grey-Mane.

     

    “Get your hammer out of your arse, you old nag.  Here’s your coin.” Skjor replied, handing the smith an additional bag of septims.

     

    “Well, I had to work late past two nights to get this done and… and, I had to clean his armor. Again.

     

    “If I recall, he was going to clean it himself.” Skjor pointed out.

     

    The smith’s work-worn features softened and he waved his hand in dismissal as he set the bag of septims on his bench. “Bah! Wasn’t going to let him do that. Looked dead tired when he got back to Jorrvaskr.” Eorlund took a rag from his belt and wiped the soot-stained sweat from his forehead.  Forge was still hot and Skjor could feel the sweat build under his own armor, he couldn’t imagine how Eorlund and Äelberon put up with the intense heat.  The smith’s skin was damp with it and his grey hair was pulled back into a crude ponytail, his grey beard streaked with grease from when he rubbed it as he was prone to do when thinking.  The Veteran smirked when Eorlund reached for a cool bottle from that case of Black Briar. He then gestured with his head towards the large, flat slab of stone jutting from the forge that he used for planning. “Well, there it is, and if I may say, some of my finest work.”

     

    Skjor walked to the stone and peered at the armor, unable to restrain the whistle that escaped his lips. It was exceptional.

     

    “You’re lucky he left his measurements at the forge from his last armor set. He’s a big, big Mer, that one is.” Eorlund explained. Skjor normally would tune out the smith’s ramblings, but today he humored him. It was a rush job and it was done with a craftsmanship that impressed the Nord. “Took extra materials to get the legs just right. The height is in his legs, you know. Well, that torso too, but mostly his legs. They are long.  A bloody snow bear on stilts.” He joked.

     

    “Well, he isn’t called Snow Bear for nothing.” Skjor remarked, tracing the wolf motif along the waist piece, marveling at it. Today, you will be a white wolf, my friend. He wondered how Äelberon would look. They all looked different. The twins were black, large beasts, thick of muscle, and often at the rear of the pack. Kodlak had been already older when he received the gift, so they knew him as grey beast, a perfect balance of speed and power. He and Aela were the fast ones, the ones that ran at the pack’s head, though they didn’t lead. Skjor’s form was grizzled and missing an eye. As it was in life, he mused. And Aela. As in life, as beautiful and free as the winds, auburn fur with some ticking along the spine. Graceful and brutal at the same time. Skjor’s hand moved over the wolf’s snout. Some traits definitely carried over and Skjor nodded. He would be a white wolf.  An old, book reading beast who drinks milk, he released a chuckle. Damn, brother, to get you to kill a fly will be a chore.  “Eorlund,” he spoke after some time, “I think I do owe you another case.”

     

    The smith grinned, leaning over Skjor’s shoulder. “I do good work, don’t I?  I don’t boast, but I am very proud of this piece and well, making for another smith poses its own challenges. They know what goes into making armor. He’ll feel like dancing in this compared to that heavy mail and plating he’s been wearing.  He’s not getting any younger either. Should maybe switch to light or maybe try a brigandine down the road. That plating is too much, though I am one to admit, he looks very impressive in it.” Eorlund mused before turning to face Skjor. “You sure no helmet?”

     

    Skjor shook his head quickly, still studying the armor. “Nah, I’ve not seen him wear one in a while. I think they hurt him now. He gets bad headaches sometimes.”

     

    “The dragons, you think?” The smith asked, crossing his arms over his chest thoughtfully while he sipped his mead.

     

    “Yeah. I think they mess with his head. I guess that happens when you’re Dragonborn and the dragons don’t want you to succeed.” Enough of this sad shit, Skjor thought to himself. You can’t think that the Dragonborn will lose, because Skyrim and Tamriel would be in a shithole if that happened. With this gift, he won’t lose, Hircine will see to that.   “Besides, Grey-Mane, what helmet is going to fit all of that hair?” The Veteran quipped, making the smith laugh loudly.

     

    “That hair is something else, isn’t it?  Would make a maid jealous.”

     

    “Don’t know how he fights with it, but he manages. And, Eorlund, I don’t think the maids are exactly jealous.” Skjor winked.

     

    “Aye, you’re right, they like it.” The smith nodded knowingly, brushing his own hair aside. “A lot.”  They shared a chuckle at the Mer’s predicament.  His woman didn't mind bald, though, and Skjor smiled.  “Well, at any rate," Continued Eorlund, "He’ll make a great addition to the Circle. I bet Kodlak is pleased.” Skjor shifted his gaze uncomfortably when Eorlund turned to admire the armor again.

     

    “Yeah, he’s happy about it. We’ll do the ceremony late tonight.” He mumbled quickly.

     

    He was lying through his teeth, of course. Kodlak didn’t have a damn clue and Eorlund didn’t exactly know what being in the Circle entailed. To him, like it was to the other Companions, the whelps, it meant one was accomplished enough to be higher ranked. To get the choice jobs and wear the armor, to be involved in decisions that benefitted the group. They did not know that the Beast Blood was part of it.   It had been difficult keeping things secret from them and even more difficult keeping tonight’s plans secret from Kodlak. Aela almost let it loose several times in the past few days, causing both he and Äelberon to shoot her hard glances. She was young and excited. A new Moon Brother and a fellow archer. Things would be more balanced, and when Skjor became Harbinger, things would be different.

     

    “Aye,” Answered the smith with another nod.  “He must be proud. Sorry I can’t make it. Wife is still in mourning.” Eorlund hung his head and frowned, “Still thinks our Thorald’s alive. She’ll go mad with it, I tell you. It’s been rough on all of us, watching her pine for him. Watching her work the market stalls and Olfina work the Bannered Mare, like a common…” The smith furrowed his brow and didn’t finish the thought. “Damn this war. There was a time where I made enough so that they did not have to work like animals, live like an old clan is supposed to live.  I don’t begrudge Adrianne, she’s a fine young smith, dedicated to her craft,” his expression grew sullen, “but I know what was done.”

     

    Skjor patted the blacksmith on the shoulder. “I know, I know. Not a word on this to anyone, but sometimes I wish Kodlak wasn’t such a stickler for neutrality.”

     

    “It’s a policy that’s served the Companions well.” Replied Eorlund stiffly, but Skjor could tell the words were practiced from the smith. What Kodlak wanted them to say.

     

    “The circumstances are a bit different this time, don’t you think?” Skjor argued back, feeling the blood rise to his face. “With the Dominion breathing down our necks?”

     

    Eorlund handed Skjor the cuirass, the gauntlets, and the boots and laughed sarcastically. “Ha! You sound like the Altmer now.  No love for the Dominion, nor does he hide that he doesn’t see eye to eye with the Empire. That takes a big pair. He argues with the Old Man on the subject.”

     

    “I know.” Skjor smirked.

     

    “The bickering extends to the thane meetings with Jarl Balgruuf as well.”

     

    “Getting an earful from Vignar, eh?”

     

    Eorlund blew out a gust of air in exasperation. “Old windbag doesn’t know when to shut up and it hurts my Fralia to hear all this talk of war. We are going through enough already. Though I will say, old Mer speaks well on the matter from what Vignar tells me. Not resorting to the usual propaganda garbage both sides spill, but arguments that make sense. So much sense, it’s scary. As if he understands something about the Dominion that we don’t.  Even the Jarl gets quiet when he speaks, and we all know he leans Imperial.” They were both somber for a few seconds before Eorlund shook it off and faced Skjor. “Bah! It is what it is. Well, tell the old Mer congratulations for me. He’s definitely earned his place.”

     

    Skjor nodded. “Will do.”

     

    The blacksmith patted Skjor’s back and left Skyforge for his home and the Veteran watched the older Nord walk a ways before he let himself relax, setting down the armor. Skjor then furrowed his brow while he scanned the area for guards and his helper. Aela was late. Was Äelberon finished creating the distraction? Did something happen? Fuck, we are messing around with this cuirass for you, you dumbarse, you better be helping.  Walking into the Mead Hall with this armor unnoticed wasn’t going to be easy, but the Elf had insisted.

     

    Early this morning, Äelberon had stopped him on his way out to Swindler’s Den. Saadia was knee-deep in the Alik’r desert, and this desert wasn’t made of sand, but of shit. She told them all about it the previous night at the Bannered Mare after they returned laughing from a little skooma adventure, making a quick deposit into the Whiterun jail. She cried her eyes out, practically heaving her tits at the old Mer. I spoke out against the Aldmeri Dominion, I am a revolutionary from Hammerfell. My real name is Yman. They are going to kill me. They are hiding in Swindler’s Den. Oh help me! Help me!!—Shove tits, shove tits. Help me, help me—I’ll fuck you, if you do. Well, she didn’t say that, but she sure was hinting at it. Alik’r assassins in Swindler’s Den!? Working for the Old Mary Dominion!? Alik’r working for Thalmor?  My fat Nord arse, Skjor grumbled to himself.  Her story had more holes in it than one of Torvar’s foot coverings, but the Old Mary volunteered to check out the cave for the Redguard lass when a worried Hulda insisted. There is a reason why it’s called Swindler’s Den, my dear Saadia. Bandits and cutthroats.  Alik’r or not, bandits needed to be dealt with. More than likely the woman had gotten herself into some seriously stupid shit and it was probably the subject of tonight’s distraction of the Mead Hall, no doubt, but his conversation with Äelberon this morning had been very strange.

     

    “I saw Eorlund working, on a set of wolf’s armor? Like yours?” Äelberon had asked with a hushed tone.  

     

    “Äelberon, do you always have to stick your bird beak in Skyforge? That was supposed to be a damn surprise!”

     

    Äelberon then took Skjor aside, periodically searching for other Shield-Siblings as he leaned against one of the supports of Jorrvaskr.  “I know, and I thank you, but, if you do not mind, I will wear it tonight. When it is time.”

     

    “Why? We had intended you to put it on afterwards. You do know you have to be naked for the Beast Blood, right?”

     

    He then saw the Altmer shake his head and his face suddenly became faraway.  “I know you strip. I know what the transformation entails, but please,” He said, gesturing to his silver armor, shining in the morning light, freshly cleaned by Eorlund.  “I had made a promise to Vigilant Tyranus to honor his armor and bear his mantle.” Skjor remembered him then looking away, as if thinking carefully on what to say.  “My path now goes a different way, but, Skjor, it would be blasphemous of me to wear this in the Underforge.  I… “The Mer then bit his lip and averted his gaze. “I cannot wear the armor that belonged to a Vigilant of Stendarr into a place where a Daedric Prince is openly worshipped.” He said softly. “I would prefer to wear what is being made for me.” He then bent his head, putting a hand on Skjor’s shoulder, “Please, I know it is not what you believe, and I am truly sorry if I insult you and what your faith means to you with my words. I am a Mer of faith, I understand this.  I ask this, though, not for me, but for Brother Tyranus because he believed, and he was my friend too. It would be wrong of me not to honor that.”

     

    How could Skjor have said ‘no’ to that?  He could have said anybody’s name; it was the way one should be with a Shield-Brother. If it was one thing he was going to have to work on with that Elf, however, it was the guilt he seemed to feel. Almost as if he was ashamed that he was still alive or something like that.  Hmm, maybe go with him to hunt the bastard that killed the family of his blood? That was the source of a lot of the Mer’s anguish, Skjor knew it. “Alright,” he responded. “It’ll be in your quarters after the evening meal today, but you need to help me.  Aela and I can’t sneak it into Jorrvaskr without a distraction. If we’re caught, the Old Man’s going to have all our hides. You know that.”

     

    “I know.” Äelberon then nodded in understanding. “Leave the distraction to me.”

     

    Skjor then slapped the Altmer’s back. “Have fun at Swindler’s Den. Oh and do give the new leaders of the Old Mary Dominion my regards.”  That made the Mer chuckle and the two exchanged knowing grins before the Mer continued down the steps towards the Gildergreen sapling, his little Niniik slung upon broad shoulders that weren’t stooping as they had been before.

     

    “Skjor…”

     

    “Hmm?” He blinked in the night and he smelled her.

     

    He felt a familiar tap on his shoulder and her whisper against his ear, the warmth of her breath making his crotch twitch. How long had he been standing here?

     

    “I’m here.” Aela grumbled.  “Sorry, Njada was being Njada again.”

     

    Skjor smiled. Nosey Njada. Of course she was right, but still.

     

    “How’s our distraction doing?” Skjor asked, his eye not helping itself as it devoured his Huntress.

     

    “They’re being entertained, that’s for sure. You know he can spin a yarn and having his guest certainly helps.”

     

    “Elf’s so damn old, probably knows everyone in Tamriel. I bet Kodlak is in Aetherius, he used to live in Hammerfell.”

     

    “Jorrvaskr’s guest is sitting right next to him.” Aela chuckled. “Evidently, there’s a lot more to the Redguard woman at the Bannered Mare than meets the eye. What’s her name?”

     

    “Saadia.” Skjor grinned. “And you don’t know the half of it.”

     

    Aela crossed her arms over her chest and Skjor’s eye wandered down there. “And how would you know?” She challenged, tilting her head to the side.

     

    Skjor lifted both hands up in surrender, though he was laughing. He loved it when she bristled. “Only know what the Mer knows. Was with him at the Bannered Mare when she told us her sob story. Believe me, she was shoving those tits in the Mer’s face, not mine.”

     

    Aela narrowed her eyes. “That’s better.” Her mood then brightened, her pale grey eyes catching the moonlight. It’s impossible to contain the excitement, isn’t it, woman? I’m practically bouncing up and down too. “You think she’ll ever bed him? Especially after he’s healed?” Who’s calling Njada nosey?

     

    “She can try and try, but I think the Mer actually has different tastes.” Skjor answered thoughtfully and his eye briefly drifted, picturing in his mind all the various unmarried women he and Aela knew. “Maybe a good Nord woman once he’s adjusted to his new life, someone who understands what he went through. A veteran.”

     

    “You?”

     

    “Very funny.”

     

    “Uthgerd?”

     

    “Fuck no! Not his type. Besides, I don’t think he likes blondes.”

     

    “Skjor, she’s not blonde.” Aela cocked her eyebrow.

     

    “You women and your details! I fucking can’t tell the difference.  What's your problem anyway calling a woman's hair after fruit? Strawberry blonde, that's just stupid. Blonde is blonde. Anyway, not his type.  I know. Some silly shit he once told me about Jone’s pallor against the ebony night." Skjor rolled his eyes. "Whatever the fuck that means.”

     

    She furrowed his brow at his words and then her expression became thoughtful. “He likes dark hair.” She said, that warmth creeping into her voice like it does when she is being softer in her way.

     

    “Is that what that means?” Skjor grumbled, he wasn’t one for such things. “Fucking Old Mary poetry shit.”

     

    “Ha!” She chuckled. “Aye, I’m normally not a fan of things like that either, but I’ll admit it’s lovely how he puts things into words sometimes. Like they could or should be sung.” She remarked. “Hmm, why don’t you put Maiden-Loom on the hunt?” Aela joked.

     

    “Maiden-Loom? Maiden-Loom! You crazy? She’d go for him herself and I love my brother way too much to put him through that shit.” They both burst out laughing at the notion and Skjor shook his head. “Alright, enough talking of his soon-to-be busy love life. Take the boots and the gauntlets. I’ll take the cuirass.” A smirk crossed his features, knowing now that he’d be playing with fire with his next words. “And be quiet.”

     

    “You’re asking me to be quiet? You make more noise with your armor than a damn mammoth, stomping around like old Legion!  You better watch yourself, Veteran— “

     

    “Or what?” He dared, walking up to her with a mad twinkle in his eye.  Aela smiled and kissed him. He then turned it into several more that made certain promises. It was going to be a fun night.  

     

     

    “And so there we were,” Continued Äelberon, standing next to the roaring hearth of Jorrvaskr’s Mead Hall. He shifted his blazing eyes about the room, and lifted his hand, making a sweeping gesture, “Surrounded by the warriors of the Alik’r, in their full Redguard knight armor, scimitars ready.”

     

    “How many were there?” Barked Torvar.

     

    “Seven, along with Kematu, their leader.”

     

    “Kematu, he wishes.” A rumble of a voice quipped and all heads honed in on the source of the sound while he picked at Jorrvaskr’s food with his fingers in the Redguard fashion. Kodlak was thankful Tilma didn’t make stew tonight, but he imagined the Redguard would’ve adapted. Seeing Snow Bear eat that with a spoon and a fork and a knife was enough of a culture shock. They usually just drank straight from the bowls, this was Jorrvaskr, not Dragonsreach. Alright, you are rambling now, Old Man.

     

    “Or rather wished, my friend.” Äelberon joked.

     

    “True indeed, my apologies, old buzzard.”  said the figure sitting next to Kodlak Whitemane, a gold tooth sparkling against his other white teeth, the light of the hearth reflecting off his smooth ebony skin like metal. His Alik’r garb worn from many years, but immaculately maintained. After all these years, the lanky, battle-scarred bastard had barely aged a day, with only the occasional white hair flecking the full charcoal beard that was just past his neck betraying that time had indeed passed. Looked the same to Kodlak, like he could still kill anyone in the room. THE Kematu, in the flesh, Kodlak thought, a whistle unconsciously escaping his lips.

     

    The old fart knew Kematu.  A legend among mercs in Hammerfell, a bounty hunter, known to get jobs done with the dogged persistence of a Goldpact Knight, only without the drink.  No drink, no nonsense, his scimitars virtual extensions of his arms, he was incredible with the weapon. He faded into retirement after the Great War, heeding the call to protect his desert tribe against the Aldmeri Dominion and apparently, when they drove the Witch Elves away, he remained there to breed horses. They only told of what happened at Swindler’s Den, but there was brief mention of a white prize of a stallion known simply as M’Kai. A gift, a treasure, it seemed to Kodlak, by the way both spoke of the creature. “What of M’Kai?” The older Redguard had asked.  Sorcerer, Kodlak recollected, remembering some Yoku from his time in Hammerfell.  Both their eyes misted when the old Mer told him of the beast’s untimely, tragic death. It moved many in the Mead Hall to see such respect given to a dumb beast, especially from little Ria, who could not contain her tears. It showed a shared passion of horses between the two warriors. And a shared friendship.

     

    Redguard and Old Mary, friends. Kodlak raised his eyebrows at the notion.  Friends with a high Elf and a merc who actually retires? A merc who actually retires? Who does that? Those were Askar’s words when he found Kodlak in Hammerfell working as a bodyguard for a noble family, convincing him to leave that work and a life as a merc to join the Companions. Kodlak chuckled to himself. Most mercs don’t live that long, and he wasn’t that old when he stopped. Has it been twenty years since the second treaty at Stros M’kai? Twenty? No, old fool, more than twenty. He’s about the same age as you, only it didn’t show in his features. The same hard lines, the high cheekbones, the stern mouth.  At that time, Kematu’s name was synonymous with death if you were the unlucky bastard he was sent to track and bring to justice. He bordered on a Bleak Walker in his determination, only he never crossed the line into utter ruthlessness, which earned him incredible respect. Kodlak only knew him in passing; the reclusive bounty hunter only had fleeting dealings with Askar before both made their journey to Skyrim in the decade before the Great War. Young then and yet at the same time, already wise. And it was his reputation that brought the Redguard to Skyrim when word spread in the desert winds that he was being impersonated.  Badly, it seemed.

     

    The poor fool didn’t know what hit him when both Äelberon and Kematu showed up at Swindler’s Den. There was pissing of pants, of that Kodlak was certain. He ran into the two as the young lad was being led to the Whiterun jail. What a beardless whelp! No wonder Saadia left him. He let a woman steal his money and then run. What convoluted nonsense! Something out of a lousy story written by a student of the Bard’s College. Ha! Something that dumbarse Mikael would come up with definitely, no doubt. It was, however, a perfect story for the Mead Hall and Kodlak relished the opportunity to speak with a real warrior of the desert.  It brought back fond memories of old Askar.

     

    “Kematu was naturally impressed with my mettle.” The Altmer grinned. “The Imposter fell easily and now sits in the Whiterun jail, ready to journey with you back to Hammerfell to answer for his crimes. And Saadia—“

     

    She is ready to warm my bed.” The Alik’r smirked quietly while the Mead Hall roared.  “Yes, old buzzard, you have kept much from your time in the Alik’r. However, I did not care for charging in like a bear, too Nord for my taste.”

     

    Kodlak chuckled, taking a sip of mead. “We’ve been influencing our old Snow Bear quite a bit, Kematu.”

     

    “Snow Bear?” The real Alik’r raised his prominent brow, his high cheekbones lifting with his smile, exposing white, white teeth and that golden one, just as Kodlak remembered.  “Is that what you call him, Whitemane?”

     

    The Nord raised his own eyebrows in turn. “What did you call him?”

     

    “Annoying!” Äelberon laughed, suddenly leaping onto the table, making the tankards and plates shake. Kodlak could’ve sworn he felt a cold draft, but he was laughing hard with the rest of the Mead Hall. Koor’s eyes briefly shifted towards the door and he gave the dog a pat on the head.

     

    “You like my big belly as a pillow, eh boy?” He whispered. A snort in response and Kodlak gave Koor’s ears a sound rub.

     

    “He is not telling you the entire story, Whitemane, though yes, he was also annoying, especially in the beginning.” Kematu replied, and Kodlak saw a snap of something behind his eyes, the lips turn upwards to form the slightest of smiles. Old bear got to you to, eh?

     

    “After the war, I followed the fight—“ The Mer replied, still standing on the table, though he let his mood darken somewhat. And then Kodlak heard it, the patter of briskly walking feet, the rustling of a skirt, heading straight for the offending table jumper. There would be no more story-telling... She was angry.

     

    “Albee, you get down from that table this instant! You’ll scuff the wood with your boots!” Tilma cried as she began to swat the Altmer’s feet with her dishrag. “Get down, now!” The Hall erupted in boisterous laughter.

     

    “Alright, Alright Tilma, you win, I will step down, but only if you bring me another tankard of TEA! And another slice of apple pie!” They all laughed again ‘til Kodlak’s eyes watered and his belly ached. The Redguard only smirked, but that was their way. Quiet and reserved at times. That he was even here testified to his friendship with old Snow Bear. The smirk was a betrayal of his fondness.  After all, it was the old goat’s fourth slice of apple pie. Snow Bear was going to make himself sick, eating it as if it was the last apple pie in Tamriel. “Go! Old Woman!” The Mer bellowed loudly, pointing to the kitchen, “Or I will sand the tables with me boots!” She swatted his feet again and he jumped, landing hard, making the food and plates quake, before making to scrape the ground like an angry bull. Kodlak quickly grabbed his tankard of mead. Can’t have you spilling, my precious, it would be a waste.  

     

    Kematu leaned back against his chair and grinned through the smirk, making Kodlak lean closer. “Was he like this with you?” he ventured to ask.

     

    “Only to hide pain.” The Redguard replied, still watching Äelberon’s antics with Tilma. Kodlak furrowed his brow. Damn, no wonder Skjor doesn’t understand me sometimes. This was exactly how Askar was and it had rubbed off on him in his interactions with his Shield-Brothers when he became Harbinger.  Nords drink too much mead to understand Redguards.

     

    “Oh! You are impossible!” Tilma cried, swatting his feet again.

     

    “They are squaring off!” Yelled Njada.

     

    “Twenty septims on Tilma!” Athis cried out.

     

    “You’re on!” Barked Torvar.

     

    More laughter, but it felt like to Kodlak that there were two separate spheres; the Mead Hall and then Kematu watching their going ons, as if he was distant from them. The laughter became duller, the punctuated cries of mirth growing mute.

     

    “I’m not sure I follow you.” Kodlak questioned.

     

    The Redguard’s expression grew wizened as he watched their friend face off against Tilma. “He is hard to follow.”

     

    “Now you are being obtuse, Kematu. And I know it’s not the mead or the giant snowberry on my stomach making me think that.”

     

    “It’s hard to follow the buzzard in the sky.” Came the simple reply.

     

    “Bah! The buzzard heads for carrion, follows death.”  Kodlak frowned, waving his hand in disapproval before gulping his mead. “Follows blood and rot. Disgusting creatures.” He made to shew something away. “Best shewed away like the garbage they eat. Not conversation for a Mead Hall.”  

     

    The Redguard finally turned away from Äelberon to face Kodlak. His eyes seeming to look right into Kodlak’s mind. They were strange eyes, almost creepy, light against his dark skin, but not the normal pretty blue sometimes found in Redguards. Instead, Kematu’s eyes were partially grey, green, amber, a striking mix, Kodlak couldn’t tell, but those eyes now regarded him and he couldn’t help but feel himself shrink under the stoic Redguard’s stare. Then he spoke, his words slow, deliberate, as if speaking was not something he was all that accustomed to, but when he spoke, there was great meaning.   “You are wrong, my friend. Buzzards clean. They follow the death so they can clean.”

     

     

    Kematu’s visit did nothing to stay his anxiety and he knew the Redguard had wanted to remain. To speak to him, understand his strange behavior at the Mead Hall as they feasted with his Shield-Siblings. Äelberon rested his hand on the Redguard’s shoulder, looked Kematu right in the eye, and spoke.  

     

    “You are not a buzzard, old friend.”  

     

    Kematu then nodded slowly, immediately understanding, and walked back to the Bannered Mare without another word between them. Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you. He wished his friend well. 

     

    Äelberon ran his fingers over the delicate carvings of the silver-plated cuirass and his heart was so impossibly heavy. He turned away from the mounted armor and resumed lacing his new cuirass. Eorlund did an exceptional job. It fit him perfectly.

     

    It fit, yet it did not fit.

     

    “To cleanse. First, you must become soiled.” He whispered softly under his breath.

     

    It was a dark armor, the color of wolf’s hide; the open jaws of a wolf at the neck of the cuirass and another wolf’s head at the waist. Wolf pelts, hide, and leather were heavily featured in its construction and he noted the warmth. It was warmer than the cool mesh of his Silver Plate and chainmail. And far lighter.  So much lighter than his plate and yet, so much heavier.

     

    He sat at the edge of his bed and dragged on the boots, despite their lightness, like they were made of lead, Koor lifting his head to watch. The support was good at the ankle. He stopped suddenly and let out a ragged sigh when he caught his hands trembling… again.

     

    Do not let the fear kill you, he closed his eyes, trying to will it away. Think of something else, think of peace. Think of snowfall, white-blue in the moonlight and you walking with her, our feet crunching in the beautiful silence. Think of his sun shining upon you, his warmth.

     

    He will not help you now, Äelberon thought, setting his jaw, his earlier spoken Tenets having a flatness to them that they never had before, a distance and he knew why. This is your own problem to fix.

     

    But you will still say them, came the resolute thought. Because you are stubborn.

     

    Äelberon then fastened his gauntlets and stood. Upon his bed was set a plain hood and his old bearskin. He smiled slightly, the very same cloak. The pretty white one was long damaged, broken beyond repair and thrown away, but this black one? This one had stayed with him, tough.

     

    Keep the lacing, he suddenly asked himself, his hand instinctively reaching for his hair, feeling the worn leather at his nape. Hundreds of years. Keep it?

     

    Yes, you do his work.

     

    And with that, he covered his silver-white hair with the hood and fastened the cloak, his eyes again finding the glowing cuirass that was now mounted upon the mannequin. Such a contrast to what he wore now. Old theatrical clichés, eh Mer? White Knight versus Black Knight. Ha! You are such a dramatic, little Seif would be proud. He smirked. When you finally drag Jon Battle-Born to Solitude to join the Bard’s College, you better enroll as well.  He gave the shining armor one final look, mustering his courage. This is battle, Old Mer, no different from Crystal-Like-Law. Your crusade. Your test in the eyes of Auri-El.  Meet it with pride. Never forget who you are.

     

    And may I be worthy.

     

    He opened the door to the main hall of the living quarters. The sounds of sleep filled the hall of the living quarters of Jorrvaskr as Äelberon silently made his way through the corridor and up the steps into the Mead Hall, Koor behind, his very shadow. Even Tilma was at rest.

     

    He was unarmed. Skjor had asked him to store his weapons with Allie. They had something planned, Äelberon was sure of it, and while he did not approve, he would honor their wishes. A few days before, the Nord had an even stranger request.

     

    Skjor needed to ride Allie. That was a tall order, for Allie was a spirited mare and disliked anyone but her master touching her. It turned out to be the most difficult task in the days of preparation leading up to this night. She threw the Nord four times before she allowed him to mount her. Skjor took the indignity with good humor, noting her fire, but he eventually gained her trust. She would need to learn to be this way with all her Shield-Siblings.

     

    This night, he thought to himself as he opened the doors outside. It was chilly and he could see the frost forming on the plants of the courtyard. A cold snap in an otherwise mild winter for Skyrim he heard the townsfolk in the morning as they went about their business.  Äelberon walked briskly down the steps, heading directly to the Temple of Kynareth.

     

    Only to freeze near the young sapling, his eyes inexplicably drawn to her. A smile then found his tired features as he gazed at the tree, remembering the gentle words of his teacher, the High Priest of Dusk, the Vestige, when he was caught by one of the priests of the temple fishing instead of conducting his morning prayers.

     

    “The Aedra do not just reside in the Temple. The boy is right to enjoy the world they gave of themselves to make.” Then he winked, a twinkle in his ancient eyes. “I will fetch my pole and join you, novitiate.”  

     

    More was learned about faith from those stream-side talks, feet bare upon the soft grasses of their homeland, poles idling as they waited patiently for the fish to bite in the lazy Dusken summer sun than reading any book from the Temple’s library. The Aedra. They were nowhere yet everywhere; under rocks, in the water, in the air, in all living things. They gave of themselves in the making of this world. They sacrificed as he was about to. He saw the leaves of the young sapling tremble in the cold breeze, and a rosy pink dusting of spent blossoms fell upon the ground.  Äelberon extended his hand, touching the trunk of the young tree, marveling at her size. How she had grown since her planting just last month, her hungry roots tapping deep into the energies of the tree that came before it. Gaining life from the other’s death. He closed his eyes for a moment and listened, leaning his head upon her slender trunk. Listening as the wind rustled through her leaves. He could hear it.

     

    He gave the sapling a pat of admiration. “By Kyne’s Grace, little one, you have grown. Well, hmm, not so little anymore. Kaan—” he paused, aye, Kaan, her ancient name. “She feeds you, I bet. I remember how you came from the great tree, the magic of it.  I hear their whispers in your leaves, little one. Will you allow this tired crusader a prayer by your branches before battle?”

     

    Äelberon was talking to a tree, but he did not care.  A second breeze rushed through, the humidity going through his cloak, digging into his body, despite the warmth of his new armor. Felt like snow. “I take that as a ‘yes’?” He chuckled, moving away from the tree to sit at a bench, Koor resting his chin upon his knee with a contented snort. “I will sit. I am an old Mer, little one. Cannot stand like you can for a mighty eternity, my bones are not what they used to be.” He released a melancholic sigh. “I am not what I used to be, in the winter of my life, while you, little one, are early in your spring…” He let his voice trail off and drew his cloak tighter around him, encasing himself in its blackness, the steam from his lips alone betraying his life to the world. “Do a favor for an old warrior-priest?” He spoke after some time had passed.

     

    Another shower of spent petals. His breath caught when his mind traveled, triggering a memory, a dream. Showers of petals, her cool hand upon his brow. He knew these trees, seen them in his dreams.  He was sitting, surrounded by the cold and blackness of night and yet at the same time, there was a certain peace in it. A peace that brought him back to his time at the Jerrals where he was sheltered, not by light and radiance, but by snow-capped mountains. A calm and he felt his mind open for prayer. Not the slavish rites of his people, with every syllable and intonation just so. There would be no begging of mercy, no entreaties for his own soul. That bargain was already negotiated at Northwind Summit and he accepted those terms. Besides, he was too dignified for such things and he knew they scoffed at that. They had sacrificed and that was what they understood. Sacrifice, not the scheming of the Daedra, lurking in their planes like old, spiteful matrons on the Hookah, meddling and yet jealous of what they could never have. It was jealousy. That is why they wanted Nirn so badly. Alduin too. Jealousy. It is not yours, you shits, and so long as I draw breath, it never will be. But now, Äelberon of Dusk wanted of one thing, and one thing only, so he spoke, calling forth the old ways of speaking, his words simple. His words true.

     

    “With the light of Auri-El Summer-Crown and the Ice of your breath, Kaan Winter-Storm, forge me as a Wolf of Silver-Steel, so that I may turn the Huntman’s hunt inside out and…” He blinked when echoes of the screams of the family he could not save played in his mind. Smoldering spires, choking smoke, blood shed, city purged, tender last words spoken under her favorite golden tree.  And he thought, accepted that that lifetime of resulting loneliness would be the rest of his days… The fate of a poisoned dagger’s slash and the rumblings of an angry black Dovah changed all that. New hope, laughter by the fire-side, and acceptance. And he understood then, that at that moment, he was not a priest praying before that little sapling to execute the righteous will of the gods, but only a Mer. A brother, a cousin, a father, a son. Mer who would do anything for them, his devotion sealed by their actions in a stormy night. “And save my family.” He finished.

     

     Chapter XIII  * Straag Rod Book 1 * Chapter XV

Comments

9 Comments   |   A Shadow Under the Moons and 8 others like this.
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  November 3
    Now I'm sad. I'm sad because this is the last chapter right now and I know it's gonna take you forever to get something else out, especially seeing as the next is about Aelberon's transformation.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  October 16
    Old Buzzard. I really like the concept and meaning behind the name. It's funny how we ascribe traits and negative connotations to creatures undeserving of them. Some animals loom large in our imaginations, and we see those exemplified with the Nordic tote...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Old Buzzard. I really like the concept and meaning behind the name. It's funny how we ascribe traits and negative connotations to creatures undeserving of them. Some animals loom large in our imaginations, and we see those exemplified with the Nordic tote...  more
        ·  October 16
      Thanks, Phil. Glad to be getting back into Albee's story again. It is like a nice, comfortable shoe. :D
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  October 15
    I like the twist on Kematu and also love how you just disintegrated Saadia's 'bulletproof' story with one sentence. "Shove tits, shove tits, shove tits" That pretty much summarised my first playthrough of Skyrim. Didn't care about whats and whys. It was '...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      I like the twist on Kematu and also love how you just disintegrated Saadia's 'bulletproof' story with one sentence. "Shove tits, shove tits, shove tits" That pretty much summarised my first playthrough of Skyrim. Didn't care about whats and whys. It was '...  more
        ·  October 15
      Albee's nutters, of course he'd talk to a tree. 
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  October 15
    Oh, I like this twist on Saadia's quest. Kematu is a proper badass here. And Albee goofing and brooding as usual.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Oh, I like this twist on Saadia's quest. Kematu is a proper badass here. And Albee goofing and brooding as usual.
        ·  October 15
      Aww, he's about to do a big thing. He's going to be brooding. LOL
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  October 15
    New Straag chapter!
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      New Straag chapter!
        ·  October 15
      Yeah, thought I'd give people one. Lol.  I can't JUST play Fallout you know. I have my peeps to think of. :D