LotS: Frost Moon Chapter One - Predictions in the Smoke

  • Chapter One

    Predictions in the Smoke


    Far from the troubles brewing in Skyrim, on an island choked in ash and ice, existed a tiny village sitting high on the Felsaad Coast. Though they claimed their lineage from Nords, they were a humble people, respecting nature and preserving a Oneness with the land that their more war-like kinsmen would fail to appreciate.

    Wind. Water. Sun. Beast. Earth and Tree. The villagers strive to live in harmony with these six elements given to them by the All-Maker; to maintain Oneness, they take no more than they need, kill only when there is no alternative, and endure when the Adversary seeks to destroy their ways of life.

    These people are called the Skaal.

    Small and secluded though they may be, if the reader is to keep in mind one thing, let it be this: greatness from small beginnings.


    Blood dripped from the torn leathery skin of a bull horker; it splotched fur-and-hide coats as two tribesmen grunted and teetered. Kjeld was one of only two men strong enough to hoist a 300 lb animal onto the cutting hook in the center of the village, the second being Wulf Wild-Blood. Kjeld held up the animal while Wulf tested the hook for purchase.

    Flecks of horker blood dribbled down from Wulf’s handiwork and stained Kjeld’s golden beard. The scent was almost strong enough to make him retch, but he kept still, showing care to keep his mouth shut to avoid making an already unsavory task even worse. He’d treat himself to some ashfire mead as soon as they were finished.

    “It’s done.” Wulf stepped away with bloodied hands, his own pale straw-colored beard likewise flecked, though Kjeld had gotten the worst of it.

    Kjeld released the horker with a grateful huff, shaking the tension out of his arms before wiping at his face with fur-lined gloves. “Nothing like a little hard labor to get the horker blood flowing, eh?” He watched the dead animal sway in the air between them, the wide beams of wood it hung from strong enough to support the tremendous weight. “Should last a while.”

    “Aye, we will eat well for many nights.” Said Wulf, stepping out from under the hunters’ shack to warm his wet hands over the fire, orange glow of the flame spilling the First Hunter’’s shadow across trampled snow. The seasoned huntsman watched as a similarly built, heavily bearded man sheathed his bow and walked towards them. Wulf rose and dismissed Kjeld. “Go on, Oslaf and I will skin the animal.”

    “I’ll see if Baldor has need of me,” said Kjeld, though he looked not in the direction of his mentor’s house and forge, but towards the Greathall, where the table was apt to be laden with fresh braided bread and elk-bone broth, the perfect balm to chase the biting wind from his bones.

    The Village was small, sequestered from the busier port-colony of Raven Rock, on the other side of Solstheim. The houses, ten in all, were of similar size and construction, fashioned in the humble, traditional Skaal style with a deer’s skull mounted above the front door for luck. The Greathall was the only exception; a tall two-floored structure with a high ceiling, the Greathall housed the leader of the Skaal tribe, Fanari Strong-Voice, and served as a meeting place in times of happiness or strife or to hear the coming of the seasons.

    It also served as a place to warm themselves and swap stories before they returned to their houses at first dark.

    Before Kjeld could take two steps towards the forge, the intricately carved pinewood doors of the Greathall opened, and Frea, the Shaman’s daughter, called to him from the warm interior of the great hearth.

    “Oh good, you’ve come back. Quickly, or you’ll miss father’s prediction.”

    Kjeld grinned, and felt his heart in his breast lighten as he happily forwent the forge to meet Frea at the door. He could smell the baked bread even from here; he reached for the handle and—

    “You need to have words with your brother, Kjeld.”

    Visions of braided bread and broth were dashed against the rocks, and Kjeld’s smile slipped after them as he turned to face Deor Woodcutter.

    “His disrespect for our ways has gone too far this time,” said Deor, his arms crossed, gray eyes hard. “I caught him adding freshly chopped boughs to the wood pile today. He swears to the sun-and-stars that they fell down, but I know what axe marks look like.”

    Kjeld grimaced; it was within their custom to only take deadwood and fallen branches for their fires and construction. It was hard to picture his brother scouring the shoreline for deadwood to chop up before his attention wavered. For all the good it would do, Kjeld gave Deor a serious answer.
    “I’ll have words with him, Deor. Just don’t put Reidar on woodcutting duty anymore.”

    Deor scoffed, walking away to fetch his wife near the tanning rack.
    “Oh trust me, I won’t. If he keeps this up, Fanari will force him to live at Thirsk Meadhall instead.”

    “He’d probably love that,” Kjeld muttered when the villager was well out of earshot. A cloudy sigh evaporated over the head-high brazers on either side of the Greathall’s doors. The exasperation didn’t last long, however, and he quickly joined Frea inside before there could be any more interruptions.
    “Do you think he’ll get an answer this time?” asked Kjeld when he drew near a tall Nordic woman standing watch over the stone firepit in the center of the Greathall. Frea was the daughter of Storn Crag-Strider, and a warrioress who had learned at her father’s side the secrets of the Skaal and the ways of a warrior from a man named Skaf the Giant. It showed in her stance, the woman equal parts pacifist as she was fully capable of delivering a crushing blow to a bear’s skull, or cleave an enemy in two should their village be threatened. Frea was dressed impressively, in beautifully carved armor made of quicksilver (a metal that was difficult to get one’s hands on), with black wolf’s fur lining and thick brown quilted breeches. The heavy carved fur boots matched. Tall as she was, Kjeld was still a full head taller, and could see the messy leather fastenings around her dark blonde ponytail, with a hawk’s feather tied in for good luck.

    It was hard not to stare at her in the ambient glow of the firelight.

    Frea’s eyes, sky-like and clear, settled on him. “Only he knows for sure, but he told me had a good feeling about today.”

    Storn had been asking the All-Maker for a prediction of the new year for the past three days, the shaman showing the breadth of his patience in a way that was hard to contest with. Not many had the discipline to kneel before the fire and chant to the All-Maker for hours at a time for even one day, let alone three.

    “Are you staring at me?” asked Frea, her smooth tone building up into one of reprimand.

    Kjeld smiled, his mouth a little higher on one side; he held up his hands in a show of harmlessness.

    “Just admiring Baldor’s craftsmanship.”

    Frea let out a short laugh. “Ha, of course. You have the look of a magpie that’s found a pretty rock.”

    Before he could come up with a witty retort, Frea shushed him, and their attentions fell upon the shaman kneeling before the fire.

    The flames, licking hungrily at the rocks and the deadwood, suddenly blanched into a wispy, ethereal white. Storn Crag-Strider, with his grizzled hair and face long creased with age, leaned closer to the fire as though to coax secrets from the blaze. In a slow deliberate speech, the shaman spoke into the fire.
    “We of the Skaal humbly request foresight into the new seasons, so that we might better prepare and maintain Oneness.”
        As the shaman continued, the smoke began to funnel.

    “We of the Skaal ask that you show us the sun, the wind, and the water. Tell us of the beasts and the trees and sacred earth. We bow our heads to the All-Maker, and listen to the coming of the seasons.”

    Kjeld didn’t tear his eyes away from the fire, feeling a strange but not unfriendly aura permeating the Greathall. It was clear from the gathered shadows on the walls that most of the village had come in to listen to the shaman’s predictions. Oftentimes, these predictions would be simple; the game would be plentiful, the sun bright, the trees healthy in spite of the ashfall. It was for the rare chance of calamity that they gathered, a kernel of tension in their hearts, but trust in their eyes for the shaman. He knew Frea was watching the fire as intently as he was.

    Heeding Storn’s ancient words, the twisting tendrils of smoke rising to the high ceilings began to concentrate, hovering before the shaman like a thick ocean fog. First came the large-pronged elk high-stepping through the haze. Lingering long enough to look towards Storn, the elk then bounded away into nothingness, pursued by some unknown predator. Kjeld looked to Wulf Wild-Blood from the corners of his eyes, and saw the First Hunter nod approvingly. One elk was enough; if the elk had died in that prediction, there would be a shortage of prey during the new seasons. The sight of a wolf or bear meant greater competition with Solstheim’s natural (and sometimes unnatural) predators for sparse game.

    After the elk, the smoke formed into thin droplets, falling quickly into the fire. This kind of vague message from their God was where Storn’s insights showed their use; whether this was a sign of water or sunlight, the villagers didn’t attempt to guess. Storn would tell them at the right time. After the droplets, a gentle sparrow took shape on a branch-tendril of smoke, a tiny fledgling slowly spreading its small wings to greet the new wind. The shaman’s dense grey beard couldn’t fully hide a hint of a smile; Kjeld’s smile was far more obvious. The last time they had seen a sparrow with its offspring was eight years ago, when Finna and Oslaf’s daughter Aeta had been born. Though Helmi had parted ways with the Skaal Village, gone on to live with her husband at Thirsk Meadhall, Kjeld would still impart the good news; her child would be born healthy.

    With the promise of prey and new life, Kjeld relaxed, his attention shifting away from the smoke-forms to look at the faces gathered around the stone firepit. Fanari Strong-Voice, their village leader, stood beside Deor Woodcutter and his wife Ysra, and beside those three loomed Baldor Iron-Shaper—the village blacksmith and the man Kjeld answered to. Beside him was Morwen, who sometimes joined them at the forge; though Kjeld was to inherit Baldor’s trade, Morwen had shown an interest in the craft and he hadn’t the heart or the reason to deny her.

    Wulf Wild-Blood stood aside to allow Edla, one of the oldest villagers, and her son Nikulus to get a better view of the ritual. Nikulus was a young man born a year earlier than Reidar, and had an eager face and kind eyes. It was the former that made his mother worry. That, and Reidar’s more aggressive personality having a negative influence on her son. Kjeld perhaps imagined it, but he thought he saw relief flash across the old woman’s eyes after noticing Reidar was nowhere to be found.

    Kjeld’s observations were broken as he was forced to shift aside, a little girl trying her best to squeeze past him. “What’s that, mama?” asked Aeta, pointing to the newest form rising from the fire. It was a vaporous white orb, like an eye without pupil or iris; it was a full moon.

    “Ssh, Aeta. Don’t interrupt!” Finna hissed, her hands outstretched to pluck Aeta away from the flames after an apologetic look at Storn.

    The old man chuckled and turned his head to Aeta, even as the smoke began to dissipate and the fire returned to searing orange and yellow. “That is a Frost Moon, little Aeta. Our people sometimes know it by another name. ‘Change Moon’.”

    A Change Moon, eh? “Is that a good sign or a bad sign, Shaman?” asked Kjeld. In his twenty-five years of life, he’d never laid eyes on that image in the smoke. He hadn’t been present for every prediction, but something like a Frost Moon would’ve had the village buzzing like a hive with questions and assumptions.

    Storn rose stiffly from beside the firepit, Frea taking him under-arm to hoist him back to his feet.

    “It is simply a sign. I imagine there are few of us who remember the last one.” Storn looked to Edla and Wulf, who nodded, but it was with a knowing smile that his old gray eyes settled back on Kjeld. “The last time we saw a Frost Moon was the season your parents arrived in our village.” The shaman spread his hands, speaking to all of the Skaal. “I believe that means we are in for no ordinary year.”



    In the year 175 of the Fourth Era, a veteran of war, his pregnant wife and their three year old child braved the treacherous frost of Solstheim’s peaks to reach the Skaal Village. They were greeted by a compassionate people; Storn Crag-Strider and the leader of the Skaal, a mountain of a man by the name of Skaf the Giant, welcomed the newcomers with food and hearth. When Skaf and the war veteran came face to face, they saw the nature of the warrior in each other; if the village leader was a giant, then the war veteran could be likened only to the mighty bear. As much a beast as he was a man.


    That man’s name was Leiv White-Paw, and though he had been born in the land of Skyrim, his ancestors hailed from the frozen slopes and icy shoreline to which he had returned, once members of the Skaal. Along with a young family, Leiv brought within him a strange, otherworldly power. Some called him blessed by the Beast Stone, one of six stones that maintained the Skaal’s connection with the All-Maker; others called him cursed, for who else but a daedra would bestow such awesome, terrible power? Despite opinions, Leiv White-Paw and his family dwelt in the Village in peace, and he walked upright as a man for all his days thereafter. If he ever did change, it was away from the eyes of the Skaal.


    That had been the year of the last Frost Moon, and Kjeld had heard many retellings of his family’s arrival since then; as far as omens went, this one did not seem to bode poorly for the Skaal—and thus, his curiosity on the matter was sated. While the rest of the village lingered in the Greathall or meandered back to their homes under the dusky shades of evening, Kjeld nudged Frea and went in search of the only villager that had been absent for the predictions: Reidar.


    With Frea beside him, they walked to the edge of the village, the crashing roar of falling water growing steadily louder with each step.


    “Give that brother of yours a good shake for me.” Said Frea once they reached the bridge that stretched across the Isild River. “And my well-wishes to Helmi and her baby.”


    She’d likely run back to the Shaman’s hut to attend to her father, but Kjeld was reluctant to part ways—that he hardly seemed to have time alone with her was plenty of reason to prolong their walk. With the coming of a new season, he sought to rebuild the friendship that had cooled between them. The reason why scratched at the back of his mind like a thorn, uncovering a small suspicion that she might not share his intention.


    “If I didn’t know better, Frea,” Kjeld turned his back to the waterfall, his tone light. “I’d think you were avoiding me.”


    “Not avoiding you,” said Frea. “Just being mindful of my duties. Well, perhaps a little.”


    There were smiles between them, but he noticed the cold sting of wind on his face and the spray at his back to a greater degree than before.


    “Do you think I’ve changed?” he asked. “I’m still the same me, Frea.”

    Frea watched the water falling behind him, the sunset shedding an almost violent red saturation on the crown of the falls. It must have reminded her of dark tidings, because there was a sharpness in her voice that he hadn’t expected. “It would be best if we saw little of each other from now on.”


    Like some ancient piece of Dwemer machinery full of too much dust, the gears and cogs of Kjeld’s mind jammed, and he struggled for the right words, opening his mouth to say something, say anything—



    A snowball exploded against the back of Kjeld’s head, slush wedged between the base of his neck and his coat-collar, making him cry out in surprise. “Argh!”


    Crowing laughter came down from the top of the falls as a brown-haired youth stood over the bridge, another snowball in hand and the wild gleam of mischief in his eyes. Kjeld growled, puffing clouds into the air in front of him, until Frea reached up to brush the snow from his shoulder.


    “I’ll see you back at the village, Kjeld.”


    “Frea wait—”


    She slipped away from him and found the path; if he had been hoping for one last look over her shoulder, he never received it. Instead, his eyes darted up to Reidar. How much had he heard?


    Again, Reidar laughed, his heavy boots stomping through the snow as he thundered down the trail alongside the falls, joining his brother at the bridge.


    “Sorry, did I interrupt a private moment?”


    With bear-like motions, Kjeld swiped a thick arm towards his brother with the intent to grab him and give him a good shake, but Reidar was a wiry young man of seventeen, with the reflexes of a fox. He jumped out of reach, grinning in a way that only made Kjeld want to punch him harder.

    “Aye,” Kjeld snapped, rolling his shoulders. “And you missed Storn’s predictions for the coming seasons.”


    Reidar snorted. “Let me guess; more deer, sunshine, and lots of trees. Bet everyone was so surprised.”


    No matter what Reidar had heard, it didn’t seem to arouse his suspicions. Good. Kjeld forced his worries behind a steel wall, to be dealt with later.

    “You missed a Frost Moon, and there was good news about Helmi’s baby.” Kjeld shook his head. Sometimes he forgot how much of a headache his own little brother could be, right up until Reidar did something obnoxious to remind him. He doesn’t even have to open his mouth, this time. Fumed Kjeld. If he keeps strutting about like the elk with the biggest antlers, I’m going to knock some sense into him.


    Mention of a Frost Moon didn’t have the same effect on Reidar as it did on the other villagers. He didn’t bat an eyelash. “Oh? Well good. I’m going back to Thirsk in the morning, so I’ll let her know.” Reidar nonchalantly moved past him, his ebony war axe glinting in the dying light as he strode across the weathered, icy planks.


    Kjeld followed, waiting until Reidar was safely on the other side before crossing. He raised his voice above the constant roaring falls. “Just don’t gather wood for the fires, according to Deor you’re awful at that.” Kjeld watched with satisfaction as Reidar stopped in his tracks and turned long enough to scoff.


    “He’d be able to collect a lot more wood if he just cut off a branch here and there. The trees don’t miss them.


    Kjeld clapped his brother in the back of the head. “Oh so you speak ‘tree’ now, do you? That’s a handy talent. Maybe now Storn will name you Reidar Tree-Speaker, and we’ll send you to live at the Tree Stone.”


    Reidar laughed, the sound short and shaded with displeasure. Derision coated his words, expression turning smug.


    “Sure, sure. Right after they start calling you Kjeld Metal-Whacker. Oh wait, that is your actual job, isn’t it?”


    Kjeld didn’t take the bait. Why should he, when he couldn’t make Reidar respect his role? It was clear in the haughty light of Reidar’s eyes that he thought little of the Skaal Village’s more traditional roles. Two-part names were important. They were earned, not given, or in rare cases, they carried on through the family as a child took after a parent. Kjeld didn’t much care what his second name ended up being; it probably wouldn’t be Metal-Whacker, but something reasonable and distinct. If only Baldor would trust him enough to work with Stalhrim… He could be called Kjeld Ice-Carver. Now that had a nice sound to it.


    “They’ll probably call me Reidar True-Shot, or Wolf-Eye, or —”


    “—or Loud-Mouth, or Fat-Head, or Rock-Brain, if you’re really lucky.”


    “Tchh, you wish.”


    Kjeld chuckled, aware of how nervous Reidar was beneath all that bravado. In his little brother’s opinion, earning a strong, distinctive second name was the most important thing in his life—never-mind actually filling a vital role in the village. Wulf Wild-Blood’s name was the subject of envy, but what Reidar failed to see was that the name had been earned through respectful means and hard work, not by shirking his duties and ignoring the ways of the All-Maker. Fortunately, Reidar wasn’t the first ‘horker-headed youngling’ the Skaal had ever dealt with, according to Wulf. He’d come around, given time.


    Easy for the others to tolerate Reidar, they didn’t have to live with him.


    The brothers returned to their home at the edge of the village just as the last of the sun’s light disappeared over the horizon line, and they spoke no more of second names, Frost Moons or tattered friendships.






16 Comments   |   Paws and 2 others like this.
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  March 12, 2018
    I’m with Kjeld, I want to smack Reidar, too. :)
  • SpookyBorn2021
    SpookyBorn2021   ·  August 14, 2017
    Ah, here we go. I've been trying to start this up for ages Spotted but I'm dedicated to catching up this week. Great first chapter (well other than the prologue...does this technically count as a second chapter? Ah well, not important) but I'm going to be...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  June 18, 2016
    Haha, thanks Phil! I noticed and totally approve!
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  June 17, 2016
    Loved the smoke ritual, totally stole it  And earned second names. Like. 
  • Tim
    Tim   ·  June 11, 2016
    Lol, horker-headed younglings.
    Reidar is such a nice and promising young man
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  February 2, 2016
    Damn Stormcloaks! We´ll see 
    Yeah, I did some fleshing out with Largashbur tribe too. Nothing wrong with that 
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  February 2, 2016
    Thanks so much Karver! ^^ I took some creative license to flesh out the Skaal a little bit, so I'm glad it paid off. Sorry to say there will be plenty more Stormcloaks in the future, particularly after Chapter Six (which I am currently writing). Hopefull...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  February 2, 2016
    I said I´ll get to this eventually and I did.
    Now, this is much better than some damn Stormcloaks. I really like how you presented those predictions and even Skaal culture. This looks like a great insight into their society, so you can bet I will re...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  January 5, 2016
    Thanks Exuro! Heehee, I won't give away any spoilers! But I will say that I love writing for these brothers, their dynamics is quite funny. I'm hoping each one will get their moment to shine, albeit in pretty different ways. But oh yes, there will be so ...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  January 5, 2016
    Great opening. I also liked the imagery with the smoke seeing.

    Why do I get the feeling Reidar Snot-twat that will be saving a culture shocked Kjeld in the future?