LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Four - Rescuing Baldor

  • Chapter Four

    Rescuing Baldor


    Content Warning: Language, Violence, Thalmor


    Rakki zigzagged over frosted hill and ashy plain, her nose to the ground, tail quivering with energy as she charged—slowed—charged again in pursuit of the missing blacksmith. Kjeld, Morwen and Reidar kept close stride behind her.

    Neither one questioned the dog’s tracking ability; even if they had, the tracks in the snow and the gouged heel marks of a body being dragged were signs that were hard to ignore. The occasional flit of wildlife threatened to take the husky’s attention from Baldor’s trail, but Kjeld made a low, short whistle and she’d continue with focus renewed.


    The three searching Skaal refrained from shouting Baldor’s name across half of Solstheim. Deor’s grim account of seeing elves on the shore last morning was the reason for their reticence, and not a single step was taken without at least one of them throwing scrutinizing looks over their shoulders.


    As they followed Rakki, Kjeld’s mind burned.


    Why take Baldor? Why take a our smith, of all of us? Baldor was a big man, and he had benefited from a decade of working the forge. His body had been shaped by his craft, same as any metal. He could throw a punch that could crack teeth.


    If the elves were after gold, then Fanari Strong-Voice was an easy target—or Aeta. The village would have parted with gold and much more if it promised the safe return of their child. If the elves had a mind to pry the Skaal’s sacred knowledge from old Storn Crag-Strider, then taking Frea would have been the obvious choice.


    But they had taken a blacksmith. His master. For reasons Kjeld could not imagine.
    If they need him to craft some armor, they never should’ve stolen him. You can’t trust anything made by an angry smith.


    For Baldor’s sake, Kjeld hoped that was the only reason behind this abduction.


    What more could they want?


    “Smoke!” Whispered Morwen excitedly, her chill-bitten face alive with fervor as their pace slowed at the bottom of a hill. Kjeld looked along the steep embankment, and sure enough, just beyond the crown of jagged rock and fallen tree capping the hill, he spotted the sooty telltale haze of campfire smoke.

    Behind the campfire, Kjeld could make out the snow-encrusted top of what looked like a straw-thatched roof. Hard to tell if it had a stone chimney or not—the settlement was nestled in the jagged heels of the Moesring Mountains, which rose up behind it in a wall of ice and rock. A chimney would be hard to pick out against that kind of background.


    Reidar surged ahead. “I’ll get a closer look!”


    Kjeld nearly growled a hasty refusal, but Reidar had already pulled his axe free of its holster and was rapidly climbing the hill.


    “I’ve got him.” Morwen was quick to out-pace the exuberant youth, and the two exchanged words Kjeld didn’t catch—but he felt the stabbing thuds of his heart begin to lessen as Reidar trotted back.


    “Be ready in case she needs back up,” said Reidar, nonchalantly adjusting and readjusting his grip on the axe.
    Kjeld didn’t bother to comment, or cuff his brother around the ears for being such a damned headache, his eyes followed Morwen as she sneaked closer.


    Before she had pestered Baldor into letting her learn alongside Kjeld, she had hunted with Wulf Wild-Blood; it was clear to the brothers watching that Morwen hadn’t forgotten what the First Hunter had taught her. She hunkered low and cut a winding path to the crown of rocks, fleet as a mountain hare. A rotund fallen tree helped conceal her approach, and the pale sandy hue of her deerskin coat let her blend in with the short winter grasses poking up through the layers of snow.


    “Nice and slow,” murmured Kjeld, egging her on as, little by little, she reached the summit. For several painstaking seconds, there was silence, Morwen utterly still against the shadows of the rocks.


    Tension hung in the air like mist, raising the hairs on the nape of Kjeld’s neck. We’re too close. This part of Solstheim, close as it was to the ashlands, was sparsely forested. The openness bothered him. As added precaution, Kjeld patted Rakki’s flank and his brother’s shoulder, herding them to a nearby cluster of skinny pines below. It wasn’t much for cover, but it was better than nothing.


    Morwen was breathless when she returned.


    “By the All-Maker, Deor was right. Elves, tall elves!”


    “Dunmer?” asked Reidar excitedly.


    Morwen shook her head. “Goodness no, these elves have golden skin and long pointed noses.” The peculiar expression she’d been making—as if she’d just spotted an albino horker—darkened, the wonderment fading. “They also have swords. They’re at the top of the hill, right in front of some old hunting lodge.”


    “So they’re guarding something.” Kjeld didn’t like this. These were like no bandits Kjeld had ever heard of.


    “How tall?” Reidar grinned wolfishly, an eager gleam in his eyes. “Want me to shorten them?”


    “They might use magic, Reidar. You go up that ridge without a plan and they’’ll turn you to kindling.” Why did his brother never use that head of his? Their parents hadn’t raised him to be so foolish. He locked eyes with Reidar then, and despite the curling lip, Reidar’’s arm lowered.


    Maybe his brother did have an ounce of sense left. Kjeld wished to believe this, but it was early, yet. And this was beginning to get dangerous.


    Reidar turned to him. “Then what’s the plan, genius?”


    Kjeld looked to Morwen. “How many?”


    “Four of them. If Baldor’s in there, then the sooner we get him out, the better.”
    Morwen glanced to the camp. “I don’t like them just standing around like that. They act like they’re waiting for someone.”


    Kjeld nodded grimly. The sooner the better.
    “Show me exactly where these elves are standing.”


    For all his reluctance to fight, Kjeld had proved himself to be enough of a strategist to pull together a plan. It was juvenile and not exactly foolproof, but it would work. He believed it so. After a hurried explanation with Morwen and Reidar, the searching party turned into a rescue party.
    “Well done, Rakki.” He scratched the husky’s thick gray and white scruff before guiding her back towards the ash wastes.


    “Time to go home. Go back to the village.”


    Rakki whined.


    The sound always broke his heart. “Go,” he said it once, with force, and watched as she obeyed, kicking up tiny clouds of ash as she departed the group. Rakki was a damned good dog, but he’d never ask more of her than she was capable. The elves might have magic in their fingertips, and he couldn’t bear to see her struck down.


    At his signal, Morwen and Reidar took off for the hunting lodge, making as much noise as possible. Kjeld crept up the far right side of the embankment, not for the first time cursing his height as he sneaked east of the rocky top. He reached an enormous stump; it was so wide, that he could’ve laid across it and even with arms and legs spread, he could not touch the rim.


    The smell of burning pine needles was strong, and he squinted through the gray haze to the elf standing guard beside the lodge door. Morwen had been right about the golden skin and long noses; somehow, despite the Dunmer looking almost malevolent by comparison, these elves gave Kjeld a disturbed vibe more than any dark elf had.


    Nearby, Morwen and Reidar began to jeer and prove the strength of their arms. The wet splatter of icy snowballs, enraged yells and the heavy stomp of armored boots told him the plan was working so far. He listened as their voices began to fade with distance.


    “Over here, Goldy!”


    “Is that your real face? I’ve seen prettier slaughterfish!”


    “Come and get me, you milkdrinking goat-lover!”


    Kjeld wanted to ask Reidar how he’d coined the phrase milkdrinking goat-lover, but that would have to wait. Hoping dourly that his brother kept to his end of the plan, Kjeld slowly lifted from his crouch to get a better view. Only one elf remained; it was the one by the lodge door. He had drawn his sword, a little cleverer than the others—or perhaps just reluctant to give chase—but he made the mistake of walking away from his post. As the elf drew closer to his hiding place, Kjeld got a better look at him.


    He was dressed in humble leather armor, which looked sturdy but strangely ill-fitting on the elf’s tall, slight frame. Imperious and with a dark, pronounced brow, the elf looked formidable. Kjeld instantly felt a surge of dislike, and one word drifted back to him, as if some unknown thing had conjured it out of memory at precisely the right time: Thalmor.


    The elf drew no further, watching for his companions (or henchmer?) to return.


    Kjeld rushed him before he could raise his sword.




    The elf dropped like a boulder, blood gushing over the plain leather armor covering his skinny tawny chest. Unless the elf somehow found his way to a magical healer, that nose would stay crooked the rest of his life. Kjeld flexed his stinging knuckles.


    “That’s for Baldor.”


    As much as he hated conflict, he’d be damned if that hadn’t felt good. Diplomacy was grand, but punching your problems in the face was much more satisfying. Feeling a wetness on his cheek, Kjeld brushed his hand against it and looked; standing out stark against his bare skin was a bright smear of blood. Kjeld automatically drew in a deep breath, which, along with the cold mountain wind, brought the scent of it right into his nasal passages. He could almost taste it on his tongue…
    Kjeld brusquely wiped his hand on his coat. Don’t get excited, he commanded. A bit of elf blood is nothing.


    After a few seconds of hasty searching through the elf’s armor—the door had been locked—Kjeld secured a key and jammed it into the lock, his heart beating like a blacksmith’s hammer as he let the door swing in. To his great luck, he encountered a cold stone hearth and empty bottles instead of warriors, but the heavy crack of aged floorboards chafed his nerves with each step. Baldor was not here. There’s a cellar. Directly to Kjeld’s left was a simple wooden railing with steps leading to the lower level.


    Sacrificing stealth for speed, Kjeld went to the far side of the room, and felt the temperature lower as he approached; he could see his breath in the gloomy lighting. The piercing shriek of a loose board had him openly wincing, until his master’s cries for help erupted from the floor below.


    “Help! Help! If you’re friend of the Skaal, I am in need of rescue!”


    Kjeld thundered down the basement steps. He had seconds—maybe a minute—before the elves grew tired of Reidar and Morwen’s game. He wasted no precious time letting his eyes adjust, feeling around for the smith or a wall to guide himself with as he traipsed through the dank, eerily cold cellar.


    “Baldor? Where are you?”


    “Here, boy!” said a voice near Kjeld’s left. He almost kicked over a dim lantern to reach him, then stooped to hastily retrieve it.


    He held it up and at arm’s length, and there in the wretched corner of the neglected cellar, under the weak lantern light, was Baldor Iron-Shaper.
    With a few quick saws of a knife, Kjeld freed Baldor and helped the bloodied smith make his escape. Baldor cursed under his breath as they thumped unevenly up the stairs, and Kjeld had to stop more than once to allow him to regain his strength. What little additional time Reidar and Morwen had granted them, Kjeld was certain they’d been spent. The blacksmith’s right foot seemed to be the cause of his slowness.


    “Stalhrim,” grunted Baldor as they reached the top floor. “The elves wanted me to tell them how it’s forged.” The blacksmith chuckled darkly, the sound raspier and rougher than Kjeld remembered it. “Doubt their smiths could figure it out, even if they had a hundred years.”
    Stalhrim. Of course. The ore of which Baldor spoke was more enchanted ice than metal, and the secret to bringing out its potential was a secret as closely coveted by the Skaal as even the most impressive of Storn’s shamanic ways.


    As they hobbled through the front door and into the afternoon sun, Kjeld saw more evidence that Baldor had not given them what they sought so desperately. What he had mistaken for shadows across the blacksmith’s face and jaw were instead purpling bruises; before Kjeld had given him his coat, those same mottled shadows had been on Baldor’s wrists and forearms, and a wide split of the blacksmith’s lip had been the cause of blood in his mustache.


    “Then the fiends will have to get used to failure,” said Kjeld coldly, draping Baldor’s arm over both of his shoulders to help him down the steep hill. “They underestimated the Skaal.”


    “They had help.” Said Baldor. His face was tight with pain, and he was forced to hop on one foot, the right unable to take much pressure. “A map to stalhrim deposits. By the All-Maker, I don’t know how they’d gotten it. There’s no soul alive who knows the location, except me.”
    Kjeld felt his suspicions rouse, and he would have liked to search the lodge and see what else he might uncover about these Thalmor, but time was of the essence. “We’ll talk later. We have to at least reach Thirsk. Morwen and Reidar can’t hold them at bay for long.”


    If they could just make it to the treeline—


    “Time’s up,” said Baldor, glancing west to the sound of heavy footfalls.


    Morwen ran to meet them, and Kjeld felt a fresh stab of panic as it became clear Reidar wasn’t close behind.


    “Where’s my brother?” The words spilled from his mouth like water over a cliff, blue eyes set upon Morwen intently.


    “In trouble.” Panted Morwen. “He started throwing rocks to give you more time. They have him cornered.”


    Cornered. Damn. Kjeld hastily switched places with her, biting down on his tongue to prevent an accusation: and you just left him there?
    Reidar was his responsibility; always had been, always would be. Morwen had been right to fetch him.


    “Get back to the village, and send help!”
    Kjeld pulled a long hunting knife from his belt, the same he’d used to cut his master’s ropes, and his boots devoured the snow and ash under heel as he ran to save his brother.


    “Be careful!” Shouted Morwen at his back.


    To Oblivion with careful. Kjeld plunged into the forest, listening for strange sounds of spellcasting. He would do whatever was necessary to protect Reidar.


    If that made him more like their father than either of them wanted, then so be it.











9 Comments   |   Paws and 2 others like this.
  • SpookyBorn2021
    SpookyBorn2021   ·  August 14, 2017
    Alright, yeah no doubt this was the best chapter left.  That's one of my favourite quests and the way that you've tackled it here is excellent. I really like the small (er) differences between the actual quest and how Kjeld and co. handled it, or at ...  more
  • Tim
    Tim   ·  June 11, 2016
    Hehe, I'm expecting the RAGE to come out of Kjeld sooner or later. I really enjoyed this chapter, Spottedfawn
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  January 29, 2016
    ^^ Thanks for the help, Unhelpful! Everything has been fixed!
    Heehee, I love writing Reidar's dialog. I think I say that every chapter! But it's true. Reidar would be more than happy to accept payment for his elf-shortening services. :D
    @Exuro...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  January 28, 2016
    @Unhelpful: and I have even less time to wait!
    Uh oh, the beast blood is starting to wake. His brother doesn't know about that does he? Frea knows and probably Storn; anyone else?
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 26, 2016
    Oh no Kjeld, caution is a virtue! Don't be foolish! No no no, this is bad news!
    I regret I was not able to read this sooner because it is absolutely thrilling and action-packed. But I will say I'm glad I have less time to endure this cliffhanger bef...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  January 24, 2016
    ^^ Thanks for reading, guys! I really appreciate you taking the time to do so. Really glad that line stuck, btw. I was hoping it would.
    Heehee, don't worry Albee, if Kjeld met you, he'd probably like you. You guys could probably talk about books! R...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  January 24, 2016
    Agreed. To Oblivion with careful. Hope Reidar knows the brother he has. 
    *Albee officially apologies for the stupid things his people do*
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  January 24, 2016
    To Oblivion with careful
    This one line says it all
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  January 24, 2016
    Happy Full Moon! Shorter chapter this time, but I can promise that things get more exciting in Chapter Five! Part I of Frost Moon is drawing to a close.