LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Five - Lightning Strike

  • Chapter Five

    Lightning Strike



    Content Warning: Language, Violence, Thalmor



    Where in Oblivion did you go? Damn these elves. The shape of the land had given him little choice but to descend the mountainside; as he passed over ash-stunted shrubbery and shattered storm-strewn wood, it was clear to Kjeld that his brother wouldn’t make for higher ground. He wasn’t being chased by a predator who would soon grow tired of expending energy to maintain an unsuccessful chase. These were elves, and Reidar must not underestimate them.


    Stomping hard down the verdant slope of the mountain range, the harsh scuff of rock beneath iron soles caught his attention. When he looked further ahead, a sudden blinding flash of light left him blinking to rid painful spots of color. A loud splintering crack of wood followed the flash, and it made Kjeld draw in an anxious breath. What was that? Growling through still-watering eyes, Kjeld rushed over, his grip on the knife tightening in his fist until it shook.


    Just ahead of him stood three tawny elves, standing on a jutted shoulder of rock that overlooked the ashy wastes denoting the lower coastal elevations. Lightning crackled with a dim bluish light in the palm of one elf, and the wind whipped their long hair about their faces, the magic unaffected by the weather. Reidar’s flight had brought them close to the coast; the salt in the air was difficult to miss—and so was the scent of burning wood.


    “Ha! You missed me!” Reidar’s voice cried out from a divot in the rocks, where he had slid down, now crouched in the shadowed embrace of four tall pines. Kjeld caught a flash of his brother’s fear-whitened face before Reidar swiftly ducked behind one of the trees.


    “Just kill the boy and move on!” Snapped the ringleader, peering down over the rocks with disdain; it was evidenced by the charred gaping wound in one of the pines that Reidar had dodged the first shot.


    Bored with this turn of events, the third elf gathered lightning into his own palms—a magic that looked as effortless as breathing, and made the hairs on the back of Kjeld’s neck quiver with dislike. He had never seen such damage done to a tree. The shock that had anchored him where he stood dissolved, the adrenaline coursing through his veins as Kjeld climbed the hill to meet them, his voice booming out of his chest, half command, half plead. “Leave him alone!”


    The elves all turned, and the ringleader strode forward, his pinched face seized in a look of irritation. “And yet another wood louse comes crawling out of the forest.” He did not give an order to his companions; instead, he fired a concentrated bolt of lightning directly at Kjeld’s heart.


    Reidar cried out. Kjeld threw up his arms to shield himself. The bolt struck the knife square on the blade, the weapon absorbing the greatest of the magic lightning, though it traveled from his hand to his shoulder in one single agonizing pulse, the knife slipping from his fingers without control. Kjeld stared, feeling the force of the magic linger even after the electrocution had fizzled out; the hair on the top of his hand had been singed clean off. If he could sense anything in his hand, he would have felt the massive raw welt already starting to form where he’d once gripped the knife.


    “Wait, wait!” Kjeld gasped, raising his good arm, hand up, palm out.


    The caster seemed anything but perturbed by this development with the knife, but his patience was evidently nonexistent. A second bolt of lightning cackled in his palm, illuminating the stranger’s tawny elven features with malignant shades of bluish white.


    “I am Baldor Iron-Shaper’s apprentice!” Kjeld shouted, knowing he could not protect himself from a second blast. “I know you’re after stalhrim, and I know how to forge it.”


    The ringleader’s dark red brows rose high, higher than Kjeld had imagined possible for brows that looked like permanently arched fixtures upon their ridged foreheads. Then the brows fell into a considering frown, the elf’s head raised, long nose thrust skyward as if offering any passing sparrows a perch.


    Go, Reidar. He silently urged his brother to take advantage of the confusion; he didn’t dare look away from the elves. He’d hold their attention as long as he could.


    “Take him.” Said the elf, with a curt wave to the others. “Ancarion expects progress, so we shall give him our reports in person.”


    Yes! Kjeld tore his eyes away from the elves to look in Reidar’s direction, expecting to see only landscape, and his heart faltered. Why was he still lingering? Reidar stood gaping at him, axe half-raised, looking as paralyzed as Kjeld felt. “Go!” He mouthed furtively, his concentration breaking with every involuntary twitch of his arm, and the wretched feeling of his bicep and triceps tightening in on themselves.


    He almost flinched away when a golden-haired elf approached him, but Kjeld wrestled his instincts down, standing still and concentrating on trying to regain feeling in his fingers. The index finger and first digit both twitched after considerable effort, and he took that as a good sign that, with any luck, he wouldn’t be paralyzed for the rest of his life.


    Reidar had finally moved, and he caught sight of his brother attempting to ferret towards Raven Rock, creeping in a wide arc to get free of the elves’ line of sight.


    “We don’t want any more interruptions.” Said the ringleader. “Kill the boy, then retrieve Elandil.”


    “No!” Kjeld jerked away from his arrestor, blood pounding his eardrums as he stepped forward. “You let him go, or you don’t get my help. If I tell you what you want to know, you will leave my village alone.” With a raised jaw and a hardened line for a mouth, he stared down the elf.


    “Those are my terms.”


    Kjeld resisted looking at Reidar. He held eye contact with the elf with as much fortitude and certainty he could muster. His pulse twitched beneath his skin. The breath he held tight in his throat was reserved for one word, should the elf refuse: run.


    Reidar didn’t need it. Like a hare that had spotted a wolf, he took off at a breakneck run, using the descending slope to gather momentum as his feet drove him towards the bulwark in the far distance. Kjeld tensed, ready to throw himself at the nearest elf should they try to strike Reidar down as he fled, and his eyes darted from each of the three with nervous fervor.


    Kjeld willed his voice steady. Reasonable.

    “Don’t waste your energy. Just let him go.”


    They couldn’t go chasing his brother over every hillside and rock formation just to ‘win’ the fight.


    The two elves looked at their superior.


    “Lord Kyron?”


    Apathetic, Lord Kyron turned his back on the figure fleeing. “Leave him. Let him crawl back to his hovel. And as for you, are you going to be a good beast and walk where we tell you? Or must we drag you there?”


    Be a good beast. Kjeld clenched his teeth together. For a second that betrayed the rigid foundations he had set for himself, Kjeld wished he did not have the seal. Just for a second. Reigning himself in, Kjeld nodded.


    He couldn’t read the elf’s expressions well, but the ringleader seemed pleased enough. More accurately, he didn’t seem displeased enough to hit him with another lightning bolt. Kjeld accepted it as a temporary, unsteady peace.


    With Reidar’s safety ensured, the focus turned inward. His arm still felt strange, as if the limb had been partially detached and sewn back on. Worrisome.


    The golden elf prodded him in the back, and he started walking, following single file behind Lord Kyron and another elf. Kjeld grimaced, but adopted a look of stone when the elf in front glanced over his shoulder.


    At least the village would be safe—but for how long?




    Though not exactly bare-sleeved, the harsh claws of winter raking down his back ignored the thick fabric of his tunic. On this side of Solstheim, each bluster would have been felt even through a heavy fur-lined coat. For all his discomfort, the sight of the elves in greater distress—their stoicism broken by fleeting moments of suffering—was enough to pull at the edges of his mouth.


    Reaching Ancarion required they double back the way they came, and Kjeld found himself retracing old steps to the lodge. It had grown tense between Kjeld and the elves when they stumbled upon their stricken, unconscious companion—but some hasty words from Kjeld and quick orders from the elf in charge had seen the matter go without bloodshed.


    One had been left behind to tend to the fallen.


    It was two of them, now. Lord Kyron in front, and the golden-haired elf called Mithlas bringing up the rear. For the most part, Kjeld was left alone to shiver and consider all outcomes. Way the risks. Find out how to get out of this with minimal damage.


    Kjeld could run. He sniffed the snot back up into his nose to keep it from freezing to his beard. But one bolt in my back and I’d never move again. The feeling had returned to Kjeld’s arm, but any marks the wound left were on his sense of caution, not his body. Once the horrible fog of paralysis had lifted, it had left him with a cold, sharp clarity. If he could prevent getting hit again, then he would.


    Even if he did escape, that would not prevent the elves from returning to the village with twice their present number to recapture Baldor, himself, or simply raze the village for being considered an irritant. Thoughts like these at once conjured vivid images of the Greathall, charred and burning from their terrible magic, of everyone he had ever known and loved running in chaotic confusion as they were put down like rabid dogs. His teeth sank in hard on the inside of his cheek. His word was his bond, and to break it would cost far, far too much.


    Kjeld spat red-tinged spittle into the spiked grass nearby, noting with a kind of detached satisfaction that Mithlas wore an expression so full of disgust, on any other day it would’ve made him chuckle.


    It was a pity the wind had blown the other way.


    Kjeld trudged on, ignored. If the elves wanted to get anywhere, then they needed to concentrate on their surroundings, not him.


    As if by the All-Maker’s will, the natural, breathtaking brutality of the island seemed to make itself more apparent with each step. They sought the river that ran through the Moesring Mountains. Lord Kyron guided them higher up, the frigid mountain fog and the treacherous footing over icy rock daunting and taunting the elves. It daunted Kjeld too, but he had grown up in this land, had thrived in its harsh majesty, and it provided him with a dark warmth to see the elves hesitate or glower at each unforgiving wind that threatened to tear their cloaks from their shoulders.


    And you wanted to find stalhrim? Kjeld had touched this rare ore once, only once, a small piece of it that Baldor had set into a ring for Deor & Ysra’s wedding. It had burned so strongly against his fingertips, an enchanted cold he could scarcely describe. You could not survive finding it, let alone touching it. Even with a map.


    Just ahead, a barrow stuck out of the earth like the tip of a thumb, a semicircle of stone marking the entrance to some forgotten crypt to an unknown lord. It lay to the opposite side of a wide river gushing out of the land like an open vein, and the roar of the nearby falls filled Kjeld’s ears as they crossed before the barrow, following the river down towards the northernmost shore. Out of a keenness to survive and stay nearer to the fires of the Skaal village, Kjeld did not often wander far from home. The island could be treacherous for obvious reasons, but even in his short lifespan he had been required to traipse this way—and the barrow served as a marker, a sign that he was very far from home.


    Very far from rescue.


    Kjeld eyed the slick rocks they were cautiously cat-footing over, and he eyed the frigid waters, willing to bet his best hammer that the elves would not survive five minutes after an unwanted plunge. Few could, even the cold-conditioned Skaal. To freeze to death was beyond unpleasant. It would bring him no pleasure to know that he had caused their deaths.


    The thought of ending a life, even an elf’s, made his stomach clench painfully tight, but as he saw the orange streaks of light on the horizon, the sun beginning its descent, it became clearer by the moment that his windows of opportunity were rapidly shutting.


    He needed to stand behind both elves. If he was able, Kjeld would throw his shoulder into Mithlas hard enough that the elf crashed into Lord Kyron—then the falls would take them in a merciless embrace, dashing the elves against the rocks like cloth dolls dropped from a crib. If he were shorter and slighter of frame, such a plan might not have succeeded. Not that he found there to be much to these elves; they were tall but slight, and their uncertainty over the terrain implied a certain softness to their soles.


    Kjeld began to lag behind, looking down at his feet as if the terrain had grown tricky, even for him. His heartbeat was eerily steady, as if he’d already made peace with that plan.


    “In front,” barked Lord Kyron, and both he and Mithlas stopped abruptly, staring at him with their now familiar imploring intensity.


    Kjeld slowly made his way to the front of the line. They may have stumbled over the rocks like fawns, but they were sharper than he’d given them credit. Though preoccupied with concerns of escape, relief was mixed in. Relieved, just a little, that killing them was no longer a first resort.



    The march took up the rest of the afternoon.


    As with all rivers on Solstheim, the one they followed spilled into the sea, and it guided them down to the northern coast; the sun was now an angry red orb hovering near the horizon line. The pristine turquoise waters were deceptively beautiful, painted along the ocean’s surface in streaks of sunset orange and deep red.


    In the course of a few hours, Kjeld had learned frustratingly little from his elven captors:


    Where are we going?


    Northshore landing.




    To see Ancarion, now shut your mouth.


    And if I don’t?


    Do you really want that question answered?


    No, as it turns out, he didn’t.


    Weary and footsore, the elves constructed a fire to warm themselves with, and it was lit by more effortless magic, this time a small pool of fire carried in the palm before it was unceremoniously thrown into the deadwood. Every spellcasting movement these elves made, Kjeld noticed, was precise—almost careless with how little thought or strain it required. Did that mean it was breathtakingly easy?


    Or was this just part of their haughty demeanors, meant to make him feel inferior to their magical supremacy?


    It was the latter.


    Without any choice but to obey the elves, Kjeld begrudgingly went about his task of collecting additional deadwood to maintain the fire. He could feel the elves’ eyes upon him, and knew once again that escape would not be possible.


    Noise came from the water.


    Two bulbous horkers, whiskers bristling with indignation, tusks flashing in the drowning sunlight, advanced upon them with typical territorial aggression, throwing their hefty weight up onto the sands with heavy, muffled thuds.


    “This was a bad place to set up a fire,” said Kjeld, backing up. Horkers could kill a full grown man if he was unarmed, and their thick wrinkled hides were difficult to pierce. “You should just—”


    Mithlas, stone-faced and cold-eyed, raised his hand and flung a concentrated bolt of lightning at each horker.


    They were bull horkers. Their hides scarred with many seasons fighting for their rights to breed. But this was not a battle of tusks, and they lost simply by being there.


    Horrendous bellows shattered the tranquility of the beach, the low constant crash of the waves overpowered by the two braying horkers writhing on the sand before them.


    The elves returned to their fire.


    Kjeld stood rigid, his mouth agape in horror as the roars diminished into the fading moans of the dying, the tough hides crawling with electrical charges left over from each bolt. After a few seconds that lasted an eternity, the animals slumped, half-in and half-out of the water, their limbs twitching in the seafoam as they were slowly dragged out to sea.


    They just killed them. For being there. The horkers were a threat, but the beach did not belong to these mer. It did not belong to man, either. Even if it had, such merciless destruction of life was wrong. What gods did these elves pray to? It was as if they did not share this world with others, they owned it - everything else was fodder.


    With blackness in his eyes, and his stomach churning with disgust, Kjeld whirled to face the elves. “What is wrong with you?”


    Kyron and Mithlas broke off their chatter and stared at him as if he were speaking a different language.


    Kjeld seethed. “This world is not yours and only yours, elves!” He thrust his arm out, gesturing to the rest of the beach. “An entire fucking coastline, and you murdered those animals for laziness.”


    “Sit down and shut up.” Lord Kyron snapped. “Or—”


    Rational thought fled as fury took over. Their treatment of him, he could tolerate. But such baseless murder? If that had been a common bandit, or even a single traveler who happened to cross their path, would they have suffered the same fate? Would they have killed Baldor without a second thought, after his services were no longer needed? His shoulder twitched and burned, and he felt his temper prowling under his skin like a sickness. “I’ve had enough. You’ll learn nothing from me.”


    Mithlas looked to Lord Kyron. With a curling lip, the ringleader nodded once.


    Kjeld held his breath, hefting a thick piece of deadwood like a club.


    By the All-Maker, even if they killed him for his refusal to cooperate, he could stand their company no further.


    Kjeld charged.


    A brilliant flash of green light struck him square in the chest, and he felt a painful squeeze over his entire body. As if turned to stone, his flesh had gone rigid, and he toppled onto his back in the sand, unable to move an inch. Panic seized his heart, and if not for the furious beats against his ribcage, he would have thought himself dead or dying. He could not even move his eyes, stuck looking into the heavens above.


    The sky was caught mid-transformation from day to night, the effect created was a darkening blue directly overhead. Fear raged inside of him, and rage climbed over the fear, trying to break through this spell, trying to rip him free of this invisible prison. His shoulder burned so much, he wanted to cry out.


    But he could do nothing.


    Then the face of Mithlas appeared before him, drawn in a look of cold disdain as the elf stood above.


    Kjeld stared hatefully back, frozen where he lay. What have they done?


    The sole of the elf’s boot stomped down once, twice, and Kjeld knew no more.










12 Comments   |   Paws and 1 other like this.
  • SpookyBorn2021
    SpookyBorn2021   ·  August 14, 2017
    Aww bloody hell, first I said that the previous chapter was great but this one is even better. I love everything about this one, just the way that you show off the differences between Kjeld and the Thalmor or really the Skaal and Thalmor, just really excellent.
  • JRMoosePaul
    JRMoosePaul   ·  July 30, 2017
    I'm pretty sure they don't swear like that in the Elder Scrolls 
    • SpottedFawn
      I'm pretty sure they don't swear like that in the Elder Scrolls 
        ·  July 30, 2017
      I am aware. I have left a disclaimer on my ToC that the story will at times be lore-unfriendly—like this chapter. Thanks for reading anyway!
  • Justiciar Thorien
    Justiciar Thorien   ·  February 2, 2016
    Nothing to thank for, it's more than worth the time) You write beautifully.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  February 2, 2016
    @Justiciar Thorien, @TheRancid, @Exuro
    Thanks for continuing to read Frost Moon. :) Part I is drawing to a close in the next chapter or so.
    The difficulty will be balancing out the personalities of the two brothers. Because t...  more
  • Justiciar Thorien
    Justiciar Thorien   ·  January 31, 2016
    Your characters are so alive it's hard to like or dislike them. Each one seems to have their own set of good and bad features. Even the Thalmor.
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 30, 2016
    Exuro said it perfectly! Putting us in Kjeld's perspective was the best move you could have made. I know what it's like to have a character who is constantly eclipsed by the loud personality of someone around them (my sister and I, for example, where I am...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  January 30, 2016
    When you character starts taking scenes like that, you know you're working with something good :-).  I see how you would be worried about the biases, but that helped immerse me in the chapter. It closed the distance between the reader and Kjeld, which is ...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  January 30, 2016
    Thank you so much, you three. :) It's really exciting to post a chapter just before bed and wake up to find that people not only have read it, but liked what they read! I'm sure I say this with every chapter, but I mean it. Thank you!

    @Sotek,...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  January 30, 2016
    Great chapter. :)
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  January 30, 2016
    This whole chapter was so full of no. I'm seeing Reidar making it his mission to rescue his brother even though it was Kjeld's mission to rescue his. And I love how we're learning so much about Kjeld now. The build-up of his personality was handled with i...  more