LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Seven - Windhelm

  • Chapter Seven



    The great city of Windhelm sat on the edge of the Sea of Ghosts like a black, somber crown. Snow-dusted and wind-lashed. Ancient and formidable.


    It reminded him instantly of the crypts of unknown warriors and nobility scattered over Solstheim like scabs. But this city wasn’t an ugly reminder of a time long past; it was a declaration.


    All ye who enter here; know that you are in the land of the Nords. Know that our memory is long and our tempers unrivaled. Know that our blades are as sharp as our prides.


    The aggressive architecture lent the city a foreboding slant. Seeing the walls rise like a blockade as they pulled into the harbor only furthered the city’s reputation.


    Architecture—how things were put together or how they persisted in spite of the elements—had always been an interest of Kjeld’s. He enjoyed engineering, though he knew few technical terms. While Reidar was gawping at something on the docks, Kjeld was trying to gauge just how high the walls were—or even how far along they went before they inevitably curved, closing the city in.


    This was a city that expected invasion. Lived through it, even, and each black stone on top of its fellows was a sign the city had grown wiser.


    Kjeld could appreciate the dry, humorous realization that this place seemed the opposite of the Skaal village. Metal and stone ruled, here. In Solstheim, wood and straw had proved reliable.


    Much could be said about the city’s construction, but what were the people like?


    Just as foreboding? Grim and unyielding?


    Perhaps they were made of stone and metal too.


    Reidar nudged him roughly in the shoulder. “Are you even looking? There are lizards on the docks!”


    It was true.


    While the (entirely Nordic) crew of the Northern Maiden were busy tethering the ship and unloading cargo, a flurry of activity had been cued, and the ship was swarmed by scaly men and women of all types.


    Kjeld, in spite of himself, stared.


    Green, brown, gray, blue—their muted palettes and drab clothing made them easy to ignore, especially when Kjeld had been busy looking everywhere except right at them. But Reidar was right; they were lizards.


    Bright feathers poked out of crocodilian heads, snake-like eyes of all colors looked around with alien intentions, paying Reidar and Kjeld no mind as their single objective seemed to be hauling crates onto the wharf.


    The didn’t stop for conversations, and the idle gawking of strangers was a treatment they seemed used to—they didn’t make eye-contact, only collected what was needed.


    Reidar, in an effort to halt one long enough to get a few words in edgewise, sat down on one of the crates just as a tall, horned lizard went to retrieve it.


    The lizard stopped in his tracks, inhuman eyes unblinking.
    “Excuse me.” He said.


    Huh. Kjeld had expected—well, he didn’t know what kind of voice he expected, but it was easier to warm up to them now that they sounded human enough.


    “What are you?” asked Reidar. He wasn’t one to beat around the bush, even if it meant being a tactless oaf.


    Kjeld got a good look at the sky when he rolled his eyes to the heavens. He would let Reidar do what he wished, his brother was going to do it anyway. And if he offended enough people, maybe he’d learn a hard lesson or two about asking all the wrong questions.


    “Busy.” Said the lizard.


    Kjeld smirked, slinging his pack over his shoulder.


    “No, I mean what are you? You’re a lizard, right?”


    “Argonian. I am an Argonian. You are sitting on the crate I need.”


    Reidar moved aside.

    “Do you want any help?”


    Kjeld raised his eyebrows. Reidar actually offering to do manual labor? Ha; he wasn’t being charitable, he just wanted to ask the Argonian more questions.

    “Let’s go, Reidar. We have people to see.”


    Finding Captain Gjalund, Kjeld shook the sailor’s hand, and departed with the crew’s well-wishes and directions to the Palace of Kings.


    They would find Ulfric Stormcloak and Galmar Stone-Fist there.




    The Argonian dockworkers were the last they saw of the lizard-folk. Instead, Windhelm’s population seemed to be mostly Nords—sailors, merchants, armed men and women with indistinct occupations—but they spotted a familiar gray-skinned elf or two walking through the city in a hurry.


    It was warmer inside the city walls (thanks to the enormous braziers near all prominent exits, entrances and the inn), but only just.


    What truly chilled Kjeld, however, was the dreariness.


    The city showed its true colors quickly. No sooner had he and Reidar spotted a Dunmer, then they caught the ugly end of a few racial obscenities thrown from the mouth of a Nord drunkard, with a few unpleasant gestures accompanying.


    Even Reidar had frowned at that, and the brothers had shared a confused grimace.


    The Skaal did not teach that kind of hatred.


    It became clear that this was a city known for its contempt and hostility; the guards, well within view of the drunkard, did nothing to stop the harassment—and the unknown Dunmer fled to what the citizens here called the “Gray Quarter”.


    Kjeld could guess why it was called that.


    The Dunmer likewise regarded them with narrowed, reproachful eyes, as if accusing them of all manner of atrocities simply for being Nords.


    “And this is the place Ma and Da are from?” Reidar hissed under his breath as they passed by another disinterested guard on their way to the Palace of Kings.


    “It was different back then.” Kjeld muttered back.

    He hadn’t the faintest idea, but it was a small candlelight of hope that he was unwilling to snuff out.


    Hostility was not something for Windhelm’s working class only; a conversation at the other end of the Palace reached the brothers as they entered, the sounds of the door closing doing little to interrupt the speakers.


    “Is there any news from High Rock?”


    “Not a peep.” Said a grizzled man armed with a shirt of mail and a battleaxe wider than his shoulder blades. “Those prissy Bretons can’t be made to lift a finger to help their neighbors.”


    “I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. They’ve never had many problems with the Empire.”


    “Those milkdrinkers might as well be elves. Think they’re better than us.”


    They had found the headquarters of the Stormcloak Rebellion; Kjeld knew little of the cause behind the rebellion, and the long blue banners bearing Eastmarch’s symbol, a snarling bear, didn’t fill him with patriotism or awe. Even without the decorations, the room was impressive, fit for a Jarl with its long banquet table, enormous stone throne and high ceilings.


    Reidar on the other hand, was staring worse than with the Argonians, with the tell-tale look of someone keenly listening to a conversation he had no part of.


    Kjeld mistook the grizzled veteran for the Jarl at first, but the charismatic personality and the haughtiness of tone changed his mind onto the second man. He was as tall as Kjeld, with dark blonde hair, a prominent nose and sharp eyes under a heavy brow.


    That must’ve been the Jarl.


    “Regardless,” said Ulfric Stormcloak with a condescending lift of his chin. “Skyrim must stand alone. Again.”


    It was the sound of Kjeld rustling in his backpack that eventually arrested the attention of the Jarl and Housecarl; he could feel their searching eyes and guarded expressions the same way a cat felt a wall just barely brush its whiskers.


    Producing the letter, Kjeld prudently approached but stopped short of the throne, uncertain how to address the Jarl or Housecarl.


    When Kjeld did not speak, Ulfric Stormcloak’s posture relaxed, his words carrying imperious—but curious—undertones.


    “Only the foolish or the courageous approach a Jarl without summons. Should I know you?”


    “I’m Reidar, he’s Kjeld. You summoned our father weeks ago, but we’ve come in his stead.”
    Reidar spoke clearly and proudly, as if they had been long-expected and wanted to let the welcoming party know they could come out now.


    Kjeld held out the letter for either man to take, but they only regarded the Skaal brothers with impassive expressions.


    Reidar, unable to help himself, quickly added: “What’s a Breton?”


    Galmar barked a laugh, his tense expression changing into aggressive amusement, like a wolf entertained by a very stupid rabbit. “Have you been living under a rock, boy? ‘What’s a Breton’.”


    But Ulfric wasn’t laughing. Rather than acknowledge Reidar beyond a glance, he was staring at Kjeld.


    The scrutiny from the Jarl bothered him more than he could describe, and Kjeld folded the letter back up just to give himself someplace else to look. This might’ve been a mistake.


    Should they have come sooner? Or not at all?


    “Leiv White-Paw is your father.” Said Ulfric, his tone betraying nothing, but the undivided attention he was giving Kjeld did not waver until he got confirmation.


    “Yes,” said Kjeld, watching with an unexpected wariness as Galmar’s eyes flashed.


    You’re Leiv’s boys? Well I’ll be damned. Where is that old bear?”


    Those words should’ve been amicable, from one old warrior to another, but instead they made the hairs on Kjeld’s arms stand up. Whether that was resentment, hostility or an old spirit of competitiveness rearing its head after so many dormant years, Kjeld didn’t know.


    “He died eleven years ago.” Kjeld watched Galmar’s expression more than Ulfric’s, but the old warrior betrayed nothing.


    Instead, this news was accepted in silence, the Jarl’s haughtiness breaking up like cloud-cover to leave a pensive, solemn gaze behind. He retired to the throne.


    “That is unfortunate. There was much I wished to discuss with him. Did he die honorably?”


    “Yes,” said Reidar, a fierce gleam in his eye that was meant more for Kjeld than the Jarl and Galmar.


    Kjeld let his brother’s answer stand. These hardened warriors didn’t need to know that Leiv White-Paw had drowned in the Sea of Ghosts. They might’ve defined ‘honorable death’ a little differently.


    Good,” said Galmar. “And you two have come to Skyrim to fight in your father’s honor.”


    “No.” Kjeld should’ve guessed Galmar would make that leap. “We are Skaal, war is not our way. After the letter arrived, we thought it best to bring news of Leiv’s death in person. We are sorry for the trouble.”


    Galmar’s arms folded over his chest. The bear’s head hood looked fierce in the firelight.
    “Pity. An answering letter would have sufficed. It’s a piss-poor morning when the sons of a once-great hero seem to have inherited their father’s disloyalty.”




    Kjeld stepped in front of Reidar, responding coolly.
    “We are Skaal. Skyrim’s fight is not ours.”


    “And we’re not disloyal,” growled Reidar behind him.


    “Yes it is!” Galmar snapped. “It’s the fight of every man, woman and child who values their freedom. I bet the Skaal would think differently while they’re being crushed under the bootheel of their elven masters.”


    “Enough, Galmar.” Said Ulfric. “I can see where this is going, and there’s no need for it. Sons of Leiv, if that is all the news you have to share, you may go.”


    He had to shove Reidar along to get him away from Galmar, whom he’d been glaring at in a way that led to bloodshed or broken bones if Kjeld didn’t do something.


    The grizzled warrior deserved the glare, but he didn’t trust Reidar not to make a scene or issue a challenge he had no hopes of winning.


    Kjeld shoved the doors open, letting the frigid morning air sweep over him. He took a deep, calming breath even as Reidar exhaled a growl.


    “Disloyal? What kind of bearshit is that? How can he call us disloyal for not joining his stupid war?”


    Shhh.” Kjeld was only too mindful of the guards giving them long looks. He made a sharp right, pulling Reidar with him into a frost-laden cemetery. It wasn’t anyone’s idea of a ‘pleasant location’, but at least it was empty of eavesdroppers.


    Living eavesdroppers.


    “Listen, don’t go doing anything stupid. I need to find a mage, and you can either come with me or find something else to do.”


    Did he enjoy treating Reidar like a small child who needed supervising? By the All-Maker, no. It wasn’t fun for either of them. Necessary, perhaps. But definitely not fun.


    Reidar’s eyes flashed, his mouth twisting with annoyance.
    “I can take care of myself. Go find your healer, I’ll go find out what in Oblivion is going on with this war, and Da.”


    The right words should’ve been be careful, and he meant to say them, but they rearranged themselves into “keep out of trouble,” which only made Reidar’s eyes roll.


    They split their money between them and separated.


    Kjeld didn’t care what Galmar and Ulfric had said. Had accused them of. Why would the words of men he didn’t know count for anything? He watched Reidar stalk towards Candlehearth Hall, and his own footsteps carried him in the direction of the White Phial, a shop they’d noticed when they’d gotten lost searching for the Palace earlier.


    It was an alchemy shop, and Kjeld didn’t have high hopes of success, but it was a start.


    Ironically, it wasn’t his inherited problem that was at the forefront of his mind; it was the way Galmar had pricked Reidar’s pride. His stomach knotted.


    Reidar was too headstrong to ignore this, and he didn’t carry that axe around with him for decoration. There wasn’t a seed’s chance in winter that Reidar wouldn’t rise to the challenge.


    Was there any point in arguing? To stopping him?


    Kjeld tried to wipe the grimace off his face as he pushed open the door of the White Phial.


    That was a bridge to be crossed when they reached it.



    Disloyal. That grizzled old bastard didn’t know a damn thing about his father. Of the three children of Leiv White-Paw and Eydís Brandy-Mug, Reidar was the youngest, and could count the number of years he’d spent getting to know his father on one hand. Reidar knew him more through stories and accounts from his siblings than he did personal experience, but he didn’t care.


    He’d defend his family name with everything he had—but Reidar wasn’t a fool, even if his brother insisted on treating him like one. He was going to get the truth first. Then decide how to handle Galmar.


    Reidar pushed his way into Candlehearth Hall, warmth and light flooding over him as he thawed in the upper hearth area. The harsh wind outside was exchanged for bard’s music and drunken conversation; he was almost too irritated to appreciate it, but then a serving girl walked by with a dress that left little to the imagination. Reidar couldn’t fight a smirk, watching her until he remembered he was supposed to be angry.


    See? There were perks to Windhelm, they were just a little harder to find than he expected.


    While he warmed his hands by the double-sided furnace heating the upper level, he studied the tavern patrons. There was a surprising variety; a well-dressed quill-scratcher had a table all to himself, the overhead chandelier showed off his bald pate like a polished plate. That side of the room was otherwise empty.


    The other end, however, was a little more interesting.


    “Ey, ey that’s enough! Any more and you’ll make me miss morning call!”


    A raven-haired man with a barrel chest and a full tankard waved away the serving girl. Foam dampened his impressive mustache, which was connected to his equally impressive sideburns in a style Reidar couldn’t recall seeing before.


    Shinier than even the scribbling man’s head, was the long sword and scabbard leaning against the wall right behind him.


    Reidar walked to the other side of the furnace, seeing now in the flickering flamelight that the man’s nose was bruised, with smaller cuts and abrasions marring his features, and a redness to his skin that had nothing to do with the flames.


    One eye was cloudy with sightlessness, and the eyebrow above it looked newly slashed.


    This man had been in a fight recently—or a war.


    “Oh relax, Ludvik.” Husky voiced and dusky-skinned, the Redguard woman tapped his tankard with the tip of a paring knife. She had a thick bandage on her wrist. “Not like that hasn’t happened before. Live a little—we’re lucky to be alive.”


    Ludvik’s ale-and-injury-reddened face creased into a smile that put the health back into him, and his laughter and tankard were raised to the rafters. “Right you are, but I can’t have Sun-Killer thinkin’ I’m enjoying my recovery too much.”


    Sun-Killer. What did a man have to do to get a name like that?


    Questions buzzed in Reidar’s brain like bees around a hive, and he formed answers and new questions as he walked over. Sellswords. No, bounty hunters. The woman’s face bore dark red warpaint, and he saw a blue bandana keeping her dreadlocks out of her eyes.


    Not bounty hunters. Stormcloaks.


    Perfect. Maybe they knew what in Oblivion Galmar had meant when he’d called Leiv White-Paw disloyal.


    Reidar showed no fear, flashed a smile like they were old friends, and laid a hand on the third unused chair at their table.

    “Who’s Sun-Killer?” He unfastened his cloak with his free hand, enjoying the security his ebony axe provided when it was properly fastened. He never went anywhere without it.


    “An officer in the Stormcloak army,” said Ludvik. “Thorygg Sun-Killer. Do we know you, kinsman?”


    Kinsman was a term he’d heard in Thirsk.




    What’s a pup like you doing with an axe like that?” Asked the Redguard, her eyes glinting as she leaned back in her seat. The scar pulling at the corner of her mouth gave her a sly, vulpine look.

    “Don’t tell me you’re what passes for a mercenary these days.”


    “Easy Mitra, no need to start cutting him to pieces.”


    Call me ‘pup’ again and we’ll see who cuts who.


    Reidar stamped down that retort, and remarked instead; “They like me just fine on Solstheim.”

    There was no chance he’d tell this woman the truth. The Thirsk warriors said he was wet behind the ears, and the ‘elders’ of the Skaal village treated him like he was still an obnoxious child—but here, he didn’t have to be.


    No one knew his history, he could fabricate as much as he damn well pleased. Who knew him enough to challenge him? Kjeld, but not even his wet potato-sack of a brother would humiliate him in front of others.


    Solstheim?” Mitra’s eyebrows raised. “And I’m a Khajiit’s uncle.”


    “Have a seat, kinsman.” Ludvik gestured to the chair Reidar had already placed his hand on. “And don’t mind her. She treats everybody like that.”


    Reidar resisted rewarding her with a glare, and covered it with an ‘amiable’ grin as he draped his wolfskin cloak over the back before joining them.
    “Really? I was starting to feel special.”


    Ludvik chuckled. “I like you, kinsman. So tell me, what’s the name Sun-Killer mean to a mercenary from Solstheim? Galmar doesn’t take mercenaries.”


    Galmar. Eh.


    “Thought I knew somebody named Sun-Killer,” he said, “they weren’t called Thorygg though.”


    Lying came easy. Incredibly easy. He had lots of practice; dodging Village obligations took a certain amount of shamelessness and a silver tongue.


    Reidar relaxed now that he had been invited into their company, though Mitra was still giving him a wary, unwelcoming side-eye. Without Kjeld looming over him and in spite of his beardlessness, Reidar knew he could pass for a grown warrior without much effort. He could act the role.


    “So,” he looked at Ludvik. “What’s the deal with this war?”


    “Eh?” A bemused chuckle from the Stormcloak. “‘What’s the deal with this war’?”


    “News travels slow in Solstheim.”


    “Haven’t got a clue what’s going on, do you pup?” Mitra rolled her eyes to Ludvik. “I bet you ten Septims he’s just another runaway looking for glory. Or some goatheaded farmboy who thinks holding a sword is just like holding a hoe.”


    Reidar’s face burned—stupid, that didn’t help—and this time, he did glare at her.
    “You’d be ten Septims lost, then. If you don’t want to talk to me, you can leave.” Farmboy. Tch.


    Mitra’s paring knife struck the table, the air pushed out of her throat in half scoff, half snarl.
    “The nerve of this brat. Talk to me like that again and I’ll break your teeth!”

    Reidar’s hand twitched for his axe handle, his pulse speeding up.


    “Enough, enough!” Ludvik’s dark eyes matched his stern bearing, traces of the jolly, welcoming warrior gone. “Whether he’s a runaway or not, he still deserves to know what’s going on around here. Put the knife away, Mitra.”


    Ha. Before he could gloat, Ludvik had dropped a hand to the back of his chair and pinned him with a hard stare. “And I’d mind your manners, kinsman. She doesn’t need a knife to kill a man, and if you talk to her like that again, I’m not intervening.”


    Reidar looked at Mitra, and the expression on her face told him he’d get a first-hand experience in what it felt like to have his head smashed into the table. The tension folded under Ludvik’s peacekeeping, and she ever-so-slightly relaxed her grip on the knife, pulled it from the table where it disappeared from view. Her eyes were still on him like a harried hawk, but she took a sip of ale and said nothing.


    Reidar’s stomach unclenched, and considering he still needed information out of them, he attempted to further Ludvik’s peacekeeping.


    “Sorry. Anyway, I’m hoping you can tell me about a warrior who used to fight in the Great War. He was famous here, about twenty-five years ago.” They aren’t much older than me, Reidar realized. There was a big chance they wouldn’t know who he was talking about, even with a name.


    But Reidar chanced it.
    “His name’s Leiv White-Paw. I’m his son.”


    Ludvik choked on his drink. Mitra stared at him, and then laughed, her dislike absolving under the damning weight of this revelation.

    “Even I know what that name means. Good luck getting anywhere in this city. Nords have long memories.”


    “First bit of advice, kinsman,” said Ludvik, wiping the spilled foam from the sides of his mustache onto his shirt. “I wouldn’t go shouting that name, if I were you. Best not to say it at all.”


    Reidar kept his expression neutral, despite the surprise he felt. What in Oblivion had his father done that put their name in such disgrace? That it deserved mocking laughter and shocked faces?


    Mitra’s laughter was really starting to grate on him. He growled. “Shut up and tell me why. Why can’t I say that name?”


    Ludvik grimaced, and didn’t look him directly in the eyes.


    “Because Leiv White-Paw killed Hoag Stormcloak, and this city will never forget it.”






19 Comments   |   Paws and 3 others like this.
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  March 22, 2018
    Love the description of the city. The bit about the stones piling on top of each other being a testament to the city’s growing wisdom is lovely. And of course what Reidar finds out about his father. Nice. .
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  September 14, 2017
    I forgot where I left off, so I'm starting back at Sign of the Bear. Kjeld is still my favourite. :D
  • SpookyBorn2021
    SpookyBorn2021   ·  August 14, 2017
    Ohhhh shit what an ending that was. I can't say as much this chapter(decided to read on the bus for a bit) but hot damn that was a good ending Fawn
    • SpottedFawn
      Ohhhh shit what an ending that was. I can't say as much this chapter(decided to read on the bus for a bit) but hot damn that was a good ending Fawn
        ·  August 15, 2017
      Yay! Always rewarding when an ending has the impact I was going for.
      • SpookyBorn2021
        Yay! Always rewarding when an ending has the impact I was going for.
          ·  August 15, 2017
        Heh, I don't know how else it would be possible to react to that ending, it was a nice combination of being a completely logical and but also unexpected reasoning.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 24, 2017
    Again with the tension. Thick enough to cut with Mitra's knife! I am warming to Reidar, even after all that has happened in this chapter, and the pride, he still has his priorities right...
    " then a
    serving girl walked by with a dress that le...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  June 9, 2016
    Thanks for the support, Karvs! Don't worry, Thurza's on her way. You don't expect an orc to arrive subtly, do you?
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  June 9, 2016
    As I promised, I'm back! Go White-Paw boyz!

    Now you really got me hooked on who the hell Leiv was. And where is that Orc you have on your ToC? I need more Orcs! xD
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  April 24, 2016
    My apologies for the lateness of the hour SF but here I am and I have to say you do not disappoint.
    Well worth the wait and some great moments here. 
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  April 23, 2016
    Heehee, glad to see everyone was able to get a laugh out of just how clueless these brothers are! The Skaal are very isolated, if you really think about it, and it was important for me to show just how out of their element these brothers ar...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  April 23, 2016
    Thanks for that catch, Exuro! It's fixed now!
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  April 23, 2016
    They're so clueless! 
    This all ties right back in with the prologue; nicely done.
    Small typo:
    The [they/'the argonians'] didn’t stop for conversations, and the idle gawking of strangers was