LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Nine - Diverging Paths

  • Chapter Nine

    Diverging Paths



    The house seemed a little less miserable, now. This understanding between two forces that usually clashed (and sometimes roughly) had chased away some of the wretched chill.


    Kjeld withdrew for a moment, getting his thoughts in order.


    Reidar was accepting it in stride, that grin not about to disappear for anything short of tragedy.


    “You’re serious, aren’t you? You’re not going to stop me.” There was a small pause, as if to give him ample time to refuse or declare it a damned lousy joke.


    But Kjeld said otherwise, heaving a sigh.
    “Aye, so you can quit grinning like a fox in the hen house—it’s making me change my mind.”


    Reidar leaned against the fireplace mantel, flames throwing his shadows on the wall like splashes of ink.


    “So what’s this about Morthal?” He straightened. “Are you leaving right now?”


    “Not yet. Anyways, there’s a Khajiit—a cat-man—there that can help me.”
    The plan sounded foolish when he voiced it aloud, but that couldn’t be helped. Desperation demanded he chase the trail of breadcrumbs to whatever end he could.


    As if the muscles in his mouth were on a spring he just kept winding, Reidar was grinning again.


    What?” Kjeld demanded.


    “Nothing~” Reidar and his ego shared a chortle. “It’s just funny—a man with a bear problem is traveling hundreds of miles to find a cat who can fix his bear problem. Seems like a problem for another werebear, don’t you think?”


    Kjeld was going to give that no more thought than it deserved; which was to say, none.


    “Oh aye, let me go find another cured werebear and ask him for help. That’s like trying to find a cat hair on a dog.” He did not dare ask around Windhelm if anyone knew of a ‘cured werebear’. Werebears weren’t something you fixed… Werebears were something you killed, before they killed you first.


    Being different meant needing different solutions.


    “What’s this cat gonna do to you?” Reidar asked.


    “I don’t know, but Ulfric’s court wizard told me to find him. And by the way—he knew Leiv. Didn’t say much about him and I wouldn’t call the court wizard a friend, but he knew about Da’s ability, and didn’t react with hostility when I told him.”


    As if he might spot the court wizard from here, Reidar glanced through one of the broken slats, a frost wind blowing his hair out of his eyes as he gazed along the docks of Windhelm. He spared Kjeld a backward glance. “I’ll bet Da has more friends here than we know.”


    I wouldn’t hold on too tight to that.
    With the wind groaning through the house again, Kjeld deemed it time enough to move on.
    “I know your blood’s burnin’ to join Ulfric’s cause, but I could use your help.”


    Reidar turned. “How long is this gonna take? I’m not waiti—”


    “Just a day.” Impatient little… Kjeld drew in a deep, soothing breath, and let it out slowly. “I need a tent and a bedroll for my journey, so I need you to hunt some wolves for me. A bear if you can find one.”


    “Oh I can find one.” Reidar at once took the bait. “How many wolves?” A gleam was back in his eye, and Kjeld almost smiled.


    “As many as you can find. I need to make my supplies and pay for my carriage ride by sunset tomorrow.” And then they would part ways.


    The cold was stinging his face now, but the tightness in his chest distracted him. He could see the fork in the road before them; Reidar was meant to take the left, and he was meant to take the right.


    Who knew when and if their paths would cross again? To Oblivion with ‘if’.


    As his brother bragged of slaying a dozen wolves and at least three bears, Kjeld was privately dividing up the time it took to tan and sew and build what he needed.


    If he did it quickly and did it well, there’d be enough time to make a shield. He could increase the odds of seeing Reidar alive and well, and to do that, he was going to need some iron.




    The rest of the day was devoted to gathering resources; in addition to furs, firewood and frostbitten fingers, they were met with an unexpected kindness. At the Brandy-Mug farm, their mother’s roots still held grip in Eastmarch. Bolfrida Brandy-Mug had been Eydís’s niece, (just a child when Leiv, Helmi and Eydís fled Windhelm). After surprised but amiable introductions, and a small but hearty meal of cabbage and apple stew, Bolfrida was kind enough to let them sleep on the floor of the farmhouse provided they helped weed and pick crops in the morning.


    To their cousin’s delight, they were up at dawn, fresh-faced and ready for work. Reidar headed into the mountains for more pelts, and Kjeld—after pressing gold into the carriage-driver’s palms to keep him from leaving early—greeted the day with rolled sleeves and the intent to finish whatever he started.


    While he tore the weeds from the frozen earth with bearish efficiency, his mind wandered to the unusual healer he was meant to find. ‘Healer’ seemed a generous title, but Wuunferth had given him frustratingly little else to go on. Wuunferth the Unliving would not welcome another visit from him, and he couldn’t make any unnecessary detours. At least he could freely ask about the hold city he was bound for without accruing suspicion.


    “What do you know of Morthal, Bolfrida?”


    In between the snick snick snick of her sickle into the wheat, Kjeld heard an answer. “Not much, I suppose. I know it’s nothing but festering swamps and ghost-fog.” Snick snick snick. “Why?”


    “I’m heading that way in a day’s time.”


    “Bring a strong lantern then. That marsh plays tricks on innocent folk — or so I’m told.”


    Kjeld mentally added a lantern to his supplies-list; he then rose from his place in the cold dirt, deep impressions from his knees left behind as he went to another row. He glanced along the four more rows after this one, anticipating it would take another hour’s work, at least. Rubbing the warmth back into his chilly hands, Kjeld spoke to Bolfrida.
    “You take care of this farm all by yourself?”


    Running a farm was no small undertaking.


    Bolfrida saw him gazing at the rows still needing tending and chuckled. “I get by. It used to be me and Frorkmar, but the war pulled him away from me.” The sunlight strengthened on the golden heads of grain as she turned from him, approaching another bushel of wheat. “So I tend the place until he comes home.”


    “My brother’s going.” Kjeld ripped out another weed.


    Saying it to another soul turned it from a raw, shapeless fear in the back of Kjeld’s mind to an iron truth, solid and unyielding. His hands rested in the soil, feeling the cold, tilled earth where the weeds had been; he had given his word that he would let Reidar go. He had. Taking it back would declare to his brother loud and clear that he had no faith in him—and Reidar wouldn’t stand for it.


    “Is he now? He looks strong and capable. Tell him to look for Frorkmar Banner-Torn when he goes. ...Can he follow orders?”


    Bushels of clouds passed overhead, obscuring the sunlight for the briefest of times, as if his worries were starting to manifest in the weather patterns. But they quickly passed, and his hands started pulling again. He found himself able to speak, and better yet to make a face between a grimace and a grin. “Only if there’s glory involved.”


    Bolfrida laughed. “Then Frorkmar will like him!”


    “Maybe he can teach Reidar a little discipline,” Kjeld grunted, wearing a goodnatured frown.


    “I don’t know about that—your brother seems like a stubborn one.”


    You don’t know the half of it.


    The morning passed like this. Two cousins diligently making short work of last month’s harvest, talking idly of Frorkmar and Reidar and life in the Skaal Village—even if it ached him to speak of home. It was a worthy distraction from the weedy ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ trying to take root.




    Reidar was too cold to bother with hunting any more. Skinning wolves had taken up most of his morning, along with an unexpected snow bear that took five arrows to fell. It was no less than he’d promised, though; Kjeld could make his tent, and the bear meat would fetch a nice bit of coin.


    The late afternoon sun made the waters of Windhelm’s docks glint and glitter, and he imagined the scales of the Argonian dockworkers winking like coins in the sunshine.


    It was time.


    Once his hands and feet were thawed enough to make movement less of a chore, Reidar slung his bow across his chest, double-checked to make sure the familiar weight of his axe was there on his hip, and left their cousin’s farmhouse. Bolfrida waved them off with a “Talos guide you”, and the wind tumbled against their backs right across the long bridge and up to the city gates.


    Kjeld, with his arms full of furs, went with him to use the blacksmith’s tanning racks in the Blacksmith’s Quarters.


    They stayed together until they reached the long stone corridor that led up to the Palace of Kings; the Blacksmith’s Quarters was down the first street on the right as soon as you entered the city, but Reidar knew Kjeld, in his own way, wanted to show his support by walking him all the way to the palace.


    When they were close enough to see the detail on the palace doors, Kjeld stopped.


    “Good luck.” Kjeld made a face like a constipated horker.


    Reidar grinned back. “You too.”

    This was it!


    He didn’t try to keep still. He knew damn well he’d be seeing Galmar again, and as much as he hated giving that gray-haired milkdrinker the satisfaction of having risen to the bait, no other road seemed the right one to travel.


    This was something he needed to do. And not just for Da, but for himself, too.


    He called back once to his brother. “See you on the other side.”


    Kjeld answered tersely. “Aye, you’d better.”


    Reidar left before that ‘moment’ could evolve into something embarrassing. He didn’t have anything against hugging his brother in public—but for Shor’s sake, he was only going to get his uniform and his first set of orders. For all he knew, he’d be stuck here in Windhelm training until Galmar said otherwise.


    His teeth were getting cold from all the grinning, so he finally closed his mouth, stamping the snow off his boots in the great hall of the Palace of Kings. Reidar’s heavy footfalls didn’t echo—the room was too large.


    It was also empty.


    Blue and tan banners hung along the seam where the walls met the ceiling, emblazoned with a snarling bear made in the Nordic style. Ulfric’s symbol. Leiv’s symbol, he corrected, and he nodded to the many bears adorning the entrance hall as he approached the big stone throne.


    Loud voices came from one of the side rooms, and Galmar’s scratchy baritone was easy to pick out. Ulfric Stormcloak was speaking.


    “Tell me again why we're wasting time and dwindling resources chasing a legend. We don't even know it exists!”


    "The Jarls are upset. They don't all support you."


    "Damn the Jarls."


    "They demand the Moot."


    "And damn the Moot! We should risk letting those milkdrinkers put Thorryg's woman on the throne? She'll hand Skyrim over to the elves on a silver plate."


    "All the more reason then. The crown would legitimize your claim."


    A crown! Reidar strained to catch Ulfric’s disgruntled words; he didn’t understand what a Moot was, but the situation wasn’t hard to grasp. A Moot was a council or something to that effect, and the other Jarls wanted to hold one to discuss… what? The war itself? Who was Thorygg’s woman?


    Bah. What did he care of politics? Galmar’s motivations for seeking the crown immediately lost his attention. The legendary crown itself, however—now that’s something worth paying attention to.


    Ulfric still needed convincing. "A crown doesn't make a king."


    "No, but this one..." Galmar sounded reverent.


    "If it even exists."


    "It exists. And it'll be the symbol of the righteousness of our cause. Think about it. The Jagged Crown! It heralds back to a time before jarls and moots. Back to the time when a king was a king because his enemies fell before him, and his people rose because they loved him. Skyrim needs that king. You will be that king, Ulfric. You must be."


    "You're certain you've found it?"


    "When have I ever been false with you?"


    "Fine. I'll send some Unbloodeds with you. Maybe they’ll fancy a crawl through a moldering dungeon to see if you can't stir up this Jagged Crown."


    “It'll be there. You'll see."


    Footsteps coming towards him, Reidar lurched back to the center of the great hall to shout as if he’d just arrived.


    “Galmar! I’m here to join the Stormcloaks!”


    And get that crown. Galmar made it sound like it was everything but gods-made, the mark of a true ruler that no man or woman in Skyrim could refuse to acknowledge. And he would present it to Ulfric proudly in the name of his father. It took effort to wipe the raw light of determination from his eyes, and he hoped the old warrior took it as ambition for the cause.


    Galmar’s bristled brows furrowing into frown of mild interest.


    “So Leiv’s boys have some steel in their spines after all! Where’s that brother of yours?”


    “Busy.” He kept the conversation well away from Kjeld. “I’m the only White-Paw you’ll need.”


    Ulfric watched him coolly, retiring to his stone high-backed chair.


    Galmar’s eyes glinted like steel.


    “Tch. You’ve got a fool’s courage, I’ll give you that. But first, tell me. Why's a foreigner want to fight for Skyrim?”


    Reidar crossed his arms. “I ran into the Thalmor on Solstheim. Let’s just say we didn’t get along. If joining you let’s me fight elves until they start to know better,” He spread his arms akimbo, as if making a pledge. “Then everybody wins, right?”


    Humility wasn’t a talent of his. Nor was tact, according to Kjeld, and Reidar sensed he was toeing the line between obnoxiously boastful and arrogant certainty. He had yet to prove himself. They weren’t like Ludvik and Mitra, who could take him at his word.


    “He is asking you if you’d die for Skyrim.”


    Ulfric’s easy command seemed to shrink the room, and Reidar looked to the Jarl.


    Dying for Skyrim? Who’d said anything about dying? He had every intention of surviving and becoming a legend—but that wasn’t the answer they wanted, was it? Like a dog trying to join a wolf pack, he chose his answer quickly and he chose it well.


    “I wasn’t born here, but Skyrim runs in my blood. I’ll fight and bleed for the cause if that’s what it takes.” That was true. War demanded blood; glory demanded blood. He wasn’t an idiot. There would be pain and death along the way, but for Leiv’s sake, he wouldn’t let that stop him.


    And now they’ll ask me to prove it. He could do this. He was ready.


    Despite more silence from the Jarl, he earned Galmar’s curt nod of approval. “All right. But before I can put you to use, I need to know how much you can take. I have a little test for you.”


    Just like he’d expected. Reidar rested his hand on his axe. “I can handle anything you throw at me.”


    "That's what I like to hear. So long as you can back up those words with steel. Come,” Galmar led him back into the war room to where an enormous map of the country was spread out across the table, small flags in red and blue dotted the landscape. Reidar could take a guess what those were for; he eagerly peered at the map, but found himself none-the-wiser for it.


    Apart from the hold names and their capitals, he couldn’t tell if the Stormcloaks were winning or losing. The number of blue flags seemed equal to the number of red flags.


    Fortunately, Galmar demanded his attention elsewhere.


    A rough finger prodded an island in glacial waters not far from Windhelm. It looked like all the other islands to him (as in, giant floating chunks of ice), but he listened intently as the General explained;


    "I'm sending you to Serpentstone Island. It's where men have tested their mettle for ages. There's a strange rock formation, built by the ancients. Something about that place attracts the Ice Wraiths. You kill an Ice Wraith out there, and I'll have all the proof I need about you.
    If you survive, you pass. If you die, well, you weren't going to be much use to me anyway."


    Reidar couldn’t read map distances worth a damn, but that island looked far. How was he supposed to get there? Swim? He nearly blurted that question when he caught himself. He’d find a way. Rent a boat. Pay a fisherman. Lash planks of wood to a couple of horkers and dangle some fish in front of them—he’d find a way. There was no pretending this test of Galmar’s wasn’t inconvenient, especially when there were ice wraiths in the mountains as sure as snowfall on a gray morning.


    “Does every recruit have to do this or am I just special?”


    “Only the ones I'm not sure about. This will prove your abilities, but more importantly, it will prove your commitment.”


    “Then I’m off to kill that ice wraith.”


    “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”


    Reidar strode from the war room, making straight for the doors—and from there, the docks to find a means of transport.


    He’d be back by evening. Kill an ice wraith—ha! He’d killed his first one when he was eleven years old, and many more after that. Maybe Galmar thought the Skaal were soft.


    Reidar was going to savor the look of surprise on the general’s face when he came back with enough ice wraith teeth to freeze a sabre cat solid.


    And afterward, he was going for that crown.







7 Comments   |   Paws and 2 others like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  June 9, 2016
    You hit the nail on the head, Exuro. Reidar can fight some ice wraiths, but map-reading? The Skaal don't need a bloody map, it's one island!
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  May 19, 2016
    Kjeld made a face like a constipated horker. LOL, love the imagery
    So Kjeld is going to be wandering through a swamp with a ball of string yelling, "Here kitty kitty, a bear wants to play." And Reidar is going to be lost in the ice flows? I'm actual...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 8, 2016
    Tildes are awesome. They're worth bending the rules a little! 
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 7, 2016
    Thanks for giving this a read, Rancid. I know tildes aren't supposed to be used, but since this is being posted to a public forum and not published into a book, I felt like I could bend the rules a little bit.
    Fixed! Thanks again, Rancid. ^^
    ...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 7, 2016
    Reidar's cockiness makes me really nervous. I hope that kid is preparing himself for what this new world is like. And I feel sorry for the brothers.  I probably wouldn't let my little brother do something as stupid as what Reidar's doing. I have mad respe...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 7, 2016
    Nice chapter SF.
    "You willing to fight for Skyrim. To die for her?"
    "Yes.... Wait, what? Die?" 

  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  May 6, 2016
    *Does giant facepalm at Reidar*
    Oh boy. 
    The brothers are finally splitting. Scary a bit. Hope they do well.