LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Ten - Diverging Paths II

  • Chapter Ten

    Diverging Paths II


    Working at the forge again was a small solace. There would be many hard days ahead—that was just one of life's irrefutable truths—so he quietly reveled in the scent of smelted ore and burning coal, the feel of a hammer in his hands. It was not Baldor's forge, but it worked, and saw more service than the Skaal forge ever had. The owner, Oengul War-Anvil, had been generous enough to let him use it while he and his apprentice (a snub-nosed woman with glossy black hair and watery eyes, named Hermir Strong-Heart) dealt with business at the palace. He was glad of their departure; Oengul was amiable, but Kjeld had quickly tired of Hermir’s starry-eyed praises of Ulfric at every interval. She was probably further along in her training than he was, but her hero-worship of Windhelm’s Jarl made it hard not to think of her as a foolish, simple girl.


    The tent was completed (he'd done the majority of the tanning at Bolfrida's), and set carefully aside where it would sit until he'd finished his current project.


    Kjeld hammered in the boss, moving then to reinforce the shield with long strips of iron, not for the first time wishing he had enough to outfit the entire thing in iron. Or steel. Iron was fine, but steel was easier to work with and stronger; it was also more expensive to buy. Kjeld wasn't one to go find a pickaxe and get his own ore (it was one of the only perks of being away from Solstheim; Baldor no longer sent him out in search of ore veins), not while he was ill-prepared for such a trek.


    And time was pressing in like stormclouds on the horizon.


    He had only a small view of the marketplace district to rest his eyes on, feeling the heat sear across his arms and his jaw. Every now and again there'd be a commotion (the people here were loud hagglers) , but he'd gotten used to the city noises. Well, used to them enough to appreciate the solace of nature all the more. Sweat dampened the nape of his neck, and the frosted air chilled it. What a strange feeling, to be unpleasantly cold on one side and almost unbearably warm on the other.


    Kjeld set aside the hammer, gathering a handful of strong iron fastenings to roll them around on his dirty palm. A figure appeared near the forge and he looked up, meeting the cold, intrusive stare of a white-bearded man dressed in typical Nordic finery.


    "Where is Oengul?" The man demanded. "Are you some kin of his? Where are you from, boy?"


    Kjeld, who didn't enjoy being called 'boy' by someone who made it sound like an insult, attempted politeness.
    "I'm just borrowing the forge. Is there something I can help with?"


    The nobleman sniffed, looking him over as if seeing a lesser man in his place. Kjeld’s biggest fault seemed to be that he wasn’t Oengul.


    "Doubt it! I need a proper smith. If you see Oengul, tell him Ashur Shatter-Shield is looking for him."


    "Will do." Kjeld went back to work, the forge-heat (or perhaps the immediate, succinct dislike) making the air between them shimmer. If he concentrated on finishing this shield, there was a good chance the nobleman would go away.


    He didn't.


    Ashur’s frown was hard to detect beneath the beard, but his brows said as much. Snow-white, as thick as an ice wolf’s hide and equally as unkempt, his furrowed look did not ease whatsoever.
    "Dibella’s tits. You look familiar. Who are you?"


    Kjeld didn't like lying. He also didn't like trouble. For the couple of heartbeats before his answer came out, Kjeld debated whether or not telling the truth was worth it. If he hadn't thought it would influence the blacksmith's generosity so much, he would have introduced himself with his full name. Instead, as far as Oengul knew, he was just 'Kjeld'. Kjeld from Solstheim. This man, however, looked as if he could call his bluff.


    He nearly introduced himself as ‘Bolfrida’s cousin’, but he didn’t want trouble for her. A lousy way to repay her hospitality, setting Ashur Shatter-Shield’s sights on her little farm.


    Kjeld chose the path of avoidance. The sour old noble would probably tire of asking after a ‘nobody’.


    "What do you think I look like?" He picked up a hammer, braced the shield over the work-table, and began to pound the fastenings into the iron reinforcements. It wasn't enough to block out Ashur's noise of disgust.


    “A smart-ass.” Ashur’s lip curled, revealing teeth as white as his hair. “No question now. White-Paw.”


    "Aye." There was no hiding it now. “Leiv White-Paw is my kin.”


    "By Shor! Where is that old black-heart?" Ashur’s eyes darted to and fro, as if he expected the traitor to jump out from behind Oengul’s house yelling a battle challenge.


    Kjeld kept his back to Ashur. "Dead."


    "Good riddance."


    A ripple passed along the length of his body as though a shudder, and he set the hammer down carefully. Already, visions of smashing in the man’s face with a whole host of smithing tools was flitting across Kjeld’s mind; the violence of it made the bile rise in the back of his throat.


    Breathe. Just breathe. Think not of blood, bone or breaking this man’s nose. Kjeld vindictively recalled how good it felt when his fist had connected with Elandil’s face.


    Kjeld kept his tone decidedly flat. “If that’s all, I have work to do.”


    "I’m not the one you should be angry at, boy. Your father died on that island, didn't he?"


    "I don't see how that's your business."


    Ashur was armed, and out of his peripheral vision, Kjeld saw the bejeweled hand twitch for the axe clipped to his belt. It was decorative, but not ostentatiously so. Only someone with plenty of coin could afford a weapon of such elegant knotwork—and he could tell it was made of something more than steel or iron or even ebony.


    It occurred to him, then, that Ashur could very well strike him in this marketplace and pay his way out of it. His blood ran cold.


    “These are dangerous times, White-Paw.” Ashur’s hands relaxed, but his eyes were hard as Windhelm’s walls. “Easy for a man to be hauled off to the bloodworks for saying the wrong thing.”


    Kjeld didn’t stare him down, or wait for Ashur to leave on his own; he kept working. There would be few hours left to finish the shield; if anything, Ashur had done him a courtesy.


    Ever since his ability had awakened, his temper had been a fickle, at times uncontrollable thing; if he’d known Windhelm would be so volatile, maybe he would’ve reconsidered this voyage. But now, more than ever, he needed to seek the strange cat in Morthal.


    Ashur left, and Kjeld sourly pounded the fastenings in. A dark feeling swirled around in his chest, that the rest of Windhelm would become very aware of who he was and who he was related to.


    He was going to have to finish this and say goodbye, before anyone else showed up to offer more friendly advice.




    Serpent Stone Isle was flat and utterly barren of life. It was ideal for battling an ice wraith—no bushes or rocks to trip over, except for the tall collection of standing stones and some indents in the snow that tried to pass for steps—with quick movements and crude words Reidar lured one out into the open. A second and a third uncoiled nearby.

    Reidar gasped, feeling the warmth snatched from his body as a twisting, serpentine forms wound around the stones, mouths agape, the auras of three wraiths together making it difficult to breathe. There was cold, and then there was ice-wraith cold. It made his limbs sluggish, his courage stumbling down the steps. The severe drop in temperature weighed on his bones.

    The ebony axe smashed clean through the first wraith, Reidar yelling at the unearthly cold trying to seep into him as he whirled upon the other two—ducking at a supernatural spray of ice shards. He felt a sliver cut across his cheek, and he cursed aloud, regretting not wearing a cloth over his mouth to combat the cold.

    Low to the ground, Reidar picked up a fist-sized rock and hurled it right into the jaws of the second, dispatching the third with three downward chops, smashing the crystal vertebrae into glittering, frozen remains.

    He nearly lost his moment of triumph as the final wraith sank its teeth into his arm, the fangs would have cut through to the bone had it not been for his bracers; the wraith’s teeth ruined the carved knotwork instead, and Reidar ruined the wraith in return.

    Triumphant, he waited until he could breathe normally again and the supernatural chill had ebbed before he picked through what was left of his opponents.




    The biggest headache had been getting there. While he’d been mentally patting himself on the back for a mission well done, the weather had worsened—and several times the boat had looked dangerously close to breaking against the icy rocks. Reidar may've been Skaal, but by Ysmr's soup spoon, sailing into glacial waters was something he'd never wanted to do again.


    Wrapped carefully in a strip of cloth (they had burned to the touch, and he'd spent the rest of the boat ride back sitting on his hands to make sure he didn't get frostbite), was the dangerously, magically cold tooth of an ice wraith. He had delicately picked it out of the shattered remains of the ice wraiths on Serpent Stone Island, leaving a few behind for the trouble just one was already causing him. Apparently ice wraith teeth fetched a high price with alchemists and merchants, but Reidar doubted he'd be allowed to keep this one.


    He said goodbye to the fisherman who'd ferried him to to the isle, and turned to climb the steps two at a time.




    The ice wraith tooth flung out of his hands as he collided with a Windhelm citizen, ricocheting off an iron shield into a rolling bounce down the long black steps. They were icy before, but contact with the magicka-infused tooth left large spots on the stone like frost-spider bites—minus the deadly mucus.


    "Hey watch it!"


    "You crashed into me," said a very familiar voice, and the shield was lowered enough that Reidar could see the man wielding it. "Knucklehead."


    Kjeld had instinctively raised it upon their untimely crash. It was his brother alright; it didn't escape Reidar's notice (or irritation) that his position on the lower step forced him to look up even higher to see his brother's face.


    He quickly thundered back down the steps, plucked the ice-wraith tooth from the near-bottom one, and rejoined Kjeld.


    "Kjeld!” A flash of a grin, like an arrow in the sunlight. There was no resisting a tease. “What, are you joining too?" There was no way in Oblivion his brother would go anywhere near this war. He was squeamish around blood, though now that the secret was out, it was probably the werebear bloodlust. Kjeld wasn’t quite the wet potato sack Reidar had thought of him as, he was now realizing.


    What else had his brother deliberately avoided, so as not to wake his inner beast?


    He didn’t want to dwell on that; Solstheim seemed so long ago, even if nary a week had passed since their departure from Raven Rock.


    Kjeld made a derisive noise in the back of his throat, gripping the shield by the rim and offering it to him.
    "Here, I want you to have this. You can't send a warrior off to battle without a proper shield."

    Reidar stuffed the ice wraith tooth into the pocket of his trousers, accepting the shield with a keen light in his eyes. “I take it you’ve never seen anyone duel-wield a pair of swords.” It was a finely made shield; the right companion to his ebony war axe. Where’d he dig up the gold for—oh.




    All he could do was grin. He chose to look at the craftsmanship, unable to form words.

    Kjeld wouldn't have bought just any old shield. Kjeld often didn't trust anything he hadn't made himself. A whole manner of words got stuck in his throat just then, and the only thing that could pass was a light joke. “Thanks, Kjeld. Looks well-made—I won’t die right away.”


    "So," he cleared his throat before too many seconds could elapse between his last words and this new one, gripping and regripping the iron, leather-wrapped handle of the shield, feeling its weight. It felt balanced, like the shields the Thirsk warriors once let him try on. "So, you leaving soon?"


    "Aye, now, actually."


    It was true. Reidar looked over his brother's bear shoulders to see a backpack spread across his back and a tent tied on to that with braided leather cords. He wore a cloak out of the snow bear Reidar had put down that morning. There was a joke to be made about that, but Reidar let it go. His brother had done a nice thing for him.


    Reidar jerked a thumb towards the Palace. "Good, I was just about to—"


    One moment he'd been standing there, breathing normally, the next moment he was getting the life squeezed out of him in one of Kjeld's rare, crushing hugs. For Kyne's sake, was he trying to crack every rib?


    "Try not to die, you idiot." Said a gruff voice in his ear.


    Reidar let out a dramatic wheeze. "Too late. You're killin' me, Kjeld. This is the least heroic death in the history of Skyrim."


    Kjeld snorted, but broke the hug before something in Reidar broke instead. He pointed a calloused finger at him.
    "And I want that shield back, when you're finished with it. So don't go leavin' it someplace or dropping it down a hole."


    The rest of his hand unfurled, and he dropped it heavily on Reidar’s shoulder, jostling him the way that brothers do. "You'd better bring it to me in person, ye hear?"


    "You have my word." Reidar grinned. "And when you get to Morthal, send me a letter all about it. Just try to leave out the boring stuff."


    Kjeld smiled, stepping back. The gates of Windhelm were behind him.
    "Aye, I will."


    Holding firmly to his new shield, Reidar raised his axe, wished his brother a safe travel, and set his eyes on the Palace of Kings.




    "You're alive. I owe Ulfric a drink. I have to admit, I didn't think we'd be seeing you again. I misjudged you. You're definitely Stormcloak material."


    Galmar Stone-Fist didn't bother to inspect the ice-wraith tooth, merely cast it aside to an unused part of the shelf behind him. The unbearable cold could be felt through the general's gloves; there would be no chance Reidar had brought him a fake.


    Didn't think you'd be seeing me again? Why was everyone so damn fixed on underestimating him? Whatever. He'd gotten through to Kjeld, he could get through to Galmar and anyone else who doubted his capabilities.


    Reidar stood proud, the Jarl’s presence all that stopped him from leaning casually against a nearby wall, like a cunning mercenary with a good story to tell.


    "So what now? I've passed your little test."


    Galmar nodded once, firmly, to Ulfric. The Jarl was leaning against the strategy table, but straightened up to witness the indoctrination of a new Stormcloak.


    "Proceed with the Oath, Galmar."


    "Agreed, it's time we made this official. You ready to take the Oath?"


    Oaths. Now this was more like it.


    Even if he had serious reasons for joining, it was difficult not to be excited. The part of himself that had stared, enthralled with the adventures and battles of the Thirsk warriors, shook its fist in triumph that his chance had finally come. "Yes."


    "That's the spirit. By swearing this oath you become one of us. A hero of the people. A true son of Skyrim. A Stormcloak." The old warrior stood in front of him, commanding Reidar to listen and listen well. "Repeat after me: I do swear my blood and honor to the service of Ulfric Stormcloak..."


    Shor’s bones, it was a long oath! But he repeated it word for word; Galmar fed him a line at a time and he gave it right back.


    "I do swear my blood and honor to the service of Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm and true High King of Skyrim. As Talos is my witness, may this oath bind me to death and beyond. Even to my lord as to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms. All hail the Stormcloaks, the true sons and daughters of Skyrim!"


    "Your father would be proud." Said Ulfric. "He wasn't one for theatrics, but he took his oaths seriously."


    Reidar felt a sharp pang. He spoke of Leiv so casually. "So... You don't think Leiv killed Hoag?"


    It was a foolish question to ask a Jarl, especially after pledging loyalty to him hardly a minute ago—but Reidar had to know. Ulfric's opinion seemed to be the only one that mattered in this city.


    "No, I don't." The Jarl crossed his arms over his chest, relaxed in his authority.


    Galmar turned to him with a folded blue-and-tan cuirass, some fur boots and gauntlets.

    "Now you're one of us. Here you go, Unblooded. You're a Stormcloak now, you ought to look the part."


    Reidar turned his shield and held it like a serving plate, the armor-set placed in the center of it. He stayed rooted to the spot, watching Ulfric.
    "Then why does the whole city think he's guilty?"


    "Because a man will always be measured by his deeds more than his words. And if you can convince the people he's done something, whether it be terrible or extraordinary, they'll believe it."


    "You want to start changing opinions around here, Unblooded," said Galmar in his usual scratchy growl. "You can come with me."


    A man will always be measured by his deeds more than his words...


    Reidar nodded quickly. "Where to?"


    "First, our camp in the Pale. Then, to Korvanjund. Think you can handle a little dungeon-digging?"


    "As sure as the clouds bring rain. When do we leave?"


    "Now." Galmar thrust his jaw towards the doorway. "If you go quickly, you can catch up with Ludvik and Mitra. Talos guide you. I'll join you as soon as I'm finished here."


    His first official orders as a Stormcloak, and, thank the All-Maker, he had a very good idea about what could be hiding in Korvanjund. Reidar saluted to Galmar, then to Ulfric, and hastened to meet the others.




9 Comments   |   Paws and 2 others like this.
  • SpookyBorn2021
    SpookyBorn2021   ·  August 14, 2017
    Ah missed a few comments but I'll come back to them later. Ah this chapter was rather nice, emotional but in a kind of...nicer manner than some of the other emotional bits so far. Dunno if that's the best way to describe it but ah, it's what I've got.more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 25, 2017
    What has become apparent to me now that i haven't spotted before is how
    you use a more conversational and informal style when you are describing
    a character on their own. In this case, Kjeld is working away at the
    forge, and rather th...  more
    • SpottedFawn
      What has become apparent to me now that i haven't spotted before is how
      you use a more conversational and informal style when you are describing
      a character on their own. In this case, Kjeld is working away at the
      forge, and rather than list and descri...  more
        ·  July 27, 2017
      See? This is why it's great to have fresh eyes read my work, you've noticed something about my style that I wasn't really aware of. I forget where I picked up this technique, but it's worked out for me so far! I try to inject some personality into descrip...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  June 12, 2016
    Damn ice-wraiths! The cold around them has to be really deadly. I always wondered how it will look on paper. Looks good. :)

    And they finally part their ways. It's good to see they made peace with each other, to some degree.

    Oh, a...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  May 28, 2016
    Slowly climbing the stack of my backlog. Great chapter! A good thing Reidar hired someone to take him to the island, otherwise he'd still be freezing in the ice flows. At least now I don't have to wait for ch11

    Saw a few small typos:
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 14, 2016
    Brotherly love...  Look at the boys, all grown up and everything. Goodbye, Kjeld, until we meet again in chapter twelve...
    I have to say though, your comment is really building anticipation. Or is it apprehension...? I don't know yet! 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  May 14, 2016
    I am always a fan of exciting parts. This was nicely done. Looking forward to the ruins and then Morthal. 
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  May 14, 2016
    Wonder if you'll add Ralof into this mix.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 13, 2016
    And now the Brothers Skaal finally part ways. I realize now that I should've combined parts one-and-two, but... Learn and move on, I guess? Hopefully you guys will enjoy this chapter! Chapter 11 will be a full Reidar chapter (unless last minute changes h...  more