LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Eleven - Camp Varglya

  • Chapter Eleven

    Camp Varglya


    Content Warning: Language, Spiders


    The life of a marching soldier suited him better than he thought. He found it peaceful, traipsing over the snowy slopes leading away from the city, his boots hammering down the thick, crunching layers of snow made wet by the closeness of the Yorgrim River. That didn’t mean the wind wasn’t unpleasant to deal with, or that the harsh glare of light reflecting off the surface of the snow didn’t stab into his eyeballs like needles.


    Mitra, a Redguard from the same hot desert lands as Otto, shivered despite the thick bear’s fur cloak draped over her shoulders.


    Reidar smirked.


    It was a full day’s walk to the camp in the Pale according to Ludvik, and Reidar, as much as he liked the solitude of nature, couldn’t stand the silence for that long.


    He shouted above the wind, feeling his teeth cool every time he opened his mouth. “Hey Ludvik, you didn’t tell me how you got those bruises. What happened? Battle?”


    Ludvik’s expression twisted—and he hesitated only a second, waiting for the sudden gust to finish its long howl.
    “Battle? Ha, that would’ve been preferable. I got these at Helgen, and thank Talos that’s all I got.”




    “I keep forgetting you aren’t from around here, Reidar.” Ludvik tried and failed to brush the frost out of his mustache. “It was about a month ago. Ulfric and some of us were captured at Darkwater Crossing by the Thalmor. We were all loaded into carts and hauled off to Helgen for an execution.”


    Reidar was glad he’d picked up a few profanities from the Thirsk warriors. Kjeld’s innocent ‘By the blood!’ was too weak an exclamation.
    “Ysmr’s beard! How did you escape?” As much as he wanted to believe Ludvik and Ulfric had fought their way out, he wasn’t so quick to glorify Windhelm’s mighty Jarl, and he’d never seen Ludvik with anything in his hand besides a tankard, let alone a sword.


    Ludvik’s steps immediately slowed, as if going back to that place cooled his blood so much he could no longer march, the mood suddenly taking a turn for the grim. The shadows of the sky-high pines seemed to lengthen.


    It was Mitra who answered. She yanked the white scarf down from over her mouth, that scar at the edge of her lips twitching when she spoke.


    “We didn’t escape, Unblooded. We ran for our lives. They’d delivered us our funerary rights, and Crogar’s head was already rolling off the block—not a single one of us would’ve seen tomorrow if it hadn’t been for that dragon.”


    Mitra did not stop walking like Ludvik. Rather she moved in a tense, tight circle around them, as if stopping was suddenly the last thing she wanted to do. Her gaze flitted to the sky once—so fast, Reidar almost missed it.


    Ludvik rubbed the back of his neck, reliving an old memory. His voice struggled against the wind like a wounded wraith.


    “It came out of nowhere. Roared something terrible—scales as black as Oblivion, fire as hot as…” Ludvik shuddered. “We lost a lot of good men and women that day, just to a different executioner. Ulfric, Mitra, Gunjar, Ralof and I all made it into the Keep, but we had to fight the Imperials inside just to get through the tunnels leading to safety.”


    “How many Stormcloaks were there? How big was the dragon?”


    “Before the dragon attacked?” Mitra’s mouth tightened, lips thinning. “There were twenty of us.”


    Reidar felt a twist just under his ribs. “How many made it out alive?”


    “Including Ulfric? Four.”


    Four! Shor’s bones. Twenty went in, four came out.


    It shocked him. To think there was a single beast that could devastate a whole troop of soldiers... Numbers should have meant something, and with the Imperials fighting for their lives too, how had they lost?


    “Twenty Stormcloaks against a dragon, couldn’t you have—”


    Ludvik snapped. “Shut up! It’s only because you haven’t seen a dragon up close that you’d even think we stood a chance. It was a slaughter, damn it, and I’ll never forget it for as long as I’m alive.”


    Reidar held up his hands. “Sorry. Sorry.”


    He didn’t want to offend his only friend in the rebellion, even if he wasn’t taking the man’s words as seriously as he should have. Warnings had always gone in one ear and out the other, with Reidar. Lessons tended to sink in better when he’d learned them himself—the hard way.  You couldn’t just tell him the fire was hot; he had to burn his finger first. Reidar had trouble lending such a fearsome reputation to a creature he’d only seen on Solstheim in its skeletal form. At higher elevations, the scattered, sun-bleached bones of dragons were everywhere. He remembered the dust and the cracked marrow, the spindly stalks of bone that had probably once been wings.


    Hard to be afraid of something like that.


    Strange though; if there really was a dragon in Skyrim, why hadn’t he heard of it before now?


    Mitra pushed them both along.
    “We’re wasting daylight.”


    Ludvik begrudgingly started marching again.


    They walked in silence for a while, and this time Reidar didn’t object.


    The views, at least, were breathtaking. Actually—the wind was breathtaking, the views were beautiful to behold. And not a flake of ash in sight, thought Reidar with immense satisfaction.


    This was what he needed. A change. Something fresh for his eyes to drink in. Much of Skyrim's landscape (of what he'd seen so far) was similar to the west side of Solstheim, where the ash from the Red Mountain had yet to spoil the natural beauty, but he knew a thing or two about this country. Apparently, it was warm in Falkreath. Warm because of its close proximity to... Cryo... Cril... A warmer place than this, where those 'faithless dogs' the Imperials came from.


    A deer screamed somewhere near the treeline,, its death throe abruptly cut off by an unseen predator. He didn't hear growling, either from wolf or bear or sabre-cat, so what killed it?


    "Do they have frostbite spiders in Solstheim?" asked Mitra. She took out a knife, a much bigger one than the paring blade he'd seen her toy with at the tavern.


    "No." Spiders took down a deer? Either the deer were really small or—


    Something huge and hairy scuttled over the snowy undergrowth at the edge of Reidar's vision. He nearly smacked into a tree, dumbfounded by that—that ass-ugly spider—that looked in terrifyingly fast pursuit of a mountain hare.


    The hare was running for its life, straight towards them.


    With little more sound than the arachnoidal tap of its many legs over hard snow, the thing was agile, dog-sized and something green seemed to be dripping from its... face. If you could call that a face! Reidar saw the sky reflected in its many beaded eyes, shiny as polished obsidian.


    Suddenly, its first-most front legs waved and it balanced back on its remaining six as the rabbit bolted between Reidar and Ludvik.


    Reidar lunged out of the way as a disgusting green mucus shot past him like a stone from a slingshot, spattering onto the tree trunk where his head had been, sizzling like some noxious witch’s brew.


    Nobody told me about the huge fucking spiders!


    He yanked his axe from its holster, wondering how he was supposed to attack that thing, when Mitra lunged from nowhere and stabbed clear through the exoskeleton into its head with a sickening crunch.


    The thing screamed something terrible and immediately crumpled, legs twitching as it took a few long seconds to die.


    Reidar's face scrunched.
    "Does everything in this country get that big?"


    "Everything except the chickens." Mitra smirked, freeing her dagger and cleaning it on some frozen grass she unearthed with a few deliberate boot-scuffs. “...Aren’t you supposed to be a mercenary?


    He carefully ignored that jab.


    Before they moved on from the spider carcass, Reidar took precaution to put his axe away and restring his bow.


    Spiders were better met from a distance.




    Camp Varglya


    By the time they saw the dim, far-off lantern light marking the entrance to camp Varglya, evening had fallen. It was becoming harder and harder to see where they were going, and Reidar was damned certain more than a few of his toes had blackened from the frost.


    Two rests throughout the trip had kept the life in their bones, and they’d had a brief snack of dried meat and Black-Briar mead before they were off again. Ludvik and Mitra told him to savor the mead; they wouldn’t get Black-Briar’s very often. Sometimes they wouldn’t get mead at all, just boiled lake-water and some stale bread.


    Funny, none of the adventures he’d heard about ever mentioned having to put up with bad food.


    But this was the army, not the halls of Sovngarde.


    A flicker of motion broke the monotonous terrain. Reidar held his torch higher, squinting at something indistinct that seemed to lurk near the camp perimeters.


    “What are those?”


    “The mage-orc’s familiars. Pay them no mind and they’ll do the same for you.” Said Ludvik. “Let them smell you, and move real slow-like until you get the all-clear.”


    As if on cue, two phantom howls from the quick-moving, ghostly shapes began to converge on Reidar, Ludvik and Mitra.


    Mitra, stone-faced, kept walking. Ludvik right behind her.


    Reidar could see now that they weren’t shapeless, they were wolves.


    Spectral wolves. Ghost-like and opaque, Reidar was immediately reminded of when those Thalmor bastards had chased him up and down Solstheim with bolts of magic in their hands. The air felt just the same, and his hand tensed towards his axe.
    “Just try it,” he muttered, glowering at the wolves that circled with predatory intent. “I’ll chop your ugly heads off.”


    Just as Ludvik had instructed, Reidar stood still enough to let the wolves come close and sniff him, but the hairs on the back of his neck stood up like they were trying to escape.


    He gritted his teeth as the wolves bared theirs, growling low in their bristling throats.


    “It’s alright,” shouted Ludvik to the guards-post looming above the camp wall. “He’s Unblooded.”


    There was a sharp whistle from somewhere in the dark, and the wolves withdrew immediately, returning to their haunted lurking around the perimeter.


    Reidar cursed under his breath. Magic! He was never going to get used to that. Those ghost-wolves were well beyond Storn’s smoke shapes around the campfire...


    They were close enough now that Reidar could make sense of what he was staring at. The wall was made up of entire trees, sharpened like stakes at the top, taller than any man and each one thicker than Kjeld’s torso. Even more spikes, roughly 7 or 8 feet in length, protruded at a violent angle from the earth, surrounding the circular encampment like the proper fortification it was.


    The skull of some huge beast with enormous horns seemed too deep into the ground or too heavy to move, so the camp had been built around it.


    Reidar could see lights glowing through the seams in the wall, and his eyes were made to adjust to the full brightness of the campfires as the doors to Camp Varglya swung inward to let them through.


    Now here was an army.


    Even in the darkness of nightfall, he saw blue-and-tan uniforms everywhere, passing in and out of the light as they moved throughout the camp entire. There was the familiar squealing of a grindstone in use, and as his gaze swept over the rough rows of fur tents and wooden chairs, he saw actual wolves amongst the rabble.


    Reidar drew in a deep breath, grinning on the exhale. What a place!


    “Go find Commander Hjarnskar.” Ludvik gestured up a short incline to a cluster of three much larger tents. A fire blazed bright, illuminating the canvas of animal furs making up each tent, but this area of the camp was strangely empty.


    The commander’s tent was the one in the middle, made obvious by the ornamental deer skull mounted above the entrance and the thick blue Stormcloak banners raised on either side.


    Rather than go right in, Reidar lingered near the campfire, putting warmth back into his numbed extremities. He hadn’t noticed at first, but the air was a little warmer in this region of Skyrim, and the only snow to be found was on the mountains rising up nearby. They seemed to be at the edge of a tundra.


    The tent flap snapped open, and a hammer-faced Nord stepped out in the fur-and-leather outfit of a Stormcloak officer, similar to the one Reidar had seen on Yrsarald Thrice-Pierced in the Palace of Kings. Reidar considered him ‘hammer-faced’ because he looked as if his features had been hammered out of crude, flesh-colored material. Hjarnskar Head-Smasher had deep set eyes, a wide, unforgettable nose, broad forehead, and a large but shapeless mouth. The only way to find it was to look where the stubble refused to grow.


    His red hair looked lank and heavy on his scalp, dulled, probably by having little time or chance to wash it regularly. Hard to tell if the dried flecks of something on his face was dirt or blood. There was a wild, unluxurious quality about Hjarnskar—and with arms thick as a troll’s, Reidar didn’t think he saw too much dissent in the ranks.


    Hjarnskar looked right at him, and Reidar almost expected him to growl and sniff him out like the familiars.
    “Another Unblooded?”


    For all the roughness of his appearance, the voice that came out was surprisingly reasonable. Calm. Apparently not every Stormcloak had a growl like Galmar or a haughty lilt like Ulfric.


    “Aye, Galmar sent me.” Dare he mention the Crown? It was too early to let the others know just how much he knew; if this was meant to be a secret, then Reidar preferred to feign ignorance than show his cards too early.
    “He said he’d join us after he took care of some things,” Reidar added, lowering his hands now that they were sufficiently warmed.


    Hjarnskar nodded and dismissed him.
    “Then find a bedroll. Dawn comes quick here.”


    That was it? Not even a ‘welcome to the Stormcloaks, new-blood’? “Aren’t you going to ask my name?” What kind of a commander didn’t know the names of his own troops? It was asking too much to expect him to remember every soldier under his command—but an attempt was better than the barest acknowledgment.


    Instead, Reidar was stuck with the feeling that if he was devoured by the familiars lurking on the other side of these walls, Hjarnskar wouldn’t pause for so much as a single ‘damn, what a waste’.


    Hjarnskar looked at him hard, and Reidar tried not to flush, realizing his own stupid expectations.


    “If you’re still here in a month’s time, I’ll ask.”


    Reidar snorted. “Oh I’ll be here—”


    The commander was called for by an unfamiliar voice across the camp, and Hjarnskar strode past Reidar and down the incline—but not before adding, “Want some advice? Get some damn warpaint, Unblooded. You look like a milkdrinker.”


    Despite the unfriendly welcome, Reidar was happy to be here. Many names and faces eluded him, but he would familiarize himself with these warriors as the days went on. He found an unused bedroll in one of the rows of tents near the wall opposite the gates. Reidar took off his boots, unclipped his weapons, carefully laid down his shield, bracing it against one of the tent poles before settling down to bed.


    Somewhere close by, he heard Mitra and Ludvik laughing around one of the campfires with several of their fellows. Strange, to hear Mitra laugh. He hadn’t expected that Redguard to have any other expressions besides ‘thinking about killing you’ and ‘killing you’.


    Of course, thinking of Mitra made him think of spiders—an unfortunate association, not that she was ever going to be his favorite person in Skyrim. As for Ludvik… He expected the man to be over their brief moment of tension by the morning; if he wasn’t, well… I could try apologizing better.


    Reidar mulled over this, his eyelids heavier by the heartbeat. This was the longest he’d ever travelled. To think… Was he the only Skaal to set foot in The Pale in decades? Centuries? Ever?


    He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, and the thought made him smile. This was what he wanted. The days ahead promised novelty, and every inch of him looked forward to the adventure. Reidar turned over on his side, able to see the high bark-covered walls outlining Camp Varglya. His last thought of the night was of Deor Wood-Cutter.


    Look at all those trees! Deor’d shit a horker if he saw this.





    I take no credit for Camp Varglya whatsoever! It is actually a really cool-looking mod made by Antiscamp over on the Nexus. I love it a lot, it really gives that 'Stormcloak feel' to a Stormcloak-affiliated playthrough.

    Here's the link for anyone interested: Click Here

    No Kjeld for this chapter, but rest-assured, he will be making his return in Chapter Twelve, alongside the introduction of a brand new character!







11 Comments   |   Paws and 2 others like this.
  • SpookyBorn2021
    SpookyBorn2021   ·  August 14, 2017
    I really enjoy the way Reidar reacts to some of the more normal parts of Skyrim, things like he Frostbite Spiders (though I can't wait for him to learn that was a small one :D) and the different races and provincesvisbhust kind of fun
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  May 29, 2016
    Reidar's sense of wonder is contagious and that frost spider *shudders* I'm glad the one in my trashcan right now is small enough to stomp on.

    Never heard of Scrivener before, looks really good.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 22, 2016
    Reidar does stand out don't he. You've a great way of portraying him SP.
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 22, 2016
    He certainly does. I can't believe this kid would dive nose-first into the Skyrim civil war without even knowing what the Empire is.  The more I learn about Reidar, the more I want to take Kjeld's place as big brother bear and shake him violently by the s...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 21, 2016
    Thank you Rancid! Heehee, Reidar kinda has a way of making you worry about him, doesn't he? Why do you think Kjeld's such an overprotective brother bear whenever he's near this knucklehead? As for how much Reidar knows, you'll just have to see! It's pro...  more
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  May 21, 2016
    Reidar is such a fantastic character. He sounds so real and genuine, and sometimes relatable too (even though he and I are really different types of people). The way he doesn't take life seriously is so frustrating, but at the same time, I am guilty of th...  more
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 20, 2016
    Aww thank you Axius! Makes me so glad to hear you say that. Sometimes I worry Reidar's humor doesn't come off that clearly, or if I'm the only one who thinks he's funny. So thanks!
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  May 20, 2016
    There's always a giggle or a smirk coming out of my face whenever I read your stories, Fawn.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  May 20, 2016
    My brain explodes, SF, that's how I do it. 
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 20, 2016
    Thanks for catching that, Lissette! I always thought it was Sovrngarde. Whoops!
    I'm looking forward to writing those parts too. xD Because I will more or less have two plots happening at once, it's a little hard for my head to keep track of it all. T...  more