LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Fifteen - Delayed

  • Delayed


    He missed the cold press of Rakki’s nose against his face, and her impatient whine for him to get up to feed her. Kjeld opened his eyes to the dim, cold interior of a room he did not recognize. Kjeld sat up, drawing an itchy woollen blanket off his legs and torso, swinging his feet down to set them on cold stone flooring. Clarity returned to him immediately as he gazed around the modest room. There was an old wooden chair keeping a scratched writing table company, and the sorry-looking candle-nub had been his only light source when night had fallen, the narrow window panes at the top of the wall doing a poor job of letting even the moonlight in.


    Maybe the blame should have gone to last night’s fog. He’d overheard the innkeeper Jonna - a sweet-faced Redguard woman, and one of the few people he’d met in Morthal so far with something of a pleasant disposition - complaining about it to one of the inn patrons. A broom spread the dirt and cobwebs around under the tables, and Kjeld heard through the open doorway the sounds of thick orc fingers plucking lute strings, either trying to tune the instrument or make it beg for it’s life.


    Kjeld slipped on his boots, pausing on the bed edge to compose himself.


    ”Good morning. I hope you slept easy.” Said Jonna, gesturing with the broom handle to a stout black kettle on the edge of the stone hearth. ”There’s coffee brewin’, help yourself.”


    The Hall. The death-hounds. Bodies. Mor’vahka.


    His night had been sleepless, at best. Tormented, at worst.


    Kjeld managed a smile, taking up a dented mug and pouring the rich, black liquid into it, waking up enough to realize he had no idea what it was. ”It’s a little early for ale,” he called, raising the mug to his lips and blowing away a few wisps of steam.


    Jonna chortled. ”Are you asking for mead, then? You Nords, I swear…”


    ”What? No, I meant”— Kjeld took a sip, and at once winced. Whatever chill that had settled into his cheeks dissipated. —”that is not ale. What am I drinking?”


    ”You’ve never had coffee before?” Jonna paused in her sweeping. ”Where’d you say you were from?”


    ”Solstheim.” He took another experimental sip. Bitter, but not unpleasant. He’d never had much of a taste for sweets, and there was something invigorating about this drink that appealed to him. ”A little village near the Felstaad Coast.”


    ”Never heard of it. Well it’s made from coffee beans, from Hammerfell. I’ve got an uncle that likes to send us some if he has a little extra surplus.”


    She chatted a bit longer about her uncle from Hammerfell, and Kjeld actually found himself grateful for the distraction. So much of his time here was dependent upon other things - Mor’vahka’s arrival, Mor’vahka’s ability to cure his affliction - and he knew he would eventually run out of his meager travel funds. Staying here at the inn might not seem as luxurious as the Candlehearth Hall, but it was a vast improvement over building a hovel at the edge of the swamp and hoping nothing killed him while he slept.


    So he chose to enjoy it while he could, soaking in the pleasant conversation like rain on parched earth.


    ”So…” After a while, Jonna set down a steaming bowl of apple-and-cabbage stew, handing him a spoon. ”You’re the one who showed up with news about the Hall. Is it… true?”


    Kjeld’s happy mood melted down like a candle wick, left to a dim burn as he avoided Jonna’s gaze, looking instead at his stew. ”Aye. Is this apple or leek?”


    She got the message, smiling in apology and moving away from the table to let him eat in peace.


    His appetite diminished, Kjeld gazed unhappily at the stew, remembering foul things and picturing fouler things to come. These were questions he was going to have to face at some point. With a tightening of his jaw, he grimly set his mind to getting a few answers of his own. If he was going to be here a while, then better to leave a little wiser than when he’d arrived.


    ”The Hall of the Vigilant. Who were the Vigilants, and why did the”—Kjeld saw her eyes widen, as if the creatures’ names he’d been about to utter were not to be spoken aloud—”monsters attack them?” He finished quickly, more interested in the answer than being accurate.


    Jonna glanced at the door, but the liveliness had returned to her big brown eyes, as large and liquidy as a doe’s in the firelight. She seemed eager to talk - the gossipy sort, and Kjeld made a mental note to keep his guard up, no matter how nice she was.


    ”You really are new around here! The Vigilants, they’re this Holy Order of Stendarr. They come through here every now and then, usually to deal with something nasty in the marshes. They think it’s their job to wipe every horrid thing off of Mundus.”


    Kjeld’s heart sank. ”Things like…?” But he had an idea.


    Jonna’s voice dropped to a whisper, and Kjeld had to lean in to catch it. ”Things like Daedra. Monsters. Vampires and men that turn into beasts - that sort of thing.”


    Kjeld stared at her in horror. And I almost walked right in the front door.


    She mistook his expression for a willing audience, and kept talking about her experiences with the mysterious Order - but his thoughts were reeling. It sickened him to think that the vampires and their death-hounds had actually done him a favor. His gut tightened painfully, as knotted and clenched as a fist.


    The door swung wide, the sudden gust of air shaking the cobwebs on their gossamer tethers as the stamp stamp stamp of iron-shod boots caught Kjeld & Jonna’s attention.


    It was a round-faced man with small, callous eyes and a battle axe strapped to his back, with two Morthal guards (wearing the dim green uniforms of their Hold) following after. Kjeld tensed, but Jonna greeted them.


    ”Mornin’ Benor. Coffee’s hot. They finally let you join the guard?”


    Benor snorted. ”No, but I figured buyin’ ‘em coffee and regaling them with tales of my heroism would work in my favor.”


    Kjeld’s grip on the spoon loosened, and he rolled his shoulders a little, trying to shake off the tension. The guards walked to him with cooled expressions, and he recognized them from yesterday. They knew his name.


    Their shadows were long across the table, and Kjeld, holding his breath, looked up into the helmeted faces.


    ”Was the Jarl right?” Asked one. ”About you being a blacksmith?”


    ”Aye,” he replied slowly. ”Did you need one?”


    ”Soren’s boots are broken, and my helmet’s got a dent in it.”

    It suddenly felt dangerous to ask how much they would pay him, but Kjeld knew he couldn’t stay here at this inn on Jonna’s charity; there was a reason why Morthal didn’t have any beggars. The residents here were too poor and commerce too low to toss any extra coin away.


    But guards, as he understood it, could at least count on being paid regularly, regardless of whether or not the inn was slow or the thaumaturgist's hut saw no customers for that month.


    ”I have tools with me, I’ll see what I can do.” Kjeld replied, leaving the matter of payment up in the air. He’d address that once they actually brought him the damaged armor pieces.


    That seemed to satisfy the guards, however, and they left to swarm the coffee pot instead.


    Figuring he’d pressed his luck, he tossed a question at the last guard to leave.
    "Anyone seen a Khajiit come through here?”


    She shrugged. ”He comes through time to time. Stays up in that chapel most days.”




    ”Aye, Windbreak Chapel. Just up the road.”


    So Mor’vahka was here. Kjeld scooted back his chair as he finished up the stew, eager to get this mess sorted so he could leave this miserable place.


    ”S’no use, stranger. That cat doesn’t accept guests. He comes down out of the Chapel when he wants to, not before.” There was a slight tone of reprehension, as if she did not care for ‘that cat’ at all. ”What d’you need him for?” Her gaze narrowed.


    Kjeld borrowed his brother’s selective hearing. ”Alright. Thank you.” He made a show of sitting back down, slowly, and the guardswoman left him in peace, her question unanswered and his secret still in tact.


    He counted out three coins for the stew, and a fourth for Jonna’s kindness. Would they follow him, if he left? Kjeld didn’t trust himself not to step into the bog trying to sneak out of Morthal, but nor did he trust the guards. Not completely. He didn’t know how far-reaching and how deep-seeded his father’s ‘betrayal’ had been. Or if these guards would even care that the son of Leiv White-Paw was in town.


    Perhaps they did, and perhaps they didn’t.


    Deciding to scrawl a quick letter to Helmi, Frea, and Storn before he left, Kjeld waited for things to quiet down again.


    Maybe he’d get lucky and the fog would obscure his departure.



    When he could wait no longer, Kjeld hastened from the Moorside Inn. His supplies were still packed, all of his belongings about his person as he began the slow walk up the hill to the main road. He did not make eye contact with the two guards standing in the shadows of the longhouse - but he heard the wet squelch of their boots on the path behind him. His shoulder was grabbed. Kjeld’s arm twitched, and he spun around with a tense light in his eyes and a clenched fist.


    The guard shook his head.

    “You don’t want to leave now.”


    “Why not?” He didn’t want to fight. The second guard drew their bow, nocking an arrow.


    Remorseful blue eyes flitted from one guard to the other. Kjeld’s thoughts and his pulse quickened. If he used this guard as a shield from the second guard’s arrows, maybe the realization that he’d shot his own comrade would be enough to stop the second one from chasing after him—


    A faint, ominous rustle in the sparse, boggy woods beyond. It sounded close. The second guard fired, and the arrow whistled as it passed Kjeld, thudding into the center of a skinny elm. Kjeld flinched a step, but there was no need. The arrow hadn’t been meant for him.


    The guards drew level with Kjeld, grim-faced as all three men caught a glimpse of long, dark legs and heavy, bulbous bodies slinking back through the trees. The rustling died away.


    The guard let go of his shoulder. “Wait a day. Unless you’re looking to test your luck with those maneaters.”


    The tense knot in his stomach loosened, and Kjeld nodded numbly. Guilt stung his skin more successfully than any northern chill. He didn’t want to think about what he’d been planning; he didn’t like those kinds of thoughts. That desperation that turned a man into a criminal, a murderer, at the drop of a coin.


    He had to keep himself busy. Put his hands to work so his mind couldn’t come up with more violent plans.


    The kind of man who always tried his best to amend his mistakes (whether they’d known about them or not), Kjeld called out to the guards who were walking back to their posts.


    “Either one of you Soren?”


    “Aye,” said the guard with the bow. “That’d be me.”


    “If you can point me towards a forge, I’ll fix your helmet now.”


    The first guard, Jurgen, stepped up. “And what about mail? A few links have broken on my coat.”


    He’d never worked with mail before. Kjeld accepted the challenge with a firm nod.
    “I’ll do my best. If you and the other guards bring me your broken armor, I’ll get started.”


    Soren’s expression brightened.
    “Thank you, stranger.”


    Jurgen nodded approvingly. “Aye. You’re not so bad, for a White-Paw.”


    Kjeld made an expression between a grimace and a smile.

    It was better to be judged for his surname than hated, hunted, for his secret.


    For now.







4 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 7 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 28, 2017
    Tense! Cut the atmospher with a spoon in the latter half of the chapter, while the former was cool for its mention of coffee. I like it when cultural foods are mentioned and examined, it brings a down-to-earth presence to the setting and makes it all the richer.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  December 31, 2016
    Nice chapter SF. I like the sequences of events to the morning; casual, slow and such strong imagery...
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  December 17, 2016
    Great chapter, Fawn. Another story with coffee!  I like the moodiness of Morthal too. And I have a guard named Jurgen too. LOL
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  December 17, 2016
    Perfectly grim, Fawn. Morthal you're here picturing is absolutely perfect. Grim, hardened people, creatures lurking in the fog... I can't shake the feelinf of Steven King's Fog here. Just waiting for some crazy doomsday cult to show up :D