LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Twenty-One - Fables Unearthed

  • Fables Unearthed

     

    The guards, their newly repaired armor picking up a shine in the overcast sun, greeted him upon return. There was no point in hiding the book; Kjeld could do no more than quicken his stride and put on a harried smile to fend off any questions. He could see the incredulous looks on their faces as he passed: you came all the way to Morthal for a shabby old book?

    He was going to have to craft a decent explanation. The townspeople of Morthal were a shrewd, suspicious bunch. It was only a matter of time before someone started asking the right questions. It was to Kjeld’s benefit that he had been taught to shape things to his needs.

    Kjeld’s marching carried him past a ruined, charred skeleton of a homestead. The damage had been recent, he could still smell the ruined wood and burning thatch; Kjeld was aware of the house in the back of his mind like a thick, ugly scab. It reminded him far too much of the Hall of the Vigilant. If he hadn’t already had his fill of death and ash, he might have lingered, looking at what was left of the house with a studious curiosity. How things were made, and subsequently how they were unmade had always interested him.

    Beside the ruined house was the Moorside Inn. He passed this also, resisting the temptation to go where it was warm and treat himself to more coffee.

    He needed privacy.

    So Kjeld went to the edge of town, crossing weather-tortured planks laid over icy, stagnant water to reach the blacksmith’s house. It was where he had repaired the guards’ armor the other day; the forge had been dormant a long time, but he’d managed to coax some life back into the old coals.

    Kjeld did so again now, the book wrapped under some wolf hides for protection. After fifteen minutes of steady toil, he was rewarded with infant flames and thawing fingers. The ice that had collected on his beard and upper lip began to melt.

    It would be a while before the forge grew hot enough to work with. After setting out his tools and the ore that was to become Virkmund’s hunting knife, the old supply crates groaned beneath him as he sat down to read.

    There was a forward:


    One of the early works that fueled my research on lycanthropy, I found this tale tucked away in a historian’s dessicated library, with no author to speak of. I believe there are to be few copies of this book in existence—I may very well be holding the only one. What you’ll find inside is what I believe to be the origin behind Skyrim’s traditional usage of canis root, and an unusual cause of lycanthropy without the expected ties to Hircine, or other known Daedra.

    Lycanthropy. Canis root. Kjeld recalled the gnarled plant he’d almost gathered. He would have questions for Lami later.

    Kjeld read on. The tale was a simple one, yet he was surprised to find it was a story about his people - long, long before he was born. The story told of the Skaal welcoming a crew of ravagers sent by the Adversary — the Skaal’s greatest enemy — and the chaos that resulted. Their kindness was taken advantage of. The chieftain of the Skaal, Knörr the Tall, asked that they leave but the ravagers refused. They outnumbered the peaceful Skaal and the chieftain knew it. Knörr the Tall went to the Beast Stone to ask the All-Maker for strength enough to protect the village.

    Kjeld’s hold on the book tightened.

    The All-Maker brought before Knörr a dying mother bear, and told the chieftain to drink its blood.

    What? That can’t be right. Drinking beast’s blood isn’t our way. There was much to be questioned about this fable. Why should the All-Maker encourage something so unclean? Was the protection of the village something that could only be achieved through violence? Kjeld obstinately clung to those questions, and turned the page.

    His blood became ice as his eyes fell upon the description of Knörr’s transformation.

    Knörr fell upon the ravagers, his soul full of rage, and he seemed to swell to the height of a giant, changing shape as his hands lengthened into claws and his voice became a terrible roar.

    Knörr chased out the ravagers, but then the tale took a turn. The Adversary found the scattered bandits, and gave them power to match Knörr’s - through the blood of a laughing bear. A crazed, frenzied beast, twisted by the adversary.

    There were two distinctions in Kjeld’s mind now. A werebear that fought only to hurt others, and a werebear that fought only to protect others.

    Which one am I? The question raked icy claws down his back, making him shiver despite the growing warmth of the forge.

    Neither. He wanted to be neither. He was not the Chieftain and would never be. The Skaal did not need a werebear. They had grown much since the time this tale had originated, and they had the Thirsk warriors now. That would be enough. It had to be enough.

    With a bracing breath and dark thoughts gathering in his eyes like stormclouds, Kjeld continued.

    The Skaal’s shaman warned Knörr that the ravagers, vicious and crazed from the tainted blood, were coming to attack the village. Knörr once more went before the Beast Stone to pray for more strength. Instead, the All-Maker gave to the Skaal canis root, and told them to rub it on the windows and doors, to boil it into tea and drink it for protection.

    Kjeld swore - a rare thing for the mild-mannered smith - he’d nearly revealed his secret to Lami and Benor. Kjeld grimly pictured the canis root burning his hand, Lami screaming “Werebear!” and then Benor’s axe separating his head from his shoulders.

    If there was any benefit to that at all, they’d probably let Benor join the guard after killing a werebear. Kjeld swallowed. His mouth tasted sour.

    Even being near the canis root caused Knörr great pain. Kjeld read on, learning that the tainted ravagers attacked the village. It made his chest tighten, to picture his people - fictional or not - being torn apart by beasts. Self-loathing welled inside him. The pop of an ember from the forge pulled him from despair, and he frowned his way to the end of the book.

    The canis root had done the trick. The werebears turned on each other, too in pain to see straight or think clearly. Knörr could not stand idly by. The chieftain changed too and drove the werebears out - but with great cost.

    The werebears hadn’t been destroyed, not fully. And it wouldn’t be long before the Adversary would send them forth with more terrible rage than ever before. So the village had to keep using canis root, and Knorr could no longer live there. Unable to endure the pain as a man or a werebear.


    The All-Maker gave him pale fur to distinguish him from the other beasts, and so the Skaal would not accidentally hunt him.

    Kjeld’s heart stopped. The last page read:

     

    The villagers knew never to kill the guardian bear with the whitened fur. He was their protector, and his descendents too were blessed with his strength and ferocity; some remained human, though bigger and mightier than most, and some shared Knörr’s gift of shape-changing.

    In honor of Knörr’s bravery and sacrifice, his descendants took on the name White-Paw, marked by the All-Maker to protect their loved ones from evil, they were considered allies of the Skaal though some left the island to pursue unknown destinies in the land beyond.

     

    White-Paw. There could be no mistake. If this story really was true, then he was blessed with extraordinary power. Not cursed.

    His eyes watered. Another popping ember had him snapping shut the book to tend to the forge. He was little-focused on his task, however. Fire-warmed hands toiled, but his mind worked harder - struggling to process what he had learned, and the thunder crash of emotions that came with it.

    Would it have been so difficult to leave me a letter, father? Why did you leave me in the dark? By the All-Maker, how he wished he did not have to fumble through murky swamps and peculiar legends to find the truth. Kjeld hadn’t arrived with much hope at all of feeling differently about himself - his mind had already been made up - but now that he knew what he knew…

    He had misunderstood himself. This power.

    But he had taken a life. His first act as a werebear had been to kill another living thing. That it was a mistake did not matter. He couldn’t undo the death that gnawed at his conscience like a starving wolf.

    This book could sing the praises of the White-Paw Clan from here to High Hrothgar - but for his own peace of mind, for his own soul’s sake, he needed to be cleansed.

    Maybe then he could finally let the past stay in the past.

     

    ♦♦♦

    Four names were written on fresh scroll-parchment, the ink as dark as shadows. Deathbells burned from ceremonial bowls before the altar of Arkay; as Mor’vahka finished the slanted script making up the last name, he spoke his mother tongue.

     

    Under your hand, the cycle of life has ended.

    The cycle of death began.
    May your Law hold firm and unyielding, and guard these souls from wicked unrest.

     

    With each year that passed, his anger continued to calcify until it sat like a stone in his stomach. Mor’vahka burned the parchment, thinking of each face and each voice that had belonged to those names. Every mistake felt like two steps backward. Every error he took personally. The priest stared into the flames, allowing himself to be dragged by the heartstrings to a simpler, happier time;

     

    The pulsing thrum of the marketplace, the street performers spitting flames and juggling knives - and the sound of laughter above all. How much he had smiled and laughed, then.


    Ranjhad’s first steps… Ma’hila’s voice when she sang… The way Zahrri’s eyes glowed when he took her to the stalls with him...

    And his beloved Ahndra, who had loved and been loved by him with all the warmth of Elsweyr’s sun.


    The heated whispers from the kettle turned to whistling, and Mor’vahka retired to the small kitchen alcove for canis root tea. From the first sip to the last, nothing could replicate the warmth he had lost.

    Nothing.

     

    ♦♦♦

     

    It was the cow bellowing, not the knock at the door that roused him from his nap. Mor’vahka rose stiffly, a cleaning cloth and a curved sword nearly spilling from his lap. Setting both aside with an irritable twitch of his whiskers, the priest opened the door a crack.

    It was the Nord. White-Paw. So he had read the book.

    That would make killing him easier - when it came to that. Mor’vahka did not let the wretched children of Hircine rove the earth, killing and maiming as they pleased. But this was no child of the Huntsman.

    Something else - some other religious sphere - was behind this power. Before he killed him, Mor’vahka intended to find out its source. The Daedra were not incapable of change. Perhaps Meridia’s loathing for corrupted life had spread to include Hircine’s manbeasts; how ironic that she should create the thing she hated so contemptuously. That book’s talk of the All-Maker and the Adversary could just as easily be Aedra and Daedra in masks.

    Mor’vahka intended to light the werebear’s soul on fire, and see what remained in the end.

    With narrowed eyes, Mor’vahka let him in. “You have returned.”

    “Aye,” said the Nord, and he stared at the scuffed cover as if it might reassure him of its truths. “I can’t believe it.” Rough fingers touched the worn binding. “Even if every word is true, I want to be rid of this power.”

    That surprised him. Here was this young man, a Nord no less, who would openly refuse these strange powers - even under the potential reassurance of it being a divine blessing, not a curse.

    Rarely did Mor’vahka ever lay eyes on a human whose avarice and weakness did not force their hands. Ah, but this one was young. More than enough years to become as wretched as the rest.

    The Nord finally looked up. “I don’t know much about Arkay, or what you can and cannot do...Can you cure me or not?”

    Mor’vahka’s tail twitched at the tip. “Your soul will be cleansed, if your name holds any truth to the legend.”

    Cleansed, by freeing it from the cursed body it was forced to inhabit.

    “How do we begin?” White-Paw’s face was tight with strain, his eyes hungry. Desperate to be saved.

    “By washing this one’s hands.” Mor’vahka led him to a trap door in the enclave that served as his bedroom. He gripped the ring and pulled, revealing the beginning rungs of a ladder descending into the basement.

    The luxuries he allowed himself were few. The cozy contrast of the bathing room to the rest of the chapel provided a private glimpse into Mor’vahka’s life.

    Furs covered the stone floor around a deep granite basin, steps carved inside of it leading to a stout bench below the water’s surface. Lavender-scented steam permeated the room. A reading nook was tucked inconspicuously into the corner, and a plate of simple snowberry cookies sat on the narrow table beside the wooden armchair.

    Paying no attention to these small attempts at comfort and peace, Mor’vahka gestured to the tub.
    “Bathe. Dress in plain clothes. We will begin the ritual outside.”

    “What is the ritual?” Asked the Skaal, still standing uncertainly by the ladder. “They say lycanthropy can’t be cured.”

    “We shall see.” Mor’vahka’s piercing yellow eyes drew level with the Nord’s. “Without seeing your true form, the transformation, this one cannot say yes or no.”

    The Skaal man was right. Lycanthropy was impossible to cure - fully. This country, so far north from the sands of Elsweyr and the scorched earth of Hammerfell, did not know the effects of the loremasters and spellcasters that had attempted to unravel Hircine’s ‘Gift”. K’ava had first linked it to the lunar lattice, and though Dra’zakar the Deep had sought the truth beyond the laws of morality, their research proved invaluable. Waylanda of Dragonstar had been the first to try to devise a cure - and tested it on her own son.

    Mor’vahka had no qualms with adding his own research to the library of the greats — the side effects would trouble him not.

    Once upstairs, the priest busied himself with taking out tomes on mysticism and alteration, brushing up on his knowledge of certain spells. Mysticism was not a school that came easily to Mor’vahka.

    With great care, Mor’vahka went outside, ignoring the curious stares of the cow and goat from their pen. He cleared away the first layer of snow, revealing bare earth, and laid down a series of complex runes. They glowed green. Potent.

    Mor’vahka felt the familiar pulsing headache between his eyes, and hissed through the magicka drain. The next spell would be just as taxing - and this one had only been a precaution.

    By the time the Skaal had appeared outside, he had recovered sufficiently, and had been sitting in quiet meditation on a stump. Mor’vahka opened one eye; a crossbow nestled in his lap. “Stand near the circle. This one must see who you really are.”

    The color drained from the man’s face. “You don’t mean change? I’m not —”

    “Silence.” The syllables rolled off Mor’vahka’s tongue like venom. “There are other ways of ‘seeing’.”

    Before the Skaal fool could complain further, Mor’vahka began to concentrate, pooling the magicka into his claws, shaping the spell the way he had been taught.

    Opening his eyes, the world was saturated in rich hues - energies flowing as tiny pinpricks from the birds, the spiders prowling nearby, and in the large but steady blue energies of his livestock.

    Aware that he could not maintain the spell for long, Mor’vahka laid eyes on the werebear.

    He gasped. The man’s soul was two colors — blue, tinged with green not unlike an alteration spell - except for the shoulder. Deep purple energy swirled like the eye of a malignant storm, pulsing an angry red.

    Mor’vahka stood, ignoring the rush of dizziness as he let go of the spell and took up the crossbow.

    “Liar!” He snarled, advancing coldly. “You claim you are different, yet you wear the seal of a Daedric prince! I should have smelled your foulness at the Hall.” And killed him when the opportunity had been there on the ground, pleading to be spared.

    “No! It’s to contain my power, it’s not the cause. I can’t change at all now. Look, the seal won’t let me.”

    Mor’vahka stared in seething disbelief, watching the last of the colors fade as his vision went back to normal. Nothing happened.

    Kjeld was right. He couldn’t change. There was a flare of green light energy, but then the seal pulsed like a black beating heart, suppressing the green light with thin black tendrils seeping through the Skaal’s normal life force.

    Breathing hard, Kjeld held up his hands. “See? That’s the only reason I have it. It helps.” He wet his lips, nervous. “But I don’t want it anymore. I want the seal and this power gone for good.”

    “There is no cure for stupidity, White-Paw.” Mor’vahka gripped the crossbow a little tighter, resisting the urge to put a bolt between the man’s eyes. “If this one is too brainless to know better than to consort with Daedra—” Mor’vahka spat on the ground “—then you deserve your fate. May your death come soon, before you become a plaything for dark forces.”

    The fool. The damned fool. If he had any pity left, he would have felt some for this stupid young man. He now had a curse greater than lycanthropy to worry over. The wellspring of Mor’vahka’s sympathies had run dry in Elsweyr many moons ago.

    Mor’vahka turned away in disgust, nauseous and wearied by the experience. There was no point in killing a man who was already dying.

     

     

     

    Author Notes!

    The story featured in this chapter is none other than my own work, Knörr and the Laughing Bear!

    If you would like to read the story in full, please click here.

    My apologies for the very long wait, I was busy with summer classes.

    I will add a chapter image to 21 and 20 sometime next week, after I have paid my Photoshop subscription.

Comments

10 Comments   |   Sinistas and 8 others like this.
  • Mega-Dragonborn-of-Doom (1921)
    Mega-Dragonborn-of-Doom (1921)   ·  August 15
    Now that was a bloody brilliant chapter. I really liked the book included and having a bit more Mor’vahka was definitely good, this chapter really brought out his character a bit more and re-affirmed that he's my favourite :D
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 29
    The galloping of the goathorse is slowed by pity. That poor cat! Such terrible pain. Great chapter :)
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  July 19
    Well, isn't the kitty just lovely? It's interesting to see these characters that see the world in black and white, also very rarely plagued by doubt. And more often than not it's those who follow gods, their faith filling them with certainty. I say that M...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  July 8
    Awwwooo I'm catching up...... (sound of frantic paws clawing as the wolf closes in). 
    The villagers knew never to kill the guardian bear with the whitened fur. 

    Yea, right!!!  *chews on white furred bear carcass. 
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      Sotek
      Sotek
      Sotek
      Awwwooo I'm catching up...... (sound of frantic paws clawing as the wolf closes in). 
      The villagers knew never to kill the guardian bear with the whitened fur. 

      Yea, right!!!  *chews on white furred bear carcass. 
        ·  July 8
      xDD That would be an anticlimactic end to a great legacy, hahaha
      • Sotek
        Sotek
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        xDD That would be an anticlimactic end to a great legacy, hahaha
          ·  July 8
        Can't help it. it's a wolf thing.  :D
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  June 24
    Ouch, that Mor'vahka pulls no punches and yeah, Kjeld was stupid. Don't mess with the Daedra man. 
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Ouch, that Mor'vahka pulls no punches and yeah, Kjeld was stupid. Don't mess with the Daedra man. 
        ·  June 24
      xD None whatsoever. He's an intense kitty.
      • The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        xD None whatsoever. He's an intense kitty.
          ·  June 24
        Hurry up and finish writing so we can finish each other stories.  :P
        • SpottedFawn
          SpottedFawn
          The Long-Chapper
          The Long-Chapper
          The Long-Chapper
          Hurry up and finish writing so we can finish each other stories.  :P
            ·  June 24
          Haha, I'm trying! I'm only one or two chapters (and an interlude) away from finishing Part II! :D
          I plan to get through Straag Rod this July now that my last class is finishing up on the 2nd. ^^