LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Twenty-Two - Changing Shape

  • Changing Shape

     

    I’m a dead man.

    Death didn’t frighten him. Not really. Life and death were part of the natural cycle of the world; to live was to breathe, to die was to let that breath go. And to the Skaal, there was always the chance to breathe again. Their spirits would be renewed by the All-Maker, and they would once more have a taste of life.

    Unless something terrible broke the cycle.

    That’s what this seal meant. It was a knife sawing through the rope tethering him to reincarnation, or at the very least, eternal peace.

    Kjeld wasn’t panicking. Not anymore. When Mor’vahka had told him of his fate and slammed the door in his face, he’d panicked. He’d felt true fear, true horror for the mistakes he had made - but his life wasn’t over yet.

    There was still a shred of hope, and he would tighten his grip on it until it no longer offered him any chance of redemption. The guardsmen pointed to a small thatched-roof homestead behind the Thaumaturgist's hut, and Kjeld walked the length of the jetty to the front door.

    He knocked. No answer. Only the dreary sway of the boat against the dockside, the boards beneath his feet producing a mournful creak with each sharp slap of the water.

    Kjeld knocked again.

    The door opened a crack. He had been in Morthal long enough that this kind of open mistrust didn’t bother him any more.

    A voice, strong and stern, called out from the house’s warm interior.

    "If you stand before me to accuse me of sacrificing children, or eating the hearts of the dead, you may save your breath. Beyond that I seek only to be left alone to pursue my research! Go away!"

    “Jonna said you could help me,” Kjeld started slowly. He wasn’t going to question Falion about those previous accusations; that didn’t mean he trusted him completely, though. He trusted Jonna; if there was something duplicitous about this man, then Jonna probably didn’t know about it.

    The wizard opened the door a little wider. “You’re new to Morthal. Come in, then.”

    Falion beckoned him inside, peered cautiously after him, and shut the door.

    It was a one-room homestead, with a small Nord child sitting at a table, nibbling on a slice of bread and cheese and staring at Kjeld without fear. Kjeld frowned. “What I have to say isn’t for children to overhear.”

    “You’re right,” said the wizard. And he cleared a heap of scrolls from another chair and gestured for Kjeld to sit. “Fortunately, she isn’t just a child. Agni is my apprentice.”

    Seeing the little girl there, with her dark hair and large brown eyes, he was reminded of Finna and Oslaf’s daughter, Aeta. Kjeld shook his head. “I don’t want to scare her.”

    Falion gazed at him for a moment, thinking. “Alright. Agni, please go outside a moment.”

    “But Falion it’s cold—!”

    “This won’t take long. I promise.”

    When the little girl - grabbing her coat in a huff and leaving with a windy slam - had gone, Kjeld placed a wide hand on the back of his neck, trying to rub out the tension. He was painfully aware of the seal now. Hypervigilant. Paranoid he could feel his soul flaking apart, piece by piece.

    “What is your—”

    “I’m a werebear.”

    “Ah.” Falion nodded, as if his observations of Kjeld now made sense. “You have a strength about you that’s difficult to ignore. You want to be cured, then.”

    “Yes - but that’s not why I’m here. There’s something that must be done first.” Kjeld approached the wizard. “First things first. How do I know I can trust you?”

    “You don’t.” Falion sighed. “And most people in this town do not. They fear magic, anything they do not understand. Do you fear magic?”

    “No. I don’t understand it, but it doesn’t frighten me.” Not when the only things he truly had to fear were his own rash decisions. Desperation had made him a fool.

    “Good. Then we’ll make it a fair trade. I take coin for my services.”

    “You won’t see a Septim from me until I have your word, that you will not repeat what I am about to say or reveal any of my secrets.”

    Falion’s dark brows raised, but the wizard acquiesced. “Fair enough. But the wind blows both ways. I would appreciate it if your knowledge of my own abilities became forgotten.”

    Kjeld offered the wizard his hand.
    “Deal.”

    The Redguard shook it.

    Falion was silent throughout his explanation; Kjeld told him everything. How he’d found the Dunmer willing to put the seal on him in the first place; how he’d blacked out during the ritual, how he’d finally felt a false peace when he knew he could no longer transform. Kjeld spoke of his dealings with Mor’vahka; all the while, Falion’s face remained passive, keenly listening.

    It wasn’t until he saw the seal on Kjeld’s back that the wizard actually winced.
    “Fascinating. Horrible, but fascinating. Unfortunately, I cannot help you. I know how to summon daedra, cure vampirism, heal most wounds and even alter the laws of reality - but I can’t remove this.”

    Kjeld’s stomach cooled to iron. “Then what can be done? Am I to accept my fate?”

    “Make peace with Mor’vahka. I am not a priest, so I do not have the means to undo a Daedric containment seal. Even if it was within my power, I do not know the words or the ritual needed to begin the process.” Falion’s dark eyes found Kjeld’s. “What drove you to something this… heinous?”

    “Fear.” Kjeld shrugged his coat back on, expression hollowed by dread.

    “Do you know which Daedric Prince this seal belongs to?”

    Kjeld shook his head. He hadn’t thought to ask. He hadn’t cared. Such a fool he’d been...

    “We can rule out Hircine.”

    “Why?”

    “Because,” said Falion, “Hircine is the Daedric Prince of the hunt. The father of all werebeasts. He would rather stir your bloodlust into a frenzy and unleash you upon an unsuspecting village.”

    “So that narrows it down. How many are left?”

    “Sixteen. A handful seem unlikely, though I can’t claim to know the machinations of the Daedra Lords.”

    “Shit.” Sixteen. How was he expected to figure this out? Even with Mor’vahka’s help?

    “Kjeld?”

    He looked up, finding the Redguard’s cool brown eyes full of sympathy.

    “I don’t wish to frighten you, but you should know what you are dealing with.” Falion pulled a book off the shelf. He took a few pieces of parchment out that had been wedged in between the pages, the sheaf of notes set aside on the desk. “This is a novice’s guide to the Princes. I intended for Agni to read it, but I think you need it more.”

    Another book. Clenching his jaw, Kjeld took it. A long time ago, he would have paid handsomely for a set of new books to read; now, he almost felt betrayed by his own hobbies. Books seemed to be bringing him nothing but more mental anguish every time he picked one up.

    “All is not lost, Kjeld. Very few things in this world are permanent. Your seal isn’t one of them. Get the Khajiit to help you, and there will still be time to undo most of the damage.”

    Kjeld released a slow, wearied breath.
    “You haven’t met him, have you?”

    “Oh I’ve met him. His wrath and retribution seem to know no ends.” Falion clapped him on the shoulder, directing him to the front door. “But you’re a blacksmith. You’re good at changing something’s shape. Making it more… useful.”

    Forging Mor’vahka’s anger was not like forging an arrowhead. He had a mould for that. But it wasn’t… impossible.

    As Agni brushed past and the door creaked shut behind him, Kjeld gazed dourly at the foggy salt marshes around them. It was a challenge not to feel as cheerless and bleak as everything else in Morthal.

     

    ♦♦♦

     

    He should’ve thrown the stupid crown into the sea. That piece of horker-shit Galmar had acted like this crown was the single most important thing in the entire war; even Reidar knew you couldn’t win a war with just a crown.

    The guards by the Palace of Kings hailed him, and he ignored them, shoving the enormous doors in. He let them shut with a heavy, leaden clang. With frost-stung hands and aching ribs, Reidar set his leather rucksack on the banquet table, scattering a few wayward pieces of dinnerware -and catching the attention of Steward Jorleif.

    “Shouldn’t you be at the barracks, soldier?”

    Damned right I should.
    Without ceremony, Reidar hefted the ugly dragons’ tooth crown out of the pack, deriving some satisfaction out of Jorleif’s eyes widening.

    “The Jagged Crown!”

    “Obviously.”

    Jorleif reached for it, but Reidar pulled it away from the steward at the last breadth.
    “I have to give it to Ulfric Stormcloak and Ulfric Stormcloak only.”

    If Galmar was going to make him run stupid errands, then he was going to get something out of it. Not hand over the crown to Ulfric’s steward like he was delivering a letter.

    Jorleif’s lips tightened, but he nodded. “Alright then. He’s in the war room.”

    Reidar hefted his rucksack off the table. A tin goblet made a rolling clang under the table; he left the Steward to pick up the mess while he sought out the Jarl.

    Somehow, being near this room didn’t fill him with awe or excitement like it had before. If he’d known back then that the conversation he was overhearing was for an ugly thing like this, he wouldn’t have risked his neck for it. Or any other less-important body parts.

    The Jarl, however, was not a table with a map on it that he’d seen before, or the grizzled, knife-marked face of Galmar Stone-Fist. Ulfric might’ve been the only man who could wear this crown and not look like an idiot doing it — and the only reason this trip might turn out to be worth something.

    Pale blue eyes stopped Reidar at the door, and he actually straightened a little.

    “It seems I owe Galmar a drink.” Ulfric’s voice with sonorous, filling the room with ease.

    Reidar handed it over, eager to be done with the dusty old relic.
    “Here.”

    Ulfric took the crown in weathered hands; rather than wear it immediately, he studied the craftsmanship, made a low, pleased note in the base of his throat, and set it on a shelf behind the strategy table.

    That’s it? For once in his life, Reidar heeded Kjeld’s warnings - that his mouth was going to get him into trouble one day - resisting the urge to shout, ‘all that work so you could stick it on a shelf?!’

    He was one step through the doorway when Ulfric’s voice caught him.

    “Reidar White-Paw. What do you think of the rebellion so far?”

    “I think it’s more waiting around than fighting.”

    Ulfric chuckled, his beringed hands resting on the table.
    “Most wars are. Marching. Waiting. Sharpening swords.”

    “Then do something. Stop waiting.” He turned, meeting Ulfric’s gaze with an insolent stare, his frustration boiling over.

    “What sound advice,” drawled the Jarl. “I’ll have to tell Jorleif he’s out of the job.”

    Reidar scowled. “I have to go. Important stuff.”

    “Your father was impatient, too.” Ulfric idly plucked a red flag from the map, examining it as though a craftsman examining the workmanship of another, and pushed it back into the thick, pockmarked parchment. “Stubborn as a glacier, and a hard man to stop when he made up his mind.”

    Goosebumps crept over Reidar’s skin, and his eyes gleamed - hungry, desperate for more. Kjeld’s views were skewed, Helmi’s views were skewed, and his mother was dead; only Ulfric Stormcloak and Galmar Stone-Fist knew what Leiv was like before he had come to Solstheim.

    “He was your friend.” Reidar held his breath.

    “A brother in arms.” Ulfric looked up from the map. “But things change.”

    “So you think he killed your fath—the Jarl before you?”

    “Not by his own hand. But I think any housecarl who returns with a dead Jarl in their arms should be met with suspicion. Only your father and the Gods know what happened that cold, gray morning. My father would not have honored him with that title if he did not think he could fulfill it.”

    Reidar would have traded away a thousand jagged crowns, a hundred-thousand septims, to find out the truth from Leiv White-Paw. To speak to him. To get his own measure of the man who had sired him. Kjeld didn’t understand his obsession with their father, but Reidar knew Kjeld didn’t want to understand. Kjeld could say otherwise, but Reidar knew he resented him.

    But no matter what anyone in Skyrim or Solstheim said about Leiv White-Paw, Reidar couldn’t turn his back on him. If all he had left of his father was a sullied reputation and Windhelm’s scorn, then there was no point in calling him ‘father’ at all.

    “Anyone with eyes can see you are trying to restore honor to the name of White-Paw.” said Ulfric, snapping Reidar from his brooding.

    “I saw what was left of our house.” He replied. A hard edge crept into his voice.

    “A true Nord should always fight for honor - for himself, for family, for his country. But take heed, Reidar. The past cannot be undone.”

    Reidar nodded once, and showed himself out.
    We’ll see about that.

     

     

     

Comments

8 Comments   |   Ebonslayer and 8 others like this.
  • Mega-Dragonborn-of-Doom (1921)
    Mega-Dragonborn-of-Doom (1921)   ·  August 15
    I liked the contrast between the two brothers in this chapter, feels like ages since we've got a bit with the two of them in the one chapter but really I guess it hasn't been that long..wait yeah it has, like most of the story. Anyway, a good chapter as a...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 30
    Poor Kjeld, it will be tough ahead with the Khajiit, I reckon. One hell of a knotted rope to untangle. 
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  July 19
    What a bummer that Falion can't help. The guy traveled through Daedric planes and met Dwemer but can't help. So Mor'vahka is the only choice. That has to hurt. 
    Also Reidar. I like how he just opens his mouth whenever he wants, especially in fr...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  July 8
    I have to agree here. Your writing is going from strength to strength. Keep at it SF and don't self doubt yourself. (You know what I mean.... Don't do it!)
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      Sotek
      Sotek
      Sotek
      I have to agree here. Your writing is going from strength to strength. Keep at it SF and don't self doubt yourself. (You know what I mean.... Don't do it!)
        ·  July 8
      :) thanks so much, Sotek! Chapter 23 is incoming in the next hour or two!
      • Sotek
        Sotek
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        :) thanks so much, Sotek! Chapter 23 is incoming in the next hour or two!
          ·  July 8
        Howl on my page when you post it........
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  July 1
    It seems you've improved quite a bit since you first started. I still remember your first chapter and how it practically screamed inexperience. Now your writing is that of a seasoned hand. Well done.
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      Ebonslayer
      Ebonslayer
      Ebonslayer
      It seems you've improved quite a bit since you first started. I still remember your first chapter and how it practically screamed inexperience. Now your writing is that of a seasoned hand. Well done.
        ·  July 1
      Thanks, Ebonslayer :) Always good for a writer to hear that they've improved.