LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Twenty-Five - Redbelly Mine

  • Redbelly Mine

    Content Warning: Language, Spiders

     

    "Let me guess, someone stole your sweet roll?"

     

    Odfel glowered at the helmeted guard, unable to see the insolent eyes behind the cold metal, though the tone got through with ease.

     

    "What good are guards if they won’t protect the people? Are you gonna do something about the noises or just rest on your ass all day?"

     

    "Stuff some tundra cotton in your ears. S'not my problem."

     

    Odfel responded with a rude gesture. Then told the guard where he could stuff the tundra cotton.

     

    It wasn't until the miner stomped back to the barracks that the guard yanked his helmet off. His dark brown hair was stuck against his scalp from a warm morning wandering the grass-eaten path from Shor's Stone to Riften.

     

    Reidar let the helmet fall with a clunk, taking an early break.

     

    He had been here a month. A month of nothing in a place so small, it made the Skaal village seem crowded.

     

    He could hear his brother’s voice chiding him, like an annoying crow-call that was too loud to block out.

     

    'You’re supposed to be a soldier? Guard duty isn’t the war you wanted, but you’re still meant to protect others. Unless of course you’re waiting for fame and legend to land in your lap.'

     

    Reidar gritted his teeth, glowering at the imaginary bulk of his elder brother. Hating that he had a point. Hating that he was compelled to find Odfel and see if he couldn’t do something about these strange noises.

     

    Hating the sun that was in his eyes as he trudged to the miner’s barracks, helmet in hand.

     

    Odfel’s little problem was, unfortunately, the first interesting thing that had happened to Shor’s Stone in over three weeks.

     

    When he wasn’t skulking about the Riften guard’s tower, trying to catch scraps of war news, or looking longingly up the road for the courier that would bring him a new assignment, Reidar was slowly but surely losing his mind.

     

    The mild weather and bucolic lifestyle was wearing away at him like wind over a quarry; he felt empty, frustration wailing through him like wind through a rocky pass.

     

    "Tell me about the noises," said Reidar when he'd found Odfel sitting around a campfire with three others.

     

    It wasn't much in the way of an apology but Odfel put his stew aside. "Skitterings. Like skeevers, but bigger. And hissing. Filnjar thinks it's spiders."

     

    Great. It had to be spiders.

     

    "Show me."

     

    Redbelly mine wasn't called 'redbelly' for the rocks; in fact, the dark ore the miners eked out of the caverns was ebony, not copper. Redbelly got its name from the hot red steam that flowed through the tunnels like skooma in an addict's lungs.

     

    Odfel took up and lit a lantern, the flame juttering against the hollow shadows. Reidar drew his bow.

     

    Odfel brought him to the edge of a wooden bridge, built at an angle so that the miners could walk down without worrying about falling to their deaths at the bottom.

     

    A bottom that Reidar couldn't see.

     

    "Hear that?" Hissed Odfel, and Reidar edged his way to the railing.

     

    The sheer drop into darkness, the stairs and platforms coiling down like a dragon's spine, made Reidar's stomach hug his ribs.

     

    Skittering. Faint, but unmistakable. The distinctive creeping, crawling, bug-like movements of many legs on rough hanks of stone reminded him of Solstheim: they had ash hoppers big as a flower urn. Inhuman noises from the ice caves he had explored so often as a child. Skeevers, with their mean little eyes and long, yellowed teeth.

     

    Yet for all its dangers, at least Solstheim didn't have spiders. A bit of pity from the All-Maker.

    “Hold the lantern higher,” Reidar whispered. There was something on the wall across from them. Poised on the side of the cave’s deep gullet.

     

    The lantern’s circumference widened over the rocks, and eight pairs of eyes in a wretched face glittered back at them. Eight veins of ebony, with poison dripping from chittering fangs.

     

    The spider leaped.

     

    Reidar fired.

     

    An arrow through an exoskeleton made a satisfying crunch. Reidar watched the crumpled frostbite spider hit the wall it had leapt from and tumble like a pebble. Reidar strained his ears for the faint clatter when it reached the bottom.

     

    Odfel swore. “Shouldn’t have done that.”

     

    A glob of venom knocked the lantern from Odfel’s hands, illuminating the hellhorde of spiders materializing out of their dark holes and down from sticky, gossamer webs.

     

    “Run!”

     

    With Odfel clutching his poisoned hand, Reidar grabbed the miner by the arm. They beat a hasty retreat into the sunlight, ducking more globs of poison that hissed and sputtered against the support beams.

     

    “For fuck’s sake!” Reidar scraped venom off his boots, for once grateful to be wearing guard’s armor. “Why are the spiders here so big?”

     

    Odfel, his face damp with sweat, looked at him with contempt. “It’s Skyrim. Everything’s big here!”

     

    Odfel spat on the ground, stomping towards the barracks.

     

    “Where are you going?” Reidar glanced at the mine’s entrance. He shivered.

     

    “To tell Filnjar the mine’s closed. Thanks for nothing.”

     

    Reidar rolled his eyes, retrieving his helmet from the grass where it had rolled earlier. He didn’t care what happened to this settlement. That people’s lives were about to change for the worse. That Shor’s Stone was going to be a name in a dusty old book full of things that Once Were.

     

    Even if I wanted to do something, I can’t kill that many spiders. Not by himself. Reidar crammed the helmet back down over his ears, letting the visor fall with a metallic snap. Galmar’s voice was trapped inside his head. Mocking him. Reminding him that he was a fool playing a game he didn’t understand.

     

    Reidar wandered back to the guard’s tower.

     

    Why did it feel like he wasn’t the only one losing?

     

    ♦♦♦

     

    There were four guards in Shor’s Stone. Dyus Vitellia, an Imperial who spent more time ‘patrolling’ the Tapped Vein than making his rounds through the settlement. Brond Axe-Bearer, who stood in front of Redbelly Mine like a boulder someone forgot to move, and Ulwaen, a wiry Bosmer that hadn’t uttered a single word since Reidar had gotten there.

     

    Ulwaen spent his time in the watchtower overlooking Shor’s Stone.

     

    Shor’s Stone was about as important as a mole on a Jarl’s backside. The settlement didn’t need four guards; Reidar’s only job, in this case, was to switch with whatever permanent guard needed a break.

     

    Sometimes he was in the watchtower in Ulwaen’s place, or standing boredly in front of the mines, or circling Shor’s Stone like Dyus was supposed to.

     

    But most of the time, he was standing on the porch of Odfel’s ruined house, pretending he was anywhere else but here.

     

    Reidar rested his forearms on the skeletal remains of a side wall, lazily swatting a bottle-green dragonfly out of his face when it hovered too close for comfort.

     

    Voices drifted over on a hot afternoon wind.

     

    "I've been cracking rock ever since I was able to hold a pickaxe and I'm telling you, this mine is drying up."

     

    "And I'm telling you, you're wrong."

     

    "What makes you so sure? What if I'm right?"

     

    "I know there's ore still in there, I can smell it. If you think you're right then you can pack up and leave any time you like."

     

    Grogmar scoffed, the air forced to bend around his tusks. The ends of his ashy beard stirred with the breeze. “I think you’re smellin’ what you want to smell, Filnjar. You play with ore all day, that’s what you’ll be smelling.”

     

    The blacksmith shook his head; the bare spot in the middle was shiny like the side of an egg, but the dirty, lank gray hair falling to his shoulders and mingling with his impressive mustache aged him harshly. He sounded tired.

     

    “We’ll see, won’t we? Grelka’s back.”

     

    Reidar turned his head, resting his chin on one of his forearms to watch the miners come out of their various hiding places - Odfel and Sylgja joining Grogmar and Filnjar around the campfire near Sylgja’s house. It acted as a gathering place, when they were all too busy to spare more than a couple minutes.

     

    Grelka, an iron-faced Nord woman with the disposition of a poisonous snake, rode into the center on a painted mare. Her boots kicked up dust on the dismount, and the horse led itself into the tired-looking stable beside her house, where old hay and river water awaited it.

     

    “What’s the word, Grelka?” Filnjar’s voice cracked with the effort to shout.

     

    Grelka shook her head. “Before you even ask, no I didn’t nag the Jarl about the mine. You think I’d leave my stall with the Thieves Guild skulking around?”

     

    Odfel glowered, murmuring (none-too-quietly) to Sylgja. “Why Layla Law-Giver’s even still the Jarl, I’ll never know. She doesn’t care about our struggles.”

     

    “Enough, Odfel.” said Filnjar, bending a surly eye onto the petulant Nord miner.

     

    “No, he’s right!” Grelka snapped, her temper gathering like stormclouds. “If anyone in Riften gave a damn about this place, they’d give us more than three useless guards.”

     

    “Four.” Grogmar corrected. “You’re forgetting the scrawny one.”

     

    Scrawny! Reidar pushed away from the crumbled house, maneuvering to the edge of the porch to hop down onto solid ground.

     

    Grelka’s eyes rolled. “Whatever. You all want my advice? Find a new profession. Even if you get those spiders out, there isn’t any guarantee that the mine has any ore left.” She turned, walking unapologetically towards her house at the top of the road.

     

    The meager settlers fell into a discontented conversation. Filnjar’s tales of how ‘this has happened before’ were lost under the timbre of Odfel’s and Grogmar’s arguing. Sylgja, a pretty short-haired miner with a pickaxe on her hip, was looking hard at the mine as if a solution might present itself.

     

    Reidar bitterly wished the settlement would just collapse in on itself. They could all go to Riften; without the need for ‘four useless guards’, he could go back to the Stormcloaks where he belonged. They didn’t want him here. HE didn’t want to be here.

     

    He observed Odfel and Grogmar almost come to blows, and snorted. The Skaal didn’t fight like this; they usually had someone with enough sense to cool everybody’s tempers. Sometimes it was Fanari Strong-Voice, the leader of their group, or it was Storn Crag-Strider, the voice of reason and religious guidance for the Skaal.

     

    Reidar felt an unexpected pang of homesickness. Shoving those feelings down where they couldn’t resurface easily, Reidar swaggered over to Sylgja.

     

    “What are they all complaining about?”

     

    Sylgja’s dark eyes left the mines, and her mouth bent down at one corner. “The Jarl hasn’t done anything about the spider problem. Or the guards, for that matter.”

     

    “There’s too many,” he retorted flatly. “And they’re big enough to bite my head off. Four guards won’t be enough.” Maybe they would be, if he could just round everybody up…

     

    But the others were lazy. Dyus wouldn’t lift a finger to help unless he earned a couple extra coins. Brond could probably be persuaded. As for Ulwaen… Reidar didn’t know if he could trust that wood elf for anything.

     

    “Hire somebody.” Reidar turned to her. “An adventurer who can kill the spiders for you.” Someone like Teldryn, who could use a sword and magic.

     

    Sylgja didn’t seem put off by the idea. “M...Maybe,” she began slowly. “We might be able to find somebody in Riften. I’ll ask Grelka if she knows any hirelings.”

     

    She surprised him then by laying a hand on his shoulder gratefully, before walking to the arguing miners to have a quick word with Filnjar.

     

    Reidar forced himself not to smile.

     

    This was a crappy town in a crappy Hold in a crappy land. What did he care if their problems were resolved?

     

    He heard the dissonant murmurs turn to considering tones, as the idea was passed around like gossip.

     

    Reidar settled for a smirk. There, not so useless after all.

     

    ♦♦♦

     

    The following morning, Reidar had watchtower duty. That made him the first person to lay eyes on the newcomer striding in from Riften. it was a mage, told by the draping cloth robe and spellbook sticking out of the saddlebags. A sword was at the man’s hip, and his hood was drawn back to reveal a full head of dark brown hair, a patch of beard on his chin, and a subtle tan Reidar was slowly learning to associate with Imperials.

     

    The mage got down from the horse. Filnjar dusted soot off his smithing apron and met him in the road. Reidar left the watchtower to get a closer look.

     

    “Grelka tells me your town needs a little help.”

     

    “Aye, you heard right.”

     

    The Nord’s voice was slow, guarded, against the Imperial’s conceit. “You have a name, mage?”

     

    “Marcurio,” he replied, and smirked in a way that suggested they should’ve heard of him by now.

     

    Reidar rolled his eyes. What a braggart. This is who they hired?

     

    “So,” said the mage offhandedly. “Spiders in the mines. Is that all? No bandits or giants causing trouble?”

     

    “That’s it.” Said Filnjar, face still stony.

     

    Marcurio laughed. “Better pay me now, I’ll be done before you can get iron dust out of your beard, friend.”

     

    ‘Friend’. Reidar walked over, unable to curb his tongue. “What are you planning on doing? Boasting them to death?”

     

    Marcurio’s smile remained, but it was thin, and his eyes had narrowed slightly.
    “Oh you know, a little of this—”

     

    Reidar leaped back as a ball of fire struck the dirt in front of him.

     

    “—a little of that.”

     

    The lightning bolt struck him square in the chest, and Reidar jolted, dropping onto a knee as the spell took the breath out of him. He wheezed painfully, fists clenched.

     

    “Why you dog-faced piece of—”

     

    Filnjar dropped a small coin purse into Marcurio’s hand.
    “Save some of that for the spiders. Half now, half when you’re done.”

     

    Marcurio took the purse and shook the blacksmith’s hand.
    “Deal! Why hire a common soldier when you can have a master of the arcane? Stand back and watch.”

     

    Reidar refused Filnjar’s helping hand, and pictured with grisly glee the cocky mage getting eaten alive by spiders. Wishing dourly he could put an arrow in Marcurio’s backside, he watched the hireling meet with Brond at the mine’s entrance, then disappear inside.

     

    “If I’d known he was going to be such a bastard,” growled Reidar, “I never would’ve suggested anything.”

     

    Filnjar looked at him, tired. “As long as he clears those mines, I don’t care if he’s a prancing high elf that hates mead.”

     

    All they could do now was wait.

     

    The whole process took about ten minutes, and by then, the whole settlement — innkeeper, bard and barmaid included — had turned out.

     

    They couldn’t see what was happening, but the noises painted a landscape of screaming spiders, cracked rock - and the horrifying splintering of support beams.

     

    A crash like thunder hushed the crowd, the ground trembling under their feet. Odfel, Reidar and Grogmar ran to the entrance, trying to see past the grainy smoke and red mist.

     

    Marcurio came out seconds later, coughing and wiping green venom off his sword with the edge of his robe.

     

    “I’ll take the rest of that gold now,” he coolly stepped past them, headed for Filnjar.

     

    Odfel gaped.

     

    Marcurio had taken care of the spiders, but—

     

    “You idiot! What good’s a mine if you cause a damn cave-in?”

     

    Marcurio worked a finger into his right ear, picking out dirt. He flicked it away.
    “I did what you paid me for.”

     

    “We didn’t pay you to make more problems for us,” Grogmar growled, grip tightening on the pickaxe.

     

    Sylgja crossed her arms, her face pale.
    “I think you’d better leave.”

     

    “Not without my other half.” Marcurio looked right at the blacksmith.

     

    “Better settle for the other half of your face, Imperial.” Odfel spat at the man’s boots.

     

    Irritation flicked across Marcurio’s face like a sudden rip in cloth, his mouth turning down coldly.
    Really? I’m being threatened by miners for doing exactly what they asked?” He sighed as though greatly inconvenienced, and gathered a lightning bolt into his palm.

     

    Reidar gave the mage a scathing look. “Put that out, asshole. I’ll pay you.” With gritted teeth, he went back to the watchtower and knelt by his store of belongings.

     

    Reidar threw the ebony claw at Marcurio’s feet.
    “There, now get out.”

     

    He could tell by the avaricious gleam in the mage’s eyes that the claw was more than suitable payment.

     

    Marcurio scooped it up, blew off the dirt and bid them all a leering goodbye.

     

    The inhabitants of Shor’s stone were left muttering darkly in his wake.

     

    Sylgja glanced at him. Reidar grimaced and put his helmet back on, avoiding everyone’s eyes. Why did everything always feel like it was his fault?

     

     

Comments

8 Comments   |   Paws and 5 others like this.
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  September 18
    Yes! Now that's what I'm bloody talking about! You just don't go and start throwing tusking fireballs in a mine. Hehehe, love it, Fawn. ;)
  • Mega-Dragonborn-of-Doom (1921)
    Mega-Dragonborn-of-Doom (1921)   ·  August 15
    I really liked the different way of showing off the guards here, just the difference in having Reidar there I suppose. But yeah, what a total bummer that in the end he kinda just gets blamed for Marcurio being Marcurio (I never know why some people like h...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  August 11
    Oh boy. He's gotta get a break at some time, right? Lol
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Oh boy. He's gotta get a break at some time, right? Lol
        ·  August 13
      xD At some point! That point will not be soon.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  August 11
    Aww Reidar.....  
    A great ending to the chapter SF, there's some great moments but the ending lol...
    I wonder if Farkas knows of the mine........
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  August 11
    Poor Reid :( I cannot help but sympathise.
    • SpottedFawn
      SpottedFawn
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Poor Reid :( I cannot help but sympathise.
        ·  August 13
      He's having a rough time of things. Hold on to your hooves, it's gonna get worse before it gets better!
      • Sotek
        Sotek
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        SpottedFawn
        He's having a rough time of things. Hold on to your hooves, it's gonna get worse before it gets better!
          ·  August 13
        Wait a minute.... What hooves?
        Paws.. it's paws. Not  Paws though but paws... as in wolf paws not writes poems and stuff Paws...
        Aww forget it.......