LotS: Frost Moon - Chapter Twenty-Eight - Into Shadow

  • Into Shadow


    The hour passed quickly. He did not trust Kjeld White-Paw, and forwent the urge to bathe, to cleanse himself of the world’s filth. The choice was made instead to retire by the fireplace with a steaming mug of canis root tea and a malicious thought to its effects—if he were to toss it upon the unsuspecting werebear’s back.


    Despite Mor’vahka’s eyes upon him, the Skaalman worked diligently. The silence no longer belonged exclusively to the warrior-priest, but was instead filled with the scratching quill and papery whisper of thumbed tomes.


    “Time’s up.” said the cat.


    Kjeld closed each book he had taken down from the shelves. He handled them as if they were as fragile as eggshells, inserting each one reverently beside its brethren as he returned them to their places. Mor’vahka’s eyes fell to the parchment left upon the table. What sort of notes has the fool written? Admittedly, he was curious.


    Quick as a thrown dagger, Mor’vahka’s gaze snapped to Kjeld’s as the Nord took notice of him.


    “I’ve been narrowing it down.” Kjeld tidily rolled the parchment, placing it within his rucksack. “To which Daedra.”


    Mor’vahka made a derisive noise in the back of his throat. “Pah. From sixteen to thirteen? You will be toiling long, White-Paw.”


    Kjeld drew the strings closed. “Seven.”


    He had narrowed down a list of sixteen malevolents, to seven? Nonsense.


    “Did you find them? The ones you were hunting.” Though it was asked without malice, without judgment, Mor’vahka felt the question like the sharp, stinging withdrawal of a dagger between his ribs.


    “No.” A flicking tail in the firelight, his mood soured by his failures. “They have covered their tracks too well. Mor’vahka waits.”


    A crippling blow had been dealt to the Vigilants of Stendarr; the Order was not yet gasping for breath, but there was enough threat of fatality for their enemies to gloat. To dance past them to reach their true prize.


    Mor’vahka would wait for their next move, and in the meantime, pray for the souls that would be lost or perverted in the assault. That did not mean Mor’vahka would be idle. He was never idle.


    “Maybe they will reveal themselves soon.” Said Kjeld, though he spoke distractedly.


    Mor’vahka did not watch him leave. Instead, he went to the shelf. The cat drew his claws, touch feather-light, across the spines, a dragon counting its gold. The points of his claws found golden inlay, set in an elegant cursive along the spine: Lost Legends.


    It was the first entry:

    For generations, the people of Morthal have told whispered tales of the Pale Lady, a ghostly woman who wanders the northern marshes, forever seeking her lost daughter. Some say she steals children who wander astray, others that her sobbing wail strikes dead all those who hear it. But behind these tales may lie a kernel of truth, for ancient records speak of 'Aumriel', a mysterious figure Ysgramor's heirs battled for decades, and finally sealed away.


    It was vague, but it would be a starting point. A Pale Lady, an unbearable cold, a sword. This ‘Aumriel’ the author spoke of coincided with Frostmere crypt, and it’s ancient architecture. However, Mor’vahka was not a historian. He did not place stock in learning the true origins of the creatures he killed - unless that somehow provided a way to killing them faster.


    An angered spirit. Worse than draugr. Mor’vahka tapped his claws against the shelf ledge. There were invocations for this. Mor’vahka knew them by heart, it was a matter of selecting the right one - and delivering it without getting destroyed in the process. If Ra’jirr was still alive, perhaps he could make use of him.


    However, entrusting his safety to a mindless fool was no better than going in without armor on.


    Slowly, Mor’vahka began to form a plan. It would be less about the sharpness of his silver weapons, and more about the strength of his invocations - and the durability of his protection spells. Though illusion was his mastery, restoration was required in his line of work, and he knew more advanced techniques than even Skyrim’s healers of Whiterun.


    Of course, the kind of spells he knew wouldn’t aid them in healing farmers with stomachaches and battered soldiers.


    Circle of Protection. Arkay’s Invocations. A potion to combat the cold.


    Yet he was still going to need a distraction…


    As sudden as a thunderclap on a clear morning, the pounding at the door startled him enough to hiss. “What devilry is this?” He growled, and took up a silver scimitar from the mantle. Stalking forward, he pulled the chapel door inward, face to face with the Skaalman.


    “I just saw a ghost. A little girl, out in the marshes.” Kjeld’s face was pale, but his eyes were alive, the color made brighter by his shock.


    Mor’vahka lowered the sword. “A trick of the light, White-Paw.”


    Kjeld’s brow tightened, his mouth a hard line. “Do tricks have names? Because she told me hers. It’s Helgi.”


    Mor’vahka’s anger cooled. He stepped out.

    “Lead, this one will follow.”



    It was treacherous to go quickly into the marshes. Their lantern, black smoke mixing with the fog yawning through the trees, bobbed like a dying star in Kjeld's grasp.


    Mor'vahka kept silent. Watching. Waiting for the many cautionary tales of the Swamplands to come to fruition. The amulet of Arkay swung from his neck in opposite arcs of the Skaal pendant thumping against Kjeld's tunic.


    “Helgi!” Kjeld called as loudly as he dared.


    "Find me, before she does!" The ghost child had said to him, right before fading from reality like the color leaching from cloth.


    Helgi, according to the townsfolk, was the name of Hroggar's daughter. He’d heard the story a dozen times from Jonna; Hroggar’s wife and child -- a girl of about seven years old, had perished in the fire. The ruined, charred skeleton to the left of the Moorside Inn was proof enough. Shortly after, scarcely a day after, Hroggar had moved in with Alva, either too deep into his grief to see reason, or guilty of something more than infidelity.


    Yet the ghost led them away from Morthal, through flooded gulch and lichen-dense islets. The chittering and snapping of mudcrabs could be heard on all sides - along with stranger calls. She did not haunt the blackened hearth of her home, or even cast torment upon Hroggar.


    ‘Where is she?’ Mor'vahka hissed at his back, but Kjeld was too busy using his sight to pay attention to the other senses. The smell of fetid earth, wood rot, and stagnant water was overwhelming, the sheer cacophony of the marshes at night did nothing but add to the confusion.


    Kjeld held the lantern higher, watching the radius of light, already fragile in the gluttonous mists, desperately stretch a little more.


    "White-Paw," the cat hissed.


    Kjeld glanced back at him once, taking a few careful steps ahead. "What?"


    "Have you always seen ghosts? Specters?"


    "You want to know if this is a werebear trait?" The cat was silent, confirming as much. Kjeld grunted, unsurprised. "It isn't. This is my first ghost."


    "Pah." Mor'vahka spat air. "Can this one tell the difference between truth and trap?"


    The image of astonishment etched in her opaque, rounded face when she realized he could see her was slow to leave Kjeld’s mind. The child's giddiness, her relief, had been as potent as a lightning bolt.


    "Yes," Kjeld set his jaw. "But if you don't believe me, I'll see this through myself." There was little he could do, and Kjeld believed there was little Mor'vahka could do for little Helgi - if there remained a chance, however, of easing a child's lost, wounded spirit into a place of peace, then he would try.


    Even if it took all night.




    A sibilant hiss overlapped the splashing of Kjeld's boots, but he managed to halt.


    Kjeld looked to the priest; Mor'vahka had grown still, his hood gone to allow his sense of hearing greater range without the cloth in the way. The narrow slivers of his pupils had widened significantly, eclipsing fervent yellow.


    "What is it?" Kjeld whispered.


    Mor'vahka looked beyond, into the mists seeping through the dwindling light of dusk. "Weeping."


    Kjeld strained his ears, but he could not bridge the natural advantage of Khajiiti senses through effort alone.


    Instead, he let the world in. If his eyes would not help and his hearing could detect little, he would rely on sense of smell. Kjeld narrowed his eyes, letting his focus slip away from what was in front of him, to what had been there the whole time.


    Rotten plant matter. Fetid water. Decaying wood. Peat. And the dull metallic scent of old blood.


    They advanced slowly, and Kjeld found his nerves beginning to falter. The darkness was oppressive, and the mist clouding the edges of his vision gave him the disturbing sensation of losing consciousness. As if the next step would carrying him over into dream.


    He could hear the weeping now. It was faint, and the pitch was high, like a wounded fox's, but with a warble that was distinctly human.


    Something brushed his shin. Kjeld stiffly looked down, ice in his blood.


    It was a cloth doll, filthy and wet, with a blue dress made gray by the unkindness of Morthal's weather. The stitched mouth was lopsided, and a red button eye was gone, leaving two damp bits of thread poking out of the cloth like worms from a corpse.


    Kjeld picked it up, the dark water flowing over his hand as it drained from the sodden limbs and drenched torso. A profound sadness struck deep.


    “Helgi?” he called, sensing she was near.


    The weeping stopped.


    Instinct roared to life, burning away the apprehensive fog in his head.




    “Don’t touch her! Don’t touch her! Don’t touch her! She is MINE!”


    A woman’s shriek and a rush of flame shot through the mist. Kjeld ducked just in time, feeling the heat sweep over his shoulder. The trees behind him had their stooping limbs and damp bark illuminated as the fire passed.


    The spell had cleared some of the fog, revealing a black earthen mound, upon which, a ring of deathbells were laid, with toys strewn haphazardly around a cairn of stones beneath a twisted elm.


    A child’s grave.


    Another hateful shriek extinguished the silence - Kjeld throwing his weight behind a tree in the nick of time.

    Who is that? Helgi’s mother?


    When he spoke to the child at the edge of town, she had warned him someone else was trying to find her too.


    Realizing he still had the doll, Kjeld tossed it to the left and listened. He held his breath, utterly still as the woman, her eyes burning like fire, went to retrieve it. There was no slosh of water, or snap of wet twigs. She moved like death, and a chilled sensation of panic furrowed into his heart. Where is that damned cat?


    A primordial hiss made him flinch, Kjeld’s eyes widened as the woman- her face horridly thin and pale - bared her teeth at him.




    He stumbled back, just as a red light began to glow in her right hand, fingers curled like talons. A shadow flitted just behind her, and Kjeld’s stomach dropped as he saw a flash of silver— darkness — and then silver again as Mor’vahka’s sword pierced straight through her heart.


    She shuddered, body convulsing once - violently - but Mor’vahka gripped a clawful of dark hair and yanked the sword free. Kjeld watched the body fall, and then he watched Mor’vahka’s face. The hatred there was breathtaking; as if he could set fire to her body with the potency of thought alone. Mor’vahka curled his lip. Blood was flicked from the blade, and sheathed.


    Kjeld, still shaken, approached the body cautiously. She was clad in strange armor. The starved features were even more apparent in death. She had died with her eyes open - if it could be called death - and they had grown milky, pale as fog on barren land. Like the death hounds.


    “Who was she?”


    “It matters not.” said Mor’vahka. “It was a stain upon the earth.” Mor’vahka coldly turned to the cairn. “A defiler of life.”


    “But why the cairn—”


    “You found me!”


    Kjeld laid eyes on the ghost standing in the ring of deathbells. The breeze stirred the fetid waters, but Helgi’s hair and clothes, didn’t flutter. She was a memory. An echo of what once was.


    Wanting to protect what was left of the dead child’s innocence, Kjeld pressed one knee to the dark wet earth in front of Helgi and put on a smile to distract her from the corpse bobbing in the lichen. “Does this mean I win the game?” Kjeld asked, reminded so sharply of Aeta. They could have been friends. Sisters.
    “You promised to answer my questions if I found you.”

    Helgi’s glassy, opaque eyes went from his face - to Mor’vahka’s.
    “You killed Laelette, didn’t you?”


    Laelette! Why was that name familiar? With a sharp inhale, Kjeld’s tone gentled. “Virkmund’s mother.”


    “Uh-huh.” Said Helgi. “She tried to keep me forever, but it wouldn’t work.”


    “Why was she trying to keep you forever?” Kjeld’s stomach twisted. Had the woman actually tried to turn a child?


    “Laelette was told to burn mommy and me, but she didn’t want to. She kissed my neck, and I was so cold - but it didn’t work.” Helgi’s voice grew quiet, no longer a child’s recounting her last adventure, but someone who was beginning to understand the truth. “I was all burned up,” she finished in a whisper, and looked down past her bare feet, deep into the earth.


    Laelette was responsible for the fire, and in turn, the murder of Hroggar's wife and child. Kjeld looked at the toys strewn around the islet like bits of offal, keenly aware of the body behind him. She had paid for her crime, clearly. Helgi's death had driven an already wretched mind to insanity.


    "You've been very brave, Helgi. I will-" he paused to find his voice "-I will tell your father what's happened to you."

    Helgi looked at her toes.
    "Papa doesn't care about mama and me, not since he started talking to Alva. Do you... Do you think he misses me? Even a little?"


    "Every day." Said Kjeld, as firmly as if with enough conviction, he could make it true.


    Helgi smiled, and it soothed the twisting guilt in his stomach.


    "This one does not belong here, Mor'vahka will help you rest."


    "I am getting pretty tired..." Helgi looked up from her toes, seeming to notice the cat for the first time. "You talk funny."


    Kjeld glanced at Mor'vahka, expecting the cat's exceptionally small patience to have disintegrated. But Mor'vahka did not acknowledge her observation, instead he spoke with quiet sobriety. "It is time for Helgi to go. Be with your mother."


    Mor'vahka went to the circle of death bells, and pulled one of the stalks from the earth.


    “O Lord of Life and Death, pay heed to the spirit before you, for they have been caught beneath the Wheel. Let your light sunder these earthly chains, so that the Wheel may turn in full. Let Arkay's Promise be fulfilled. Final rest beckons, and every soul must answer.”


    Kjeld wanted to watch the priest work, but he kept looking at Helgi instead. He watched as her eyes widened, and she seemed to sigh as softly as the last breeze of Sun's Height. "Thank you. Maybe now mother can rest too."


    As if she had never truly been there at all, Helgi left them, her spirit ushered into afterlife by Arkay's last rite.


    Kjeld brushed a crooked finger beneath one eye, and stood. Mor'vahka scattered the petals over Helgi's grave, was still, before he reverently left the mound.


    He stepped over Laelette's corpse without a glance spared.


    Kjeld didn't follow. "What about her?"


    "There are no rites for the wicked undead." Mor'vahka's whiskers twitched impatiently. "Stay, if this one wishes to be eaten by spiders."


    Kjeld's shoulders stiffened. "So we just leave her here? What about Thonnir and Virkmund?" How could he go home, knowing what he knew, and let the loved ones Laelette left behind stay in the dark?


    "No child deserves to see a parent become a monster." Mor'vahka retorted, tail lashing.


    "Virkmund doesn't deserve to have the truth kept from him - and especially not Thonnir. They're her kin." How could Mor’vahka be so cold. His heart would make an ice wraith shiver.


    Kjeld looked at the corpse, floating. Grim determination seized him, and he carefully dragged Laelette's body onto the bank - until the scimitar at his throat stopped him.


    "This is a place of final rest," hissed Mor'vahka. "You taint it with that filth."


    Kjeld's jaw set hard, like iron left to cool. "Fine." Fighting down the bile in the back of his throat, Kjeld gathered Laelette's broken body into his arms. The shallow, murky water sloshed against his boots as he carried her to a neighboring islet.


    She was terrifying up close, and the glassy, inhuman stare unnerved him to the soul. All-Maker, protect her from further torment.


    "This one wastes his time. You move a rotten shell. What remains of it's soul is already in Coldharbour."


    "Coldharbour?" Said Kjeld. He wiped the peat from his hands.


    "The vile realm of Molag Bal. " Mor'vahka spat, his voice an insidious whisper. "Helgi goes to her mother. So too, has it gone to its father."


    "Enough. Stop calling her an it. What if she didn't want this? What if the choice was taken from her? Helgi said she was forced to set the fire - why does that count for nothing?" The untold, unkind years had turned Mor'vahka's opinions into absolutes. Guilty or innocent. Alive or dead. Black or white.


    To Kjeld's surprise, the cat laughed - a high derisive sneer. "This one is a bigger fool than Mor'vahka first believed. And what if it was their choice? They drank deep the waters of corruption." Mor'vahka eyed him coldly. "Innocence is for children."


    "How black your days must seem, Mor'vahka, if you think everything in this world is always a step away from ruin and wrong." Kjeld glowered back, his heart set against the cat's bleak, bitter words. He walked away from the second islet. I will tell Thonnir. Then the father can choose what's right for Virkmund.


    "And how short your life will be, White-Paw. You will die ignorant, and alone."


    We'll see. Kjeld followed in stony silence. He wasn't giving up - on himself or the world, even if Mor'vahka turned his back on both.




    Their paths diverged at the swamp's edge; Mor'vahka went to Halfmoon Hall to inform Ravencrone of their discovery. Kjeld turned to the stone bridge leading to a lumbermill on the fringes of Morthal.


    "Kjeld?" Jonna came down the steps, a mug of coffee - the rich scent a balm to his nerves - in her hands. "Saw your lantern. Had a feeling it was you, and that you'd need this."


    The most sunshine Morthal got was in the form of Jonna’s kindness. Kjeld gratefully accepted the mug. “I have some news for Thonnir,” he spoke grimly over the rim.


    Jonna’s eyes widened, her mind darting to all sorts of conclusions. “Something to do with the marshes?” Jonna’s words became hushed, a hand on Kjeld’s arm. “Laelette?”


    “Aye, but it’s… messier than that.” With a somber glance at the lumber mill, Kjeld gestured to the stairs. “You’re going to want to sit.” He said. “It’s a strange story.” And a cruel one.


    As Jonna sat on the creaking steps, her hands resting neatly on her apron, Kjeld recounted the entire thing from Helgi’s ghost to his argument with Mor’vahka.


    Jonna was repeatedly stunned to silence. “Sweet Mother Mara,” she gushed. “That Khajiit has a hole for a heart - and that poor child. I used to make sure I had extra flour put aside to bake her a snowberry crostata on her birthday…”


    Kjeld reached the dregs at the bottom of the mug, and sighed. “She should be alive. All of them - Helgi, her mother, Laelette… And whoever’s responsible should be punished.”


    By man or by the gods? Kjeld had no answer. The unbalance of power in Morthal unsettled him. There were things lurking in the dark that could not only do the unthinkable, but convince others -- pure souls -- to do the unthinkable too.


    “Old Idgrod can put in a request for more guards, at least until we feel safe again.” Jonna grimaced, standing and gently taking back the mug. “As safe as we can be in Morthal.”


    Kjeld nodded grimly, but did not say what was on his mind. More guards won’t be enough.


    “Go home, Kjeld.” Said Jonna kindly. “I’ll tell Thonnir. I think he’d prefer it from someone who knew Laelette.”


    “Is there really any comfort in the choice of messenger, if the message brings grief?” He asked, suddenly feeling very tired. His legs were cold from the swamp water, and he felt ill from the experience.


    “I think so,” said Jonna, brown eyes pensive. “Better it be someone who knows what that message will mean, than someone who has only been here a short time. Sorry,” she added.


    “No, you’re right. I wish you luck with Thonnir—and Virkmund.”


    She had to reach up high to squeeze his shoulder, so she settled for just above his elbow.
    “Thank you. You’re a good one, Kjeld. Don’t let Mor’vahka’s darkness get to you.”


    He wore the smile of the soul-weary, but laid his hand over hers in a thankful clasp.


    Jonna went back to the inn to leave the mug, and Kjeld began to trod the familiar groaning wooden path to home.


    The evening light glinted off the jewelry on Alva’s neck. A present, no doubt, from Hroggar. She walked toward him in a sway of thin fabric, fluttery hems and wide hips.


    Kjeld cared for none of those things, and politely stepped off the path onto the frost-bitten earth to allow her to pass. Alva’s smile glinted like her necklace, and she purred beneath her breath as she passed - the scent of snowberries in her wake.
    “Such a gentleman.


    He grunted goodnight, and made it onto the porch. Kjeld reached for the handle, pulling the key out of his trouser pockets, and paused.


    This path only went to his house; where had Alva come from?


    He threw a scrutinizing look over both shoulders, then stared into the marshes. When he was certain there was nothing out of the ordinary, Kjeld went in.


    It was exactly as he’d left it. Almost. The fire had gone out, so he lit a few candles - and flinched back at the face of a demon on the table.


    Kjeld recovered his wits, and growled. I need a proper night’s sleep. The book had been left open on the passage about Molag Bal. He glowered at it, less afraid and more angry. “You’ve no right to play with people’s lives,” he said to the picture.


    Kjeld snapped it shut.


    Allowing himself only enough time to pry sodden boots from his feet, and strip away cold, damp, reeking clothing, Kjeld got in bed.


    Exhaustion could not move aside to let suspicion take over, not even when his last thought for the night was reason enough for alarm.


    Hadn’t he closed that book before he left?





11 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 8 others like this.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  November 23, 2019
    I found where I'd left off last time :) Helgi's tale is one of the more tragic in Skyrim and you captured the atmosphere beautifully.
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  April 15, 2018
    I might be repeating myself, but the cat just outright scares me. His view, so sure and certain, comprised only of black and white with nothing in between and yet it is somewhat more black than white. I think that's exactly what scares me the most - the f...  more
  • Mook
    Mook   ·  April 15, 2018
    I agree with all the points made by everyone, I can't add to what Paws and ilanisilver have said. I've been playing around Morthal  these last few days before approaching Dawnguard for the first time, and this piece has lifted the place out  of ...  more
    • SpottedFawn
      I agree with all the points made by everyone, I can't add to what Paws and ilanisilver have said. I've been playing around Morthal  these last few days before approaching Dawnguard for the first time, and this piece has lifted the place out  of ...  more
        ·  April 15, 2018
      Thank you so much, Mook. I am always humbled by comments like these. They make all the hard work seem worth it. You hit the nail on the head with Kjeld/Mor'vahka having a light & dark dichotomy. Very fun themes to explore with these two, and I'm always lo...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  April 14, 2018
    Eerie and atmospheric, Fawn! Loved every word. The last Rites were very sad and moving, Mor'vaka's perpetual sombre and bitter mood seemed to add to the ambience yet the words he spoke were perfectly delivered and poignant. Glad Kjeld remains as empatheti...  more
  • Wulfhedinn
    Wulfhedinn   ·  April 14, 2018
    Mor'vakha <3
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  April 14, 2018
    That was a really good chapter. Liked all of it, especially the ending and during Helgi’s “funeral” where Kjeld couldn’t look away from her. After all, it’s the important part. 
    • SpottedFawn
      That was a really good chapter. Liked all of it, especially the ending and during Helgi’s “funeral” where Kjeld couldn’t look away from her. After all, it’s the important part. 
        ·  April 14, 2018
      Thank you! This was one of my favorites to write. I appreciate the support!
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  April 14, 2018
    I can see parallels between Mor'vahka and Isran here. Both are stubborn in their beliefs, they don't trust anyone or anything associated with Daedra, and both are badasses  at doing their job.

    Wonder if they'll make a good team?
    • SpottedFawn
      I can see parallels between Mor'vahka and Isran here. Both are stubborn in their beliefs, they don't trust anyone or anything associated with Daedra, and both are badasses  at doing their job.

      Wonder if they'll make a good team?
        ·  April 14, 2018
      I've been wondering that too. Maybe I'll get the chance to put these two characters in the same room together and see what happens. :) Thank you for reading, I appreciate the continued support.
      • A-Pocky-Hah!
        I've been wondering that too. Maybe I'll get the chance to put these two characters in the same room together and see what happens. :) Thank you for reading, I appreciate the continued support.
          ·  April 14, 2018
        Though it'll be a problem for the Dawnguard since they have to deal with "two" hardass leaders... :P