LotS: Frost Moon - Chapter Thirty-Five

  • Then and Only Then



    "As we commend their souls to Aetherius, blessings of the Eight be upon them, for they are the salt and earth of Nirn."


    Three graves were freshly dug outside of Morthal, on higher land less likely to succumb to the marshes. One denoted a warrior's grave, a two-handed battleaxe serving as the marker. The townspeople poured mead over the cold soil; Benor's last drink.


    The second was for Laelette.


    The third was for a guard who, in the confusion, managed to slip free of the guardhouse cells - only to become nourishment for a wounded vampire.


    Arkay's last rites were performed with cold efficiency; though not the language of his homeland, the words poured from Mor'vahka's mouth without hesitation. There was power and there was reassurance, in speaking these rites. Every person present felt the much-needed stirrings of faith, their belief and trust in the Divines chafed raw by the events of last night.


    Now was a time for prayer. To pray for those that survived the attack, and those that had not.


    Kjeld's head was bowed, his eyes on the grave of Virkmund's mother. There was no corpse within the earth; Mor’vahka had burned it to prevent necromancy. Instead, they had buried a few significant things belonging to Thonnir's late wife.


    The father and son pair stood, grim-jawed, as Mor'vahka made good on his word.


    It was difficult for him to stand still; the restrictive tightness of the bandages coupled with a patchwork of bruises made Kjeld prone to wincing. The seal - a wretched, angry thing - pulsed horridly beneath the soft cloth of his tunic. There would be Oblivion to pay for last night's defiance, as certain as the dawn.


    Jonna was the first to speak after the khajiit finished, Morthal’s collective ears full of Arkay’s rites and their hearts heavy.


    “Need to rest? Feeling alright?” She touched his arm - one of the few places that didn’t hurt - with cool, gentle fingers. Kjeld smiled tiredly, doing his best not to sway where he stood. His skin prickled at the contact.


    “You don’t have to keep asking, Jonna. I’m alright. I promise.”


    “I’m amazed you can even stand, Kjeld. It was a hard night,” she said, her eyes full of knowing. “For you especially.”


    Half the town had seen him in his transformed state. Whether they’d recognized him or not was another thing entirely. That didn’t make him any less uncomfortable at Jonna speaking of it, even if she courteously talked around the transformation itself.


    Paranoid that all eyes were upon him, Kjeld initiated the walk back to the thoroughfare.
    “You know what I am… ”


    “Yes,” she breathed. On dark lips hung a fleeting smile. “I thought it was something like that. No one comes to Morthal except by accident or to see Falion, and those that see Falion usually have something…”


    “Wrong with them?” Kjeld interjected, grimacing.


    “Something to hide.” Jonna turned, facing him under the cool shadow of a twisted pine. “For what it’s worth, Kjeld, I saw a lot of monsters last night, and you weren’t one of them.”


    She meant it, he could see it in the certainty of her stare, but he only bowed his head. A smile tucked into his beard. She was wrong. “I am a monster, Jonna. Just not the blood-sucking or house-burning kind.”


    “The good kind.”


    Kjeld’s laugh was short, surprised. “Is there a good kind?”


    Jonna squeezed his hand, the touch soft, unafraid. “Growing up with Falion for a brother, I’ve seen a lot of things, Kjeld. Terrible things. Horrible things. Wonderful things. Believe me when I say there can be good kinds of monsters - just like there can be bad kinds of people.”


    They were both thinking of Alva. Of Hroggar’s suffering. The ensnared millworker had been devastated when the fog of Alva’s enamorment had faded; in a way, he was yet another casualty of last night.


    “I think you owe me a story,” she said suddenly. “The tale of Kjeld White-Paw, the man that saved Morthal.”


    Kjeld laughed again, embarrassed. “Your story first. The tale of Jonna, the wizard’s sister.”


    Why not? If she was going to know his secrets, then he could afford to trust her with his past. He could tell her about Reidar. About his father. About the Skaal, about how all of this began.


    They were interrupted by Virkmund, who announced that Jarl Ravencrone had summoned Kjeld. The boy had bandaged hands, but he looked brighter - more alert - than he had in the whole time Kjeld had been here.


    “I’ll save you some coffee,” said Jonna, and Kjeld watched her walk away, feeling like she was taking some part of him with her. The part of him that was beginning to accept himself.


    “Are you gonna move in with her?” Virkmund demanded, looking ready to give an unsolicited opinion on the matter.


    Kjeld’s eyebrows raised. “Eh? I don’t even know anything about her.” Nothing substantial.


    “So?” said Virkmund. “She’s not afraid of werebears or vampires. That’s good enough!”


    Kjeld laugh-winced. The second skin of bandages on his chest and neck didn't stop his wounds from twinging. Falion’s offer to patch him up was looking more and more appealing.


    “It’s… complicated, Virkmund.” Kjeld shook his head, face warming as though after a strong drink.


    Virkmund nodded, as if he had heard him but wasn’t going to pay those words any heed.


    “Da told me life’s too short. When you think you have enough time, you don’t.”


    The boy’s name was called, and he strode away, effectively ending the conversation before Kjeld could get word in edgewise.


    Kjeld grimaced. Aye, Virkmund. I know all about running out of time. A fresh bruise of regret formed over Kjeld’s heart; Virkmund thought he was going to stay in Morthal. Put down roots. Stay the blacksmith of Morthal for a while yet.


    But he couldn’t. Whatever was happening between him and Jonna… The stars would not align for them. This trial, this nightmare with the Daedra was not yet over. His time in Morthal was coming to an end.




    Jarl Ravencrone was not in the hall, as expected. The heavily-aged matriarch stood, back straight as an ash tree, at the charred steps of Hroggar’s house. She was alone, no sign of Aslfur or one of her children by her side - though the town was far from empty.


    Brown leather and dragon-emblems spoke of Imperial presence in Morthal, the legionnaires in place of the guards that had been, one by one, enthralled by Alva. A temporary safety measure until mentally-sound replacements could be sent from Solitude.


    Kjeld reverently stood beside her, silent as the ruined homestead that hunkered in front of them, black and shriveled like a patch of burnt skin. It exacerbated his already somber mood, and his expression reflected quiet, melancholy thoughts of a lost child.


    “I have ordered Aslfur to begin clearing this sorry excuse for a property.”


    “It’s time,” he agreed. Morthal was full of enough gloom and quiet. The echoes of the dead need not add to the town’s sombre atmosphere. Helgi and Brigette were at peace. Morthal deserved to be, as well.


    “What of Alva?” Her house still stood; Kjeld did not know if Hroggar still lived there, but he thought it doubtful.


    “Gone. She skulked off into the darkness like a wounded bitch.” The Jarl’s laugh was dry, chilly. “She’ll not get far. Our friend in the Chapel considers her unfinished business.”


    Of course he did, despite failing to notice her malignance for months now. Kjeld glanced to the path leading to Windbreak Chapel. Let us hope that your thirst for vengeance does not blind you to any other evils, Mor’vahka.


    “I offered him Thaneship, for all that he has done for this town.” Ravencrone continued, her storm-dark gaze pulled from the ruins to Kjeld’s perplexed expression. “A title bestowed by a Jarl on those who have made significant contributions to the hold. It has been a while since ‘significant contribution’ meant anything more than gold. He turned it down, of course.”


    That wasn’t a surprise.


    “It would be ingracious of me not to offer you the same title. I daresay you would wear it better than he, Kjeld White-Paw.”


    Kjeld choked. “I—No, no thank you. I’m honored, but no.” His face must have changed colors more than once, because the old woman’s back bowed with laughter.


    “I do not need my Sight to have anticipated such an answer. That does not change the debt Morthal is obliged to you, for your services.” Ravencrone said. “Is there something you wish for instead? Property, I can offer. Coin, I cannot. Anything else may be within the realm of possibility.”


    “I don’t need a reward,” said Kjeld, thunderstruck at owning land. Did anyone truly own land? He did not believe so. Living beings were temporary inhabitants; they could claim territory, a homestead of their own just like animals, but to own the earth was unheard of. No piece of paper or a Jarl’s lofty decree would change that.


    Kjeld’s seriousness returned, heart caught in his throat. “I would appreciate it if rumor didn’t spread about my transformation. Mor’vahka tells me there are other Vigilant outposts, and they are not the only holy Order in Skyrim.”


    He didn’t need to elaborate.


    Ravencrone inclined her head. “Of course. Morthal has many secrets, yours will be another in our coffers. Do you know the meaning behind this town’s name?”


    Kjeld grunted that he didn’t.


    “It hails from the name of a great Nordic warrior, Morihaus. A legend of our people. He was half-man, half-bull. Of all the towns in Skyrim, you, Kjeld White-Paw, have found yourself in this one.”



     He slept like the dead. Though the doorless rooms of the inn provided no sound barrier from the quiet bustle of Jonna and Virkmund moving about, Kjeld slumbered on. The trials of the forest felt distant in memory, but all too fresh to his weary and wounded body.


    Though Jarl Ravencrone had given him something to think about, Kjeld eagerly succumbed to rest, grateful for the promise of Ravencrone’s silence.


    His dreams, however - when he dreamt at all - were not peaceful. The wounds to his body began the slow healing process, but his mind became a ragged, haunted place.


    Things with fangs and glowing hands stalked him, distant laughter - cold and high and certain - chased him through the shadowed halls of dream. His body was cast in darkness; when he looked at his right hand, it was dark as ink. Before his eyes, the darkness seemed to spread, spiderwebbing over his forearm and up to his shoulder, where it pooled into the Daedric Seal. He’d wake up with cold sweat and hollow eyes, before fitfully falling back into dream.


    There was no amulet to hold back the darkness any longer.


    On the morning after the funeral, Kjeld felt well enough again to leave the room. His strength waxed and waned during the recovery process, but he willed his iron legs into the hearth room of the Moorside Inn. Kjeld was greeted by the warm, welcome scents of baked bread and fresh, steaming porridge. Virkmund, harboring no ill will towards Jonna, sat at the table with them, and fed Kjeld the latest happenings.


    “The cat’s gone,” said Virkmund between mouthfuls. “To find Movarth’s lair. My father went with him, and so did Aslfur.”


    Kjeld felt the stirrings of displacement; it was laughable, to think he felt left out of Mor’vahka’s next big hunt. One terrifying experience with the Pale Lady did not make them comrades in arms. It didn’t even make them friends.


    “How did Thonnir and Aslfur convince him to let them come along?” He exhaled a tired chuckle over his porridge.


    “‘Said it was Morthal’s business, not just Mor’vahka’s. And Da wanted to look for any signs of Ma.”


    He hadn’t thought of that. Kjeld considered the likelihood of Laelette speaking to Movarth, of meeting the rest of Alva’s coven.


    Had her sanity not buckled at Helgi’s death, would Laelette have joined the attack on Morthal? Would he have seen her, burning eyes and glowing hands, out to destroy the village she came from? Would she have laid those hands on Virkmund or Thonnir? Or had there been a few shreddings of humanity left, in those hollow eyes?


    This was no time for such dark speculations. He couldn’t let himself follow those threads of thought, lest he end up like a certain Vigilant.


    “I’m done with vampires,” said Kjeld with finality. “I’ve had my fill of evil.”


    “So have I,” said Jonna. “I think Morthal’s ready to step out of this doom and gloom.”


    “Can I have another roll?” said Virkmund.


    And just like that, life was beginning to move on.




    The inside of Movarth's lair was a depraved, bloodied hovel. The stench was atrocious, enough so that the Khajiit invoked the Elsweyr gods for protection through the thick cloth covering his face.


    It was not enough to slow him. Mor'vahka pilfered every room he could find.


    Coin purses. Vials of black, foul substances. Notes. Letters. Journals.


    Movarth had lived like a lord, and beneath the blood and bits of flesh, the silverware gleamed under torchlight. Ornate chairs and gaudy decoration had assaulted Mor’vahka as soon as he entered the banquet hall.


    There was something about Molag Bal's bastard children that compelled them to create these parodies of wealth.


    The two Nordsmen with him could burn it or sell it for all he cared. His purpose here was another matter altogether; to find Alva's whereabouts, and to keep this place from becoming a cesspit of wailing ghosts or necromancy.


    "Gods above," he heard one exclaim, and Mor'vahka knew they had found the bloodied cart parked beside a shallow mass grave - or, more accurately, where they dumped their leftovers.


    Mor'vahka's claws scoured the wooden front of a locked chest, and he forced it open with the blunt strike of a sword handle. Stooping to look through its contents, the Vigilant found paraphernalia chronicling Movarth's history - both living and undead.


    Beneath a furled cloak sat a stack of letters, and Mor'vahka could tell by the color of the seal on the topmost one that it was recent.


    The letter was barely even three lines in length.


    Enjoy these gifts. I expect news of your success by month’s end.

    Lord Harkon


    He felt the weight of the ring in his pocket, now understanding its darker purpose. It was a ‘gift’, from a lord to a vassal; there were no such thing as gifts from those in power to those without. Manipulation masked as charity was no less than he expected from creatures such as these.


    Domination, manipulation, humiliation, control. These were Molag Bal’s spheres, and what else did children do - except mimic their sires?


    The question on Mor’vahka’s tongue was simple; what had Lord Harkon gained through Movarth? Mor’vahka glared at the ring sitting inconspicuously in his palm. It was a gaudy piece of jewelry, with a slender dragon curling around a yellow stone whose shine was weak in this filthy dark. It looked part of a matching set. A necklace, perchance, was its complement.


    The ring disappeared back into his pocket, and he stowed the parcel of letters away into his pack. Finding the disturbed Nords, he doled out orders quickly, ignoring their protests and frightened mutterings.


    “Carry the coffins into the light. Leave none behind.”


    “Why?” asked Aslfur, his hands on his waist, gooseflesh on his bared forearms. “Trying to attract even more trouble?”


    Mor’vahka sneered.
    “This one wants them burned. Pile them in the open. Let all see what becomes of Coldharbor’s filth.”




    It was a bonfire made of coffins. The funeral beds, some more elaborate than others with their black lacquer and cushioned lining, burned long into the evening.


    In Mor'vahka's eyes were the flames reflected, trapped in an unbroken stare as he observed the warning pyre. The firelight cast memory of destruction past, bathing the ruins of Hroggar's house once more in orange light.


    Mor'vahka stood on the steps, nursing a mug of something dark and steaming. Kjeld recognized the smell.


    Kjeld waded through the murmuring crowd, breath tight from the effort of moving. The Vigilant said nothing of his arrival. Fine, thought Kjeld, I only need to know one thing.


    "You had your chance to kill me, but you didn't. Why?"


    "White-Paw makes habits of prying where he does not belong."


    "Only when it concerns me, and whether or not I'll live another day."


    Silence lapsed. The Khajiit watched the flames climb over the wood, and a flick of one ear caught the distant murmur of the townsfolk who had come to watch the blaze.


    At last, he answered. "This one will not allow Mor’vahka’s life to be in a monster’s debt. This one was spared, and did sparing in return."


    Kjeld's expression darkened with confusion. "What are you talking about? I didn't spare you."


    Mor'vahka made a derisive noise in the back of his throat. "Then we are both fools, White-Paw. A chance to end Mor'vahka came and went, in the Pale Lady's forest. Yet this one still breathes."


    What is wrong with him? He thought, half-amazed, half out of recoil. "You are not my enemy, Mor'vahka. Killing someone while they are weak or unconscious is not something I could ever do."


    Did Mor'vahka really think he'd grappled over this? That as he'd knelt beside Mor'vahka and fed him potion after potion to bolster the cat's strength, he thought of killing him? Kjeld had never known a creature so paranoid, so broken, in his entire life.


    The cat had been ill on the return, it wasn't a stretch, then, for Mor'vahka to see only what he wanted to. He had not seen Kjeld jump before the Pale Lady's immolation, and Kjeld was certain he barely remembered being carried from the crypt, tied to his horse and brought to the chapel with almost no breaks to rest. Kjeld did not know what sort of narrative Mor’vahka’s fevered brain had supplemented for the truth.


    "I would have behaved the same for Raj'irr, or anyone else." Kjeld shook his head. "Taking lives and hurting others is not the Skaal way of life. Even if you deserved to be left there."


    "This one is the enemy of monsters," replied Mor'vahka with a coldness that contrasted the flames. "Yet White-Paw is no ordinary monster. While others froth and snarl, dumb as beasts, White-Paw keeps his wits. This makes White-Paw dangerous."


    "This makes White-Paw determined," retorted Kjeld. "To keep his wits and break this seal. You lied to me, threatened me, and damned me to my fate. But I don't want you dead, Mor'vahka. All I wanted was your help."


    Kjeld sighed, finding this conversation strange. They saw the world so differently; for Mor'vahka, every shadow was a threat. "Let's just call it even. I did what I could to keep you alive, and you didn't cut me down last night. I won't expect anything more from you." But I won't give up on myself, either.


    The fire crackled, popping loudly as the wood split and blackened under the intense heat.


    "... Boethiah."




    "That ash-and-snow land you come from. The land's red-eyed ones speak of Boethiah and two others."


    He knew that name. It was the name of a Daedric prince.


    Kjeld's heart began to gallop. Could it be...?


    The cat drained the last of his coffee. "Now White-Paw and this one are even."


    Kjeld turned away from the bonfire, barely giving his eyes time to adjust as he navigated the icy planks. He had to get back to that book.


    From seventeen to seven, to three.




    He just needed two more names. Then he could finally face the seal's proprietor head on, and unbind his soul.


    Then, and only then, could he be free.










    We've made it, guys! The end of a very long, but hopefully entertaining journey. Can you believe this was started in November of 2015? It's gone through six iterations since then, and it'll likely get more fine-tuning over the months as I review (and rereview, and rerereview) my work.


    It was stressful, exciting, and sometimes headache-inducing as I struggled with two different stories in one. I'm glad I stuck with it, though.


    That was one of the reasons for making the story public in the first place; with an audience, I would be letting people down if I let the story simply rot away.


    This story wouldn't exist without the wonderful members of the Story Corner, nor without Tamriel Vault as a whole. It's been a plethora of encouragement, inspiration and research for me on this journey!


    I owe thanks to a few people in particular; to Phil/Paws, for his enthusiastic support of Frost Moon. To Lissette, The Wing/The Unhelpful, Karver the Lorc/Shadow Arm, Dragonborn2021, ilanisilver, Sotek, Exuro, and to everyone who gave my story a chance. Your comments and support kept me going.


    Special thank you to Delta, for taking the time and expending the energy needed to critique a novel-sized project. You rock!


    It's going to be a while before the next Legend of the Skaal installment, but I will certainly still be around, maybe working on a few little projects here and there. ;)


    I now get to sit back with a steaming cup of chai tea to catch up on everyone else's stories, and try to give back some of the support you've all shown me.


    Thank you, from the bottom of my Bosmer heart to the tippety top.




4 Comments   |   ilanisilver and 1 other like this.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  November 26, 2019
    I finally caught up, lol
    @Paws I know what you mean, I’ve been following this for years and seeing that ‘fin’ is bittersweet, but it’s only the good reads that do that, no?
    Now for the next part: Reidar gets a daedric seal to contain his drag...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  March 15, 2019
    Endings are sad and strange things. I delayed reading this because of that ending feeling, and feel the weight of the word "fin" hang over me now like smoke over Morthal. But what an ending, though! Jarl Ravencrone's dialogue feels as though it was taken ...  more
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  January 1, 2019
    Nice! I know you’re proud of your accomplishment and I’m very proud of you too. And hoping your projects aren’t too few and far between. I hope you have a wonderful 2019. 
    • SpottedFawn
      Nice! I know you’re proud of your accomplishment and I’m very proud of you too. And hoping your projects aren’t too few and far between. I hope you have a wonderful 2019. 
        ·  January 2, 2019
      Thank you, wishing you the best as well! :)