Gathering Clouds, Chapter 4

  • Chapter 4





                           The halls of the Tsukikage Hospice were silent. Arngrimur paced back and forth outside one of the only rooms alight, chewing on his lower lip.


                    ‘Stop fidgeting.’ A Po’ Tun sidled up next to him, patting his back with an arm covered with blueish-grey fur. ‘Valesse-ko will be alright.’


                    ‘She’s not yelling or screaming,’ Arn said nervously. ‘I don’t know if it’s good or bad.’


                    ‘Good,’ the Po’ Tun replied, nonplussed. ‘What kind of world do you live in? Why would no screaming worry you?’


                    ‘Maybe not all pregnant women have access to ancient magic and alchemy, Jorra,’ Arn snapped. ‘Some of them die giving birth.’


                    Jorra’s whiskers twitched. ‘My, my, somebody’s simmering tonight.’


                    Arn’s lips tightened and he looked away for a while, shrugging off Jorra’s hand. Then he turned and said, in low tones, ‘Sorry, I’m just – ‘


                    ‘Worried. Anxious. Nervous. Terrified. Something along those lines.’


                    ‘I’m afraid, yes,’ Arn admitted. ‘But that’s no excuse to be rude to an old friend.’ He turned and grasped Jorra by the forearm, even as the Shadeclaw did the same.


                    ‘It’s good of you to come,’ he said. ‘Waiting alone is pure agony.’


                    ‘Don’t worry, Arngrimur,’ Jorra released his arm and smiled confidently. ‘Valesse-ko does have access to our magic. Our healers and midwives all know the art of Regeneration inside and out.’


                    ‘You mean Restoration.’


                    ‘Hmm… yes and no. For all intents and purposes they seem the same, but there is a difference in principle. The Tamrielic magic school of Restoration focuses on bolstering and at times manipulating the vital essence of living beings, thus accelerating healing or causing harm to undead with said essences. The Akaviri art of Regeneration focuses on reconstituting the body using Magicka itself, and is restricted to healing only, though it is a great deal more accurate.’


                    ‘And what are these midwives doing to help Valesse?’


                    ‘Oh, many things,’ Jorra said. ‘Dulling the pain of her contractions. Enhancing and fortifying her peripheral muscles so that they can widen more easily. The most skilled of them can even adjust the position of the baby to ensure that he – it’s a boy, correct? – exits the womb without any complications.’


                    Arn’s face lightened further, and he let out a relieved chortle. ‘Is there anything you can’t do?’


                    ‘Hmm. The Sixth Grandmaster Ranyun-ri was said to be such a master of Regeneration, she could reach into the womb and pull the child out herself. It pains me to say that none of the current midwives, or any of our healers for that matter, possess such talent. Sorry, old friend.’


                    ‘…I was being rhetorical.’


                    ‘If you so wish, I could request for them to attempt – ‘


                    ‘No, no,’ Arn said quickly. ‘What you’re doing is more than enough. It would be presumptuous of me to ask for more.’


                    ‘It wouldn’t,’ Jorra said seriously. ‘I owe you my life, after all.’


                    ‘And I’ve collected on it so many times it might as well be me who owes you,’ Arn replied, then thought for a while. ‘If possible, then, could you…’


                    The doors they were waiting in front of opened, and a dishevelled Po’ Tun poked her head out. She was beaming. ‘It’s done. Congratulations, Arngrimur-do, your son is…’


                    The high, hiccupping wails of an infant reached his ears. Arn’s face went slack, and he positively danced into the room, laughing.


                    The baby was even smaller than he’d expected. Stubby arms and legs waved in the air, and his umbilical cord had just been snipped. The three midwives had already started rinsing the child, and rivulets of red ran into a small bucket.


                    Arn held out his hand, then stopped and said reverently, ‘May I?’


                    The midwife who’d borne the news nodded. ‘The child is stable, and has taken his first breath. We are sorry you could not be here beside your wife, but we could not risk disrupting the magic circles. We have little experience of operating on Altmer – in a medical capacity.’ She grinned toothily, and Arn was reminded of the fact that every Po’ Tun inside Tsukikage was trained as a shinobi.


                    She handed over the baby, and Arn cradled him gently, the most precious gem in the entire world. ‘You people need to stop apologising when you’ve all done so much already,’ he whispered. ‘Thank you. Thank you.’


                    He bent over the child, devouring it with his eyes. A lock of black hair, the same raven shade as Valesse’s, curled from the top of his head. His ears were tapered to a point, though not as much as his mother’s. His face was still pudgy and unrefined, so Arn couldn’t make out much of his features. He’d stopped crying, and was looking around curiously. His eyes were neither Arn’s blue or Valesse’s green, though. They gleamed a bright silver.


                    ‘He’s beautiful,’ Arn breathed. ‘He’s beautiful, Valesse.’


                    Valesse was lying on a bed, surrounded by runes that were fading by the second. ‘Our son.’ Her face and body sagged weakly, but her eyes shone. ‘Our baby son.’


                    Arn carried the infant over to her, sitting down on the bed next to her pillows. ‘Here,’ he said. Jorra had never heard his voice so tender.


                    Arngrimur and Valesse stayed there, gazing at their child. After a moment, Arn spoke.


                    ‘Are you feeling all right?’


                    Valesse stirred, and smiled up at him. ‘I am. It didn’t even hurt that much in the end. I’m just tired.’


                    ‘Mhm. Get some sleep, then. I’ll put him here, right beside you.’


                    ‘Put him in the cradle,’ Valesse murmured as she drifted off. ‘Or he’ll fall…’



                    Jorra was waiting outside.


                    ‘Your wife’s hardiness is… most impressive,’ he said as Arn stepped out of the room. ‘To continue travelling all the way, while bearing a child, from Skyrim up to Furiya, accompanied by you, no less.’


                    ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Arn grumbled. ‘I’ll have you know that I make excellent travelling company.’


                    ‘And also drinking company, until it comes time to pay the bills.’


                    ‘Hah! You’re one to talk.’


                    The two shared a laugh as only old friends could, and then Jorra’s grin turned into a mild grimace. He started walking down the corridors, Arn trailing behind him. ‘Right, now that Valesse-ko is asleep, we had better go and see the Grandmaster. I hope he doesn’t get too angry.’


                    Arn waved his hand dismissively. ‘The Grandmaster is still Takarro, no? We’ll be fine, the old man was always a reasonable one.’


                    ‘True,’ Jorra said, picking at his fur. ‘I suppose it’s Bengakhi we should be worried about. He’s been raised to the position of advisor.’


                    ‘Bengakhi? Who’s that?’


                    ‘Formerly in charge of security. Next in line for Grandmaster, and quite stringent.’


                    ‘Always one of those, isn’t there?’


                    ‘Careful what you say around him,’ Jorra warned. ‘He’s extremely wary of outsiders. Half of the time I don’t think he trusts even his fellow Shadeclaws.’


                    ‘Sounds charming,’ Arn muttered. ‘Well, then, we’re here. Unless they moved the Council Chamber someplace else…’


                    ‘The Chamber has always been here.’ Jorra said. They both paused outside the wooden doors.


                    ‘All right, let’s not delay,’ Arn said, and went inside. Gingaki and Kenshiki were inside, kneeling on one knee, speaking with a broad-shouldered Po’ Tun with orange and black stripes, clad in a dark red tunic. He was sitting at a desk and taking notes with a stylus.


                    ‘…Kenshiki created an opening and eliminated two with senbon, allowing me to close the distance with Ungol and stab him through the skull. I did the same with his final man.’ Gingaki was saying.


                    ‘Equipment used – senbon tobari, kunai,’ the striped Shadeclaw noted, scribbling with his stylus. ‘Very well. Dismissed.’


                    Gingaki and Kenshiki rose, bowed, and left the room. ‘Master Bengakhi, sir,’ Jorra said, bowing himself.


                    ‘Senbon tobari?’ Arn asked, surprised at his curiosity. Valesse must have rubbed off on me.


                    The advisor rose, his voice gruff. ‘Throwing needles. Used mainly for distractions, but with good aim, a skilled shinobi can kill with them as well. You are Arngrimur, yes? Jorra’s friend, the Imperial Legate?’


                    ‘Aye, that I am, and that I was.’ Arn said cautiously.


                    ‘Am I to understand that you came here, hunted by the Nordic spectres known as Dragon Priests?’




                    ‘With your heavily pregnant wife?’




                    ‘Who gave birth to a boy just now in the hospice?’




                    ‘I see.’ Bengakhi said, his orange mane ruffling. ‘You, your wife and your son will leave at first light.’


                    ‘But sir – ‘


                    ‘I will not allow anyone to compromise the security of the village!’ he snapped, and Jorra lapsed into silence.


                    ‘I regret that you must be turned out in this manner,’ he continued, not sounding sorry at all. ‘But the safety of Tsukikage takes priority.’


                    Arn was about to argue, but thought better of it. Then a small chuckle rang out behind him.


                    ‘No need for such rash action.’ A figure with fur as white as his robes stepped out from between Jorra and Arn. ‘I’m sure Arngrimur-do means no harm.’


                    ‘That may be so, Takarro-dro, but intentional or not, if he leads these Dragon Priests to us…’


                    ‘Have some more faith in our enchantments, Bengakhi,’ the Grandmaster admonished. ‘Or have you lost trust even in Furiya-ri?’


                    ‘Faith and trust won’t keep Tsukikage from burning to the ground,’ Bengakhi snarled, and stalked out of the room.


                    ‘Forgive Bengakhi, Arngrimur-do.’ The Grandmaster said, sitting down at his desk. ‘He is a touch paranoid at times. I must admit, however, that even I was a little taken aback by your boldness this time. Never in all our history has an outsider ever given birth in Tsukikage.’


                    Jorra and Arn both spoke at the same time.


                    ‘It was my fault, old man, I forced this on Jorra, he never – ‘


                    ‘I should take all responsibility, Takarro-ri, Arngrimur was simply desperate – ‘


                    Grandmaster Takarro tilted his head back and laughed, then shook his head. ‘Think nothing of it. Neither of you has ever been much for following rules. You may stay until Valesse-ko is once again fit for travel. We have prepared a room for you in the hospice.’


                    ‘Thank you,’ Arn said. ‘But Bengakhi does have a point. I refuse to look over my shoulders in fear every day. That is no way to raise a child. I must deal with the Dragon Priests before I take my son back to Tamriel.’


                    ‘If the Shadeclaws can assist you in that regard – ‘


                    ‘Jorra,’ Takarro rumbled in a voice an octave lower. ‘Do not make any more hasty promises.’


                    Jorra’s face went pale under his fur. ‘Of course not, Grandmaster.’


                    He turned to check if Arn was still there, but he had already left the room.



                    Valesse woke slowly, her body light for the first time in months.


                    She turned to her left, looking at her son, sleeping peacefully in an ivory cradle. She gazed at him for a full hour, then yawned and rolled off the bed to her feet, her own agility surprising her.


                    ‘You’re awake,’ the midwife sitting next to her said. ‘And fully refreshed as well. You are quite compatible with our spells, I see. Jorra-jo tells me that you have studied magic extensively?’


                    ‘Shut myself in a library on the Summerset Isles for ten years,’ Valesse said, remembering the stacks of old tomes and feeling a flash of nostalgia. ‘Then spent forty winters as an apprentice to a Morrowind master wizard.’ She left out the part about enlisting in the Thalmor, however.


                    ‘Ah, indeed? That is a great many years of wielding Magicka.’ The midwife nodded thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps that’s why your connection to Aetherius is unusually strong,’ she continued. ‘It shows in your child as well.’


                    ‘Really?’ Valesse’s eyes brightened.


                    ‘He has the makings of a great mage already. You must be proud.’


                    I don’t need my son to be a mage to be proud of him.


                    ‘Of course I am,’ Valesse said, smiling. ‘Where’s Arngrimur? I’d like to tell him all about it.’


                    ‘Arngrimur-do has been assigned a room next to yours.’ The midwife said. ‘Perhaps he is still asleep. He was meeting with the Grandmaster late in the night.’


                    ‘He probably doesn’t expect me to be able to walk yet. Maybe I’ll wake him up, give him a little shock.’ With that, she tiptoed out, heading for the room to the right of hers.


                    It was empty.


                    The midwife poked her head in. ‘Oh? It seems Arngrimur-do never went to bed at all. He’s even taken his sword and shield – ‘


                    There was a clatter of sound as Valesse rushed back to her room, pulled her robes and boots on, then sped out of the hospice.


                    She came across Jorra when she reached the moonstone gates.


                    ‘Valesse-ko?’ He asked. ‘Please, slow down before you hurt yourself. And have you seen Arngrimur?’


                    ‘The idiot!’ Valesse yelled. ‘No time to explain, please look after my baby until I get back!’


                    She ran at full tilt past the gates and out of the Village, soon a tiny blot in the distance.


                    ‘What happened?’ Jorra asked the midwife, who was just as confused as he was.


                    ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘She was fine one moment, the next she was sprinting away. She even forgot her gloves.’


                    Jorra looked at the snow glittering in the morning sun, unease filling his stomach as the gates swung close once more.













3 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 5 others like this.
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  July 29, 2018
    There is always one who is paranoid in the ranks.  I wonder where did Arn go. o:
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 9, 2016
    I hate this chapter. Not because it's poorly written. On the contrary, it is excellently written. It just gives me the feels cause I like the characters you made.  :'(
    • The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      I hate this chapter. Not because it's poorly written. On the contrary, it is excellently written. It just gives me the feels cause I like the characters you made.  :'(
        ·  September 10, 2016
      A-ha! Success!