A Matter of Time

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    Kaidan eyed the bowl of soup on the table with suspicion. He leaned back in his chair and flinched, catching Livia’s gaze—she watched him with a similar mien. He couldn’t blame her. Now that she was sure he’d survive, she had to be wondering what sort of shady character got himself into the trouble she’d found him in.

     

    At the moment, though, he appeared decidedly non-threatening in a linen tunic she’d found in a wardrobe that must have belonged to a small-framed male family member, and tight wool trousers that exposed inches of shin and refused to meet across his hips, no matter how hard he pulled. He’d ended up asking for a length of twine to extend the drawstrings. It would do, Livia’d said in her efficient manner, until they were able to find clothing in his own size.

     

    He gulped a bite of soup and waited impatiently to see if it would stay down. When his stomach didn’t revolt, he lifted the bowl and tipped it. He’d meant to sip slowly, but hunger took over, and he drained the bowl of all but a few bites of potato at the bottom.

     

    Livia’s mouth twitched. “You sure that was such a good idea?” She reached for a large mixing bowl on the sideboard and set it beside his chair. “Just in case.”

     

    Kaidan nodded. Yes, he looked every inch the hardened criminal with his too-small clothes and a constitution that just might kick back a simple bowl of soup. Not to mention unarmed—

     

    His stomach lurched, but it had nothing to do with his dinner. The sword, his mother’s sword. It must be still at the prison, or on the river bottom if the prison no longer stood. Or recovered by some thug, or…

     

    A wild hope bloomed in his chest. He tamped it down and casually tapped his fingers against the bowl. “You didn’t…you didn’t happen to find a sword down there. Where you found me. Did you? About yea-big.” He held his hand up to his shoulder. “Black hilt, covered in runes?”

     

    Livia nodded, playing with a small glass vial on a leather thong around her neck. “I did. And some black, spiky armor. That yours too?”

     

    She had the sword. Kaidan scooped up the last potato in the bowl and chewed thoughtfully. He let his eyes wander around the great room, noting cupboards and pantries and even the pot racks. Any place a sword and armor might be stashed.

     

    Livia snorted and grinned, a crooked little smile that showed barely a hint of white teeth. “It’s safe,” she said, and grabbed a roll from a bowl in the middle of the table. “These have cheese baked into them. If your stomach can handle it, take a couple. They’ve been my favorites since I was a kid.”

     

    Kaidan tried to stifle his impatience, and obeyed. He took a bite. Chewy, salty crust gave way to soft, floury insides dotted with gooey bits of melting, yellow cheese. He groaned and finished it off and started on another. “Holy gods,” he said, around a particularly cheesy bite, “best thing I’ve eaten in a year.”

     

    He continued to scan the room while he ate, and finally brushed his hands off on his thighs and took a sip of watered wine. “The sword, was it…in one piece? When you found it?”

     

    “It looked whole to me. Still is. It’s in Warnulf’s quarters, the armor too.”

     

    Kaidan’s elation deflated a bit at the mention of Livia’s gruff manservant. It wasn’t every day he’d needed to be half-carried to the privy, weak and naked as a newborn colt, and he hadn’t needed help to get dressed since he’d been a child.

     

    And Warnulf had stood, after that, in the doorway with his hands crossed over his chest while Kaidan took baby steps around the room for a solid hour—with blessedly decreasing periods of rest—just to get his legs working properly again.

     

    But the thing that really bothered Kaidan was the fact that he’d been out of his mind for a week, feverish and helpless and unable to do anything for himself.

     

    Anything.

     

    What Livia and Warnulf had to do to keep him clean and dry, he never wanted to know.

     

     “I don’t usually keep weapons here, other than the odd dagger or two,” Livia explained. “Warnulf offered to clean it for you while you were sleeping, but I asked him to go hunting instead.”

     

    Kaidan sat back in his chair and didn’t try to suppress a relieved sigh. “No, I’m glad he didn’t. It’ll feel good to have it in my hands again. To make it mine again after those animals had at it.”

     

    Livia nodded. “Well, when you’re stronger, maybe tomorrow morning after another good meal and a good night’s sleep, you can get started on that. But for now,” she began, and took a linen cover off a plate, revealing a cake smelling of apples and cinnamon, “can you tell me what happened?”

     

    Kaidan’s eyes darted from the cake to Livia and back to the cake, and Livia laughed and pushed back her chair. “Help yourself. I’m going to make some coffee. Want a cup?”

     

    “I wouldn’t say no.” Kaidan cut a large slice of cake, his mouth watering at the big chunks of apple and sticky swirls of brown sugar and butter dripping from its middle. He picked up the slice and took a big bite. “Just cream, if you’ve got it.” A glob of sugar oozed down his chin and he caught it on his finger, and popped the finger in his mouth, not wanting to waste a drop.

     

    “Where’d you learn to cook like this?” Kaidan polished off his first piece in three bites and loaded his plate with the second.

     

    “My father,” Livia called from the kitchen. “He’s head chef at Mistveil Keep. In Riften. When I was, oh…nine or ten, he brought me into the kitchens with him to learn. I did, a lot.” She came back with two giant mugs. “Want to go outside? We’re right on the river and it’s gorgeous at dusk. Might be easier to talk without dirty plates staring us in the face.”

     

    Kaidan nodded and grabbed their plates of cake and followed her outside.

     

     

    Livia thought Kaidan resembled a man half-starved, staring with haunted eyes at the river and the golden forest surrounding her house. He set their plates on a small table between two chairs and a potted rosemary and tottered down the back porch steps to the water. “It’s nice, isn’t it,” Livia said, walking to meet him.

     

    “Nice, she says.” Kaidan snorted and crossed his arms over his chest, snapping a thread in his snug tunic. “Gods, sorry,” he said, and let his gaze slide over the river toward the sunset and back around to the east. “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Where are we? I know we’re in the Rift, but whereabouts?”

     

    “How do you know we’re in the Rift?”

     

    Kaidan shrugged. “Couldn’t be anywhere else. I spent time in the Rift as a child, here and there. I know what she is, but…”

     

    Livia waited for him to continue.

     

    “I don’t remember much about my childhood. I didn’t have what you’d call a typical upbringing. But every time I’m here, it’s like I’ve come home again. Even if it’s to a home I can’t remember, or one that was…never there at all.” He murmured that last in tones so low Livia could barely make out his words, but she understood the sentiment.

     

    “This is my house. Waterview. It’s a few days west of Riften, maybe halfway to Ivarstead.” She motioned with her palm toward the river. “That’s the Treva. It runs from Riften to the lake at the foot of the mountain,” she said, curving her arm in the direction of Snow Throat’s white peaks just visible above the tops of the trees.  

     

    Kaidan turned slowly on his heel and took a deep breath.

     

    “Come on, then, if you’ve got your bearings,” she said, and took Kaidan’s arm to lead him back to the house. “Let’s sit and talk.”

     

    He nodded and walked at her side, but stilled at the first step up to the porch and tilted his head toward the garden. “That chiming noise. What’s that?”

     

    Livia pointed out a green, faintly-glowing plant near a small spring. “Nirnroot. Pretty thing. Don’t eat it.”

     

    Kaidan nodded wordlessly and climbed the steps and slowly lowered his body into one of the chairs. Livia did the same, and picked up her plate of cake before raising her feet to rest on the railing. Kaidan laughed. “I wanted to do that, but didn’t want to be rude. May I?”

     

    “Be my guest.”

     

    Kaidan took his mug in his hands and leaned back, stretching his legs. Livia watched him close his eyes.

     

    “Do you know,” he began after taking a long drink of coffee, “I thought you were part of a dream. When you came for me, got me out of that prison, I mean.”

     

    Livia nodded. “You weren’t exactly lucid most of the time. You thought I was a Dominion plant. You were quite vocal about it, in fact.”

     

    Kaidan chuffed. “I wasn’t sure. I remember thinking it, that the woman come to save me in my dreams was a Thalmor spy. But I don’t remember accusing you. Sorry about that.”

     

    Livia broke off a bite of cake and popped it in her mouth. “It’s forgotten. Completely understandable under the circumstances.”

     

    “This morning when I woke, I thought I was dreaming. Or dead, or…hallucinating. There I was in a safe, comfortable place—in a bed, even—where I could hear birdsong and that damned singing plant through the window.” Kaidan rolled his head against the chair and turned her way, his eyes gleaming purple in the fading light. “And a beautiful woman stood at my bedside and called me Brynjar,” he said, laughing under his breath. “If I’m being truthful, one hundred percent, I’m still not sure this isn’t a dream. That I’m not in that prison drunk on their potions and poisons, and living inside some…shadow world.”

     

    The sight of him, delirious and bloody in chains, wavered behind her vision. Livia shivered and searched for something sympathetic to say, but nothing came to mind that didn’t sound patronizing or obvious. “What do you think could convince you?”

     

    “Dunno. Time, I suppose.”

     

    “Who’s Brynjar? You said his name in your sleep.”

     

    “Did I?” Kaidan drained his coffee and set his mug on the table. “Figures.”

     

    “Did he hand you over, then?” Kaidan looked at her blankly and she clarified. “To the Thalmor, I mean.”

     

    “No, Brynjar was the man who raised me.”

     

    Livia thought about Kaidan’s phrasing and the shadow that seemed to slide over his face. “Your father?”

     

    “No,” Kaidan said. “I never knew my father. He died before I was born, and my mother  not long after. Finding out who they were…well, it’s why I’m in Skyrim in the first place.”

     

    “Do you have any ideas?”

     

    “Brynjar told me she was beautiful and clever and brave, but nothing I could use to find her. The only thing I have to go on is that sword in your man’s bunkhouse over there.” Kaidan motioned toward a low cabin to the north of Livia’s house with a nod of his head. “It was hers.”

     

    “Ah,” Livia said. “No wonder you were so jumpy about it at dinner. Beautiful, clever, and a blooded warrior, hm? She must have been, to earn a sword like that. It’s…unusual.” Livia pursed her lips and bit at the inside of her cheek. She didn’t want to come across too inquisitive, if he still had doubts that the Thalmor weren’t controlling everything he saw and heard, but she couldn’t hold back a little curiosity. “I’ve seen pictures of old katanas. Weapons the Blades used back in the old Empire. Very similar. What do the runes mean?”

     

    “Dunno,” he said again, and frowned. “I want to find out, though, and so did the Dominion rats. It’s why they grabbed me in the first place. They stumbled onto my camp in Falkreath and took one look at that sword, and decided they had to have it. And me too.”

     

    “But why? There aren’t any Blades anymore. Surely one man with an antique sword isn’t anything to cause such a fuss about.”

     

    “That cuts, Livia,” Kaidan said and laughed around a bite of cake. “That cuts me deep.”

     

    “You know what I mean.”

     

    “Aye, I do.”

     

    “So that’s…it?” Livia snapped off a sprig of rosemary from the plant behind her head and rolled it between her fingers. The fragrance mixed with the coffee and cake and cool night air like perfume. “Thalmor agents captured you and more than half bloody killed you because they were curious about your sword?”

     

    “You can’t tell me you’re surprised.”

     

    “I guess not. It just seems so…”

     

    Kaidan dropped his feet from the railing and stretched his arms over his head. “Anticlimactic?”

     

    “I didn’t want to put it that way. But, yeah,” Livia muttered. Kaidan dropped his arms to rest on his thighs and stared out at the river. “I’m not making light of what happened, you know. I just thought surely those bastards had to have a reason—some reason—for doing what they did. Not an excuse, I mean,” she said quickly, watching the muscles in Kaidan’s jaw tense, “but something that makes sense. Like, you were a spy or a…an enemy of the state, you know?”

     

    Kaidan didn’t answer. Livia tipped her head toward gathering stars in the purple sky and blew out the breath she’d been holding in a loud exhale. “On the bright side, there goes any guilt I felt for blowing them up.”

     

    “It’s easy to take a life,” Kaidan said, his voice like summer thunder. “It’s living with what you took that’s hard, even if you had no choice. I doubt this’ll be the last time it crosses your mind.”

     

    Luna moths spiraled from the river to the garden, over Livia’s head to the forest beyond, glimmerdust sprinkling from their wings. She watched them flutter amid the stars and thought about what Kaidan said. Had the mer holding Kaidan prisoner deserved to die? She didn’t know, didn’t know how to judge such a thing. She only knew she deserved to live. And if killing was what she had to do to stay alive, well, that was a line she was apparently willing to cross.

     

    She blinked into the darkness and wondered, even so, if those she’d killed had a home, a family. And how long it would take for them to realize their husband or son or brother would never be coming back.

     

    The floorboards trembled under Livia’s chair, and she looked sideways at Kaidan. “You all right?”

     

    “Hm? Sorry,” Kaidan said sleepily. “Did I doze off?”

     

    Livia frowned and leaned forward, her feet flat on the floor. She quietly lay her palms against the arms of her chair. There it was again. Her brother used to make the floors shake by jiggling his legs when he was nervous or irritated or restless, and she’d figured Kaidan had the same habit. But if he’d been sleeping…

     

    “What’s wrong?” Kaidan grabbed the arms of his chair and pushed himself up. He wrapped a hand around the railing and let it go just as quickly. “Livia? Do you feel that? Some sort of tremor.”

     

    Livia nodded and jumped up. “I thought it was you,” she said, and ran down the stairs  for a better view. Kaidan followed her onto the sand, and they stared over the river to the banks beyond, and behind the house to the forest, silver rather than gold under the moons and stars. All was still, too still. Nothing moved, not a breath of wind fluttered the leaves. Even the Nirnroot seemed quiet and dim in the silence.

     

    Kaidan’s breath sounded heavy and Livia’s heart drummed in her ears. She waited, for what, she didn’t know. Kaidan stepped cautiously toward the side of the house and shrugged. “I don’t see any—“

     

    A branch cracked in the distance, and the rest of Kaidan’s words were lost as the forest exploded into madness. The ground shook under their feet, and limbs and branches and leaves whipped and tore amid a wind the like Livia’d never seen. Her hair blew into her eyes and mouth and she stumbled; Kaidan placed a steadying arm at her back. “Go,” he barked, and guided her up the steps to the porch.

     

    She leaned over the table to collect plates and cups, but Kaidan gathered her at the waist with one arm and yanked open the door with the other. “They’ll blow all over the yard,” she protested, yelling above the wind. “Make a mess!”

     

    Kaidan rolled his eyes and let her go. A crack sounded in the forest, followed by a rustling crash, and then another. “Trees are coming down,” Kaidan shouted. “Get inside!”

     

    Livia nodded and spat out another mouthful of hair. She ran against the wind, but something caught her eye just before she reached the door, something shimmering overhead. She stopped and looked up.

     

    “What is it?” Kaidan followed her gaze. Livia felt his arm tighten around her waist, and rather than shrug away from unearned familiarity, Livia leaned into his side and shivered.

     

    What…is it?

     

    Livia shook her head slowly at Kaidan’s repeated question and gestured wordlessly with an open palm. The wind that whirled around them, as sudden and violent as it was, was still wind, and Livia felt confident that was all it was. But she had no words for what happened to the sky.

     

    It…burned. The sky was on fire. Livia stared open-mouthed into writhing clouds of orange and red and white, swirling in a maelstrom that seemed to stretch over the Rift and beyond. Lighting crashed within their depths, and the ground shook again, once. Twice.

     

    And stopped.

     

    As suddenly as it began, the storm disappeared. The fiery clouds faded from the sky, and the moons and stars returned.

     

    But Livia held her breath, and waited. She felt—and she had no idea why she felt it, she just did—that the storm hadn’t gone, hadn’t dissipated at all, but still whirled, out of her sight, its energy concentrating, coalescing.

     

    Strengthening.

     

    She stepped away from Kaidan and tipped her head back, digging her fingers into the skin at her scalp and gulping great mouthfuls of air. But her lungs didn’t work, nothing did. She felt…wrong. Dizzy, she stumbled forward and closed her eyes. When she opened them, the trees were moving again, and she held her palms out to push them back.

     

    A jolt of lighting flew up her spine, and she screamed.

     

    “Livia. Livia…”

     

    The woman’s eyes fluttered, and Kaidan weakly rested his temple against the bannister. She’d given him a scare. One moment they were both staring at the burning sky, and then next she dropped like a stone. He’d caught her just before she hit the ground. “I get to welcome you back to the land of the living this time,” he said. One corner of his mouth twitched. “I thought I’d lost you there.”

     

    Livia pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes and squirmed in his arms. “Are you all right?”

     

    “What?” Kaidan grinned. “You’re the one who fainted, not me.”

     

    “No, something…hit me,” Livia said, and closed her eyes again. “I remember. Trees falling and lightning. A branch must have hit us. Both of us.”

     

    Kaidan moved his hand to rest behind her head, and tilted it gently back and forth. He balanced Livia’s weight on his legs and ran his other hand over her hair, feeling for lumps, just in case. “You fainted, that’s all. I caught you.”

     

    Livia shook her head and winced. She opened her eyes, silver in the moonlight. Kaidan saw fear in their depths, and frustration, but nothing that suggested injury or illness. “I never faint,” she mumbled. “Something in the sky…”

     

    The wind picked back up, and Kaidan swore. If Kyne was sending storm after storm, and fire to cleanse the very sky, his quest to find his parents would be over quicker than he’d thought. “All right, up you get,” he said, standing and setting Livia on her feet. “Time to go inside.” He held her left hand in his, and tucked his right arm around her waist, and together they walked slowly across the porch.  

     

    Something roared in the distance. Kaidan groaned. “Bear?”

     

    Livia stiffened. “Not in a storm like this.”

     

    The floorboards shook again. Kaidan wasn’t sure whether to take Livia inside or not. Shelter was best in a storm, but if the earth was moving, it might be best to stay out in the open. But the open was lousy with bears, or worse, not to mention freak winds and falling limbs. He was still puzzling it out when a shadow passed overhead— a streak of darkness that blotted out the stars where it passed. It moved like a flock of birds following the river, toward Riften.

     

    Kaidan felt his hand shake, and squeezed Livia’s hand in his, glancing down into her white face and trembling lips. He tried for a reassuring smile, but found he had none to give, especially after the sky lit up again, a sickly orange and gray just below that seething darkness, this time far to the east.

     

     

     

Comments

9 Comments   |   Paws and 2 others like this.
  • Dragonborn2121
    Dragonborn2121   ·  August 12, 2019
    Yet again your writing absolutely stunned me here Ilani (which is not some pun about the lightning at the end...probably), the way you describe the environment and well, urgh words don't work for me today, everything is absolutely brilliant and paints a f...  more
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      Dragonborn2121
      Dragonborn2121
      Dragonborn2121
      Yet again your writing absolutely stunned me here Ilani (which is not some pun about the lightning at the end...probably), the way you describe the environment and well, urgh words don't work for me today, everything is absolutely brilliant and paints a f...  more
        ·  August 12, 2019
      Thank you! I’d be interested in hearing your impressions of their characters and their relationship as you proceed, whenever that is, no rush of course. I want to make sure the characters stay consistent. With any story and especially a romance, I tend to...  more
      • Dragonborn2121
        Dragonborn2121
        ilanisilver
        ilanisilver
        ilanisilver
        Thank you! I’d be interested in hearing your impressions of their characters and their relationship as you proceed, whenever that is, no rush of course. I want to make sure the characters stay consistent. With any story and especially a romance, I tend to...  more
          ·  August 12, 2019
        I'll do my best, can be absolute pants at you know, that using words thing that is all the rage these days. But yeah, will do my best to share my thoughts in a way that makes sense :D
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  August 4, 2019
    I like that this chapter is a bit longer and more meaty, like Phil says. The small details in the beginning make it nicely immersive with the ill-fitting clothes and food. I'm guessing the bits at the end were allusions to Alduin and Liv awakening to her ...  more
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      I like that this chapter is a bit longer and more meaty, like Phil says. The small details in the beginning make it nicely immersive with the ill-fitting clothes and food. I'm guessing the bits at the end were allusions to Alduin and Liv awakening to her ...  more
        ·  August 4, 2019
      Thanks!! I haven’t really planned, honestly. The next couple of chapters are short, and the one after that is long. I sort of know what I want to happen, other than the obvious Alduin mess, but I don’t have much pinned down. Right now, I’m just trying to ...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  August 4, 2019
    Very enjoyable, best chapter yet as we now get stuck into the meat of the story and see Liv and Kai in each other's company with full lucidity for the first time. I really like the chemistry between them, it feels so natural, and little details like Kaida...  more
    • ilanisilver
      ilanisilver
      Paws
      Paws
      Paws
      Very enjoyable, best chapter yet as we now get stuck into the meat of the story and see Liv and Kai in each other's company with full lucidity for the first time. I really like the chemistry between them, it feels so natural, and little details like Kaida...  more
        ·  August 4, 2019
      Thanks! Their relationship’s going to go up and down, of course. I have a few chapters done but not edited and I”m trying to re-read them for realism. Conflict but not manufactured drama, you know? And yes, exactly, I want them to have a connection, and t...  more
      • Paws
        Paws
        ilanisilver
        ilanisilver
        ilanisilver
        Thanks! Their relationship’s going to go up and down, of course. I have a few chapters done but not edited and I”m trying to re-read them for realism. Conflict but not manufactured drama, you know? And yes, exactly, I want them to have a connection, and t...  more
          ·  August 4, 2019
        Unlikely I'll mention it if it does happen :D I suppose the reason I asked about it at all was because it surprised me to see. Scale is something people get bent out of shape about but to me it doesn't matter. Like, say Ivarstead is one day or five days a...  more
        • ilanisilver
          ilanisilver
          Paws
          Paws
          Paws
          Unlikely I'll mention it if it does happen :D I suppose the reason I asked about it at all was because it surprised me to see. Scale is something people get bent out of shape about but to me it doesn't matter. Like, say Ivarstead is one day or five days a...  more
            ·  August 4, 2019
          I like things to be consistent. Like, they shouldn’t be able to get from Riften to Ivarstead without camping or something. And I don’t want it to take one day during one chapter and a week during another. Most of the reason I mentioned it was just to give...  more