The Road Home


    Livia awoke, burning nearly as hot as the mid-morning sun shining through her bedroom window. Sweat drenched her sheets, and her head pounded—whether with echoes of the drums of war from her dreams or a routine hangover, Livia didn’t know.


    Her potion had worked. At least it would have, had she sat up and shoved herself out of bed when she’d awakened the first time. But she’d lain there, more relaxed than she’d been in weeks, floating amid dawn’s pale shadows and rosy light for mere minutes before drifting back to sleep.


    The dragon had chosen that moment to strike.


    She kicked her way from under the covers and slid out of bed, her limbs heavy as she shoved them into leggings and a plum-colored linen tunic, and tied her hair in a low ponytail. The nightmare had been darker than usual, and now that she wasn’t trapped under hot blankets, she appreciated the sunlight brightening her bedroom’s honey-colored walls and the shadowy hallway leading to the kitchen.


    Livia closed her eyes and took a deep breath and tried to put the dream from her mind, at least until after breakfast. She needed coffee, of course. And toasted bread, smothered with butter or—even better, melted cheese. Maybe after all that, she’d start to feel human again.


    Something creaked in the kitchen—a floorboard, or maybe a chair. She rubbed her eyes and yawned, and stopped in the doorway to the great room. Warnulf leaned back in a chair near the kitchen table, a tankard in his hands. Livia sniffed—he’d brewed coffee.


    Strange, Warnulf never came in for coffee. He’d joined her for lunch and dinner since Kaidan—




    She opened her mouth to speak, but a rush of anticipation and excitement—like holiday mornings or watching the first winter snowfall—shimmered up from her belly and washed over her body like a waterfall. And she could only smile. Kaidan was back.


    Warnulf nodded, his braided beard wagging under his chin. “He’s been up and out since sunrise. I sent him to the mill about an hour ago, to get some lumber. Figured I’d do the add-on to the stable now that I have some help,” he said.


    Livia strained to remember what improvements he’d planned, but came up empty.


    “Building an enclosure for the chickens,” he said, reading her blank look. “Too many foxes get into the lean-to.”


    “Right. So.” Livia padded to the kitchen, watching Warnulf out of the corner of her eye. She couldn’t tell whether he was pleased Kaidan had returned, or if he’d come to ask what in Oblivion she thought she was doing, letting him stay. “Did he tell you what happened?”


    “He told me what he remembered, and that he was wrong. Good man, can admit when he’s wrong.”


    “Well,” Livia said, pouring her own coffee and layering cheese on slices of bread to toast in the oven. “Just proves he’s not a Black-Briar.”


    A chuckle sounded behind her back. “True enough.”


    Livia sipped at her coffee and grimaced—too strong—and added a touch more sugar. Warnulf’s approval was a relief. She didn’t need it, technically speaking, but neither was she in any mood to fight about it. Her cheese toast finally bubbled and browned, and she carried her breakfast to the table without bothering to transfer it from the wooden peel.


    She ate in silence for a minute or two, her head and stomach settling under the twin balms of strong coffee and fat-slathered bread, but eventually she became aware of Warnulf’s eyes on her, and looked up.


    “It’s good he’s back,” Warnulf said, with a slow nod, his brow furrowed as he chose his words. “But keep in mind—he knows you’re not his enemy, and that’s good. But it doesn’t mean he’s fine.”


    “I know,” Livia said. “I’ll be careful.”


    Warnulf huffed. “He’s not dangerous. I wouldn’t want him to stay if I thought he was, no matter what he’s been through. Just…yeah. Don’t be surprised if his nightmares come back.”


    Livia frowned, remembering Kaidan’s reaction to her sleeping potion—like she’d opened a gate to the Deadlands right there in the kitchen. “I’ll be careful with him, then.”



    The horse pulling Kaidan’s wagon full of hewn planks plodded slowly down the road. Kaidan sighed. Fast horses were one of the few things he missed about living in High Rock. He understood the need for strength and agility over rough Skyrim terrain, but gods, he could have walked to Waterview faster.


    Livia’d been asleep when Warnulf had sent him down to the mill, and Kaidan looked forward to seeing her in the light of day. Her expression on the porch, in the rain, last night still haunted him—she’d gone white, her eyes nearly burning with anger, or so he’d thought at first. And it might have been, he was no scholar of the human condition. But on closer look, he named it pain. That’s why he’d come back in the first place. Duty, honor, call it what you like—he knew he’d hurt her, and needed to make it right.


    But it didn’t lessen his surprise that she didn’t throw it right back in his face. He might have. He definitely wouldn’t have given himself his old room back after a fireside chat with cake and expensive brandy.


    But, a Black-Briar could well afford that.


    She’d also given him her trust, and let him in. Shared herself with him—her family, her past, though he could tell she’d been reluctant to do it. And now that he knew, he understood. The Black-Briars had to be the wealthiest clan in Skyrim after the Silver-Bloods; the judges were out on which was the most corrupt.


    And trust, well…trust wasn’t something a Black-Briar could easily afford—not for any price. Yet, Livia’d handed it to him on a pretty linen napkin. Kaidan chuffed, and the horse flicked his ears and nickered a response. Kaidan jiggled the reins and shifted in the driver’s box.


    If he was honest with himself—and he had to be, because he couldn’t talk to Livia about it, not yet, not until he’d worked his feelings out for himself—the biggest surprise of the evening came on the wings of her last revelation. He had made her nervous and flustered. Not her letters.


    It kept him up far too late last night, that revelation, and awakened him with a jolt long before sunrise. She’d noticed him—shirtless and sweaty, she’d said. She’d noticed him, and reacted as a woman might, if a man tickled her fancy. He smiled, remembering the blush rising sweetly from her chest to the roots of her hair.


    Livia’d found him…distracting. And he’d—


    The smile faded, and regret took its place. Regret and embarrassment and…hatred? He chewed the word a bit and found it too strong, yet not strong enough. Loathing? No.


    Disgust? Yes. The emotion slithered up from his gut and settled too comfortably in his mind. He’d hurt Livia, driven a wedge between them, over a letter—a letter she’d written to her own damned mother, no less.


    Livia would be more charitable, no doubt. And logical. It wasn’t his fault, she’d argue, but his captors’.




    But his captors hadn’t stopped him from asking her. From talking to her about it. Or walking right over to her desk and pushing that one curl back behind her ear, the one that always seemed to fall and brush her cheek. She might have leaned into his touch and he’d have known. And they wouldn’t have wasted too many days over a pointless misunderstanding.  


    “Move, horse,” Kaidan grumbled. Not that he expected the beast to listen. It lumbered on without a care in the world. He’d have gotten out and run if he trusted the horse to follow.


    Then again, what did he have to offer a woman like Livia? His past was a winding road littered with holes and traps and burned, smoking bridges. And he had no idea what the future held. He couldn’t stay in the Rift forever. His failure to find answers in High Rock had led him back to Skyrim, and all for two dots on his map. Three, if he counted an armed Forsworn compound in the middle of the reach—Karthspire—and after a quick reconnaissance, he crossed it off his list. He’d need an army to get through there.


    A Khajiit merchant had hired him outside Rorikstead to guard his caravan on the journey to Winterhold, and Kaidan had tried to gain admittance to the college. Just to talk—the library at the college was one of the few left standing in Tamriel, and surely their stacks included books on ancient weapons—but he’d been turned away at the gate.


    Their guards insisted on testing anyone claiming entry, and Kaidan had no hope of passing a test of magic. He had none. He’d tried to learn in High Rock, after Brynjar died and he wasn’t faced with the Nord’s hatred of magic every day. But the simplest of spells died between his fingers without the slightest spark. The simplest of potions turned to mush in the bottom of his alembic. His teachers hadn’t known what to make of it—most people on Nirn could manage a basic health potion.


    But with Livia…


    Kaidan frowned. He could ask her to take him to Winterhold. She’d go back eventually, he figured, and he could tag along. But the timing was off. She could very well resent being asked to do a favor like that after what he’d just put her through.


    The horse’s ears perked up again and he nickered and tossed his head. Kaidan looked up from the road and squinted. Waterview’s eaves were just visible, rising above the small grove of apple trees lining the road.


    He was almost home.




3 Comments   |   Paws and 1 other like this.
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  September 6, 2019
    Sorry I got to this a bit late, school just started up and everything. But wew, the sexual tension is really ramping up now. Phil already talked about the internal dialogue and the conflict but the sense of place was also really nice throughout the story ...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  August 29, 2019
    Cheese on toast for breakfast? I couldn't. Definitely a lunchtime thing. A nice little scene with Warnulf, the old Nord gets it and it's cool he has readily accepted Kaidan back. Finding out a bit more about Kai's mysterious past at the end there is intri...  more
    • ilanisilver
      Cheese on toast for breakfast? I couldn't. Definitely a lunchtime thing. A nice little scene with Warnulf, the old Nord gets it and it's cool he has readily accepted Kaidan back. Finding out a bit more about Kai's mysterious past at the end there is intri...  more
        ·  August 29, 2019
      Cheese toast is life, especially after a night of drinking too much. It’s the perfect hangover food, the meltier the better! The mod gives us a little to go on. He mentions getting involved with a daedric cult and living in high rock at one point. Even di...  more