A Favor Forgotten Part II, A Vitus and Friends Tale


    “Thief? They’re right here!” Vitus objected and passed the bundle of long delayed letters to Sylgja. “We had some minor setbacks.”


    “A whole year worth of setbacks? You think you can waltz in here after all this time and act like nothing happened?”


    “It was only nine months to be fair...”


    “Only? That was more than long enough for my broken leg to heal and visit my parents myself! They thought I’d been dead for months; they even held a vigil for me!”


    “Yeah! How could you be so irresponsible?” Lydia added, stoking the flames a bit too enthusiastically.


    “Well, umm,” Vitus stalled while he picked at his stubble uncomfortably.


    “Oh, give the man a break,” Annekke said, coming to his rescue. “We’re all together now; water under the bridge. I’m sure the delay only filled these letters with more adventure and life.”


    She took the bundle from her daughter and carefully examined the battered and stained wrapping around the letters that took the brunt of the crew’s tribulations, but immediately regretted sniffing it.


    “What happened to these?!”


    “You’re better off not knowing!” Khjaro called out from the kitchen area. He had already made himself at home by sprawling out the collection of foods and spices he’d gathered on their journeys and taking ingredients from their host as his chef-d'oeuvre required. It always amazed Vitus how nimbly the Khajiit could use all ten of his claws like knives to—in this case— dice produce.


    Verner broke out the trace he’d fallen into watching cat work and scooped up an armful of pickaxes off their dining room table.


    “Here, arm yourselves. One of those cat-people is raiding our house,” he whispered as he passed out the axes to his wife and daughter.


    They started to protest, but he’d already turned to confront the ‘trespasser’.


    “Get out thief before I call the guards!” he yelled surprisingly convincingly considering how much the veteran outclassed him.


    Khjaro sighed and continued cooking undeterred. “It is a common misconception that we ‘cat-people’ are all thieves, but it is really more a clash of cultures. The concept of possession is not a part of the way the Khajiit follow. The words ‘I’ and ‘mine’ are not even in the language.”


    Verner faltered, not sure how to proceed after such a response. He’d never seen a Khajiit up close; the only ones in Skyrim were caravan traders and their routes never passed through Darkwater Crossing. Everyone knew they were sneaky thieves that gouged their prices; that’s why they weren’t allowed within the city walls, but this one didn’t sound like the stories he’d heard, nor did the massive cat look sneaky.


    “But what’s that have to do with now?”


    “Khajiit use what they need or find amusing,” Khjaro held up a claw and continued, “then let it go when it is time. Khajiit do not understand why the men and mer cling to things they do not need, or why they become so upset when someone who’ll use it makes ‘their’ belongings disappear.


    But this one has learned ‘I’ from my many years in Skyrim and forgets the old ways sometimes. Life is much harder in this cold land and the word ‘I’ brings a sense of safety. There is a fear of scarcity and saying, ‘this is mine,’ eases the uncertainty of what the future may, or may not, bring.


    But when one slips so far as to only care only for owning more, the very bounty sought is repelled and the following isolation brings about the very scarcity that was so feared. Together, there is enough here for all tonight and by sharing our skills and goods, we can all enjoy a meal bursting with flavor and tender meats beyond anything imaginable alone.”


    Verner lowered his pick axe and for the first time looked at the Khajiit as a person and not the list of biases he been raised to believe. Then Lydia wiped a fake tear from her eye.


    “That was the most beautiful way I’ve ever heard someone get called insecure and a bad cook at the same time.”


    Khjaro grinned from ear-to-ear and waited for the others to connect the dots. Annekke burst out laughing next.


    “Where did you find these people Sylgja? That’s so true, he has become a bit of milk-drinker since we got married. He never even leaves this town anymore.”


    Vernon bristled. “I still love exploring; I just like having food waiting for me when I come home. We have real responsibilities now, we have a family, and we have a town that depends on us.”


    “Uh, you can leave me out of this,” Sylgja said. “I’m not a child anymore; I have my own mine now.”


    “See? We raised her strong and the mine won’t collapse if you take a few days off every now and then. I miss the old times.”


    The three travelers traded glances. This argument had the tone of one refined by years of repetition.


    “The food is almost ready!” Khjaro interrupted. “Adding a dash of sugar on top is all that is needed.”


    He rained a fine layer of a black powder that sparkled like diamonds in the light over the top of the stew.


    Should I warn them about that particular sugar? Vitus thought. Naw, he’s only adding enough to open the senses a bit.


    The food did the trick, all were soon distracted from both old grudges and ‘trespassers’ by the blend of sweet and spicy scents of foreign lands wafting from the pot. All were quiet as they sat around the table and dug into their bowls with the gusto of the starving. The Nords were sweating from the heat, but it didn’t slow their appetite, they only drank more mead to keep their mouths cool. There’s nothing like a hot meal to lift the mood, especially with mead flowing and a hint of sugar. It wasn’t long before they were all trading tales and laughing as they read the letters that had arrived well after the sender.


    “…and that was how we learned what the Dragonborn really used the Thu’um for!” Vitus finished a story while grinning at how he got Lydia to blush and cross her legs, although he was still careful to stay well out of her fists’ reach.


    Annekke wiped a tear from her eye from laughing too hard and asked, “So, what madness are you off to next?”


    Vitus leaned back in his chair and stroked his stubble thoughtfully. “Hmm, I have no idea. I believe it’s Lydia’s turn to pick.”


    She had an answer before all eyes could even turn towards her.


    “I want a pickaxe.”


    Khjaro leapt up, grabbed her request from the pile now stowed in the kitchen sink, and dropped it in her lap. She let out a surprised ‘oof’ as the heavy tool landed and glared at the cat.


    Khjaro only smiled innocently back. “What? Quest complete.”


    “I was going to add: an Ancient Nordic Pickaxe. I’ve heard legends about how they can mine any material.”


    “But you don’t even know how to mine!” Vitus said.


    “So I’ll learn; what else am I going to do now that we’ve been pushed into retirement?”


    Sylgja laughed. “Well you couldn’t have come to a better house; we’ve produced some of the best miners in the land for generations in this family.”


    “Actually,” Verner added. “We may have even had one of those axes in the family.”


    “Oh really,” Lydia said propping her elbows on the table.


    “Well, had,” Verner admitted. “My grandfather, a legend among our folk, took it with him on his last expedition, to the Throat of the World, but never returned. This was all before I was born, but my father and the other miners from then searched all over the mountainside and even up the Seven Thousand Steps, yet no one ever found him. A blizzard struck near the top and they were forced to return before the mountain claimed them too.”


    “Perhaps it is the summit where he still rests,” Khjaro said.


    “From what I’ve heard about him, that would be where he’d want to make his peace,” Verner agreed.


    “So it’s settled. We’re climbing to the summit of the world next,” Lydia decided.


    “Oh, that sounds so exciting I wish I could join you!” Annekke said, her gaze already focusing on the distant daydreams of travel.


    “So why don’t you?” Khjaro asked.


    “I already promised to help with the mine.”


    Verner nodded. “Yeah, I finally got a commitment out of you. It’s like trying to wrangle sabercats to get you to stay in one place for more than a day or two and it takes all my time to keep the mine running by myself. But the thought of finding my grandfather’s final resting place after all these years…”


    The others around the table exchanged glances again as that old argument threatened to surface again, then Vitus had an idea.


    “Let Sygja take over for a few days and you both come with us!”


    Verner stroked his chin thoughtfully. “True, she was been doing very well at Shore’s Stone, but this mine is over twice the size and is crucial to both Riften and Whiterun.”


    “She takes after you in that way, I can’t think of anyone I’d trust more with the mine; remember how she was like your little shadow growing up,” Annekke added.


    “Yeah,” Verner agreed fondly. “It’d be good for her and would only be for a few days.”


    “What? Hey! I’m right here. What about my say?” Sylgja protested, but her cries met only deaf ears. “I hate you so much Vitus.”


    He only merrily grinned back at her scowl. There was no way she was going to admit to him that this was the first time in who knows how many years her parents agreed on doing something fun together.




    Dawn barely crested the horizon and the three travelers and two miners stood before the trailhead winding up the Throat of the World. The mountain was immense and could be seen from anywhere within Skyrim, but one couldn’t truly appreciate size until standing at the base of the giant. They craned their heads up as far as possible, but still couldn’t see the peak that surpassed even the clouds. They had arrived at the small town of Ivarstead that lived in the shadow of the mountain the evening before and stayed at an inn that catered to pilgrims looking to walk the Seven Thousand Steps.


    “We’re going to climb to the top of that?” Annekke asked, only now starting to doubt the sanity of this quest.


    Vitus gulped and rubbed an old arrow wound in his knee —like that’d ever stop him from adventuring— at the thought of so many steps.


    “I can’t wait!” Lydia said and rushed up the path. The others followed at a less enthusiastic pace.


    “Makes me miss the walls of the mine; I hope Sylgja has things under control,” Verner said right before stepping on a stone bridge leading to the mountain.


    “Yes! That makes seventeen on the mark! Cough it up.” Vitus exclaimed and held his hands out before the other three.


    Khjaro dropped to get on level with the line of sight from the first stone of the bridge and Verner’s boot. “Damnit, you lucky bastard! Had he taken one more step first…”


    “What in Oblivion is going on?” a perplexed Verner asked as coins began filling Vitus’s hand.


    “Just a little side bet wondering how many times you would mention the mine before reaching the trailhead. Khjaro and I were both one point off until you tipped the scale in my favor, and not a step too soon!”


    Verner looked down and saw he was indeed only one pace from stepping on the bridge. “Really? You were betting on that? Though seventeen times is a lot…”


    Then he saw Annekke trying to be sneaky and follow behind Lydia to add her share.


    “You too?!”


    “Umm, I love you?”


    He rolled his eyes and marched past them towards the mountain. They passed pilgrims from all walks of life praying at stone tablets along the path: monks, hunters, farmers, soldiers of all flags, nobles, and travelers from distant lands to name a few. But as the forest turned to snow fewer and fewer pilgrims continued the journey. By time the mountain thinned to only the hardiest of frozen trees, only the hardiest of pilgrims still walked and as the crowds dwindled the wildlife became more brazen. On an icy pathway with a sheer drop off the left-hand side that was already so high that the town below the cliff was lost beneath the morning mist, they turned a blind corner and woke one of the mountain’s more deadly protectors, an ice wraith. The spirit emerged from the snow pact hissing and crackling like the shattering of a frozen lake. Fangs of crystalized ice swept by their faces as the eel-like spirit blocked their path with a territorial weave through the air.


    “Stand back!” Vitus commanded the miners as he Khjaro linked shields with the fluid efficiency of a well-oiled machine into a wall before the wraith. “Lydia, ready?”


    “Oh yeah,” she said. She was already right behind them coiled to leap at command with her Axe of Whiterun drawn, a gift from her Jarl after defeating a dragon alongside the Dragonborn, though Vitus still claimed he got the killing shot, but that bastard stole all the glory. Although the axe couldn’t care less about all that, its fire enchantment only flicked along the edge in eager anticipation for its foe.


    The ice wraith paused its pacing and compressed its icy skeleton like a spring.




    It released the tension and exploded towards them like a missile.




    Right before it impacted against their shields Vitus shouted, “Now!”


    He and Khjaro lunged forward and shield bashed the frozen spirit as one while Lydia leapt up and tacked off the mountain wall in an arc over the shield wall. The wraith was halted in its tracks and its skull reeled up from the collision just as Lydia’s axe came crashing down in a fiery arc from above.




    “See? We made it safe and sound,” Vitus told two shell shocked miners as he swept his sword still dripping in blood in a grand gesture past the slain frost trolls and towards the towering doors of an ancient stone temple buried in the snow. “Seven thousand steps below us and now High Whoreguard awaits!”


    “It's Hrothgar…” Lydia growled, emerging from the flurry of snow behind them.


    The snow hissed as it hit her axe, a snarling wolf pelt now protected her head, and rows of frozen wraith fangs hung from around her neck. Wolves, trolls, and ice wraiths had plagued them up since that first encounter and the miners were wondering whether they should fear the beasts or the ones who dispatched them so efficiently without ever stopping their casual banter more.


    “You look the image of every Nordic stereotype!” Vitus said while she took a swig from a skin of mead.


    “Proud, unmatchable in battle, of divine voice, and with a wit unparalleled; not to mention, the sexiest damn thing to grace all of Tamriel?”


    “Yeah… we’ll go with that—and humble too!”


    “Yep, the most humble; none are more humble than I!”


    They heaved against the ancient doors intricately etched with stories of Nordic lore and they slowly ground open. Inside was rich with history, but austere in comfort and only slightly warmer than outside. It was a place to isolate oneself from the trappings of society and meditate with a mind clear of distraction, so of course Khjaro’s unapologetic voice rang through the quiet halls as soon as they entered.


    “I always wanted to meet the Grey Mane of Skyrim!”


    An elder wrapped in a robe that looked thick enough to keep even this mountain’s cold at bay twitched in annoyance from where he knelt in meditation, then cast a look from under bushy eyebrows that said, ‘For shame’ at Lydia for not educating her companions.


    “What? You don’t understand, it’s not worth it; those two are hopeless!”


    The elder was unmoved by Lydia’s defense, in fact he was so still that he could have passed for a statue, especially with how his grey eyes, robes, and beard all blended in with the stone surroundings.


    “Who’s hopeless? I’m the very model of hope; the Empire still makes that recruitment poster with me on it to prove it,” Vitus said. “Anyway Khjaro, he’s a ‘Greybeard’ not a greying ‘Mane’. They don’t rule the Nordic people like the Mane does for your kind, they’re just capable of toppling fortress walls with their Shouts, although they’ve only used that power towards solitary enlightenment in the centuries since the Chimer elves defeated them at the Battle of Red Mountain a few centuries ago.”


    “Just had to prove me wrong…” Lydia muttered.


    “How do you know all of that yet still thought this place was called Whoreguard?” Annekke asked.


    The monk’s eyebrows shot up and Vitus shrugged.


    “I know my battles, not my Ancient Nordic pronunciations.”


    “Whatever, we still haven’t reached the summit yet,” Lydia said, ushering the group towards a set of doors on the opposite side of the temple.




    The monk barely whispered the word, but his voice rumbled through the foundations of the temple and knotted the pit in their stomachs. The travelers tried to move, but found they couldn’t even motivate their limbs enough to try and resist the spell of that Voice reverberating through them. Three more Greybeards shuffled out from their rooms and surrounded the travelers. The monks may be pacifists now days, but they’d never been pushovers.


    One stepped forward and lowered his hood. The youngest, judging by the few red hairs that hadn’t faded to grey yet in his beard.


    “Why do you seek the summit?” he asked in a soft whisper, eyeing the three veterans’ weapons and armor suspiciously.


    The tension in the air was palpable, and a wrong answer could mean their end. Verner felt it too and didn’t trust how any of these aimless adventurers that had blown into his life might answer.


    “I seek to find answers to what happened to my ancestor here and an heirloom passed down the generations.”


    The monk nodded with the weight of a wisdom that far exceeded the literal sense the miner meant his words in.


    “I see. The answers you seek as well as the ones you need await at the summit, but first you must make peace with your inner turmoil, less the distractions of the mind obfuscate the wisdom that’ll ring through your soul. You are welcome to meditate among us for as long as is needed.”


    Lydia closed her eyes for the duration of one deep breath, then said, “Alright, I’m ready. Open the doors.”


    The monks bristled and the stones of the floor began to shake with their agitation, but they quickly reigned in their emotions and let it go.


    The red bearded one spoke for them once more, “We do not block the way of anyone. All are welcome to attempt the ascent.”


    The sly way the monk said ‘attempt’ raised the hackles along Vitus’s neck, but they met no resistance from the monks as they passed through the doors and back into the mountain snow, but there was something else that’d been bothering him too.


    “How do normal pilgrims ever reach this place? Three of us are battle proven veterans and the other two swing pickaxes all day, not to mention their own share of adventures, but we still barely made it past the wildlife here.”


    “Did you meditate on the passages carved upon the tablets along the path? The goddess Kyne watches over the penitent pilgrim and provides safe passage through the dangers of the natural order.”


    “Um… No… Did they say anything important?”


    The monk huffed something that sounded like ‘Fus!’ and an unrelenting force escaped his lips. It hurled down the corridor, slammed the iron wrought doors in their face, and sent them tumbling down the back steps into the snow.


    “Crotchedy old windbags... I’ll show them who’s full of hot air!” Vitus muttered and pulled himself out of the snow. “Oh! My hip; I think I need a cane.”


    No one cared about his plight, they were already looking towards the path ahead.


    “Ysgramor’s beard! We’re barely halfway up!” Verner decried upon seeing how thick around the mountain still was. The top was still lost in the raging storm above.


    “Oh, stop being such a sad stick!” Annekke criticized. “How much further could it be? We’re already about to walk into the clouds like the Divines themselves!”


    Across a training courtyard were two stone pillars marking the last stretch of the path. The only problem was it wasn’t ‘clouds beyond the pillar, but a screaming gale filled with knife-like shards of ice.


    Lydia attempted the path anyway and was predictably thrown against the mountainside and nearly diced to ribbons by the gale. She tumbled back into the courtyard and Vitus rushed over with his field kit already in hand to patch her up.


    “Uugh, that was stupid,” she mumbled.


    “Yeah, it was,” Vitus agreed and she glared at him.


    Khjaro and Verner joined them before the wall of icy wind.


    “This must have been as far as the rescue party got. Did my grandfather really climb through this? How? We can’t turn back after coming so far.”


    The veterans shook their heads. They were at complete loss on how to move forward, but they were also too stubborn to considered giving up.


    “I want that pickaxe…” Lydia growled, wincing as Vitus continued to pull shards of ice from her face and bandage her up.


    “Hey up here!” Annekke shouted down at them. She was hanging from an outcrop a short ways up the mountain with her pickaxe wedged into a crevice as a hand hold. “I think I found a way up!”


    They all rushed over to the base of her route and she hopped down to join them.


    “If we hug the cliff face, the rocks should block the worst of the wind, but damn, if you thought it was cold down here!”


    “Worse than ice skating with wet nickers?” Vernon asked.


    She laughed at the memory. “Worse, much worse.”


    “Hold on a moment,” Lydia said and started digging through her pack. One at a time, she passed out frost coated vials of a luminescent blue liquid.


    Annekke eyed the potion warily. “Isn’t this the blood you collected from the ice wraiths?”


    “Essence technically. Stop asking questions and drink it.”


    The veterans did just that and the miners tentatively followed suit. The liquid numbed as it went down and frost escaped with the miners shocked gasp. They curled up around their stomachs as it felt like they were going freeze solid from the inside, then the sensation spread throughout their whole body, but by time it reached their fingertips it felt normal, like this bitter cold was their natural state. They didn’t feel any warmer than before, but their shivering had stopped and only the physical danger of the ice flying through the wind concerned them now.


    “Good shit, right? Vitus said and clapped them on the back. “Come on, lead the way up before it wears off.”


    They used Vitus’s rope to tie off everyone with the miners leading the way, Lydia supporting them, followed by Vitus, and Khjaro acting as the anchor for them all at the end.


    Annekke searched up the jagged peaks for a route to the summit with a newfound focus. This wasn’t one of her casual ventures through the wilderness; these people were counting on her and she’d never attempted a climb of this magnitude before. They could all feel the building of a headache from trying to breathe the thin air from being so high up and they would need to carve half their handholds with their picks, not to mention the gale that’d be trying to knock them off.


    She exhaled and whispered to herself, “I am the wraith, spirit of the mountain. I will flow like an eel to the summit with pick and boot finding only sure footing.”


    Khjaro’s ear twitched and he whispered loudly to Lydia, “Oh no, we’ve corrupted her beyond all hope.”


    “It was a lost cause long before you all showed up,” Verner said with fondness, then swung his pick to carve the first hold.


    The going was slow, often needing to stop every few feet to carve a new hold or duck a particularly bad gust of wind. They hugged the cliff face and kept their hoods pulled tight, but the wind still swirled around the rocks as if hunting for them and embedding so many shards of ice into the back of their furs that they glimmered much like the ice wraiths in the little light that could penetrate the storm. At first the two miners bickered back and forth over which were the best routes up, but soon all energy was needed to focus and the party settled into a rhythm.




    All sense of time had been lost by time Verner’s pick crested the last shelf of the sheer cliff face and he pulled himself over with the most graceful of techniques, the beached whale. All he wanted to do was lay on that plateau sheltered from the biting gale, but he forced himself to keep moving and lend a hand to those behind him. Soon all five were huddled and panting atop the clearing sheltered by an ancient stone wall engraved with runes from an era long past. Had his grandfather really climbed this far up? People had to have done this before to build that wall now protecting them, but was this the top? He still couldn’t tell through the swirling snow and ice.  


    Their heartbeats began to slow, but the gale continued to whip the snow into a nearly solid wall icy blades. Then in the distance across the clearing two great orbs of molten fire pierced through the storm. Sometimes a person will walk by and a little shudder will run down the spine; when this being let its presence be known, the shudder brought them all to their knees. Darkness split and the licks of escaping flames lit the maw of a beast capable of carrying a whole horse away. Then it spoke in a Voice carrying power more ancient than even the mountain.


    Drem Yol Lok…”









3 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 2 others like this.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  February 13, 2017
    The ever eager Lydia and a Khajiit cooking with it's claws. What more could you want?
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  February 12, 2017
    Well, who knew that delivering letters would become an adventure! Poor Vitus and his knee. :D
    • Exuro
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Well, who knew that delivering letters would become an adventure! Poor Vitus and his knee. :D
        ·  February 12, 2017
      I used to be adventurer, then I took an- wait screw that! I'm still an adventurer!