Dragon of the East - Arc 2, Chapter 3

  • Chases-The-Wind

    ~ ~ ~

    Morning meditation. One of the many habits I still keep from my younger days, mostly out of necessity. If the body is not kept in shape it becomes frail. The mind is like this too – it must be kept from growing dull. Some meditate to cleanse themselves of thoughts and stresses, to exercise mental control, to simply be. I do it to preserve my sanity. Try learning to live under a constant threat of death, with the dead your only true companions. Then do it for as long as I have.

    You will see. Ten years is a long time. Long enough to make a man rot.

    Sitting cross-legged in the muck, eyes closed, I could not settle myself. My mind refused to calm. The events at Whiterun had shaken me into a restless state that refused to end.

    I thought of the dragon I killed. The thrill of battling it had brought excitement, the likes of which I’d never experienced. It was as though every other foe I ever fought was somehow unworthy by comparison. Fighting that dragon stirred something in me. In the end I killed that dragon out of a sense of raw desire more than a sense of duty. I am no stranger to violence, but this frightened even me.

    I relived that night in my mind over and over. Each time I heard the voice of my Thu’um. I heard the call of the Graybeards from High Hrothgar. But more than anything, I heard the words that were spoken to me in the midst of the dragon’s memory. Menacing, ominous... What was I to make of them?

    Du los hin nunon dez…                      

    Devoured is your only fate.

    I opened my eyes, peering out into the murkiness. A small school of longfins swam by into the sea grass, ignoring me as though I were a stone in the mud. Crawfish skimmed the floor for food. I filtered the sights through translucent membranes. The creatures of the lake were certainly not at rest. They kept themselves busy. Perhaps today is a day to join them in this, I thought. Anything to distract me from myself. I could meditate later. I filtered a gillful of water and pushed off of the lake bed with webbed feet towards the surface.

    Daylight flared and consumed my vision. I adjusted my eyes to the colors of the forest and swam ashore. A pair of turtles sunbathing on a log retreated into the water as I walked past, dripping wet. The gentle morning breeze became bitter cold against my damp scales. My body shivered disapprovingly.

    Waxuuthi... I will never grow used to this climate.

    After a quick redress, I continued on through the autumn forests of the Rift. The lake widened into a river heading east. I decided to follow it from further inland. My final destination remained unchanged: Solstheim. Getting there from Skyirm’s coast had been my plan since entering the province. Even with the events at Whiterun threatening that plan, there was still a chance of success. I would travel north to the city of Windhelm and attempt to reach the island by trade vessel. It would not be the first time I ever stowed away on a ship, though the first time I wouldn’t have to kill anyone aboard. A thing to be thankful for.

    Solstheim was Morrowind territory, home to a small settlement of Dunmer. I remained doubtful that they would accept me into their community even if I proved my usefulness. Strong is the bitter hatred between their kind and mine. But if rejected, at least on the island I might finally be left alone, far from civilization. There would be no one for me to help anymore, but no one for me to harm. A state of neutrality. Peace. I would be out of the way and eventually forgotten.

    No… Pardon me. I speak without thinking. I would be remembered in Black Marsh. Vilified. My legacy would become a story told to frighten children. Okan-Zeeus the mad traitor. An enemy to the Hist and the great An-Xileel. The very thing hatchlings would be raised to not become.

    They would withhold the truth of Okan-Zeeus. That he was driven mad by following his orders. That he lost his life and everything he held dear trying to do what he thought was right. But that would ruin the story’s charm, would it not?

    No one wants a sympathetic villain.

    My mind felt like a mudslide. The more I tried to stop brooding, the deeper my depression sank. Sounds of leaves crunching beneath my feet became a monotonous white-noise filling the space between thoughts. I stopped paying attention to where I was walking. Beneath the azure sky and vibrant forest canopy, my senses no longer registered.

    What are you doing with yourself? Is this truly the river you’re meant to swim? You cannot ignore what’s happened to you, what’s happening around you. These dragons are a threat to all…

    This went on for too long.

    “Hello? Who’s there?” someone asked.

    I snapped out of my trance.

    Standing away from me in a clearing was a Nord boy. He looked to be an adolescent, with a mop of brown hair and simple clothes. He was pulling along a cluster of small logs freshly cut from a copse of trees. They hung beneath a high-wheeled skidder.

    I could not hide myself fast enough before he saw me. The boy jumped, throwing off the skidder’s rope harness.

    “Stay back! You’d better not be here to make trouble!” he uttered with nervous defiance, brandishing a woodcutting axe. “I’ll fight you if I have to!”

    I gawked at the boy. Xhuth! How could I have been so careless? Had I been minding my surroundings, I would have noticed him earlier.

    “Calm yourself,” I said, hands held out yieldingly, “I am not here to hurt you.” I kept a wide-eyed expression on my face, lest my reptilian features accidentally express hostility. “I’m a nomad, passing through these lands. You have nothing to fear from me. What is your name?”

    No reply. The boy remained apprehensive.

    “That’s… a lot of logs you’re trying to pull,” I said sheepishly.

    “You’re not taking any of them.”

    “I had no intentions to.”

    “They’re for our mill…”

    “Young one, I am not here to steal from you,” I insisted. “If I had truly wanted to, I would have done so already.”

    The boy did not avert his eyes. He had every reason to be wary of me. I was unsure what reputation Argonians had in the region, but my appearance could certainly be mistaken for a marauder or a mercenary.

    “Who are you?” the boy asked.

    “A nomad, as I said before.”

    “I mean what are you called?”

    I refused to answer, curling the end of my tail apologetically. Force of habit. Land striders never notice such things.

    “You asked me for my name,” he muttered.

    “And you did not tell it to me.”

    There was a pause.

    “We can always skip introductions,” I said, admiring the loaded skidder. “You look like you have been pulling those logs for some time.”

    “Not that long…”

    “How much further do you have to go?”

    “Down to the river.”

    My brow furrowed. “That is still a good distance from here, is it not?”

    The boy looked at the ground. His tired posture answered ‘yes.’ I felt some pity for the young Nord. Did he cut down all of those trees by himself? How long did that take?

    “Perhaps this one can be of help. I would not mind pulling that contraption for you.”

    The young Nord perked up. “Really?”

    “Certainly. I see no reason why not.”

    “I… I don’t know…”                        

    “You do not trust me. I understand,” I sighed, smiling. “Maybe we can come to an arrangement.” The boy regarded me nervously as I reached for the scabbard strap on my belt. I held up Xehtasken in its sheath. “How about this? I pull your wood and you carry my sword. If I try anything, you’ll be able to defend yourself. Does that seem fair?”

    “You’d give me your sword?”

    “I would loan it to you. It is probably worth more than those logs of yours.”

    There was a glimmer of excitement in the boy’s eyes that quickly went away. He became thoughtful, indecisive. It goes without saying, perhaps, but giving the boy my sword was a hollow gesture of goodwill. Even without Xehtasken, or any of my weapons, he would never be able to defend himself against me. The thought of how easily I could kill him left me sick.

    “You are free to refuse my help,” I said. “I will leave without another word.”

    “No… I do want the help,” the boy groaned.

    “Xhu. Then let us be on our way.”

    I walked over to the boy and handed him my weapon. He took the blade from my hands, surprised at its weight. I gave a testing tug on the skidder’s harness before throwing it over my chest. Oddly it was fit for a person. To my knowledge such work is usually carried out by horses.

    “Lead. I will follow,” I said.

    The boy nodded, pointing. “The mill’s this way.”

    And so I trailed behind the young Nord, deferring to his direction. Pulling the skidder was arduous labor. Yet it felt good. Surprisingly good. I was putting my mind toward a single simple task, legs plodding along, one in front of the other, as I moved against the logs’ resistance. Footsteps that had been mere noise before became a steady, soothing rhythm. All the worries clouding me seemed distant. The physical exertion was clearing my head.

    I relished moments like this. I could never tell if I made progress eluding the An-Xileel’s pursuit. The fruits of my efforts did not become clear until another blade was at my throat. Yet with this, I could see where I had come from and where I was going. A clear objective and a certain result. No questions. No complications. Just action.

    But by the Hist… That skidder…

    “This is quite heavy,” I grunted, becoming visibly tired. Either I sorely overestimated my endurance or this boy underestimated his. I will confess I wanted to believe the latter.

    “You offered to help,” he shrugged.

    “Indeed I did… I would have given it more thought had I known better,” I chuckled, glancing at him. “Do you normally cut this many logs at once? So far from the river bank?”

    “They’re elms. My mother got an order for elm wood yesterday. Right when we ran out.”

    “Hmm... Mother, you say? Who else works the mill with you?”       

    “It’s just us,” the boy said dispiritedly.

    “No other relatives? Hired workers?”

    “No. My father used to work, but he’s gone.”


    “We don't know what happened to him.”

    “I see...”

    The boy wore his tired look again. I had wondered why he was out pulling so many logs by himself. He was filling the role of his absent father, lumberjacking alone. A hard responsibility for one so young. The world has harbored many in such straits. I found myself pondering about this father and what circumstance would bring him to abandon his family.

    As though you are one to judge, I thought to myself bitterly.

    A clearing in the forest opened up, ground speckled with tree stumps. In the distance stood a lumber mill built by the riverside, water frisking on its wheel. A cobbled stone house rested further inland. Tending to a pen of chickens was a bright haired woman wearing men’s work clothes.

    “Gralnach!” she called out upon our arrival. “Who’s this you’ve brought with you?”

    “Fair tidings, land strider,” I called in turn, coming close enough for us to speak in normal voices. “Forgive my intrusion. I offered to help with your son’s work.” I heaved off the rope harness, panting.

    “Forgive you? I would pay you if I had the coin to spare,” the boy’s mother replied in a thick northern accent.

    “That’s quite alright,” I said, “but I appreciate the thought.”

    The woman began inspecting the skidder’s load. Gralnach followed her eyes.

    “These were the only ones I could chop down. I know they’re young,” the boy said concernedly. “Will they be enough?”

    “Barely,” she muttered. “We’ll make do with this.”

    “I can start cutting, then?”

    “There’s a large pile at the stand that needs finishing first. Go get started on that. We have a long day ahead of us.”

    The young Nord started off. I beckoned him back. “Hold there! I believe you still have something of mine!” The boy grimaced, realizing he was carrying my sword. He came back and returned Xehtasken to me, before heading off to begin his next task.

    I observed the woman. There were heavy bags beneath her eyes.

    “Keeping your son busy?” I remarked, re-strapping my sheath.

    “Gralnach is soon to be a man,” she huffed. “It’s time he learns how a man has to work.”

    “And what of yourself…?”

    “Day by day, lizard,” she sighed. “Name’s Grosta. Thank you again for helping my boy. It might go to his head, but I’m glad his day will be a little easier.”

    I nodded. “Your son told me about this place. You two are the only ones here?”             

    Grosta glanced over at a woman by the house, wearing chainmail with purple cloth. A guard from the city of Riften. She was watching us idly.

    “But you are the only workers,” I said.


    “How long have you been running this mill with only you and your son?”

    “Long enough to know we’re worn to the bone,” the woman replied, giving a sarcastic smile. The more I looked at her, the more tired she seemed. Just like the boy. They were both badly overworked.

    “Do you think you can keep running this mill?” I asked.

    Grosta lingered on her response, before something finally caved. She frowned angrily. “No. It’s damn near impossible. We’re having trouble making ends meet. At this rate we won’t last more than a few seasons.”

    “Then what?”

    Grosta shook her head.

    “By Ysmir, I don’t know. We’ll just have to sell this old place. Try to find another line of work that can keep us alive.”

    I could hear the plea in her words, buried beneath a façade of sour determination.

    “Your son told me that your husband disappeared…”

    The woman was quick to jeer. “Ha! He’s the bastard responsible for all this. I never want to see his ugly face again.”

    “Sounds as though there’s more to this story,” I said.

    Grosta walked over to a small vegetable garden beside her house, grabbing a wood-shaft hoe rested against a fence. She was quick to divulge the details of her predicament. I wondered if anyone had ever taken the time to hear her plight.

    “It happened a month ago,” she began. “Liefnarr said he was going east towards the border of Morrowind to trade some of our wood and grain...”

    “And he never came back,” I finished for her. She spat on the ground.

    “I’ve waited and waited. Probably shacked up with some elven whore. Good riddance to him, I say.”

    “You don’t think something else might have happened to him?”

    “Men are pigs. They all want the same thing,” the woman protested, insensitive to the ‘man’ standing before her. I ignored the implication. “Anyway, what can I do? I can’t leave the mill, and the guards won’t bother themselves searching the whole east for one lousy man. If only I knew where he was, I’d give him a piece of my mind.”

    “These people he went to trade with… Who were they?” I inquired.

     “He said that some men had been stopping by local mills and farms, promising high prices for goods. They’d pay double what we’d get at the markets.”

    “Were these men credible? What did they need the goods for?”                            

    “I don’t even know if they were real! I’m sure it was some clever ruse Leifnarr came up with. Gave the man an excuse to leave with a large stock of our supplies. It only worsened our setbacks.” I watched the woman as she tilled the soil of her garden, sweating in the heat of the sun.

    “Did your husband mention any names? Locations?”

    The woman planted her tool in the ground and held my gaze.

    “The traders were staying in a place called Stonefalls Hollow. I’d never heard of it. All I know is that it’s somewhere along the Velothi mountains, on the path to Windhelm.”

    “Heading north…?” I said with some surprise, tail swaying gently. I would travel that route on the way to Windhelm.

    My heart told me to go and search for her husband. It was along the path I planned to take. Surely I could manage a detour. But I remembered my decision to leave Ivarstead behind. I was going to Solstheim for a reason.

    One who bears death has no place among the living.                          

    There was no time for distractions. I would not get involved…

    …and abandon everything I stand for?

    A cold truth whispered in my thoughts, still and small but sharp as a sword. I promised long ago to be a wind of change for the people in this world. It was my final act of defiance toward the An-Xileel. I was tired and weary of running, giving every reason why I needed to leave Tamriel behind. But my resolve still held strong, refusing to let go. It was my hope. The reason I still lived.

    This woman has had no relief since her husband disappeared. You see it in her eyes, Okan-Zeeus. You know what that feels like, to be trapped by your circumstances. How can you walk away knowing that you could have done something for her?

    My mind slowly began to slide.

    Is this how you repay those who died for your freedom?

    I broke past the melancholy.

    “Would it be of any help to you if I visited this Stonefalls Hollow?” I asked.

    Grosta turned and glared at me, puzzled.

    “You would do that?”

    “It is the least of all things I can do,” I said, hatching an idea. “I will write back to you what I find. The letter will not be signed, but you will know it came from me.”

    “It wasn’t enough to help my son, was it? You care this much, lizard?”

    “I care enough.”

    “But why?”

    I smiled a wide Argonian smile. “I am a wanderer. One who drifts, like a leaf in the river’s flow. I see the things that people endure, their struggles and hardships. I see them even when others do not. And I have never been one for standing idly by.”

    Grosta did not speak her thanks out loud, but I could tell she was grateful. Her brief smile spoke for her. She resumed her work tilling soil.

    “I hope you do find Leifnarr,” she said. “Give him a message for me, will you? Tell him he can go straight to Oblivion. He’s no longer welcome here.”

    “We shall see.” I rubbed the spines on my chin.  “I will have to figure out where this Hollow is, first…”

    “Afraid I can’t help you with that. Someone in Riften might know. You could try asking the farmers or townsfolk.”

    Riften. I did not want to have to visit another city. Too many eyes, too many witnesses. Given the state of things, though, I was already easy to track down. I have never let a fear of personal danger stand between me and my goals. I wanted to help this woman. 

    Let whatever comes to me for this come, I thought to myself. I will not be swayed by my fear of the An-Xileel. The legacy of Okan-Zeeus was tarnished, but I would see his story end in triumph.

    It would all be over soon enough once I reached Solstheim.

    If I reached Solstheim.

    “Very well. Riften it is,” I said. “I will learn what I can there.”

    Resigning, I set off toward Skyrim’s eastern city in search of answers. 

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7 Comments   |   Fallout Night likes this.
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 17, 2015
    I was wrong, I was thinking of boulderfall cave.
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  October 17, 2015
    It isn't, actually. I made it up. :P
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 17, 2015
    I think Stonefalls Hollow is a real place in skyrim. I think I found a few necromancers there.
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  March 12, 2015

    I really liked it too. It has so much sensory potential in writing! Fun fact: Chase especially likes doing it during rain storms. I showed this in an image I posted a few months back.
  • Tolveor
    Tolveor   ·  March 12, 2015
    Just reread this today, and just have to say I just love the idea of him meditating under water. thats just genious, and sets the scene very well.
  • Gabe
    Gabe   ·  December 7, 2014
    Another awesome chapter. It would seem the incorporation of Dragonborn DLC events into DOTE is possible after all!
  • Borommakot
    Borommakot   ·  December 4, 2014
    Great stuff, as always, Okan! The tension behind each decision to slow down and risk being caught is subtle, but building wonderfully.