SotF: Something to Prove

  • V

    The day was long and hard and the Vigilants worked from noon to night helping whoever they could whenever they could in whatever way they could. No deaths, a bittersweet sign of good fortune for the miners by Falrielle’s account. Verner, the foreman with the hair of fire and his wife, the fiery Anneke thought so too and had decided celebrate this omen with feast. For their actions, the Vigilants were given a seat of honour beside the foreman and his wife although it was only after much arguing with Matthias who instead insisted that the Vigilants should eat the same gruel that the wounded ate so to not waste their supplies. Hospitality of the host however overcame duty and asceticism.


                Falrielle had never truly eaten Southern food before beyond salted beef, stale bread, and pickled onions; they more or less tasted the same as the ones in the North so she didn’t count them. As the guests of honour, the Vigilants were served a leg of lamb roasted seasoned with mint, parsley, pepper, and garlic; a flank of salmon sprinkled with dill on a roll of flatbread; sides of mashed root vegetables, which Falrielle could detect was parsnip, carrots, and potatoes drizzled with honey and a glob of cowberry jam. To wash it down, a tankard of dark barley beer. Falrielle had never tasted beer; the malt was good but she would of have liked it more if the beer was colder. Not ale as she would of have preferred, she thought but she was convinced she could grow into it. All in all, it was not a Jarl’s meal nonetheless it was still great one, mutton and salmon were her favourites. More flavourful than the North though she was not too fond of the Southerner’s taste of mixing cowberry jam with everything they ate or so Anneke had told her.


                After dinner was the revelry and the southerners knew how to enjoy themselves, Falrielle thought. Song, laughter, and dance, she was surprised at how much energy, how much life these people had after such a close encounter with death this day. Perhaps that was why, she thought. She would’ve have joined them but Mentor was in a talk with the foreman and she figured it would look bad if she had decided to cut loose in the middle of work.


                Sleep came soon enough, and slowly but surely the ambience of the camp turned from loud and jovial to calm and quiet. Yet even under the choirs of a crackling fire and snores and with the touch of a cool gentle breeze, Falrielle with her eyes closed was wide awake; not even getting so much of a wink.


                Her thoughts jumped back and forth between the what-ifs and the why-so. She kept replaying the day’s event in her mind and asked herself if it was worth it. ‘Stupid, stupid. Stupid,’ she chanted quietly. She reached for and drew her knife; it was a crude thing but one of sentimental value. She ran her finger on its edge, frowning. No blood, not even a nick. A dulled blade - something she had to fix, she made a note to herself.


                Then she remembered something. Falrielle sheathed her knife, and took out the ring from her purse. It was small and heavy and she was not quite sure what to do about it for Mentor spoke of nothing to her about the werewolf victim ever since they stumbled upon it. She wondered why he didn’t, was it not their job to hunt these thing? She also wondered if that was what he was discussing with the foreman. She could’ve eavesdropped, she had big ears for a reason but that would be disrespectful.


                She sighed.


                She turned to her side and was greeted with an empty bedroll. Mentor had yet to return after dinner; said something about needing some time and space to think. She didn’t blame him. She couldn’t if she wanted to and she didn’t. The blame was on her shoulders, she told herself. Her alone.


                Falrielle dropped her head on her pillow, which was nothing more than a pile of folded cloth, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then sat up: her stomach was grumbling.


                She began by methodically bandaging her feet – the blisters and wounds have dried true but they still stung whenever she walked. She then slowly slipped on her boots and made her way.


                The trail wasn’t far and her path was lit as the twin moons, Masser and Secunda - and the two were shining especially bright this night. A good omen, as the Khajiit, the cat men of Elsweyr would believe. Of course she was no Khajiit but she smiled nonetheless; a good omen no matter how small was something she would gladly take.


                Her stomach grumbled again, this time louder and more irritated and she quickened her pace. At best she hoped it was just an ordinary stomach ache or even the Red Rider but she believed it was likely the Flux from the cramps. She however had also hoped that it wasn’t the Bloody Flux: the bane of armies.


                With the outhouse in sight, she ran, knocked hard on the door only for a loud cry of ‘Fuck off!’ in reply.


                Falrielle muttered a stream of curses under her breath as she looked around her and found that the miners were thorough in their work – there was not a bush in sight for… privacy concerns. The elf growled as she bent down, and grabbed a spade by the outhouse, gave the door a hard kick before she walked into the forest.


                Without a lantern, the forest was as dark as the tunnels as the tall trees seemed to choke the twin moon’s light. Falrielle grumbled on as she waddled her way to find a clearing away from the river. On instinct, the elf darted her eyes at the tree line for any sign of movement. She knew it was folly but instinct was instinct.


                Falrielle was about to give up until she a nice quiet spot under an old oak tree. Her waddle turned into a trot where she dug a hole like a squirrel, pulled down her trousers and squatted over the pit, leaned back, and closed her eyes.


                She groaned in relief.


                Somewhere amongst the trees Falrielle heard a rustle and old instinct made her reach for her the mace. She fumbled at her hip where her mace should have hung only to remember that she had left it at the camp. ‘Damn,’ she whispered, reaching for the knife in her boot instead.


                Falrielle pulled up her trousers and stalked to the source of the noise with blade in hand. She kept her head low, like a sabre cat crouching in the grass. Her teeth grinded in anticipation of a wolf or a bear or even a bandit: it has been some time since she blooded and any excuse after today would be a welcome. A hare however would be a better welcome.


                Like a coiled spring, she pounced whilst letting out a bestial roar and to her surprise, her prey was not a wolf nor a bear nor even a bandit but a body, a small scrawny boy. She pushed her knife against his throat.


                ‘Who are you? Speak!’ she snarled.


                ‘I-I… Please, don’t hurt me!’ the boy cowered, his hands raised shielding his face.


                Falrielle remained still, the shock and disappointment had left her stunned. After a heartbeat she lifted her blade off his neck. The boy flinched.


                ‘The forest is no place to boys, especially one as small as yourself,’ she said, her voice as stern as she could make it. The boy was shaking, Falrielle felt that she was using the wrong approach. Lightening her tone, she said, ‘What are you doing out here so late in the night, little brother? There are wolves and bears afoot and you don’t seem to have any arms or armour on you.’ She slipped the knife back into her boot.


                ‘I-I-I…I got lost,’ said the boy.


                Falrielle cocked an eyebrow in reflex and said, ‘You got lost’ in a tone barely hiding her disbelief. For a moment, she had considered on pressing the issue but decided not to. Discretion is the better part of valour as they say. ‘Well there’s a settlement nearby, a mining camp and I would gladly take you there after I uh… take care of some “business” first if you don’t mind.’


                The boy said nothing nor do anything other than quiver and stare.


                ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost… Ah!’ said Falrielle, thumbing her chest with a half-smile on her face. ‘Don’t worry little brother, I still have both feet in the land of the living or at least I think I do. Don’t worry, that was just a joke. Let me help you up.’


                From the few glimmers of moonlight, Falrielle could see that the boy would be no more than twelve or thirteen but that was not the most important nor peculiar thing about him. The boy was naked. In the North, taking a dip even during the summer was something only the drunkest of drunks would do as a bet at best and straight up suicide at worst but here in the South she had seen children taking a swim in the rivers. But in the night, that was the odd thing. Falrielle leaned in for a closer inspection and she gasped. The boy had multiple wounds on his body, many faded into scars like her but some are fresh and they looked too straight to be accidental.


                ‘What the f- Who did this to you?’ she said as she took a knee to look at the boy in the eye.


    ‘I-I-I’m sorry but I have to go now.’


                ‘Relax, little brother. You can trust me,’ she said, tightening her grip on his wrist.


               ‘I have to go now!’ said the boy, struggling to break free. He was stronger than he looked, she thought as he was giving her some trouble on holding on. Then as soon as her grip did loosen, the boy gave Falrielle a mighty shove sending her flailing backwards to sprawl on her arse.


                In the seconds it took for her to recompose herself and stand; the boy was gone. Even more queer she found was that he didn’t even make a sound.


                ‘Hey!’ she shouted. ‘Hey!’ She stopped herself shouting again, last thing she needed was a pack of angry wolves.


                Falrielle tapped the back of her trousers and felt a damp spot.


                ‘Mara! Really?’



    Morning came at the crowing of a rooster and life returned to the camp, thus beginning another day in the life of a Vigilant. Technically awake before the break of the dawn, the Vigilants began their day. First was the morning prayers which fortunately for her, Matthias was content with only reciting the three out of the forty-three. Then was a bath downstream and then the best thing about morning: breakfast. However unlike the night before breakfast was a modest affair and the Vigilants along with everyone else in the camp feasted on helpings of barley porridge, boiled eggs, and bread. After breakfast, Falrielle paid a visit to the quartermaster and to his generosity he provided her a fresh pair of trousers and some medicinal pellets with no questions asked nor any request of payment.


                For the rest of the morning Falrielle had assisted Matthias whenever she could in the tending of the wounded. She changed out soiled bandages for clean ones, boiled soiled bandages for reuse, held down some wounded for surgery, and speaking to the conscious for their comfort. In the short downtime she had, Falrielle would walk to the mine and help the labourers shift rock and rubble.


                The noon came at the ringing of a bell and all work ceased for lunch but this was meal the Vigilants would miss. Despite their insistence, Matthias had bought the two supplies of salted beef, bread, medicines, and fresh bandages for the road. Falrielle herself bargained another fresh pair of linen trousers and she found it amusing in an ironic sort of way that she had to bargain to pay more of the pants rather than lowering the price.


                Before they left, Mentor wanted to have a word with Captain Tyr and while curious, Falrielle held her tongue. She sat under a shade with her hood up with her hood up as she waited but the sweltering heat of the south was near unbearable. She looked at the children, free from work at the moment taking a refreshing swim in the river with eyes full of envy. Instead, all she could do is pour water over her face again to cool off, which she did.


                Underneath the noon sun, a party of five sellswords clad in pelts and boiled leather approached the camp. The one in the front was the smallest yet he wore the largest pelt of them all. She snickered. From her glances it looked like the small man was engulfed by an oversized wolf. She snickered again only to snort water out of her nose when it hit her – it wasn’t a pelt of wolf but a werewolf.


                ‘Halt!’ barked a guard. ‘Who dares to approach while showing up so well armed?’


                ‘Salutations, salutations, and salutations fair guard,’ said the party leader, waving his hand about in the air. ‘I am Brant of the Silver-Hand, werewolf hunters in case you didn’t know and we wish to speak to the foreman of this mine.’


                ‘Brant? That be a Nord name and you are no Nord, elf,’ the guard said contemptuously. ‘There be no werewolves in these parts and we have no love for blade whores! Brigands more like, away with you!’


                Werewolves? Falrielle took the ring out her pouched and played with it in her palm before putting it back. She turned to Matthias, who was still talking to Captain Tyr and turned back at the hunters. She shrugged.


                ‘If I may interrupt,’ said Falrielle. ‘My mentor and me did come across a few corpses that looked like the result of a werewolf attack.’


                The party leader gave the guard a cheeky smile.


                The guard made a rude noise. ‘Wolves more like.’


                ‘Not with the wounds we saw. The man was picked clean with most of his entrails missing. His flesh has yet to green and only a werewolf would be so thorough.’


                ‘And right she is, dear guardsman,’ said Brant, thumping the butt of his spear on the ground.


                The guard looked up at the spear and then down at the party leader. ‘Don’t call me “dear”, I am not your “dear”. Also werewolf hunters with them pig stickers?’ said the guard. ‘What sort of idiot would go kill a great of a beast with iron? Counting grain that you can’t afford good steel? Now steel is a proper metal for fighting.’


                The party leader and his posse laughed.


                ‘Aha fine guardsman,’ said the party leader. ‘I mean no offence but what do you know of werewolf hunting?’


                ‘I have a spear, just like you but only real steel and not pig iron. If I see one of them werewolves, I’ll just stick’em with the pointy end enough times and it’ll die. What else is there?’


                ‘So much more, brave guardsman! For example, did you know that werewolves have been “blessed” with the gift of healing by Hircine? Any wound not immediately mortal would close within a half a heartbeat! Scary stuff and also why werewolves are hungry hungry animals.’


    Falrielle silently nodded, recalling this lesson with Senior-Vigilant Cybil.


                ‘Is that it? So a spear to the heart or an axe to the neck will do. Why do we need you?’ said the guard, his tone growing harder.


                ‘True I must say but only to an extent,’ Brant said, smiling. ‘Have you ever hunted bear, strong guardsman? I assumed you have, bears are everywhere in the Rift. Ugh! Horrid, nasty, smelly things and I ramble. Even with your winged spear, how many thrusts does it take before the killing blow is struck? Have you ever made a strike so precise it pierced its heart or a blow so mighty that it loses its head?’


                The guard glowered.


    ‘But yes, even steel would suffice for werewolves if your aim is true and your arm is blessed by the gods.’


    ‘And if not?’ said Falrielle.


                ‘Enchanted weapons or magic would do the trick,’ said Brant to the laughter of his companions. ‘But if we had enchanted weapons or are mages we would be selling our swords or tongues to jarls, not to common folk. Uh, I mean no offence.’


                Brant reached into his mantle and pulled out a quarrel.


                ‘If you, like we who oh so who fate does not smile kindly upon don’t have any enchanted weapons or the gift of Magnus, cold iron would do. Weak and brittle as it may to “proper metal”, even a scratch from the weakest and brittlest of iron would never close without time for werewolves and little by little, even the mightiest beasts must fall from the cuts we will give.’


                The guard turned to Falrielle and she gave him a shrug.


    ‘I don’t think it would hurt to call Verner over, could it?’ said Falrielle. ‘If brigands they may be, they’d be the dumbest ones we’ll ever see in our lifetimes.’


                ‘That is something I would like to see,’ said the guard, walking away and murmuring a few insults.


                ‘Thank you, stranger,’ said Brant. ‘Why don’t you lads find shade? Ho, I believe we didn’t introduce ourselves! I am-‘


    ‘Brant, I heard,’ said Falrielle, she tilted her head back showing her pale face.


                ‘A fellow Wood Elf! Huzzah, I say, huzzah. A stranger in a stranger land that I can call kin. Strange features, I’ll admit but Praise the Nine, praise the Green!’ he said, arms wide open for a hug.


                Falrielle did not reciprocate but she did take the time to size him up. He was much shorter than she thought he was, in fact he was at least a head shorter than she but it came to no surprise; male Wood Elves were typically shorter than the she-folk. She could not see his hair but she could see his face, he had red paint smeared across that made his grin look far wider than natural. He wore a strange assembly of leather straps on his chest, not what she would call armour. While he tried to hide it, she could tell that he hung a crossbow across his shoulder and a set of knives on his waist.


                ‘And may milady grace me with her name?’


                ‘Falrielle of the Vigil of Stendarr,’ she said, thumbing her chest.


    ‘Ah, a Vigilant of Stendarr! What a fool am I to not notice that milady to be of the Order-‘


                ‘Stop flirting with the lass, Brant! It’s not like you even stand a chance,’ shouted one of the hunters.


                ‘of valiant hunters of Daedra and other terrors! The tales I’ve heard of your Order’s courage and valour. Oh, that would be Kelaro, he’s married to his right hand.’


                Brant cleared his throat and said, ‘The bald one there is Roald and his companion is Siegar. And that fat one over there is-‘


                ‘You talk too much, elf! Stop fraternising-‘


                ‘Vyr. And we are at your service,’ he quickly added with a bow.


                Falrielle stared for a moment and then bowed in return.


                ‘Would I be so bold as to ask what a Vigilant is doing down here in the Rift? Last I heard, the Vigil is in the North fending of fiends in Pale, Hjaalmarch, and the Reach.’


                ‘Well t-t-technically s-speaking,’ said Falrielle, rubbing the back of her head. ‘I’m an Initiate, not a Vigilant so I’m more of a recruit than a proper Vigilant. I’m here on a training patrol with my Mentor and I have to say that the South is hot. How do you southerners deal with this heat?’


                ‘The raven called the crow black, I say: I could say the same thing on how you Northerners could tolerate on the cold! But I must say that the sun is shining brighter today than it usually does. Oh, that corpse you spoke of: How did you know it was the work of a werewolf?’


                ‘The Vigil does teach us these things,’ she said, careful not to say too much. ‘Why do you ask?’


                ‘Mere curiosity. We’ve been on the hunt for this one for weeks on end. Crafty one, this one. Oh yes, a crafty one indeed. Just last week it ambushed us, hiding in a pile of leaves before it sprang forth, snatched our mule and ran away for a nice dinner. Poor girl, never found her.’


                ‘How do you know so much about werewolves?’


                ‘That is because of who we are, dear Falrielle,’ said Brant with a chortle. ‘We are the best hunters of werewolves in all of Skyrim. No offence.’


                Falrielle cocked an eyebrow and said, ‘But I’ve never heard of you.’


                ‘Well,’ said Brant, the hunter was bouncing on his feet. ‘Fine. I must admit: we’re the best werewolf hunters south of Skyrim. It’s not like there is a booming werewolf population in the North, is there?’


                No sooner than he spoken that a man on crutches, flanked by guards on both his left and right approached them. It took her a few moments to see that this man was Verner from the leather cap he wore.


                ‘Hail, Silver-Hand,’ said Verner, raising an arm in greeting. ‘My guard tell me that you’re werewolf hunters.’


                Verner pulled Brant closer and whispered, ‘I don’t remember calling your kind here but I do have a-‘


                ‘Falrielle,’ shouted Matthias. ‘Grab your bag, we’re leaving!’


                Falrielle turned her attention to the hunter and the foreman and gave a quick bow and they bowed in return.


                ‘Leaving so soon? Shame. Shame,’ said Brant. ‘Farewell then, Falrielle of the Vigil.’


                The Initiate’s shoulders felt heavy when she picked up her rucksack. She had many questions for Mentor but she held her tongue, she felt it just wasn’t the time. The pair gave their thanks to Verner and Anneke for their hospitality, they gave their thanks to the cooks who made their food and they gave their thanks to Captain Tyr and the guards for keeping them safe in their sleep. And so continues their journey, Falrielle thought. They were returning to the Keep where she would face the consequences of her actions and she would probably be thrown out. Again.


                Her imagination ran wild as she wondered on what she would say during her hearing and what would she do after that. The Vigilants walked past the hammering labourers and the barking orders till they stopped at the end of the bridge; the edge of the camp. Matthias wanted to give Falrielle some time to say her goodbyes.


                And she did. Falrielle stared back at the camp at all the workers at all the tents and at all the guards and the mine itself. And left.




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