SotF: The Vigilants of Stendarr

  • I

    By the first light of dusk the merchants, crabbers, ropers, tanners, and other townsmen have cleared the muddy streets, leaving Morthal to the dogs, and vagabonds. By night however, the mists came blurring and choking the city. The fog, so thick it made every passageway look like a lonely, ominous alleyway. The grand manors of the local nobility, too poor or insane to move elsewhere loomed as ghostly silhouettes while the homes of the common folk, small and humble were dark and bolted, nary a lit candle lest they draw attention. The few taverns and inns of the city were also quiet, more joy can be found in a graveyard. Only guards, thieves, and madmen strolled about the dark silence… and that’s when they came.


                Three strangers entered from the east, from Morihaus’ Gate. They came by foot, shrouded in hooded travelling cloaks moving like haunting apparitions in the mist. Guards payed them no heed, no thief would so brazenly walk down a street with a lantern in hand and thieves too payed them no heed, no one worth robbing would so brazenly walk down a street with a lantern. Even the dogs retreated at their presence.


                The strangers stopped before Highmoon Hall, the seat of the Jarldom of Hjaalmarch. Unlike most of the city, beams of light shone through the Hall’s windows like a beacon of life. It was also modest compared to the dwellings of the surrounding nobility, featuring at most the basic of Nord flourishes in its architecture. It had a roof of straw and tar and not the shingles of the Southern style. The walls and beams were of oak decorated with simple carvings to smooth brick and its foundation was of rounded to rectangular stone.


                A pair of guards spotted the strangers and they readied their spears.


                ‘Halt,’ shouted the first guard. ‘State your name and business.’ He squeezed the grip of his shield and eyed the strangers. From what little light he had, he could see that the strangers wore identical mud-stained linen tunics and trousers with a plain grey robe over them held together by an iron clasp in the shape of a drinking horn. Members of the priesthood of Stendarr by the looks of it except for one small problem: these ‘priests’ were armed to the teeth and had the bearing of a soldier.


                The stranger with the lantern reached into a satchel by their side and pulled a parchment envelope bearing a wax seal of Hjaalmarch. The guard understood and raised his hand, signalling his partner to be at ease.


                ‘Hail, noble guardsman. I am Falrielle, Senior-Vigilant of Stendarr,’ said the lantern bearer, a she-elf as she placed a flattened palm against her chest. ‘My companions are Gideon of Wayrest and Sven, son of Sigarde.’ The two mirrored her motions. ‘And our business is with the Jarl.’


                A cold wind blew and the guard pulled his cloak tighter. ‘A Vigilant of Stendarr, eh? I am sorry to say,’ said the guard, his tone insincere, ‘but the Jarl will not be seeing anyone.’


                ‘That is quite a shame. Quite a shame indeed,’ said Falrielle, rubbing her chin. The elf then snapped her fingers. ‘Aha! Might the Jarl be seeing anyone in the morrow then?’


                ‘No,’ the guard said sternly.


                ‘If not perhaps the morn after that then? We have travelled long and far and at the request of the Ja-‘


                ‘Look, stranger,’ said the guard, his tone hostile. ‘Morthal doesn’t like nosy travellers and we have our orders from the Steward himself: the Jarl won’t be receiving anyone until further notice. So leave a letter or just leave.’


                ‘Oh?’ said Falrielle. ‘Why can’t the Jarl receive anyone? Is something wrong? Is the Jarl sick?’


                ‘That’s none of your concern-‘


                ‘Enough Hrojar,’ said the other guard. The first guard gave his partner a look of disdain. ‘I will deal with them,’ he continued. ‘You never really were good with outsiders.’


                Falrielle flattened her palm against her chest and her companions followed suit.


                ‘Hail, Vigilants of Stendarr and I, Jurgen, son of Harkon welcome you to Morthal,’ said the friendlier guard. ‘I apologise for my friend’s behaviour, stranger. The whole city has been on edge, well, even more so on edge in the past few weeks.’


                ‘Because of the attacks?’ said Falrielle bluntly.


                Jurgen shushed the Vigilant. ‘Not so loud and so freely. City’s near fallen into a hysteria because of the attacks and in my experience it won’t take more than a word to set the panic off but yes you are correct.’ Jurgen darted his head back and forth. ‘No doubt that that is the problem the Jarl has sent you for?’


                Falrielle nodded. ‘Yes it is but your friend has yet to answer my question: why can’t we see the Jarl now? It is barely into the night and most cities would be filled with dance and songs at this hour.’


                ‘Ah. That,’ said Jurgen before he mumbled something to himself. ‘A question for a question. What do you know of Jarl Ravencrone’s… condition? No, I am not speaking of her constitution, the crone is as healthy as a spry young ox, the Nines be praised. I speak of the gossips.’


              ‘Her condition?’ said Falrielle. ‘Ah, you must be referring to that “condition”: that Jarl Ravencrone has been touched by Zenithar and Julianos and bears the gift of foresight and fortune telling. To be honest if you told me that in my Initiate days, I would just laugh at you but I’ve seen enough to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.’


                ‘Aye, Vigilant. It is true that our Jarl bears that gift.’


                ‘A curse more like!’ barked Hrojar.


                ‘Hush,’ Jurgen hissed at his partner before turning his attention back to the Vigilants. ‘Aye, that is of what I speak of and as wetminded Hrojar’s brain is, he speaks true from a certain point of view. The Jarl’s powers are great, truly. Her gift of foresight prepared us for the very worst and Hjaalmarch stands today because of it.’


                ‘But?’ said Falrielle.


                ‘But the visions come at a heavy price.’ Jurgen shook his head. ’I mean no disrespect to the Jarl but as people go she’s an odd goat. In the middle of a dinner she’d go into a fit and start slapping her guests. She talks in rhythm and messengers from the other Jarls usually complain on how hard is it to maintain her attention; she’d often change the subject to something unrelated like the water retention of moss. Once during a visit from the High King himself, Jarl Ravencrone jumped out the bushes and attacked the King with a sheep bladder that made the rudest noise while screaming something about shouting and his son. We were lucky that King Istlod had a sense of humour.’ Jurgen chuckled before his face grew sombre. ‘This morning was the worst of it.’


                Jurgen remained silent for a while and Falrielle did nothing to urge him.


                ‘On the eve of noon whilst attending to the concerns of us common folk, Divines bless her heart - the Jarl had a vision. I was there but I wish that I wasn’t. The Jarl writhed on the ground foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog and babbled incoherently for the most part. What was coherent was something about dragons – the great beasts in the tales we tell our children and a great hunger. We were helpless to help our Jarl and the only thing we could do was wait and it felt like a long winter before she fainted.’


                Jurgen sighed. ‘Indeed. Since then the Jarl has been in bed and Steward Aslfur rules in her stead.’


                ‘My prayers to Jarl Ravencrone and Hjaalmarch,’ said Falrielle.


                ‘You are too kind traveller but Morthal and the people of Hjaalmarch do not accept your pity, we don’t need it,’ said Jurgen. ‘The Jarl embodies the very essence of Hjaalmarch – strong and stubborn. We’ll get by.’


                ‘Nonetheless, I wish the best of recoveries to the Jarl,’ said Falrielle with a smile. ‘But we are here on a job and it is not in the Vigil’s policy to leave work unfinished.’


                ‘Understandable but as Hrojar said: the Jarl shall not see anyone until further notice. Orders are orders and we’ll follow them to the letter,’ said Jurgen. ‘But I propose a compromise, if you please.’


                Falrielle nodded.


                ‘I’ll notify the steward of your arrival and he’ll see to it that you’ll be granted an audience as soon as possible. He is a busy man however and I can’t say how long that would be.’


                ‘Thank you, noble guardsman but that is aid enough which reminds me,’ said Falrielle. She gestured to the other two Vigilants. ‘We have travelled long and far and find ourselves in need of food and rest for the night is especially cold. Our coin purse is also light – might you know of where we would be able to shelter the night? A temple perhaps that would give us sanctuary.’


                ‘I know not of temples in Morthal. We keep to the Old Ways if you catch my meaning,’ said Jurgen.


                ‘Go to the Crabber’s Den by well, Crabber’s Pier,’ barked Hrojar. ‘Food is barely edible and the bedbugs have fleas but they don’t ask questions or too many coins. I’d never go there myself.’


                ‘It’ll do. Stendarr’s blessing upon you.’



    The Crabber’s Den lived up to its terrible reputation. Sitting on the edge of Morthal, the Crabber’s Den was nothing more than a large shanty or a glorified outhouse if one were feeling generous with describing it. The walls were thin rotting planks that barely kept out the cold and the floors had holes large enough that one could see the fishes swimming beneath them. The air was thick with the smell of the marsh and the gnats held at bay by the burning hearth in the centre. True enough, the inn was mostly empty with the exception of a handful of shady patrons, the innkeeper himself and of course, the Vigilants.


                Gideon scratched his beard as young Sven darted his eye back and forth at the other patrons. ‘Why so skittish, boy?’ said Gideon. ‘Worry about them? Worry not, it takes a special kind of stupid to pull a blade out at a “clergyman”.’


                Sven chuckled nervously but Falrielle said nothing. She didn’t even pay Gideon any special heed and she had simply kept her hood up and her eyes closed, her mind focusing on her breathing.


                He works the stables in the morning tending to the horses but by night, he sells his knife to the highest bidder. He won't see the end of the autumn. Alone, in the cold.


                The innkeeper approached their table. The plump Nord man and his age showed with his balding head. Falrielle could detect the scent of fermented fish, herring to be exact and he had a slight wheeze to his breath. A knife to the lung; the wound did not heal.


                ‘Right,’ said Gideon, clapping his hands. ‘What are we having?’


                ‘Nothing fancy,’ Falrielle finally said, waving her hand. ‘Just whatever is in the pot. For our thirst – Ale? No, never mind the ale. Beer. One for me, one for the Imperial and another for the boy.’


                ‘Aye,’ said the innkeeper, his voice deep. ‘Anything else for your pleasure?’


                ‘How much for a room? Just one will do. Straw mattresses, nothing too fancy like feathers.’


                ’50 Septims,’ the innkeeper said simply.


                Falrielle rubbed her chin. ‘We don’t have that much to spare. Good innkeeper, may we sleep in the corner of the common room? Ten Septims each and we promise we won’t break anything. We’ll leave early and as a sign of goodwill.’ She pulled thirty Septim from her coin pouch.


                The innkeeper frowned but took the coins anyway. ‘Your meal and drink is to a total sum of thirty Septims.’ He bowed and left for the kitchen.


                Falrielle closed her eyes again and returned to her breathing.


                ‘So what now?’ said Sven.


                An end by a bet.


                ‘Now?’ said Gideon. He smiled. ‘We wait for dinner.’


                ‘I meant-‘


                ‘Yes, I know what you meant and my answer is still the same: We shall wait for dinner. Take a deep breath, relax a little. Remember the third circle of combat – neutral. True for most of the time to snatch victory we will have to act but there are times.’ Gideon leaned lazily. ‘That the best option is to sit back and relax.’


                Her hands are raw and scarred from the cooking and washing. A life of unfulfilled dreams but a life nonetheless... and a painless sleep.


                ‘And now is not one of those times. Look alive, lads,’ said Falrielle, opening her eyes. ‘For dinner approaches.’


                The waitress was an equally plump woman and her apron was stained with burn and sauce marks. Falrielle thanked her with a smile as the Gideon pulled a loaf of bread from his pack and Sven distributed a piece to Falrielle’s bowl. After a quick prayer, the Vigilants began.


                The main course, a bowl of Marsh Crab Stew was as almost as tasteless as the stale crust of bread but Falrielle could detect a hints of parsley and dirt. To the cook’s credit, she had removed the shell making the stew easier to slurp. The beer tasted of Hjaalmarch – the innkeeper had watered it down with marsh water giving it a distinct tinge of moss, algae, and more dirt. However days of marching in the cold with nothing but salted beef to eat and water to drink had made anything warm a delicious meal.


                Falrielle let out a loud belch to signal the end of their dinner and the Vigilants settled down. Sven rested his hands on his lap, eyes still locked on the other patrons as skittishly as he was before. Gideon pulled out his pipe, a modest corncob filled with a smidgen of pure Cyrodiil Tobacco and lit it with a pinch. As for Falrielle… she returned to her breathing exercises.


                ‘Say, Sven,’ said Gideon. He blew out a puff of smoke to the ceiling. ‘Where did you say you were from again?’


                Sven took a deep breath and said, ‘A small village called Brekka, a little to the east of Windhelm. We grow barley. And you, Master Gideon? Where are you from?’


                ‘I am introduced as Gideon of Wayrest for a reason,’ Gideon said with a smile. ‘Alas, I haven’t seen home in almost twenty years. Not like it’ll matter anyway.’


                Sven paused and then gasped. ‘The Corsairs… I-uhm.’


                Gideon waved his hand and blew another puff. ‘Ancient news, it matters little now.’


                Falrielle’s breathing quickened.


                She whiffs of skooma. The labour is hard. Too hard. She will take her own life.


                ‘So uh,’ said Sven after sipping his beer. ‘How long do you usually wait?’


                Gideon snickered. ‘Eagerness youth or Nord Hot-headedness? As I said, relax. Take off your boots, kick your feet up. You know what, don’t take off your boots. Not with anyone around. You’re a farm boy are you not? You should know this – you don’t tell your barley to grow, you tend to them as you waited for the change of the seasons.’


                He stands at the door. Not alone. Not unarmed. His heart filled with intent but intent of what?


                ‘For your question: I don’t know. If you’re keen you can ask the Gods but I doubt they’d tell you anything more than what I’ve just said. The bottom line is, waiting is part of the job. It’s as exciting as watching grass grow but we still have to do it.’


                He speaks to the innkeeper. He looks at us. He sees us. The Vigilants. Blood. Death. Kill. Hide. HIDE.


                Sven and Gideon ended their conversation when Falrielle slammed her fist on the table. Her head throbbed and her vision flashing from the pain. She grunted and rasped as she reached for her belt and whipped out a small unmarked dark vial. She took a quick glance at the container before removing the cork with her teeth and downing the contents.


                She sat still on the chair, clenching her hands into balled fist to ignore the sensation of her nerves burning with white hot fire. Her breathing, first rapid and tense eventually slowed to an even and calm rhythm. Falrielle was sweating when she took a peek from her hood: Gideon paid no heed continuing to enjoy his pipe. Sven from what she could make out panicked. The mysterious new patron, he was approaching.


               ‘So, you were the band that was looking to have a chat with the Jarl,’ said the patron, his voice deep and stern and his cloak hiding his face.


                ‘We could be,’ Gideon said smiling. ‘Who’s asking?’ he continued blowing a ring of smoke in the air and flexing his fingers. Falrielle recognised that he was preparing to fire off a spell.


               ‘Steward Aslfur, husband of Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone and acting ruler of Hjaalmarch,’ said Falrielle, wiping away beads of sweat off her brow. ‘Please, pull up a chair and sit with us.’


                The steward did just that. ‘I’m impressed.’


                ‘Don’t be. I’m the leader of this party and it is my duty to be in the know. Also you can tell your men to stand at ease,’ said Falrielle. ‘The two hiding behind the front door.’ She pointed at the entrance. ‘And the two by the window.’ She pointed. ‘That one has a cold, I can hear her snort every now and then and it smells nasty. She should get it checked out.’


             The steward waved his hand and his escort cleared.


              ‘If you insist on locking us up or chasing us out of Morthal, you don’t need guards to do that – we’d would’ve have done so by the asking. But that’s not why you’re here, are you? Beer? Beer!’


               The innkeeper moved much faster than his size would suggest. The steward took a sip and stopped to stare into his tankard before taking another sip.


                ‘What can we do you for, Steward? Lest I forget, introductions are in order,’ said Falrielle.


                ‘Falrielle, Senior-Vigilant and Master of Combat of the Vigil of Stendarr. Vigilant Gideon of Wayrest and Sven, son of Sigarde, Initiate of the Vigil,’ said the steward with a small smile. ‘Don’t look so surprised. O’ faithful of Stendarr. As steward it too is my duty to be in the know.’


                ‘Not surprised but now that introductions are in order, shall we begin?’ said Falrielle.


                The steward gave the Vigilants a quick nod. ‘We may and I shall get to the point: why are you here? Why have you come to Morthal?’


                Falrielle reached into her satchel and pulled a parchment envelope bearing a wax seal of Hjaalmarch and slid it to the steward.


                ‘Ah,’ said the steward. ‘That problem. Tell me, what do you know so far?’


               ‘Gideon, if you will,’ said Falrielle. She sipped her drink.


                Gideon nodded and covered the bowl of his pipe with his fingers, extinguishing the flame. ‘Nothing first hand, just from the gossips and mummers. It all began on the eve of the First Seed when a pair of woodcutters went missing for a week were found dead with their guts torn out in a dyke not too far from where they worked. The guards having ruled out foul-play was ordered by the Jarl to nail bounties on the walls of every tavern, crossways, and inns in Hjaalmarch.’


             The steward nodded, bidding Gideon to continue.


             ‘Skyrim being a hotbed of knife work, swarmed the Hold like flies to a corpse. Within a month, mountains of heads of the supposed responsible: bandits, wolves, chaurii, spiders – whatever rolled at the feet of the Jarl but the Jarl refused to pay them, not yet anyway. Jarl Ravencrone demanded that the mercenaries wait for the next month, to see if her new head collection did anything to stymie the attacks before they saw their coin.’


             Gideon paused, scratching his beard. The steward didn’t say anything.


             ‘It didn’t. The next attack occurred at the Ides of Mid Year but luckily or not so luckily for Hjaalmarch, the bodies were fresh enough for the Priests of Arkay to determine the cause: vampires. The Jarl still paid those mercenaries though, not in the two-thousand Septims but something more modest for their efforts.’


             ‘There is logic in her wisdom, I’ll admit but I’m not happy about it. However the Jarl’s word is law,’ said the steward with a scowl. ‘Then it was from bad to worse. After the news of vampires broke out, no one wanted to take the job.’ He waved his hand indignantly.


              ‘Has the College been notified?’ said Falrielle.


               ‘Bah, of course they have! But when has the College even been helpful?’ said the steward and Gideon snickered before calming himself. ‘We’ve been trying to contact the College for years. We’ve sent pigeons, and riders and the most we’ve ever received was a half-arsed note of apology.’


              ‘The College is unable to acquiesce your request thusly apologising for the great inconvenience,’ said Gideon as if reciting a passage from a religious text. The steward raised his drink in a toast.


              ‘For years?’ said Falrielle. ‘I thought this problem only started a few seasons ago.’


              ‘This problem? Yes. But you see, Morthal hasn’t had a court mage since 92’. The fool disappeared after he decided to gather some alchemical ingredients in the marsh. We found him a few weeks later or at least what we thought was him. Just a ring he wore in a pile of dung and don’t ask how we found it.’


               He sipped his beer.


               ‘To the point, after Mid Year the Jarl increased the bounty to three-thousand but it didn’t make the job any more… attractive to perspective sellswords.’


               ‘But there were takers?’ said Falrielle.


                ‘They were but most of them were clever and cravenly enough to leave when they were properly briefed. Good for them, bad for us as the killing continued,’ said the steward taking a long swig, emptying his tankard. ‘But… but there was one that took the job. It was last month. No, nothing too special about them, just another motley crew of sellswords.’


                ‘Who were they?’ said Gideon.


                The steward shrugged. ‘As I said, no one special: a Nord draped in leathers and furs, a roguish Imperial, a Breton spellsword, a dropout mage of the College and a Bosmer archer. They were familiar enough with court etiquette, I’ll admit and they gave out an air of profession when they had an audience with the Jarl. We discussed at lengths on the details and conditions of the job before eventually sealing a bond in contract – find and end the vampire threat and in return, they shall be paid in four-thousand Septims and be given the gratitude of the people of Hjaalmarch.’


                The steward snorted. ‘My trust however was misplaced. The crew spent two days in a tavern crawl before leaving the city in the third. That night, one of our watchmen reported a blood curdling howl and terrible screams in the dark. Nothing out of place in Hjaalmarch and they usually amounted to nothing but the morning patrol found four freshly killed corpses near a cave.’


                 ‘Ah,’ said Falrielle. ‘And so they met their end.’


                 The steward shook his head. ‘Here’s where it gets interesting. Three of the corpses belonged to members of the crew. The fourth… we don’t know where did the fourth came from.’


                Falrielle nodded. ‘And that’s where we come in.’


                ‘Before midday, the Jarl had me pen a missive to the Vigil and other orders that specialise in supernatural problems. Since you’re here, it wouldn’t take a wise man to deduce that the Vigil will answer or am I wrong?’


                Falrielle simply smiled.


                ‘Good lass,’ said the steward with a smile drumming his fingers on the table before he frowned again. ‘On the College, I have not been accurate in relaying their response. You see that night after the runners had already left the city, a pigeon came in from the College. The message it carried told us that the College has finally dispatched on of their masters to aid our problem.’


                ‘Did they say who?’ said Gideon, leaning forward.


                ‘No,’ spat the Steward. ‘Just that they sent someone and unless something terrible has happened to this “master”, he or she is due to arrive tomorrow morning. Which is another reason as to why I am here.’


                When the innkeeper approached their table with a jug in hand, the steward raised his hand shooing the innkeeper. ‘Jurgen told me that you wished to have an audience with the Jarl.’ He leaned in. ‘Tomorrow morning after breakfast, gather at the entrance of Highmoon Hall. A pair of guards will escort you to see her, don’t be late.’


                ‘And what of her sickness?’ said Sven.


                The table grew silent.


                ‘Jarl Ravencrone- Idgrod, my wife will be there in the morning. I would of have preferred if she rested but the woman insisted that she’d be involved in this matter. I can say no more, she is Jarl and I as Steward am sworn to serve her.’


                ‘On the honour of the Vigil, we gladly accept your invitation and we won’t be late,’ said Falrielle.


                ‘Good then. We’ll see you there,’ said the steward, rising from his seat and leaving a handful of coins on the table. ‘Before I forget, perhaps you would prefer to sleep in something a little… more than this. My guards have told me that we have spare beds in the barracks, if you please.’


                ‘Many thanks for the offer, steward.’ Falrielle bowed her head. ‘But we have an agreement with the innkeep and we are honour bound to our words.’


                ‘And what if I said that it wasn’t an offer and that I would order my guards to drag you lot to the barracks? What say you then?’


                Falrielle smirked. ‘I would like to see you try.’


                The steward smiled and left.


    Author's Note(s): Well rewriting this thing.



    Previous Chapter: Just a Formality I                                                                                                      Next Chapter: The Vigilants of Stendarr (III - IV)


4 Comments   |   ilanisilver and 3 others like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  December 21, 2018
    Great ending. I really like the group interactions with the three Vigilants!
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  March 23, 2018
    Why did you re-post this chapter? 
    • Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Why did you re-post this chapter? 
        ·  March 23, 2018
      Ah, after reading through it and comparing to the old one I see it undergone a big overhaul. Nice. :)
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  March 22, 2018
    Like the changes! Especially the ending. That was very well done.