SotF: The Blood Court

  • I

    The eyes upon her sent a chill up her spine but Falrielle stood up as still as she could. She stared forward, not making any contact – not a sound nor a twitch. Then her observer, her judge made the first move.


                ‘Mother said you are your friend are “poetessess”,’ said the child who stood tall as her waist. ‘Is she correct, milady? Are you a poetess?’


                Falrielle stared at the child with an intense gaze of confusion before the truth hit her harder than a winter’s gale after a morning swim. The child’s mother meant that kind of poetess. The elf smiled, puffed up her chest and bowed exaggeratedly.


                ‘Aha, well observed, dear child. Very well observed,’ said Falrielle in the haughtiest tone she could muster. She thumbed her chest. ‘It is I, Falrielle of the Pale of the-uh Skald College of Windhelm who graces you with my presence.’


                The child’s eye widened with a glint of childish innocence. ‘I love Skalds.’ The child jumped up and down with a smile. ‘I memorised them all, I have. The Dragonborn Comes, the Snow Prince, Vilkin and the Spider – all of it! It’s been awhile since mother took me to a Skald. So, please sing a song to me!’


                Falrielle crossed her arms and rubbed her chin in contemplation as while she remembered the tune to those works, the only songs whose lyrics she memorised are songs never meant to be sung while sober: the ‘Rude Song’, ‘One Tankard, Two Tankard’, ‘The Little Goblin’, ‘The Sword and the Stone’ at the top of her head – singing any of them to a child would’ve thrown Carcette in a fit and her own ears bleeding from the tongue lashing she’d receive. Muttering to herself in deep thought, the elf smiled as she recalled one song that she could sing the child.


                ‘Dearest apologies, dear child but I only sing one of my own compositions if my dear child-audience would accept.’


                The child nodded with glee. Falrielle cleared her throat with a cough and began.


                There once was a farmer who lived on High Rock,

                He sat on the meadow, just shaking his-


                The door creaked open and Carcette and the child’s mother walked out the room. The two had been in there from dawn discussing on the findings of the Vigilant’s mission – a bandit raid on a caravan who one of the travelling merchants happened to be the man of the house. Mara was kind that they only broke a few bones before the Vigilants and a few other sellswords staged a rescue. Carcette talking to the worried wife was just a courtesy on her part.


                ‘Thank you, milady,’ said the woman, kissing the air behind Carcette’s ears as she did the same. ‘Mara bless you.’


                ‘May Stendarr watch over you and your kin.’ Carcette bent down and pecked the child at the forehead. Falrielle stood up straight at attention again when Carcette threw an accusatory glance at her. ‘Until our paths cross.’


                The door closed shut behind them and the scent of piss, ale, corpses, and garlic filled her lungs – the smell of a city of one she was quite familiar and not very fond of. Riften was similar yet different enough from the fish and the salt of Dawnstar. However the sun was still shining up high albeit its light is filtered through the clouds that brought a cool breeze to her face. Carcette was leading the way.


                ‘So how much did she pay us?’ said Falrielle.


                ‘Her? Not a Septim,’ said Carcette as she weaved through the crowds. ‘We have already received payment from the Castellan, do you remember?’


                Falrielle shrugged. ‘More money is always nice.’


                ‘Money for the Vigil’s coffers, you mean?’


                Falrielle sighed. ‘Of course.’


                The first stop was the city bank. Opulent and decadent, Falrielle always felt out of place within its clean stone walls and neatly dressed clerks. Her mud-stained clothes didn’t help that sense of alienation either. Carcette had reminded her that Falrielle could just wait outside but the last time she did that, a patrol of guards nearly arrested for on suspicion of being a lookout for a local thieves’ guild. The teller looked grey: unassuming and unremarkable as he sat in his chair. It was Carcette that dealt with them, cashing in the bounty credit. They left before Falrielle had lost the battle to not scream.


                ‘Please tell me you did not teach that child that song,’ Carcette said suddenly. She stopped moving and turned around with a glint of fury in her eyes. ‘That song about that man from Kozanset.’


                Falrielle slowly smiled – she had forgotten about that limerick. ‘No and no, it’s not my fault that you know how it goes. I did warn you not to ask but you didn’t listen…’


                Carcette shuddered and moved again.


                The second and last stop was the local pigeon house – it stunk worse than the stagnant canals. The gods were kind that the attendants were idle today, the Vigilants saw their task was done before the taste of pigeon stuck in their mouths. Carcette was quick and terse on the message to the Keep and so was the attendants on taking their pay.


                ‘So, our work is done.’ Carcette jingled her coin pouch.


                ‘Where to? Back to the stable?’ said Falrielle.


                ‘Hmm… We have leftover coin from our allowance,’ Carcette began. ‘I suggest that we spend the rest of the day sight-seeing,’ she continued cheerily.


                Falrielle frowned. ‘Is there really anything interesting for me in this bloody city that I haven’t seen in any other city? I just want to get a bath, some sleep and then go home.’ Her stomach growled and her frown grew deeper.


                In answer, Carcette’s smile grew wider grabbing Falrielle by the wrist and pulling her through the crowds into Riften’s market square. Rackets and the cacophony of the market square wasn’t anything new to Falrielle. For true, it was much larger and livelier than any of the fish or village markets she was used to but the novelty died years ago with frequent trips to the agoras of Markarth, Solitude and Whiterun. Moving through the crowds was still akin to swimming against a coursing river and every now and then, Falrielle could feel hands on her purse before a swift elbow was deterrent enough for release.


                Still the same, Falrielle thought. The traders bellowed at the top of their lungs, peddling their wares to the reply of louder customers, bargaining for a better price. The stench of people huddled together reminded her field camps after a bad rain. Cows mooing, chickens clucking, children screaming didn’t help her mood. Neither did the screeches of lutes, pipes, and trumpets. She tightened her grip on Carcette’s hand, on some level she hoped that it hurt her in retribution for dragging her into a crowd.


                Then she caught of a whiff of something pleasant in the air. Something that made her mouth water and her stomach growl even louder. She loosened her grip and tugged Carcette by the shirt with the best impression of a puppy she could make on her face. Carcette just warmly smiled and moved on. Soon her ears were greeted with the sounds of sizzling.


                ‘They call this Frybread,’ said Carcette.


                The vendor gave them three loafs drizzled with honey and jam in exchange for thirty Septims. One bite and the elf was in a state of bliss. Crispy and sweet it wasn’t too long before Falrielle began wolfing down her second loaf. Her mind wondered if there was more to the bread than bread as she was convinced it was mixed with some kind of elixir. Licking the jam off her fingers and handed Carcette’s half-eaten share, Falrielle’s mood significantly improved. The city no longer reeked of piss and garlic but of the aromas of frybread and roasted meat. The cacophony of market no longer irritated her but pleased her with the sense of life in their day to day businesses. She had begun to wander on her own.


                Her ears perked at the sound of a voice that carried its way through a crowd. A man garbed in modest robes stood on a podium spoke to the crowd. While she couldn’t make out the details, she knew by their brazen and evangelical habits that this preacher was a faithful of Talos, the God of War and Mankind. Technically banned as a result of the White-Gold Concordat, the faithful of Talos are not only undeterred but invigorated, seeing the ban as oppressive and unjust. Falrielle was inclined to agree: all true Nords worship Talos but the unofficial rule is that worship of Talos is allowed if done so in private.


                ‘Talos the mighty! Talos the unerring! Talos the unassailable! To you we give praise!’ roared the preacher. ‘I beg thee mighty Talos to give us the strength to cleanse the halls of our great city of filth and corruption!’ He waved his arms wildly.


                ‘What are you talking about?’ said Falrielle.


                The lanky man took notice of her; no doubt she was the only person paying any attention to him and screamed, ‘Daedra and Elves! Daedric and Elven corruption stew within the halls of Mistveil Keep! There they plot and scheme the downfall of man.’


                Falrielle shrugged, crumpling the wrapper of her snack. ‘Talk to the Empire then.’


                ‘Ha! The Empire? They know of this but they do nothing for the whipped Imperial dogs enforces the will of the Elves!’ he continued, screaming. ‘It is we, the proud people of Riften who must purify the halls ourselves. It is we, the chosen of Talos who shall do so. Only then will all of Tamriel know of the truth that is Talos!’


                Falrielle looked around, fruitlessly trying to locate Carcette among the crowd before turning back to the preacher. ‘And how do you know of this?’


                The preacher raised his hands up high. ‘Mighty Talos showed me the light! In my slumber, in my waking moment, Talos has shown me visions of the unclean and anointed me to spread the truth!’


                ‘So you dreamed about it?’


                ‘You do not believe? Talos has told me of this, oh yes,’ said the preacher, his voice low. ‘But in due time. All will see the truth of mighty Talos! All will-‘


                The preacher suddenly jumped off the podium and ran into the sea of people. Falrielle turned around and she saw the two-crossed daggers on a violet shield; the city guards.


                ‘There are those who would silence Talos’ truths!’ the preacher shouted, pushing and shoving. ‘But the truth will be known! All will be known!’ he continued, his voice slowly disappearing in the crowd.


                Falrielle was just about to leave and find Carcette when she felt a firm grip on her shoulder. The elf reached for her knife before a familiar face greeted her.


                ‘Fally,’ said Carcette. ‘There is something I want to show you. Your arms are fine?’


                Falrielle raised an eyebrow and nodded. Carcette beckoned.


                Carving their way from one commotion to another but this time was a troupe of dancers and musicians from Elsweyr. The Khajiit performers, the cat-men of the strange province were playing equally strange sounding instruments and moved erratically to the music. The troupe burned an intoxicating incense that sent ripples of pain and pleasure through Falrielle’s pounding head but the performance wasn’t why Carcette brought Falrielle here. Next to the performers has the Temple of Zenithar, the God of Commerce.


                ‘I’m not making an offering,’ said Falrielle, crossing her arms petulantly.   


                Carcette chuckled. ‘Since when have you willingly parted from your coin, Fally?’ she said. Carcette nudged her head as she gripped a crevice on the wall. ‘Up.’


                Falrielle looked around nervously for any signs of guards before she frowned at herself. In any other day, it was Carcette that stopped her from getting into trouble but today was an odd one. Falrielle muttered that she should consult an astrologist soon before the month was over as she took her first step on the temple.


                An amalgamation of stone and wood, the Temple of Zenithar wasn’t anything unusual from the surrounding buildings were not for its bell tower but Falrielle had been told that the bells had never rung for decades. Falrielle stopped climbing midway to look down – the crowds of the market now look like ants and she felt pins and needles on her legs. She took a deep breath and continued climbing. Searching for a crevice or a loose brick to anchor herself down, she noticed that Carcette was nearing the top while she was only halfway there. Her mind lurched: Falrielle was generally the better climber.


                Huffing and sweating, Carcette extended a hand and pulled Falrielle to the top. The elf dropped on the roof and took a swig off her canteen. Carcette sat on the ledge and tapped the space next to her.


                ‘Look,’ said Carcette.


                Falrielle winced and squinted her eyes at the sun. She closed her eyes, counted to three, opened them and gasped. From the peaks of the Velothi Mountains to Mistveil Keep, the Rift shone bright orange – very different from the constant white washes of the Pale. She steeled herself, looked down and immediately regretted her decision; the pins are back with a vengeance. She closed her eyes again, took a deep breath and then looked at Carcette and smiled.


                Falrielle had always associated Carcette with discipline, responsibility, and an all-round-stick-up-her-arse but she never did notice that gleam in her soft blue eyes nor did she notice the dimples when she smiled. Her train of thought was interrupted when Carcette reached into her satchel and gave Falrielle a strip of salt beef and one for herself.


                ‘Carcy,’ said Falrielle. ‘This is salt beef.’


                Carcette wordlessly nodded.


                ‘The thing is hard as wood. I mean I can bite through it but you-‘


                Carcette did just that. The Breton took one bite and tore the strip in half. ‘It is an Imperial recipe,’ she said. ‘Go ahead, try it.’


                Falrielle stared at her strip, shrugged and bit down. Unlike what she expected the meat was soft and she made sure to thoroughly spread the salty and smoky flavour in her tongue. Carcette placed the satchel filled with this strange variant of salt beef between them and Falrielle couldn’t help but take another then another.


                ‘You know,’ said Falrielle between chews. ‘Riften isn’t that much of a shithole of a city as I thought it was.’ Falrielle took another strip.


                Carcette laughed. ‘Only compliment I will get from you, Fally?’


                ‘By Mara you bet it is!’ Falrielle sucked her fingers clean and stood up. ‘Let’s go get dinner before its dark.’


                ‘Wait,’ said Carcette. ‘I want to stay a little longer,’ she continued stammering. ‘It has been too long since I have seen home.’


                Falrielle looked at Carcette and saw that gleam again. She sat down and leaned.





    II - III

    IV - V





    Previous Chapter: Just a Formality IV                                                                                                    Next Chapter: The Blood Court (II - III)


2 Comments   |   Sotek likes this.
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  June 24, 2018
    again, lovely. carcette's and falrielle's personalities are really coming through. the chapter is entertaining and leaves me wanting more. my only reservation is that i can't figure out where in the timeline it sits. where does it fit in with the events i...  more
    • ilanisilver
      again, lovely. carcette's and falrielle's personalities are really coming through. the chapter is entertaining and leaves me wanting more. my only reservation is that i can't figure out where in the timeline it sits. where does it fit in with the events i...  more
        ·  June 24, 2018
      ok, i re-read the last chapter and can see it's one of their first patrols together. mea culpa, there.