SotF: On Thin Ice - Part One

  • Cold are the spring winds in this time of year. Cold, yes but gentle.


                The winter was over but the flowers had yet to blossom and snow still painted the land a pale white. The pine trees are high and so was the sun; we had marched at dawn under the sun’s warmth. I pulled my cloak close and warmed my hands with a breath but it was not the winds that chilled. For I, Carcette, Breton blood I am but Skyrim I am born. Skyrim, the Realm of Ice and Snow Skyrim, the Roof of the World.


                No, the chill was something else. Not of winds but of my conscience.


                I spun to my companions, Lorgar and Markus, my brothers in arms, men I can trust. I looked to Sweetpea, too clever for a mule, they say but more clever than me.


                ‘Oh Sweetpea, such a sweet girl,’ I said softly, scratching her ear. I will see that you will have oats tonight. Oats and a good rest.


                The ground was wet and the air smelt of frost. The roads are ruined, our boots are ragged. Bruised and battered are we but we live on. This is what we do, is it not? That was her way: Just survive… but too few have survived, far too few live. It was my fault, they died because of me. Britta, Vadim, and Kjoerd – good people. May Stendarr watch over your passing.


                Carcette, you darned fool! They trusted you and trusted you to death. How could you not know? Why were you so short-sighted to foresee? You were supposed to be ready. It was your duty to be. Fool. You shame your office, you do not deserve to wear the sash.


                Carcette Whoredotte, you arrogant fool! Why did you not have the courage or the wisdom to say no? Enticed by the stories? By the scriptures? You dull little girl. And it came to pass, your first mission as Senior-Vigilant brought to disaster.


                I tightened my grip on Lil’ Sweetpea’s reins and pulled my hood close. Lorgar and Markus, do not see my face. Tears are inappropriate of a leader, I must be strong. I must seem strong, you deserve that at least. They survived, that is what I must focus but their faces, their screams haunt every dark corner of my mind and when I think of- No, stop it! Dry your tears. You must be their pillar of valour.


                I wiped my gloved fingers over my eyes and made a bad cough. It was the cold, I will say. Just the cold.


                I stopped and stared off into the distance. I know this road, I have crossed this path for almost all my life. There on the horizon I could see it; I could see the sun shining down on stone; I could see the grey towers of the Keep. The Keep - Vigil’s Keep. As we approached, the Keep sang her song: three blasts of the horn as if to say Welcome Home.


                But it was too few. Britta, Vadim, Kjoerd – may the ground lay lightly upon you.


                Fort Dunstad was her ancient name, a name before the Vigil. Her walls were modest but old as they were, it deterred bandits and kept out the chill. The watchmen, Dale and Harnn stood on the gatehouse. They barked at Esbern who manned the winch. I remember their names and their faces, after all who would forget their own kin, their own family? Forget or remembered, I have failed them. Brothers and sisters dead because of me.


                The chains rattled in protest as they pulled the portcullis up. As the chains rose, I heard a familiar voice – loud, brash, and vulgar from the courtyard.


                ‘You move with the endurance of crippled leper with palsy!’ it started, it was a woman’s. ‘Get into line or I will personally shove my fist up your mum-loving cloak-tearing sheep-bunging arses!’


                I passed the reins to Svaknir and scratched Sweetpea’s ear one last time. I looked to the courtyard and saw a contingent of Initiates undergoing their physical. It was as Mentor saw fit: when the sun was sky high, you worked. Leading the contingent was a hooded figure, short of height but who nonetheless commanded respect. A respect hard fought and well-earned unlike I, who respect was unjustly given.


                I turned to Lorgar and Markus and the two snapped a salute. ‘I will brief the Keeper myself, you need not follow me,’ I said. ‘You had done well, you were dutiful and brave. You are dismissed.’


                They snapped a salute again but remained.


                ‘Sister-Vigilant,’ Lorgar said. ‘What happened back there. What happened to-‘ he continued but could not bring himself to finish, his brown eyes averting mine.


                ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself, Sister-Vigilant,’ Markus said, patting Lorgar on the shoulder. ‘It wasn’t your fault. No one could of have foreseen it.’


                But it was my duty to know, your fool of a leader. I had to foresee, to prepare, to be ready for anything… to keep you alive and kind words will not return them and the blood is on my hands.


                I nodded my head but I kept silent. They bowed their heads and slowly walked away.


                I made my way to the Initiates who seemed halfway to Sovngarde about now but their drill master was tough, relentless. She herself made sure to go through the same hell she made them cross. She will sleep in the cold mud and eat rotting maggoty bread to prove a hard truth. A body once broke, will of steel reborn, the Book of Compassion, Verse XXXV. I could not help but find myself smiling; I remember reading her that once though I am certain she was not paying attention. She never did when anyone spoke of the scriptures.


                Then she stopped the training and had the Initiates seated; panted like dogs they did but her breathing was calm and controlled. She wiped her brow, pulled down her hood revealing her snow white hair and skin, pointed at the Initiates and barked new orders.


                ‘That was the length of a boxing match: a controlled sport where the objective isn’t to kill your opponents and if that is what tires you out how do you expect to fight a Daedra?’ she said. I swore she shot a passing glance at me. ‘Think I’m wrong? I’ll tell you what,’ she continued, opening her arms wide. ‘Any five of you think you have what it takes to knock me down, step up.’ She undid her belt and let it slink to the ground. ‘And let’s make this more interesting. Do it and I’ll have the cooks double your ale rations for the week.’ Excited murmurs erupted from the group. ‘Ah, ah, ah.’ She wagged her finger. ‘If you lose, it’s latrine duty for the whole lot of you for a month. Choose wisely.’


                I stopped myself and rubbed my chin, chuckling. She always did this with the Initiates and it always worked. For she understood them in a way few others fathomed. Poor children. Stendarr’s mercy upon them for Sister Falrielle had none to spare.


                Three Nords, a Redguard and an Argonian took the bait. They rose with cheers, chants, and pride in their form. Falrielle mockingly bowed her head low, hands gesturing to the ring around her. They took their positions, surrounding her. Confidence beaming – surety in numbers and their size for they towered over the little Wood Elf. I may have to get busy if she snaps an arm again.


                Falrielle assumed her guard and I just noticed the silence: the whole Keep watching and Fally loved it. ‘Well what are you waiting for?’ she said. ‘For you to become real Vigilants? The dragons will return by then. Attack!’


                A Nord and the Argonian charged first, one from the front the other in the rear. A smart move, I will admit. A death sentence for most but Falrielle is not ‘most’. At the last possible moment, Falrielle nimbly ducked under the wild haymaker of the Nord and grabbed her by the calf. She merely jerked her body and the Nord fell down hard like a tree in the forests. Falrielle turned and eyed the Argonian who was bent low for a good tackle. The elf cocked her leg back and kicked the Argonian square in the jaw – boot to face. Stendarr was kind, the Argonian was out cold before he even hit the ground with a loud thud; he will be hearing bells tomorrow but better than locked in a cage with her.


                Falrielle rose, still holding onto the Nord’s leg before stomping on the woman’s gut. A dull echo reverberated through the yard and the Initiates reacted with silent awe. They have heard the stories, I have no doubt. Stories of the Huntress of Darkwood, the Wolf of the Pale, Whiteout and her personal favourite: Queen B of Tamriel. The Nord scurried off, coughing and gagging. She stopped and retched in front of her cohorts. Out she was and Falrielle was pulling all of her attacks.


                The remaining combatants gave each other concerned looks. Their bodies telling them to run but how could they? They were trapped and it was do or die.


                The Redguard raised his fists and huddled. Falrielle smiled, raising her fists and planting her feet firmly; mirroring his guard. The Nords stood still, terror seemingly paralyzing their legs. I looked around and a crowd was gathering to watch the fight. The chattering as always then the quiet… the eerie calm.


                The Redguard and the Wood Elf stared each other down, nary a twitch nor response. The Redguard… I know not his face, his guard was orthodox. A trained fighter and not some brawler. Then Falrielle closed her guard and peeked between her fists. Her mouth hidden though I could tell that she was still smiling. Close to a grin truly but she held herself back.


                It started with a sway of the hips as she advanced but soon she began bobbing and weaving her head; a trick she learned during her sellsword days. The crowd, silent as a graveyard began to cheer and jeer with fire of equal zeal. All I could do is shake my head. Always a show for you, Fal? Give him a good one.


                Falrielle bent down and launched herself forward fast like a quarrel from a crossbow. The Redguard anticipated this and threw in a swift jab to keep her out though his punch was too high and Falrielle weaved under his arm. She infiltrated his guard and he was wide open. If she wanted to she could end this now with one good punch to the chin but I knew her better than that. She did not have her fun yet.


                The crowd gasped as she sprang up, grinning… and bopped him on the nose like she was saying ‘Try again but better’ and pulled back, guard up.


                Falrielle stood her ground, secured – giving the Redguard the initiative. He edged closer and closer, body tensed. Falrielle bobbed and weaved but her feet remained firm on the ground. What was she planning? Soon the Redguard was within striking distance but he did not attack, not yet. Good strategy. Play it safe, watch her rhythm. ‘Serenity in the eye of the storm,’ Book of Justice, Verse XXII. Was that the lesson you are teaching, Fal?


                The Redguard lashed out with a hail of strikes, his timing slightly off but Falrielle did not punish – she was not done teaching the Redguard. Falrielle moved like a leaf in the wind. She flowed with the Redguard’s rhythm, never against it and it made his fists hit air. Credits where it is due, the Redguard had the stamina but the clever man should never try to out tire a Wood Elf! Then he did something I did not expect: he threw a hard right, Falrielle answered by whiffing his punch and ate a blow with his left to her gut.


                She lurched backwards, the spectators cheering and her legs shaking. Oh Falrielle, a punch you can give and generous you are so but a taking a punch, a hit? Is a different story. She spat, readied her guard and before we knew it, unleashed a barrage of attacks. The Redguard was on the defensive and every move he made she punished and Fal punished them hard. His guard cracked, as they all eventually do and she did in as she did at first. This time there was no mercy and she sent him flying back. Falrielle’s boxing had gotten rusty but from her smug smile, I could see that she still had it in her.


                ‘Alright, show’s over. Back to work!’ she shouted. She pointed at the Redguard, dazed and pulled to his feet. ‘Good form but you hesitate. Be decisive if you ever want to stand a chance out there.’


    A Nord man, as traditional as he could look with his hair of gold and fine beard let out a great roar and charged at the distracted Falrielle. She caught him in a hold and the two flipped over with Falrielle landing on top with her legs wrapped around his arm tightly.


    ‘            Attacking me when I’m distracted? Good move,’ she said, pulling his arm back against his agonised screams. ‘But by Mara, don’t shout when you do it. That defeats the purpose of a sneak attack!’


                ‘I yield! I yield!’ shouted the pinned man. Without fanfare or thought, she released him. The clever Vigilant knows when to give in, words of Senior-Vigilant Garruk.


                Falrielle rose and dusted herself. She looked at her pupils with a malevolent grin on her face. ‘Well then, looks like you lot will be digging latrines for a week. New game: whoever who can guess my meals for the week will-‘


                ‘I’m still standing, Sister-Vigilant,’ the last Nord said. An average looking if skinny man with hair kissed by fire. ‘I-I’m still standing.’


                Falrielle spun round and shrugged her shoulders. ‘You can choose to unstand if you wish,’ she said, pointing a finger at the man. ‘You’ve seen what I did to the rest of them and no one’s going to blame you if you yield.’


                For a moment the man considered her offer and then charged. That spirit will go far in the Vigil but alas, it took more than spirit to take Falrielle down. His kick was sloppy and Falrielle deflected his leg and in one smooth motion, she was in his guard. A swift knee to the gut sent him retching.


                ‘Now you’ll be digging latrines for a week,’ Falrielle said to their mournful groans. She turned to me and waved me over. ‘Stand up, on your feet you lily-livered leather-flinging slipper-soaring mongrels! Greet the Master of Healing!’ The entire column swiftly rose to their feet and saluted. ‘Alright take a piss break. This won’t take long.’ She pulled her hood back up.


                ‘Lady Falrielle,’ I said, arms extended.


                ‘Breton bitch,’ Falrielle said as she embraced me. She released me and added a smack to my arm. ‘Between you and me, I think I might actually make some of them actual Vigilants… that is if they don’t die or anything.’ Falrielle shuddered, no doubt remembering that one Initiate who stuck his head in a geyser. ‘What you’d reckon?’


                I looked at the fresh new faces and smiled. ‘I reckon that you not judge them too harshly,’ I said. ‘We tend to find the great in the most unlikely places.’


                ‘Really?’ Falrielle said, eyebrow raised. ‘Philosophy talk?’


                I winked. ‘Where is Mentor? Is he on a patrol?’


                Falrielle shrugged. ‘Something like that,’ she said. ‘A cat got into one of our pigeon houses and well… you get the point. Mentor was sent there to supervise things a bit – costing and the like. He should be back by dinner.’ She clapped her hands. ‘They’re serving clam chowder and salmon tonight. The gods are kind: they’re your favourite. I’ll save you a seat alright?’


                I shook my head. ‘I am not hungry. Not for that right now.’


                For a moment, I could see Falrielle’s smile wiped off her face. I glanced away, she always could read me like an open book. She placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Thank you, Falrielle.


                ‘Have you spoken with the Old Man yet?’ she said, her smile softer.


                ‘No, I just arrived.’


                ‘Well don’t keep him waiting, which reminds me,’ she said turning around. ‘I have to get these milk-drinkers to get on the trail. I look away too long and they’ll start to slack.’


                ‘I will not keep you,’ I said, bowing my head.


                She nodded and walked away. I sighed, collecting my thoughts before I heard my name.


                ‘Carcy, listen. If you need to talk after dinner… well I have the time.’


                I nodded my head and she raised a thumb.


                ‘Get off your lazy arses! We’re running the trail and no back talking from you Jan! Get up, move out!’



    Next: Part Two


2 Comments   |   Tralient likes this.
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  October 1, 2018
    Nice insight into Carcette, I liked hearing her thoughts. well done. 
    • Delta
      Nice insight into Carcette, I liked hearing her thoughts. well done. 
        ·  October 2, 2018
      Thanks for the reply. She's really hard to write, articulation wise.