Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter X

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    21th of Evening Star, 4E 201

     

    Äelberon and Vilkas walked up the road from the Whiterun gates towards the stables.  It was early morning, chilly, and the dew still clung stubbornly to the tundra grasses and flowers as the birds began their morning songs. They were carrying an strangely shaped item, covered in bearskin. It wasn’t that it was heavy, but the shape was awkward, so the going was slow for the two robust warriors.  Koor followed them, but his excitement could not be contained and he kept running circles about them, howling to himself.

     

    “Koor!” Äelberon barked, “You are going to make your Master dizzy with all that running about. Stop.”

     

    Vilkas grinned and shook his head when the husky stopped moving, responded with a low yowl that sounded vaguely like he was saying “no”, and then resumed his circling. “He’s not listening.” Whispered Vilkas.

     

    “I know.” Äelberon sighed. “I will remember this when next he begs for treats.”

     

    “He has other sources now.” Replied Vilkas.

     

    “Aye, and she lets him get away with murder too.” He turned his head to Koor, “But not for the next few days! You are mine now. You hear that you old Snowberry? And I shall spend our time together purging you of my Shield-Sister’s dark influences. Purging you of your many sins! Turned you into a fat, old Yokudan lapdog Aela has.”

     

    Vilkas chuckled. The entire Mead Hall was taken with that Yokudan lapdog. They would miss both him and his eccentric Master. The Elf, upon realizing that it was a lost cause getting the husky to calm down, then turned to the Nord, his face warm with gratitude.

     

    “I want to thank you friend.” Äelberon spoke, his breath coming out in puffs. “I know it is early, but if I want to make Dawnstar by nightfall…”

     

    “Think nothing of it friend.” Dismissed Vilkas “I’m just glad you have her now.”

     

    Vilkas then blew out a gust of air, “I’m also glad you did not buy your horse at Riften.”

     

    Äelberon laughed aloud and the two continued their trudge toward the stables. He had enough provisions for several days. Extra coin, dried meats, dried fruits, and cheeses prepared by Tilma, waterskins, extra arrows, leather, pelts, a tankard, a bowl, a spoon, and two tents. One tent of hide for the rain, and one of fur for the snow. Firewood, torches, flint, oil, soap, an axe and a pickaxe rounded out his supplies.  Allie was going to look less like a war horse and more like a Khajiit caravan, but it was necessary.

     

    Skulvar Sable-hilt waited by the stables yawning as he groomed Allie for the last time. Well, not true, Elf would keep her here and pay rent like the others in the city who kept horses did, but it was the last time he'd groom her as his. He put his hand on her flank to steady her as he ran the comb over her glossy coat. She was restless today, eager to go with the Elf. He saw the two warriors approach, carrying something, he couldn’t tell what it was. He didn’t care, as long as the Elf had the final payment, he was happy and getting up at this awful time would be worth it.

     

    The two warriors finally arrived at the stables and set what they were carrying down while the husky suddenly bolted towards a rabbit, chasing it playfully around the outskirts, making both warriors laugh. Äelberon was his name, Skulvar remembered as the tall Altmer approached him, while Vilkas walked towards the stable wall. The Altmer was very tall, with keen eyes and silver-white hair, clad in good ol’ Nordic steel, and sheltered from the chilly morning by a great, dark bearskin cloak and steel bearskin helmet. Upon his back he carried a fine Orcish bow, a quiver of steel arrows, and a steel shield. At his waist was a steel long sword. But most importantly, the Elf was carrying a very heavy coin purse. For some days now, he came regularly, making payments for Allie and today was the last day. Seemed a nice enough fellow. Talked too much sometimes, mostly on schematics and books. Probably an Elf thing, thought Skulvar.

     

    “Skulvar! You are well?” Äelberon greeted him warmly.

     

    “Oh, Äelberon! Never better,” Skulvar replied as they shook hands firmly, “Vilkas, you seeing this crazy Elf off today?”

     

    “Haha, would seem so.” Vilkas smiled back, leaning against the stable, arms crossed over his chest. He was a little cold. Felt like snow, thought Vilkas, as he took a second to squint up at the sky. Aye, snow. He hoped Äelberon had noticed or he was going to get caught in a squall.

     

    “Well, Allie’s been ready to go all morning.” Continued Skulvar as he walked with Äelberon to her stall. “I could barely keep her still for her grooming.” He opened the door, took her reins, and proceeded to lead the large, black charger out of her stall.

     

    Vilkas admired her while a mottled pink, white, and grey muzzle nudged at his elbow, demanding to know why Vilkas was not paying attention to him.

     

    Old Jeek.

     

    Jeek of the River, Aela's horse. Her da's present when she finally joined up and he sold the old 'Stead to move to Falkreath. A young colt then.  "I still love you, Jeek." Vilkas reassured,  his hand finding the horse's cheek. "She is pretty though. You have to admit." Jeek snorted, stomping his foot and swooshing his tail.  "Well, you're no gelding, and she's been in the next tall all this time..." Vilkas smirked, his eyes finding the black charger again.  

     

    She stepped with spirit. Almost a cocky confidence, he noted, her coat glossy and her mane and tail thick from robust health. The tips high-lighted copper from the sun. Her eyes were a fiery brown and her face was noble, if a bit stubborn. All in all a fine animal. Äelberon picked well. The Elf briefly removed his steel gauntlet and ran his hand over her muscled neck. He leaned in and whispered in her ear. The horse snorted and stomped her foot. He laughed, slapping her neck gently and said as he slipped his gauntlet back on. “She is ready, I think.”

     

    “You’ve got the money?” Äelberon handed Skulvar the coin purse, and Skulvar tested the weight, letting out a puff of air. “Shors Bones! That’s got some weight to it! Whiterun has a lot less bandits now thanks to you! Wonder how many bandits are in this bag?”

     

    Vilkas grinned, and Äelberon shot him a knowing look. There were a lot of bandits in that bag. Silent Moons Camp, Halted Stream camp, Redoran’s Retreat, to name but a few... Äelberon had been very busy.

     

    “Well, with that she’s all yours.” And he firmly shook Äelberon’s hand again. “May you find glory in your travels, friend, while I find glory in my bed.”

     

    All three laughed and Skulvar disappeared back into his home.

     

    “Help me saddle her up?” Äelberon asked.

     

    “Of course," Replied Vilkas, leaving a now sulking Jeek. "That is why I came. I wanted to see that contraption you’ve been working on for days. I still can’t believe Eorlund lets you near Skyforge, yet alone use it. That’s his baby.”

     

    “If any of you used it, you would burn Jorrvaskr to the ground.”

     

    “Aye, probably true.” 

     

    Äelberon stared at Vilkas, his eyes merry with mischief. "Probably?" 

     

    The Nord laughed. They removed the bearskin covering. It was actually lined with a soft fabric and Äelberon then used it to cover the charger’s back as he readied the saddle. Vilkas let out a whistle. He had never seen anything quite like it.

     

    It was a saddle that featured several large saddle bags, but in addition, the horse’s neck, head, and rump were protected by a series of steel plates that overlapped, providing strength without adding too much weight. Each plate featured fine carvings of Nordic design. Fox and wolf fur lined portions of armor. The saddle itself was of finely crafted and carved leather, again featuring Nordic designs. On the side were slots for various weapons. It attached with two strong leather belts along the belly and another along the neck, lined with soft fur so as to not chaff the animal. The bridle and bit were studded with steel and troll horns, and upon the head piece of the horse’s armor was set two goat horns. If she was a cocky bitch now, she was going to be a beast with that armor on.

     

    “And I thought Grey-Mane’s steel was legendary…” Vilkas ran his hands over the steel plates. “Where did you learn how to do this?”

     

    “Help me lift this onto her, eh?” They hoisted the saddle onto the mare and it was lighter than expected. Äelberon fastened the saddle to the horse and then paused to answer Vilkas, his mood growing quieter, more reflective.  “My mother was a smith at Summerset Isles. They called her ‘The Lady of the Forge’, so great was her skill.  The carvings I use on everything I make is a trademark of her craft.  On my armor, she etched an elaborate eagle motif, for the eagle is the symbol of my People. If you think what Eorlund and I do legendary, you should have seen the armor she made for me when I took my Holy Orders." His voice grew far away, "Now, that was legendary.” His expression then saddened as he spoke his next words. “She taught me many things...”

     

    His tone of voice hinted at a deep grief and Vilkas sensed not to press further.  The Altmer would say more on the matter when he felt ready to and Vilkas could sense that he was still quite guarded. It was a trait of the race.

     

    Äelberon unfastened his steel longsword from his waist and removed it from its scabbard. The scabbard was stored in a saddlebag and the weapon was slid into one of several slots. He then placed the shield, bow, and quiver into other slots. It was ingenious really, for it made all the weapons very easy to reach from horseback and his back was now free to only carry his knapsack. Vilkas wondered if Äelberon practiced mounted combat. To shoot a bow straight and ride a horse would require a master horseman. He didn’t even know Äelberon could ride.

     

    “Longsword now, eh?” Asked Vilkas, patting Allie’s neck.  

     

    “Aye, aye, a longsword.” The Altmer admitted grudgingly, turning around to lean casually against the animal, watching as the husky returned from his play, his tongue lolling in satisfaction.  Vilkas watched the Altmer extend his hand slightly, the palm down, and the dog instinctively found his Master's hand, pressing his head against it. He rubbed the dog's head as he continued to speak. “Besides, I am too much of an Old Fart for scimitars now.”

     

    Vilkas let out a hearty laugh and shifted his feet. Old Fart? Some of the stuff that came out of that Priest’s mouth. He was so colorful with his words and he matched it with his expression, with both his face and his hands. When he spoke, you felt his joy and you also felt his sorrow.  Prior to his arrival, Vilkas thought that Altmers didn't have much emotion at all, that they were very reserved and aloof at best, downright cruel at worst. Äelberon had promised them stories down the road and Vilkas imagined that stories from him would be something grand to listen to.

     

    “Bah! Too much cutting and slicing.” Continued Äelberon, his voice now acquiring a gruffness to the tone, “‘Twas a fine thing when I did more ceremonial combat, for it is a pretty weapon for that sort of thing, especially when all you have to do is show off technical prowess in front kings and emperors,” He chuckled, and crossed his arms over his chest as he nodded to Vilkas. The dog sulked when his Master no longer rubbed his ears and he walked to Vilkas, who obliged him. “Now that is a whore right there, eh? Look at him grin, not even ashamed!" He turned again to Vilkas, "Where was I?"

     

    "Kings and emperors..." 

     

    "Aye, kings and emperors. Must keep them entertained. For the glory of the Isles and all that, but...” He then grinned, “My days for that are finished. Now, I just want a weapon that will do the job quickly. The longsword was the best compromise between speed and strength." He pretended to thrust a sword, "One quick thrust and it is over… if I can find the right spot." He paused midway through a second thrust and his eyes twinkled with mischief, "A bit like sex, would you not say?”

     

    Vilkas laughed hard, pushing against the horse a bit, who grunted and shifted in response. That had been very unexpected for both Vilkas and for Koor, who was no longer getting his ears rubbed. Was he being serious, or just making an awful joke? “You want strength and power, you should consider switching!” Vilkas then drew his greatsword, which he then proceeded to swing a few times in mock combat and Äelberon smiled as the Skyforge steel glistened in the early morning sunlight. He nodded. 'Twas true. Koor again tried to search for his Master's hand. He gave up after repeatedly butting his Master's thigh with his head yielded nothing and he settled on his haunches with a disappointed snort. 

     

    “So size DOES matter?" Äelberon winked, making the Nord laugh again.

     

    "I've not had any complaints." Retorted Vilkas with a grin and it was Äelberon's turn to laugh.

     

    The boy was quick with a comeback. A keen mind. "Hmm, sex jokes aside, I have indeed considered it on a few occasions, Vilkas, and perhaps I will train some on it, if you are willing?”

     

    “Would be my pleasure to show you what I know, Äelberon. All I know is if you could carry my greatsword when you were nearly dead, you can certainly wield a weapon like this now that you are well again. I was caught by surprise that night. Two-handed weapons really take strength. Farkas and I are the only two-handers in the Companions right now, well…”

     

    The Nord chuckled, patting Äelberon on the shoulder as the Elf raised his left hand slightly. “No room for spells though.” Mused Äelberon as his left hand suddenly glowed with a golden aura.

     

    Vilkas watched with interest while he sheathed his weapon. He had never seen him cast before. His eyes grew wide when the Altmer then waved his hand and his body was cast in a golden glow that highlighted his angular features.

     

    “What was that?” Vilkas asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. No one in Jorrvaskr knew magicks. Ria and Athis’ races had some skill with it, but they did not practice, but Altmers…  Altmers were a different animal entirely. Magicks were heavy in their make. Äelberon rested his left hand on his arm again.

     

    “A spell that allows you to heal over time. Weak, but it has brought me out of a few tough situations.” He winked and leaned a bit closer to Vilkas. “Just a little something this Old Fart needs when he travels the open road, for I am no youngling.”

     

    Vilkas dismissed Äelberon with a wave of his hand. “Don’t be ridiculous! You are most certainly not old, Äelberon. I can attest to that. I was sore for days after I took you to the training circle, and you were almost dead then. Skjor got you healthy and he is still recovering I think. Ha! We both could have used that spell! You can cast that on others?”

     

    The Altmer laughed again, his laugh lines crinkling. “Aye, I can, but it takes more effort and I am not at my full casting strength yet. The magicks are always the first to leave and the last to return when the body has suffered, either from injury or the elements. But believe me, boy, Skjor was not the only one hurting.”

     

    Vilkas chuckled, he let the Altmer call him that. He was well over 200 years old from his guessing. To him, even the Harbinger was a boy.

     

    “First thing I did when I entered my quarters after finishing with Skjor was cast this bloody spell. ‘Twas a tough spar. This Old Bear definitely needed to retire to his den and lick his wounds.”

     

    Vilkas nodded. Aye, Äelberon was indeed like a great snow bear, sometimes warm and almost comical, sometimes brutal and gruff.  He was also used to being solitary. The family at Jorrvaskr was a very new thing to him. He seemed to like it, but he also seemed hesitant, as if he wanted to be on the move at times. On the move and alone. “I’m glad the two of you now get along. There was a lot of tension before. Unfounded.” Vilkas continued.

     

    Äelberon’s face turned grim as he turned to finish packing his supplies, picking up several small packages from the ground and placing them in the various saddle bags. “I would not say we get along yet, but at least there is now respect, for while I am new to your group, I am still Elder.”

     

    Vilkas nodded in agreement. Äelberon was indeed Elder and Skjor had overstepped himself. They all needed to get used to a new member who wasn’t really a whelp. It brought a different dynamic to their group, and Äelberon was not afraid to voice his opinions. He meant well, always, and they knew he only spoke because he never wanted them to come to harm, but it was jarring to hear at first.

     

    A criticism on sword technique directed at Athis, their Dummeri bladesmer.

     

    A quick adjustment of Njada’s posture as she sparred with Skjor. In the middle of the bloody spar no less! He shifted her shoulder backwards and then told her to keep the position. It worked and her blocking was stronger.

     

    Correcting Aela’s hand position on her bow. He didn’t ask her if he could, he simply walked right up to her and moved her hand and told her flat out that what she was originally doing was correct, if all she wanted to do was shoot at “dummies.” That had made her, at first, terribly angry, until she shot her weapon with his correction and noted the increased accuracy and speed of her draw. He was never rude, but he was often quite blunt, and it took everyone by surprise.

     

    Vilkas was just happy he had not yet been on the receiving end... yet. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d react. Kodlak didn’t interfere, but he wasn’t on the receiving end of it either. He knew the Old Man, if the Elf decided to voice his opinion, he wouldn’t take it well at all.  They were Nords and he was an Altmer, both were a stubborn, arrogant people. And Äelberon could be every bit the “Altmer” at times.  Vilkas’ thoughts were interrupted by Äelberon continuing, voicing his opinion, of course.

     

    “Skjor has much to sort out on his own, but I do not blame him for his anger. Neither should you. The Thalmor have a lot to answer for.” He closed the final saddlebag, giving the leather strap a good, tight tug, and sighed, turning to Vilkas. “Well, I am off.” He squinted at the sky, “If the weather holds, I should be at Dawnstar by nightfall.” He put a hand on Vilkas’ shoulder and squeezed. “Take care, Shield-Brother.”

     

    “You take care, Äelberon,” He said as he firmly clasped Äelberon’s forearm, “And may the Gods watch over your battles.”

     

    Vilkas moved away from his good friend and with a single, fluid motion that surprised Vilkas, the Elf mounted the charger. His hands on the reins were gentle, but firm and from Allie’s quick responsiveness to his guidance, it was plain that Äelberon was experienced with horses as well. Äelberon squeezed Allie’s flank gently with his armored boots and Allie was off to a slow trot, finding a steady rhythm quickly with her new Master, Koor following close behind, his nose low to the ground, tracking, as if following a horse was second nature to the dog. 

     

    Äelberon turned briefly and waved at Vilkas as the Nord lifted his arm in the air bidding farewell.  Vilkas watched them for some time, until they disappeared at the bend of the road, heading north. He turned and walked back to Jorrvaskr, bringing his own cloak about his shoulders to ward off the chill. He wondered if Snow Bear knew it was going to snow.

     

    Äelberon’s red-orange eyes squinted as he stared to the distant Northern horizon, the morning sun casting the tundras of Whiterun in vibrant shades of yellows, oranges, and pinks; the sky a clear, pale blue. The thin outlines of Masser and Seconda above. A cold breeze ruffled the fur of his great cloak and his breath came in puffs of steam. To the distant North lay the icy mountains and snow-covered conifer forests of the Pale. A land shrouded in perpetual winter. To Dawnstar and the Hall of the Vigilant. To a quicksilver mine and possible word of Vingalmo…

     

     

    Äelberon continued north along the main road, Allie maintaining her steady trot, Koor circling or rushing ahead to scout.  Feeling the fresh air and cool breeze against his skin, hearing the bees drone over the tundra cotton and the birds fight over precious thicket territory in preparation for the coming breeding season. Not for months yet, but song birds were song birds, and they started wooing their ladyfolk early. There were times when he liked it this way, alone. If well stocked with supplies, he could travel for weeks and not see a single village and simply enjoy the countryside.

     

    He did not dislike people and their cities. In fact, he was growing more attached to Whiterun as each day passed. It reminded him of Bruma, though only in the sense that it was a predominantly Nord city, and he liked Nords. The architecture of Whiterun was completely different from anything he had ever encountered in Cyrodiil.  It was charming, with its cobblestone streets and the distinct wash of the buildings to match the golden tundra that surrounded the city.  There were even several available properties; one next to Adrianne’s smithy and a run-down cottage upon the cliff with a spectacular view that he had been eyeing, but he lacked the funds, nor was he allowed to purchase property yet. He had almost purchased a home in Bruma too, but that did not work out.  He had never owned his own home before. He had either lived at his family’s ancestral home or in assigned barracks or quarters.

     

    Today, however, he yearned for the open road and he wanted to be alone. He needed it.  He felt something dark hanging over Jorrvaskr, like a thin shroud. Behind the roaring laughter and the raised tankards, there was a keen sadness. There was an untold story to that place, and it stifled him at times. Some there were accomplished warriors, but they seemed to suffer for it. Especially Vilkas and Kodlak, Farkas a bit too. A feeling of regret and great shame.  Betrayal was the word that kept coming into this thoughts. Äelberon, did not understand it, but he felt it. Something weighed in their hearts and it weighed heavily in his heart to see his Shield-brothers suffer.  His shoulders stooped as he was lost in thought. It was something they had said that first night he arrived at Jorrvaskr, but his mind had been too dulled from the poison to remember what was said. He hoped it would return. Usually such lost memories did with the passage of time.

     

    The howls of wolves brought Äelberon back from his brooding and he readied his bow.  The wolves emerged from a small thicket a distance away, along a stone fence, teeth bare, fur bristled. Koor attacked one immediately while two others headed towards Äelberon.   Allie maintained her composure while Äelberon pulled the reins, gently shifting her position to face the wolves head on.

     

    Let it be her first test.

     

    He let go of the reins and drew his bow, using his powerful leg muscles to guide Allie forward. Äelberon aimed and brought down a wolf with a quick shot. The second wolf drew near, too close for a clean shot with his bow. Koor ran quickly and soon the two canines were dangerously close to horse and rider, snarling and snapping between Allie’s legs, and she snorted and whinnied  She began to shift her position as he maintained control. Damn it, he could not get a clean shot, Äelberon frowned. He placed his bow back in its slot and reached for his long sword. It took only seconds, the slots were a fantastic idea. Reman had been too small for this, but Allie did not seem to mind the extra weight, nor was she particularly bothered by all the gear.

     

    “Easy, Allie, easy…” He spoke gently, the sword ready to strike, but a wrong move and he would hit either Koor or strike Allie’s legs. “Steady…” He swung the sword and the wolf fell dead with a quick cut to the neck. He let his breath out and patted the horse on the neck. “Good girl.”  

     

    She snorted and shook her head, baring her teeth slightly.

     

    They continued riding a short distance along the road heading north. Ahead was a small farm in the middle of the tundra, upon a rolling hill, its windmill turning lazily in the breeze. On the road just before the farm was a sturdy wooden wagon, and a man. Äelberon’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the man more carefully. An Imperial by his stature, but sporting the strangest of costumes. A colorful mix of red, black, and gold velvet and satin, and upon his head was the familiar hat with its two “ears”.

     

    Meant to personify the “ass”. 

     

    He had seen them before, a funny man; a jester. They frequently served the courts of the noble houses of Cyrodiil and High Rock, playing songs and making jokes. If they were good at their craft, they actually served as prudent advisors possessing great insight disguised with humor. If they were poor at their craft, they were simply annoying. The Jester was scratching his head and staring at the wagon when he looked up.

     

    Ah! Ah! Ah! Yes! Yes! Yes! A noble knight on his valiant steed approaches! A Nord? An Imperial like me? NO! NO! NO! WAIT! A big, bulky Elf!  A noble Elf from one the great houses of Alinor?  Hahahaha, not a wizard, not a mage, but a warrior is he! Tall and proud, with eyes that dance like fire, silver-white hair like the snowy mountains, and a sword that would sting like a bee! Oh Sithis thank you, a gallant knight sent to help poor Cicero! He giggled loudly as Äelberon slowed his steed and approached.

     

    “Hail, fellow traveler!” Spoke Äelberon from his steed, addressing the funny man as he raised his hand in greeting.

     

    A guard from the Pale looked on, his grey cloak fluttering in the breeze. The funny man had tried to get him to talk to Loreius, but he wasn’t leaving his post. His job was to guard the roads, not to fix wagons.

     

    Ooooo, what a fine voice, thought Cicero when the Elf spoke. Commanding and true.

     

    Äelberon watched from Allie as the Jester quickly knelt next to the wagon.  What was he doing? Talking to a wagon? Wait. Was that a coffin?

     

    “Mother, mother, mother,” Cicero whispered to a large coffin in the wagon, “Perhaps he will help us, mother dear. I will ask the fair, Elven knight and see.” The Jester turned to Äelberon and spoke, his voice high-pitched and rather grating to Äelberon sensitive ears. “Bother and befuddle! Stuck here! Stuck! My mother, my poor mother. Unmoving. At rest, but too still!”

     

    “Excuse me?” Äelberon cocked his eyebrow, but he could not help a slight chuckle. This funny man was either taking his job entirely too seriously, or he was wrong in the head. More than likely ‘twas the latter. He relaxed on his saddle; resting both hands on the horn and observed the funny man as the fool continued to speak, jumping up and down in frustration.

     

    "Poor Cicero is stuck!” The funny man replied through gritted teeth.

     

    Äelberon could make out a Bruma accent, mixed with some Cheydinhal.  He knew most of the people in Bruma, but he had never seen this funny man before. His travels occasionally took him to Cheydinhal. There was a time where that area of Cyrodiil after the Great War was very unstable. Battles between skooma traffickers. Very unpleasant, though it did make eluding capture far easier as the Thalmor had to deal with the rioters and the increased crime as well. An ideal place to elude them. The funny man interrupted his thoughts with another outburst, this time even higher pitched. Gods! What a voice, thought Äelberon.

     

    “Can't you see? I was transporting my dear, sweet mother. Well, not her. Her corpse! She's quite dead. I'm taking mother to a new home. A new crypt. But... aggh! Wagon wheel! Damnedest wagon wheel! It broke! Don't you see?"

     

    Ah, he saw it now, when the Jester moved, indeed a broken wagon wheel. The jester continued to jump up and down and wring his hands. “Calm down, little man. Need not jump to the moons!  How may I help you?” Äelberon asked.

     

    “Oh. Oh yes! Yes, the kindly stranger can certainly help! Go to the farm - the Loreius Farm.” The jester pointed frantically to the small farm upon the hill, still jumping. “Just over there, off the road. Talk to Loreius. He has tools! He can help me! But he won't! He refuses! Convince Loreius to fix my wheel! Do that, and poor Cicero will reward you. With coin! Gleamy, shiny coin.”

     

    He danced merrily in the middle of the road and Äelberon could not help but laugh aloud as he dismounted. Dancing in the middle of a road? He was indeed gone in the head. The farm was but a short distance away, just up the hill. He would stop and see if he could get this funny man back on his way.  He glanced at the hold guard and shrugged, the guard shrugged back.

     

    Vantus Loreius saw the Elf approach from his porch. Just how many strange people did he have to see in one morning? First the funny man and now this one was walking to the farm. He leaned on the railing and sighed as the Elf approached and spoke.

     

    “Greetings friend farmer.” Äelberon said, raising his hand.

     

    “Greetings,” The farmer sighed. At least the Elf spoke normally, though his accent was still thick from being an Elf and all.

     

    “I believe the man on the road requires assistance?”

     

    “That Cicero feller?” Replied Loreius, “Hmph. Tell me something I don't know. Crazy fool's already asked me about five times. Seems he's not satisfied with my answer. Why can't he just leave us alone?”

     

    “But I am sure he would pay you,” Äelberon offered as he leaned on the railing next to Loreius.

     

    “It isn’t about the money. There hasn’t been a funny man in Skyrim for years! Who knows what he is carrying in that coffin? Contraband, weapons, skooma, but my eye if it’s actually his mother!”

     

    “Did you approach the coffin?” Asked Äelberon.

    “Well, no…” Loreius answered, looking away.

     

    “Then how do you know?” He leaned to Loreius, “Listen, I understand your reservations, but even if you suspect the funny man of ill deeds, there is no proof of it and is it not better to give a man the benefit of the doubt?” He continued, “When you saw me, did you think Thalmor?”

     

    “No.”

     

    “Well then. Why think ill of him? Besides, I will tell you this. Whatever is in that coffin stinks like a goblin den. Definitely a body. He says it is his mother.” Äelberon leaned a bit closer to Loreius and whispered, “If you ask me, what he really needs to do is visit Whiterun’s Hall of the Dead and have that embalming job fixed." He wrinkled his nose remembering the odor, "That body has not been preserved very well at all.”

     

    “Really? Shor’s bones! That must stink. You’re right, it would be uneighborly of me to refuse him help. Thank you for helping me remember myself.” He shook Äelberon’s hand. “You can go tell that Cicero feller, that I’ll be over with some tools in a bit. Get him out of there before it smells up the road and people think its the farm.”  Äelberon left the farm and walked down the hill towards Cicero.

     

    “Cicero, Loreius has agreed to help you.”

     

    The fool immediately began to dance again, and Äelberon watched him with amusement, but also with a bit of puzzlement. This one was a very strange sort indeed.

     

    “Oh stranger! Noblest among all Elves! You have made Cicero so happy! So jubilant and ecstatic! But more! Even MORE!” Cicero made a sweeping gesture towards the coffin. “My mother thanks you! Here, here. For your troubles! Shiny, clinky gold! A few coins for a kind deed! And thank you! Thank you again.” Cicero shoved a small bag of coin into Äelberon’s gauntleted hand. Felt like 50 septims to him by the weight.

     

    Äelberon mounted Allie and placed the septims in his coin purse. He would count it later, as he had not asked for compensation. It would buy Koor and Allie some treats. As he rode away, he turned and looked back at Cicero. Aye, gone in the head, for the bloody fool was still dancing on the road and rambling on. Odd, very odd, he thought shaking his head. He knew no one by that name in Bruma...

     

     

    While he rode, the meadows of the tundra slowly gave way to snow-capped conifer forests and a heavy snow lay upon the ground. It reflected the pale sun brightly and Äelberon adjusted his hood slightly forward to shield his eyes from the hard glare. Snowberries and blue mountain flowers were scattered along the roadside, breaking up the white with spots of crimson and light blue. He gathered his cloak about him, it had grown chilly. He turned left at the fork in the road heading West towards Dawnstar, and then he paused as Koor raced ahead to scout, removing his knapsack from his shoulders.

     

    It was a purchase from Belethor’s general goods. Nothing fancy, just a basic knapsack of a strong dark brown leather, with flap closure secured by a buckle. He would adjust it later to add more compartments, for things inside were now a jumbled mess. He placed it upon his lap and opened it to remove an old, worn map, another purchase from Belathor’s, while Allie nabbed some snowberries from a shrub along the road. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and smiled. Ah, so she had a sweet tooth too, eh? He squinted to the distance and then looked at his map, checking for landmarks. Ah yes, Fort Dunstad was just ahead along the road, and the Hall of the Vigilant was just Northwest of the Fort. He could stop there and Dawnstar could wait until morning?

     

    He suddenly paused. He had heard it. A twig snapped and both he and Allie froze. It was behind him and whatever it was, it was big.  Sabre cat? His eyes searched for Koor, but the husky was nowhere to be seen. He leaned towards Allie’s nervously twitching ears, and whispered.  “Easy, girl, this is going to be bad. Do not move, let your Master do all the moving.”

     

    She was still, the snowberries she was munching on falling onto the road. He heard the low growl. Sabre cat. It was going to pounce on her unless he attracted its attention. He moved very slowly, putting the map back into his pack and then tossed it nonchalantly to the road. He would move, and Allie would keep still. It took a split second to make the decision, but he did not grab the bow this time, instead he grabbed the shield and sword from their slots and then he saw a flurry of white and sand-colored fur in the air and two great paws slammed into his chest, pushing him off Allie hard. His plan worked, it ignored Allie as she trotted away. She was smart, leave him to deal with the beast.

     

    Äelberon landed hard on his back with a cough, the wind knocked out of him, and had just enough time to raise his shield against the snowy sabre cat as its powerful jaws closed over his shield, the sabre teeth falling over the shield’s edge, inches from his face. He was pinned hard by its heavy body and his leg was bleeding, staining the snow red. He gasped hard as the cat roared and brought down his mouth upon his shield again, its spittle dripping onto Äelberon’s face. Its breath hot.

     

    Where was his sword?

     

    He looked for it, scanning the snow quickly with his watering eyes, until he caught the glint of steel nearby. It was about arm’s length away. He could reach it if he stretched. He tried to grab it, his hand groping in the snow for the weapon, but he needed both arms on the shield, and he was forced to bring his hand up again. He kicked his long legs up and held the cat’s great chest away from his body, digging his boots hard into the cat’s flesh, pain searing into his leg as he did so.  Though he groaned with effort, the motion prevented the cat’s great paws from reaching him with terrible swipes.

     

    Koor returned quickly and jumped savagely on the cat and began to bite down on the back of its neck, tearing at its tough hide. The added weight of the dog made Äelberon grunt, his legs struggling to support the weight.  The cat let out a terrible roar, turning its head in pain, and shook Koor off, throwing the dog into the snow. Koor got up quickly, shaking off the impact, and undaunted tried again, as the cat for a third time brought his powerful jaws upon Äelberon’s shield. He heard the shield crack under the pressure of its bite and he cried out, his legs burning and shaking with the effort to keep the beast’s chest up and its claws at bay.

     

    This was not going well.

     

    He needed his sword, and tried to move his right hand towards the weapon. He could hear hooves thundering upon the road. Just as the cat was about to bite down a fourth time, he heard a terrible roar.

     

    Gods, what now? A troll?

     

    The beast was thrown roughly from Äelberon’s body.

     

    It was Allie, she had charged the cat hard, knocking him some distance. It bought him time to grab his sword and get up, though his legs were still wobbly from bearing the weight of the great cat. She continued attacking the downed predator, bringing down her strong front legs with great force, snorting and roaring, her ears back, her eyes savage.  He gave the cat a powerful swipe from his shield, breaking both its jaw and his shield with the force of his blow. He threw the remnants of his shield down and approached the cat that now struggled in the snow, still swiping with its front paws despite the broken jaw. Äelberon grasped his longsword with both hands and then with a loud cry, he raised the weapon into the air and then drove it through the animal’s skull.

     

    For a few moments, Äelberon leaned heavily against the hilt of his sword, breathing hard and coughing, getting his breath back. That had been, he thought as he rubbed his chin, noting the light stubble… different. They had mountain lions in Cyrodiil, but Scamp’s Blood! They were nothing compared to these beasts! Sabre cats were huge! When his breathing slowed, he got up and braced his foot upon the beast’s head as he pulled the weapon out, grimacing in pain.

     

    Still a little dazed, he surveyed the scene. His shield now lay in two pieces on the snow-covered road. He rubbed his sore back, he had been thrown onto the stone road with some force. He picked up his pack and limped to the road's edge, to a collapsed stone fence and sat gingerly upon it, setting his pack next to him. He winced when he placed his hand on the gash. It was on the back of his right thigh. He scanned the roadside and found the culprit; a very jagged, sharp stone where he had been thrown. He set his longsword carefully against the fence and reached for his pack. He had packed some linen, he thought as he rummaged through it, his hands now trembling in the cold. He found it quickly and set it upon the fence as he slung his pack back over his shoulders. There was no time to do a proper dressing or to clean the wound, so he hastily tied the linen over it, growling when he tightened the knot over his leg in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

     

    He needed to get back on Allie. The commotion and the smell of freshly shed blood would most certainly attract other beasts, including ice wolves and trolls. He would not make it to Dawnstar like this. The gash was not bad, but it needed a proper cleaning before he could heal it with magic and then press on. Fort Dunstad was very near and he could heal himself there. Imperials or Stormcloaks usually tolerated a traveler at their camps. He had been to the Stormcloak camp near Whiterun before without incident when he had to stop to remove a stone from Koor’s paw during one of his bandit bounties. They had been very kind to him there, even feeding the dog scraps of meat to distract him while he pulled the stone. He would try Fort Dunstad, and with some effort, he mounted Allie, to continue west towards the fort.

     

    He could see Fort Dunstad in the distance, the shadows of the pine trees growing long as sunlight waned. He squinted as the sunset’s heavy glare off the snow made it hard to see. He saw movement at the Fort’s stone battlements alright, but something was not right. There were no Imperial or Stormcloak banners to be seen and the people were dressed in the simple armor of… bandits. He no longer had a shield, so he readied his bow and slowly approached. At first he considered going around, but the mountains made it impossible to pass and he would be seen anyway. He quickened Allie’s pace as the first arrows whizzed past, one almost hitting his head, while another bounced off Allie’s armor.

     

    They had seen him.

     

    Five bandits had gathered towards the front of the fort. Three archers, one light armored berserker with a battle axe, and a heavy-armored warrior with a mace and a steel shield. He squeezed Allie’s flank and drew his bow. It hurt to steer her with his legs, but he ignored the pain. The first archer fell to his steady aim, but his struggles to move the horse while in pain caused several misses. He had to put down his bow several times and grab the reins to avoid the arrows and the swings of the weapons. He managed to get another archer, while Koor brought down the third. Allie then surged forward towards the berserker, heading straight for him. She was charging, kicking up flurries of snow, and Äelberon steered her towards her target. She hit the berserker full on, knocking him hard into the snow. His arrow finished him. The girl was certainly proving herself in battle today! Reman would have never charged on his own accord.

     

    There was only the warrior with the mace left. Äelberon did not want to risk Allie’s knees on that mace, so he dismounted in one fluid motion, slapping her on the rump to urge her away from him. He then ran towards the warrior, not missing a step as he grabbed the berserker’s battle axe with his shield arm, drawing his long sword. The warrior, a Nord, let out a fierce cry, beating his shield with his mace.

     

    The Elf’s face was as stone, his red-orange eyes intense.

     

    The Nord brought down his mace as Äelberon closed in and he used the battle axe as a makeshift shield, blocking the blow. He countered with a swing from his long sword. The Nord successfully blocked him and brought down his mace again. Äelberon again blocked it with the battle axe and then pushed hard, knocking the Nord off balance. He continued to shove the warrior with the battle axe while his long sword found its mark, the lacings of the cuirass. The Nord warrior tried to guard his now exposed flank with his shield and the two then engaged in a brutal shove match, their teeth gritted with effort, their feet kicking up snow, their eyes locked in a mental battle of intimidation. Äelberon let out a fierce cry and leaned the battle axe hard to his right, separating the Nord from his shield as Äelberon brutally thrust his sword into the Nord’s flank, running him through. It was a far more effective weapon.  The Nord first fell hard to his knees and then toppled to the ground dead as Äelberon pulled the blade from the warrior’s body.  

     

    He needed to take a few moments.

     

    Koor rushed to his Master as he sat heavily on the snow, breathing hard, the linen on his thigh now drenched in blood. He was beginning to feel the blood loss.  And those were the bandits outside the fort. There were more inside.  He lifted his left hand and tried to cast, but his efforts were not rewarded. He was too cold already. Aye, the magicks always went first. Always. It was already dark and the temperature had dropped significantly. A heavy snow began to fall, cutting his visibility. He rubbed Koor's neck.

     

    “We cannot linger here, boy.” He whispered as he slowly got up, groaning with effort.

     

    Äelberon limped to Allie, his leg stiffening up with pain. He mounted Allie and he could feel the cold sapping his strength, his lids growing heavy. To be out at night in this part of Skyrim would be deadly. He needed shelter and quickly. He considered pitching a tent, but nearby he could hear the roar of a frost troll. To camp here and now would be suicide. He needed to keep moving. He rode Allie through the fort and headed Northwest, over a small ridge, her bulk causing her to sink into the snow, making travel slower. He could see the lights in the distance. It was a building. The Hall of the Vigilant? He did not know for sure, but it was more than likely. The snow was very heavy now and he quickened Allie’s pace, he didn’t have much time, he was freezing, his breath coming out in short gasps, and the ice was beginning to form on his eyebrows. His fingers were growing numb and he could no longer feel his grip upon the reins. The lights grew closer. They were the only things he could see through the dense snowfall.

     

    Follow the lights and may Stendarr’s mercy be upon him…

     

     

    The snowstorm had appeared without warning and the Vigilants were preparing by gathering extra firewood. It was going to be a long, cold night. One stopped her chopping and gazed into the distance, squinting through the blinding snow, the snowflakes sticking to her ashen-colored skin and black hair. She could just make out a lone rider and a dog heading towards them. She turned to one of her companions who was about to open the door to the Hall to bring some firewood inside.

     

    “Call Keeper Carcette! Someone approaches!”

     

    He disappeared quickly into the Hall as she continued to watch the rider close in. She put down her axe and readied her crossbow. If it was a vampire, she was going to be ready. Who else would be out at night in the middle of a raging snowstorm? Surely no one living…

     

    She took aim and was about to fire…

     

    “No!” Cried a petite blonde Breton from the doorway. “Stand down, vigilant. That’s no vampire.”

     

    The vigilant lowered her weapon, at Keeper Carcette’s request, as the rider approached and a black charger came to a halt, its coat covered in a dusting of snow crystals, the steam heavy from her nostrils. A husky ran past the charger and slowly circled the gathered vigilants, its footpads silent in the deepening snow. The Rider dismounted with some effort, favoring his right leg, pausing for a moment at the horse to retrieve his weapons, and Carcette knew.

     

    She had never met him, but she knew enough of him. It was the great height. By the Eight, even taller than Vigilant Tyranus and that Imperial was a giant among the races of Men. But this was no Man. This was a Mer.  He had finally arrived. His bearskin cloak was covered in a heavy layer of snow, his breath visible in the brutally cold air, his face pale and bloodless with cold, ice crystals gathering around his eyelashes and eye brows, but his red-orange eyes were still alert and keen. A steel long sword hung from his belt and an Orcish bow was at his back, the string now slack. What were these weapons? From what she knew of him, he did not wield such weapons. He had a golden bow of Elven make, from the Third Era, silver weapons, a crossbow, and a gilded shield, also from that earlier time.

     

    Where were they? He was so poorly armed.

     

    “Keeper Carcette?” He asked, extending a hand armored in Nordic steel.

     

    Not silver plate? What had happened?

     

    “Äelberon of Dusk.” She replied taking his freezing hand in hers and shaking it. “We have been expecting you. Come inside.”  Carcette gestured to the open door and Äelberon could feel the soothing warmth of a hearth.

     

    Äelberon of Dusk followed Keeper Carcette into the common room of the Hall of the Vigilant. It was a large room constructed of heavy timber to ward off the elements. She headed east first, towards the roaring fire, but turned when she noticed he was not following. He was at the Western end of the common room. At the Shrine to Stendarr. His back turned. The melting snow on his cloak forming a small puddle as he stood. The water was mixed with a small amount of blood and Carcette furrowed her brow. He was indeed wounded. He had removed his helmet, holding it gently under his left arm. His silver-white hair was tousled and slightly damp. He was praying, murmuring words that she could not make out. She had been told of this by her colleagues in Cyrodiil.

     

    He was not a Vigilant of Stendarr. In his home province, he was a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, a priest, and he belonged to one of the most demanding holy orders in all of Tamriel. Hordes of Daedra fell under his righteous might, the undead too. His bravery in battle was matched only by his piety and devotion to good works. And then there were the rumors of exorcisms. Holy rites he performed to expel Daedra from tortured victims under their influence. He finished praying and then he kissed the shrine of Stendarr and took its blessing. When he turned to Carcette, his face betrayed fatigue, the under eye circles dark and prominent, making his fair skin that much more apparent.

     

    “You should sit by the fire.” She gestured to a bench. “We can then talk. Do you need help with your wound?”

     

    “No, as soon as I warm up, I will be able to cast. I just require some water and linen first to clean it. If it is not too much trouble.” He answered, limping towards a wooden bench near the fire.

     

    Keeper Carcette nodded and disappeared down a flight of stone steps.

     

    With a groan, Äelberon removed his pack and then the cloak, laying it flat on another bench to dry near the fire. He placed the helmet on top of the cloak. The pack was then set next to it. With a sigh, he sat down heavily on the bench, facing the fire, enjoying its warmth. It had been a long day. He could feel their stares as he sat waiting for Keeper Carcette.

     

    She emerged from below carrying a basin of water and fresh linen. She placed the bowl next to him on the bench and held the linens as she stood over him. He nodded in gratitude while he removed his gauntlets, setting them gently to the side. On his shield arm, she could make out the beginnings of several large bruises.  Carcette frowned. “Are you sure you do not need help?” She asked.

     

    “I am fine, it looks worse than it feels, but…” He hesitated to ask. Gods, they were already being too generous, but at the same time, he had not had ANY since he arrived in Skyrim. His last was on the 29th of Sun’s Dusk. The last of his Alkanet brew. He would risk asking, for he could already imagine the warm liquid running down his throat. “Do you, by any chance, have some tea?"

     

    So it was true, thought Carcette, he did not drink. In Skyrim, a land of mead halls and casks of ale, Äelberon of Dusk did not drink. She smiled, her expression turning warm. “Canis root alright?”

     

    Äelberon sighed in relief. At this point, he would have taken anything. “It is excellent, thank you, Keeper Carcette.”

     

    “You must be hungry as well, I will have some stew brought for you. You eat meat?”

     

    “Yes, I eat meat.”

     

    She nodded and gestured to one of her Vigilants to bring food and tea while Äelberon washed his hands, using a fresh linen to dry them. His hands clean, he moved to the edge of the bench and began to feel for the gash. It was in an awkward position. Impossible to see. On the back of his right thigh. As his fingers explored, he winced. It was not a large cut at all; about as long as his thumb. The leather on the back of his thigh was torn and would need to be repaired once he arrived at Dawnstar, but fortunately none of the leather or fur was imbedded into the wound as he parted it carefully, exposing the flesh around the gash.

     

    He dipped a linen cloth into the basin, soaking it through with water before applying to the gash. The ice cold water felt good as he gently cleaned the wound. After a few moments cleaning, he placed the blood-stained linen on the bench. It was ready. He smiled when his right hand began to glow, and he began to heal the wound. Slowly the pain subsided and he let his hand drop, the spell complete. He sighed, he was starving, but he took the time to put away the dirty linens. Carcette tapped his shoulder.

     

    “Your tea is ready.” She took the basin from him and handed him a tankard filled with steaming tea.

     

    He held it in both hands, letting the warmth penetrate his chilled fingers. As he drank, he let out a slow sigh and his broad shoulders slumped a bit while the warm liquid seeped into his body. “Bless you, child.” He whispered to Carcette, his weary face managing a smile.

     

    She laughed and sat next to him on the bench, fingering the robes of her Vigilant’s Cuirass. She had not been called "child" in a good, long while. But this was an Altmer. Most in Skyrim were as children to him. 

     

    Äelberon had seen that armor set frequently in Cyrodiil. Steel plate armor with enchanted robes over it. Usually with fortify Restoration or Alteration. A good armor. “I have not had a strong tea in ages. Not since before I arrived in Skyrim.” He took a few more sips of the tea, savoring the woody bouquet and after taste before he spoke again. “I want to apologize for my delay.” He started.

     

    “We figured something had happened, but we were in the dark. With the dragon attack, information is not flowing as fast in this province as it used to. People keep to the cities. With good reason.” She turned to him, “What happened?”

     

    “Where do I begin?” He sighed, “But first, I am a little uncomfortable.” He set down tankard, and reached back to gently pull his long hair from the confines of his cuirass. He laughed a bit as his hair resisted before coming out. It was such a severe style, Carcette noted. Elven. Part of it was gathered away from his face and bound with a tight spiraling of leather, forming a topknot, which Carcette imagined was extremely uncomfortable under a helmet. “It is a holy mess right now. But it is against the tenets of my Order to cut it, so it is often rudely stuffed into the cuirass.”

     

    He let out a groan when the last of his hair was no longer restrained by his armor, and it then fell past his waist, touching the seat of the bench as he sat. She had never, in all her days, seen hair like that. It was beautiful, the sheen of it catching the hearth fire.

     

    “That is much better.” He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck where his hair had pulled. He picked up his tankard and took another sip. “Where do I begin?” He repeated, pausing to gather his thoughts. “I was pursuing the target across Cyrodiil. It...” He hesitated, his face darkening, “It was crossing the border to Skyrim near Darkwater pass. A force of Stormcloaks were also in pursuit of the target as they saw only Thalmor. The target is a Master Illusionist, even fooling the very Thalmor he traveled with, and that is no easy task. An Illusionist fooling fellow Illusionists. I appreciate the irony. I am the only one the target cannot fool with his guile. The Stormcloaks were ambushed by Imperial soldiers and I then made a very stupid decision.”  He hung his head low, beating his fist on his thigh, and Carcette could sense his frustration and building anger.  “Carcette, I just could not confront this monster from the shadows!” He turned to her, “It is not my way!” He set his jaw, “And the monster knew this and set a trap. Using the Imperials and Stormcloaks as protection, knowing full well I would not engage with innocents around.”  His eyes grew distant as he continued.  “I was captured and thrown into a cart with the Stormcloaks. We then headed to Helgen. Ulfric Stormcloak was with us and I knew in my soul that this would be the end.” He faced Carcette again, “I was at the block, Carcette, they were about to execute me. I had made my peace with Mundus. And then…”  Äelberon's red-orange eyes widening a bit as he remembered. “It came from the sky, Carcette, black like the very Void Nights, tearing the sky asunder, flaming rocks in its wake. The screams, Carcette, the stench of smoke… and of death.” He bent his head, “It was as the Great Anguish all over again. My words… my words do not describe it well, I am sorry. He is entirely too much for words.”

     

    “He?” She asked.

     

    “Alduin. The World-eater.”

     

    He dared speak the name. Aye, he dared, for he was strangely not afraid of it. “Stendarr’s mercy,” She gasped.

     

    “Aye, Stendarr’s very mercy indeed. By the grace of Auri-El and for what yet unknown purpose, I was spared both the executioner’s block and the dragon’s fire. The purpose will be revealed soon enough, for I know how Auri-El works. I escaped with a young Stormcloak and ended up in Riverwood, but as we fled the Keep, I was injured by a poisoned blade.” He paused, placing his left hand upon his flank, inhaling sharply as he remembered the blow. “With my strength waning, I traveled to Whiterun to give the news, and as my life ebbed from the effects of the poison, I joined the Companions.”

     

    “The Companions?” Carcette asked.

     

    She then saw the Altmer straighten his back and his face became so noble to look upon. It was that Altmer pride. Their dignity. “I am a warrior, Carcette. I have been a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El for over 200 years. I only know how to be that. I was dying and I refused to spend my last moments on Nirn in a tavern or a Temple. Ha! It is also possible that I am friends with entirely too many Orcs.” He chuckled, his eyes bright in the fire. “Their crazy ways must be rubbing off on this Old Altmer. I sincerely wanted a warrior’s death.”

     

    “And then?” She pressed.

     

    “And then…” He said softly, “And then… I was lost to the world. Overcome by the poison in my body. Fortunately, my newly acquired Shield-Siblings have more sense than I do and did what I was too stubborn to do, they bore me themselves to the Temple of Kynareth to be healed. I was told later that I was lost for eight days. Eight days… After eight days, I awoke in Jorrvaskr, very much alive, Auri-El’s grace be upon me, but I awoke to…” He listed with this hands... Carcette could not help but smile. He was a very animated speaker, often using gestures and his face was very expressive when he spoke. “...no horse, no armor, and no weapons save what I had from Helgen and faithful Koor here, who had followed me all the way from Darkwater. A good boy." He patted the dog's head. "It took such struggle to get here today, but I made it.”  He finished his tea and place the cup down gently.  “Thank you for your kindness. That was delicious. I had missed tea. It is a civilized thing, tea.”

     

    She shook her head in disbelief. This Mer was made of strong stuff.  “And now that you are here, what is it that you seek to know from the Vigilants of Stendarr, Knight-Paladin Äelberon?” Carcette asked. 

     

    His face darkened again and his eyes caught the light of the hearth fire. “What know you of Clan Volkihar?”

     

    Carcette froze at the name. She had heard the name spoken recently. Brothers Adalvald and Tolan were searching for evidence of their increased activity in the Pale. And then there was Brother Isran. Force of habit that she still called him "Brother", for he was no longer a Vigilant of Stendarr. By the Eight, if Isran knew the Knight-Paladin was in Skyrim. She needed to keep those two as far apart as possible. Isran did not like him, though she didn’t quite understand why. The Elf seemed very kind. “They are the clan of Northern Skyrim, dwelling in the frozen North of the province, possessing strong ice magic. Reclusive and ancient.”

     

    “My target is Volkihar. He was created during the Void Nights by their leader.” His head suddenly bent and he let out a ragged sigh, his voice thick with emotion. “Before he was turned, he was like a brother to me.” The Altmer composed himself and turned to Carcette again, but his rims of his eyes were red with suppressed tears and his voice was still thick. It was not the answer he had been expecting and she was disappointed for him. “Is that all you know? Northern Skyrim? Gods, Carcette! Do you know how many vampires I killed just to get that name? For over fifteen years, I have known that name. Only that name. Nothing else, save that they are the most ruthless clan I have ever come across. I learned it at a Vampire Symposium in Alinor. The year was 185.”

     

    Carcette’s eyes went wide, he had done the impossible. It was common knowledge among the Vigilants that he was wanted in Alinor by the Thalmor. He went back! “You went back?!” She stammered, “But you are exiled!”

     

    “A close friend needed me. I could not refuse for they had done me a great kindness prior and I always pay my debts. Always… At any rate, having the Thalmor pursue me hard again was well worth learning that damn name. I consulted sources in Cyrodiil, but to no avail, and I could not travel to Skyrim with the Thalmor on my back. I have waited so long and actually I owe something to that great, winged beast. I would be dead if he did not attack at Helgen.”  He turned to Carcette again, his luminous eyes searching hers for answers. “Are you sure you know nothing more?”

     

    She hung her head low, she wished she knew more, but Volkihar vampires were elusive and only ventured to feed. For him to join Brother’s Adalvald and Tolan in their search now would be an exercise in folly. She was not convinced of increased activity and until she was, she was not sending Äelberon to pursue a cold trail. He did not need anymore disappointment. “It is all I know. I am sorry.”

     

    She placed her hand on his scarred cheek and watched as his shoulders stooped a bit. He looked terribly disheartened and she let her hand drop.

     

    “One more question,” Äelberon asked, his voice suddenly tired. “Silver? Where do I obtain it? The Reach, I know, but where in the Reach?”

     

    “Do you have a map?” She asked. She could help him at least on this.

     

    “Aye.” He reached for his pack and removed the worn map. She leaned towards him and beckoned to one of her Vigilants.

     

    “Bring me something to mark with.” The Vigilant produced a thin stick of charcoal. She took the charcoal and studied Äelberon’s map, drawing a circle around a small village to the Northeast of the Reach. “Here,” She gestured to the map, “the village of Karthwasten is where you should go. There are two mines; Fenn’s Gulch and Sanuarach mines. The villagers are friendly and welcome Vigilants, though there is some dispute with the local family from Markarth.” She paused, “Speaking of Markarth, if your travels take you there, Vigilant Tyranus is there and he may appreciate your expertise. He is investigating rumors of Daedra worship in the city--"

     

    “Within city walls?!” Äelberon interrupted, giving Carcette a hard look, his brow furrowing. 

     

    They grew bolder with each passing decade. Gone were the days where Daedra were worshiped in the secrecy of the wilds. The end times were indeed near. “Yes, within city walls.” She replied.  Carcette then noticed his face brighten, for he had now thought past the words “Daedra”, "worship", and “city.”

     

    “Vigilant Tyranus is in Skyrim?!” The Altmer exclaimed. “I know the name well. Though our paths have never crossed, we exchanged occasional correspondence. A witchhunter from Cyrodiil. We fulfilled much the same role, he and I. The Vigilants in Cyrodiil would call either one of us for the more dangerous jobs, though I still did the exorcisms. Tyranus is not a priest and you need a priest for those jobs...”

     

    Carcette put a hand on his shoulder. It quieted him instantly and he looked almost sheepish then, knowing full well what he was guilty of. Sometimes he talked a great deal. Information, Altmer excelled at spewing it forth. Too many details at times for most Men. They could not process the details like Elves could. 

     

    Äelberon nodded and smiled. “I will seek him out when I go to the Reach and help him any way I can.”

     

    “Thank you. When do you plan on making the trip to Karthwasten?”

     

    The Elf sat in thought. He had to travel to Dawnstar, Windhelm, Riften… then back to Whiterun before he could make the journey to Karthwasten. He turned to Keeper Carcette.  “I will be in Markarth for the Old life Festival. You may send Vigilant Tyranus word.”

     

    “I will send him word immediately. In the meantime, you have free use of the Hall as our honored guest, Äelberon of Dusk.”

     

    He nodded with gratitude. “Thank you for your continued kindness.”

     

    A piping hot bowl of stew was then brought to him and he ate in silence while Koor sat at his feet. Keeper Carcette noticed that more of her Vigilants had gathered in the main room. Watching as he ate, occasionally feeding the dog meat from his stew, leaving him with only the broth. They knew who he was. Poor Elf, she knew her Vigilants, they would not leave him alone. They would ask him many questions. 

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter IX    Chapter XI

     

Comments

30 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  February 25, 2016
    His father does survive the Oblivion Crisis, they just didn't know at the time of the Crystal Tower's collapse. That's a story for book 2. It's the Void Nights where his parents finally die. 
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  February 25, 2016
    Oops. Just realized the nightmare happened in the NEXT Chapter, not this one. Sorry! I'm reading the PDF and didn't realize this wasn't part of this chapter!
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  February 25, 2016
    Finally finished this chapter! Ah just when I get ideas about the Hall of the Vigilants, I see it pop up in a chapter! (Which is rather nice. XD It's definitely not a complaint!) Ah, and there was mention of canis root tea. Kjeld and Reidar will have to ...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  December 10, 2015
    Just be gentle with him, him being all untouched and all. 
  • Idesto a'Shinbira
    Idesto a'Shinbira   ·  December 10, 2015
    I've been taking Albee to bed with me :)
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  December 10, 2015
    Thanks for reading, by the way. I know you're busy.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  December 10, 2015
    Hey! Hi again. Back for more pain, I see? 
  • Idesto a'Shinbira
    Idesto a'Shinbira   ·  December 10, 2015
    Albee's mission gets going in earnest? A lot going on here, & a lot to enjoy.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 12, 2015
    Exactly, basically Draugr are what the manual refers to as Tier two enemies. To be done at around level 15 or more and you can't kill them without silver, restoration spells, or fire, or an enchanted weapon that has a damage undead component. This is well...  more
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 11, 2015
    Read through a bit of the Requiem FAQ. Now I understand why Aelberon was so reluctant to go to Bleak Falls Barrow without preparation.