Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XI

  • 22nd of Evening Star, 4E 201

     

    He had ridden nonstop for a day, from Cloudrest to Dusk, as fast as his steed would carry him.  Still in his black plated captain’s armor and the purple velvet and apple-green satin lined cloak of house Larethian. The glossy black helmet cutting into his forehead, his destroyed world now seen through a series of horizontal gaps in his visor.  He had not changed, he had not slept, and he had not eaten nor drunk since he was told.

     

    Since he was told that it would happen, that the orders had been signed. That he had a day to get them out if he wanted them to live.

     

    The tears streaked his face as he rode and he used a whip on the poor animal, urging it faster, hearing it scream in pain as the whip struck its neck. He had never whipped an animal in his life and he knew it was for naught. He knew, he knew it could not be done in a day, and yet he still rode, ignoring the chill of the night air, on the hope that they had not reached his home. The Daedra had never touched it, for it was isolated from the city, tucked away in a grotto by the sea. The Point. But the Thalmor knew that they did not live in the city. They knew where they lived because Vingalmo had told them.

     

    And Vingalmo had called her lenya…

     

    He had passed a burning Dusk already, the smoke from the flames rising as great billows in the moonless sky. The flames glowing orange in the blackness. Like Vingalmo's eyes, a dead, lifeless orange.

     

    The city was made of wood and burned so quickly. And for the first time in his life, he ignored the screams of people in need.  The screams from Dusk as the Thalmor burned the city and slew their own brothers and sisters in cold blood. All for three boats that arrived early in the first era. Three boats, bearing Snow Elves fleeing the terror of the Nords. For three boats a whole city now burned. A city’s reward for its kindness and mercy. The screams of his fellow Duskens echoed in his ears as he rode past, but there were two who needed him more and he urged his horse on, giving him another desperate strike of the whip.

     

    His horse foamed at the mouth. It was dying, bearing his Master home with his last ounce of strength. It barreled onto the sand of the beach that led to the grotto and he saw the smoke coming from the grotto entrance.

     

    He was too late. 

     

    He felt himself then fall when the horse tripped upon a stone buried in the white sand. It came crashing down with him on it and he let out an anguished cry as he fell hard to the sand, thrown from the animal, feeling a searing pain in his shoulder. The horse let out a terrible groan and died, the foam from its mouth now mixed with blood, the cuts from the whip fresh upon its neck. He ignored the pain and quickly got up, running towards the grotto entrance, following the short tunnel that led to its garden.

     

    The great golden tree still stood sentinel as he lept over the iron gate, cutting his hand upon the sharp points that adorned it, nearly tripping again as he landed, but he could already see the flames coming from his home. They had been here. He saw movement within the house and felt his heart pound heavily in his chest.  The way it pounded when he sensed the presence of Daedra and their minions and he was filled with dread. What evil was done here? He drew his longsword and rushed towards his burning home.

     

    He tried to cry out, but his voice was caught in his throat. He could hear nothing in the roar of flames and his limbs felt as heavy as iron when he tried to run towards his burning home. The house seeming to be farther and farther away with every step he took. He growled and forced his legs to move. After what seemed like an eternity, he stormed into the fire that was now his family home. Ignoring the smoke that burned his lungs and stung his eyes.

     

    Hoping…

     

    He then saw a familiar form while he crossed the burning floor past the hearth. His father was crouched near the floor. He lived and Äelberon felt such joy!  His father’s back was turned, and his movements were erratic and confused, but he lived. Äelberon’s heart would not stop hammering in his chest, though. They were not alone in this house and he charged sun fire, keenly aware of the danger, but he needed to get his father to safety first. Ignoring the thundering of his own heart he called to his father.

     

    “Father!” He cried, his voice hoarse from the smoke.

     

    His father heard his strangled voice and turned.  

     

    Äelberon’s smoke-reddened eyes widened with horror and grief when he saw that what stood before him was no longer his father, but a pallid monster who lunged ferociously at him, fangs bare, eyes glowing, no longer aware of the son that now stood before him.

     

    Only seeing prey… forever damned.

     

    “Father!” He cried again as he swung his sword in utter despair, his heart hammering in his chest…

     

     

    Äelberon woke with a start, his tunic and breeches drenched in sweat, and spent the next few moments catching his breath and quieting the pounding of his heart.  He had not dreamt that particular dream in a long while. Not since he arrived in Skyrim. 

     

    Had he cried out?

     

    He propped himself on his arm and stared into the darkened common room, listening, blinking several times to clear his vision, his breathing still heavy, the sweat that now covered his body chilling him. Nothing, save the sounds of sleep. He sighed in relief and fell back upon his bedroll, drawing the bearskin over his body again.  Thank Auri-El, he had not cried out. He closed his eyes tightly, shaking his head in an attempt to rid himself of the images of the dream and to quell the emotion building in him. 

     

    It was very early morning, but as tired as he was, he no longer wished to sleep. He threw off the bearskin and sat up on his bedroll in the common room, and propped his back against the wall, one knee raised.  He rubbed his damp forehead for a few moments to quell the pressure in his head, as Koor quietly approached. The husky first licked his hand while it rested on his knee, and then bumped his Master’s head gently.

     

    Koor always knew when he had a nightmare.

     

    Äelberon gave in and held the dog close to him, burying his face into the thick fur of Koor’s neck, letting out a ragged sigh.  For once a pleasant dream would be nice. After a few moments, he felt in control of his emotions again and let go of his tight grip on the dog and held the animal's face in his hands, his thumb gently tracing the beast’s long snout, his red-orange eyes meeting Koor’s sky blue ones. "Thank you, old friend” he said softly.  Koor licked Äelberon’s chin, and his tongue lolled out of his mouth, breathing hard onto Äelberon’s face. On purpose. The dog never ceased to brighten his mood with his antics. Äelberon wrinkled his nose, whispering while he clamped Koor’s mouth shut.  “Your breath smells foul, boy. What sort of rubbish have you been eating?”

     

    Koor snorted, and talked back with a low groan.

     

    He rubbed the dog’s head and reached for his pack, removing from it the old leather lacing that bound his hair every morning. He held it in his hand for a few moments and then straightened his back as he sat cross-legged, a foot placed upon each opposing thigh. He closed his eyes and fingered the lacing in his hands and whispered, letting the ancient words soothe his troubled soul. 

     

    “Auri-El is the light of the world, the Soul of Anui-El, who is the soul of Anu, the Everything…”

     

     

    Keeper Carcette found him already up and in his armor. He had stored his belongings in his pack and was sitting on the floor, cross-legged, his back against the wall, reading The knights of the Nine, the dog’s head resting on his thigh. He was eating an apple and she could not help but laugh to herself when he held the apple in his mouth to turn the page.

     

    This Äelberon of Dusk was not your typical Altmer. No demands for luxuries, no arrogant or mocking manner. His manner was strong, but gentle, wise, yet not condescending, and there was an ease to his personality, his language often colorful. Her Vigilants had kept him up late asking for stories of his adventures and he happily obliged with some shockingly humorous results. But she also sensed his sadness. It was the weight of such a long life. She walked up to him and sat beside him, her back also propped against the wall, her hands clasped about her knees. In one hand she bore a satchel. She saw it in his face as he read. He had slept very poorly.

     

    “You should have taken a bed.” She said.

     

    He looked up from his book, the dark shadows still punctuating his eyes. “My dreams kept me awake, not my comfort. You have been extremely generous, Carcette.”

     

    “Will you accept one more small token?” She asked as she placed the satchel between his crossed legs.

     

    He gave the remainder of the apple to his husky and put down the book, taking the package in his armored hands, holding it delicately. He opened the satchel and he smiled warmly when he smelled the familiar woodsy fragrance. Canis root! “Thank you.” He said softly, putting his great arm around her and gently squeezing. Bretons were such a tiny people! Hard to believe Altmer figured into their make.

     

    “If you run out, more grows in the Rift.” She replied, leaning against him a bit and grinning at how quickly that husky went through that apple. “Near Stendarr’s Beacon.” She continued, “You should go there. It is a marvel, especially in the morning light.”

     

    “I will go. Soon…”

     

    “And now?”

     

    “Dawnstar,” He answered, “but not for long. Only to mine quicksilver and iron. I would like to make it to Windhelm by nightfall if I can. Though last time when I said I wanted to be somewhere by nightfall, it did not happen. The weather is very unpredictable in Skyrim. That snowstorm came out of nowhere.” He slowly stood up and stretched his arms, yawning. He nudged the dog gently with his foot. “Come on, Koor.” The dog protested with a low howl, covering his eyes with his paws. “You have grown soft, little milk drinker.” The Elf retorted.

     

    “I will see you off." Said Carcette while Äelberon helped her up.

     

    They walked together outside. The snow had stopped and the morning sun was clear and bright, casting the fresh snow with a heavy glare. He put his pack on and threw on his heavy bearskin cloak as she loaded his weapons upon the horse, finding the little slots where they were supposed to go. Ingenious, she thought. This Elf thought of everything.

     

    He smiled and nodded to her while Carcette backed away towards the entrance. She watched him lean closer to his horse’s neck and whisper softly into the animal’s ear, smiling when his words were rewarded with a snort and slightly bared teeth. He then patted Allie on the neck and mounted her. He turned Allie to face Carcette and Äelberon held his right hand slightly to the air, and his tone was solemn and formal as he spoke.

     

    “Stendarr’s mercy be upon you, Keeper of the Vigil.”

     

    “And also with you.” She replied, also solemn, also holding up her right hand.

     

    He turned away and rode off towards Dawnstar, his husky close behind.

     

     

    Äelberon approached the stone gates of Dawnstar from the road. The Khajiit caravan tents were to his left, the black smoke of its campfires swirling in the air, the faint odor of burning moon sugar finding his sensitive nose. They smoked it, or at least one among them did.

     

    He smiled to himself, he had his tea now, having smokes would certainly be the icing on the sweetroll. Perhaps their leader knew if smoking was legal? It was legal in the Isles and Cyrodiil, and in Elsweyr obviously, but illegal in Black Marsh and Orsinium.

     

    The caravan was just inside the stone gates, but not within the city itself. They had a reputation for being drug traffickers and thieves, and while, yes, the race possessed many of the skills required for such pursuits, the Khajiit produced no more thieves and drug dealers than any of the other races did. He had spent some time in Elsweyr, when he was Lilandril’s Captain of the Guard, and he would always remember that province with great fondness, with its warm, clear seas, dense jungles, and shifting deserts.

     

    From what he could tell, these were Cathay, a common variety he knew from Cyrodiil, but he had seen most of the other species, from great Senche used frequently as mounts to one of his dearest friends in the province; a fox-colored Alfiq by the name of Dar’Kalaa.  Her name meant “Clever Art” in their tongue, he mused, lost in thought as he neared Dawnstar’s gate, with her sharply wedge-shaped face and almond-shaped light green eyes. Her large ears heavily pierced with the golden rings favored by her people, her four slender legs adorned with gold bangles. Upon her neck, a rather thick gold chain set with an almost disproportionately large amethyst. If there was something she loved more than sugar, it was gold and jewels.  Dar’Kalaa was assigned to their entourage as a guide, a formidable caster of elemental magicks despite her diminutive size. He remembered how she used to perch on his shoulder, shedding on his cloak, making him sneeze with the tip of her tail in jest, while he rode the striped giant of a Senche, J’Fassaa, ahead of Lilandril’s entourage, guarding the young Mer as he traveled the province on his diplomatic missions for Summerset.

     

    Well, by then ‘twas renamed Alinor... 

     

    “Hey you!”

     

    The brusque call from one of the guards snapped him back from his memories and he approached the guard on horseback, noting the hard tone of voice.  Äelberon could already sense a different mood to this city. The body language of the guards betrayed it all, tense and aggressive. Strangers were not welcome. As he continued his approach, a guard of the Pale grabbed Allie roughly by the reins and halted her, making her snort as her bit dug into her mouth. Other guards were pointing their weapons at him. Damn, this was no Whiterun. Koor growled and bristled at the displayed aggression.

     

    “Koor, stand down.” Commanded Äelberon.

     

    Koor barked in protest.

     

    Now, “reiterated his Master, his voice firm. Koor backed away and shifted anxiously.

     

    “Halt, state your business in Dawnstar, Elf.”

     

    Äelberon heard it in the way the guard said “Elf”. This was not going to go well. Of the four races of Mer that roamed Skyrim with any regularity, his race was the least trusted, and he understood why. He raised both hands in the air; a gesture of goodwill. Allie began to shift a little, her ears twitching. “I only seek work in the mines.” He stated, hands still in the air, looking at each of the guards.

     

    The Khajiit began to take notice from their caravan. One, clad in steel plate, crossed his hands over his chest and scowled, his tail twitching, his eyes narrowed in disgust.

     

    The guard turned to Äelberon, “Why would a High Elf seek work at the mines? What Thalmor trick is this?”

     

    “I am not Thalmor.” He insisted, shaking his head.

     

    “We’ll see. Search him and his saddle.” Commanded the head guard. “Get off your horse, Elf.”

     

    Äelberon consented with a nod and proceeded to slowly dismount, but he was suddenly dragged roughly off his horse by the group of guards, hitting the snow with a dense thud. Two guards grabbed each shoulder and another immediately punched him hard in the jaw, leaving him dazed. They then dragged him to the grey, stone wall that surrounded the city.  Something was very wrong, guards do not behave thusly, but something stopped him from fighting back. They searched his person roughly, and then pressed him firmly against the stone wall while they searched his saddle.

     

    “What is this?” A guard growled as he removed Äelberon’s longsword from its slot and held it, his face a dark scowl. “What mere miner needs weapons?”

     

    “Do you begrudge a priest the right to protect himself as he travels?”

     

    That remark earned him a hard shove against the wall, making him grunt. “A priest, eh? Why don’t you just pray your enemies away?” The guard sneered.

     

    Another guard continued to search his saddle. “Eh, he only has supplies. Nothing Thalmor.” She said, not even trying to hide her disappointment.

     

    They then dragged him roughly from the wall, still holding him securely as the head guard approached him. Äelberon braced himself for more blows.  

     

    “You better watch yourself in Dawnstar, Elf. If you don’t… well… you'll get this.” The guard gave him a left hook, knocking him back against the two guards that held him by the arms.

     

    "Or this," Chimed another guard as he was kicked hard the ribs, knocking the wind out of him.

     

    The two guards that held him then pushed him brutally to the snow-covered ground.

     

    “Not so high now, are we Elf?” The female guard grinned. “This is Nord land.  You’ll learn that you don’t belong here soon enough. Be lucky you don’t wear Thalmor robes, Priest.”

     

    “Welcome to Dawnstar, High Elf.” Mocked a third guard as he gave him one more powerful kick in the ribs.

     

    Äelberon groaned in the snow as the guards walked past him, laughing. He watched them as they resumed their posts; guards were upstanding citizens who took their duty seriously. This was not normal, what Jarl would condone this? Koor immediately ran to him, licking his face, whining, as he lay there a few moments coughing and catching his breath.

     

    “Good boy, you listened.” He said as he stroked Koor’s head. He told the dog to stand down and he did, even though it was sorely against the poor animal's nature to do so, and then he stood by and watched while his Master was beaten without provocation. Even Allie had fretted. Äelberon had wanted to fight back, and it was within his right, but his age gave him wisdom. These guards were not themselves. Something or someone was influencing their behavior. 

     

    He suddenly saw a hand in a steel plate gauntlet extend to him, offering assistance. He looked up.

     

    “Why did the priest not fight back? He is certainly large enough to have taught those guards a lesson in manners, no?” It was one of the Khajiit from the caravans. He was clad in steel plate armor, probably one of their guards, judging by his greater bulk. His face was kind, with a grey and white muzzle and black patch covering the top of his head, his eyes a silver green. Äelberon took his hand and the Khajiit hoisted him up, his ribs screaming in protest.

     

    “Something is wrong.” He answered with a gasp and a cough, “Guards do not act this way. Something is influencing them.” He turned to the Khajiit, shaking his hand. “Äelberon.”

     

    “Kharjo,” The Khajiit nodded.

     

    “How long have they been this ah… friendly?” Äelberon asked, rubbing his sore jaw.

     

    Ha! Kharjo liked this one. He had a sense of humor. One needed a sense of humor in this cold. “A few weeks already,” Kharjo replied, kicking the snow with his foot, and staring back towards the city. He bared his teeth slightly in disdain and his tail twitched. “Eh… this caravan no longer deals with them, but Ahkari, the caravan leader, is still bound to follow the routes set by Ri’saad. This caravan travels between Dawnstar and Riften. The money is made in Riften. There is only freezing in Dawnstar.”

     

    Äelberon assumed then that the Khajiit smiled at him, but he was not quite sure. Ri’Saad, the name was familiar. Ah, Ysolda had mentioned him, he was the Master Caravaneer, in charge of the routes in Skyrim. Ri’Saad himself manned the caravan that traveled Whiterun to Markarth.

     

    “At least, they have allowed you in.” Kharjo continued. “You best check your supplies, Priest, lest they were as friendly with your saddle as they were with you.”

     

    Äelberon smirked, this Kharjo had a quick wit, but there was sense to his speech, and Äelberon checked the contents of his saddle. “They did not take anything.” He replied as he closed the final saddle bag.

     

    “Good,” He patted Äelberon on the shoulder. “Kharjo takes his leave then, Priest.  Better luck to you on your travels.”

     

    Äelberon nodded as the Khajiit warrior strode back to his caravan, and Äelberon entered Dawnstar.

     

    He was greeted by a bleak village at the coast, grey against more shades of grey, with salt and wind-weathered wood and stone structures. The only color came from the crimson patches of snowberries that lined several houses. They had a smith, for he could hear pounding upon an anvil, and it was clear from the heavy odor of salmon and blubber, the residents of Dawnstar enjoyed a staple diet of fish and horker. The town was in two levels it seemed, though Äelberon was not going to stay in town long enough to learn the layout.

     

    In Whiterun and Riverwood, his appearance was met with intense curiosity, and most were even friendly. In Dawnstar, he was simply not trusted and he could feel it in the stares of the villagers, who met his friendly nods with scorn. But there was more. They were aggressive and curt even with each other. Unusual behavior for villagers who had probably spent their entire lives together. Husbands argued openly with wives. He saw two fights break out in the city streets, a child was roughly cuffed by an old woman. People were openly drunk on the streets and it was still early morning.

     

    Something hung heavily over this village.

     

    Was it disease? They seemed healthy enough, save the eyes. Their eyes looked exhausted, as if sleep had been denied them for many days now. He knew the look, his own nightmares had often kept him awake for several nights in a row and his temper would grow short as a result. But he had the wisdom to recognize the symptoms and he avoided people on those days. Isolating himself and meditating until sleep came and his mood was restored.

     

    He attempted to ask what was troubling them, but was only met with aggression and accusations. Some actually blamed him. He did not even enter the inn, for he did not want to find himself trapped within a building if the guards decided to target him again. Their eyes were on him the moment he entered Dawnstar and he could tell that they wanted to do him violence. He approached the first mine down the main road to his left, a quicksilver mine. It was his reason for being there. If he was going to make Elvish weapons, he needed quicksilver. There was a shirtless Nord working the smelter, sweating from his labor despite the cold, and Äelberon approached him first.

     

    “Hail miner,” Äelberon spoke, raising his hand.

     

    “What do you want, Elf?” The miner replied, his voice terse, narrowing his sunken eyes.

     

    “Who do you see for work? To mine ore?” Äelberon asked.

     

    “That would be Leigelf.” The miner gestured curtly a short distance away to a bearded Nord in the uniform of a miner, fixing a barrel. “He’s over there. Now leave me alone.” The miner said, returning to his work at the smelter, pausing only to wipe the sweat from his brow.

     

    Äelberon approached Leigelf, not quite knowing what to expect. He may not even be allowed to work the mine, which would force him to look for quicksilver in the wilds.

     

    “What is it? I haven’t had much sleep.” The Nord paused from his work and regarded Äelberon with a sleepy stare. "You lookin’ for work, Elf?” Leigelf spoke gruffly. He sure hoped so, the Elf looked like he could certainly pull his weight in the mines and he needed the coin if he was going to run Beitild under and take over Iron-breaker. Former wife be damned!

     

    “Yes, I am looking for work.” Äelberon replied. “I will give you half of what I mine, if I am allowed to keep the rest. It is a good bargain, quicksilver is expensive and I could easily charge you for my labor.”

     

    No one would turn down free labor and free ore.

     

    “Deal,” replied Leigelf.

     

    Finally, someone reasonable, thought Äelberon as he extended his hand, but Leigelf did not take it. What was wrong with these people?

     

    It took him the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon to mine the ore that he needed. He emerged from the mine, exhausted and covered in quicksilver dust, his lungs irritated. As promised, he gave half of what he mined to Leigelf and then used the smelter to make ingots of the rest of the ore.

     

    Another fight broke out on the streets, while he worked, involving the Nord who worked the smelter and a miner from what looked like a second mine in the upper level of Dawnstar. That must be, he thought, the iron mine. He shook his head as he worked, continuing to observe the fighting, the guards were doing nothing.  His inclination was to stop what he was doing and intervene, but more than likely, it would get him killed and then where would Whiterun be? Äelberon was then quite surprised when both miners went inside the local tavern, laughing, the brutal brawl over just as soon as it had begun.

     

    These people were possessed! It had to be a curse, or… He set his jaw at the sudden realization, his eyes darkening. He knew. Vaermina… The Prince of dreams and… of nightmares. It explained everything, the sunken, tired eyes, and the aggression. It was sleep deprivation. An entire town denied sleep. Denied rest. For what gain? What did that foul creature want? He now pitied these people, and wanted to help, but he was not equipped to deal with a Daedric Prince and his heart sank.  If he tried to help them now, he would most certainly die and they would still be suffering. He finished his work. 

     

    Äelberon walked towards Allie to load the ingots and the guards were already eyeing him again, as he loaded his saddle. He worked quickly, ignoring the cold. To them, he had overstayed his “welcome”. They were now starting to approach, itching for another confrontation. Poor souls. He was sure they were fine men when not driven to exhaustion and frustration. He eyed them carefully, his red-orange eyes noting the aggression.

     

    “Koor, it is time to go.” He whispered. He mounted Allie and faced the village. The guards stopped their approach, seeing that he was leaving. Then and there he raised his right hand and made an oath as he began to slowly ride away from the city, towards Windhelm. “By Auri-El I swear, as his Knight-Paladin and protector of the innocent, I promise, Dawnstar, I will return, and when I do, I will help.”

     

     

    He back-tracked towards Fort Dunstad, Allie almost knee-deep in the snow, and travel was slow. He could feel the cold in his body. He had never ventured inside a building in Dawnstar and that had been a mistake, for the chill of the day was beginning to take its toll. He gathered his cloak about him as he rode. It did little, save dull the biting wind a bit. He would need a fire soon, food, and water. He had thought about building one near the road, but no, the howl of wolves and the distant roar of that very same troll rendered that idea foolhardy. The beasts ruled this part of Skyrim, Man and Mer were nothing here.

     

    The Pale Elf carefully rode into the grounds of the fort again. Slowly, bow drawn. But there was nothing. If there were bandits inside, they were, as of yet, unaware of their fallen comrades. They did not venture outside? Smart. He relaxed his bow, relaxed the string, and stowed it upon its slot, as he brought Allie to a quiet stop and dismounted, rubbing his hands to bring circulation back. He stood at her saddle for a moment and looked around, he was not taking any chances, and drew his longsword, Koor circling him silently.

     

    The bandits’ bodies were still there, but wolves, foxes, great, black ravens and smaller crows had already started making a feast of their bodies, staining the snow red with their efforts, their bickering snarls and caws resonating in the stone walls of the fort. He was looking for one in particular; the warrior with the mace.  He needed the shield and he had carried one. Äelberon searched carefully, but he did not have much time, he could feel the ice crystals forming on his eyebrows and his eyes watered. A light snow began to fall, adding to the squall from yesterday. It would only get worse. Perpetual winter, he thought to himself.

     

    A low growl betrayed the spot where the warrior had fallen. A lone ice wolf, thin and malnourished, his fur grey tipped with silver.  Old, like him, ravenously tearing into the warrior’s flank. He caught sight of Äelberon and snarled, amber eyes savage with starvation. Koor growled next to his Master ready to spring.

     

    “No,” Äelberon commanded, his hand gesturing to stand down. He eyed the wolf and began to inch forward. The shield was just a few feet away from the fallen warrior. The wolf snarled again, his back now bristling. Koor tried to follow.

     

    “No,” This time the command was more firm, and Koor stood down with a soft whine, while Äelberon continued to inch forward, his steps careful and slow. He sheathed his long sword and stepped towards the shield, his hands where the wolf could see them.  With his head slightly bent, he began to avoid direct eye contact with the wolf, looking at it only through his peripheral. The wolf continued to growl, but it resumed eating uneasily as Äelberon approached the shield, understanding the Elf’s unaggressive stance. Then slowly and silently, in one motion, he stooped at the knees to pick up the shield, and then stood up again. The wolf watching his every move while he ate.

     

    “Thank you,” Äelberon whispered, finally meeting the wolf’s amber gaze in the falling snow.

     

    The wolf had stopped snarling, and they shared a moment, wolf and Mer; two old souls, scarred and beaten by the world, yet still alive. They understood each other and Äelberon nodded slowly. He also knew what it was like to live on the fringe, alone and starving. He backed away carefully not giving the wolf his back, however.  Out of the corner of his eye, he then saw a glowing light. Low to the ground and surrounded by stone.

     

    A forge. Heat. He was freezing now, and his hands trembled when he took Allie’s reins and slowly led her to the forge, taking care to not disturb the feeding wolf as he walked past.

     

    The heat of the forge brought him back, the blood again pumping hot through his veins, as he warmed himself by its burning coals. It was a stupid error and he was lucky to have found the forge in time. When warm enough, he took a small pouch from Allie’s saddle bag and began to eat. Cheese and dried apples.

     

    Thank you Tilma, he smiled. She had taken care to make sure he was well-stocked. He drank from his waterskin, and wiped his mouth on the back of his gauntlet. He put the waterskin away and took a bit of time to inspect the shield, turning it slowly, feeling its make. It would need tempering, there were a few dents, but it was of solid construction. The smith behind it was competent.  He placed the shield in its slot on Allie’s saddle. He mounted Allie and slowly, he and Koor left the fort, the snowfall growing heavier.

     

     

    They passed the now frozen carcass of the snowy sabre cat and his broken shield, as the snow continued to fall. Windhelm was in the opposite direction. East at the fork of the road. According to the map, there was a lumber mill and several caves along the way. He would need to stop at the mill. There would be fire. He had planned his trips well, carefully marking all the settlements and landmarks with charcoal. Any location with a potential fire source, since building a campfire in the wilds would prove too risky for Koor and Allie unless he had already cleared the area of any beasts. It would be far easier when he reached the volcanic flats of Eastmarch and the autumnal forests of the Rift. There, Winter’s grasp was not so strong.

     

    There was a large, partially frozen lake to his right while he rode and upon a mountain ledge, he spied the unmistakable white stone and gold trim of a Dwemer ruin.

     

    Raldbthar.

     

    Äelberon had learned them all, their names and locations, their secrets, both in his research for this trip and from the extensive Dwemer collection in the Tower.  A collection sent by Calcelmo, a scholar based from Markarth, consisting of constructs, examples of furniture, and utensils.  He had read both versions of Calcelmo’s three volumes on the Dwemer. In Cyrodiil the series was called Dwarves. But the copies in the Tower possessed the correct nomenclature Dwemer and was overall longer and more detailed, to suit more more refined Altmeri reading tastes.  The museum even had preserved bodies of several specimens. Similar in build to Altmer, save with very long, black beards on the males, elaborately interwoven with golden rings and beads.

     

    He gazed in awe. He had never been in one before, and it was a marvel to look at. Built into the very rock face it seemed. A proud people of science and technology, who had turned away from faith early in their history. He frowned. It was how Rynandor met his end. When he demanded irrefutable proof that the Thalmor had indeed ended the Great Anguish, that they closed all the gates. He had demanded physical proof and for that he was labeled a Dwemer in his trial, a heretic, and exiled.  It was a terrible blow, for Rynandor, of all Mer, was strong in his faith.  Certainly no heretic. He only wanted to corroborate his vision of Martin Septim with the Thalmor’s story.  They refused and began to sully his name. Äelberon bent his head as he rode, brooding.

     

    Ahead were the lights of the mill. He needed to stop, the snow was far heavier and his cloak no longer blocked the biting wind.

     

    No one was outside.

     

    He laughed to himself. If the Nords were inside, then he had no business being outdoors right now! He dismounted and slowly approached a dwelling of sturdy wood and layered stone. He knocked on the door.

     

     

    “Leifur!” Aeri called from the hearth as she stirred the stew. “Check the door.” 

     

    Who would travel in this weather she thought as she stirred, taking a bite to assess the taste. Needed more salt.  She grabbed a pinch of salt from a small bowl and scattered it into the simmering pot. They had stopped working since the afternoon, when the snow started to fall. She did not need this, she was already behind on an order for Skald the Elder. If it was another of his men…

     

    Leifur opened the door, and Aeri, Leifur, and Kodir could not help but gawk at what stood at the other sider, bringing flurries of snow and an icy wind with him. He was very tall, a High Elf for sure. But unlike any High Elf they had ever seen. They were typically slight of build. He nearly blocked the door with his bulk and it wasn’t just the great Bearskin cloak he wore. His skin was not the typical golden shade they prized so highly either, but it was pale, fairer than a Nord’s, and the silky tendrils of hair that escaped his heavy helmet of bearskin and steel were very long and silver white. His eyes were an unusual shade of red-orange, keen, and ice flecks clung to his eyebrows. He had the faint beginnings of a silver-white beard and ice clung to that too. His face bore the subtle lines of a hard life, and was punctuated by several scars that cut through his left cheek, the bridge of his nose, and tapered to a single scar on his right cheek. On his jaw and chin fresh bruises were visible.  He was clad in heavy Nordic steel, again an odd choice for an Elf. Close behind him was a great husky, also wearing armor.

     

    “Forgive me this intrusion, but may I warm myself by the fire?” He asked gently. They jumped when he spoke, not because his voice was cruel, but because he spoke and it caught them off-guard. Äelberon knew he had startled them. Damn being so bloody big sometimes. “There was no one outside, so I knocked, I did not mean to startle you.” Äelberon closed the door with some effort, shutting out the snow.

     

    Leifur inched closer to Aeri, in a gesture of protection, though Shor’s Bones, he knew if it came to blows, it was going to be an easy fight. For the Elf.  

     

    “Are you one of Skald’s men?” Aeri asked, still at the cooking pot. She tried the stew again. Aye, the stew was just right. Her heart hammered in her chest though, focusing on the stew calmed her down a bit. What if he was one of Skald’s men?

     

    “Skald? A bandit chief? Do you require assistance?” Äelberon questioned, gazing at his surroundings, his voice lowering. It was a humble, almost cramped cabin of stone and timber, with a densely thatched roof and worn, weathered wood furniture. Greyish, like much of the wood used in the North. The hearth was stacked round stones, held together with mortar and timber and decorated with a simple wood mantle that stored salt and various dried spices and a mounted mudcrab. There was a small table with three chairs, and a single bed of straw and hide. All three Nords that spoke to him were of hardy stock, their faces weather-beaten and somewhat lined from hard labor.

     

    They laughed.

     

    “Sometimes, he acts like one, but you didn't catch me saying that. Skald the Elder, Jarl of the Pale.” Answered Aeri as she stirred, her body language growing tense again, “He dwells in the White Hall at Dawnstar.”

     

    “My apologies, gentlewoman for making assumptions. Your tone suggested worry. I have just come from Dawnstar...” His voice trailed a bit.

     

    “Yet, you are not one of his men?” Aeri pressed. Äelberon met her worried gaze.

     

    “No, gentlewoman, I am not.”

     

    “Good.” Aeri smiled and immediately the body language of all three Nords relaxed significantly. Äelberon gave her a curious look, while she resumed her cooking. It smelled delicious and his stomach growled. 

     

    She gestured to the hearth, imitating his style of speech. “Go, gentle Elf, and warm yourself by the fire.” She couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. She did like his pretty speech. It was very formal, not like anything one hears in Skyrim.

     

    “Forgive my curiosity, but are you expecting men from Dawnstar?” He asked as he warmed his hands. Gods that stew smelled wonderful. Apples… he so loved apples.

     

    “I hope not, but, yes, probably.” She sighed. “I don’t even know why I’m telling a complete stranger this—“

     

    “Äelberon.” He volunteered.

     

    “Huh?”

     

    “That is my name.” He smiled as he extended his hand in greeting.  “Now we are not strangers, but even more so if you would tell me your name?” 

     

    Ah, Aeri thought. He definitely wasn’t one of Skald’s men, entirely too polite and charming. “Aeri,” She replied, taking his hand.

     

    “Now, Aeri…”

     

    She barely suppressed another chuckle. He flipped his ‘r’s in such a peculiar way, but she swore in all of her days, she had never heard her name said so pretty like.

     

    She was probably chuckling at his accent, Äelberon thought as he continued, a twinkle in his eyes. "Now, that we are no longer strangers, you were saying about men from Dawnstar paying a visit?”

     

    “Oh, we have an order to provide timber for the Jarl, but with the poor weather these past few days, we cannot work as quickly. I want to get word to Skald that his lumber will arrive shortly, and I wrote a note, but have no way to deliver it with the weather so bad. They will surely come.”

    She looked so worried and one of the other Nords, a burly sandy blond with no beard walked closer to her and put his hand on her shoulder. His face also betrayed worry.

    Äelberon frowned. He would hate for the guards from Dawnstar to treat her poorly.  He could take his lumps well enough, but to beat a gentlewoman over the unpredictable weather would be inexcusable. Female warriors were different, they had chosen that life, and he had come across many who had given him his fair share of bumps and bruises, but gentlefolk, no. There were rules and with the way the Dawnstar guards were acting, rules would definitely be broken if they ventured here. He would not let that happen. He turned to Aeri and extended his hand.

    “Give me the note.” He did not want those guards coming for her. He would deal with the Jarl.

     

    “You would do this?” She did not know what to say. He may be in common Nordic steel, but this was no common Mer.

     

    “You gave me your hearth. I will deliver your message.” He continued to extend his hand, while she hesitated. It was so cold outside, she thought. He had just come in from the cold. He sensed her hesitation. “Aeri, it is not a problem, give me the letter. It is the least I can do for your kindness in offering this Old Mer a place to warm his hands.”

     

    She handed him the note. He gathered his heavy cloak about his shoulders and was about to open the door. He paused for a moment, looking at his boy, already half asleep at the fire. Äelberon had not the heart to disturb, him and his gaze turned tender while he regarded his Snowberry.

     

    “Would you watch my dog?” He asked, “I will travel much faster without him.”

     

    He smiled again, and bade her come to the dog. Aeri knelt beside the animal as the Elf petted the beast. He was large, black and white with half-closed blue eyes. She was about to touch him when he turned onto his back and she hesitated. The Elf then laughed and proceeded to rub the dog’s belly vigorously. “Do not worry, Aeri, he will be friendly with you. He especially likes his ears rubbed, but the belly works well too. My apologies, he is already making himself at home.” He turned to the dog. “Koor, stay, and watch these good people.”

     

    The husky barked as his Master opened the door and stepped outside into the snow.

     

     

    Äelberon rode at full speed and rode hard. The icy wind stinging his face, but Allie seemed to enjoy the fast pace. He made a note to himself to race her more often. To be honest, he was enjoying the speed as well and out of sheer exuberance, he guided her through several jumps, including one over that damn sabre cat. Through Fort Dunstad they passed, scattering the scavengers as he raced by, closing in on Dawnstar.

     

     

    Kharjo saw the black charger approach yet again. At full speed no less! Haha, the Crazy Elf did not get enough from the guards the first time!? Äelberon barely gave time for his horse to slow down before he dismounted quickly, leading the horse to the Khajiit. The Elf was breathless when he spoke.

     

    “Kharjo, watch her for me?” Äelberon asked. “I will not be long. I need to deliver a note to the Jarl, from Anga’s mill.”

     

    “Of course, friend.” The Khajiit nodded, taking Allie's reins and petting her neck. “A fine animal, but no Senche.”

     

    “No, definitely not, though her teeth are very nearly as sharp.” Äelberon replied with a chuckle.

     

    The Khajiit’s eyes widened in surprise. What did this one know of Senche? He was about to open his mouth to ask when the Elf continued.

     

    “And the guards?” Äelberon asked, his eyes scanning.

     

    Ha, Kharjo thought as he smiled, seems the Crazy Elf was not so crazy after all and not too keen on another beating. He would help him. They would talk of Senche another time, for Kharjo knew this Elf would have stories. “Go quickly,” The Khajiit’s eyes narrowed as he watched the streets. “They are dealing with a brawl. Of course, in their own pleasant manner. If you hurry, you will miss them. Or rather… they will miss you.”

     

    Äelberon patted Kharjo on the shoulder and rushed into the city. He walked briskly, scanning the buildings, his breath coming out in steady puffs.

     

    The White Hall…

     

    This was a minor hold… it would not be a palace, but a simply a larger home... usually two levels, with the hold banners… Ah, there it is. He quickly walked up the steps and opened the doors before the Dawnstar guards could even utter a word.

     

    “Jarl Skald the Elder?” He called, not even stopping to warm himself by the fire.

     

    “Who are you, Elf?” An Elder Nord dressed in noble clothes upon a throne asked, his eyes narrow, his manner rough.

     

    Äelberon moved quickly up the steps, note in hand. “I have a note for you, from Anga’s mill.” He handed the Jarl the letter.

     

    Skald bent his head to read the note. "What's this? Oh, that's right, the timbers from Anga's Mill.” The Jarl mumbled to himself as he read, “I swear, that Aeri and her men would make fine Stormcloak recruits. Pity we can't spare the lumber to conscript them. Here. Take this. For your time and all that." He reached into his pocket and took out a few septims to drop them into the messenger’s hand, only to have them fall with a clang upon the floor of the White Hall, the door having just shut. The Elf had disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.

     

    It was never about coin. Aeri was safe. He made his way quickly out of the city, the guards starting to follow, their faces dark. He mounted Allie and Kharjo gave him the reins. Äelberon extended his hand to the Khajiit and they clasped forearms. Warriors.  “Twice today,” Äelberon began, “you have helped me, Kharjo. On my honor, when next we meet, I promise I will repay your kindness twofold.”

     

    “Go, Crazy Elf. The guards are coming and this one is in no mood to watch another beating.”

     

    Kharjo slapped Allie’s rump and she quickly galloped away, snorting at the indignity of a beast's hand touching her backside.  On his way back to the caravan, however, the Khajiit stopped suddenly when he heard the Elf call back from his saddle. “Kharjo!”

     

    “What now, Crazy Elf! Keep yelling like a mad Mer and Khajiit will not be the only ones you will be talking to!”

     

    The Khajiit was correct, for several Dawnstar guards were now turned towards Äelberon.

     

    “Is smoking legal?!”  The entire caravan exploded in laughter at the Altmer’s strange question. He was full of surprises, this one was, noted Kharjo as he shook his head. The Altmer turned his horse around and shifted the horse’s position, keenly aware of the guards that began their approach. “Because Scamp’s Blood!” He continued, “I am desperate for a good smoke, and knowing now will spare me  a world of heartache later!”

     

    “Take comfort, Crazy Elf,” Called another voice from within the tent. A female Khajiit in green noble clothes. She was sitting cross-legged, though she now clutched her stomach in laughter. “The only thing one cannot smoke in Skyrim is Skooma! The Caravans regularly stock supplies for smoking, if one is ever in need.” She wondered if he had smelled the moon sugar when he arrived. The Elves had sharp noses, almost as Khajiit.

     

    “YES! YES!” Exclaimed the Elf, “Thank you Auri-El for showing this Old Mer some mercy!”

     

    They laughed again at his response, and Äelberon waved farewell, turning his horse to face the road again. Ahkari hoped they would see him again in their travels. He was very different from the Thalmor, not so… how did the Nords say it? Stuffy. This was the caravan’s last night in Dawnstar. They would head for Riften tomorrow and out of this damn cold. Maybe, who knew where that one's travels would take him?

     

     

    The dog knew his Master had returned before any of them did, for he knew his Master’s stride. He started circling the common house, wagging his tail, howling softly to himself in excitement.

     

    “Kodir, get up!” Aeri ordered, “He will want food!”

     

    Kodir rose quickly and set a place for the Elf, with a piping hot wooden bowl of apple cabbage stew and a tankard of mead. There was a knock on the door and sure enough it was the Elf, nearly frozen again.

     

    “I keep needing to borrow your hearth.” He chortled playfully through chattering teeth, his red-orange eyes twinkling, even as he shivered in the doorway, rubbing his hands.

     

    “By Ysmir! Come in, come in! Out of the cold!” Aeri led him to the table and bade him sit down.

     

    “I cannot stay long, I must make Windhelm by nightfall, but your letter is delivered, my word as a Priest.”

     

    “You can eat first, Windhelm is not more than an hour’s ride away. You will make it before sunset, now eat and warm up with some mead. Won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, not after your kindness.” She put the tankard in front of him.

     

    “Aeri, this is very kind of you to share your food with me, and I will eat the stew you have brought before me with…” He smiled, taking whiff of the stew and exhaling with a grin, “.... enthusiasm, but I do not drink.” The Nords were silent and Äelberon quickly added. “I am a Priest of Auri-El. My Order is not allowed alcohol.” He offered the tankard to Leifur, who took it readily, taking several large sips.

     

    “Auri-El?” Aeri asked.

     

    “The Elven version of what you know as Akatosh.” It was far more complex than that, but that would have to suffice. They did not look the type to delve to deeply into matters of Theology and Metatphysics. 

     

    "Oh," She replied. “But you have weapons and wear armor?” She took a chair next to him and moved the bowl of stew towards him. “I’m sorry, eat. I am bothering you.”

     

    Äelberon shook his head as he lifted a spoon to begin his meal. He was not going to refuse apple cabbage stew that smelled this delicious. He would recite the entire Songs of the Return for the woman as he ate if she so wished it, he was so grateful for a hot meal! He took a bite of the stew, savoring it. By the Gods, it was as delicious as it smelled.

     

    Aeri smiled, he was clearly enjoying his meal.  Usually those cultured types scoffed traditional Nord cooking.

     

    “My rank,” He continued between bites, “within my Order is Knight-Paladin. Those with that rank take up arms for Auri-El, defending the innocent in His name.”

     

    “Never met an Elf that wasn’t Thalmor before.” Commented Leifur.

     

    “Not all High Elves are friends of the Thalmor.” The Knight replied, his tone darkening slightly.

     

    “Hey,” asked Kodir, interrupting Leifur’s next question. “What’s bringing you to Windhelm. You joining up with the Stormcloaks?”

     

    Leifur leaned back against the wall of the cabin. Kodir stole his question. 

     

    Äelberon raised his eyebrows at Kodir's question. Curious that they thought he would join. It was something in the back of his mind. To fight, to take up arms so that these people would never suffer the way his had. No, not for the Jarls and nobles, but for these people.  “I am looking for a library.” Those red-orange eyes intensified, making the Nords lean in closer. “A hidden library.” Äelberon clarified as he continued eating,  noticing that his answer was not quite expected.

     

    “Windhlem doesn’t have a library, Elf, you’re way off there.” Kodir crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned back against his chair, “If you be needin' books, friend Knight, you best head over to the Court Wizard at the Palace of Kings. His name is Wuunferth the Unliving. Spooky-sounding, don't ya think? He’s the one with the books, if you’re looking for books.”

     

    Äelberon smiled, the Nord was trying to be helpful. It was endearing. “My research on the matter indicates that there was a library and that it was destroyed some time ago. I do not think it was ever intended for public use.” He turned to Aeri, “Aeri, have you lived in this area all your life?”

     

    “Yes, my da’s the one who left me the mill when he died in the Great War, but I’ve been living here since I was a baby.”

     

    Äelberon leaned closer to her, his eyes questioning. “Tell me then, was there ever an earthquake here, near Windhelm? Think back, you were probably only a little girl.”

     

    She thought a bit, remembering. “There was one a little over 50 years ago, maybe? There was damage to the city, but no one ever mentioned a library.”  She watched the Elf as he rubbed his silver-stubbled jaw, taking occasional bites of his stew. He was deep in thought now, his eyes narrow, ignoring the three very curious Nords that were waiting for him to elaborate.

     

    Only that elaboration did not come.

     

    That was the first piece of actual evidence that corroborated the drunk’s story in Bruma. He had mentioned an earthquake. Äelberon did not even know what he would find there, probably nothing, but something compelled him to go and at least look. He had a feeling. When he finished his stew, he got up and spoke to the Nord woman, immediately noting that he had eaten the rest of his meals in silence, never bothering to continue his train of thought. He would have to work on that aspect of his behavior.  “My apologies,” He chuckled and shrugged his shoulders, “When I am lost in thought, I often forget myself and those around me. Forgive me.” Äelberon then made a sweeping gesture towards Aeri’s hearth, “Aeri, again, thank you for your hearth…” He then surprised her by taking her hand gently and kissing it.

     

    She was taken aback by the sweet gesture. Aye, this was truly a noble knight.

     

    “And your hospitality, but the mystery of Windhelm's library must be solved and I must take my leave.” He slung his pack over his broad shoulders and put on his helmet. 

     

    “A kindness for a kindness, Äelberon. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you did not deliver that note.” She said as she helped Äelberon with his cloak. 

     

    “Come, Koor.” The dog sprung up at the sound of his Master’s voice. Äelberon opened the door. The blast of wind was cold and fast, ruffling the thick fur of his cloak, making him blink quickly, but the stew was doing its work and he felt warm. He mounted his horse and took Aeri’s hand in his again, while he held the reins in the other, squeezing it gently. “Goodbye gentlewoman.” He spoke softly, nodding in appreciation.

     

    “Goodbye gentle Elf.” She replied, letting go of his hand.

     

    The three mill workers, wrapped in heavy cloaks themselves, waved as he gently pressed Allie’s flanks with his legs, urging her towards Windhelm. There was still daylight, but not for long, just enough to get to Windhelm if he did not run into any trouble. But he was getting to know this harsh, beautiful wild land better with every passing day. There would be trouble.

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter X    Chapter XII

     

     

Comments

15 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  January 19, 2016
    Thanks, Bowiedesto. 
    Yeah, poor Albee has a tendency to let people beat on him. 
  • Idesto a'Shinbira
    Idesto a'Shinbira   ·  January 19, 2016
    I was about to say: "Huh? Library? What library? I must have missed that!" then I read the comments. 
    I love the way you expand game events to make your plot & use it to showcase what Albee's all about: i.e. the beating at Dawnstar. What a guy! ...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    Albee and Molag Bal have some history though.  That's chapters 17 and 18. 
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  October 16, 2015
    There are several Daedric quests where I wish the outcome had been different.

    Like Molag Bal, right? These quests where you actually stumble upon a Daedric Prince by accident should have the option to influence the outcome. But I quite like t...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    He is also coming from his own nightmare that day. Dreams play a part in Aelberon's narrative. He has very vivid ones. 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    It takes some balls to take a beating like that and don´t kill them.

    It takes that, yes, but it takes compassion too. He's a good priest in many ways. Dawnstar really upsets him and he will return. He swore an oath, and when he does that, he ...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  October 16, 2015
    So another three chapters down. And I have to say something.
    It takes some balls to take a beating like that and don´t kill them.
    Also when you incorporated Cicero in there I was really excited to see more of that guy, cause you wrote him very...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 12, 2015
    hehe, yep. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 12, 2015
    There is always trouble somewhere in Skyrim.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  August 18, 2015
    yeah, they have energy. He does visit them later and the energy changes. I wanted to capture the violence, which can be a symptom of sleep deprivation as well. 
    He's spent considerable time at Elsweyr, and in the back burner that is NMM, I have Moon...  more