Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XV


    “Kharjo?” Äelberon asked. 


    The Khajiit paused from his wood-chopping, sat on the block and rested his hands on end of the axe, the blade resting on his armored thigh. “Ah, you survived Riften!”


    “Oh come now, were you really all that surprised?”


    Kharjo grinned at the Altmer's words. “No. So what is it, Crazy Elf?”


    “How long are you at Riften?”


    “Ha! We leave for our favorite city tomorrow,” The Khajiit winked. “Why? You want follow the caravan  to Dawnstar to enjoy more of their… ah… hospitality?”


    “Aye,” Äelberon grinned, shaking his head as he subconsciously rubbed his still-bruised jaw, “I will remember their treatment of me with great fondness.” He then laughed, unable to maintain his own joke. “No, I am going to make a quick trip to Ivarstead, I was just making sure the caravan would still be here when I returned.”


    “This one is chopping wood, until Ahkari is satisfied.” Sighed Kharjo, “Kharjo is not going anywhere.”


    Äelberon patted Kharjo on the shoulder in sympathy. “My condolences, friend.”


    “Get out of here, or I make you do this.”


    Äelberon laughed at the Khajiit’s slip in speech and mounted Allie. He followed the wall of the city until he came to the road and then turned right.



    To his right suddenly loomed Lake Honrich, deep and still, and he slowed Allie to a walk to get a better view of the lake; his mouth dropping slightly as he absorbed the splendor of it all. He smiled seeing the blue water contrast against the oranges and yellows of the leaves. Upon the lake were several small islands, including one that held a large, fortified estate with apiaries. A Honey farm? Would make sense with the meaderies that were scattered about Skyrim. He could make out several armed guards patrolling the grounds.


    He nudged Allie and she began to trot, Koor just ahead, his nose low to the ground. Perpetually tracking. To his left, were the foothills of the Jerall Mountains.  He knew those mountains very well, their jagged white peaks providing the most unlikely sanctuary to an exhausted Elf many years ago. Several farms and ruins dotted the landscape of the foothills. Allie suddenly snorted and began to chomp on her bit, her head slightly lowered.  The girl was sulking.  Äelberon leaned forward, whispering in her ear. “Are you restless, my girl?” He asked. 


    She grunted and tossed her head, pulling at her bit, and Äelberon could read the signs. Aye, they did indeed not see eye to eye on anything, for while he relished the landscape with its colors, sounds, and smells, all she wanted to do was run, speeding past all that he wanted to stop and see. For all her spirit, she was a good animal, and he could enjoy the scenery another time. “All morning standing in a stable, eh? Alright, we will fly. Koor!”


    The dog perked up, and began to quicken his pace, his tongue lolling. He was ready. Äelberon squeezed Allie’s flanks and with a whinny, the horse was off. They started with a cantor, and he only now realized he was not wearing his helmet, for he felt the breeze in his hair. Where was it? Ah, he had stored it in one of the saddle bags. No matter, he smiled, and leaned to Allie again. It was time to go faster; much faster, feel the wind upon their faces, blaze through trails, feel the life that coursed through them.


    “Fly, Queen Alfsigr, and show me speed!” He cried.


    He gave her flank a good squeeze and the cantor became an intense gallop, with Koor easily keeping pace. The trio blazed down the road, heading west along the lake, leaving a whirling trail of orange and golden leaves in their wake. It was he who saw the little cart ahead and he steered Allie towards it. He knew she could jump.


    “Jump!” He commanded.


    She easily sailed over the cart, and he laughed, patting her neck as she continued with her gallop, not losing speed. She was an incredible animal; superior to Reman in many ways, for the wildness of Skyrim was bred into her. Reman was more slender, a Cyrodiillic animal, built for speed, not strength. Allie had both, and she had the heart of a warrior. He laughed again when he heard her roar and snort. She was clearly enjoying herself. A fallen tree was ahead. He headed straight for it.


    “Jump, Allie! Now!”


    Again she sailed over the fallen tree.  They were clear of Lake Honrich and now approached the Treva River, passing a great stone fort on the Northern shore. Halfway to Ivarstead. He would have to slow her down soon. He smiled, she would protest, but since the Void Nights, he no longer pushed an animal, nor did he cause them violence. He did penance for what he had done to that poor horse, unbinding his hair for several months in observance of the rules of his Order.  It was for himself and his standing with Auri-El more than anything else, for he was already in Thalmor custody by then, grief-stricken and empty with loss. He shook his head to clear the dark memory and continued to ride, taking comfort in the warm sun and the refreshing breeze. Allie roared again and sped up, catching Äelberon by surprise as he adjusted his position on the saddle. She had even more speed than he thought, and he found laughter again as he patted her neck.

    “You, my girl, have been holding out on me.” She answered with an exuberant snort and they continued their race.



    The old, weathered Bosmer was walking along the road gathering mushrooms when he heard the thunder of hooves. He instinctively moved to the side of the road bordering the lake, near a cluster of red mountain flowers. He looked to the East and galloping down the road was a black charger in armor. A husky was keeping pace eagerly. Atop the horse was a rider unlike any the Bosmer had ever seen. Not a Nord, but a High Elf, clad in steel armor and a cloak of bearskin. His long silver-white hair streaming behind him, his red-orange eyes merry. He was laughing and patting the horse’s neck. He almost got mad at the Mer for riding the horse, for wearing bearskin, but something stopped him.


    It was the Snake-stomper! You don't hurt the Snake-stomper! Even if he was wearing bearskin. No, never! Never, never, never.  Old Grumpy himself! They sped past the Bosmer and he raised his hand in greeting, not expecting the Elf to respond. Shor’s Bones, he was going faster than he had ever seen anyone travel on a horse.  And the horse was liking it! 


    But to the Bosmer's surprise, the High Elf had seen the gesture and quickly turned the animal back, his hair following the momentum of the horse’s movements. Silver-white hair and fair, fair skin. He didn’t look like any High Elf he had ever seen.  caught the Old Bosmer's gaze, smiled warmly, his laugh lines crinkling, and gestured back with a nod and a small, slow wave, a warrior’s wave, before turning his horse to speed off again with a squeeze of his strong legs.  


    Old Grumpy smiled at me! The Bosmer grinned as his eyes then followed the rider west, a flurry of leaves in their wake. It was good to be full of spirit and take pleasure in the small things, especially in these dark times, the Old Elf thought as he continued along the road searching for mushrooms. They would make a fine, fine soup.




    Ivarstead was bustling with activity as Äelberon approached from the small stone bridge that crossed the Treva River. The air was chill, for they were no longer near the humidity of the Lake, but higher up upon a plateau. The River would branch here and he could tell by the steady turning of the lumber mill’s great wheel that there was much movement to the water.  When he had some free time, he would have to consider a fishing trip for salmon along the streams and rapids of this region. When he had time, he smiled to himself. He needed a pole, easy enough to make.


    The rustic village was decorated with green and red banners. Wreaths of snowberry branches adorned the doors of the stone and wood buildings. If Riften had been decorated thusly for the Festival of New Life, Äelberon had been unaware. He had been very preoccupied before visiting the Temple and his encounters with Brynjolf and Maul had distracted him further. He rode slowly along the main street, well, the only street, and stopped Allie just in front of the mill. Koor stopped when his Master did, though he shifted his position several times and scanned the location constantly.


    Villagers were setting up several heavy wooden tables, brought in, no doubt, from the various homes, on the main street to lay out food and drink for the Festival of New Life, and by the Gods, he could bloody smell the food from the small cave he had passed on his way to the village. Rich smells of slow-roasting venison and beef, the sweet smell of frosting and honey, the smell of spiced wine and cooking apples. Villagers also donned fur hats of various bright colors with white trim. Ivarstead was dominated by a large lumber mill, several quaint farms, and an inn. Across a stream was a wooden shack with a single golden tree adorning the property and another farmhouse in ruins. Upon a small hill, close to the village, was a small Nordic barrow.


    Temba Wide-Arm had seen the rider approach from her vantage point at the mill and her face suddenly lit up; her jaw dropping. Gwilin took immediate notice, Temba had been in a terrible mood for days now. The bears were damaging the local wood with their claws, forcing her to go farther and farther to gather wood for the mill. To see her actually look like she might have a smile under that hard Nordic face of hers was an event in and of itself.


    “What is it, Miss Temba?”  He asked, leaning towards her, watching the corners of her full lips tilt slightly. Aye, she was smiling, watching something with her glaring, charcoal-lined brown eyes.


    “Just look at all those pelts…” She whispered as she drew in her breath, gawking. She studied the rider carefully. Upon his back was an unstrung Orcish bow and a quiver of steel arrows.  The saddle held a steel longsword and shield. And strapped upon the back end of the saddle were four, By the NINE, FOUR bear pelts! Freshly skinned too. The rider was a High Elf, tall on the saddle, powerfully built and clad in steel armor and upon his back! Ysmir’s Beard, Temba thought, even more bear! A bearskin cloak, dark and by the ruffle around the neckline of the cloak, a giant boar bear died to make that cloak. His skin was pale and his hair was long and silver-white, windblown from what she garnered was a recent fast ride, but he could’ve had three arms and seven eyes for all she cared. 


    Finally someone who could kill a damn bear.


    “You think he cleared the cave, Miss Temba?” Gwilin whispered back, his slender shoulders leaning towards her.


    “I don’t know and I don’t care.” She replied as she quickly walked down the ramp of the mill to intercept the rider, Gwilin the Wood Elf not far behind, almost breaking into a jog to keep up with her quick, long stride. The rider had dismounted and was adjusting his saddle bags when Temba arrived and leaned on his horse.  “You.” She spoke.


    Äelberon turned to the voice. A hard-looking Nord woman was leaning on Allie, dressed in merchant’s clothes. Her hair cropped, her face no-nonsense, her voice firm.




    “You kill all those bears?” She pointed to the fresh pelts on the saddle.


    “Yes,” Äelberon replied.


    “When?” She pressed.


    “Through my travels along Eastmarch and the Rift, on the way from Windhelm. Game is plentiful in Skyrim.” He turned to her, “Why do you ask?”


    “Follow me.” She barked.


    Äelberon quickly glanced at Koor and whispered softly to the dog, grinning. “Seems this one would probably not take ‘no’ for an answer, eh boy?” Koor only wagged his tail.


    Äelberon followed the Nord woman to the wood pile near the lumber mill, his hands behind his back. She was followed closely by a little Bosmer. She stopped at the pile of wood and pointed, her body language angry.


    “This, look at this mess. It’s all ruined!” She began, her face flushing from her anger. “You know how far I have to go now to find trees that aren’t destroyed? This will ruin me. And if I’m ruined, Ivarstead is ruined.”


    Äelberon scanned the wood carefully. Ah ‘twas true, claw marks riddled the wood, going deep into the grain, ruining it for construction. Bears, definitely bears.


    “Look, I don’t care who you are or what you’re doing in Ivarstead, but if you bring me ten of these monsters, from anywhere, I’ll gladly pay you for thinning out the herd.” She extended her hand, “We have a deal, hunter?”


    He shook her hand and nodded. “Deal.” He replied. The coin would be helpful and it was not the first time he had hunted for coin. The meat could also be dried and distributed to the needy. Meat was meat, bear or deer, it mattered little. The woman gave one strong hand shake.

    “Great, welcome to Ivarstead, hunter.”


    “Äelberon, I am called Äelberon… of Dusk.”


    “I’m Temba Wide-Arm and this here little Elf’s Gwilin. We work the mill.” She crossed her arms over her chest, leaning against the pile of timber. Äelberon cocked an eyebrow, her arms did not look particularly wide to him. The Bosmer was small, though, shorter than the average Bosmer with a very small frame and a long, narrow face with high cheekbones.  “So, Äelberon, what brings you to Ivarstead besides being my present for Saturalia?”


    Äelberon laughed. Present, eh? “I am actually on a task for the Lady Mara, I seek someone in your village who has prayed to the Goddess for guidance. I have been sent as an agent to offer her counsel. Her name is Fastred? Know you her?”


    She rolled her eyes and the Bosmer sniggered. “You don’t say? Fastred? Oh that’s Jofthor and Boti’s daughter.” She pointed across the street to a farm. “Over there at Fellstar farm. If you ask me, that girl doesn’t have her head on straight.”


    “Thank you, Temba.” Äelberon replied with a nod and began to walk to the farm.


    He found her kneeling, pulling weeds from between the potato plants. By Auri-El!  Dinya Balu was right when she said “almost a girl.” She was but a young maid, dressed in a simple ivory and tan dress with lacing in the arms and bodice.  Her hair and eyes were a golden brown, her face still with traces of baby fat. Dimpled and pretty, her face and hands not yet weathered with time and toil.


    Äelberon sucked in his breath and let it out, making several wisps of his hair fly upwards. How was he going to approach her and not scare her to death? He did not exactly LOOK like Agent of Mara material. He looked like a seasoned warrior. He had to think for a moment, rubbing his chin, Koor nuzzled his leg. Koor… He had an idea. He knelt to the dog and whispered in the animal's ear. “Boy, see that little one over there? Go and be charming. Because your Master sure as Oblivion is not.” He slapped the dog on the rump and sent the him to the maid.


    Fastred was pulling weeds when she suddenly saw the dog in front of her. It took her by surprise but the dog wasn’t aggressive. His tail was wagging and his tongue lolled from his mouth. She lifted her hand to pet him, but hesitated.


    “Go ahead,” spoke a voice, “He is very friendly.”


    Fastred turned to the voice and there he was. And she knew.  She stood and Koor licked her hand. “Did Mara send you?” She asked, her voice high-pitched and sweet. Ysmir’s Beard! He was so much taller in person than he was in her dream. Taller and larger, but the eyes were exactly the same. Kind eyes. Thoughtful eyes. Fastred hoped he would help her.


    Äelberon let out a sigh of relief before he smiled. She recognized him as an agent of the Goddess. He really had not wanted to scare the poor child. “Yes, what is troubling you, my child?”


    She then quickly walked up to him, took his hands and poured open her soul. She spoke in jumbled sentences and very rapidly, the way a young child speaks when overly excited or confused. Of her love for Bassianus, and her desire to leave Ivarstead. But Äelberon sensed that there was more to it than that. If she simply loved Bassianus he saw little reason to be sent to the child. “My parents won’t let me go, would you talk to them? Make them understand?” She pleaded, her eyes beginning to fill with tears of frustration.


    He put his hand on her cheek, wiping a tear as it fell. She looked like a frightened little doe to him. “Little one, there is no need to cry. I will speak with your parents.” He reassured.


    Perhaps from them he would get a clearer explanation.



    Äelberon stood with his back against the railing of inn, sipping an ice cold bottle of milk, watching the villagers continue their preparations for Saturalia. Scamp’s Blood, the parents were not much help and now there was a new wrinkle to the cloth. The mother clearly seemed to prefer Bassianus, speaking of his many charms at length, while she generously offered him some milk when he declined mead. The father, of sterner stock, and not wanting to see his daughter leave, seemed to prefer the fisherman Klimmek.  The Gods did indeed have a sense of humor. Of that he was certain. Äelberon shot a glance upwards and whispered half-jokingly.


    “Lady Mara, the irony has not been lost on me that you have entrusted a 243 year old celibate priest to resolve this child’s love life.”


    He could not just arbitrarily choose. This was a decision that would affect the rest of Fastred’s life. It was not to be taken lightly. He needed to see the two gentlemen, see how they stacked up against each other. He had scanned the village several times and did not find anyone that matched their descriptions, but he had not tried the inn yet. That was his next planned stop. 


    “Come, Koor,” He spoke as he walked.


    Äelberon took a seat in the corner of the inn and scanned the homey interior until his eyes found a red-haired Nord conversing with a balding Nord with an ash brown beard that was long enough to be tied. Bassianus had red hair, at least Fastred'’s mother had pointed that out, otherwise, he would have no idea who was who. Äelberon observed their conversation, or rather argument. He could perceive the tension between the two.


    "We're behind again.” Klimmek spoke first. “I need you to catch another two bushels by week's end if I'm to make another delivery."


    "Blood from a stone, Klimmek. I've been out there every morning. They just aren't biting." His tone was rather snide, and a quick scan of his hands revealed hands that were indeed not the hands of a fisherman.


    "Come on, everyone in town knows that you spend more time with Fastred than fishing in the river." Responded Klimmek, his tone suddenly bitter.


    Ah, Äelberon noted, so he had had Fastred’s heart first.


    "That's none of your business and I appreciate if you wouldn't mention it again." Bassianus then continued, “If you have a moment, I've come up with a few ideas I wanted to share."


    Klimmek shot Bassianus a hard look and his voice became gruff. "I'm becoming sick to death of your ideas. Not one of them has paid off since you moved in."


    “Look,” Retorted Bassianus, “I'm merely suggesting a few things that could expand our business."


    Another hard look from Klimmek. Äelberon could see that the Nord was struggling with the conversation. Trying to not become angry when it was quite clear he was hurt by someone whom he considered a friend.


    Our business? As I remember things, it was you that showed up at my doorstep looking for a job and a place to live. Try and remember that." And Klimmek got up from his chair and moved to the back of the inn, his face forlorn, while Bassianus checked his fingernails and preened his red hair, a slight smile on his face.  He sat towards the front of the inn, near the innkeeper who spoke next.


    “So when are you going to sweep Fastred off her feet, Bassianus?” The innkeeper laughed, his tone merry.


    “Oh, Wilhelm, I count the days when I’m able to take Fastred to Riften, but Jofthor, oh Jofthor!  I can’t face him. He frightens me to no end.  So I’m just going to have to languish here and enjoy some mead.”


    Äelberon heard a chair scrape the floor loudly and Klimmek left the inn, his face dark as he slammed the door. He noted Bassianus’ expression, a smug smile on his face. Äelberon looked down on the table and set his jaw, shaking his head. He had made his decision and left the inn.


    He found Klimmek sitting by the bank of the stream near the mill. He had just cast his line and seemed to be fishing, but Äelberon could tell his heart was not in it. Äelberon sat next to him on the stream bank. It was very lovely and he could see the salmon swimming lazily in the clear water. He could grab them with his bare hands if he wanted to. Aye, a fishing trip was in order. 


    When he had some spare time...


    “Is the fishing good here?”  


    Klimmek jumped slightly when he heard the voice, but relaxed when he saw the High Elf. He had spied him talking to Temba and the woman actually smiled. No one who could make Temba smile was bad.   “Usually, it’s been slow lately though.”


    “I find that a small piece of goat cheese works well. The scent travels better in the water.”


    “You don’t say?” Klimmek turned to the Elf. “I’ll give it a try. I need to fish two bushels by week’s end. I’ll try anything at this point. Thanks, friend.” He continued. “New to Ivarstead?  Gonna stay for Saturalia? Klimmek grinned, “We’re a small village, but we know how to throw a party.”


    “I could smell the food cooking as I crossed the bridge. I do not doubt that the citizens of Ivarstead will enjoy a Saturalia celebration that will rival the larger cities. It is very tempting, but no, I need to be back at Riften by nightfall. I have friends that could use a celebration before they travel to Dawnstar. They are not allowed in the city.” He leaned towards Klimmek and flashed a sly smile, “I plan on surprising them.”


    Both were silent for a few moments as the dartwings buzzed on the water's surface, when Äelberon spoke up. 


    “So what happened with Fastred?” Altmer are never known for their tact. 


    The Nord let out a heavy sigh. Elf knew about that too? Damn village, all they do is talk about everybody’s problems. Klimmek didn’t need the additional embarrassment. "Oh, Fastred.” The Nord frowned. “I'm not sure what happened. One moment she's smiling at me, the next I can't even meet her eyes. I'll bet Bassianus would know what's going on.” His tone then grew sarcastic, “He understands women. More than I do apparently."


    Äelberon narrowed his eyes, yes, he was very sure Bassianus understood women, enough to rob one from this poor fellow. Bah! This young man needed a push. “Perhaps the girl prefers a more assertive man?”


    Klimmek shot Äelberon a hard look, the face beginning. “What do you mean?” 


    Ah, Old Mer, very poor word choice in front of a Nord. “What I mean,” Äelberon continued, “Is that if you love the girl, Klimmek, you should just tell her. Do fish bite without bait?” Only a fishermer would throw fishing into a conversation about love. 


    “By Ysmir! No! No fish was ever caught by staying away from the shore!” Klimmek threw down his fishing pole and quickly rose. “I need to go see her now!” and he bolted to the farm.


    Well, that was easy, thought Äelberon as he got up to follow. He found Klimmek at the farm, boy ran fast, and Äelberon watched intently from the railing of the inn, Koor nuzzling his hand, demanding an ear rub. He wanted them to have their space. Declaring love was a delicate act and warranted privacy.


    The confession of love was in rather strange terms that again revolved around fishing.  Ah Klimmek, bless him, but it was a confession of love nevertheless and Fastred understood, her face lighting up, her eyes darkening with growing passion.  Äelberon could not help but smile and chuckle, while he watched the two embrace tightly and seal their renewed bond with a kiss. The grin on Jofthor’s face as he paused from grinding the wheat was priceless. His daughter would stay. Fastred’s mother emerged from the farm and upon seeing her daughter and Klimmek kiss, walked to her husband and put her hand affectionately on his shoulder. She did not care, so long as Fastred was happy. Those four were going to have a fine Holiday indeed and ‘twas immature of him, but Äelberon did not feel sorry for Bassianus at all.  He finally obliged Koor and rubbed the dog’s ears, whispering to him softly.  “It is time we leave these good people to their celebration and head back to Riften, no? We have some friends that need some cheer.”


    The dog snorted, he was ready. He walked to Allie and quickly mounted. It was late afternoon. He would just make Riften by nightfall. He squeezed Allie’s flank and urged the horse towards the stone bridge leading out of the village.


    “Come on, Allie, it is time.” The village of Ivarstead did not even know he had left as they began celebrations.



    The doors of the Temple of Mara opened suddenly, as Dinya Balu was preparing to leave for the celebration of the New Life Festival. He was breathless from a hard ride and without his helmet. And then she felt strange… 


    “Dinya, I have helped Fast—“ Äelberon suddenly stopped, and bent his head in reverence, avoiding eye contact, just as he did when She first appeared. It was not Dinya… “Lady Mara…”


    "Like the sea, their love roils and swells, but brings life and nourishment to all." The Goddess turned to him and smiled serenely. “You have done well. I am pleased, as is my Lady Kyne.”


    “What else does Lady Mara require of me?” Äelberon asked.


    "I see you are eager to carry the light, my child." The Goddess continued, “Embers lie nestled in stone, needing only fuel to bloom to a flame that will warm all around them."


    Äelberon furrowed his brow a bit, stone? A stone city? “Markarth? Is that where I am to go next?”


    The Goddess nodded. "Indeed. Go to Markarth. There you'll find Calcelmo—“


    “Calcelmo?” Äelberon repeated. Him? He was to help him?   Äelberon then immediately stopped, aware of his disrespect. "My apologies, my Lady, for the interruption.”


    The Lady Mara smiled and continued. Kyne had told her much on this one. Many of them followed his progress, both sides. 


    “Calcelmo, wise, acid, and reclusive. Help him to emerge and state his intentions. This is the task I entrust to you, Knight-Paladin." For a moment the Goddess had a look of profound sadness, as if she wanted to say more and she touched his cheek gently. He was moved by the gesture, his eyes misting, for it was the second time She had touched him today. Why did they show him such favor? He was not deserving of such grace and he turned to her to ask, but he noticed that Dinya had returned.


    “Oh hello, Äelberon. You are back quickly?” She gazed at him, he had a very strange expression on his face and she knew. “Oh dear, did it happen again?”


    “Yes,” He nodded, “I am to journey to Markarth for the next step.” 


    She took his hand. “That is wonderful news! Will you be joining us for the Festival of New Life?” Dinya asked. “Maramal and I would very much enjoy your company.” She found his gaze and noted the look in his eyes, “Äelberon, what’s wrong?” She watched the Elf shake his head and shrug.


    “I do not know. A sadness hung over this visit. She seemed troubled towards the end.” He shook his head again, “The Gods have so much on them. Shades of their former glory. She was probably just attuned to the weight in my heart.”


    “Well, this is the Festival of New Life and a day to put away your troubles and celebrate. You should come with us.”


    “I am sorry, Dinya, but I have other plans, for indeed you are right. It is a time to put away our troubles, but also a time to remember those who are less fortunate. Thank you though. Your invitation was kind.” He kissed her forehead, “I bid my farewell, Priestess. I will return when I have completed the next step. Wish me luck.”


    “All the luck in the world, Äelberon, all the luck in the world.”


    He nodded and left the Temple, quickly making his way out of the city as it filled with revelers.




    Arivanya had prepared the sack for him when he left for Riften. It was filled with the finest sweetrolls, honey nut treats, cookies, and tarts. He took the sack from Allie’s saddle and removed his gauntlets, stowing them in a saddlebag, watching the Khajiit caravan. They were huddled at their campfire, attempting to ward off the chill in the air. Forced to spend the Festival of New Life sitting at their tents. Kharjo was at the chopping block again, while the rest of the caravan ate a meal of bread and cheese, their breath coming out of their mouths in puffs of steam. The Khajiit only tolerated such a meal, he knew what they really liked to eat. Sugar.


    He strode towards the caravan, towards Kharjo, sack in hand. “Stop chopping wood.” He commanded.


    “With pleasure.” Quipped the Khajiit.


    “Sit by the fire.” Äelberon ordered, his tone authoritative.


    Ahkari shook her head and nudged Dro’marash in the ribs. The guard grinned back. By now, they knew the antics of the Crazy Elf well. He had a plan and all of them were now eyeing the large sack he bore in one hand. They could smell it and Dro’marash’s mouth watered in anticipation, his stomach growling. It had been forever.


    “We are getting a bit bossy, no?” Kharjo countered as he laid the axe down on the chopping block and walked towards Zaynari who sat next to Dro’marash at the fire. He stopped for a moment as he passed the Elf. What was in that sack, Kharjo wondered?


    “Sit.” Äelberon repeated, when he noticed that Kharjo had stopped.  


    “Fine, fine, fine. When an Elf gets it in his mind to order me around, who am I to speak otherwise? Hail Aldmeri Dominion!”


    Äelberon sighed.


    Kharjo sat at the fire and gestured to Koor. “Dog, come here, this one will rub your ears, for he knows your Master does not indulge you nearly enough.” Koor sat by Kharjo at the fire and drooled as the Khajiit rubbed away. “Ah that is better, no?” He turned to the Elf, “Alright I have stopped my wood-chopping, Ahkari is now staring at me because I have stopped my wood-chopping, and I am sitting by the fire as requested, what?”


    Äelberon knelt at the fire and set the sack down. “This is not just for Kharjo, please, this is for all.”


    Ahkari crossed her arms over her chest and watched while the Elf opened the sack. Her eyes went wide. It was full, full of sweets. Sweetrolls, honey nut treats, tarts, and cookies. There was an awkward silence until Äelberon spoke up, taking a small honey tart and beginning to eat it.


    “Well? Go ahead, I brought them for you to share.” He laughed, his mouth full as he talked. “It was a gift given to me by a dear friend to wish me well on my journey, but by the Gods I cannot eat all of this on my own! I am far older than all of you put together and if I tried, I would probably make myself very ill.” He paused and grinned, glancing at Koor, “And my dog fat!”


    Koor snorted in response and Kharjo laughed.


    “But to you, my friends, eating the contents of this sack will be but child’s play. So help an Old Mer out.”  He knew Khajiit well, their home diet in Elsweyr had an extremely high sugar content and it was often infused with moon sugar.  He remembered what that had done to him once too. He sighed, when times were better. 


    Kharjo grabbed a sweetroll and began to eat, savoring the frosting as it clung to his whiskers. This was far better than cheese. But they all knew a way to make this even better. A way to really celebrate. Kharjo shot Ahkari a glance as she worked on a cookie and she nodded slyly. She was curious to see if the Elf really knew Elsweyr. “We will help you, Crazy Elf. After all, we do not wish that you die of sugar poisoning. Leave the sugar to the Khajiit.”


    Dro’marash and Zaynari followed suit and began to take sweets from the sack. Äelberon took his place next to Koor, stroking the dog’s neck as it drifted off to sleep. He turned to Kharjo. “Good?”


    “It is like a bit of home.” He turned to the Elf, his speech distorted from chewing his sweetroll. “You miss your home as we miss ours?”


    “Very much so.” Äelberon stared at the clear night sky, taking another bite of his honey tart. Those, and the honey nut treats were his favorites. His mother used to make such delicious things with honey.  He sighed and swallowed. “But the sky remains the same no matter where we are, eh?”


    “That is true, friend, very true.” Kharjo replied, sensing the Elf’s building emotion. He was thinking of home too and Kharjo could tell by the sudden darkness in the Elf’s face that not all memories from there were good ones. “You were right.” Kharjo continued.


    “How so?”


    “It is indeed your turn to be homesick.”


    “Aye,” Äelberon replied wistfully as he watched Ahkari get up to head to her tent. “I am depressing you, I am sorry.”


    “No,” She replied, “This one is just going to fetch something from her tent. Such kindness deserves another kindness.”


    Äelberon waved his hand. “No, no, no. That is not necessary, Ahkari.”


    She stopped just short of entering her tent and shot him a stern look with her flashing grey eyes that immediately silenced hm. Her back straightened and her tone as she spoke had spirit. “The Nords think us a race of thieves and swindlers, but this is not true.  Khajiit are an honorable folk and when kindness is shown to us, it is returned. Mark the words of this Caravaneer, Knight, it will be made known to Ri’Saad that you are counted as friend.”


    “Thank you, Ahkari.” Äelberon replied with a slow nod and the caravan leader disappeared into her tent. He turned to the other Khajiit who were watching his interaction with Ahkari, and smiled, his laugh lines crinkling. “She means business, does she not?”


    “This is Ahkari, best not to refuse whatever she gives you.” Informed Kharjo.


    “I am quite curious now as to what she is going to give me.” He replied, removing his pack and leaning back against a stump to make himself more comfortable.


    He would pitch a tent later tonight and sleep under the stars that now shown like gemstones against the black sky. He rummaged through his pack, searching for a small satchel and a waterskin. He was in the mood tonight. Zaynari watched with interest, as she brought her cloak about her shoulders and leaned against Dro’marash to keep warm, the guard instinctively nuzzling her head with his chin in an expression of affection. Aye, ‘twas how Dar’Kaala had greeted him once their friendship had become established. It often made him sneeze as her fur sometimes drifted into his nostrils, but he never refused the gesture. Damn, now he was thinking both on his home and Elsweyr. It was hard being so old, for the Khajiit do not live like Altmer do and that little Alfiq was somewhere else now. He sighed again and removed the satchel from his pack. A brew would help.  Bah! He hated Saturalia. It was not a holiday for the homesick. Or for those who had lost their family.


    “What is that?” Zaynari asked, her pupils widening in the night to get a better look.


    “Oh, canis root.” Replied Äelberon, thankful for the curiosity of cats. “My Order forbids alcohol, so I drink water, juices, milk, and… tea.” He turned to Kharjo, gesturing to the cooking pot, “May I boil water?”


    “You are our guest,” Interupted Ahkari as she emerged from her tent, “Zaynari, boil the water for him.” She faced Äelberon again, “You… sit. Zaynari will prepare your tea.”


    Äelberon leaned back against the stump, leaning in towards Kharjo to whisper in the Khajiit’s ear. “She is not going to kill me, eh?”


    Kharjo laughed. “No, that is just her way. The bandits had frightened her. They grow bolder and to be honest, friend, if you had not come…” Kharjo’s face then became grim with the reality of the bandit attack, “The caravan would not be celebrating tonight.” Kharjo knew how close to death he had come today.


    Äelberon watched while Ahkari approached him and knelt. She bore a wooden box, long and relatively narrow. She also had several satchels, and a mortar and pestle. She set the items upon the ground and looked at him, her gaze thoughtful. “As Zaynari prepares your tea, this one will prepare something for you, as is Khajiit custom. Your words in Dawnstar were remembered.” Äelberon opened his mouth to speak, knowing full well what Ahkari was going to do, but then he felt a clawed finger press against his lips, silencing him. “No, you will not protest and you will accept the gifts given on this night. You are very stubborn, no?  Much like Khajiit, but that is not a bad thing.” She replied as she opened the wooden box. Inside was a smoking pipe of traditional make, of polished wood with a long, slender stem. She removed the pipe from the box and handed it to him.


    “Try it, see if it is a good fit.” 


    Äelberon tested the weight of the pipe and then placed the bit in his mouth. Gods, it was perfect. Verily he could hold it in his mouth just by the bit and still smoke if he was turning pages, or he could hold it by the bowl. “It is perfect, Ahkari, thank you.” Äelberon said, the bit securely held by his mouth. The caravan erupted in laughter for they knew now he was experienced enough of a smoker that he could talk with a pipe in his mouth.


    “It is legal in Skyrim, yes, but there are restrictions,” Ahkari began as she took one of the satchels and proceeded to pour moon sugar into the mortar. “You have smoked Moon sugar, yes?” Ahkari then chuckled, “This one does not want to kill you.”


    The Altmer nodded. “Yes I have.” He then grinned and Ahkari saw the mischief in those red-orange eyes. He leaned in closer to her and whispered as she ground the moon sugar in the mortar, breaking up the rocks into smaller chunks. “And stronger.”


    The other cats in the caravan pricked their ears upon hearing the Elf’s words and Kharjo let out a gust of air as he began work on his third sweetroll, the steel-plate gauntlets long removed so he could lick his fingers. “Ha! Well, friend, stronger is illegal and Ri’Saad is respectful of this, though others in Skyrim are not. They are stupid, though, and drink it.”


    “Are they insane?!” Exclaimed the Altmer, his eyes wide with disbelief. “You cannot drink skooma! You will become addicted!” He put his hand to his face and shook his head. “Scamp’s Blood!”


    Ahkari laughed at the Elf’s curse and beckoned Äelberon to hand her the pipe. He watched as she started to fill it with the ground moon sugar. It smelled incredible, strong and he could tell, this was a quality batch from Corinthe. He smiled and his eyes surveyed the caravan. They were laughing and enjoying the sweets he had brought and Dro’marash had taken his own pipe and was preparing some moon sugar for himself. Äelberon could see the Riften guards watching them from the city gates. They definitely looked puzzled and a bit jealous that they were having such a good time. He was brought back by Zaynari who handed him a tankard of steaming canis root tea.


    “Your tea, Pelin.” He nodded and took the tankard. Pelin was “Knight” in their tongue and he was honored by such a show of respect. “Thank you.” He replied as Ahkari tugged at his forearm impatiently. It was quite clear she was not done talking.  Äelberon shot Kharjo a quick look and the guard shrugged, as he licked his claws. “Go on, Ahkari, my apologies. Zaynari had brought me my tea.”


    “Altmer and Khajiit know this, but these are Nords. Not very bright. The Argonians are even worse.” Ahkari continued as Äelberon sipped his tea. This was going to compliment the moon sugar very well. “Many times they come to the caravans asking for it, and they are turned away. Lorkhaj’s Heart, Crazy Elf! Skooma is a thorn in Ri’Saad’s side. Many think he deals, but, no, his caravans are clean, but he has long suspected that there are dealers in Riften and he worries for our safety, should the addicts become too aggressive. Here take your pipe back, Crazy Elf, and I will light it.”


    Ahkari had lit a small twig with the caravan campfire and brought the flame to the bowl of Äelberon’s pipe. She grinned when she saw that this Elf knew exactly what he was doing, heating up the moon sugar by inhaling and exhaling, not yet taking it into his lungs. When the sugar was heated through, he finally took a long inhale and the caravan erupted in laughter again when they observed him hold the smoke in his lungs for a few seconds, allowing the moon sugar to penetrate into his body before he let the smoke out. He took another slow inhale and let it out, making several smoke rings in the process. Äelberon stretched and settled against the tree stump, beginning to feel the effects of the moon sugar.


    “Thank you for your gift, Ahkari. It’s been many years.”


    “Feels good, no?”  


    The Altmer chuckled. “Indeed it does.”


    “But I am not finished yet, for Kharjo means much to this caravan, though he does not think so when this one makes him chop wood all day.”


    “Ahkari, please, you’ve been too generous. I can’t accept anymore.” Contractions, sighed Äelberon. Ah damn. He was already starting to feel the moon sugar. Äelberon was not surprised that the effects were felt so quickly, for he had not smoked moon sugar for a great many years. He took another sip of tea and grabbed a honey nut treat. Tea, sugar, and smokes. This was a good night indeed.


    “Do not refuse this one.” Ahkari chided, waving a clawed finger. “You are very naughty. When the morning finds us all recovering from this celebration, Khajiit will let you have pick of one item from this caravan. Whatever your choice, the price does not matter. It will be yours. And do not pick something cheap, or this one will not share moon sugar with you again, and this one knows you like it!”


    “Deal!” Äelberon replied, offering Ahkari his hand and they shook.


    She continued to speak while he smoked, of the restrictions on smoking, where to smoke, what to smoke, and Äelberon listened to her with heavy-lidded eyes that watched the flames of the campfire dancing. Responding to her conversation with the occasional nod or chuckle, as she began preparing her own pipe. He enjoyed the sticky rich sweetness of his honey nut treat as it mixed with the moon sugar smoke and he felt himself relax. For the first time in a long while, his thoughts were not of Summerset Isles or his past, but of Jorrvaskr and his eagerness to return. As he puffed his pipe, he wondered what they were doing to celebrate the Festival of New Life. He bet Tilma had cooked something extra special. He adored her apple pie. He adored everything she made. He missed them, even Skjor, he thought with a chuckle as he continued to puff his pipe. 


    There is a small tribute to one of Karver the Lorc's builds. The Hermit. A Talos-worshipping Bosmer who ignores the Green Pact.


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC


    Chapter XIV    Chapter XVI


10 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  April 30, 2017
    I agree with what everyone else has already said. Your scenes and dialog with the khajiit caravaneers really shines through. I hope he meets more in the future, I'm going to miss them and their sweet tooths. xD
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      I agree with what everyone else has already said. Your scenes and dialog with the khajiit caravaneers really shines through. I hope he meets more in the future, I'm going to miss them and their sweet tooths. xD
        ·  April 30, 2017
      The Khajiit are always fun to write.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    No worries. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 16, 2015
    I wasn't rethinking the decision.  I just wanted to make sure you knew that I'd already incorporated the same idea before I started reading your blog.  I didn't want it to look like I stole it from you.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    Why are you rethinking your decision on Gaspard?  And why would I be upset about this? Albee slips to contractions on occasion, usually when he's tired or high. There is absolutely no reason why both characters cannot speak that way! 
    They are rough...  more
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 16, 2015
    Hmmph I was afraid of this. I'd already written Gaspard as one who doesn't use contractions and it seemed Aelberon was the same. Now I have confirmation.

    Gaspard even brings it up in the part I have written from my next chapter. Too late to c...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  August 30, 2015
    Haha, very funny, Exuro. It may well be. Chapter II is shorter as well, I think. 
    These are actually Holidays from the Lore, but I had a mod installed, Wet and Cold Holidays that celebrated them in game, usually discount healings in Temples, parties...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  August 30, 2015
    I think this is your shortest chapter so far . Wonder if anyone has made a Tamriel holiday calendar. Dragon's day [name still in progress] is going to be one in my story, a day of reflection on Helga then a day celebrating the fall Alduin.
    I actuall...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  June 2, 2015
    Awwww, well, that's just Ahkari's opinion and honestly when a bunch of skooma addicts threaten her caravan, she'd be understandably upset. 
    HA! So he has touched the stuff! So has Albee, but he did it the right way.  Yeah, Imma taking forever to get...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  June 2, 2015
    The way you've wrote the speech of the Khajiit's is perfect. I'm really going to have to work on mine when Ri'ssad crops up. It great how you included the skooma in their lifes style. You've captured teh camps lifestyle and unity really well. 
    Just ...  more