Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XVII


    28th of Evening Star, 4E, 201


    Äelberon carefully laced his cuirass, paying close attention to the lacings in the flank, making sure they were as tight as possible. He did nothing on the 27th save rest, tell stories, and make his bow, which he drew the schematics for the very night he returned to Jorrvaskr, using the tome on Elvish craftsmanship as a guide. He put on his boots and his gauntlets; again making sure the lacing was secure. Äelberon knew he had disappointed his Shield-Siblings his first night back, for they had expected a tale of his adventures and he instead drew the schematics in earnest and only through hastily answered questions did they glean what he had done in his travels. His bearskin cloak was next, swung over his shoulders, followed by his helm, which he fit over his silver-white head.


    Today was the 28th, his bow was complete, and it was time for it to be tested. It was mounted next to the Staff of Hasedoki in his quarters and it was a stunning weapon. He smiled, she would have been extremely proud, for he was indeed the son of the Lady of the Forge. He shifted his cloak to uncover his bow arm so he could sling his quiver of steel arrows upon his back and then the great bow was strung, his powerful arms flexing to bend the weapon to its proper shape. To create the tension. He was ready.  They had not yet seen the weapon and he was not going to lie to himself, he was excited to show  it to them.   


    Äelberon walked up the steps leading to the Mead Hall. It was morning, but not too early. He had another long trip ahead of him on the 30th and he was resting himself in preparation. He would journey to the Reach; for the silver of Karthewasten and then onto Markarth.


    Of all the people Mara had sent him to help, he was to help Calcemo; the foremost expert on the Dwemer in all of Tamriel. Äelberon had read all three volumes of Dwemer at Crystal-Like-Law and the abridged version circulated throughout the Empire, Dwarves.  He chuckled to himself, if only the Empire knew what Calcemo said about them in the Preface to Dwemer regarding the necessity to make a simplified version. It was scathing. Fortunately for both Calcemo and the Empire, that version of the study was only alive in the memory of one Mer. The actual books were lost in the Crystal Tower, along with the artifacts and the specimens.  At any rate, finally meeting the formidable scholar would be an incredible opportunity. One of the few Mer who was older than he was who was not Thalmor, by a few centuries at least. His mission to Markarth was twofold, for he also had promised Keeper Carcette that he would aid Vigilant Tyranus in his investigation of Daedra worship in the city.


    He was pressed for time and there were no jobs available through Jorrvaskr, so he took a bounty from Hulda at the Bannered Mare, and fate was on his side, for it took him to the very same location that housed Kharjo’s amulet. Valtheim Towers. He warmed himself by the fire, while Koor circled the hall, restless. The dog always knew when battle loomed. He was ready too and he suddenly drew the bow, testing the draw. Perfection. It reflected the firelight, catching the details of the carved feathers. The eagle’s wings.


    All the weapons of the High Elves featured the eagle; the blessed animal of Auri-El. Through an Elf’s weapons, he could be Auri-El’s wings, his beak, and his talons. Ah, he was shaming the weapon with steel arrows, but he had not the time to fletch the arrows the bow truly deserved. That would take days. When he returned from Markarth he would make the time.


    “A remarkable weapon.”


    Ah, his dear Shield-Sister could not resist.  Aela stood next to him as he held the drawn bow.


    “Thank you, Aela. From you, my fellow archer, the compliment means much.”  Äelberon relaxed the weapon.  “When I have more moonstone, I will forge his sister for you, lighter, for you cannot wield the weapon at its current make.”


    She furrowed her brow and crossed her arms over her chest.  Her fighting stance. 


    Skjor came the steps from the Living Quarters and paused when he heard Aela and Äelberon’s voices. They were talking bows and he grinned when he saw her body language. She was in her fighting stance. He leaned back casually against the stair railing and watched the two archers interact, oblivious to his presence. A cub was going to get another lesson. Skjor was already familiar with the teaching style, but he could care less about the lesson. He just enjoyed watching her fume.  


    “What now? What have I said?” Äelberon asked, his tone exasperated.  Scamp’s Blood, child had a temper.


    “I can wield a bow fine.” She protested, her anger rising.


    Skjor’s grin widened when the Elf said his next words, those silver brows furrowing. He definitely didn’t let Aela push him around.


    “Draw it then.”  A challenge. Äelberon handed her the weapon nonchalantly, refusing to be intimidated. Let us see you draw it, youngling, he thought. 


    Aela took the weapon and held it in her left hand. She extended her arm, only to immediately feel his hand reposition her wrist, locking it in place. She simmered and Skjor bit his lip trying not to laugh.


    “Position...” Äelberon commented, his voice low and slightly chiding.  


    She was losing her patience. Granted, he was right, but still. It was the way he did it, no “may I” or “can I”, he simply fixed it. With a frustrated puff of air, Aela fixed her position, anticipating where his hand would fall next to correct her. Her fingers.


    “That is it. Now draw.” He said softly and she could feel him smile as he stood close behind her. He then rather roughly pulled her shoulder back, making sure she was aligned. He wasn’t deliberately rough, he was just large and sometimes didn’t know his own strength. “A straight back is well and good for stationary targets, but if you want to hit something moving, you need to bend slightly, so you have a wider field of view, like this…” He tried to bend her slightly, to show here what he meant, only to meet with resistance, her back tense, her anger returning.


    “Fine." Äelberon's frown betrayed that he was unimpressed with her attitude.  He then moved away from her and crossed his arms over his chest.  Skjor’s shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. Elf didn’t take her shit, not one bit. Aela was going to get burned now. That was one beast of a bow. “Now draw.”


    That had a different tone to it and Aela suddenly regretted her anger. You always knew where you stood with their Snow Bear and he was now quite displeased. Damn it. He was something to get used to.  She placed her right hand on the string, exactly where he held it this time to avoid his correction and drew…


    Or at least attempted to. Try as she could, she could not get an adequate draw on the weapon. Gods, this string was heavy. Did it pierce armor? She furrowed her brow and tried again, only to fail. She grunted and put her whole back into it this time, feeling her muscles tighten and ache with the effort.


    The noisy, exaggerated yawn that came from him only angered her further and she growled, attempting to draw the bow again.


    Another yawn.


    Skjor’s eyes watered and he bit his lip again. She was going to kill him if she caught him laughing. Nah, he liked her angry, her face flushed, her hair windblown. He sighed. That got him thinking on something else, Skjor smiled. The Elf's words brought Skjor back.


    “The enemy would have killed you by now.” Äelberon quipped.


    Aela in frustration relaxed her stance, shaking off her sore muscles. And then she heard a suppressed guffaw from the steps of the living quarters and her eyes stung a bit when she became aware of his heartbeat. He was watching them. He was watching her be humiliated. It only fueled her. She remembered his lesson, how he was when the Elf finished with him in the training circle. Aye, he was all civil in front of the Old Man, but when they were alone? They both knew Äelberon had been right, but Skjor still fumed. It was their nature too. They were positive when the Elf got his lessons way back in the bloody Merethic Era, he fumed as well. Altmer were arrogant bastards. 


    “I’ll get this,” She stubbornly replied, attempting to renew her efforts only to cry out in protest when the Altmer took the weapon from her hands.


    “Bah! No you will not. Like I said, I will make you his lighter sister. A weapon you can actually wield.”  He watched her bristle and Skjor was surprised to see that the Elf wasn’t angry with her.  “Aela, stand and face me.”


    The teaching moment was about to happen, thought Skjor and he was surprised when the Elf removed his gauntlets and set them upon the floor.


    “Look at yourself, and then look at me.”  She glanced at him, about to open her mouth to argue when Äelberon grabbed her wrist and held it right up against his. The right wrist, the draw wrist.  “Now, look at my wrist, Aela, and then look at yours.” He said, his tone now gentle, fatherly.  She looked down. His wrist was huge, larger than a male Nord’s, the forearm attached to it thick with muscles from centuries of drawing a bow, the great hand veined and strong with long fingers. She looked at her own hand and frowned at how weak it looked next to his.


    “I’m so weak.” She said softly. “I hate it.”


    “Weak? Gods no! You are not weak, child, just smaller and I am very large. There is a good reason why the Old Man calls me 'Snow Bear'.” He replied with a smile.  “The best bows are the bows that are made for you. Your hands. Your arms. When I finish with your bow, Aela, you will wield your weapon like I wield mine, I promise.”  She looked up at him and her pale grey eyes met his red-orange ones and to him, she was the bravest, the fiercest of his Shield-Siblings, and among the wisest, when she did not let her temper cloud her judgement. It did not hurt that she was also an archer and therefore a kindred spirit for their shared love of Auri-El’s weapon.


    Aela smiled, her eyes dancing in anticipation of wielding such a fine bow. Of going on the hunt. The steel arrows he made for her were the finest arrows she had ever owned, she could only imagine the bow. “I’m sorry.”


    The Elf rolled his eyes and chuckled, stooping to sleep on his gauntlets again. “Think nothing on it. I like you stubborn, you remind me of myself in my youth. Wanting to achieve everything all at once. I was an arrogant little bastard. Way back in the Merethic Era. Aye, I hear all of you joking on my age. I am not that old. When I return from Markarth, I will make his sister for you.”


    Aela then felt his heart beat closer to the both of them. He was here, sensing that she was no longer angry. 


    “At least you now know where you can now find plenty of moonstone.” Quipped Skjor as he patted Äelberon on the shoulder and glanced at Aela.  She met his eyes and smiled back, suppressing a blush. “Just be sure they’re dead when you take it from them. The Companions don’t condone stealing, even from Thalmor.”  The three Shield-Siblings laughed; the second joke at the Thalmor’s expense.


    The old Altmer had earned a lot of respect from Skjor when he told of what he did at the Stormcloak camp. Kodlak wanted neutrality, and Skjor’s official comments on the War to his Shield-Siblings was to dismiss it as Jarls’ bickering, but deep down, he was a Nord, a veteran of the Great War, and he hated the Thalmor. And Aela didn't want the glory of battle going to a bunch of "snowberries". Her very words. She wanted to fight. When Skjor learned Äelberon had slayed two Thalmor in defense of a Stormcloak camp, he quickly forgave that the Elf had actually brought books to the Mead Hall table, and then… proceeded to read them. The Old Man was not pleased when Äelberon mentioned the Stormcloak camp, but the Elf actually had the pair to shoot him down. Skjor remembered his very words.


    “If it had been an Imperial camp, I would have done exactly the same. There were wounded, I could not turn away and watch soldiers die like sheep to the slaughter, and then call myself a Companion.”


    They were pretty hard words and even Skjor held his breath for a moment at the Mead Hall for him. Kodlak angry was a sight to behold, but all breathed a sigh of relief at the table when the Old Man saw wisdom to the Elf’s words. The Elf had his own mind on many things and he was not afraid to speak it. Ha, maybe it was the beard. Skjor gave it a once over and then leaned in closer.  Äelberon knew exactly what the Veteran was looking at.


    “Are you going to keep it or get rid of it?” Asked Skjor, pointing to Äelberon’s beard.


    It had indeed filled out during his trip and calling it merely stubble was no longer an option. He had thought about shaving it.  In Alinor, he had always been clean-shaven. It was required by the Kinlady Lilisephona of House Larethian - baby arse smooth - and whenever... even when he went back. He paused, he had remained clean-shaven since then. You are far too nostalgic for your own good sometimes, Old Mer. It was the telltale sign of his advancing age that it was filling in rather nicely now, and damn it, he had one all the time in Cyrodiil and that one was not so nice. Keep it, you always looked better with one anyway. Hides some of the ugly. 


    “What do you think?” Äelberon finally asked.


    Skjor studied the Elf’s face hard with his one eye, crossing his arms over his great chest. “Honestly?  I think it suits you.”  The Elf’s face already had a certain weight to it and the beard added to it. It also made him look more Nordic, less Elvish, and that helped. Elves were not an attractive people.


    “Then it stays.” Äelberon replied. They nodded in agreement and he smiled. Kinlady Lilisephona is not here to fill your boots with weights in punishment, Old Mer.


    “Though don’t go growing it as long as the Old Man’s. We already have enough with one Whitemane at Jorrvaskr. We certainly don’t need two.” Quipped Vilkas as he spied them from the top of the steps to the living quarters.  The group laughed.


    “What is this?” Joked Äelberon while the twins entered the Mead Hall. “The twins up already? Usually I am already out the door before you two wake, counting the mead bottles left on the floor as I go...”


    “That’s because you’re old and don’t need as much sleep.” Vilkas winked.


    “Ah, that is right, I am certainly no cub. Cubs definitely need more sleep.”


    Aye, Vilkas liked the Elf, he kept pace with the friendly insults and dished them as well as he took them. When he first heard “Priest”, he dreaded the thought, thinking Äelberon would be strict, but no, as disciplined a warrior and Elf as he was, he also possessed an easy-going manner and had a good sense of humor. Those keen red-orange eyes often twinkled with mischief.  And the stories! By Ysmir, Äelberon could weave a tale when his nose wasn’t in a book.


    He had not said much the first day he returned, and it had taken them aback when he had his nose stuck in that Elvish crafting book the entire time, feverishly sketching the schematics for a weapon, answering questions only with grunts and single words, but the next day! The next day was different and he told several grand tales then. Mostly of his travels, but he then ended with the ENTIRE  Song of Pelinal. The bloody Altmer knew the tale by heart and that had surprised everyone, for Pelinal Whitestrake was no friend to the Elves.


    “It is still a great tale and great tales are meant to be told.”


    Was his response to their puzzled glances. Sure Vilkas had read it, but to hear it recited in the firelight of the Mead Hall was something entirely new to him. He still remembered Äelberon’s firm voice as he uttered the last words of the song; the fragment.


    "... and left you to gather sinew with my other half, who will bring light thereby to that mortal idea that brings the Gods great joy, that is, freedom, which even the Heavens do not truly know, which is why our Father, in those first swirls before Convention... that which we echoed in our earthly madness. Let us now take you Up. We will show our true faces... which eat one another in amnesia each Age."


    Vilkas smiled, it had been beautiful recited, for the Elf's resonant voice was well-suited to such things.  His fellow Shield-siblings were sometimes more coarse, but he appreciated that Äelberon was far more studied and the two before his long trip had frequently discussed the books of Jorrvaskr. The Elf had read them all the first day he woke up. Vilkas knew, he was the one who fetched them for him. 


    “You sure you don’t want help, Äelberon?” Asked Farkas when he joined the group by the fire, “There are nigh 20 bandits at the tower.”


    Äelberon patted Farkas on his shoulder.  It was time for him to go, though he did love this time with his Shield-Siblings by the great fire. Last night had been a fine evening. He enjoyed telling stories so and they were appreciative. It more than made up for his silence on the first day. “Nay, Farkas, I will be fine. The bandits will be brought to justice. Besides, I am not alone.”  He held up the bow, his back straightening with pride, “For I bear an eagle with me today!”


    The bow’s name would come to him. He did not want to name it Eagle, though that is the image he had whenever he saw it. Aye, it would come to him. Like how the vision of summer skies over Dusk came to him whenever he saw Koor. He glanced around, where was the boy? Ah, eating some cheese Farkas had tossed his way. They were going to make the dog fat from all the table scraps they were feeding him. Not that he should be talking, he enjoyed Jorrvaskr’s food too, and it was starting to show.

    Äelberon beckoned Koor to him, and he was about to open the doors to Whiterun, when Whitemane emerged from the Living Quarters and called to him. “Äelberon, do you have a moment?”


    Äelberon paused at the door; his hand resting on it as if to push it open. His Shield-Siblings were suddenly silent. “I head to Valtheim Towers today. But... ” He lifted his hand from the door and turned to the Harbinger. “If you wish words.”


    “I do wish words, but yes, the bounty, I will then accompany you to the stables.”


    Äelberon nodded and removed his helmet, tucking it under his left arm and pulling his hair from his cuirass. It was a show of respect. He then waited for the Harbinger to arrive at his side before pushing open the door, letting Kodlak out first. Äelberon’s Shield-Siblings studied the face of their Harbinger as he passed, he didn’t seem angry, but Kodlak Whitemane did not betray his emotions easily and it was obvious that he and Äelberon did not agree.



    Kodlak and Äelberon walked down the steps of Jorrvaskr toward the courtyard of the Gildergreen and began to travel the path that led to the Whiterun’s Market Square. They got some glances from the people going about their daily business while they walked, for the two together were a sight. Kodlak, in his wolf armor and maroon cape was a great man to behold, even though he was old for a Nord with his full beard and grey-white hair. Most of it came to just past his shoulders save two smaller braids bound with corundum and leather. Warrior’s braids. His war paint cutting hard lines upon his firm right cheek. The raw power of his youth was still there and his light grey eyes still had a warrior’s glare, and unlike Vignar Grey-Mane, Kodlak did not yet possess any of the infirmities of Old Age.


    And though his armor was far less grand, the Elf struck no less of a presence. A full head taller than the Nord, with their race's bulk. His hair, also pale, but silver-white, and it was long, flowing thick and past his waist. Some of it was gathered up and pulled from his face to form a top-knot, bound with a tight spiral of leather lacing. He also now possessed a beard, and it made his red-orange eyes stand out all the more. He was even older than Whitemane, and the townspeople often guessed at his age. It was rumored that he was well over 200, but like Whitemane, there was no infirmity to his gait, walking with the slow grace of his people. Upon his back was a steel shield, a quiver of steel arrows, and a great bow of Elvish make, the limbs of the weapons carved into eagle’s wings, glittering gold in the morning sun. They crossed the Market Square, their strides matching.


    “You wished words?” Äelberon asked while they walked.


    “When we reach the stables.” Answered the Harbinger.


    The Altmer looked ahead. He knew what was coming. Äelberon acknowledged Adrianne as he passed her forge. He knew she wanted to see the bow and he would stop by Warmaiden’s when he returned from his bounty. He arrived at the gate first and pushed it open, again allowing Kodlak to exit before him.


    Immediately upon see them approach the stables, Allie snorted and stomped, restless. Äelberon smiled; she was ready too. Koor ran ahead to greet Allie, wagging his tail as he circled her. The Elf led the charger out of her stall, and then went for the saddle.


    “Do you intend to fight then?” Was Kodlak’s hushed question while he helped Äelberon saddle Allie.  He did not want to raise his voice. Whiterun leaned Imperial and Kodlak knew that Äelberon, in an utterly strange stance for an Altmer, leaned Stormcloak.


    “Yes, if another solution does not present itself.” replied the Altmer, also whispering.


    “So you will choose to ignore the Companions policy of neutrality?”


    Äelberon looked at Kodlak and whispered firmly, his eyes narrowing a bit.  “I choose not to ignore the plight of these people, Kodlak. I choose not to just sit and watch them die while I drink milk and read books. It has never been my way.” He paused, adjusting the strap of a saddle bag. He did not need to, but it was something to do. He knew his next words were going to anger the Old Man a great deal, but he had to say them. “You are like Jarl Balgruuf, Kodlak, afraid to take a side, because to do so will be messy.”


    Kodlak suddenly drew his sword and swung, but stopped short of Äelberon’s neck. The Elf did not even flinch, and Kodlak sheathed his weapon, and leaned with his back against Allie, crossing his arms over his chest. The Elf was going to make him listen. Damn it.


    Äelberon continued, turning to face Kodlak. “Win or lose, it matters not, for mark my words, the Thalmor are coming. They do not care who is in charge of Skyrim. They only want the fight to go on as long as possible, because it makes Men weak. And they want nothing more than to see the race of Men fail.” Kodlak looked up, meeting Äelberon’s eyes.  “You do not understand, the Thalmor’s War is a war with the very idea of Men; the idea of mortality; the idea that you and I even exist, and they will not stop until everything that was is erased.”


    He saw Kodlak’s puzzled face, and he knew that the Nord did not understand. He bent his head. His words were far too cryptic, but if he delved any deeper, Kodlak would be unable to fathom the true horror of what the Thalmor were planning. He needed to make things simpler. Bring things closer to Skyrim rather than delve into the entire fate of Mundus. Even he could not fully comprehend the texts on the subject, though he understood enough to be mortified, hoping in his heart that such evil could not be possible.  “Not picking a side, gives them exactly what they want. So I am picking a side,” He smiled wryly, “For I make it a part of my life’s work to disappoint the Thalmor.” Äelberon put his hand on the Nord’s shoulder and then asked. “Can you tell me honestly, as a Nord, that you are fine with them patrolling your countryside and arresting citizens, torturing them, slaughtering them, simply because they worship Talos? I am Altmer, Kodlak. I am proud of the heritage and history of my people and I revel in all the beautiful things they have created, but what the Thalmor are doing does not sit well with me, and I do not worship Talos. They are eating at your people from the inside. Weakening you and waiting, so they can then strike. Damn it, Kodlak, they did the exact same thing to my people in the aftermath of the Great Anguish. And my people are now but a shadow of what they once were.”


    Kodlak bent his head in thought. “No, it does not sit well with me, Äelberon.”


    “Then you understand why eventually I must go and fight.” He paused, “But not now. Now, it is a time to learn the lay of the land, Kodlak.” It was time for him to lighten the mood, and his eyes twinkled with mischief. “So I do not ride into the wrong fort when my time comes.”


    Kodlak suddenly let out a laugh and patted the Elf on the shoulder, before the Elf handed him his helmet to mount his horse. Äelberon looked down at Whitemane from his saddle, taking his helmet back. “It is time for me to bring some bandits to justice.” He said as he put on his helmet.


    Kodlak handed him the reins. “You know you will end up killing them, yet you still ask if they will yield.”


    “Always, I will always give them the option.”


    The Nord looked pensive for a moment and then looked up, squinting. “I’m sorry, Äelberon.”


    “For what, my Harbinger?”


    “For taking a swing at you.”


    Äelberon dismissed Kodlak with a casual wave of his hand and a laugh. “Eh, it will not be the last swing you take at me, Kodlak Whitemane. I said hard words yesterday and again today, and you are no Nord if you did not react precisely the way you reacted. Meant you were listening. And I will continue to say hard words, because you are my Shield-Brother and I care for you. And you will say them to me. And I will also anger, for I have my pride too. And we will bicker and squabble around the Mead Hall like old, grey litter mates. It is the very nature of the beast, is it not?”


    Kodlak slapped Allie’s flank, and Äelberon urged her forward, away from the stables towards the road at a light trot.  He turned back and waved to Kodlak, and Kodlak waved back. 


    The very Nature of the Beast…


    Ah, Snow Bear didn’t know the half of it, thought Kodlak with a heavy sigh, and by Talos, he hoped he’d never learn.



    Äelberon took a bite of his apple as he eyed the twin Nordic towers connected via a stone bridge. They were enveloped by a slight mist from the churning river rapids below them, reducing visibility somewhat, but not enough that he could not see. He was still a distance away, but he was close enough. Koor was itching to go, and kept circling Allie and grumbling to himself about his Master’s desire to observe rather than fight. They could both see the bandits. There were at least five right outside the door to the tower on his side of the bank, gathered about a small campfire, the smell of cooking meet, wolf, drifting towards them. But Koor was not seeing the larger picture, and Äelberon took another bite of his apple and Koor was forced to wait, the dog’s impatience growing.


    Three bandits patrolled the stone bridge. Another bandit manned the top of the tower nearest to him, though Äelberon could not make out a bow. Across the White River, a bandit sat upon a wooden chair a bit away from the second tower upon a cliff. And those were the visible ones. He took another bite from his apple. He was positive at least that many more were inside. So Farkas was right, at least twenty. Most of them were in fur or studded armor, but there were at least three in the group that sported iron or better, perhaps more.


    Why was he not seeing a bow on the bandit atop the closest tower?


    He furrowed his brow. Something was off.  If he had to guess, Kharjo’s amulet would be in the second tower, it was away from the main road and better protected.  


    Koor snorted and let out a low whine, practically trembling with excitement now. His Master turned to him slowly. “Easy, Koor, let us not rush into things. Let you Master finish his apple. A full stomach makes for a sharp mind.”


    Äelberon took another bite, relaxing on his saddle a bit. It was damp now and the sky had turned grey very quickly after his words with the Old Man. At least they parted on good terms and Kodlak knew that he meant well. He would not have been as focused for Valtheim if the conversation had turned ugly. 


    Mounted combat would serve him well here, at least until the bandits that remained no longer wanted to cross the bridge to get trampled by a horse. He took another bite. He would then use the bridge to a tactical advantage and funnel the bandits to his bow. The bridge was key here. If it even came to battle. It was entirely possible they would yield. He laughed and took a final bite of his apple.  They would not yield, but he was a Knight-Paladin and would always present the option. They yielded in Cyrodiil.


    “Koor,” The dog looked up expectantly at his Master. Äelberon yawned. “Are you ready to offer these bandits terms?” Koor wagged his tail, and talked back. “Alright, let us go then.” He gave Allie a gentle slap with the reins. “Come on girl, but slowly, we do not want to frighten them.”


    He walked her closer to the bandits. As he approached, Äelberon could see a flurry of activity in the two towers, and in the second tower, ah, there she was, giving orders, gesturing to her band. The chief, clad in steel plate armor with a Dwarven shield no less. He stopped some yards away, a bandit was approaching, her bow drawn. The technique of her draw was cringe-worthy.


    “Why do you draw your bow at me, child? I am unarmed and only wish to pass.”  He raised his hands slightly. “A priest.” he could not resist flashing a smile. 


    It was true. 


    “If you’re a priest, then I’m a virgin.” Scoffed the bandit, her green eyes blazing. A rather comely lass with light brown hair and blue war paint.


    “Well Auri-El, God of my Order be praised! ME TOO!” Äelberon exclaimed, his eye widening with feigned joy. Only he was not lying, he grinned slyly. The rest of the bandits burst out laughing. They think I am crazy.   “Not often we find virgins in Skyrim anymore?!” He continued, gesturing to her fellow bandits, and he winked at her. “Not with all these bandits running about causing trouble, eh?” He slapped his hand on his thigh. “And here I was thinking I was the only one…”


    Another bandit approached, a muscular Khajiit. “We will let you pass, Virgin Priest of Auri-El, if you but lighten your purse a bit for our cause.”


    “And what might your cause be, friend?” Äelberon asked, resting his hands on the horn of his saddle.  Out of the corner of his eye, he spied two more bandits come up the river bank, their weapons drawn. And above him at the top of the first tower, he heard a very familiar clicking noise.


    It could not be…


    His luck! Auri-El truly be praised!  But it was not without risk, for unless he found a way to move, he was in its direct line of fire. He had to think of something.


    “Oh, we only want to better ourselves. It is not too much to ask in these difficult times, no?” The Khajiit drew closer, his teeth bare, his clawed hand extended. “Your purssse, Prriessst.” He hissed.


    “Only if you agree to yield.”


    “Yield?” Cried the Khajiit as he exploded into laughter, his fellow bandits following suit.


    "To an Old Mer?" chimed another bandit.


    Äelberon nodded. “Well yes, yield to this Old Mer before you! Yield, and go to Whiterun’s jail, or die. Those are your terms.”  He slowly turned Allie and began to ride off a short distance away, out of the line of fire of the crossbow. The bandits exchanged confused looks, what the Oblivion was this High Elf doing?  “I will wait here while you run off, little cub, and tell your chief the terms.”  He dismissed the Khajiit like he was shewing away an animal. “Now go.” The Khajiit did not budge and Äelberon furrowed his brow and sighed. Not the sharpest weapons in the arsenal now were they? “Well?” Barked Äelberon, “What are you standing there for? I have not got all day for this.”


    “This one is not going anywhere.” The Khajiit replied, twitching his tail. 


    “So you then accept or reject terms on behalf of your chief?” Äelberon let out a whistle and shook his head, feigning disbelief. “I am impressed, friend, for you possess a mighty pair indeed. Does she know you do that?”


    The Bandit Chief peered across the other side. What the Oblivion were these idiots doing? She could make out the rider talking to her men that guarded the first tower, but they weren’t robbing him. The dog alone was worth a heavy amount of coin. She readied her axe and shield, and took a swig of skooma. She should never have consented to the idea of the toll. She preferred to just kill passersby immediately.


    “Well… I... Uh… shit.”  The Khajiit suddenly swore under his breath and disappeared into the tower. Äelberon saw him cross the bridge and speak to the Bandit Chief. He saw her give the Khajiit a sound back-handed slap for his stupidity and she answered Äelberon’s offer with a wave of her hand, issuing a command.  And that’s when the bolt whizzed past his head. A crossbow indeed!


    “It seems that your leader has rejected my terms, very well.” Äelberon sighed and squeezed Allie’s flanks hard, and she began her gallop as he readied the bow. Four bandits came after him a small ways down the path along the river. He turned Allie with his legs, his bow drawn, catching the light that filtered through the cloud cover. Two berserkers and two archers barreled toward him, weapons drawn, and he stood his ground. “Koor, wait for it…” He commanded. The dog growled.


    He took his aim. Äelberon had nothing against archers, but those were always targeted first. He said his apologies when he let his arrow fly, striking the young bandit. She was but a child. A wasted life. He aimed again while the berserkers closed in and the other archer went down.


    And then he felt the pain.


    It seared through his left shoulder when it sliced through his pauldron, embedding into the flesh. A crossbow bolt. He reeled from its impact and almost lost control of Allie, grimacing. Koor immediately drove the berserkers away as he rode Allie in the opposite direction. His shield arm. This was a more powerful weapon than what he had used in Cyrodiil, and he had thought himself out of range. He wanted the weapon, for if it could do that to him, he thought through gritted teeth, he could only imagine what it could do to the undead. He dodged another bolt. Allie roared. He turned her and faced the berserkers, and stared at them hard, his eyes blazing as the heat of battle grew in him. In defiance, he grabbed the bolt that jutted from his shoulder and pulled it out, without even a flinch, though he felt the wood split from the shaft and a splinter remained in his flesh.


    They saw him do it. They saw him ignore his own blood. His plan.


    Intimidation was important in battle, especially with Orcs. And then he charged, full speed ahead, bolt in one hand, bow in the other, letting out a fierce cry.


    The Orc berserker answered the challenge and ran at full speed, his warhammer raised. He was going to knock that High Elf Son of a Summerset Bitch off his horse and back to the Isles. They crossed, and the berserker swung his hammer, which Äelberon blocked with his bow, while he brought the bolt down hard, piercing the Orc’s skull, deep into his brain. Another bolt nicked Allie’s steel plate. He looked up, his eyes narrowed. Koor had brought down the other berserker, and Äelberon then dismounted, slinging the bow onto his back and taking his shield and drawing his sword.


    He barged inside the first tower, knocking down the door, ignoring the chest at the foot of the stairs. The other bandits were amassing their weapons and beginning to gather at the bridge. He had limited time to get to the top of the first tower if he was going to keep his advantage at the bridge.


    The archer was worried. He saw the Elf enter the tower. He shot his crossbow again, but the Elf was now moving quickly and he was harder to hit. He reloaded the crossbow. The bandit across the river was also taking shots at the Elf.


    Äelberon cleared the first set of rickety wooden stairs, and went up the ramp towards the bridge that connected the two towers, dodging arrows, Koor not far behind. He surprised another bandit in the second room, but he barged right into him, knocking him off balance, before swinging his shield and snapping the bandit’s neck, the pain shooting into his arm as he did so.


    He climbed another set of wooden steps and just barely blocked another bolt with his shield. He had to time this just right. But he knew. Crossbows were very slow to load, requiring great strength to do with just one hand. Most warriors needed two, and some even needed to throw their legs into it to get the proper leverage to pull the string and this archer lacked experience with the weapon. Äelberon ascended a few more steps and raised his shield just as the bolt struck it. He heard the crack of wood. He would lose this shield too. Damn. He reached the top of the steps and swung hard, knocking the archer off balance as he fired another bolt into the air. He swung the shield again and the crossbow flew from the archer’s hand and landed near the chair at the top of the platform.


    “Yield,” Commanded Äelberon, pointing the tip of his longsword at the bandit’s throat.


    “Never,” Replied the bandit as he shoved himself into Äelberon’s weapon, taking his own life. That caught him by surprise, but Äelberon did not have time to dwell, he needed to get to the bridge. He took the crossbow and searched the bandit’s body for the remaining bolts. His eyes then widened. Not only did the bandit have standard steel bolts, but also a quiver of bolts of Lighting. Elemental bolts. This would be excellent for the bridge.


    A bottle of skooma fell from the bandit’s belt while he searched. He picked it up, so skooma, eh? That explained the bandit’s behavior. He was most certainly an addict, skooma often made warriors do very irrational things, made them think they were invincible. Bah! It did not help that they were drinking it either. He threw the bottle against the stone wall of the tower, smashing it, and made his way to the bridge.


    Äelberon stood at the bridge on the side of the first tower, while the bandits advanced slowly from the other side. They were cautious in their approach and Äelberon could tell that she had some sense for planning. Her archers were towards the back, ready to volley, her berserkers were in the front, and she was in the middle. A great Nord woman with a black mohawk, powerfully built, larger-framed than Aela, with a jagged scar across her cheek. Her war paint was blood red and covered her black eyes in two bold slashes that extended into her neck. She was fierce. But so was he.


    The High Elf was alone, save that dog, clad in steel and bearskin, and now he had the crossbow. Which meant he now had the bolts. Shit. She already knew he was a marksman from his first display at the front of the first tower. But he didn’t use the crossbow first. “Fire!” She commanded. She had six archers, he was but one Elf, old too from what she could see of him, bearded and white-haired.  Hopefully this would do the trick. 


    A volley of arrows flew into the air. But Äelberon knew his projectile physics well and was able to calmly retreat just inside the tower just as the arrows struck the walls of the tower and the bridge. He then quickly emerged and drew a great Elven bow, aiming quickly. An archer just behind her, to her left fell off the bridge and now she was down to five. Her rage began to build. 


    “Fire!” Another volley, and again the Elf retreated to the tower.


    “Koor, stay.” Commanded Äelberon.  The boy whined.  “Their aim is terrible, I know, but still, I do not wish you hit. You had me worried at the Stormcloak camp and forgive me if your Master is now overprotective. You will have your moment, I promise.” He emerged from the tower again and aimed.


    To her right, another archer fell. She was down to four.


    He was waiting for her to charge. If she did so, it would be over for her. He needed her angry. He could feel her fume.


    “Fire!” She screamed, banging her axe to her shield. Another volley of arrows, and Äelberon again retreated to the tower before the arrows even came close to hitting him. He could play this game with her all day. He had the advantage. When he emerged again, he took down two more of her archers. He was ready now for her charge, and he switched to the crossbow. He loaded it with a bolt of storms and waited. He was calm, his eyes focused on his target. She was beside herself with rage. His plan.


    “CHARGE!” She screamed, the skooma flowing hot through her blood. “I want this Elf mounted on a pike! NOW!”


    Her berserkers began to barrel across the bridge. Äelberon fired, hitting a berserker in heavy iron armor, and the bolt then exploded in a flurry of lighting and thunder, the force sending another over the bridge. He took two more bolts, holding one between his teeth while he reloaded the crossbow, his strong hands moving deftly over the weapon. He was far faster than the bandit who wielded the weapon before. A century of using a crossbow in Cyrodiil gave him the strength in the forearm to load the weapon with just one hand. He took aim and fired.


    Again his aim was true as her second heavy armored berserker fell hard, and all of the bandits reeled from the explosion. He loaded a third time and fired, aiming this time for the side of the bridge support, on the inside, so the bolt would ricochet and explode above the bandits. The explosion shook the bridge hard and two more bandits fell screaming to the rapids. He smiled in satisfaction. This battle was nearly over. This was a fine weapon. Better range and more powerful than the weapons of Cyrodiilic make. Was everything bigger in Skyrim?


    Only five bandits remained, perhaps six, if one lurked the second tower still. It did not matter.  He put away the crossbow just inside his side of the tower. It was time to save bolts. He nimbly dodged her remaining archers’ arrows and left the tower. The rest would fall to his sword and the shield. He came forward onto the bridge, and cried out a final time, swinging his sword quickly in defiance, watching their faces as they saw him move his blade rapidly. Aye, a bladesmer, you fools!  His shield was raised, the blood streaming slowly from his wound.


    “Yield, and live!” He roared defiantly.


    “Never, Elf!” She screamed, again banging her axe to her shield.


    “So be it. Come for me then! I am ready for you!” He replied, pointing to the Bandit Chief with his sword. He then turned to Koor. It was his moment now. “Koor, NOW!”


    The husky bolted forward, at full speed, his teeth bare in a savage snarl, his neck bristling. His job was simple, avoid being hit, be nimble, be quick, target the remaining archers and throw the warriors off balance while he crossed their path. Äelberon knew their aim would be poor as they fought to maintain their balance over the narrow bridge. The Chief almost lost her balance as Koor flew past her. Koor instantly brought down an archer, tearing her throat to shreds, and then he disappeared inside the other tower. The Elf was going to pay for that, she thought wiping the sweat from her brow. She rushed forward, her axe raised and screamed the way Nords scream when the heat of battle burns their blood. It would strike fear into that Old Mer's heart.


    His face was as stone. His plan.


    Her axe came down hard on his shield, and he felt the wood buckle as he fought the pain in his shoulder. The two parried while her remaining bandits attempted to reach him, but there was no room in the narrow bridge for them to pass her. She was a fierce warrior, and the skooma was enhancing her natural abilities. Äelberon found it difficult to aim his sword for her cuirass lacings. Damn it, she would not hold still!  Bloody addict! Their steel weapons clashed hard, sparks flying, both were sweating and breathing hard with effort.


    Äelberon suddenly growled and lunged hard against her with his shield, pushing her against her own men. They fell back, surprised at the Old Mer’s show of strength. They were finished with weapons. She again screamed and lunged forward with her Dwarven shield and it became a ferocious shoving match as both were trying to push each other off the bridge, shields pressed together, their feet kicking up dust and rocks, their armor scraping the floor of the bridge. Her remaining bandits joined in the shoving match and it was now three against one, and the bridge resonated with the sounds of their pushing and growls. Three against one only, for Koor in the commotion, when her back was turned, aiming for his Master's shield arm, took down the remaining archer in silence.   


    He felt his foot slip, making him lose a bit of ground, and he doubled his efforts, his wounded arm screaming in protest.  He gritted his teeth and continued to push. He saw the dagger out of the corner of his eye, it was searching for his cuirass lacings. He needed both hands and in a bold move, he dropped his sword and used both arms for the shield. His strength behind it now doubled, Äelberon began to push hard with his entire bulk, like a great boar bear drives at a rival for a mate, and he could feel the bandits begin to give. Their fighting had taken them to the center support and they were protected there. He needed to push them past it and then swing his shield. Hard.  He continued to push, gritting his teeth, staring her right in the eye. He was inches from her face.


    “Last time,” He snarled. “Yield.”


    “Never,” She hissed, her spit striking his face.


    He roared, lunging hard and again they gave more ground to Äelberon. They were now clear of the support, and she knew, her eyes going wide. She was dead. He braced his right leg securely against the support of the bridge and with a savage cry that made the hairs on her neck stand on end, he gave a hard swing of his shield. The force of his swing knocked her off balance and she fell, grabbing the Khajiit in a vain attempt to regain her footing, but it was too late and both fell to their deaths upon the jagged rocks of the river rapids. The final bandit stared at the enraged Elf. He was breathing hard, and he strode towards the bandit, shield raised.


    “Yield,” His voice was menacing.


    “By the Nine, I yield, I yield.” Came the high-pitched cry. Filled with fear. “Please, just don’t kill me.” And the bandit dropped his weapon over the bridged and crouched, raising his hands to the air.


    “Koor! Guard. If he moves, kill him. I will check the tower.”  He turned to retrieve his sword.


    A mistake. Not his plan.


    The bandit grabbing him by the leg took him by surprise and with a hard lurch he threw Äelberon off balance and over the bridge. He managed to grab the edge of the bridge with his shield arm, but the pain was intense and he let out a groan as his wound tore afresh. Koor, answered the bandit’s disobedience by brutally slicing his throat as the bandit screams became garbled cries and then silence. Äelberon dangled from the stone bridge, trying to lift his right hand to grab its edge, but he needed more momentum.


    He breathed hard, looking down to gage the distance. Risk jumping and hit the water?


    The mangled, bloody bodies of the bandits on the churning riverbed gave him his answer. The water was far too shallow and the black, wet stones were sharp. He could feel his grip slipping, and with another groan, he began to swing on his shield arm, creating the momentum he needed to propel his right hand onto the bridge’s edge. His right hand found the ledge after a few more swings and Äelberon let out a sigh of relief.  He was still dangling, but two hands were far better than one. Leaning heavily on his right hand, he began to swing again, vaulting his left leg up over the edge, allowing him to climb. He lay on his stomach on the floor of the bridge for a few moments just catching his breath.


    That... was very stupid.


    Koor licked his face and he extended his hand to rub the dog’s ears. “Your Master is an idiot, dog.” Koor barked in agreement and began to offer detailed commentary on the situation with his howls and grunts. “Do not rub it in.”


    He slowly stood up and rubbed his left arm. He needed to heal it, but he knew there was one more bandit left. The one at the chair. The bolt that whizzed by Koor’s head proved it. Another crossbow? These bandits had been well armed. Where was his? All the way at the other side, in the first tower. He growled at his other stupid error. Damn it. “Koor, stay. Your Master is going to do yet another stupid thing.”


    With that, he sprang up and began to run towards the first tower, his powerful, long legs moving with surprising speed, his armor clanking noisily, as he dodged bolts. He let out a big sigh of relief when he entered the tower, and grabbed the crossbow, but now he had to run back. He let a bolt hit the Tower wall first and then he emerged from the Tower, running hard, loading the crossbow while he moved. He reached the cover of the bridge support and waited again for the bandit to reload. This one was a bit better with the weapon.


    Äelberon poked his head from the bridge support, giving the bandit a reason to shoot. Fire, damn it. A bolt hit the support. Now. He ran across the bridge to the other tower, just barely dodging another bolt as he entered. He climbed the steps and exited a small doorway that led to the outside. A bolt whizzed by just inches from his face, and he took his crossbow and aimed. Hitting the chair where the bandit was sitting, and quickly retreated to the doorway when another bolt struck close to his feet.


    The two marksmen then played their deadly game; each trying to goad the other into firing so the other could take advantage of the slow reload time.  It was a matter of who lost patience first. Äelberon stuck his head out, but the archer did not bite this time. He did it again, this time much slower. Again nothing. They both lost patience at the same time, coming out to face other; circling slowly. Each poised, ready to shoot. Now, it was a matter of who was faster at the draw? Time slowed, and he saw the beads of sweat on the bandit’s forehead, as Äelberon’s finger pressed the crossbow’s trigger. 


    Valtheim Towers was now cleared of bandits.



    Äelberon slowly walked up the steps to Jorrvaskr, his shield arm very sore and tender, but it was well worth it, for he now had not one, but two crossbows, bolts, and Kharjo’s amulet. Between the bounty reward and the coin found at Valtheim, he had made over 1000 septims, and that was without selling some of the higher priced items, and harvesting the bandits’ weapons and armor for smelting. There was plenty for all, and he had arranged with the Captain of the Whiterun guard at Dragonsreach, a Captain Caius, to hire Bjorlam’s cart to transport the weapons and armor to Whiterun. He was sure the twins would also pitch in, and perhaps Athis, if the Dunmer was in the mood. New city guards could be conscripted with weapons and armor made from the scrap metal. So, in essence, the bandits did ultimately contribute to a worthy cause.


    After speaking to Caius, Äelberon stopped briefly at the Temple of Kynareth and left 200 septims in the donation box, to thank Auri-El for his good fortune and for the God's mercy. He also thanked Kyne, as he was certain she had a hand in it too. He did not stop to speak to Danica, she was busy healing a soldier, and he did not want her to see his arm, but he knew she would distribute the funds to the poor.


    He sighed as he reached the Mead Hall’s door. It was evening already and the rain that had been threatening all morning and afternoon was now coming down hard, the drops running down his bearskin cloak and dripping from his nose. He was drenched and cold, but at least it waited until after he cleared the tower to fall and he did enjoy the red sunset from the tower bridge as he sipped his water. Koor pushed his muzzle against his Master’s thigh and howled softly. He briefly grabbed one of the husky’s ears and squeezed gently. “I promise, I will rest tomorrow.”


    The dog tried to lick his hand, but Äelberon had brought it up quickly, for he could not support the sack with his left arm alone. With effort he pushed one door open and stepped inside the Mead Hall.


    They were all there; it was the evening meal. He set the sack down at the entrance to the hall and removed the crossbow. Äelberon smiled whan an idea popped into his head. He plopped the crossbow at his place and sat down, leaning back on the chair to put his muddy boots up noisily on the table. He would help Tilma clean up later. He was grinning, why not? There was a bit of sport now in teasing the Veteran. He was doing as he always does in the evening, sipping mead and staring into the fire.


    “Well, that’s definitely not a book.” Skjor commented, turning away from the fire.


    “No, it certainly is not.” Äelberon answered as he began to remove his helmet.


    That fell with a thud on the floor. Aela walked over and sat on the edge of the table as was her custom.


    “Let me see it.” She extended her hand impatiently, making his laugh lines crinkle.


    Äelberon nodded to Skjor, while he removed his gauntlets, revealing deep indents and bruises from his shove match with the Bandit Chief, and Skjor handed the weapon to Aela; a naughty grin on the Nord’s face. Those two, Äelberon thought with a sly smile. He stretched his fingers and could hear the cracks. He was going to be worthless tomorrow. Aela held the crossbow, and tested its weight, her body tensing with excitement, her auburn hair glowing in the hearth fire.


    “Go ahead, Aela, you know you want to.” Äelberon goaded, his eyes twinkling in the firelight. “The bolts are in the sack.” She scooted off the table, practically gliding to the sack and rummaged through it, looking for bolts. He called to her from his place.  “Just do not grab the storm bolts, or Tilma will have all our hides!”


    The hall erupted in laughter.


    “Hey, you’re bleeding.” Interrupted Farkas.


    “I know, Farkas. That is what a crossbow bolt does. The armor absorbed some of it, but not all.”


    “I take it then Valtheim was a success?” Asked Kodlak. The Altmer turned a tired eye to the Old Man.


    “Very much so, Harbinger.”


    With a little effort, using both her hands and propping the weapon on her slender hip for leverage, Aela managed to load a bolt onto the crossbow and aimed for one of the columns. Äelberon was impressed, that was excellent for a female Nord, quick, and that was no small weapon. She was faster than any of the bandits at Valtheim, but the child knew how to use her body far better. Äelberon shifted position to give his legs more room and then felt the sharp pain in his shoulder where the splinter ground against his flesh. He needed to treat this. It would leave another scar, but it no longer mattered.  He smiled slyly, he would tease his Shield-Siblings some more. “I need some mead…”


    Aela suddenly released the trigger at Äelberon’s strange words. It hit the column just as Tilma passed, making his Shield-Siblings laugh again and Aela blush. The old woman merely gave a tired sighed as she pulled the bolt from the column, not missing a step as she crossed over to set Äelberon’s place. She swatted his feet with her towel and he smiled.


    “You’re making a mess.” She barked, noticing the mud on the table. He better not be turning sloppy like the rest of them. 


    “Good evening, fairest Tilma.”


    “Feet off!” She yelled, now smacking his boot with a wooden plate. No cub of hers was gonna put their feet on the table, not even her handsomest and by the Nine was he handsome! Tall and strong, with all his his teeth. With wild hair like the ancient Atmorans used to have, or she could also see it adorned with feathers like the very Ayleids. She had seen that in books. And most of the time, he even smelled good. She hoped he’d find a nice Nord lass and settle down. She knew several fine girls. From good families too. She’d have to write Greir over at Solitude.


    Äelberon obediently removed his feet from the table and his chair then fell down with a thud, the impact making him groan. “May I have some mead, Tilma?”


    His Shield-siblings were silent at his words. He had never asked for any in all of his days at Jorrvaskr. She turned and gasped when she saw the oozing blood on his shoulder. “Oh!” She cried, putting her hands over her mouth, and all of Äelberon’s crimes against the Mead Hall, his muddy boots on the table, the rain-soaked helmet and gauntlets that lay scattered about the floor were instantly forgiven.


    Her Albee was wounded. Her cub!


    “Do not fret, Tilma,” He soothed, “It looks worse than it is, now please, some mead, a washbasin, and linens. I cannot heal this until I clean the wound.” She immediately scurried off to fetch the items. 


    Athis was going to bite, not once had this Elf drunk anything save milk and tea, and now he was asking for some mead? “Does the mead make casting easier?” He asked, his face sly.


    “Actually, it does.” Äelberon was going to be deliberately vague.  He was in the mood for jest today. It helped with the pain. He began to unlace his left pauldron. “You were wrong,” He addressed Farkas, as his fingers unlaced the pauldron. He removed it, dropping it to the floor. The blood on his shoulder plainly visible now.


    “How so?”


    “There were twenty-one.” 


    “And you did not think to bring a Shield-Sibling with you?” Questioned Kodlak.  If he had known there were twenty-one bandits, he would have made Äelberon bring a Shield-Sibling. The Elf turned to the Old Man.


    “I had Koor, and I did not wish to put one of my Shield-Siblings at risk for a bounty that I had taken on my own.”


    “How did you do it then?” Suddenly asked Ria. She was the newest in the group, having only arrived a few months before Äelberon did. She was normally very quiet and spent her time training with Torvar and Athis.


    Äelberon sighed and smiled. There would be no getting out of telling a tale this time. These Nords were insatiable. Tilma walked in and placed his requested items at the table, Aela moving to give him some space, his right pauldron now hitting the floor.


    “Ria!” Barked Skjor, “I think he’d like to go to his quarters and heal up first.” Ria nodded, her face betraying disappointment. Bah! He would entertain the youngling and dismissed Skjor with a wave of his hand.


    “It is quite alright, Skjor. I can speak and heal at the same time; I will need to strip the cuirass though. I will not offend anyone if I do this?”


    It was Whitemane’s turn to dismiss Äelberon with a wave of his hand. “Unless Altmer are somehow radically different than all the other races of Tamriel, Priest, you don’t have anything we haven’t seen before, so there is no need for modesty. Do what needs to be done.”


    He began to unlace his cuirass, his fingers undoing the leather strips up the left flank.  “How did I do it, Ria?  Planning. I spent about an hour watching them from a distance and studying the layout of the structure. Enjoying an apple as I learned their movements.” He shifted his hands to the lacing in the right flank and continued. “Valtheim has two towers, separated by a bridge over a series of shallow, rocky rapids of the White River. A bit away is a waterfall, where the White then flows to Eastmarch. The bridge is very narrow and there is but one support strut that is reinforced.” Finally, he leaned forward and began to unlace the cuirass from the faulds, starting at the back and working his way to the front, his long, damp hair spilling a bit over his shoulders.


    “And?” She pressed, watching as his silver-white hair caught the hearth fire. She was glad that she able to fix it so that Tilma didn’t cut it. He needed his hair. She wished he had his armor back. Ah, that armor had been so beautiful, silver and shining, intricately carved with eagles. She had not told him yet, she was too embarrassed to. Besides why would he care, it was probably just one of many villages where he had stopped in his long life. He broke her train of thought.


    “One moment, Ria.” He chuckled, “this lace in the back is proving stubborn, I ought not to have double-knotted and the leather became damp in the rain.” With effort, the pain in his left arm worsening, he removed the leather strip and continued to remove lacing. “There we are.” He said with a groan. “Aye, the keys to my success were two things. Taking down their archers, and… Scamp's Blood... Skjor, help, please.” He stood up, and Skjor immediately helped Äelberon slide the cuirass off.  It had hurt to remove it and he sunk back to the chair.


    “Thank you, friend. Just drop it on the floor. I will need to clean off the blood tomorrow and make some repairs.”


    He rested for a moment, and he could feel that he was a bit pale. Well, paler than usual, for to them, he must look nearly white.  He could feel the splinter in the wound and it hurt like Oblivion. That would require another spell. Rynandor had taught it to him a few months before the Great Anguish. An Alteration spell, Rynandor's specialty, though then it was part of the Mysticism school. He always thought that Äelberon had the skill to learn more schools, but it was never developed, and then the Great Anguish happened and it was far better to have a competent warrior at Rynandor’s side than an incompetent novice mage. Under Rynandor’s master hand, he could move mountains, bend metal, send objects flying with this spell. Under Rynandor's capable hands, schools were blurred and redefined. Under Äelberon’s inexperienced hands, he could maybe, with great effort, remove the splinter. And apples, if hunger drove him enough. It was useful, but he was often very tired after it. Maybe he would instead pay Eorlund to clean and repair his armor. He was not going to be worth anything tomorrow.


    “I am sorry, the second thing was the bridge. The bridge more so than the archers. There is no space,” He said as he held his arms about a great sword’s length across. “But a single man with gear can fit through it at a time, at the most two.” 


    He removed his tunic and his pale, muscled chest was now bare, and watched as Skjor quickly covered his eyes with his arms. “I’m blind, I’m blind. It’s too bright! Ysmir’s Beard! Somebody turn down the bloody lights!” The Nord whimpered and their Shield-Siblings laughed.


    Äelberon responded by tossing the tunic at the Veteran. “You quip about my pale skin again, I’ll toss something at you far worse than a bloody tunic!”  Äelberon warned, his eyes twinkling.  


    Skjor playfully tossed the tunic back at him and Kodlak Whitemane put his face to his hand shaking his head. Those two were horrible.


    “We will continue this later.” Äelberon laughed.


    “Aye.” Replied Skjor, leaning back against his chair and reaching for his tankard. “Heal up first.”


    Äelberon poked at the wound, frowning a bit. He could feel the splinter, it was big. Rubbish bolt. He braced his left arm on the arm of the chair and took the bottle of mead with his right hand, opening it with his teeth and then he paused, holding the cork between his teeth. He narrowed his eyes when he found his target.


    The cork sailed from his mouth and hit Skjor’s bald head, making the Mead Hall roar with laughter. “See, no hands.” The Elf quipped and Skjor shook his head.


    “Elf spit, that’s just disgusting.” He replied with a mock frown, wiping his head with his hand.


    “It is cleaner, I am sure, than you are.” The Elf shot back.


    “Aye, probably true.” The Nord admitted and the two warriors settled down again to their respective tasks; Skjor sipping mead and Äelberon tending to his wound, his hand still holding the open bottle of mead.


    Athis was waiting for it. He saw Torvar and couldn’t pass it up. He whispered in Torvar’s ear. “Twenty septims says Snow Bear doesn’t drink it.” 


    “Athis, he’s opened the damn bottle, he’s going to drink. I sure would.”


    “Is it a bet, then?” The Dunmer asked.


    “Sure,” Torvar shook Athis’ hand, easy money…


    Äelberon then poured the mead directly onto the wound, wincing a bit and shivering as the cold liquid dripped down his chest.  Athis could not suppress a loud cheer as Torvar begrudgingly handed him 20 septims. “Oghma's tits! Were you two betting on whether I would drink the mead?” Äelberon asked, shooting a look at Athis and Torvar and then letting out a hearty laugh, joined later by the other Companions.


    When his laughter subsided, he again turned to Ria. “Ria, my dear child, help this Old Mer out. Where the Oblivion was I? Your Shield-Brothers are distracting me terribly.” He dipped a linen into the water basin and began to wash the wound.


    “The bridge…” She replied, excited that he was going to continue.


    “Oh yes, the bridge.” He answered as he cleaned. “The bridge was key. I had to hold my position, I could not let the bandits of the second tower cross. So I quickly dispatched the bandits of the first tower with my bow, it was then that I was shot by the crossbow. The archer was stationed at the roof of the first tower. While his aim was decent, he was inexperienced, however, as it took him the longest time to reload with another bolt. Poor bastard probably had to use his legs. That gave me time to take care of him and use the weapon. It was then that I discovered the Storm bolts. Elemental arrows. Anyone here ever use them?”


    Blank stares, and his eyebrows furrowed a bit, his head bending slightly to one side, surely one of them?


    “Hmm, well you can use salts; fire, frost, or void to create elemental arrows and bolts at the forge. My lenya was excellent at fletching them.” Ah damn, more blank stares and now Farkas was scratching his head. If he became too technical now, he would lose the lot of them. He shook his head. “Well, I will not go into any more details on their make.”


    Farkas sighed in relief. Damn, Äelberon could make his head hurt sometimes with all his talking.  “It does not matter, I had them and I could now cause a fair explosion with them.” Farkas came back with the word “explosion”. Now that was interesting! 


    Äelberon finished cleaning the wound and placed the bloodied linen in the basin. His right hand began to glow with a faint orange light and his face darkened with effort. He bloody hated this spell. He continued to speak, though his voice now betrayed some strain, as he was casting at the same time and whatever he was doing seemed to hurt him, his Shield-Siblings observed.


    “So I took my position at the bridge. This one was smarter than most. She had her archers in the back, her berserkers in front, and she was in the middle. She commanded her archers to volley, but the arrows were easily dodged and I dispatched them afterwards with my bow.” He smiled. He loved his new bow.


    Kodlak and several others now leaned forward from their places in the mead hall when they could now see that something was emerging from his wound, bathed in the same orange light. It was a sliver of wood, about the length of a man’s little finger, and thin. He gasped at the pain and continued, his forehead now covered in a sheen of sweat.


    “When her archers were down to two, I sent Koor down the bridge at full speed. He is quick on his feet and he did what I wanted him to do, run fast, kill the remaining archers, and knock the warriors off balance. It gave me time to change weapons and when he entered the safety of the second tower, I loaded the storm bolts.” Suddenly, he growled as the sliver cleared his wound, falling onto the table. Fresh blood now oozed from it, very bright against his fair skin, and he immediately put pressure. “Where’s Tilma?” He asked. His voice suddenly sounded faint, far away to him and the walls dimmed from dizziness. Xarxes arse! That was hard! It was far easier to do this for someone else.


    “Tilma!” Barked Vilkas. Damn Snow Bear looked even paler than usual and he looked clammy, the color completely gone from his lips, his breathing deep. “What do you need, my brother?”


    “I look that bad, eh?” Äelberon replied with a weak chuckle. “Water, Vilkas, please, some water.”


    Kodlak stood. “You need rest, enough questions. Leave your Shield-Brother alone.”


    Äelberon again waived his now bloodied hand and smiled. “No, Kodlak, it is alright, I am fine. I can finish. Just no one bother me for any stories tomorrow. I want to be the one who is entertained tomorrow at the evening meal.” More laughter and Tilma brought him a tankard of water and a fresh tunic, which she set on his lap. "Thank you, Tilma." He drank and he felt better. He had not eaten since the apple in the morning, and he was starved.


    “Storm bolts,” He began, “storm bolts do a great deal of damage, not just to the target, but they also explode and do radial damage. For every bandit I struck down, I usually knocked down one to two more off the bridge with the impact of the explosion. After that, it was down to four bandits. The Bandit Chief and I locked shields and had ourselves a shoving match, a ‘who was king of the bridge’ so to speak. She was joined later by two more bandits, and it was three to one. So, I dropped my sword.”


    His Shield-Siblings suddenly looked up.


    “You dropped your weapon?” Said Skjor, “Are you mad?”


    “No, I am not,” and his right hand began to glow as he set about casting his healing magicks. “This was no battle with swords, Skjor, this was a shove match, and I needed both hands on the shield. It doubled my strength on the weapon.”


    “A shield isn’t a weapon,” Argued Torvar. 


    Äelberon turned to the Nord.  “Yes it is.  With the added strength, I was able to push them past the support strut, and then I gave my shield a good lurch to the side. It threw them off balance and the chief and one of her men fell dead.” He paused, his wound healed, and he sat back and continued, cleaning the blood from his shoulder. In his eyes, this was the most important part of the tale. “Then I did something very, very stupid that almost cost me everything that I worked so hard for today and I want you to know that I did this, for I make mistakes. I am very flawed, no different from anyone else. I turned my back on a man who yielded to me to retrieve the very sword I dropped. He then tripped me, and I almost fell to my death, over the same bridge where bandits fell just moments earlier. By dumb luck, my Shield-Siblings, by Auri-El’s Grace, and by my shield arm, I did not fall, and was able to pick myself up again, but I could have just as easily plunged to my death, and we would not be talking as we are now. These are the great mysteries of life and fate.”


    He regarded his Shield-Siblings seriously and then with effort, he put on his fresh tunic. “When I returned to Whiterun, I gave thanks at the Temple for the mercy that was shown me today.”


    Tilma gave him a reassuring kiss on the top of his head and then stroked his damp hair. He admitted when he made mistakes and she could tell that he was affected by it. His Shield-Siblings were quiet, remembering how close many of them had come to death due to mistakes as well and they admired him for admitting this. Not every warrior would speak with such candor. Not every warrior told the truth so readily.

    “I gave thanks for the mercy that was shown for my own stupidity.” He said with a sigh as he began to eat his evening meal. 


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XVI    Chapter XVIII



19 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 3, 2017
    The banter in this chapter was great. xD Skjor & Aela are cute. I like how not every character in the game can wield every weapon ever. Gave it so much more realism to see Aela struggle with that bow. Albee, as always, has the best confrontational moments...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The banter in this chapter was great. xD Skjor & Aela are cute. I like how not every character in the game can wield every weapon ever. Gave it so much more realism to see Aela struggle with that bow. Albee, as always, has the best confrontational moments...  more
        ·  May 3, 2017
      Thanks, means a lot that you say this, because I always liked your dialogue between Kjeld and Radriar (sp?). I worked hard on making the banter real but without slipping into modern sentiments or expressions. And yeah, bows and weapons are made for the pe...  more
      • SpottedFawn
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        Thanks, means a lot that you say this, because I always liked your dialogue between Kjeld and Radriar (sp?). I worked hard on making the banter real but without slipping into modern sentiments or expressions. And yeah, bows and weapons are made for the pe...  more
          ·  May 4, 2017
        Kjeld & Reidar, haha he'd be so annoyed if someone mispronounced his name right to his face. :P Which means now it has to happen in a future chapter.

        Odysseus? Oh as in Greek hero, Odysseus? Very cool! How much historical realism went into St...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 21, 2015
    @Rhoth - Yep, Requiem gives Valtheim about 20 bandits. Trust me, you do not want to go there in lower levels. Cleared cells in Requiem take 300 days to respawn, so you could actually use Valtheim as a player home, since the storage is essentially safe. Wh...  more
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 21, 2015
    The amount of bandits in Valtheim Towers must be another Requiem thing.  I think there are only about 6 or 7 total in vanilla.
    I wish there was a mod to make Valtheim a safe storage player home type.  I've always liked the dual tower aspect of it.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 2, 2015
    I've put other characters in my story before, but I don't take the process lightly. Lots of interviewing goes on, so I capture the character just right. 
    Hybrid is fun. Interested to see where Caleb takes it. 
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 2, 2015
    I actually brought that topic up with Sotek awhile back, but then I got too busy to follow through. I think it'd by fun to do a collab with some of the writers about where our main characters all cross paths. For now I'm enjoying Hybrid, which is similar ...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 2, 2015
    Sorry for the mix up. LOL. I think Albee's experience in the Great Anguish taught him that there are always larger threats out there. Granted, it's a long time yet before he's actually involved in the war. 
    Yeah, I've read your stories. Vigilants of...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 2, 2015
    Looking forward to your take on meeting Tyranus next chapter
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 2, 2015
    I clarify a bit, I got that Kodlak wasn't in  a war, but my take on it was the conversation about the Civil War showed how he and the Jarl are non-confrontational by nature and want to keep peace as long as possible, while Albee thinks of the long term re...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 2, 2015
    Tilma is their rock. I love Tilma. 
    There no evidence to suggest that Kodlak fought in a war. He was a mercenary in Hammerfell when Askar found him. Skjor and Aelberon are the war veterans in this group. I hint a bit at Thalmor plans, but we have to...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 2, 2015
    I've actually survived falling off the bridge before, physics must not have been working that day. I concur about Tilma, I like how both you and Sotek have expanded her character; I always found her 'I'm just the help routine' suspicious. The civil war wa...  more