Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XXXIV


    Äelberon sprinted past the first room, an embalming chamber, Koor close behind. He could hear the Dunmer’s cries of terror. He cleared the chamber and entered the first room of the catacombs and he saw him. Arvel was on the floor, his hand raised as a draugr wielding a battle axe was about to swing, the Dunmer’s face contorted in fear, his iron sword upon the floor.


    “No!” yelled Äelberon. The draugr turned towards the source of the sound and saw the Altmer and it sneered, adjusting its grip on its weapon.


    Arvel turned and his eyes widened. It was going to kill him anyway. The draugr laughed cruelly and brought down his axe while Äelberon fired his crossbow. The draugr dropped the axe and fell to one knee, and Äelberon reloaded, hearing the telltale hiss coming from a different direction. “Hurry! Get behind me, Arvel, another is awakening!”


    Arvel scrambled up and found a position behind Äelberon as a second draugr awoke from further down; wielding a bow. Äelberon shot the first draugr again and grabbed another bolt. He saw the archer ready her bow, hissing loudly, her eyes glowing a cold blue.


    “Arvel, move!”


    He was frozen, his heart at his throat. All Arvel could see was the bow, aiming right for him. This wasn’t what he expected. They were alive! They weren’t supposed to be alive!


    With an impatient curse, Äelberon shoved the Dunmer hard to the left while the archer’s arrow flew, just missing both of them.


    Arvel, snapping to his senses, crouched behind a column and peeked, watching the Altmer rush the draugr archer at full speed. By Azura, where was this Elf when he was hiring for this expedition, the Dunmer thought as he stared dumbfounded. The draugr readied another arrow, but she was too slow and with a hard swing, Äelberon staggered her with his crossbow. Arvel watched the Altmer shift position, so light on his feet even with the heavy armor. No one moved like that anymore. The Altmer’s lined face was grim, his jaw set as he fired his crossbow, sending the creature to the hard stone.  Arvel watched the Altmer’s body relax, his back was turned. Now, thought Arvel , tightening his leg muscles to sprint again.


    “Do not run again, you fool!” The Altmer abruptly snapped, whirling rapidly to face Arvel, his eyes blazing, his voice but a breathless snarl from battle. “You do not know what lies beyond.” He warned. The Elf glowered at Arvel, raising his arms in a gesture of exasperation. “Are all bandits somehow wrong in the head? What were you thinking?! No silver! Nothing! Are you completely insane?!” He shook his head in disapproval and brought his arms down, continuing his frustrated rantings. “By the Gods! No treasure is worth death.”


    Arvel set his jaw. “Then why are you here?” He retorted, cocking an arched black eyebrow as he crossed his arms over his thin chest. The Altmer raised his eyebrows and pointed to himself, bracing his crossbow with his right hand and shaking his head a second time.


    “If you think I seek treasure, Arvel the Swift, then you are mistaken. I am on an errand for the Court wizard in Whiterun. I am seeking a Dragonstone.”




    “Yes,” Replied Äelberon while he scanned the room for more draugr, reloading his crossbow. “It is a stone that marks the burial sites for several dragons.” He raised his eyebrows again and nodded at the Dunmer. “You do know that dragons have returned, or has your lust for treasure blinded you to current events?” He watched the Dunmer shift position, his legs tensing. Damn it, he was going to fly any second.


    “Is the stone valuable?”


    Äelberon looked up and sighed. Gods, this was unbelievable! “No. Unless you fancy carrying around a heavy stone map?”


    “But the map would lead to treasure, right? Dragons have treasure?” Arvel asked, his excitement building.


    The Altmer put his hand on his face and let out a laugh that surprised the Dunmer. The older Elf then turned to his husky. “You hear this little Elf, Koor?” The husky snorted as Äelberon gestured to Arvel with his head. “He could not even ward off a single draugr attack without my help and yet now he imagines himself running off to a dragon’s lair and stealing their treasure, eh? He is a fool, but I will give him this, he certainly has a pair.” The dog wagged his tail, and Äelberon turned to Arvel. “Look, Arvel, I will make a deal with you, for I truly tire of killing bandits. Keep anything we find here, gold, gems, whatever you wish, save two things: the claw that you stole and the Dragonstone. In exchange, if you do what I say, you will survive this tomb.” He then raised his left hand and his tone grew somber. “I swear this, on my honor as a Knight of Auri-El, nay, as his Priest, that I will then let you go, to enjoy your treasure as you see fit.”


    Äelberon patted Niniik, letting his features soften somewhat. “She is a fine weapon, Arvel the Swift, and well-proven against draugr. Those are my terms, what say you?”


    Arvel bolted towards another chamber and Äelberon sighed, but his eyes widened when he saw the telltale gridded iron door, interspersed with sharp spikes. Not again! “Arvel! NO! It is a trap! Not through the cen—“


    The heavy door swung violently and Äelberon cringed when the Dunmer was impaled upon its metal spikes as it slammed against the wall, the sound of crunching flesh and squirting blood making the old Elf shake his head solemnly, the weight returning to his face. Äelberon then heard the familiar hissing of draugr from beyond the spike trap. Damn it, the commotion was causing them to rise. They were awake now. He readied his crossbow and walked gingerly to the Dunmer’s mangled corpse, deliberately hugging the left side of the corridor with his back. He suddenly extended his free hand to Koor, who was attempting to follow, and waved it sharply, shaking his head. He did not dare speak.


    Koor settled back onto his haunches close to one of the fallen draugr. He understood the command and watched his Master crouch carefully next to the Dunmer’s body. Äelberon searched quietly through Arvel’s pack, eyeing the next room.  There were three draugr there, but only the one was awake, searching. It did not see him yet.  If he was quiet… It walked towards him, war axe raised, a pale spell charged. Frost magicks.


    Ah, damn, a caster, he frowned. They were called Wights. He made a point to look that up when he returned from Dustman’s Cairn.


    Äelberon froze, using the darkness to his advantage, his breath held as he studied the Wight’s movements. It turned around, and Äelberon exhaled in relief. He was keeping his eyes on the draugr and blindly groping through Arvel’s knapsack with his left hand while his right held Niniik, when his gauntleted hand first felt the form of a small book amid the lock picks, pieces of charcoal, and vials in the pack.


    A journal?


    He slowly drew it from the knapsack and with his head still turned to the draugr, he pressed the journal to the floor and slid it quietly towards Koor. The Wight still had its back turned, but the other two were now fully awake and wandering the second chamber, weapons drawn. One of them was a Deathlord.


    Äelberon suddenly struck something metallic with his hand, its clang ringing in his ears. Damn it.


    He cringed as the draugr turned towards the faint noise. They were coming. Äelberon closed his hand hard around the claw, removing it from the knapsack, and quickly withdrew into the first chamber; all three draugr fully aware of his presence now.  Äelberon dropped the claw near Koor and aimed his crossbow. He felt the hard blast of a shout and groaned as he teetered to regain his balance, but the Deathlord seemed surprised to see that he did not fall.  Äelberon waited and did not fire, eyeing the draugr as they approached, his finger hovering over Niniik’s trigger. “Come on,” Äelberon growled, his eyes afire, “I know you see me… Come on… That’s it… Here I am you Sons of Bitches… Just beyond the corridor… Come get me… Cross… right… there—“


    The trap sprung again as the Wight stepped over the pressure plate, and it too was impaled. The Deathlord turned to his left, however; towards a small gap in the wall. This draugr was smarter, Äelberon observed, shifting his attention towards it. The Deathlord shouted again, but the gap absorbed a great deal of its power and Äelberon fired Niniik, hitting the Deathlord and making him stagger. He saw Koor running towards the third draugr just beyond the trap.


    NO!” Äelberon cried, turning his head to the dog. Koor froze. “Boy, with me!”


    Koor ran to his Master and Äelberon was knocked off balance a bit when the arrow from the third draugr’s bow hit his torso, denting the armor, making him drop the bolt he was loading. He groaned in pain and immediately removed another bolt from his bandolier. He shifted his position to just behind a column, out of the archer’s line of fire and aimed Niniik towards the Deathlord, who was just emerging from the narrow divide, running towards him, great sword drawn. Scamp’s Blood, he was moving too fast and Äelberon was forced to back up to avoid the swings of the great sword. He felt an arrow bounce off his pauldron and realized that he was again visible to the archer, who had managed to cross carefully through the corridor. He fired Niniik and it struck the Deathlord, again making it reel from the impact, and Äelberon promptly turned and dashed behind another column just as another arrow whizzed past his head, slicing off a lock of his hair. Behind the first column, he reloaded Niniik and scanned the room for the first draugr.  It was up already and Äelberon quickly ducked behind the column as the shout resonated from the Deathlord's rotten lips.


    Zun Haal… Viik!”


    He felt Niniik almost tear from his hands, but he clenched the weapon tightly. This was new.


    Gods? What was this trickery? Could the ancient draugr disarm their opponents? Äelberon snarled and swiftly whirled around to face the Deathlord, firing Niniik, bringing the draugr to its knees. It would take four bolts? Four bolts! Another arrow whizzed past Äelberon’s head, forcing him to retreat behind the column to load his weapon.


    No… he had to rethink his strategy or he would run out of bloody bolts and fletching was a pain in the arse, he grumbled. He put the bolt back in the bandolier and slung Niniik on his back, drawing his katana and charging a turning spell in his left hand. He would finish the Deathlord with a blade. He emerged again from the column and quickly fired the turn spell upon the archer, casting her in the faint light of impending morning, which sent her fleeing through the corridor in terror, ignoring her prior caution. The iron door caught her in its spikes as well.


    He shifted the blade in his hand and walked briskly toward the still-kneeling Deathlord. It looked up and struggled to rise, but Äelberon brought down his katana hard and severed the Deathlord’s head from his body. The latest battle now finished, Äelberon walked towards Koor, sheathing his weapon, and gave the dog a pat upon the head.  “Sorry, boy, I promise you will have your day in this place, but not with these traps about.”


    With effort, he managed to extract two intact bolts from the Deathlord and put them back in his bandolier. The rest were too badly damaged when they pierced the draugrs’ hard Nordic armor. Äelberon then knelt upon the ground near Koor and removed his pack from his shoulders, pausing a bit to catch his breath and take a drink from his waterskin.  Äelberon grinned when he saw his hair upon the floor of the tomb and gave Koor another pat on the head while the dog leaned against him. “Better my hair than my head, eh boy?”   


    Koor snorted in agreement and licked his bearded cheek as Äelberon fingered a shortened strand that now fell over his forehead. ‘Twas just a small piece, about the width of his littlest finger. Ha, the small price paid for not donning a hood today, but he was rather warm in the tomb and he liked having the full visibility.  He winked at the husky. “Now let us see what Arvel the Swift was carrying…”


    He picked up the claw and marveled at it, feeling its solid weight in his hand. It was pure gold and intricately carved in the shape of a dragon’s claw. He turned it around and saw three symbols upon the palm. Bear, the symbol for Stuhn, moth, the symbol for Dibella, and owl, the symbol for Jhunal. He narrowed his eyes; these were the Gods of the old Nordic Pantheon; before the first Empire of Cyrod was formed. That Empire, the Empire of the Slave Queen, merged his pantheon with that of ancient Man’s and created the modern Divines. Many young Altmer had adopted these modern Divines, and he did not begrudge them their choice, but Äelberon was a priest of Auri-El and kept to the old ways. Only the Psijics kept to even older ways. The old Grey cloaks, he smiled. He understood though that sometimes the old Gods often spoke through the new shrines, and sometimes even new Aedra spoke. Well, not new Aedra really, but new to him.


    “Ah,” he sighed, “Religion is such a complicated matter…” 

    He put the claw in his pack and shifted his position to sit cross-legged while he opened the journal, taking another sip of water. Koor lay next to him, waiting patiently, watching his Master read. Lucan Valerian? Äelberon knew that name, the shop-keeper in Riverwood.  Äelberon nodded to himself, so this was who the claw belonged to? He continued to read and then his silver eyebrows furrowed.


    The claw... was a key


    Äelberon turned to his pack and set the journal down, speaking the last words of the journal aloud. Already committed to memory. “When you have the golden claw, the solution is in the palm of your hands."  Palm of your hand… He extended his own palm and stared down at it, remembering the images upon the claw’s own palm. Bear, moth, owl… It was a combination! Äelberon could feel his own excitement build. Was the claw the key for the Dragonstone?


    He grabbed the pack and hastily stashed the journal inside as he rose. A fluid motion brought the pack upon his broad shoulders again. Äelberon then slowly drew his katana and charged Sun fire. He would switch for a while, he knew he would need Niniik later and he did not want to run out of bolts.  Äelberon then turned to Koor and pointed to the cramped opening with the blade of his katana. “We go this way, Boy." He chuckled, “Not the other way.”


    They crossed through it, entering the second room of the catacombs and Äelberon suddenly stopped; his face becoming serious. He knew that ominous sound. It was the sound of blades swinging. They had those in Ayleid ruins too. He quickly sheathed sun fire and charged a healing spell, though he was indecisive as to what spell to use ultimately, to opt for healing or attack, for the next enemy of Bleak Falls Barrow was no draugr.


    It was bad timing…



    Äelberon Snow Bear stood in front of the blade trap that blocked the eastern tunnel and counted softly under his breath, his weapon now sheathed, his healing spell still charged, his eyes intently watching as the three blades swung.


    “One… two… three…” The blades crossed in front of him.


    He confirmed the count. “One… two… three…” Again the blades swung.


    Confirm a third time? His eyes found Koor and he gave the dog a soft pat on the head. Aye, he would confirm a thousand times if needed, not for himself, but for Koor. He took a deep breath and counted again. “One… two… three…”


    The blades swung.


    Yes, he had a three second window for each blade and there were three of them to cross. Long slender blades that did not allow him to pass by crouching or jumping. The ancient Nords were clever with their traps indeed. To make a mistake would mean death, and he had definitely been through such traps before. Urag and his books, he smiled to himself. These traps rewarded one who was patient and calm. Äelberon slowly removed his pack and placed it upon the floor next to Koor, scratching the dog’s chin when he finished, his hand lingering on the husky’s cheek, his eyes meeting sky blue eyes. Koor was so small once. Such a weak little thing, shivering in the falling snow, near death.  


    Now, he was Äelberon’s big, fat snowberry.


    Koor tilted his head to one side, perplexed. He did not understand, he only knew the silence and focus of his Master. The focus mixed with his tenderness, touching him, reassuring him. When his Master looked at him that way, there was danger and he knew his Master was worried, though he was trying to hide it with chin scratches and smiles.  


    Äelberon also removed Niniik, the bandolier, his sword, and his shield, and set them next to his pack. No extra bulk to throw off his balance, for the katana’s blade was long. He would use his turn spell on his right hand and pray that whatever was beyond that trap was weak enough to be affected by it. Äelberon stood and walked slowly towards the trap and then paused stiffly when he heard Koor’s soft foot pads upon the stone floor. His back still turned to the animal, Äelberon spoke, and his voice was firm.  “No, my boy, stay.” Koor whined and shifted position. Äelberon shook his head and turned his head slightly towards the animal, lowering his voice, the anger creeping in it. “No, stay.  I command it.”


    Äelberon heard Koor settled upon his haunches with a soft snort, and he again faced the trap; continuing his slow walk, gathering his long hair over his shoulder and twisting it, so that it lay to the front. He could now feel the breeze of the blade’s swing against his face and he waited for a time, counting silently to himself, centering.  Äelberon raised both hands and recharged his spells as he closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath. He opened his eyes, he was ready.


    “One… two… three…” The blade swung, “go…”


    He moved quickly and cleared the first blade, letting out his breath, his heart thundering in his ears. He chuckled a bit, releasing the tension, for he now felt the breeze of blades behind and before him. Äelberon watched the second blade for a spell, and then took a deep, deep breath.


    “One… two… three…” The blade swung, “go…”


    He was now past the second blade, and let his breath escape his body, his relief building. One more to go and he felt himself relax, only to tense up again when he heard the familiar hiss from beyond the final blade in the next room. Draugr…


    He quietly sheathed his healing spell and charged Sun fire.  He would take the risk. The draugr growled in its guttural language and followed the light cast by his spells. Äelberon closed his eyes and took another deep breath. He opened them, set his jaw, and watched the blade swing, feeling its steady rhythm. He needed to hurry, the draugr was coming…


    “One… two… three… “ The blade swung, “go…”


    He moved; quickly clearing the blade and saw the draugr swing his great sword. He just dodged the blade, hearing Koor bark frantically from beyond the blade trap. He first fired his turn spell. The draugr resisted, and Äelberon escaped another swing, now charging Sun fire in both hands. The draugr’s roars became screams when the Elf harnessed the power of the sun. Äelberon turned his head towards the tunnel when his final spell killed the first draugr.


    More hissing. 


    They were attracted to the light and screaming and were slowly approaching from beyond a tunnel that was slick with oil. He turned his head towards the blade trap and the pull chain caught his eye. He rushed to the chain and pulled, disabling the trap as the archer’s first arrow missed him. He then bolted back to Koor and quickly scooped up Niniik.


    Only one bolt. There was no time to strap on his bandolier. They were coming. Koor tried to follow until he saw his Master’s hard look. It was not time yet. Äelberon ran through the corridor and came face to face with two draugr at the end of a jagged stone tunnel. He aimed. He had but one shot… “Wait for them…” He muttered, his hair now damp upon his forehead.


    The second draugr stepped into the oil slick, readying its bow to fire and Äelberon suddenly shifted his aim up from the draugr to the lamp above, and shot it down, bathing the draugr in a flaming explosion. Äelberon staggered backwards and slipped as the force of the flames approached him, landing hard on his back. He shielded his eyes from the smoke and heat with both arms, coughing while the heavy black smoke filled his lungs. It took him a while to catch his breath, and he wearily stood up, leaning heavily upon the wall. He slowly stumbled back through the corridor and was promptly knocked flat on his back again with a low grunt and his smoke-streaked face was eagerly cleaned up by a warm, wet tongue. Äelberon opened his eyes slowly and smiled at the dog that loomed over him, wrinkling his nose as a bit of drool fell upon his face.


    By the Gods, he would need a hot bath after this and he was certain Aela would have to redo the war paint. He rubbed the dog’s ears for a moment and sighed, his red-orange eyes meeting Koor’s sky blue ones. “Are you going to let me get up now?” Koor snorted and let out a low yowl as he rested his head on his Master’s chest. Äelberon laughed, which triggered another coughing fit, making his eyes water.  “No, eh?” His voice but a hoarse croak. He needed water, badly. “Well then make yourself useful and fetch me my pack.” He said, giving Koor a playful slap on the flank, making the dog rise.


    Äelberon turned and slowly got up, hobbling towards his pack, grimacing in pain.  His now sore back was not the only thing that bore the brunt of his fall.  His right ankle. Äelberon sat down with an ungraceful thud next to his pack, feeling the chain mail indent upon his backside, and fetched his waterskin, taking long, slow sips. When his thirst was quenched, he returned it to his pack and removed his right boot, setting it down next to the pack. He felt his ankle slowly through the woolen foot covering, his fingers probing near the joint, wincing a little. It was not swollen, nothing felt broken, and he could rotate it fully, though it hurt to do so. Eh, save the magicks for the draugr, he thought to himself while he put his boot back on, you can walk this off. He grinned, do not be such an old woman! He reattached the bandolier to his chest and slowly stood up, slinging the pack upon his shoulders. Then the shield, Niniik, and finally the sword.   They were becoming heavier to carry and he could feel his muscles starting to stiffen, his bones beginning to ache.


    He was old. 


    Äelberon turned to Koor and beckoned him with his sword hand. “Now, you may come.” And the pair began to walk through the charred tunnel, passing the burnt remains of the draugr.



    The tunnel opened into a large chamber that was partially overtaken by natural rockwork, ferns, and mosses. A waterfall could be heard in the distance, feeding a modest underground stream with a small stone bridge built over it. A stone bridge that seemed strangely out of place. Directly ahead was a locked chest and to his right, Äelberon could see a sealed iron gate with a pull chain next to it. To his left was a sarcophagus. “Wonder what I have to do to wake you up?” He snickered at the sarcophagus. He readied his shield to block and charged sun fire in his right hand. The Deathlord emerged as soon as Äelberon’s foot fell upon the stone bridge, its great sword drawn. 


    Well, at least now he knew why there was the little stone bridge. Damn traps.


    Äelberon did not give it time to shout.  He rushed it, ignoring the smarting of his ankle, and gave it a hard swipe of his shield, staggering it, then hitting it with Sun fire, making it lose its balance again. The Deathlord tried to recover and shout, swinging its great sword to ward off the Elf, but each time, it was met with a swipe of Äelberon’s brutal shield arm and a bolt of sunlight.


    Koor nipped at the Deathlord’s heels and the undead did not know where to aim his attacks. He swung his great sword and Äelberon countered with another swipe of his shield, bringing the Deathlord to his knees. The last thing the Deathlord saw was the light of the sun coming from the Altmer’s hand. Magicks were serving him far better today, though he still was not where he was during the Vampire Symposium. His encounter with Tyranus had weakened him a great deal. More than he realized.


    The chest yielded but one healing potion and a few septims, which were stashed in Äelberon’s mess of a pack.


    He pulled the chain and the gate flung open, the shallow stream flowing down through a path. He nodded to Koor and the pair followed the stream, the cold water soothing his ankle. No, the healing potion was not going to be taken, a little pain was better than tasting one of those again. He shuddered. Äelberon’s jaw then dropped in awe as the path opened to a large, underground cavern. This was not made by man, but carved out by the giant ancestor of the little stream that churned and danced at his feet. A stalagmite and stalactite merged into a large central column and something glowed upon it, for the room was surprisingly well-lit and he needed not his torch. Äelberon narrowed his eyes, intrigued.


    What glows upon the stone? He walked towards the column and raised his hand in wonder. Not sure whether to touch. Mushrooms? That glow? Never in all of his days…


    They gave off light! He could not resist and touched one tentatively, poking it with his index finger, his eyes full of curiosity.  It gave at his touch and thin, long tendrils hung from its body, which was shaped like half a bowl. Äelberon plucked one from the stalagmite and held it in his hand, squeezing it gently.  It was… squishy. That was the word, squishy. A child’s word, but an accurate one nonetheless, he chuckled. He liked it. Squishy, he thought, giving it another squeeze, careful not to damage it.


    What a marvel of Nature… such a curious thing.


    He looked up, his eyes searching, finding more patches of mushrooms dotting the area. They lit the whole cave, casting it in a strange pale blue-green light.  He would consult Arcadia about this, he mused as he gave it one final squeeze, his eyes twinkling, before stashing the mushroom in his pack. He saw more straight ahead, just past a deposit of iron ore. He would come back for the iron another day. He needed to press on, no more squeezing mushrooms like a little boy, Old Mer, and he followed their light towards another chest.




    Here of all places? It was indeed unlocked and what he found brought him to one knee and his eyes widened as he drew from the chest a single, small ring that glowed. An enchanted ring? Here, in an unlocked chest? By the Gods… He held the ring to the light of the mushrooms that grew above the chest, his eyes studying it and he sucked in his breath. Enchanted? Yes, it was, it was, for it glowed. It glowed green.


    Bloody Oblivion! What was the green enchantment again? Damn it! He was terrible at this and scratched his head trying to think. Well, served him right for skipping out on enchanting lectures at Crystal-Like-Law to go fishing by that little brook in the forest, several books in tow, and his feet bare upon the downy moss… Stop… he willed the memory away and focused on the ring. Green, green, green, he mused… wait, stamina potions were often in green bottles.  That he remembered. A ring of stamina? Maybe? He turned to Koor. “Dare I put it on, Boy?” He whispered.


    Koor tilted his head to one side. He was no help.


    “If this suddenly makes me grow an extra limb or two, I trust you will go and fetch Farengar for me?” Äelberon quipped and gave Koor a quick pat on the head. He laughed when the dog only grinned. The Son of a Bitch, he knew that dog’s look too well. “You are having a fine time watching your Master make an arse out of himself, eh? Aye, I am dumb with regards to these things. Be glad I do not make any potions. My cooking is bad enough!”


    He removed his right gauntlet and set it down gently, still chuckling to himself. He held the ring between his left thumb and index finger and slipped it onto his right index finger.


    "Xarxes’ arse!" 


    Äelberon felt a rapid, very powerful surge of energy as his breath escaped his body and he felt renewed. Like he had slept for hours and woke up refreshed. He blinked a few times while he adjusted to the ring’s effects, slipping on his gauntlet again. This was no mere ring of stamina, this was a powerful artifact. He needed to see Farengar about this, so he could learn its full effects. But he suddenly remembered himself, for he was a Mer of Faith. This ring was not left here by accident. It was a boon of the Gods and they deserved his gratitude. So Äelberon put on his gauntlet and drew his katana, setting the point upon the cave floor, bending his head in prayer. “For the mercy you have shown me today, Lord Auri-El, your humble servant is ever grateful…” He whispered softly and after a few moments of reverent silence, he slowly stood and sheathed his weapon.


    As he continued along the lit path, Äelberon noticed the quick spring in his step and that his ankle no longer hurt. Yes, this ring was extremely powerful and its first test stood before him when Äelberon and Koor approached a ravine. It was open to the air above and there was a light scattering of snowflakes. The other side was accessible via a natural stone bridge covered in snow. Beautiful to look at actually, the falling snow giving it a certain peace.


    Save the frost troll. He broke the mood of the location.


    Of course, he had nothing bearing a fire enchantment on him.  He had left Gorak’s knife at Jorrvaskr. He remembered Gorak. His first giant bounty.  A giant at Guldun’s Rock, near Valtheim Towers. The ninth of Morning Star, a Fredas. The day after they planted the sapling.


    He was tiring, for he could not stop the memory this time...


    The bounty was for one giant. Wanted for killing livestock and doing damage to several farms. Proventus Avenicci failed to mention, however, that Guldun’s rock had four of them and Äelberon did not think that giants were ones to allow him to conduct an investigation as to which one was the one who incurred the bounty the first place. It was one of those instances where he regretted not being more of a sneak, for he attracted their aggression readily, causing him to scramble hastily up the rock face near their lair onto a ledge to avoid their stomps and the swings of their clubs.


    Repositioning. That was the technical term.


    That ledge and Niniik proved indispensable and his prize after 52 steel bolts was Gorak’s knife. A strange weapon of bone and teeth that wielded like a sword, though it was as a knife to the large giant. The fire enchantment it bore worked wonders against spriggans and trolls. Aye, worked wonders, a grand weapon indeed, he nodded. A weapon that he did not have the sense to bring today, however, he thought with a snarky smile when the troll began its charge.


    One does not usually expect to encounter trolls in barrows.  ‘Twas time to “reposition” this troll.


    Äelberon ran. At full speed, towards the troll and swung his katana, staggering the beast. He felt the power of the ring as he then swung his shield with equal force, making the troll lurch again. He needed to cross that bridge, the people of Whiterun desperately needed him to cross that bridge.  With that thought burning in his mind, Äelberon Snow Bear became as the beast of the ice flats, letting let out a savage cry and swinging his shield with such force that the troll was knocked off balance and plummeted from the bridge to the rocks below. Äelberon peered down from the bridge as the snowfall dusted his hair, eyebrows, and shoulders, the puffs of steam escaping from his partially open mouth. His chest heaving.


    The troll was dead.


    He blinked a few times, taken aback by his intense display of strength, before composing himself enough to continue to follow the path lit by the glowing mushrooms.  


    The bridge of the ravine led to a narrow dirt tunnel and Äelberon could see the light change from the cold green glow of the mushrooms to the warm orange of ancient braziers. How they were lit, he did not quite understand, though he assumed that the draugr, more than likely, had something to do with it. If they were the caretakers of temples and tombs in life, it stood to reason that as undead, they would continue their tasks.


    The tunnel opened to a well-lit room that was partially collapsed; carved rubble scattered everywhere. There were two entryways dotted with moss and thick roots, and beyond them was where Äelberon spied the draugr moving near a large set of wooden double doors.


    Another Wight, for he saw the frost spell charging in its left hand as it balanced a war axe upon its right. Äelberon sheathed his sword and charged Sun fire. He would need the protection of his shield. The Wight saw him and charged, shooting his frost magicks at Äelberon while the Elf blocked the spells with his shield, but his weakness to magic was too strong and he groaned heavily. His stamina was waning, his body suddenly chilled to its very bones. A far more potent spell.


    Äelberon gritted his teeth and cast Sun fire, which caused the Wight to stagger and cry out in agony, the sunlight burning its decomposing body. Äelberon reeled after casting; however, his movements now so terribly slow from the drain of the frost magicks, his lids heavy. Äelberon needed to regain his strength, so he began to use his magicks to compensate, repeatedly casting Sun fire, wearing out the draugr, rendering it unable to cast his frost magicks.  Äelberon could feel his energy slowly creep back, but his body remained bitterly cold.


    The Wight swung his axe and Äelberon managed to block the blow with his shield and held the draugr back with it as he drew his katana, for his magicks were now spent. Damn cold. Äelberon thrust the blade deep into the Wight's flank and the draugr fell, losing its life a second time.


    Koor ran to his Master as he fell hard to his knees, the adrenaline leaving his body, shaking violently from the lingering effects of the frost spell. He did not know how, but he managed to drag himself to one of the braziers and huddle by its warm fire. Koor lay upon his Master’s shivering body and offered his warmth. Äelberon reclined against the brazier trembling, his teeth chattering, his breath coming out in rapid gasps, his vision blurred. He was fighting sleep, the death sleep that comes with the bitter cold.


    “Gods, just help me stay awake…” He whispered softly, stroking Koor’s fur, his heart pounding hard in his chest.



    Two things had ultimately saved him, Äelberon thought, leaning against the brazier for what seemed like an eternity, while he waited patiently for his body to shake off the remaining effects of the frost magicks. One lay upon him now, lightly sleeping as the old Mer stroked his fur gently. The other was upon his finger.


    The ring. “Thank you.” He murmured, still tired, to whomever was listening.


    Äelberon did not know what spell was used, but it was certainly far stronger than anything he had encountered before. The ring gave him the extra boost he needed to survive and Koor gave of his warmth selflessly. Äelberon raised his left hand feebly to attempt a healing spell, but he was still too spent and his hand only trembled slightly. He let it collapse with a quiet exhale.


    Did he have food? His mind was still so clouded from the frost that he did not remember. He always packed some. Aye, food would help. Äelberon shifted position to try to get to his pack, but he could not with the dog lying on top of him. He nudged Koor and the dog woke up, looking up at his Master’s weary face. “I am alright now, boy, move so I can get to my pack.” Koor snorted and Äelberon managed a weak chuckle as he scratched the husky's cheek. “You are not so stupid, eh? Not convinced. Do I look that bad?” He sighed, weakly pushing Koor off. “Hmph, I must.”


    Äelberon stiffly removed his pack and with effort placed it upon his lap to open it, his breathing still labored. He removed the waterskin and searched. He had eaten the apple already and he smiled when he saw it, a carefully wrapped package in linen.




    He unwrapped the package, his stomach now growling loudly. He had packed a slice of goat cheese, some bread, and what perhaps looked like dried beef? He was not sure. He was no cook. Tilma’s great gifts at the kitchen eluded this old Altmer, he smirked. He could brew his tea and use salt to dry meat for traveling and that was about it. Ha! The Gods were kind not to send any children his way, because he would surely kill them on a diet of canis root tea and dried whatever he happened to kill that day. He would eat the meat first, for it looked the least appealing.   


    Äelberon wrinkled his nose and scowled when he took a bite and chewed it. Gods no!  Definitely not Tilma’s. This was his own abysmal cooking. Charred skeever, and it was definitely charred. Badly. Äelberon furrowed his brow, examining the dry, burnt piece of meat. He was probably reading when he cooked it and it burned. Still edible, of course, umm, well, that was a matter of opinion. No wonder he had packed it, he wanted to get rid of it. Äelberon remembered now as he took another bite of the tough meat, his jaw working hard to chew it. He reached for his waterskin and took a large gulp of water. Anything to wash it down.


    In jest, he offered a piece to Koor and let out a throaty laugh when the dog snorted and turned his nose. Even the dog hated his cooking and he patted Koor on the head roughly while he took another bite, holding it firmly in his hand as he ripped at the meat with his strong teeth. It had the consistency of tough leather. It was still food. He had eaten far worse to stay alive. Aye, even leather.


    He remembered the taste of leather, the strange acid toughness, the feel of its grain upon his teeth, how he had to hold it fast to tear into the fibers, the time it took to chew, and he let the memories surface again.


    Seemed like ages ago now, his first years in Cyrodiil... the toughest years of his life.


    Early in his first year of exile, Äelberon took refuge in the Imperial City, disappearing amid the masses of people. He grieved still and took out his anguish in the Arena, not caring if he lived or died. Telling no one who he was and using another name, lest any of them be put in danger by learning his identity.


    Only to live and become Grand Champion.


    He remembered the roar of the crowd when he fought that final match. The stink of the pit, the brightness of the sun against the sand, but worst was the noise. They made such terrible noise, such loud cheering. Hard and violent. He hated it. The fight was against a powerful Orc, for the race had a grand tradition of Champions and he had told them nothing of his past.  The crowd did not notice the look on his face when he saw their dreaded black and gold robes scattered about the Arena, blocking all exits. They had found him. How, he never knew. But on that day, he fought with a desperation he had not felt since the Great Anguish.


    “The best techniques are passed on by the survivors.”


    He did not want to die, no matter what his deep grief had led him to believe. He won and yet never appeared in the Arena to claim his title. To ensure the safety of the crowd, he fled, through a passageway in the Bloodworks. The chase had begun.


    When Vingalmo learned that he lived, the bloodthirsty hound hunted Äelberon like an animal throughout all of Cyrodiil for nearly a year, his vampirism emboldened by the moonless nights. And for the first time in his life, Äelberon was truly alone. He did not have his family, nor did he have Rynandor to offer guidance. He no longer had the protection of a great house, a Crystal Tower, his Order, a guild, or his status as a hero.  He was sundered from his home; an exile. To his People, The Slayer of Bet was dead, killed in a Vampire raid at Dusk. His exile kept secret.


    To all of Tamriel, they were known as the Void Nights, for the moons did not shine in the sky. But to Äelberon, they were sleepless nights. Sleepless nights that left his under eyes permanently discolored. Darkened, making the color of his eyes more intense.  Vingalmo never allowed him more than a few precious hours of rest, and never at night, never at night, so relentless was his pursuit of Äelberon. Until, at the brink of exhausted madness, almost ready to give up, Äelberon found them far to the north, along the border with Skyrim; the Jerral Mountains.


    He thought himself insane when he first considered living in the mountains, the lack of rest from the chase playing tricks on his mind. They were bleak, jagged, and utterly inhospitable, but the Thalmor did not dare venture near their snowy peaks, not even Vingalmo of the cold-loving Volkihar. He was so desperate for sleep after a year and they chased him there, giving him no other option. Nowhere else to go, save up.   It was either the mountains, die, or surrender. He would never surrender and the fire of life burned too brightly in him still, so Äelberon retreated into to the mountains as a bear retreats to his den for a long winter’s slumber.


    High in the Jerrals, Äelberon learned very quickly that cold and hunger could kill as ruthlessly as any enemy he had ever encountered. He dwelt alone among the peaks of ice and snow, wrapped in heavy skins and furs, living off what little the brutal land had to offer. When game became scarce during the bleak mountain winter, he ate hibernating mountain rats, the roots of trees, and even resorted to boiling leather; drinking the broth and eating the softened leather to quell his severe hunger pangs.  He became as the grey wolf in Fort Dunstad he saw all those days ago, hardened and hungry. But he survived and despite the hard life, he found rest through meditation and prayer.


    And he slept. Deeply and soundly.


    He finally emerged from the Jerral Mountains when again moonlight graced the night sky and again the Thalmor thought him dead; his heart all the stronger for the experience. It had taught him a different form of self-reliance and he was a far better Mer for it. He knew that in his heart.


    He smiled as he rewrapped the dense cheese and the soft bread carefully in the linen and stored it in his pack. The charred, burned skeever would be more than enough to sustain him, and he took another bite. Of course he was spotted again and again the Thalmor gave chase, but Äelberon’s time in the mountains made him the Mer he was now, and slowly the old, grizzled wolf turned the hunt inside out on the Volkihar hound. They then chased each other across Cyrodiil and Äelberon took great satisfaction in knowing that Vingalmo did not know rest either for nearly one hundred years.


    Finish this barrow, Äelberon thought.  Your debt to Whiterun will be repaid, and you will again be free to track the Volkihar beast. Free to hunt. His Shield-Siblings would understand. Many of them also knew the bitter pain of a family lost.  Äelberon took a final bite of the skeever, finishing it.  Skeever tasted far better when flavored with purpose.


    He felt much better as he stood tall and slung the pack over his shoulders. He raised his left hand and smiled as the orange glow of a healing spell easily appeared. The kiss of winter from a draugr’s hand may slow him down, but it would never stop him. Äelberon turned to Koor and again offered his sword hand to the dog, who approached him with wagging tail, happy that his Master was well again and nuzzled his hand.  “See, I told you that you would have your day, Koor, for lives are not always saved with tooth and claw or bow and blade.” Äelberon then stooped to Koor’s eye level and held the dog’s muzzle in his hand. “Warmth and love, those save lives as well. Thank you, my dear friend.” With a hard rub to the dog's head, Äelberon stood again and walked to the double doors.


    “Let us finish this, boy.” Said Äelberon as he gently pushed one open. As soon as he and Koor cleared the door, he almost laughed aloud when he heard the familiar sound. Another blasted blade trap!


    He walked to the trap and gave it a careful look. Four blades this time, moving faster and at different rates. He stared beyond the trap and studied the room. Immediately to the left was a sarcophagus upon a ledge. The room was well-lit and he could make out a flight of wooden steps leading to an upper level that then featured a thin stone walkway. Dominating the floor of the chamber was a large oil slick and several lamps hung from above. He would risk the trap bearing Niniik and the bandolier, but everything else would be removed, and he shrugged off his pack again and set it upon the floor next to Koor. He smiled at the dog as he removed his katana from his waist and his shield and also placed them upon the floor.


    “Here we go again.” Äelberon sighed as Koor sat upon his haunches and wagged his tail. “I see you are staying put this time. Good. Let your Master be the stupid one in this outfit.”

    Äelberon was about to start counting the blade speeds when he suddenly stopped and rubbed his beard. Hmm, could he perhaps make this a bit easier on himself? After all, they were safe behind the trap… He turned to Koor. “Koor!” Äelberon commanded loudly, “Speak!”


    The dog stared at his Master like he was an old fool, his head tilted to one side, puzzled. “Yes, yes, yes, speak.  That is exactly what I want you to do.”Koor snorted. “You are going to make me make an arse out of myself again, eh? Alright.” Äelberon suddenly brought his lips together, furrowed his brows, and made a low howl. “Awwoooooo…” 


    Satisfied with his Master’s display of stupidity, Koor let out a gruff bark of approval and then followed suit, bringing his snout to the air in a long howl. Äelberon grinned. “That’s it, boy, awwOOOOOO…” 


    Äelberon quickly turned his head when he heard the familiar hissing sounds of the draugr and he nodded. A sound plan. It was working. They were coming. They were safe behind the trap, and Äelberon readied Niniik while the Deathlord appeared from the sarcophagus and two draugr archers appeared from the second level. Äelberon’s red-orange eyes narrowed in satisfaction when he aimed the crossbow at the Deathlord.


    Fus ro... dah!”


    The Deathlord shouted, but the blade traps absorbed much of it and Äelberon smiled as the Deathlord’s shout was reduced to a mere breeze that rustled his hair. The throwing shout did not throw him at all. The Deathlord approached the trap and stopped just shy of the swinging blades, raising his great sword in the air, clearly taunting him, but Äelberon was no longer aiming for him. Instead, he shifted his aim towards the two archers who were now approaching the oil slick. Damn it, he had to wait. If he took the shot too soon, the bolt would strike the blades, not the lantern. Äelberon lowered his bow slightly to wipe the sweat from his brow; it was getting into his eyes.


    He readied Niniik again and took careful aim, his mouth partially open with concentration; his eyes watching the motion of the blades. ‘Twas a tough, tough shot for the blades moved independently and the lantern was small. He had about a two second window, but he had to shoot before the window or it would not work. He took a deep breath as the second draugr archer now stepped into the oil slick. He squinted, his eyes glinting in the light of the braziers. He exhaled and released the bolt. He looked down and reloaded, not even checking if his shot was true. He knew it was when he heard the draugrs’ screams and the explosion rock the chamber.


    Now it was only the Deathlord. It shouted again and again only a slight breeze reached Äelberon while he took his aim. The first shot missed, striking a blade, but it did not matter, and he reloaded, taking aim again. He had all the time in the world with that Deathlord at the other side of the trap.



    Äelberon stooped down and picked two stray silver bolts and inspected them for damage before slipping them back into his bandolier. It took seven shots to bring down the Deathlord; five hits and two misses, but all were done from safely behind the blade trap, which had given him some extra time to rest and Koor was never at risk. He again stood before the swinging blades. By now, he knew their rhythm well. He found Koor’s gaze again. “Stay...”


    Äelberon then took a deep breath and approached the trap. “One… two… go… One… two… three… go… One… two… go… One…. Two… three… go…” He closed his eyes and sighed in relief whens he cleared the final blade and yanked the pull chain that deactivated the trap. He returned to Koor and gathered his belongings. It was time to move forward. It was almost over, he thought as he scanned the room while he extracted three intact bolts from the Deathlord.


    A little blue and black ceramic bottle caught his eye upon a table at the right side of the room. He slid the final bolt into his bandolier and approached the table, holding his pack in his shield hand, while he held Niniik upright with his right. He dropped the pack when he arrived and picked up the bottle carefully to examine it. Blue and black, perhaps something to do with ice? Scamp’s Blood, if he was bad with enchanting, he was even worse with alchemy. Icebane? Open it and smell it to confirm? No, no, no he frowned at the prospect, his nose wrinkling. No more smelling potions. No more drinking them either. He blew a gust of air upwards, blowing his hair a bit, and he turned to Koor, leaning back against the table and shaking the potion gently in his hand. He would let Arcadia smell it later.  “Now this would have been useful a few rooms back, eh?”


    Well, if it was indeed icebane. Äelberon opened his pack and stashed the potion inside. The room yielded little else and Äelberon and Koor walked up the steps and crossed the narrow bridge before stopping at an ornately carved iron door. He loaded Niniik with a bolt and slowly nudged the door open with the weapon. And he stopped in his tracks, his jaw dropping as he entered the long corridor.


    “By the Gods!” He exclaimed in a hoarse whisper.  

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XXXIII    Chapter XXXV


6 Comments   |   ilanisilver likes this.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  November 20, 2015
    He loves Koor. Part 3 of Book 1 tells his story. 
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  November 20, 2015
    Gotta love Albee, always putting his dog first.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 12, 2015
    Yeah, he'll come to that conclusion too. It's fun because you and I know these things about draugr, but he's experiencing Skyrim for the first time. I have to make like he doesn't know everything, or that his explanations may not always be correct. That h...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  October 12, 2015
    The Draugr and traps were fun I think the Draugr are technically still alive, their life is just slowly being drained to preserve the Dragon Priests.
    and high in the Jerral Mountains Albee eared his stamp of approval from Bear Grylls 
    When the...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 5, 2015
    Nah, he recovers pretty quickly. Arvel was a fool. 
    Albee will use whatever is around to ensure victory. He's not a dirty fighter, but if the ancient Nords put those traps up in the first place, he's going to twist that to his advantage. Well, it's ...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  September 5, 2015
    I hope Albee won't mourn the loss of Arvel the Swift. Some people are beyond our help.
    Oh the enjoyment of kiting Draugr into traps. That will never tire. It was a nice touch making the Deathlords smarter.  Shame his shouts didn't help him .
    A...  more