Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XL


    14th of Morning Star, 4E 202


    Of the ten that battled the dragon at the Western Watch Tower, only five remained. Three of the five could not walk, and one was now hobbling to his horse in the heavy rain, moving far faster than what was better for his injury, bearing one of the three in his great arms. She was fierce and brave, but  so tiny and frail to him now, her dark red eyes only half open, her skin the color of pale ash. She had collapsed after the heat of battle left her, the dragon’s wing causing more harm than previously anticipated, and Äelberon had not the magicks to heal her. The explosion took what little he had left.


    She fell after he shouted.  After he shouted... Fus… Äelberon shook his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts and winced when it throbbed. He could not dwell on that now. Later... She moaned softly in pain. Damn, his hobbling about was not helping and he turned to her. “Stay with me, Irileth.”


    She nodded weakly and leaned her head against his shoulder. He smelled like smoke and sulfur, but she could also faintly scent something else… canis root. The Priest drank canis root tea. A lot of it, it seemed, for it permeated his damp skin, even through the dragon’s stench. They often drank that tea in Morrowind, especially House Telvanni, she thought sleepily. It was a good smell, reminding her of libraries and Mushroom towers.


    “Yes, Almsti…” She murmured, her voice trailing off.  The Nord Dragonborn business did not matter to her, she thought sleepily. What mattered was that Balgruuf now had a much stronger ally, an ally that he needed. Someone who could actually fight for Whiterun and that, to Irileth, was important, a thane who was still able to wield a weapon. It made her job easier and she relaxed into the Altmer’s strong shoulder, letting the pain in her ribs overtake her.


    Äelberon frowned when he sensed the Dunmer relax. She was unconscious. He needed to get to Allie. Now. He gritted his teeth and ignored the pain, quickening his pace. He did not break his stride when he heard Honthjolf’s voice next to him. Boy was fast.  


    “Dragonborn, let me ride the horse. I am uninjured.”


    “She will throw you.” Äelberon nodded in Allie’s direction, only a short distance away now. And Koor, he was there too. Soaked, but… safe.  That eased his mind somewhat, though nothing could really ease it, save not being what he was.  STOP!  “She has fire, that one, but she is swift, and Irileth needs swift now.” He glanced at Honthjolf as he closed the distance between himself and his horse, his eyes piercing, which made the Nord shrink a little.  “And please… do not call me that.”


    “But, it’s what you are.”


    Äelberon closed his eyes, the Nords words causing him to speed up, his ankle screaming. All Nords were ridiculously stubborn. He did not know whether to laugh or cry at that; Dunmer too and Orcs. Damn them all to Oblivion, for Altmer were the worst of all and when he made up his mind, Äelberon of Dusk was the most stubborn creature in all of Tam-Riel. At least the most stubborn in all of Keizaal. KeizaalSkyrim, he answered in his mind.  “Stop, Honthjolf, no… not now. I cannot…” he insisted, deepening his tone.


    The Nord made to open his mouth again. Damn it.


    He was at Allie’s side and let out a sigh of relief, which came out more like a muffled growl. He could distract himself with the task at hand. No more talk of this other matter, at least for now.  No more! Äelberon was finished with it. “Here, take her… gently… while I mount.” He commanded.


    Äelberon transferred Irileth to Honthjolf’s arms and then grabbed the saddle firmly with both hands to mount. He held his breath and pushed up with his left leg and then he bit his lip hard, tasting the blood when his right ankle brushed a saddle bag when it made its journey across the horse’s broad back. He blinked hard and inhaled sharply, feeling the pain radiate from his ankle into his lower leg. He could feel it swell against his boot. Gods, they were going to have to cut the boot off if he did not remove it soon.  He was so damn, damn stupid! Why did you not heal it at Bleak Falls Barrow, you Old Fool?  Walk it off, Xarxes’ arse! Fool! FOOL!!


    Sundered’s blight… I am this. The Beast of Lorkhan… Bormah! Make the torment STOP! Bormah? Father? Auri-El?


    Honthjolf saw the Altmer go two shades paler when he mounted and his skin break out in a clammy sweat, but he composed himself and leaned on the saddle, extending his arms to take the Housecarl. When he had her secure, he turned to Honthjolf. “Honthjolf, two things...”


    “What are they, Companion?” He would respect the warrior’s wishes and not call him Dragonborn, but he would not stop thinking it.  He could imagine that it was a shock to the Mer who sat, despite the exhaustion written all over his face, tall in the saddle. As comfortable as he seemed around Nords, Ysmir’s Beard, he lived in Jorrvaskr, the Altmer was still an outsider. Honthjolf looked up at the Dragonborn. The rain was beginning to let up a little, not as violent. A flash of lightning revealed the lined face that faced forward on the saddle, weary and bruised, but still strong. A warrior. Honthjolf always thought they were mages. Witch Elves, they all called them in the Barracks.


    “First, remove my right boot, please. The break, it is swelling rapidly. If it swells too much more, they will have to cut the boot off my foot, and damn it, boy, I like my boot. Take it off.”


    Honthjolf raised his eyebrows. “You sure?”


    “Aye, I am sure.” A gruff reply.


    Honthjolf let out a gasp of air and swallowed hard. By the Nine, that was going to hurt like Oblivion. He walked to the Dragonborn’s right leg and looked at him. “Alright, I understand.  It is a nice boot.” It was, silver-plated armor was not cheap and the carvings on the shin plates were unlike anything Honthjolf had ever seen


    “That it is, friend. That it is.” Äelberon repositioned Irileth so that she was more secure, sheltering her from the pelting rain with the remnants of his cloak while he grabbed the reins of the saddle firmly with one hand to steady Allie, locking her in position, his knuckles white under his gauntlets. He then faced straight ahead and took a deep breath. He was ready.


    Honthjolf first unfastened the straps to loosen the boot. He then braced himself against the horse’s side and held the Dragonborn’s boot, one hand at the sole, the other just above the ankle, giving him better leverage to pull. He suddenly looked up. “Fast or slow?”


    Äelberon closed his eyes. “Scamp’s Blood, Man! Make it fast.” He gasped.


    “I’ll count to three, brace yourself.” Honthjolf set his jaw and tightened his grip on the Dragonborn’s boot. The Dragonborn took yet another deep breath. “Hey you!” quipped Honthjolf, seizing the moment and making the Altmer stop mid-inhale to regard the Nord. “Save some air for the rest of us!”


    Äelberon, despite the pain, let out a hearty laugh, remembering his earlier joke.  “I am ready, just pull the damn boot, boy. I can take it.” Äelberon replied with a smirk before again facing forward, deliberately imitating an old Nord line. Boy was smart to make him laugh, reminded him of both Farkas and Vilkas. Did they all know each other?  He heard the boy begin his count and Äelberon steeled himself, tightening his hold on Irileth.


    “One… two…three...” Honthjolf yanked the boot hard and… The Dragonborn did not even flinch, only stared straight ahead, stoic as the boot cleared his foot, his powerful arms doing the utmost to keep the Housecarl steady. What a pair of balls, Honthjolf admitted to himself with a whistle.  Shit!


    The tiniest of chuckles from the Altmer.  He had heard Honthjolf. Bless the boy for the bits of sanity. He would cling to those tonight. “You ready for the second thing?”


    “Aye, Companion, what now?” He replied, stashing the boot in one of the larger saddle bags and sealing it tightly. You got to keep your boot, you old Codger. What a story for later, sad, but at the same time… damn, something for the grandkids. If they all lived long enough to have them...


    “Ready them for Bjorlam. I will send word once I reach the stables for him to find you, if they are not already on their way. Defend our comrades while I am gone. Guard them.” Honthjolf drew a dagger from his belt. “My life is theirs, friend.”


    The Elf’s face suddenly darkened, growing sad, “We need to bring those who have left for Sovngarde to the Hall of the Dead, to Andurs. And the rest of the injured must be borne to the Temple. We cannot leave them here. We cannot leave any of them to the beasts, the living or the dead.” Äelberon cleared his throat in an attempt to quell his building emotion. The dragon was dead, but he had failed tonight. Hard lessons were learned. He would not make the same mistakes again and Äelberon set his jaw, swearing another silent oath. Never again. “They deserve better for their bravery today.” He continued and Honthjolf nodded in agreement.


    “We lose no more tonight, friend. This I swear, as a Guard of the Hold.”


    Äelberon then urged the Nord back to the Watchtower with a gesture of his head. “Then may my steed be swift and your dagger be sharp for our fallen, friend.  I will bring Irileth to the Temple and then speak to the Jarl. Poor Danica, she will have much to do tonight. I wish it were not thusly. I wish things were different, friend. I wish I had done things differently.”  And with that, Äelberon gritted his teeth and gave Allie a hard squeeze on her flanks, urging her to a full gallop, his husky following closely.


    He blamed himself, Honthjolf thought as he began to help his remaining friends toward the smoking tower, keenly aware of the wolves howling in the distance. They smelled the charred flesh. Damn.



    Speeding towards Whiterun, Äelberon briefly looked at the sky, letting the rain hit his face, losing himself in his thoughts while he rode, releasing them from the depths of his mind. They welled up and he found himself numb, surprisingly numb.  He was too tired to feel much. Overwhelmed and old.  He was no fool. He knew history well, too well.  He cursed himself for reading, for learning.  He cursed himself for saying “yes” to the Tower. He had learned so much at that great library. He had learned too much.


    “Rynandor, you knew.” He muttered under his breath. There was only Irileth and she was unconscious. No one to hear his musings. Alone. Truly alone now. “You knew… and yet you did not tell me. I could have prepared, and yet you died, leaving me to this?”


    He remembered the deeds of the past Dragonborns, Tiber Septim, the Slave Queen, others, and he was horrified for Tamriel, horrified for his People.   Äelberon knew that his People would resist, fight back, the warfare never ceasing. And now he was counted among them.  Dragonborn. And while on the outside he bore Irileth silently in the night, his face strength as he rode. Inside, he despaired, the silent despair that his People excelled at.


    The Sundered’s cope is to only cry… to suffer in silence. Äelberon was not the best Altmer, however, choosing instead to lash out again, his voice a hushed, agitated whisper.  You have made me the bane of my own people! Why Auri-El? Why me? WHY!? What have I done to warrant such punishment? I have only ever served You!


    Pride, he was guilty of pride, arrogance, and vengeance. No, Äelberon was not without sin. Damn, he knew Auri-El had a plan, but this was not what he had imagined. The bane of his people! The Doom Drum!  He could just begin to make out the looming shape of Dragonsreach in the darkness. Tall upon its hill. It was going to be a deep, black night tonight. Dark, so dark.


    “For what purpose?” Äelberon continued his one-sided debate.  Nothing, save the sound of pounding hooves and rain. Auri-El did not answer, just as he did not hear his pleas in his dream. The God was silent now and Äelberon knew what silence meant.


    It was not to be revealed at this time.


    Äelberon let his face grow long, but he understood and accepted. He would have to be patient and pray, just as he did on the matter of the Beast Blood that cursed his family.  “I will yield to your will, but my People, my People will not understand. They will not. They will only see one who is like the one who conquered them. The one who brought the Numidium to them. You have condemned me. I can never go back.”


    He was already condemned.


    Irileth suddenly stirred against him, moaning softly, and he slowly remembered himself, forgetting the grief to ride wearily on. He needed to get her to Danica. Think only on that now. Do not dwell on the other matter, but his mind would stop racing. It would never finish… The wheel always turns... “You cannot escape your fate.” He said softly through gritted teeth. He felt his teeth then instinctively chew on the inside of his lip, his anger building. There would be time to mourn later. Now, he needed strength, and if they, the Thalmor, learned what he was, he needed to be prepared. Prepared to defend his family.


    To the death. He would not lose them to the Thalmor like he had lost the family of his blood. Or should he run?


    “Fly my girl, fly…” He whispered as Allie quickly closed the distance between Whiterun and the Western Watchtower, shaking his head again, unable to continue arguing with himself. It was too much.  Through the rain, he could see steaming torches when he approached the walled city. Bjorlam was already readying his cart, a heavy cloak draped over his shoulders. And the God Äelberon was angry at earlier was now the subject of praise, for he knew that guards were already on their way to the Wester Watchtower. Help was coming for Honthjolf and the others. The beasts would not have the dead. Guards were also gathered outside the city, people too. They had heard. They must have seen the lights and the flame. Heard the roars. They knew and they were waiting.


    They saw the Elven Knight approach on horseback, riding like a mad Mer, his cloak and armor nearly black with soot and caked with mud. Crying loudly as he galloped past. He could not stop. Irileth could not afford him stopping.  “Haste! Make haste to the Watchtower! Bring aid to your brothers!”


    “The Dragon?” replied a guard who turned to Bjorlam and nodded. Several guards were seen climbing the cart, readying their weapons in preparation for the Elf’s response.


    Dead! Dead and dust! Victory is ours!” He yelled back as he stormed past on Allie towards the city gates, waving at the gentlefolk frantically to get out of the way.  Gasps and cries of joy, hugs and invocations of Talos were silenced as soon as they began when they saw the reason why the Elf rushed so. The Housecarl was propped against him, unmoving.



    “DOV… AH… KIIN!!!”


    Morgen heard it thunder, the ground shaking with the power of the sound, making everyone stumble about, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, though no one could see her blue eyes widen under her guard’s helmet.  It happened, the sound, just as the High Elf Knight rode into the city with the limp Housecarl in his arms, a growling husky close behind, the commotion of the mustering guards adding to the panic in the air. The horse reared in terror, her roar loud in the rain.


    Aye, it was confusion and panic on this dark and churning night. Everyone had heard it, unless you lived in a basement with stone walls. The words you wait to hear as you sat on your Da’s knee by the light of the hearth fire, listening to him tell stories, urging him to not stop with the thick clap of chubby child’s hands, stories of the ancient days. Of Gormalaith, Hakon, and Felldir… of the Dovahkiin.  But, there was no time to dwell on hearth stories. Ysmir’s Beard! The Housecarl was injured. The force that left to battle the dragon Torbar sighted was gone for hours. Was this all that was left?


    Honthjolf, the others, her friends. Dead?


    It was impossible, no, she thought as she rushed unsteadily to the Elf. He had just dismounted the raging animal, nearly on his knees from bearing the Housecarl in his arms. The Housecarl would fall. 


    “Hold fast the gates! Fetch Captain Gaius! Control the horse. They’ve returned.” She cried out, forgetting her grief and remembering her duty. Morgen’s hand reached for the High Elf’s forearm to steady him, while her comrades in arms fought to control the mighty charger, her eyes blazing. Morgen looked down and saw the bare right ankle, bruised and swollen.


    Two more guards rushed in past the gates and there was the din of excited townsfolk that had gathered just outside the city when they saw the lights. All the way from the Western Watchtower. Orange flame, the purple of shock magicks, and a curious white light, like sunlight. It was no spell she knew. Not that she was an expert in spells.


    “Steady, Companion. What happened? What news from the Watchtower?”


    “I cannot, there is no time. She must make the Temple or she will die. My horse nearly threw us when...” He could not continue.


    “Let me help you.” Morgen whispered. “Though I cannot bear her weight, I can help you keep your leg steady.”  The Elf nodded and with her holding him steady, Morgen began to guide him towards the Temple, surprised that he was still walking on that ankle. Her father once told her, when he could finally speak of the Great War, that some people could tolerate great amounts of pain. That they could do things in the battlefield despite being injured while others with the same injury could not even move.  Nords, yes, she could imagine being capable of this, but High Elves? The Witch Elves?  Morgen let out a gasp of relief when Captain Gaius approached, his face wrought with concern.


    “What the Oblivion happened, Guard?” He asked, staring at the covered helm. Morgen, aye, ‘twas Morgen, though she did look a bit like Elsa in the dark, obscured by the rain. “What was that racket? All Whiterun heard it, I think. The city’s in an uproar—“  Captain Gaius paused his barrage of questions and turned to Äelberon, frowning when he saw the Housecarl. Six had left plus the Housecarl and this Elf. Only two returned?  “Maybe I should be asking you what the Oblivion happened. Where are my men?”


    “There… is no time to explain, I must… get to the Temple.” Äelberon’s mind raced, searching for more words, better words, any words. He was so exhausted and there was still so much to do, so much time had already been wasted.  “Honthjolf.” He managed, his arms screaming to put Irileth down. Äelberon chewed on the inside of his lip while he waited for Captain Gaius to process. He hated how time moved sometimes!


    “Where? The Dragon?” Captain Gaius replied.


    “Waiting at the Tower ruins with the injured. Help them. I could only bear one on my horse and she would throw another rider.” Morgen breathed a sigh of relief. Honthjolf was alive!  “Have Bjorlam bring the cart, for the injured and… the dead. Wake Endurs.”


    Gaius bent his head. There were dead. It meant that he would have to make the rounds tomorrow once they learned their names. Tell the families, speak with the Jarl to set up the pensions. A nightmare of a task with that damn steward of his. Gaius faced the Altmer, noting the soot that streaked his lined face, the cuts and bruises. He looked like Death, though the eyes were intensely bright. He never answered. “The Dragon?”


    Äelberon ignored Captain Gaius at first and nodded to the guard to continue towards the Temple.  “Come, she cannot wait further.”


    “The Dragon?” repeated Captain Gaius.


    “Dead. Bones, only bones…”


    “That’s right.” Chimed another guard, watching Morgen and the Elf walk away with the Housecarl. It was crazy in the city, the noise of the crowds that gathered, ignoring the rain.  “It must be dead; otherwise we wouldn’t have heard it.”


    “That noise?” Asked Captain Gaius, “I thought it was just strong thunder at first, but no, it was a word.”


    “That’s right, you don’t know, Capn’, you ain’t a Nord.”


    “Enlighten me then.” Replied Captain Gaius, his arms crossing over his chest. “What does it mean? This ‘Dovaking’ I heard.”


    “We all heard. Damn, you think they heard all the way in Ivarstead? At the Throat?”


    The guard received a knock on the helmet from one of his comrades. “Of course, you dumbarse! Shor’s Balls, who do you think said it in the first place?”


    “Oh, you’re right. I’m just tired, friend. To think there’s one among us, who?”


    Well? What does it mean?” Repeated a now annoyed Captain Gaius. He needed to secure the gate and be ready to receive the injured when Honthjolf arrived; tend to the gathering crowds. Damn it, playing guessing games with his men wasn’t his idea of time well spent. He was about to speak again. 


    “Dovahkiin. It means… Dragonborn.” Äelberon replied, walking towards the Temple.  It was one voice, yet it sounded like many, and it shook the very earth with its power! He had groaned in response, the pressure in his head unbearable, Allie nearly threw him and Irileth, forcing him to dismount and carry the Dunmer when he had wanted to save time and ride directly to the Temple. Scamp’s Blood, now he was hearing voices. It was little consolation that the rest of the city heard it too.  He would go mad with this. Ah, so many of them did. So many of them went mad.



    Äelberon slipped quietly into Dragonsreach and closed the door carefully behind him. He had spent too long at the Temple, but bones needed to be set and though Danica did not let him cast, bidding him to save his magicks for himself, he did help set broken bones when the other two Hold Guards arrived a little while later. She lacked the upper body strength and her Acolyte, while a fine young man, did not yet have the advanced anatomical knowledge to set complicated breaks properly.  So he stayed and was glad to see that Irileth was resting comfortably when he left. Honthjolf was not with them. A shame, for he had wanted to thank the boy personally for his service today.


    Part of him did not want to be seen and he stood at the entrance for a moment, a puddle of muddy water forming where he stood, chilling his swollen bare foot. He was soaked to the very bone and he took a few moments to wring out his cloak as best as he could, stopping when he realized that the puddle was just growing in size and becoming worse, now mixing with soot. There was no point. It was ruined. Poor Tilma slaved hours on this cloak, Äelberon frowned.  He then felt the back of his head and felt the sticky wetness of blood. The injury to the back of his head, from hitting the stone column. His hair was still in its haphazard braid.


    While the action of cleaning his cloak was ultimately a waste, Äelberon did take comfort in being alone with only Koor for a few precious moments. Outside was non-stop activity. Questions upon questions. Who was the Dragonborn? Did you hear the call? Dovahkiin, where? Who? The only people he did not see were his Shield-Siblings. Curiously absent from all the nervous bustle of citizens demanding to know. Their merging faces, brows furrowed. Asking questions that were slowly draining him of everything he had left. Questions that he did not want to answer.


    It could not be him.


    His Shield-Siblings, did they not hear? Was the stone of Jorrvaskr so thick that it blocked those thunderous voices? He hoped that it was. Then Jorrvaskr, his home, would truly be refuge. A refuge from all of this. He turned to Koor, who was waiting patiently. He was being a true friend today, quiet, unassuming, supportive. No questions came from him, no demands save for the occasional ear rub.  “Wait here, boy. I will come for you soon, and we will then go home. To heal.”


    He began to limp to the Jarl’s throne.  A guard approached and offered to help, but was met with a sharp wave of the warrior’s hand and the guard nodded, backing away. He would have no help.  He did not take it when he was dying on the Second of Evening Star and entered the Jarl’s palace to bring news of a dragon, he would not take it now. I walk to the Jarl’s throne on my own two feet, or I do not walk at all.


    Everyone stared at him and his keen elven ears picked up the whispers from the throne. The Jarl was speaking to his brother, Hrongar, while Avenicci nervously paced about the stairs, his hands behind his back. "You heard the summons.” The Jarl whispered, “What else could it mean? The Greybeards..."


    Hrongar leaned towards Jarl Balgruuf, favoring his cup of mead. “But an Elf, brother, an Elf?”


    They knew…


    “This has never happened, the guard said he had heard it from Honthjolf when the lad entered the city to bring the wounded to the Temple, and we both know how fast news travels among the guards. I know Honthjolf, upstanding lad, a good archer, a good Nord. He’s not prone to delusions, if he saw the Elf shout, then he shouted.”


    They knew, and Äelberon's despair renewed. There would be no peace now, no escape. If they knew, the Thalmor would learn and they would come for him. He would leave Jorrvaskr, never to return. Tonight once he finished healing, he would leave. He would run.


    “I know, I know—“The Jarl conceded.




    They suddenly turned when they heard Avenicci clear his throat and briskly walk down the steps. Jarl Balgruuf’s eyes narrowed, as he fingered the ornately carved axe that rested upon his lap. The armor was covered in black grime and mud, his long silver-white hair was dripping, and he was limping, but he still walked with a straight back and the face, while tired and bloodied, was still noble. He would make an exceptional Thane, but Balgruuf sighed. No, not tonight and he rested the axe on the side of his throne. Let him accept his title well-rested and healed, in his shining armor, on a sunny day under the branches of the Gildergreen sapling that he brought back, not looking like he just emerged from Oblivion. He wasn’t going to make this poor soul’s night any longer by throwing a title at him, making him stand on that broken ankle.  He shook his head at Lydia, and she understood the message, getting up to retire to her quarters in Dragonsreach. He would send summons to Jorrvaskr via courier later. He heard Avenicci.


    “Good, the Jarl has been expecting you.”


    Äelberon bowed.  He would need to pack the Staff of Hasedoki with Allie. Extra arrows, pelts, food, weapons. He would leave his other things behind. A gift for his Shield-Brothers. Tilma would understand eventually. Understand why he could not stay. Krosis… “My Jarl.” His voice was so hoarse. He had not eaten nor drunk since the Barrow. Explaining to Kodlak would be difficult, but the Old Man knew he was going to leave regardless.


    “So what happened at the Watchtower? Was the dragon there?" Balgruuf the Greater asked, crossing his arms over his chest.


    “Yes, my Jarl. The beast was there. A dragon that spewed such flame that defied the very rains with its heat. The Watchtower was destroyed, burning, but together, we killed the dragon. They were brave, your men and I am proud to have fought among them...” Balgruuf narrowed his eyes. A High Elf saying he was proud of Nords. Proud to fight among them. “Though it pains me greatly to tell you that five now dwell Sovngarde. It was such a hard, hard battle. And Irileth... Irileth was key to our victory.”


    “Where is she?” The Jarl asked. It bothered Balgruuf greatly that she was not with the Elf.


    “My Jarl, when the dragon was weakened, it was at its most dangerous.”  He bent his head, remembering the events of the night. Remembering was never hard for him to do. And now he remembered the strange words he spoke on so many occasions. Valdekraan meant wretched. He had told Calianwe he was wretched that night at his mother’s tomb. He was.  “He struck…” He cleared his throat. No, he would not dishonor Irileth or the brave men of Whiterun with tears. He would give them dignity and honor instead, and he set his jaw to continue, straightening his back all the more. “He struck her with his wing, and she was injured. She is being healed at the Temple. Rest assured that she will make a full recovery. I bore her myself upon my steed to the city, riding her hard and fast in the rain, I could think of naught much else but to see Irileth safely to the Temple. And now I ask that I take my leave, so that I too may heal. I am utterly spent and can think no more upon the events of the night.”  He was finished, he had told the Jarl what happened. Please, no more… and he began to turn to leave. To run…


    Coward, coward for running, Äelberon of Dusk. Nikriin.


    "I knew I could count on Irileth. But there must be more to it than that." The Jarl continued.


    And Äelberon froze, more at his own thoughts than the Jarl’s unanswered questions. He felt his shoulders stoop slightly, the fatigue building anew.  No, he was not finished. He would never be finished, but he was no coward.  I will not run anymore, he swore silently. I will go home to Jorrvaskr and I will await my fate. I will pray for guidance. He will reveal His plan.  


    He let out a ragged sigh and again turned to the Jarl and for a moment Balgruuf was taken aback by the Elf’s gaze. He looked so burdened.


    “I… I…” Äelberon closed his eyes and he could feel his heart pound, his head throb. He brought his hand up to rub his forehead and caught himself chuckling irritably when he realized very quickly that nothing was going to stop his head from feeling like a warhammer was smashing it to bits. The chuckle got curious glances from the Jarl and his party, making Äelberon look up to continue.  “When… when the dragon died, it burst into flame.  A bright flame that yet did not burn and there were lights. Streams of light. I lay in the mud, thrown by an explosion from the final elemental bolt I shot to down the beast. I lay in the mud and the lights came to me.”  He turned away from the Jarl, “I did not know what was happening to me. Honthjolf…”


    “Yes,” pressed the Jarl, “Honthjolf?”  He wanted to hear the Elf say it. The Jarl had heard the summons. You had to be surrounded by stone to not have heard it.  He wanted the Elf to confirm it, yet the Elf was so hesitant. Anyone else would jump at the chance, the sheer opportunity, yet this Elf seemed so troubled by it. Reluctant.


    They knew already, why make him say it? Äelberon could hear their whispers from the opposite end the palace when he entered. Honthjolf had told them already.  “Honthjolf,” He whispered. “He helped me up, and then… then he called me. He called me…”  It was all he could think on then, that damned child’s nursery song. From the moment Honthjolf told him what he was, Äelberon played its simple melody over and over again in his mind, the lilting triple time taking now on a cryptic quality. Mocking. A litany that reminded every child born to the Blessed Isles what they had inherited, even the shattered ones.


    Doom Drum pounding in the night,

    Pulsing heart of mortal’s might,

    Though Trinimac’s hand did see it smight*,

    Lorkhan’s deceit, ever the Sundered’s blight.


    Äelberon suppressed the sting of tears and instead bit the inside of his lip. What was Auri-El’s plan for him?  “Dragonborn. He called me Dragonborn.”


    “Not just him, the Greybeards seem to think the same thing.” 


    Äelberon gazed up at the Jarl.  “The Greybeards, my Jarl?”


    The Jarl then spoke with great pride. “Masters of the Way of the Voice, noble Knight. They live in seclusion high on the slopes of the Throat of the World."


    “What would they want with me? I am Elf.” His voice was tinged with sorrow.


    "The Dragonborn,” Jarl Balgruuf explained, “is said to be uniquely gifted in the Voice - the ability to focus your vital essence into a Thu'um, or Shout. If you really are Dragonborn, they can teach you how to use your gift."


    Hrongar scowled and stared hard at the Elf. Gods, this was every Nord’s dream and this Elf looked like it was damn death sentence. To be like Tiber Septim, to be as Talos upon the earth! Gods what he would do with such a gift! He knew what he would do, he’d shout Ulfric Stormcloak to pieces, that’s what he’d do. Bring the Thalmor to their knees. He needed to talk some sense into this Elf. Before this Elf turned and ran to the Thalmor with his gift. No, he would now allow that to happen.  "Didn't you hear the thundering sound as you returned to Whiterun? That was the voice of the Greybeards, summoning you to High Hrothgar! This hasn't happened in... centuries, at least. Not since Tiber Septim himself was summoned when he was still Talos of Atmora!"


    Gods, thought Äelberon. Did the Nord even understand what he was saying? No, he did not want to be Tiber Septim. He did not want to be the bringer of such death and destruction. He did not want to be any of them. He knew what the Nords believed. The Orthodoxy. And then, then there was the Heresy. No different than the accounts of the Great Anguish. What the Thalmor made the people of Summerset believe, versus what actually happened.  The Heresy, the account of Septim’s life as written by the conquered.  A far darker tale that featured betrayal and poison arrows shot through the shadows. It did not matter, Tiber Septim, Talos, Hjalti Early-Beard, Ysmir, Wulfharth, Pelinal Whitestrake?  The names used meant little, all were Shezzarines, and all were connected to Lorkhan, whether they were Dragonborn or not. The Champions of Men. All destroyed Elves by the thousands, the deep-seeded revenge for a heart torn from a chest.  The grudges of Gods spilling onto their children. For eternity.


    His people would not understand…


    Äelberon’s dark thoughts were interrupted when the Steward spoke up, chiding the Nord. How young they all seemed to him just now. How oblivious to everything that goes on in the world. Like babies in their cribs, playing with only whatever is in front of their faces. Ignoring their insignificance.  "Hrongar, calm yourself. What does any of this Nord nonsense have to do with our friend here? Capable as he may be, I don't see any signs of him being this, what, 'Dragonborn.'"


    Hrongar grew quite angry, throwing his goblet of mead upon the floor.  "Nord nonsense?!” He bellowed, “Why you puffed-up ignorant... these are our sacred traditions that go back to the founding of the First Empire!"  He made a lunge towards the Steward who backed away. Already with the squabbles and the bickering, thought Äelberon. Already it began. The wheel does indeed turn, he thought with a bitter smirk. He was so tired.


    The Jarl brought up his hand to stay his brother.  "Hrongar. Don't be so hard on Avenicci."


    Avenicci nodded and turned to the Jarl, adjusting his padded grey overcoat of fine wool.  "I meant no disrespect, of course. It's just that... what do these Greybeards want with him?"


    They spoke as if he was not even there. If he left now… he began to turn away from the men and limp slowly away. He wanted to sleep. Let them bicker. Let them stay in their cribs.


    "That's the Greybeards' business, not ours.” The Jarl turned to Äelberon, why was he walking away? He was more bemused by the Elf’s actions than anything else, a puzzling creature. Not like other Elves he had known.


    Then Avenicci opened his mouth again. “The Jarl did not dismiss you.” The Imperial scolded.


    The Altmer stopped and turned again, but before he faced the Jarl, he gave the Steward a look that made the Imperial squirm and Jarl Balgruuf smile. There was that Altmer pride. It was really quite impressive, especially in the countenance of a warrior, not in the sneer of a Thalmor.  “Well, whatever happened when you killed that dragon, it revealed something in you, and the Greybeards heard it. If they think you're Dragonborn, who are we to argue? You'd better get up to High Hrothgar immediately. There's no refusing the summons of the Greybeards. It's a tremendous honor."


    Äelberon trusted that his memory would serve him well when he woke up. That he would remember all of this. Greybeards? High Hrothgar? He knew a little about the Voice, but not much. His studies of the province focused more on Hold locations, the local customs, the vampires, and the wildlife. What he needed to survive.  What he needed to find Vinagalmo and kill him.


    Not this.


    The Jarl gave him a once over, and frowned when he noted the condition the Elf. In a world of his own, it seemed. Curious fellow. He was just standing there, brooding.  “Of course, when you’re healed, I don’t think you can climb the 7000 steps on that ankle there.”  Jarl Balgruuf relaxed in his throne and smiled, his eyes glinting with nostalgia. “You know I made the pilgrimage up those steps once. Truly awe-inspiring.”


    Äelberon just stared at the Jarl. High Hrothgar was not the first mountain he had climbed. Mountains were secluded, ideal places to retreat to, to hide. Perhaps, he mused, perhaps they could help him if he sought them out. The Greybeards. Help him make sense of this. Or, they were retreating too, content to never come down their mountain. If they were so powerful with the Voice, why were they not down here helping their brothers who were clearly dying? Why did they not work to end the war? He had ventured from his mountain refuge in the Jerrals. He came down, came down and faced his fears.  And he thought with another bitter smirk, he would now be climbing up one to face his darkest fear.


    Doom Drum pounding in the night


    Jarl Balgruuf waived his hand to dismiss Äelberon, “You have my leave to go. Have a warm cup of mead, heal up, and go to bed. The Greybeards, truly an honor.” The trio continued to talk amongst themselves while Äelberon slowly limped away.


    With great effort, he made it to the entrance and gently rubbed Koor’s ears.  The boy was so patient.  “I am sorry I yelled at you, my boy. Forgive me?” The dog licked his hand and nuzzled him. All was forgiven. Äelberon was too tired to stoop to properly return the dog’s affections. The animal’s look was uncertain. The dragon had frightened him. “Ah, my boy. Aye, there are great monsters in the world, little one. But... I seems that I slay them.”  Koor looked up at his Master, his wagging tail scattering droplets of rain about the wooden floor of Dragonsreach. Making another mess. Let them clean it up.


    My little monster slayer… his mother’s words. He gave the animal another pat on the head and was rewarded with a head-butt to his injured leg. Stupid snowberry, but I love you just the same.  “Let us go home. I am too tired to run.  I need… sleep. This Old Bear needs his den. This Old Eagle needs his nest. His refuge. His Lair. To lick his wounds, to clean his sullied feathers...”


    Äelberon opened the door slowly and faced the rain before stepping outside. Gods! He had forgotten. His night was not over yet, he thought with a groan.  “And Bloody Oblivion, to deal with the Old Man. Pray he is already asleep, boy, or my night will be… damn it.”


    He did not even bother with the hood of his cloak and slowly made his way down the steps, watching the rain pour while he limped. It was as heavy as his heart.  Did the Storm goddess weep for him?  Did she have a plan for him as well? He paused and waited for a moment, hoping for a sign. Damn, lightning, anything!  Only rain, cold and wet.


    It was not to be revealed at this time…


    “Gods… all the damn same,” he growled under his breath, shivering as the water seeped into his cloak while he continued to limp home.  “Be that way. I will wait. I will wait and I will pray. And eventually both of you will answer to my stubbornness. My path will be known to me. I will know why you have made me the enemy of my People. Why I have been punished. Why I cannot now ever go back.”


    Doom drum pounding in the night, pulsing heart of mortal’s might


    *Smight is an old spelling for smite. 

    Daan Mand - Dovahzul for Doom Drum

    This chapter was exactly 7000 words in its initital draft. I chuckled and groaned when I saw that. 


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XXXIX    Chapter XLI


11 Comments   |   Paws likes this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  February 20, 2017
    There's one conflicted mer. Hard as nails, but shell-shocked and torn. Poor Ireleth too. The poem is cool! The Drum pounds, the Wheel turns, the Serpent wanders.To them the end justifies the means. Aelberon is far more patient and understanding than I.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 25, 2015
    Lord, those were just silly typos. 
    You like the songs, eh? Well get ready, I like songs too, so you'll see and hear more. I'll be whipping out, I hope, the staff paper and writing some simple things. I hope. Composition is hard. Expect nothing comp...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  October 25, 2015
    Krosis...  7000 words, lol that perfect. I'm looking forward to his reaction to the Greybeards and Parthy. Need more songs!
    A couple nit picks, like really nit picky:
    “Dead! Dead and dust! Victory is ours!” He yelled back as he stormed past on...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 25, 2015
    It's a cool idea and I can totally see him doing that... to someone else. Dunno if Honthjolf would do that to him. The point was that he didnt flinch, which wouldn't happen if Honthjolf pulled on two.

    I do like it though.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  October 25, 2015
    Finished reading it now. That was a great scene as they rode towards the gates. I really thought for a moment he was going to ride Allie through the gates to the temple itself. You caught some really atmospheric moments there.
    Now, the question rema...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  October 25, 2015
    No you keep the three but remove it on the two. Albee would still be expecting to hear the word three as the boot is pulled off catching him by surprise. As he braces himself the boot is pulled off.
    Just something you might want to consider.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 25, 2015
    Thank you, by the way, for reading. 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 25, 2015
    One thing I would have done here which is something I often do is actualy remove the article on the count of 'two'. Everyone braces on the 'two' as they mentaly prepare for the 'three' so for that second they are preocupied and in that stlit second the pa...  more
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  October 25, 2015
    I'm only half way down at the moment.
    “I am ready, just pull the damn boot, boy. I can take it.” Äelberon replied with a smirk before facing forward, deliberately imitating an old Nord line. Boy was smart to make him laugh, reminded him of both Fark...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 25, 2015
    Thanks, gloom. 
    It is funny to say and not very Altmer, but it sort of is at the same time.