Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter XIII: Means to an End

  • 30th of Morning Star


    Skjor stirred from his slumber when he felt the sudden draft from her movements. He groaned in protest and reached with his hand, dragging the she-wolf back to his side.


    “Not morning yet.” He grumbled through his yawn.


    “It’s later than you think.” Aela replied, though Skjor smiled when she settled back to rest her head against his shoulder. Yeah, you’re not getting up yet either. Words, words, words. “Besides, I can hear Tilma shuffling about with her broom.”


    That did mean morning, Skjor thought sleepily. “Fuck.” He said, finishing his thought aloud.


    “We did that already.” She smirked, turning to bite his shoulder.


    He chuckled and pinched her arse which made her slap his chest. And it wasn’t a play slap. When wolves play, they play with tooth and claw. Both sported the occasional bite marks and scratches from their “play”.  He yawned again and scratched where she struck. “Yeah.” He sighed.


    “You alright?” She asked immediately, peering at him through the darkness of his quarters, and yeah, she was rubbing his belly too. Just like wolves. He almost gave in to the feeling of her fingers gliding over his stomach, the way her nails just barely scratched and at the same time soothed his flesh, how they felt against the hairs.  But now was as good a time as any to talk and he let his eye lazily drift towards her form. He saw the outline of her features in the shadows. Her auburn hair, spilling over a sun-kissed shoulder dotted sparsely with freckles, was still messy from sleep and sex. While the ladies of Cyrodiil demurely protected their skin from the elements, Aela was a true Nord, choosing instead to face those elements head on with a defiance that often made him grin and Jorrvaskr’s poor Tilma groan, begging her to don a hood. That’s not to say she wasn’t feminine. She was, her lips stained with snowberries, her hair smelling of lavender. But her femininity was more Kyne, a lot less Mara or Dibella. Well, he smirked to himself; she had a fair amount of Dibella too, but a lot of Kyne. Well, no, she was all Hircine.


    He reached to rub Aela’s cheek with his thumb, smearing a familiar green stripe further.  Her war paint was all smudged. You are never careful when you kiss that beautiful, wild face. “You’ll need to fix that.”


    “Let them see.” She bristled and he heard her heart quicken.


    “You say that and then when the old man does see?” Skjor muttered.


    “Is that a problem?” She argued back.


    “No, Aela!” Skjor barked a whisper, rising to sit up on the bed. “I’ve told you it isn’t. Not for me.” He pointed past his closed door. “But the world outside that door is a different place.” She shrank back against the pillows of his bed, drawing the furs over her skin. “Sorry.” He mumbled. “It’s not…”


    “I know what it’s not.”


    Dammit, Skjor let out a gust of air. He hated when she had that voice, hated it because he almost never heard it from her. She was always so strong, so full of spirit. The voice lowering in such a way that he knew she was upset. That she was trying to not cry. “No, nothing is wrong with me. And nothing is wrong with you.” He explained, patting the outside of her toned thigh as if she was a dog.  “Just been thinking a lot lately.”  


    He felt her rise too, ending up behind him, her arms wrapping around his chest and her cheek resting on the back of his shoulder. They were like this for a few moments, just breathing in the darkness.


    “Thinking and you don’t mix well.” She finally joked, smiling against his shoulder before giving him a little nip that made him release a tiny shudder of pleasure. That woman could get under his skin in the best way. Dibella had nothing on his she-wolf.


    “Don’t I know it.” Skjor started. “I’d much rather be doing. I don’t want to hide anymore either, Aela.” He said softly, resting his arms on his thighs. “But I keep thinking about what Kodlak wants. What he told us on Sun’s Dusk.” Skjor shrugged and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It’s like he stopped everything since he no longer listens to the call. Stagnant. Jobs are slow to come by, roof is leaking, doors need oiling.  Like he only cares about one thing and the world around him can go to Oblivion until he gets it. That’s not the Kodlak I once knew. The one that used to hunt with us. We were such a pack, Aela.”


    “I know.” He felt her sigh against his back and her hands tightened around his chest.


    “And I understand what he wants, I do,” Skjor continued.  “But he also has to understand that not everybody wants what he wants. And the roof needs fixin’ and we need to work. These dragons, we need to be out there fighting them.”


    “You think he’ll try to cure us, don’t you?” Aela blurted out. So it’s in the back of your mind too, Skjor thought.


    “When the old Man gets it in his mind to do some—“


    Aela lifted her head and Skjor turned to face her frown. “But he can’t. We’re not him or the twins. We want different things.  He has to respect our wishes on the matter. We’re a Circle.”


    “A divided Circle.” Skjor mumbled, shaking his head, wishing he could just enjoy her body again, her closeness, rather than talk about this shit. But the reality was that they have been avoiding this conversation for weeks, the Mer’s presence only compounding the issues already plaguing Jorrvaskr. A devout priest among their ranks would only fuel Kodlak’s desire for Sovngarde. “And it’s three against two now. What if the old Man finds a cure? Have you thought about that?”


    “Every day.” She said sadly, resting her head on his shoulder again.


    “I don’t want to leave Jorrvaskr, Aela.” He groaned, squeezing her forearm in support. “It’s meant so much to me. Become my family, my way after the shit of the Great War.” He shifted position in the bed, cupping her face with a hand. “But I won’t give up this gift either and neither should you.” He smiled when she screwed up her face in thought. “Thinking doesn’t suit you either. Leave it to that Old Mary we got for a brother now.”


    “Shut up.” She gave him a shove before raising her legs and locking her arms around them. Her thinking stance. Stubborn, she wanted a solution to this problem and he watched her in the darkness. He could just make out the faint healed scratch marks on her knees. Tree-climber, rock-climber; she didn’t care what her body looked like, only that it was free to do what she wanted with it. “He doesn’t listen to us much anymore. Vilkas goes with him and Farkas...”


    Skjor shook his head. “I keep playing that dragon fight in my head whenever I see him past couple of days.” He made a stupid face and made his voice gravely in a poor imitation of the twin, enjoying her silent laughter. “Duck, what duck. Duck, what duck. Doesn’t he know what ‘duck’ fucking means? Ice brain.”  Skjor rolled his eyes. He knew the other one still sort of moved stiffly though the sight from it was long gone. “Hircine help us if he ever becomes Harbinger.”


    “Old man wants you to take over, though.”


    He looked her right in the eye. “Still? You think? After all our back and forth on the matter of the Gift?” Skjor scratched his stubble. “If he finds his cure, I’m not so sure.”


    Aela was silent for a moment and Skjor could tell she was processing his words. She then raised her head from her knees and regarded Skjor carefully. “Äelberon?” She said, finally understanding him.


    “Yeah, I think so.” Skjor nodded sullenly, letting his shoulders stoop.


    “But he’d never.  Sure, it was a bit awkward in the beginning with him, with him correcting us, but he’s not like that. He is your friend.” She shook her head quickly. “He wouldn’t want it.”


    “I know he’d never. He’s a good man—mer, whatever, Old fucking Mary. But after the dragon, it was nonstop from Kodlak. ‘White Knight’ this, ‘White Knight’ that. As if we did nothing.”


    “He did save the old man.”


    “I know and I hate Witch magicks like any good Nord should, but aye, he saved the old man. To be honest, I don’t even think the Mer enjoyed the attention. He didn’t think he helped much with the dragon at all, wanted to go prove himself. That dragon fucked with his head that day, Aela. We all heard it speak.”


    “Aye, was wondering what was eating him that night.” Aela observed. “He’s a reclusive one. No wonder he disappeared.”


    Skjor shook his head, letting a smile find his features. “Nope. He was there the whole time.”


    “Where? Thought he was long gone when I left to wait for you. And wait I did.” She huffed. “You were gone forev—“Her jaw dropped in understanding. “You saw him.”


    “Saw him?” Skjor’s smile broadened. Time for some fun. “Sure, what of it?” he answered nonchalantly, giving her a sidelong glance.


    Skjor grunted when she lunged at him. “So you have a thing for old Mary’s now, eh?” she laughed as she punched him in the ribs with her fists. “Swinging that way now, huh? I bet it’s the hair!”


    “Nah, the teeth! They are so perfect!” He replied, making his voice go as high as Lilith Maiden-Loom’s when she spies a lad she fancies.  “He’s so handsome! He’s so strong and tall! I dream every night that he sweeps me off my feet and carries me to his Tower of Joy forever and ever! My Knight in shining armor! Oh my!” He batted his eyelashes for good measure.


    “You arse!” She growled. “How dare you!”


    “Oh come on! Stop sulking like a dog that doesn’t get enough bone.” He stuck his tongue out, knowing full well she was getting plenty. “You know I only swing in one direction.” He snapped back, grabbing for her again. She was still laughing when after some wrestling, he managed to pin her under him against the furs on his bed, every once in a while biting at him. He stopped her struggling and snarling with a deep kiss and enjoyed hearing the growls against his lips turn into whimpers for more. Thing for old Mary’s, my arse, I only have a thing for one thing. He broke his kiss and relaxed on top of her, running his fingers through her hair. It was then that the old Mer’s voice kept playing in his mind while he just looked at her for a few moments. That conversation had affected him. The sadness of it.


    “No, do not deny that you love her.”


    “I won’t.” He whispered, feeling a little old and yet alive.


    Aela stopped her laughing and met his serious gaze. “Skjor, what?” she asked. “You won’t what?”


    “I love you, Aela.” He confessed quietly, allowing the tenderness to penetrate past his warrior’s façade.  Aye, she was all scuffed up and as wild as the tundra, but yeah, he loved her. Fuck you, old Mer. You’ll love that I finally told her, but you’re right. Counting on you, though, to be there when the old man blows up.  


    Her brow furrowed, but her features gradually softened. “I’m going to ask you again, Veteran, what’s wrong with you?”


    “Nothing.” He murmured, still studying her face.


    “Then why suddenly this confession? We’ve never talked like this before.”


    “What, you don’t want to hear it?” He joked, feeling his laugh lines crease. “Okay, I take it—“


    “Shh.” She covered his mouth with her hand, which made him stick out his tongue and coat her palm with spit. Good and wet, just for her. Aela made one Oblivion of a sour face at feeling his spit and smeared her hand on his cheek. “That’s disgusting and no taking it back.”


    “Oh, so that’s how it works then?”


    “Aye.” She smiled slyly. “Still wondering why though. I’ve never been much to look at.”


    “And I’m bald on top with a stringy little grey tail and only got one eye. Nobody’s perfect.” He relaxed. “So, don’t go wagging your tail at another man, got it?”


    “Got it. My tail is yours.” Aela replied, reaching to slap his backside. He winced. “And yours is mine, fat arse.”


    Marriage, the old Nord way, Skjor grinned to himself.  No ceremony, no bullshit. Fuck you, Mara.  Telling the old man would be difficult, but eh, they would come clean. He would just have to deal with it. Better help, old Mary. “Good.”


    “Still haven’t answered my question, Veteran.” She pressed, wiping the spit off his face. And that was her in a nutshell. Their Shield-Siblings only saw her roughness, her fiery temper, but he got to see a different side of her. The strongest of Jorrvaskr, who underneath all the armor, could still be a woman. The woman that made him want no other. The woman that gave him a peace that he never thought he’d know. The woman who was going to see him through the Circle’s current crisis.  


    He sagged a bit against her, thinking again on the Mer’s terrible words. Tell her? Tell her why we are lucky? He looked deep into her eyes and made up his mind. Aye, they need to know how lucky they are. But maybe, Skjor thought, an idea coming to him. Just maybe… “Somebody told me a sad story.” He answered.



    Skjor watched her don her clothes and then her armor, the troubled crease in her brow not leaving since he told her of his talk with Äelberon. Skjor was already dressed, sitting at his desk, discreetly hiding the Totems of Hircine under another book while her head was down. Can’t have you seeing this book yet, She-wolf. It’s a surprise. You and me, Bloodlet Throne, as soon as we get to solve this mess with the old Man. We will become Moonborn to be reckoned with and we’ll earn some much-needed coin for this Mead Hall.


    “So he… he really can’t?” She finally said, looking up just as he reclined against his seat. That had been close, he thought, letting out a gust of air. Thankfully, she mistook it for a sigh of acknowledgement. “I can’t believe—“


    “The Thalmor? Hmph, they are animals, Aela. For all their airs and refinement, they are a bunch of fucking animals. Even Hircine, for all his savagery, has some semblance of justice for his Children. You didn’t fight the War, you don’t know.” Skjor explained and still, after all the years, he felt anger redden his cheeks at the mere mention of it, the flood of memories it always triggered. “And I’m one of the lucky ones.” He pointed to his destroyed eye. “Only have a few scars on my back and the eye to show for my time with them and I was able to give that gift right back to the fucker who did that to me.  What they did to him, much worse. They are his own people.” He nodded and his eye found Aela’s. “But I really think we can help him.”


    “How do you help with that?” Aela asked. “I don’t think a healer could and he’d be angry, I think, if we tried to steer him that way. But gods, it made what he did that night after the dragon make so much more sense. Saadia was all over him. She wanted him.” She fastened her gauntlet and sat at the edge of his bed—nah, their bed now, they just needed to tell the old Man. Later, there was time for it later. They’d focus on the Circle first and then Kodlak’s cure.  Her hands were on both knees while she thought. “She’s so pretty too and he was looking.” Aela looked up. “He was looking. Do you think he wanted?”


    “Yeah, I don’t think with Saadia, though, but maybe a good Nord woman. Someone a bit battle-scarred and understands a good fight. Problem is that he’s a bloody mage too. That’ll be hard. Mages are impossible to live with.” He chuckled. “We know that already living with the bastard.”


    “He deserves—“


    “Exactly, Aela, he deserves to be happy, to live a little bit for himself for bloody once.” Skjor echoed, his voice growing resolute. “For all the shit he’s gone through? Two hundred years of garbage? His exile, his maiming, and now being Dragonborn? I’d go crazy if I couldn’t fuck with that shit storm all around me.” He shook his head and grumbled his last words. “No wonder he’s a little nuts. Besides.” He continued, meeting Aela’s gaze again. “We have our own problems. By helping him, we also help ourselves.”


    Aela froze, comprehension written all over her face. “You intend to then.”


    “Aye, we offer it to him, in secret.” Skjor whispered, eyeing the door. Their voices were understandably hushed, no direct references made. Thank Hircine, he could still hear the old twins snoring away in the opposite wing.


    “Skjor, this is crazy talk. He’s a priest of Auri-El. He’d never.” A frown spread over her features. “What if we offer and then he goes straight to the old Man?”


    To be honest, he was nervous as Oblivion about that too. It was a huge risk, but he wasn’t going to show his nerves in front of her. “What’s the worst that can happen that isn’t already happening, Aela?” Skjor threw up his arms. “Old man can kick me out, but damned if we’re not going into this with the potential for even numbers.”


    “You’re using him.” Aela said softly, fiddling insecurely with the lacing of her gauntlet. She had that moody, quiet tone of hers again and it made Skjor second-guess his idea for a moment. He then shook his head, clearing his mind of such nonsense.  


    “And the old Man isn’t? C’mon, woman, don’t be blind to it. At least, this way, we help him too.” Skjor leaned closer from his chair. “Besides, ever see one of our kind that couldn’t? The twins and every maid from Windhelm to Solitude! Even the old Man and Hulda every Sundas when he thinks we’re not looking. His is a gift of virility, of strength.  Let the Huntsman give back to him what his own god sought not to return, so he can at least have some measure of happiness. And with that, let us also bring balance to the Circle. Or maybe better…” He let his voice trail off, relying on her intelligence to piece his plan together.


    “Farkas.” Aela finished his thought.


    “You heard how that icebrain spoke of the Mer after his trial. If anybody can bring Farkas out of Vilkas’ shadow, it’s Äelberon. That’s now four to two, Aela. Four to two, if the old Mer takes what is offered.” He saw the look of worry on her face and then brought up his hand in reassurance. “No, don’t misunderstand me.  I want the old Man to have his cure. Villkas too, and even Icebrain if he that’s what he really wants, but I want us protected. Äelberon isn’t a rash sort, he’ll listen and I think, Aela, he wants. I saw how he looked at the crowd when I spoke to him, saw his face. The sadness and… the little bit of envy deep inside. He has feelings, needs. Needs that he has no reason to put away now.”


    “You think he will take it? Go against everything he is?”


    “He’s only a mer, Aela. And he’s hurting and that god of his has not listened to his centuries of prayer. You don’t think he’s prayed for his god to help him? Hmph, no man or mer would ever want to live like that when  their body still has such life left. But his god hasn’t answered. Instead, he’s left him to suffer. That’s no god to worship in my eyes. At least the Huntsman helps those who help themselves, who show bravery and cunning in the grand hunt that is our lives. Has Äelberon not demonstrated these qualities in spades?”


    “He has.” Aela agreed.


    “And yet that Auri-El has abandoned him. Gods, even Nords get fucking Sovngarde. What does this Knight get when he dies? After all his grand deeds? A fucking void of light? Piece of shit if you ask me. How much time you think he’s got with these dragons? Days, months? A few years, maybe, before one of those fuckers kills him?  And what does he have to show for it?  An image in his mind?  Aela, it’s unhealthy. To have never known a woman. Fuck! I don’t care if he likes men. To have never known that which makes us mortal, beings of flesh and feeling.”


    “I know.”


    The look on her face said it all. The old Mary had grown on them, had proven himself loyal. He remembered, he remembered how they didn’t even want him to join their ranks and now it was they who were going to help him, not the old Man, not Vilkas, not Icebrain. That’s how much you mean to us, old Mary.


    “And we’re his family and I won’t stand for it. You won’t either. Not when we have something that can help him. He deserves to love something real, Aela. He deserves to live, ‘cause what he’s doing now isn’t living.”  



    Skjor was sitting on the stone steps leading to the training circle, sipping his mead, watching the stars in the aurora-cast sky through his drunken haze.  Lids heavy, jaw sagging and belly full. Funny how stars fade and come alive in the night’s backdrop, taking turns as the months passed. Sun’s Dawn was the Lover and he watched the black, scanning for her shape. Was supposed to look like a sexy woman with big tits, but he just saw a clusterfuck of lights. The original stargazers must have been on some crazy shit to see a sexy lady in that. Hmm, his eyes narrowed, wasn’t showing yet, maybe it was the old snake’s turn to butt in this month. Fucker, much rather see a lovely lady in the sky than a bloody serpent.


    A breeze blew through the covered courtyard and any other Nord would be feeling the cold, but it only refreshed Skjor’s mead-warmed body. Tonight would be a great night to hunt the tundra, he thought to himself, and he wondered if Aela would want to. She had been quiet most of the day, still processing their conversation from the morning. Not the love part; that she understood immediately and Skjor couldn’t help the inward smile at that. The rest of it needed some more time. She still felt such ties to the old Man and dammit, he did too, but he knew deep in his soul that she couldn’t handle leaving. Old Man had to see their terms. Bringing the Mer in would be the way to keep things balanced. Then they could see to Kodlak’s cure and when he assumed the mantle of Harbinger, things would be different. He’d allow choice. Like the way it was before Kodlak.


    Äelberon had returned and the Mead Hall was entertained with his stories late into the night while they ate their evening meal, ignoring the stink of sulfur that he brought with him. Dragons had died, their reek clinging stubbornly to that silver armor of his. They were happy their Shield-Brother was finally home. Skjor was glad too, the fucker was not only a brother, but a friend. Three dragons in what, about three days? With naught but his bow and that crazy Dunmeri staff. You really wanted to send a message, friend, and you did. You are one tough old shit.


    It was impressive, but he knew his brother well, his talk with him that fateful night after their battle with the dragon of Whiterun giving him an insight into the Mer that he didn’t even think Kodlak possessed. Details were omitted. Not outright lying, but Skjor could tell the Mer sometimes had trouble recounting his stories, a bit of hesitation here, a quick look to the hearth fire, there; as if trying to find the right words when normally they flowed naturally from his lips. You are even guilty when you don’t lie.  You can’t live like that, old Mer.


    He had taken another swallow of mead, when his keen ears picked up the sound of the door to the back of the Mead Hall opening slowly, quietly, barely a creak for all the oiling it needed. Aela? No, the footsteps were quiet like hers, but too heavy. The twins were asleep as was the Old Man, and they were not nearly so silent. Hmm, him? Not at your quarters reading already, old Mer?  


    “Äelberon?” He asked, not even turning around, continuing to drink his mead. The tall Altmer took a seat on the steps next to him, favoring a bottle of milk, now stripped of his foul armor, though the stink still lingered.   


    “Aye,” The Altmer whispered. 


    Hircine’s Balls, the weight of two centuries was in that whisper. The bit of frailty in the voice that Skjor had heard when the Mer came from the Western Watchtower.  Something is on his mind and he came to you, not the old man. So Altmer do small talk first, eh?  Alright, I’ll try it your way, brother… Skjor wrinkled his nose. “You stink like a skeever’s backside.”


    “I know.” He replied, making a sour face as he scratched at his neck. “I feel absolutely vile. I was going to draw water for a bath, but Tilma beat me to it, grabbed Brill to do the job.”


    “You did kill, what?  Three dragons? I think Brill can draw your bath water for once, old Mer.”


    “Still, does not sit right with me.”  The Mer grumbled. “I want the bath, I should be doing the drawing.”


    “Nothing sits right with you. If you had your way, you would not let that old woman lift a finger.”


    “She should not be.”


    “I know and I’m of the same mind with that old nanny goat, but you go and tell a Nord that, old Mer, and watch her chase you down with her kitchen knives and spank you like you were five again.  A Nord works until they die. It is our way.” Skjor explained.


    “I know.” The Altmer repeated, still sullen, but Skjor could see the Mer bite his lip to suppress a laugh, knowing he was seeing Tilma running around with her kitchen knives in his mind. I’m getting to you.


    “And it’s your way too.” Skjor continued, “Dusken Elves seem to be a bit different sort of Elf.” He rubbed a kink out of his left shoulder and yawned.  ” Well, at any rate, you’ll be good and sparkly when Eorlund kills you.  We are barely recovering from his wrath when the Whiterun dragon attacked.”


    That did it and the Altmer’s face relaxed into a grin, his teeth white against the moonlight, his eyes twinkling. “I know.” He nodded, his shoulders shaking slightly from chuckling.


    Skjor offered Äelberon his hand and the Altmer clasped his forearm vigorously. “Well, it was nice knowing you.”


    “Nice knowing you too.”


    The two warriors laughed and continued to sip their drinks side by side as they rested in the courtyard.


    “Fine night.” The Mer observed casually, stretching his legs and Skjor noticed the bare feet. Damn, you do like the cold. You weren’t kidding about the Snow Elf shit.   


    “Yeah, was star-gazing before you showed up.” Skjor squinted at the sky. “Think we’re going to have the Serpent this month.”


    The Mer’s eyes found the heavens and Skjor saw a tiny frown punctuate his angular features. “No, Lover will come out.” He said in his soft-spoken way that he reverted to when he had something else on his mind.


    “You think?” Skjor asked. “Can’t see her for shit.”


    The frown was replaced by one of those grins that Skjor knew was there because the Mer was cooking something in his brain that he thought would be funny. Nobody else would think it’s funny, but he would. “She is late.” The Mer finally smirked.


    “Well, when you’re the Lover, it’s bound to happen at some point.” Skjor added thoughtfully, sipping his mead . It was a little funny. Altmer was trying. His people didn’t seem like the kind for jokes.  


    “Now we just need to ask her whether it was the Lord or the Warrior that made her late.” The Mer insisted, continuing his play on words.


    Skjor gave the Mer a look. “My guess?”


    “Thief.” They said in unison, laughing again while they clinked their bottles together in a toast. Alright, old Mer, not a bad one this time. Maybe Duskens were different. They faced the sky again.


    “Guess what else?” Skjor continued, breaking the silence.


    “What?” The Mer gave him a curious look.


    Skjor faced the sky again, letting himself smile. And he knew what kind of smile it was. The stupid, ‘I got me a woman’ smile. “I told her.”


    He felt the shove of a bear’s paw on his shoulder, but the smile on the Old Mary’s face was sincere. “About damn time.” The Mer rumbled. “And she fell for it?”


    “Fuck you.” Skjor grinned, smacking the Elf’s back. “’Course she fell for it, I got some qualities. I may not have that fancy white hair of yours or those perfect teeth that all the women go wild over, but I have… “ His grin broadened and he winked his bad eye. “A certain charm.”


    “Had to mention them again?” Äelberon sighed.


    “They’re not going to go away…”


    “No, they are not.”


    Skjor patted the Elf’s shoulder. “Oh, C’mon, don’t you want to?  It’s not like you’ve not thought about it.”


    “We have discussed this already.” Now the Mer had his ‘tone’ and Skjor chuckled silently. “Rehashing this is not why I am here.”


    “Oh, so you didn’t want to see me because I am irresistible?”


    “P’shaw! Now you do sound like Decimus. No wonder you two are friends.” He started to stand. “You are a bit drunk for my words, I will try you tom—“


    Skjor grabbed Äelberon’s forearm. “No, I’m not so drunk. Sit.” He was surprised when the Elf actually listened, lowering himself upon the steps again. “Just hear me out first, before you start opening your mouth or stomping off like a grumpy bear.”


    “Skjor—“The Elf began a protest.


    “No,no, no, hear me, for once. Not letting you weasel your way out of this. Be honest.”


    “I do not lie.”


    Ah shit, Skjor scratched his head. You’re making him mad.  “I know you don’t, friend.  If you could again, would you?”


    “Could what?”


    Skjor shifted his head side to side. “You know…”


    “One does not miss—“


    Skjor didn’t let him finish. “No, none of that shit, old Mer. I get that you were really young and that your people are the dumbest bunch of fucks with regard to sex. But you’re not young now. The Thalmor aren’t breathing down your neck. You are still strong. If you could again, would you?”


    “Please,” He shook his head. “No more of this, Skjor. That part of my life is over.”


    “See, I don’t agree.” Skjor interjected. “I think there is a way.”


    “I do not follow.”


    “I’m not young. I’m a middle-aged man, past my prime, and yet I can.” He pointed out.


    “You were not…” The Mer did not finish, looking away.


    “Not tortured? No, I wasn’t, thank Hircine. Kodlak can. You didn’t notice Kodlak and Hulda at the Bannered Mare? Ha! Those two have been banging for a good while now. Every Sundas—“


    “What are you driving at?” Äelberon interrupted, still defensive.


    “His is a gift in more ways than one.” Skjor dropped the ingot.


    And it fell heavily.


    For a moment Skjor thought the Mer was going to get up and walk out. He could feel the Mer’s body heat rise and the heartbeat quicken, revealing either anxiety or building anger.  The eyes snapped with a certain fire, but he wasn’t sure if it was just how his eyes played out in the light of the braziers or if it was something else.  It was impossible to place the look on his face, however. A mixture of pain, understanding, possible revulsion, though that was being masked very well, and… surprise. He was surprised. That was the look. Or shock. He spoke no words for several moments as if trying to figure out how to respond.  


    “Why are you here, old Mer?” Skjor asked, setting down his bottle and facing the Elf. “It’s not for my good looks. You don’t swing that way. The way you looked at Saadia’s tits told me that already.”


    Äelberon looked away from Skjor, but the eyes were having a hard time finding a place to focus on. Hircine’s balls, that heart was racing now. “I have served him for so long.” He started.


    “And, brother, what has it gotten you?”


    “I… I have upheld the Tenets of my Order. Every day, for hundreds of years…”


    There was so much emotion behind the Mer’s words, Skjor didn’t know what to say at first. Then he shook his head before placing his hand on the Mer’s shoulder. “Äelberon, you can’t live like this. Aela and I talked it over. We want to help you.”


    “You want to help me?” He blinked several times. It was like the Mer was numb or shocked and Skjor didn’t know what to think on that.


    “Aye.” Skjor leaned in closer. “It is a gift, Äelberon. It will make you, well…” He let out a gust of air. “Something the dragons will indeed fear.”


    The strangest bitter chuckle escaped the Mer’s lips and then he eyed

    Skjor. “You really want to help me?” The Mer repeated.


    “I want you to live, old Mer.” Skjor emphasized. “And what you’re doing now isn’t. Aela and I only want you happy, like how you want us happy.  We stand by you, like I know you will stand by us when we finally muster the balls to tell the old Man that we are together.” He chuckled. “You know, be our Elven meat shield when the old Man starts throwing bloody tankards at us.”


    The Mer nodded slowly. “I know.”


    “Then we understand each other.” Skjor replied, extending his hand to Äelberon. The Mer’s heart was beating harder and faster than a rabbit running from a fox, but the face did not betray much of anything. Moved maybe? Skjor couldn’t really tell. The eyes were far, far away and Skjor sat waiting for what seemed like an eternity, seeing their breaths steam in the night. Well, he is giving up his god, Skjor thought, rationalizing the delay. C’mon, old Mer, Auri-El’s done nothing for you. Left you empty and dead. After all the work you have done for him in his name. Clasp my arm, and you will be as a prince in the Hunting Grounds.


    “What is it like?” The Mer suddenly asked, facing Skjor.


    Skjor withdrew his hand and picked up his mead, downing the rest of the bottle, using the time to choose his next words carefully.  Make this good, Veteran, because you need him with you. “How do you kill a vampire?”


    “With silver, magicks.” The Mer replied. “Both have always served me well.”


    Fuck, maybe that was a bad question to ask because those Elven nostrils were now flaring.  “I don’t doubt they do, brother, especially with your great skill behind them.   But now picture yourself killing one with a mere swipe of your claws, tearing apart that undead flesh like it was paper. Picture their faces when their magicks, their bites fail to affect you. Then their terror as you cut them down. Picture a life free of disease and full of strength, where you can live like a man, not like a withering sack of bones with no drive. That…” Skjor set his jaw, feeling his own pride swell and his voice darken.  “Is what it is like.” He extended his hand again, brusquely this time, and it would be the last time, Skjor swore silently to himself. I do not give this gift to just anybody, Old Mary. “So I ask again, and will only ask once more. Do we understand each other?”  


    For a moment, the nostrils flared again and there was a flicker of something equally dark behind the Mer’s eyes, but that bear paw of a hand clasped Skjor’s forearm with a force that surprised the Nord. They shook firmly and Skjor noticed the Mer’s heart beat slow somewhat. After they broke their clasp, the Mer resumed his milk, his eyes upon the stars. “When?” Skjor asked.


    “The first of the new month.” Replied the Altmer as if they were doing a shop transaction or scheduling a teeth pulling. Bloody old Marys, Skjor rolled his eyes.


    “I like it, just in time for the Lover, eh?” Skjor grinned, nodding in approval. “You’ll make good use of her blessings, old Mer, you’ll see.”  First of the month, good.  Gives me and Aela some  time to plan you a proper welcome into the Circle. New armor… and three at Gallow’s Rock would be better than two. Eorlund is going to kill me. He hates rush jobs, but you’ll charm the old bastard.  “Alright, meet me in the Underforge after the Old Man retires that day. We can’t exactly go public with this, seeing as he is seeking a cure, and the twins are supporting him.”


    “Underforge?” Those dragon eyes found Skjor.


    “Oh yeah, I forgot you’ve never seen it. It’s a chamber beneath Skyforge.  Meet me at the steps leading to Skyforge and I’ll just take you there.  Easier that way.”


    “Thank you, Skjor.” Äelberon stood, giving the Nord’s shoulder a squeeze before he made his way to the door. How slow the heart was now, whereas before it was fast and then it dawned on Skjor. He was relieved. Was this what the Mer had wanted all along? Was this why he came to see you?


    He would speak to the Mer more tomorrow and learn more. Hmm, but how?  Maybe take him on that small job?  Apparently some dumbarse managed to escape Whiterun’s dungeon? Aye, he’d take him.  It would be fun; maybe learn a bit more on what happened while the Mer was away, though Skjor could guess. The dragons were probably too much for him. “You know…” Skjor started and he heard the Mer pause at the door. “You’ll learn that it is not a curse, but a gift, Dragonborn, blessed of Shor and now blessed of Hircine. The strength you’ll have. The life you’ll feel in your body again, where before there was none. I bet you’ll be able to kill a dragon very easily and they will fear you, Äelberon of Dusk, that, I promise you. Auri-El himself will fear you.  A prince among the Huntsman’s numbers.”   


    “Jorrvaskr is my family now. It is a means to an end.” The Mer replied softly, before entering the Mead Hall.


    “For you and me both, old Mer.” Skjor whispered when the Mer disappeared, a smile spreading across his weathered face. Old Mary and Nord; seeing eye to eye for once, both understanding the importance of Jorrvaskr and what it meant. It was exactly what Skjor needed at this moment and he was excited to tell Aela.  They would now be three to three and things would not be so one-sided in favor of the Old Man and his desires anymore.  Farkas would then join them, he was sure of it.  Skjor understood. He understood that Kodlak wanted Sovngarde, but the Harbinger was wrong to impose his will over everyone else. He was the Harbinger, not the leader, and not everyone agreed.  Äelberon would give their ongoing crisis some much- needed balance and all would be better for it.  The old man would understand eventually. Skjor wasn’t trying to usurp Kodlak’s authority.  Old Man was still plenty hale, had many years left in him, but Aela deserved to stay, her ties stronger to the old Mead Hall than anyone else’s there, even Kodlak’s.  He was doing this for her, for him too, and ultimately, for Kodlak.  Tomorrow morning, he would pay a visit to Eorlund, butter up the long-suffering smith with a case of black briar mead and a heavy coin purse to take a rush job. The sacrifice to his mead-loving stomach would be well worth it.  A Shield-Brother needed new armor. New armor to symbolize his new life away from the darkness his god had cast upon him. It was ironic to Skjor, Äelberon wore armor of bright silver before and yet his life was clouded by such a heavy sadness. Well, brother, with your new dark armor, may your life now lighten under the Lover’s starry gaze. A silver wolf would now enter the Circle.


    The Priest of Auri-El will become the Priest of Jorrvaskr.


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XIIChapter XIV


5 Comments   |   Rogue and 9 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  May 18, 2017
    “Dusken Elves seem to be a bit different sort of Elf.” Gotta love Duskens, especially your take on them. Ok, so this was a fantastic chapter with a sexy start, loved the intimacy between Skjor and Aella, very well written. The star-gazing scene was cool, ...  more
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  May 16, 2017
    Plenty of drama here under the straightforward banter and flow of the story. A pity Albee can't control his heartbeat well enough, it would help him lie more effectively.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      Plenty of drama here under the straightforward banter and flow of the story. A pity Albee can't control his heartbeat well enough, it would help him lie more effectively.
        ·  May 16, 2017
      Well, a werewolf will hear what a human will not. And he really hasn't lied. Skjor didn't let him do much talking. 
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  May 16, 2017
    It is a very thin line between wanting to help a friend and getting an advantage from helping him. Makes the final result and reasoning behind it questionable. Skjor is sort of using Albee and Albed is sort of using Skjor too, by not telling him the truth...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      It is a very thin line between wanting to help a friend and getting an advantage from helping him. Makes the final result and reasoning behind it questionable. Skjor is sort of using Albee and Albed is sort of using Skjor too, by not telling him the truth...  more
        ·  May 16, 2017
      I know. For me, one of the hardest things of the Companions is justifying what happens next. Albee now delves into the grey, when his world previously was so black and white.  If I had known of EFC, things may have turned out very different with rega...  more