Chasing Death: Chapter 4, Terms of Release

  • The dungeon guards, clad in Solitude’s red, bowed slightly in his presence and he acknowledged them with a curt nod as he glided gracefully down the stone steps leading deep into the bowels of Castle Dour, his arms folded backwards at the elbows. His favorite position for them and part of him enjoyed feeling the Nord stares upon his back as he passed them. It was, after all, not a normal way to cross one’s hands, but it was how he did it. It also helped him avoid touching the dungeon’s walls and other surfaces.


    The standards of cleanliness were simply not the same as they were at his Headquarters located just Northeast of the Castle’s main gates. The dankness and the smell was enough to make him barely suppress a wretch and his pale, golden orange eyes moistened in reaction, the only thing that betrayed his discomfort.


    He heard the noises in the black as he drew closer to the circular chamber lined with multiple levels of cells and balconies, only the dimness of torchlights to guide his path, as it was still some time before dawn. He did not need the lights, however, he knew his path well enough. They were kept in near darkness. People protesting their innocence with hoarse cries.  Obscenities being hurled at the guards like wads of dung. The jails were full, it seemed. Mostly curfew violators, but he wasn’t interested in them. He wasn’t even interested in the known Stormcloak supporter. That was who he normally paid his visits to, in his continued attempt to extract information. He could hear her taunts, much louder than the rest. Mostly directed at the powerfully built Redguard who served Solitude as their headsman and lead jailor.


    "Hey, jailor! What I don't understand is why you're siding with the Imperials."

    "Shut up, scum." The Redguard, shifting position as he stood, leaning against his headsman’s axe.

    "I mean, the Redguards fought off the Aldmeri and the Empire, and now Hammerfell is an independent state. That's all we Nords want for Skyrim!"


    He gave the Nord prisoner a touch of credit, it was a fine psychological argument and he observed how Ahtar’s jaw clenched slightly at her words. You do feel a touch of shame, don’t you?


    "I said shut up, scum!"


    It was a typical response. Anger and insults. ‘Scum’, not a particularly creative word choice.

    "So it's okay if your people rebel against the Empire, but not mine?" She retorted.


    He shifted his head slightly to the right under his hood and paused his walking to observe the Redguard. The response to this latest question would be interesting to retain for further exploit.

    "They aren't my ‘people’.” He felt his eyebrow raise at the Redguard’s growled words. Denial of your own race. Impressive.  “I'm with the Empire because they pay me. And that means I'm out here, and you're in there. So shut up, scum!"


    And that was why Bjartur was currently being kept alive, for now. Her zealotry had caused the Aldmeri Dominion to root out more Stormcloak sympathizers among Solitude’s guards than any direct Thalmor Inquisition ever could. Headsman Ahtar, for the moment, had answered correctly.  It was then that the Redguard took notice of him, straightened his back, and gave a slight bow.


    “Justiciar.” He acknowledged seriously.


    “Headsman Ahtar.”  


    “How may I help you today?”


    “The new prisoner.” He answered. “Take me to him.”


    “Yes, Justiciar.” Ahtar nodded and began walking towards a far cell. He followed Ahtar and let the Redguard continue speaking. The more one speaks, the more information they give. “He’s a funny one. Guards gave him a licking for what he did to Stentor, but he just took it.”


    “Oh?” He felt his eyebrow creep up again.


    “Yeah, strange. Didn’t fight back when we prepped him for his cell either. No cursing, no yelling.  Bread and water are not taken. Keeps to himself in the corner most of the time, though sometimes we can hear him mumbling or even singing softly. Real quiet.”




    “Yeah, some shit we can’t understand.” The Redguard mumbled, he then tilted his head to the side. “It’s kind of pretty though.” He conceded. “Beats hearing the garbage we normally hear. The shouts, curses, and whatnot.”


    Probably hymns and prayers for the city’s protection and cleansing are what you are hearing, you fool.  The old Altmeri rites, felt like ages since he had heard them last in Alinor. When sung by a skilled priest, they were quite lovely.


    “And what are Jarl Elisif’s plans for him?” He asked.


    “Don’t know yet, court debated about it yesterday.” Ahtar explained. “Took hours, into the night, from what Captain Aldis told me. Old Belrand and the Goldpact Knight were free to go, and the Jarl said she would make a decision about the prisoner in the morning. Well, it’s nearly sun up and we’ll hear from one of them soon. You  know how it is.” The Redguard let out an annoyed sigh. “Firebeard and the General.”


    He allowed himself a tiny smile. “Of course.”  Tell me something I do not already know, Redguard.


    Ahtar moved slightly ahead of him, towards a cell and struck at the bars with the tip of his axe, making a rattling noise that could drive a lesser prisoner to insanity.


    This was no lesser prisoner, however, and already his eyes were picking up small movements from within the shadowed cell.


    “Hey you, you got a visitor. Wake up!” The Redguard barked, continuing to swipe his axe along the bars. “Come on, song bird.” Ahtar continued taunting and the scrape of metal against metal was enough to nearly make him break his composure. “Show us your pretty face! Come on!” That was quite enough, and he extended his black gloved hand and gently rested it upon the Redguard’s bulging forearm. He barely touched the arm, but it was enough of a gesture to get the creature to stop his infernal racket. Men, and their dull ears! He let out a tiny gust of air at the relief.


    “He is not asleep.” The Justiciar pointed out. The bloody dead would not be asleep.  “He will come.” He gave a slow nod. “And you may go.” Ahtar grabbed his axe and made to turn. “I will let myself out.”


    “Justiciar.” The Redguard nodded back and completed his turn to find his post again.


    His eyes then focused on the cell before him, letting them adjust to the dim lighting. Hay loosely arranged to be a makeshift bed, but no piles of feces or puddles of urine that one would typically expect with a cell. No cries, no yells. No shivering or trembling.  A tray of mouldy bread and a tankard of water was placed at the foot of the cell, but it was untouched.


    Stand or sit? There were protocols for this, he knew. Normally, one stands. The inclination would be to stand, to be higher, superior. It was an intimidation tactic, but he felt himself reach for a stool instead and he sat upon it, his eyes again wandering into the void of the cell. This wasn’t about intimidation.


    They rested upon a pair of eyes that somehow still managed to capture the torchlight, red-orange with those flickers of gold. Not the eyes of his people. Eyes he knew from long ago, attached to a face that many in his circle could only describe as monstrously ugly, further worsened the swelling of bruises and the smudged war paint, the caked blood on his lips, nose, beard, and brow, as if something had been ripped from the hastily healed flesh. And the words he had uttered to Justiciar Ondolemar on that fateful night rang in his head.


    “Horror, Sir, horror happened.”


    Justiciar Coredalf set his jaw as the painful memories, the screams of terror, the  unholy shrieks and hisses from those infernal beasts, the stench of burning blood, the chandelier crashing down, the bodies, as all this flooded his mind like gushing water. Horror was happening again and he, he was here, again.


    The Mongrel.


    Was that what they called him? Yes it was.  And what did you call him, Coredalf?


    A Holy Mer.


    After thinking, at first, that he was only good for the docks. That insanely ridiculous cloak of purple and apple-green, coated with the dust of Alinor. And that terrible accent! Auri-El’s bow, he thought quietly, how funny life is sometimes! How people can cross paths.


    He was sitting at a corner of his cell, calmly meeting his stare as if studying his face, stripped of his armor and in a torn prisoner’s tunic. He was filthy from the cell, his hair tangled. His Falmeri-white knees sported small cuts and bruises from when the guards threw him down. Great arms rested upon those knees, the hands hanging limply. Long fingers, he had the long, strong fingers of an archer, the powerful forearms and the shoulders. Justiciar Coredalf remembered those white hands, white against black, as they healed another agent’s broken leg. Now he was unarmed, a prisoner again. After First Emissary Elenwen’s failure at Helgen, still alive.


    You say the word now and he goes to the Embassy and it is over. One hundred years of hunting for the Thalmor, over.


    Let Solitude fall into Potema’s blackness. Oh, his little Alfiq had served him well, observing the court’s meeting in secret. Much easier to do now that Court Wizard Stentor was not present, the irony of her great power to prevent their gathering of intelligence now as poignantly clear as the vampire’s dust that had covered the throne room floor. Potema, the Wolf Queen, a necromancer of great power, from what he remembered of his Direnni history. She wasn’t one, but her husband was, so she required study. She was back and bent on destroying Solitude.  And what did it matter to him or the agents under his supervision anyway? These were Nords. It would further serve the Aldmeri Dominion to see Skyrim’s capital in the throes of catastrophe. He would be rewarded for his quick action and his smart tactics in their continuing fight against--


    He let out a gust of air, letting a crack appear in his facade as he looked away from the cell for a moment. You tell that to your agents and soldiers who have lived with this shit for weeks and you watch their faces crumble, their morale fall further. It would’ve been easier to do too, had she not been wounded, a dagger out of nowhere finding her shoulder. His second in command and his… good friend.  It would’ve been easier to do had the deathbell and nightshade not reached his headquarters to, the weeds choking at the very stone, threatening to tear it down. It would’ve been easier to do had his Mer not spent weeks, side by side with Imperial soldiers and Solitude guards, keeping the peace while the city was slowly swallowed by rot.


    “Papers.” The old Mer finally spoke, in a near perfect imitation of Coredalf’s practiced accent from his “linen” days and the Justiciar’s eyes found the cell, found the eyes again, the eyes that now recognized him. Was that what I had said to him? Air escaped his mouth as he remembered their conversation at the southern gates of Alinor. Yes, it was.


    “If I recall, I had to ask you twice before you complied.” He replied. His demeanor was calm, the unreadable Altmer in the exterior, but inside he didn’t know what to think.  


    “Typical Dumb Dusken.” The Mer quipped and Coredalf allowed himself a small guffaw at the Mer’s self-deprecation.


    They then sat in silence for a moment or two as Altmer are prone to do, lost in their thoughts.


    “I still dream of that night. Do you?” He finally asked.


    “Yes, f’angua ge, I still dream of that dark night. Of my failures...”  Spoken with weight and the air was suddenly filled with the heaviness of their shared sorrow. So many died that night, yet so many more could have died. What if you had denied him entry? Would you even be here?


    F’angua ge, “my child” in their ancient tongue and Coredalf dwelled on the words, finding himself blinking hard, hating the single tear that now coursed down his firm, sculpted cheek, his mind being tortured with the images of what would happen to his Mer next and knowing that the person who could, who would stop it without question was right here. He had charged through those crystal doors as they were closing them to seal off the beasts, his battle cry ringing the Lecture Hall, the light of the heavens pouring from his hands. They had all watched him, eyes wide, jaws agape.


    The Embassy was free of this, no weeds smothered their grounds, no undead paraded at their doorstep. They didn’t understand.


    “Saldor?” Coredalf said softly, fucking protocol for one moment and calling the Mer by his properly-earned station. Gods forgive me for my betrayal when I join the light!  


    “You know that word?”


    “Aye, I know that word, Priest.” Coredalf cleared his throat, quelling his bitterness at being caught under such a dilemma. He would think of a plan. As of yet, they were not quite aware of the full extent of what was going on in Solitude and he had the backing of Lord Caemal to provide any assistance. This was, technically, assistance.


    “No dog? No Beast? No mongrel, but Saldor?” The old Mer’s eyes narrowed and his voice lowered. “Why?”


    “Because I know what you are and… I know what you are.”


    The Dusken understood the context of Coredalf’s ambiguous reply and he saw the Mer shift position slightly in his cell. “And what do you wish, f’angua ge.”


    “For the Mer under my command to be safe.” He answered simply, like he would answer any priest he would speak to when troubled. The old Mer blinked, as if caught by surprise, and Coredalf could see the hard ugliness that were his beastly, scarred features soften in the shadows. “What? Surprised?” He quickly added, feeling his own voice turn snide.


    “No, it is a correct thing for a Mer of your standing to ask for, f’angua ge. Respect to you for your compassion.” He responded with a nod, his voice gentle and yet, at the same time, so strong. “How may I be of service then, Justiciar?”


    To be honest, it was a strangely disturbing comfort to hear the correct words of protocol from a Priest of the Order again. He knew them from Alinor before the Order’s dissolution, their humility, devout service to all things Altmer, and long locks ingrained in his childhood memories. And he had to put away this deep nostalgia and remember who he ultimately was. Jarl Elisif would offer her own terms, but what was being done here was separate from the court’s activity. Hunter and Hunted. Thalmor Justiciar and wanted Exile of the Aldmeri Dominion. The Mer, that if the people knew still lived...Coredalf didn't want to think on that. The ramifications of that knowledge, but at the same time, he had to think of his own Mer, their safety. 


    “I need you to do what you need to do to keep my Mer safe, Dusken.” He hissed, pointing his finger at the cell. “Know that I am not…” He felt himself rise stiffly, still with his finger pointed in warning, and he forgot his worry to return to his normal facade of intimidation and power. “Offering terms. There are no ‘terms’. Not for you. Never for you.”


    “I see.” The Mer said resolutely, with a touch of melancholy, as he relaxed against the wall of his cell, his brow hooding his eyes.


    “You will listen and listen carefully. I could turn you in now and no one would say a word, do you understand?”


    “Yes.” Spoken with the same weight. Coredalf could then see those great eyes go farway for a spell, looking the way only the eyes of the great Elders could sometimes look as they fondly remember the old ways before the Tower fell. Well, he was now an Elder, wasn’t he?


    Do you still dream of your homeland, priest? Do you still see the orange blossoms in your mind? Smell their sweetness in the ocean breezes?


    I do.


    “But I and my Mer are stationed here and we have been through Oblivion these past few weeks.” He continued, his voice betraying none of his inner turmoil. “And, I fear, it will only get worse.  If Jarl Elisif elects to keep you here, you will be brought to the Embassy and put to death like the dog that you are. But, if Jarl Elisif decides to free you, you will be allowed, unimpeded, Saldor av Auri-El, to cleanse Solitude. And when you have cleansed the city…”


    “Cleansed?” The priest echoed.


    “Like I said.” Coredalf interrupted, adjusting the fit of his silken black and gold robes, knowing full-well that the Dusken could see them. That they were of fine silk now, not the ill-fitting linen they were back then. Showing in no uncertain terms that it was he who had the power now, that his life was in his hands. “I know what you are. You will do this, just as you did before on that night that we both still dream about.” He crossed his arms behind his back again and acknowledged Äelberon of Dusk, the abomination of his People, the cursed Dragonborn,  who was also the Slayer of Bet, one of Auri-El’s greatests knights, and… his most devout priest, with a cold nod. “And when you do, I will give you twenty-four hours to leave Solitude before I and my Mer will then hunt you, like the dog that you are.”


    Mer nodded gravely, understanding everything, and then he whispered in what Coredalf could only describe as the voice of an Aliata, a grandfather, old and wizened to the realities of the world. “Respect to you for your compassion, f’angua ge, and may Auri-El’s grace and blessings be upon you, from now until you join the light…”  


    It was his turn to be surprised by words, having expected something more bitter from the Exile’s mouth.  He suppressed it though, and without another word, Coredalf turned his back to the cell and walked away, swearing that he could hear faintly the rise and fall of a sung melody coming from that cell. A hymn of praise to Auri-El, to the hope brought by the rising dawn. Sweet, clear, and low.


    Do not let them sting, do not, and he swallowed hard as he walked away.


    It was said that his Sundas “Tam” service at the Queen’s private chapel in Cloudrest was among the most beautiful services in all of Alinor in its sincerity…  



    “Are you sure this is wise, my Jarl?” Elisif paused at the stone stairs, turning to face  Bolgeir, her Housecarl, who immediately averted his gaze and took a deep breath when he saw her face. The torch he was carrying highlighted his battle-hewn features and the steam from their breathing. The biting cold of the early spring morning nipped both their noses. I keep forgetting my cloak, she thought to herself, but you will endure the cold. “Forgive me, my Jarl. I’m only concerned for your well-being. This is no place for a lady.”


    “I have been here before, Housecarl.” she pronounced and the big, steel plate clad Nord’s mouth froze open, as if he was about to say something, but upon sensing her tone, he stopped. The last time she visited the Castle Dour dungeon was to confront the man who let Ulfric go after her husband’s murder. It was a painful visit that Bolgeir was by her side for and Elisif softened her features. “It’s alright, Bolgeir. You think I should’ve listened to Firebeard, don’t you?”


    The large Nord sighed. “Want an honest answer?”


    “Yes. Always, Bolgeir.”


    The Nord rubbed his thickening red beard with his free hand and she could tell that the trials of the past month were weighing heavily on him. “Aye, I cuffed him, my Jarl, but at the same time, all these years, she was who she was, standing next to you, and…” Bolgeir let his hand drop, looked at her and then towards the cells they were nearing and then back at her, uncertainty in his eyes. He raised his eyebrows. “And I failed you, my Jarl.  I failed to see what she truly was. So no, I think you need to go with what your gut is telling you. Firebeard wants him turned over to the Thalmor, but at the same time, the Witch Elf knew.” The Nord furrowed his brow and Elisif could see that he was still trying to make sense of recent events just like she was. “He bloody knew what Stentor was, only having been in the room for-” she felt and saw the air he blew out of his mouth, carrying with it the faint smell of mead. “-only seconds, and he knew. He knew.”  


    “I know.” She whispered, bending her head, sniffing to clear her nose. “And I think Solitude needs this, so we will press on, Housecarl.”


    “Aye, my Jarl.” Bolgeir nodded, again turning to pave Elisif’s way down the steps. She managed a small smile as her eyes found the broad expanse of steel that was the Nord’s back. He was always at her side, and she knew that he was not sleeping much these past nights. She could hear the sound of his armored boots outside her chambers, patrolling, making sure none of the evil touched her. Twice, General Tullius had tried to offer him a position in the Imperial Legion and twice Bolgeir had politely refused, saying that he knew his place. “The Jarl!” He boomed when they entered the large circular room with its multiple layers of cells and balconies, still shrouded in dim torchlight.


    Immediately, she heard behind the bulk that was Bolgeir the hustle and bustle of steps as guards were assuming positions. She smelled the smells of dirty hay, urine, feces, of dampness and the sweat of captive men.  She heard the thumpity thump of a great axe mixing with a big man’s steps as Ahtar walked to intercept Bolgeir. Her Housecarl stepped out of her path to allow Ahtar to finally see her. Slender and feminine in a room of male reality.


    “My Jarl.” Ahtar bowed.


    “Headsman.” Elisif acknowledged. “I wish to see the new prisoner.” She ordered in her best voice, though inside, she could feel her heart pound hard against her chest. She was nervous, finding herself fidgeting with the embroidered sleeve of her robes. Firebeard didn’t know of this visit and neither did the General, the result of their meeting last night would be that she would only make a decision about the prisoner, not see him herself. This visit was unplanned, but she needed to speak with him. She needed to understand.  She could hear the murmurs amongst the guards present, surprised that she herself was here, and she saw Ahtar furrow his brow, uncertain.


    “You heard the Jarl.” Bolgeir interjected when he observed the Headsman’s hesitancy.


    Ahtar snapped to attention. “Of course.” He nodded at Elisif. “My lady, I will take you to him. Follow me.”


    The Redguard Headsman led them towards a far cell in the dungeon and Elisif ran through in her mind the words she wanted to say. She would tell him first of his crimes and how she would  show him mercy. She had it all planned and would use him as an example to her people of her goodwill and justice. Show them her ability to command, to have authority.


    And then she reached the cell and felt her knees knocking under her dress robes. She took a deep breath. It was a darker cell than the others and she found it hard to see inside, only vaguely making out a form in the shadows in the corner. “Housecarl, please mount the torch.” It came out more breathless than she wanted it to.


    “Yes, my Jarl.” She watched Bolgeir place his torch upon an empty sconce.“You! Inside! The Jarl of Solitude has graced you with her presence. You will show the proper respect!”


    She saw the figure in the cell shift position and her eyes made out how he slowly rose and approached the bars of the cell, the clanking of heavy chains in his wake. “That’s close enough, Witch Elf!” Bolgeir barked and the figure immediately halted, making a stiff bow to acknowledge her. She drew in breath when she saw the figure. His size, his shape, his great bulk and his eyes. But it was the redness of the blood against his milky pale skin that really got her attention. He was bleeding. The bruises, the cuts were not what she had expected and were not present when he was led away. Did he cause trouble? She turned to Ahtar. “Did something happen?” She asked.


    She saw Ahtar shift position uncomfortably and rub the back of his neck. “He is a prisoner, my Jarl.” was all he offered.


    Elisif was silent, feeling her brows lower slightly. They had beaten him and she didn’t know what to think on that. Part of her wanted it herself, for what he had done to someone who had been part of her life since she was a little girl. For what he had done to the woman who had practically raised Torygg. And then she remembered the ash upon the floor of her throne room and she remembered what Stentor was. That, Elisif took a deep breath, that she had lied to Solitude and they never saw it coming. What evil was now approaching her city that they didn’t see, but that perhaps he could.


    “Leave me.” She commanded quietly, straightening her back, speaking in a voice that felt distant to her.


    “My Jarl?” Bolgeir questioned, his eyebrows raising.


    “Leave me.” She repeated, seeing out of the corner of her eye how her Housecarl and the Headsman exchanged puzzled glances.


    “He is dangerous, my Jarl.” Began Ahtar, “I don’t advise that you--”


    She whipped her head to face her Headsman, feeling her nostrils flare and the heat rise to her face. “I gave an order.”  


    Ahtar bowed in apology. “Of course, My Jarl.” And he turned to leave, giving Bolgeir a final look.


    “You too, Bolgeir.” Her words caught her faithful Housecarl off-guard and she watched him open his mouth to begin a protest, only to nod when he saw her face. She was not the  young widow of Torygg then, but a Jarl.


    “Yes, my Jarl.” He conceded, but before he left her, he moved an old wooden stool a little closer to the cell. “For your comfort, my Lady. And if he tries something....” He growled quietly before stepping away. “You call for me.” Elisif acknowledged him with a small nod, understanding his apprehension, and watched the two men disappear into the black before facing the cell again.


    She was now alone with the prisoner, who was still standing in the middle of his cell, his eyes never leaving her, frozen, waiting for her next words. By the Divines, how her heart hammered and how her knees knocked and she hoped that he would not see how she now trembled from the dungeon’s cold, Bolgeir’s warmth from his bulk now long gone. Her hand instinctively reached for the sleeve of her robe and she felt herself rub the threads of the embroidery, tracing the pattern, feeling herself relax at the repetitive pattern. She saw his strange, alien eyes travel downwards towards the movements of her fingers. He was covered in smudged paint, caked blood and he looked far older than the creature that had managed to plunge a sword into Sybille’s chest. Far older and sadder, it seemed, to Elisif.


    “Prisoner.” She said.


    He bowed again, though she could see that it took him a great deal of effort to do so, the chains restricting his movements. “My Jarl.” He had an Altmer’s accent, albeit far more soft-spoken and lower in pitch than she anticipated.


    “You will answer my questions.” She heard herself command, trying to suppress the wavering in her voice.


    “Yes, indeed I owe you that much and more for the crime I have done unto you.” He said quietly. “But first, would you grant me the clemency of an answer to a question that presses deeply upon my heart and conscience?”


    Her eyebrow raised and her breath caught in surprise, her mouth parting slightly.  She recognized the pattern of speech with its gentle formality, only she knew it from a letter. A letter she had received some time late First Seed. “Go on.” she allowed, composing herself rapidly.


    “My Comrades.” The prisoner explained. “The Goldpact Knight, whom I serve as squire, and Belrand the Sorcerer. They had nothing to do with my crime and I suffer knowing that I perhaps have caused them harm by my actions. Do what you will with me, but, please, I ask that they are spared. It was my mistake, and mine alone.” He let his head hang. “There, I have spoken my piece.”


    She stared at the prisoner, ceasing her finger’s tracing. “The assembled court heard their case. They will not be prosecuted.”


    His eyes closed and she saw his shoulders stoop as a sigh escaped his cracked lips. “Auri-El be praised.” The eyes opened again. “Then I will answer whatever question you have, as truthfully as I can. But one more thing, my Jarl.”


    Elisif tilted her head to the side and raised an eyebrow, though now she was more curious than offended. “More? You presume?”


    “Apologies, my Jarl, for my continued intrusions, but you are very cold, no? I can see you trembling.” He raised a hand to point towards her stool. “The chest near the stool. My gear is being kept there, but also there is a cloak of bearskin. Old and tattered, like myself, but it has kept me warm many a night. Would you ease an old Mer’s mind and cover yourself? I would fetch it for you, but..” He lifted his hands, only to have them be yanked down by his chains and he shrugged. “I am unable.”


    Jarl Elisif lowered herself slowly onto the stool and reached for the chest, opening it, her eyes widening as she lifted the heavy black fur from it. She saw a silver katana, a crossbow, bolts, a beautifully carved war horn of mammoth tusk, and four silver daggers the likes of which she had never seen before. On a rough hewn table nearby were the Mer’s clothes and armor, smelling  of leather and metal. She draped the cloak over her shoulders and sealed the chest before turning to face the prisoner, sensing the faint odors of canis root and frost mirriam permeating from the dense, shaggy fur. He was a tea drinker.


    “Better?” The prisoner asked. Elisif scooted the stool forward and leaned closer to the bars of the cell; her next words were no louder than a whisper. She knew who he was now.


    “Yes, Dragonborn, it’s very warm, thank you.” The Mer’s eyes widened at her words and his face looked like he was genuinely alarmed. She raised her hand. “Please, do not be startled, sit.” He started to lower from where he was. “No, a bit closer, so that we won’t be heard. I wish words.”


    “How?” He questioned, taking a seat as close as he dared, but he still maintained his distance. “How did you know?”


    “I took a guess. There was something about the way you spoke that was familiar to me and then I remembered a letter I received late First Seed...”


    The Elf took a deep breath and sighed, looking away from her. “Oh, that letter. I think, in retrospect, that that was a mistake on my part. I only wanted to help, but I think, I ended up offending--”


    “What am I going to do with you?” Elisif interrupted.


    “Jarl Balgruuf often asks the very same question, my Lady.” The Elf offered.


    “He was very kind to me when I lost Torygg and always a gracious host. Is he well?”


    He looked up and nodded. “Aye, he is well, my Lady.”


    “And are you as much trouble in his court, Thane of Whiterun?” She could not help but smile at the question, suspecting she already knew the answer.


    The prisoner made a strange half-smile merged with a sound grimace and rolled his eyes. “Aye, I am.” His face then became gravely serious. “Though I fear, I have done much worse to you, my Lady. I did not know she was your Court Mage. I only saw…”


    “A vampire. And you saw in mere moments what others couldn’t see and she was among us since my husband’s father’s time.” Elisif cut him off. “Yes, you committed a crime against me and I should have you punished.” She leaned closer. “It is what most in my court want. It is what my Steward wants.”


    “Is it what you want?”


    “Part of me, yes. Because I feel the grief of her loss. You’ve murdered something that was a strong connection to my husband, my king.”


    “An honest answer, my Jarl, but ‘something’? Not someone?” The Mer retorted, raising his eyebrows in a probe.


    Elisif frowned. “You understand me correctly. Aye, ‘something’. She did lie to me and I have to deal with that as well. With her betrayal, with being fooled, which is why I am unsure what to do with you. You lied to me too, Rovaniik the Albino.”


    Another sigh from the Mer. “I did not use that name.”


    “The Goldpact Knight did, and you went along, deceiving both me and my court. Did you think me that much of a fool?”


    “No, my Lady. Gah! I knew this was going to come back in bite me in the bloody arse! Xarxe’s Arse, Dec!” He growled, throwing his back against the cell wall. He nearly jumped when she released a chuckle. “Pardon my mouth, my Jarl.” He then eyed her, narrowing his eyes. “So, what is to be done? What do you want done?”


    “I want my city safe.”


    The Mer nodded. “Again, a fair and honest answer, Elisif the Fair suits you, backed strongly by the words of your letter. I want your city safe too.”


    “And that is why you are here, Äelberon of Dusk.” She shook her head and furrowed her brow. “Despite the terrible danger to you.” Another surprised look from the old Mer. “My steward mentioned the Thalmor and I put two and two together, that they hunt the Dragonborn.” Elisif explained. “Why they do this?” She shrugged. “I don’t know.”


    “Neither do I, my Lady.” He then gave her a kindly smile and nodded. “You are much--”


    “Smarter than people give me credit for?” She completed.


    “That is not what I meant--” He started to apologize, but she waved her hand in dismissal.


    “No, it is and I understand. I am inexperienced and my court knows it.” She let out a snort, which raised the eyebrows of the Mer and she wondered why she was allowing herself to be like this in front of him. Something about his manners, his way that let her relax in his presence. Perhaps because she remembered the sincerity of his letter, his desire, though he had never even been to her city, to see it safe and protected from the Dragons. He had no other motive to his actions, other than basic decency.  “You know what I did when I first heard complaints about Wolfskull?”




    She could feel her face redden. “I wanted to deploy an entire Legion.”


    “Oh?” He chuckled warmly and then he smiled, letting his laugh lines wrinkle. It reminded her of Torygg’s grandfather. He then scratched his bloodstained silver-white beard. “I think I have that beat. You want to know what I did when I first joined my Order?” He asked, his eyes meeting hers




    “I spent entire nights at taverns and traveled all the cities of Alinor trying to convert people. I was young once too.” He let out another heavy sigh and slumped his shoulders against the cell wall again. “And apparently, despite my two hundred and forty-four years, still quite stupid, unlike you, my Lady.”  


    “I want to set you free so you can help my city.”


    “And I would take the freedom you so generously give me and do as I promised. By Auri-El’s grace, it will be done.” He then looked at her. “But my Jarl, I have still committed a crime against you and such one-sided clemency on your part does not sit right with me.” He slammed his hand upon his thigh and faced her. “You know what? You will have my service for nothing then. Bah!” He exclaimed as loudly as he dared and then stubbornly crossed his arms over his chest. “It is the way I prefer things anyway.” He punctuated his statement with a brusque nod. “I am no Goldpact Knight. Ha!” He chuckled once more. “The opposite really, though Merotim is a good man, with a fine soul in spite of himself. Poor fool stayed through the bulk of this mess. Aye, a good man. He will not be happy, but it is not the first time I have pissed off the Imperial. You know…” He furrowed his bushy brows in thought. “Give my money to him. You will accept this, yes? Or more? I will do more.”


    Elisif bent her head and her finger found the embroidery of her robes again.


    “I tend to move things around.” He commented after a while watching her fidget.


    She looked up. “Come again?”


    “When I am nervous. I tend to move things around obsessively.” He moved his hand about as if he was moving an imaginary object. “You know, a wee pertan here, one there. I am terrible.” He flashed another warm smile. “They say though that obsession is a sign of great intelligence.” The red-orange eyes then twinkled with mischief. “If that is true, then this dumb old Dusken has it in spades! But seriously, if there is something more you wish of me, my Jarl. You need only ask. I can see your head is bent and there is a sad weight behind those pretty young blues of yours. My many, many years as a priest knows the signs. Something troubles you and it is not only what is going on within your city’s walls.”


    “In your letter, you mentioned that you were a priest. And here too, as we speak.”


    “Aye, that I am, Auri-El’s devoted one.”


    How gently he spoke just then and Elisif opened her mouth, releasing what had been deep inside her since Torygg’s death. "When we buried my husband, I made offerings to all the gods... except Talos." Her voice grew quiet. “I don’t, well, I don’t know, but my Torygg, he…” Elisif took a deep breath, feeling her eyes sting and she blinked away the tears. “I loved my husband very much and he often spoke fondly of Whiterun.” She looked up and faced the Mer. “Last time I was there was the grand tour we went on when he took me as his queen. We went hunting one day.” Elisif caught herself biting her quivering lip. “I like hunting. They say it is a Direnni thing to like this sport? Is that true?” The Mer opened her mouth to answer, but she didn’t let him, her desire to speak too strong. “Oh, but I am rambling, I ramble when I am like this. We went hunting. And it was beautiful where he took me, East of Whiterun, I think, near the mountains. Do you like Whiterun, priest?”


    “Whiterun is my home now, my dear Lady.”


    “Oh? Where?” She asked, suddenly dropping the subject. “I bet it is fine place, grandy and worthy of the Dragonborn.”


    He made a funny face at her, scrunching it up like he had just eaten a sour lemon. “Nah, that is not my way, my Lady. I am a simple Mer from Dusk, always with dirt upon my big, white feet and the wind in my hair. My home in Whiterun is a wee old ‘stead, perched on a small cliff near a bend of the White River.“


    “Oh, I bet you can see the city, can’t you?”


    “Aye, verily I can. An eagle’s eye view.” The eyes grew sad for a moment. “Or a dragon’s.” The sadness then flickered away. “And I know the mountains that you are speaking of. I have hunted there myself. Fine country.”


    “Yes, there is a shrine there, nearby, with His statue, if you understand me?”


    “I do.” The priest nodded.


    “My husband brought me there once and I will never forget it…” She had to stop for a moment, her finger finding her embroidered sleeve, and the Mer waited for her to gather her thoughts.


    “Take your time, my Jarl. The wounds caused by grief are some of the deepest.” Spoken like he truly knew.


    After a brief moment, she sniffed and continued. “My husband was a Nord. I don’t know if you know what that means.”


    “My lady, if you already correctly deduced that I am the Dragonborn and that I am Thane of Whiterun, then you must know by now, who else I am.”


    She sighed, realizing what he meant. “I had forgotten that with all this happening around us. We were saddened in court by Kodlak’s sudden loss. He attended my wedding, you know. A fine man.  Torygg could barely contain his excitement when he was shown the fragments of Wuuthrad when we visited Jorrvaskr. Whitemane always wished to see the weapon reforged. My apologies, Harbinger, then you do know.”


    “Aye, I have gone through great lengths so my Shield-Brother would know rest in Sovngarde. The reforged weapon now hangs whole at Jorrvaskr. Here, I make this wee promise, Jarl Elisif, between you and I. When next we meet, I will show you Wuuthrad in Torygg’s memory.” He nodded in satisfaction. “‘Tis one of the prides of Whiterun.” It was the Mer’s turn to take a deep breath, as if his words caused him a measure of grief too. “You feel then, somehow, that your husband is not at rest?” He asked afterwards, resuming his priestly ways.


    “In my heart, I know he’s not.” Elisif replied sadly. “But?” She gazed at the Mer.


    “But what, youngling?” He pressed gently.


    “Maybe if something of his was brought to that shrine? I could honor him. The way a Nord is supposed to be honored after they die. I want to go there myself. I want--”


    The Mer shook his head quickly and leaned in as close to the bars as his chains would allow, grunting in frustration when he could go no further. “No, no, no, child, you cannot put yourself at such risk, not with the Thalmor! They would… No!” He whispered, as if what she proposed was terribly distressing to him. She ignored that he called her, a Jarl, ‘child’ and that ‘youngling’ before that. He didn’t mean it in a bad way. He was just… very old, she now understood. He then calmed himself and flashed a wry smile, though there was still fear behind his eyes. “Besides, pissing them off, if you have indeed put two and two together, is definitely my job, not yours. Your Thalmor representative already knows I am in the city. He paid me a friendly visit this morning.” Another chuckle, but this one had a hard edge to it. “At least I do not have to wear this silly warpaint anymore and the nose ring was definitely beginning to smart...”


    Jarl Elisif was struck dumb. “You would do this? For me? In spite of your treatment?”


    “Knight’s Honor, my Lady. Besides, I was the dolt that landed myself in your jail.” He groaned and tried to rub his eyes, but his chains didn’t let him. “What I would be doing for you is the kind of thing that does sit right by me.  Though the Imperial may very well still kill me after you set me free.” His broad shoulders shook in a silent laugh. “Or at the very least, I will get a well-deserved smack in the head. But back to you, my Lady. Hmm…” the old Priest brooded for a spell. “Did your husband carry a sword?”


    “Ulfric shattered it with his Thu’um, the way he shattered my husband’s body.  I don’t want to take shards of Torygg to the shrine.”


    The Mer shook his head, clearly affected by her words. “I do not use the Thu’um thusly. Not against man nor beastfolk, nor Mer. Not since...” He blinked letting his voice trail off. “No, you are right in that. Something whole, but at the same time representing what your husband meant to you would be a fitting tribute. Something Nord, very Nord. I am Altmeri though and know precious little--wait.” He suddenly stopped, his eyes going wide for a second. “My Jarl, Balgruuf the Greater, gave me a gift on my birthday, a war horn. I use it to warn the people of dragons and he told me that it was a very Nord thing to have a war horn.” Elisif smiled, her eyes lighting up. “Torygg had a horn, didn’t he?” The Mer guessed, reading her change in mood. She nodded and the old Mer put his hand on upon his chest. Or at least he tried to only to growl when it didn’t reach. He yanked hard a few times and then gave up. “Confounded chains do not even let me swear an oath properly.” He grumbled.


    “I know what you are trying to do.”


    He let out a gust of air. “Well, good, we understand each other. Then Jarl Elisif the Fair, after I have cleansed your city, by the oath I took as a Knight-Paladin of the Order of Auri-El and by the title of Harbinger that bids me to uphold the traditions of the line of Ysgramor, to atone for the wrong I have committed against you, it would do me honor to bring your husband’s war horn to the Shrine you speak of. To give him the final rest he deserves in death.”


    It was impossible not to be moved and Jarl Elisif knew, deep in her heart that if anybody would see both tasks done, it would be this kindly old Mer. Yes, kindly, despite the fact that he had killed Stentor.


    “I will have my husband’s horn delivered to you before you leave Castle Dour. Guard it well.” she said quietly, beginning to rise, wiping the tears from her eyes and regaining her composure.


    “I will guard it with my life, my Lady.”


    Gods, somehow she knew he would keep that promise.


    “And thank you. I will mourn her loss, but… I.. I cannot help but feel that what I am doing is the right thing. By both of us.”


    “No, no. Thank you, my Lady, for giving a very stupid old Mer a chance to right his wrongs. It is my hope that my actions will redeem me in your eyes. Regardless of my feelings towards vampires, I have hurt you terribly, and I am profoundly sorry.”  


    She began her next words much louder and her voice became lower, causing several guards to turn their heads in response. “You have sufficiently convinced me, prisoner, of your remorse, and I will have Headsman Ahtar release you to do your duty for the people of Solitude. Your equipment will be restored to you, but be warned that you will be closely watched. You are to immediately begin conducting your investigation of Solitude, and you are to adhere to the established curfew. Am I clear?”


    “As you command, my Jarl.” He acknowledged with a slow nod, understanding her change in demeanor.  


    Elisif straightened her back and turned away from the cell. “Housecarl. I will leave now. The Goldpact Knight will be informed to closely watch this Albino character. Hopefully, he will keep his squire on a tighter leash this time.”


    “Yes, my Jarl.” Bolgeir replied, reaching for the sconce on the wall.  


    “Ahtar.” She commanded.


    “Yes, my Jarl.” The Redguard bowed. She removed the priest’s cloak and handed it to the Headsman.


    “This belongs to him. He offered to me when he saw that I was cold. Please make the necessary arrangements to begin his release so that he may conduct his investigation.” She then narrowed her eyes and threw the Redguard a look that surprised him. “And if I hear of the guards beating a prisoner again without cause…”


    “Understood, my Jarl.” the Redguard replied and she could see the beads of sweat reflect off his dark brow.


    “That is not how I run my city.” She hissed. She then gestured with her head towards the stairs and this time it was Bolgeir who followed her out of Castle Dour’s dungeon.



7 Comments   |   Paws and 6 others like this.
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  September 10, 2017
    It's always good to have a villain that's not one-sided. BTW, there's no link to the next chapter.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      It's always good to have a villain that's not one-sided. BTW, there's no link to the next chapter.
        ·  September 10, 2017
      Yeah, I don't like things that are one-dimensional at all. I like heroes who make mistakes and who have clear flaws. I will get my Loyal Hound of Hircine on that link right now! 
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  September 7, 2017
    Oh, the Thalmor are rooting out Stormcloak sympathasisers? Only to balance the playing field, I suppose? I remember reading that their interests are in keeping the war going as long as possible.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Oh, the Thalmor are rooting out Stormcloak sympathasisers? Only to balance the playing field, I suppose? I remember reading that their interests are in keeping the war going as long as possible.
        ·  September 7, 2017
      This is also Solitude, with the General right there. I think the Thalmor would have a nice front going on to make sure Tullius was comfortable and then do other things behind his back. 
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Oh, the Thalmor are rooting out Stormcloak sympathasisers? Only to balance the playing field, I suppose? I remember reading that their interests are in keeping the war going as long as possible.
        ·  September 7, 2017
      Yes, that is true, but they are also interested in talos worshippers. Stormcloak sympathizers tend to be Talos worshippers. 
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  September 7, 2017
    A quiet, emotional and reflective chapter, a welcome change of pace after the rollercoaster so far. Coredalf is not the typical Thalmor villain, I like that inner conflict. Elisif's a sweetiepie :)
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A quiet, emotional and reflective chapter, a welcome change of pace after the rollercoaster so far. Coredalf is not the typical Thalmor villain, I like that inner conflict. Elisif's a sweetiepie :)
        ·  September 7, 2017
      Thanks Phil. Calm before the storm is always good.