Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter XVII: The First Day

  • They sat close by the campfire, like moths gathered to a lantern’s flame, using leftover crates and sacks from their supply run to Driftshade as either makeshift chairs or props for their backs.  Like a bunch of very furry moths, Brother Balis - well former Brother Balis - observed, all covered in cloaks over their armor. Save, he, who was in his robes under all the fur that was his cloak, though he still sported his heavy gauntlets and boots. Balis saw the swirling snow all around them and the many silhouettes of pine trees that marked the dense treeline of the northern Eastmarch forest that hugged the mountains.  Close behind him was the stone squareness of Gallow’s Rock, nestled against the low mountains that bordered Eastmarch and the Pale, its small ruined tower framed by the falling snow. Their fire was near the entrance, the semi-collapsed stone wall of the ruined fort just beyond, protecting them. And at the base of the tower on the roof, above his group, was a second campfire where archers Ingmis and Sattir were stationed for the night. They were cold too, it seemed.


    It had snowed steadily since nightfall, because he could see the drifts beginning to gather at the edges of the building. A cold snap in another otherwise mild winter. Just enough to let all of them know that Kyne was still the hard mistress of their hearth. He rubbed his full face and shuddered in relief as another wave of nausea finally left him, the cramps slowly subsiding. There was nothing really left in his stomach. He had made a mess of himself his first day among the Silver Hand.  A total mess, vomiting when he saw the beasts being skinned, pissing himself when one in its cage nearly attacked him. It wasn’t the life of a Vigilant of Stendarr that was for sure, but since the attack on the Hall, he had nowhere else to go. Even the Silver Hand needed clerics, people who could track the fragments of Wuuthrad, and he was certainly one of those, but he wasn’t a fighter, not really. A bottle of mead was shoved in his face.


    “Take it, lad.” Rigmor said gruffly, then he chuckled, a constant twinkle in his tired grey eyes. “We usually all need it the first day.” He punctuated that with a spit and took another sip of his own mead, his eyes focused on the fire.  But Balis saw the long spear on resting on his lap with its silver point, the tension in his powerful leg muscles underneath his leather trousers. They were all like that, gathered by the fire for warmth, but not really resting, their eyes only briefly finding the comfort of the flames before heading out to scan the forest again. He had been given a spear too - it would be an easier weapon for a “milk drinker like you” was what he was told - but, Shor’s Bones, Rigmor actually knew how to use his. That just comes out wrong in your head, Balis, he thought, groaning inwardly. It had nothing to do with sex, spears were probably the best weapons against the beasts, besides crossbows. Silver swords were fine and all for them before they changed, but after? You don’t ever get near the after, he knew that enough from Brother Theodard’s stories when the Vigilant’s great librarian would visit the Hall.


    He wondered sometimes where they were, where all the remaining Vigilants fled after the Hall was destroyed. The Beacon maybe? Balis wasn’t sure, it had been too much of a risk to go there, too far to travel all the way to the mountainous edge of Skyrim’s Rift, to almost Morrowind. He imagined that maybe other Vigilants had made the journey, the ones, like him, who were not at the Hall, but traveling when it was attacked. Traveling the roads, though, wasn’t safe anymore with vampires, the war, and- gods above -dragons, and by the time he had summoned enough courage to attempt the journey from the safety of his room at Dawnstar’s inn, the Silver Hand hired him, a bag of gold on his table and Krev’s promise of food and shelter in exchange for his his knowledge. Gallow’s Rock was far closer a journey and while he wasn’t proud of himself, he certainly understood his own logic.   


    Rigmor’s words were met with quiet, knowing laughter from the rest of their group and Balis took the mead, his eyes traveling briefly to each member. Aye, three spearmen and two crossbows, well one spearwoman if you could call it that. All Nords, the smattering of other races in their merry band at Gallow’s Rock had the sense to bloody stay inside with Krev the Skinner, and only one of those Nords gathered around the fire was fat. Him. Much easier to be fat among the Vigilants of Stendarr than to be fat here, he sighed. The rest of the group around the campfire looked like hardened mercenaries, former bandits, or even perhaps former Companions the way they would sometimes carry on about upholding the ‘line of Ysgramor’ and all that, how they read from Songs of the Return. It was strange because if they revered the Companions so much, why not remain in their ranks? It’s only your first day here, Balis, I’m sure they’ll explain all this later.


    “It’s the smell.” He managed after taking as sip. “I just never expected-“


    “That the beasts would reek like that, well, aye, lad,” Rigmor nodded, “they do. His curse is a smelly one. Hard to say what smells worse, a werewolf or a vampire. Depends on what puts you off more, the smell of too much life or too much death.”


    “Why does she skin them?” Balis ventured the question, not sure yet how far he could take his natural curiosity with the Silver Hand in his company.


    “You born yesterday, son?” That came from old Torsten and Alis turned to face the much older Nord, who was puffing a pipe. He had a face like wrinkled, old leather and a personality to match. His arms and most of his face covered in "Windhelm blue" tattoos, the swirling primal design favored by the Nord people. Tough, they were all so tough, like iron nails, and Balis felt, needless to say, a little intimidated. “They deserve it and… skins mean coin.”


    “Or she’s just batshit crazy.” Chimed in another that Balis didn’t know, the Spearmaiden. It was hard to learn all their names.


    “That it does and that she is.” Rigmor agreed.


    He didn’t doubt it. Balis was hired by Krev, traveled with her from Dawnstar.  And he, in all his life, had never seen a woman so big. It was almost like old Lyris Titanborn of legend had come back to life, but that was the only similarity. Titanborn had been a hero, one of the five Companions from the dark times of the Planemeld that he was required to study when he became a Vigilant, and Krev?


    Krev was just a monster to Balis. A ruthless monster, her stare like ice water running in his veins. Her demeanor cruel. But he understood, the Silver Hand had to be like monsters to hunt what they hunted.  After all, they hunted the true monsters in the world. Still, he threw up when she used that strange weapon of hers, saw the way the serrated blade tore through the werewolf’s flesh, ripping it, not a clean cut, but one that did as much damage as possible, caused as much suffering as she could possibly cause. He swallowed another sip of mead and removed the image from his mind.


    Rigmor’s sigh brought Balis from his thoughts. The Nord spit again into the fire, his eyes sort of far away for a spell before he spoke. “Well, one more good haul and I’ll be off, done with this shit.”


    All the heads around the campfire rose at Rigmor’s words. “You leaving us, Rigmor?” Torsten asked, as if anyone leaving the Silver Hand was strange to him.


    “Aye. Got my wife, my kids… this was never a permanent thing, Torsten. I’m just a merc.” He answered, eyeing Torsten. “I don’t believe in all that other crap he believes in.”


    “Does Vânător know?” Torsten raised his pierced eyebrows. Balis guessed that Vânător was the one who ran things because Krev answered to him. Everyone answered to him, though Balis had never once met him. Vânător ran their operation from Driftshade, an old ruined fort in the Pale, and his name was spoken with both fear and respect, his fellow Silver Hand describing a big bear of a man, black of hair and black of eye with a broad, bearded face that often flashed a smile where people didn’t know if he was planning to joke with them or kill them. It was said he wore a massive cloak of werewolf hide with one’s head forming the hood and he carried a great silver-tipped spear, supposedly bearing upon its shaft notches from of all the werewolves he had ever killed. People said there were over five hundred notches on that spear, even calling the weapon “Old Five Hundred”, but Balis thought that was just ridiculous. No one can kill five hundred werewolves. Were there even five hundred of them? Nah, Balis shook his head to himself. It was just his people being, well, his people, exaggerating everything. Soon the man would be over fifty pertans tall and a better hunter than Hircine himself.


    “Course he knows, and Krev put me to freeze me arse off with you fools tonight, so aye, she knows too. Crazy bitch, probably pissed.” Another spit from Rigmor.


    “You’re good, Rigmor, you will be loss to us, to Ysgramor’s cause.” Torsten pointed out.


    “My family’s my cause, Torsten.” Rigmor grumbled in reply.


    “Where is home, Rigmor?” Balis asked.


    Rigmor’s battle-scarred face softened and he faced Balis. “Solitude.”


    Another nameless Nord gave Rigmor a look. “Solitude? I fucking refuse to believe you are from that milk drinking city.” He shrugged. “Pegged you for good Windhelm stock the way you carry yourself. The way you fight.”


    Rigmor laughed, not minding the insult that was meant as a compliment. “Not all badasses are from Windhelm, you shit.” He looked down and gave another shrug. “You’re looking at old Legion, but I’ve been running with Vânător for over a year now and it’s like he’s never finished, can’t bloody kill them all...”


    “Well, he seems to think we can.” Torsten observed. “I’ve been with him for over ten years now.”


    “Ten years?” Balis’ eyes widened. Shit!


    “Ten years? Ten years is nothing, lad." Torstend scoffed, dismssing Balis with a wave of his hand. "I know a Mer who's hunted for nigh one hundred years, but aye, lad, ten years."


    "A hundred years." Rigmor raised an eyebrow, not believing it either. Both the other Nords in the campfire were smirking too, shakiing their heads. So perhaps Torsten exaggerates a little? Maybe that is where we get the five hundred notches on Vânător's spear from? 


    Torsten hunched his shoulders and started to whisper, eyeing the door to Gallow's Rock carefully. "Shh, don't tell Krev I mentioned him, but yeah, sure as I got teeth, and you all know I got those. One. Hundred. Years. Big fucker and damn, he was one Oblivion of a hunter. Knew his shit. I used to call him Bolt when he worked for us a spell, 'cause it was all he'd use to kill them. Bolt to the brain, right between the eyes, and that's that. No funny business, no skinning. Quiet Mer, kept mostly to himself. Left when he saw Krev skin them. Couldn't stomach it, not even taking his pay." Torsten faced Balis. "But yeah, there's a lot of them. Either those fuckers must breed like rabbits, or Hircine’s real free with his ‘gift’ givin’,  because we haven’t killed them all yet. Though, seems we’ve moved from Cyrodiil to Skyrim now, so maybe we did kill all the ones there, sure felt like it.” He laughed, smoke coming from his nostrils. “What a wild time that was, but I don’t have runts, so I can afford a wild time.”


    “Exactly, you don’t, but I do,” Rigmor continued, “And I want to see them grow…”


    “Nah, Rigmor, you just want pussy.” Torsten joked and the men laughed. Balis laughed too because why not?  


    “That too. Before old Noster One Eye takes a stab at my wife, or worse, Belrand.”


    “Only if your wife likes flaming cocks. Fucking mages.”  


    Rigmor roared in laughter, relaxing back into the pile of sacks he was using to prop up his broad back. “If Belrand can even get it up anymore, he’s definitely older than I am. And my cock is plenty satisfying, got 4 kids to prove it.” The campfire sizzled when another spit struck its embers.


    “I don’t even know who these people are.” Balis just stared, his expression confused.


    The Nameless Nord leaned in closer to him, a lanky lad with swarthy skin - maybe Redguard somewhere down his line - and coarse brown hair. “I dunno either, just got here a bit before you did. Don’t sweat it, just let them talk, and you’ll learn a lot.” He offered a hand. “Name’s Ulren and aye, mother may have brought a present home from Hammerfell, but I’m a Nord.”


    “Balis.” They clasped hands the Nord way, though he wondered why Nords sometimes had to grab so damn hard. Well, at least you have plenty of padding, Balis.


    “Stay here long enough, lads, and Rigmor will talk your ears off about Solitude. Tell you tall tales of all its legends.”  Torsten grew serious and he gave Balis a dark look as he leaned in closer. “Of Proudspire!” He exploded in laughter, almost choking on his pipe smoke.


    Rigmor’s empty bottle hit Torsten’s chest, making everyone in the campfire laugh and Balis wondered how Ingmis and Sattir were passing the time during their watch. “Proudspire, as incredible as it is,” he put his hand on his chest, smirking, “and believe me, I know this, been there myself, it’s a bloody legend. But…” he raised his finger in explanation. “It’s not the only legend in Haafingar.”


    Torsten rolled his eyes, adjusting the grip on the bit of his pipe. “Ah, here we go again…”


    “What? I don’t understand.” Ulren shrugged, scratching his growing stubble.


    “Story time, he likes to practice for his kids.” Torsten quipped. Then he yawned, shifting his position on his crate before crossing his arms over his chest to conserve heat. His crossbow was on his lap and he was relaxed, but from what Balis new of the man, despite his age, he could move faster than a khajiit on skooma when he needed to be. The old Nord shifted his gaze to Rigmor. “So what are we getting tonight, bard? The Legend of the Wolf queen? Pelagius the mad--”


    A clang of metal from above brought all of them quickly to their feet and Balis’ felt his heart leap to his chest as he fumbled for his spear. He was looking all around for the direction of the sound, but the snow and wind made it more difficult.  Torsten immediately pointed his crossbow towards the roof, only for him to put it down with a frown when Sattir’s long face peered from above.


    “You fuck!” He yelled at the roof. “Damn near shot you.”


    “Fucking pots.” Sattir complained. “Dropped them, sorry.”


    “And why do you have pots, Sattir?” Rigmor asked, his spear still not lowered. Hans Hairy-Breeches! It’s like all of his muscles are ready to go, Balis thought, still breathing heavy from his scare. “Krev said no food at night while we watch, you know that.” He warned, his grey eyes almost boring into Sattir. Ingmis’ snow-dusted blond head now appeared and he pointed at Sattir.


    “Was his idea.”


    “You shit.” Sattir scowled.


    “No. Fucking. Pots.” Rigmor warned, his voice like a growl. “No. Fucking. Cooking. Put it away now or I talk to the boss.”


    Both men at the roof wilted before Balis’ eyes at Rigmor’s tone.  They nodded, retreating quickly back into the roof.


    With a heavy exhale, Rigmor sat back down, though Balis could tell he hadn’t relaxed, “Dumb as fuck farm boys, don’t they know about bears?” Another disapproving spit struck the fire.


    “Or trolls for that matter.” Torsten pointed out, letting himself sit. He gestured for the rest of them to sit too and they resumed their night’s watch.


    “Is this why no tankards, only bottles?” Balis asked.


    “Aye, keeps the smell down.” Rigmor’s face was still dark, as if he was trying to chase the anger away. “They can smell that too, but, can’t take away a Nord’s mead. Would be uncivilized.”


    “At least Krev lets us have a fire.” Torsten nodded. “If Vânător were here. No fire, no mead, and we’d change shifts a lot more frequent, you know, so we wouldn’t all freeze to death.” He picked up his pipe, dumped the contents and proceeded to reach for some crushed canis root to refill the bowl.


    Damn, Balis didn’t even notice that he had dropped the pipe to ready his weapon. “Doesn’t fire help? Against them?” He asked.


    “You don’t want to give them any indication of your presence. They already have enough advantages.” Rigmor answered.


    “But trolls and bears fear fire…”


    “We’re not talking trolls and bears anymore, son.” Torsten let his cryptic words hang in the campfire for a few moments.


    And they sat in silence for what seemed like forever.  Balis hated it, their silence, only the sound of the wind in his ears, the crackle of the fire.  He now swore he heard every twig in Skyrim snap, heard growls and snarls echo in the night. His imagination was running wild, fueled by the images of his first day at Gallow’s Rock.  It made a nervous sweat break under his robes and fuck when he was nervous, he needed to piss.


    “You know what?”


    Balis jumped in his seat, not even realizing it was Torsten who broke the silence. He then felt a hand on his shoulder to steady him and turned to see Ulren’s face, his eyebrows raised. “You alright.” He whispered.


    “What Torsten?” Rigmor answered casually, completely ignoring Balis’ terror..


    Balis turned to Ulren and nodded, but his heart wasn’t in agreement, still hammering away under all his fat, robes, and cloak.  They were going to find him dead before the watch was over, his heart was going to give out, he just knew it. He rubbed his face again and squeezed his eyes shut before opening them again.


    “Story time would be nice now.” The old Nord faced Rigmor, scrunched up his face and pouted like a youngling. “Story time, pretty please, da?”


    They burst out laughing at seeing Torsten make such a fool of himself and Balis let out a long gust of air, finally easing up.


    “Hand me another bottle then and I’ll give you a wee tale, almost more a poem really.” He gave Balis and Ulren a wink. “Not too hard and not too scary, and maybe Balis will survive to morning.”


    It was Torsten’s turn to spit into the fire. “Bloody Oblivion, a poem?  You bang Lisette from the Bard’s college one too many times?”


    “No, hey. I got my wife for that.”


    “Bullshit.” Torsten smirked.


    “At any rate, my ma told me this one.”


    “Ya bang yer mother?”


    The two older men shared a stare off that ended in them both chuckling. “You’d bang a goat, Torsten.”


    “Probably.” The Nord shrugged, tossing him another mead. They heard rustles, movement  from above them and whispers, letting them know that Sittir and Ingmis were listening in too, and indeed, two heads were now visible over the edge, observing. So Rigmor has a knack for stories--A shadow flickered, making Balis start, looking quickly look to his right, towards the outcropping of rocks behind where the old gallows were, but no, it was only an owl flying low through the trees and then ascending to fly into a small crevice in the crumbling rocks of the tower. Probably its nest. Silent like snow. Another flicker of shadow, but it was gone before he blinked and he took another sip of mead, letting his eyes drift back to the campfire.   


    Rigmor pulled at the neck of his steel plate cuiress and with some effort managed to pull out for all to see an amulet. Balis squinted to see better and it looked like the skull of a hawk and then his eyes widened. A bonehawk amulet!


    Ulren furrowed his brow, tensing in his seat as if suddenly uncomfortable. “Where’d you get that. That’s a bonehawk. That’s a bad omen.”


    “Lad, get your head out your arse, it’s just a story. A legend.”


    “What legend?” Balis perked up. He knew most of the main ones from the Vigilants already, but he was curious. He knew Brothers Adalvald and Tolen were the ones that delved more heavily into Skyrim lore while Theodard, a Breton, was more gifted with lore from all of Tamriel, but this was new. At least to him.


    “My Grand da was a fisherman and North coast is rich with fish, good for a man to make a living by. All sailors have stories, you know? Well, one old sailor my Grand da used to fish with when he was a lad gave him this amulet and told him the tale. It’s been passed through three generations of my family, and it’ll go to my son when I return to Solitude, for his naming day.” The Nord smiled warmly. “And I’ll tell him the tale.”


    “Aww, I’m all warm and fuzzy inside already, Rigmor.” Torsten quipped. “You didn’t have to tone it down that much for the lads.”


    He heard whispers again from above, something about ‘more mead’ and then footsteps towards the tower, probably where they had a stash. Balis took a sip of mead, fighting the urge to piss more, but he knew he was losing.


    “Beware the maid of Bonehawk Island…” Rigmor began, singing and they all started laughing. What a terrible voice!


    Torsten’s face hit the palm of his hand. “This is even worse than a poem, bloody fuck.” He groaned. “You’re going to scare your kid.”


    Undaunted, Rigmor continued, holding up the amulet for all to see. “Oh skin snow fair, Oh hair of black strand…”


    Ulren still looked uncomfortable, making a sign with his hand to invoke Talos, but Balis was all ears, despite his now sobbing bladder. His eyes found the roof briefly when he thought he heard the clang of a glass bottle, and thought he saw another shadow. Sittir sure drops a lot of shit, he thought before looking down again.   


    “Five bands each upon her hand

    Over her beauty for every husband

    She’s buried in the sea's sand.


    Beware the maid of Bonehawk Island!

    Sailor, avoid the North’s rocky dryland

    Where upon stone arched castles stand

    Oh skin snow fair, Oh hair of black strand

    Lest she grabs ya from under the sand.…"


    Ingmis moved his head away, laughing. Aye, best to go get your own bottle, the way Sittir’s dropping them, Balis thought.


    "Beware the maid of Bonehawk Island!

    Close your ears to her siren’s song

    For it calls the sailor to forget command

    To die to the bonehawk’s throng!

    Oh skin snow fair, Oh hair of black strand!"


    “Excuse me.” Balis turned to Ulren, getting up. “All this talk of Islands and sailing is making me think of water and all this mead too. You know what that means.”


    The Nord patted his back. “Aye. Go, friend. Wish I had to piss, or I’d be leaving just for the singing.”


    “Hey, My kids say I sing well.” Rigmor protested.


    “Kids must be bloody deaf.” replied Torsten under his breath. Balis just laughed, shaking his head, while he walked away towards the entrance, carrying a torch. He saw shadows on the roof and noticed that both Sittir and Ingmis had left the roof for the tower. Good, probably to avoid having to hear Rigmor. Ha, probably killing all animals from that noise too, so you may just get through this night, Balis thought as he walked cheerfully to their now favorite patch of yellow among the white snow. Just outside the stone archway.


    “Oh skin snow fair, Oh hair of black strand, Off within the sea of Ghosts…” Rigmor continued even louder, and Balis focused on the crunch of his feet upon the snow, trying to tune the loud bastard out. Still, the tune was catching in his mind and he was curious about the song, what it meant. “Keep yerself close to the mainland... Lest her blood's ice makes her your host.”  


    It was a pretty bad song really, a sea shanty, he thought as he stuck the end of the torch into the deeper snow to anchor it, but often sea shanties usually had some grain of truth behind them. They were often, at the very least, cautionary tales. About beasts or other such nonsense. Balis lifted his robes and unlaced his trousers to pull out his cock, shivering when a gust wind blew past him. Here’s hoping you don’t fall off, my good friend. He didn’t know of an Island in the Sea of Ghosts in Haafingar. That was different. And certainly not a castle. He mouthed the lyrics again, trying to make sense of it. Probably Adalvald or Tolen would have known.


    The stream of hot liquid finally escaped, giving the patch of snow fresh coat of yellow and Balis felt his muscles relax into a happy sigh. Perhaps Krev would let him delve into a little research, and if not the Skinner then perhaps Vânător?


    An owl screeched, making Balis jump and lose his aim, the last drops of piss hitting his steel cuffed boot. Damn owl, scaring the shit out me. Another screech. Noisy owl, wanna compete with Rigmor, eh? He heard the Nord sing and they were laughing hard at both Rigmor and the owl. He could hear mumbled words and he thought he caught his name through the wind. “Balis” and “let’s scare the shit out of him” as he laced up his trousers. Were they moving now? Ah, now he knew, nodding his head, gonna play a trick on me, eh? Fuck with the new blood, eh? Well I’m not stupid, I can bloody hear you. Sort of.


    “Beware the Maid of Bonehawk Island!” Rigmor started another verse, or ended the damn song, Balis didn’t know which, while the others laughed. Balis turned around to head back, the roof catching his eye and everything just stopped. It stopped. Except his heart. His heart was going so fast that he thought he would die. They weren’t looking at him, they were laughing at Rigmor’s singing.


    Peering over the edge of the roof, like it had all of the night under its command was an unseen shadow. A huge, furred form. He saw it through the flickering light of the roof’s campfire, saw what looked like a single yellow eye boring into the campfire below.  Unlike the beasts from within Gallow’s rock, the captured ones, the ferals, this one was deathly quiet, low to the ground, its fangs bare in a noiseless snarl. Waiting, not rushing in like how he had been told they typically hunt. And then he saw it when the flame shifted with the blowing wind. Oh gods, oh gods, stendarr’s mercy!  Blood, so blood on the roof. Sittir… Ingmis… already dead. Already. He was gasping in pure terror, his eyes wide. Dead, already dead. There was no sound! Nothing! The owl screeched again, retreating into its crevice in the tower. It was now safe...


    And Balis opened his mouth to shout to them, but nothing would come out. He was mouthing ‘on the roof, on the roof, on the roof” over and over again, but nothing would come out, nothing. Nothing. Mouth so dry, trembling, shaking…


    Torsten turned his head and furrowed his brow when he saw Balis, giving him a shrug.  


    It didn’t make a single sound when it leapt from the roof, knocking down both Rigmor and Torsten in the process, before they could even think to reach for their weapons. Like it knew to take them down first. Their strongest. Torsten’s head was instantly crushed under a clawed hand like a gourd, splattering his blood and brains upon the snowy ground, while Rigmor’s throat was quickly slashed, silencing his singing. It then shifted position, swiping a large, clawed arm at Ulren, knocking the wind out of him as he fell onto the snow and Balis saw the crossbow fly from the Nord’s hands. Ulren tried to cry out, but before he even could, the beast was upon him, again going for the throat. So fast, so fast! Balis saw the last of his group scramble for the wooden doors, to run inside, and the beast turned in response to give chase, leaving Ulren to die. She didn’t even pick up her spear to fight back, she just ran, her face distorted from crying. Unable to release even a scream. Balis blinked. Where is your spear?


    His spear was next to where he had been sitting, covered in blood.


    He left it there and Balis looked into Ulren’s dying eyes, watching the blood leave his body and him trying to reach for help before he went limp.  The young Nord was the only other person with a crossbow. Within seconds, the beast had caught up to the other Silver Hand.


    He never actually learned her name.


    And she never reached the door, falling face-forward when the beast leapt upon her back, muffling her sobs. It was the complete silence that shocked him, the efficiency. This wasn’t a sloppy killer driven by base animal needs, but a calculated attack. She stopped sobbing and Balis saw the blood spread upon the snow from underneath where she lay. He was going to be sick and a strangled cough escaped his lips, releasing its steam into the snowing night.


    It whirled around and Balis still couldn’t move. It heard you. The yellow eye found him easily, a fat Nord cleric in a cloak with his torch stuck on the ground just lighting the way was an easy target.


    And it charged.


    Finally he regained the ability to move his legs and Balis turned around to start running through the snow. Only to trip on a branch that he didn’t see, sending him spilling to the ground, his cloak falling over his head, blinding him.


    Werewolves are some of the fastest creatures in Tamriel Brother Theodard used to tell him.


    You will die now.


    Still he crawled on the ground, grasped at it  for the possibility of survival, knowing that the thud of running paws was drawing closer. He felt like a pig stuck in a bog, struggling while the creature after him moved with such efficient grace. Balis gasped when he felt that clawed hand turn him over roughly.


    It was a great beast, grizzled grey werewolf with only, yes, one eye. One burning yellow eye staring right at him, mere pertans from his face. Like he was staring into the very soul of the Old Huntsman himself. He wanted to close his eyes, but he somehow couldn’t tear himself away. You’re a Nord, at least fucking look your death in the eye. So he looked, feeling its breath hot upon his face, smelled the fresh stench of his comrade’s blood, heard its rumbling as it breathed. Drool fell, landing on his cheek, on his mouth and he cringed, not wanting to taste it, but at the same time, still needing to breathe. A snarl and Balis gasped in horror, knowing that its spit was seeping into his mouth, and he started to cry, the view of the beast now clouded by his tears. He felt another paw or hand on his chest, the claws just barely digging, holding him in position. Good, it will tear you up like parchment and you’ll just die. It’ll be over, Stendarr…


    Close your eyes, and he did, the last thing his eyes registering was the face of the beast contorted into a snarl of absolute menace. If he had any piss left, he was sure it would be all over himself by now, but no, he was dry. Then he felt a bit of wet heat between his legs. Oh, aye, there’s a wee trickle, thank you for the extra humiliation, Stendarr, before I go to greet you, because they sure as Oblivion won’t let a man  who just pissed himself into Sovngarde.


    He then heard a disgusted snort, felt a spray of nose mucus - god’s snot? - fall all over his face and then cool air. Snow flakes on his skin. Nice, cool air and snow flakes and the paws? The paws were now sounding farther away. The weight was no longer on his chest. It left him? Balis let his eyes flutter open and he slowly moved his head upwards, just a little, just enough to see over his fat gut.


    Quietly, the beast nudged the door, using only the tips of its sharp claws to pull on the door’s latch. Careful  and deliberate, not allowing the doors to even creak as they opened just enough. And it slipped inside. It opened a door, it didn’t break it down like a monster.


    Balis laid in the snow for several moments before he willed himself up to a sitting position. He didn’t know what to do? Follow it inside? He would be dead in moments. He rubbed his face furiously  with his hands, trying to fight his building terror and then he faced the door again.


    His eyes caught sight of their bodies with all the blood everywhere and he couldn’t control the mead that surged from his mouth any longer. He let himself heave, getting it all out of his system, not caring where it landed. When he finished, he turned slowly onto all fours to try to stand, still coughing. Balis almost fell over again when he finally stood, his knees were so weak, but he managed to stand and take a step towards the forest, a step away from all of it.


    Only to turn around and look back, his eyes finding Rigmor’s corpse. And his legs moved him forward, slowly, deliberately towards the dead Nord.  He stopped when he reached Rigmor and felt his knees hit the snow, at first transfixed by the deadness in eyes in that had earlier been such a twinkling deep grey. Rigmor’s throat had been torn so badly, that his neck was nearly severed from his body, the claws even cutting through the steel like it was almost paper, but it was still there, in his hand, the bonehawk amulet.


    Balis looked at the door one last time, then at his comrades, his fellow Silver Hand and sighed. No, you know yourself too well, you won’t go in there, not with that thing inside. But maybe you can help in another way. Warn Vânător? Tell him that Gallow’s Rock was lost? Aye, you can do that, that’s back where you came from, well no, sort of. He’d have to find the main road and probably Windhelm was the nearest city. Once there…


    You’ll never make Windhelm.  He had more of a fighting chance to make it to either Mixwater mill if he managed to find the main road leading south in the darkness or Anga’s mill if he decided to head north.   Anga’s mill was a better choice for Driftshade if he didn’t freeze to death. Or get eaten by something else.


    He froze in terror when he suddenly heard a great roar come from inside Gallow’s Rock. No time. Anga’s mill, he decided, rising to quickly pick up whatever gear he could find, a spear, a crossbow, bolts, some more mead to make him think like he wasn’t dying from the cold- fuck you Krev for not allowing food outside. Balis’ eyes caught Rigmor’s face. Three generations of tradition, gone, just like that.  


    Balis couldn’t help it, he knelt again and as fast as his cold fat fingers could manage, he set about removing the amulet from Rigmor’s hand. Four children and a wife, his eldest son just old enough to hear the song, to hear this story. Balis swallowed hard, fighting his own emotion, his own fears. It would be another difficult, long journey, and he was afraid. You might not even make it to Anga’s mill, but you’ll try, warn Vânător, and then continue West.  Rigmor’s family is in Solitude, and there was another name, Belrand. He could continue the tradition.


    Balis slowly rose and began walking away from Gallow’s Rock, out the entrance to then make an eventual turn to the north, using the spear as a walking staff. His pace increased when he heard another roar, fainter, but still enough to make his heart skip a beat, several actually, or at least it seemed to him. He shook his head to clear his mind and pressed on into the night. Think of something Balis, while you walk, the song? Will you remember the song? To sing it to his kid?


    “Beware the maid of Bonehawk Island…” he started, his voice no more than a hoarse croak, but the melody was in his mind, it would haunt him forever, so he continued, singing softly to himself as he walked on. I will remember for your son, Rigmor, I promise. “Oh skin snow fair, Oh hair of black strand…”



    Chapter XVIStraag Rod Book 1 ToC * Chapter XVIII


10 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 8 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  October 22, 2018
    The Maid of Bonehawk Island... Is she the feral vampire wandering Catle Volkihar's undercroft? :P I feel bad for Rigmor, dude was two days from retirement like a scene from Last Action Hero. Joking aside, an enjoyable read that built to quite a chiling e...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Maid of Bonehawk Island... Is she the feral vampire wandering Catle Volkihar's undercroft? :P I feel bad for Rigmor, dude was two days from retirement like a scene from Last Action Hero. Joking aside, an enjoyable read that built to quite a chiling e...  more
        ·  October 22, 2018
      Actually it's a song about Serana. In Straag she was married 5 times, or, as they say in the Middle Ages "hand the bands on". Her first marriage was at twelve and her last was at 17 or so, the details are not there yet. She was a pawn for her father to ga...  more
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  July 2, 2018
    WAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Massacres, massacres galore! Good on Skjor, using stealth to his advantage. And you know, it's generally a bad idea to talk about 'retiring' and 'going home to your wife and kids' when you're in a line of work like the Silver Hand...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      WAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Massacres, massacres galore! Good on Skjor, using stealth to his advantage. And you know, it's generally a bad idea to talk about 'retiring' and 'going home to your wife and kids' when you're in a line of work like the Silver Hand...  more
        ·  July 3, 2018
      Lol, poor Rigmor. But gee, I wonder who that Elf that Torsten mentioned was? Bolt was his name he was called. 
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  July 2, 2018
    “Exactly, you don’t, but I do,” [Rigmor] continued,

    Were they [were] moving now? (remove)

    Huh, this really makes me think about all the lives I take when I play. I always just think of them as targets, bandits, ...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      “Exactly, you don’t, but I do,” [Rigmor] continued,

      Were they [were] moving now? (remove)

      Hu...  more
        ·  July 2, 2018
      Yeah, on a whim I decided to go on a totally different direction and to be honest, this isn't the original draft of chapter 17. Basic plot will be similar, but I dunno, I feel like Part 2 was still so gameplay on Steam and I just don't write that way anym...  more
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  July 2, 2018
    This chapter feels like a scene straight out a B-horror flick. One moment they're laughing and telling campfire stories, then BAM! everyone dies, well almost everyone. Shame that there was no outdoor sex scene cliche. :P
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      This chapter feels like a scene straight out a B-horror flick. One moment they're laughing and telling campfire stories, then BAM! everyone dies, well almost everyone. Shame that there was no outdoor sex scene cliche. :P
        ·  July 2, 2018
      I originally had a very different approach to this chapter and it was basically the ES dungeon crawl. And I hate the game mechanics of the werewolf, especially regarding the strain of lycanthropy the Companions have. It doesn't gel with what they describe...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  July 2, 2018
    This gives of the Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman vibe, making the Circle much more dangerous than your common flea bitten lycanthrope. The awareness, the efficiency... He took them down like a damn Predator! 
    Also, I think portraying this from t...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      This gives of the Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman vibe, making the Circle much more dangerous than your common flea bitten lycanthrope. The awareness, the efficiency... He took them down like a damn Predator! 
      Also, I think portraying this from the PoV...  more
        ·  July 2, 2018
      Well, I think Skjor has opted  for a very tactical approach, don't you think? Why rush in and alert everybody, am I right? Before he was a werewolf, he was a Companion and then before that, I believe in game dialogue has him as a war veteran, again, ...  more