Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter XXI: Fate Goes Ever as it M

  • Chapter 21: Fate Goes Ever as it Must


    Aela woke next to Koor with a feeble moan, her head reeling like she had taken more mead than the twins the night before. Her eyes opened slowly, mere slits due to their puffiness.


    She had made a fool of herself.


    Aela the Huntress, great among Jorrvaskr, descendant of the long line of Hrotti Black-Blade had shamed a Shield-Brother by weeping for him. Red anger swept through her face, making it hot, and she bolted upwards to a seated position, wiping her face of the still wet tears. Koor, now also awake, crouching away from her to give her space, his tail between his legs. Aela stared at the fresh wetness upon her fingers. Even in her sleep, she had wept. Skjor had wanted her to smile, asked her to smile. His dying words.


    Fresh tears threatened again and she growled them away, rising to her feet. You are the huntress, you stand.


    The first thing she saw was the bitch upon the floor, her eyes lifeless. Aela rushed to Krev’s body and grabbed that cursed weapon from the stone, every fiber of her being staying her cries when the silver burned her hands. Use the pain.


    And she swung the weapon. Metal sliced through dead flesh. And she swung, again and again, releasing her sorrow. An arm came off. She swung again, a deep gash through the chest, ribs breaking. The eyes staring back at her, taunting and cruel, while blood splattered her face. She swung again, at those eyes. They were no more, crushed into fleshy pulp under the weight of her blow, but she kept swinging.


    For all the power of her swings, the all violent display of her Beast’s strength, the tears still came, blurring her eyes, stinging them. Along with it came the deep ache in her heart. Her mate was gone. Her husband in the old Nord way.  Aela threw the weapon upon the stone floor, hating that it the cursed weapon did not break, and fell sitting, crying again.




    Aela whirled around, seeing his form at the darkened doorway. The extreme paleness of his long face very harsh against the darkness of his armor and the doorway, almost like a ghost. Very much like the owl outside in some ways, watching from the doorway, watching from the void.


    She laughed, heavy with sarcasm, as she hastily wiped her tears. “Thought I could strike a few blows for a Shield-Brother.”


    “I saw.” Barely spoken above a whisper.


    “It’s not enough.” She shrugged bitterly, kicking the weapon. It still didn’t break. She wanted to tear the whole fort down, tear every corpse there limb from limb, scream into the forest, anything.


    “Aela…” The Mer started, but then only sighed as he moved towards her, his back stooped from a burden. Skjor’s armor was in a pack hoisted over one shoulder. Her eyes then turned to Skjor, bloody on the floor.


    “We need to slaughter them, every last one of them.” The words snarled out of her like they were not part of her body, like they were from far away. Dark words, from deep within her anguish. She brought up her knees and wrapped her arms around them, brooding. “They deserve it.” She hissed, punctuating her words with a spit.


    He said nothing and Aela watched Äelberon kneel next to Skjor, resting the pack gently upon the floor. He then stood slowly, older bones cracking, his tired, bloodshot eyes wandering the chamber as if searching for something. His eyes found it and he walked towards a filthy wooden table with a scattering of bowls filled with half-eaten food and a pitcher. The Elf smelled the contents of the pitcher, and then picked it up, along with a bowl, and a rag before walking back to Skjor’s body. His knees found the floor again and he began to pour water from the pitcher into the bowl. Then, he removed his gauntlets, exposing his large, white hands with their long archer’s fingers. He grabbed the rag, dipped it into the bowl of water, and then his eyes met hers. Or at least tried to.  She wasn’t looking. She was gazing at the stone wall.


    “Is the body washed?” He asked.


    Aela frowned, creasing her brow. “What?”


    “Is the body washed?” Äelberon repeated.


    She snorted, dismissing him with a brusque wave of her hand. “What does it matter? Didn’t  you hear me, Shield-Brother? We need to slaughter them.”


    “What is your custom?”


    “To slaughter them.” She bristled. “Slaughter them all…”


    “Aela… that is not what I have rea--”


    “And what do you know?!” Aela suddenly screamed, lunging towards him. He dropped the cloth and leaned back upon his haunches, avoiding her, his hands up in defense. “I lift my weapons to you!” She cried as loud as her voice allowed, hoping Hircine would hear. “Bless them, and guide them true!” She continued, now sobbing, gasping, beating at her chest because there was nothing left to beat. “A bow! A sword! A dagger! A claw! Let the sport begin! Let the blood spill! Hunter and hunted, in a chase to the death!  THAT. Is. Our. Way!”


    And the tears came again, her vision blurring, warped by the water that just would not stop, no matter how much he had wanted her to smile. The cold grey stone of Gallow’s Rock then turned into the warmth of wolf’s fur and she was surrounded by it. Embraced. Sheltered. Hands found her hair, stroking as her father once did when she was small, rocking her. For a spell, she simply let his voice soothe her. She had beaten him earlier, hurt him, his face bore the bruises from her blows and she imagined his chest did too. Yet, he still held her, without question.


    “Skjor didn’t want me to cry…” She moaned sadly, heaving with her tears. “He didn’t…why can’t I stop? Why can’t I be strong? Like a Shield-Sister. Like a warrior.”


    “Shh… shh… The dead do not feel the pain of the living, little one, so you cry. Release, child. Sometimes, it is the only way.”


    “I want to die.” She gasped, wailing into his chest. “He was my husband, my mate.”


    The Mer froze for a moment, the shock written all over his face and then he understood. “Oh no, no, no, my poor Aela, my poor sister. It was more than just merely telling you then. He asked you, ah Skjor…” He knew? How? Skjor must have told him, Aela thought through her weeping, confided in him. It was the only way. You trusted this old Mer that much, then? To tell him that, lover, you must have. Then I will trust him too. The knowledge of that renewed her tears, made her cling to the Mer all the more. “I know, child.” He kissed the top of her head. “I know. I know. And I will not say that ‘it will pass’. It is the cruelest thing to say, in my eyes, because it does not. One hundred years and I still mourn the deaths of those I loved dearly. And there were months, years when I wanted to die too.”


    Spent from her tears, Aela took a deep breath and sighed against the Mer’s chest. “Do you still want to die?” She croaked.


    “No.” Äelberon replied quietly, still holding her. “Ultimately, you find reasons to keep going.”


    “And what kept you going, brother?” She asked. His body suddenly tensed and she looked up at him. Äelberon’s expression wasn’t at all what she expected. Her Shield-Brother’s face was devoid of its usual kindness and his eyes had a stern glint to them.


    “I will not lie to you, Aela.” He began, his tone serious. “Vengeance, that is what kept me going. A hundred years of vengeance. A hundred years of wanting to right the wrongs done to my family.”


    Aela touched a scarred cheek with her hand. “Brother?”


    He faced her, letting his features soften, though there was still a hardness. “Yes, vengeance. For the longest time, it was just that. But things are now--”


    She pulled from him and straightened, he was finally understanding. “Then we slaughter them?” Aela nodded in affirmation.


    He shook his head and chuckled, though it was a sad one, as if she had just missed something very important. “Not you.”




    “Aela, I swore an oath to protect you, protect our family, with everything in me. I will go alone.”


    She felt her face grow hot. “You would dare deny me the glo--”


    Glory?” He interrupted, raising his eyebrows in surprise. The eyes then narrowed, their steely glint returning. She didn’t like his eyes when they were like that. It hinted at something else in his personality, something old and dark that wanted to come out. “You think this is glorious?” He continued with a sneer. “It is an ugly, dirty thing, this vengeance. Black, and rotten. I know that now. Took me a hundred years to learn, but I know.” And just like that, his eyes changed yet again, growing tender in their gaze. “The gods have shown me something so much better. Shown me that there is more than vengeance.” He smirked sadly and touched her face, the corners of his lined eyes glistening with beginnings of tears. “Something I thought I’d never have again.” Briefly, his eyes fell on Skjor’s body and he gave a lengthy sigh before returning his gaze to Aela. “And a part of me wants to just bury him and take you home, sister, to our family at Jorrvaskr and just let this stop here. Let all this vengeance die, so I can finally have…” He stopped, swallowing hard, unable to finish. Another sad chuckle while he shook his head, sniffing.  Äelberon then scrutinized her face as he began rubbing at her cheek with his thumb, his silver brow furrowing. “It is all smudged and smeared. You look like a wee frog, all green. Or, like you went and had yerself too much sweets, making yourself sick. Xarxes’ Arse, mine must be a sight.” He frowned.


    Aela’s eyes were drawn to his warpaint. The handprint upon his mouth. Red against his white skin, but not as bright as before. “Yours is fading.”


    Something profoundly tragic flashed briefly in his eyes. “So it is.” He acknowledged. Then he smiled, gave her cheek a final touch  and reached for the rag. “Do you wash the body?” He asked a third time, his voice now back to its normal Altmer inflections, the matter-of-fact way they always spoke as he soaked the rag in the bowl of water.  


    Suddenly quite tired, Aela scooted backwards towards one of the wood beams that supported the chamber and leaned against it, bringing up her knees. “Yes.”


    “That is what I thought.” He lifted the rag from the bowl and placed it upon Skjor’s chest to start washing. “The cairn is already dug outside. I remembered the very verse you spoke, uh, or rather yelled at me. A werewolf pelt, a bow… Do not have the dagger, sword or claw yet, but there were several dead werewolves...” He gave her a questioning look. “Is that considered blasphemous in your faith, Aela? To take from them?”


    “No, brother, it isn’t. They will be pleased knowing they played a part in his welcome to the Great Hunt.”


    “Good, good… Now, I did find lupine blossoms.” He paused from washing their brother and nodded. “I did. It is another symbol, yes?”


    “You know so much of our ways.” Aela remarked.


    The Elf paused and again the sadness flashed in his eyes while he washed Skjor. “I made it a point to study my enemies very carefully, Aela. But now? If I can use my knowledge to ease your pain, I will. You are my sister. Family now.  So, yes, Lupines. In a place where the snow had thawed. While you slept. I found them. Middle of winter…a sure sign of spring. Spring always comes, you know.” He resumed washing, “It does, sure as rain, snow, sun, moon, and stars. Constants in a world that is not.” A frown found his features. “I am sorry, Aela. I did not want to believe in my heart that he could ever die. But ey, ey, all things die, leaving only the living…”  


    “What does ‘ey’ mean?”


    “Alas, it means alas, ‘child’. I am sorry, I should not call you ‘child’. You are not one.”


    “I don’t mind it coming from you.”


    There was silence for several moments while she watched her Shield-Brother tend to Skjor. Koor had now moved to her side, resting his head against her hip. She was drawn to the movements of his hand, the care he took to clean Skjor of blood, to dress his wounds. Her eyes grew heavy, her heart slowing--





    She snapped open her eyes, raising her head from her knees. Did you fall asleep again? “Is it finished.” Aela asked, rubbing her eyes. Dammit, you did.  


    “Almost. But that is not why I said your name.”


    “I fell asleep.”


    “I know. I could perceive the change in breathing.”


    He had stopped washing Skjor and she noticed that the Veteran was now dressed in his armor, covered. He looked asleep and the look of tranquility in his face was something she had never seen in him before. You’re happy now, aren’t you, lover, she thought to herself, feeling a miniscule tinge of envy. You are with Him, on the Great Hunt and I?


    I am alone now.  


    “I am alone now,” she murmured absently, her hand finding the husky’s warm fur.


    “No, you are not.” Damn Altmer ears. He heard you. “You are not.”


    He still doesn’t understand, Aela thought. He’s new, didn’t see the conflict within the Circle that came after Kodlak stopped heeding the call of the Gift. “With Skjor’s death, the Old Man will feel even more justified in seeking the cure. And where will I be when I lose all my family? All my pack if he finds it?”


    “I will protect you.”


    “But you will help Kodlak as well.”




    Äelberon said ‘yes’ as if there was no question behind it, that he would see both tasks complete like one would promise to clean up a room or take his breakfast. Were Altmer just that way? Was everything in absolutes for them? Or was it just the way of the Priest of Auriel before her.


    “And do you honestly think you can have both, brother? You don’t think first chance he gets, he’ll force me take the cure?” Finally, she dared say it. Her deepest fear and she felt the tears well again, causing her to sniff and rub her face. Fear mixed with grief. She loved Kodlak, looked up to him, but she was not blind to the change in the old Man. After Sun’s Dusk, he became like a different person, consumed, and their fights began, made all the more bitter because there was still such love between them all. “He is like a father to me, you know.” She continued. “He brought my mother’s armor to me, when she… when she died. He was so strong, noble. Everyone looked up to him. They still do. The great Kodlak Whitemane. And Skjor…” She smiled at the memory, blushing when that twinkling silver eye first found her at her father’s house. “He was… just Skjor.” The smile morphed into a chuckle. “Only with a lot more hair.”


    “Kodlak would not do that to you, Aela. It is the pain in your heart speaking. The loss. He loves you.” The Mer offered. Are you that naive, brother?


    Aela shook her head resolutely. “I don’t want Sovngarde, Äelberon of Dusk.” She pointed to Skjor’s body. “I go where he goes, or I go nowhere. Don’t let Kodlak take that from me.”


    The Mer opened his mouth and at first he looked as if he was about to say something else, the nostrils slightly flaring in the way they typically did when he’s about to argue, but his eyes only traveled back to Skjor’s body.


    “He will make you take it too.” Aela continued. “He will make us deny The Huntsman.”


    “I will protect you, Aela. I promised Skjor.”


    “That simple, Shield-Brother?”


    Her Shield-Brother then smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes. Instead, his eyes looked resigned, far away. “You do not remember the oath I took when I joined you, do you? Well, I remember, and I remember a sister’s sweet kiss on that day. After she smeared my face with that bright red paint.” And there it was, the smile finally reaching his eyes. That was all she needed to see, his simple reassurance. He nodded. “Aye, that simple.” Äelberon then placed a hand on Skjor’s chest. “Now, let us see what we can find here for supplies and then we carry him outside. The moons are full and bright. He is calling Skjor to the Great Hunt and we will take him there.”



    Fate goes ever as it must, old Mer, Äelberon mused to himself as he sat upon a rickety chair at a small weathered table, tinkering with his new crossbow. Carried by one of the Silver Hand that Skjor had torn to pieces. His breath came out in steady puffs while he worked. His bearskin was wrapped tightly around his body. “Fate goes ever as it must.” He whispered aloud, watching the steam move to his words.


    An old Nordic saying, but one his family knew very well. The Outsider had brought so much back with him when he returned to Summerset all those ages ago. He smirked, and so bloody appropriate now. You are like a leaf shed from the Great Tree. A tree of oranges in your world, pink blossoms in theirs. But still unwanted. No longer joined to its healing, feeding branches, now alone, wandering the winds. You go where Fate tells you, driven by Doom. Winds blew you to Jorrvaskr. But whose winds?


    Auri-El’s? Kyne’s?


    “Just let the winds blow…” Words to Calianwe from so long ago. Seemed like an eternity.


    Currently, Fate had steered them to Valtheim towers to weather a heavy snow squall that sent biting winds and snow flurries along the flow of the White River. Whiterun was close, home was close, but neither of them had the mental or physical strength to deal with the weather in the morning, so they retreated to the Northern tower, spending the better part of the day there.  He could tell from her breathing that Aela still slept, Koor ever devotedly by her side, on the bed that was just across the room from his table. He did not blame her. When he grieved his parents, he had slept a great deal too.


    Her husband. He knew Skjor loved her, knew they were together, but that they had considered themselves husband and wife in the old Nord traditions. That now weighed heavy on his soul, and he wished sleep came as easily for him as it did for her, but no, despite his grief, he was wide awake. But not willing to do much. Save tinker casually with the crossbow and think on where he was now from where he had been. He lifted the weapon, gazing at it. Larger than Niniik, better made, now bearing a name.


    Skjordro Zin.


    Skjor’s Honor.


    And Skjordro Zin would be the weapon he would use when he went to Faldar’s tooth. A Blood Price still needed to be paid. And a Fragment of Wuuthrad was to be retrieved, according to Krev’s notes. Or, this was yet another trap? Dustman’s Cairn, Gallow’s Rock, and now Faldar’s tooth, Äelberon thought. Why are you so certain in your gut that all of this is a trap?  


    Why? It was as if the Silver Hand were a step ahead of them and… and…  Äelberon did not know why. What what driving them? What did they want besides the obvious, the death of the Companions. The fragment of Wuuthrad was a teaser, like bait on a fishermer’s hook.


    Tell P Fragment is at Faldar’s Tooth, Krev had scribbled. Of course he would remember her handwriting from his contract while they searched the place. The image of his contract flashed through his brain as clear as it was when he signed it eight years ago.  Krev’s words were written along the margin of what was a neatly-kept manifest recording bi-weekly deliveries of supplies between Gallow’s Rock and Faldar’s Tooth. Aela had tossed the manifest to the floor while she grabbed a small purse of septims, dismissing its value, while they searched the place. “Just numbers”, she grumbled.


    Not just numbers, child.  The manifest revealed that the Silver Hand were organized, far more so than he originally anticipated them to be when he first met them years ago. And that was not a good thing. They’ll go, they’ll trust the information, Wuuthrad, after all, again scribbled, lower along the margin, and then finally; Update V. Krev was clever enough to avoid full names, as if she did not even trust her own ranks. Who the Oblivion was P and more importantly, who was V? The Silver Hand’s presence added a measure of complication and further urgency to his already perilous mission. Right now, the feud was a private affair, but make a single mistake and Äelberon was certain they would make it a public one. All they needed to do was tell a Vigilant of Stendarr. They were allies in a common cause for Auri-El’s sake! They even had a former Vigilant in their ranks! So far, they were not telling the Whiterun authorities, which meant they still wanted the feud to remain secret, which meant that the Silver Hand were more than likely hiding something as well. That gave him, at least, a bit of time. Right now, he was the unforeseen variable in all of this, and he could use it to his advantage. It was not how he wanted to do things, but a Paladin’s normal directness required strength of body.


    Something you no longer have.


    Well, if your years on the run, if your years of being wily have taught you anything, old Mer, it is that this is a bloody trap.  But, your honor demands that you retrieve it. Your honor demands that you collect her blood price. Fools rush in where Aedra fear to tread, and you, old Mer, are one big fool. Urag would be infinitely pleased, Äelberon smirked. You are a true Orc now, he could almost picture the Winterhold Librarian laughing, definitely giving him a sound smack to the back, and then cheekily taking the Fragment of Wuuthrad from right under his nose to add to College’s collection.


    Vengeance is a dirty job. He looked back at Aela. He did not want her tainted by that. He did not want her risked for that. She was too public a figure among her Shield-Brothers and Sisters. Too respected. The Huntress. The Pride of Jorrvaskr, a role model to young maids all through Skyrim who desired the path of the warrior. Risk was his job. He was the one who knew what it was to run, to evade traps. He was the stranger to their land, expendable as the taint upon Jorrvaskr’s legacy. He was already tainted among his people. Aprax. Exiled. Besides, Aela had enough to worry about. Her fearful words on Kodlak… Well, they had some merit. Child was not stupid. It was the Old Man’s intention to cleanse her of Hircine’s Curse. To purge her of the Prince's stain in the righteous might of religion and all that was supposed to be right.


    And it was your intention as well.


    But… Äelberon sighed. He could not do that to her now. His promise to Skjor and his love for his sister had taken over, overcoming his duty as both Priest and Demon Hunter. His desire for her to never go through what he had gone through. How his people had tried to make him conform, to look and act a certain way. Oppression, suppression,  and…




    She deserves the freedom to choose her own fate. To be reunited with Skjor if that was her wish. She deserves love, even if it comes with death. You will reconcile yourself with Brother Theodard and Auri-El later.


    “My Lord, She is my family, helped me to heal when I nearly died…” He prayed, taking a deep breath to quell the heaviness in his chest and the sting in his eyes. “They are my family now. I cannot help it, my Lord. I cannot help it. If you wanted a true servant, you should have given me a heart of stone, not of flesh.” He tested the tightness of the weapon’s springs. It was strong, secure, so unlike he was now. “My heart is too weak. I am too weak. And old, and stupid, and scared.” He chuckled, setting down the weapon to try to rub the fatigue from his face. “Well, you certainly ended up in a barrel of rotting fish, old Mer.” He grumbled under his breath, his face still buried in his hands.


    It was done. He had thirty days.  Xarxes’ fat Arse, only thirty days! He had sworn a blood oath. And of course ya pick the bloody shortest month of the year to swear it, ya dumb fool! If he did not cleanse his brothers and himself within that time frame, the Vigilants of Stendarr would come to Whiterun and it would be over for Circle. It would be over for the Companions. And it would be over for him. And that was without the Silver Hand breathing down their necks!


    Äelberon lifted his head from his hands and squeezed them to get the circulation flowing again, eyeing the weapon. It was a better crossbow than Niniik, much better made, but Niniik was now with Skjor. Äelberon knew they would make a happy pair in the Hunting Grounds.


    A gift from brother to brother. The bow! From Hircine’s Rite. Aela’s dagger and a werewolf’s claw added after. And the final gift? The very blade that slew their brave Veteran, Krev’s saw-sword. It was fitting.


    He should have given Skjor his very blade, but Torsten could not be denied either. A friend, even of years ago, is still a friend. Worthy too. He crossed his arms over the table and rested his head on them with a long sigh, still staring at the crossbow as he remembered the events from his first day as Bitter-Cursed. Has a day even passed yet?  It felt like so much longer.


    They buried Skjor at the courtyard of Gallow’s Rock as the morning sun struggled to shine through the falling snow.  A grey, bleak day. It was a deep grave and his hands still ached from the effort of digging it, but Skjor’s body was damaged enough. He did not want it to be further desecrated by hungry vermin or worse, returning Silver Hand.  


    He was confident that Brother Balis would survive the journey, but as to whether or not the Silver Hand leader would heed his message--call it what it really is, old Mer, your threat. You threatened him. A very unpriestly thing, but you are not such a priest anymore. No, you are, just having a hard go of it. So Faldar’s Tooth would be the Blood Price. A sound warning to the Silver Hand to leave the Companions be. He would risk the trap to deliver that message personally. For Aela, for family, for Skjor...


    Skjor was wrapped in a werewolf’s pelt and placed with care inside along with Niniik, Aela’s dagger, the claw, and the Skinner’s sword. He then listened while she spoke the rite of Hircine, invoking the Huntsman to accept Skjor into his pack, moved by her display of faith. He resisted the righteous voice in his head that wanted to call out the dire blasphemy, that he was witnessing the open worship of a Daedric Prince. The voice that sounded an awful lot like the voices of his People, ripe with their insecurities, their pettiness, their spite. Instead, he listened to the voice in his head that kept telling him that Aela was his sister and that the man now gone to him forever was his brother. Another voice of his People. The voice of his family and the High Priest of Dusk, the Vestige who went soulless so that many souls could be saved. Life lessons that always seemed to be taught, not at the Temple, but in the quietness of a mossy brook or a grove. Never at the Temple, Äelberon noticed. As if what he learned from the wise Mer was somehow different from what was taught there.


    Was it different? Was that why Kahlailas’ brow would sometimes crease during Temple service? Why he often looked weary when the other priests spoke hardened words against others less fortunate while he advocated for Mercy.


    “Mercy and Love. These are the greatest of His Tenets, my son.” Äelberon murmured the ancient Elf’s words to himself. Were they really His tenets, he raised his eyebrows in question. He shook his head, groaning, ashamed of his own blasphemy. Of course they are, you fool, that is why Auri-El gave you the dream. He wants you to save them. Even if it means killing? He groaned, closing his eyes. Damn it, stop it! You are just bloody tired.


    “We cannot risk a marker.” He had told Aela as they filled the grave, the snow clinging to his eyebrows and beard. She looked up at him, her pale face framed by the hood of her heavy fur cloak, her nose running from both the cold and grief, her silver eyes rimmed red, the circles under them darker than ever they should be for one so young.  He remembered hoisting another shovel full of frozen, rocky dirt in a drained motion. How heavy the rocks and pebbles sounded when they fell upon their brother’s body. “If the Silver Hand were to return…”


    She was visibly distressed at those honest words, her chin fighting not to quiver, her voice trying not to break when she spoke again, asking. “Then how will we remember where he lies?”


    The six are now down to five… The old Mer furrowed his brow, no four. He thought he could save all of them, that the deaths in his dream were not depicting actual deaths, but Skjor had died in his dream and now, was dead, buried. You were trying to cheat fate, old Mer. And it does not always work that way. He turned back to Aela, understanding that no, not all the souls would be saved, that he would be no fulfilling his full oath to the Vigilants. He could not damn her to Sovngarde when all she wanted was to be reunited with her husband. To join him in Hircine’s forever hunt. He could not deny her that. So we will go home, face the snow squall head on, go where Fate tells us.


    And face the consequences for your actions, Äelberon smirked bitterly, knowing that he was making no effort to stir from his chair and wake Aela.  He knew there would be consequences and he was scared. Not so much by the Vigilants, but Kodlak? Kodlak was different. Family. To Kodlak, he was a holy Priest, a White Knight. Old Snow Bear of the ice flats. The Dragonborn. His actions would seem an affront to old Man’s search for the cure, an affront to his desire to see Sovngarde. Or… if Kodlak truly knew his heart, how much he loved his new family, Whitemane would know that he was doing this terrible, terrible thing for them. And they would understand, perhaps even forgive.


    “The lupines will tell us, my sister.” He finally answered her at Skjor’s covered cairn, while he scattered lupine seeds upon the earth, sounding quite a bit like the old High Priest himself. Clear comfort in his words, despite his own fears clamoring in his soul. “Your Hircine will do this for Skjor, for you. And they will grow, my dear sister, marking his grave. And, I promise, together, when Spring returns, we will go see where he lies, and remember.”


    When Spring returns.


    If you live to see Spring…


    Äelberon of Dusk watched the snow fall through a hole in the wall near the tower’s roof, watched the fat crystal flakes whirl and dance. Thick circles in the wind. Blowing. Spinning, clinging to each other, becoming bound to each other as they fell from aetherius to earth. Smothering all in their wake. Binding. You to me. Three threads I twine…


    An old melody then played in his mind while he watched the snow… A song from his youth, from a time when his little head still rested at his Lenya’s comforting breast. A quiet song, lest they were ever heard by others. A song she would sing at their hearth while she spun the thread that made their clothes while Ata repaired the nets for the next day’s fishing. He at the floor, she at the chair. Both worked thread, one for clothing, one for catching, but his child’s eyes were always transfixed by the suspended spindle that spun fast in the air, bobbing, blurring. Watching the mass of cotton under the manipulation of her long white fingers lengthen and stretch under the weight of the spindle to become thread. Thread for clothes, thread for nets. Feeling the muscles of her leg contract, the knee go up and down gently under his little body as her foot tapped the rhythm of the song, her crystal-blue eyes lost in the words, lost in her work. Sometimes Ata adding his hoarse tenor to the chorus under his breath, sometimes not. As a little boy, he would fall asleep to that song while she spun the thread, her beating heart steady against his ear. A song from the Outsider’s Skyrim. Their ancestor. His ancestor.


    Binding you to me

    Threads three I twine

    Three times the crow crows for you

    Three songs the wind winds for you

    To separate, To see...


    I chant over you

    Mighty words I blare

    Rise up by the Mind

    Ride out by the Mind

    Now I shift my song

    To follow new paths


    Spin spin, victory of will

    The song spins the spirit-wind

    The mind chooses, the mind wins

    The thread twines, the thread binds

    Under moon, over hill

    Under gallows speak the dead

    Far I go

    Wide I see


    Skilled in the hidden ways

    Shape-shifting, I swept the land

    Sped like a bolt of magic

    Spun counter-sunwise

    Wise of magic

    If I see, I am everything

    If I want, I win it all


    Wind I was and wind I am

    I am wound, woven

    Bound and twined

    To you who seek

    To you who need

    The river flows north and below

    The river flees north and below

    Carrying what you swear

    Sending what you let go


    To you who choose

    To you who want

    Chant until the song sings you

    Chant until the song lets go

    The tongue does separate

    The Shadows that show the way...



    “Brother.” Aela repeated for a third time, raising her voice and shaking his shoulder. She had slept too long, rose, and hastily went to the Elf. Only to find him sitting, staring blankly at the snow. Little Moon Brother was on his haunches, his sky blue eyes expectant, his ears flattening just enough to let the Huntress know he was already a good judge of her moods.


    Äelberon turned his neck quickly in Aela’s directed, finally responding. His red-orange eyes were misted over for a moment, as if he was seeing something else other than the snow outside. They blinked and immediately cleared. Aela shoved Krev’s book-keeping against the Mer’s chest and scowled. “You were going to tell me about Faldar’s Tooth, right?” Aye, I’m smarter than you think, old Mer. She had noticed how he read it carefully after she threw it on the floor. If he reads, it means it’s worth knowing, so she read it too.


    The old Mer looked away from her and back towards the snow, almost defeated. “No, I had not planned on it.”


    “Can I ask why?” She replied, feeling her anger build.


    Äelberon’s shoulders slumped in the chair for a moment, but then he made to rise, reaching for the new weapon. He slung it over his shoulder. “We should go home. I have packed our things. Koor waits and Allie is still outside. The snow is not going to let up and I would see Jorrvaskr before nightfall.”


    Aela tilted her head to the side, tapping her foot impatiently, while the Elf busied himself with loading up his gear. He handed her her cloak, then her pack, still quiet. “Well?”




    “You would then deny me the glory of Skjor’s Blood Price?” Aela argued, pushing his shoulder back so he would stop moving and face her. “He was my lover. My husband. Wuuthrad is my tradition! Not yours!”


    He looked at where her hand rested on his pauldron, as if insulted, and clenched his jaw, something simmering behind his eyes that told Aela that he was perhaps losing his restraint. A deep, deliberate breath was taken, he let it out, and he then faced her, raising his eyebrows to drive his clipped words. “We have already been through this, Aela. At Gallow’s Rock. On the ride here. At this tower. And my answer is the same. No. The answer is ‘no’. Not for you.”


    “Faldar’s Tooth.” She replied. “We need to go.”


    “No,” Äelberon shook his head. “‘Tis a trap, Aela. A trap. They are baiting us with Wuuthrad. This is personal. If you really read what Krev wrote.” He pointed to his head and thumped it several times with his finger. “Truly understood.” He then pointed at her, leaning closer. “You would know this. We go home, Shield-Sister!” His teeth were clenched. “To cool our heads--”


    “You would dishonor your brother!” Of course she slapped him, her palm striking his cheek faster than she could think, harder than she maybe wanted.


    He quickly slapped her back and her eyes went quite wide as she stared at him, stricken dumb. No one had ever dared strike her. The Elf held her chin firmly to face him.


    “Do not.  EVER. Strike me again, youngling. Your very actions prove my point. Why we must cool our heads, think, and…” The hand that held her chin was no longer so rough and his features softened. “Why I must go alone.” Something in his tone, in his eyes, made her stop and think.


    “Why alone?” She finally asked, deviating from her prior stubborn insistence that they both go when they argued on the matter before. She shifted her gaze to the side, away from his eyes.


    “Because they do not know me. Do you understand? With Krev’s death, Torsten’s, no Silver Hand know of me. They also do not know what I have become.” He turned her face to his again, his eyes boring into her. Their look was pained, as if what he was saying hurt him deeply. The hand that held her chin almost seemed to be trembling from… Aela’s eyes narrowed. He was terrified, she could smell his fear, see the sweat bead on his brow. “If you go, Aela,” Äelberon continued, his voice no more than an intense whisper. “All will know what the Companions truly are. Do you want that? Do you want what that will bring to our family? I have seen the horror that comes from persecution. With my own eyes, felt their blood flow onto my hands, smelled their burning flesh. Innocents, Aela, and they still died.  We are lycanthropes, we are not innocent. It will be much, much worse and I cannot lose anymore.”  


    In her joy from the Gift, Aela sometimes forgot that it was illegal, that what she saw as right, the world saw as wrong. She blinked at his words, understanding. “I’m sorry.”


    Äelberon acknowledged her apology and touched her cheek where he had slapped her, the fear in his eyes morphing into tenderness. He then kissed her forehead, a grandda’s gesture. She could not resist and embraced him tightly, letting him hold her. “It is the good thing about us wolves.” Aela murmured into his chest.


    “We do not squabble for long.” He said into her hair, giving her another small kiss, before he pulled her head back, holding it between his big hands. “Ah Aela, I will protect you like you are my very own child. I will, I swear it. Do you understand?”


    She nodded. “Yes, brother.”


    The old Elf, pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and again brought her head close to his chest, holding her. She could feel his heart against her ear. “I am so sorry, Aela. If I had only understood what I was seeing, I would have…” He shook his head. “A few days...and I will go alone. To honor your Blood Price. Honor Wuuthrad. Honor the Companions and Skjor's memory.”


    He broke their embrace with a final kiss to the top of her head, and they continued out the door, towards the bridge over the White River that joined the two Towers of Valtheim.


    She was ahead, walking through the fresh snow that covered the bridge, still sad, still mourning, still fighting the tears that would often well when her thoughts turned to Skjor. Her Shield-Brother was behind her, his steps slower, heavier. Koor was ahead of them, already forging a path through the snow that would lead them to the grouchy queen who was waiting for them by a thicket near the first tower. Aela let herself smile at Little Moon Brother, watching his tail wag as he dove into the snow, searching for prey that wasn’t really there, seeming to move on from tragedy, his resilience inspiring.


    Only to realize that she now just heard her footsteps. He had stopped. The heart, his heart then did something she had never heard it do in all the time that she had known him. It skipped a beat, faltering weakly briefly before resuming its normal rate. Aela turned around, finding her Shield-Brother leaning heavily against one of the bridge’s support struts, his face devoid of all color, his breathing leaving labored streams of steam into the winter air. Koor had already anticipated her, running past her towards Äelberon, exuberance replaced by the dog’s concern for his Master.


    “Brother?” Aela asked, rushing towards him. The Mer closed his eyes, shaking his head. Her hands found his shoulder, providing support. “What’s wrong?”


    He gasped as if in pain. “Just dizzy.”


    Aela put her hand on his cheek. It was damp with sweat, clammy. “You’re not well.”  


    Werewolves are never sick, she furrowed her brow.


    Äelberon dismissed her with a wave of his hand while his other found the dog’s ears to soothe the animal. “Just hungry and thirsty, that is all. It will pass. Just give this old Mer a moment.” He opened his eyes and gave her a weak smile. “See?” He raised his eyebrows and gave her a wink. “Better already.”


    “Isn’t there a tenet that says you’re not supposed to lie?”  


    Her Priest laughed aloud at that and she was happy when some color returned to his cheeks. “Learning my tenets are we?”


    Aela crossed her arms over her chest as she leaned closer to her Shield-Brother. “Well, you say them morning and night. Lycanthrope ears, remember?”


    “True. Aye, I feel like shit. I will say my penance to the good Lord Auri-El for all my lies when we reach Jorrvaskr.”


    “Nah, you do not lie,” Aela reached to push a damp lock of hair from the Mer’s forehead. “Just add a bit of Dusken honey to the truth on occasion to make people feel better.” The Huntress then grinned. “However, those Nord curses are flowing from your tongue pretty readily, Priest.”


    “More truth. Will do penance for my swearing as well.” The Mer chuckled. His hand then found her shoulder. “This will pass, Aela. I am just tired. Right? You are the expert on this, if I recall?”


    “Yes, weakness is common in the beginning.” She lied. She could lay a little honey upon the truth too. “We will hunt tonight and you’ll be better for it. Stronger.” The truth was that she didn’t know what was wrong with him. Vilkas and Farkas were much better than he was at this stage. They were already feeling the increased stamina. The increased power and vitality. On the other hand, Äelberon seemed weaker, but at the same time he wasn’t.


    “Aela, do you blame me for Skjor’s death?” He suddenly asked quietly, still rubbing Koor’s ears, though his eyes were looking to the distance, their age keenly apparent. She sighed, her eyes finding the bruise on his cheek, remembering how hard she hit him. She touched the bruise and the Mer seemed to welcome the contact, letting his eyes close as he hung his head. The emotion surged through him, and he, as an Altmer, tried to hard to control it. “I am so sorry, Aela.” He finally blurted out, shaking his head. “I should never have asked. He would be here, we would be laughing--”


    “For a short time, I did.” She interrupted him.


    “I know. And I accept the blame.” He looked at her. “Can you ever forgive me?”


    Aela nodded. “I forgive you, because it was Skjor’s decision to go to Gallow’s Rock, not yours. It was his decision to scout the area. Not yours. He acted rashly and you fought to save him from himself. I understand now that that is what you meant by Auriel giving you time, Brother.”


    “I failed him and I failed you.”


    “Yes, we both did. But I don’t think he would’ve liked me putting blame on you for his own actions. It was not his way. And… it’s not my way. You asked for the Beast blood, nothing more. I cannot blame you for that. So clear your conscious. There is nothing to forgive.”


    The Mer gave her a sigh of relief, blinking several times to control what Aela knew were emerging tears. “I am comforted in knowing that I still have your love. I will collect your Blood Price, Aela, I swear it.” Äelberon offered. “As your brother.”


    She gave him a quick kiss to that bruised cheek. “I know you will, Brother. You are honorable and do not lie.”  


    He nodded, though she could still see the sadness in his eyes. The guilt. “I never wanted to hurt you. Like I said, it is like you are my own.”


    “I know, brother. Now, enough of this jabbering and sobbing like old women.  Let us move or night will find us soon. I know a Mer that maybe needs a hot milk and a warm bed.” She sniffed near his face and wrinkled her nose. “And maybe a bath too.”  


    Allie was found standing near the rock face within a small thicket, her body sheltered from the snow by several pine trees and shrubs, the pine trees stripped bare of their needles at just the point where a horse’s mouth could reach. Allie greeted them with a whinny and her distinctive bared teeth, as if they had taken her from some monumental task with their silly request to ride her. She is definitely no Jeek, Aela mused. It was funny how their horses were total opposites. Äelberon was very much like her Jeek of the Riverr; white, strong, yet incredibly gentle, sensitive. And she was like Allie, strong-willed and very prone to bite.  Yet, at the same time, both horses served their respective masters with loyalty.


    Äelberon led Allie from her hiding spot and bade Aela mount the horse with a quiet gesture. She could tell that his emotions were still raw and she wanted to offer solace, say more words to make him see that all was truly well between them, that Jorrvaskr was a family, that love would always there despite the fighting, but somehow, it felt like the wrong time. He was brooding, thinking, so she decided that silence was best for now as she mounted Allie, sliding as far up the saddle as she could to accommodate Äelberon’s body. A tight fit, and she could see how the saddle dug into his thighs, making him grunt with pain. Äelberon squeezed Allie’s flanks with his powerful legs and with a hard snort, the mare began to trudge heavily in the snow, Moon Brother trotting along ahead of their path, his nose close to the ground.


    They rode for a while in silence, watching the snow continue to fall, but Äelberon was restless on the saddle, shifting position, and it wasn’t because his legs were hurting him from his position. She could feel the anxiousness in his body, the desire to run.


    “Aela,” He finally broke the silence, though he wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were forward, towards the night horizon where the lights from the Jarl’s palace could just be seen through the snow. “If someone were to question my honor, what are my rights?”


    She scrunched her face in thought and turned to face him. “What do you mean? Who would question?”


    “Those that may feel hard Skjor’s death.” He replied, his eyes still forward.


    “Are you saying the old Man? Jorrvaskr?” So, he is thinking this. It made sense. Knew the old Man better than she anticipated. Only with them since Evening Star and he already knew the old Man well enough to ask.


    “I do not know what will happen. I only ask what are my rights?” He repeated, stopping Allie in the snow. His jaw was set.


    She attempted to provide her brother with some of the comfort he gave her, knowing her next words would not necessarily be true. “Äelberon, you won’t need--”


    “Tell me.” His voice was grim. Ah, Snow Bear knows better. Honesty, it seemed, was always best when dealing with the Elf. She faced forward and sank against his chest, letting out a blast of air. Äelberon was no whelp and if he felt he was being questioned, he would defend his honor. It was his right.


    “If one dares question your honor,” She began. “it is your right, Snow Bear, to have the matter brought up before the Circle.”


    “Would it result in combat?” He then asked.




    “So be it then.” He said softly with a nod, though Aela did see his nostrils flare.


    “And I will stand with you, my Brother.” It was her turn to offer him something in return. He would collect Blood Price for her and she would defend him against the Circle if that is what it came to. Aela put her hand over his that was resting upon the saddle’s horn, squeezing gently. “For you are honorable and never lie.”


    “Fate goes ever as it must.” He replied, pressing on Allie’s flanks with his thighs and giving her reins a light tap to get her moving again. They continued down the cobbled road that led home in the snow squall. Aela furrowed her brow in thought, her head still resting on the Mer’s chest, feeling his heartbeat, again steady and strong. What was he expecting when they returned?



    Author's Note:

    The song is adapted from Wardruna's Vindavla (Wind-made). Their latest Album, Skald, is an amazing acoustical journey of Norse poetry. 


    I am taking liberties and pushing the boundaries of Altmeri culture, I know. But, Aelberon makes mention of the Outsider as an ancestor. Yes, THE Henantier the Outsider was kin from his father's side while the Vestige, or High Priest Kahlailas, is his kin from his mother's side. When you have ancestors like that and with Ancestor worship being a thing among the old school Altmer, before they adopted their official pantheon, it stands to reason that vestiges of such worship would remain in isolated pockets of the Isles in the 4th era. His family is not wealthy, had no powerful kings or nobles to venerate. Instead, they have this plucky Altmer warrior who risked everything in the first era to receive the respect of Jorrvaskr through hard work and diligence. I can see how that would be admired in a poor family. And the Vestige, well, if you know what he does in ESO's story line, then that is also a person to admire. In addition, he is connected to Lyris Titanborn, yep, another Nord. So yes, there are aspects of Nord culture in Aelberon's family. And yes, it only adds fuel to the Thalmor fire. 


    And no, no spinning wheel for Aelberon's mother. Instead, they use the Medieval top spindle, more appropriate for a poor family, though I am of a notion that actual spinning wheels probably exist in Tamriel. 


    In addition, ESO's Summerset chapter reveals a deep reverance for ancestors in how Altmer state their names. Blank of (insert city here) is a shortened name in Straag. Their actual names are much, much longer. 


    Thank you for continuing to read. 

    Straag Rod, Book 1 Toc

    Chapter 20 * Chapter 22



6 Comments   |   Ben W and 5 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  February 17, 2019
    A powerful chapter, Lis. Your knack of depicting complex and deep emotions is on-point here. For Albee, who is no stranger to tragedy, to tell Aela the truth that there is no end to grief and that vengeance was what drove him for so long made for some gri...  more
    • Paws
      A powerful chapter, Lis. Your knack of depicting complex and deep emotions is on-point here. For Albee, who is no stranger to tragedy, to tell Aela the truth that there is no end to grief and that vengeance was what drove him for so long made for some gri...  more
        ·  February 17, 2019
      ...The Huntress following him in anyway.
      • The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        ...The Huntress following him in anyway.
          ·  February 18, 2019
        Probably still no, because he would see her emotion as a potential liability. What happens later, however, at Faldar's Tooth, is the reason why Aelberon will refuse to use the thu'um again on humans until the end of Chasing Aetherius. 
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  February 15, 2019
    Skjor got a nice burial, but I'm really beginning to wonder how it's gonna go with Kodlak. Albee feels really old in this chapter, which is another heavy one.  The bit with the back and forth slapping made me giggle though. Immediate quiting!
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  February 9, 2019
    What [was] driving them?

    and then cheekily taking the Fragment of Wuuthrad from right under his nose to add to [the] College’s collection.

    You can see Aelberon going further and further from his code, while stil...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      What [was] driving them?

      and then cheekily taking the Fragment of Wuuthrad from right under his nose to add to [the] College’s collection.

      ...  more
        ·  February 11, 2019
      Well you know Albee, he's the kind of guy in a dinner where he'll make sure everyone else in the table is satisfied first and THEN he'll eat.