Freystein's Tale: Revenge (Ch. 16)

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    Dappled shadows played on the road as I walked away from Hert's cabin. The warmth of the morning sun seemed to bolster my strength with every step and after an hour I turned off the road and down a worn path to find a place to eat. I sat upon a rock - after kicking it to make sure it wasn't a giant crab - and ate a cold breakfast of rabbit and cheese.

    Runil had told me to expect to take no more than a day and a half to reach Bilegulch Mine. Half a day out of Falkreath I had nearly been killed by a tree-beast. I had spent half of the next day working a sawmill. I was behind schedule and still had the better part of a day to walk, if my reckoning was right.

    While adjusting my gear to continue my journey I was startled by a sudden shout.

    "You! Help, please!"

    I quickly looked around and spied a crawling figure farther down the worn path. Running over I saw a deeply tanned and powerfully built man collapsed on the ground. A great slab of muscle from his right arm had been torn from the bone by his shoulder and was only attached at the elbow. Blood was pouring from the wound and soaking into the ground around him. He was looking at me with pleading eyes.

    "Please, I've lost so much blood," he said, weakly. "Can you spare a healing potion? Please? By the Divines, you've got to help me, I can't die here!"

    I quickly slipped my pack and dug into it for one of the red vials. When I found one I held it up and asked, "This?"

    "Yes, please, bring it here, hurry!" he answered, reaching his good arm toward me.

    I removed the cork and handed him the vial. He wasted no time tipping half the contents down his throat. His body was enveloped in the bright yellow glow I was learning to recognize as healing magic. He seemed to gain strength and some relief immediately.

    After a moment he sat up and keeping his head down he put the mouth of the vial between his teeth. With his good arm he re-positioned the separated muscle. Suddenly, he threw his head back and downed the rest of the potion and the light enveloped him again. When it faded, his arm was whole.

    After catching his breath, he looked up at me. "Thank you stranger. And thank Kynareth you were here. I could not have lasted much longer," he said. "May I know the name of my savior?"

    "Freystein," I said, moving my hand to the hilt of my sword. His eyes went wide in alarm as I continued, "I would have your name, also. I hope that you are not a bandit."

    "No, no... I am a hunter!" he said, quickly. "I am Valdr of Falkreath, my companions and I tracked a bear to the cave up the path. We went in after it, but...," he stopped, as a look of pain that wasn't physical crossed his face.

    "But what?" I asked, relaxing my grip on the sword hilt.

    "But we were attacked by spriggans. They took Niels before we even knew they were there. Ari and I ran, and I thought we were going to make it, but she tripped and they fell upon her. I tried to save her, but one got hold of my arm and...," he choked up.

    "And nearly ripped it off," I finished for him.

    He nodded.

    "What's a spriggan?" I asked.

    He gave me a confused look. "You've never heard of spriggans? They're creatures made of sticks and branches," he explained. "Mythical, I thought, until today."

    "Ah," I said, "I think I killed one two days ago. Didn't know what it was. Nasty creature."

    A hopeful look came into Valdr's eyes, and he said, "You've killed one? So they can die?"

    "Not easily."

    "It's something, though," he said, while struggling to his feet. "If they can die, I mean to try killing them. For Ari. And Niels, too."

    I stared at him for a moment before saying, "You're going back in there? In your condition? You can barely stand!"

    "My strength is returning," Valdr said, defiantly. "Besides, they won't be expecting me again so soon. I.." - a puzzled look came over his face - "What's wrong with your neck?"

    I started to say there was nothing wrong when I realized I had let go of my sword and was absentmindedly scratching at the two large welts. I dropped my arm to my side and said, "Oh, these spriggans can make magical insects attack you. Their bites are real enough, and two became infected on my neck."

    Valdr looked relieved. "Good," he said. "I mean not good, but I thought maybe you'd been bitten by a vampire."

    I frowned. "What's a vampire?"

    "Don't you know anything?" Valdr asked. "Look, it doesn't matter. What matters is avenging Ari. And Niels. I know it's a lot to ask, but... well... you've killed these things before and..."

    "And you want to know if I would help you?"

    "Yes," he said, with a fearful note in his voice. "Please?"

    I knew I shouldn't. I'd only just met him, and I had no reason to avenge his Ari or Niels. The smart thing to do would have been to continue on to Bilegulch Mine and leave Valdr to his foolhardiness.

    "Alright," I said.

    We vikingrs have trouble passing up a fight.

    I did convince Valdr to wait until he had recovered a bit more, but it wasn't long before we were moving quietly through the cave entrance. A young woman's body lay in a pool of blood not far inside. Her flesh was torn in great gashes.
    "Ari," Valdr softly said.

    I looked back at my companion. The blood seemed to have drained from his face, and he wore a look of rage. His left fist was clenched so tight, blood was dripping from where his fingernails must have cut his palm.

    "These savages will pay," he whispered, looking to me for confirmation.

    I nodded and we continued.

    We both had arrows nocked to our bowstrings and when we caught sight of the first spriggan we loosed at nearly the same moment. Both arrows caught the creature in the torso and it collapsed to its knees. The light of healing magic began swirling, but I was already falling upon it with my sword.

    Valdr circled to my right and shot another arrow into the creature's side before drawing his own sword and joining me in finishing the beast. It never had a chance to use its claws or foul magic against us.

    Advancing farther in, we found Niels beside a pond in a steep-walled bowl open to the sky above. Distracted by the body, we didn't see the vile form of the second spriggan until it stepped from brush some ten paces away. It's arm was already raised to cast insects at me.

    I prepared to rush forward, but Valdr shouted from behind me, "DOWN!" and I dove into the pond just as I heard the twang of his bow. The water was shockingly cold and it took me a moment to orient myself. When I broke the surface, I saw Valdr and the spriggan locked in close combat. The tree-creature had both of its hands wrapped around the blade of my comrade's sword and was trying to remove it from his grasp. Valdr had one hand wrapped around his hilt and the other on his crossguard, muscles straining to keep his blade.

    I pulled myself from the water and ran to the battle, bringing my own sword down hard on the spriggan's head. As it staggered, I drew back and struck again, this time running my blade through its chest from back to front just as Valdr landed a chopping blow on its neck. Our foe collapsed into a pile of forest debris.

    "One more," Valdr panted.

    I nodded, and squelched my way past him. Just then rain began to fall through the chasm at the top of the bowl. Not that it mattered in my after-pond condition.

    The final spriggan stepped out of a tree when I was almost on top of it. An arm extended as quick as thought and the insect swarm shot into my armor before I could barely react.

    I was hit with such force that I fell to the ground covered in biting, stinging horrors. They tried to fight their way into my mouth and pry open my eyelids. I felt them pour into my ears and begin to crowd my nostrils. I couldn't help it, I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came as I began to choke on the swarm that invaded my throat... and then they were gone.

    I sputtered and coughed and cautiously opened one eye to see Valdr removing his sword from a mass of brush he'd pinned to a tree. I closed my eye and my head fell back to the ground. Like before, the poison didn't vanish with the bugs, and I was having trouble drawing air into my lungs. I could feel my heart skipping beats and I was too weak to move.

    Suddenly, I felt someone's hand under my head, tipping it up, and a liquid met my lips. I tried to swallow, but I couldn't make it go down - my throat was too swollen - but after a moment everywhere the liquid touched in my mouth and throat seemed to hurt less, the swelling vanished, and I swallowed. A strange tingling sensation rushed through my body and then I could breath again. My heart was still pounding, but it was a regular rythym.

    I opened my eyes and Valdr was kneeling over me, one of my vials empty in his hand. He smiled a grim smile and said, "Just rest easy now for a bit, while your strength returns. That thing was so focused on killing you, I don't think it even noticed me until I hit it."

    I grunted then said, "Lucky."

    "Yeah," he said, helping me sit up. Then he looked at the spriggan remains and continued, "Justice, I suppose, if you can call it that."

    When I could stand, Valdr helped me to the cavern entrance in silence. Outside, he sat on a nearby log and fiddled with a dagger while I traded my wet cape for a dry cloak from my pack and prepared to continue my journey. I was about to hoist my pack onto my shoulders when he spoke.

    "Say, stranger... Freystein... Why were you here, anyway?"

    "I'm on an errand for Jarl Siddgeir," I answered.

    Valdr looked surprised. "Really? I didn't figure you for one of Siddgeir's lackeys. No offense, friend! I'm just surprised."

    "None taken," I said, "I'm not one of his. I don't really have a choice in the matter."

    "Ah, I see." He rolled the shoulder of the arm my potion had healed earlier. "Damn healing potions. Lifesavers, but things never quite feel the same for awhile afterwards," he said, almost to himself. "Anyway, where are you heading?"

    I hesitated, but decided to be trusting. "Bilegulch Mine."

    Valdr whistled then said, "Be careful there, Freystein. Orc bandits hold it. Fiercest warriors in all of Tamriel. Siddgeir must really hate you. What did you do to him?"

    I chuckled softly and said, "It's a long story."

    "Well, you'll have to tell me, sometime. Look, I'd offer to come with you, but..." he trailed off.

    "You have friends to bury, and I don't have time to wait," I told him. "I understand. We each have a duty."

    He looked relieved. "Right," he said, "but I want you have this" - he held the dagger out to me, hilt first - "Ari gave it to me when we... when we started hunting together. It always brought me luck, but... I don't think I can stand to have it now, it reminds me of too much. I want you to have it, for thanks, and for your own luck."

    I thanked him and tucked the blade into my belt. He pointed to the south and continued, "Just on the other side of that ridge there's a couple with a small cabin. They provide a safe shelter for hunters this side of Falkreath. Tell them I sent you, and say, 'The hunt goes always to the swift' and they'll set you up with a dry place tonight."

    I tried to thank him again, but he wasn't finished. "When you return to Falkreath, come find me at Dead Man's Drink. I don't think I'll be hunting for awhile, and I want to buy you a mead or ten. Thank you again, Freystein, and may Kynareth's breezes be always at your back!"

    With that we clasped hands, and I set out on the road again.


    Late in the afternoon I caught sight of the cabin Valdr had directed me to. I approached to about fifty paces and raised my hand to my mouth to shout a greeting, when an arm suddenly snaked around from behind me and placed a blade at my throat. An instant later a longbow-wielding woman stepped out of the cabin with an arrow nocked and drawn and aimed right at my chest. I froze.

    "You make more noise than a wounded bear," whispered a man's rough voice by my left ear.

    "Who are you and what are you doing here?" the woman yelled. She'd closed the distance to about twenty five paces and stopped, standing by a fire that was roaring despite the rain. I could see a touch of grey in her brown hair.

    "My name is Freystein," I said, carefully, mindful of the naked blade at my throat. "Valdr sent me. He said the hunt goes always to the swift."

    The knife moved a couple finger-widths away from my throat, but stayed close. The woman lowered her bow, and took some of the tension off the bowstring, but didn't un-nock the arrow. "How is our friend, Valdr?" she asked.

    "Not well," I replied. "His comrades Ari and Niels are dead." - the woman gasped; the man behind me cursed - "Valdr would be, as well, but I found him in time to give him a healing potion."

    "What happened?" the bow-woman demanded.


    "By the Nine!" she said. "Where did this happen?"

    "In a cavernous bowl, on the other side of the ridge. Valdr and I slew the spriggans, he's stayed behind to bury his friends."

    "I know the place." Her eyes shifted slightly to the man behind me."Lokheim?"

    "Go," he said, withdrawing the knife from in front of me. The woman spun on her heel and ran back into the cabin. I turned to the man behind me. He was middle aged, tanned and weather-beaten with more grey in his beard than red.

    "I'm Lokheim," he said, "and my wife is Fryssa. She was an initiate of Arkay before I stole her away to a hunter's life. She'll see the correct rites are performed for Ari and Niels. Meanwhile, make yourself at home. If Valdr trusts you, so do we."

    "Do you greet all your guests so warmly?" I asked, rubbing my throat.

    Lokheim chuckled before answering, "Sorry about that. There've been a lot of bandits about since the war started, we have to be careful and" - his face turned grim - "it'll be even harder now, without Ari and Niels. What a damned shame."

    Fryssa emerged from the cabin wearing a heavy cloak and a light pack, carrying her bow. She jogged up to Lokheim and said, "I'll be back before dawn, love."

    He gathered her into his arms and kissed her deeply. When he released her, he said, "Be careful, my heart. I wouldn't think ill of it if you camped with Valdr tonight and traveled back in the morning. The night is not safe."

    Fryssa laid a hand on her husband's chest and said, "Thank you," kissed him lightly again, and then she was off in a loping run.

    Lokheim fed me a hearty stew and gave me a tent that he said had belonged to Niels.

    "I'm confident he would have you take it, for avenging him," he declared. "It's the least I can do. You're welcome to pitch it by the fire and stay here as long as you need." He paused a moment. There was a hint of nervousness when he continued, "I couldn't help but notice the marks on your neck..."

    "Infected bites from a spriggan bugs," I said.

    "Oh, well then," he looked relieved, "so long as it's not vampires."

    He turned and walked into the cabin before I could ask him what a vampire was. I pitched the tent and got in out of the rain. I was glad to be able to dry off, warm up, and lie down.

    I had a lot to think about. Foremost was the matter of potions. A healing potion had saved my life again and the life of Valdr. Nothing bad seemed to have happened because of it. Maybe I should be less hesitant to use them?

    And so I lay awake long into the night in a dead man's tent, rain hissing as it fell on the fire outside, another day gone without reaching Bilegulch. At this rate, this errand will take the rest of my life, I thought before I let sleep claim me.


  • Incomitatus
    Incomitatus   ·  April 21, 2014
    Thanks, Thiago. I'm sincerely ashamed at the lack of a new chapter, especially as it leaves the mission to Bilegulch hanging, but as you may have gathered, life has come down on me lately like a pile of sledgehammers. IF I can get everything done tomorrow...  more
  • Borommakot
    Borommakot   ·  April 5, 2014
    It certainly didn't suffer from the lack of pictures. Nice job!
  • Incomitatus
    Incomitatus   ·  April 5, 2014
    A longer entry today (longest?). Hopefully not too long. Less pictures than I would like too, but most of the screenies I took just didn't turn out that well. :-(  Looks like the words win this round.