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A High Priestess of Skyrim - Chapter 34

Discussion in 'Skyrim Fan Fiction' started by Bren, Apr 7, 2021.

  1. Bren

    Bren New Member

    Feb 14, 2021
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    Chapter 34

    18th of Rain’s Hand

    “Well, Thane, your visits seem marked by delay.” Idgrod said in lieu of a greeting. “My messenger to you yesterday evening was considerably delayed in her return. And when Aslfur investigated why she tarried so long on our front porch what did he discover? Your Son sir, and my Daughter, standing and laughing and chatting away as if it were the middle of the day rather than the middle of the night. They will both no doubt suffer ill health if they persist in this nocturnal behavior.”

    “I understand you concern, Jarl.” Aric replied, the smile growing on his face. “I was myself put at personal physical risk as your message was delivered through the hands of the Son you mention, who flung it at me in such haste I was apt to lose an eye.”

    Idgrod donned a smile as well. “It is to be expected, I suppose.” She said. “They are both at that age where common sense lags behind infatuation by a considerable distance.”

    “Indeed.” Aric said.

    “In any event, it seems to have had a positive effect on my Daughter.” Idgrod said. “She went to bed and did not stir until the morning. Late morning. It has been many weeks that she has slept so undisturbed.”

    “I am very happy to hear it, Jarl.” Aric said.

    “I wish to speak to you regarding your Daughter, Jarl, before our Council formally begins.” I said.

    “Speak of whatever you like, your Grace.” Idgrod said. “Do not stand on ceremony. Divines know that I never do.”

    “I believe that your daughter would greatly benefit from a stay in Markath, receiving instruction and counseling from Mother Hamal.” I said.

    “You wish my daughter to become a Priestess of Dibella, and a practitioner of the physical arts?” Idgrod asked, “and emulate this fine specimen of a Thane who stands beside you?

    “No, Jarl” I began “I only suggest that she receive instruction on controlling and channeling her gift.”

    “The Reverend Mother has not yet learned to distinguish when the Jarl is serious from when the Jarl is facetious.” Aric said.

    “I have known Hamal and her temple since before you were born, your Grace.” Idgrod said with a smile.

    “Why do I now have the suspicion that my ignorance has once again been played upon.” I asked of the two smiling figures.

    “It is a sign of endearment.” Idgrod said. “We would never treat strangers so.”

    “In any case” Aric said, “it is an excellent idea. She may stay in my home in Markath. She will truly benefit from their care. She would also benefit from knowing Morryn, who has faced her own trauma. I suspect they would form a close bond.”

    “She should be forewarned of the feathers.” I said.

    “Feathers?” Idgrod asked.

    “It is something we should discuss.” Aric said.

    “What will you do now, Thane?” the Jarl asked Aric after all the recent facts were laid out. “Will the five of you simply ride to the secret Thalmor camp and demand that all clandestine forces leave Skyrim?”

    “Samuel will not accompany us further.” Aric said. “Morthal was always his destination before returning home. And Elenwen is expecting a visitor bearing a token who will speak a word to the soldiers that guard her door. She has been warned of a plot against her life, and to admit no one, regardless of the authority they assert.”

    “A token?” I asked. “Would I possibly have already seen this token?

    “They are both made of gold” Aric replied “and as such I thought it a good opportunity for reuse. One token was included with the warning. I will have the second as proof of my identity.”

    “That was kind of you.” I said. “I know you have no love for her. Yet you go out of your way to protect her.”

    “She is the demon we know.” Aric replied. “An unknown quantity is yet one more thing we do not need.”

    “Samuel will be heartbroken he cannot continue.” I said.

    “It may be necessary for Samuel to remain in Morthal a day or two if we miss our reunion with Runa and her scouting party.” Aric said as he smiled. “He can continue his acquaintance with the younger Idgrod, which should be sufficient consolation.”

    “My daughter is no prize, sir.” The Jarl said.

    “Your daughter is a quite genuine prize, Jarl.” Aric replied. “For any man that wins her attention and affection.”

    “Do not let her hear you say so, Thane” she said with her own smile, “she will exchange the younger dragon for the elder.”

    “Are not the Empire’s officers in Solitude also owed a message, and a meeting?” I asked.

    “Rikke also received a message warning of a secret Thalmor outpost in Haafingar.” Aric said. “If she has not investigated it by now it is because she was already aware. That would not bode well.”

    “Rikke received no token” I said, “since there are only two in existence.”

    “Rikke is a more complicated case.” Aric said. “There is enmity between me and Elenwen; there can be no argument that it is otherwise. She is too aware of my activities opposing her, some of them in her own embassy.”

    “You breached the Thalmor embassy?” I asked.

    “He did so during a reception which I attended.” Idgrod said. “As I recall, Thane, your absence coincided with a disturbance between Elisif and a drunken Redguard businessman.”

    “You and Elisif plotted and executed a breach of the Thalmor Embassy?” I asked, the disbelief plain in my voice.

    “With the help of others.” Aric said. “It was necessary to gain intelligence. We were also able to rescue a prisoner who was being tortured. It was that mission that revealed Ulfric’s connection with Elenwen.”

    What he said amazed me. “I never suspected that such steel resided within that beautiful frame.” I said.

    “Books and covers, your Grace.” Idgrod said.

    “Indeed, Jarl.” I replied. “I apologize for misjudging her.”

    “In Rikke’s case, she is, in theory, an ally.” Aric said. “If I treat her as such and it proves false, I am exposing our involvement and placing my family in great jeopardy.”

    “Your head was once on the executioner’s block because of Rikke.” I said. “You have an interesting criteria for what constitutes an ally.”

    Idgrod’s entire posture had changed at the words executioner’s block. She now seemed to have grown taller in her chair, as her eyes bored into Aric.

    “You keep secrets from me, old friend.” Idgrod said to Aric. “How comes this knowledge to her Grace, who has known you for so short a time, before it comes to me, who has known you for so long?”

    “It happened a very long time ago, Jarl.” Aric replied, “The Reverend Mother was present while I recounted the incident to my daughters.”

    “I will hear this story, Thane, before you take your leave.” Idgrod said. “We will open a bottle and exchange stories of our misspent youth.”

    “Did you misspend your youth, Jarl.” I asked.

    “Whenever the opportunity presented itself.” Idgrod said with a devious smile.

    “Please do not exclude me from your exchange, I beg you.” I said. “Until recently my life was quite cloistered. I had no opportunity to spend or misspend any portion of it. Please allow me this vicarious opportunity.”

    “I will make you such a promise if the Thane will also do so.” Idgrod said.

    “When circumstances afford us more leisure, I will match your promise, Jarl.”

    “Well, now that important matters are settled, it seems you have two meetings to consider.” Idgrod said to Aric, “One with a confirmed enemy and another with a possible ally.”

    “I risk little by meeting with Elenwen.” Aric said.

    “Past your life.” I interjected.

    “True.” Aric replied, “But my attempt to save her own life may erase a small portion of the enmity between us.”

    “A very small portion perhaps.” Idgrod said.

    “But if Rikke does prove false then I risk much.” Aric said.

    “Must it be you who speaks to her?” I asked him.

    “Someone must.” He replied, “Someone with direct knowledge of these events.”

    “But preferably someone who is a stranger to her.” I said, “Someone who can disappear after the meeting.”

    “You Grace sounds like she has someone in mind.” Idgrod said.

    “You are perceptive, Jarl.” I replied. “I have a very specific someone in mind.”

    “It is too great a risk for you to take.” Aric argued for the twentieth time.

    “It is exactly the risk you take yourself.” I replied for the twentieth time.

    “I will return when this band of minstrels has ceased to play the same song repeatedly.” Idgrod said before leaving.

    “You would assume all the risk, thinking that you protect those you love.” I said “But your sight is clouded, and you do not see the trap you set.

    Taking all the risk, you reduce the number of targets for the enemy to one. They need only eliminate you and their plan will succeed. I thought you a better tactician sir.”

    “It is not a question of tactics madam when I risk your life or the life of anyone I love.” Aric replied.

    “It is always a loved one’s life in jeopardy.” I said, “every soldier leaves Father or Mother or Husband of Wife and marches off to battle, and the possibility of death. If we are to defend ourselves and expel this plague in our midst it requires more soldiers than one.

    You must rethink your attack. A simultaneous strike on multiple fronts; your meeting with Elenwen, my meeting with Rikke.”

    “In all likelihood both will be under observation.” Aric said, as he seemed to begin to consider the details of a two-pronged attack. “Neither of our approaches will go unnoticed.”

    “I will be simply a lone warrior arriving at Solitude.” I said, “a totally unremarkable event. I know the city well. I can mimic any number of warriors of my experience. I minor alteration to my appearance plus my excellent armor will render me invisible to anyone who I may have met recently. A feigned visit to the blacksmith will place me close enough to the castle entrance. It will be a simple matter at that point to gain entrance and meet Rikke.”

    “It is a sound beginning of a plan at least.” Aric replied.

    “It is your approach and admission to the embassy that will be more difficult. By a considerable amount.” I said.

    “I am not sure.” He answered. “If our estimation is correct, they are consolidating their forces two hundred miles distance from the embassy. Any observers left watching will be a small number, possibly more of these irregular assassins watching specifically for Elenwen. My difficulties will begin with the Embassy.”
    “Then do not enter the embassy.” I said. “Hold your meeting out of doors.”

    “It would be too tempting for archers.” Aric replied.

    “You could lend her your cloak.” I said in jest.

    He was about to answer but stopped and did not speak.

    “I know that look.” I said. “You would lay a trap with the Ambassador as bait, but only if her life was protected by an enchanted cloak.”

    “It could work.” Aric said. “They can only observe the embassy entrance from one direction with enough elevation to clear the wall and be within bow range. The hills to the west that stand hard against the embassy wall.”

    “Your plan would require someone in the hills to prevent the assassins escape.” I said.

    “Yes.” Aric replied. “Our journey by boat would require a stop along the way.”

    “You have it all planned I see” I said, “it only remains to plan my own expedition.”

    “I am still not comfortable placing you anywhere near this.” Aric said.

    “I have been squarely in the middle of this for quite some time.” I said, “since the mine, but you did not object.”

    “I was not in love with you yet.” He replied, reflecting my own words back at me as he smiled. “And you were still planning to murder me.”

    “Not in earnest.” I said, “It was my pain and my grief attaching to the only target within range.”

    “You were within your right.” He answered. “I was the one responsible. I was the appropriate target.”

    “Let us not litigate this again.” I said. “We both know who was truly responsible. The Divines have had ample time to judge her.”

    It was at that moment that Idgrod the Younger entered the Jarl’s Longhouse.

    Gods, I thought, not now.

    My prediction of her reaction proved accurate. The younger Idgrod took one look at Aric and seemed to lose her balance, her legs folding under her as her face lost all color. Her right hip found the floor just before her right hand halted her total collapse. Her lips moved but could not seem to decide what to say.

    “Calm yourself, lady.” I said as I rushed to her and knelt by her. “All is well. You have only friends here.”

    Her eyes would not move from Aric. She seemed transfixed by him as he slowly approached and knelt before her, much in the same way she had knelt in front of the shrine in her room.

    “Do you not recognize me, young Jarl-to-be?” Aric asked her gently. “My name is Aric. Your Mother has recently appointed me Thane of Hjaalmarch. We have met before, when you were somewhat younger. Do you remember? I carried a letter for you to Danica, the Priestess of Kynareth in Whiterun.”

    “Slow deep breaths are what is called for now, madam.” I said to her. “The shock will soon pass, and you will return to us, and see that here before you kneels but a man. A fine specimen of a man, to be sure, but a man all the same.”

    “Gods’ mercy, Daughter, these waking fits become too common.” Idgrod the Elder said as she emerged from her room.

    “It is him” the younger said to the elder. “from my dreams. It is the God of Magic.”

    “Well,” the Jarl said “I have often referred to his appearance as divine. Perhaps that is how you came to mistake him.”

    “You killed the dragon.” The younger said to Aric. “With lightening and fire and thunder that rent the heavens.”

    “Yes, madam, I did.” Aric said. “I did it to protect my family, as any man would, given no other choice.”

    She began to regain her color as well as her composure.

    “Does it help to talk about your dreams?” I asked her. “If so, you may speak to me about anything. The Divines decree that such conversations are holy secrets, never to be divulged.”

    “I thank you your Grace.” Idgrod the Younger said. “I would like that if time permits. It was the shock of seeing you sir. You appear somewhat different in my dreams. I do recognize you now.”

    “Will you sit on the floor the remainder of the day, or do your legs and feet regain their memory what they are for?” her Mother asked.

    The daughter regained her feet.

    “Samuel asked me to inform the Thane that his Daughter Runa and her party has arrived.” Idgrod the Younger said to her Mother.

    “Thank you, madam.” Aric said. “I understand you made Samuel’s acquaintance yesterday evening.”

    Idgrod’s face, which a moment ago had lost all color, gained far too much of it.

    “Yes, sir.” She said. “He was generous enough to escort me home after I had delivered the message.”

    “He escorted you the ten steps from the Inn to our front door.” The Jarl said, “and the two of you spent an hour in the damp air, which I am sure contributes to this latest infirmity.”

    “We lost track of time.” The daughter said.

    I am sure you did, I thought.

    “I think it best if you rest a while.” the Mother said to her Daughter. “We three have business to finish and then I am sure the Thane wishes to greet his newly arrived daughter.”

    “Yes Mother” the younger replied before walking up the stairs to her room.

    “Women of all ages fall at your feet, divine Thane.” Idgrod said to Aric. “It must become tiring.”

    “It is a curse I must bear with as much fortitude as I can manage, Jarl.” Aric replied.

    “You will eventually trip over one, old friend.” The Jarl replied with a smile. “Have care not to injure yourself. Now, have you a plan or do you still argue?”

    “We have half a plan” Aric answered.

    “with details still to be added.” I said, “My involvement is still to be finalized, but as to that I begin to form a map in my mind how to proceed. But, as with the Thanes plan, I will require assistance.”

    “Do not leave us in suspense devout lady.” Idgrod said.

    “They have barely one-hundred-fifty soldiers and mages.” Runa said. “This last group, of which you already know, was the largest we had seen in days. The group that arrived was not as large as that which Idgrod’s observers reported.”

    “By what amount?” Aric asked.

    “By five soldiers and one Mage.” Runa said.

    “Gods, I can sit here no longer without asking you to please tell me that these were not my beloved adopted sisters and their comrades.” I said, my hands clenched together.

    “We are able to tell one Altmer from another, your Grace.” Jordis said. “rest assured. In any event, your friends are honest soldiers, and would not be out at midnight, moving with such stealth across country that anyone with the least knowledge of the area would know is not safe.”

    “These clearly did not know the area.” Jenassa said.

    “That is understandable.” Lucia said. “They wish to avoid detection, so they erect secret camps throughout Skyrim. Small pockets of soldiers that remain close to their outpost, awaiting orders.”

    “Orders to cause mayhem in their assigned region.” Jenassa said. “Were they to travel any great distance they would be noticed, as these were.”

    “They travel now out of dire need.” Runa said. “They are too few now for their main purpose. They are barely large enough for self-protection.”

    “Which they are about to learn firsthand.” Aric said

    “Sophie, Collette and their band encountered a group of eighteen west on the main road traveling west, otherwise this force would be larger still.” Lucia said.

    “The assembled Thalmor are aware something is amiss. A group moved to make their meeting at Halted Stream Camp. Upon arriving and viewing the scene they did not tarry to investigate. They moved with haste to rejoin the main group.” Runa said.

    “You have ranged far and wide.” I said, “can you truly have traveled so far in so short a time without being discovered?”

    “I had the honor of tracking the party that ventured to halted Stream Camp and back again, your grace.” Jenassa said. “Blade and shadow, silence and death. These are my arts, as the Thane well knows. This is why he hired me for this mission.”

    “Their troops barely trickle in now.” Runa said. “Soon they will have collected all their forces.”

    “It is the opposite of what they should have done.” Farkas said. “They have done half the work for us already. They are, or soon will be, a single target. They can be penned in and slaughtered.”

    “Farkas is correct.” Vilkas said. “They should have dispersed into smaller groups and awaited reinforcements. They do not appear to be well led.”

    “It is almost certainly the High Justiciar that leads them, and he is not tactician.” Aric said. “He is a zealot. Their choice of commanders was already limited. Most of the professional soldiers who could command do not share their views. Those that did share them and traveled to Skyrim died in their secret outpost in Haafingar.”

    “How do you know this?” Farkas asked.

    Aric adopted a look and posture that I have come to know well.

    “Forget I asked.” Farkas said.

    “We should attack now.” Jordis said. “You killed two-hundred Thalmor in the mine, and then your force was comprised of yourself, Sara, Serana, and the Reverend Mother. You force is much expanded now. We can end this with an hour’s work.”

    “You did what?” Farkas asked, looking from person to person. “Brother, your lack of surprise leads my thoughts in a particular direction.”

    “I only recently learned the details of the mine. And the road.”

    “Gods’ blood!” Farkas said, drawing attention from others in the Inn, before looking at me and lowering his voice. “You will never entice me to gamble with you, your Grace. You sat and betrayed nothing while my Brother and I discussed the mission we were given.”

    “I do not require the details of this road or mine you speak of.” Jenassa said. “I formed my opinion of the Reverend Mother some time ago. Her hand in the death of two-hundred Thalmor merely confirms her status.”

    “You are all much too generous.” I said. “My contribution was insignificant, and I continue to grieve over the lives I have taken. Good Companions, I earnestly beg your pardon. Those secrets that I withheld from you were not mine to tell.”

    “They were my secrets.” Aric said. “It is my family at risk. Everyone I hold dear would be in grave danger if this faction discovered my involvement. That is why this secret must be kept. Elenwen and I are already enemies. She has tried in the past to end my life. She relented when the cost in men lost became too high. But she has never targeted my family. I risk nothing speaking with her.”

    “But General Rikke is another matter.” I said. “Aric is not yet sure which side of this affair she supports.”

    “She has received a communication informing her of two secret Thalmor outposts where soldiers wearing the armor of the Penitus Oculatus were assisting the Thalmor. She has had sufficient time to investigate.

    She will next meet with a messenger who will show her orders found on the body of an Imperial officer at the outpost near Solitude ordering him to assist High Counselor Corelas, and to place all his men under Corelas’ orders.

    His orders mention Corelas by name. It would be customary to say “The Thalmor Authority, or some such term, but his orders did not.”

    “What will Corelas say when presented with this evidence of his involvement?” Farkas asked Aric.

    “Gods.” Farkas said after receiving a duplicate of the look he received a moment before.

    “The High Counselor’s rod and chain of office were taken as evidence.” Aric said. “The Counselor having no further use for them.”

    “This faction may attempt to hide a great many things, but it cannot hide a Dominion High Counselor who fails to return to his seat in the Council because he is decaying in Haafingar.” Runa said.

    “And we cannot simply charge their camp and kill what remains of their force and say afterwards, here are the last forces that have invaded our country, or simply say nothing and assume we have ended the threat.

    Both the Dominion and the Empire must be informed while living evidence of the plot remains present in Skyrim.

    Both must be allowed the opportunity to see and, if possible, question those that remain in command of this dwindling force.

    Both must be informed of their own members part in this. Both must ensure that this attempt is never repeated.”

    “Hence your dual meetings with the General and the Ambassador.” Vilkas said.

    “But it must not be Aric, or anyone known to Rikke that keeps this meeting with her.” I said. “In case she proves false it must be a stranger that can disappear afterwards, never to be seen, or at least recognized, again.”

    “Who will this messenger be?” Runa asked.

    I did my best to duplicate Aric’s face and demeanor.

    “Gods’ Blood!” Farkas said.

    “You do not have to convince me, sister.” Jordis said, “I thank you with all my heart for asking me.”

    “It must certainly be you.” I said. “You are well known in Solitude. You will be admitted without question, and Rikke would never deny you a meeting.”

    “We have known each other for many years.” Jordis said. “And her treatment of my Thane notwithstanding, I have always considered her a friend. She rose faster in the ranks than I did, and I left the Legion many years ago, but we still share stories occasionally, of our time serving in The Reach.”

    “She will need a reason for her visit.” I said. “something that will not draw suspicion.”

    “I can supply that immediately.” Aric said, “It does not even require subterfuge. Jordis will tell Rikke that I intend to place a monument for Noxaura’s father at his final resting place in the Rift, which is the truth.

    She will also tell Rikke that I wish to model it after the monument that sits above the final resting place of General Tullius, which is also true. She will say that I request the name of the stone mason that created the monument, and information on how and where he can be contacted. It was Rikke that oversaw the monuments design, construction, and installation. She will certainly have such information.”

    “You have given Railius’ monument some consideration I see.” I said, my voice becoming thin.

    Aric smiled at me and took my hand. “I told you.” He said, “It is a subject very close to my heart.”

    “All that remains then is for Noxaura to allow enough time for Jordis and Rikke to be together before seeking admission.” Samuel said. “You are certain you will not be recognized?”

    “I have never met her, and she has never met me.” I said. “I do not believe I have ever laid eyes upon her. And no soldiers will recognize the poor Priestess of my former life wrapped in the magnificent armor I will wear when I seek my audience.”

    “We will take some basic precautions and disguise you in such a manner that will not draw suspicion.” Lucia said. “A very simply spell to straighten your hair, and a different arrangement. That at least will make a start.”

    “I can wear my helm, sister.” I said. “It is as good a disguise as any.”

    “She will request you remove it and will become wary if you refuse.” Aric said. “You are a stranger and she will want a good look at you.”

    “Will she also disarm me?” I asked.

    “She may, if she feels you may be a threat.” Aric replied. “We here present know that no one can ever truly disarm you. She has no such knowledge. It may put her at ease and make your mission easier.

    Perhaps it is best if we do not send you with any weapon you would regret losing. You will have your ally with you. You will have powerful weapons at your disposal. If it came to flight, Jordis knows how to hamper pursuit while appearing to do the opposite. I have no doubt you would escape.”

    “In that event, two shorter blades rather than one long blade.” Jenassa said. “Her mastery of twin swords is such that you could hand her any two and she would be deadly. It would take her some short time to learn the balance of the longer one, and even that short time she may not have.”

    “Your concern is touching, comrades; but remember this is a mission of peace. Words will be the most powerful weapons I possess.”

    “That is true, your Grace.” Vilkas said. “But two razor sharp short swords are an excellent alternative.”

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