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A High Priestess of Skyrim - Chapter 37

Discussion in 'Skyrim Fan Fiction' started by Bren, Apr 19, 2021.

  1. Bren

    Bren New Member

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    Chapter 37

    20th of Rain's Hand

    "There is someone on the stairs." Jenassa whispered.

    The sun had only just risen. Jenassa and I were packing our few belongings, but we had not yet donned our armor.

    The final steps of our plan were all that remained.

    "You must arrive as two simple warriors, and you must depart so." Aric said during our final planning session on board the Dainty Sload. "It will be noticed if Janessa departs on her own, otherwise I would spirit you to Proudspire Manor in secret and you could resume your previous incarnation in the comfort of a warm bath."

    "How long until it is safe to revert to my natural appearance?" I asked.

    Aric smiled at me and lightly took my hand in his. "Must you revert at the first opportunity?" he asked.

    "Pay up, sister." Serana said, holding out her hand. "A wager is a wager."

    "I freely admit that yours is the winning hand." I said to Serana as I handed her a gold coin.

    "I am clearly missing something, but I have a suspicion that I should not ask further." Aric said. "We will meet at the appointed time and place." Aric said. "Take great care that you are not followed. We will review our progress then."

    Our timetable did not allow for an extended battle just to exit the Winking Skeever. A prolonged battle to be free of Solitude proper would mean no meeting would occur. But if the Rikke meant to take us captive, she would not have chosen the inside of an Inn as her venue.

    "How many?" I asked.

    "Only one." Jenassa replied.

    There was a soft knock on the door.

    "The intruders of Solitude are courteous." Jenassa said.

    "Sister." A voice whispered quietly.

    I banished from my mind the spell that I was about to cast and opened the door as quietly as possible to find Lucia in plain clothes wearing a plain, though damp, robe, the hood still covering her head and face.

    "Sister." I said in return as we hugged each other.

    "Close the door." Jenassa whispered. "And continue your reunion in private."

    "I would never have recognized you but for Jordis' description." Lucia said. "Do you know it took two cups of wine before she would recite what transpired in the castle?"

    "She looked at me in a manner that nearly broke my heart." I said. "I fear she will never look at me again as she once did."

    "Do not worry." Lucia said. "You may recall a similar reaction on my part. Yet I recovered. Jordis has recovered as well."

    "I will be glad for the opportunity to hear her say so." I said, "And to greet her as you greet me now."

    "You may like to know that your demonstration had a marked effect on General Rikke." Lucia said. "Rikke needed a cup or two to regain her composure as well. She asked Jordis, "Why does someone with such power come to us with this? She could destroy these invaders herself."

    "How did Jordis answer?" I asked.

    "She replied that it seemed that you and your Patron were of the opinion that the solution to this problem should come from a more official source." Lucia said.

    "She spoke the truth." I said.

    "She believes Rikke will move on this." Lucia said.

    "Because I caused them to fear me?" I asked.

    "Because Rikke knows now that you do not bring this to her to gain some advantage." Lucia said. "What advantage could Rikke give to one so powerful, one who is capable of so much?"

    "It appears that all my newfound ability is good for is scaring my friends, as well as strangers." I said.

    "Remember," Lucia said. "Power can also be used to heal as well as harm. As with all power, the blade has two edges."

    "Thank you, sister." I said.

    "You really do look quite striking." Lucia said with a smile. "Runa will be disappointed that she cannot see you for yourself."

    "The date is not yet set when she will revert to her original form." Jenassa said, her smile returning. "For my part, she can remain this way forever."

    "You father has also inquired about a short delay." I said with my own smile.

    "Gods." Was all Lucia said.

    "Excuse me warrior, I believe you dropped this." A familiar voice said from behind Jenassa and me as we approached the Solitude gate.

    I turned to see Sara, robed against the rain, holding out a small parcel and looking at me and smiling. Jordis must have described my appearance earlier, and Sara's look held less shock than the Housecarl's did the night before. Her broad-shouldered sister had left her glass armor at home and chose more comfortable attire but kept her distance, standing next to a vegetable stand and watching from underneath her own hood as Sara handed me the parcel.

    "Thank you miss." I said, before whispering "do not hug me." which brought a smile to her face. We gazed at each other for a moment before we both turned and continued on our separate paths.

    "I commend you on your spell, Taviah" Jenassa said, which made me smile. "I have been dry and warm this entire time."

    "I apologize for taking so long to think of it." I replied. "If my mind had not been so filled with other things yesterday, we would not have suffered as we did."

    "You can continue to make up for your lapse by giving me another of those pastries that the Thane's daughter gave to you." She replied.

    "I had not realized how much I had missed her until that moment." I said as I handed Janessa the last of the pastries and placed the empty wrapping in my saddle bag. "I needed just as much reminding as she did not to exchange hugs."

    Aric had chosen a rebuilt house located in the hills to the northwest of Solitude, west of the Thalmor Embassy and east of a standing stone that was accessible only by climbing a set of stairs that would make Markath proud.

    "Once our meetings are concluded, if they go well, there should be little to fear of observers for anyone traveling away from the Embassy or Solitude." Aric said during our shipboard planning session, "Though common bandits are always to be expected."

    "And if our meetings go ill?" I asked.

    "Then we will have more pressing concerns than observers that will require our attention." He answered.

    His chosen meeting point was closer to the embassy, and he would certainly arrive first. Jenassa and I would arrive a few hours later, and our route would take us past the location of Aric and Sara's dragon attack, and past the entrance to the cave where I had lived a large portion of my life.

    It was at that entrance that I now gazed. It was only a slight deviation west from our true route. I had no intention of entering, and no desire to do so. But the need to see at least the exterior of my previous home, which contained the bulk of my memories of Railius, had been growing the closer we rode.

    "Was this truly your home for so long?" Jenassa asked

    "Yes." I said. "It was difficult at first, when I was very young, the transition from the mother house in Bruma to a cave in Skyrim. It was one reason that Railius was given to me. Catilia had no interest in dealing with my constant tears and crying. Railius was employed to protect us from bandits and anyone who would seek to plunder our home. But she gave me into his care and his purpose quickly converted to taking care of me."

    "He knew nothing of the true purpose of your Order?" Jenassa asked me.

    "Not at first." I said. "In the beginning there was nothing for anyone to discover, except that we were an odd Order of Priestess who took up the study of Necromancy as part of a deeper research into the history of Skyrim and it's rulers. That was all we were at the start."

    "That was how he became your father." Jenassa said.

    "Yes." I answered. "He had recently lost his own wife and daughter. He was alone and looking for purpose. He took up the first that was presented: protecting a religious order that had chosen an odd home in a cave where it was researching history."

    "And in so doing, he found a different purpose." Jenassa said, "one he could never have expected, or even dreamed of. He became a father again."

    "He became my father, and I became his daughter." I said, as the tears rolled done my face. But I did not feel the grief that had always marked my memories of Railius. "He scooped me up in his arms, which were still quite strong then. It is still a surprise to me how strong arms can be so gentle."

    "You speak of your father's arms, or do other arms also qualify?" Jenassa asked me playfully.

    "Do you not find it so as well?" I asked her.

    "I do, though it is the strong arms of a woman I prefer." She said. "When I find a woman who prefers the strength of my arms, gently applied, in return."

    "What a beautiful way to describe it." I said. "There is a poet in you, friend."

    "There are many things in me, friend, were you to know me as well as I would wish." She said.

    "I am flattered beyond words, dear friend, but my heart is bound in its entirety to another." I said.

    "Another, with a strong set of arms." She said. "He is not the type to stir the least fire within me, but I admit that it is not a strain upon my eyes to look at him."

    "It is strange to think of it now, but it was Catilia's actions that gave me Railius, and it was her actions that took him from me. It was her actions that saved me from Potema, and it was her actions that nearly killed me, and in so doing brought me to the only man I will ever love, even were I to live a thousand lifetimes." I said.

    "You are fortunate to have found each other." She said.

    "The Divines brought us together." I said. She had no idea how true that was. "Can a journey that began with so much pain truly end with happiness?"

    "Every child brought into the world begins its life with a journey of pain." Jenassa said. "And while not all achieve happiness, many do. I am not sure if that thought is any comfort."

    "I had never looked at it that way." I said. "Thank you, friend, for your wisdom. You are another gift to me from the Divines."

    "Do not spend too much flattery on me, friend." Jenassa said, some of her former smile returning. "my thoughts of you already run along a path that has an abrupt ending."

    The path we rode to our meeting also came to an abrupt ending a short time later.

    "Stand and deliver!" The highwayman said as he emerged from the trees directly into our path, his notched bow in his left hand on display.

    Jenassa and I looked at each other for a moment.

    "This is surely a jest of some sort." I said.

    "Have a care, sir." Jenassa said to the man. "You will light upon some traveler who thinks you are in earnest rather than in jest and you will soon find yourself in jeopardy."

    "That was quite cleverly done, sister." I said to her. "It was mastery, though I am not sure whether it should be called poetry or prose."

    "It formed in my mind and flew to my lips like lightening." Jenassa said. "It was as if the Divines spoke through me."

    "No jest!" The man said, as he attempted to flex his muscles. "If you wish to depart with your lives you must pay, each of you, with gold."

    Jenassa's attempts to keep her laughter from escaping had risen to such a level that I began to fear she would cause herself an injury.

    "You wish payment from me sir?" I asked as I dismounted. "In return for my life?" I began to walk slowly towards him. "Why did you not say so at the beginning? I will certainly accommodate you."

    My paralyzing spell took him completely by surprise.

    We resumed our rainy journey finally, pausing from time to time to drop an article of the highwayman's armor, or clothing or another of his possessions in the center of the road, ending finally with the last article, his bow and quiver of arrows.

    "He picked a poor day to wander the countryside searching for prey." I said.

    "It is an equally poor day to walk the main road virtually naked in search of his belongings." Jenassa said. "At least the rain will clean him somewhat."

    "Perhaps he will rethink his life, and repent." I said. "though self-reflection does not appear to be one of his gifts."

    "Neither does brigandry." Jenassa said. "It is a wonder he does not starve."

    We left the main road where the stony hills ended, yielding to flatter terrain, and proceeded in a slow leftward arc skirting the stone protrusions that ended as we passed between two crags to reveal a house that Aric said he found derelict and restored and expanded many years before when his previous life required the use of well-hidden refuges such as this.

    "Well sir, I see the ambassador saw fit to release you after having you in her clutches." I said to him as I set my saddle bags down upon the floor of the considerably expanded house, my banter covering the relief I felt at seeing him again.

    "You are correct, madam." Aric replied. "Though it may interest you to know that I was not the only, or even the first, visitor to the Thalmor embassy."

    "After your message to admit no one, she chose to allow another visitor within the premises?" I asked

    "It seems that Aric's was not the first warning Elenwen received." Serana said. "Ulfric sent one as well, worded almost identically."

    "He arrived shortly before I did." Aric said.

    "What a strange turn of events." I said. "Surly no scryer in Tamriel would have made such a prediction."

    "It seems that we struck the target dead center in the Jarls council." Aric said. "Virtually the moment my meeting with him was concluded Ulfric called his spies and began his own investigation."

    "And reached a similar conclusion." Serana said "The loss of his benefactor in the embassy would be a grave blow to the Stormcloak rebellion. Once he was made aware, there was no possibility that he would allow that to occur unopposed."

    "Ulfric wrote to Elenwen much like we did, though he did not hide his identity." Aric said. "Still, she ensured that he was alone and unarmed when he entered the embassy."

    "As she did for you as well." Serana said.

    "You should have seen the look on her face when she saw for herself the source of the token and mysterious warning." Aric laughed. "Ulfric's look was only less surprised. I have been turning up unexpectedly in his path since Helgen. You would think he would have grown accustomed to the phenomena by now."

    "Ulfric did not bring a warning of nearby assassins, though." Serana said. "Or a plan that ultimately produced the assassins themselves."

    "That is true." Aric said. "His message, and his person, arrived first, but we outdid him ultimately. I do not envy those men, who are certainly as we speak not enjoying the hospitality of the Thalmor embassy."

    "How was it accomplished?" I asked.

    "Much as we had planned." Aric said. "My passage in plain sight gained their attention long enough for Serana to position herself to their rear. Elenwen was not happy, but after a demonstration involving my cloak, a Thalmor of no name or rank, and three Thalmor archers at much closer range than those she would face, she was convinced.

    We three exited the embassy by the front entrance. She kept the hood down long enough to be identified and then turned her back to the west. Two arrows shattered upon my cloak, Serana struck, two unconscious assassins were taken into custody along with the body of a third."

    "What happened to the third?" I asked.

    Serana's smile made me shiver, which of course she saw, and enjoyed.

    "Elenwen must certainly have been grateful." Jenassa said.

    "Her gratitude increased once the Thane of Windhelm departed, and the Champion of Dibella arrived." Serana said.

    "The Champion of Dibella sir?" I asked, as my eyebrows raised to their limit.

    "Are you angry, beloved?" Aric asked.

    "I have not now, nor have I ever had, sole claim to your body or your heart." I said, covering what I admitted to myself was a wounded heart. "I am aware of the responsibility you carry as the Champion of Dibella."

    "She is a woman, like any other." Aric said. "She has been under considerable stress, and the strain was taking its toll. She had been a prisoner in her own embassy since receiving the warnings of the plots against her life. It is a common reaction to a rapid reduction in anxiety. And her position in Skyrim is such that she has few options for physical release even when she is not the target of assassins. The combination, with a glass or two of wine, allowed her to prescribe her own remedy."

    "Twice." Serana said.

    "Who is telling this story?" Aric asked.

    "See seemed much more relaxed when we departed this morning." Serana said playfully. "She positively smiled at me and wished me well."

    "I will not deny that my heart is immune to this news," I said, "but I know it was a kindness on your part, and in any case, you belong to no one, and to everyone."

    "No portion of my heart remained in the embassy when I took my leave." Aric said. "You know this certainly, but I would not miss an opportunity to affirm my love for you."

    "Noxaura is a grown woman, Patron." Jenassa said. "And not one to pine and die at the news you share. Besides, she herself met a suitor on the road here."

    My laughter, which was quickly mixed with Jenassa's darker variety, somewhat delayed the recounting of the incident, as well as what transpired in my meeting with Rikke.

    "Elenwen and Ulfric certainly thought I was having a fit when I stopped talking in mid-sentence." Aric said after drinking from his cup. "The strength of our connection took me by surprise. I convinced them later that it was nothing, a stray thought that escaped my grasp. But once it was gone, I did not know how to establish it in any form, large or small, to convince myself that you were well."

    "It persisted for some time as Jenassa and I road towards Solitude." I said, "It was much fainter, but it was definitely there."

    "I recall it well." Aric said with a smile. "It was a quite pleasant distraction during my own journey. You have quite an inventive imagination."

    "I found it necessary eventually to demand that he cease his incessant smiling." Serana said.

    "Gods!" Jenassa said, "I also. And her humming."

    "It was when I called my swords to me that the connection flared to life." I said, "I could feel you, and when you spoke, I could hear you."

    "You spoke to her without words across a distance that far?" Jenassa said.

    "Yes." Aric said. "She came to life in my mind. I could not see through her eyes, not as I see now. But she painted an image that I could interpret, almost like a memory of something I had seen recently."

    "Did you likewise see an image?" Serana asked me.

    "No." I said. "Perhaps there is some deficiency on my part that I did not see one."

    "Or perhaps there is a deficiency on my part that I did not paint one." Aric said.

    "The fault must surely be mine." I said.

    "Do not be too sure." Aric said. "You master the power of the Earthbones with barely a thought. I have no such talent.

    Make no mistake, I possess the innate gifts that the Divines granted me, and they are considerable. But your affinity for the Earthbones and the manner in which your body becomes a living weapon when you draw upon it, those are unique in my experience. None of my children possess these gifts. I certainly do not."

    "I have seen you in combat sir." I said. "Your power is immense. You surly have ten times my strength."

    "My Patron is correct." Jenassa said. "I called you a living weapon when first we met, do you recall? It was in my mind even then, when all you held were practice swords against my edged steel."

    "But your true gift," Aric said, "The one given to you by Kyne herself, is your compassionate heart, and your desire to heal rather than harm. As powerful a warrior as you may become, you will be an even more powerful healer. I believe your calling was always to be a Healer Priestess rather than a Warrior Priestess."

    "Do not change her destiny today, not two days before we meet Corelan and his forces in the field." Serana said.

    "Jordis believes that Rikke will be at Silent Moons Camp at the appointed time." I said. "What of Elenwen?"

    "And what of Ulfric?" Jenassa asked

    "Ulfric will mobilize his forces from the Stormcloak camp in Haafingar." Aric said. "Elenwen's position is similar to Faison's. In any case, we cannot have two elven forces fighting each other. We would never be able to tell them apart."

    "It appears, then that we have Ulfric's forces allied with Rikke's forces, and any force you personally gather." Serana said.

    "Will it be enough?" Jenassa asked.

    "Must open conflict be the natural conclusion?" I asked. "Should we not, once our forces and Corelan's are in opposition in the field, ask for parlay and offer him the opportunity to withdraw from Skyrim, never to return? He must see at that time that his plans are for naught, that he is discovered. Would you not chose to save what men remain, to return them to their homes?"

    "His brother is dead. If he returns in failure he will be also and, I suspect, his father, who I believe to be mastermind of this scheme." Aric said. "It is also possible that every man who followed him to Skyrim that returned home would suffer the same fate."

    "Would you rest easy in your mind afterwards if you did not at least try?" I asked.

    "I would rip their hearts out, each and every one and then go home and sleep like Old Man Log." Jenassa said.

    "Spoken like a Dark Elf." Serana said.

    "This from the woman who ate an assassin yestereve." Janessa said.

    "I did not eat him, pretty mercenary, though I did gnaw on him somewhat." Serana said.

    Jenassa and Serana looked at each other in a way that did not bode well for a restful night.

    "They have demonstrated their intentions clearly." Aric said. "However, I will fly a flag of parlay, and if Corelan walks out a safe distance to inquire, we may make the offer you suggest. But mark me, you will get nowhere near him without wearing that fine armor that Adrianne supplied specifically for times such as this. We can certainly find you a set of robes that can encompass both it and you in combination."

    "I will take what is offered if it means that I have any opportunity to avert this battle." I said.

    "Spoken like a Healer Priestess." Serana said, as she and Jenassa continued to look at each other.

    "You have not asked about changing your appearance back." Aric said as we lay in bed.

    "To be perfectly honest, I had forgotten." I said, "Without a reflection it is easy to forget that I do not look like myself."

    "I thought you were humoring my whim." Aric said with a smile, as he wrapped his arm around me tighter and kissed my forehead.

    "Was it so different," I asked, "making love to an image of Tava? Or do Champions of Dibella not talk about such things?"

    "We talk about many things, in the shared warmth afterwards." He said, "But never with others. It is a private intimacy and must remain so."

    "I had thought after our first night together to make some quip regarding the Champion of Dibella and his mastery of his art" I said, "but I worried you would think less of me, that I was cheapening the moment, or making a comment that many others had made."

    "I would have forgiven you." He said. "Many do not know how to respond afterwards. Some make the quip you mention. Others profess their undying love. The reactions are as varied as the women involved. Each comes to me, or I go to her, for a particular reason; but happiness is the ultimate goal. For many, physical intimacy is the one thing that is lacking to achieve that."

    He was quiet for a moment.

    "But I was not the Champion of Dibella with you." He said. "You did not turn to me out of need, and I did not approach you to offer a service that I believed would benefit you. I was simply a man, being captured by a woman. A slow surrender of pieces of my heart. A love, gradually built, piece by piece. It was you who crafted this love. From the day I met you there was never any possibility that I would not love you."

    I had begun crying at some point but could not remember when.

    "For a fraction of a moment, in the temple in Markath and afterward, I thought that you had used some potion or enchantment to make me love you." I said. "How could I have ever been so deluded, even for so short a time?"

    "Your life was still in turmoil." Aric said, "And you did not know me yet."

    The sounds of passion from the other bedroom increased to an impressive volume.

    "It appears sir, that in their case, your services are not required." I said as I wiped my tears from Aric's shoulder and chest.

    "That is fortunate" Aric said, as he looked at me and the fire ignited in my once more, "because at this moment I am otherwise engaged."
     

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