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A High Priestess of Skyrim Chapters 9 - 12

Discussion in 'Skyrim Fan Fiction' started by Bren, Feb 23, 2021.

  1. Bren

    Bren New Member

    Feb 14, 2021
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    Chapter 9

    4th of First Seed

    A late rise on a sunny, brisk day. Sara and I were the last two to rise. Aric and Serana were gone, Aric to confer with Jarl Ulfric, Serana to wherever Serana goes when she disappears without a word. Collette and Sophie were enjoying the comfortable silence only available to sisters or very old friends; the remains of their breakfast not yet cleared away. The sound of hammering was a constant background noise. A plump, happy Nord woman was removing fresh bread from the oven as we were walking into the kitchen. "Niina, this is Noxaura, a friend of mine from Solitude" Sara said. Niina smiled as she wiped flower from her apron. "Milady" she said to me, then to Sara "I will bring your breakfast out to the dining room, Miss, if you will carry the teapot". Fresh bread, butter, snowberry preserves, and tea. Sophie and Collette did not seem to have the same relationship with Sara that Lucia and Runa did. Not unusual in a family that large, with large gaps in age between groups of children. They naturally form smaller groups.

    After breakfast Sara and I bundled up and wandered around Windhelm. It was the first time we had been alone in a while, and Sara's first chance to ask, "How are you?".

    "It is too early to tell." I said. "I have much to sort out, and to consider once the sorting is completed."

    "Your conversation with Father yesterday upset you. I could see that". she said.

    "I think it upset him just as much though, of course, he didn't cry as I did."

    "Why 'of course'?" she asked, with a bit of a tone to her words.

    "I meant no offense. I should have said 'naturally' rather than 'of course'."

    "You think it is not in his nature to cry?" She asked me.

    “You described him mourning the dying brigand.” I said. “So, I know he is capable of shedding tears. “

    "Do you think less of him for it?" she asked.

    "What are we talking about?" I asked

    "We are talking about my father. I don't want you to misunderstand him." Sara said.

    I had no idea how I stumble into this quagmire.

    "I do not know him well enough to understand him, let alone misunderstand him." We were both quiet for a moment before I asked,

    "Is my opinion important?"

    "It is to me and, I think, to him." she said

    "Then I should speak plainly and tell you that I spent most of the ride to Dragon's Bridge planning how to kill Your father." I told her.

    She kept walking and said "That is understandable considering the news he gave you, and his role in it. Every one of us that Papa adopted began our journey with pain and grief and ended it with falling in love with him; As did Jarl Elisif."

    "Jarl Elisif?" I asked, feigning ignorance about her frequent visits.

    "She started by giving him a task as she mourned her dead husband. She ended by giving him her wedding ring, which he wears on a chain around his neck."

    I had seen the chain, and the ring. "Your father and the Jarl are married?" I asked, my heartbeat pounding in my ears.

    "No. She is a Nord and the rightful High Queen of Skyrim. She cannot claim that title if she marries a non-Nord. The people would never support her claim, and the Empire relies on the support she has from the Nords. She and Pappa both understand their responsibilities." She looked at me and smiled as she said, "And that is why I do not get to live in a palace."

    I did not know what to say to that, nor why I felt such a sense of relief.

    “But Your father and Lydia clearly love each other.” I said.

    She laughed. "Yes. At the risk of sounding like my father, 'it's complicated'."

    "I think we have worn that phrase out. We are going to have to find another." I said

    Sara laughed, then stopped. She wrapped her arms around me, and gave me a hug, pressing her cheek against mine. "You could become my sister, and we could love him together." she said

    I hugged her back, and we continued our walk.

    "Your father is friends with quite a few Jarls." I finally said

    "Father is not really friends with Jarl Ulfric. They know each other from a long time ago, before he adopted any of us. But he never talks about him, and only visits him on official matters." Sara answered.

    "Would you care to guess what he said when I asked him how he knows Jarl Ulfric?" I asked

    She laughed and bumped my shoulder with hers.

    When we returned home, Aric was back. Serana was still away. After lunch, Aric mentioned that he was going to buy ingredients from the Apothecary and asked me to go with him. Along the way he said he wished to arrange a memorial service for the members of my order who died in Wolfskull Cave and asked if I objected. I said I did not, and he asked if I could provide a list of names of those who died. We were not a large sect, and I knew everyone so it would not be difficult.

    I told him I could if he wished it. He said he did. That afternoon I wrote the list and he took it to the Hall of the Dead. When he came back, he said the service was arranged for tomorrow evening. The local head Priest was aware that our sect did not worship Talos and was happy to provide the traditional memorial service of Talos, but requested that I be present as a Priestess of my order to read the names and offer our own traditional prayer for the dead. He asked me if that would be a problem, and I told him I could do it. But then I said

    "This is very kind of you. I know it is not for me that you are doing this but thank you all the same."

    "It is true, that it is not only for you that I do this, but you are part of why I am doing it."

    "The memorial service will be tomorrow night, and every year on the 5th of First Seed, and every year on the anniversary of their deaths. I could not recall that date exactly, but it was some time during the beginning of the month of Evening Star, so I chose the 1st of Evening Star. Your Order will be remembered, their names read, and the rites you chose to celebrate tomorrow offered on that date every year for one-hundred years." he said

    My mouth hung open for a moment. "One-hundred years" was all I could say.

    "Yes. I had to choose a number of years, and it was the first one to occur to me. "

    I looked at him, and he looked back and smiled warmly, then looked down at his hands. I took that as a sign that it was time to go and write a memorial that would stand the test of time. I thanked him and left. As I walked down the hall and rounded the corner to walk down the stairs, I glanced back at him, and he was looking back.

    There were two men waiting when I returned downstairs, seated in a small nook. Each had a goblet. Each ignored the other. Each as different from the other as it is possible for two men to be. One was a tradesman. The other was a walking shadow in dress and manner. The tradesman was clearly not comfortable being this close to the shadow. The shadow sat so still he could have been carved from stone. The housecarl made no effort to hide the fact that she was watching the shadow like a hawk watching a falcon. Aric walked slowly down the stairs, casually greeted the tradesman as "master goldsmith". The goldsmith returned the greeting "Honored Thane. As you requested. They turned out better than I expected." and handed Aric two gold coins. Aric inspected them and said "Excellent craftsmanship. Thank you for producing them so quickly". The craftsman thanked him for his generosity and left. Aric inspected the coins further before handing one to the shadow, together with a slip of parchment. Without any form of acknowledgement, the shadow left.

    The housecarl finally relaxed. Sara walked out of the kitchen. It seems that there was more than one shadow present; I never noticed her presence.

    "The Token begins its journey" Aric said and tossed the other coin to Sara who inspected it and then tossed it to me. On one side was the likeness of a dragon. On the other was a glyph I did not recognize.

    He did not wait for me to ask. "The dragon symbol resembles the dragon symbol present in Sky Haven Temple. There is almost no one alive who has seen that symbol. The other symbol represents my name. While I appeared to be choosing which token to send, I placed an enchantment on one token. I will know when it touches the hand that hired the men that attacked you."

    "I have never heard of a spell or enchantment like that" I said.

    "That is because it is neither. I refer to it as an enchantment for simplicity. There is no word in any language you would know that would describe what it truly is." he answered.

    He was a revenant. Any doubt I had vanished in that moment. Who are you? Who were you?

    "Who was that who took the token with him?" Sara asked.

    He cocked his head as he looked at her in a manner that caused her to roll her eyes and say, "forget I asked".

    The door opened as Serena reappeared and said, "I just passed someone who seemed to be coming from this direction. I did not like the look of him at all."

    Windhelm to Winterhold, with a stop at the Shrine of Azura for Aric to pay his respects to one of his patron Daedra, and her Priestess who kept watch at her temple. She greeted me as a fellow Priestess and was pleased when I asked if I could pay homage to Azura and if she could teach me the ritual. Then on to Winterhold and a conference with the Jarl before the long walk up to the College, after which it was "Archmage this" and "Archmage that" and "Archmage please approve my research" and "Archmage she is undermining my authority" until it was "Papa!", which was how I met Delphine, Aric's youngest daughter. Hugs and screaming between the two sisters. Greetings to Sara from her former instructors, and from students she knew. But as senior instructors gathered the tone turned serious.

    "Under no circumstances allow any Thalmor onto college grounds. Ward the entire perimeter." Aric said.

    Stunned silence, broken finally. "That will take considerable strength and energy" one instructor wearing the robes of a Master said.

    "We have enough of both." Aric replied.

    There were several high elves present. Their looks of concern were plain, as were the glances they were receiving from others. Aric raised his voice so all present could hear.

    "We are all members of this college; this is our family.” He said. “Anyone who attempts to harm a member of this family will deeply regret it."

    There were several sets of wide eyes and serious expressions, but also several nods of agreement.

    "This is only a precaution.” He said. “Classes are cancelled for the remainder of the day. We will prepare, and then place our wards. This is an excellent opportunity for junior students to receive instruction and ample practice. Senior staff will instruct and inspect all wards afterwards. When we have finished, we will have a communal meal in the great hall."

    Archmage. He is Archmage of the College of Winterhold. I should not have been surprised, but I was.

    Archmage, Companion, Dragonborn, Thane.

    During the meal, once the tension had been broken, there was laughing and joking and the Camaraderie of the Chosen that I recognized so well, and that made my throat tighten as I remembered reading twelve names. Names of mem and women with whom I had shared laughs and jokes, sure of our ascendancy, our supremacy. Would someone walk in here and silence these laughs and jokes? Would someone read the names of those assembled here on some evening in the future, for the next one-hundred years? I looked across the table at Sara and Delphine holding court with other students, at Aric, talking to a High Elf wearing Adept Restoration robes, and his words echoed in my mind:

    "Anyone who attempts to harm a member of this family will deeply regret it." I pitied anyone who tried.

    It was on the road to Dawnstar when he stopped and waited for the rest of us to catch up before saying "Our Token is delivered".

    We all just sat on our horses, not saying anything. We were all surely thinking the same thing, but it was Aric who spoke the words.

    "Seven Days."

    Chapter 10

    10th of First Seed

    I began to question Aric's choice of route yesterday. I am sure that Serana had started the day before. Winterhold to Dawnstar is bad enough, but for us it had been Windhelm to Winterhold to Dawnstar, the coldest route that could be chosen in Skyrim, and we had chosen it in Winter. It seemed to me that no amount of Alteration spells could keep me warm enough. We persisted though, and arrived, late again, and no bath to warm us up; but welcome, and food and wine by a warm fire in a warm Inn and the pleasant noise of meaningless local gossip. Absolutely nothing about the Thalmor. Dawnstar to Morthal, and no surprise that Morthal was also devoid of news of any Thalmor activity, given their isolated location deep in the marsh, and their dense shroud of fog. We were all happy though, anticipating our arrival in Solitude once again, and a break of several days before the journey continued again: a long ride to Markath before heading back to Whiterun. Serana had not accompanied us from Dawnstar. Morthal had recent vampire problems, and she did not want to cause trouble or, I am sure, endure the inevitable looks and glances. She set off on her own directly for Solitude. You would have thought she was a child the way Sara acted the morning our paths diverged.

    "Do you have everything you need? Will you be safe on your own? You won't be lonely on the road by yourself?" Sara fussed

    "I have traveled Skyrim alone before, you know. I will be fine." Serana reassured her with a smile.

    "I am just worried for you. I know you can take care of yourself." Sara said.

    "We will meet again soon enough." Serana answered as the two hugged.

    Just the three of us then, from Dawnstar to Morthal. No one seemed to want to talk about anything more serious than the weather, which had certainly improved. Where we could we rode three abreast, with Aric in the middle. I stole glances at him when I thought it was safe. It was not always, and occasionally he would catch me. But he would just smile, as his eyes caught mine. The first time it happened I felt embarrassed. The second time, I held his gaze for longer, and he did not look away, and his smile became something else. Something that made me forget the cold.

    It seemed that Sara had adopted me to be a surrogate sister. We would braid each other's hair before climbing into our shared bed; to talk in whispers about whatever came to mind before we fell asleep. Sara would invariably fall asleep first, as my mind tried to process what was happening to me, and to predict what the future would hold. When I slept my dreams were filled with my lost brothers and sisters, my shack, the mine, and Aric. Sara was blessed with the gift of youth and slept like the dead. It seemed like nothing affected her sleep. She had been in the same mine as I had. She had ambushed the same bandits I had, heard the same screams that I had.

    But she still had her family. Her deity was alive and well and asleep in the next room; by himself tonight, which seemed a rare occurrence. What would he do if I slipped out of my bed and into his room, and under his blankets? He would act kindly, and speak kindly, and cuddle me like he would one of his daughters, talking to me in that warm, reassuring tone that I have come to associate with him about how cold my feet were, and that I needed my rest, and then eventually send me back to my own shared bed. "Big girls have to learn to sleep in their own beds". It would kill something inside of me that had just begun to grow. Or would he choose another path? I remember his words, and the sound of his voice, and how it caught when he said, "The thought of losing you makes me sick." I remember how he had held my gaze, and the way he looked at me. Would he really treat me like a child, like one of his daughters? I fell asleep imagining a different reaction. When I finally slept, my dreams were of Aric. Sara never stirred. Really, she can sleep through anything.

    It was not quite midday when we saw them. Bandits, looting a cart. Dead horse, dead man, dead woman. Four of them against three of us, and one of us a teenaged girl. They looked at us, calculated their odds of success, and charged at us. Unfortunately for them, none of them had a head for mathematics. When it was over some of them had no heads at all. Aric checked the man and woman. At least it had been quick for both. None of the additional horror that is so common in Skyrim now, with the civil war raging, and all veneer of civilization stripped away. Neither of them was much older than Lucia. A young couple with all their possessions in a cart, heading off to their new life. A life cut short by these three men and one woman, of various age. He stood over the young woman for a few moments, possible picturing one of his daughters in place of this nameless victim. I walked up next to him and placed my hand on his arm. He put his hand over mine, and them we both heard it, the sound from just over there, behind a fallen tree. A rustling, and a sob. Sara was closer, and quicker than we were. She was there in a moment, at the ready. But she quickly lay down her staff and speaking softly with her hands outstretch said. "Don't be scared. I won't hurt you. Those men cannot hurt you anymore. No one will hurt you." by then Aric and I were with her, looking at a little girl whose was hiding behind the fallen tree. "My name is Sara. This is my friend Noxaura, and this is my father. Can you tell me your name?" The little girl was clearly in shock, but "Gwendolen" was her answer in a clear, questioning voice. She kept her eyes locked on Aric, and the question in her voice was clear: are you going to hurt me like those men hurt my mother and father? Aric knelt and removed his gauntlets. He said "Hello Gwendolen, my name is Aric. Are you hurt?" Gwendolen shook her head, eyes wide, never looking away. "Gwendolen, is this your mother and father, and your cart and horse?" A quick nod, then she said "Our horse is named Petre. She likes apples. Papa lets me feed her and pet her nose." She could not have been much more than six or seven years old. "I want my Mama and Papa." she said. "I want to go home."

    "I will bring you to your Mama and Papa. Would you wait with Sara and Noxaura for a moment?" he asked. Another quick nod, and he got up as Sara said "Gwendolen, may I brush the twigs out of your hair?" She seemed to always be armed with a hairbrush. She brushed Gwendolen's hair slowly and spoke to her about her favorite horses while Aric arranged her parents, so they looked like they were simply sleeping, covering their wounds, and cleaning their faces. The bandits he left like they were. When he had finished Sara picked Gwendolen up and brought her to see her parents. She was young, but there was no need to explain that her parents would never wake from this long sleep. "Gwendolen, do you have anyone who can take care of you?" Aric asked. A shake of her head, and tears were enough of an answer. "Gwendolen, would you ride with Sara on her horse? His name is Pan, and he likes carrots and oats." A nod and Sara took Gwendolen to meet Pan and they talked about horses as Aric raised two of the dead bandits to dig graves for these young parents. "Would you please say some words for them?" Aric asked me. He had killed more than his share in the mine and afterwards, and I had not seen it affect him the way these two deaths did. "Of course." I said, "Would you stay with me?" I asked. He knelt, and his vision seemed to unfocus as I recited the Rite of Passage; the same rite I had recited for my lost Queen. I glanced at him as I was speaking the words "we commit the keeping of their souls unto the Creators" and I could see the tears dropping onto the ground, an offering to these two departed souls. He stood when I had finished but did not wipe the tears from his face. His vision focused once again as he looked at the graves, his face a mask once again. I walked up to him and caught his hands in mine. The Priestess comforting the grieving. "Thank you." was all he said.

    The bandits we left where they had fallen, for the carrion eaters and predators.

    Progress was slower with Sara and Gwendolen riding double. Sara kept up a constant patter talking to her, meaningless, comfortable talk. An occasional question that would illicit a "yes" or "no" answer from Gwendolen, Sara's arms, and cloak around her. "Eleven children now" I thought. He was going to need a larger house. When Delphine and Hroar returned home Every bed in their house in Solitude would be filled once again. The silence broke me out of my thoughts. The constant patter had stopped. Aric was looking at the small bundle in Sara's arms. He said something quietly and Sara nodded.

    I felt a tension building in me as we approached Dragon's Bridge. It was our first visit back after the mine and the barracks. Our handiwork had surely been discovered by now, a search conducted for the culprits. Thalmor retribution was widely, and justly, known and feared. They relied on their reputation as much as their strength to maintain their position in Tamriel. This would be a bitter defeat indeed for them. But from what Sara and Samuel had said it was not the first, they had been defeated over the length and breadth of Skyrim. This loss was certainly the largest, but it was a part of a larger whole. Their revenge would not be limited to Dragon's Bridge.

    But no one would ever suspect our role in what happened. A man, a woman, a teenaged girl, and a child. We could be a simple family on its way home. The locals know him, but the Thalmor do not. Aric debated whether to stop or ride through. When the time finally came Gwendolen was awake again, so we enjoyed the briefest of stops while Aric went into the Empires outpost to report the attack on the small family, and Sara, Gwendolen and I visited the Inn. They were not too busy. Thalmor, yes; but only two, talking quietly and ignoring everyone else, especially three women looking for rest and food. We agreed to keep our rest short and meet Aric at the horses.

    "I reported the attack to the commanding officer. We know each other since they garrison this outpost from Solitude. I told him about the bandits and described them and how they were armed. He and the sergeant exchanged a look as I was describing them. I asked if something was amiss. They said that a group of bandits and a group of Thalmor had killed each other in a nearby mine."

    "All the bandits in the mine were dead when we arrived. The Thalmor had seen to that themselves." Sara said.

    "That does not seem to be common knowledge." Aric said. "The Empire, at least, is attributing the Thalmor deaths to a large bandit attack on the gold mine. There is some logic to drawing that conclusion. It is a target that would draw a large group of bandits. And from the documents we found on the Thalmor officers, they were keeping every detail of their operations a secret from the Empire. It is possible that they consider this matter closed, that everyone involved is dead."

    "Did they reach their conclusion themselves, or did the Thalmor provide it for them?" Sara asked

    "Do you want me to go back and ask?" Aric asked with a smile

    "Absolutely not" she replied.

    "Can I pet Pan's neck?" Gwendolen asked.

    "Of course, chick." Sara said. She held and steadied her as Gwendolen leaned forward and lay on Pan's neck, stroked his neck, and sang him a child's song about farm animals.

    We rode quietly, listening to Gwendolen sing.

    Chapter 11

    13th of First Seed

    Petition for Custodianship -

    Aric, Thane of Haafingar, petitions Elisif, Jarl of Solitude, to be appointed Custodian of Gwendolen, a minor Breton female child, who was orphaned as a result of a bandit attack on the 11th day of First Seed on the main road from Morthal to Dragon's Bridge. Since this attack was perpetrated in Haafingar proper, Jarl Elisif is the authority having jurisdiction, and it is to her we submit our petition. Said Custodianship to continue until a blood relative is identified that is willing to assume responsibility for the proper care and upbringing of said minor child, and who can demonstrate sufficient means.

    Submitted by my hand this 13th day of First Seed, in the two-hundred- thirteenth year of the Forth Era.

    Heimdall Aric Belrud Aamutähti, Thane of Haafingar

    It was only a formality we were assured. Assured by the Jarl herself who, rather than responding to the quickly written note that Aric sent upon our arrival, arrived in person to see the newly orphaned girl. The Orphan Jarl meeting someone with who she shared much.

    "Elisif the Fair." "Elisif the Beautiful" was more appropriate. She arrived with no fanfare. Jordis bent the knee, Sara curtsied and received and returned a hug, a kiss, a smile, and an 'are you well?'. I had changed out of my Priestess disguise, wearing something that had belonged to Lucia, which could not help but be too long. My curtsy was not as practiced as Sara's, who made introductions. The Jarl was very gracious and welcomed me to Solitude. "Thank you, your grace." was my only response, though I had been to Solitude many times. No feigned blessings to this Jarl, who seemed to have genuine blessings in abundance; one of which was descending the stairs, holding Gwendolen's hand, followed by Blaise and Alesan.

    "So, this is our poor waif." the Jarl said. She removed her gloves as she knelt on the floor in her court finery. "Hello. My name is Elisif. What is your name?"

    A short conversation between the two orphans. "Do you know where they came from, or where they were going?" she asked Aric.

    "No. They certainly had not started their journey in Morthal. And their destination could have been anywhere. We delayed long enough to bury her parents, but not to search their cart for clues. It would have upset her."

    "The bandits?" she asked.

    "Dead." he answered.

    "Good." she said, her voice like flint. "I will light candles and pray for the souls of her parents." She stood and put on her gloves. "Gwendolen, it was a pleasure meeting you. I hope you will visit me in the palace. Have you ever visited a palace?" she asked. Wide eyes, and a shake of her head. "Well" said the Jarl "we shall have to remedy that." She turned to Aric and stood very close, placing a hand on his arm. "Send your petition tomorrow." she said softly. Her voice was music. Everything about her was regal. Except her manner with Gwendolen, and with Sara. And with Aric. There seemed to be a special form of gravity between the two that they both had to resist if they were not to end up pressed together.

    "You will have it tomorrow morning. It has been some time since I have written one, but I think I can remember the form." he answered, their eyes never parting.

    "The form is not important, so long as your name is affixed to it." she said. "I will approve whatever petition you send me immediately."

    "Best to read it first. You do not know what I may ask." he said with a smile

    "There is nothing I would deny you if you asked. Nothing." she said, as her hand moved to his chest and her face closer to his. But gravity did not prevail, and they parted; Elisif back to her duties, Aric to arrange for care for Gwendolen, and to write his petition.

    I would have had to be stone deaf to not hear the yearning in her words. My face was hot, and I there was a constriction in my throat. "I am not jealous. I have no right to be jealous." It was like a mantra, a prayer, repeated silently in my mind.

    Why could the Jarl of Solitude not have been a man?

    14th of First Seed

    Order Granting Custodianship-

    Elisif, Jarl of Solitude, by my hand and by my Right as Jarl having Authority of Jurisdiction in Haafingar, grants Custody of Gwendolen, a minor female child, to Aric, Thane of Haafingar, until such time a blood relative is identified that is willing to assume responsibility for the proper care and upbringing of said minor child, and who can demonstrate sufficient means.

    So ordered this 13th day of First Seed, in the two-hundred- thirteenth year of the Forth Era.

    Elisif Kirste Morgana Asgansen, Jarl of Solitude

    We were surprised upon arriving in Solitude to not find Serana's horse. Katia said she had not seen Serana since our departure. Our concern grew when the day of our departure arrived and still, she had not returned. "She is no babe-in-the-woods." Aric said to Sara. "She will find us when she wishes to."

    Sara was staying in Solitude. No surprise that she and Gwendolen had bonded. It was Sara's nature to be caring, and Gwendolen had not left her side on the trip here. Blaise and Alesen's old nurse arrived with her young daughter: Sille the older and Sille the younger. It was the younger who would care for Gwendolen, once they came to know each other. Until then, it seemed that Sara and Gwendolen were joined, right hand to left.

    "You have a responsibility to her, greater than you have to me or any other presently. Once she is comfortable with Sille you may consider other responsibilities." Aric instructed her.

    "I understand Papa." Sara replied. Gwendolen and Sille were nearby, getting acquainted. Aric hugged Sara, kissing the top of her head. "It was not too long ago that it was you clinging to Lucia."

    His home in Solitude was a popular destination for couriers.

    Idgrod Ravencrone, Jarl of Morthal, Governing Authority of Hjaalmarch, in recognition of his services to both my person and my village and villagers, herby appoints Aric Thane of Hjaalmarch, authorizing him to purchase property, build an Estate, and hire Retainers.

    "At this rate Skyrim will experience a shortage of Thaneships before long." Jordis said dramatically. “And of couriers.”

    "Have you been to Morthal?" Sara asked her.

    "No. The southern and southwest frontiers I know very well, but not the marshes." Jordis replied.

    "You did not miss much." Sara said.

    "Will you actually buy property there?" Jordis asked.

    "Yes. Their economy needs the trade, and their tradesmen need the employment. I will buy as much local material and hire as many local workmen as possible. Everyone will benefit."

    Jordis and Sara were clearly skeptical, and with good reason. Fog covered marshland was not prime real estate.

    "If you have a moment, I would like to speak to you" Aric said, interrupting my thoughts.

    "Will this be your third attempt to be rid of me?" I asked, not completely joking.

    "No, this will not be my third attempt to be rid of you, because there was never a first or second attempt." he replied, also not completely joking.

    We took the opportunity to walk outside.

    "The southern part of my journey begins tomorrow. Jordis will accompany me. She knows the region very well as you heard. She would never have let me set out on my own in any case, and it would have been wrong of me to place her in a position to have to violate my order to stay." He was quiet for a moment. "You, however, have no such obligation to me."

    How can you say that? I thought Are you that blind that you do not know how I feel?

    "This issue with the Thalmor is also not your responsibility." he continued. "You are free to go wherever you wish, do whatever you wish, build whatever life you wish. Any city, hold, or village in Tamriel would be fortunate to have you as a resident. And as I mentioned in Whiterun, your resources are considerable." He handed me a scroll, with a broken seal of the Jarl of Solitude. "This was delivered together with the order of custodianship.

    Jarl Elisif acknowledges receipt of a strong box which was opened and inventoried in the presence of the Jarl, her Steward, and Mage, and which contained gold coin, bullion, jewels, and gems valued at approximately 20,000 imperial gold coins. This strongbox will be held in the palace strong room as the sole personal property of the person presented to me at the home of Aric, Thane of Solitude, as Priestess Noxaura Jarnesus, an Imperial Adult Woman.

    At some point I had stopped walking. This proved lucky when my legs suddenly felt weak. "Gods." was all I managed before saying "This is a royal ransom. This cannot possibly be correct."

    "I assure you it is quite correct. It is one-quarter of the value of what Serana and I carried away from the mine. We have, in part, Serana's much greater strength to thank for our bounty; she carried twice what I did, even though she was adamant that she made no claim to any of it. If you saw her home, you would understand why. Sara's and my portion are added to the family wealth, in which all my family share."

    "I feel like I am going to be sick." I said

    "Let us sit for a moment." Aric suggested

    There was a bench nearby. When I was able to speak again, I said, "It cannot be right that I should benefit for the deaths I caused, certainly not to this degree."

    "It was certainly not right what the Thalmor did, attacking a legally owned mine, and killing everyone they found; even if the owner was a thief and brigand, and employed thieves and brigands to work the mine."

    "I know what you must think of my order, but we were not thieves, or criminals or murderers."

    "You do not know what I think of your order. I never thought you were thieves, or criminals, or murderers. I see in you the heart and soul of your order. Every moment I know you my opinion of your order grows. The worst that I can say about your order is that it was misguided. Except that something guided me to you, and you to me, so even in that I may be mistaken."

    For the second time in as many minutes my legs became weak, and my ability to speak had fled. His words, the sound of his voice, affected me as much as any spell. It cannot be possible to fall in love from one second to the next, between heartbeats. Can it? I have no right to fall in love with him. He does not love me. He does not tell me so. He loves Lydia; they have raised a family together. He clearly loves Elisif. If I attempt to speak, I will say the wrong thing. If I look at him, I will do the wrong thing. I focus on my hands and say, "You are too kind, but thank you."

    "There is no rush for you to decide what is right. A more urgent matter we should discuss is tomorrow. Jordis and I will depart for Markath, stopping at Karthwasten along the way. I urge you to remain here. Consider your future. You are now a very wealthy woman, with no need to risk your safety. You would most certainly be appointed Thane in any city or hold you choose as your home. Or if you wish to live more humbly and purchase land and build a home upon it as I have done, and will do again, you can enjoy a quieter life. Or open an orphanage, or a school, or a temple. You have many gifts, any of which when employed would only grow your fortune. Stay. Consider the future, and what you want most from it."

    Which of my gifts would keep us together forever? I thought, indeed the wrong thing to say.

    "Once again, you are too kind. But I do not need any time to decide that what I want most is to accompany you." I realized too late what tone had leaked through my words and tried to repair the damage as best I could. "I detest unfinished business. We started this journey together; we should finish it together."

    "In that case" he said with a smile "we have purchases to make." He said

    16th of First Seed

    He paid them extra, but it still took some time to finishes the dresses. No more borrowed clothes. Radiant raiment indeed, courtesy of the two sisters, one of whom I had already met, who had stood outside her shop when first we arrived and given Aric that look that I had come to know so well. The look the three of then gave each other. The three of them. Well, how...open minded... of them all. However, they make exquisite dresses, as well as very comfortable, practical travel attire. Still Radiant. Aric and Jordis had discussed what would be safer: travel the main roads as a noble couple under protection of a well-armed guard, or travel as something less refined, using the trails and paths. Jordis assured him that she could guide us to Karthwasten using mostly trails, but that we should certainly encounter bandits or foresworn. Also, if the Thalmor believed that it was bandits responsible for the attack on the mine they would certainly be scouring the countryside, looking for groups of bandits to question.

    In the end, he decided on the camouflage of finery and nobility. So, a traveling dress, but a brocaded one, with gloves. And a hooded cloak that Aric warded himself.

    "Endarie makes this fabric herself. How she does it she keeps a closely guarded secret. On its own, it is a simple cloak, though beautiful. But it holds an enchantment much longer and amplifies it. The one I have has not lost strength in the ten years I have owned it." Aric said

    "That is impressive." I answered. "What enchantment did you use?"

    "It is not an enchantment." He answered.

    "Like the token?" I asked.

    "Somewhat. The closest word you would understand to describe it is a 'Shaping'". He answered.

    "That is not the first time you have referred to a language I would not know. You are aware that I have an education?" I asked

    mso-ansi-language:IS" lang="IS">Hið augljósa þarfnast engra skýringa." He said

    Even though he had told me, and I had believed him, it was still a shock to hear the words, the inflection, the mysterious language that almost certainly predated Tamriel.

    "What did you just say?" I asked.

    "The obvious requires no explanation."

    Even in an ancient, foreign language he makes my heart race.

    "Keep this cloak on at all times. There are few weapons that can penetrate it. No projectile produced by man can do so. Any spells that strike it will, up to a point, strengthen and recharge it. It is a very powerful protection."

    "Where did you learn to...I do not even know how to refer to it."

    "I learned to work a Shaping from my Mother." Aric answered

    Aric as a child. Aric has a mother. My mind could not wrap itself around the concept of Aric being anything other than he was right now, could not picture him as any sort of child, at his mother's knee, learning anything.

    "She sounds like an extraordinary woman." I said

    "She was, as her mother before her was. And her father."

    He became quiet afterwards, and contemplative. I took my cue, and my recent purchases, to my shared bedroom to pack for our journey. I had purchased two plain gold rings, though technically it was Aric who purchased them - purchased everything. I spent the next hour at the enchanting station that sat between the two bedrooms, enchanting each ring with a trigger spell that would trigger my bound sword spell. The affect would be immediate and endure much longer, and allow me to cast another spell simultaneously. I had used trigger spells before, but this application was inspired by watch Serana in combat. I was confident that I could do it but had not had time to practice.

    17th of First Seed

    Even from a distance it was clear the Thalmor had called for reinforcements. They avoided the Stormcloak camp that sat just south of the main road, but their numbers increased the further we travelled; some stationary at intervals on the road, but more traveling back and forth, leaving the main road occasionally, no discernable pattern.

    "There are more of them than I expected." Jordis said.

    "There were not this many during our last visit." I said

    "They are searching the countryside but trying to not be obvious. They are avoiding the Stormcloak camp." Aric said, "And more of them are Justiciars, not just soldiers."

    "We always knew they would respond. At least they have not sacked the town." I said.

    "Not with Imperial troops stationed in the town, and Stormcloaks nearby. And they understand the townsfolk did not have the means to kill two-hundred Thalmor." Aric said.

    "Was it really so many?" Jordis asked him.

    "Yes." he replied

    "When you told me earlier, I thought you were exaggerating."

    "No." he said.

    "You killed two-hundred. The four of you?"


    "That is fifty Thalmor each." she said

    "Your math is unimpeachable." he said with a smile

    "I'm serious." She said

    "I was angry and need an outlet." I said

    " I was also angry. And I was protecting Sara." Aric said

    "What about Sara?" Jordis asked

    "Sara was protecting all of us." Aric said

    "And Serana?"

    "Serana was being Serana." was all he said.

    We rode through Dragon's Bridge, a noble couple with its armor-clad protection. Aric sat his horse and made his face a mask. Jordis stared down every Thalmor that made eye contact. I adopted a look and demeanor of scorn and superiority that I had recently seen up close, in abundance, while being fit for my new clothes.

    If the effect is any indication, I did a passable impression.

    Chapter 12

    There were fewer Thalmor as we continued south. They were almost certainly concentrating on the paths and hills around and above the gold mine. If they were not careful, they would have more than one unpleasant encounter with the Foresworn.

    We had just crossed the bridge between Dragon's Bridge Overlook and Forebears' Holdout when there was a scrambling noise to our right, and a young girl about Sara's age came out from behind a small stand of trees. She was wet and crying, barely able to speak:

    "Please help us. she is too heavy for me to lift."

    We had stopped at her approach, Jordis with her hand on her sword, but this soaking wet, hysterical young girl was no threat. However, in a flash Jordis had drawn her sword and was wheeling her horse, scanning both sides of the road, in a complete circle, for threat, for Thalmor, for ambush.

    "Stay with Jordis." Aric said to me as he dismounted and followed the girl up the slope to the trees.

    He was just about to disappear into the trees when I said to Jordis:

    "Stay with the horses" and dismounted, following Aric's path up the slope and into the trees to find a hasty shelter made from a fallen tree and Aric kneeling by a young woman.

    She did not move, and her breathing was labored.

    The young girl was saying "They kept accusing us of being bandits. We told they we were not bandits. Do we look like bandits? We hunt to help feed our family. They tried to take us with them. One of them grabbed me and Jyte killed him. Then we ran, but they chased us. She told me to keep running while she stayed behind, firing arrows at them. I climbed down the cliff edge and waited. It took a long time for her to appear, but she was already wounded, and she fell when she was trying to climb down."

    Her crying came back as a swell. I hugged her and tried to calm her as Aric looked at Jyte.

    "What is your name, child?" Aric asked her.

    "Kirsta" she said, the swell receding. "And I'm not a child." She said.

    "I apologize. You remind me of my daughter. She is about your age." he said.

    Then "Kirsta, I need your help. We need to remove her cuirass and tunic so I can treat her wound. Would you help me?"

    "What can I do?" I asked.

    "Bring my small apothecary satchel." He said

    I ran and slid back down the slope to Aric's horse. Jordis had dismounted and was still scanning for threat. I found the satchel and was just turning to head back towards the slope when I heard it, and Jordis said "Thalmor."

    I did not stop to look but raced up the slope with the satchel in hand and said to Aric "Thalmor." Aric stood up and simply said: "Stay here."

    The fear on Krista's face was plain.

    "Don't worry, I said. No one will hurt you."

    Aric must have used a healing spell because the wound in Jyte's side had stopped bleeding and appeared to be healing. Her shoulder and the side of her face were bruised from when she fell but did not seem serious. From behind the trees I could hear their conversation.

    "This road is not safe. Bandit attacks are frequent." One of the Thalmor said.

    "The lady is indisposed. Our stop will be as short as possible, but the only others we have seen are Thalmor troops, no one else." Aric replied

    "State your name and your business traveling this road." The Thalmor said.

    "I am a nobleman of Hjaalmarch, and I do not answer to anonymous Justiciars" was Aric's reply.

    "I am Justiciar Cyreron, and you do not resemble any nobleman I have met in Tamriel."

    "Then you should keep better company, Justiciar Cyreron." he replied.

    "Search the wood." the Thalmor said to someone.

    "Kirsta lie down next to your sister. Quickly." I said as she hesitated. She lay down next to Jyte. I covered them with my cloak. "Do not come out under any circumstances, not matter what you hear. Do you understand?" She nodded.

    "You will not disturb my lady" Aric said.

    The wood ran a short distance north, ending at a slight protrusion of rock. It was from that point I would launch my attack.

    "We will do as we wish." the Thalmor said.

    "As will I." Aric responded, as chaos erupted.

    The calm, damp spring day was suddenly consumed by a fierce, swirling blizzard. The water that had moments ago been soaking the road and hills quickly turned to small shards of ice projectiles. An Atrinoch appeared and lightening stuck just as I launched.

    I cast the levitation spell and triggered my rings as I cleared the trees and used all the strength of my legs to launch myself from the rock protrusion at the Thalmor directly in front of me. Practice would have helped, but for first attempts it was more than I had hoped. My bound swords were like wings outstretched as my legs uncoiled and the levitation spell kept me airborne. Six Thalmor down before my momentum carried me to the far side of the road where I landed only to pivot and spring forward again, changing to a whirlwind pattern, mirroring the powerful blizzard that had Aric and Jordis at its center, delivering death side by side. As they moved the blizzard would engulf more Thalmor, who were no match for the pair at the center. Archers were useless until the whirlwind ended.

    There are too many I thought.

    It is an entire company concentrated here in this small stretch of road. In the mine they were dispersed, and we were fighting smaller groups. There were enough here that they could overwhelm us. We needed help, and I knew where to get it. I had ten new recruits at hand but had never raised that many at once. I would have to raise them in batches.

    Like dough rising on the sideboard in batches I thought.

    Where did that thought come from? I wondered as I raised the first group of five. It was the largest number I had ever raised at once, and it took more energy that I had anticipated. I had landed on the side of the road with the stand of trees, so I ducked down behind a tree and took a potion. I could feel it working when a Thalmor appeared. It took him too long to spot me, and so he died. I had one more potion. After that it would be difficult, but not impossible to raise more than one or two at a time. Now it was destruction magic, target and target and target as Aric cut down Thalmor with his sword. A soldier and a Justiciar were suddenly hurled aside and dashed against the rocks. The blizzard had ended, and the archers were about to take a toll. But a group of them were placed side-by-side in the road, facing away from me, and an easy target. As they burned, I took my last potion, raised the next group of Thalmor and sent them to keep the remaining archers busy, just as a lightning bolt struck the rock outcropping I had launched my attack from, spraying me with shards of rock. He had taken me entirely by surprise. It was blind luck I was not killed. I cast a ward with my left hand and paralyzed him with my right, and had just cut his throat with my dagger when the three Thalmor closest to Aric and Jordis, and the small section of road they were standing on suddenly shot high up into the air. I lost sight of them just as the next two suddenly stopped and, as I watched them lift off the ground, seemed to distort and crumple, as if a giant hand had crushed them. As they collapsed, I glanced at Aric, who must have used an Alteration spell because he looked like he was carved from Ebony as he reverted to his sword. A space began to clear around him as Thalmor fell and none were brave enough to take their place. Jordis was next to him. She had used her last arrows and had also reverted to her sword and shield when, with a sweep of Aric's left hand, a wall of liquid fire appeared on the ground in front of him and began to moved towards the Thalmor.

    I could not help but marvel at him. He was powerful, wielding magic and weapon like both were nothing. He had donned his masked helm, so I could not see his face, but I knew what those spells were costing him. I knew if I could see his face, I would see the sweat and the strain.

    There are still too many, and we are all tiring I thought, just as three Thalmor turned to face me.

    I had not recovered from my last spells. I had no trigger spells left. The vision in my right eye was obscured by blood running down my face from the rock shards. A gash in my leg limited my mobility. My cloak was protecting the sisters. I still held my dagger. I could have parried one, biding time while I regained enough strength to cast another spell, but not three.

    I die here I thought to myself, with a calm I had not expected.

    A white-hot ball of fire passed my shoulder from behind, incinerating the Thalmor who were charging at me. It consumed them and continued, striking the next group of Thalmor who were retreating from Aric and the dying firewall and exploded just as two riders charged past me, following the fireball’s path. The first rider, tall and statuesque, wearing gilded armor. The second, not quite as tall, but strong, wearing glass armor. They cleaved a path through the remaining Thalmor, leaving dead in their wake. They separated as they passed Aric and Jordis before turning. Lucia's horse reared as it began its charge again, Lucia using spell and staff, Runa spell and sword. All hands occupied; no hands free to hold the reins. I was amazed that my mind had the capacity to marvel at the horsemanship I was seeing. Jordis, joy plain on her shining face, gave a battle cry that could be heard in Dragon's Bridge as she charged the remaining Thalmor.

    We gathered afterwards to view the carnage. The crushed, broken bodies. The burned corpses, and those that were frozen like blocks of ice. Those that Aric had flung high into the air and had landed a distance away. Those he had dashed against the rocky outcropping were closer, but just as broken. And in groups clustered where Aric and Jordis had stood the many dead that had fallen to their swords. An entire company. Four Justiciars. Eighty dead Thalmor littered the road. We needed to be away from here as soon as possible. Even without Jordis' battle cry the sounds of battle were impossible to miss. Any remaining Thalmor within hearing distance should be converging here.

    "One side of you face is red" Runa said.

    "What?" I asked

    "The left side of your face is red. "She inspected my face closer. "Your hair is singed. So is your eyebrow." she said.

    "I will be fine." I said, relieved to be alive.

    "She really needs to work on her aim." Runa said.

    I laughed just as Aric asked, "Where is your cloak?"

    "The girls" I said as I started to run up the embankment.

    They had not moved. They were still under my cloak. Nothing seemed to have touched them. "Kirsta" I said to let her know it was me. She pulled to cloak away. "You can come out. it is over." I said.

    "Are they gone?" she asked.

    "In a manner of speaking" Runa said dryly. Then "You look like my sister Sara." and after a moment looking at Jyte, "And she looks a bit like you." she said to me.

    "Krista, these are two of my daughters. They are going to take very good care of you. I have a potion for Jyte to drink if she can, then we should be on our way as quickly as possible." Aric said.

    It was no longer safe to keep to the road. We crossed at a shallow point in the river by a fisherman's campsite, following Jordis who was using the hunting trails and leading us up into the mountains, putting as much distance between us and the carnage below as possible without endangering Jyte. Lucia had Jyte in her arms, wrapped in Aric's cloak, Runa had Kirsta in front of her, wrapped in mine. Both girls were still wet, but the cloaks and an Alteration spell were keeping them warm.

    Aric had hugged his daughters. A troika of hugs. I was surprised when Lucia hugged me as well. She looked at the burned side of my head, shrugged and we both laughed. Lucia did not wait for the inevitable question. "The Jarl's steward delivered this personally. I thought you would want to see it as soon as possible." She said. With so many Thaneships attached to his name, it was a valid question to which Jarl she was referring. But I knew which one she meant.

    To Aric, Thane of Whiterun. Balgruuf, Jarl of Whiterun is pleased to inform you Bajald Eraldsen is taken by armed men and brought to Whiterun, together with a written charge signed by your hand and a golden token. He will be held under your authority as Thane until such time as you may appear to present charges and evidence in person. The men who delivered him requested the payment of a bounty. However, no written bounty signed by you was presented. You may advise us at your convenience what bounty, if any, you are willing to pay.

    By my hand,


    Regarding the other matter, stay safe my friend. These are unsettled times.

    "Welcome news." Aric said "And welcome couriers. You arrived just in time."

    "We would have been here sooner, but someone wanted to be introduced to the new member of our family." Runa said, looking directly at Lucia.

    "It appears that the more intelligent of Bajald's men showed initiative." Aric said.

    "Where is Serana?" Lucia asked

    "We do not know." Jordis said "How is Vilkas?"

    "Shut up." Lucia said with a smile.

    I recognized the look on Kirsta's face.

    "This is normal for them." I said.

    Four battles. Six, if I counted the two bandit attacks before I opened my eyes and saw Sara's face above me in my small shack. Two of them large. My life before this had not been a violent one. Yes, I had training; and I considered myself trained. But I had never had to use that training on this scale. So, my physical reaction on the ride to Solitude after the gold mine took me by surprise. Now, riding into the hills of The Reach, when the shaking began, I knew what it was. It took a moment for Aric to notice my reaction as we rode slowly, side by side. "Have you ever cast a calming spell on yourself?" he asked me. "No." I said, feeling embarrassed by my reaction. "Have you?" I asked. "Many times." he replied with a smile. "Courage spells as well."

    I had seen his tears fall upon the ground at the graves of a young couple, had seen the grief plain upon his face. I had more than enough evidence to know that he experienced love. The sound of his laughter had quickly become one of my most favorite melodies. I have no idea why the idea of him experiencing fear was so foreign to me.

    Jordis came riding back down the trail. "There is a hunting shack nearby. One hunter. I can get us there dry, and without any of us having to dismount."

    "We need to stop for Jyte's sake but let us ask permission first." Aric said

    His request, assisted by a fair amount of gold, was granted. Jyte and Kirsta both sharing the small bed while their clothes dried. Small potions for each of them. Healing ointment on both sides of my face. It was our first real opportunity to take stock of our own injuries after the battle. Jordis had a short conversation with the hunter, whose name was Ante. Ante nodded, retrieved a few belongings from the shack, and walked off towards the east. "She knows a height that she can use to see almost down to the river east, and almost to Dragon's Bridge north. Nothing will approach unobserved. I told her we were attacked, but not who attacked us. In any case, she is not the least bit interested in knowing. She will keep watch. Once we leave, she will remove any trace of our being here, and then she will count the gold we shall pay her and forget that anyone else was ever here.

    "Gold does have its own natural enchantment." Lucia said

    "So does a hansom face." said Runa with a smile.

    "Do you have one in mind?" Aric asked

    "Does it have to be only one?" Runa asked, her smile broadening

    "I am in no position to have an opinion in that regard." Aric said with a wince.

    "Are you injured?" I asked

    "It is not serious." He said as he began to remove his Armor. Gauntlets. Plackart, Tasset, Cuirass, Tunic. He began on his own, but in the end, Lucia had to assist him. He had a gash under one arm, where a joint had left him exposed. A lucky strike. A gash on his back where a very forceful blow penetrated his armor. A third on his sword arm, just above his gauntlet. A fourth on his leg, just below the tasset. he applied ointment to the leg wound and bound it. Lucia treated and bandaged the rest. He took a potion afterwards. Runa was likewise helping Jordis, who had her own collection of wounds; but my eyes would not move from him. His skin. The markings. A giant dragon took up most of his back. Wolves adorned his shoulders. Symbols I could not name on his chest. Where before he was chiseled Ebony, now he was chiseled flesh. My face felt on fire. I could not find my breath. "Close your eyes" I kept commanding myself, but my eyes would not obey.

    His wounds treated, he retrieved his tunic, and the spell that had enraptured me was broken. I found a small group of rocks and sat down; happy to give my unsteady legs a rest. It did not last long.

    "Have you other injuries besides you head?" Aric asked me as he approached. He was being kind. He did not need to ask, the blood had seeped through the sleeves of my dress, and through the lower part of my skirt.

    "Nothing serious." I said, mimicking him. "I can treat them myself." Healing ointment. A healing potion. Nothing that required the expenditure of energy. Energy I did not have. I felt weak. And not only because of the battle.

    “It was a battle to remember, no denying that.” Railius said. “A proper battle. In the mine is was skirmishes. Not detracting from it, mind you. It was expertly done. Classic tactics how a small force can defeat a larger force. But this here battle, this was something else.”

    “I thought I was going to die.” I said. “And I was not afraid. Not until afterwards when I was shaking so much that I thought I would fall out of my saddle.”

    “That’s just your body reacting. That’s not fear. You never showed fear. Not in the mine, not on the road.” He said.

    “Would not a sane person feel fear in my place?” I asked him

    “Fear is what you feel before a battle when you have time to think about it.” He said. “I’ve seen it more than I can count. Once the battle starts and you get to it, and concentrating on the man in front of you, your mind doesn’t have the capacity for anything else. You didn’t have time enough to think about it beforehand, not on the road, not in the mine.”

    “I am still trying to reconcile my mind with what I saw him do.” I said.

    “He is a force to reckon with, and his girls was something to behold.” He said.

    “I searched for a word to describe it and I always return to ‘artistry’.” I said

    “You displayed artistry of your own.” He said, “I have never seen the like.”

    “Is it proper for me to feel pride in my ability when the result was so much loss of life?” I asked.

    “I can’t answer that for you lass. I took more lives than I can count when I was a solider. It was either kill them or be killed yourself.” He said. “It isn’t like you walked into a village and murdered innocents. These were soldiers that attacked you. Attacked them young girls. I know what I would have done, and how I would have felt about it afterwards. You have to search your heart for your own answer.”

    “What would life be like for us if I had taken your advice and we had ridden off to a new life?” I asked him

    “Them bandits was already on our trail.” He answered. “And you would never have met that Thane.”

    “That would have been a good thing.” I said

    “You just keep repeating that to yourself until you believe it.” He answered.

    “I am sure I do not take your meaning.” I answered him.

    “I am sure you do lass.” He said with a smile.

    “Being dead does not mean you know everything. You said that yourself.” I argued.

    “Please expand upon what my being dead means, you having so much more experience with being dead than I have.” He said.

    “Well, for one it has certainly not made you less argumentative.” I said.

    I will never tire of his laughter.

    Jyte was much better. Healing well, clothed, dry, fed. It was not that long ago that I had been in her position, her condition. And that is not where the resemblance ended.

    "They thought Jyte and Krista were me and Sara. That is why the Thalmor accused them of being bandits. Someone had seen us. Described us."

    "Yes." Aric said as the packing of our belongings continued.

    "What will they think now, after inspecting the road?" I asked

    "I am not sure. We left very little evidence, and that which we did leave will confuse them." he said

    "In what way?" I asked

    "Jordis was using Elven arrows." he said. "And some of the magical effects they will find are not common but bear some resemblance to Foresworn and Hagraven magic."

    "Some resemblance?" Runa asked

    “If they have a highly sensitive Justiciar they may notice the difference, but I do not think so.”

    "No dead, except their own. No weapons left behind, except their own. Effects from magic that they may misinterpret." Lucia said. "They will be confused indeed."

    Once again, he had employed magic I had never seen, never dreamed.

    "While we are on the topic of magic" Jordis said "The image of you sailing through the air like a bird of prey, glowing wings spread, gracefully cutting down Thalmor is still clear in my mind. It was something to see. Truly a thing of beauty."

    Lucia and Runa were looking at me in a way I did not like.

    "I agree. Beautiful is just the word I was thinking." Aric said as he looked at me, and my heart rate doubled.

    If my face continues to feel like this it is going to explode. I thought.

    "What kind of Priestess flies through the air with glowing wings cutting down Thalmor?" Runa asked

    "The desperate kind that is fighting for her life, and the lives of her companions." I said, "In addition, I swore to Krista that no one would hurt them." I said

    "You were true to your vow." Lucia said, "It seems your gifts are not limited to Restoration." she said and, for reasons of her own, hugged me again.

    "Since we are on the topic of beauty" I said "I have never seen horsemanship like that. I am still surprised that some Thalmor did not kill me as I was standing there, admiring the two of you as you turned and rode back through the Thalmor, not a rein held between the two of you."

    "We had an excellent teacher." Lucia said

    "Vilkas loves watching her ride." Runa said.

    "Would you stop?" Lucia yelled at her sister.

    Jordis, Jyte and Krista watched the exchange from a short distance away. Jordis said something that made the two sisters laugh.

    It was past midday when we took our leave. Jordis had found a route that took us to the main road, and we decided to continue to Markath without stopping.

    "I cannot leave the two of you on your own, and the roads north and east will not be safe. It is best if we take you with us to Markath. I will send a courier to notify your family, and you will be my guest in Markath. Have you ever visited Markath?" he asked them both.

    "No, we have never been that far west. This hunting trip was the farthest we have ever been from home." Jyte said

    "Rorikstead is quite a distance from where we found you." Lucia said to Jyte, who was still sitting in front of her.

    "We have had to hunt farther from home every season." Jyte said "But we had not intended to travel so far."

    "Rorikstead is on our route back. You will be home soon." Aric said.

    Kirsta asked me "Have you been to Markath before?"

    "Yes, but a long time ago." I answered.

    Our progress was slow. A group of Foresworn looters made the fatal error of attacking us on the main road. Aric and Jordis drew their swords and charged at the first two. Runa and Lucia were riding double and could not take part in the charge. Lucia used her staff to incinerate the third looter as Aric and Jordis were on the return leg of their charge and killed the fourth. It took less than a minute. It was evening when we entered Markath City. Aric said something to one of the guards who nodded and passed an order to another.

    Jyte and Kirsta were mesmerized by what they saw, and with good reason. Markath was like no other city. Stone towers, waterfalls, golden domes.

    And stairs. An abundance of them. Most of them seeming to be between us and Aric's Markath home. Jyte was holding her side when we arrived at the door and entered.

    Something was wrong. This was the second housecarl that seemed immune to Aric’s charm. And she was a Nord, not a Wood Elf. Another theory in tatters. She was followed by a woman even taller than Lucia, but just as beautiful. Except:

    "Are those feathers?" Kirsta whispered to Runa.

    "Yes, but there are fewer than the last time I saw her." Runa whispered back.

    This must be Morryn, the Recovering Hagraven.

    "Morryn, Rigel, this is Noxaura, Jyte and Kirsta. They are my guests. Rigel, this is Jordis, my housecarl from Solitude. Would you acquaint everyone with the household? I have a quick note to write." Aric said.

    "Please follow me." Rigel said. Morryn just stood there as we passed, the girls glancing at her as they passed. From the way she was dressed she was in no way attempting to hide anything. She greeted Lucia and Runa. It seemed that hugging was the common form of greeting in this family. She obviously knew Jordis, so she had been to Solitude. She nodded at me and I nodded back.

    It was an impressive home, but I was most taken by the girl’s reaction. It was like they had been transported to a land of wonders. They obviously had no idea what a Thane's life resembled. Aric reappeared with his note. "Jyte, can you write instructions on how the courier can identify your home?" Aric asked.

    "What courier?" Morryn asked, her voice dark and beautiful.

    "The one that will be here in a moment to collect this note." Aric answered.

    It did not take long.

    Aric handed him the note and Jyte's description of their home. "The Foresworn are active. Six men should be sufficient." He turned and spoke to Jyte "If he leaves immediately it will be late when he arrives, and he may wake your household. Will your family worry if he starts at first light?"

    "They will not grow concerned for a few days yet." Jyte said.

    "You lost everything you had when you were attacked, except what you were wearing. How much will that loss burden your family?" He asked.

    "I do not know. We have never returned empty handed before. It will make things more difficult." She said

    "We can ease that burden." Aric said. He handed the courier two purses. "This is for you. This is for you to deliver with the note, explaining it is recompense for what the bandits stole. The note will tell the rest.”

    "By your order Thane, it will be done."

    "At first light" Aric said.

    "Yes." the courier said and left.

    "Your parents will be informed that you met misfortune and required assistance, and that you will be my guests in Markath until I return you to them personally in three or four days’ time. I mentioned misfortune, but no details. The courier will mention bandits, but no details. It is best to omit any mention of the Thalmor. Bandits threatened you, you ran, abandoning everything. You were injured. We found you and brought you to Markath. You understand I am sure." Aric said.

    "We will convince them. Do not worry." Jyte said.

    "For now, I believe we all deserve a hot bath, a good meal, and rest. For tomorrow, a tour of the city for you if you wish. I must visit the Jarl and call upon the Temple of Dibella; but I will catch up with you when I am finished. Jyte, the city has an overabundance of stairs. Be patient while your body heals."

    I explored the house while the young sisters expressed their disbelief at the magnificence of what they saw, in a manner that reminded me of Sara and Delphine. Someone else would have to oversee hair brushing. The voices turned into laughs and giggles as they took possession of the bath. It was my turn next. My face had healed quickly, but the ointment took some effort to remove from my hair. Runa and Lucia were in less of a hurry, talking privately to Morryn near the alchemist station, which reminded me as a sat and soaked that I should re-enchant rings, and renew my potions. And repair my traveling dress. And think about my future. And get my emotions under control. And stop thinking about him.

    Why is this bath so hot?
    #1 Bren, Feb 23, 2021
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2021
: Skyrim, tes, 4e213

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