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Civil War Aftermath Chapter 3: Season's End pt2

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Lorgar Sky-wind, Lucienus Valerius

Forest Clearing



Two men layed on two fur bed-rolls, under the glistering stars.  It was at least three in the morning, and darkness was still about.  Lorgar Sky-wind was glancing upwards at the moon, while picking at his teeth with his Ebony shortblade. He was deep in thought, as shown by his facial expression. His companion, and second in-command, Lucienus Valerius was also awake, though he didn’t show it, as his eyes were closed. After working out the conditions and specifics of their contract, Lorgar had signed the document, making the Blood Wolves a special operations unit of the Dominion Shadow Corps, and making Lorgar an agent of the Thalmor


Grind Grind Grind


The sound of the blade making contact with the nords teeth, while low, was still a tad annoying.  Lucienus ignored it, since he rarely had the need to sleep anymore. He was undead after all.


Grind grind grind


Lucienus and his superior had barely spoken on their way out of the sewer, and through the forest.  Which was unusual for the duo, who would usually mouth off at each other first chance they got.


Is he upset?


Grind grind grind.


There’s nothing to be upset about. We made it out of the imperial city in one piece, got his wife out of the lions nest, and just got new clients, with a high quality contract. I for one, think it’s quite impressive.


Grind grind grind.


Though this was Lorgar, or as the men called him, Saladin Fury-Eyed. In all of the centuries of Lucienus’s life, he had never met a man like his commanding officer.  Calm and stoic one second, furious and wrathful the next, Lorgar was like two separate people. Even after returning from his trip to Solitude, and the fragments of his mind being put back together, it was like talking to one person, then moments later talking to another. Lucienus could safely say, he didn’t understand him.


Grind grind grind


Despite this, the vampire assassin had the utmost respect for the nord.. After finding out who the real identify of his savior was, Lucienus had…obtained his military records, which greatly impressed him. His finest moment was right after his career killer, the massacre at Camp Rommulas. After escaping from Stormcloak captivity, Lorgar had gone rouge.  Not bothering to report back to imperial command, the man waged a one man guerilla campaign against the Stormcloak garrison, under command from General Baldur Red-Snow. Using cunning and pragmatic methods, Lorgar managed to fight against the Stormcloak army, earning him the moniker, “The Darkened Archerâ€, for his black garb, and ferocious archery skills.   


Grind grind grind


Lucienus admired everything about the man. His skills in war. The way he moved. The way he carried himself-


“Hey Lucienus?†Came the sudden voice of the nord himself. It was tired, and he could tell it betrayed an emotion of sadness. Lucienus responded in a clear and stoic voice,


“Yes sir. You need anything?†Delaying slightly, the nord took a long deep breath, before saying,


“I need to ask you…would you do the moral thing, or the logical thing?†The vampire took no time responding,


“Logical. Morality and ethics are completely irreverent, colonel.†Lucienus voice was worried, and the imperial could guess what Lorgar was thinking, “My lord, if I may be so bold, is this about our agreement with Miss Homunal?â€


Lorgar let out a chuckle, “That, and the other dozen things on my mind.† He straightened out his back, and put his hand to his forward, “I must sound like a child to you.â€


“Not at all. You know I’m always willingly to listen, sir. You can start wherever you like, tell me, what’s on your mind.†The vampire meant it.  Lorgar closed his eyes, before speaking,  


“I think…turning myself in would have been the best option.†Waiting for the backlash from the vampire, Lorgar squeezed his hands tightly. No backlash came,


“That would have amounted to little. Except for some inn-keeper not awakening to a slight-headache, and a few chairs intact.†The imperial muttered deadpanly, “You know what I mean.†Responded the nord,


“I do. After surrendering, you would have been publicly executed by the court mage and his little puppet. What would that have accomplished exactly?â€


“Reptence. Justice. Penance.†Said the grizzled veteran. The three words caused the vampire to laugh, a laugh filled with dark humor,


“Reptence? Justice? Penance? I’m not familiar with those terms, my lord. Why should the wolf be subjected to the rules of the sheep? Reptence, Justice, and penance are a novelty, sir. Do you really think your death, would “cleanse†you of your sins. Or somehow redeem you?â€


The nord remained silently, which caused the vampire to continue,


“Or maybe you feel guilty for Catia, and her husband. That you caused unnecessary trouble to them? Don’t. It was that, or having your head lopped off by the legion.. I simply don’t see the problem. Miss Ceno is still alive, as is her employees. There unharmed, with maybe a few slight bruise. You choose the best option.â€


“Best doesn't equal right.†Lorgar said, silently. Lucienus, chuckled again,


“Right. Wrong. Bad. Good.†Waving his hand, “There all labels.†He eyed the nord, smiling mockingly, “If we go by “Right and wrong†then is killing right?â€


Lorgar raised his voice to say something, anything, but it died in his throat before it had a chance to even rise. Instead, Lucienus muttered,â€I’ve seen you on the battlefield, my lord. I know how your face fills with unaltered joy, and the feeling of pleasure flows through, as you cut down everything in your path. The carnage, the blood, the way steel rends flesh, makes you feel alive. Eating, sleeping, money, even being with Milly, they pale. You never feel as you do, when you’re not cheating death on the battlefield. Why is this? It’s because you enjoy all the killing.â€


Lorgar didn't say a word.  Calling him by his first name, Lucienus continued his lecture


“Lorgar, wanting your own death is never the answer to a problem. Never. Not only are you wasting your own life, you’re wasting the lives of all you’ve killed. Never second guess you decisions, move forward. When everything seems lost, remember, there’s always one more reason, to keep on living. Hold on to your life, Lorgar. Hold on to until the end." 

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Rebec, Baldur




Rebec as promised made a stop to Solitude's ports before continuing their trip. Baldur got up early to avoid speaking with Ysana about what she saw, then took a group of four of his men to bring some of the barrels from his house, then another two to bring some carts of mead bottles with them. Upon their arrival to Rebec's house, Baldur found a box left at the front door with a note saying it was for him. Baldur looked at the box curiously, wondering what it was doing here.


"For Shor's sake, this could have been important! Why the hell is this just sitting here instead of being brought to Windhelm when we left?" Baldur had the men go inside without him to extract the supplies from the basement while he sorted through the package. He figured that not everyone was up to speed on his whereabouts and must have figured he'd eventually return here. The first thing he saw inside was a bundle containing labels for his mead bottles that he ordered. Baldur grinned at the image, then set it aside to get to the rest of the package.


The rest of the contents contained two letters. One had a red colored seal that popped open as soon as Baldur laid his hands on it, causing him to naturally read that one first. When Baldur took the note out, he saw that the letter had a ring within it that had the same emblem on it as his Talos amulet. It said:




I want to congratulate you on your promotion, it is well deserved. As a token to make your life as a General and Bard a little easier, I grant you the Septim Ring, an artifact of the old Imperial Cult. Its magic should serve you well. And I know how fond you Nords are of Talos. May it serve as a small bandage on our broken relationship and guide you on your way as you serve the Old Kingdom.


Yours sincerely,



"Moon-Balls...." Was all Baldur said as he read the note. Baldur threw the ring back into the box as if it was cursed. For all he knew, the damn thing could have been. Baldur didn't know what game he was playing at, but he took the gift as some sort of insult, given that he was the one who gave him to the Thalmor who tried to make him renounce his faith. Irony, something Baldur was sure Samuel intended.


Baldur moved on to the next letter, this one being from Lorgar. It was sent some time ago, a while before Lorgar last came to Solitude. In the letter, Lorgar told him what happened to Samuel in detail, which was of course nothing. Baldur already got Moon-Balls' other letter a while ago where he basically was gloating, then switched to being condescending by congratulating Rebec on finding Toki's bones. But something else caught Baldur's attention near the end. Lorgar actually claimed that Samuel was a vampire and a part of some group called "The Order", which meant nothing to him. Baldur wasn't sure how much he could believe coming from Lorgar, but thinking back on it, he did remember the illusions Samuel used in the cave....


"Freaks just fester in Cyrodiil it seems. What in Oblivion....." Baldur threw the letters back in the box and took them in his arm, then one of his Necro Nords came up from below.


"Uh, sir? I think you should come see this...."


"What is it?" asked Baldur. The soldier didn't answer him, but instead walked back down into the basement. When Baldur reached the bottom, his men were standing next to the barrels, which were giving off some bluish looking vapors. When Baldur approached the barrel, he could feel an intense chill coming from them. "What the hell..." Baldur signaled for one of the men to give him their warhammer. Then he had the men pull a barrel out and set it in the center of the room. Then, he brought the hammer over his head and slammed it down on the mead barrel, which smashed it open after a few strikes, revealing the mead inside had completely frozen. The water and mead had mostly separated from each other, leaving the actual mead at the bottom and most of the water at the top.


The soldiers with him looked at it in wonder, then Baldur said, "Do you know what this means?" The soldiers looked at their commander in confusion and shrugged their shoulders. "Nevermind, just smash those other two barrels as well, then separate the frozen water from the mead by smashing it. There's more barrels in the corner to the right. Put the frozen mead in those, then bring them to the ship along with the bottles. I'll meet you there. Don't take all day!"


If I'm right, this is going to be some incredible mead. Wait till Rebec sees this!



Rebec stayed at the docks, taking on some more cargo and supplies. It would be a crowded their first few days out, but she hoped to offload some in High Rock. She also spent some time listening to the sailor talk. This time it was not just yarns, but troubling news. The Sweet Nadya and a Breton vessel had both encountered what sounded like the same group of pirates on the passage between Skyrim and High Rock. The pirates had boarded, robbed cargo, and took a few captives, for what purpose no one knew.


"Nords or Dunmer?" Rebec asked, her brow knit. Mazoga stood at her side.


"Nords, mostly," the sailor answered. "Some Bretons. They must have a lair somewhere, maybe on an island."


Rebec and Mazoga exchanged a glance. "Time to go hunting, boss."


"Hunt and destroy." Rebec would have relished the chase before, but the thought of her family being on board and the ship being new made her nervous. Still, it was their job to eliminate threats like this. Rebec thought the pirates must be starved for booty from having to steer clear of the blockade for so long, or they wouldn't let those ships go. They were leaving the ships intact so that there would be more out on the seas to rob.


Turning, Rebec saw Baldur approach, a big grin on his face. "Uh oh, this looks like trouble," she said, smiling. Baldur grabbed the sides of her face and brought her in for a kiss with a loud smack. "Trouble indeed if you let anyone get to those barrels. What I have in there is liquid gold. And I'm not kidding. Well, I am, but...nevermind." Baldur turned around and called out to his men. "Load those up in the big empty space top deck with their tops open. I want those bad boys out in the sun to melt so we can drink!" There was only two barrels now, One full and the other almost full from all the separated water left in the cellar.


"So, I haven't actually tasted the mead yet. It was frozen. I guess if you leave Frost-Honey in a cool place for too long, it freezes over. But that's a good thing. That allowed me to separate the mead from a large amount of the water...See where I'm going?"


"My crew is going to be piss drunk tonight?" Despite her words, Rebec was getting thirsty herself at the description. "Aren't we supposed to be sending that to the wizard?"


"Woah woah woah, I don't have that much mead to share! This stuff's gotta last you know. This stuff will be much more concentrated than your average mead. The wizard will get his cut, as will the crew, but it's not getting dished out willy nilly. We only have two barrels. That's what, a month's worth just for the two of us? So two months since it's concentrated."


"I haven't tasted it yet." Rebec gave him a wry grin, then sobered. "There's word of pirate activity on the High Rock routes. We have to deal with that. I should go talk to the captain of the other ship traveling with us, make sure we got our signals worked out."


As Rebec turned to do that, Mazoga said to Baldur, "How do you like sailing, boss? Got your sea legs yet?" Baldur started to grin, then he rubbed at his chin.


"Hmm, well I haven't thrown up yet since I woke up this morning. So I suppose so. But yes I'm having fun. Have you ever peed while holding onto the wisp lady? Now I know I'm the green one between you and me, pardon the pun, but I think it's safe to say you haven't been sailing until you peed off the wisp lady." Mazoga's brow going up was the only indication she thought Baldur had lost his mind.


"No offense boss, but if that's the case then I'll stay green. It must be a man thing. Or a human thing."


"Probably both." Baldur shook his head in agreement. "Or more than likely a Baldur thing. So Rebec mentioned pirates. Does that mean I'm going to get to do some killing? I haven't killed anything in quite a while. You think we have enough spare men to sail a third ship if we clear out the pirates from one?"


"We could always tow. We'll have to see if they attack us, otherwise it'd be like looking for a Bosmer in a rain forest. The extra cargo we're taking on should help make us look like a merchant vessel."


"Well, if they do attack, I hope there's some boarding involved. I have to say though, I don't think anyone's going to take this ship as a merchant vessel. Besides in the dark, it's not exactly....conspicuous. If I pictured a Nordic pirate ship, this is what I'd imagine." Mazoga looked back at the ship, smiling proudly.


"She's impressive. Cap said the black paint was your idea. We'll ask around on our stops in High Rock, maybe we'll get lucky and find out more about where the bastards are hiding out.  I've got an itchy trigger finger, too."


Baldur nodded his head and said, "Good, it'll be just like in Markarth then. The black paint was my idea; I didn't really think about needing to be inconspicuous at sea. Oh well, it was worth it."


"If they're as greedy and brazen as they sound, it won't make a difference."


Rebec came back, breathless. "Alright, ready to board? The last stragglers made it back, so they're just waiting on us." As they walked towards the ship, she asked Baldur, "Was there a letter from Boldir?"


"Mm, no. But there were letters." Baldur had his Necro Nord hand him the box that was dropped off at their house that contained the ring, the letters from Samuel and Lorgar, as well as the labels for the mead.


"Oh, something important?"


"Not pressing, no. Just interesting." Baldur handed her the ring first, then the letter from Samuel. "I also got a letter from Lorgar. He claims Samuel was a vampire. And a part of something called the Order. He claims it's some secret vamp society and that the Witch is working with them. Normally I wouldn't trust anything he says, but he is a werewolf. And somehow he knew who Samuel was."


Rebec stopped and read over the letter. "The only mail we got is from Moon Balls and Lorgar," she said incredulously. "With enemies like that, who needs friends. Couple months ago Lorgar is trying to kill you, now he's writing you love letters? Gods.The man is madder than a skooma cat. Where's this ring Moon Balls mentioned?" Baldur showed it to her and dropped it in her hands.


"Lorgar sent that from before he came here. Our couriers need to get it together. But then, I do move around a lot. Anyway, here's the ring. I remember hearing vaguely of these before from the Imperial Cult. It's supposed to increase strength and the power of speech. But, I don't trust gifts from enemies. Maybe Menel can inspect it for me. Even if it's safe, I don't know what to think of it. You? Maybe it's meant to be condescending." Rebec held the ring up to inspect it, her face curdling like it was horker dung.


"He's toying with you," she answered, tossing it back. "Letting you know he hasn't forgotten you're still out here and not rotting bones in a Thalmor prison. I hope he ends up smeared on an Altmer prison floor himself. I don't believe Lorgar's fairy stories, though."  She started up the gangplank, adding, "We took on a couple redguard who are along for the ride. I wasn't going to do it, but they look like solid warriors, and I figured it would be good diplomacy to show up in Hammerfell with some ra gada aboard."


"You're the Cap, Cap. That's fine by me. I'm just here for the ride myself. I can't as easily dismiss Lorgar's claims, at least about Samuel. I saw the illusion magic he pulled in that cave. As for the ring, it's a shame really. It really is a valuable relic. I think that's the point. Like this ring, he was supposed to be a valuable asset I couldn't refuse. I'd hate to be rid of something like this relating to Talos...but I'm no one's bitch. Especially not some Imperial's." Baldur placed the ring back in her hand. "Toss it for me. I don't think I have it in me to do it." Rebec glanced at him, then looked around. 


"Let's wait and do it out on the open sea. Some Argonian will see us and go diving for it." She slipped the ring in her pocket, then started making her rounds to inspect the ship and the new cargo to make sure everything was ready and all their roster accounted for. Finding Baldur on her way back to the steering, she smiled and said, "Let's go to Hammerfell."


"That's the plan. I've gotta go check up on ma, her and I need to talk about some things. I'll see to Vigge while I'm at it for you." Rebec nodded and took her place at the steering. A few minutes later the Black Wisp was on its way out into Haafingar Bay. Vigge was having a smoke near the stern, watching the mist-shrouded marshy coast as they passed. He would occasionally glance over to the stair. Down below, an old sailor was going on loudly and expansively about how the ship was constructed and how its rowing and steering mechanisms worked. At one point Vigge snorted and shook his head, obviously unimpressed with the other man's narrative, but he made no move to interfere.


Baldur walked down into the bottom deck and saw Ysana talking with the same old sailor she was huddled up with the first day they left. It was the black haired Nord he was training with who made fun of his vomiting. Baldur approached them on a rowing bench and said, "You two seem to be getting along pretty well..."


Ysana turned around and said, "Oh, hi son. This is Bjol. We were just talking ab-"


"Wait, the General is your son?" Bjol asked.


"Yes, he's my boy, why?" asked Ysana. Baldur knew why he was asking and decided to capitalize on it by looking annoyed. He figured Bjol was thinking about Menel.


"Uh, no reason. Hey, I've got to go check on some ropes top deck...Talk with you later, Ysana. See you, Baldur."


"See you at weapons practice...." Baldur laughed at Bjol's groan at his comment, then took his place on the bench.


"Why do I have the feeling that you somehow just **** blocked me?" she asked.


"Nhh, mother..." Baldur put his hand over his face and groaned, while Ysana laughed at his discomfort.


"Haha, you really need to get over that, son. Anyway, so are you ready to talk? About the scars, I mean. And while you're at it, I think it's time you tell me about your father too." Baldur gave a heavy sigh and stayed silent for a while. He knew she'd just keep nagging him about it after she saw his scars, so while now didn't seem like the most appropriate of times, he just wanted to get it over with.


Eventually he nodded, then went into his narrative, letting her know everything she wanted to know about him and Ulrin, what he did, then what happened to him in the war and so on. It took him about an hour to explain just about everything. As expected, Ysana was crying from what she heard Ulrin did and he had to take her to the back of the ship to continue the talk. Eventually, she finally stopped, but she didn't say anything for a while.


Finally, she said, "So you got captured to try and protect Rebec, huh?"


"Not exactly. It was sort of like that, but there was nothing stopping me from turning over Marius besides my own stubbornness. That wasn't her fault, so please don't blame her for it. I don't regret it. It made us real close real fast."


"I don't blame her for it, I understand. She's done enough for you for me to forgive her anyway." said Ysana.


"Well, that's everything. That's all that happened. I didn't want to tell you everything because I figured you'd take it pretty hard. But it wasn't your fault what happened with Ulrin. I didn't think it was his fault at first after hearing your story, but he was a bitter man. He did what he did on his own. You were not at fault."


"Oh I know it..." she said, with anger in her voice. "I can't believe him. That...that bastard! If you told me that sooner...That son of a bitch, he got what he deserved." Baldur was shocked to hear Ysana speak so angrily about Ulrin. She was still crying, but it was from hate rather than sorrow. Or perhaps both.


"Ma, I'm sorry I had to, I really am. I didn't want to ruin the good memories you had with him."


"You didn't. What I remember of him will always remain with me, but that man has been dead for 37 years. Ulrin is no longer the man I loved. I stopped missing him the moment you told me about your abuse. If he came back today, I'd kill him myself." Ysana's words strangely hurt Baldur more than he expected, which was not at all. He thought he'd be happy to hear her be over him, but this wasn't the way he wanted that to happen.


"Ma, you don't really mean that." Ysana brushed his words off and squeezed his neck as hard as she could. She didn't show signs of letting go any time soon, but he didn't mind. He knew she was trying to make up for those 37 years. "Thank you, son for telling me the truth. Perhaps you're right. But still, knowing the truth helps. Part of why it was so hard to move on was because I knew there was things about him you hadn't told me. I still haven't, it's true, but I will. I've got you."


Baldur was tearing up as well now, remembering the times now that he told her about when he was alone in the snow and he'd imagine she was holding him. He didn't realize it, but now that she was here, she had slowly started to replace those images with him happily in her arms instead. Eventually, Ysana finally let him go, to which he was also thankful for. He hadn't minded being sappy and vulnerable with Rebec, but with his mother it was somehow different. Pouring his heart out with her was much more difficult despite her being his mother, but he figured they just needed more time. When she let him go and Baldur moved to walk away, Ysana said, "Is that everything, Baldur? There's nothing else you left out?"


Baldur closed his eyes and cursed under his breath. He turned around and said, "Mother, you know I couldn't possibly tell you everything..."


"I'm not asking for your list of booty notches on your belt or anything, just the highlights. Anything major that you think I'd like to see." she said. Baldur knew there was more, but for some reason he just couldn't bring himself to say it out loud. This was so much harder for him to do with her.


Is this how Rebec feels? "Yea, there's, one more thing. But I think it would be best if I just showed you. Go up to the captain's quarters and look in my bag. There's a little journal that's Stormcloak issued. It has 'The Adventures of Baldur' etched into the front with a Windhelm bear on it in silver. Avoid my journal, please. I haven't even let Rebec read my journal recently. Baldur didn't wait to hear her answer. The book was something he hadn't wanted her to see for the same reason he didn't want Rebec to see, but this was worse. Unlike Rebec, she was not a warrior.


Baldur let the thought go and decided he needed some fresh air. He took Rebec's cigarettes from the cabin, where Ysana took the liberty to stay at while she read. She was glued to the book and didn't say anything when he popped in. Baldur went up to the top deck and leaned on the rail to smoke and calm his nerves.



Vigge had already finished his own cigarette and was just leaning on the rail, taking in the sounds of the ship's hum. It was strange for him to hear Rebec in the background, giving orders and moving around checking and double-checking things. That was his little girl, and sometime when his back was turned, she had stopped being a chubby toddler running up the deck of his ship and become a grown woman, captain and now admiral.  He still wanted to protect her, to insulate her from any harm or blame or hurt, but she didn't need him anymore like that.  No one did.  It was an empty feeling, even though he was also fit to burst with pride at both his children.


Glancing over, Vigge saw his new son-in-law, not looking his usual chattering self, and smoking one of Rebec's cigarettes. The old sailor at first thought it must be a marital spat eating at him, but Rebec didn't seem any moodier than usual. What did he really know about this bard, anyway?


"She rolls a good toke," he said in his low rumble of voice, gesturing at the cigarette. Casually Vigge moved towards Baldur and leaned against the rail again, inviting him to talk if he would. His son-in-law glanced over at him as if a horker just hobbled over for a chat. Baldur chuckled, amused that Vigge spoke to him on his own accord.


"Well, I wouldn't know really. I've only had hers before and only on one other occasion. Want one?" Vigge waved his hand.


"Had one. Won't be able to stand up if I go at it again."  The mixture of elf ear and canis root was calming in small doses, but indulging too much not advisable. "First time going to Hammerfell?"


"Aye, that it is. Been around Skyrim enough, so I figured it was time for a new adventure. Sort of our honeymoon, since your daughter's an adventurous type too. This business with the Crowns wasn't part of my plan, but it comes with the job."


"Wretched place. Dust everywhere. Hot as the deadlands. Sand in your boots. Can't figure why Vilnur likes it so much."


"Guess it's good I've got a castle in the sky then. If I had to guess I'd say it's because he met his wife there partly. I hated Falkreath before. Always raining and in the places it snows, it's raining and snowing. So you get brown muddy snow...But now I'm actually fond of the place." Baldur turned around and leaned back on the rail as he regarded Vigge. "You know, all this time, you and I haven't had any one on one time to talk. You're like an untapped source of knowledge on Rebec. What was she like? As a child I mean. Any embarrassing stories?" Almost in spite of himself, Vigge's lined face broke into a grin. His eyes lit with mischief.


"She was a holy terror." He didn't appear ready to elaborate, but after a meditative silence, broke into a story. "Searched all over the ship once looking for her, thought she drowned. She'd climbed into an empty crate and pulled the top over to hide, then fell asleep. Always climbing on everything. Tried to turn the dog into a dragon once and make it fly off the cliff at home. Lured a baby troll home thinking she'd train it to do her chores for her."  The sailor laughed, wiping a hand over his eyes. The laugh hadn't been big enough to make his eyes wet, they just got that way on their own. "Vilnur was a quiet lad, couldn't keep up with her. Always getting dragged into her schemes. I thought sure she'd kill them both. Still do, sometimes."


Baldur couldn't help but chuckle while Vigge told his tale of little Rebec. When he mentioned a baby troll, Baldur was taking a drag on the cigarette, making him choke while he laughed. He wished at that moment that he had her in arms reach to cuddle from the adorable image. "Heh, thanks for the warning, I'll know what to look out for when we have a child. What happened to the baby troll?" Vigge's shaggy eyebrows lifted.


"Mama troll wasn't far behind looking for it. I had to kill her. Was going to kill the trolling, too, but couldn't with my girl begging me not to. So I took it back up into the mountains, left it for its kin to find. Reb still cried for three days. Hard growing up a Nord, but that grows a hardy folk."


"Yea, I suppose so," Baldur said, reminiscing about Bruma. "Sounds like she has a thing for animals. Fitting that she favors Kyne then. She told me about her pet dolphin. Not too fond of ravens though..." Baldur finished the cigarette and exhaled heavily one last time after flicking it into the sea. "You're still worried I'm going to hurt her, aren't you?" His expression turned sharp.


"I told you what'd happen if you do. Don't think I've forgotten or take me for too old to do the job."


Baldur chuckled and said, "Listen, pa. I know she's your daughter. And as your daughter I fully understand your worries and your threats. But, understand something. Old or young, the only reason that would happen is because if I did do something to hurt her, I'd let you. Don't let my kind persona fool you, I'm a bear when I need to be. As far as your daughter goes, I'm not going to hurt her. I'm not Toki. I can't make you see what I see, what I feel that makes me so sure of that, but I don't care. I know it to be true. Anyone who questions that gets the claws. And nothing will come between us. Not even Ysmir himself."


Vigge snorted skeptically and looked back out towards the sea. They were in open waters now, though the gulls still followed them, cawing for breakfast. "You young pups, all alike. True love this and undying devotion that. I was the same way, so I know how you work. But I stayed with the woman I chased. You, I don't know about you." His jaw worked under the white beard that he'd neatly braided that morning. Baldur wasn't really a young pup, but there was still something off about him. He'd killed his own father, after all. That was hard to get past.


"See, there's the difference right there between you and I. I didn't chase Rebec, although I would have if she stayed away too long. She chased me. She's odd like that. I never chased down any woman. My father taught me from very young not to be foolish enough to let one get close. Rebby was the first to show me how full of horker shit he was. You say you don't know about me. Look around you old man!" Baldur suddenly stuck his arms out and twirled in a circle. "We're in open sea, so I'm not going anywhere. All you have to do is ask. I'm officially literally an open book."


The sailor gave him a hard look, then said, "Is that why you killed him? Bad advice about women?"


"My father? There's a lot of reasons why I wanted to kill him. A lot of reasons why he deserved to die. But every time I thought about it as a boy I never could. I won't bore you with the details, but I thought about doing it lots of times. But at the end of the day, he was still my father. That was the source of our problems. I understand it now. He wanted to die, but he couldn't do it himself. Not because he was a coward like I thought, but because he felt guilty and figured it should be me. He took me from ma at a young age and regretted it ever since. I finally did it because he did something I couldn't forgive. Made the sacrifice of a friend of mine mean nothing."


Baldur paused to think about it some more, then took a deep breath and said, "It's true we were on opposite sides of the war, but to be honest, I couldn't have killed him for just that alone. One night I caught him drunk off his ass, but he wasn't drinking mead this time. Mead makes him meaner than a troll with bees shoved up his ass. This time his poison was some weird argonian blood wine. I was like eight or nine at the time. He was butt deep in a wash bucket, guzzling down the bottle, crying while he did so. But even then, he could sense my presence on him somehow. He was always like that. Always aware. Said he got it from fighting in the great war.


Anyway, he calls to me while he's sitting naked in the water and says, 'Baldur, you may not understand it now, but someday you will. Some day you'll see that what I do is to make you strong. What I do is for your own good. The metal may not appreciate the hammer that pounds it, but when it's finally formed into a sword, it sees that it's better off.' It was an old Legion commander quote for recruits. That's the only time I ever got part of the explanation from him. I don't think he remembered it, since he passed out shortly after.


So that's why I never killed him before. The bastard made me think that in the end what he was doing was helping me and not just serving a purpose to help himself. Maybe he even believed it. The note he left me when he knew I was coming for our final confrontation was a taunt. If all he wanted to do was get me to kill him, it would have been unnecessary. So maybe he did really believe what he did was for my own good. If so, then he deserved to die even more than I first thought."


Vigge listened to this account, his jaws working. After it was done, he was silent for a while, then reached in a pocket of his horker-skin slicker and took out two taffy straws, holding one out to Baldur. He started to gnaw on the other one. "I don't claim to understand that," he said finally. "But you got a nice mother. I'll say that for you. Mouthy, but in a good way."


Baldur took a bite of the taffy straw, then said, "Yea, she is. I'm glad for that. For my sake and Rebec's. Toki's mother was a hag of a bitch. I let her know so too before I left. I'm glad I was able to give her a good mother-in-law."


"Is that old bat still alive? Sometimes the gods are cruel." Mirth flickered in his eyes before he sobered again. "Only saw her once. When we buried the little one. Only reason she showed up then was to glare at us like we did the baby in ourselves. Can't expect a boy to turn out right with a hag like that after him." Vigge glanced at Baldur again, maybe thinking once more about the fact that this one had been raised by a trollish parent, too.


"Yea. She deserves Sheogorath. I didn't even know about little Jala until after we left. If I knew about it before...Toki's mother knew good and well why things between the two didn't work out and she still blamed Rebec anyway. It's a good thing I didn't know, or I'd have done more than call her out. The way she acted, it's like that's the first time someone did." Baldur started to get angry and thought about taking another smoke, but he remembered that Vigge was wary of taking a second. "Anyway, is there anything else on your mind while you have me here?"


Vigge shrugged. "It's a free ship." He turned back to the waves, apparently content to let his son-in-law do as he would.


From the steering, Rebec glanced over at them, but she had sailing on her mind. Setting the course, she stepped down to the foredeck and called out, "Gather round, you sea rats! I need everybody's attention!" When the crew had assembled around her from various parts of the ship, she said, "Alright. It's a day and a half to Northpoint, just shy of another two days to Daggerfall, assuming the winds hold. We'll be taking a night's shore leave in Daggerfall. We should expect storms this time of year, and there's word of pirates."


There were murmurs and whoops, the crew apparently happy at this prospect. Rebec shushed them and went on, "Yes, we're going after them if they show their ugly faces, but don't forget. Underestimate an enemy at your peril. I want everyone at top readiness. Olav, make sure everybody's weapons are sound. When I call for oars or battle stations, get your asses there, no lolligagging. Alright, dismissed." Baldur stayed where he was on the rail with Vigge during Rebec's announcement.


When she was finished, he said, "So, if we do encounter pirates, are you coming with me and the boarding party?"


Vigge glanced over and said bitterly, "All I'm allowed to do is chew the fat and stink up the place."


"I could convince Rebec to let you come if that's what you want. You'll have to train with the others though. Can you still fight?"


He hesitated. "When I have to. But the girl's not far wrong. I'd not be much use to you. Will if they board us, though. By Shor I will."


"Not much chance of that. Any boarding action's gonna be mighty short with my Grim Ones on the other ship. But then again, it seems like Rebec's going to be using her own men for that. I'd say leave it to my men, but she's the Captain, so it's up to her. Anyway, the offer still stands if you want it. I aught to go start training now. You're free to stop by."



Stein Farseer stood at the observation point on the prow, his cigarette end a small flicker of flame moving back and forth in the otherwise inky darkness. He heard a footstep behind him on the deck. “Haftan.â€

“How’d you know it was me?â€

“Smelled the garlic. You always rub garlic on your hardtack.â€

“Makes it go down easier.â€

“Makes you stink. Worse than usual.â€

The two men were silent a little while, and there was just the sound of the ship skimming the water. Off somewhere to the south was the northern tip of High Rock. Back a ways, the lantern on the escort ship dipped and rose. Even for a smaller ship, they had a hard time keeping up.

“No hollering down below tonight,†Haftan said after a while.

Stein grinned. “Cap’s tired, and you’re jealous. Only thing a woman hollers at you when you bed her is ‘oh gods, the gaaarliiic!â€

“You’re a horker’s ass.â€

The old sailor chuckled. Haftan moved away again, back to his watch at the stern, and Stein returned his eyes to the ocean. The ship lantern dipped and bobbed, dipped and bobbed. As he tossed his cigarette butt into the water, briefly Stein thought he saw something else off to the side. Blinking, he leaned forward and looked again, but there was nothing but inky blackness.

Getting old. Don’t see so far anymore.  Before the thought was complete, Stein thought he saw it again. Straightening, he stared hard at the shape in the darkness, wavering. If he raised the ship and it was only his imagination playing tricks on him, he’d never hear the end of it. Glancing over towards Haftan, he looked back quickly, then more out of instinct than surety he shouted, “Battle stations!â€

In the cabin below, Rebec started awake out of one of her short, deep sleeping sessions. She shot up and grabbed her crossbow, flinging the door open and running outside. “What’s going on?!†This was shouted at the sailors rising off their pallets, but they didn’t know any more than she did.


Baldur was still in bed and only opened his eyes at all because of how rough Rebec rocked the bed when she got up. He was about to go back to sleep until he leaned up and noticed Rebec's crossbow was gone. He didn't hear anything though and figured she just got up for whatever night duties she had, until something from the window caught his eye. Quickly, Baldur scurried over the bed to the little port window, rubbing his eyes to get the haze out of it. He heard a sound like a creak, which Baldur took for the Wisp's, until he noticed what seemed to be a large shadow in the distance, which quickly went away once it was out of the range of what he could see in the window.


That was all he needed to see to hurry and get into his gear, figuring Rebec must have sensed something was going on. After he got into his gear, he ran up top deck and spotted her out. "What's going on, are we under attack? I saw a shadow in the distance from our window."


"The watch called an alarm," she answered. "Could just be another ship got too close in the darkness." Nevertheless Rebec hurried back in their quarters, and emerged again a moment later throwing her cuirass on over her woolens and quickly tying down the laces.


So I wasn't the only one. Baldur tried looking around in the dark to see if he could see a ship anywhere, but it was pointless in the pitch blackness of the night. The moons weren't out tonight and the stars offered only partial lighting enough for him to see on the ship some. Baldur walked away from the others to patrol the ship and see if he could see anything near the front.


If we can't see a ship, I wonder how in the world could they see ours, especially being a black ship. Maybe they have mages that can see at night. Rebby's got that spyglass, but maybe we should have Menel on night wa-


Baldur suddenly stopped in his tracks and froze. Before him on the wisp lady's base on the bow of the ship was what appeared to be a rope dangling from it, but it was hard to make out. What wasn't hard to make out however was the grappling hook stuck firmly on it... Baldur quickly drew his axe and shield, then crept forward. It didn't take him too long to find what he was looking for. A crouched man in leathers like the thieves guild was sneaking on the ship, two scimitars in his hand. Baldur smirked to himself as he lifted his axe as he approached him from behind while he tried sneaking to the rest of the ship where the others were at.


Suddenly, the General heard footsteps from behind him, but before he could react, an arm was already over his mouth. Instinctively, he dropped his axe and shield, then reached for his neck just in time to stop whoever it was from plunging a steel dagger in his throat. Wide eyed, Baldur with all his might fought to keep the dagger from his throat with both of his arms, as did his attacker, who now covered his mouth with his arm while his hands both fought against Baldur's.


He could feel fur on the arm of his assassin with his hands and mouth and knew how the pirates could make out their ship now. Baldur's superior strength over the Khajiit was now rather evident as he had the dagger a fair bit away, enough now to make out the point, but unfortunately for Baldur, the other sneak heard the clatter of his weapons dropping and came silently creeping forward, ready to plunge his swords through the weak spots in his Ancient Nordic armor.


Quickly, Baldur did the only thing he could do. He let go of his grip with his left arm, then drew his second axe to throw at the approaching attacker. Electricity illuminated the area as the axe buried itself in between the pirate's eyes, revealing him to be a Nord. While Baldur did that however, the assassin on him took advantage of his left arm leaving his grasp and got the dagger close enough to Baldur's neck for him to feel the point as it started to dig through his soft neck skin. Baldur's eyes grew more wild as he tried to yell, but his mouth was still covered by the khajiit's arm.


"This one does not want to die...too bad," said the assassin. Baldur's only saving grace was that the dagger hadn't gone too deep. The only thing he could think to do was to shift the weight of the dagger to the right and finish the cut while the point wasn't too far down, then hope it wouldn't do too much damage so he could get free. As he enacted the plan, he could feel the blood trickling from his throat and could feel the pain, but it was still shallow, not as bad as the cut Boldir had in Falkreath.


Once the dagger finished it's path, Baldur while still holding the khajiit's arm spun around and twisted his arm after ducking from under him out of his grasp. When his mouth was free, he yelled "Boarders! They're sneaking on the ship!" Then he ran backwards to pull the pirate with him and then quickly dashed forward after letting go to close-line him. The pirate flipped backwards, then landed on his stomach and dropped the dagger, which Baldur grabbed before he did, then flipped him over to his back.


Pressing it to his neck while the cat coughed up teeth, he said, "How many ships?" The Khajiit didn't answer, but Baldur hadn't expected him to. Before the cat had reasonable time to answer, Baldur stomped the cat in the nethers and pressed all his weight on them.


The pirate let out a hideous scream and called out, "Three! THREE!" By now, the other sailors were already aware of the threat and the sound of clashing metal on the deck could be heard throughout the ship along with yelling and cursing. Quickly, Baldur shoved the dagger up the khajiit's mouth, then picked up his weapons before heading off to find Rebec before the main assault.


There were skirmishes all over the deck of the Wisp as the boarders met sailors far more hardened and determined than they were used to. Rebec had run up to the prow and ascended the steering. Her crossbow was loaded and ready, but she had her spyglass out. With its night-eye enchantment, she quickly assessed the three ships' position. Two had come up behind and one was ahead of them, intending to cut off any flight. They had likely spotted the Wisp and her escort as dusk was falling, from an island perch.


Exchanging her spyglass for her axe, Rebec jumped down and ran along the rail, looking for grappling hooks. Any she could reach, she slashed. Meanwhile she shouted at the crew who were not fighting to get below and man the oars.


Baldur appeared out of nowhere, his weapons already blooded. Rebec had a panic moment as she realized she had been taking care of her ship and in the meantime Baldur might have been killed. It passed and she shouted at him over the din, "Two behind us, one up ahead. I'm going to ram the one up ahead, make them think we're trying to run. Are you alright?" Baldur spotted Rebec but wasn't sure if he should join the others or stay. The thought didn't last too long and he quickly ran towards her to make sure no one jumped at her from behind.


Baldur tilted his head forward some to hide his cut with his beard, then said, "I'm fine, give out your orders. I'll guard your back until you have enough men protecting you." There wasn't any time to argue. The crew were lowering the sail, but the ship was still being propelled forward towards the pirate vessel. Rebec scrambled up to rear ramming mechanism and quickly got it into place. As she was running back to check if the rowers were ready, a squat figure appeared before her.


"Out of my way, elf."


"What can I do to help?" Menel asked. Rebec was surprised to see that the Bosmer's eyes were alight with battle glee. It was something instinctive that couldn't be taught, and she recognized that there was a warrior here. 


Pausing to think a minute, she said, "Can you send up light flares, like? So we can see the other ships clearly?"


"I can do that."


"Good. In a few minutes we're going to ram a ship, so hold on. After that... can you make ice on their deck?"


"Child's play. How about a fury spell? They'll attack each other and you won't have to lift a finger." The admiral was doubtful about that, but it would take a crew out of commission if they couldn't stand on their own deck. They'd be easy pickings for the crossbows, and there would be no need to board the other ship and no risk of fire.


"We'll see about that. Grab a rope or a rail and hang on." She ducked down below to check on the oarsmen. Satisfied they were set, Rebec shouted for them to heave to with full speed. By the time she got back to the steering, the ship was already surging through the water. Blue blobs of light went up from the Wisp's deck- Menel's work- so she didn't need her spyglass. A small adjustment set them on ramming course, and minutes later the Wisp crashed into the smaller pirate ship with a groaning crack of wood. Rebec could only hope the screams she heard were mostly from the pirates. In the dark, it was hard to tell.


Baldur was bracing himself behind some crates with his back against them while looking over his shoulder to the bow of the ship when the ships crashed. At the time the only thought that went through his mind was "This is incredible..." as his heart raced and his mind was filled with anticipation for the other ship to sink. Suddenly, he heard a snap from in front of him and the sound of something rolling on the deck. A sword from a pirate that missed his strike was lodged into one of his mead barrels and caused the rope tied around it to break when the ship crashed and roll forward. At the velocity it was going, it could hit the rail and fall right over the ship.


"No no no..." Baldur jumped from behind the crate and slammed his body along with his shield into the rolling barrel as hard as he could. His label that he slapped on it to indicate it was his was right in front of him, as if mocking him with his own smiling face. He quickly rolled it back to where he was behind the crates, then returned to Rebec and Menel. Snapping wood and cries of panic could be heard all throughout the night, but after some time, the yelling from their ship died as the sailors quieted to hear the results.


It was definitely now coming from the enemy ship. But now that their men were silent, they could hear the sounds of war coming from behind as well. Baldur couldn't see, but he guessed that the Necro Nords must have intercepted one of the other ships chasing the Black Wisp and boarded them. Rebec had her spyglass out, and saw clearly what was happening on the other ship. As pirates scrambled towards them, trying to take advantage of the ramming to jump on board the Wisp, they were falling over each other, unable to get their footing. It would have been comical if they weren't in a deadly situation.


"Crossbows out! Wait for the flares and let 'em have it!" she shouted. Half the crew was still on the oars, but the other half assembled around the side of the deck where the two ships were locked together in a deadly embrace. Menel's light blobs went up and immediately crossbow bolts began whizzing in the air, taking out the clambering pirates one by one.


Meanwhile behind them, there were more flashes, but this looked like lightning and firebolts. The reports had said Bretons were among the pirates. Obviously, they had mages, too, and were going after the escort ship. "******* mages," Rebec muttered, then glanced at Menel. "Sorry. Alright men, brace, we've got to turn this thing around and go help the Necros. They've got two against one back there."  She ran back to give the order for the rowers to reverse. There were still pirates left alive on the rammed ship, but she judged they would be taking on water and sufficiently crippled not to cause any more trouble.


Baldur immediately left the bow and waited by the side rail of the ship to get ready to board the enemy boat. Whatever ship the Necros were boarding wasn't going to need their assistance, mages or no mages, but he doubted the third ship knew their other one had sunk. The Black Wisp was going to surprise them in the darkness, especially with the black paint. They'd be caught off guard much too soon to get the Necros from behind. Baldur didn't know if it was his place or not to order Rebec's men, but he figured she could yell at him about it later. Right now, she was busy directing the front of the ship.


"Okay, boarding party. I want all of you with shields up front with me. Anyone else stay behind that line so you can stab the enemy between them. You ten in the back without shields, stick to your crossbow unless you see the shield wall break. Quickly, and stay quiet!" Baldur saw hesitation in some of them. He wasn't the Captain after all, but right now they could use his soldier discipline. Baldur put his shield up and clanged his two axes together which made the electricity crackle in a big display of light. "I said move, now!" That did the trick for the men who were slow to listen to him. Soon they were in position, awaiting the orders to board.


Driven by the oars, the Wisp moved in reverse, sealing the fate of the pirate ship as it further tore open the hole it had made in its hull. Meanwhile Rebec flipped levers on the wisp statue, and it lowered, revealing its metal ramming prow.  Menel's mage light made clear, however, that ramming was not going to be an option since it would endanger their escort ship. One pirate ship had grappled and were fighting the Necro Nords, and the other pirate vessel was moving up to flank the ship on the other side, thinking that the larger prize had tried to flee and they would catch up to it later.  Instead, they suddenly found that same ship bearing down on them.


Rebec called for a halt and oars in, and let the waves drift them in towards the pirates. Already crossbow bolts were whizzing across the small space between them, and arrows and spells started flying in the other direction. The pirates were disorganized, however. This was obviously a much more determined fight than they were used to.


The Wisp's crew, well practiced at this dangerous maneuver, waited until the two ships had drifted close, threw the grappling hooks, then spun the winches to draw the pirate ship in like a hooked fish. Baldur was grinning from ear to ear as the Wisp began to pull the next pirate ship towards them. To him, this was completely insane. Never before did he ever imagine he'd find himself on a battlefield where the entire enemy force could be reeled in towards him, unable to rout and unable to escape. Sea warfare was a whole different level of chaotic. Providing a new level of hopelessness that Baldur could now see in the eyes of the enemy crew thanks to Menel's light.


The enemy was desperately trying to thin their ranks with crossbow fire, but the boarding party of the Black Wisp were organized and had their shields up protecting them from enemy fire. When Rebec's crew had a firm hold onto their ship and close quarters combat was only a few moments away, the crossbow fire finally halted. The pirates before Baldur and the sailors dropped their crossbows and prepared for the final assault as Rebec's crew waited anxiously for the ships to be close enough. The men lowered their shields and all between them was quiet. The screams from the other ship and the Necro Nord battlecries were audible from where they were, giving an ominous look into what the future held for the pirates.


One of them got angry at the situation and started to sneer and yell at Baldur and the men. Baldur yelled right back and the sailors joined in. Suddenly the two opposing sides got caught in a back and forth yelling match, where the pirates would try as best they could to get their courage up to yell out bravely, but each time they were outmatched by the ear ringing and deafening cries of Baldur's boarding party. The Wisp inched closer and closer. Now, Rebec's crew no longer gave the enemy a turn, dominating the doomed pirates completely with their voices barking for blood. As the two ship's rails finally met, Baldur called out into the night and said, "Bathe in their blood!"


Finally Rebec's crewmen poured onto the ship, hopping from off of the rails and felling the front lines of the pirates in a matter of moments, them being no match for their hunger for blood and revenge for their audacity to attack their ship. The second line ran over the first's bodies and slammed into their shields, trying desperately to stab and cut what they could. Baldur called out "Smash!" "Strike!" repeatedly and worked the front line into a pattern of shield bashing and slashing that kept the pirates at bay, unable to counter tactic with their desperate will to live.


Rebec's axe hand was itching, but she dared not leave the ship. Someone had to stay aboard and make sure the operation didn't sink them as well. In her spyglass, she clearly saw Baldur among the fray as he hopped over the rail and onto the enemy ship. Even knowing the pirates had no chance, a pit rose in her throat. This would never get easy. She suddenly remembered that they had their parents aboard, too. Vigge would take it all in stride, but Ysana must find it all terrifying. Gods forbid, maybe she had even got caught in the fighting.


Rebec didn't dare leave the deck to find her, but shouted at one of her crew, "Where's the priestess?"


"With Tsun-Biter!" the crewman shouted back. "He's guarding her, down in the hold."  Relieved, Rebec ran back to the steering to keep an eye on the fighting. There were four ships lashed together now, like a floating island of death, and the wind was rising. Somewhere, Kyne was laughing.


Rebec's men performed admirably, keeping up their shield wall for as long as they could before the final remnants of the pirate ship became too desperate for the sailors to hold up the line. The battle was already decided, but the men weren't out of the woods yet as the battle turned from an organized military maneuver to a skirmish. Most of the pirates wore scaled or hide armor, so that luckily helped to differentiate between Rebec's men and theirs. A Nord pirate with a sword and shield was about to charge Bjol by the rail, the man Ysana was flirting with before from behind while he was fighting, but Baldur saw the man's charge in time to act.


Quickly, Baldur sheathed his shield and pulled out his second axe, then hoped up on the rail just before jumping off and launching his legs into the pirate. The Nord pirate saw the kick coming just in time to duck, but Baldur's legs hooked around his neck. Baldur used his momentum and dived backwards while still hooking his neck, causing the pirate to be flipped forward and land on his back, where he was soon ended with a Nordic Carved axe, lightning flowing through him from Baldur's enchantment. Just as he delivered the final blow, another pirate came from behind, but was bet with a swift end as Baldur upper cut him with the other axe, cutting through the man's teeth with a sickening bone breaking crunch, then cutting through the front of his skull, leaving his body to twitch and bleed as it fell too with lightning resonating through him.


As the men continued to mop up the remaining foes, the Necro Nords were finishing up their side, not having the same problem of a broken shield wall. In fact, the Grim Ones at that moment were just pushing the last of the pirates off of their own ship into the sea below, the last Breton mage being slashed then kicked over the rail before he could cast another spell. As the sounds of fighting died down on the lashed ships, Rebec could hear shouts and weapons clashing from the ship they had rammed earlier. "Is your fury spell still active?" she asked Menel, surprised.


"Fury traps," he replied proudly. "I created the spell myself. Put one on their lifeboat."


"You sneaky bastard." She laughed, then turned her attention back to the boarding party. "Baldur, look for some prisoners!  We need to find out where their base is and try to recover captives."


Baldur was just about to help finish off the last remaining men before Rebec gave the order to keep prisoners. After turning his head to nod, showing he heard the order, Baldur called out, "Prisoners!" The sailors immediately fell on the last of the men, kicking them down and stomping their weapons out of their hands if they wouldn't surrender. Baldur's opponent was one of those, wishing to go to Sovngarde from dying on his feet rather than later on his knees. Baldur sheathed his axes and hopped to the side dodging one scimitar slice, then he blocked the man's arm as he swung it for another slice, then he grabbed the arm and slammed it on his knee to make him drop the sword.


Baldur watched as the man looked around for a weapon, but saw none close enough after Baldur kicked the sword away. Yet he still didn't surrender and instead came charging for Baldur. Looking to end it quickly, Baldur charged too and rammed his shoulder in the pirate's gut, then leaped forward with his right hand at the pirate's neck, choke slamming the man on a steel shield on the deck before banging his skull into it to knock him out. Carrying the unconscious man on his shoulders, Baldur climbed over the rails first while Rebec's crew gathered the other six remaining prisoners for interrogation. "Here's one, Captain. Where do you want them?" he asked, panting and sweating from exertion.


"Lash them to the rail. It's good to see you still picking things up, my love," Rebec said, grinning. There were wounded among her own crew, as well. Menel set to healing them, while the last of the boarding party cut the pirate ship free from the escort ship, set fire to the pirate vessel and jumped back on the Wisp, loosing those two ships as well. The moons were low in the sky and dawn light was just beginning to show itself pink on the horizon. Baldur was whistling on his way to the rails with his prisoner in tow, being in a good mood after having done some blood letting. Bjol was next to him tying up some breton skirmisher next to Baldur's Nord.


"You know Bjol, I think I'm getting the hang of this sailing thing." Bjol was still fire eyed, but his nerves had long since settled.


Chuckling, he said, "Really now?"


"Yep. Tying these guys up. It's called 'belaying', yea?" asked Baldur rhetorically.


"Hehe, that it is, Baldur," he answered in a mocking tone. Baldur laughed too while he strung the man up, but suddenly tilted to the side, bumping Bjol a bit. The old sailor turned and saw red drip to the ship deck, then noticed Baldur's cut. "You alright there, general?"


Baldur touched his neck and saw red covering his fingers. "I will be. It isn't deep. Lost some blood though."


"Don't play tough. Get Menel to heal that as soon as possible," Bjol said.


"I will. His hands are full now with the others. Don't worry, I'll get my turn in due time."


Rebec gave the order for the rowers to pull ahead slightly, then halted them and dropped anchor, signaling the escort ship to do the same. Then she came over to inspect the prisoners. "Alright, ladies. This is how this works. I'm not required to give quarter to pirates, so you tell me where your base is and how many men are holed up there, or I start tossing you overboard one by one. Cooperate and you'll get a ride to Daggerfall where we'll turn you over to whoever's in charge there."


"That's not much of a deal," one of the prisoners grumbled.


"No, but we're going to find the lair anyway, so it's all the same to me. I'd rather not look at your ugly faces for the next two days. If you try anything funny, I'll toss you overboard myself."


"Who are you?" The pirate said it with an air of challenge.


Rebec gave a half-smile. "I'm your worst nightmare. And I'm sick of waiting. Baldur, throw that one over."


"Wait! Just wait a gods damned minute." The pirate cursed, hating this situation, and hating this woman, especially.


She wasn't about to give his pea brain time to work out a ruse, so Rebec gestured. "Baldur."


"Alright, alright! Damn it, we're holed up on Puffin Rock, two miles northeast of here. Six stayed behind."


"And who's leading you?"


"Nord by the name of Eirik the Fearless. He has a glass battle-axe. Loves that thing like it's his woman. That's how you'll know him." Rebec turned to the crew.


"Alright, lads. You heard him. Let's go see how fearless Eirik really is." Turning to Baldur, she said, "You ought to check on your ma. I think she's down in the hold. Wait, are you bleeding?"


"No more than the rest, love. Don't worry about me, you handle your business," he said.


"I'll never get used to this." She pursed her lips, but he was right, her crew needed her, too.


They got the ship turned toward the northeast, the escort captain following suit, and kept to oars since they wouldn't have the wind anymore. It was slower going, which gave time for Rebec to inspect the Wisp. The black paint had been scuffed and arrows peppered the deck, but the fight had been easy compared to imperial ships.


Rebec found Menel sitting on a crate sucking water from a flask, his dark hair plastered with sweat and sticking up every which way. "You did good, elf."


"You did pretty good, too, Nord. I mean... sir." She grinned and walked off to watch their approach to the island.



"SIT DOWN!" Baldur was shoved down on the bottom deck floor with a loud thump from his rump when Ysana saw him bleeding.


"Ma, it's not that serious a wound, now quit your belly aching an-" Ysana interrupted him and slapped him upside his head.


"Hush and don't move." Ysana grabbed a bottle of cheap wine from a nearby sailor who came back from running the errand of retrieving it for her. After popping the cork and spitting it out, she quickly pushed his head back and poured it on his neck, making him wince in pain briefly.


"Kyne's sweet teets, the damn pirate who did this was more gentle!"


"Shut it and hold this rag to your neck while I tie it in the back," Ysana said. Some of the passing by sailors were giggling at seeing the general who just lead their charge being fussed over by his mother like a pup. Bjol was one of those men and walked over to them, taking great pleasure in Baldur's sulking face.


"I told you to have Menel get to it," said Bjol.


"Shut it, Wave-Runner." Ysana slapped him upside the head once more.


"You be quiet. He's right. Why didn't you go immediately to the mage? You lost a good bit of blood."


"That's not a good bit of blood, ma. This is nothing.  Besides, I didn't want Rebec fussing over it like you are now. Last thing I want to do is be a burden while she has a job to do."


"Quit playing tough, you're not fooling me, son. Look how easy I pushed you down. You let the wound stay open too long."


"She's right, General. You're military, surely they teach you the importance of sealing up a wound quickly, don't they? Infections are nasty business," said Bjol. Baldur just frowned and looked to the deck, not at all liking being lectured at.


"Yes, they do. What can I say, I'm prideful. Everyone has their weaknesses. I'm mine."


"Well next time I'm telling the Captain myself. You may be a General, but on this ship, you're a part of the crew. And we help each other out. If you fell to an infection or blood loss and she knew I knew, I'd be stringed up to that rail with the rest of 'em. We had enough casualties already," said Bjol.


"We lost men?" asked Baldur.


"Yea, a few. Not much, but to us with a tight crew it feels like a lot more. What about your men, those Grim Ones? Mighty effective, I must say. Those pirates didn't stand a chance."


"Grim Ones don't die, we're already dead," Baldur answered and gave him a wink. "No casualties according to my commander I have in place over there."


"That saying, you just make it up?" asked Bjol.


"No, it's one of our mottos. We all go into battle expecting to die. That way when you fight, you fight to kill, not to survive. It's a theory of mine. If you fight to kill and don't worry about death or injury, you'll be more focused on the task. More focus in killing the enemy means less chance of failure and death."


"And is that how you got this wound, from being a damn fool?" asked Ysana. Baldur expected her to be weepy or teary eyed, but ever since she read his book and learned the truth about Ulrin, all that seemed to stop. She looked angry now instead of sorrowful. His thoughts were confirmed when she put the final tie to the bandage on his neck and pulled it a bit too tight.


"Ow! No, it was an assassin before the attack," he said. Ysana didn't say anything in response. She looked over her son now, nerves rattled and tapping her foot because of it as she thought about something else to fuss over. She couldn't help but think her daughter-in-law should be doing the same, but she was glad she was getting the opportunity to do so instead.


"Take off your armor and let me wash off that blood. Vigge should have let me go up top deck, I'd have shown those pirates what happens when you mess with a woman's son." Ysana helped Baldur with his chest plate straps, then Bjol brought over a cloth and soaked it in a bucket of water.


"Not much water, but we got a fair amount from the rain a few days back, so you're in luck," said Bjol. While Baldur was sitting, Bjol took a look at Baldur's back while his mother washed it for him. "Your back. Is that a T?"


"For Talos. Thalmor did it." Ysana said dismissively. Bjol took the hint and saw she wasn't in a good mood. Bringing up that didn't help any.


"Right. Well, I've got duties. I'll see you two later," Bjol said.


"Same. Ma, I've gotta-"


"Not until I wash your hair and make sure you have some food. And make sure that damn elf gets to the wound," she ordered. Baldur sighed and let her have her way. As annoying as it was, he secretly was enjoying being fussed over. But he didn't let it show and kept the act of annoyed son up regardless.



When Baldur was finally allowed to leave, he went up to the top deck to get some air. Ysana kept his armor and made him change into woolen pants while she cleaned his armor and weapons for him. He was glad he got out just in time to see the island in the distance approaching over the horizon. It was a small island in diameter, but like the rest of High Rock was covered by large hills put together to make a modest sized mountain.


It was overrun with tall grass and mostly covered in early morning mist, but the sun helped clear some of it away so that the crew could see the top of the mountain and the birds that flew around it within the greyish white veil. Baldur guessed that the island must have had a cave or something on the other side, maybe with a big enough beach for the ships to dock. Must have been; the pirates had three ships after all. Possibly a few more smaller ones too.


As we watched the view, Baldur saw Rebec standing at the prow. Tip toeing over, he snuck behind her and hugged her over her chest and waist.


"Hull-Breaker," he said while nuzzling her. Rebec was more subdued now that she saw two of the crew had died in the fighting. She took every loss personally, and felt like reneging on her promise to give the pirates quarter. Maybe she'd get an excuse if the information was bad. Hugging Baldur's arms, Rebec half-turned her head.


"Did Menel fix you up, general?"


"Yea he did. It was just a scratch, nothing to worry about. How are you?"


"Two men down. Stein Farseer, the man who called the alarm, got an arrow in his throat and was too far gone by the time we got to him. He'd been with me a long time. He told me he was thinking about retiring after the war, but decided to stick with it a while longer." The sorrow and anger is plain in her voice. Baldur was quiet for a while, not sure what to say. Hearing that Stein had gone to Sovngarde wouldn't have helped, he thought. In the end, her loyal comrade was still not here, taken away by the hands of scum. He knew how that felt. Talk of honor and Sovngarde was always what he said to his men when death was brought, but to his wife he knew better.


After letting go of her, he said, "I'm sorry. All we can do is avenge him and do so without further casualties." Rebec smiled.


"I hate to lose anyone, but I'm glad you and our folks are alright. That, that was a whole new level of pressure." Just then Mazoga whistled and pointed towards the island. She had guided the ship around to the northern side of the island and spotted a line of smoke, probably from an outdoor oven. Going to look, Rebec said, "Alright, drop anchor. We'll send the dinghy in with a landing party. You've got the ship, Maz." That meant the admiral intended to go ashore herself.


"Let me go with you." Menel spoke from behind her. He had his helmet on and his staff ready. "Like the general said, no more casualties. If I can get anywhere close, the pirates will kill each other off."


Rebec glanced at Baldur for confirmation. Land warfare was his specialty. Baldur nodded then said, "If they have mages, it would be smart for us to have our own so we're not stuck with our shields up the whole time. You remember Pale Pass. I recommend taking you, me, Menel and some other shield carriers. Also bring the cat. He can scout. There's always the chance that that bastard pirate over there was lying about their numbers. Menel should grab a sword and shield. I don't want them to know he's a mage until it's too late."


"You got to know Sidano, eh? He's my assassin. Damn cats are good at that. But he's reliable, practically a Nord by now." She shouted the Khajiit's name and he appeared from the hold below. After that, Rebec named off a few others for the landing party. Behind them, she could see the escort ship setting out a dinghy, also. Just as well. They had numbers, and hopefully surprise as well, if they hadn't been spotted yet.


"You're telling me, it was a cat that almost did me in. We got to know each other alright. He doesn't know how to accept a defeat, do you, Siddy?" said Baldur to the Khajiit as he approached.


"This one experiences it so rarely," the Khajiit answered with a sly smile. Rebec was busy supervising the dinghy being lowered and the boarding party climbing down a rope ladder into it.


She called over. "Enough chatter, let's finish this." As the landing party rowed toward shore, she sat next to Baldur, and at one point took his gauntlet in her own hand. Despite her worry, it was good to fight together, and for him to see her world like she'd done in Falkreath for his. As the group just about approached the beach, Baldur leaned in and said to her while smiling,


"When this is over and those pirates are taken care of, remember we still have giant barrels full of quality mead to drown in."


"I'd skin Sidano for a good mug of that mead."


"This one has need of his fur just yet," the Khajiit interjected, his keen hearing picking up on the conversation.


"Don't worry, Sid. We need you inside your fur. And I got a case of spiced wine back on the ship just for you when this is all done."


"Excellent. This is why we work for you, Captain Rebec." They were just nearing the pirates' ramshackle pier when a man emerged from the tree line, looking sleepy and carrying a fishing pole. He instantly came awake when he saw strange ships approaching with armed men. Dropping his fishing pole, the pirate ran back the way he came, yelling.


Rebec cursed. "So much for surprise. Alright, let's make up for it with speed. Watch for traps and for those captives."


"Great. Oh well, that's what we have the heavily armored troops for. Grim Ones, take point, full charge ahead," said Baldur. "Rebby, I'll go ahead with them. We have numbers on our side, but we lost the element of surprise. So to get it back, we'll split up and catch them off guard with your team. We distract, you kill."


"Got it." Rebec gestured to her crewmen, and split right to flank the camp, her crossbow loaded and ready. They found two tripwires and a pit trap on the way. When they got to where the smoke had been rising from the breakfast fire, it was just in time to see an archer on a tree stand drawing a bead on the tree line, probably towards Baldur's group. Rebec had no time to aim, just brought her crossbow up and fired. The archer's arrow went wild and he fell, crashing through the trees.


"Psst." Menel pointed towards a rock where another pirate was crouched, only his leg visible. He could not hide from the Bosmer's detect life spell. A Nord crewman did the honors this time, putting a bolt into the leg. The pirate cried out in pain and cursed.


"Any more outside?" Rebec asked Menel.


"None. They're clustered over there, in that cave."


"Alright. Let's go get them."



Baldur and his men made their march towards the cave, but halted before they made their approach. Baldur had six men with him. They only had to kill two men at the camp, while Rebec's team took care of the other two. That made four, but judging from the tracks in the sand, it was obvious there was more than that six in the cave, let alone the whole encampment.


"So sir, what's the plan? Charge in and hope for the best?"


Baldur shook his head, then said, "No, I don't anything about this attack left to chance. Hold on...." Baldur started walking away from the cave entrance and went back to the camp where the two pirates they killed were at. They didn't look like anything special, just run of the mill members, obviously not someone in charge, judging by their cheap hide armor. After a moment's pause, Baldur dropped his weapons, then started to strip.


His commander, a Nord with long red hair and one milky white eye, and another grey one stood there dumbfounded for a second, then said, "Sir, what are you doing?"


"Strip your armor and put that on. Then follow my lead." Brings back memories.



After Baldur and Commander Falgrum Blood-Rim got in the pirate's hide armor and helmet, the two quickly ran into the cave. Luckily the pirates also had hide helmets. The less the two showed their heads, the better. Falgrum was a lot less certain about this plan of his and didn't mind saying so. "Sir, I thought you said we weren't leaving anything to chance. This...."


"I know, I know. But trust me, it'll work. It has before, more times than it should have. Worst case scenario, they see through our disguises, we run, they stay inside and hold up like normal. That or they chase us and it's the same result." Falgrum didn't have time to argue, as they ran into a group of pirates on the inside rather quickly. It was dark, as the cave was lit by a few torches, but not in their immediate area.


"So? What's the report, you slack jawed horker hole?" said one of the Nord pirates.


"Sir, Eirik the Fearless should come see this. We managed to kill two attacking soldiers with arrow fire and sent the other five routing. Their armor...It's Nordic Carved. He's gonna want it for certain." The two pirates looked at each other in shared doubt.


"You recruits managed ta kill un?"


"Two he said. You daft?" said Falgrum, getting into the spirit of things.


"Who's daft? I'll show you daft, you mangy...nevermind. Say...why don't we go out there and hide those bodies and keep the coin from them for ourselves..." said one of the Nord pirates.


Baldur said, "Or how about I tell Eirik you're trying to double cross him? I'm sure he wouldn't be too happy about that...Or maybe he would. Give him something to use that glass axe of his on..."


"Alright alright! Damn recruits....We'll tell 'em. Then we'll go hunt down those other men you mentioned and finish 'em off. Can't be too tough if you slackers managed to kill 'em. Now go back out and keep scouting. The others should be back soon from their last raid. Should've been easy pickings. Just some wannabe crew of 'pirates'. Heh, I can spot amateurs from a mile away. I mean, who paints a boat black eh? Whatever idiot did that probably has a talking bird too, ha!"


Baldur resisted the urge to laugh, then headed out of the cave with his commander. "See? I told you. Child's play."


Rebec, still hiding with her crewmen at the far edge of the clearing, saw Baldur emerge wearing the pirates' armor, and instantly knew what he was doing. "Hold your fire," she hissed at the others. "Take a good look at those two, those are ours. Any of you snowbacks hit my husband with a bolt and..." She didn't need to elaborate. "They're drawing the bastards out. We'd better stow the crossbows and make a melee charge once we get some pirates out here. Wait for my signal. And don't worry about taking prisoners."


"Give me a minute to hit them with a fury spell," Menel reminded her. "All the easier to kill a man when he's got his back turned fighting his friend."


The admiral eyed him. "That spell of yours is Dagon's own work. I'm glad you're on our side."


"Hey, Falgrum. Eyes front. We're in business." Baldur and Falgrum were standing in the camp by the two dead bodies from earlier. Baldur had his men dress them up in Falgrum's armor and another Necro Nord's who was wearing Baldur's armor for the time being for the attack. They were hiding in some shrubs when the pirates finally made their way out of the cave. There was ten men in total, one clearly being Eirik the Fearless who was as the pirate aboard the Wisp said, wearing full glass armor.


While he was walking towards Baldur and Falgrum, we had a cloth in his hand and was polishing his axe. On their approach, one of the other pirates decided to try running ahead of him and accidentally bumped the pommel of the battle axe and knocked it on the ground, where it landed with a loud clang on a sandstone. Eirik and the rest of the men froze in place until he bent over and picked it up. Eirik slowly turned around to face the pirate that bumped into his weapon. The other men backed away from the poor bastard that did the deed. "Look. Look at what your clumsiness has done!"


Eirik suddenly pulled the axe back and swung before the pirate could react, but Eirik stopped an inch away from the man's face. "You see? You see what you've done?" When the man opened his eyes after closing them from flinching, he could clearly see that the sandstone it landed on scratched the axe head and ruined the polishing job.


"I..I-I-I'm sorry. It won't happen again!" 


"You're damned right!" Eirik said again, pulling his axe back for a second time. Yet he once again stopped just an inch before his face. "Haha, I'm just kidding. Killing you would be a complete cliche after saying that. I hate cliches." The pirate flinched one again and shut his eyes. When he realized that Eirik was having a little fun with him, he started to laugh nervously, along with the rest of the crew. Eirik started to walk towards the camp once again and his crew followed close behind him.


Suddenly without warning, Eirik spun around with his axe pulled back and for a third time brought his axe to the man's face. This time, the pirate was expecting it and he didn't flinch. But this time, Eirik drew blood and cut his ear clean off, leaving the man in shock for a moment before clasping his wound and collapsing to the ground in horror and pain. Eirik and the rest walked past him now and left him to his punishment. "But it's not a cliche to maim...."


"Looks like that pirate wasn't kidding," Falgrum said.


"Aye, he really loves that thing like a woman...." said Baldur.


As Eirik came closer and could make out their faces, he said, "You two...I don't remember you two recruits..." Falgrum looked at Baldur briefly, then returned his eyes to the pirate.


"Oh good, I thought all of you were this stupid. You come right out of a fairytale, my friend. 'Eirik the Fearless.' What a cliche..." said Baldur, who funnily enough hadn't heard Eirik's earlier statement.


Eirik lifted his axe into battle position then said, "After I make you regret those words, I'm gonna kill the two idiots who couldn't see past your disguises. Charge them, or I'll kill you all myself!"


As soon as he was finished talking, Baldur tapped Falgrum on the shoulder and said, "Run. Okay, Now!" Signalling for Rebec and her crew to come. While they ran, the Necro Nords in hiding came out and blocked the way to the cave by charging from behind. Rebec's group had watched the altercation, and she couldn't help but snicker.


"Your spell ought to take. Those sea rats are halfway to frenzy already."


"All the better," Menel said, and began calling up the spell.


The admiral paused to give Menel a chance to cast, and the instant he was ready, she let out a yell and stood, axes in hand.  Eirik's crew turned to look at the sound, and got a blast of illusion magic. Their eyes bugged out, crazed with rage, but because they had seen Rebec before the spell hit, not all of the pirates began to turn on one another. Three of them ran to meet the attackers.


Rebec charged a big Nord with a notched war axe and shield, and brought both her axes up in unison to block his downswing. He tried to bash the shield into her face, but she was already sidestepping the blow.  Using the flat of one axe against the man's shoulder for leverage, she half-turned and came around to slash at his back with Kyne's Talon. The Boldir-forged axe sliced through his hide armor easily and tore a gash in the man's shoulder. He cried out and turned to lunge at her, but the stamina drain enchantment from the cut made him stumble, and he met Rebec's ebony axe to the forehead.


It took her a moment to extract her axe from the pirate's skull, then she turned to aid Sidano in taking on a Breton spellsword who had resisted Menel's spell.  The cat was dodging blows and spells nimbly, but the pirate was quick enough that he wasn't able to get his own in. Rebec charging at them provided just the momentary distraction the Khajiit needed. By the time she got there, the Breton's head was clean off from his shoulders.


Disappointed at losing out on a kill, Rebec turned around to get the next one, and had to stop mid-stride at a strange sight.  Menel and one of her crewmen were standing with the other pirate, chatting as amiably as if they all had been invited in to breakfast. Approaching, Rebec overheard the pirate telling them that there were six captives locked up in the cave, and others had already been taken to Daggerfall to a black-market slave dealer. He named the dealer, then said, "Well, I better... hey!  Hey, you! You don't belong he-"


In the moment that Menel's calm spell wore off, Rebec's axe buried itself in the pirate's back and he got Menel's elven dagger in his belly.  "Thank you for your information," the Bosmer said, chuckling as the man reached out weakly to grab him but instead fell over dead.


Baldur and Falgrum didn't have far to run thanks to the ambush and Menel's spell. The remaining seven men including the one with the missing ear were busy fighting still, three of them trying to kill the four who were still affected. The four were eventually killed by the pirate lord and his two lackeys, only to turn around and see Baldur's men charging them from behind. Eirik pushed the two pirates down and left them to their fate while he made a run for it towards Baldur and Falgrum who he figured would be easy pickings. Baldur stepped forward with a pirate scimitar drawn in his hand, but his commander put a hand over his chest. "I got this one, High-General. You always have all the fun."


Baldur smirked and said, "Heh, fine. Make it quick though, I'm getting hungry." Falgrum nodded, then charged Eirik as fast as he could.


When Eirik saw him coming, he said, "I don't want you, I want the loudmouth!"


"That's too bad," Falgrum said simply. Once Eirik was close, he swung his glass axe as hard as he could towards the Necro Nord Commander's face, but Falgrum fell backwards and slid past him on the ground. Before Eirik could recover from the swing, Falgrum already put a boot in the back of his leg, forcing him to his knees, then he placed his hands on his jaw and the back of his helmeted head, then with a loud stomach turning crunch twisted his head and snapped his spinal cord, killing Eirik instantly. "How's that for quick."


Baldur and the Necro Nords both caught up to Falgrum at the same time. "Damn, good work commander," said Baldur.


"Hell yea it was!" said the Necro Nord who had been wearing Baldur's armor since his was on the disguised pirate corpses. "Man, this is some good equipment, you got sir. This enchanted axe cuts through a body like butter! And the armor, so breezy in the nether region, hehe."


"Oh, you like the armor do you?" Baldur asked.


"Yea, I-"


"Take it off." Falgrum and the other men laughed at the soldier's crestfallen expression as he relented the equipment and walked off to retrieve his own. Afterwards, Baldur ordered them to go around the island and bring their dinghies to this side while he left to meet up with Rebec and the others after Falgrum and the other men got their armor back.


"Pirate Baldur!" Rebec called cheerily as she saw him approaching. "That was easy enough, apart from the traps on the way in. Are there any more lurking about?"


Menel answered, "None close. Six people left inside the cave, so that would be the captives. I bet they'll be glad to see us." When he reached the group, he started to change back into his equipment.


Smiling, he said, "Heh, good job and all, but next time leave me something. I didn't even get to kill anything! Let's get those captives so we can drink some mead already."



A short while later, the two ships were back on course towards Daggerfall, liberated captives and captured pirates in tow.  Rebec saw to the sail being raised, then found Baldur. "Alright, let's have some of that mead. And Menel should get a mug, too, to go with his breakfast sausage."


"The barrels are big enough for the whole crew to get a few mugs today. As Captain, you get the first taste." Baldur enthusiastically popped open the crate with the bottles, then slapped a few of his Baldurbrau labels on them. Afterwards, he popped the top of one of the barrels off to make sure the liquid had thawed all the way through, since the stuff was already naturally chilled. Once he saw that it was thoroughly a liquid again, Baldur tipped the barrel over and brought a bottle to the spigot and made the very first official bottle of Baldurbrau Frost-Honey mead. The other mead Baldur made before wasn't an altered recipe, so he didn't lay a claim to it.


When it filled up, the magical effect from the ice wraith teeth caused a layer of hoarfrost to immediately form on the bottle. After he placed a cork on it for ceremonial purposes despite the fact that it would be opened soon afterwards, he lifted the bottle up in the air with both hands. "Ladies and gentlemen! Nords and sausage gobbling elves! Gripe and Meat Chugger...I give you the very first bottle of Baldurbrau." After his little presentation, he handed the bottle over to Rebec and handed her a mug. "Careful, the stuff's concentrated. Should be much stronger than anything you've had before..."


There was cheering, as there always was among the sailors about a mead break, but as the bottles were being distributed, those standing near waited to see the captain's reaction to her first taste before they got too excited.


Rebec sniffed at the bottle, poured some into the mug and took a swig, then gasped as the unexpected frost effect hit. Just before that, the concentrated honey flavor had already registered, and the effect of both together was surprising. "Baldurbrau, the nectar of the old gods!" she declared, raising her mug high. "Like the sweet taste of victory." That was something to cheer about, and there was the mixed sound of shouting with the pop of corks.


"Ah, it's like Kyne's sweet tears..." he said as he tried downing a bottle. Baldur had to stop short, as he underestimated the strength of the drink. Baldur saw Ysana top deck and was already passed a mug by a sailor. "Make sure Vigge gets a bottle too. Haven't seen him since the pirate run," Baldur said to Rebec.


"He was looking out for your ma during the attack. He's around here somewhere."


She found him looking down at the bodies of the two dead crewmen, and came to stand at his shoulder. "I'm sorry about Stein, pa." The man had started out on Vigge's ship before going over to the Harpy.


Vigge shrugged, knowing that it was the way of sailing as it was of soldiering, though it was hard to think of his daughter in the middle of both.  He accepted the mug of mead she handed him. As he drank, the white eyebrows rose. Reaching for the bottle, he chuckled at the sight of the label. "So son-in-law's got the drink part going as well as the song. That's a bard that might be worth something."


"Come tell him that yourself," Rebec said, smiling and grabbing his arm.

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Rebec, Baldur, Dilborn Gaerhart/ Elayne Adrard, Henry Leland (Celan, Colonelkillabee and Collins)




The Wisp and her escort ship made good time into Daggerfall, though the second day was made miserable by an icy rainfall. By the time they pulled into the harbor, everyone was ready to stretch their legs and find a warm tavern.  Rebec, Baldur and some of the Necro Nords had the task of escorting the captured pirates to turn over to the local authorities.


"Except I'm not sure who the local authorities are," she admitted as they gathered the fesseled men on the docks. "I guess we just find the first guard we see and ask."


"Would've been easier if we just killed them. I'd be all warm and snug in a bed right about now if we did. There was more than six men at that island, so technically you wouldn't be going back on your word...." said Baldur.


The one who'd given them the information looked over and shouted nervously, "They got more men in while we was out with the ships!"


"Likely story," Rebec scoffed. "Come on, we'll hand them over to the town guards and then we'll be on our way. I know an inn that's not crawling with lice, but it's a bit of a walk."


"I'll walk for that. Better than waiting while our clothes sit on an ant hill to get rid of them," he said. "Then I can get warm and toasty, just to get chilled again from drinking our mead, hehe."


"You're a Nord. You don't get cold." Rebec slapped her husband's shoulder and looked around for Vigge.  "Pa!"  Gesturing at the prisoners, she mouthed, "Moose Head Inn."  Vigge knew all the port towns like the back of his big hand, so he could find the way to the inn and take Ysana along with him, and get rooms for all of them. Other than a skeleton crew staying aboard to guard the cargo, the rest of the crew were on shore leave and already beginning to scatter


Baldur never having been to Daggerfall was busy taking everything in that he could see. The area looked much like that of the Reach. Not many trees, short grass and stone on the ground in patches and lots of hills and piles of rock.  In the city, the architecture was somewhat similar to Cyrodiil's stone buildings, but most of what he could see had more detail and better craftsmanship in them. Also, pointed spires at the top of the stone buildings seemed to be uniform in this part of Daggerfall. "I never get used to seeing so much stonework, which is funny considering where I was born. I thought it strange, but like the Reach, limestone is practically everywhere in this place. Would be stupid not to use it all."


"The Bretons do put on their airs with their fancy manors and castles," Rebec said. They had started walking, the shuffling prisoners in tow, when she looked around and noticed Menel standing on the quay looking lost. Whistling at him, Rebec called over, "C'mon, elf, what are you doing standing there? The pickpockets'll be all over you. You can bunk in my pa's room if you don't mind some snoring."  The Bosmer seemed glad to be invited along, and hurried to catch up


Baldur said, "Ha, Menel and Vigge sharing a bed? That doesn't seem like a good idea...Let Ysana and Vigge share a room and Menel can have his own; I think that would make everyone happier."


Rebec gave him a puzzled look. "You're trying to get a man in to your ma's bed now?"


There was no time for a reply, since a guard stopped them. "What's the meaning of this? Who are these men?"


"These are a handful of the filthiest, wretchedest pirate scum I've seen the likes of, and I've seen the likes of a lot," Rebec replied. "So I'll just hand these off to you now."


The Breton guard sputtered. "What? You can't do that. Pirates, you say? Are these the ones taking captives on the northern shipping lanes?"


"So you've heard of them. But I see you lot are too busy dancing your nancy dances to go catch them.  Well never mind. The Nords have taken care of it, again."


"Take them up to the castle and present them to the king. He'll want to make an example of them."


"That might actually be worth the walk. Baldur?" She looked over to her husband.


"There better be some food in this visit. I can kill the damn fools myself right now, otherwise," he said irritably to the guard, not looking forward to dealing in pleasantries without a purpose. Baldur also got that way when he was hungry.


It was still raining, though now a close, drizzly sort. Mist clung to the tall rock spires of the castle, which was built in to the mountains as if carved out of them. It would have been impressive if everyone wasn't so miserable, the condemned pirates most of all.


At the gate, Rebec gave their names and errand, then they all waited to be announced.


The main hall in which the troupe stood was a stark contrast to the outside world. Large tapestries hung over the cold stone walls, and braziers with small fires flickered around the room. A luxurious, thick purple rug stretched down the middle of the hall, tables on either side, with chandeliers dangling above them. What stood out the most, however, wasn't the luxurious decorations, but emptiness, both of people and sound. There was no hustle and bustle of servants, no bird-like chattering of courtiers, and the guards stood motionless, blank expressionless stares like they were carved of stone.

After a few minutes of waiting, what probably seemed longer do to the lack of activity and silence, a light tapping could be heard. Someone was walking toward the entrance, with graceful, quiet strides. Soon, a short woman appeared, dressed in a simple green dress with gold lacing, an emerald studded necklace around her neck. Her dark brown hair hung below her shoulder, and a hair band of similar green and gold sat almost like a tiara. Her face was pleasant, her cheeks soft and plump, but her eyes red and swollen, and her sleeve was damp to the touch. She was older than both the Nords, but only an inquiry as to her age would distinguish that.

"Greetings, High General, and to you as well High Admiral. I am Lady Elayne Adrard, of Camlorn. My father, the king of High Rock, is...ill, but he requests that you follow me. If you will," she said, sweeping her arm, motioning down the hallway she just came.


Baldur gave a whistle as they walked through the halls. "I take it back, this was worth the walk. What kind of illness does your King have?"


Elayne glanced over her shoulder, then turned back before answering.

"I'm...we're not sure. Healers say one thing, priests another, but the court mage believes it is Peryite's Plague. It matches the symptoms as well, so I tend to ascribe to that belief as well."

They rounded a corner, lined with more guards than even the hall, some of whom nodded at the Breton woman, but just stared off when the Nords and pirates walked by.


Baldur looked to Rebec nervously, then said to Elayne, "Uh, if that's the case, is it safe for us to go near him?"


"No no, it's not contagious, unless he vomits on you, which he hasn't don't for a while. He's mostly been coughing up bile and blood, and he is feverish. Trust me, we wouldn't put our guests in undue harm," Elayne said, then stopped as the hallway ended before two large wooden doors.

"If you don't mind, the prisoners can stay in the waiting room, I don't want any of then getting any ideas," she said, while five guards took them into a room on the left.

The lady opened the doors, entering the luxurious quarters of the king. A large bed say against the left wall, where the king lay propped up on several pillows. Guards stood in the four corners of the room, and large banners hung on either side of the king, depicting large gray whales on a blue and silver background.

King Dilborn Gaerhart had leathery, wrinkled skin, almost gray, as if he was a shriveled up version of the whale banners on either side. His hair, bleached from the numerous treatments he'd undergone, hung long and unchecked, going all the way down to his upper back. His eyes opened slightly when the entourage entered, and a grin flashed across his face.

"Elayne, dear, who's there? Who are those people with you? Visitors?" he asked in a frail, gravely voice. A cough shook his body, and he brought up a rag in his left hand, covering his mouth. Several seconds passed before he finished, and when he pulled the cloth away a mixture of green bile and crimson soaked the handkerchief.

Elayne grimaced before responding to her father, talking as if to a child.

"Father, the High Admiral and General, from Skyrim. Rebec and Baldur Red-Snow."

"Ah, yes that's right. And please, I'm not a child, I'm dying. Speak to me as you would anyone else," the old noble said, then grabbed his staff with his right had an pushed himself out of bed.

All the guards and Elayne bolted to his side, causing him to swing the wooden stick around threateningly.

"I may be dying, but until I'm in the ground I'll treat my guests with respect gods damnit!" he shouted, before slowly hobbling over to the Nords. If one were to look down, they would see his toes were black, and he could no longer feel them.


As they were ushered into the dying man's chamber, Rebec got the idea the pirates might be the lucky ones in this visit. She wasn't about to shake the man's hand and wasn't for bowing or scraping, either, so she just said, "There was no need for you to talk to us personally, sir. We aren't here on an official visit. Your town guard wanted us to bring some pirates we captured to the castle, but I assumed your guard or steward would take care of it. Sorry to disturb you."


The king stood a few feet from Elayne and the Nord couple, and dipped his head slightly, not expecting any courtesy to be returned. He was a sick man, and not many wanted to associate with him regardless of their relationship to him. So he understood strangers not wanting to be near him.

"It's no matter, I need some form of amusement. Dying isn't much fun, after all, and my eyes aren't what they used to be, so reading is out of the question," the elder Breton said, walking back to the bed and sitting on its edge, "So, tell me of these pirates. Where did you pick them up? What were their numbers?"

Elayne sat at a table across from the chair, but was on edge as she wasn't comfortable with strangers near her dying father.


Rebec replied, "It was dark when they hit and most are in the sea, but I'd guess there were forty, fifty total before the fight. Six survivors are downstairs. They were holed up on a little island called Puffin Rock above Northpoint. We're on our way to Hammerfell and I needed to stop here to settle some navy debts, so I'm afraid you get the honors. Of course, we'll toss them if you'd prefer. I thought we ought to do it official. Told them I'd try, if they gave us the location of their base."


The old man nodded at the story, his raggedy hair shaking as he did.

"The Chirditte family rules those lands, but they are a rather backward slice of High Rock. I'll have the men executed soon, or thrown in prison. Most likely it won't be my decision," Dilborn said, rubbing the rounded top of the staff with his thumb.

He looked at the couple quizzically, his brow furrowing, then asked in his gravely voice, "You're seeking an alliance with Hammerfell, correct?"


"Some of them aided us in the fight against the Thalmor last summer. I don't know if it qualifies as an alliance," the admiral answered. "Where the Thalmor are concerned, we're all on the same page. If you don't mind me asking..."  She looked from him to Elayne. "What do the Bretons intend to do about the Dominion?"


"It better be fighting with us. It's fight or die, no in between. That mer blood in you won't keep their yellow fingers out of your rabbit hole anymore than the rest of us," said Baldur.


The king started a chuckle, but it dissolved into a cough not long after. He brought the rag to his mouth, wiping away a bit of blood from his lips. Clearing his throat, he responded to the pair.

"High Rock intends to do whatever my successor wants it to do, which if it's my son in law Aleron, would be to sit in the lap of luxury while you all die. Of course, as Breton politics are so unstable, there's no telling what might happen."

That last part, said with an ominously sly smile, made Elayne glance at her father nervously, her cheeks reddening a bit.


Baldur chuckled as well then said, "I admire your honesty. But then again a dying man doesn't have much to worry about telling the truth. We won't be the ones dying though. And after the war is over, High Rock won't have any friends to help them out. I don't need to know the politics of the others to know what will happen if the Bretons try expanding after the war. It will be your downfall."


Rebec shook her head at the king's reply. "Well that sounds about right.  Your harbormasters didn't want to know about our blockade, either, without a king's ransom in gold to stir them. If this is how it's going to be, we might as well hand the continent over to the elves. Of course, maybe that's what your elves want." Suspicion laced her tone.


"That's fine. We didn't need the Bretons to free our home and forge an alliance. We won't need them to defeat the elves. They did so much damage before because we didn't know they were coming," said Baldur.


Dilborn frowned, somewhat angry at the suspicious tone of the Nord woman.

"Like I said, out politics are very unstable, and I wouldn't count on Aleron being king long, if my suspicions are correct. We all hate the elves, do not doubt that, but a dying king has not the power to decide these things, so your best hope is to find someone here who will fight alongside you. My other son in law comes to mind, Elayne's husband Theodore. I would look him up on the return trip if I was you," the king said, still frowning.

He lay back in his bed, propping the staff on the wall, and laying his head back on the pillows.


Rebec made a noncommittal grunt. She didn't expect any more out of this Theodore than any other Breton. "Alright, then. We've troubled you long enough. If your daughter will show us to the clerk's office, we'll write out our testimony about the pirates and be on our way."


"A question before we leave. You're still a part of the Empire, so really, your people are supposed to be fighting with us already. Unless there's something that I don't know about that would prevent that. Is there, King?" Baldur's question was somewhat rhetorical, half expecting such an outcome already since Skyrim left.


"Yes, but who's to make us if we don't want to? That would only serve to weaken everyone, so unless the Empire has legions to spare I doubt they'll sacrifice any to make us fight. Embargo us as lose trade goods themselves? Take care of us afterwards when we'll have an army without any casaulties? It seems they can't make us fight no matter what they try," Dilborn said, the sly smile creeping back.


"You know that trade with Skyrim and possibly Hammerfell would be more than enough to sustain them assuming that they got the East Empire Company to somehow agree not to trade with you. Worst comes to worst, we could easily blockade High Rock, us, Hammerfell and the Empire. But, Skyrim isn't in the business of getting Cyrodiil's own to fight. What you choose to do matters little to me. Like I said before, Skyrim doesn't need you. It's you that need us. Just like with your pirate problem. Good day to you, King." With nothing further to add, Baldur walked off to find his own way out.


Rebec turned back as they were leaving. "Sire, let me tell you something. I didn't get in this war until late myself. Thought it was a politician's war. It's not. This is about survival, and if you lot sit around until it's your turn, the Dominion will be in here running your affairs for you. I hope that's what you tell your sons. Gods watch over you."


King Gaerhart motioned a guard to take them, wanting to talk to Elayne alone.

"Tell them I suggest they return and speak to Theodore, it is of the essence they heed this," Dilborn commanded the guard.

The guard bowed and opened the door, and relayed the kings message.

"The king hopes you will return, as speaking to Lord Adrard is of the essence, he says. Now, if you'll follow me," the guard walked back down the hall, leading them to the clerks office.

Back inside the room, Elayne walked purposefully to the bed, throwing her hands down on the blankets.

"Why did you tell then about Theodore? His plan is confidential, and you might as well have spelled it out for them," she said, almost completely different from the woman their visitors met, her soft voice replaced by a harsh, almost frightening one.

Her father signed, shaking his head as he did.

"He'll need allies, dear, and those Nords are his best bet. If I'm correct, he may no longer be wholly against independence, which those Nords will appreciate above everyone. It's the right move, so trust me. Trust me," he said, gripping her hands in his.

"I will, father. Now, get some rest, you need it," Elayne said, then left towards her own room.



Once they were shown to the clerk's office, they had to wait again.  Rebec muttered under her breath to Baldur, "Just great. We pick up a plague and get nothing but empty words to show for it."


"Yea well I didn't expect much anyway. I'm not even mad we weren't offered any food. That man got rid of my appetite. How does a King get the plague from daedra?"


"Something one of their mages cooked up, probably. You know this means I've got to quarantine our ship for a week or so before we can put in anywhere else. Can't risk bringing this sickness to Hammerfell.  Welcome to sailing, general.  Where's Menel anyway? I bet he found the food."


Baldur turned around this way and that, realizing that he completely forgot about the mer. "If he did, I need to find him. My appetite just came back. Oh that reminds me, I'm not trying to get Ysana with Vigge, I don't really see either of them romping any time soon. Your pa seems subdued around her. But, I'd pay actual coin to see him and Menel share a bed."


The admiral shrugged. "Papa sleeps like a log unless he's guarding my virtue from bards. He won't care."


"He'll be needing to guard his own virtue in case a certain mer gets a fancy for Nord haunches again," said Baldur, chuckling slightly, then breaking out in full laughter at the image of Menel copping a feel on Vigge at night.


"What, you mean he..."  Rebec cracked up in laughter. "He likes sausages? Oh, that's good."  She ignored the strange look a guard gave her, and was still chuckling as the clerk bustled in and started laying out paperwork for them to sign.  A half hour and half a dozen forms later, they were shown to the foyer.



As it turned out, there was not much choice of who roomed with whom. The inn had only two rooms left. After much discussion, it was decided that Ysana, Vigge and Menel would share one of them and Baldur and Rebec would take the other.


"So who's guarding whose virtue now?" Rebec joked.


They spent the evening drinking, eating, playing cards and gathering news in the common room, and the next morning Rebec and Baldur set off to the harbormaster's office.  It was a crowded gathering point for all sorts of shipping business, part customs house, trading center and part employment office for sailors and longshoremen.  Rebec paid their port fees, then sat down with the shipyard master to haggle over the navy's debts.  They finally agreed it was better to be paid less in gold right then than to wait, and the debt was cleared.


Emerging into the merchant's area, Rebec muttered, "Purse is pretty light , let's hope we can get a good price on those furs and ore."


Baldur said, "We should at least for the furs. There's always need for that, but I think High Rock probably has plenty of their own ores. What about those pirate ships? Think we could sell off those for something?"


She shook her head doubtfully. They had towed two small skiffs with them, but they were not impressive vessels.  "We'll get a pittance for them, but that's all. I probably should have looked around for finished armor, but that takes time to accumulate and I wanted to get moving. We'll have to take what we can get."  She surveyed the room, looking for the buyer that appeared most promising. Or most gullible.


Henry Leland, a round, flat hat upon his light brown hair, strutted through the room like he owned the place, probably because he actually did. Well, several facets of the harbor, including a few merchant companies. His cane rapped and tapped on the stone floor, his black and gold vest matching the hat. A clean shaven face smiled at everyone he passed, tipping his hat to some of the more prominent investors.

It wasn't long before an informant walked up, whispering in his ear about the Nords. Henry spotted them, the female much more at home than the male, who looked more like a bear than a sailor. Straightening his vest, he resumed his walk towards the couple.

"Henry Leland, at your service. Merchant, banker, businessman and hopefully pleasant company. How may I help you both on this...drizzly, dreary day, I suppose!" he said with as in-genuine a smile as he could muster, much like a used cart dealer.


Rebec looked the man up and down skeptically. "Rebec Red Snow, captain of the Black Wisp, formerly the Howling Harpy. We've got some cargo and would like to see what the asking price is. Skyrim furs and ore, mostly. This is my husband, High General Baldur Red Snow.  Don't think we've met, but I don't often put in here. Are you in the market for what we're selling?"


"I'm in the market for everything, as long as the price is reasonable. If you would be so kind to follow me, I think we can better hatch out our prices in my office. It would be my pleasure to entertain the High General of Skyrim, and the captain of such a fine ship," the Breton said with the same smile.


Rebec exchanged a look with Baldur. This one was oily. They had to start somewhere, however, and maybe they could find out more about this plague.


"If you don't mind sir, we're not really looking to be entertained. We just wish to get business done," said Baldur. "We Nords get to the point quickly, lest we freeze to death from lollygagging around."


"I mean simple food and drink, is all, while we discuss your wife's wares, nothing more. If that is too much, then we can go straight to business, but I prefer we go to my office nonetheless," Henry said, grin unwavering even in the face of such inhospitable a couple.


Baldur looked to Rebec for a response given that this was her business. Food and drink for free sounded fine to him, but he knew that at negotiating, being the one offering pleasantries put that person in the head by trying to make the ones receiving feel in debt to them for the pleasantries. Not that this was likely to be the case with Rebec, Baldur thought. But it was why he initially said what he did.


Rebec glanced at Baldur and shrugged. "Fine, we'll hear what you're offering. We're on to Hammerfell next, so we'd take goods in kind if it's something the redguard would want."


Grinning even more, which seemed hardly possible, Henry pointed with his cane to a set of stairs.

"This way," he said.

They reached a very opulent office, a wide window behind a desk that overlooked the harbor, it's hustle and bustle ever evident from this high perch.

"Would you like and food, or drink?" Leland asked, sitting behind the large wooden desk.


"Most certainly. First time in High Rock for me, so it would be nice to see what you Bretons do with food besides in the taverns," Baldur said.


Henry rang a bell, causing a servant to hastily enter.

"Two veal steaks with steamed greens, and a bottle of wine as well."

The servant left, and Henry again addressed his visitors.

"Trust me, our fare is much better than any raver would offer."


Rebec glanced around to inspect the place, and taking a seat, got right to business. "What is it you sell that got you a perch like this?"


"Everything on, in, and around Tamriel! Lumber, food, furs, ores, dyes, weapons, armors, any and everything you can think of. I also own the three largest a banks in western High Rock, and sit on the a few royal committees. But, I'm sure you don't care about all that, just how it relates to your wares, which I hope I can acquire," Leland said the fake smile still remained, unwavering as though plastered on a statue.


Baldur wasn't paying much attention to what he was saying, but he looked at him enough to think his smiling was creepy. The only other person he ever met that gave off fake smiles all the time was Samuel. But with a mouth full of food, he didn't feel much need to let him know he was odd, like he normally would.


"Hm." Rebec didn't sound impressed, but she opened a leather case on her belt and pulled out her manifest, an empty piece of paper and a charcoal.  Hastily she scribbled out a list of wares, weights, and her asking price, and tossed the paper across to the Breton's desk. Gesturing at it, she said, "Those are fair prices and I won't be undersold. I represent not just my own business but the Skyrim navy now, and my recommendations carry weight. I'd take some dyes from you. Talos knows the Ra Gada like their bright colors. Also wine. For some reason, they like that, too."


Henry grabbed the list, stretching it out between two sets of wiry fingers. His smiling facade turned into an equally false frown as he inspected the prices, but only for a moment.

Don't want them thinking I'm a freak who always smiles. Prices are fair, if the presentation a little brusque. I'll probably have to offload some of this elsewhere, no market here, Leland thought.

"I think we have a deal, and I'll sell you the dyes and wine you require. May I also suggest some jewelry, which is favored by the upper nobility there," the Breton businessman said, the ear to ear grin returning.


"No need," Rebec answered, her suspicion not allayed by the quick acceptance. Maybe the navy bit was convincing, but she wouldn't count her chickens yet. "I avoid it. Too easy to steal and too easy for dishonest merchants to pass off inferior gems. Not that I'm suggesting you're dishonest."  She said this with a straight face. "Well, you'll want to see the goods first, I'm sure. Send your assayer down to us this morning if you want it. We're putting out today and I make no promises of exclusivity."


"Wait a second!" Baldur said, putting his food down and speaking with a mouth full of meat. He took a moment to swallow his food, then said, "How big of an assortment of jewelery do you have?"


"The largest in High Rock, naturally. Would you like to take a look?"

Looking back to Rebec, he cleared his throat before speaking.

"I'll send someone down instantly. I'm sorry you feel that way about jewelry, it's a very lucrative business for those experienced enough in it, but it does take a certain knack to get the hang of. No disrespect toward you or your crew, of course," Henry said, the toothy smile still bright on his face, but with a certain suspicious twinkle in his eye.


Baldur looked to Rebec, then said, "Love, you still have that ring, don't you? You forgot to toss it right?"


Rebec's lip had curled briefly at the merchant's remark. Her food remained untouched. She didn't have much appetite with this guy, but if his money was sweet, that's all that mattered.  At Baldur's question, she glanced over, uncertain about showing the ring to anyone. She had in fact forgotten about it. Looking back to Henry, she reluctantly pulled it out and tossed it across to him, eyeing him carefully.


Baldur grabbed Rebec's plate and said before starting to eat again, "That's a Septim Cult ring. Quite old, quite rare. And quite valuable. I'm not a jeweler and you already know that, but I do read and I know my Talos memorabilia. I'd say for something like that, a thousand two hundred gold coins seems fair. It's also enchanted and the sell time should be quick given all the attention Talos has nowadays, so I know that is a factor. Quick money for you when you go to sell it. That's the price I'm staying at. That is of course, assuming I can't find something in your wares that interests me. If I do, we can bring the price down in exchange."


Henry pulled out a magnifying glass, of Dwarven make, and inspected the ring. It was legit, as far as he could tell, and his race's natural affinity for magic told him it was indeed powerfully enchanted.

"Let me take you down to my vault, I'm sure I can find something to interest you," he said rising, leading the way back down the stairs and into the street, towards a bank in the distance.

"It's a little bit of a walk, so are there any questions you have about Daggerfall, or High Rock in General?"

The hat back on his head, and the cane tapping the stone, Leland was perfectly at home among the streets, as people called his name and bid him hello the entire way.


"Just one off the top of my head," said Baldur, waiting for him to exchange greetings briefly with another passer by. "This is the land that the Warp in the West took place in. So, any insight into what it was or why it happened? I have my own theories, but would rather hear from someone whose culture was affected by it. It just seems odd to me that the Bretons while religious aren't as...caught up with it as other cultures are. After something like that had such a big impact here, you'd think they'd be even more so."


"Four city states, one Empire, the King of Worms, and the Underking all vying for the totem of Tiber Septim, at the exact same time. And yet, all of them were granted it, causing a shift. What or why it happened, who knows, but the next day, Orsinium, Wayrest, Daggerfall, and Sentinel all had the reigning power here, but swore allegiance to the Empire. Manimarco became a god, so they say, while the Underking gained a heart, who as you probably know is either Zurin Arctus or Wulfarth. Of course, all of that is generally dismissed by most, and only few of the most knowledgable scholars actively believe it. Those that dismiss it cite the fact that it's impossible they all received the totem at once, but the gods work mysteriously to be sure," Henry recited the account by memory, as he had actively participated in several Warp debates.


"I don't profess to know much about your Arctus, but it makes sense that the Underking be Wulfharth, given that he was called the Ashking by us, the two meanings not being much different," Baldur had to stifle his laughter from the mention of 'Underking' before he spoke again. "How much further is this vault of yours?"


Rebec walked along ahead, more interested in looking at the people passing by than in talk of warps and other such nonsense. Mostly she was scanning for sickly looking types. "And what's this plague you got going?" she added.  "How many people got it?"


"Surprisingly, just the king. I speculate it's just Peryite's form of revenge, and someone or something won't let him kill the entire population. Who knows, though...ah, here is our stop," Henry exclaimed.

A large stone facade stood above the group, the words Bank of Daggerfall engraved into the stonework. Pillars stood high and imposing, like artificial trees.

"Right this way," Henry said, walking into the bank, then leading the group back and towards the vault.


Baldur's first instinct was to prattle on about the unnecessary need for such large stone buildings like this, but he had to admit it was impressive...The only bank they had in Skyrim was reserved for the Silver-Bloods. Not that most people had funds which needed a bank in Skyrim, especially now. Before they walked into the vault, Baldur turned to Rebec and said, "You stay out here for now, okay? I don't want you seeing what I pick yet."


Rebec was about to protest, but with a wry grin, waved her hand. When Baldur got sneaky, the result was often good. "Alright, just hurry. We've got to get back to the ship."


Baldur matched her grin, then nodded before saying to Henry, "Okay fancy pants, show me your jewels, hehe."


"Follow me, General," Henry said, leading the Nord deep into the bank.

Down a hallway, down a staircase, down another hallway to the vault, whose large iron doors were guarded on either side by armed men, and two more stationed on the inside.


"Hnh, you've got this place locked up tighter than a virgin on Sanguine's summoning day," Baldur said, commenting on the guards. They were all standing perfectly still, not moving a muscle. Baldur walked in front of one of the Breton men, who he stood a head over and stared at him like he was some exotic statue. Since at this point he might as well have been. "Good discipline too. They're all standing as if they had a stick up their ass."


"Just like they've been taught, hahaha! But yes, security is understandably tight. Now, how about you look around and see something you like, and then we can talk about a trade or a fair price," Henry said pleasantly, still smiling, if a little less pronounced.


"Glady," he said. Getting something for himself wasn't the goal, yet he was still excited when looking through the Breton's assortment. In the stone room was a row of tables, each with chandeliers hovering over them and the glass cases containing the merchandise, providing the perfect angle of lighting over the assortment to create an enticing look for the goods before him. Baldur's eyes immediately fell upon what seemed to be a center piece. A large golden ruby ring in the shape of a circle with little diamonds surrounding the center jewel. His eyes widened with the prospect of giving such a thing to Rebec, but he had to stop himself from doing so. He knew if he asked Rebec, she'd probably say she would have no use for something so incredibly fanciful with no purpose but to attract every pickpocket in Tamriel.


But then again, she hadn't seen the size of the ruby...If he were to get it, no doubt it would take up the whole cost of the Septim ring. He wasn't sure if Henry would even make such a trade, the ring while rare and old was still not as valuable as this, but then again, the Septim ring would be a much quicker sell. It was a pointless thought, however, since Baldur knew despite how extravagant and beautiful it was, it wasn't something Rebec could wear every day, which was more what Baldur was going for. Not another once in a while red dress type of thing. So, Baldur moved on, trying not to kick himself for passing it up and hoping that he was right about Rebec's reaction to the ruby diamond ring.


He took his time, eying each and every bauble and trinket Henry had. He saw a few things that he liked and put his axe over a glass case that contained a few picks that he favored. As he walked on, the next table near the back of the room finally held something that seemed to be what he was looking for. A collection of various rings and necklaces with the likenesses of animals, flowers and people on them. He was more interested in the animals. He anxiously scanned the rows of creatures, desperately hoping that Henry had what he was looking for. One odd thing caught his eye, which was a silver ring with what appeared to be a mini troll skull in the center. Baldur lifted the glass case and laughed when he realized the head actually moved back like a skull and could be made to bite his finger. He was tempted to get that for himself just because, but made himself put it down and keep looking.


Finally after another ten minutes, Baldur made his selection and actually found two things, one for both of them. Walking to Henry with them in his hand, Baldur said, "I'll give you the Septim ring for eight hundred septims and these two rings."


Henry grabbed the two rings, inspecting their quality as they sat in the palm of his hand. One, a snake, had charcoal black scales, each one carved intricately into the silver. It's tail wrapped back around the form the other half of the ring, appearing as of a small snake was constricting the wearers finger. The hawk's feathers, minute but so lifelike that of Henry didn't know it was a ring he could've sworn that they were real. The sharp beak, split like it was ready to grab its prey, glinted in the chandelier light, and the blue diamond eyes of both shone brightly even in this dim environment. They were of the highest quality craftsmanship, that was of no doubt, and worth every Septim he was about to trade them for.


"You have yourself a deal, but only for the Septim ring and 500 gold," Henry said, his toothy grin still unnervingly fake as ever.


Baldur shook his head then said, "Eight hundred and not a septim less. Like I said before, Talos is in ironically more than he's ever been because of the WGC. Normally I wouldn't mind a little haggling, but with your connections and know how, I'd wager you could almost double your money from me. But I'm not a greedy man, I just want something nice for my wife and some gold in her purse."


"You know what, I feel that getting in good with the High Admiral of Skyrim opens enough doors I'll take your deal. Don't be afraid to put in a good word for me, and hopefully we can have a mutually beneficial relationship. Now, here's the coin," Henry said, pulling out a large pouch, "and here's here are your rings."

Henry dropped the rings in Baldur's hands, and in turn grabbed the Tiber Septim ring.


"Of course, you gave me a good deal, so I'd be glad to spread the word. And also..." Baldur moved his fingers through the pouch for a while and pulled out seventy five gold coins. "Here's a small tip for the hospitality and the food. Let's go back now, she's probably bored."


"Thank you, it's a simple curtesy I extend all my guests," the Breton said.

Leading Baldur back through the bank, they arrived outside, the day still drizzly and wet.


Rebec was standing outside talking with an Argonian trader from Anvil whom she knew from around the shipping circuit. He had some rare goods from Black Marsh and Elsweyr that he would only sell to trusted people, but he wasn't happy to learn that she had become admiral of Skyrim. The whiff of officialdom made purveyors of not-quite-legal goods uneasy.


"Listen, Jamah, I'm still a sailor first. I don't care about your bounty in Buttlint county or whatever it is you're nervous about. Neither does my husband. We've always done good business and I'd be happy to see what you've got. Bring it down to the ship and talk to Mazoga if I'm not available."


"Mazoga is still with you?  Ah, that is a good sign."


"She'll be captain soon. Now what you can tell me about what's going on in southern waters?"


Jamah told her about the imperial navy clashing with Altmer trading ships, and that they'd lost some vessels to what was called a sea monster. Pirates were moving north into the Abecean to avoid their patrols.


"Oh, that's just great."  Rebec shook her head. "Those leeches ought to be fighting the Thalmor, too, not trying to pick the corpses."


When Baldur finally spotted Rebec, he picked up the pace in his excitement and had the rings out, ready to give them to her, but then thought better of it and slowed down, placing the rings in his pouch and holding the large gold pouch instead. "Hey love, sorry I couldn't find anything I thought you'd like. I got a good sum of gold though. He talked me down to seven hundred and twenty five gold, still a lot of coin."


Catching on to the secret rings, Henry replied, with a sly grin, "I do drive a hard bargain!"

Henry turned to Jamah, who he also knew, albeit not as well as Rebec.

"My fine friend, do you have the Khajit rugs I ordered? My clients for those are in high demand!"


"Ah, Leland. I have some specimens you'll no doubt want to see, but I must first bring some wares down to the admiral before their ship leaves port. I'll come by your office this afternoon."  Jamah glanced uneasily at Baldur.


Rebec answered her husband, "Never mind, I don't need any fancy jewelry."  She took the purse and bounced it in her hand- the most accurate weighing method she knew- grinning widely. This was better than tossing that infernal ring into the ocean. "Good work, first mate Red Snow. Ready to go? The crew will be returning soon."


"Thank you Jamah, you always do a good job of getting me the items I need. Well, thanks to the both of you for your business, and company, but I have other things that need tending to. Good'ay High Admiral, and you too High General," Henry said, his hat tipped slightly over on his head and his cane tapping its way down the stone pathway, until it's sound was lost in the bustle of the crowd.


To be continued...

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Rebec and Baldur




Baldur watched as Henry walked away, then turned to Rebec and the Argonian trader. Mischievous thoughts started forming in his head, then deciding to pull her leg, he put on a nervous and concerned look and said, "Yeah I'm ready. Listen, there's something...important that you and I need to discuss on the ship when we get there. It's about..." he paused when he noticed how the Argonian was looking at him. "What's with him?"


"I've got somewhere to be," Jamah said, hurrying off.


Rebec watched him go, then shrugged. "We're royal officials now, or so everyone thinks. That might be positive for some, but not on the docks. People have gotten used to the empire not nosing in their business much anymore, and they don't want to see it start again. Isn't that ironic? Anyway, what's this important matter?"


"It's...about us. Lets not talk here, lets go to the ship first," he said, holding back a grin as he walked ahead.


"About us?" The words were unnerving.  She took his hand and walked along. "What have you got up your sleeve, Red Snow?"


"Nothing up my sleeve this time. It's not that kind of talk I'm afraid...." He felt like a jerk, but thinking about her smiling face when she realized it was just a ruse made him keep playing along. Looking down to her hand solemnly, he opened his mouth to speak, then stared into her eyes and closed them before turning in front of him. "Lets just wait. You'll want to sit. We can discuss things later in the cabin after you're done with your duties."


"Baldur..."  Rebec felt the bottom drop out of her stomach and tried to keep her thoughts from going wild places. The first thought she had was that he was leaving her. Maybe he'd realized the sailing had been too much after all. That can't be right. She chased the thought away and still held tightly to his hand, picking up her pace. Whatever this was, she wanted to find out soon.


On their way to the Black Wisp, it was getting harder and harder for Baldur to not give up and show her the surprise already. Guilt was weighing down on him and he thought he might have taken things too far, but he was already committed and already close to the ship. The longer she thought something was wrong, the greater the relief and excitement would be when she saw what he got. And he secretly liked her showing fear of separation, he realized. When they reached the ship, he let go of her hand and left her to tend to her Captain duties while he checked on the mead supply and then went below decks to talk with Ysana until she wasn't busy.


Mazoga was on the upper deck supervising the replacement of their empty water barrels and rations. Rebec checked in with her, then said, "Baldur and I need to talk. See that no one disturbs me for a while."


"Talk, eh," the orc said with a grin. Seeing Rebec's expression, Mazoga sobered. "Alright, you go on. We've got a couple hours yet before we're due to leave."


Rebec told her Henry Leland's appraiser and Jamah might be by with goods for sale, then she went down below and grabbed Baldur's hand again. "Excuse us, ma."


Not waiting for Ysana's reply, she pulled Baldur into their quarters and shut the door. She was talking before it even latched. "Listen, Baldur. If you don't like the sailing, that's fine. It's not for everybody, I understand that.  I was serious about turning the ship over. We'll make it work."


He shook his head, then said, "No, it's not the ship that I have a problem with. It's...something about you." He gently nudged her to the bed, beckoning her to sit. When she did, he knelt before her, his arms resting on her knees. "I don't know how to say it, Rebby. Except that, this ring..." Baldur grabbed her left hand gently, running his finger over hers wearing the dull silver ring from Falkreath they received. "I just...don't like you wearing this....you understand?"


Rebec appeared puzzled, staring at the ring, then said defensively, "I knew we shouldn't have rushed into it. I figured this day would come, but you swore to me it wouldn't. That's what I get for listening to a bard.  My pa was right after all."  Her tone was angry, but more from fear and anguish than blame. She tried to stand, not able to look at him.


That was it for him. Baldur couldn't take anymore and decided to end it there. While she was looking away, Baldur said, "No no no, what are you talking about? What I meant was that I don't like seeing such a cheap ring on your finger..." Baldur brought her hands up and removed her ring with his mouth, grinning as he did. Before she could give a response, he quickly slipped on the new hawk ring with the blue diamond eyes. "There, that's better."


She sat back and watched him, at first suspicious, though when she saw the hawk ring she then felt foolish. Of course, he had just been in a Breton jewelry vault.  Her eyes watered as she looked at the ring, so perfect for her, then suddenly Rebec looked up and slapped Baldur's shoulder hard.  She'd have nailed him in the jaw if she had the range to draw back.  "You asshole!  I thought...  Gods damn it, Baldur!" For a moment she was truly angry from the built-up worry and thinking of kicking him out to the crew bunks that night, then she thought about his impish nature. And the ring.  It was a pretty ring.  "Asshole." This time she said it less vehemently, with a little pull of her lip.


He couldn't help but laugh, even though he knew it was wrong. He drew closer to her and rested his head against her stomach and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't think of how hard you'd take that. When you were squeezing my hand I knew I messed up, but it was a bit too late by then."


"You put on a pretty good act.  Damn bards."  Still smoldering despite her relief, she put an arm around his neck and held him there so he wouldn't see the water in her eyes become a few tears. It was eye-opening even to her how much she still felt that she didn't deserve him, and how quickly her fear that their happiness couldn't last could crop up. Trying to fend off more emotion, she said, "I thought you liked the plain rings.  I haven't given you anything for our wedding."


"Honestly, I did. Me saying I didn't was just part of the ruse. And anyway, I told you you don't need to, but you did give the design for my shield to Eorlund. I got a ring too by the way." Baldur pulled away to show her the other ring he got, but when he saw that her cheeks were wet, he froze. He sat up and took a seat next to her and said, "Aw come on now, none of that. That's not the reaction I was going for." Suddenly his hands shot to her stomach to tickle her and force her to smile.


Rebec laughed, embarrassed by now. "You scared me, that's all."  She avoided his eyes, punching him in the shoulder. "Show me yours, then. No more games."


"It was a bad joke, I know. You know how I am, I'm a big kid sometimes. You did marry a man whose patron is a trickster though." Baldur took his ring out now from his pouch and placed the snake in her hands with the same blue eyes as her ring. "He had others with different colored eyes. Luckily he had one more of these left."


"Shor and Kyne." Rebec smiled, touched. It wouldn't make sense to anyone else, but it was perfect for them. Grabbing his hand, she worked the silver ring off his finger and slid the snake ring in its place. "I'm sorry I doubted you. I just..."  She thought about it.  "Somehow I stopped thinking good things could happen. And you seem too good to be true."


"I can tell that's what your father thinks too. Don't worry, that'll change one of these days, I'm sure. I'll have my mistakes to make. Like the joke, for one. Well anyway, now you have a ring worthy of showing off in the future. Speaking of, why don't you go show pa?"


"Wait." Rebec leaned forward and kissed him, long and full of her relief and renewed happiness. Releasing his mouth finally, she rested her forehead on his and said, "You're forgiven, my impish bard. Thank you for my ring."


Baldur brought his left hand up along with hers and locked them together along with their rings as he whispered softly in her ear while brushing a finger over the back of her neck. "Like Masser and Secunda, space and time, splitting from you is an impossible crime. Picked by the cosmos to become one soul, combined, froze together, like Atmora of old. Wrapped in my coils, in your talons locked, such is the fate of the snake and the hawk. Just as you can't take the blue from the sea, so too is it true for you and for me." Gently, he pushed her down with a kiss while his other hand cradled her neck. He kissed her softly and was about to do so once more, but suddenly he leaned up abruptly while grinning and said, "Okay, go show your father now."


Her brief fears vanished, Rebec laughed and stood, opening the door to the hold.  Ysana and Vigge were outside, closer to the door than they strictly needed to be, obviously listening in. Vigge took a step back guiltily.  Normally Rebec would have chewed him out, but she just held out her hand.  "Look what Baldur got me, papa."


The sailor took her hand and inspected the ring, then grunted and released the hand, disinterested.


Ysana looked from Rebec to the ring, then to Baldur when he walked out. She was obviously confused but glad that her suspicions were incorrect. "So, everything's fine then?" she asked, looking at her daughter-in-law.


"Right as rain. Baldur was playing a little trick on me. He's one for the drama, he is." She elbowed her husband. "You're lucky I'm in such a good mood, or you'd have been inspecting our crew sleeping arrangements tonight."


"You and I both know you couldn't keep me away for too long," he said between grinning. "So, what do you think, Vig?" Baldur couldn't tell if Vigge was disappointed, relieved or simply uninterested now that he knew nothing happened.


The old man grumbled something that sounded like "very nice," then asked, "How much did that bauble cost?"


"He traded for it, so nothing," Rebec answered. "And we got a lot of gold besides. All for the sick joke of... uh, never mind."  She didn't really want to explain Samuel to their parents.


"It's a long story, but the basics is I got a gift for my promotion, then traded it in for something more useful. In any event, you two can go now, sorry for the false alarm." Right on cue, Baldur heard Bjol calling him from the top deck. "Ah, right. I promised the old sea dog I'd try to learn how to use a crossbow. Be back later." Baldur gave Ysana a brief hug, gave Rebec a kiss on the cheek, then tapped Vigge in the gut before removing himself from the scene. Ysana left too, going off to look for something to eat.


Vigge mumbled something as Baldur left. Rebec gave him a reproving look.  "Papa, when are you going to cut Baldur a break?"


"I'll do what I damn well please." He had taken a seat on one of the rowing benches and started cleaning his axe, but as Rebec walked away, Vigge grabbed her hand and pulled her closer. "Are you really alright, girl?"


She smiled down at him. "Yes, papa. I'm more than alright."


"I only want you to be happy."


"I am. I've got the finest ship in Skyrim that I helped build with my own hands, and the man I love,  loves me back. You can stop worrying about me, papa."


"Never."  The old man's eyes crinkled up in a smile.


Rebec leaned down and kissed her father's forehead. "What would make me happy would be for you to treat Baldur like a son and not like someone who tumbled in on the north wind, or whatever your story was. His own father was a wretch, and you can show him something different."


Vigge was silent a while. "I never thought of it like that." After another pause, he shrugged. "Can't change who I am now. Stubborn only gets worse with age."


"That's just an excuse, papa."


He didn't say anything. She was right, but it was hard to admit it. Fortunately for him, Mazoga called down that the appraiser was there, so Rebec left him to his thoughts.


Henry Leland's appraiser had brought a cart full of dyes and some casks of wine and brandy.  While he went to look at their ores and furs, Rebec opened up a pot of dye and took some on her finger. By then the crew had started re-appearing, and so had their redguard passengers. One of them, a woman, stopped. "Is that conch purple?"


"You tell me."


The woman sniffed and dabbed at the dye, then opened another pot and checked that one. As she went along, her face lit up. "These are very nice."


Rebec was sold. The furs were never going to sell in Hammerfell anyway, not for much of a price, and the look on the redguard woman's face was all she needed to see.  She hammered out the deal with the appraiser for all the furs and some of the silver ore.


Jamah also came by, and also had pots of exotic stuff, but he warned Rebec not to open them.  "Poisons, from the swamps," he explained. There was also some armor and weapons he said was hardened with Hist sap, and some of the sap itself as well as moon sugar and metalware from Elsweyr.  Rebec bought a little of each, knowing that Suri at least would appreciate the poisons and could experiment on the sap.


As the crew was getting settled back in to their posts, Mazoga noticed Rebec's hand. Inspecting the ring, she said, "Is this what the fuss was about?"


"Yes," Rebec smiled. "The hawk of Kyne."


"Fits you, Cap. Let's hope it makes Kyne smile on us the rest of this journey."


"Can't count on that. We make our own way regardless."


"Always do. I'll get the oarsmen ready. You said something about a plague. Does that mean...?"


Rebec thought about it a minute.  She had asked Jamah and some of the other ship captains that were in port, and was convinced that the mysterious sickness was confined to one village in the interior, and old King Gaerhart. No wonder they thought it was a daedric prince's caprice.  "No, we're good.  On to Hammerfell."



As the day passed onto the next, Baldur was even more thankful for the Witch's recipe of mead, as the temperature rose when they got closer to Hammerfell's border. The sun beat down on him relentlessly, but Kyne was gracious enough to grant the crew her cool sea breeze. He felt bad for his men on the escort ship in all their armor and fur. If the heat was too bad, they may have need to leave their armor on the ship and switch into basic Stormcloak gear. 


But that was a small matter, one that didn't preoccupy his thoughts too much. Because finally the Black Wisp had arrived to the coast of Sentinel. He could see off in the distance on each side of the ship both the coast of Hammerfell and High Rock as they sailed alongside High Rock's peninsula to approach the city of Sentinel on the Iliac Bay. They already passed Dragon Grove and Sunkeep and were about to pass Chasetown. He could see some of the buildings from where they were with their big brass colored domes on the top reflecting the intensity of the sun from them, making them easy to spot out.


Besides the odd sight of seeing buildings of what appeared to be made with dwarven metal, but not of Dwarven architecture, Baldur was surprised to see that the land wasn't all sand and even had thick patches of trees, some of them palm trees which Baldur had never seen before. Ysana too was at the rails watching scenery as they sailed by, this being an even bigger experience for her having never gone out of Markarth but to see Baldur and Rebec in Solitude. A smaller boat of Redguard sailors with an obtuse triangle shaped sail went by them in the opposite direction and Ysana waved at them excitedly as they passed. "Wow, what an odd boat design. This place is really hot, Baldur."


"First you're cold, then you're hot, heh. It's bound to get even hotter you know. We'll need to get you out of those robes," he said.


"What did I say.  Hot as the deadlands," Vigge said as he came up behind them.  The sailor was trying to keep his daughter's words in mind and be nicer to Baldur.  It was easier to do with Ysana watching. She had a civilizing influence on all the sailors, even if she swore as well as any of them.


Catching something out of the corner of his eye, Vigge pointed. "Dolphin. Looks sick, though. Maybe that's why he's swimming so close."


Rebec came up then.  "Hey, it's Lefty!"  She leaned over the rail and waved at the dolphin, whose left fin was sticking up in the air.  Some years ago, she had rescued him from pirates who kept him captive.  His left fin was hurt and didn't work too well, causing him to swim with it sticking up in the air.


"Lefty, you mean your pet dolphin? What are the odds of that..." Baldur said, scratching his head. He'd never seen much of any water life before besides fish and horkers. "Are they really as smart as some people claim? You think we could take a dinghy to it? Maybe we could feed it some fish!"


"I want to go! I'm gonna pet it!" Ysana said, almost sounding like a child.


Rebec laughed and nodded. Normally she would object to something so frivolous, but they had made good time and would be in Sentinel by nightfall even with a small stop.  Signaling the other ship that they were making a halt, she gave the order to pull down the sail and drop anchor.  "You can swim with him if you want, ma."


The priestess answered her with a big childish grin and what sounded like a giggle mixed with a squeal. Baldur ran off to get some fish and some of Menel's sausages, enough for the dolphin and whoever would be accompanying them in the dinghy.


Ysana said, "I'm going to grant it a blessing of Dibella before we leave as well. I bet a creature like him being deformed probably doesn't have the best of luck finding a mate."


Rebec didn't have any opinion on that one way or another. The crew were coming up to see what was going on.  Some of them shook their heads at the captain stopping them just for a deformed dolphin, but the older crewmen put these in their place. Lefty was a good luck omen, and his showing up in Iliac Bay as they were nearing their final destination was the best reason to stop.


When the dinghy was lowered, Rebec helped Ysana climb down, then Menel, who said he was going wherever his sausages were going.  As Baldur came up, she grabbed his hand and kissed the place where his ring was. "Don't lose this in the water, mighty Shor," she said, grinning.


Baldur playfully flickered his tongue like a snake before drawing in for a kiss. "Same to you, or I'm going deep diving. You're coming too, right?"


"Hey you two, isn't this defined as lolligagging?" Menel called up to them from the dinghy.


Ignoring the elf, Rebec replied to her husband, "I wouldn't miss saying hello to my old pal."  She released Baldur, climbed over the rail and made her way down the rope ladder to the dinghy.


When everyone was aboard, Rebec started rowing them out towards where the dolphin was swimming.  Behind them on the ship, some of the crew remaining behind were using the opportunity to strip down and go swimming, as well, taking advantage of the break and the warmer waters.


Lefty began to swim towards the little boat, then disappeared.  As they neared where he had been, abruptly the dolphin launched into the air in a graceful leap, splashing everyone in the dinghy as he came back down into the water.


"Show-off!" Rebec called, laughing.


Ysana gave a happy whoop then applauded before standing up to remove her robes to hop in. Baldur dug in a pack he brought and popped open a Baldurbrau while Ysana catapulted in the water. After the splash, the dolphin came back up and started circling her while swimming upside down. Ysana stuck her hand out to rub at his belly which got a nice cry out from Lefty. 


"Gods, if Ulfric could see what his general was up to now..." Baldur said, mesmerized by the creature swimming with his mother.


Others were going overboard as well, less interested in the dolphin than in splashing around. That left Rebec and Baldur in the dinghy.  She stowed the oars and grabbed the Baldurbrau out of her husband's hand, leaning back on his chest as she sipped at it and watched Ysana and Lefty's antics.


He was about to protest at first, but stayed silent when she leaned on him, the feeling being more pleasant than the taste of magic mead. "Any other time, taking mead out of a Nord's hands would lead to brawling," he said after holding her in his arms with his chin resting on her head.


"I believe I'm the one who said you ought to brew mead for us as well as the wizard.  This should be called Rebbrau."


"And the Witch would argue it should be called Witchiebrau, hehe." Baldur bent back some to reach the meat crate, then he waved around a sausage for the dolphin so he could see he was about to throw it for Lefty to catch.


Lefty saw the food offering and bobbed his nose, ready to leap up and catch the sausage, when a figure suddenly shot up from under the water and grabbed it out of Baldur's hand.


Rebec jumped at the splash he made, and leaned over to look, astounded.  By then the thief had already disappeared under the water again. "Was that..."


"Ah, gods damned greedy elf! For Shor's sake!" Baldur took a handful of sausages and threw them into the water so that Lefty could get some this time, but Ysana was joining in as well and took the sausages so she could feed the dolphin herself. While he watched her laughing as she got to hand feed Lefty, Baldur sat back down, defeated and annoyed.


Rebec laughed and took a swig of mead.  "Hang tight to the Baldurbrau. Menel might get thirsty next."


"He can suck salt water," Baldur said. Ysana saw him sulking and stuck her tongue out at him while she held onto Lefty and slowly drifted past them. Lefty came drifting back shortly with Ysana in tow, sticking his head out with his mouth open making it's strange noise behind him. Baldur lit up immediately and turned around to place his hand on Lefty's tongue before tossing some more meat his way, then splashing a taste of mead for him as well before he swam over to Rebec's side of the boat to see his long lost companion. "How could anyone ever be so cruel to such a thing...I doubt even Brund could hurt him."


"Brund probably beats up puppies for fun. I don't know what those bandits were up to. Amusing themselves, maybe. To the small-minded, something beautiful and free is an insult."  Rebec grabbed the mead back.  "That doesn't mean he ought to get our best mead. Save that for Nords who can appreciate it."  Calling out to Ysana, she said, "Don't forget your blessing or whatnot, ma! We can't linger too long."


"Right!" She said while she swam back over in a hurry. When she caught up to Lefty, she swam to the front of him and gently lifted the creature's head and closed her eyes. "By the Artisan of Pleasure, the Lady of Love and the Goddess of Beauty, I bless this creature so that Lady Dibella will grant him an advantage over those of the opposite sex, so that he will spread his seed and take great pleasure in doing so." After she spoke the words of her prayer, she planted a kiss on Lefty's lips before climbing back aboard.


"Well, that's quite the useful blessing," Baldur said.


"Yeah, quite a... uh..."  Rebec was blushing, remembering that that's sort of what the Dibellans had been muttering over her, back in Markarth. It was time to row back, though, so she relinquished the mead to Baldur's care and took to the oars.  "See you next time, Lefty.  Don't hurt your good fin chasing some lady dolphin."


Lefty watched them with his happy face, chittering, then dove.  As they rowed back to the ship, he did several graceful jumps out of the water, giving them a show.


It was dusk by the time the Wisp and its escort ship glided into Sentinel Bay.  The fortress city was lit up by thousands of lanterns like pinpricks in an indigo landscape.  At the harbor mouth, several massive cannon were set up on pedestals like a warning sign, though they hadn't been fired in recent memory and were mostly for show.  When they docked, Rebec sent a redguard boy scurrying off with a message, and a few minutes later, Suri came walking up the quay flanked by two gangly ten year-old boys.


"Auntie!  Uncle Baldur!" Suri called up to the ship, waving.  She was dressed in sand-colored cropped pants and sleeveless blouse, and her hair was loose on her shoulders, the lanterns bringing out the copper cast in its dark locks.  The doe-eyed boys with her were obviously her brothers, twins, though one of them had lighter hair than the other.  The boys chattered excitedly to each other and to Suri in Yoku, pointing at the ship. Vilnur's sons, they were already expert in shipcraft and recognized that the Wisp was something new.


Baldur had Ysana with him and had her follow them when he and Rebec left the ship to greet the group. He was as excited to see the city walls as the boys were to see their ship. When he stepped onto the docks, he called out and said, "Good to see you again, niece! And great to finally be on land again."


"Welcome to Hammerfell!  Let me introduce you to my brothers. This is Cy- you can guess who he's named for- and that's Timur. This is Uncle Baldur, the great general who whipped the Thalmor."  Suri had obviously been telling stories from her time in Skyrim.


Confronted with their famous uncle, the boys suddenly got shy. Timur, the darker haired one, proved to be the bolder.  In careful Tamrielic, he said, "We welcome you, uncle. You will bring honor to our home."  Hearing his twin give the formal greeting made Cy crack up a little, and that earned an elbow and Yoku rebuke from his brother.


Suri gave them both a stern look, but then she spotted her grandfather coming down the gangplank.  "Opa!"  The two met in an embrace, Suri's slim figure practically disappearing in Vigge's arms.


Ysana was standing with Vigge introducing herself to Suri while Baldur was still with the boys. Smiling, he said, "Don't let your sister fool you, the fight with the Thalmor wasn't that simple. I trust you two are going to be training hard to be strong warriors like her, right?"


His answer was a chorus of "yes!," followed by Cyrus' careful qualification, "If our mother allows it."  After that he blushed, realizing he'd revealed that he cared what his mother thought about the matter, and added quickly, "We already train, though only with wooden swords."


"Only if mother allows eh? Hehe, when you're old enough, she can't stop you, but it's good you listen to your parents. Nothing wrong with wooden swords, our military did the same until recently. Maybe later we can train with some dulled blades if your parents will allow it.


The boys both grinned and fidgeted, Timur slinging an arm over Cy's shoulder and hanging there comfortably.  "Did you really get captured by Thalmor and escape and then stomp them?"


Suri came back then, prodding her brothers. "Don't bother Uncle. Stories can wait until they've had some dinner and rested. Come along then, Uncle, Lady Ysana. My mother is anxious to meet you. We spoke to the citadel guard about your visit, and they have made a barracks available for your crews and guard. This one will show them the way."  She gestured to a guardsman waiting nearby.  "We have room at home for two or three more, if you want some of them to accompany us instead."


Rebec volunteered Menel and Mazoga for that, and then she gave instructions to Sidano and a few others who were to stay behind to guard the cargo.  Afterwards they all set off for their respective destinations.  Suri led their group through the small, winding streets of Sentinel's old quarter.  The shops were mostly closed up for the night, but even at this hour they displayed a brilliant variety. The streets were lined with stone channels chattering with cool water, and every few blocks they would come to a plaza with fountains adorned by statuary of some redguard warrior or poet hero.  The hum of the city had moved mostly indoors, though an old street vendor wandered past them calling out "ulaaaaaak, ulaaaaaak."  Suri stopped and hailed him, then passed around tin cups of what proved to be warmed, spiced wine.  It was winter in Hammerfell, too, after all, even though it didn't feel like it to the Nords.


By the time they set out again, the twins had overcome shyness of their grandfather, whom they hadn't seen since they were toddlers, and Cyrus was getting a piggyback ride. Much to their delight, the frail-looking old Nord was surprisingly strong. Timur strode, head up, next to Baldur.  He would leave the childish stuff to his brother.


Suri stopped at a baker's window and filled her arms with round, flat loaves that gave out an intoxicating scent.  This was the reason for their detour through the city, rather than taking the quicker route along the docks.  She led them back down the slope, and the narrow streets opened up into a wide, palm-lined boulevard of neat villas overlooking the bay.  Timur pointed at one of them, and ran ahead to open the gate, calling for his parents.


The three-story villa was a square structure of light-colored stone, surrounded by a garden of miniature palms, fruit trees, flowers and succulents.  The stone and iron-grate wall was covered with flowering ivy.  It was the sort of home that showed some wealth, but not ostentatiously.


As Rebec and Baldur's crew crowded into the foyer, Vilnur hugged them all one by one, while his wife stood off to the side smiling serenely and waiting to be introduced.  Raesa was shorter than her daughter and her sons already almost came up to her chest.  She wore a yellow dress with a coif that lay on her shoulders, but could be brought over her head to keep out dusty winds.  Her dark copper-colored hair was cropped at her shoulders.  As Vilnur said everyone's name and who they were, Raesa murmured a greeting to each one, then said, "Please, come into the dining room.  The meal is already being set out."


The dining room was a long, narrow hall with a wooden table and benches.  Colorful rugs adorned both the stone floors and the walls.  Servants, a young boy and an older woman, were bringing out copper covered trays brimming with food, to which Suri added the fresh loaves of bread at several spots on the table.  There was a fight over which twin would get to sit next to Baldur, until it was decided that it was fair for Timur to sit next to him and Cyrus to sit across the table and next to Vigge.  When everyone was seated, they brought around a basin and let each person wash their hands.  Then they came around again pouring water and wine, and finally took their places at the table as well, obviously treated as family.


Glancing around at so many loved ones in one place, Rebec felt herself getting a bit choked up.  She lifted her glass for a toast, saying something in Yoku, then translating, "As we eat together, may we laugh together, and do it again tomorrow."


Ysana felt a little shy, being with so many new people she didn't know, but got over it a bit when the food was brought out. The thought that she now had a grand niece and two grand nephews hit her suddenly, but how she didn't yet know. So much new family was rather overwhelming.


Baldur raised his glass in unison with the others, then began to dig in, with his hands as usual. He was overwhelmed too with everything he was taking in, being in what was to him a completely alien setting. Looking to Vilnur, he said, "You know, Vilnur, I had no idea that you guys were so well off. Life at sea really treated you well eh?"


"Oh, I did fine," the blonde Nord answered with a wave of his hand. "But most of what we have is Raesa's doing. She started out as a gem merchant and now owns several shops here and in Hegathe. We do some trading around Iliac Bay, nothing too heavy."


"Mother works very hard," Suri said proudly. "She built her business up on her own."


Raesa smiled, but sadly. Behind her daughter's statement was a lot of pain, since her wealthy family had cut her off when she married Vilnur. That had gotten better in later years, but there were still tensions. "The city council helped me.  Many businesses suffered during the war, and they were trying to promote entrepreneurship.  Vilnur and Rebec helped, too."


"I only cart gems for Raesa," Rebec added. She told them all about Henry Leland's offer to trade jewelry.


"I know him," Raesa said. "Know of him. If you plan to stop in Daggerfall on the way home, I'll send some pieces with you to show him."


"Tell us about the war, Uncle!" Cyrus said this, the first words he'd spoken to Baldur since they arrived.


Baldur laughed at the boy's genuine excitement, not being used to such interest in him from children. In Skyrim, there were too many kids who saw the realities of war to think on it with such fanciful lighthearted intrigue. But he hadn't planned on raining on the boy's day by being a downer. "Sure, I guess I could talk about it some if you guys want to hear about it. What do you want to know? I can shed some light on some rumors you might have heard."


"Suri said you were outnumbered even though you dropped snow on 'em when they were coming through the mountains."  This had obviously made an impression, since the boys didn't have much experience with snow. "And a redguard helped."


Baldur chuckled at that, recalling the Redguard and his antics at his wedding party. "Ah yes, my brother and a man named Jodun Hunding. The brother is my friend Boldir in case you're wondering, ma. That's what I call him. Anyway, yea, Jodun and Boldir luckily decided to close off the southern border on their own with your strange explosive powder. I was thinking of ways to cause an avalanche, but was captured by the enemy already before the thought got much further. So we prevented more men coming in, but were still outnumbered. Rebec's navy prevented attack from the North and the war was over before they tried coming through Riften's small passages.


After my escape with the help of General Tullius and Marius of all people, we were held up in Falkreath under siege. Most including the Imperials probably saw this as a bad thing, but that was part of my plan. See, we had enough food for the people of the town and our armies, but the Imperials and Thalmor had only their supplies since I ordered my men and Jodun Hunding's forces to burn any farm or food source they could find in the hold.


They also brought what food they could salvage with them to us. What had me worried was the fact that the Imperials thought on their feet and made some makeshift catapults to use on our walls. So Jodun volunteered to sabotage them on his own. That bought us time. We were waiting for reinforcements. To make up for the numbers, I made a militia of the town and managed to get an abnormally large amount of the townsfolk to join by showing them the Thalmor's handiwork they left on my back. Luckily I didn't have to use them because we struck a deal with them against the Thalmor.


If they hadn't, it would have lead to many civilian deaths. But we would have held out long enough for reinforcements and we'd have won regardless. At least in that battle. Their deaths would have been unfortunate, but would serve as a rallying cry for the rest of Skyrim, enough to better repel future waves, but it would have been our doom. Your people and ours would have just weakened our forces and theirs, which is what the Thalmor wanted. The battle against the Thalmor wasn't impressive for the fighting. That was a slaughter. It was impressive for all the things that had to fall into place for them to be put in that position in the first place. It's not easy making men betray their government. Me being captured and speaking to their general wasn't the only contributor to the alliance, but if I wasn't, I don't think it would have happened. Them being cut off and starving likely was also a big contributor. It was either betray the Emperor prostituting their land or die starving and cut off from home."


The boys fidgeted a lot during this narration, but they seemed to do that a lot. When it was done they leaned across the table and whispered to each other in Yoku, maybe verifying their understanding of what had been said.  Then Cyrus looked up and grinned impishly. "And what did Suri do? Was she scared?"


"Pfft, scared? Sorry to disappoint, but no, I can't say she was. More like anxious. Haha, I think the only person scared was your aunt Rebec, out of worry for her fighting. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, Suri did her part in protecting her people. She fought side by side with the strongest of our men in the front lines. Right next to me, Boldir and Rebec. Didn't have to watch after her either. She's a better warrior than I was at her age. I hadn't killed my first man until I saw twenty five winters."


The boys appeared surprised, and Suri smiled, first at Baldur, then at her brothers as if to say see, I told you so.  With a laugh, she grabbed a small bowl that was sitting on the table and handed it over.  "Here's the pepper paste for your meat, Uncle.  I know how much you like it."  Her smile was now mischievous, recalling the time she had tricked Baldur into trying the fiery condiment.


Baldur gave a mischievous smile himself when an idea formed in his head, then said, "I'll bet you fifty gold I can down this entire bowl and not even flinch."


Suri's eyes widened. Rebec's fork stopped in midair, and she looked over at her husband. "This isn't some test of manhood or something, is it? Because that's pathetic."


"Nope. I owe Suri one for that little trick of hers. What better way than to take her gold and give her brothers a good laugh?" he said, smiling confidently.


Suri looked at her parents. Incinerating guests wasn't exactly redguard hospitality protocol. Vilnur was smirking and Raesa laughed and gestured for her to go ahead. "It's his mouth and your gold, daughter."


Taking the challenge, Suri reached across and put the bowl down in front of Baldur.  Holding a warning finger up, she said, "No cheating. The whole bowl."


"The whole bowl. Guaranteed." Baldur cleared his throat after the terms were made and cracked his knuckles in preparation. Then he looked to the side of his chair where his pack was and pulled out a bottle of Baldurbrau, winking at Rebec when he did. After popping the cork, Baldur downed the entire bottle and gave a loud belch. Then wasting no further time, he quickly gulped down the contents of the bowl as well. He wasn't entirely sure if the Baldurbrau's chill effect was enough to null the burn, but luckily it had proven quite potent. He still felt the sting of the spice, but it was much easier to bare. Finally after the last of the fiery paste was down, he put the bowl down with a loud pang and let out a long satisfying 'ahhh' sound, sticking his tongue out to show it was all down. "Pay me."


Suri and her brothers gaped. Reaching across, Suri grabbed the bottle and looked at its label. "What is this? Some kind of magical potion?"


Rebec cracked up then, and went back to eating as if it was all normal dinnertime behavior. "Pay up, Su. He got you fair and square. Shame about all that mead, though."


"They don't call me the Unkindled for nothing," he said grinning slyly, obviously proud of himself. Ysana was laughing, as she knew what Baldur was planning from the beginning. "You can pay me later, Snake-Blade, hehe."


Suri made a disgusted noise, but was smiling by the time she sat down. Sniffing at the bottle, she asked, "Is this mead?  Did you make it yourself?"  She had developed a taste for the drink in her time in Skyrim, after first turning her nose up at it.


"Yep, and I sure do. It started as a recipe given to be by an associate. An ancient Nord recipe. Then I accidentally stumbled upon a special method that made it better. Missed out on quite a bit after you left. Should have stayed longer..." Baldur made a tsk tsk noise and laughed.


"You apparently left a little before I arrived and they took me to the King's wedding and a big feast!" Ysana said, mouth half full of food.


"Skyrim has a new queen?" asked Vilnur, always eager for news from home. "Ulfric got tired of Elisif or the other way around?"


"Ulfric never liked Elisif in the first place," Baldur said, almost sounding offended. "His hand was forced by the Imperial Jarls. But he found someone we considered worthy. A mage, if you can believe it."


"Battlemage," Menel said from the other end of the table. "And my friend. She'll be a worthy queen."


Vilnur said, "Skyrim's never expected much from royalty. It's having a good jarl that really matters. Though maybe now as an independent country, that will change."


Raesa spoke up. "We've covered death and now politics. How about something more pleasant? Suri told me that you may need to go into the Alik'r. You will need some Hammerfell clothing if you do that. Shall we all go shopping together tomorrow?"


Smirking, Rebec said, "Oh, Baldur looks sweet in Hammerfell garb." Meaning the bridal outfit he put on to surprise her.


Baldur cleared his throat to avoid blushing from her comment, then said, "I'll be fine with maybe a cloak to go over what I've got already."


"I wouldn't be so sure about that. You'll want to take her up on her offer," Rebec warned. "Ma, you'll enjoy it, even if you don't come into the desert with us. But we should probably check in at the citadel first, especially since they gave us barracks. Obviously they're expecting us."


"Yes, they're anxious for you to succeed," Raesa replied. "Sentinel is a Forebear kingdom. You'll get a warmer reception here than in other places. Whatever you need, my household is at your disposal. Cyrus and Timur are excellent tour guides."


"Aw, I want to go fishing with grandpa!" Timur said.


"There will be plenty of time for that, too," his mother answered sternly.


As the dinner wound down, Raesa and Suri showed everyone to their rooms on the upper floors.  There was no lack of space this time, and most of the rooms had balconies overlooking the harbor. As Rebec stood leaning on the rail watching the moons rise, she said to Baldur, "So what do you think of Hammerfell so far?"


Baldur came over to where she was on the rail to look at the scenery. There was some light activity on the docks and he could see Masser rise over the Wisp. "It's exciting. New exotic place, new food, new people and who knows what else. And thankfully, it's cool at night." Baldur's left hand moved to rest on hers on the rail. Smiling, he said, "Great place for a honeymoon."


Rebec smiled. "After we're done hob nobbing, you and I can take the dinghy out to a little cove I know and spend a day or two on our own.  That can be something to look forward to, since the alliance part of this is not going to be easy. You think Nords are stubborn, wait til you meet Ra Gada chieftains. Oh, and don't think you're getting near me tonight with that pepper breath. I'm not wasting Baldurbrau to cool my nether regions."


Baldur's smile melted suddenly into a grin, then his hand held hers tighter in protest. "But it's cleared away, I promise. That's why I was eating all that bread afterwards. See..." He suddenly tried to draw her in for a kiss to see if the taste of pepper had really left.


Rebec took a little taste, smiled provocatively and said, "You should think differently about this. You being off duty just means it's my turn."  She leaned in to kiss his neck, but stopped when she heard a giggle from the balcony down below.


"Hey Aunt Rebec, I can see you!" Cy was leaning out from the railing of the first floor patio looking up at them. "Whatcha doing?"


"You realize that if you don't get your rest that you won't be in any shape for training with me, right?" Said Baldur. "Maybe just your brother will do. I'm sure he'd like having an advantage over you..."


Cy's eyes lit up. He'd forgotten about the sword practice. "Alright. I'm going to bed now.  Night!"  The head disappeared back into the house.


Chuckling, Rebec said, "This is probably our future, you know.  Come on, Unkindled. Auntie and uncle need their rest, too."  She pulled on his armor strap, her expression making clear that she wasn't thinking about sleep just yet.  It was too warm and fine a night for that, with the stars showing through their balcony door.

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Dales Moitre, Witchie,

Imperial Palace,



"So will you attend?" Asked Raine, her look pleading. Empress Dales Moitre let out a slight yawn, "Yes I will attend Raine, but not to the..."after party" you suggested" 


Raine quickly gave Dales a bow of her head, "Then i'll take my leave your majesty." and with that Raine turned around, and opened the door leading out of the empresses office.


When she opened the door, Dales could see the court mage walk by and slowed down to give her quick wave with the hand a small smile to Raine. 


Raine, didn't return the smile, and gave him a slight frown. She gently closed the door, before saying, "Greetings my lord...can we talk...about her majesty for a second?"


He couldn't help but look a little puzzled at the frown. "Have I wronged you someway? And sure, we can talk." 


Going scarlet, she brought up her hands, "Oh no, it's not that." Looking around to see if anyone else was watching, Raine cleared her throat, and said "I think...something's wrong with Dales. She's acting...so different."


Probably the trauma from recent events shaking up her mind." 


"She seemed fine when..." Looking uncomfortable, she continued, "Elan was murdered. I just talked with her. She seemed so...cold. It was like talking to the former spymaster." 


"Maybe she was just on the edge because of Elan's death and these events pushed her over it. Or these events touched her on a different level. Sorry, but I can't look into her mind to see how it works." 


Going closer, to him she whispered, "She outright refused our, me and the five other maids offer of...pleasure. For Dibellia's sake, Kogami offered for her to be "submissive" to her."


"And what do you suggest I do about it?" He asked, but did not expect a worthwhile answer. 


"Cant you talk to her or something? Your her mentor and teacher."


"I doubt that will change anything. But sure." 


Smiling, she continued, "Well then. I'll be seeing you later-" Becaming puffed up and slightly annoyed, she added, "Or are you visiting you dear Countess Magdeda, or the spymaster?"


"Maggie is out of town for the moment and Lilly is a bit busy. So you're free to come by this evening. Bring friends or come alone, I leave that up to you." 


Waving her hand as she left, "I'll see if Kogami, or Claudia wants to tag along for some fun. See you then." And with that Raine was gone


Good that I become emperor by marrying Dales, or I would fear that they would vie for that position with bloodshed. He thought while opening the door to the room Dales was in


Dales was at her desk, brooding in silence. Unlike her usual frilly outfit, Dales was clad in simple grey clothing, along with a set of white silk gloves. Her long blonde hair was messy, apparently she didn't bother to brush it. On her desk were three maps, one of Cyrodlil, one of Valenwood, and one of the entirety of Tamriel. She was working, 


He closed the door behind him. "Can you at least stop brooding around the maids and other people that expect you be a bit more social. I don't want to hear any 'Why is she so stiff?'."


Snickering, she said, "A few months ago, you told me to stop being so childish." Glancing at the map of Tamriel, Dales was placing different colored markers onto the various provinces. 


"That doesn't mean shoving a stick up your nether region. You're even stiffer than me."


Glancing back to him, "I don't see being stiff as a bad thing." 


"At least be a little less stiff around other people so I don't hear anymore of it." 


"Fine, whatever." Going to the maps, she asked, "I think it's about time we start prepping for the invasion."


He sat down in a nearby chair. "I thought the legion at the border was always ready for battle." 


"We have no battle plans, or troop deployments, except for a handful of notes written by Tullius before he lost his head." She took out a document and handed it to the nord."


"Well we can't really do anything at the moment without reinforcement from either Hammerfell or Skyrim, except hold our defensive positions. If there would an invasion now it would come from the Dominion side. But I don't see them attacking while we hold our defensive positions."


"Didn't they catch us off guard during the last war?"


"I was in Skyrim back then, but from what I've heard Mede didn't expect an attack so the legion wasn't prepared. Now we're running a cold war and I expect anyone who isn't prepared is living in either Black-Marsh, Morrowind or under a rock."


"So I suppose the rats and insects dont need to worry." Yawning dales stretched out, "I still have quite a few concerns..."


"Well after Arenthia I expect we'll have to mostly rely on the legion rangers, or foresters or whatever they're called, for most situations outside city sieges."


"The dominion has access to Bosmer archers. I have a feeling our rangers from the 8th won't scale well with them"


"The other option is to have the legionaries create a shield wall and hope they run out of arrows. Or burn down the whole forest." 


"Unless we want a wild hunt on our hands, or extensive civilian casualties, I doubt that's a viable strategy."


"Better start training our archers then, right?" 


"Quite. Do we have the time though?"


"I don't think either Skyrim or Hammerfell will rush to our aid in the nearby future, so I think we should have quite some time till we try to push into their territory. Unless the Dominion makes the first move, but then we would fight at our fortifications and not in the Valenwood forests." 


Taking out a small book, dale quickly scribbled something on to it with a quill, "I'll speak to General vernondious then, when I have the time"


"Are we done?"


"Just a second." She cooly said, looking through a pile of papers, she paused for a second glancing at a stray envelope . She picked up what she eyeing, snorted, crumpled the letter and threw into the bin near the doorway,"Not another one..."


He put the elbow on the armrest and then leaned the head on his hand. "Another what?" 


"An invitation from Lizzie, she's been pestering me all week, inviting me to go on a picnic or have a tea party. I told her I was far too busy for anything of the like, but she wont stop."


"Want me to take her on a picnic?" He said with a hint of amusement and sarcasm in his voice. 


Dales face hardened, and she barked "Don't try anything with my cousin, master." 


He chuckled a little. "Then unless you want to throw her out of the palace, you'll simply have to deal with these invitations." 


Sighing, Dales put a hand to her face, "I suppose I can spare time, she is my cousin after all, and a close...friend."


"Have fun." He said with an undertone of mockery and amusement.


"Regardless. We still have a major problem,cooperation between ours and our allies forces."


"Gracchus is still on his way to Hammerfell I assume. High Rock and Skyrim is coming along, albeit slowly. But I'm afraid it's not something we can rush at the moment."


Nodding, "I am of course aware. However I'm.starting to worry Ulfric might try to use the legion as damage sponges for his forces, while our generals do the same thing.


"He can try. But if he shy away from battle more than the legion, his talk about 'true nords' and being a 'true high king'... Well his reputation and his troops' faith in him will most certainly be affected." 


"Hmmmm that would surely give the legion a moral boost, say..." Looking thoughtful for a second, "I think we should give Count Balgruaf a military commission, and place him in an important position he is a proven warrior and leader, it would give our nordic legionaries a moral boost and send ulfric a message not to **** around."


"I don't think Ulfric would care what you do with Balgruuf."


"I doubt ulfric would want Balgruaf around him and vice versa. It would at the least make him uncomfortable. Anyway's were both busy people."


"I still don't think they would bother each other that much." he got up from the chair and opened the door. "Goodbye, dear."


She added with humor, "Bye honey."

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Some beach, somewhere...


A voice softly whispered to Tacitus. He wasn't sure where he was, whether he was dead or alive, awake or unconscious. The voice whispered again, inaudible, an the former High Admiral wondered who it was. Finally, a third time it whispered, and he finally recognized his name. Not only that, but he recognized the person to whom the voice belonged. His wife appeared, holding an armful of swaddling clothes. His son, who had died so soon they hadn't even named him whimpered softly as his wife stop above him.


"It's not your time. Not yet," she said, a smile on her pretty face, full lips as round cheeks, her blonde hair identical to his.


Tacitus tried to respond, his voice instead producing a cough. He tried again, getting the same result.


"The gods have need for you yet Tacitus," his wife said, still smiling but now rocking the child gently.


"It's not your time, not yet..."his wife said a final time, before Tacitus' vision grew dark and he coughed again.


"Your time it is not, smooth skin!" a feline voice cried.


Tacitus jolted awake, the furred paws of a Khajiit doing chest compressions on him in the sand. The sailor looked around, the twin moons high in the sky overhead, the cat's shadow blocking out the starry southern sky.


"Good," the Khajiit purred, "I am glad you are awake."


Tacitus coughed again, still shaken.


"Where am I? What happened?"


"The shores of Elsweyr you washed upon. Your ships fought off the beast, and killed it I believe. You, unfortunately, were thrown off, and washed ashore. I was watching, and managed to pull you in."


"Tha-thank you. I'm very grateful. I just need to get back, to Cyrodiil."


"No no no, that's is not possible. Thalmor guard the borders, there is no going back. I can hide you, but only for a little."


"Why hide me if it's so dangerous?" Tacitus stood, wobbling a but and bracing himself on the exposed shoulder of his savior.


"I hope that some day, you can free us from the gold skins. Until then, I can help you in this way."


The kindly Khajiit offered a hand, and together they walked towards a campfire in the distance. The walk was slow going, as the impact from flying in the air plus the near drowning had greatly shaken even a man as large as Tacitus was. They did eventually reach the fire, which sat in the middle of a Khajiit fishing village. The houses, all made out of clay brick but still unique, sat in a large circle around the fire pit. Together they walked into a near cottage, and there the Khajiit laid Tacitus down on a floor mat.


"Ugh, that feels better....I'm sorry, I never caught your name. I'm Tacitus, and you are?"


"S'viir, and it was no problem. Now, I must go talk to our leader, so try and get some rest," S'viir said, bowing slightly to his guest before leaving the hut.


Tacitus took his advice, closing his eyes and having no trouble falling asleep.



Tacitus slept most of the next day, which S'viir spent working before talking to the matron in the evening.




"But matron, he's just a sailor. Surely the Thalmor wouldn't want a regular sailor," S'viir pleaded, rubbing his paws together as he kneeled before the tribal matron.


"It matters not. If they knew we were harboring him, they would kill us all. We'll turn him in, it's the only option," the old, grizzled female Khajit said, frowning as she did.


"Yes, I understand," S'viir bowed before the leader once more, then rose and headed back to the now captive.


Tacitus was awake when his rescuer returned, sitting propped up against the wall. S'viir had been gone only a few hours, fishing and gathering before talking to the matron, so Tacitus was able to sleep well. He could instantly tell something was wrong, however, as S'viir's tail hung limp and lifeless, instead of the excited sweeping Tacitus had noticed earlier. He'd known several Khajiit, and for their tails to act in this manner was a bad sign.


"What's wrong?" Tacitus asked gruffly, growing worried. He was still very much aware he sat behind enemy lines, too wounded to hardly walk, and thoughts of Thalmor sitting outside broke him into a cold sweat.


"The matron, she wants us to turn you in to the gold skins. I'm sorry, friend, but they might kill us unless we do. I'm sorry..." S'viir stared at the ground the entire time, not able to look the man he saved in the eye.


"But, surely there's another option, I mean can't you just let me go?" Tacitus asked frantically, panic setting in.


"No, there is no other option. I am truly sorry," S'viir said, but then held up his paw, pointing to the door to indicate someone was out there.


Tacitus nodded, while the Khajit silently helped the Imperial up, grabbing a walking stick and ushering him out the back door, into the night air. It had been a whole day since he was found, Tacitus realized, as the cool night breeze felt pleasant against his slightly feverish skin. As Tacitus hobbled off into the dark, S'viir motioned to forest's edge, where he was to hide.


S'viir walked back into the hut, faking a scuffle to free him of blame. A warrior walked in, looking around at the torn up room.


"The smooth skin attacked me, and fled towards the plains," the lying feline said, pointing in the exact opposite direction Tacitus went.


The warrior took the bait, heading outside and off into the darkness, all the while Tacitis hid beneath some palm leaves, hoping to shield himself from view. A few hours passed, and as dawn came so did the Thalmor. The morning sun glinted off their golden armor like mirrors, brighter than the sun at this time of day.


Tacitus could vaguely make out their figures, one talking to the matron, a bent old Khajit who made use of a walking stick. She motioned around the village in a circular motion, indicating first the plains but then the forest as well. Then she called and S'viir came forward, and jut by their actions you could tell the Thalmor captain was questioning him. Then, three Thalmor grabbed S'viir as carried him to his house. All the other Khajit looked bewildered, mouths agape and some following the Thalmor.


It wasn't long after that the screams started, which brought everyone out of their houses and into the village center, all eyes focused in S'viir's house. More screams, yells, cries, and shrieks, until the Thalmor soldiers walked out of the back door, straight towards Tacitus.


He could do nothing. He was too weak to run, he still had his saber, but he could hardly stand. The only option was surrender, so as they neared Tacitus rose from his hiding spot, hands in the air in the sign of surrender.


"Here I am, you pea brained golden sons of bit--ugh!" Tacitus groaned as he fell to the ground, landing on a knee from the impact of the sword pommel on his neck.


He suddenly felt very woozy, his vision going black before he again lost consciousness.

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Boldir, Carlotta, Mila

Eastern Rift

Late Morning


"So that's him then?"




Carlotta waited for Boldir to say more, but when it became apparent that the one word was all he intended, she knew she would have to push harder to get him to speak on the matter at hand.

The matter was Filnjar, a huge, dirty-looking man with arms like wide like logs and a gray beard that nearly reached his chest. His dome was bald, but there were wisps of unkempt gray hair on the sides and back of his head that fell to his broad shoulders.

This old blacksmith, who was famed for his skill in working with iron, ebony, and more recently quicksilver, was the primary reason that the small village of Shor's Stone was able to operate independently of the nobles in Riften. He was also the younger brother of Boldir's late father, Ymir, making Filnjar the last of Boldir's kin.

From where their wagon sat on the road, Carlotta could easily make out the large blacksmith working on some creation of his. The red-orange glow of the forge illuminated his features, bringing even the dirt and soot covering his face into a vivid light. So far, he hadn't noticed them, as he was far too busy with his current work. Behind him, a young boy with short brown hair who looked to be about Mila's age was hammering away at something on a workbench.


"It's been a long time. He should be happy to see you."


Boldir turned on his perch and looked back into the wagon where his wife and Mila sat. His doubtful expression told them that he believed anything but.

"We're just here to replace the horse-"


"Clipper." Mila cut in.


"Right. Clipper's shoe, and then we're moving on again. I'd rather not spend any more time here than that takes. You wanted to see the town I grew up in. This is it." He gestured towards the three houses. "Not exactly Solitude."


It was true. Besides a rich mine, there really was nothing particularly special about Shor's Stone. The tiny mining village was only slightly larger than Darkwater Crossing had been, with three houses rather than one, along with the mine itself of course. But besides Filnjar, there were no artisans and no services. Everyone else in the town was a miner. Still, Carlotta felt that Boldir wasn't being completely open with her right now. This was the place where he had been born. Every single memory of his parents took place in this village. His upbringing and teachings had happened here. And it was where he first learned to smith. This was literally the only real home Boldir had had in his entire life before their marriage. Surely he felt at least a little nostalgia from being here for the first time in decades. And of course, there was Filnjar himself....

"The man is your only living relative. Surely that means something to you. I mean, he raised you for five years did he not?"


"Filnjar didn't raise me. He let me stay in his house and work for my meals. That was as far as our relationship went. I'm honestly surprised that the old man is still alive."

Boldir didn't go into it any more than that. There was no love between him and his uncle. The blacksmith may have been his kin, but that meant little to Boldir, just as it did to Filnjar.

"Besides, you and Mila are my family now. As are Baldur and Rebec. Blood isn't everything. The family you choose says a lot more about you." He gave her and Mila a smile as he said it, trying to lighten the mood before they left the cart and entered the little village.


Carlotta returned her husband's smile as they climbed out of the carriage, but she couldn't help feeling a little somber as they headed into the town. This seemed like a more important moment than Boldir was treating it. "Did your uncle not think of you as family?"


"No." Boldir saw where this was going. "I guess that's a lesson I learned from him, then."


The three of them made their way into the lite town, up to the blacksmith's place of work. Carlotta was still curious about the man they were about to meet. "What family did he choose?"


"He didn't."


"Hello travelers! What brings you to Shor's Stone this day?" The blacksmith didn't look up from his work when he greeted the approaching family. Nor was he expected to. A blacksmith's work isn't something that can just be paused and resumed at any time. Forging an axe, even a wood chopping axe, as the case would have it, requires constant focus.


Filnjar's voice caught Carlotta off guard. She had expected the man to speak with a low voice similar to her husband's, except perhaps a little gruffer due to his age. The voice she heard was not at all like that. Filnjar spoke with a loud and youthful tone that could've belonged to a man half his age. It was a stark contrast to Boldir, who rarely spoke loudly even when excited. The only similarity was his eastern accent, which seemed to be every bit as thick as Boldir's.


"We're here to buy a replacement horseshoe." Boldir replied to his uncle with no real emotion behind his voice.


"Ahh, you're out of luck, friend. I'm afraid I have none in stock at the moment."


"You're a blacksmith." said Boldir. "Make us one. I'll pay you extra."


"Oh, by Shor-" For the first time, Filnjar looked up at the people in front of him. "I'm in the middle of something right now! You can't expect me to-..." His voice trailed off as he squinted at Boldir over the embers of his forge. "Hold on... do I know you from somewhere?"


Boldir shrugged. "Ever travel to Falkreath?"


Carlotta had to resist the urge to glare at him. What is he doing?


"No, I've never been so far west." He studied Boldir for a moment longer before the realization dawned on him. He smiled and pointed the unfinished axehead at Boldir. "Ah, now I know! You look kind of like one of the miners here! I mean- not that much, because she's a woman. It's the black hair, and the eyes. Same shape I guess..." Filnjar gave Boldir one more curious look before he turned to the anvil and began hammering away at the heated metal, shaping it into a usable tool.

"Still, I am busy at the moment, so I'm afraid you are just going to have to wait until I finish."


"You're done with the forge." Boldir noted. "You're about to be done with the shaping as well. I can make the shoe myself while you finish that up."


Filnjar didn't look up, but there was a slight pause in the hammering. "A blacksmith eh? Of course you can... But you're still paying full price for it to be made."


"That is fine." Boldir stepped past his uncle and over to the man's apprentice. The boy had been silent so far, but he'd noticed him glancing up from his work every now and then. "What's your name, lad?"


"Hamen... Sir."


"I could use some steel, Hamen, and a hammer."


The boy glanced at his mentor, who frowned and jerked his head in a nod. "Go on boy, get him his steel, and the rest of what he needs."


"Yes sir!" He nodded at Boldir before running back to the shop. He paused when he reached the bottom of the stairs where Mila stood, blushing a bit when he ended up face to face with her. "Uhh... hi."


Mila smiled, but before she could get a word out, Filnjar's loud voice had already cut in. "Go boy!" he shouted. The young apprentice wasted no time in obeying his command.

Boldir chuckled as he turned to his family. "I'll be a little bit. Why don't you two have some lunch while you're waiting." He stared at Mila. "And do NOT go near the mine, understood?"


"I won't." she promised.


"Trust me, I'll be making sure of that." assured Carlotta as she turned and marched her daughter off toward the carriage to get some food together.


Boldir waited until they were out of earshot before asking the question he'd been saving. "You really do not recognize me then?"


Filnjar used his shirt as a mop for his sweaty brow before facing Boldir. "No, I don't. I am a busy man and have little time to spend gaping at every passerby trying to figure out if I know them or not. Why? Should I?"


"Thank the gods." Boldir let out a long breath that he had been holding in. If this man, who he had lived with for five years, and seen him for plenty before that, did not recognize him now, what were the odds that Maven would? Or anyone else from before he joined the Stormcloaks? It may have been a minor test, and by no means a perfect one, but Boldir felt as if a giant weight had just been lifted from his shoulders.


Filnjar looked at him curiously. Oblivious to why this news could possibly be putting this man in such a good mood. "Am I missing something here? Who are you?"


Boldir leaned on a wooden table and took a few more moments just to breathe in relief, then finally turned his head looked his uncle in the eyes. Dark eyes that didn't at all resemble the blue of his or his father's. "No one you care about."


"Hmph!" Filnjar turned back to his work without another word.


Boldir smiled a little at the old man's reaction and thanked a returning Hamen for bringing him what he needed to begin forging.




"So why didn't Boldir tell his uncle who he was?" Mila had been excited to see how the man would respond to seeing long lost family. Despite how her stepfather acted, Filnjar seemed friendly enough. She wasn't sure why he didn't like him.


"I don't know sweetie, but trust me, I'll definitely be asking him when he gets back." Carlotta glanced over her shoulder to her husband, who was just now starting at the forge. He had an odd smile on his face. There was definitely something he'd been planning.

He'll tell me when he gets the chance. Maybe it was an on the spot kind of thing. She looked back and began shuffling through their food supplies to see what was available. They were almost out. Only a couple more days' worth remained. Not that that would be a problem with Riften's walls being within a day's ride. The thought excited Carlotta.

It felt good to be back here, in the country she grew up in. Whiterun was a nice city, and a wonderful place to raise a family, but one day back in the forests of the eastern Rift, and Carlotta was already feeling overwhelmed with nostalgia. The air felt different here. It wasn't really cooler, but there was more of a breeze. Animals could be heard rustling in the leaves just out of sight, and the autumn-colored leaves dominated your vision no matter which direction you looked in. It felt so much more alive here than in the stagnant tundra.

"So what do you think of the woods?"


"I like the colors," proclaimed Mila. "and all the animals. Even when you can't see them, you can tell they're there. Is Riften this colorful?"


"These woods span the entire hold, so yes, Riften is not unlike what you see here. Though there are fewer trees, as most have long been cut down to make room for the city. They are used to build houses and ships."


"Ships!?" She saw her daughter's eyes light up. "Will we get to ride one?"


Carlotta hated to have to tell Mila no with her hopes so high, but the chances of riding any of the city's fishing vessels were slim. Anyone in Riften with the money for a boat had money for a guard. That, or they actually lived on the things themselves. In all of her years in Riften, she'd only ever been on a moving fishing boat a couple of times.

"I'm afraid that's not likely to happen. The shipowners don't like it when people get near what's theirs."


"Oh..." The excitement faded somewhat, but she still held some hope. "Well maybe one will let us come with him. Just for one trip. Do you think any of them would do that?"


No. "Maybe." Carlotta noticed that Mila was writing something down on some paper. "Don't get too hopeful. Most of the fishermen are working for the actual owners of the ships. They won't let people just tag along, because it's not their call to make."




"So what's that you're working on?"


Mila immediately covered the paper with her hands. "Nothing!"


Carlotta smiled. "If it was nothing you wouldn't be hiding it, would you? Come on, you can tell me."


Mila looked down at her paper, then back to up. "You know how Boldir is really good at playing the flute?"




"Well, I wanted to do something like that, but he won't let me touch the flute, and people say that learning an instrument takes really long... so I thought I'd try to sing like Uncle Baldur. Except I can't come up with words like he does. That's why I'm writing them down."


"Really?" Carlotta thought it great that her daughter wanted to pursue a talent, if she'd actually stick with it, that is. "That sounds wonderful, darling! Boldir will be very excited to hear this. You can sing along with him when he plays."


"Don't tell him!" Mila said. "And don't take it and read it! It'll be a surprise!"


"Okay, I promise, He won't hear it from me. So are you hungry?" Carlotta said, as if she had to ask.




She grabbed a green apple from her sack and tossed it to Mila, who devoured half of it in just a few seconds. Carlotta was always amazed at the massive appetite that the small girl had. She ate like a man three times her size, and yet still remained skinny.

Carlotta was only just finishing her own apple, and Mila her second, when Boldir approached, his shirt slightly clinging to his skin from the heat of the forge.

"Shoe's about finished. Shaped it in two heats, even though it's been a while. Now we've just got to let it cool."


Carlotta didn't have time to ask about why he lied to his uncle. Mila beat her to it. "Why didn't you tell him who you were? I mean, it's kind of mean of him to forget you, but..."


Boldir smiled at her and took a seat up on the carriage, grabbing an apple of his own. "I'm not going to force Filnjar to remember me. It's like I said, we were never close, or much alike for that matter. Similar personalities maybe, but different spirits, if that makes sense. I was bored out of my mind here, couldn't leave soon enough. He would be content if he never had to leave at all."


A brief glance from him told Carlotta that there was more to it, and that he'd tell her when he could, but his answer seemed to satisfy Mila. The girl looked over at the few houses, then back into the woods.

"So being out here was boring to you?" Mila seemed to find that hard to believe. "But you have all this space to do whatever you want!"


"I was the only kid out here. Only ever saw others on the rare trips to Riften." He nodded out toward the woods, away from the road. "And those trees seem nice when you stick to these traveled paths, but you head out too far, and it gets dangerous. Wolves, bears, and even trolls can be found all throughout this wilderness. The only people that go out there are hunters and foolish treasure seekers looking for caves and the like."


Mila cocked her head at the mention of treasure seekers. "You mean like adventurers? Did you ever go out there to do that?"


Carlotta snorted and Boldir chuckled. "No. And I don't know any sane folks who did. There are caves, aye. But bears and trolls don't have much use for gold and magical trinkets in my experience. I went out into the woods every now and then, but only to hunt."


"With a bow?" Mila paused right after she asked the question, and after a brief shared glance with her mother, they both burst out laughing. Carlotta was pretty sure that the bow in their backyard back home still lay there broken from when he'd snapped it over his knee in frustration. Boldir was a talented man in his own right, but that talent sure didn't extend to marksmanship.


Boldir let them laugh it up before answering. "No, not with a bow. I used traps. Was about your age when I started. Had to when the food back home started running low. I wasn't much good at building traps either, but every now and then, I got lucky."


Carlotta hadn't thought about this before, but now she realized that Boldir's memories of the Rift must have been drastically different from her own. Her family was by no means wealthy, but they did well enough. They had a decent home behind city walls among lots of people. The forests of the Rift had always just been a colorful and lively scenery that marked who they were. The people of the Rift, who lived among trees of a perpetual autumn. She always claimed these woods, but never truly knew them. Boldir was actually raised out here among them. He knew their dangers first-hand.


"Did your traps ever catch a deer?"


Now Boldir laughed. "No, Mila. They were much too small to catch deer. Though one time, I managed to grab two bucks in a morning. Used my own hands to do it too."


"Wow!" Mila said.


"Wow indeed." Carlotta's expression must have given away her skepticism, because he continued after one glance her way.


"Oh, this isn't one of my tall tales. The bucks were just a ways out there." he pointed to the east. "They'd been fighting by a stream and managed to get themselves stuck. Trust me, I... remember that day well."


"Wow." she said again, slightly sticking her tongue out at him.


They finished off most of their fruit supply, making little effort to be conservative with Riften so close. When they were done, Boldir headed back up to the town to retrieve his new horseshoe and pay Filnjar for the metal.

"Here you are." He counted out the coins into his uncle's hand.


"And here you are." replied the blacksmith, holding out the new shoe. "I still feel like I know you from somewhere." he went on as Boldir took it. "And I never did get your name."


Boldir figured the game had gone on more than long enough, but he decided to play just a little bit longer. "I'm from the Iron-Brow clan. Ever heard of it?"


"Lad, the only clans I hear about out here are the Black-Briars and the Snow-Shods. And that's rarely. What's your given name?"




Filnjar's eyes momentarily widened as a look of recognition took over his face, but it was gone in an instant, replaced by his typical neutral expression.

"My memory must truly be failing if I can't remember the face of a boy that worked for me for three years." It had been closer to five years, but Boldir didn't bother to correct him. "So you actually went and got yourself a family. And here I'd figured you'd gone and gotten yourself killed a long time ago, like my fool of a brother."


Even now, Boldir could not tell if Filnjar spoke his mind on his father's death so bluntly out of a genuine lack of caring, or if it was to anger him. Whatever his uncle's reason, he did not intend to let the old man get to him. It had been over two decades since they last met, and it would seem that little had changed.

"Well, you figured wrong. Goodbye Uncle."

He turned and left without another word.




It was evening when the walls of Riften first came into site. For Mila, it was slightly underwhelming.She ha never seen a large city apart from Whiterun, where the old stone walls stood tall and mighty, and could be seen from miles away. It lived up to its title as the jewel of Skyrim. Riften's walls, on the other hand were notably shorter, and because of the trees and the low lands, they actually could smell fish and hear bells before the city was even in sight.

They each carried their own bags, with Boldir bringing the extras. He did, however, pay one of the stable hands, a chubby bald man in his thirties named Rekin, to carry his heavy trunk. Mila laughed when the man's face twisted from the obvious strain, and again at the scowl he gave her.

The guards posted at gate glanced at Boldir and wordlessly opened the large wooden doors for them. Even the gate is smaller, thought Mila. Whiterun's makes this one look like a normal door.


Once they passed through the gate though, any thoughts in regards to Riften being small fled Mila's mind. They were on a long street with wooden houses on both sides, and ahead to the right was a bridge that lead to a large building. Beyond that, she couldn't see much through crowds of people going about their business. There was, however, a massive building towering above the rest that stood far in the distance. Mila noted that it was made of stone rather than wood like many of the others.

It all felt somewhat compact to Mila at first, but upon reaching the bridge, she saw that the path ahead, beyond the large wooden building that she now saw to be an inn, the city opened up into a wide circle that was teaming with merchant stands much like their own, but there were far more than in Whiterun, and the market was filled by more people than Mila had ever seen in one spot. She couldn't wait to go check it out. But first came their room. Her mother led the way into the inn, which was named "The Bee and Barb." Mila wasn't sure what a barb was, but the painting on the sign was of a bee resting on a rounded hook, like one you'd hang your coat on, except jagged sharp for some reason, more likely to tear a hole in a coat than to hold it up. She figured that the barb must have been the strange hook.


The inside was warm, especially after traveling outdoors this past week. And it was a good deal spacier than the Bannered Mare back home. Her parents and tubby Rekin headed up the flight of stairs on the left, but something caught Mila's eye and gave her pause. Across the crowded room, behind the bar, stood a real life Argonian! It didn't look at all like Mila had pictured. Based on the descriptions she had heard, Mila had pictured them human, but covered in scales. This one had the gray scales she'd expected, but it also had a snout like a dragon's but shorter, and a crown of little horns spurting out of the head. Based on the attire and general shape, it seemed that she was female. The Argonian was arguing with a patron, about what, Mila couldn't tell. There were a dozen other conversations going on between the two of them. She thought about going up to the lizard-person and greeting her, but decided that meeting new races could wait until later.

Later would come sooner than expected, as when she reached the top of the stairs, she found her parents speaking with a larger, green-scaled one. He, had a rough voice, yet it was surprisingly more human than she had expected.

"We recently refurbished this one to house more people." he said, opening a door into a cozy-looking room with two beds, one large and one small as well as a small corner table, a desk, and some basic storage furniture. "Plenty of food and drinks downstairs, and there's a bucket room on this level, across the building."


"We'll take it." Boldir said, handing the Argonian a bag. "That's for the week. We'll be staying a good deal longer, but I'll pay for that when the time comes."


The Argonian tipped his head in a courteous bow as he backed out of the doorway. "Give a shout if you need anything, m'lord."

Rekin dropped off Boldir's trunk under a window and headed out. Carlotta set straight to unpacking her things to sort them into various drawers. Boldir and Mila each opted to save that for later, and threw their bags into a corner. Before anyone could protest, Mila flopped onto the larger of the two beds. "Gods above," she said, stretching out on the soft fur blankets. "This is fantastic!"

Mila hadn't realized it before now, but sitting upright all day in that carriage and sleeping all night on her thin bedroll had made her muscles ache something fierce. Laying on a bed had never been so blissful.


"That's not happening." Boldir said. Mila ended up on the smaller bed while her stepfather laid out on the much thicker and more comfortable large one. She didn't mind too much though. It was still a hundred steps up from the sleeping on the ground.

"Tomorrow, we'll take a look around town," her mother promised. "we can explore the market for a bit, and then go to see my parents. They don't know we're here. So we can surprise them. Does that sound good?"


It sounded excellent to Mila. She wanted to see the market, and to explore this city's streets, to learn it like she had learned Whiterun. There would be kids here as well. Maybe she could make a few friends. Mila soon drifted to sleep, excitement feeling her dreams.




The market crowd wasn't quite as large the next morning as it had been the previous evening, but that didn't mean that it was small. Boldir recalled that it had been similarly crowded when he'd briefly come by to recruit last year. The city had changed very little from when he was younger. It was still noisy, crowded, and reeked of fish. The droves of merchants, nobles, obvious thieves, artisans, hunters, travelers, farmers, fishermen, and even more made it nearly impossible to keep your eyes in one place for long. Riften was known for drawing in many strangers from the nearby Cyrodiil and Morrowind, and is second only to Solitude in regards to diversity.

Boldir could tell that Mila was obviously impressed. More than once, she caught sight of this Dunmer trinket, or that Cyrodiilic garment, and wandered off, forcing him to chase her down and remind her that there is no shortage of criminals in the city. He had also made special care that morning to ensure that she wore her dagger, but kept it concealed inside her coat. "Only take it out if you really need to use it," he'd said. "and not until they are close enough to reach. Don't bother to try to cut anyone with this. Just jab them hard with the tip."

The girl was surprisingly obedient when it came to her dagger. And she took his instructions on how to stab a thug with a frightening calmness. None of her usual jokes, and no bombardment of questions were asked. It was just a simple nod and an "Okay."

That stoic, serious Mila was nowhere to be found right now though. She was her usual giddy, childish self. When she tugged at Carlotta's skirt and begged her to go look at the products of a local toy maker, her mother was hardly going to say no. Boldir saw that the Nord man had a toy sword similar to the one Baldur had bought Mila, among a dozen other little odds and ends.


I need to talk to a Dunmer, he thought. Baldur said that they'd know what that "Ending of the Words" is about. It wasn't hard to find one. While Carlotta escorted Mila from stand to stand, Boldir crossed the waves of people towards a short, pale-gray skinned Dark Elf carrying an armful of firewood. "Hey! You!" Boldir pushed past a fat Nord with a long mustache and tapped the elf on his shoulder. The elf just looked at him with cautiously.

"All I've got's a few septims. You'd be better off just takin' the wood."


He thinks I'm robbing him! "No, no! You've got me wrong! I've just got a question for you. I was told that a Dunmer would know the answer."

The elf's face didn't change in the slightest, but Boldir didn't wait for a response. "A friend of mine gave me a phrase. 'The ending of the words is REBBABO', he said. Could you tell me what that means?"


The Dunmer scowled. "I can't believe I'm bloody hearin' this! No, I don't know no ending of no words, and just 'cause I'm a Dunmer don't mean I should neither!" He stormed off muttering about racist Nords and something called an N'wah.


Thanks for that one, Baldur. Real helpful hint you gave me. He decided that next time Baldur wanted to play one of these games, he'd just ask for the answer then and there.

He opted for a different approach with the next Dunmer he spotted, an older looking woman who was selling vegetables out of a cart near the Bee and Barb. He headed up to her, and simply said, "The ending of the words is REBBABO."


The woman looked startled. "What the- REBBABO? Look, I don't want any part of some weird cult okay? I follow Mara now. Please leave if you aren't going to buy something."


"No, I'm not in a cult. Do you know what it means?"


"I don't have the faintest clue what a REBBABO is." she said, now looking very confused. "You're the one that said it. Not me."


Damn. Boldir headed back to his family. Carlotta was holding an expensive looking silver necklace under Mila's chin. The girl didn't seem to be paying any attention, as she was excitedly talking to the Argonian jewelry vendor who hopefully hadn't yet sold it to them.

"So you're really from Cyrodiil?" she asked him. "Are any of the other Argonians here from your homeland?"


"None in Riften are from Black Marsh to my knowledge." he said. I'm the closest, as it is where I hatched. But I left at much too young an age to call it home."


Carlotta handed the necklace back to the jeweler. "Maybe when we've got more on us." She turned to Boldir while Mila continued speaking with the friendly Argonian.

"Any luck?" she asked, amused. She actually already knew what the term meant. Baldur had told her in a letter days before they'd left Whiterun. Of course, her mind had been elsewhere at the time with all of the Battle-Born business. She hadn't told Boldir what it meant. If Baldur didn't tell him himself, then he must have wanted Boldir to figure it out. She wasn't even so sure that she could properly explain anyway. It was a reference to some old Dunmer mumbo jumbo that she'd never heard before.


"None." Boldir admitted, annoyed. "Damn Baldur's game. None of the Dunmer are any help at all."


Carlotta laughed. "Keep trying. There will be plenty more before we go back home." She turned to her daughter. "Let's go, Mila. It's time to go and meet your grandparents."


"Alright! Bye Madesi!" She followed close beside her mother, with Boldir walking behind them. Carlotta hadn't been in Riften for many years, but she had no trouble finding her parents' quaint two-story house that stood near one of the canals surrounding the market. I haven't even written them since the war. I wonder how they feel about that. Gods, they don't even know that I'm remarried.


Carlotta knocked, then waited. There was no answer. She knocked again, still accomplishing nothing. Odd, Pa hardly ever got out. "I guess they aren't home." she said, disappointed. "We can come back tomor-"


"Hey!" a woman's voice called out to them from behind. "What are you doing in front of my house, big guy?"


They all spun around, and Boldir stepped aside so that the speaker could see everyone. The woman behind them was of a fairly average height for an Imperial, with light blonde hair that almost reached her shoulders, and a thin face. She also seemed rather fit.

"Vex!" Carlotta rushed forward to hug her sister, who quickly held out her arms to hold her back. "Who's this guy you've brought to my home, Carlotta?"


"He's my husband! Vex, it's been years! Is a hug too much to ask?"


Vex reluctantly lowered her arms and allowed her sister to hug her, but the whole time she stared at Boldir. Her look was almost accusing, like she had caught him in the act of some crime. "For a moment there I thought this one was here to break in with that axe he's wearing. Thought I'd have to cut his balls off."


Boldir wasn't amused. "Your first mistake then, was calling me. I could've killed you the moment you tried."


Carlotta's sister rolled her eyes. "Where'd you find this one, Sis? Seems like a real charmer."


Carlotta stepped back to Boldir and took his arm. "Come on, Vex. I didn't come all this way to fight." she pinched Boldir on the pack of his arm, in a clear message that said "You too." It was unfortunate that Vex would be the first of her family that they run into. She loved her sister, but she was the difficult one in the family. She had a short temper and a generally unfriendly personality. It wasn't the first impression she wanted to give Mila and Boldir.


"Alright, alright..." Vex's face softened up a tad as she stepped closer. "And you must be Mila." she said, putting an arm on her niece's shoulder. "You know, we met when you were younger." It seemed like she would have said more, but she didn't. She simply removed her hand and went to unlock the door to her house, with a lockpick, Boldir noticed. "Come on in."


Carlotta led the way into the sitting room. A lot had changed. Most of the old furniture was gone, and in its place was newer furniture of finer make. There were shiny trinkets adorning the shelves, and various books, bound in colorful leather laying about. The dining room table in the room to the right looked dusty, but it had a small pile of septims, some bagged and some not, sitting on it. They gleamed as if polished. Carlotta didn't have to think hard to figure where all of this wealth came from. But her parents would never allow this in their house.

"Vex, where are Ma and Pa?"


Vex was counting some money into small bags. "Windhelm, I think."


That caught Carlotta off guard. "What?! What are they doing in Windhelm?"


"Living, I suppose. They moved a few years back, before Whiterun got taken by the Stormcloaks. Ma's a good healer, you know. They went out to help soldiers on both sides. Do a little more good in their old age or something like that. They ended up buying a vacant home in the city for cheap. Figured they'd have written you by now, even if you don't write them. I think they still write Aerin sometimes. I don't know, I don't talk to him."


Carlotta felt overwhelmed with guilt. I really did cut them off, but times were getting tough. Every septim that could've gone to a courier went to something more practical. "So this is your house now?" she asked.


"Yep. They'd have liked to give it to Aerin, or even you. But I was the only one who was living in an inn at the time..." She looked at Boldir. So, big guy, since threats don't make for good introductions, maybe we should try again. Hopefully you've got this by now, but I'm Vex. Do you speak enough to give me a name? Carla left that bit out."


Boldir looked to Carlotta. Vex is obviously a thief. Could she know Maven? Would she know my name? His wife simply nodded, and he prayed that it meant that her sister was trustworthy. "Boldir." he said, forcing a smile as he extended his hand.


Vex shook his hand, looking him deep in his eyes. "You from Whiterun, Boldir?"


He shook his head. "Shor's Stone. It's here in the Rift."


Vex simply nodded. She turned her head to Mila. "You made a lot more noise when we last met. This is your first time in Riften, right? What do you think of it?"


Mila grinned for the first time since the conflict outside. "It's fun." she said. "I talked to an Argonian, and saw Falmer blood, and watched a Dark Elf do some sword tricks at his stall."


"Yeah, and I saw two drunken brawls followed by a stabbing. Be careful out there. This is a rough city, especially at night. That dagger under your coat is a good start."


"How did you know about that!?" asked Mila.


"I figured the dagger-shaped lump wasn't a tumor. Don't worry. Most thieves here won't notice something like that. Only the good ones." She briefly flashed her niece a sly half-smile and went on to finish counting out the money and dropped all the small bags into one larger sack. "Well as nice as this reunion and meeting has been, I'm afraid I need to cut it short. I didn't intend to stay here any longer than it took to gather some coin, and I've got things to do." She held the door open for them, making it clear that it was time to leave, and locked it shut once they were all outside. "It's good seeing you Sis. Stick around town for a while. We'll talk some time or another, I'm sure." With that, Vex was gone, heading off into the crowds of the market.


"Well she was a character." muttered Boldir. "Did you know your sister was-"


"Yeah, I knew." said Carlotta. Her older sister, Vex had been a thief before she'd even left. It seemed now, though, that she had grown a good deal more successful than she was back in the day. That wasn't what had Carlotta so quiet. She could not believe that her parents weren't living in Riften anymore. Seeing them had been the whole point of this trip.


"So what now?" asked Boldir.


"I don't want to leave." said Mila. "Not yet. There's still your brother, and this city has so much to see and do!"


Boldir looked to Carlotta. "Whatever you want to do." He'd be happy with whatever made her happy.


Carlotta looked back at her old home, where she had happily grown up with her family, now inhabited solely by her criminal sister. She then looked at Mila, who stared back with pleading eyes."We'll stay, then." she said finally, earning a loud "Yipee!" from Mila.


Boldir nodded. "Windhelm can be our next destination. Then we can sail to Solitude from there to visit Baldur and Rebec." He turned to Mila. "You'll have seen more of Skyrim by the end of this year than most people ever do.

That got the girl excited. He could see it all over her face.


"Yes yes yes!" she ran forward and hugged Boldir. "Can we mamma? Can we?"


"As long as we can afford to." said Carlotta, slightly nervously. She hadn't expected Boldir to make such a decision on the spot, but now that he had in front of Mila, it would be hard to go back on. "Jarl Vignar won't mind, will he? And what of money?"


"I doubt he would mind. I told him I didn't know how long we'd be gone." Boldir was dead set now. This was his first year as a member of a true family. Not all years would be perfect, but he'd make damn sure that this one, or at least, the rest of it, was as close as he could get it. There would be time to worry about Whiterun and expenses for the rest of his life. Vignar would understand. He'd make him if he had to.

"And if it comes down to it, I can sell the carriage and horse at Windhelm to get us from there."


Mila's eyes widened, and she looked momentarily frightened, but didn't say anything. Just then, Boldir remembered Clipper. Clipper was the brown horse he had bought shortly before they'd set out. Mila had, for some reason, taken a particular liking to the beast. Boldir himself didn't much care for horses, but marching his family across Skyrim on foot, carrying their bags would probably be worse than just staying home.


"Or perhaps just the carriage." He'd been right. Mila looked instantly relieved. "But don't expect a pleasant cruise to Solitude off of selling the carriage alone." He didn't mention that he would probably sell his armor as well. Mila wouldn't have liked to hear that, as she loved to look at his old gear. It made him feel low to even consider the notion, as the armor was a gift. As far as he knew, he was the first Necro Nord to retire. The suits were typically recycled, and those who fell in battle passed them on to their replacements. Boldir, despite some protest, was allowed to keep his, courtesy of Baldur. It was meant to protect him as guard Commander in Whiterun, but honestly, he didn't really need it for such a typically laid-back position, and the coin could easily buy them passage to Solitude, and the supplies for a long and exciting journey. It'll be worth it for Carlotta to see her parents again, and for Mila to get to see what the best of her country. All of it.


For now though, let's enjoy what Riften has to offer. He noticed Carlotta's uneasiness and smiled at her, giving a slight nod. It'll work out. Don't worry. It'll be perfect. "Ever been fishing Mila?"


The girl shook her head, grinning.


"Me neither."


They spent most of the afternoon on the lake, in a small rental boat. Afterwards, they spent that evening eating their salmon, and then Boldir played the flute in their room until they were all ready for bed. It was a good way to close off the day, and as Boldir put his arm around Carlotta and lay awake, he felt content knowing that the next day, they had the freedom to do it all again.

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Theodore Adrard




Drapes, black as tar, covered all the windows, so that the only light came from a pair of braziers one to the right of the door and the other directly catty-corner.


The entirety of the king's family gathered around the bed, all standing in solemn silence. Every breath a struggle, the king motioned for the guards to leave the chamber. This was only that much more a testament to just how sick he was, as he hadn't had guards in his room since Theodore arrived two days ago. He stood at the bed's end, his large form casting a shadow over the entire mourning party. His son Roland stood to his right, while his brother in law Lord Aleron Rolston stood to his left, a scowl plastered across his face.


Joslin Gaerhart sat beside her dying husband, their hands intertwined in a grasp of love. Behind her stood Lielle Rolston, the oldest of their daughters, while directly across from her stood Elayne Adrard, Theodore's wife and the younger daughter. They all starred at the old man, his lips quivering as he issued his final will.


"Joslin will rule Daggerfall. Aleron must be king, it is tradition. Theodore will still control the army," Dilborn said weakly, breaking into a fit of coughing as soon as he finished.


"Elayne, you will organize my funeral...Lielle will help you. I, I love you both, more than you can know," the king said, but looked at Elayne the entire time he spoke.


"And you Joslin. We've spent countless years together, the happiest of my life, and I wouldn't trade them for anything. My marriage to you was the best decision I've ever made. Now, please, I wish to speak to Theodore alone," Dilborn said, and the remaining family shuffled out quietly.


"Theodore, it is our tradition the oldest son gets the inheritance, which happens to be Aleron. You must not let him destroy High Rock with his greed. The Thalmor must be destroyed, and he'll just sit out the inevitable war. Stop him, stop..."


"Get in here!" Theo called, causing the family to run back in.


Dilborn Gaerhart was dead, the Daedric lord's plague finally doing him in. Joslin sobbed softly, gripping his hand as it grew cold. Roland bowed his head in respect, while Aleron left to get the priest.


"I'll let you deal with the funeral. I have other things to oversee, as the Queen," Lielle said softly to Elayne, full of spite even in such a somber hour.


Theodore grabbed his wife by the shoulders, as tears fell from her face onto the bed, little dark marks appearing where they landed. Lielle, chin slightly raised, stood with an air of haughtiness above her father. They'd never gotten along, and she felt little remorse for his passing. All that worried her was what color dress she would wear at the coronation. The funeral bothered her little, and Elayne could deal with such insignificant things.


It wasn't too long afterwards that everyone cleared out of the room, Aleron and Lielle going to discuss their coronation, while Theodore left to find some food. He always ate when he was morose, an unfortunate habit he had developed. Elayne went to her room to sleep, while Roland left to his room as well, most likely looking for a servant to spend some time with.




The sweat filled covers stuck to the bedmates, as both breathed heavily under them. It had been a another fruitless effort at reproducing by Lord and Lady Rolston, as every attempt had been, although they had no way of knowing that. Their marriage was childless, something all the more pertinent now that Aleron was king, a king without an heir.


"Maybe this is the time, dear. Now that the old man's gone, all that stress about not being king is lifted, and surely we'll have a child now," Lielle said softly, her hand lovingly placed on her husband's chest, fingers tracing little circles on his breastbone.


"We can only hope, and continue trying until we're sure. I think you're right about the stress, I already feel like a younger man," Aleron replied, his hands running through his wife's long and beautiful hair.


"Are you thirsty?" he asked, knowing full well the answer was yes, but feeling inclined to ask anyway.


"Parched, dear, thank you," Lielle said, laying her head his shoulder.


The newly crowned king reached across to the beside table, grabbing a small bell and giving it a few shakes. In walked a servant, her silver tray filled with assorted drinks.


Only a few moments prior, Theodore had paid her for the excellent service, providing her with the gold he'd promised as well as a fresh batch of potions. A few drops in each drink assured no children for either Rolston, as it had been ever since they'd married. Theodore kept the servant's pockets lined, and her position as Lielle's personal hand maiden assured her that they would be having no children any time soon.


"What would you like, m'lord?" she asked with a graceful half bow.


"Just leave the tray, I'm feeling particularly lucky about today as is, and think its time for round two. Leave!" Aleron shouted, and the servant left with the slightest trace of smirk on her face as the couple resumed their activities.




Theodore now sat in his study, a glass of wine to his left and a book in the right. A few candles sat around, casting their flickering light and dancing shadows across the room. From one of those shadows, out walked a figure, clad in black and red leather armor, several vials of liquid and assorted pouches strapped across his bandolier.


A quick tap on the shoulder of the large Breton caused him to jump, turning around to see the hired assassin.


"Ah, I was wondering when you people would show up. Right on time, it seems. Why don't you take a seat, and we can discuss the finer points of our deal. I actually have it drawn up, as I'd prefer to not discuss anything out loud," Theodore nonchalantly said, pulling out a small scroll from his shirt pocket.


The Breton assassin read over it quickly, soaking in every detail before he put it away in his own pocket.


"You sure about this? Is that exactly what you want?" he asked, eyebrow arched slightly.


Theodore nodded his head to reinforce the point. "Aye, precisely as it's written. At the coronation, and I want it as the letter says. Ingredient for ingredient, I've put a lot of thought into this and don't want any variation."


"And you're sure this is the person you want poisoned?"


"Yes, yes I am."

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Imperial Palace

Before noon


Skjari knocked on the door to Lilly's office, but no answer came. He knocked again, but still nothing. After another moment of waiting he got tired and just opened the door. As expected the room was empty, just the desk, the window behind the desk and a few bookshelves. 

"Hello, do you have business with lady Quentas?" A woman was standing around the opened door, she was wearing a maids outfit except it was colored green, and her hair was brown.


"No I just like to walk into people's offices without an invitation." He said with a sarcastic voice and then continued in more casual and slightly friendly tone. "You know where she is?" 


Her face twisted into a smile and her face light up, she was certainty attractive "You must be master Snow-strider. Lady Quentas is out I'm afraid, she went to the imperial rose garden with her cousin, for a picnic."


"Thanks. Bye." He then gave her quick nod before walking down the corridor, down some stairs and through the rest that was the maze of the Imperial Palace till he found himself outside in the sun. It was bright with just a few clouds dotting the sky. He then set off towards the garden and hopefully Lilly wouldn't be too busy with cousin. 


The rose garden was large, and as its name suggested filled to the brim with crimson roses. Many nobles were out about,doing various things. Near a rather large and beautiful pond was Lilly and cousin. Lilly was wearing a brightly colored green dress, with her platinum hair done neatly. Her teenage cousin, wore her long black hair in braids, and was clad in her school uniform. The two woman were seated on a blanket, and were talking.

The garden made him feel a little split. On one side; the garden had a certain serenity so he could just sit down and relax. On the other; the style of the elegance gave him a somewhat elven impression, giving him a slight urge to start throwing fireballs around. But he decided to focus and walked up to Lilly where she sat with her smaller cousin. "Hello Lilly. Can we talk? In private." 


Nodding her head, Lilly responded with a smile, "Of course my lord." She turned to her cousin, who said in a low, almost whisper-like voice.


"I thought....you...didn't... have...any work today?"


Lilly gently took her hand "Don't worry, I won't be long, right Lord Snow-Strider?"


"Depends." He then leaned closer and whispered into Lilly's ear as he lead her away to a more secluded spot among the trees. "She wont make out in the real world like that." 


"I know. She's far to attached to me and her mother. I was recently considering sending her to the legion, but when I presented the idea to her mother, she venomously protested."


"She's a bit too young for the legion. Have her work as a servant, then she has to get used to people." 


"That's an idea. Wouldn't have to tell her mother that way."


"Anyway, I didn't come here to talk about your cousin." He subtly cast a muffle spell around them. "What do you know about businesses here in the city that are owned by councilmen?" 


Her blue eyes sharpened,"Everything, I am the spymaster after all."


"They got so much money, they could stand to lose some. Any suggestions on a... target?" 


Her smile turned into a grin, "Councilor Harper. Owns a small sub company of the east empire, shipping ebony to ports across Tamriel. In bed he called Dales a useless whore."


"Do you get that knowledge from a whorehouse? Or do you..."


Still smiling, she didn't answer that question. "It doesn't matter."


"Keep telling yourself that." His tone had a badly suppressed bitterness in it. "And what does he think of me?" 


"Stuck up power monger." Her features softening, as she approached him and gently lay her hand on his arm, apparently noticing his emotion, "That was uncalled for of me, I'm sorry."


He shook her hand off his arm along with a short frown and then resumed a more callous facial expression and voice. "So he owns this warehouse near the docks? Is he the owner of the ebony?" 


"His company owns it, so I suppose he owns it." Looking around, she said, "Unknown to most, Harper recently took control of another company that mined ebony, in a hostile takeover. A few weeks before the takeover, it's CO, Regalia Rundas, was viciously blocking the takeover. He was found murdered in his officer a few day's later, and in a few weeks his company had been taking over by Harper." 


"How nice. Hmmm." He got a thoughtful expression as his gaze wandered throughout the park and across the the spymaster's assets. "Ebony is heavy." He looked over to Lilly's cousin and then at some trees. "I think I got an idea." He turned his face back to her. "I need some privateers, the thieving sort. Disposable. And a buyer who don't ask questions, preferably someone from the East Empire Company."


"Done and done."


"And make sure none of them know any of us is behind these 'requests'. I want the privateers to dock right outside the warehouse or as close as they, before the night of the heist. There they are to await my men who will tell them the rest. I want the buyer to be arrive a few hours after midnight at Fort Homestead, the fort south of the docks, the same night. And tell the buyer that there's also a ship for sale along with the ebony. And one more thing, we should time it with when the amounts of goods in the warehouse are the most plentiful." 


Chuckling, "This feels oddly strange and similar to what my wretched former brother in-law would do."


"Except I'm not going to lead an obvious trail of corpses pointing towards who did it. By the way, is the Oculatus back to full strength yet?" 


Her face grew dark at those words, "Almost. I thought you would want to know... we... found the missing the agents." 


"Found butchered somewhere I assume?"


"My second, Maria Imperius, was found dead in an alleyway, along with six of her men. Lieutenant Agustus, and five agents, were found cut up, and torn to pieces in the sewer, most likely deposed of by the means of feral vampires. Sergeant Agrippa, and his squad, were found dead in the waterfront."


"Just try to bury the right body parts with the right body. Anyway, find out about a good day for the heist to be. When the warehouse is the most filled. Then alert me and I can help to set things up so every detail gets right." 


"I can do it."


"See you later then." And he walked away after dispelling the muffle around them. Gave quick wave and a small smile to Lilly's cousin just to appear friendly before they disappeared from view. 




Two days later.


"Stop it you two!" Skjari told them in a strict voice. 


Karsh had gotten a bit too close to the dragon statue and a fight had erupted. Naturally as the dragon was both bigger and heavier, Karsh ended up being pinned to the ground with stone jaws around his neck. At his command the dragon reluctantly let go of the birds neck before returning to protectively hugging the blue crystal and freezing. Skjari just shook his head while Karsh was trying to get back up on his feet. The raven then looked at the statue and stickedo out his tongue at it. 

Skjari sighed and got up from his chair. "I'm going to see Lilly if she got some news for me. Don't pick a fight with the dragon again." He could see that Karsh let the head hang out of shame. He then closed the door and hoped he wouldn't come back to find a roasted raven. At the spymaster's office he opened the door without knocking. 


Lilly was there, smoking a cigar, a brand from blackmarsh. She turned her head to the master-wizard, "Greetings my lord."


"Got some information on the warehouse?" He said as he sat in the chair in front of her desk. 


"Guards shifts. opening and closing hours, staff personal, shipment manifestations, and a complete cargo list. The works." She took out a document and placed it on her desk. 


"So what's the best day?" 


"This Sundas."


"That'll give me a couple of days. And I do hope you were discreet in gathering this information. Because all I really needed to know was which day. Anyway, have the privateers dock at outside the warehouse and await my men and have the buyer show up a few hours after midnight at the fort, with the gold for the ebony and the... ship."


"As you say."


"And how's your cousin doing? Did you put her in a servant's clothes?"


Chuckling, "Yes, she works part time at the imperial palace as a servant now, of course her school and education still comes first."


He got up from the chair and picked up the document. "Well I'll be going then."


Waving her hand, she said, "Good luck to you and your schemes."


"See you tonight." And he walked out of her office and back to his. Karsh had left through the half open window and the dragon had assumed a more relaxed pose. He sat down and read through the document and made mental notes about a few important bits before torching it and sending the ash out through the window. No traces was to be left behind. 




"This feels strange. It's something we shouldn't really do, but I don't really mind doing it." 


"I know how you feel Maximus. But the rich fella could stand to lose some weight." 


"I know Bormir. It feels a bit wrong, and it's not what I signed up for. But I can't help but to feel a bit excited about it. First time we're actually doing something." 


"I pictured our first time to be a lot further south." Bromir replied cynically. 


"If we've had this job a few thousand years ago in your homeland it probably would have. But that's not how Cyrodiil works these days." 


"I know." The nord couldn't help but sound a little crestfallen. 


The group of eight people, an orc, three nords, three imperials and a tall breton, with the only woman being one of the nords, was walking on their to the docks in the Waterfront. The had just passed the gate from the Temple District they could see the lighthouse tower before them. All of them wore normal clothing of what one would expect from regular worker or sailor at the docks. It was late afternoon and the clouds on the sky was thickening, letting only a few clear streams of sunlight through. 


"I wonder what kind of sea scum we're about to meet." The breton, named Edward, said. 


"They're probably not that bad if they're allowed to dock here. I mean they can't just let anyone take up space here." Maximus said. 


"Keep daydreaming. This may not be Bravil but this city still got it's fair share of scum." The breton replied


"Yeah, but if they if such scums would come with their own ship they would probably be suspected of smuggling skooma. They must ahve some kind of professionalism." The imperial replied. 


"But if they're considered disposable I wouldn't hold my breath." 


The were now walking around the lighthouse and onto the bridge leading to the crescent moon shaped docks. The third ship from the far left side of the docks was the privateers' ship. It wasn't much. A half decent sized galley that looked like it seen it fair share of days at the high seas. But it looked sturdy enough to carry the cargo. 


"You know what, if we're to fit in. Maybe we should look a bit more sailory." Bormir said. 


"Sailory? That's a word?" Maximus said in slight disbelief. 


"Anyway, so I brought this eye-patch. Nicked it from the previous spymaster's house. Bit of a ghost house now if you ask me." He put on the eye-patch. "What do you think?" 


"I don't care what bad pirate book you've been reading but you just look silly. Throw the eye-patch." The orc told him, his voice had certain strictness to it but still calm to not arouse suspicion. And the orc had barely spoken a word since they set out. 


"Come on Grosh." 


"It's Grosch. And throw it away. Now." The orc was growing a bit impatient.


The nord complied and took it off and then threw it into the water as they walked over the bridge to the docks. When they got closer to the ship they could get a better look on what kind of people they would deal with. They had a certain professional look to them but they still looked like a ragtag bunch compared to the crew of the more pristine vessels. 


"Is that it?" Maximus pointed at the ship. "I was expecting a bit more. Who found these people anyway?" 


"You know who. She with the big rack and long blonde hair." Edward answered. 


"Oh right, now I remember. That woman." The imperial got a slightly daydreaming look to him. "Doesn't she and our superior..." 


"Yes. And knock whatever thoughts you have out of your head." The breton made a light hit on Maximus head to give a literal display of his words. 


"I was just thinking... About... You know, even though we are the ones who swore an oath. But I bet she's the one doing most of the kneeling. If you catch my drift." 


"That's enough chattering. We're almost there." The orc who was walking the front the group told them.


"Come on. I once saw..." The imperial tried to defend himself but the orc didn't let him.


"Shut it. You're acting like gossipy little barmaid. We've got work to do." He almost barked at him. And he was right, they were now approaching the boat and any such private shatter was to seize.

And as the group approached gangway to ship the man who they assumed to be captain of the vessel came walking on it towards them. He had somewhat finer clothing than the rest of the crew on the boat and it was of a certain Nibense design, and they looked to be almost as worn out as the ship itself. The man was an imperial with a large brown beard and whatever hair he might have was hidden under form of bandana that covered most of the upped head. 

And as he spoke the smell of alcohol came flowing out of his mouth along with his words. "Are you the ones we were supposed to wait for?" 


Grosch stepped up to captain. "Yes we are. May we come on board?" 


The captain gave them all an inspecting look from top to toe. "You don't look armed. Sure, come on board. But don't try anything." The captain then turned around and walked back onto the ship. Grosch gave the others a quick nod to follow as he himself followed the captain across the gangway onto the ship. Once they were all onto the ship the captain walked up to Grosch and spoke in lower voice. "So what are the plan? We were just told dock right at this spot and that there will be some worthwhile stealing involved. And that we were to await you people for the next steps." 


"See that warehouse over there?" The orc pointed at the target warehouse as subtly as he could. The captain looked at it and gave a nod. " We are to await the dark and then break in and empty the warehouse of all it's goods. We'll tell you where to sail when we've left the docks." 


"Secretive, aren't you." The captain chuckled. "Don't trust us? I can understand that. I wouldn't trust myself with bottle of rum." His voice grew a bit louder. "But we're honest privateers. Ey lads?" The rest of the crew gave cheer mixed with a little laughter. "We'll keep our end of the bargain if you keep yours." The captain the gave a quick look out over the bay where he could see a mist starting to form and stride towards them. "And it seems we're in luck. If that mist stays the night, our job will be a lot easier." 


"I don't think luck has anything to do with it." And with that the orc left the captain's side. 


Later when the dark had fallen over the city and the fog lay thick over the docks, did the the people on the ship wake up from their naps or stop with the dice games or whatever any of them had been doing to occupy their time. With the thick mist and the dark of the night it was impossible to see further than a feet without a light source. Only thing that could be seen further away in the mist was the few torches or braziers that was placed around the docks. Though they were placed with large distances so the guards relied on carrying their own torches on their patrols, which would make them easier to spot and avoid.

Grosch placed a small rune on the mast of the ship and then turned to the captain that was standing next to him. "This rune is so one of my men can lead yours that are carrying the cargo back to the ship as we aren't going to use an lights. We'll start by sending two of your men and two of mine to first break into the warehouse. Once at the warehouse my men will put out the nearby torch and place another rune so we can find our way back to the warehouse without the light to guide us. They'll then open the door and two of your men will grab one of the boxes and one of my men will lead them back to the ship. The fourth will stay and close and open the door as you come and go so no passing guards will see an open door and notice what we're doing. Got it?" 


The captain gave the mages a slightly suspicious look. "Mages, hu? I wouldn't normally trust a mages to be on my ship, but hope fully you'll prove useful enough for this. And I got it. Edves, Furipp, get over here. You'll be going first." A dark elf and an imperial stepped forth from the crew towards the captain. 


Grosch gave them a hand wave for them to follow him and Bormir joined up with him as the walked the gangway back to solid ground. The guard on patrol could be seen to be on the other side of the docks judging by the bobbing light that could be seen over there. The four men quickly hurried over the nearby warehouse that was their target, it was somewhat easy to navigate to the warehouse thanks to the torch hanging right next to the door. Grosch quickly and subtly cast a frost spell that dozed the flame and then put the small rune at the bottom of the wall while Bormir tried a lock opening spell on the door's lock. But as he tried a faint crash from inside the lock. 


"Damn." Bormir whispered under his breath while trying to work the magic to get the door opened. 


"What is it?" Grosch asked sternly. 


"I think the lock broke. I can't open it." 


"Let me try." And Bormir gave room for Grosch to try, but he no bigger luck. "Well it seems to be weakened at least. That leaves one option." And with that said Grosch cast a muffle spell on the door, took a a few steps back and ran forward, ramming the door that opened on the impact. 


"Well done big boy." He could hear Bormir say behind him. 


"Be quiet. You two, pick up that box and get it back to the ship. I'll stay here and guard the door." The two sailors aboyed and soon they were walking away in the dark with only the nord mage and his magic to lead the way. Soon thereafter two other sailors got back with Maximus leading them through the mist. Grosch then lead the sailors carrying the cargo back to the ship. It was to help conserve magicka and to let each mage regenerate before leading another tour. The sailors also took turns in carrying the cargo to avoid fatigue. 




At Fort Homestead Skjari sat at one of the big rocks that was once a part of the fort. Awaiting the the ship to arrive. He had placed a similar rune at the stone he sat on so that the mages could help the ship navigate in the right direction. He wore his usual equipment, the black robe with hood and veil up and his steel plate gauntlets and boots and as always his old stalhrim sword at his side. The fog was somewhat thinner near the shore than it was out in the bay and around the docks. The hours went on and on without any sign of the ship. But it was expected as there was a lot of cargo they were to load the onto the boat. But a few minutes after midnight he could hear some low voices out on the water and ripple in the water against what would most likely be the boat approaching. And soon thereafter he could see the outline of the boat approach and hear the boat run ashore and some cursing coming from it. He got up and walked through the mist till he could see the ship a few yards away, partly on it's way up on the shore. The cursing came from the captain that blamed the mages for luring his aground that his men would then have to push it back to sea and that they've should have taken dinghy for taking the cargo ashore instead and there were some swearing in between. A little later the captain came towards the bow of the ship and spotted Skjari standing on the shore next to the ship. 


"What kind of freak are you? Are you the one who's going to pay us for this?" 


"Yes. Now start moving the cargo into the fort and you'll get your payment when it's done." Grosch appeared besides the captain, leaning on the gunwale. When the captain left to get his men to work Grosch then jumped down onto the ground and the rest of the Wraiths followed soon thereafter. "Your equipment is in the fort. Best hurry before they start bringing the cargo there." Skjari told them. They gave a quick nod and hurried over to the fort which could only be seen by outline from where they were standing. 


A few minutes later the the sailors managed to get the first box from the ship to the shore which they then carried to the fort. The mages was already dressed int their gear and looked pretty much like Skjari, which made the sailors noticeably uneasy. Three of the mages climbed on board the ship again to make every box was taken to the fort. When all the boxes where stocked in the fort the captain came up to the one he thought was the leader. 


"All the boxes are in the fort. Now to our payment." 


"You must confusing me with someone else. I don't have your payment." Bormir said. 


"The who of you does? You all look the same to me." 


Skjari took a step forward. "I do." 


The captain walked up the man. "Well with all the work we've been doing and the any damages to the hull..." 


But the man wasn't able to finish his sentence before Skjari's hand found was grasping his throat along with and ice spike sticking through it. The other Wraiths all acted on the signal, a few wrung the necks of their instead casting a spell but then they all drew their swords while the remaining sailors struggled to grasp what was happening. Most of the sailors was ashore and with them being caught off guard, they were easy prey. A little noise was heard from the ship as well, indicating that the Wraiths there were also doing their job, and after just a minute of slaughter and only a few sailors managing to draw their weapons and put up a fight was it all over. 


"Anyone hurt?" Skjari shouted out to the others. 


"I got a scratch across the cheek. Nothing I couldn't heal." Bormir shouted back and he was the only who did so they other must have been unharmed. 


"Good. Incinerate the corpses and pour the ash into the water. Then carefully scorch the logo of the boxes. When done you are hide behind the fort in the shadows while I wait for the buyer to arrive." And said and done, they started scorching away the traces of the battle. The corpses on the boat had to be dumped on the shore before scorching and the blood on the boat washed away. But after half an hour there was nearly no sign of the slaughter except the slightly haunting presence of the empty ship. Then after being done with the boxes they hid behind the fort on the far east side while Skjari waited on the southern side, the side facing the road.

After almost an hour Skjari could see lights approaching on the road, one of the lights broke off and came towards them. Skajri cast an illusion spell, taking the appearance of what one would assume to be a lowly breton merchant along with a different voice. After a few seconds an dark haired imperial appeared from the mist with two guards one each side right behind him, the bodyguards wore the uniform of the East Empire Company. 


"So you're the one selling all that ebony? I hope this sin't some kind of trick. We're not showing the money till you show us the wares." 


"This way gentlemen." Skjari said and gestured for them to follow him into the fort where all the boxes were stacked. He opened one of the boxes and as expected; the ebony bars were neatly stacked inside. "Feel free to check all the other boxes as well." 


"We might actually do that." The imperial went around and counted all the boxes while checking soome at random to see if they contained the ebony. So far he proved to be pleased, or rather, content with what he saw. "And I was told I was to buy a ship as well." 


"This way." Skjari then led them to the now empty ship. "I know it's not much, but you'll get it cheap. I just want to be rid of it." 


The businessman climbed aboard the ship along with his two bodyguards. After a few minutes of inspection he back to him at the shore. "As you said, it's not much of a ship, but it's still robust. Now with all the ebony and the ship, even though I have to provide the transport for both. I would have to say the price I'm offering is 45 000 septims for it all. Is that a deal?" 


"50 000 septims." Skjari tried to barter. 


"45 000 septims." The imperial replied callously. 


"46 000 septims?" 


"45 000 septims." The man wasn't budging. 


"Fine. But first I want you to show me the money." 


"Certainly." The imperial walked back to the other lights on the road and after several minutes he came back with a chest that the two guards were carrying. One of them opened them opened the chest and there the large pile of septims lied. "You count it now if you wish." 


"You can start loading the cargo while I start counting then." He replied and crouched down by the chest. 


"And it's probably not my place to ask. But, shouldn't you have some kind of guards out here?" The businessman asked. 


"I have guards. You just can't see them." 


This made the imperial and his guards look around for what they almost thought would be an ambush, but they saw nothing and nothing happened. And the only thing that could be heard was the clinking of coin as Skjari counted the money. But he did not count it by hand, he used to magic to organize the gold into neatly stacked piles, each containing a five hundred septims each. 

The businessman and the guards went back to their little caravan and soon they returned with workers that started carrying the boxes of ebony back their wagons. A some extra guards also came along that walked towards the ship, probably to guard it till they could get sailors for it. Skjari himself didn't pay much attention as he counted and then recounted a few times just to make sure. And after half an hour the lights on road started moving and was soon out of sight. The only thing remaining was the guards on the ship. The fog was lifting and the stars were staring to peek forth on the sky. Skjari cast a spell on the chest, sending it to his now not so empty treasury back in his sanctum, shed the illusion and headed east to join up with his Wraiths and from there fetch the horses that was hidden a bit further away. It was a long way to Bravil. 

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Lilly Quentas

Imperial City



"I like scandals, it makes father so annoyed." Said Lady Grey, her pink lips sipping a cup of tea. Like usual, she was wearing her grey dress, and her white gloves. Unlike usual, her harem of young girls where no were in sight. She was seated on a comfortable arm chair, infront of her host, Lilly Quentas, who was also sipping a cup of tea. They were on the garden patio.


Lilly chuckled, 


"Alexandros is a very uptight man, is he not? Your mother not so much..." Smiling, she cackled,


"So true. Mother was never the sort of the person to ruin the fun of a party. Screw lady-like matters."  Taking another sip of her tea, Lilly said, "I see your not attending the Black Sabbath."  Puffing up, Lady grey looked over, 


"Of course not. I'm way too good for something as revolting as that. I'm not in the mood to consume the guts and organs of forest animals." Lilly said, in a mocking and sarcastic tone,


"My dear lady grey, It's about becoming one with nature. It's symbolic."


"Really?" Lady Grey smirked,


"Screw Symbolism." Lilly said, with a mischievously smile. Lady grey placed her fingers on Lillies hand, and whispered into her ear,


"I really want to **** you. You know that." Lilly whispered back,


"You wet already? What a naughty girl...I need to punish you." Lady grey edge closer, ready to throw off her dress, but Lilly raised her hand. "But before that, I want to discuss Homulilly..."


Lady grey's eyebrows raised at the name, before she fearfully lowered her voice, "What do we have to discuss about her?" Lilly snickered, and she said deadpanly "I thought you would be all over her."  Lady Grey's face filled with disgust, 


"I prefer my girls less cold, more vibrant, and younger then the enforcer." 


"Homulilly is a fool, just like my mother. They cling to meaningless tradition, and outdated practices. They have to make way." 


Lady grey straightened her back, and adopted a serious expression for the first time today, "For you I assume. You do know, the enforcer could crush you like a bug if she wanted too." Lilly laughed, as she moved in and threw herself on Lady grey, burying her face in her breasts, which caused Lady grey to squeal in pleasure. "All in good time." 

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The shackles clinked and clacked, relentlessly pulling the prisoners along behind the cart. That is where Tacitus sat, watching the poor saps, Argonian raiders, Imperial sailors from a different wreck than his, Khajit peasants accused of some crime or another. He knew none of them, yet they all hated him as he sat in the wagon, occasionally glaring up through the dust the horses kicked up, sometimes spitting at him. That only elicited lashings from the mounted, gold clad Thalmor on either side of the procession, which in turn caused the prisoners to hate Tacitus even more.


It was all a part of their subtle mission to have him hated by those he might lead. They had of course discovered he was of high rank once they saw his sword, so thus began their quest to make the common prisoner despise him, to seclude him through from others not by confining him, but by making everyone resent him. It was a brilliant idea, one that Tacitus couldn't help but appreciate.


The cart jerked to a stop. One of the prisoners, an Argonian, collapsed, gasping for water. His scales had lost their green shade several days ago, and now looked almost black from the dust and dehydration. The large iron band around his neck, one which was connected to the others via the chains, was undone by the Key-keeper. He was an evil bastard who relished holding the key to the prisoners' freedom, frequently taunting the captives with false keys he'd leave laying around, only to crush their dreams and punish them once he "discovered" they were trying to escape.


This time, he just unhooked the clasp, grasping the poor lizard around the rubbed-raw neck, tossing him onto the sand dunes on the side of the road. The Argonian groaned feebly, until a quick spear thrust from a mounted guard ended the suffering.


Tacitus watched silently, as all did.


Did he do it on purpose? Tacitus asked himself. He'd contemplated suicide by Thalmor himself, but never had the stones to do it. Maybe he was done, he'd finally had enough and wanted to go on his own terms. I could do it, fake weakness so they would end me. Then I could see her again, like I did before S'viir brought me back. Maybe it would've been better had I died then, her voice the last I heard before sending my soul to Aetherius.


The jerk of the cart brought him back, and the clank clink resumed. He train of thought broken, Tacitis just hummed a song he'd heard a few days before the wreck. It was from Skyrim, he couldn't quite remember the name, but the tune was nice enough. A line popped into his head, something about an age of aggression, but it vanished almost instantly.


Tacitus stopped humming after another prisoner dropped dead, an Imperial by the look of it. He wanted to call out, to urge him on, but it would only gain him lashings and angry looks from the others. So, he thought of the only friend he had, or the only friend he had had in this sand covered hell.


S'viir confessed about Tacitus under torture, that had been the screams he'd heard while he hid. Tacitus didn't see him again after that, until a few days after when he joined the prison procession toward Valenwood. There, S'viir's body decomposed, a wooden shaft shoved through his bowels, protruding from his neck. His severed tail clinched between his teeth signified just what they'd done to make him scream. Blood covered his paws, dried pools forming underneath where it had dropped down. His claws, strung together with a piece of string, or sinew, or tendon, hung from his neck. It was a gruesome sight, made all the more so by the large vultures mounted on either shoulder, pecking at the furry flesh and soupy brain.


It was disturbing, no doubt, although Tacitus had seen worse. Ropes snapping, lashing out at men and sometimes decapitating them. Explosions sending wooden splinters deep into men's chests. Drowning, panicked thrashing in the water before the gods of the ocean pulled them under. Masts crushing men, sails smothering them, broken arms and legs and backs, all of this he had seen. Yet, it was S'viir's death that stuck with him, caused him to wake up thrashing the few time he actually was able to fall asleep.


Sometimes his dreams took on the form of S'viir saving him, only for Tacitus to wake up and see the decomposing version of the Khajit. Other times, the horrible sea serpent made an appearance, popping up from the sands like some sort of burrowing worm, gashing him with razor sharp fangs. Tacitus didn't sleep much anyway, as the group spent most of the hours on the move.


The Thalmor pushed them ever onwards towards Valenwood, and in a day the sand transformed into rock, which in turn have way to rolling hills and soon luscious forests. Deep into the green wall they plunged, the road twisting and turning among the trees. Strange birds squawked and twittered, shrieked and cuckooed. Brays and roars and howls and grunts and cries echoed out from the jungle, eyes always watched and you were never alone.


A few days passed, until eventually they reached their destination, a large rocky outcrop on the edge of a forest clearing, where a mine dug deep into the earth. The prisoners were unloaded, given a few hours rest before going to work mining various ores and stones.


The Thalmor had other plans for Tacitus, however, and quickly ushered him away to the large warden's office. Instead of interrogating him as he expected, they instead offered him a clean bed, which he wearily obliged to finally fall deep into sleep in, thankfully not assailed by sand serpents or dead Khajit.

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Lucienus Valerius

Valenwood, area around Arenthia,



The lone Bosmer archer stood on watch duty, as he ate a small Nevakili rodent. It was tasty, and he devoured it with gusto. His stomach satisfied, the guard adjusted the longbow to make himself more comfortable.  The rest of his warband was inside, sleeping, with only five others patrolling the medium sized cave. They didn't need heavy surveillance, since no one knew they were out here. The Keykaren (Shadow Armor in ayelied.) band of the Valenwood resistance was composed of thirty member's, all Bosmer, with them mostly being male, except there leader, Elera Arrowsong. They had been occupying the deep forest around Arenthia for several months, after being pushed out of Melbouge forest near Falenesti by the 5th Aldmeri Dominion army corps, and elements of the VDF (Units of Dominion loyal Bosmer). The area was too hot, and they lost half their numbers by the time they managed to get to Arenthia.


One of their members, a rookie, had also recently disappeared. The warband feared for the worse.


Deep in thought about the growing hopeless of the situation, the Bosmer archer didn’t notice the shadowy figure approach from the side, and didn’t scream as his mouth was muffled, and his neck cut open. Without a sound, the hooded man gently layed the body to the side of the cave entrance, keeping his dagger drawn. The man was wearing a strange, dark leather coat, which had shades of red on some parts. He wore a black hood, and a dark scarf that covered his mouth. On his back was an ebony colored longbow, and to his side was a shortblade. The man crouched, and peeked into the cave entrance. Scanning the area for any signs of life, the man didn’t see anything. He raised his right hand, and in the darkness of his hood, you could notice two purple orbs glowing.


Satisfied, the man hooted twice, while waving his right hand.


Out of the bushes emerged a dozen similarly dressed men, who quickly, but quietly took position around the cave entrance, putting their backs on the natural stone wall.These men, unlike the first, wore Leather bosmer styled Balaclavas instead of a scarf and instead of red, there leather equipment was straight black. Remaining quiet, the man who killed the Bosmer guard raised his right hand, and signaled them,


Following the order, the first three men entered the cave, with their short blades drawn, making not a sound as if there boots were muffled. They moved in tight formation, listening in on the sounds, and trusting there vision. The cave was illuminated by multiple torches.


The person leading the small group, raised one of his hands, and ordered his two companions to stop. The one on his left, slowly sheaved his shortblade, and quickly drew the crossbow he was carrying on his back.


The place they were at split into three corridors, so they were at a crossroads. Signaling the man on his left, the leader ordered him to report back to their commanding officer.  Nodding, the man quickly went back the way he entered this far into the cave, while the other two soldiers advanced deeper into the cavern, weapons drawn and on the alert.


The man who was ordered back quickly returned to the main group waiting outside the cave. The soldier with the scarf broke military silence, and spoke in an almost whisper-like tone,


“Lance corporal, report.â€


The corporal responded quickly.


Captain Valerius, sir, we didn't run into any hostiles, the path downward leads to a crossroad, three corridors. Sergeant Winters, and Lance Corporal Trixidus advanced down the right.â€


Captain Lucienus Valerius nodded his head,


“Fall into squad Omega soldier.†The man returned the nod, and went in with a group of five. Lucienus spoke in a cold, and authority filled voice,


“Listen up troopers. You know your orders but just in case some people fell asleep during the mission briefing, I’ll remind you. This is an extermination/recover Op. We’ve been ordered by Colonel Fury-eye to slay all members of the Keykaren cell of the Valenwood resistance. My initial scouting indicated there were at least thirty of them. We also have orders, from both the colonel, and Miss Homunal to bag there leader, alive. She has her face covered in a skull tattoo, so don’t kill any targets with similar parameters.â€


Continuing, Captrain Valerius said, turning his head to the right to face a group of four soldiers ,


“Sergeant Brun, take your team and go through the left corridor. Eliminate any and all hostiles who don’t have a skull tattoo. Secure the area, and hold down until you receive further orders.â€


The sergeant nodded his head, and signaled his men to enter into the cave, blades drawn and crouched.


Captain Valerius turned to the left, facing a group of six soldiers, and said,


“Commander Fair-face, take your team and enter the middle corridor. Eliminate all hostiles, and report back to me directly.  We might have to do an interrogation on the spot.â€


The officer, who spoke in a feminine voice, nodded her head. If you could see past her Balcava, you would see a grim smile forming on her lips. Unlike the rest of the men, the officer wore grey leather armor, skin tight, along with a silken grey scarf. Over it, she wore a black longcoat.  She didn't have a hood


“Consider it done, sir.â€


“Don’t let me down commander.†She signaled her men into the cave, going behind them. She drew two massive butcher knives.  Turning her head around, she spoke again,


“Sir, if I may ask, what are you going to be doing?â€


“Lending support to Corporal Trixidus and Sergeant Winters.†And with that, the female soldier disappeared into the entrance of the cave along with her already gone men.


Alone outside of the cave, Lucienus, quickly drew his shortblade, and quietly entered the cave. Going downwards, the imperial vampire’s enhanced

hearing picked up the tiny footsteps of his fellow bloodwolves clearing the entire area. His footsteps were already muffled, due to his vampirism, so he didn’t have to worry about sound. Still, he remained in a crouched position as he made his way to the crossroad inside the cave. Finally reaching it, he made a right. He could detect twelve life forms, ten in which seemed to be sleeping. As another minute passed, that number dropped to eleven , then to ten, then to nine, then to eight, and so on. He passed the first body a few minutes into the cave. His throat was cut out; and the bosmer was clad in simple, leather armor. The second body had his neck snapped, and the third was dead from a crossbow bolt to the skull. These amateurs couldn’t compare to his Bloodwolves.


Reaching a doorway, Lucienus casted a detect life spell, notching two men inside. Slowly opening the door partway, he could see two Bloodwolf commando’s cleaning there blood drenched shortblades. He could also notice a large amount of hammocks hung around the room, which were mostly filled with the bodies of twelve wood elves, each of them having their necks cut open.  Quietly opening the door, Lucienus spoke,




The two hooded commando’s weren't surprised, and they both simply turned around and gave the vampire a nod,


“Yes sir. Area secured. We didn't’t find the leader though, as you can see.â€


“Unfortunate. Since you two are finished here, return back to the entrance and hold it. We don’t want any Wood elves who happened to be out sneaking up on us, as highly unlikely as that would be.â€


Without another word, the two soldiers saluted the captain, pumping there free fists into their chests. They ran in silence, and soon faded from Lucienus vision, whom followed them soon after. Heading back to the cross road, Lucienus took the left corridor, and soon ran into Sergeant Brun and his squad, who were standing over the bodies of seven Bosmer.  In the middle of the room, was a badly bruised Bosmer female, whose arms and legs were binded by ropes. Her face was covered in a large, green skull tattoo. Saluting the officer, Brun spoke,


“Sir, all hostiles killed, and target secured.â€


“Good work.â€


The prisoner, angrily glared at the hooded imperial. She yelled at the top of her lungs,




Lucienus sighed, “Gag her please.†Shoving a dirty rag into her mouth, and ignoring her mumbles and protests, a Bloodwolf commando asked Lucienus


“Sir, what’s the progress of the other teams?â€


“Team Trident completed their objective, Sergeant Winters and Corporal Tridix's are currently guarding the entrance. I’m unaware of team Knife’s progress, though I have no doubt Commander Fair-face completed it flawlessly. Infact-“


“Reporting sir.†Farni Fair-face entered the room, carrying a pack on her back. To Lucienus’s knowledge, she had brought that with her, and left it in the bushes before entering the cave. Nodding at her, he ordered the rest of the men to wait by the caves entrance. Leaving the prisoner with the two of them alone. Lucienus turned to the commander,


“You need me to stay while you work?â€


“If you wouldn't mind waiting by the door, outside of the room. I need my privacy. I’ll knock if I need you to heal her.â€


Lucienus  slowly opened the door, he said,


“And Commander. Do not cause any permanent damage. You are to simply loosen her up for the dominion’s interrogator. Miss Homunal’s orders.â€


Nodding her head, Farni began to open the pack, taking out cloth bound knives of various shapes and sizes, and laying them out gently onto the floor. Before the prisoner could react to the revelation she was about to be tortured, Farni drew a large syringe and injected a liquid into her neck. Smiling sadistically, Farni spoke up, taking out a small, razor-sharp knife,she threw off her her balcava, showing her long blonde hair, and her heavily scared face, 


“The drug has already taken effect, elf. You won’t be able to move your body. You will be able to scream though…scream for me,"

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The thundering furor of the crowd slowly quieted, as the High Priest raised his right hand. A hushed murmur swept through the onlookers, all eyes trained at the front steps of Daggerfall's castle. The glittering gold crown, jewel encrusted at every angle and filled in with crimson velvet, was slowly lowered onto Lord Aleron Rolston's head as he knelt. He wife stood behind him, clad in a dark blue dress with red silken accents. A large diamond necklace hung down into her cleavage, which the dress displayed prominently. Her husband matched her, a dark sapphire tunic and black pants, a red cloak with snowy sabercat fur edges, draped over his shoulders.


The crown placed on his head by the priest, the crowd erupted into a deafening roar. They knew little about this new king, only that the old one had been stricken by plague and must've been deserving of the Daedric lord Peryite's wrath. This fresh ruler was pure, healthy, and appeared so. His clean shaven chin jutted out regally, his dark blue eyes and strong set face a truly regal appearance. His side swept blond hair made the ladies swoon, while the men drooled over the jutting breasts and shapely hips of the Queen, not to mention the full lips and platinum hair curling down to her shoulders.


Even the High Priest of Daggerfall was a looker, his white and gold robes dragging behind him as he grabbed the anointment scepter and tapped each shoulder of the kneeling lord. Clean shaven as well, his grey eyes bespoke of a wise and courageous heart, his wrinkled face full of laugh lines and good tales, while his thinning silver hair still shone brightly under the morning sun. It seemed even the weather was cheerful on this day, the usual rains having disappeared overnight and the clouds giving way to clear blue skies. A slight breeze ruffled the large banners hanging on the castle walls on either side of the steps, brilliantly white with two crossed thorny roses, one blue as the sky, the other crimson as blood. It was the sigil of the Rolston Family, as it had been since their inception.


The crowd burst into a feverish applause as the now dubbed King Rolston stood, smiling and waving to his new subjects. Few realized that with his announcement as king would move the royal capital from Daggerfall to Evermor, thus ending their era as the capital of High Rock, and resulting in a serious loss of coin. It mattered little right now, as the crowd was high on coronation fever.


Cries of "Long live Rolston!" or just "Long live the king!" erupted from the peasants like ash from Red Mountain. Aleron soaked in the praises for another few minutes, the joy on his face surprisingly genuine as he clutched his queens hand. Both seemed intoxicated by the pure joy the felt, seemingly oblivious to the pure resentment Theodore exuded. His face didn't show it, not plainly anyway, but the coldness in his eyes, the pursed lips, the slow and methodical clap all betrayed his true feelings. Elayne Adrard was a better mummer, her warm smile and twinkling eyes genuine to all but those who knew her well. The other nobles, from the high Lords and Ladies to the lower Dukes and Duchesses all either smiled and clapped or looked bored and ready to leave.


They soon got their wish, as the peasants moved off to have their own parties and celebrations, and the nobles swarmed the great hall of the castle. Three enormous tables stretched like giants trees, felled and flattened. The throne, a few days ago Gaerhart property, now sat a Rolston. Elayne and Theodore took places to the right of the throne, while Queen Lielle, blonde and busty and beautiful, sat to the left. The now Lady Gaerhart, sharp eyed and sharper witted, hair as pure as snow, sat on the left side also. Roland sat with the other young men, happier with them than the mostly old and curmudgeony nobles at the main table. Next to the Adrards sat the Lord of Farrun, Theodore's nephew from his deceased sister, Pheobe.


Lord Colin Ryger was lean, young, a fresh face in the political landscape. Mid-thirties or so he was, Theodore couldn't recall exactly, actually not much older than Roland. Not too short by Breton standards, Colin had shaggy brown hair, with a few curls on the longer bits, and a slightly pointy nose, unlike Theo's round one. His wife, Irene Ryger, was a short, full woman, not fat but with well rounded hips and a childlike plump face. Her black hair was dark as tar, with eyes to match. A small, almost unnoticeable bump protruded from her abdomen, announcing the beginnings of a pregnancy.


Theodore wasn't entirely sure she was pregnant, and thus didn't comment, but noted it anyway. His brown tunic and black breeches he straightened, and combed his mustache with his finger as well, looking down the table as he did. Most noble families had someone in attendance, although only those related to the couple had all members present.


A quick tap on his right shoulder brought his attention back to his table neighbors, as Colin was trying to greet him. They exchanged friendly smiles and warm handshakes, while Colin said, "Uncle! It is nice to see you again. I heard you've been quite busy, just returning from Cyrodiil. How was your trip?"


"Nice to see you as well. The trip was fine, although a bit of a bore I must admit. The politicians are quite dull, save for a few. I did enjoy a pleasant evening with Count Brutus of Kvatch, who through a grand party," Theo's voice shifted from bland to excited as he recounted to trip.


"Ah yes, and how is our new empress? I've heard rumors, obviously, but you met her in person so I'm sure you know better than whispers," Colin asked eagerly, leaning out over the table so as to talk around Elayne Adrard.


"She was...um, interesting. The cause of her rebellion was noble, although she made some rather questionable decisions once she took the throne. One such was appointing two Nords to the positions of Spymaster and Court Mage, which is odd considering their recent conflict. She also apparently," Theodore glanced around, before lowering his voice slightly, "whored around, with the female maids no less. And then, as I left, General Tullius was killed, executed by said mage," Theodore told Colin, his voice with a tinge of contempt in it.


"A very unfortunate situation, no doubt, and one that does not inspire much in the way of confidence," Colin replied, to which Theodore nodded, adding an affirmative "Aye."


Elayne and Irene chit chatted as well, gossiping about one royal lady or another, but they quickly ended their conversation as the food arrived.


Steaming silver platters of whole pigs, roasted duck and swan, boiled lobster and shrimp and grilled beef steak all were brought out by serving men and women bustling to and from the kitchen. They'd been working overtime, with around two-hundred guests to feed it was a daunting task.


Theodore eyed the trays, waiting as more were brought out, these lined with potatoes, salads, vegetables and quail stuffed with Redguard peppers. The royal chefs had pulled out all the stops, and the final wave of the main dishes echoed that sentiment, as sauces and gravies and toppings of all kinds poured out of kitchen before the servants disappeared, leaving the nobles to help themselves.


As was customary, the king and queen ate first, so they each cut off a small piece of steak to signal that everyone else could dig in. A guard was called over my Aleron, who gave him the first bite to ensure its safety. Seeing no adverse reaction, he too are a piece, and everyone began to chow down.


An uproar erupted, as people up and down the tables fought for the best pieces of their favorite dishes. Theo went for the quail, shoveling three onto his plate and slicing off a side of pork as well, while Elayne grabbed some duck and vegetables. One quail was gone almost instantly, the spicy kick no match for his prodigious taste buds. Servants now came around with drink trays, and Theo looked up to see a pale, blacked haired man offering him his choice of beverages.


"Wine, ale, or water sir?"


"Two wines," Theodore said, while Colin added "One wine and a water down here."


The dark red wine they got was of High Rock make, from Wayrest, and had a sharp, tart zest to it. Theo washed down the quail with it, before moving on to other delicacies. The desserts appeared, chocolate cakes, fruit filled tarts and pastries, all fresh from the oven. Most everyone had finished their meal and now ate the sweets. Theodore grabbed a raspberry pastry, the juicy fruit sliding down his chin as he took his first bite. His quickly dabbed it away, lest it stain his brown and black tunic with its dark red sauce. He downed another glass of wine, which was promptly refilled by the same servant, who smiled before shuffling back off to the kitchen.


Theodore looked up, to see almost everyone had finished eating, and now relaxed in their chairs and carried on conversations with their neighbors. Grabbing a fork and his wine glass, Theo hobbled up to make a toast. The sharp ping sound of metal on glass brought everyone's attention to him, and he cleared his throat before speaking.


"Hello Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchess! I hope my brother in laws coronation feast was as satisfactory for you as it was for me! Har har, I would like to thank you all for being here, and for the condolences extended in light of our recent death in the family. So, I propose a toast, to our new King!" Theodore turned to look at Aleron, who had a slightly confused smile on his face. Their disdain for each other was well known, so he was quite confused as to why Theodore was being so nice.


"May he live long, have a bountiful marriage, and a prosperous reign!"


With that, everyone drank from their cups, following Theo's lead. The tart wine had a hint of something else in it this time, a slight burning sensation that chapped his lips. He stumbled forward, placing a plump hand on the table to catch himself.


A voice could be heard asking "Are you alright?" but it sounded distant, like a faint whisper. He stumbled again, this time landing on the floor with a thud, knocking over his chair in the process.


"Something's wrong!" the voice cried, but Theo didn't answer. His tongue had swollen, making speech impossible, so as he lay motionless on the floor all he heard before passing out was an echo of the word "wrong, wrong, wrong."

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Green Road



The group of nine mages was traveling along the Green Road north of Bravil. It had taken a few days travel with horse but they could finally see the the tower of the city's chapel appear in the distance. The sky was grey from the dark clouds that covered it. That combined with the fact that they were heading into the worst crime city in Cyrodiil dampened the spirits of the group somewhat. Most of them had the hoods down, two of them had them up just in case for rain. Soon they passed a large tree with bodies hanging by the neck from the branches, chests exposed to the elements with the word "bandit" a bit clumsily branded into the flesh. 


"Seems like they choose thee wrong line of work." Maximus said, trying to start a conversation. 


"That they did." Bormir answered and that was the end of that conversation. 


Skjari himself just glanced at the hanging corpses, thinking that the legion isn't all that useless, even though he had requested a bit more gruesome display in his orders to hunt down and kill bandits so they could then be put on display along the roads. The legionaries probably didn't have the guts for it. But at least they got the burn marking right. 


A few minutes later Maximus decided to give it another try. "Have you heard that the king of Skyrim has gotten divorced only to remarry a random battlemage. Not even a noble from what I hear. And from Cyrodiil too. You hear that Gildi?" He looked over to the nord woman riding slightly behind him to the left. "If you had been in Skyrim with the Stormcloaks, you could have been high queen of Skyrim." 


"Like if i would want to sit on a throne and listen to people's problems all day and just be someone's baby making machine at night. No thank you." She answered. 


"I agree, doesn't sound like much of a life. At least our empress only have to deal with the problems of the day. But soon she'll have to be a baby making machine as well. Isn't that right sir?" He looked to Skjari who was in the front, leading  the group. But Skjari didn't answer, nor looked back at him. Maximus the shrugged and looked a little puzzled at Bomir who rode next to him. 


"But she's a bit lacking in the baby carrying and baby feeding department." Bormir said.


"Unlike the spymaster, she's definitely not lacking in the baby feeding department." 


"Though she's lacking a bit in the carrying part. But I think that woman, Lady Bathory I think it was, only saw her once, have better all round assets for a baby." 


"But in the end, they're not the empress. And I do hope her highness's  baby..." 


"No more talk about babies!" Skjari barked at them in half quenched fury.


The all looked at Skjari in surprise, waiting for some kind of explanation to this outburst. But no explanation came. Then they all looked at Maximus and Bormir whom had triggered the outburst. And those two couldn't help but to feel a little guilty as they had clearly hit a sensitive spot. The continued in silence towards the city. Soon they saw the legion camp that was located north of the city with tents on both sides of the road. 

Unlike the finely groomed, refined, and relatively handsome imperial palace guards, these legionaries were dirty, rough, had bad teeth, and wore there hair messily. They were composed mostly of nords, orcs, Imperial, and the occasional Bosmer, who looked as scary as the rest of the legionaries, Unlike the garb of the 4th and 6th legion, these soldiers were clad in roughly sewn leather and metal plates. They all gave the mages angry, or suspicious looks. 

They made a quick stop at the stable master to leave their horses, except for Skjari's that he just let wander away from the camp into the woods, asked where the general was, who was in his tent for the moment. After a quick introduction and permission from the general, he entered the tent while the rest stayed outside. 


As the court mage entered the tent, he saw the general. Tall, lean, yet incredibly muscular, the imperial officer was an orc. Unlike the red-gold garb Tullius and Marius wore, he was clad in what seemed to be a mixture of animal furs, and standard imperial studded armor. On his back were two massive war axes, and his face was covered in scars, with dark brown eyes. Noticing the mage enter, the orc barked, in a deep, guttural voice, and authority filled  voice,


"So, the Empresses royal 'court mage', what do you want?"


"I'm also the stand-in for high general for the moment. And I'm here to make sure the cleanup of the city speeds up." 


Looking at the robed man, the orc gave a snort, "Old Tullius gets his head lopped off, and they replace him with Frill girl's bloody magic teacher." The orc's hair was jet black, with signs of graying all over. His entire body seemed to be covered in warpaint and tattoo's, along with scarring. This legionary was no stranger to war. He angrily glared at the nord. "How much experience do you have in the field, nord?"


"More than you think. And you wouldn't even believe half of it." 


His face filled with suspicion, waving his hand, he grumpily responded with, "The legion always gives people chances to prove themselves, I'm no different." He waved the nord over, his body relaxing a bit. In the middle of the tent was a large round table, with a large map of the legion's target, the city of Bravil. "Those blasted bandits will be coughing out blood by midnight tonight"


"They obviously have smuggler routes hidden throughout the city. They have access to the sewers, fitting, since there all rats. Currently, my men have orders to kill anyone caught after curfew on sight."


"And who's in charge of the every day activity in the city? A report mentioned that the count had gone missing." 


He snarled, "Missing is a little bloody lesser to what actually happened. Him and his entire family are dead, with the woman raped, and the children fed to the dogs. Only the countess Cerni, his daughter, survived."


"So we got a child running the county?" 


"No, she in the camp, for her own protection."


"So who's dealing the commoners?"


"I am. I'm in charge of the rationing, public safety, and all concerns go to me. Cerni is only eleven years old, a young pup."


"No steward?"




"Great. So what's your plan of action to find the criminals?" 


"I've heard scattered rumors of the skooma dealers using ancient abandoned safe houses once used by the Dark Brotherhood, we've been looking for them for the past two weeks."


"Any leads?" 


"I have better, a possible location." He stabbed a knife into the map of Bravil, marking a location, "We found some strange things in this abandoned house, a black doorway." 


"Let me guess. It got a skull with a hand on it?" 


"Yes." Scratching his head, he said, "Since your apparently an all-powerful mage, I hope you can open up."


"For being an 'all-powerful' mage, I find myself doing quite a lot of dirty work." He made a short pause. looking at the map. "Though you'd be better off digging into the room behind it than trying to pry the door open. Even with magic. I've been at these kind of doors before, they all ask some kind question. Which I guess this one does too, right?" 


He gruffed, "'What is the instrument of silence?' or some bloody philosophical things like that."


"Well there's two options: One; we study the philosophy of Sithis and the Dark brotherhood. Two; we find someone who knows the answer." 


"And where in Oblivion are we supposed to find a member of the Dark Brotherhood?" 


"From what I've heard, the remnants have moved to somewhere in Skyrim. Though I doubt any of them would remember the password for an abandoned hideout here in Cyrodiil. So we're not getting through that door unless we get lucky and stumble upon the answer. Best way would be to find the passageways the criminals use."


"That's most likely in the sewer. I sent a letter to the spymaster, last week asking for information. She couldn't provide me anything. So we'll be going in somewhat blind."


"Well if we could find a map over the sewer system and see where the system overlaps with the area behind the door, we might actually find the entrance. Provided that the passageway doesn't use some kind of old Dark Brotherhood secret door. Then the entrance would be almost impossible to find unless you knew exactly where to look." 


"That's an idea."


"So lets start by finding a map over the sewer system and compare it to this map and the spot of the black door. Hopefully we'll just have to search the castle or some office in the city and not have to send for a copy from the architect archives in the big city." 


"The castle is the bare bones, the looters and bandits took everything. I doubt we'll find anything of use. I can send my men to shake down some shady vendors if that's a better alternative."


"You can do that. You' know this city better than me. Though if you don't find the map, I'll simply send a rider back to the Imperial City. A few days delay isn't what I had in mind, but not something we can do something about." 


"Right then." He waved his hand, "If that's all, then I should get back to work."


"That's all. Contact me when you got news on the map. I'll be holding up in the castle. As the place is abandoned, I could use the courtyard to train my mages." And with that he left the tent and the general to his duties. 




As expected, the general's search turned up empty handed and a rider was sent back to the Imperial City. More delays. Skjari was now walking through the legion camp towards the tent where the only surviving member of the counts family was. She could probably use someone to talk to after what's she's been through. Skjari thought for a briefly. Who am I kidding? She's going to be the countess and I'm here to manipulate a small traumatized girl for power. Skjari tried to shake the cynicism from his thoughts as he needed to focus. When he arrived at the tent he spoke in a friendly and calm voice. "Anyone inside?" 


"I am." The voice of a really quiet child entered his hearing.


"May I come inside?" 


"I'm from the Imperial City. My name is Skjari." 




Skjari pushed aside the flap of the tent as he walked in at a slow pace. The tent itself was relatively luxurious, compared to the legionaries and even the generals, though it was nothing to the tent Dales had in Skyrim. Sitting on an arm chair was a female child who looked like she was ten or eleven. She looked similar to how one could have imagined Dales to have looked when she was young; having clear blue eyes, though instead of being blonde, she had light brown hair. However her mannerism was completely off. Her body was stiff, and her eyes as cold as the ice. She said, in a low voice, "What do you want?"


"I wanted to check in on you. Se how you are doing." 


"Why would you care? I don't even know who you are, besides your name."


"Okay then. My name full is Skjari Snowstrider, I'm the royal court and temporary stand-in for high general. I'm here to help secure your city. But what is your name?" 


She paused for a second, before saying,"Cerni... Countess Cerni Rest of Bravil."


Seeing as the only other chair was next to the girl and he didn't want to get too close too quickly as that might scare her, he simply sat down in his own levitation spell made chair at his side of the tent. "So Cerni, how is life in the camp treating you?" 


Her eye brows raised a little , and her tiny hands tightened as the man appeared to float on air. Her facial expression didn't change though. "No one bothers me, I guess its fine."


"It's just simple magic." He said reassuringly at her hands tightening. Then an illusion of a real chair, a simple wooden one, appeared to give a visual representation. "How do you feel about returning to the city?" 


She didn't respond for a few seconds, before saying "Fine." Her body language and mannerism said otherwise however.


"You're afraid of returning to where it all happened." It wasn't a question but more of a statement.


"Am I that easy to read?" The little girl lowered her head to her legs.


"Somewhat. But given what you've been through, it's not that hard to guess either. Being afraid is natural." 


"Fear is for the weak. It paralyses you and makes you unable to respond to the situation on hand."


"But you're still afraid?" 


"I... am."


"And what do you intend to do about it?" 


"I don't know. My mother told me to be brave, before hiding me, and being... defiled and killed. But whenever I try... I feel scared"


"What I think you should do, is to visit the castle and where it all happened again. As a first step." 


I... don't know. Will I be alone?"


"I'll come along. And a couple of guards of course." 


"Okay then..."


He rose up from the chair and it dissipated into thin air as he did. "Come here." He said as he lifted the flap of the tent. "You can't live forever in a tent." 


She warily approached the entrance to the tent, shielding her eyes with her arm, the rays of sunlight were slightly painful, "Ugh...it's a little bright."


"You'll get used to in a few minutes you'll see." He turned his head around till he spotted a few legionaries that was posted nearby the tent as guards. They were half a dozen, four sat on the ground were playing some kind of game while two of the actually kept watch. "You there. Get on your feet, the countess is going for a walk." He then turned to the girl while the guards were hurrying to pack their little dice game and get behind them. "Are you ready?" 


"Ummm...yes..." She offered the nord her little hand.


Holding hands? Great. Just play along, just play along. He thought to himself as he took her hand with his and led her through the camp and into the city, with the guards a a few feet behind. As the two people walked towards the castle, they could notice that some of the soldiers were wearing the guard uniforms of Bravil, meaning the guard force was going to be mixed in with the legion during the sweep. Notcing the small girl, most of the rugged guardsmen gave her a bow, she curtsied awkwardly to each of them. 


"I'm...surprised they recognize me."


"I'm personally a bit surprised that they've recruited new guards already. I hope they're careful, last guard garrison was wiped out for a reason." 


"Only thirty survived, and they were stationed outside of the city. Or so i'm told. Corruption. The captain and numerous other guards were in the skooma rings pocket, and they took advantage of it. Simple really."


"But if they could get into the guards garrison, what's to keep them from infiltrating the guards now and tip off their friends about the patrol schedule. Or worse." His thoughts immediately went towards the sewer map and the possibility of the criminals catching on to their plans. "I'll have to speak to the general about keeping the guards in the dark." 


"That's a good idea."


They kept walking till they reached the bridge leading to the castle. It was a broken stone bridge with large gaps filled in with planks. Skjari remembered hearing of some kind of initiative to make Bravil a more prosperous place before the great war. This bridge must have been one of the few things that was finished before the Dominion came upon the city. At the end of the bridge and by the gate into the castle garden was two frost atronachs standing guard at each side. 

"They're just to keep the uninvited guests outside. No need to worry." Skjari said reassuringly as they got closer the icy giants. 


"Your seem to be a powerful mage." The child said.


"You can say that. Though these aren't mine. My subordinates summoned them, as a part of their training." He led her past the the icy guards and into the palace garden. The garden itself was a bit overgrown as it hadn't been tended to in a long time, though parts of it was crudely trimmed and as one could see; a dremora in full armor with helmet was standing at the far end of the garden, using his great sword to cut down overgrown bushes to make space for the mages practicing various forms of magic a few yards away from them. 

"How do you feel about being back?" He lead them to the other side of the garden so they wouldn't get in the way of the mages' training. 


Her grip tightened around his hand, "I'm a little scared..."


"Don't worry. There's nothing to afraid of." After they've passed through the garden and opened the door to the big castle, the big empty stone hall appeared before them. "Your home." Skjari said, trying to sound encouraging at the sight of the somewhat ghostly interior of the castle. 


She looked around, her pale blue eyes wandered taking in the details, "The structures intact. Which is good I suppose."


"I'll let you take the lead and explore a little. This is your home after all." She nodded, taking away her hand from his. Going ahead of him, she began to look around. Skjari turned to the guards behind him. "You two stay and guard the door. The rest split into groups of two and patrol around the castle and look for anything suspicious." He highly doubted any late looters or even would-be-assassins would appear, but it never hurt to be on the safe side. He then followed the little girl as she looked around. 

Cerni stopped at a large wooden door. Her features became downcast.


"What's wrong?" 


"This is where it happened."


Putting a comforting hand on her shoulder he opened the door with the other hand, exposing the the empty room with only a little sunlight coming through the windows keeping the room from darkness. "But now there's nothing here to be afraid of." 


"I'm ...afraid..." Her body began to shake.


He subtly channeled a mixed calm and courage spell, not much as to make her think it was just his presence that was inspiring, as he moved the hand to the other shoulder, putting the arm around her. "Come on. Let's go slowly then." 


She looked at him and nodded. "Okay..." She slowly entered the room. It was a bit brighter than in the corridor thanks to the additional windows, but it was still quite dark. Because of looters the room was stripped bare and only a broken few splinters from broken furniture remained. 


"See, not that dangerous." 


She slowly made her way to the center of the room, and glanced around. While Skjari himself just stood back near the doorway, waiting as he didn't want to interrupt. Her eyes took in, a small, broken doll that appeared to have been left alone by the looters. The little girl went towards it, and began to smash it into pieces.


The amount of surprise and even a bit shock over what he just witnessed, Skjari could only stare at what the little girl was doing for the first few seconds. When he got his focus back on track he carefully walked up towards her. "Why?" He asked, trying to sound more calm than surprised. 


"I left something behind." The little girl, said, perfectly cool. She got into a more dignified position, adjusting her posture and trampling the broken shards under her foot. "Can we go?" 


"If you don't want to stay anymore. Sure." Gesturing towards the door with one hand. And she walked out, not glancing back. Following her he waited till he had closed the door behind them before speaking. "You know you'll have to come back later." 


"I know. Fear is for the weak. I'm not afraid, nor am I weak."


Her words brought his thoughts to his nightmares and how he felt fear of going to sleep every night. How he had decided to instead of cowering over it, had tried to do something about it. Even though that something was bedding women and slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands of elves. "Weakness ins't really fear itself, but how you handle it." 


"Your saying I should perhaps accept fear?"


"I can't tell you exactly what you should do to deal with your fear. You'll have to find your own solutions. But I don't think denial will lead anywhere." 


"I'm not afraid though. The legion and my men will catch those scum bags, and they'll kill them. Simple." 


"Tell me, how do you feel when you go to bed, alone, in your large tent?" 


"Lonely. That's it. No one to talk to. No one to play with. However." Turning her head to him, "You eventually get used to it, and loneliness stops feeling bad. I prefer it. Just me and my thoughts, no interruptions." 


He knew she was at least partly lying. She had nightmares, maybe not as often as he but she had them. But he decided to not press the subject. "Go back to your tent or go for a walk?" 


"I'm feeling a little tired, I shall retire for the evening, if that's alright with you?" 


"Of course I don't mind. Shall we go?" He offered her his hand. Taking his hand, she followed him. After calling on the guards and they fell in line behind them, they walked out of the castle, through the degraded city and into the legion camp where they stopped before her tent. "Feels good to get out of the tent once in a while?"  


"I guess some fresh air is welcome."


"Want me to stop by tomorrow as well? Maybe I can teach you a little magic, like creating a small sphere of light."


"Really? If you wouldn't mind... that would be fun."


"I'll come over tomorrow then. Somewhere before noon. Though it will take some time and practice to even cast a simple spell. So don't get disappointing when nothing really happens the first hour or so." 


Nodding her head, she gave him a small smile. "Bye then." Before disappearing into her tent. 

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Brund, Honmund

The Reach, outside of Hag's End

2 am


The sounds of crunching snow was almost deafening from the footsteps of Brund and his band of soldiers as they marched their way to the edge of the Reach. Honmund was in attendance, marching alongside the General quickly, albeit dubiously, as Hammer-Fang hadn't paid him the courtesy of letting him in on what they were doing there. What they were really doing there, that is. Honmund put a hand over Brund's chest to stop his advance, then walked to the side, allowing the one hundred and fifty men in attendance to march past them. Brund looked to the arm as if he was about to tear it off, but he listened to what Honmund had to say. "Care to tell me now what it is you have planned? Why are we here?"

Brund gave him a look that clearly showed he thought he was a dumb ass. "Isn't it obvious? We're going to secure the border of the Reach. I got a report from a spy about this place called Hag's End. The Reachmen are fortifying their position there in some ancient fort and sending troops in from there, as well as beginning a campaign to sneak their people in Solitude. They apparently think that they can get to our King. Stupid fuckers haven't heard the news about the capital switching."


Honmund rolled his eyes then said, "Oh sure, it's so obvious. How stupid of me not to know about a secret report from a spy I wasn't aware of when you don't tell me a damn thing. Sometime between now and since this war started, I forgot that I could read your mind. Who is this spy?"


"Breton man from Markarth. He was actually Forsworn, trying to spy on us while pretending to spy on them. Good thing I don't trust those bastards, or it would have worked. Practically elves themselves. I had some men with families in Markarth do a little snooping for me and found out who his family was. Had a daughter of sixteen winters. Pretty little thing...Long story short, I had him working for me in no time. Besides them sending troops in the Reach and assassins into Haafingar, there's something else of interest in this place. Something that will help me in the future..."


"Against Red-Snow?" asked Honmund. Brund turned his head slowly in his direction, then nodded with a grin.


"Aye. Against Red-Snow."


"Good. As I expected, the General wouldn't even give me the time of day. Can't be sacrificing my men without a guarantee of a payoff afterwards." Honmund said.


"Glad you're on board, because what I have planned needs to stay under wraps. No one, and I mean no one is to find out about what I'm going to do," Brund said before running off to catch up to the men.


Honmund followed behind him, then said, "And what exactly is that? Something you found out from the Breton?"


"Yes." Brund said, not willing to elaborate further at the moment. The general gave the order for the men to double time it. His contact said that the forces at this base were minimal due to being deployed and they hadn't expected reinforcements till later in the day. If they moved quickly enough, they could storm the base and fortify the location before the rest of their Forsworn come. The place was very easy to guard from large armies and he would have enough time to hold the enemy off before the rest of their Stormcloaks came from behind and killed them off, capturing who they could in the process. If all went well, it would be a big win for the Nords in the war.


As expected, the area the men were marching through was hard to traverse. The path they were walking eventually ended when they heard the roar of a river and a distant waterfall, and the hill they were marching on turned from grassy to rocky. The area they were in now didn't have any snow, so the rocks at least weren't slippery. One of the Stormcloak men looked behind him down the path past a few trees they just came from before Brund called back to him to move his ass.


The men came across some stone slabs as they neared the waterfall, or rather, waterfalls which was just one waterfall separated by a rock formation, then combined into another below. These stone slabs eventually lead to a rocky mountainside near the waterfall that the men had to cross. Time was of the essence, but the terrain left Brund with no choice but to have his men hurry up and climb over these rocks to make it up further. Luckily for them, the side looked higher than what it actually was, as the angle they were at hid the space which lead to the path above the waterfalls.


After the men got past the climbing, they eventually reached the river that made the waterfalls. The river's small size made it possible to cross in the men's leather, fur and small amount of chain mail undercovering, but it once again held them up, because they had to cross two at a time on the most narrow part of the river to make it over.


Brund imagined that the Forsworn must have had a better location to reach this place somewhere that would be evident by the time they got to the place, but didn't concern himself with it now. He didn't complain about the geography; he was already lucky that the river wasn't large. If it was, it would have postponed the entire attack until they found an alternative route and until the rest of the Forsworn men coming left once again.


After the men crossed the river, they made their way up a narrow path crossing that forced the men to walk up in threes. The path eventually widened out, revealing more rocky land with some trees scattered about, covered in mist, along with some ancient stones placed in the middle by someone a long time ago for some unknown reason. As they continued their march, they encountered several wild beasts, such as some frost sabrecats on the way as well as a large frost bear, both indicating more snow ahead, which there was.


The men didn't waste any time in ambushing these beasts, however, using their numbers to pounce on the surprised animals, stabbing them with their blades relentlessly as they swarmed over them like ants, felling them quickly. When they finally reached the top, they saw a large clearing with open space and a downward slope covered in welcoming green grass that was clearly traveled on well. Brund could tell by the location of where the moon rested in the sky that the path lead directly east into Haafingar. His time in the legion as a legate made sure that he studied the moon cycles to be able to tell direction in the night by looking at them.


Directly opposite of that path were snow covered ancient stone steps, leading up to a place Brund knew was called Deepwood Redoubt. The men didn't need further orders. Brund had already let them know that as soon as they saw those steps, the attack was on. Orders were to move quickly and kill quickly. It didn't take long to find their first enemy and to confirm Brund was right about the place. There were only a handful of men above them, however, obviously the lookouts for the skeleton crew further beyond.


The men lifted their shields up above their heads, revealing their bear insignia to the surprised archers who rained arrows fruitlessly down on them. The Stormcloaks ran over the men below, trampling over them rather than using their weapons to slay them. As they reached the top of the staircase, a fireball launched from their right, sending wooden spikes used as barricades on the side flying into the unlucky first assailants.


The cries of the Stormcloak men as they were impaled by flaming spears was flooded out by the cries of war. There was only one course of action to counter the mage and the archers who attacked their invading party. And that was to storm them. Brund's men quickly overwhelmed the mage Forsworn woman who killed four of his soldiers, swarming and impaling her relentlessly with their cold Nord steel before she could overcome the shock of seeing so many men appear from nowhere. The outcome was the same for the archers as well.


Brund now took the lead as they came to a dark steel double door leading into the stone structure inside of a mountain. The ice covered stalactites hanging down from the stone over covering before the door looked like the teeth of some large creature, making the men look like they were marching straight into the belly of the beast. Upon opening the door, the men could see the architecture of the ancient Nords, as well as the mummified remains of one of their ancestors. It was already apparent before, but now he knew for sure that the Forsworn stumbled across an ancient Nord structure. All the more reason to clear the heathens out.


The area near the door was covered in snow and ice from outside, as expected, but eventually greyed out as Brund and his men moved further on, seeing torches and candles warming the place as well as giving it light. There was another staircase leading further into the cave barrow, which the men quickly ascended. Brund set off a trap as he ran towards the ring of ice before the staircase, but his armor protected him from the darts. One came close to sticking him in the neck, but it only bounced off of his steel collar.


As soon as Brund and his men came up, cries of surprise and battlecries echoed throughout the cave as the Forsworn panicked and struggled to overcome their shock. Some of the Forsworn above them on a stone caged overpass tried shooting arrows down at them as they stormed in. Brund didn't give them the chance to recover, having his men storm past the few Forsworn who were in their way. But before they could advance any further, the Forsworn came with a force of their own to meet their attackers.


In the narrow ancient hallway, the two sides met, calls of "For the Reach" and "For Skyrim" filling everyone's ears before screams and the ripping of fur and flesh did as well. One of the foresworn in the front managed to stick a bone barbed sword through a stormcloak's eyeslit in front of Brund, who without hesitation swung his hammer through both of them, now that the Nord was dead. His hammer sent both of their skulls crashing into the wall, the Forsworn's being cracked open like a watermelon and decorating the stonework of the hall.


The Nord's superior weaponry and shields made sure that the resistance didn't last long. It only took a handful of Forsworn deaths to cause them to retreat down the hall. But before all of them could run, one of the Forsworn pulled a steel lever on the opposite side, causing long pendulum blades to suddenly start cutting up men in the hallway, Stormcloak and Forsworn alike. Brund saw one coming before him just in time, and sent his hammer smashing into the wooden shaft that held the blade, blocking it and keeping it from killing the men who ran before him. The Stormcloaks who made it past thanks to this quickly made it to the lever and deactivated it so that the rest of the men could make it past the hallway.


There were more traps laid before them in the cramped corridors of the hallway, such as poisoned darts and magical wards. But Brund's men charged through all of them, as they were not meant to hold back a force of any real size. When Brund's men fought their way to the end of the door, they found the Forsworn banging madly at another ancient steel door. The Nords laughed as they fell on them, realizing their companions locked the doors and left them to die so that they could slow their advance. The foresworn were waiting further beyond. One of them waited on the other side of the door, eavesdropping and listening.


All he could hear was screaming and insane laughter from the Nords on the other side. Then a liquid from under the door seeped through, pooling around his feet. As he realized it was the blood of his friends that he just betrayed, reaching out to him as if to escape the Nords, a loud banging noise woke him from his thoughts. He took a step back as if to run, but before he could, the doors shot open and he was consumed by the blood thirsty northern men, trampled below their feet as they ran forward, barely noticing him as they poured in to reach the rest of the Forsworn.


Before they got too far, one of the men took a step on a stone circle with some markings on it. The sound of some internal machination being activated was heard, but before he could act, a large swinging steel door sent him flying backwards, blood oozing from the holes in his body from the spikes on the swinging trap.


"This is going to be a problem..." said one of the Nords. As soon as he did, he could hear shouting from behind him and saw the other Stormcloaks quickly parting out of the way.


"Move it snowbacks! I got this!" Brund's powerful lungs deafened everyone as he ran past them with a pendulum from the trap they encountered earlier, broken at the base and grasped in his hands. Stepping on the stone intentionally, he violently shoved the pendulum at an angle, with the blade horizontal, so that it would stop the door in it's tracks. Using this for leverage now, Brund pushed the pendulum up towards the wall, and shoved the trap spiked cage door back until it locked in place. His men ran past him, shields raised to protect him in the narrow crossing from arrow fire, then chased down the remaining Forsworn, killing who they could catch, but ultimately failing to get them all.


Brund came behind them, rushing out the door with his new weapon in tow and paused shortly to see the enemy base with all of it's arches and crossing stonework in the distance, and the enemies they were chasing running away across a small stone pass crossing over a small stream. Pointing to the stone building known as Hag's End with his pendulum in hand, Brund cried, "Charge! Cut them down into a paste!"


The Forsworn despite being taken by surprise didn't take long to greet the Nords in battle. Before the first Nord even crossed the little stone bridge, bone arrows already started raining down on the men from the walls above. The Nords found out quick that the Forsworn had began to adapt their primitive weaponry to better fighting them. The Bone arrowheads were especially thin, thin enough to more easily pierce the soldier's chainmail under coverings, which they saw as some of the arrows slipped through their raised shields due to their charge not leaving room for a tight formation.


"Keep running forward!" Brund called, not wanting to waste time tightening the men up for a shield wall. The Forsworn couldn't match them up close. Their sole strategy for fighting this war so far was guerrilla warfare, for that's all they could pull off. But now, they were forced to fight force against force in plain sight, no tricks, no hiding, no maneuvering. Another wave of arrows was sent down on the Nord's heads, cutting down almost a dozen soldiers in injury or death, but one way or the other, being out of this fight. Finally, the Nords reached the staircase which lead to two more small ones before leading into the rest of the area. The Forsworn had the advantage, standing on the high ground on the side of the staircases as they rained arrows down on the Nord's heads.


Brund was in the most danger, not wearing a helmet and being a big target, but the men didn't make it easy for the Forsworn to hit, as the men in the back raised their shields as the frontlines pushed forward. The Forsworn were growing desperate, and threw themselves over the enemy lines from the top of the staircases in almost zealous suicidal glee, yelling out fearlessly as they attempted to break the Nord lines. It was clear at this point that the heathens weren't fighting to defend, but to take as many Nords out with them as they could. Brund fought in almost the same way, savagely swinging around his makeshift pendulum-axe and leaving heavy grotesque gashes in the Reachmen who tried reaching him with their short bone spiked weaponry. 


While this was going on, the Nords in the back went to the left and right paths and threw grappling hooks over the walls to sneak up on the Forsworn from behind. One of the hooks found a Forsworn, hooking itself in a woman's shoulder and violently wrenching her down as the metal ripped through her flesh and caught on the stone so that the Nords below could climb up. One of the Forsworn mages caught on and started sending Nords flying off the walls with lightning magic as the others were shooting arrows at the Nords who finally broke past their melee fighters.


One of the Forsworn women who was trampled over in the Nord's advance tried gripping at one of the men's nethers to bend them over and stab with her dagger, but the soldier she was grabbing at had nothing to grab...the Nord looked down at the confused and desperate woman and stomped her face in with the Stormcloak's powerful leg. The soldier chuckled and screamed out in a feminine voice, revealing that there was a woman hiding under that helmet and muscular physique, obviously one who lived for battle and not looking pretty in a dress.


The mage Forsworn must have killed seven Nords before she finally met her match. One tough son of a bitch who got hit by a fireball earlier got back up after being knocked off the wall and sent the grappling hook back up, then leaned his head to the left to dodge an incoming lightning bolt. When he climbed up, he jumped to the side to dodge another fireball from the mage, alternating lighting and fire in her hands, all being skillfully evaded while the Nord slowly walked forward while twirling his grappling hook. Finally after spinning in a circle and bending over to dodge another lightining bolt, the charge raising his neck hairs as he did, the Nord with both hands sent the hook flying over the mage's head before he pulled it back and hooked into the Forsworn's fur and animal skin clothing.


"Come to me, cur!" He cried as he quickly reeled her in. Before she could recover, the Nord walked forward and shoved his axe in her skull. The Nord was taking his time, admiring the kill before an arrow came flying towards his skull. Luckily, his fellow shield brother nearby was watching him and blocked the blow with his shield before throwing an axe at the attacker.


"Don't get cocky, Ralof! You're no Storm-Blade!"


"You're right, I'm better!" he said, obviously boasting. After the two stopped their brief laughing, Ralof thanked his companion and continued closing in on the rest of the Forsworn, trapping both Forsworn forces in the middle of their men on the left and right side of Hag's End.


The fighting eventually started to die down now. Brund was swinging his new weapon back and forth as if it was still attached to the trap he broke it off from. A Forsworn in front of him was struggling to get close and eventually just said "**** it" and made for the door to the building. Before he could get too far however, Brund spun around and threw the weapon at the fleeing Reachman, soaring through the man's neck before banging loudly on the steel door he was seeking refuge in. The last remaining Forsworn had broken weapons and abandoned them altogether, using their nails and teeth to kill as best they could before they were finally cut down.


Honmund watched as a Reachman bit into the neck of a Nord, then looked around and jumped at another to chomp on. As he leaped at another man, Honmund sent his Nordic Carved axe into his belly in mid air, then threw him over his head down the staircase to bleed out in the cold. Honmund felt the familiar tingle of his battle scratches being healed from the enchantment in his axe as it drained health from his last kill. His pleasant smile faded as he flinched from the sound of Brund's voice barking out orders.


"Alright, set up a perimeter outside of the Redoubt, then send for the rest of our men. Look for an easier route. Have twenty men go around looking for survivors. Gather them and bring them to the center of this place for interrogation. Then gather our dead. No one is to go in the building! Honmund, follow me."


"What are we looking for in there?" he called out. Suddenly, a purple shimmer of light and a loud magical noise went off, showing the outline of some figure before it disappeared. The sound of an old woman was heard laughing just before she went away.


"There's your answer. These freaks seem to revere those things, and treat them as leaders. We capture it, and we can find out some valuable information." This was true, but Honmund knew Brund was after something else, but didn't say while he was in front of the men. "You ten, block off these doors! When you hear my voice on the other side, open it. But only then. Don't come in, no matter how long I may be inside. Do you understand?" The men looked at each other with confused looks, but they nodded and obeyed their orders regardless.


Brund forcibly took a grappling hook from one of his soldiers, then threw it at the narrow stone overlooking where the hag came from, then climbed his way up, with his Hammer-Fang strapped to his back. When he reached the top, he called down and had the men throw his pendulum up to him, then walked ahead, not waiting for Honmund to catch up.



Brund and Honmund didn't have long to find the Hag, the wheezing being clearly audible even from just entering the building. When they found her, she was sitting at a stone chair, looking at a circle pit built into the stonework with lamp oil covering the surface covered in skeletons with two round lanterns hanging over it. The unusual sight was the second thing the two warriors noticed as they entered the room. The first being the smell...and then, the old "woman", wheezing while she sat. "If you wanted to kill Ezmeralda, you wouldn't have just come on your own, ordering your men not to enter...yes, I heard you. So...what do you want?"


Honmund found it hard not to focus on how disgusting this revolting creature was and couldn't believe that he was actually talking to it. Never would he have guessed this to have happened when he first came to Skyrim from Solstheim. "How did you ever come to be...whatever it is you are, creature? Some connection to Hircine?" Ezmeralda ignored the question, scraping the stone seat with her talon claws, displaying her impatience.


"I get enough gawkers from my own people without having to deal with you two. What is it that you want?" Honmund didn't display his annoyance, too busy wondering exactly what it was that Brund wanted from this creature himself. Finally Brund stepped forward...then laid out his demands.


Some time after Brund spoke, Honmund was still staring at him with wide open eyes. "You are truly insane. Do you know that? Are you really that desperate t-"


"Shut your mouth and hold your weapon out to make sure she doesn't try anything. I brought you here to make sure nothing goes wrong." Ezmeralda's eyes were wide with excitement. Never has a Nord ever approached her with a request like this before. Not in the many long years that she's walked the land.


"I will do as you request, in the guarantee that you let me live."


"Good. Honmund, stand guard." Brund said. Honmund was speechless now at this point. Brund was determined. There was no convincing him otherwise. What he saw next was both remarkable and terrifying both at the same time. He almost dropped his axe at one point.


"This man isn't insane. He's Sheogorath himself. He's madness incarnate." Brund stepped forward from the Hagraven now, a new man, if you could still call him that, and looked Honmund in the eyes with the confidence of Ysgramor himself. Not much, if anything ever broke the ex Reaver's cool, but this...."How...how do you feel?" he asked, unsure of what else to say.


Brund closed his eyes and cracked his neck, before saying, "I feel...awake."


Honmund just kept staring at him as Brund stared back at him, as did the grinning Hagraven behind him, still sitting at her stone throne.
 "Awake? Really? B-"


"Shut up." Brund said as he swung his new weapon at Honmund without warning. Honmund parried it in time luckily, but his eyes were wide open with shock.


"I knew it! You really are mad!"


"I am not mad, I am awake! Yyyarrgh!" Again, the Bull came charging with his pendulum, swinging violently and savagely, almost without care. Honmund was forced to block the attack each time; and each time he could feel the thrashing and violent vibrations threatening to rip through his hands and tear his tendons in them asunder. Brund switched things up and brought down his pendulum over Honmund's head, but he sidestepped it and moved to decapitate Brund. Brund quickly ducked under it and let go of his pendulum, which was brought down with so much force, it stuck into the stone floor. After ducking under Honmund's strike, Brund yelled out with all the ferocity he could muster before picking Honmund up off his feet and throwing him into the pit of oil next to him.


Walking towards him slowly, he yanked the pendulum out of the floor and threw it at the lanterns above, dropping them into the pit and setting Honmund aflame. The only thing Brund's mind could think at that moment, was that he now knew for sure he could win. That, and the smell of burnt flesh was one hundred times more pleasing than the smell of the hagraven. The hagraven.....


"What will you tell your men of your companion, my warrior...."


"I'll tell them you burned him alive, what else? He was just a bandit turned merc. And now, his men will be mine. Or they can all be executed for their involvement in the death of our two Stormcloak soldiers. Their choice, really. Oh, and one other thing. I'm not your warrior...."


Brund without warning swung his pendulum down once more in the direction of the hagraven, but when he did, the wheezing and bad smell left. Besides burning flesh of course. He heard her footsteps in the hallway behind him and knew that she was running towards the exit. He had the perimeter locked down, but knew somehow her magical ability would guarantee her safe passing. He looked back now to the pendulum stuck in the chair. "No matter," he said as he yanked it back out. "I got everything I wanted."

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