An Elders Scrolls Fan Based Novel - The Heir to the Lokken Kingdom

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Parts One and Two combined as the intended Novel
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A work inspired by Morrowind Modders and their Mods

The Heir to the Lokken Kingdom

By Eric Dana Vaughan

Fan fiction inspired by The White Wolf of Lokken

Based on the characters by Bethesda, Emma and Grumpy, Neoptolemus, and the terrain by Teutonic

With notable nods to items by soticoto, antiscamp, The LGNPC Team, Fandorn Delavie, Bad Karma, Korana, and others I’m sure.

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

     Deep beneath the winding inactive volcano, a great rumbling was heard that still invoked fear to all that heard it.  It reverberated over the sharp brown and black stone dotted here and there with even sharper shards of volcanic glass obsidian.

     A cloaked, lone, acolyte weaved his way along the narrow path holding a gilt scroll from the emissaries of the Daedra prince Mehrunes Dagon.  The scroll casing was a thing of nightmares, seemingly made to remind the messenger of the sadistic nature of its author.  Red and black spines wrapped about a cylindrical gold case made gripping it difficult, and painful.  Seemingly this was its intent.

    

     Da Nan’Rin flexed his toe-claws on the stone steps with purpose.  He hoped that his noisy entrance would wake the sleeping Tosh Raka, their great Tiger Dragon emperor ahead of time.  It had been known to all Ka Po’Tun that waking Tosh Raka from slumber came at a cost of him devouring the annoyance.  Da Nan’Rin possessed the armor of all protectorate Ka Po’Tun warriors.  A wild assemblage of fanged and clawed images interlocked into a ferocious scene, terrifying and beautiful at the same time.  There, guards wore red and yellow, whilst their commanders wore black and green.  Each shoulder of those in command bore a spike, which protruded menacingly from it, arcing backwards over their head.  On closer observation, this spike was really a discarded Dragon’s tooth, its size giving the imagination all manner of reasons to fear.

 

     Reaching the end of the steps, a narrow stone walkway gave way to a rim that surrounded the chasm where Tosh Raka slumbered.  As Da Nan’Rin approached, he purposely kicked a rock over the edge loudly as one last attempt to prevent an unfortunate demise…his own.

 

With a great roar, that shook the pebbles and rocks underfoot, Tosh Raka yawned and spat a ball of fire to the sky above him.  He scratched at the ground with great, sharp, black claws and flexed his wings in a stretch.  Great leathery orange and black things, mottled here and there with stripes that resembled the tiger cat that it used to be.  When he spoke, it sounded as if thunder itself tried to talk to the world.

 

     “There was no need for the rock, I heard you descend the moment you arrived.”

 

Da Nan’Rin relaxed, but barely.  He was raised to never trust Gods and Dragons, and that went doubly so when they were mixed together.

 

     “My most humblest of apologies venerable one.  It is only due to the message I bear that I would even dare to wake the great Tosh Raka from his slumber.  It appears that the Daedra wish an audience with the most magnificent one.”

 

Tosh Raka yawned again, as deafening as before but spared the night sky the fireball.  He seemed interested, but barely.  Da Nan’Rin counted his blessings that he wasn’t annoyed.  Perhaps he might live to see tomorrow after all.

 

     “The Daedra?  Ha!  Which one now?  The poet?  The lover?  The hunter?  BAH!  Why would these Gods and Demigods entertain the thought that I would care one breath of their ridiculous plans and schemes?  Which one Acolyte?”

 

     “Mehrunes Dagon, your most venerable.”

 

Tosh Raka scratched the folds of scales at his chin.  Mehrunes Dagon?  This could be interesting, since he had not heard from this one in many an age.  Weighing the odds, Tosh Raka decided that there is never any harm in at least listening to a good lie or story.

Both, he reasoned, have the capacity to entertain.

 

     “Proceed with your message, Acolyte.  This might prove to be amusing.”

 

Da Nan’Rin removed the scroll cap and punctured his hand.  The blood dripped down his hand and arm as he raised the cylinder and placed two long claws into the tube, withdrawing the scroll.  It had been a long time since he read Daedric anything, wishing that Mehrunes Dagon had the style of the Goddess Azura.  She at least sent her Winged Twilight whose unusual voice sounded both melodic, and memorable.  Unrolling the scroll, he wiped his bloody hand on his armor and dropped the offending cylinder to the floor.

 

“Most powerful and venerated Tosh Raka, Tiger-Dragon of Ka Po’Tun and ruler of the skies and lands of Akavir.  I beg this indulgence of your time, to hear my wisdom.

 

Long are the days since Man and Mer walked upon your lands, and the half-men Snake leeches of the Tsaesci have been banished to travel the seas and invade the isles of the goblinoid.  We have watched as these thinking insects have profaned our memories, defiled our lands, and spread across the world and planes with their incessant evolution.

 

It has come to my attention, through interference from those lesser beings of my own kind, that these insects have even slain their own God-Kings, and have even gone so far as to unite all of their inferior and wild races into a cohesive force.  I have neither fear nor belief that these insignificant creatures can harm us directly, but the fight that they have just won over Dagoth Ur and the God-Kings proves that they are unpredictable, if not wholly blasphemous. 

 

There seems to be a focal character, influenced by legend that seems to have garnered the support if not whole help from the Daedra Lord Azura, the supposed reincarnation of Lord Nerevar.  These ignorant creatures have taken to calling him by their sagas and legends, the “Nerevarine”.  I have sent scores of followers and have even helped Dagoth Ur indirectly with beings and magic to thwart this illegitimate upstart.  By either divine intervention or pure luck, he has managed to escape my grasp, but perhaps I can lure him out with a plan of subterfuge, and perhaps, you can help me with this.

I plan a series of staged attacks directly from my realm on Oblivion, where I will raise several portals at first in remote areas to force armies and gentry to thin out their resources.  From these portals I shall unleash my minions and most loyal followers to lay waste to any and all in their path.  Eventually, I will at an appointed time attack the entire focal point of their strength, the Imperial City of Cyrodiil.  Unrest has already begun because I have set about rumor and half-truths about the Imperial family, and there are factions of the denizens of the shadows that have and will be instrumental.  As we speak, the Imperial legions as well as some of their citizens have left Vvardenfell, on their way back to Cyrodiil.  The Ghostgate is down, a result of this upstart’s supposed victory, but this works in my favor by allowing movement unhindered by this obstacle.

 

Where your help would be most appreciated, would be in perhaps orchestrating more unrest and subterfuge to further disrupt this tenuous harmony.  If by some means we could attack one of the Great Houses, perhaps the Redoran since they are bound by the strictest tenets of honor and duty and lay its blame on the Nord race, this may create a most delicious disharmony.  My intelligences tell me that the Nerevarine is of the Nord race, which with such a plan in place, this would perhaps vulcanize more animosity towards the Nerevarine and his sires.

 

My oracles tell me that the sires of this upstart may indeed pose a definitive threat to me.  While they did not say it was the Nerevarine or even the Nords, there was some speculation that it was a person of some importance.  This is why I have set mistrust amongst the Imperial family and the people who honor them.  Already some of their sires have been eliminated.  An ounce of prevention employed if you will, to address an annoyance in the future.

 

There are great things underway most venerated one, and it would be wise and beneficial to be a part of it.”

 

     “Signed with the seal of Mehrunes Dagon, Prince of Destruction, your Greatness.”

 

Tosh Raka thought about what he had heard.  Again he is faced with schemes, plans, lies and half-truths.  One thing in this message disturbed him.  All know that the Septim bloodline was graced with the blood of their Akatosh, the dragon.  It is a dragon that Tosh Raka himself has become, and the most powerful.  If Mehrunes Dagon doesn’t care about the half dragon bloods, then it stands to reason he doesn’t care for full dragons in general, by his reasoning.

 

Then there is the issue of Tamriel itself.  There cannot be two owners of Tamriel, and Tosh Raka believed his destiny is to rule Tamriel, not destroy it as Mehrunes Dagon would simply because he can.  His idea, and he had many ideas, did not include sharing with the likes of the Prince of Destruction.

 

Tosh Raka had decided.  He was going to use the one facet that his kind possess, and which all seem to forget…immortality.  Wait long enough, and most annoyances die out, and cease to be annoyances.  This being, this “Nerevarine” intrigued him though.  Having removed the powerful God-King Dagoth Ur is one thing.  A mad God has weaknesses.  But the God-King Almalexia?  This must have taken some advantage, some skill.  One such as she is not so easily dispatched. 

 

     “Acolyte?”

 

Da Nan’Rin was watching his master with interest, and still wondering if this was his last day. 

 

     “Yes Great One?”

 

     “Prepare a message for the Tang-Mo Council of Elders.  Ask them for any information that will enable me to send a message to this, Nerevarine.”

 

     “As commanded Great One.”

 

     “Also, send the emissaries from Mehrunes Dagon down to me…I have…needs.”

 

It took Da Nan’Rin all his reserve to contain his inward glee.

 

     “Immediately, Great One.”

 

Da Nan’Rin practically vaulted from the rim where Tosh Raka lay.  He was taking the steps upward two to three at a time, all the while smiling his fanged grin and letting his movement cool the layer of sweat that was soaking his armor and helm.  He even ignored the pain of his punctured hand, so was his relief.

 

     “Better them, than me.” He mused aloud.

 

Tosh Raka settled down in thought.  Perhaps this upstart possesses some information or ability that can help him with the issues present on Akavir.  It will be the season of summer soon, and with that the thaw of the Kamal.  Though no threat to him and his kind, it is a perpetual annoyance that must be quelled each season.  Were they not so buried deep within the ice and snow, Tosh Raka gave thought to destroying all the Kamal where they sleep.  But like dragons, it is best to let demons as well sleep where they lay.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

     The ground was course underfoot, and betrayed each step taken.  Flattening against the wall, the sounds of the ash zombie’s ragged breathing competed with the sounds of the rumbling volcano.  Heat…far worse than a Seyda Neen summer day whipped his face, worsened by the smell of sulfur and death.  An ashen gray arm groped the darkness, nearing his face, which was blended with the jagged rock walls.  Chameleon spells, one must love them. 

     A head appeared, the face of nightmares.  Grey as the Dunmer it was once, its Elven heritage only visible in the ears that remained on its head.  The eyes and nose, once of use to it now scooped away.  All that remained was a gaping hole of darkness, the faintest hint of reflecting light off of the back of its empty skull.

 

     Taking a step, his foot landing on the traitorous soft rock that crumbled loudly, gave his position away.  Its head snapped to the sound.  Its arms rising with crooked fingers and broken nails, it opened its wet drooling mouth in alarm. 

No time! No time! He thought.

Lunging, the blade’s enchanted glow bathing its face in moving light soon replaced the smoke and flames of the fire that ignited its flesh.  Howls of pain and fury echoed along the cave walls, soon to be cut short by the arc of the glass sword in his hand.

 

“Ewwwyyuuhh” it spoke, a stranger sound than remembered.

 

“Ewwwyyuuhh” he heard again, this time followed by the wet sound of a bucket filling.

     Dandowin snapped awake, his skin awash in sweat from the nightmare.

 

“Ewwwyyuuhh”, the sound again, followed by the coughs and spits of someone vomiting.  It was then he noticed he was alone.  The wolf pelts pulled back to his feet, crumpled in a tangle of fur and linen.  The dying flames of the crackling fireplace cast dancing shadows on the wall dimly lighted the room.

      He searched the room, its play of lights and smells of firewood and sweaty furs hitting him as his vision cleared of sleep.  There, off to the corner, the source of the sound.  The familiar warmth spread in his heart, as his eyes settled on the shapely feet that sat beneath a curvy backside.  Broad shoulders ending in a tousled mane of silver-white hair, which bobbed up and down over an open bucket.

     Lifting from the bed, the cool of the floor sent a chill that went straight to his spine.  Kneeling to her side, he asked with concern:

 

     “Are you okay?”

Laurenna raised her head, affixing her bloodshot crystal blue eyes on Dandowin.  She cocked an eyebrow, which in one movement said “How could you be Nerevarine and be this dense?”

Turning to vomit again, her poor shoulders shuddered with the effort.  Dandowin placed a hand upon her cool shoulder, a feeling of helplessness welling.  Caring for loved ones are never as easy as fighting.

 

“I told Sonja that Vvardenfell mudcrab meat won’t keep from the long voyage.  The soup was a bit off.”

 

She raised her head from the bucket, and gave him a knowing look that was both amused and slightly pitiful.

“I’m not sick you silly thing…I’m pregnant!”

 

Dandowin fell back on his backside.  Mind racing, all he could do was sputter…”Pregnant?  But, How?”

Laurenna shifted, her legs to her side, the fireplace light now replaced by the cool gray of an early Lokken morning.  Reaching up, she grabbed a mead tankard from the nearby table.  Taking a mouthful, she swirled and gargled, spitting in into the bucket she leaned on.  Smiling weakly, she looked at Dandowin. All he could think was how beautiful she is even now, hair tousled and face flushed.  She stretched a leg to his now parted ones, running a now warm foot along one of his bare calves.  The look upon her face glowed with pure naughty remembrance.

 

“How, indeed?”

 

    Dandowin moved to her, and scooped her into his arms.  Nearly as tall as he, taller with her wig on occasion, he drew her tightly.  She sighed a throaty “Mmmmmm” as she then moved to sit upon the bed.  He moved to join her but she put up a hand and stopped him.

     “Nuh-unh, my love.  You’ve got to tell the news to Sigrid.”

Sigrid.  Mother-in-law.  The true Ruler of Lokken, by all accounts.  Dandowin mused to himself how to approach the subject.  Searching the room for his leggings, he found them at his feet and pulled them on.  Fastening them with his long leather belt, he turned this way and that looking for his tunic.  He turned back around and was smacked in the face by his crumpled tunic, by a now giggling Laurenna.  It was times such as these, when he looked at her in the early morning light that he felt he was truly blessed.  She was beautiful, far too beautiful for the likes of he, he though to himself.  Now dressed, he closed the distance between them to kiss her.  Nuzzling her silver-white hair under his chin, he breathed in her scent and held her tightly.  The room, now all aglow with morning light told him that it was probably a good time since everyone should be awake now.

 

As he turned to leave her, she held him fast with an iron grip and said, “Take the bucket.”

 

     Just outside the door the castle was already busy with the usual daily milling about.  Guards shouldered past, some giving him a hard slap on the back as they laughed openly.  As Nords go, Dandowin was hardly the largest or tallest.  Many times he would joke with them at the Main Hall during his earlier days in Lokken that he was “built for speed, not punishment.”  This caused much raucous laughter from regulars such as Rolf Klang and Didrik.  More times than he could remember, also the spewing of mead in laughter.

     It was in the memory of such times that distracted him from noticing the outstretched Snow wolf skin boot in front of him.  He caught it in the sweeping of his right foot, spilling forward bucket still in hand.  Landing hard on his stomach with no guards about, it was then a great weight landed on his back.  Before he could right himself, a silver Nordic dagger immediately went to his throat lifting his head.  A voice, chill and filled with memorable mischief, chided evenly, “Well Nerevarine, what are you going to do now?”

     Dandowin froze, shoving the bucket from his hands he stiffened, smiling wryly, he uttered, “What can a simple hero do?”  In that instant, he arched his back up, slipping a few fingers under the attacker’s wrist. When they were airborne he twisted, grabbing the knife as the attacker came down hard on his stomach.  He let out a great “Oomph!” as he moved his arms up and grabbed the attacker’s waist, hands knitted in their brown tunic.  With a firm grip he dug his fingers in and started tickling as hard and fast as he could.

     “Quit it!”  Solveig bellowed as she laughed and giggled, turning this way and that, trying desperately to break free from Dandowin’s grasp.  He continued, chuckling, ”Yes…what can a simple hero do?”  

     They sat there a moment, breathing heavy and chuckling still.  The hall was empty but the sounds of the castle activity were everywhere.  It had only been the better part of a year since he was first sent to pick up the children for Sigrid.  He looked at her now, a few inches taller and a few pounds heavier.  Sonja’s good food is agreeing with her.  You could see easily that, like Laurenna, she was going to grow up as beautiful as she was skillful.  Still holding on to her, he stood up, shifted her weight, and started to walk when Solveig tapped him on the shoulder and said…”The Bucket?”  He put her down and she snatched it to take a look.  She immediately grimaced followed by an “Ewwwwww”, shoving the bucket back into his hands.

     Handing her back her blade, she sheathed it and took his free hand, swinging it back and forth as she hummed.  They were just about to Sigrid’s door when she stopped and pulled him face to face.  The serious look she gave confused him, sad, with that unmistakable line of worry between her eyebrows. 

 

“You’re not going to send me away just because Laurenna’s having a baby are you?” 

Her face still serious, now held the welling of her tears in the corner of her eyes.

The question stung.  Not caring to even wonder how she knew, he just reached out and grabbed her close, lifting her straight off the ground. 

 

     “Never.” he choked, “Never!”

Solveig hugged him so tight his neck snapped in response.  She struggled free, wadding her tunic sleeve in her hand to wipe away her tears.

 

      “I love you, Dandowin, Laurenna too.” 

Wiping his own tears away, he bent, kissed her forehead and said, “We love you too, sweetie; we love you too.” She opened the door, but stepped aside.  Puzzled, he turned to see her take the bucket and wink, sniffle, skipping away to breakfast.

 

     Sigrid.  By Azura, how was he going to approach the subject?  After all, she was the one who talked of babies first.  But with Lena and Solveig here, would another one be too much?  Pushing the door wider he marveled at Sigrid’s room.  It would seem she was prepared for everything.  Off to one side, he heard the lilting tones of a playing Lena.  She looked up with her now longer silver/white hair about her shoulders, the eyes wide and only outshined by her very toothy smile.  He noticed she was missing one.  “Dandowin!!” she screamed joyously, running and jumping into his arms.  “Mmmmmwahh!!” she kissed his cheek, smiling wide as she pointed at her missing tooth with her tongue. 

 

     “Look, I lost a tooth!  I’m a big girl now!”

 

     “You certainly are!” he chuckled, lifting her over his head as she giggled gleefully.  Dandowin looked to Sigrid who was busy mixing one liquid with another, her brow knitted into a stern look of concentration.  She pinched some dried yellow petals; the aroma from them filled the well-lit room with their sweet floral scent.

 

     Clearing his throat, he set Lena down and moved slowly to Sigrid.  “Sigrid?” he started to say, but was cut off by the sight of her single finger, raised as her back was to him.  Her long silver hair seemed as disciplined as the movements she made.  Deliberate, knowing, and precise.  He was about to speak again when she turned abruptly, smiled, and thrust a full spoon into his now parted mouth.

 

     “Swallow this Dandowin dear.” She said as she tilted the spoon handle upward, spilling the contents of the elixir into his mouth.  All at once his tongue tingled and his eyes watered.  He was about to spit it out, when she pinched his now tingling nose and gave him a wink.  When he regained his composure, she replaced her thumb and forefinger with a peck on his nose.

 

      “How are you dear?”

 

      “*Cough* just fine Sigrid…what was that?”

 

     “Just a tonic to help you stay healthy, dear, since you have some traveling to do.”

 

     “Traveling?”

 

     “Yes dear.  You’ll have to go to the mainland and get a cradle.  Then I have a list of some items as well as lists from Sonja, Granny Torunn, and the Klangs.”

 

     “A cradle?  Then you um… know that she um…”

 

     “Oh Dandowin” she smiled, putting down her tools and walking to him.  She put both hands to his cheeks and shook his head.

 

     “She’s my daughter.  This is my home.  You’re my family.”

He softened at the remark.  After so many years of prison, so many lost friends to death and blight, to finally be part of something, a family.  A home.

 

      “But Sigrid…”

How could he breach the subject of the corprus curse?  Divayth Fyr didn’t really cure the disease he was cursed with in Ilunibi; he just removed the harmful effects and symptoms.  What of the child in Laurenna’s womb?

It would have to wait, he thought.  There are answers that need to be found, but best to gather the information from the source.

     The throne room was already buzzing with activity.  Kielreen was at her post at the bar, smiling wide and very much awake.  She was busy moving clean glasses from a basket to the shelves and boards behind her.  As Dandowin entered, she gave a quick wink followed by a broad smile.  Like Laurenna, she possessed her own unique beauty.  He was beginning to understand the rumors about Wulfgar, if all the women of Lokken were as beautiful.  Lucky me, he mused, to have married the most beautiful of them.

Lena was busy with her teddy bear, cradling and dancing in small circles.  Solveig flitted like a butterfly from throne, to floor and table then back to throne.  Her blade in hand, sometimes on her toes or firmly footed. 

     Lost in this idyllic moment, he jumped slightly at the slender arms that encircled his waist, wrapping around him.  They drew him close, firm breasts pushed into his back as Laurenna’s lips placed a kiss to the back of his neck.

     “My love.” She purred.

Turning to face her, she was wearing the new Bonny Swan dress he had bought her in Ebonheart.  He drew her tightly, and kissed her lovingly.  They moaned for the tiniest moment before their ardor was abruptly broken as Sigrid yanked Laurenna by the arm, dragging her to their table.

      “Good day dear!” she said with a smile.

 

 Laurenna stumbled at first, chuckling all the while as she said to an amused Dandowin, “Good bye my love.”

 

  

 

Chapter 2

 

 

     It was a rare, sunny Lokken morning.  The air was its usual crisp, nose burning cold, but the day was bright and white amongst the dark castle stone and brown timbers.

     Passing Ulfgrun, he nodded a greeting as Ulfgrun yelled in return, “Good work Castle Master!”  He motioned with his hands a round pregnant belly.  How in Vvardenfell did he find out?  Sensing his bewilderment, Ulfgrun just shrugged and yelled, “Sigrid!”

 

     The main hall was oddly full, since two of its regulars were forever absent, Lisendra, now sister-in-law and pilgrim of Dibella.  The other one, Didrik’s former pet Lucky who now keeps the kitchen staff amused snapping up any food that falls to the floor.  Many familiar faces did remain.  Karl and Stephann were there, lamenting the loss of Lisendra one would wager.  Ingrid entertained the usual smiling Muller, who beamed upon seeing Dandowin.  He raised his tankard, a gesture of thanks for his sharing the Treasure of Zeke Traeff with him.  Didrik and Rolf Klang stood at their usual place, amused with some of the new faces that graced the hall, fresh from the Solstheim coast.

     It was then he noticed the hooded figure at the bar.  Hoods in a frozen island are far from unusual.  But this one was so covered, the face fully submerged into the dark folds of hood.  Far stranger than the hood, was that no one in the main hall seemed to take note of the stranger.  Walking slowly forward, Dandowin froze.  He had seen these hands before.  The unmistakable mismatched golden and gray hands lifted the hood back to expose an equally mismatched hairless head.  What outshined the head was the uncharacteristic smile.

 

     “Hello, Dandowin.”

 

     “Lord Vivec.” He said with astonishment.

 

     It was nearly midday when Laurenna’s stomach finally settled.  Breakfast over, the dishes collected by Anneliese, she set about her day.  The stairs to the children’s rooms echoed her footsteps, as she thought about her condition.  Pregnancy.  Motherhood.  It was both exciting and frightening.  She felt that she’d be a great mother.  Laurenna a warrior and Dandowin the adventuring hero of some note.  The things she could teach her, or him.  Perhaps both, or the three she mused.  Mother could teach them many things, as well as the young aunts Lena and Solveig.   ‘Uncle Wulfren’ could teach them great things too, if he could get free of Lisendra for an hour or so.  Lisendra, she grimaced.  Thank goodness she was on the mainland with Wulfren.  No need to have two reasons to have a sick stomach.

     She was deep in unpleasant thought when the door to Solveig’s room opened wide before she could knock.  She stood there, all wide eyed and smiling.

 

     “Feel like a walk into town?” she asked Solveig excitedly.

 

Solveig just jumped into her embrace, giving her an audible kiss on the cheek.

     “Maybe we can run into Dandowin before he reaches Skullum?”

 

     “Maybe.” She chuckled.

They were just about to leave when Solveig pulled her back.  Puzzled, Laurenna cocked an eyebrow, smiling.  Solveig beckoned her with her finger whispering…

     “I have something for you.”

Laurenna played along. 

 

“You do? What is it?” She whispered back.

The look of mischief on Solveig’s face was priceless.  Looking left, then right, she slowly produced the now clean bucket from behind her back.  They laughed out loud together, so much so that the guards stopped walking, looking down the hall with amusement.

 

     Dandowin was still in shock.  Seeing Lord Vivec in Lokken can’t be a coincidence with his nightmares.  This is far too strange, especially with a smiling Vivec.

     “Lord Vivec.”  But he was stopped with a mock frown and a wave of his hand.

     “Just…Vivec will do, Dandowin.”  His smile was unnerving.

     “It’s good to see you out of the temple.  Traveling?  A holiday perhaps?”

Vivec seemed tense now.  “Would that it was so.  I come on a matter of some import.” 

     “But first –“

Vivec waved his hand and there was silence.  Not just the ceasing of all noise, but everyone, and everything, stopped.  Looking around, Dandowin could see the entire room was frozen in a moment in time.  It seemed as if the entire room was hit by a “paralyze” spell, but all items were frozen too.  Ingrid poured a tankard of mead now frozen still.  Didrik sputtered from a joke told by Rolf Klang.  His spew stopped about his face like a foamy fan.  All about him, nothing moved.

Vivec broke his concentration.  “Dandowin- what I must ask you, is for you alone.  This situation demands both the Nerevarine, and the Hortator of the Great Houses.” 

Dandowin stiffened, “What situation?”

     “The Sleepers and Dreamers.  Something terrible is taking place in the great cities.  You must-“

It was his turn to cut him off. 

     “I must? Azura herself said I deserve this rest.  But what did I do?  Instead of resting, I still ended up the slayer of men and monsters.  Even now, I have an entire island kingdom to care for.  My wife…she is with child.”

Vivec was nonplussed.  “Yes I know of your feats and exploits.  I know of Thirsk, the White Wolf, and yes, I even know of what you prevented on Tel Nechim.”

Dandowin grew impatient.  “Has not Dagoth Ur been slain? His brothers dispatched?  Whatever befalls those that follow him, is this not their due?”

Vivec stiffened, pointing a finger to his hand.  He tapped it angrily with each word spoken for emphasis.

     “Dandowin- this is a GENOCIDE!”

Backing a step away, he continued.

     “Even as we speak, in some major cities and small towns, all the Sleepers and Dreamers are being rounded up, and incinerated.”

Dandowin was conflicted.  When he vanquished Dagoth Ur, he had encountered the Sleepers and Dreamers that were just in the early stages of the blight.  Sightless, soulless, and without purpose, they just stand there.  No food and water.  No rest.  Eyeless sockets staring at a world they no longer felt kinship with.  He felt for them, but compared to the alternative, surely it was better than being Corprus spawn. 

     “Vivec” he softened.  “Even you must see that their need is beyond my help. What of Divayth Fyr?  Why can’t he just expand the Corprusarium?  Or what of Mistress Dratha and her experimentation?  I have seen both, and they-”

Vivec cut him off again with a wave of his hand and a raise in his voice. 

     “NO!” “You would turn a victim into a weapon?  As for Divayth Fyr, his subjects alone would annihilate those blinded helpless beings.  No, there must be another solution!”

 

     “But what? Dandowin snapped back.

     “Even if I could stop the genocide, what do you propose I do with all of these people?  The Ashlanders don’t want them.  The Great Houses I daresay are probably behind the extermination themselves.  There aren’t enough beds in all the temples of Vvardenfell to care for all of them.  So what do you expect me to do about it?  We don’t even have the facilities here in Lokken to care for that amount of people.”

 

     “I didn’t say the solution was easy or even feasible.”  Vivec softened now, looking very much like the stoic Vivec that Dandowin remembered in his trials of the Nerevarine.

     “But…these are Dunmer.  These are the very same people you, as Nerevarine swore to protect.  You cannot pick and chose who can be saved and who cannot.  Your duty-“

Dandowin had enough and snapped dangerously- “My duty, is to my pregnant wife, my loving family, and to the peoples of this island I have been given charge of.  Do not begin to lecture me about the duty of a Nerevarine, when on your orders, your own Dunmer were snuffed out like an evening candle just for believing themselves “The One”.

At that comment, Vivec rose, placing the hood upon his head.  His face, before being swallowed by the dark folds of cloth, looked like that of someone who had just heard of their own demise.  His voice tired, the smile that beamed in greeting now replaced by the stoic flat face that Dandowin remembered too well.  When he spoke, it was in a voice that felt like broken glass as it entered his ears.

“Perhaps you’ll do the right thing.  Perhaps you won’t.  It was my duty, as one who cares for his people to seek out the one who swore and promised to protect them.  It was my duty to try.  I have done that.  Remember this, Nerevar reborn.  Not all who suffered under Dagoth Ur’s evil were willing sycophants.  Some, like yourself, were cursed.

     With his last statement, he left, life returning to the main hall as soon as the door closed.

Dandowin looked around the room then, his mind tired, his heart even more.  Remembering what he told Solveig this very morning, he murmured to himself,

     “What can a simple hero do?”

Karl and Stephann turned then, a puzzled smile on their faces.  They both slapped his back as he walked past them in congratulations for Laurenna’s condition, but to him they felt no better than the lash of an Imperial whip.

Such was the heaviness in his heart.

 

     The outside air was a welcome chill.  His entire conversation with Vivec had left him sweaty and his clothes stuck uncomfortably to his skin.  The crunch of the snow underfoot brought him a measure of relief, as it was this he missed the most when he dared to remember his days in an Imperial prison.  How he missed the snow then.

He passed by Silja, her furred top and leggings moving slightly in the Lokken breeze.  She waved a single wave, lost in her conversation with Kolbein, who chatted and laughed.  Ismir nodded a “Hello”, whilst Ingegerd waved both hands in a comical manner, to show she was wearing both her gloves.  Her amber eyes shone brightly in the reflected sunlight off the snow.  The Njorns were about as well, as they passed Dandowin on their way to their home, holding hands as the children Marianna and Joar took turns making ugly faces at one another.  They smiled just long enough to form a new face.

     By the time he came to pass the Lokken Brewery, the door opened and he saw Laurenna giving a huge hug to ‘Aunt’ Gwen, followed suit by Solveig.  Gwen opened her eyes to shout a greeting to Dandowin, which caused his wife and spirited cousin to run and close about him, nearly knocking him over with their embrace.  Closing his eyes he let the cold outside and the warmth of his family take over from the gloomy mood that remained from his talk with Vivec.  Sensing something amiss, Laurenna honed in on his previous mood and brought her face to his.  Her crystal blue eyes searched his with concern, as she asked warmly,  “What is it?”

Smiling, he just brushed the question aside with a kiss to her face.  She gave him a smile and raised an eyebrow which said that this was far from over. 

     The dock was in view, and already some friends were there.  Anna the Clothier stood talking with Leilana the Trader, their arms about their waist, their breath was visible now as the cold started to increase.  Town guard Gudmund was patrolling the docks, turning and pointing as the longboat pulled down the channel, turning to wave at the lot of them as they came closer.  The sail was being lowered, the crunch of the ship’s keel against the shallow water and rocks signaling that Skullum and Dagfeal had returned. 

     “Ho! Lokken!” Skullum shouted, as all waved and smiled at his return.  His beard had a few ice crystals in it, giving him a much older look.  He turned to Laurenna, Solveig, and Dandowin. 

     “Hail! Lady and Castle Master, Princess of Lokken!” he said, winking.

 

Dandowin bumped Solveig with his hip, chuckling.  “Princess.”

Solveig grabbed a handful of snow and hit him in the side of the head.  They laughed as Laurenna bumped them both with an exaggerated shift of her hip, smiling all the while.

Skullum untied his cargo, and started to hand out packages to those at the docks.  Anna was given a large parcel, wrapped much in the shape of some folded clothing.  Leilana’s cargo was much larger, and she immediately commandeered Gudmund to start taking crates and satchels to her store.  There were a handful of wrapped and sealed letters, their wax seals chipped from the deep Lokken cold, which he handed to Dandowin.  Those that were roped seemed to have tokens or other mementos within. To Laurenna he tossed a small satchel, and to Solveig, he tossed a light bag, followed by a shiny apple. Peering into the bag, she noticed that there was a new teddy bear for Lena from the mainland, and a pair of really nice leather boots, without a doubt in her foot size.   Dagfeal emerged from the back, which was strangely tented.  Dandowin and Laurenna knew that longboats were tented for long voyages, or storms.  Both looked in surprise to each other at the sight of it. 

Skullum handed Dagfeal two large handled bags, which he then handed to the tall white-haired gentleman that emerged from the tent, wrapped in a brown robe and cloak.

     “Wulfren!” Laurenna screamed, eyes wide with surprise.  She was just about to close the distance, when she heard the unmistakable sound of Lisendra’s voice yelling as she now burst from the tented area.  Waving her arms in her also robed and cloaked demeanor, she shouted, “Sister-in-law!”

Her arms were wide in a beginning of an embrace, as she shoved past Wulfren and was caught up in the still unloading Dagfeal and Skullum.  Just then, Laurenna stopped cold, raised a quick hand to her belly whilst the other hand immediately went to her mouth.  Dandowin and Solveig turned simultaneously with concern.  Skullum, in an excellence of forethought, immediately kicked the longboat bucket straight to Laurenna.  The brash Lisendra just knocked down Skullum just as Dandowin and Solveig made a grab for the bucket, Solveig was the closer, and in one movement dropped her bag, caught the bucket with one hand and brought it to Laurenna’s chin just as she erupted in a violent vomit.

     “Ewwwyyuuhh”

 

Dandowin and Solveig both leaned back at an angle that Laurenna couldn’t see being between them, and they both made a face of widened eyes and mock frown.

Wulfren disembarked, grabbing the exuberant Lisendra around the waist and hoisted her off the boat.  His face was the same, a little sun burned from the distance in travel. 

     “Wulfren!” They grabbed each other’s arms in greeting.  “What brings you back home?”

Laurenna vomited again.  This time, with a sympathetic Solveig stroking her back.

 

     “What else? To be here for the birth of the future Castle Master!”

Dandowin was surprised again…”But how…let me guess, Sigrid?”

Wulfren smiled and shrugged.

Laurenna raised her head from the bucket.  She was not amused.

 

     “But that won’t be for half a year at the very least!”

Lisendra answered then, still quite excited and voice raised.

 

     “We know!  Isn’t that great! We can stay here and help you through it month after month!”

 

"Ewwwyyuuhh”, Laurenna vomited again as both Wulfren and Dandowin exchanged nervous glances.

 

 

  

 

Chapter 3

 

 

     The skies above Ald’ruhn were absolutely beautiful.  Wispy white clouds looked as if brushed by hand against the blue skies of midday.    The winds were warm and the sounds of the city were full and vibrant.  A great moment lost entirely on the dark mood that raged in Nidryne Redas’s mind.   She struggled with her sack and satchel, having to stop frequently to brush her face of tears and her red hair from her eyes.

 

     “DAMN HER!” she spat, adjusting the straps of her satchel. 

     “Blasted witch!  Dismiss me, ME?”  The memory of the morning played over and over in her mind.  She was still in mourning for the death of Bolvyn.  Her beloved Bolvyn who’s arms at night she missed always.  Even a year after his death, she cannot help but cry at the thought of him.  Of course, that wretched shrew of a wife of his was just fine. What could she possibly feel or know of his greatness?

The morning was just like any other.  She polished her Dwarven armor, set about her hair the way Bolvyn Venim liked it, in memory of his love.  He used to say how much the red of her hair was only matched by the glowing of her eyes.  She’d just settled to stand at her station near his daughter, when Dilvene Venim, his wife strode over to stand in front of her.  She immediately got a chill as she remembered the smirk on her face and the malice in her voice as she said, “Your services here are no longer required and you are dismissed.”

She would make them all pay, she thought darkly.  She was not without friends.  But first, there was the matter of personal revenge on the man who took her love away and who started this downfall of her life.  Dandowin.  Nerevarine.  Murderer!  If he had not come to Venim Manor that long time ago and enraged her love and master, he would still be alive, respected, and in her arms at night.  She knew what she had to do.  She knew that there were members of the Great Houses that did not like the thought of this upstart Nord representing them as their Hortator.  Surely, Dandowin had made many enemies during his illegitimate rise to fame.  It was they who she thought to seek first.  The enemies of the Nerevarine must be many.

     The climb up the steep ramp to the Silt Strider was difficult.  She was used to steps, and the weight of her armor.  But she had not been in regular clothing for quite some time, and her belongings were hastily prepared for her.  “N’wah” she muttered darkly.  There will come the day when they will all suffer here in Ald’ruhn and remember the name, Nidryne Redas.

She thrust her bags briskly into the hands of Navam Veran, the Silt Strider’s operator, nearly knocking him over the very high ramp platform.  Folding her arms about her, she just stood there, eyes taking in the expanse of the place that was once home, but now she wished were burned to the ground.  With wet eyes and grinding teeth, she planned multiple murders in her head as the sounds of the birds above Ald’ruhn disappeared.  There was no notice, only the pounding of her heartbeat in her own ears. As she turned to spit over the side of the ramp, she nearly snapped with rage as the Silt Strider bucked to the side of her, its huge front legs rearing as it bellowed a deep sound of complete panic.  Just as she regained her composure enough to yell at Navam, she lost all thought completely as she followed his pointing arm.

     Above the large crab shell of the Skar, she saw a dark, swirling mass of what could only be described as clouds of fire.  Lightning thrust out from the center of the swirling mass, as a deep reddening of the sky immediately radiated out from the outsides of the mass.  The sounds of a panicked city soon followed, as mothers yelled for their children to get inside.  Merchants hurried as their wares clanged and banged back and forth in the now rising wind.  Nidryne thought now to run down the ramp back inside when the entire ground shook violently.  Both she and Navam were knocked to the platform, as the Silt Strider broke free and strode off over the hills bellowing loudly.  There was another quake.  Then another.   She started to cry aloud as Navam Veran was knocked to the ground below. 

It was then that the whole of Ald’ruhn seemed to shake flattening her to the platform once again.  An explosive blast that broke one of her eardrums lifted the entire shell of the Skar into the air.   Intense flames and heat seared her face even at that distance.  She watched in complete horror as chunks of the Skar shell were thrown high in the air, with pieces of stairs and beams, all aflame.  Bodies, many she surely knew were thrown into the fiery air like paper dolls, flaming themselves as they landed back into the inferno as ashes.  The rumbling continued, a terrible rhythmic sound of death that now gave witnesses to it a glimpse at its source.  Cresting just over the now flattened shell walls of the destroyed shops and homes, the dark mass of the Oblivion gate groaned as it raised itself higher, billowing smoke and flames as the skies darkened to full red around the ruins of what was once Ald’ruhn.  Like a molten Daedric letter “O” from the Underworld itself it grew to an enormous height until it stopped, devastation and ruin falling off its top and sides.

     Nidryne Redas was barely sane as she lay there on the platform, hyperventilating from the shock and crying aloud. Blood trickled from her left ear, as the screams of those that were not lucky enough to be killed instantly were everywhere, now joined by an unholy thrum of energy coming from the huge structure.  The flames of the ruin seemed to be sucked right back into the center of the gate, where the swirling mass that was above it now was at its center.  From the sounds of the chaos, deep growls and howls of unimaginable terrors rose and spread outward.  As if in competition with the madness, Nidryne started chuckling.  The chuckling was replaced by a slow laughter, then crying.  She laughed louder and louder as she sucked in great breaths of air, to continue laughing.

She was laughing still as the guards from the crumbling tower picked her up and carried her down the ramp to a waiting cart.

 

     Evening in Balmora was busier than usual.  The weather was too humid and cloudy for the nightly show of fireflies that danced among the surrounding trees.  Dark clouds were starting to gather overhead, but not enough to deter the multitudes of people about at the evening’s start.

     There were sounds of laughter and conversation echoing loudly from the Eight Plates tavern.  It was crowded, with both inebriated and sober patrons dancing everywhere.  Most were celebrating the recalling of the Imperial legions back to Cyrodiil.  Others, well, who needed a reason to drink, flirt, or tell jokes?

     Ingred Rems was bored.  It had been over two years since she accompanied Dandowin to Red Mountain to defeat Dagoth Ur, and over a year since he left Balmora to visit the frigid lands of Solstheim.  He asked her to go, but she declined. Freezing feet and stinking Nords were not her idea of a new adventure.

    The adventures they had, she mused.  Many times, taking turns to save each other’s hides, replayed in her dour mind.  An Orc bumped into her, breaking her concentration and spoiling her reflection.

     “I’m sorry sir!” he belched loudly.

Ingred just frowned, asking herself again why she even bothered to come to the Eight Plates.  The answer was simple really…she was even more tired of Berna’s drunken bouts and Meira’s constant vanity.

With the legions being recalled, she gave thought to going back to Cyrodiil herself.  After all, Dandowin was in Lokken now, married to some big-breasted smelly Nord she imagined.  Dandowin.  My how she missed him so.  He was very much like their old home master; only he seemed to listen to her more when she spoke about her past.  They shared more than their share of battle scars, and on the coldest nights under the stars or out of the rain, they shared their warmth.

     Why couldn’t she trust him enough to love? She wondered.  There was obviously something there.  He always indulged her jaunts to Thongar’s Trade house when in Khuul, even when it was clear he was bored.  Ever thoughtful, he often gave her wild Stoneflowers, her favorite.  “What was it?” She murmured aloud.  She knew of course…it was the fear and distaste of becoming another bored wife at home with a parcel of kids.  The very thought of domesticity for her made her uneasy.  It would have been unfair to ask him to settle for an adventurer’s life when it was clear he wanted a family.  He did buy that quaint cottage in the Ascadian Isles with the rooms for children after all. 

     Ingred rose from her table, stretched, and was about to leave when she overheard two words that piqued her immediate interest.  Over in the corner by the bar, three hooded and cloaked Dunmer leaned close to talk but had to raise their voices to be heard over the loud tavern ruckus.

     “Truly! She was there!”

 

     “It no longer exists?  Everyone is dead?”

 

     “All but the demons and Daedra who rule it now.”

     “The Nerevarine?  Dead?”

 

     “She said as much, but was hysterical when they found her.”

 

     That was enough for Ingred, who strode to their table in an instant.  As she stood there, they stopped talking and glared at her.  Their lean, hard, faces hinted that these were no tradesmen.  Some were tattooed whilst others, bore the scarification patterns that were often seen on those from the Ashland camps to the Great Houses.  Their eyes, a mix of red, off red, and the glowing that the Dunmer often possessed, centered on her with unmasked hatred.

     Jinlan Mofta was the first to speak, and was not amused by the Imperial company, let alone a woman.

 

     “Leave us, or be left bleeding.”

Ingred leaned into his face.  Her nose was so close that he lost focus temporarily and his eyes crossed. 

That was all she needed.  In one swift movement she raised her arm, and brought her fist crashing down upon Jinlan’s head, not stopping until she heard the crunch of his nose on the wood table.  No one stopped dancing or talking, but a few slapped each other’s arms to point their attention to the fight.

     Timor Redas, closest to Jinlan started to rise, but was immediately reseated by the point of Ingred’s dagger placed menacingly under his left ear.  When she spoke, it was clear and full of lethal resolution.

     “Do I have your attention Dunmer?  Nod once.”

Timor nodded, letting a “Yes” escape his pursed lips

.

     “I didn’t say speak.”  She pressed the tip of the blade deep enough to prick his skin.  A bead of blood formed on the tip.

Timor nodded without a word.

     “Good.  Now, you will tell me everything you know about the Nerevarine, and who says he is dead.”

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

     Laurenna stood leaning against the large outside beam of the Main Hall.  The icy wind whipped about her face and she closed her eyes, enjoying each pass of the wind.  It lifted her silver-white bangs now and then, and she just let it do so.  She insisted that Dandowin and Solveig settle Wulfren and Lisendra into their cottage, whilst she enjoyed the quiet time outside as her stomach settled.

     Seeing Wulfren again was such a pleasure.  It seemed she really didn’t have any time with him, since his transformation from the White Wolf back to a human.  Lisendra was another matter.  Even as children she knew Lisendra was trouble.  It wasn’t jealousy, like some sisters feel when their brothers fall in love or marry.  If Wulfren had fallen for Ingrid, or Kielreen, or even Silja, she’d actually be happy and welcoming of them.  But Lisendra, for years she just kept her interests elsewhere knowing Wulfren cared for her.  This wasn’t play or “cat and mouse” teasing, but pure meanness, by her reasoning.

     She heard the latch to the cottage, and stood up straight.  The door opened and Solveig bolted from it running to Laurenna and hugging her tightly.  She looked up at her, smiling, and hugged her again.  Dandowin shortly emerged, clasping Wulfren’s arm a last time as he said his farewells, for now.  Turning to Laurenna, he smiled wide and also closed the distance to them for a group hug.  Looking into her face, Dandowin noted her discomfort. 

     “It’ll be just fine, you’ll see.”

Laurenna cocked an eyebrow of doubt, as their moment was broken by the pelting of two snowballs from a giggling Lena who emerged from the top of the castle steps.  They all laughed, as the two girls screamed and chased each other up and down the steps, taking turns to hide behind Ulfgrun.

     “Why don’t you come with me to the mainland?”

Laurenna smiled, then saddened.  Dandowin was puzzled by her reaction.

     “You know I want to go my love, but I also want to catch up with Wulfren.  I am sure mother would like some time with just the three of us.”

     “Four.” Dandowin reminded.  “You mean the four of you.”

Laurenna frowned.  “I haven’t forgotten about his wife.  I know she-“

     “No.” Dandowin shook her gently.  Placing a hand down to her belly, his eyes seemed to reiterate, “Four”.

She kissed him then, hard enough to get the wee ones giggling with an “Ewwwwww”, followed by raucous laughter.  Their moment broken, they chased the laughing, screaming, girls up the steps and off to dinner.

 

     When Ingred Rems arrived to the area surrounding the ruins of Ald’ruhn, a defensive perimeter was set up by each of the Great Houses.  Hlaalu guards stood shoulder to shoulder with Redoran guards.  Ordinators kept pace with a contingent of Telvanni battle mages.  Bolts of lightning flashed from fingers and clouds, giving the entire area the look and feel of a full war.

     She decided to travel light, just her sword and dagger, a quiver of arrows and the ebony bow that was a gift from Dandowin.  Just the essentials, she mused.

Searching the chaos, looking for the commander in charge, a volley of arrows flew just feet from her head.  Their shafts a mix of iron and wood, enchanted and poisoned clicked loudly as they sought their targets.

     As she neared the largest barricade consisting of a hastily erected stone and timber wall with small junctions of walled energy kept in place by the strongest battle mages, the Oblivion gate came into view.


     “Gods!” she breathed.

It was a sight of nightmares.  Flame and smoke swirled above, while energy and flames were sucked within.  The base of the gate, obscured by the barrier and the smoke from the still burning ruins, contained the roaring mass of invaders. Ingred felt the vibrations of the gate itself in unison with the stamping feet of the invaders through her boots.  Were it not for some information on the fate of Dandowin, she wouldn’t be here.  Her quick and fruitless interrogation of Nidryne Redas in the Maar Gan shrine availed nothing useful.  When she was lucid enough to answer questions, she just spat obscenities.  When drifting off into mania, more truth was gathered but at the cost of having to unravel her riddled mind.  All she could ascertain was this:  Ald’ruhn was destroyed, all her enemies were dead, and the Nerevarine was dead, or to die, depending on the gaps in her laughter.

     She found the commander in charge, a rather powerful Dunmer in full glass armor on a makeshift mound barking orders to the battle mages to reinforce the energy at the seams of the barricade.  Just as she was about to run up to him, a scamp was thrown over the barricade by something far larger on the invading side.  The commander in charge cast a bolt of shock that left the creature steaming and the hairs on Ingred’s arms and neck standing straight up.

     “WHAT DO YOU WANT?  YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!” he bellowed amongst the chaos and thrum of the gate.

Blasts and roars filled the air, which was a hazy mass of burned flesh and charred timbers.  She got close enough to yell, but her words got lost in the chaos. 

     “NEREVARINE?” she yelled.

     “WHAT?

Ingred thought again, maybe a different approach…

     “HORTATOR?”

     “HORTATOR?  NO.  ISN’T HE ON SOLSTHEIM? 

Ingred shook her head, while putting an arrow into another airborne scamp thrown by Gods know what.

     “SOMEONE SAID HE’S DEAD.  DIED IN THE BLAST.”

The commander looked dubious, pursing his lips.  When he spoke again, his attitude let Ingred know that the discussion was over.

     “LAST REPORTS WERE THAT HE’S SPENDING TIME WITH HIS OWN KIND.  IF YOU SEE HIM, TELL HIM GET BACK TO WORK.”

 

With that comment Ingred shouldered her bow, jumped off the mound, and sped off North back in the direction of Maar Gan.  She didn’t bother looking back, as it was clear that the concentration of the fight was where the Skar used to be.  She decided to take passage from Maar Gan to Khuul then take the longboat to Solstheim.  She can make connections to Lokken from there. 

     “What the Hell is going on with the world?” she said, as she jumped over an agitated scrib.  When Ingred wanted something to take the edge off her boredom, she had no idea that it would be all of this. 

     “You better be alive Dandowin.  Because I’m going to kill you for making me come to that frozen Hell hole.”

 

     With Dandowin gone, Laurenna found surprisingly that she had more than enough to keep her busy and away from Lisendra.  Though Wulfren and Lisendra ate dinners with Sigrid and the rest of the family at the castle, they retired to Lisendra’s cottage each night.  The first few nights of his absence were hard, but each night they exchanged their love via the rings, and after the first week, Solveig took to keeping her company.  She first noticed her one early morning as she was laying on the bed, gently circling the newfound roundness of her growing belly, when the door opened just enough for Solveig to tiptoe into her room and snuggle up to her.  Sigrid felt that it was best if she slept in her own bed, but Solveig reminded her that it seemed only fair since she lets Lena sleep with her most of the time.  Sigrid just pinched her nose and acquiesced.

     Early that morning, Sonja made some fresh bread, and the smell of it filled the throne room.  Sigrid was busy as usual at her desk, hands swiftly sewing what looked to be a snow wolf skin bunting.  When Laurenna entered, she rose and immediately did what she did every morning since Laurenna discovered for herself she was pregnant.  She looked in her face, had her open her mouth, and gave her the same elixir she gave Dandowin and the children each morning.  Then she put a hand to Laurenna’s belly, then another to her breast, gauging the changes in her daughter much like a farmer gauged the changes to his fruit-bearing orchard.  She would then end the exam with a hug, a kiss, and a loud pat on her rump which meant get busy doing something useful.  The kids were missing, and when she looked around Sigrid just said “With Marianna and Joar.”

     Anneliese emerged from the kitchen with a basket of bread, and Laurenna took the end off the top loaf and started in on it hungrily. 

     “Mmm…good bread.”

     “Why don’t you take some down to your brother and his wife dear?”

Laurenna rolled her eyes and snorted. 

     “Be nice dear…she’s trying.”

Laurenna chuckled.  “She’s trying all right.  Trying my patience!”

But Sigrid was right, and she just took the basket from Anneliese and headed for the front door.

     The walk down to Lisendra’s red walled cottage gave Laurenna time to count the steps, assigning a reason to dislike her new sister-in-law with each step.  They all started out with “She stinks.” and usually ended with some nonsensical reason like “The horkers die when she swims in the water.”  It wasn’t kind at all, and if Dandowin were here he would remind her that her brother found something in her worth loving, perhaps she might too.

     “Not bloody likely.” She breathed. 

It was just starting to snow gently when she reached their door, giving her a nice frame of mind.  She brought her hand up to knock, when the sound of the argument inside grew loud enough to be heard outside.

 

     “I DON’T CARE!”

 

     “Be reasonable Lisendra, just for a few months more.  Maybe less when Dandowin gets back from the mainland-”

There was the crash of dishes and the sound of things being thrown about.  Laurenna thought to knock then, but then the door rattled as if someone was pushed against it.  She jumped back defensively, covering her belly instinctively.

 

     “How long do you expect me to take this crap from her?  Since we went on this pilgrimage, which shortened our honeymoon tour – Thanks for that by the way.

(Another crash followed by the sounds of spitting.)  I haven’t had any meat, any MEAD, and I haven’t killed anything other than stinking bugs and the hours I COULD be killing something.”

 

     “Please, Lisendra.  She’s my sister-“

 

     “I’M YOUR WIFE!”

     “You’re a NORD Wulfren, it’s about time you start ACTING like one!”

 

     “Where are you going?”

 

     “Where do you think?  You want me, you’ll know where to find me!”

The door to the cottage swung open and banged against the cottage frame.  Lisendra was red faced, wet eyed, and snot nosed.  She wore her woolens and furs, much like her old hunting clothes, and had her Nordic cedar longbow in her hand.

When she saw Laurenna, she just took her hand, wiped at her face making it more a mess, and yelled “WHAT?”

Laurenna just smiled meekly and asked, “Bread?” lifting the basket.

Lisendra growled and stormed off in the direction of the Main Hall.  Inside the cottage, Wulfren was on his knees with his eyes closed.  He was dressed in his robe, with one boot on, the other boot wrapped around a beam in the rafter.  He was chanting the passages of Dibella, his voice breaking from sadness or rage, Laurenna not being able to tell which.

Laurenna was moved.  She had so little time with Wulfren when the bad times came, and even less when he was restored.  He was so very different now, peaceful, but not the peaceful that comes with enlightenment.  This was the peaceful she had seen in Dandowin.  The peaceful that comes from being physically and emotionally tired. 

She had an idea what to do.

 

     “Care to talk?”

 

     The trip to Seyda Neen brought back memories that were bittersweet for Dandowin.  Like most, being let off from the prison ship with few to no prospects was bad enough, but in truth he really didn’t know why he was imprisoned to begin with. At least he had that package to deliver to Caius Cosades and a few hundred gold to start out with that shaped his life.  He mused sometimes what would have happened had he just chucked the entire package into the River Odai.  Heading straight for Arrille’s Trade House, he hoped that Lydie Delavie was still there selling her selection of maternity wares and clothing.

      Dandowin had just laced the cradle to the satchel he was carrying when the messenger from the Imperial Census and Excise office had tapped his shoulder.  Looking upward, the nervous face of the young lad was covered in sheen of sweat that had nothing to do with the humidity and heat of the typical Seyda Neen day.

 

     “H-Honor to you, Nerevarine.” Handing him the sealed letter.

 

     “Well met.” He nodded.

The messenger sped off with a smile that bespoke of future tales in a tavern this evening.

He wondered how he was recognized, since he was far from the armors and weapons of his trip to Red Mountain, but then it dawned on him again: The Blades.

Being Prime Operative of the Emperor’s Blades here in Morrowind, it stood to reason that he was just as much watched as his fellow Blades.

Looking at the letter, it was thick parchment with a large red wax seal from the Imperial house of Uriel Septim VII.  He had seen this seal before, and the recollection made his hands shake somewhat at what could be contained within.  Reminding himself that he had never backed away from a fight in his life, he opened the seal and sat on the steps of Arrille’s Trade house, reading the first page:

 

“From the offices of the Emperor, Uriel Septim VII.

Honor to you Nerevarine Dandowin, Hortator of Houses Hlaalu, Redoran, and Telvanni.

Blade Operative and Chieftain of Thirsk, Castle Master of Lokken, and all titles earned and rewarded.

 

My steadfast champion,

By now you must know that the state of unrest in the Imperial City of Cyrodiil has finally necessitated the recalling of all Legionary troops back to the city.  As you may also know by now, the destruction of Ald’ruhn by a gate portal from Oblivion was not a singular occurrence.  There are gates that are appearing throughout the lands and city-states here in Cyrodiil.  This coinciding with the unrest previously that has taken the lives of my sons is no coincidence.  We have reason to believe that this is a calculated and precursor attack from Oblivion itself, specifically from the Prince of Destruction, Daedra Lord Mehrunes Dagon.  We also have intelligences that he has attempted to enlist the services or nations of Akavir itself to an unknown end. 

     For ourselves, we shall stand and defend the capital city with all our strength and hope.  For the gate at Ald’ruhn, the Great Houses all have pulled together to keep the evil at bay until more intelligence can be found.  I know of the Dunmer Dreamer genocide, and if we were not besieged with these Oblivion gates, would have gladly left a garrison behind to help you quell the atrocities.  We have heard that Eno Romari of the End of Times Cult may be involved, but this is unsubstantiated rumor at best.  Perhaps a visit to Divayth Fyr and even Mistress Dratha may be helpful.

     Which brings me to you, my champion.  We have reason to believe that there are also plans to do you and those you care for, great harm.  The enemies to peace are many, and not all of them challenge openly as warriors do.  I feel that there still may be influences from the other planes involved, and that is where you may be the most help.  My oracles and dreams have told me the Oblivion siege may be addressed by someone I have not met yet.  These dreams are also the ones that forced me to release you and set you on the path to your destiny, so they must be obeyed.  That leaves the lands of Akavir to be investigated, and any threats there.  I know both you and I have read “Mysterious Akavir”, and know that the chances of survival are few to none.  But ignoring the threat may threaten all the peoples and creatures of Tamriel.  I cannot demand or order you to go Dandowin Nerevarine, Hortator of the Great Houses.  But I ask, nay, appeal to you as our champion, who freed the land itself of the Blight and Dagoth Ur, to find a way.  If not for Vvardenfell, but for those you love as well in Lokken.  Yes, we have heard even this far of the new Castle Master of Lokken.  Congratulations on your nuptial bliss.  We pray it may it last through the ages, my friend.  I could not stop the evil that has taken the lives of my sons.  Perhaps, you, Nerevarine, will be far luckier.  I do not know what Gods that you pray to, but pray to them all, for us all. 

 

Your emperor, and your friend,

Uriel Septim VII”

 

There was no time to lose Dandowin thought.  He had no idea how old these intelligences were, but history and memory taught him leave nothing to chance.  If only Caius Cosades were still around, he might be of some great use now.

 

     “First things first.” He breathed.

 

Taking his wedding ring off and back on again, he twisted it to the left and waited for the tingling of the telepathic magic to begin.  Almost immediately, he got a response.

     “Yes my love?”

It was beyond reassuring to hear Laurenna’s voice; it soothed his worry almost immediately.

     “Sweetheart, I’m done shopping and I am on my way home.”

Dandowin thought about his comments carefully, as alarming her and everyone might make whomever is behind this accelerate whatever schedule they had.  What to do?  What to do?

 

     “Hon. How are the children?”

 

“Well, Lena is as always keeping my mother company and the throne room alive, while Solveig has taken away your job.  She protects us day and night. Our beautiful child is practicing her fighting from the confines of my womb, obviously without resting.  There are some things we have to discuss when you get back, about Wulfren and Lisendra, but that can wait…oh, my love, he is coming back.  Talk to you when you arrive!”

 

The ring went cold and Dandowin was in flight.  He regretted immediately not taking the spare scrolls and potions he had brought from the mainland.  Mark and Recall would have come incredibly handy now, as well as that Scroll of Windform he snagged from Thongar’s.  Running to the hill from the small bridge, he barely saw Fargoth waving or noticed Indrele and Tandram just passing him, their own arms carrying various satchels and chests from their adventures together.

     The trip to Gnisis from Seyda Neen would be at least eleven hours by Silt Strider, another three from there to Khuul, and at least six hours by longboat to Fort Frostmoth.  When Davarme took his thirty gold pieces and instigated the Silt Strider with its leathery chitin shell, Dandowin was nervously playing with the straps of his back satchel.  He looked to the cradle, its smooth wooden frame and beautiful Breton scrollwork along the sides and top, and thought of their child.  He silently prayed to Azura to be kind and protect his family while he was en route.

 

    “May the wind be on our backs.” He breathed.

 

     Nidryne Redas was released from the shrine with a great sigh of relief from the priests and the town’s only healer, Tashpi Ashibael.  She didn’t have any memory of how she made it to the Maar Gan shrine, and only snippets of memory of Tashpi applying salves and wrappings to her injured ear, and potions to drink which kept her in a state of relaxation as she tried to make sense of the images that burned in her memory.  When the quiet of the day was upon her, she thought of starlit nights in Bolvyn’s arms and their lovemaking.  It brought tears to her eyes and an aching in both her chest and her loins as she remembered the room lit by a single candle.  The moving of their sweaty gray bodies as he ran his hands through her red hair, kissing her hungrily as she wrapped her heels about his grinding waist.  She missed everything about him, and it was in this memory that the other images usually invaded.  Screams, fire, bodies flying on fire to return to the ground as ashes.  The face of that Nord, that Dandowin as he angered her love and master, and the way he returned, to tell his wife and daughter he was dead. 

     In her recuperation and turmoil of memories, she nearly forgot about the Nerevarine and wanting to kill him until that Imperial bitch showed up. 

“Inrgil?” “Ingmar?” she breathed.  She had forgotten her name, but she will never forget the insulting and arrogant way she burst into the room, moved Tashpi aside, and started manhandling her with question after question about the Nerevarine, and if he was dead. 

It took all her power not to kill that bitch, until she thought to herself, “Give her nothing, and everything.”  It was clear that she was either his lover or his sister or something, so he was important to her.  Perhaps she can use her to find him, and have them both killed.

She knew that he was in the Nord lands; either Solstheim, Lokken, or the Morningstar Islands.  If she can hatch her plan, get the wheels of revenge started, there would be red on the snow of all those frozen hellish lands.

     Nidryne was just about to open the door to Andus Trade House where she could get a room when a robed Dunmer woman grabbed her arm.  She turned immediately to thrash the woman but was held in place as the woman said something that froze her in place.

     “Bolvyn.”

Nidryne was bewildered, and her voice broke…”Wha-what?”

     “Come.” she whispered. 

The woman dragged Nidryne from the Andus entrance to the Maar Gan outpost.  She led her by the hand to the lower level, where they stood to talk in a corner. 

When they stopped, she let her arm go, and faced her.

 

     “My name is Sedris Omalen, Priestess of the Tribunal Temple, and retainer of the Great House Redoran.”

 

Nidryne just nodded.  She was a Dunmer like herself, just a bit older and to her thinking, not nearly as pretty.  How she knew of Bolvyn, she was very much inclined to know.

 

     “You survived the holocaust.  This is a blessing.  Perhaps we can be of great use to each other, and justice to be done.”

Nidryne just nodded, slowly now.

 

     “I was a friend of Bolvyn Venim, and during his campaigns fought beside his armies.  He was the one who suggested to the council my Retainer position.  Both guards Vevul Alver and Velsa Orethi were members of my Order.  We are a contingent that is loyal to Bolvyn Venim to the death.  When  we learned of his death, it took us by surprise.  Even if it was Bolvyn who challenged the Nerevarine, we still felt that the entire duel was a sham.”

 

Nidryne remembered Vevul and Velsa, and how they came to her to comfort her when she was dismissed.  They told her that they would seek justice, but sadly, died in the holocaust. 

     “You were Bolvyn’s lover.  Yes, we knew, and were happy for him.  We are no friends of Dilvene, his wife.  That makes you our ally, if you are strong enough.”

Sedris pointed a finger at Nidryne’s heart.  She touched it for emphasis

.

     “Are you strong enough?”

Nidryne just smiled, and moved close enough to fill Sedris’ face with her own.

When she spoke, it was with icy, bitter emotion.

 

     “I will kill them all myself, if I need to.  Him, his wife, his children, his people, his pets, his servants, his lands, everything.”

 

     “Good.  We were right about you.  There is much work to do, get your things, and meet me back here.  We have a ritual to perform.”

 

     “Ritual?”  Nidryne was confused.

 

Sedris just narrowed her eyelids.  When she spoke again, it sent a chill directly to Nidryne’s spine.

 

     “Yes, ritual.  Tonight, you, and I, will call upon the Night Mother herself.”

 

The two Dunmer women, now allies clasped hands, shaking them up and down in murderous agreement.  So happy they were in their meeting that they barely noticed the robed figure pretending to snore with eyes closed off to the corner.  It just twitched and flexed its claws as they passed, giving the appearance of one whose dreams have just been encroached upon.  When they were out of view, it rose to a prone stance, and wrung its claws over one another.  The way they clicked reminded it of locks and tumblers.

 

     “Such a juicy secret this is.  Yes.  Juicy.  What to do with it?”

Taking a lock pick from her robe, Ahnassi ran the point of it under and over her tongue to lubricate it.  There were some chests on a blind spot that commanded her attention first.  With a secret such as this, she would need traveling monies.

 

     “I must tell my other special friend.  Yes.  We must never lose our true and good friend.”

 


 

Chapter 5

 

 

     Ingred was impatient for shore.  The longboat made it towards the Solstheim coast and her restlessness caused her to entertain herself by sharing her fresh fish lunch with the dolphins that chased the ship.  The sky was gray, as most arctic skies look at sea, with icy, salty winds whipping about her dark hair.  She thought about her messages.  If Dandowin wasn’t dead, then surely someone wanted him dead.  He has to be told about Ald’ruhn if he doesn’t know already, and if he bothered to visit his castle as well as the mainland, he’d know that the Imperial troops have been recalled to Cyrodiil for the unrest there.  But it was the sight she saw in Maar Gan that shook her.  Groups of Dunmer, all Dreamers and late-blight Sleepers, shoved into the biggest bonfire she had ever seen.  She had seen such things before, when plagued and war fallen dead were disposed of.  But these were living, breathing, people who didn’t even put up a fight.  Being the Nerevarine, surely he has to do something about this too.

     Back to bodyguard duty and something to do.  He’s going to need her help, she mused.  After all, was it not she, that he took to the Ghostgate? 

     When Ingred disembarked at Fort Frostmoth, she barely recognized it.  It was in the process of being rebuilt, with huge gaping holes and walls missing.  Was there a war or some sort of explosion perhaps?  She felt the questions could wait until she gets back from Lokken.  Which reminded her, where the Hell is the boatman for Lokken?

 

     “If you’re looking for the Lokken boat you’ve just missed it.”  A fisherman said.

 

Ingred frowned.  “How long?”

 

     “Just.” He said.

 

     “Damn.” she spat.  Well, that means she is on foot, something that she wasn’t looking forward to.  The weather alone was reason enough, with the snowstorms and such.  But there was also the issue of wild animals, Spriggans, Fryse Hags, Smugglers, Berserkers, Reavers, and Rieklings on Tusked Bristlebacks.  She’d better get more arrows, she thought. 

     Taking the shoreline along the southern coast, upward to the northeast shoreline should get her to the Lokken shoreline she reasoned.  At least for the moment the weather was fair. 

     “Dandowin, I am so going to kick your ass.” She muttered as she sped off towards the Fort Frostmoth armory.  Making a list in her head of supplies, she was too busy counting to notice the slight distortion that was just a yard to the side of her, listening intently to her conversation with the fisherman. There was the mention of a name.  The very same name that was borne on one of the Dark Brotherhood contracts that were hidden within the armor of the assassin who now also sped off in the direction that Ingred Rems ran.  Still cloaked like a chameleon, its only visible traces were the wet footprints on the dock and the footprints it made on the melting snow on the shoreline.

 

     Laurenna twisted her ring to the right just as Wulfren reemerged from the woods surrounding the arrow target she fashioned to the tree, not far from their father’s hunting lodge.  The cottage was her home for the length of her expulsion from the castle proper.  As much as she hated to admit it, she missed the cottage as much as she missed the castle.  The sight of its green painted timber face, with the thatched roof and timber lattice framed door brought back so many memories.  The blooming and snow covered holly trees that graced the front were beautiful, and she hoped that Wulfren would have memories too.

     She felt at peace being between her homes, with mother in the castle, and her father’s Stalhrim covered body in the cave behind her cottage.  They were free, and together again, that was all that mattered.  The only thing missing was her husband, and he was on his way home.  Their first meeting was at the log that shields the steep drop from the cottage walkway, and she remembered the sight of the man who walked up the tree line to meet her.  His lean, lightly bearded face, the auburn hair streaked with gray.  His deep gray-brown eyes which were so rare in Lokken. Nearly everyone here sports eyes that ranged from crystal blue to sea foam green, to the deepest amber.   She noticed that he wore snow wolf boots, and sported the “Shirt of the Noble Heart”, which was a gift from Valkyriana for rescuing little Hilde from the Fieldshorn tomb.  Never in her life did she believe she would marry someone that was not only as brave as her, but damn near a legend everywhere.  Funny, though, if the world could see how easily he is tricked and tripped by my cousin Solveig.

     Wulfren looked so much better now, she mused.  Taking him to practice their archery near the cottage was a good idea.  The nerve of that trollop Lisendra doubting Wulfren’s manhood  as well as his love for his sister, giving Laurenna another reason to never, ever respect her.

Wulfren stuck the arrows back into the ground.  Their shafts stood straight up like a bunch of reeds that were so cold they grouped together for warmth.  He was dressed much like Dandowin does.  Leggings, snow wolf boots, and a long warm woolen tunic.  He sported the quiver her husband left behind, the very nice black leather one with green and gold accents surrounding the top and bottom.  She knew he would never mind, as he considered Wulfren more than a brother-in-law, but a friend as well.

 

     “Ready for another round sister?  Or is my nephew making you tired as well as fat?” Wulfren chuckled.

 

     “FAT?” “FAT?” “Oh, I’ll show you fat!”

With that comment, she picked up an arrow, then another, and shot a perfect round to the center of the target.  She then turned to put a hand on her hip, with a cocked eyebrow that all at once said “Beat that.”

 

Wulfren  looked at his sister, and melted.  He owed so much to her, and yet he had not truly seen her or spent time with her which shamed him so.  There she stood, beautiful, defiant even if in jest, her silver-white cut hair now just to her chin and neck in new length.  She was clearly round in the belly from the pregnancy, but she was still as shapely as she was on her wedding day.  The snow wolf skin skirt and linens flattered her, and like their father, she bore the deep strong face and build of the Wulfgar line.  He knew deep in his heart that as loyal and fierce as she was to defend him, she would slay a dragon herself to protect her Dandowin, her children, her sister and cousin,  the entire family.  Lokken itself, he believed.

Wulfren drew his bow and let loose an arrow, just above her center grouping to the side.  He then drew another and did the same to the opposite side.  Then, in pure amusement, he picked up three simultaneously and let them fly singularly.  Forming an upward curve at the bottom of her grouping.  When Laurenna looked at the result, they just looked at one another and laughed aloud. 

 

     “That’s how you make me feel, and thanks for that sister.”

She looked again at the happy face of arrows in the target, and took her bow and shouldered it.  She decided to leave the arrows in the target as a memento, and patted Wulfren on the shoulder, nodding to go to the cottage.  He smiled, and followed.

     “Let’s pay our respects to father, and then get some mead.”

 

     Nidryne Redas was ecstatic with nothing short of mania at the thought of her plans realized.  Sedris Omalen and she spent the entire day preparing the ritual, and were so surprised to get results so fast.  As she wiped the blood from her naked body with the cloth and pitcher of water Sedris brought her, she remembered each facet of it with renewed excitement. The stink of their conquest was still in her nose, but instead of revulsion, it brought a strange glee.  First there was the preparation.  She told Nidryne that there would have to be a series of sacrifices, one of her body, and one to the Night Mother.  Dressing in a dress supplied by Sedris, she waited at the Andus Trade House until a necessary mark walked in.  With so many fighting the hordes at Ald’ruhn, it would not take long for tired soldiers, mages, and weary exiles to make it to Maar Gan.  After all, Maar Gan resembled Ald’ruhn, save for the missing immense Skar crab shell.  The only alternative was Caldera to the south, and that was more mining town than a city to offer rest. 

     Their chosen victim was better than perfect.  In walked a tired and boastful Nord, absolutely perfect for their designs.  He sat at the bar at the Trade House, half his face covered in woad, the other ringed in a beard filled with sweat and grime.  She knew he noticed her immediately, as she made it a point to sit near the open table with her legs crossed, showing that the slit in her gold and red dress led right up to the absence of underwear.  The low neckline on the top of the sleeveless dress made her breasts beg attention.  A light touching of Telvanni Bug Musk  about her neck and abdomen made sure that as she sweat, its fragrance would waft all about her.  Many an advance she staved off, with threatening glances and the point of her dagger.  But when the Nord appeared and ordered a drink, she immediately rose, walked seductively to him, and bent slowly behind him to lick his ear and drag her breasts from his neck to the top of his head.  He rose as expected, and she led him by the hand to one of the rooms at the bottom of the sand colored stairs.  There were many looks of pure hatred from all the previous spurned, and jealous looks from those women who sought a friendly face and a free drink, and received none.

     When she had him inside, he was gruff and practically raping her with his lust and his intent.  He just pushed her to the bed, tore her expensive lovely dress, roughly removed his armor and tunic but left his boots on.  Being a former guard herself, she was not without means or military talents, but for this ruse she just played subservient, until as expected he was spent atop her just as fast as he started. 

He began to slobber uncontrollably, a mix of exhaustion and the drink, when she flipped him over, and straddled him with her powerful legs.  He protested that he needed more time, throwing his head back to yawn.  It was then that Nidryne took a dagger from under her pillow and slit his throat.  He tried to arise when he felt the steel, but where he was spent, she was fresh with murderous intent.  She cut from his left ear to his right, slamming his writhing body down with her legs and her elbow to his chest.  Such a blow she struck to the center of his chest that she made an audible crack, and blood erupted from not only his mouth, but up through his nose as well. 

In just a minute or two he was dead, his eyes rolled backwards to the door, filling the bed sheets with crimson life.  Nidryne rose off his body, spat on his face, and slapped his spent penis from one side to the other.  She just smiled, her eyes glowing in the half-light of the room, and wiped her hands.  Tapping the door from the outside, Sedris handed her the necessary items in a cloth sack.  Inside were candles, a dagger, and various botanicals and parchment. 

     With careful hands and no revulsion at all, Nidryne Redas pushed the dagger into the dead Nord and began her work for the Ritual of the Black Sacrament.  According to ritual, she would need his skull, two femurs, and a large patch of his skin.  With bloodied hands and a smile that was both chilling and beautiful, Nidryne finished the cut around his neck, and with all her pressure snapped the neck bones to separate his head from the body.  Taking the blade at an angle she then fleshed his head, as one would peel an apple, all the while chanting to herself the necessary prayers to the Night Mother for revenge.  Eyes were removed and tossed into the sack, as were her leavings.  Standing, she firmly grasped his large frame and flipped it over, then removing his lower legs from the knee, the boots still on causing her to chuckle amongst her praying.  Even though it was not part of the ritual she deftly held up his penis and with one stroke removed it from his body.  This she also threw into the sack.  Her hands were slick from the blood, but she held a firm grasp on the dagger hilt and plunged it with all her might into his left lower hip, working the blade until she shredded the cartilage enough to separate the hip from the leg.  This she repeated on the other leg and then cut two vertical slashes on each leg, placing her hands within the gaping slash to remove the upper femur.  When they were removed, she took the pillowcase off of the pillow and wiped them dry.  This she arranged on the floor with the skull, the candles, and a handful of deadly Nightshade flowers.  She then cleaned the dagger and lightly shoved it under the skin of his back, pushing upward so that she could lay the flat of her free hand on top of it.  Working back and forth, up and down, she cut away a large flap of his back skin, and carefully folded it.  It was placed in the ritual arrangement, and she turned to the mess of bones and skin on the bed to remove the final piece.  Turning the torso around, she just made a simple cut across the belly, and then another crossing that.  Pulling the skin away, she reached up under the ribcage, and found what she was looking for.  It took some work with the dagger on the top and sides, which was difficult to do with both hands slick and tired.  Finally, with both hands and the dagger at the side of the remains, she squatted on top of the torso and pulled with all her might until the heart came free, the last of the blood not drained spraying her face as it did so.  She wiped her face with her bloody arms, smearing the mess into a red mask across her lower face.  Were she pale, one could easily walk into this nightmare and assume she was a vampire.  Wiping her hands once again on the sheets, she then cleaned the dagger and struck a flint to the parchment and when it lit, she lit the candles.

     Praying in a dark language that Sedris instructed her, she shut her eyes and continued over and over.  Seeing Dandowin’s face both living and dead, wishing that the bones before her were his bones that she could present to his lover.  Swaying in the candlelight, her naked, blood covered form looked seductively serpentine as she preformed the Ritual of the Black Sacrament.  When she finished, she was spent, but not enough to not notice the materializing Dark Brotherhood Operative behind her.  She turned, and oblivious as to what to do just prostrated herself before him, her legs beneath her, with arms in front of her as she pressed her face to the ground.  It took all her resolve not to beg openly, and she found herself salivating with desire as he spoke the words:

 

“The Night Mother has answered.  What justice can we bring to you, Nidryne Redas?”

 

     Dandowin didn’t rest at all on either transport, so was the worry in his mind.  He felt so tired.  Barely rested after the trials, the defeat of Dagoth Ur, or the first step he took on the cold shores of Solstheim, he pulled out his dagger and looked at his reflection.  No longer was his hair auburn with gray streaks, but gray with auburn streaks.  His close kept beard was getting fuller, and his eyes seemed so red and tired.  All he wanted since he left the Imperial prison was just to get some work, start a family, and live a life to full measure.  Seems nothing ever goes as one imagines it will be.  Now he was faced with more time away from his wife and family, and that angered him to no end.  All he could do was think of the many, many faces of those who he dispatched or was forced to dispatch because of this tumultuous fate of his.  Who didn’t want to kill me, and those I love? He reasoned. When the faces started to blur, he just turned his head to the skies.  It was starting to snow, and he longed for home. 

     The longboat pulled into the shoreline near the Fort Frostmoth docks, and Helmer secured the mooring just as Dandowin ran up to him with his satchel and a small leather bag of gold.  The smile left Helmer’s face when he saw the sense of urgency on Dandowin’s.

 

     “Ho! Castle Master!  How can I be of service?”

Dandowin shook the bag of gold and handed him the satchel with the cradle.  Helmer, seeing the cradle immediately smiled, but it was quickly replaced with concern as he noticed that Dandowin was almost white with worry.

 

     “My friend, how long before we can be underway?”

 

Helmer pulled up the towline and rested the satchel and cradle gently on the skins covering the planks.  Grabbing Dandowin’s hand as he reached forward, he lifted him right to the deck and patted his shoulders.  He smiled with that reassuring smile that was all at once meant to agree and offer relief.

 

     “We’re already underway, Castle Master.”

 

Dandowin slapped his arm, and offered what help he could.  When Helmer finished with the mooring towline, he took an opposite side to Dandowin and they both raised the sail of the small longboat and secured the lines.  Helmer then went back to the stern and readied the steering board.  Dandowin walked to the bow and looked out over the channel into the sea.  More snow on the horizon he noted.  Hopefully it will be a light fall, and not a full on storm.  The wind was with them, as it immediately picked up the sail and filled it out.  Home is just a matter of hours away. 

     There was so much to prepare for.  The handing out of the items he was sent to get.  Preparation of the next voyage to Vvardenfell, and a decision yet to make. Fortifying Lokken.  Good thing Wulfren is back for a spell.  Then the Dreamer problem, and what can be done about it?  Maybe the Emperor was right; Divayth Fyr or Mistress Dratha might be of some use, regardless of Vivec’s objections.  Akavir.  That was the other side of the world, and none who voyaged there ever returned.  He can’t ask Helmer or Skullum to make the voyage, that is too much to ask, and the Lokken people will need their access to the sea.  No, this will involve the need for a ship, and perhaps other items due to the unknown nature of the denizens themselves. 

 

     “Laurenna is not going to like this one bit.” He sighed.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

     The Eastern coastline was proving to be a bad idea Ingred thought.  Her pace was quick, with few stops for food and water.  Her need was to get to Lokken as quickly as possible, and that didn’t include having to constantly clear the shoreline of wolves and smugglers.  Every large rock she turned around held the danger of a snarling wolf, some stricken with disease, or some smuggler in a hurry to reach the afterlife.

     She enjoyed the tall and green pine trees, a vast difference from Balmora.  Though this admiration was almost immediately spoiled when Spriggans noticed her.  No matter how fleet or quiet of foot, or how stealthy, they always seemed to see her and come charging.  They would turn that head of branches and flowers in her direction, those strange eyes wide with fury.  True to their legend, it would take three arrows or more to keep them down.  Each one placed after the other as they miraculously rose from each ‘death’.  The last one she put down, piqued her curiosity so much so that she had to investigate it closer.  What a miracle of nature she mused.  Branches and bark about a definitively female form and a very curvy one at that.  Eyes the color of tree amber stared out at the world, with its very human face of nose and lips.  Parting the lips, she noticed that it even had teeth, of a sort.  In a sense, they seemed rather pretty to Ingred were it not for those dangerous claw-like hands and tangle root feet.

     Ingred didn’t dally long.  Mid-day was already done, and she had no intention of getting stuck in the forest at night.  Solstheim during the day is bad enough, but the night is far, far, worse.  Rising from the Spriggan’s body, she was just about to pick up her supply bag when she heard the unmistakable twang of a bowstring and immediately felt the impact of an arrow into her left shoulder.  There was pain, but the impact was buffered some by her cloak and her leather bodice.  Clearly he was too far away for a deeper penetration, but that would be rectified soon if she didn’t get up. 

     Reaching up, she broke the arrow off her shoulder and surprisingly the whole thing came out.

 

     “ Just a flesh wound.  The bastard will have to do better than that.”

She took off from a crouching start and bobbed and weaved amongst the trees.  Other arrows followed the first one and true to her thought, they were impacting the trees harder.

     “Shit.”

Ingred flattened against one of the larger pines and readied her bow.  With only half a score of silver arrows and at least six enchanted arrows of ShockBloom, she had to make her shots count.  It wasn’t long before they appeared.  Three Reavers.  Two with short bows, and one with a long sword drawn, all Nords and moderately armored.  They were almost indistinguishable from the smugglers she had a run in with, save for the fact that Reavers stick with their own kind.  She had an idea, and would have to be quick.  Her wound, though shallow, was still bleeding, as the amount of wet cold was spreading in circumference.  

     “Just a tad closer…”

 

Ingred let loose one of her ShockBloom arrows.  Immediately the tree she hit to the right and surrounding trees started to sizzle as lightning crackled between the trunks, causing the Reaver on the right to move inward.  She repeated the shot on the left side to get them all into a tight grouping.  Lightning crawled and crackled up and down each tree, sizzling the sap within and causing a rain of pines from the branches.

 

     “Perfect!”

 

With them all into a tight group of just a few feet apart, she let loose a ShockBloom arrow with a slight overdraw so that it buried deep within the center Reaver’s chest.   He let out a piercing yell, as the lightning shot outward from his chest radiating outward to immobilize his comrades.  Before the outer two could fight off the effects, she closed the distance and with one arm, beheaded the one on the left with her sword, then turning while still swinging it upward to slice the one on the right from groin to breastbone. 

Ingred was exhausted, and still bleeding from the shoulder wound.  Each breath was taking an effort and the cold was making her chest hurt.  She dragged herself over the center foe and checked his belongings.  Twelve gold pieces in a leather bag, and some ebony chips.  She took these, and checked the next one.  He had a nearly full quiver of silver arrows, eighteen by her count.  These she immediately added to her remaining ten.

With effort she checked the headless foe to find flint, a silver Nordic dagger, and a great find; a full roll of twisted sinew for bowstrings.  These she stuffed into her satchel.  Tearing off the bottom of the tunic from the headless one, she took a handful of unstained snow and wrapped it up into a small bundle.  This she tried her best to shove up under her cloak, and upper bodice over the open wound.  She checked with her fingertip the wound depth, wincing with the effort.

     “Nnhhhn!”

No longer hearing her heartbeat in her ears, she knew she was beginning to calm down from her adrenaline-induced energy.  Time to get moving.  She then sped off to the shoreline again, feeling better about her odds with more arrows.  There was only about an hour of dusk light left, and she was going to have to stop to eat and rest.  Hopefully, the Lokken channel won’t be too far away. 

 

     The throne room in the castle proper was empty save for the guards and Sigrid, who was feeling rather troubled.  She sent Anneliese to gather the children from the Njorns, and sent Furmann to Lisendra’s cottage to see what was keeping everyone.  Call it a mother’s intuition, she mused, but something just feels as if there is danger in the air.

With so many years of the throne room empty and devoid of laughter and life, this past year and a half of giggling children, laughing adults, visits from those in and away from town had spoiled her.  Now with it quiet again, she didn’t care for it one bit, and needed the security of the noise of her family to feel at ease again. 

     Sigrid thought of her daughter.  The snow wolf bunting lay in her hands, freshly made with a little “wiggle room” as she called it for a healthy growth.  Caring and checking on Laurenna each morning was her delight, as it reminded her of her own times of motherhood.  She even knew what sex the child was, but kept quiet just as she did when she first knew of its conception.  There was no doubt in her mind when Laurenna and Dandowin came down to breakfast three days after their marriage, that she was soon to have a grandchild. 

Some things, a mother just knows.

     Pacing back and forth next to her table, she nearly jumped when Solveig and Lena thrust the door open a full run ahead of Anneliese.  To Anneliese, she just smiled wide and said her thanks as both girls ran straight to her, though it was Lena who always grabbed her around the legs.  Solveig always stood a foot or so away, and never moved until Sigrid grabbed her with a loving grasp and brought her to her as well. Even after all this time, she still felt unsure.  She seemed to have bonded better with Laurenna and more so with Dandowin since it was he who first spoke to her, but this was understood.  Looking down upon the heads of both girls, their eyes closed as they just stood holding her, she felt temporarily relieved. 

 

     “You are all my family.” She whispered.

 

     “What?” Asked each in turn.

 

     “Nothing my dears.  I’m just so happy that you are both okay and home now.”

Sigrid couldn’t shake the fear that welled within her, and having the children back now only intensified it.  She knelt down to stand in between each of their heights, and decided to trust her intuition. 

 

     “Why don’t you two go ask Sonja for a light snack before we have dinner later?  Maybe if you’re nice, she might make a pie for dessert.”

The girls nodded and just sped off to the kitchen.  Solveig was the last through the door and stopped, turning to face Sigrid.  Her look was so serious, until she just smiled wide letting Sigrid know that everything is all right.   With the children next door, Sigrid drew her hands from her robe with the ring of castle keys in her hand.  Going out through the throne room, she took the corners hastily as she wound her way down the steps, through the halls, not noticing the way the guards stood and nodded their respect.  She found the steps to the castle prison, but instead took the wall bearskin aside and pushed the wall of the secret passage to where Ljot’s Berserkers were.   Walking with haste as the dread feeling welled within her, she got to the door and practically ran inside.

     Sigrid’s heart was racing.  She began to wonder if she were just being too worrisome.

Placing a hand on the door with her back to the men, she steadied herself and breathed deeply for a few seconds.  When she turned, she was resolved and determined.

 

     “Good evening, warriors.”

Ljot’s Berserkers were the hardiest of Nords.  Each one a veritable wall of muscle and armor, with hardened faces and imposing glances.  When Sigrid entered the room, they immediately took defensive stances until she turned, then their stances were replaced with the sign of respect and allegiance.  Each in turn bowed their heads and brought a fisted hand to their left shoulder.  When they spoke, it was in unison and with great respect.

 

     “Command us, Great Lady.”

 

Sigrid lifted her head high, and smiled inwardly at their devotion.  Each one of the men represented a symbol of Lokken strength.  When she spoke again, she walked down and faced each one, to make sure they saw her seriousness.

 

     “Ljot.  Arinbjorn.  Fridgeir.  You served my husband faithfully until his murder, and I ask you now, will you serve my son-in-law with equal faith?”

Ljot took a step forward, nearly face to face with Sigrid.  He looked deep into her eyes and with his own hardened look, spoke the words that reassured her for life.

 

     “Dandowin is our Castle Master.  It is he who restored us, and it is he we shall serve to the end.  His wife, his heirs, his family, and his peoples, are ours to protect until Sovengarde sent.” 

Sigrid couldn’t have been more pleased.  She knew that they were loyal, but needed to hear it to steel her resolve.  The time now was for planning, if by her intuition there is danger soon to come.

 

     “Berserkers.  Ready yourselves.  Train hard, and train our guards even harder.  Make them the reflection of yourselves, so we may stand whatever comes to pass.”

 

Each man nodded his consent, and Sigrid turned to leave.  Before she reached the steps, it was Arinbjorn, newly wed and soon to be newly fathered, who spoke.  His voice was still hard, but Sigrid sensed a protective tone in it speaking of his worry for his wife and unborn child. 

     “Great Lady, does danger come to Lokken?”

 

Sigrid stopped atop the steps, feet separated by a step.    She looked at the men, a fierce protective glance at them as well as the room itself. 

 

     “Perhaps Arinbjorn.  If danger is foolish enough to try us, then we will meet it with the full strength of the Lokken people.”

 

Arinbjorn saluted her again, and Sigrid left.  As she walked down the passage and back into the hall, she gave thought to Lokken’s less protected citizens.  The townsfolk.  The merchants.  The families.  Perhaps it is time to collect everyone to the castle.  But she threw that notion away.  She would have to speak with her son-in-law.  Not just because he was the Castle Master, but also because he had experience in protecting groups of people from the unimaginable.  Laurenna must be there as well as Wulfren.  This is a family matter.

 

     Giving Nidryne Redas time to relax after their ritual of the Black Sacrament, Sedris Omalen covered her with the blanket that she had kicked off herself in her fitful sleep.  Sedris looked down at the pretty Dunmer with interest.  It was easy to see how Bolvyn Venim could be enticed by her.  She was by far the most beautiful guard she had ever come across.  Her red hair, even tousled as it is now still flattered her almost childlike face.  Her eyes, though closed possessed that rare strain amongst the Dunmer that were both red, and luminescent, which often the uneducated mistook for vampirism.  Her body was beyond shapely, with firm breasts and a toned if not mildly muscular stomach.  The usual narrow hips of their kind ending in a pair of very, shapely, legs.

     There were several scrolls and letters on the table before Sedris, as she tallied all of the responses to her plea for assistance.  There was no doubt in her mind that the Dark Brotherhood would answer their call, because she had read an intelligence report in the House Redoran offices in Vivec that stated that this Dandowin Nerevarine had eliminated

Dandras Vules, the highest level assassin in the Order.  It didn’t stop there, but from the account of the reconnaissance, he had killed every living thing in their entire enclave.  Pets, apprentices, operatives, everything that breathed he killed.  There was also a side dossier that said he was involved in the assassination of the four Ascadian Isles Cammona Tong specialists, though her conversation with Orvas Dren proved a waste of time due to him going on and on about the Imperial legions leaving.  He kept reiterating the need for a bit more proof before even thinking about attacking a national hero.  Useless, she surmised.

     The numbers were very hopeful though.  There were quite a few assassins and dissenters in both House Telvanni and House Redoran that were more than happy to not only kill him, but bring a hereditary justice to the ancient insult of when these Nords sided with the Dwemer and House Dagoth.  Pity they lost so many skilled fighters in the Ald’ruhn holocaust.  They would have been most useful.

The plan she and Nidryne devised was almost assassin textbook.  First, send covert assassins to strike at the Nerevarine’s family, loves and heirs if any.  Drive him to a state of despair just as Nidryne suffered which they hope will force him to seek out the guilty by leaving the security of his home.  Then, as we dispatch a contingent to follow and eliminate him and all traces of him, we send an even larger force to both the settlements of Thirsk, and Lokken, which their intelligence states he is living now.  We leave the farther northern Nords of the Skaal to take the fall, after we plant incriminating evidence there.  Their isolationist views and animalistic beliefs will actually work against them.

With the Imperial legions recalled, he won’t have nearly the force he could have from his Emperor master, and the Great Houses are already sending able warriors to stave off the Ald’ruhn Oblivion gate invasion.  In a short time, no one will ever know exactly where the Nerevarine went to, and with this plan, no one will ever find the many pieces we will scatter all over Tamriel.   The trick will be in finding the right primary targets.  We already have a list of names on the contracts, but to be sure, best to add that all child bearing Nords at Lokken be eliminated.

     “Almost too perfect.” Sedris stated before sipping a glass of Matze as she sat across from the sleeping Nidryne.  There was a mumbling followed by the mewling of one who cries in their nightmares, and Sedris rose to sit on the edge of the bed and stroke her forehead trying to calm her.  With each slow stroke of her hand, Sedris brushed more of the hair covering her face.  The motion was beginning to excite her, and she brushed the glass in her other hand against her rising nipples. 

     “Almost too perfect.” She whispered

 

      The shoreline to the Lokken dock came into view as the snow was now coming down in earnest.  Helmer yelled a reassuring “Ho!” to Dandowin as he stood at the starboard side of the ship, hands gripping the smooth dark wood of the ships hull.  Dandowin ran to the main mast and unloosened the securing lines of the main sail and started lowering it, whilst Helmer turned the steer board inward to slow the ships progress down.  Both men, with great effort and resolve slowed the ship to a mere crawl, as it edged along the channel coming close to where Skullum and Dagfeal were moored. 

     The sight of home filled Dandowin with relief, and he closed his eyes and breathed in the cool, crisp Lokken air.  Opening his eyes he saw that Skullum was waving at him, and the shoreline was nearly empty save for the usual milling of the guards, Ingegerd and Silja. 

Tossing his satchel to him, Helmer smiled and slapped the Castle Master a reassuring slap for luck on the arm.  He had no idea what plagued him so to run this fast home, but he knew that he’d face it with the same determination he did with the legends that preceded him.  Just as Helmer picked up the cradle, there was a huge commotion on the port side of the ship, along the shoreline of the channel.  Three Riekling raiders on their boar Bristlebacks just sped off in great haste towards a huge flash of light just cresting the top of the hill on the Solstheim side of the channel.  There were great yells of the creatures and squeals of the Bristlebacks, as it seemed as if something had just killed them and their riders.  As the raiding party started upwards, a Riekling on foot came running from the hillcrest to his fellow blue skinned kin and was immediately thrust off the ground by a well placed silver arrow.  The falling creature tumbled like a fur and leather covered blue ball towards the shore, as the raiders yelled their fury.  Suddenly, standing at a wide legged, bent kneed stance was a tall female figure.  Her dark black hair all about her head blowing wildly in the wind as she stood there, defiantly breathing loudly as blood trickled from many open wounds.  There was a crossbow bolt stuck in her thigh, which was now bare, stark white and blood red against the remnants of the dark leggings shredded around it. She looked as if she was about to fall.

     Dandowin vaulted to the bow just as Helmer handed him a bow he kept on ship for raiders and Reavers.  Knocking the arrow and drawing it to his cheek he let an arrow fly at the raiding party.  The center raider took the arrow in the back of the head and pitched forward.  Dagfeal on the shoreline pulled out his quiver and cedar bow and sent three arrows into the raider on the left.  He was also soon dispatched, with a great grumbling of the Riekling tongue, and a tumbling of blue flesh amongst the soft covering of snow.

The last raider and rider-less boars were still making progress up the hill.  The woman with the dark hair was down to one knee now, the cuts covering her legs and arms in dark red blood, as it was clear she was losing consciousness.  With no time to lose Skullum drew his Nordic broadsword and ran across the channel with a great splashing.  One of the boars turned to charge him, and was quickly sliced in two.  Dagfeal let two arrows fly but these were deflected by the Riekling’s tough shield.  Dandowin drew another shot with some overdraw to compensate for the distance.  Aiming lower, he took a chance and let the arrow go-

In a shot that will be talked about in the Main Hall for weeks, the arrow went flying in a white and black blur to burrow deep within the Bristleback’s anus, the broadhead cutting its way unhindered by ribs or backbone to nestle right in the center of its heart.  With a squeal it reared up, and tumbled forward.  The Riekling pitched forward, and landed with his shield behind him, breaking his arm with an audible crack.  But he was far from dead.

Dandowin vaulted off the ship into the channel water, and sped to the shoreline, as did Helmer.  Skullum was already climbing up to the rise but the Riekling was already about three feet in front of the injured woman.  Standing before her, he ignored the arrows flying past his arms and brought his wolf head hand guard sword to her head, preparing to split her skull in two.   Before he could strike, an arrow impacted his shoulder, but he still brought his sword down in a vicious arc.

 

     “Nuh-uhn.”  Ingred said, as she blocked the arc with her dagger. 

 

The Riekling’s eyes widened. With great effort and will, she shoved his sword aside and with a backstroke, slit his belly open spilling his lunch and his entrails all over the bloodied snow before him.  With that, she fell backward, spent with the effort.

     Skullum got to the scene first, and kicked the mess of Riekling off the hill just as Dandowin and Helmer got there, clothes dripping and breathing heavily.  The two men took in the scene as they watched Dandowin drop to his knees immediately and scoop the woman into his arms as if he knew her.  Exchanging puzzling looks, Skullum and Helmer watched as he tore off a piece of his wool tunic to wipe her bloodied hair from her face.

Ingred opened her eyes with a great sigh, and seeing Dandowin’s face, she brought up a hand and grabbed his hair.  She startled him with a quick kiss to the lips as she breathed raggedly.

 

     “You…you’re alive.”  She breathed.

 

Then with all her leftover strength, she punched Dandowin squarely in the face and knocked him flat against the snow next to her.  Falling back again, she threw her dagger to the side as her hand fell across his face, as he too, was losing consciousness from the blow.  The last thing Dandowin remembered as his eyes dimmed was the raucous belly laughter from Skullum and Helmer.

 

     Sigrid was pacing in the throne room again, but this time her mind was filled with calculations and strategies.  Stopping to take a sip of mead from her tankard, she just picked at the now cold bread that was sitting atop her worktable near the throne.  It was early morning hours, and still Laurenna, Wulfren, nor the guard had returned as summoned.

 

     “Where in Sovengarde is everyone?”

 

Hearing the castle doors open, she sped to the throne room doors to meet whomever it was.  When she opened the door the sight held her fast in great bewilderment, and panic hit her immediately.  Skullum and Helmer were holding some dark haired woman who had clearly fought a great battle; the powerful body was pale as the snow save for all the dried and still running blood.  Sigrid stopped the procession with a wave of her hand, until she noticed her son-in-law being borne over the shoulder like a sack of grain by the strong Dagfeal.  Spinning Dagfeal briskly she lifted his hair and checked his body with great concern.  No cuts.  No arrow or bolt wounds.  No discoloration from poison. No marks on him at all save for a large red welt on his cheek. 

The woman was in far worse shape.  Sigrid took charge of the situation.

She bent to the woman and removed her torn and ragged satchel.  Placing a hand to her wrist and her head to her chest, she noted that she was still alive, but barely.

 

     “Put this one in my room.  Take my son-in-law to his room, and go across the hall and wake up Solveig. Tell her to get some water and blankets from Anneliese.  I’ll need her to help me.”

 

     “Yes Great Lady.” They all said in unison.

Sigrid was beside herself with the unknown factor of this all, and her patience was wearing thin.  How can we face whatever it is to come if there is so much in this that is unknown? She thought to herself.  As she turned to lead everyone upstairs, she looked to the guards downstairs and yelled angrily.

 

      ”Will someone find my damn children and bring them here immediately!”

 

      

 

Chapter 7

 

 

     The cavern underneath Mournhold with its many stalactites glowed wetly with the reflection of many torches.  Not since the ruins were taken over by the Dark Brotherhood in ages past has there been such a gathering.  From all the far reaches of Vvardenfell came operatives and apprentices, supporters and trainers, mercenaries and all manner of dark craftsmen.

Standing upon the upper tier with a wide view of the cavern was Sedris Omalen and Nidryne Redas.  They both wore newer darker robes and stood out amongst so many in the more traditional light armor of the Dark Brotherhood.  The assemblage surprised both of them, for they expected perhaps a hundred strong and there was at least five times that.  Clearly there were many who had cause to wish either the Nerevarine or Nords ill.

     Amongst those in their assassin armor were various necromancers, vampires, even a contingent of Telvanni mages from the house of the late Archmagister Gothren.

 

     “Quite the gathering, eh Nidryne?”

 

     “Better than one can hope for.  Surely the Nerevarine’s days are numbered, as are his loves and kin.”

 

     “We will strike such a blow that the other races, Great Houses, and all others will learn to respect the ways of old and the sovereignty of our Dunmer people.”

 

Nidryne faced her squarely.  All traces of amusement or appreciation were replaced with a look of pure hatred.  Her red glowing eyes narrowed as if each word she spoke were burning from within her mind.  The intensity of it startled Sedris, so much so that she backed up a single step in response.

 

     “I don’t care about any of that!  It is vengeance I want, nothing more, nothing less.  This isn’t about statements…My Gods!  Do you really think your statement or your sovereignty will replace what I lost in Bolvyn?”

 

Sedris was taken aback.  She had assumed that Nidryne had likewise visions, maybe even felt the same as her late Bolvyn about the world they and he envisioned.  These emotions of hers, with such a narrow, selfish, purpose?  She was beginning to wonder if involving her was even a good idea anymore. 

 

     “But you don’t understand-“

 

     “NO! You don’t understand!  Bolvyn was not just my lover.  He was my LIFE!  This bastard has taken everything from me.  EVERYTHING!  I will not rest one minute until his woman, his children, his kin, his peoples, his world in total is destroyed and he feels the same sense of loss that I endure every single day.  My heart is shattered…my bed is cold.  All this is his fault!”

 

Sedris just turned back to the throng of allies before her.  She felt like a jilted lover, even though there were no sweet memories between her and this woman.  Fine, she thought.  Have your revenge.  Have your justice.  You were still just Bolvyn’s lover, not his wife or daughter.  At the end we will still have something of value to toast and remember.  What will you have?  She wondered.

     When it appeared that there were no more coming, Sedris began her speech and revealed the plans that she and Nidryne had devised.  Few saw the need for so many present, as it was common knowledge that these Nord settlements bore light populations without any discernable armed forces or defenses.  Some, who imagined a much more ambitious undertaking just picked up their weapons and left.  Even if there were spoils unheard of, so many cutthroats and mercenaries in the assembly assured that the bounty wouldn’t be worth the effort.

Sedris noted those who left, and a slight feeling of betrayal welled up in her and shook her confidence briefly.  First there was Nidryne’s outburst, and now this insult. 


     ”What have I gotten myself into?” Sedris mumbled to herself.

 

     When Laurenna and Wulfren got to the Main Hall, Lisendra was well into her eighth mug of mead.  Joining those she left behind before her marriage, she enjoyed an afternoon of hunting before coming back for more mead.

Lisendra killed a snow wolf; Stephan two rabbits, and Karl just caught his foot on a root and fell face forward into the snow.  She had more fun in the one afternoon than she had in months, and she chided herself inwardly for not thinking to do it sooner.  Still in her hunting woolens, her blonde hair was wild about her head.  Her normally sparkling blue eyes were now very much red rimmed from the mead and her darkening mood.

 

     “Hey, at least I tried.” She belched.

 

     “What?” Said Stephann.

 

     “Nothing.”

Lisendra remembered when Wulfren made the decision to come home because his stupid sister got pregnant.  Sigrid.  What a pain in the ass, she thought.  Why couldn’t she wait until after the child was born to call for her son?  Wulfren asked her as a favor to be nice, quoting over and over the edicts of Dibella.  Lisendra knew it was a bad idea, but she loved her husband and did it for him.  Naturally it all went to crap.

Lisendra decided, putting down her mug, she steeled herself to confront her husband once again to make a choice: his sister or his wife.  Unfortunately for Lisendra, that confrontation didn’t have long to wait.  The Main Hall opened with a great gusting of wind from the early morning snowstorm, and in walked Laurenna and Wulfren, chuckling and shoving one another like a couple of young kids.  When they saw Lisendra at the bar, she just turned, and lifted her mug again.  Sensing another tense moment, Stephann and Karl nudged each other with their elbows and took a ringside seat by the fire pit.  Ingrid automatically smiled when she saw Laurenna and Wulfren, and got two fresh mugs out and filled each one to the brim with mead.

 

     “Oh great, just what I need, more reasons to drink.” Spat Lisendra. 

 

Ingrid gave her a mild frown and Lisendra answered this by taking one of the mugs she set aside for Wulfren and Laurenna.  When she started to protest, the look Lisendra shot back made Ingrid just shake her head in pity, and she busied herself with filling a fresh mug.

Wulfren noted his wife at the bar, and immediately felt slighted when instead of coming to greet him, she just turned around and continued drinking.  He turned to his sister, with a tired look, which she returned with an angry one.  Seeing this, he just grabbed her arm and said, “Please”.  Approaching the bar, he nodded and slapped the arms of the Main Hall regulars, noting that Lucky was missing.  Laurenna told him that while he was away, Dandowin had gotten Lucky to be a pet in the castle.  Wulfren turned with eyes wide, remembering how emphatic their mother was about never having any dogs or wolves in the castle.  Surely his brother-in-law has got some kind of luck, which right now, he wished he had some.

 

     “So my Lisendra how was the day?”

Lisendra didn’t move or turn around, just took the back of her booted foot and kicked the rolled up snow wolf skin at her feet.  It rolled to the tip of Wulfren’s boot.

Karl and Stephann jumped in the conversation, stating how much fun it was to be hunting again with Lisendra, when Laurenna shot them both a glance that silenced them.

 

     “Go away Wulfren, I’m busy.”

 

Wulfren stiffened, and started to raise his voice a bit.  When he spoke, you could see that he didn’t want this to turn ugly by any means. 

 

     “Come.  Let’s go back to our cottage.  We’ll send for some breakfast and-“

Before Wulfren could finish his comment, Lisendra whirled around from her seat and looked at him with eyes blood red from too much drink and too much anger.  There was no way Wulfren was going to win this without a fight, and he did not want to fight by any means.

 

     “Are you DEAF?  I said…GO AWAY!”

 

Laurenna, having had enough of this being silent, risked overstepping her boundaries and jumped in.  Wulfren immediately tried to stop her but it was too late.

 

     “My brother is talking…to…you.”

 

Lisendra stood closing the distance and bumped Laurenna with her chest and head.  Laurenna instinctively covered her belly, but leaned in to where her face was nearly touching Lisendra’s.  Wulfren put an arm up, which was quickly slapped away by Lisendra. 

 

     “You think I’m afraid of you…you…FAT COW??”

 

Laurenna’s eyes widened and without a word she brought up her fist to punch Lisendra but the blow was blocked by Wulfren’s arm.  Karl and Stephann immediately ran around the three to grab Lisendra as she then made a grab for Laurenna.  Both being strong and tall, it was almost impossible to stop them from connecting at least their fingertips as they clawed at one another.  Laughter erupted from Rolf Klang and Ingrid immediately removed any items atop the bar that could be used as a weapon.  She screamed for Laurenna to think of the baby but Laurenna just growled her contempt for Lisendra.  Lisendra was nearly foaming at the mouth with anger.

 

     “You better keep back!  I’ll whip your ass, AND your baby’s ass!!”

 

Wulfren nearly lost Laurenna as she barreled with her shoulder into his frame.  She was still holding her belly with one hand, but the gritting of her teeth let all know that she would not be satisfied until she had Lisendra’s body at her feet.  Lisendra stopped advancing, preferring to mock Laurenna by making faces at her by puffing out her cheeks in mockery of her pregnant weight.  The sound of the entire Main Hall was chaotic.  Screams.  Laughter.  Yelling.  All a cacophony of discontent when the sound of the doors and the howling winds outside had interrupted the chaos.  With a gush of wind and snow, in walked Lokken guards Jorgen, Stormann, and Svinghammar.  Their faces took in the scene but were unmoved, and they walked immediately to Wulfren and Laurenna.

 

     “Your mother Sigrid requests your immediate presence…both of you.”

 

Wulfren still held Laurenna in place even though she was no longer struggling.  Neither of the two took their eyes off Lisendra.  Lisendra went looking for her mead mug, which was whisked away by Ingrid.  It was Laurenna who spoke first.

 

     “I’ll be home in a minute.  I’m not done here and-“

Svinghammar cut Laurenna off with a pulling and reseating of his sword in his scabbard.

The seriousness in their faces finally registered to all and it was then that they noticed that they were all wearing their armor.  When he spoke, it was almost an admonishment.

 

     “The Castle Master your husband has returned.  There has been an incident.  The Great Lady commands that you all return to the castle.  Now.”

 

Lisendra turned at the comment, looking at her husband’s face and then to Laurenna, who no longer was looking at Lisendra, but was already heading for the door ahead of the guards.  Stormann turned back at the door to Wulfren with a reiteration of the urgency, and Wulfren nodded, turning to leave.  Before he could move a step, Lisendra grabbed his arm.  He turned, and was both tired and angry, but his anger faded when he saw his drunken wife’s face.  It was no longer mocking.  It was a face of fearful thoughts and apologies both unsaid and wanting.  Wulfren grabbed her arm then, softly and just whispered.

 

     “Later.  For now, go to our home.  Please.”

 

     The master bedroom was coming into view for Dandowin when Dagfeal was trying the door handle.  He roused, and tried to stand when Dagfeal just motioned for him to stop.  Dandowin insisted that he was fine, but Dagfeal reminded him that he was under Sigrid’s orders, and that overrides even the orders of the Castle Master. He pointed out that he could see clearly he was tired from the voyages, and rest won’t kill him but his mother-in-law will if this woman he got hit by is another wife. They both laughed, and he acquiesced.  Sitting on the side of the bed, he just kicked off his boots and clasped Dagfeal’s arm in thanks. 

 

     “You know, when you’re better, you’re going to tell me all about this dark haired beauty who fights as good as a Nord.”

 

     “Agreed.  Remind me to tell you again about Red Mountain.”

 

Smiling, Dagfeal left, and the room was silent save for footsteps running up and down the hall.  It was now just breaking dawn, and the weight of all he was feeling was bearing down on him.  There was no time to rest, he mused, but maybe he could sit a while.  It was not missed at all on Dandowin that his wife was not in their bed, nor was his cousin Solveig who had taken to protecting her while he was away.   Perhaps they were roused when Ingred was seen? He wondered.  Ingred.  What was she doing all the way here?  She wasn’t one for the Nord lands and even less for cold weather.  Better to cut this rest short, and see if she’s alive.  Fighting all of the hosts of Solstheim to get here means that the news must be grim. 

As he picked up his boots, the door was burst open by an anxious foot in a snow wolf boot.

 

     Sigrid’s room was a buzz of activity as she, Solveig, and Anneliese ran in and out the room to the kitchen and back again, to gather water, embers, and towels from the pantry.  Nearly all towels were used up, and it was then that Sigrid asked Anneliese for clean sheets.

Looking down at this strange woman, a thousand questions entered her mind, some of them vocalized as she worked her knowledge in unison with Solveig.  This poor distant family of her husband’s infidelity amazed Sigrid with her determination and expertise at healing.  More important, she never shuddered or turned away at the sight of open wounds or blood.  If Sigrid was about to apply a certain poultice, Solveig would stay her hand and place her fingers in the open wound to make sure that it was the proper depth and not too deep.  When it came time to sew up the largest gashes, it was both she and Solveig who would pass the bone needles through this woman’s skin, never flinching or gasping.  They each took turns to wash off old blood before getting bloody again, running from upstairs to the kitchen downstairs.  In this terrible twist of circumstances, Sigrid found herself needing Solveig, and unbeknownst to both of them, a bond was strengthening.

 

     “So.  Who do you think she is dear?”

 

     “I don’t know and I don’t care.  She hurt Dandowin and I want to know why.”

 

     “How do you know that dear?  Sigrid passed her the needle and thread.

 

     “I heard the guards talking and laughing.  They said that he must know her, because she kissed him, and then punched him!”

 

Sigrid chuckled.  When she passed the needle again to Solveig, she watched as her eyebrows were knotted in both concentration, and maybe a rather cute touch of adolescent jealousy.  When she spoke next, she weighed her words carefully not to upset her skilled assisting healer.

 

     “Well, whoever this woman is, it must be important for her to have fought her way here.  Thank goodness Dandowin married a strong Lokken woman like Laurenna, since this one looks like she wouldn’t last one winter here.”

 

Chuckling, Sigrid winked at Solveig who smiled weakly.  She was getting tired, and Sigrid felt terribly sorry for that.  Passing the bone needle to Sigrid, she then took the strips of linen and started to wrap them around her pale arm over and over.  She noticed that some color was returning to this woman, but she was still so pale that her veins were showing blue against the white skin.  Solveig felt conflicted as she worked on Ingred Rems.  Part of her looked at the tall, muscular frame and the long hair and noticed that even cut up, she was beautiful.  Maybe she might grow up to be as skilled as her, she thought.  But when these thoughts came up, she immediately got mad as she remembered the guards.

     When they were done, Ingred Rems was snoring and talking in her sleep.  They both looked at one another with amusement, as she spoke not in mumbles but rather clearly, and some of what she said made both Solveig and Sigrid chuckle as well as blush.  Solveig wiped her nose with her tunic, as Sigrid walked over to her and drew her close.  Solveig wrapped her arms around her and closed her eyes, and Sigrid bent to kiss the top of her head. 

 

     “This woman owes you her life Solveig.  I couldn’t have saved her without your help.”

 

Solveig shrugged.  Her hands were bloody and sticky, her clothes were sweaty, and she was beyond tired.  Deep inside she was really appreciative of her comment, but at the same time she was worried about Dandowin, and Laurenna more than that.  It was early morning and she hadn’t seen her yet.

 

     “I’m tired Lady Sigrid.  Can I go to bed now?”

 

Sigrid kissed her again and gave her the last of the linens.  Sigrid was tired herself, but her mind was racing over issues that made sleep impossible right now.

 

     “Of course dear, wash up downstairs and then get some rest.  I’ll have Sonja bring breakfast to you, so you don’t have to come downstairs for it.   Oh, one more thing dear…”

 

     “Yes Lady Sigrid?”

 

     “Just call me Sigrid dear.  You’re my family, remember?”

 

     Solveig hugged her and then walked to the door, giving one last look to the woman that she decided when she wakes up, she is going to get some answers from.

In the room alone with Ingred, Sigrid wiped her own bloody hands on some linen and looked at her one last time before she noticed the ragged and bloody satchel at her feet that belonged to the woman. Best place to find answers, is to look for them she figured.  Taking the satchel, she left her room and shadowed Solveig downstairs to the kitchen to wash up.

 

     The large pyramidal buildings of Vivec rose sharply into the partly cloudy morning sky.  Its interesting soft brown and gray stone patterns with their rounded ends broken only by each level bustled with people moving between them.  Guards patrolled each tier, some walking, while some standing at attention.  The Ordinators; with their golden armor adorned with the temple’s embellishments sternly watched each passerby, sometimes issuing an unwelcome or unwarranted warning.

     It was here, that Ahnassi padded along the smooth stone, working her way from corner to corner as she crossed platforms from one canton to another.  She could have easily taken one of the gondolas to the Arena, but sometimes taking a gondola shows to the world that you are too rich to walk, she mused.  Besides, she needs to appear like any other traveler to Vivec.  A tourist.  While she walked, the words she had heard from the two Dunmer women at the Maar Gan outpost bothered her greatly.  She knew of this Nerevarine.  This Dandowin.  He was her “true and good friend”, and it had been some time since he would come by to give Ahnassi some gold or a gift, and she would tell him a secret or two.  These are strange times that bothered her she thought, and when she heard of the destruction of Ald’ruhn she counted herself lucky for the decision to go to Maar Gan, instead of the big crab shell.

     Turning a corner, she saw the dome of the Arena come into view with its many banners.  She had good memories of Vivec, before her husband J’Dhannar had become a slave to the Moon Sugar.  Now she is just glad he has gone back to Elswyr.  In all her years, she has seen many good Khajiit die because of the Moon Sugar trade.  As the pads of her feet resonated off the circular walls of the ramps leading to the Arena Waistworks, she thought again of the terrible plot she had heard involving her true and good friend.  Ahnassi could not understand how Dunmer could be angry with her friend the Nord.  Did he not save the Dunmer peoples from the terrible monster at Red Mountain?  “Bah” she spat.  It is always the same, she mused.  People never appreciate those that do the best for them, always those that treat them badly.  Silly people.

     As she entered the Arena, she removed her hood and walked slower.  Still not wanting to attract Ordinator eyes or suspicious guards, she held her head high so all would think her the monk that she is.  This she learned from the humans.  If you keep your head down, people want to know why you are hiding your eyes.  Lift your head and they will think you’re going to talk to them, which they also do not like. 

 

     “Very silly people.” She purred.

 

Turning left, then right, she moved around each stone pillar until she found the Fighter’s Quarters and knocked on the door with her claws.  A Dunmer fighter just opened the door in leaving as she knocked, and just rudely sniffed as he walked by her. 

When she made it to the second room within, she didn’t bother knocking, just opened the door and closed it directly behind her.  There, on the bed practicing a very wide legged split was her good friend, Senyndie.  As Redguards go, Senyndie was more like a Khajiit than a human Ahnassi felt.  She was born in the desert like Ahnassi.  Her moves were very smooth, and light on her feet, like a true Khajiit.  The tight black braids that ringed her head framed a very strong yet pretty face then fell about her neck and back in flowing longer braids.  Dressed in a simple brown robe she sat with legs pointed away from her.  Her eyes closed and her hands brought to her chest with the backs of the palms touching, thumbs pointing outwards in an ancient Yokudan meditation. 

 

     Vaba Do’shurhi’do.” Said Senyndie, her eyes still closed.

 

     “Yes, it is good to be brave.” Replied Ahnassi.  “But sometimes, vaba maaszi lhajiiito.

Ahnassi had not spoken her native tongue in a very long time.  These greetings between her and Senyndie were very touching, and she always felt safe and secure with her.  Opening one eye with a smile, Senyndie brought her legs back in front of her, and flexed her toes.   Rolling from the bed, she landed perfectly on her feet to stand in a vibrant pose in front of her friend.  They immediately hugged, and Ahnassi purred so loudly that she was slightly embarrassed.  Senyndie missed her friend.  Visitors and friends are so rare in the Fighter’s Quarters of the Arena.  Knowing a little about her dear friend though, she was inwardly worried that this was more than a social call.  Still holding her arm about Ahnassi’s shoulders, she led her to the bed, where they sat on it side by side to talk.  She noticed that Ahnassi was not smiling, and she held her hand and broke the ice.

 

     “So, you say it is sometimes necessary to run away?  Is this what my friend is doing now?”

 

     “No my very good friend.  This time, Ahnassi must share a care.  I was in Maar Gan, and heard a very juicy secret.  It is not a happy secret, and there are no gifts to be had, but Ahnassi does not care for gifts this time.”

 

Senyndie was very puzzled.  Knowing her friend for so many years, she knew that her veneer of being a monk was very thin, and that her true trade and calling was the more “stealthy” arts.  If she is saying now that this is a care, and that she has no gain from the knowledge, this must be something that was worth the travel to this distance. 

 

     “You know my true and good friend?  The one who became very famous because he was so shuri’do? 

Senyndie nodded.  Ahnassi had many friends, and most earned the title of  “true and good friend”.  There was only one that she could think of who is famous.  It had been what seemed like ages since he showed up at the Arena.  Once he came to learn some basic moves of her craft and some special Shai’ir techniques.  Next he came again much later because the equally famous Dunmer commander, Bolvyn Venim, challenged him.  Senyndie remembered that duel.  It was brutal, and done with great reservation.  The way his daughter peered over the ledge to the Arena pit, her hands shaking and her eyes wet with tears when the Nerevarine delivered a very lethal sword cut still gave her pause.  All the fighters watched from the ledge at this history-making duel. 

 

     “Do you mean the Nord, the Nerevarine?”

 

Ahnassi nodded and wrung her hands over and over; the clicking of her claws unsettling Senyndie, as she knew this must be bad.

 

     “Maybe you better start at the very beginning my friend.  I will lock the door so we may share this care in secret, and see what we can do to help your true and good friend.”

 

  

 

Chapter 8

 

 

     The Lokken dawn brought its usual gray light with fierce winds and snow blowing in all directions.  The main path that led through the center of town was unusually empty, save for the few guards who patrolled up and down the walkway. 

     Laurenna was beside herself with worry.  The fight she had with Lisendra made her nauseas, and bile was rising in her throat.  Fighting the high winds was difficult, not because of their intensity, but because she was struggling for two.  With all the fight out of her with seeing the guards and hearing the news, all she could do was put one foot in front of the other and get home to her husband.

Dandowin is home?  An incident?  The guards armed and mother upset?  Her emotions raced within her with the fear and ignorance of the incident, and she was panting aloud.  With all that happened in the past hour or so, she found herself crying slightly as it seemed to take her forever to climb each step.  Holding her belly for reassurance. Her white hair whipped all about her face, occasionally getting into her mouth.  The snug fit of her dress was making moving fast difficult, and she knew that the time had come for her to consider wearing a robe or maternity gown.

     The fight replayed over and over in her head, and she would shut her wet eyes to blot out the memory, but to no avail.  Why do I do these things?  She admonished herself.  It’s not my place to chastise Lisendra, and Wulfren can handle his own affairs.  Dandowin’s face came into her mind; with his head cocked to the side as usual, he reminded her that her brother found something to love in her, perhaps she might one day.

Ulfgrun helped her with the last few steps, noticing that her eyes were wet and that the tears left icy traces down her cheeks.  The guards who summoned her and her brother stood at the door, as they parted to let Wulfren pass.  Wulfren took Laurenna’s other arm and helped her indoors.  Kielreen was leaving the throne room, and with the door open she noticed that it was empty save for the guards.  Pulling from Wulfren’s grasp, she ran as fast as her legs would let her towards the stairs.   Kielreen started to speak, but she turned to let Solveig into the throne room, her hands covered in dry blood.  Solveig eyes widened when she saw Laurenna and Wulfren, and started to say something when Laurenna saw the blood on her hands and let out a tearful “No!” running up the stairs.  She was about to yell to her that Dandowin was okay, but it was too late, she was already vaulting up the stairs holding her belly and sniffling.  Upstairs, her mother turned from closing her door carefully, and was abruptly face to face with a panting, crying, Laurenna.  Sigrid was taken aback by seeing her daughter so distressed, but all she could say was “He’s in your bedroom dear.”  But Laurenna didn’t hear a word…all she saw was her mother holding a tattered blood covered satchel with equally blood-covered hands.  With the last of her will and strength, Laurenna sped to their bedroom and kicked the door in with all her might. 

 

     Outside in the forest at the very top of the Lokken path leading to the more remote homes, someone was watching the spectacle with interest.  The cold was taking some getting used to, and they constantly had to ingest the various elixirs and potions that would allow them to withstand it.  Until their objective was met, some temporary shelter was going to be needed.  Being cloaked from view with the Chameleon spell, the Dark Brotherhood operative made mental scenarios of how and where to access the castle to fulfill the contract.  He knew that he was only the spear point of a much larger attack, but the primary targets on his list need to be isolated if the impact is going to produce the desired result. 

     A branch broke behind him.  Followed by a growling.  He was just starting to feel the beginning of the snow wolf’s paralyzing cold attack, when he whirled, crouched low, and thrust a poison dagger into the creature’s mouth.  The poison worked quickly, and the creature yelped as its tongue soon turned black and then dissolved altogether.  Soon the rest of its mouth was turning black, and its eyes soon glazed over as if boiled from within.  This attack was unfortunate, he reasoned.  The poisons have to be used sparingly, and he was already very low because he had to use so much of it just surviving from shadowing that Imperial woman from the mainland.  He hated these long distance contracts into the cold, harsh, lands of these ridiculous Nords.  One has to travel light for stealth, but multiple obstacles often deplete resources. 

    Dragging the dead snow wolf from the tree, he kicked snow over the visceral residue of the dissolved tongue and moved the body to behind a larger tree stump.  Perhaps some bear or other wolves can dispose of the carcass, before a hunter or traveler happens upon it.  The nature of the death will give away his presence, and unlike a mainland forest or ash lands, he can’t burn it for fear of being discovered.  Perhaps more reconnaissance is needed, and maybe he can take over a remote dwelling or cave while waiting for the right moment.  No, a night watch of the movement of the castle is needed.  Maybe something will show a weakness in the defenses.

     Looking down at the dead snow wolf, he drew his dagger again and promptly removed one of its teeth that were not dissolved. 

     “A souvenir.” He whispered.

 

     Wulfren saw Solveig over his sister’s shoulder and gasped.  What happened here whilst he and Laurenna were enjoying the day?  Feelings of inadequacy were filling him.  It reinforced all his original feelings about what type of ruler of Lokken he would have been.  Inwardly, he wished he were as strong as his younger sister was.  Outwardly, he tried to maintain a hard and hearty fašade.  It was very tiring, and given all that had transpired so far, clearly ineffective.  He was just about to follow Solveig when his mother appeared, also with bloodied hands.   Seeing him, Sigrid just nodded as it was clear that she was either very tired, very angry, or both.  He went to follow her, but she stopped him, pointing to her desk in the throne room.  Nodding, he just did as he was told.

How long ago it seemed since he was able to be in the throne room of Lokken.  His memories of this room were many, and yet, he couldn’t call upon a single one right now.

Looking at the throne, he saw the embedded Warhammer of Thorjan Bjorg in the stone obelisk to side.  Thinking to that time, he made such a scene to his family about needing to defeat Ragnar to gain his rightful place, only to relinquish it the minute he saw Lisendra and the want of marrying her. 

     On the table that his mother would often pour over books and scrolls, was a freshly sewn wolf skin bunting for Laurenna.  Picking it up, he thumbed the soft white fur and tight stitching.  Many were the moments when he thought of the life of a father.  Marrying.  Having children to love and to teach.  Going out to adventure, returning with gifts untold and stories to share.  Now, all of that seemed so far away.  He knew he practically ran from Lokken when he married Lisendra.  On reflection, he never really gave his sister and her husband who he owed so much to, her own time and chance for a honeymoon.  Now, it’s too late to up and change things, he thought dejectedly.  The whole of Lokken seemed to depend on his mother, sister, and his brother-in-law. 

Lisendra was right it seemed...it was a bad idea to come home.

 

     When the door thrust open so violently, Dandowin dropped his boot and bent for a low attack.  When he saw that it was Laurenna, he smiled widely, until he noticed the very wet eyes and the glistening streaks down each side of her face.  Her normally crystal blue eyes were terribly bloodshot, and she was panting loudly.  Taking her hand away from her belly, she charged at him with arms wide, nearly knocking him off his feet for him to stumble back to the side of the bed.  Still standing, she pawed at his face and neck, and then his shoulders then back to his face again.  Kissing him and crying openly as if it were the first time she had seen him in years.  He just wrapped his arms about her as she sobbed openly.

 

     “Hey, it’s okay…it’s okay.  We’re home and all is well.”

 

Laurenna still sobbed, but lifted her head and looked at him closely.  It didn’t take long before she noted the red welt on his cheek and started to kiss it, as if doing so would make it disappear from view.  Dandowin just smiled and redirected her lips for a kiss, then held her at arms length to look at her.  The tears confused him, but not as much as the kicking in of the door.

 

     “I thought…the blood on Solveig and mother’s…but the guards said and…and-“

She just started to cry again.

 

     “I’m fine, really.  I had Helmer bring me right home, and when things calm down, we have some things to discuss.  Right now, I need to check on Ingred.  The blood you saw was hers not mine, and I need to know what is going on and why she’s here.”

 

Laurenna sniffled and wiped at her eyes with both hands.  She was calming down, but not by much.

 

     “Ingred?  You mean that big Imperial bodyguard from Balmora?”

 

     “Yes, the very one.  The blood is hers and she is in a bad way.  If what you told me is true about Solveig and Sigrid, then they must have worked on her all night and morning long.”

Dandowin went to retrieve his other boot and pulled it on.  As he bent to place his foot in it, Laurenna grabbed his back and laid over him, sniffing and breathing heavy as she held him.  Bent so, she kept him from rising but he knew that she needed this small indulgence.  What must have gone through her mind at the mention of the guards must have been terrible.  When she rose and he rose, she immediately checked the welt on his face again.  Her eyes were starting to clear and all Dandowin could think of was how beautiful she was.

 

     “Then how?” She inquired suspiciously.

 

     “Ingred just said “Hello” you might say.”

Laurenna stiffened and cocked an eyebrow in doubt.  Their moment was immediately broken as Sigrid appeared at the doorway.  Her look was grave, and for the first time Dandowin saw hairs out of place in her usually tight bun.  Sigrid was exhausted. 

 

     “Dandowin dear, you’re fine I see.  Laurenna, I need to speak with him.  Now.”

It was more a command than a comment, and with all that had happened so far; Laurenna resigned herself to being patient and waiting for later.

 

     “Yes mother.”  This was all she could respond to Sigrid’s command.

Dandowin kissed her forehead and was about to leave when he turned abruptly.  His look was just as worried as her mother’s.

 

     “Please, for me…check on Ingred.  Stay with her until she rouses or until I am finished with Sigrid.  If she asks, make her aware that I will speak to her in time.  If she needs anything, please have Sonja or Anneliese tend to it.  Just keep her company.  Please?”

 

Laurenna nodded and went to follow Sigrid and Dandowin out of their bedroom.  He turned one last time to kiss her, and lightly rubbed her belly, which was starting to rouse with activity from their child.  The movement of the arms and legs within her womb reassured her, and helped salve all the panic she had just experienced.  Her husband is alive.  That is all that mattered to her now, and she placed both hands on her belly and rubbed softly, whispering to herself that all will be okay.  When her mother and husband disappeared from view down the stairs, Snorri came out of his room with a few poultices and linen wraps.  Seeing Laurenna, he smiled widely and she stepped closer to take the items from him. 

 

     “That wee one, Solveig?  She’s pretty amazing.  I heard she and Sigrid saved this woman’s life!”

Laurenna had just thought of Solveig at the mention of her name, and decided that she needed to keep her promise to her husband just a few minutes later.  Right now, her cousin is just the person she needs to see, and Laurenna felt that she owes Solveig an apology for panicking so.  Turning around, she went a few doors back until she found Solveig’s room.  Opening the door very slowly and quietly, she tiptoed inside to check on her cousin.  The sight inside brought warmth all over Laurenna’s body, and her chest tightened with the emotions it brought to the surface.

Solveig was facing the door on her bed, wrapped in her covers with her cousin Lena also wrapped into the covers with her. Both their heads were a tangle of white and blonde hair from restless sleep. She had her arm draped over Lena’s shoulder, where her hand was holding Lena’s, the fingers entwined.  They both snored that steady, deep, breath that children do when they are very tired.  Not wanting to upset the moment, Laurenna just backed up slowly and let herself out.  Poor thing, she wondered.  First they endure a fearful life for them in Skyrim evading the bigoted townsfolk; now other troubles to endure.  It just isn’t fair.  Children should at least have a childhood.

 

     By the time Ahnassi finished retelling all that she heard from Nidryne Redas and Sedris Omalen that night in Maar Gan, her friend was no longer sitting beside her, but pacing back and forth wringing her hands herself.  The look of astonishment on Senyndie’s face started to mimic Ahnassi’s, and it was clear that they were both unsure as to what to do with the information at hand.  There were some unsure obstacles to just reporting this to someone of authority in the Great Houses, especially if Sedris Omalen has been elevated in status in some way.  With the death of an entire Skar filled with the finest of House Redoran’s nobility and individuals of power; that means that the Redoran Compound here in Vivec will be the seat of Redoran power for the time being.  If Sedris has influence here, the resulting information could prove disastrous.

     Then there is the issue of how to warn the Nerevarine, if he doesn’t know already.  Solstheim is on the other side of the land, and what can two women of limited means hope to accomplish with any sense of immediacy? 

Senyndie stopped pacing.  She knew of a few such as she, masters of their talents, and some were indeed loyal Redoran.  But first, she needed to visit the Canton to see what the nobility there thought of the destruction of Ald’ruhn.  If by any chance there were some who were survivors, maybe some who escaped the destruction before it happened might be allies.  Would that there were some of the Houses of Sarethi, Arobar, Llethri, Ramoran, or Morvayn surviving.  Only a handful in House Venim were ever friendly and respectful to Kinswoman Dilvene Venim.  She was the rightful power and leader, but her husband saw to it she was kept down and insignificant.  When the Nerevarine won that duel, she had truly seized the opportunity to rule, and I am sure he did more than a few good words to sway the other House votes to increase her standing and overall power.  Many saw Dilvene as a new, fresh, honorable start.  Pity that a viper such as her husband’s lover had to be the one who survived the holocaust.

 

     “My friend, I want you to stay here in my room for a few days, okay?” 

Ahnassi nodded and stood up, hugging her friend.

 

     “What will my good friend do with this juicy secret?  How will we save my true and good friend?”

“Leave that to me.  It is time for me to be the one who shall be stealthy.  First I shall go to the Redoran Compound and see how the winds have changed.  Maybe I can find us a friend, even better, a friend with some influence.  In the meantime, I will contact some fellow talented people to see if they would consider dropping in on our “true and good friend” as a favor.”

 

Senyndie looked for her sandals and also pulled on a pair of loose cotton pants. 

Ahnassi was still very nervous, and seeing the worry, Senyndie stopped lacing her sandal and smiled at her.

 

     Fusozay Var Var.” Senyndie said as she resumed her lacing.  Ahnassi took great risk to share this care, and Senyndie was not going to add to that risk.  Walking to Ahnassi, she lifted her legs and settled her into her bed, stroking the hair on her ears.  Ahnassi breathed deeply and seemed less fearful.  At least for a while, she will be safe and sound.

 

Turning to leave, she was stopped immediately by Ahnassi’s quick hand.  Her claws held her wrist carefully but very tightly.  The look that Ahnassi gave her was that of a mother warning her child of an unfriendly world outside the door.

 

“If trouble comes, it will come with everything.  Those that call the ‘Night Mother’ are the most dangerous.  You are also my true and good friend.  Ahnassi cannot live knowing she has brought the danger with the secret to you.  Promise Ahnassi something…”

Senyndie looked in her eyes and nodded. The words that came next, told her all she needed to know.

 

     Fusozay Var Dar.

 

Senyndie grinned widely.  When she spoke, it was her turn to be the strong mother.

 

     “Do not worry my friend.  As you and I both know as Sisters of the Desert, I have learned a lot more than tumbling from our homelands.”


 

Chapter 9

 

 

     The sea, deep and roiling, even in the illumination of a cloudless sky, bore death on its foamy surface.  The ship that Sedris Omalen had relieved from the few Imperial guards who walked its decks in the Mournhold harbor was filled from crows nest to bilge, with blackened hearts and death bringers.  There was no turning back now, as killing an Imperial contingent surely carried the Death Sentence.  There was no care in it for her.  She had simply walked onto the deck and thrust a dagger into every guard she smiled at.  Their look of surprise and horror, lost forever in the deep ocean. 

Disposing the bodies at sea was the best way to ensure that plans would continue without interruption.  For all intents and purposes, any who would inquire would assume that the ship just left for Imperial business. 

     There was no pleasure in killing those guards, just a mild sense of need due to her growing hatred for her co-conspirator, Nidryne.  How she had hoped that providing the right circumstances and sacrifices, tools and timeframes to exact justice would have shown Nidryne how deeply she felt for her.  At first it was just an attraction.  Part of it due to her beauty, and part of it due to her ferocity in wanting the Nerevarine and his sires dead.  Her determination and assumed loyalty to Bolvyn Venim made Sedris excited, and she wanted her.  But as these days and weeks went on, all she could see was that she was nothing more than a spoiled tart that was the illegitimate receptacle for a great man.  Her blind sense of vengeance was all she wanted, and now that this was most surely assured, she just kept to herself; bored with the friendship Sedris offered and certainly unappreciative of the affection she most emphatically refused from her.

     She talked to the assassin who had experience with captaining a ship, and got a sense of their destination and plan of entry.  The towns bordering the eastern side of Vvardenfell were mostly inland save for the Tel Island chain, and the eastern shoreline of Solstheim’s Lokken had a huge mountain to provide a clandestine mooring. So there was little chance of exposure unless it is an adventurer or scout on patrol. Hoisting the flags of the Imperial Legions and the King of Morrowind, to all they look no different than any other departing droves of Imperial swine. They would break off into two forces, one smaller force to cut off and destroy the mead hall town of Thirsk, then a larger force would storm Lokken straight from their channel dock right up to the castle proper.  Lokken has no army to speak of, just a small force of perpetually drunken fighters, who were mostly hunters from the intelligences.  It was said that Thirsk never fully recovered from some sort of animal or fell creature attack that the locals and the Nerevarine finished off, so a sweeping slash and burn should eliminate them easily.  Then the smaller force can rejoin the larger and drive the whole of Lokken Island into oblivion.  Hopefully the intended message of demoralization by killing all that the Nerevarine loves beforehand will shake his resolve and show him that even a hero of legend, can be gotten to.  As a reminder to the generations of explorers to follow, Sedris instructed all that after burning everything to the ground, all skulls from every man, woman, child, and animal were to be piled in the center of the town, and a trail left leading back to the primitive and animist Skaal.

     Leaving the top deck, Sedris opened the door to the lower decks to go to her quarters for a while.  As she walked down the dark brown creaking steps, she glanced at all who busied themselves about the ship.  Hard, dangerous men sharpened all manner of weapons in one corner, exchanging lewd tales of rapes and entire families killed.  This was a mixed lot of mercenary scum, mostly Dunmer and Bosmeri. A few Orcs sitting in the back just laughing at the tales of unspeakable atrocity, who were watched suspiciously by the standoffish rogue Telvanni mages and necromancers. Some of the more dangerous, mostly the women, were off in one corner gambling while slitting the feet of any stupid males who tried to give them an unwanted advance.  That is not to say there wasn’t fraternization.  The even lower decks were teeming with the yelps, moaning, and most disgusting pillow talk from those that felt the voyage was best spent on one’s back or belly. Whatever vampires were in the assembly at the old Dark Brotherhood enclave, had deserted with the rest of the unappreciative cowards.

     Passing Nidryne’s cabin, she thought to knock and enter, but quickly changed her mind.  Instead, she grabbed a Flin, and opened her own cabin door.  She bolted it immediately.  If she cannot fill the desires she has in her intended subject, then she will fill that need with bad drink and her own hands.  There will be no uninvited anything this voyage.

 

     The room came very slowly into blurry view for Ingred Rems.  There was the smell of strong leaves or flowers, some oils, and the burning wood from the fireplace.  At first panicking, she vaulted forward to find that she was in great stinging pain and still very much exhausted.  She had no idea exactly how long she was unconscious or asleep, but it was midday in the room now, and she was hungry.  Before she could turn she was thrust back very hard onto the bed, the action making all her cuts and bruises scream in remembrance. 

The hand was strong, and insistent.  It held her fast to the bed and try as she might, she couldn’t raise herself.  There was no strength left in her for that.  Bringing her hands to her eyes, she noticed that she was quite clean.  All the blood had been washed off, and she was in a loose fitting gown of some sort.  Just as her vision cleared, a spoon full of shredded meat, most probably bear, was thrust into her mouth.  Gagging at first, not because it wasn’t good, but because her saliva had welled up at the back of her throat, she sputtered and coughed until her head was lifted a bit so the food could go down.  When a ceramic cup was brought to her lips, she smelled the sweetness of the Nord mead immediately, and shook her head in refusal.

 

     “You’re going to have to drink something. You’ve lost a lot of blood and you’ll need to regain your strength.  You look like Hell.”

 

     “Better than you-“

Ingred stopped her comment.  There was no way she was going to win that argument, because the woman that was feeding her and holding the cup was unbelievably beautiful.

Silver white hair that fell to just under her chin, eyes that were bluer than the sky itself held her fast with a cocked eyebrow of amused doubt.  She was dressed in fine wolf fur and linen, a gold ring shining from her hand that held the cup glistened in the midday glow of the room.  There was something else she noticed; she was very much pregnant.

 

     “You must be the Lady of the castle.”

 

     “One of.” Laurenna said smiling.  She still held the cup of mead in front of Ingred’s lips and was not moving it until she at least took a sip.  They stared at one another for a whole minute before Ingred gave up, and swallowed the Nord mead until the cup was empty.  It was sweet, potent, and trying as she might, she couldn’t ignore that it was very refreshing.   Laurenna wiped Ingred’s mouth with the back of her own hand, and moved the rolled up furs under her head so she could lean forward a little.

 

     “One of?” Inquired Ingred quizzically.

 

     “My mother, Sigrid, who helped heal you, is the Great Lady of Lokken.  I am her daughter Laurenna, daughter of the late Wulfgar the White, my father.  Then there is my half-sister Lena, and cousin, Solveig, whom is the other person who healed you.”

 

Ingred was full of questions.  How bad was she when they brought her here?  Is Dandowin okay?  Then she remembered hitting him before passing out and immediately turned her eyes away from Laurenna. 

 

     “You’ve caused quite a commotion here in our castle.  The guards are gossiping like fish wives wondering who you are, and my husband and brother are with my mother now trying to find out why you’re here.  In a few days, you’ll be able to get about, but rest for now.  You’re still not healed enough for walking around.”

 

Ingred checked her arms and legs and noticed that she had thread stitches all over her body.  She winced as she poked and squeezed each one she could reach.  Laurenna smacked her hand away and was shaking her head negatively.

 

     “Leave the dressings be.  You’ll be fine so long as you rest.  I’ll have Sonja bring up some food and water, but you’ll find that our Lokken mead would take the edge off those wounds far better.”

 

     “I guess I owe all of you for saving me.  These dressings are exceptionally done, and well, it’s...”

 

     “Not too bad for a bunch of big-breasted, smelly Nords?”

Ingred’s face turned immediately red.  It was the first time some true color came to her cheeks since they found her.  Ingred was about to accuse Laurenna of being telepathic, when Laurenna rose, stretched, and rested her hands on her belly.  Rubbing it as if showering the child within her with hugs, she smiled at Ingred.

 

     “You talk in your sleep.  A lot.”  She laughed.

 

Ingred chuckled herself a bit, but was still embarrassed for her comment.  Laughing, Laurenna turned to leave.  Ingred looked at her as she was leaving, and it was easy to see why Dandowin loved her so.  She was taller than many a man she knew.  Her beauty was unbelievable, and even with the weight of a child within her, you could easily see how curvaceous and strong she was under her robes.  From the way she said “my husband”, it was more than clear that Dandowin was very much loved here. 

 

     “I’m Ingred.  Ingred Rems.  I was his bodyguard and friend in Vvardenfell.  We…used to fight a lot together.”

 

     “I know.  He’s mentioned you many times when he entertains our family and town folk when they ask him about his adventures, especially Red Mountain.”

 

Before Laurenna opened the door, she turned again, the smile still there but something in her eyes gave Ingred the distinct impression that what she had to say was worth remembering.  Ingred raised her eyebrows as if to say with them,  “Yes?”

 

     “Just for future reference.  It’s my job around here to kiss my husband, and punch his face in.”

 

     “Uh, yeah.  I am very sorry about that, really.”

 

Laurenna laughed aloud.  Ingred relaxed knowing that this Lady of Lokken was not only beautiful, but she had a great sense of humor.

 

     “It’s not me you have to apologize to, and not my husband.  Our cousin is very protective of both of us, but more so of Dandowin.  It was he that picked her and my young half-sister up from being abandoned in Khuul.  She is very fond of him, and I think she feels like a daughter to him.  I know he feels the same way, and well, remember that when she comes to check in on you.  She is the probably the best healer any of us have ever seen.”

 

Laurenna grabbed the door handle and opened the door, but before she took a step Ingred called out to her.

 

     “Laurenna?”

 

     “Hmm?” Laurenna stood to the side with a hand still on the door.

 

     “You are still big-breasted though.”

Laurenna laughed heartily and walked out, closing the door behind her.  Ingred turned her head as she walked out, and yawned.  When she turned her head again back to the door, she found a very serious looking young lady just standing there, looking at her.

 

     When Dandowin entered the throne room, it was more resembling of a War Room.  Sigrid sat at her desk, Wulfren stood at her side, and Ljot stood on the opposite side closest the throne.  When he emerged, Ljot immediately gave him the salute of fealty.  Dandowin clasped his arm in return, and he surveyed the table.  Spread out all over it were various letters, including the one he received from the Emperor himself.  Joining them, he bent to Sigrid and she placed a hand on his head.  He thanked her for saving Ingred’s life, to which she just softly grabbed his ear, and shook his head in family love.

The look on her face was grave, and clearly she was terribly tired and very much worried.

She had, like most thought the terrible times were over with the death of Ragnar, but it seems, there are still a few more trials for her family and her people to endure.

 

     “Come.  Dandowin.”  Sigrid said.  She handed him the notes that she found in Ingred’s satchel, detailing her interrogation of the Dunmer in the bar and of Nidryne Redas.  Dandowin read them to himself, his eyes darting back and forth as his brow knotted more with each sentence. 

 

     “I know of these things.  All of Vvardenfell is talking about the catastrophe at Ald’ruhn.

The gate that appeared is of another realm, and from the hand of the Daedra Lord himself.  This is something that has to be fought at the source, and there is still much undiscovered.  Perhaps the other Daedra Lords or Gods may help, perhaps not.

The last of the God-Kings, Vivec, visited me here in Lokken to ask my help to find a solution to the Dreamer genocide, which I haven’t decided about that yet.  Lives hang in the balance I know, but to fail in a solution will be worse than not trying to find one.”

 

     “And the rest?” Asked Wulfren.

 

Dandowin paused, looking to each face in the room.  None held him in judgment, but there was a prevailing sense of worry as to what he was going to do.  More than that, when he looked to Sigrid and Wulfren, they both knew that whatever he decided, it would involve leaving again and facing dangers that Laurenna will not like one bit.  Not now, so close to being a mother.

 

     “The rest?  The rest…the rest.”

Dandowin’s eyes were closed, shaking his head slowly.  He moved away from everyone to the top of the throne.  Standing in front of the throne, he looked down at the assemblage of family and warriors.  Laurenna entered the throne room then, seeing the solemn scene and immediately took the chair next to her mother. Even more surprising was when Lisendra opened the door directly after, and immediately stood next to her husband, grabbing hold of his hand.  It appeared she was very much sober.  When he spoke, it was with such a tiredness and emotion that it caused Sigrid to cry, something Wulfren had not seen since Wulfgar was murdered.

 

     “My family, and my fellow warriors of Lokken.  The roads that were laid before me I would have never chosen for myself.  The Gods have seen to it that I was placed either at death’s mercy, or as death’s deliverer.  The lives I have taken and have to take seem to number more than the lives I have hoped to save.  It seems that I bring more danger to you after so many years of the dangers you already suffered, and for that, I am so very sorry.  When I first set foot on your shores, it was not for the hunt that drew others.  I came, to leave the world of death behind, and the want of song, for the simple hope of family.

The Gods did bless me with family, but it was family as we all know that had to be wrested from danger and death as well.”

 

Some of the guards were nodding, and Ljot again saluted Dandowin.  Laurenna started to rise, but Sigrid held her to her seat, holding her hand so tightly, it frightened her.

 

     “If I can stop, or at least lessen, the threats that my deeds have brought to the land I love here, the land of Lokken, then I go to meet those threats to whatever end the Gods will decree.  In all my travels from one end of this world to the other, I have learned that the legends are true, the demons are real, and threats must be answered.  You were already a strong people before I came here, with legends of your own.  I believe you will write more while I go to face my own.”

 

Wulfren stepped forward, and grasped Dandowin’s arm.  He was moved, and Dandowin thought perhaps he’s strong enough to finally lead his people as he was supposed to.  But this moment of strength was shattered as Laurenna rose, and ran crying from the throne room holding her belly.  Sigrid wiped at her own face, and stopped Dandowin with a hand to his heart.

 

     “I will speak with her.  Leave all preparations with my son and the men.  By the Goddess I do not want you to go Dandowin.  You are as much my son now as Wulfren, and your place is here. Our heir to these lands needs their father too!  Do not leave just yet.  Give this some days as we prepare and ready our defenses.  My daughter is as strong as the man she married, and she will be stronger still.  For now, I will speak with her.”

 

Dandowin nodded and Sigrid left, going straight to the master bedroom and to her daughter and unborn grandchild within.  Lisendra hugged Wulfren, and left to go back to their cottage.  From the kitchen, Dagfeal emerged, holding something.  He walked right to the Castle Master, and held it before him.  It was an arrow, the very arrow that took out the Tusked Bristleback when Ingred was attacked.  Amongst the guards, there were arm slaps all around, and Wulfren and Dandowin settled down at Sigrid’s table.  Kielreen brought over two tankards. 

There was much to do.

 

     The night’s reconnaissance proved very fruitful for the Dark Brotherhood operative.  Taking care to still use the shadows and cover, he hazarded several chances to survey the castle walls, probing for weaknesses.  Just one, towards the mountainous side, proved most surprising.  There was obscured by some cover of bush and trees a hidden entry into the castle.  It would have been nearly impossible to find without disturbing the terrain and leaving evidence of his investigation, until one of the townsfolk, a woman in a brightly colored red cloak had emerged from it.  The crimson cloak signaled to him almost immediately against the dark gray of the castle wall and the white of the snow.  This was a most fortuitous find indeed.

Moving back to the place where he dispatched the snow wolf, he laid out his weapons and kits before him to check his inventory.  Two glass daggers; one envenomed.  A small vial of fast poison with acidic properties, that was nearly empty.  A folded packet of miscellaneous picks and probes.  One Scroll of Recall, that will enable him to leave undetected and take him back to his enclave.  Flint and striker, part of his survival bundle which housed the various potions of Cold Resistance that he has been utilizing to bide his time.  These, like the poison, were nearly depleted, which meant that the time to fulfill the contract was upon him.  The castle entry solution was almost enough to break the contract, until the cloaked woman emerged.  Perhaps he will have to thank her, by relieving her of her life before the forthcoming madness.  It was the least he could do, he mused.

Taking off in the direction at an angle to intercept her, he kept cloaked as he followed both her deep snow prints and the red cloak, as the fierce winds whipped it all about her.  She looked as if she was walking in a cloud of blood, so stark was the contrast against the white of the snow and the gray of the day.  He jumped down off an adjacent rock as she turned around a huge rock leading up to a path.  It seems to lead to a cabin off in the distance.  Seeing the smoke rise from the cabin chimney told him that there are now two people he should thank with death. Perhaps they will be of no consequence to the castle proper, perhaps not.  It will not matter in a matter of days…death comes for all of them.

Flattening against the wall still chameleon cloaked, he slowly turned around the rock to sneak up behind her.  Coming around the rock, he stopped.  She had disappeared.  There weren’t even snow prints to show which direction she had gone.

 

     “Where have you gone, you snow witch?”

The Dark Brotherhood operative was stumped.  Still cloaked, all one could see from the sight was snow being moved about, with a final burst of snow which had apparently been kicked by something.  Not wishing to waste time, he sped back to his roost, deciding to leave this mystery to others.  The contract could wait no longer.

 

From the top of the tallest tree, Anneliese withdrew her red cloak from the confines of her basket.  Dressed in uncharacteristic snow wolf skins and woolens, she was almost indistinguishable from the snow covered branches and trunk of the tree.

 

     “You are not the only doggie who can do tricks.  I know some tricks too.”

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

     There was nothing in her wildest imagination to prepare Ingred Rems for the sight of the young lady standing a few feet from her bed.  It was not that she was unsightly, or was frightening to look at.  Quite the contrary, all outward appearances were that of a preteen Nord girl, on her way to becoming a young woman.  It was her eyes that held Ingred.  It was the way that she entered the room without so much as a sound that completely took her by surprise, and injured or not, she was immediately alert because of it.

 

     “You’re very quiet.”

Solveig didn’t answer directly.  Standing there for a moment longer, she just kept looking at Ingred in the face, in her eyes, without wavering. 

 

     “It’s impolite to stare.”

Ingred closed her eyes and laid her head back down.  She may owe this young girl her life, but respect, if any, is earned. She decided.

 

     “Who are you?” Solveig said plainly.

 

Reopening her eyes, Ingred shifted on the bed so that she could see Solveig.  It was difficult, she was starting to feel her wounds, and sensing this, Solveig moved to her, and pushed her gently back down so that she was lying as she was before.  Solveig then pulled her blanket down and checked her stitches.  In her hand she had fresh bandages and salves.

 

     “I am Ingred.  Ingred Rems.  I hear I owe my life to you.”

 

Solveig took out her dagger and removed some of the wrappings that needed changing.  Ingred just lay there, watching with interest as this girl carefully took her sharp silver dagger and removed soiled dressings, rubbing salve over the wounds, and then carefully wrapping them again.  She spoke finally, but it was flat and without emotion, and Ingred needed to know why.

 

     “You owe me nothing.  I was told to heal you and I did as I was told.”

 

     “So, you’re just a servant then?” Ingred asked coldly.

Solveig stopped what she was doing and looked at Ingred with anger.  Perhaps misplaced.

She took the dagger that was still in her hand and brought it to just under Ingred’s chin.

 

     “I am Solveig.  Daughter of Yrsa, cousin to Lena, and family to Dandowin and Laurenna.”

 

     “Well, that’s surely a mouthful.” 

Ingred continued to be calm, and smile.  If she truly thought this girl was a threat, she would have tried to take care of her before she brought a blade to change her dressings.  As much as she hated to admit it, this was interesting.  Probably the closest she came to an actual honest conversation since she left Balmora.  Ingred was beginning to see what Laurenna warned her about Solveig, and she envied this ferocity in loyalty.

 

     “I have a few questions.”

 

     “Since we have been properly introduced, and you have the dagger, go ahead and ask.”

 

Solveig did not move an inch.  She looked at Ingred without fear, and Ingred liked that.  A lot.

 

     “Why are you here?”

 

     “To find Dandowin.  I was his bodyguard back home and we looked after each other.  I heard a very nasty rumor that he was dead, and I came to find out for myself.  Seems the people of Solstheim are not as friendly as I had hoped, and well, you know.”

 

Solveig nodded.  There was no denying that she had fought long and hard to get here. 

 

     “Why did you kiss him?”

 

Ah, the reasons are becoming clear, Ingred thought.  Dandowin and Laurenna picked up Solveig and Lena from Khuul.  Lena is the blood relative, and Solveig the distant.  In typical Dandowin fashion he has more than likely earned the love of this distant relative, who by all actions, is behaving like a dutiful, loyal, daughter.  With a baby on the way, that has to worry her some, and a strange woman kissing her father figure threatens the whole family picture even more. 

She’s got to earn Solveig’s trust, and that won’t be easy.

 

     “Ah, that.  You see, I thought he was dead, and I was pretty much dying myself.  He and those two other Nords came to my rescue, and seeing him, well, I was glad he was alive.

I kissed him because he is my friend.”

 

Solveig knotted her eyebrows and pushed the dagger until Ingred moved her head an inch upward.  It looked like she wasn’t buying that at all, even if it is the truth.

 

     “Then why did you punch him?

 

     “Because he is my friend.”

 

Solveig pulled the dagger away from Ingred, and just stood there at the bedside, with her arms at her sides.  She was confused, and beginning to feel she will never understand adults, especially their quirks.  Sensing this, Ingred had questions of her own.

 

     “You love him and Laurenna, don’t you?”

 

     “Of course I do.”

 

     “So knowing that, and how old he was before he came here to Lokken, don’t you think that he would have made friends that love him just as much?”

 

     “Yeah, maybe.”

Ingred noticed how Solveig’s world seems to be falling apart, and knowing Dandowin as she does; he probably is going to have to leave again, which is more worrisome than a strange woman kissing him. 

 

     “Solveig, help me up.  Please.”

Solveig turned to Ingred and lifted her up gently, holding an arm and bracing her back to a mild sitting position.  Ingred hurt, but was getting better.  What she didn’t look forward to was the itching when cuts and scars heal.  That felt like bugs crawling all over your body.

 

     “Thank you.  I’m going to tell you something that even Dandowin doesn’t know, and we fought together in the shrines and hills of Red Mountain.  Will you hear me?”

Solveig sheathed her dagger and just threw the old dressings and bandages into the waste bucket at the side of the bed.  She moved to sit next to Ingred, who with great pain moved her legs to make room for her to sit.

 

     “Before Dandowin bought our home, and the servants in it, I used to be the bodyguard to the former owner.  His name was Dennir.”

Solveig nodded.

 

     “You see, we all lived in that house for many years.  He was the one who took me in when I was without a home too.  Just like Dandowin and Laurenna took you in.   I used to be in the legions.  One time, well, my commander tried to kiss me, and I well…broke his nose.  It’s not important.  When Dennir hired me to be his personal bodyguard, he always took me traveling.  He was not just my new boss he was my friend too.  After years and years of being together, in our little home, well, I fell in love with him, and I could tell he really loved me too.”

 

     “What happened?”

 

     “We were like Laurenna, Dandowin, you, and Lena, only it was Dennir, me, Beth, Berna, and Meira.  They were the servants too, but really they were more like my cousins.  Like you two, sometimes you love them, and sometimes you want to punch them.”

 

Solveig smiled when Ingred weakly punched her in the arm, demonstrating the point.

 

     “Anyway, I really thought that the day would come when instead of being his bodyguard, I would be his wife, like Laurenna is to Dandowin.  But then something happened.”

 

Solveig leaned closer.  It was clear that this sharing was starting to ease her suspicions a bit, and maybe, just maybe, Ingred can return the favor, and help ease Solveig’s suffering.

     “One day we were walking about our town, and he just stopped all of a sudden.  He asked if I could just go home, and he would be home later.  We were at one of the Imperial temples.  I thought that he might be getting things ready for a wedding.  I went home, and waited.  But when he came home, he was so…different.  We were sitting at our dinner table together, when he got up, and announced that he was giving away nearly all his money and all his things, and going on a pilgrimage.”

 

     “What did you do?”

 

     “That night, I was so angry with him.  You see, I was thinking that he wanted to marry me, but something else happened.  You remember when Dandowin told his story about how he became the Nerevarine, how sometimes these old Gods and Goddesses talk to you?”

Solveig nodded.  She had no idea what it was like, but from watching both Sigrid and Dandowin talk about when the Gods talk to you, it seems to change you somehow, on the inside.  Solveig prayed that they would never have a reason to talk to her like that.  Ingred continued, but sadder in voice and look, which Solveig noticed immediately.

 

     “Well, the Gods had talked to him.  They were probably talking to him that very day he asked me to go home.  He never told me why or what the Gods asked him to do.  To make him give his things away including the house to us, must have been so important, that it was more important than marrying me.  So we talked.  More and more, every day until the day he left.  At first, he wrote letters, and I looked forward to them.  But soon, in time, they stopped.  I feared the worst, and part of me likes to believe he is still alive, but I just don’t know anymore, and well, that is the worst part, the never knowing.  I made a promise to myself when I fell in love with him, that I would only love him, the same way your Laurenna loves Dandowin-forever.”

 

     “And you never heard from him again? Ever?”

 

     “Never.”

 

     “So what about Dandowin?  You said he was-is your friend.  Didn’t you kind of love him like that?”

 

     “Sure, a little.  Dandowin I love like my older brother now.  He bought our house, yet gave it back to us and enough money to keep it.  He always shared things from his travels, with all of us.  He’s kind of easy to like you know?  But I knew, in my heart, the only man I will ever love is Dennir.  If the Gods need him more than I can have him, well, who am I to argue with that?  But Dandowin, I decided I cannot love like that.”

 

     “Why not?” Yelled Solveig. The thought of not loving her Dandowin seemed odd to her.

There must have been a reason she is not saying, she thought.

     “Was he bad or something?  He takes care of me, Lena, Laurenna, and even does things for Sigrid and everybody.  I even heard Sigrid call him her son, just like Uncle Wulfren.”

 

Ingred continued.  She turned Solveig to face her, since she was looking down again, deep in unpleasant thoughts.

     “Do you know why Dandowin came to Lokken?”

 

     “To hunt the White Wolf too?”

Ingred shifted her position so she could look Solveig squarely in her face.  She wanted to make sure she had her full attention. 

 

     “Nuh-uhn.  He came here, for you.

Solveig shook her head doubtfully. 

 

     “It’s true.  Let me share one more secret.  You know how he never really talks about being the Vvardenfell or Thirsk hero?  That’s because when he kills, and he has had to kill so many people to protect thousands of other people, it bothers him.  It bothers him so much, that all he wanted in life was a wife, children, and to be like everybody else.  None of my “cousins” at our home would be good wives.  One drinks too much.  One loves her mirror too much.  One yells and is even older than your Lady Sigrid!  Me…”

 

     “You love Dennir.”

 

     “Exactly honey.  So instead of just going to a tavern, or the temple, or even marrying one of the Ashlander girls like they wanted him too, he decided to leave the whole country, and come back home.  Yes…home.  He is a Nord after all.  This is where he would have come from long ago.  Well, here or Skyrim, but I heard the girls there are just too smelly.”

 

Solveig giggled a bit and told Ingred of her trials back home, leading right up to the day they were left in Khuul.  When she finished all Ingred could do was stare at her.  No wonder everyone thinks the world of this girl, and thank the Gods she was here to heal her.

 

     “So when he left, I was sad too but for him, because I knew that if he could not find a family even in his home country, where people maybe didn’t know about all the things he did or how many people he had to kill, he would die...alone.”

 

     “But he’s not alone.  He married Laurenna and he cares for my cousin and I.”

 

     “Yes, but more than that Solveig.  He cares about everyone.  Don’t you see that?  That is why the Gods probably picked on him to do those many terrible things, because he cares about everyone.”

 

Solveig sat for a while, and then rose.  She was clearly more relaxed, and Ingred was comically thankful not to have a knife at her throat anymore.  If Dandowin wasn’t blessed with what he was always looking for now, he would never be.  Which reminded her, she wanted to see him as well, if nothing more than to apologize.

 

     “Are you hungry?” Solveig asked nicely.

 

     “Your Aunt Laurenna gave me some meat and a little mead, but what I could really use is some water to wash up, and some clothes.  I’m not pretty enough to wear these gowns like she does.”

Solveig snorted and shook her head.  She wasn’t buying that for one second.

 

     “I’ll get you some things.  But you’re wrong. All the guards are dying to meet you, and all the other women here might want to punch you.  Not me, but I am sure the other women think you’re too pretty or something.”

Solveig left and Ingred lay back on the bed until she returns.  It was good to talk to someone other than her housemates, and those of the taverns in Balmora.  She felt that sharing her secret love for her former home master was a pretty good start to earn her trust.  Besides, good friends are often ageless.

 

     Sigrid found Laurenna lying on their bed, curled up and crying loudly.  Her hands hugged at her belly as her shoulders shuddered with the full effort of crying.  It moved her so, and she tried very hard not to cry herself.  Seeing her this way, it brought back all her own deep longings.  Not just the physical, but the often taken for granted ones of long glances, the sound of your love’s voice, and the security of hearing them breathe alongside you. The sound of their heartbeat as you would lie upon their chest.  Laughter, and long talks about days passed and days yet to come.  All these things were wrested from her when Ragnar murdered her husband, and it pains her so to think that Laurenna would be forced to share this fate, at such a young age.

     Moving to the side of the bed, she removed her daughter’s boots and held her feet in her hands.  She rubbed them as she did plenty of times when she was a child, when her world would seem to make her worry about everything in it.

 

     “Laurenna dear, I know how you feel.  I do not want him to go either.  But if what we have read is true, it is his destiny to-“

 

     “I will not let him go mother.  He CANNOT GO!”

 

     “Laurenna?”

 

     “NO!  He MUST stay here, at home.  I will not lose my husband, and our child will not be born without their father.”

 

Sigrid understood, and wished that such demands were as easy as saying them.  But any danger that threatens the whole family, nay the whole of the Lokken people, is bigger than any personal needs, no matter how deeply we need them.

     “Say you were to convince him to stay.  What would you do if the dangers materialized and are at our front door?  We cannot be awake every hour.  Even rotated, the guards must sleep.  Lokken is far larger than the populace to protect it.  What if they harm, or kill one of our citizens?  Or kill one of our family members?  How will you live then?”

 

Laurenna continued to cry.  She knew all that her mother said was true, but she couldn’t stop crying.  So many things are going far different than she had hoped for.  They were rescued, and restored.  She married a man she loves beyond life, who was given the responsibility of the whole of her lands and people without asking for it.  Her brother just left it to them.  There was so little time spent, just to enjoy the simplest of company and the tiniest of pleasures.  They set about righting the wrongs of Ragnar almost immediately, and she had hoped with the baby now life would give them a chance to be simply, a family.  So much is different than she had hoped it would be.

 

     “Mother…I…I cannot lose him. I love my husband.”  Laurenna broke down further and grabbed her mother tightly.

 

Sigrid held her daughter and rocked back and forth.  They have to be strong, as strong as they were before he came to their home and freed them from the things that kept them all apart.  It is time for the family to be strong…for Dandowin.

 

     “I know…I know.  We all love him too, as much as he loves us.  Think about what he said dear.  Do you think this must be easy for him?  You are his life now.  We all are.  You.  The baby.  Lena, Solveig, Wulfren and Lisendra, all of us.  For me, it is as if my son is turned into the White Wolf again.  Dandowin brought our family back to us, and we owe it to him to be as strong as he was to free us, in believing that he will come back to us.”

 

     “But what if he...he...he…Oh Mother!”

 

     “No Laurenna.  You must believe in your husband.  You must believe that he will come back to us, and that we will keep our home safe for not only us, but for him, and our heir.  He has survived horrors unknown, treachery and deceit, and the hosts of the wilds and underworld.  These he did with few friends, and the help of the Lady of Dusk and Dawn. Now he has a family.  A family that never gives up on one another.”

 

Sigrid just held her daughter as she slowly, and with great effort, stopped crying.  The life within her protested its mother being so upset, with a great moving of arms and legs.  Feeling this, she took her daughter’s hand and placed it on her belly.  Holding her hand over her daughter’s, they both felt the life within move about with the promise of futures that have yet to be. 

 

     “I’m ready now mother.  I will be strong.  I have to be.”

 

     “I love you, my daughter.”

 

     “I love you too mother, and thank you.”

 

     Sigrid covered Laurenna with the bed furs and let her rest.  She was still awake, but drained from all the crying.  Stroking her hair softly with her hand, Sigrid stayed until Laurenna closed her eyes, and was resting with normal breathing.  With a last look at her daughter for the evening, she quietly left the room and headed downstairs.

 

     The Redoran Compound in Vivec was much busier than Senyndie remembered.  Her last jaunt here to meet a friend at the Flowers of Gold Corner Club found the tiers barely filled with people.  Sporadic at best, she could hear her own footsteps resonate off the walls of smooth brown stone.  Now, with the news of the destruction of the Ald’ruhn Skar and so many dead from the noble houses, the tiers were bustling with people. 

     Many, those who were on holiday or business away from the Skar, now found them not only homeless, but also terribly worried about the fate of their missing loved ones.  With eyes and ears open, Senyndie weaved through the people listening to snippets of conversation, trying to find someone who has an investment in the nobles that were lost, that were not from the House of Venim.  The emotions she passed were heart wrenching.  Some lost spouses.  Others, their children or their entire family line.  There was weeping, yelling, and many who would drop to their knees and beg the Gods for safety.

     Winding her way to the Waistworks, Senyndie found the hall leading to the Flowers of Gold Cornerclub.  Upon entering, it was almost as crowded as the canton walkways.  The publican, a rather pretty Dunmer with long red hair was trying desperately to answer questions, supply water and drinks, and maintain order.  It seemed futile, with so many who were clearly frightened.

 

     “Please, please, everyone settle down.  We will get you water and information, but you must settle down!”

 

Senyndie lifted some of the mugs from the publican’s hands and started to disperse them to those behind her.  When she noticed who it was, Sorosi Radobar smiled and looked skyward as if thanking the Gods for help.

 

     “Looks as if you need more hands.  This is madness.”

 

     “What I really need are more arms Senyndie.  Madness I can deal with, but I’m just a publican.  They expect me to know answers to what no one here has any idea about.”

 

     “Any nobles amongst the refugees?”

 

     “If there were, you’d never know.  Whatever chaos came out of that destruction has both high and low born wailing in terror and confusion.  Most here are the families of those killed.  It is breaking my heart, to see such misery.  Why are you looking for the nobility?”

 

     “Perhaps I can help?”

Off to the side, a voice from Senyndie’s past broke through the multitude of voices.  Both she and Sorosi turned to find Redoran Scout and Drillmaster Brildraso Nethan trying to keep order.  Senyndie immediately smiled and clasped arms with her fellow acrobatic impresario.

 

     “So my friend, have you come to compare our techniques?  Or are you thinking of joining the ranks?”

 

     “I come bearing news that I need to substantiate as well as do something about.  This concerns House Redoran, as well as all the Great Houses.  The fate of the Nerevarine, to be honest, is my concern.  What intelligence I bear is of such grave content, that I can only give it to those who were loyal to not only the Nerevarine, but to Dilvene Venim.  I know many in her own house didn’t like her because she brought forth unconventional ideas, but this involves those that were involved with her late husband.  If only she had survived the holocaust at Ald’ruhn, or I could find someone loyal to her.”

 

Brildraso scratched at her temple for a second, and then smiled.  Senyndie was puzzled, and before she could say anything, Brildraso clasped both her arms on Senyndie’s shoulders and gave her a very reassuring look.

 

     “In this, I think I can help you my friend.  Come.  There is someone I know who would be very interested in what you have to say.”

 

Senyndie hoped she was doing the right thing.  She had known Brildraso for many years and they both often shared acrobatic techniques as well as defensive ones.  Like Ahnassi, she knew of Senyndie’s status as a Secret Master.  There was a trust, but she was still reserved.  Dilvene Venim was a Kinswoman of power, and that made many diehards in the House Redoran nobles and military uncomfortable.  With few options, she nodded and followed behind her friend.


 

Chapter 11

 

 

     The throne room returned to its normal stillness.  Candles burned, guards sniffed, and all was quiet within.  Wulfren had returned to their cottage.  Ljot had taken to the guard’s quarters, most probably preparing for the days drills and fortifications of the castle and town.  Kielreen had cleared off the remaining tankards, but left the table as the men had prepared it, with papers, plans and candles holding them in place. 

     Dandowin stood with his back turned to the room at full, in front of the throne itself.  He stared down at the empty chair, never having sat in it himself.  To him, it didn’t seem right.  This was Wulfgar’s chair, and none but he and his sires should sit in it.  Sigrid often told him that this feeling was silly, and that he should treat it as any other chair, but Dandowin would just respectfully disagree. 

 

     “I did not want this Wulfgar.  I did not want to bring troubles to your doorstep.”  He chided himself.

 

He just stood there, arms folded about him, his eyes closed, his breathing deep.

 

     Sigrid entered quietly, closing the door behind her.  The sight of her son-in-law standing before the throne made her stop.  What troubles must weigh on his mind and heart, she thought.  What was this about him that made her feel as if he was her own son?

It shamed her to think it, but she wished that Wulfren had been as strong, but knew that such strength often came from the price of great loss. 

     Walking up to him, she turned him slowly to see that his eyes were still closed.  When he opened them, she saw how tired they were, yet filled with emotions she could only guess at.  He smiled weakly, and brought his arms about her.  Sigrid took his head and brought it to her shoulder, rubbing his back to let him know that the family is behind him. 

Fighting her own emotional moment, she lifted his head and brought him at arms length.

 

     “Go to her now.  She rests, but briefly.”

 

Dandowin nodded and then started to walk away.  Sigrid held onto his shoulder as he passed, firmly shaking it to let him know that they all understood.  The children will be the hard ones to convince.  So small are their hearts, but so huge in their love for Dandowin and Laurenna.  Solveig will definitely not approve.  So protective she has been of everyone since coming to the castle, that the thought of a separation such as this will be very hard to understand.

     When Dandowin closed the door, she breathed deeply, looking about the room from one corner to the next.  Walking over to two of the guards on duty, which immediately nodded their salute, she spoke quietly but firmly.

 

     “Escort me to the Hunting Cottage.  There is something I need to do there.”

 

     “At once, Great Lady.” They said in unison.

 

This night, Sigrid wished to spend at the side of her late husband.  There were things she needed to say to him, and worries that she needs to gather strength from him for.  Gathering the collar of her robe up to her neck, she grabbed a torch as the guards drew their swords and steeled their eyes for the Lokken night.

 

     Nidryne Redas sat alone with her thoughts in her cabin.  All about her, the ship was bustling with both the sounds of travel and the sounds of filth.  To her, all who sailed with them were filth.  Nothing more than expendable vermin to exact her revenge, she avoided contact with everyone until the helmsman declares that the Solstheim coast is in sight.  The worst of them was Sedris Omalen, she thought darkly.  What was she thinking?  Every small and open advance she would try, as if she were of the same mind?

What made her think that she could ever replace her beloved Bolvyn, let alone that she would be interested in another woman?  How stupid can she be?  Nidryne grit her teeth as she remembered how Sedris would touch her in friendship with far too casual a length in time.  She smelled her desire almost immediately, and it sickened Nidryne.  Bolvyn was the only man she ever knew, and the only man she would ever want.  No woman, man, or Gods themselves will ever replace what she lost, to her thinking.

     Lying on her hammock, she thought to herself what she would do when this enterprise of revenge was complete.  She could not return to House Redoran, nor did she want to.  Having long grown tired of politics and overzealous loyalties to outdated traditions, she was more than content to be a simple house guard.  All she needed was what she had, before they were all taken from her.  There was a small house that her family had left for her in the grazelands, where perhaps she could rest alone and isolated from everything whilst she decided how to spend her days.  Never giving a single thought until now to the far future, there were so many roads ahead of her that she can take.  All the sweeter knowing that she brought justice to the memory of her slain lover; she could greet each day with total satisfaction.

     A knock at her locked cabin door followed by a jiggling of the handle broke her concentration.  She spat her distaste for the intrusion, not caring whom it may be.

 

     “WHAT? What is it?”

 

     “We’ve reached the Solstheim coastline Nidryne.  I…I thought you would like to know.”  Sedris said sheepishly.

 

     “Fine.”

That was all the news that Nidryne needed to know.  Getting closer to seeing justice done, and also an end to company in full.  The sooner all of this was over, the sooner she could spend her days alone and in reflection of the love she had for Bolvyn.  Bolvyn.  The very thought of him brought a mix of sadness and such longing in her, that she wept and became wet with desire simultaneously.  It was a terrible thing, the longing.  Her life was so complete she thought.  It never mattered that he belonged to Dilvene.  Never a moment did she think he would leave his wife for her, or offer marriage.  Each night, he was hers and she his, unless business or duty called him away.   Life was perfect then.  The only thing that she never had the opportunity to offer him sadly was a child.  It was what she planned, and thought to breach the subject with him when he was to return from the duel.  The Nerevarine destroyed her plans when he killed her Bolvyn.  He stole her entire life, and now, it is his entire life that will be stolen.

 

     “Soon, Nord.  It will be me that looks down at what is left of what you loved.”

 

     In the dark, cold, hallways of the Lokken castle proper, tiny feet padded from the downstairs kitchen up along the winding staircase to the bedrooms above.  The candle held by tired, tiny, hands flickered so that the shadows danced along the stone like reeds on the shoreline of a windy, warmer, day.  The crunch of holly berries still in her mouth brought tart sweetness to Solveig’s tongue as she passed her own bedroom door, and stopped before the master bedroom.  Ever quiet, she turned the handle of the large wooden doors and opened them slowly, stopping abruptly as she noted the sounds within.  Dousing her candle with her free hand, she put it down and knelt, before softly climbing the steps on hands and knees.

     Within the room that was warmly lit by the roaring fireplace, Laurenna lay on her side facing the steps with wet closed eyes, the streaks of the tears still catching the firelight.  Her left arm raised above her head tugging at Dandowin’s hair, as her right arm was slightly beneath her, the fingers of the hand entwined with his as they both held her swollen belly. Their legs were a tangle at the ankles, Laurenna’s foot locking his own as they moved in unison.  With his free hand Dandowin cupped her face, their mouths joining in deep kisses, which parted briefly for Laurenna to pant loudly, stiffen, then seek his mouth again.

Solveig had heard of the joining of man and woman many times, in conversations passed on the roads in the lands of Skyrim and in the castle talk of the guards here at Lokken.

Never had she seen it, or anything like it. Regardless of how many naked people she had seen and had worked upon with her healing, this was startling to her.  Emotions she could not describe raced within her, from simple shame at intruding and spying on such a tender moment, to complete curiosity.  It was so puzzling, this joining.  Even with a very large belly filled with a child, Laurenna loved Dandowin physically, and he loved her in return.  To Solveig’s mind, she thought that with a belly so round with child, the joining wouldn’t be possible, let alone desirable.  Having seen and heard enough, she backed down the steps still on hands and knees as she slowly pushed the door open with her foot only to be yanked roughly by it by a very strong arm.  She yelped, but covered her mouth directly after, hoping that all within did not hear her.  When she turned around, she found Ingred Rems standing with her arms folded, half smiling with a cocked eyebrow.

 

     “Just what have you been up to young lady?” Ingred chided affectionately.

 

Solveig was completely embarrassed.  She sat on the floor with her legs before her just looking up at Ingred with a face that was as red as the holly berries that she munched on but minutes before.  Before she could utter a word, a loud moan from Laurenna came through the still ajar bedroom door and startled Solveig, who just turned even redder.  Sensing the moment, Ingred shot a quick hand straight at Solveig’s head which made her duck in defense, only to have it grasp the door handle lightly, and slowly close the door.

 

     “Come with me Solveig.  Let just us girls have a very, very, long talk.” She said with a wink and a smile.

 

Solveig picked up her cold candle and was about to run when she noticed that Ingred was still limping.  Bracing herself under Ingred’s arm, she helped her walk until they were at the bedroom door that used to be Lena’s.   Once inside, Ingred hobbled to the bed, and immediately started to scratch at her stitches.  Some of them looked about ready to be taken out, whilst others were still red and angry looking.  Solveig walked over to Ingred and felt her forehead.  She wasn’t feverish, which was good.  While Ingred shifted and scratched, Solveig checked her more dangerous wounds, and asked Ingred to raise her gown.  The puncture wound from the crossbow bolt was still seeping, but it wasn’t festering.  When she checked the arrow wound in her shoulder, she noticed that there was dried blood all around the stitches and some of them were undone.  She gave Ingred a light punch to the area making her stiffen straight and turn around.

 

     “You really shouldn’t be scratching these…you’ve reopened this one.”

 

Ingred smiled.  Looks like someone is trying very hard to forget just what happened.

 

     “So, you want to tell me why you were spying on Dandowin and Laurenna?”

 

Solveig blushed again.  She stopped fiddling with Ingred’s wounds and just looked at her.

 

     “I wasn’t spying.  I went there because I used to keep her company while Dandowin was away.  I had heard she was upset, and I wanted to stay with her.”

 

     “But Dandowin is home now.”

 

Solveig felt herself getting red again, and also, annoyed.  Who was this woman to accuse her of anything?  She started to leave, when Ingred stopped her with one great long leg held out barring her.

 

     “Solveig.  It’s all right.  I don’t mean anything by it.  I guess I am just lousy at conversation these days.  I am glad that you didn’t interrupt them.  They both have had one really bad day and I imagine that they needed to remind each other how much they love each other.”

 

     “I guess.  What do you mean by “a bad day?”  I have been asleep most of the day, which is why I am wide-awake this night.  What happened?”

 

Ingred didn’t know how much Solveig knew of the current troubles, so she started from the beginning.  First reminding her of why she came to find him, the meeting downstairs with the family and guards, and now, the realization that he may have to leave again, to face whatever his fate has in store.  When she finished, Solveig stood up quickly.

 

     “Surely he won’t leave while Laurenna’s pregnant?  What about the baby?  What about us?”

 

     “What about the dangers to everyone Solveig?  How would you feel if they came here and hurt Laurenna?  Or hurt your cousin? Or killed the baby?  Leaving here may be the only way to stop it, or at least find out whom is behind it so that they may be stopped.  He is doing this for everyone, especially all of you, his family.”

 

Solveig was getting upset, and tears were forming at her eyes.  The reality of all of it was hitting her fast.

 

     “But what about YOU!  You’re his bodyguard, can’t you stop whatever it is?”

 

Ingred widened her arms to show her the enormity of all of Solveig’s handy work.  She then tried to stand and woefully looked like a bird trying to stand on one leg.

 

     “Even like this, I would give my life for Dandowin, AND Laurenna.  But right now, look at me.  Even running here to find if he was alive, in the end, it was he that saved my butt again.  No, if I know him, he knows that the only way to get to the bottom of all of this is to get to the source of it.  Me?  I will return the favor by staying here.  Sigrid and your aunt will need me.  Maybe not as the best fighter, but I know how to galvanize guards and set up proper defenses.  With your help, of course.”

 

     Solveig smiled at that and wiped away her tears.  Yes. She would have to be strong, and do whatever she could to protect Laurenna, and the baby.  Maybe Ingred could teach her the ways of a warrior, while she was healing and helping here. 

 

     “When you’re feeling better, I want you to teach me how to use a sword.”

 

Ingred smiled.  This is what both of them needed, and she won’t let either of them down.

 

     “It would be my pleasure.”

 

     From the deep shadows of the tree line, the Dark Brotherhood operative had noted the torchlight and armed guards leaving the castle.  With two of the main guards away, there may be a chance to slip into the castle through the hidden entry he found.  Leaving the cover of darkness, he patted snow and pine deadfall onto his uniform and crouched low against the snow.  With painstakingly slow movements, he crawled along his belly heading in an indirect line towards the hidden entrance.  It was now or never, he decided.  Too much time had been spent in reconnaissance, and his weapon stores were dangerously low.  He was not without talents, and could probably disable most of the guards hand to hand.  But the Lokken cold had exhausted all of his potions, and it is just unwise to fight an enemy who is more comfortable with the environment than you are.

     The local wildlife was thankfully away from the area, and this also provided him with the element of stealth.  Nearing the tree and bushes that obscured the entryway, he pulled from his uniform a selection of expensive lock picks and probes.  If there was a lock of any sort, he was confident that it would prove to be no challenge at all.  If there were other guards within, they would also pose no threat if his skills were worth their training.

Crawling past the bushes, he flattened himself against the cold stone and then started probing it with fingers every few inches, with luck there would be a-

 

“Ah.  Found you!”

 

Pushing the peg in the hole on the stone, the stone door easily moved inward to reveal a dimly lit tunnel.  This was going to be much easier than he thought.  Creeping down the tunnel, he noticed that it branched off into two hallways.  One hallway had stone steps leading upward, the other off to the right.  With no hesitation, the operative veered right and hugged the wall, in case his steps resonated and gave away his presence.  Rounding a corner, he noted that there was a clear passage for at least a hundred feet.  With fleet movements, he darted off into the gloom.

 

 

  

Chapter 12

 

 

     When Brildraso Nethan brought Senyndie to the uppermost tier of the Redoran Compound, she wondered silently, which of the noble houses she would be taken to.  There were the Sarens, and there were the Dralors.  Each in their own way had their issues, and it was this that made her worry about the enormity of the intelligences she bore.

     The doors to the upper tier were opened, and Brildraso steered her directly to the house of Dralor.  It was a modest manor, with warriors and other nobles about.  When they opened the door, the warriors saluted Brildraso and eyed Senyndie suspiciously.  She kept her eyes to the back of her friend’s head and held her head high.  There was no need to invite probing or conversation, not until she knew who and what she could trust.

Inwardly, she was already planning the second phase of her help.  Before leaving Ahnassi, she sent a parcel of coded letters to all of her fellow Secret Masters.  She knew that it was unrealistic to expect all of them to answer, but she was almost sure most of them would answer the call.  This was a terrible plot her friend uncovered.  If realized, it could not only destabilize the Houses, but also give rise to a war between the Clans. 

     Trusting her friend, but cautious, Senyndie prepared herself for anything.  If Brildraso was a hard-liner in line with those such as Sedris, then she had to think of how to escape with her life.  If she finds her an ally, then having the expert drillmaster of House Redoran to galvanize some help couldn’t be better.  All depended upon what happens in the next few minutes.

The door to Favela Dralor’s room was already open, and Brildraso knocked lightly as she bowed to Favela Dralor.  The noble Dunmer matron of House Dralor smiled widely showing much elation at having the drillmaster pay a visit.

 

     “Brildraso!  Felicitations!  What brings the most stalwart scout and drillmaster to my humble manor?”

Brildraso saluted Favela again, before turning to present Senyndie.  Senyndie followed her friend’s lead, and bowed most deftly to Favela Dralor.  The noble Favela smiled and nodded, giving the drillmaster a puzzled look wondering just who this robed Redguard woman was.

 

     “Noble Favela, my friend here is a most skilled acrobat and trainer, and is a most trusted friend.  She comes with dire news that I am still unaware of, but she states without hesitation that it affects not only our Great House, but the fate of the Nerevarine as well.”

 

There was the shuffling of hurried feet from within an adjoining room, its door thrown open wide startling those newly arrived.  A very familiar and most unexpected voice interrupted the conversation, and when all turned, it was Senyndie who’s face was one of pure shock.  A slow smile broadened from her lips, and she immediately knew that she had come to the right place.

 

     “I would be VERY much interested in what you would have to say about the fate of Dandowin Nerevarine.”

 

     Morning brought Lokken a clear blue sky, and cold winds free of snow.  The guards had changed shifts, the kitchen staff was busy with baking and preparing dishes, and the throne room was already filled with Sigrid teaching the children at her table.  Lena and a tired Solveig sat at her table, papers and quills in hand as Sigrid instructed each on how to write in the Runic alphabet of their homeland, as well as teach them the histories of their new home.  They sipped their herbal juices, and ate soft warm bread as they listened to Sigrid teach.  Her daughter came down before the children, looking very tired yet feeling very much at peace.  It did her good to see Laurenna smile so, and when she checked her pregnancy progress she took great comfort in noting how healthy she and the baby are.  Much to Laurenna’s chagrin, the beginning of the next phase of motherhood started, which were breasts filling with life-giving milk.  The leaking brought chills to both Dandowin and she, as they awoke from their long night to cold, soaked, linens.

     With her daughter and son-in-law gathering heated water for a bath, Sigrid herself felt renewed as she remembered walking to her husband’s shrine, kneeling at first but giving way to her emotions at seeing his Stahlrim covered unspoiled body.  A wave of such loss shook her, and when she reclaimed her composure, she told him of their son’s returning from the curse of Kreikan; the marriages of Laurenna and Wulfren; and how their new son-in-law was a man that he would be proud to have known.  She spoke of his infidelity and of Lena, and forgave him.  Lastly, she begged that he offer what blessings he could from Sovengarde for the birth of their daughter’s baby.  All these she reflected on, amidst looks to the children as she pointed out corrections to their runes, and accolades to their being able to identify many of the herbs she laid on the table. 

     The door to the throne room opened, and Wulfren and Lisendra had entered, a roped packet of mail in his hands from Skullum.  They were tired as well, but from the looks of it their reason was far from that which Dandowin and Laurenna shared.  Wulfren went to his mother and siblings and kissed each, while Lisendra knocked on the bar to have Kielreen fill her a tankard.  Wulfren just shrugged in disappointment after handing the letters to his mother, and headed for the kitchen, pausing to kiss his wife as she shouldered her response.  Wishing to speak to her son in confidence, she walked over to Lisendra and handed her the letters.

 

     “Lisendra.  Would you be a dear and please take these up to the master bedroom?  They are bathing now but I am sure they would both appreciate your delivering this.”

 

Lisendra took a long drink, wiped her mouth with her sleeve, and burped her disapproval.  She hated coming to the castle, and the thought of having to stay here ensconced until Dandowin killed whatever was making everyone ill at ease, made her want to drink more.

Snatching the letters from Sigrid, she stood, stretched, and bowed sarcastically.

 

     “Yes, Lady Sigrid.”

 

She started to leave but made sure Kielreen refilled her tankard before she did so.  When the throne room doors closed, Sigrid went into the kitchen to talk to her son.  The very moment the door closed, Solveig rose, and was heading for the secret passageway behind the throne to the Master bedroom.  Lena started to protest but Solveig just put a finger to her lips.

 

     “Shhhhhhhhhhhh.  Don’t tell!  I will be right back, I promise.”

Lena didn’t want to be left alone, but figured that one of them getting in trouble would be enough.  Taking Solveig’s share of the bread and pouring her cousin’s leftover juice into her own empty cup, she raised her nose to her in mock indignation.  Solveig disappeared into the secret passage.  Running as fast as she could up the steps, she turned this way and that until she came to the ladder leading to the floorboard panel just underneath the large chest by the door to the display room.  She moved the panel just enough to see into the room.  If it was Lisendra’s plan to mess with Laurenna’s things, Solveig was going to catch her.

She didn’t have long to wait.  Lisendra opened the door loudly and stormed up the steps from the hallway.  When she got to the bedroom itself, she threw the letters onto the bed, and looked around the room.

There were boots and leggings off to the side, empty mead cups on the table and soaked linen sheets crumpled at the foot of the bed.  Nothing of interest she mumbled, until off to the side on the dresser, Lisendra spied Laurenna’s famous wig.  It was hanging on a wooden stand, the tiara woven into the wig by her very own mother.  Seeing this, Lisendra downed her tankard and grabbed the wig from its stand.  She affixed it onto her own head, without care as to the fit.  From the concealed space, Solveig grew angrier at every offense.  When Lisendra made for Laurenna’s closet, Solveig had enough of this affront and started to climb out of the passageway.  Lisendra grabbed the handles to the closet doors, and opened them-

 

     “Let’s see what the dress of the day is for fat cows.”

Just then, there was a terrible sound as Lisendra yelped.  She backed away from the closet holding her abdomen.  A misty distortion in the air whirled about her, and Solveig crouched down back behind the chest.  Immediately, there was a tearing of cloth as Solveig witnessed in horror as Lisendra’s belly started to bleed and burn.  Smoke billowed from a deep gash on her belly. There was a sizzling as if something was cooking, and Lisendra reached outward at the air.  She fell to the floor and Solveig screamed.

     At that instant the Dark Brotherhood operative reached out for Solveig, who ducked and dodged all attempts to grab her from behind the chest, still screaming loudly, she unsheathed her knife and slashed at the hands that groped at her.  A glove tore open and a gray palm underneath started to bleed all over the scrolls and vials that were stuffed into it.  There was a howl of a deep voice, and the chest was grabbed and thrust from the wall with a great crash.  Solveig immediately dropped below, not bothering to cover the panel to the secret passage.  To Solveig, this was some sort of demon.  She had never seen anything like this in her life, and screaming at the top of her lungs, she raced down the passageway straight for the throne room.

 

     Ingred Rems was fastening her leggings when she heard what could only be described as screaming coming from the solid wall.  At first she thought it was rats, as they were common enough in drafty castles.  This was different, and it unmoved her.  Call it intuition.  Call it heightened awareness.  Something was not right.  She hurriedly pulled the tunic top Solveig left for her over her itching skin and had inadvertently reopened the shoulder wound.  Not caring, she just started limping as fast as she could to the door, and decided to forgo the benefit of boots.  Looking for a weapon, she noticed that there were none to be had, only the spoon that Solveig had left for her with her meal.  Taking it, she headed straight for the throne room when she heard the large crash of something heavy come from the master bedroom.

 

     Dandowin and Laurenna sat in the huge tub that he had constructed in what used to be a spare storage room near the guards quarters.  The morning was spent bringing bucket after bucket of hot water heated from the kitchen.  It took nearly all morning to fill the large vat that was very much nothing more than some unused mead vat with some strengthening to the base and a small stair to the rim.  He had helped her into the tub first, watching her literally yell at the contrast in temperature from cold Lokken skin to hot water.  Apparently, very hot water was a luxury here in Lokken, especially for bathing.  Since most are resistant to the deep cold, cold water channeled from the grotto in the castle bottom was good enough.  Dandowin thought of the idea from his adventures to the northern island off Solstheim proper, where he earned a castle from a very grateful Nord ghost.  Laurenna thought the entire action odd, but so was her husband for a Nord.

With their robes and clothes set aside on a dry stool, the two of them sat facing in the tub as Dandowin held Laurenna’s leg in one hand, rubbing the rose scented soap filled mucksponge up and down its long length.  She looked absolutely radiant, her wet silver-white hair plastered to her scalp, the crystal blue eyes more pronounced by her reddening skin.

 

     “Mmmmmm.  You are going to spoil me with these you know.” 

 

Dandowin kept sponging her leg, then foot, then asked for the other one.  Considering he will have to leave soon, he didn’t want to miss a single moment of pampering his wife and unborn child. 

 

     “We’ll have to start thinking of names for the baby.  Since I don’t have a family name or even relatives that are known to me, I guess it will be your family that we draw names from.”

 

Laurenna pulled her leg away and looked at her husband.  She had forgotten in all the drama of her family and repairing of her peoples that her husband never had any of the things that she was blessed with.  No knowledge of his parents.  No brothers or sisters that he can speak of.  Not even a sense of where he was born.  He knew nothing but his first name, and the fact that he was a Nord by stature and talents.  She moved to him, straddling him with the weight of her Nord frame and their unborn child.  Looking down at his face, she searched his eyes and whispered as she kissed him.

 

     “We’ll find a name together.  You.  Me.  Together.  Youuu…meeee…togetherrr.”

 

Sigrid had sent Sonja to gather some raw local materials from Leilana and sent Anneliese to fetch Granny Torunn.  The decision had been made to start gathering people slowly to the main castle for safety reasons, starting with those who were most remote.  Later, she would send for the hunters and warriors.  Last would be the townsfolk proper, leaving the guards to garrison the main road.  Needing this time to talk to her son, she wanted to assure him some privacy whilst his wife ran the small annoying errand. 

 

     “I take it your wife’s mood has not improved since yesterday?”

 

Wulfren sat upon the kitchen worktable.  He sighed as his mother stirred pots and pinched herbs.

 

     “She wants us to leave for the mainland, and in truth, I never should have brought her back here.”

 

Sigrid continued to work the pots.  It helped her concentrate and without facing her son squarely, maybe he could feel less intimidated.

 

     “Marriage is never all mead and merriment.  This is doubly so when one marries part of a ruling family.  There are responsibilities that go beyond the self.”

 

Wulfren took the comment as if it were an arrow.  Like Laurenna, his mother had hoped that he would have taken his rightful place as chieftain, but instead he rushed into a marriage without thinking of at least spending time with everyone, as a restored human.

 

     “Mother.  Is it so difficult to run a nation?  I admit that I made such a fool of myself with my boasts to reclaim the throne, yet when the time came, I, well, I did not do as I should have.”

 

     “You would have to ask Dandowin, truthfully, and your sister.  Remember, when I came to Lokken I was a child bride to your father, and he ruled.  After his murder, I was locked in the tower trying to stave off Ragnar’s advances.”

 

     “Dandowin.  Yes, it must be easy for a living legend to rule.”  He muttered darkly.

     “Easy?  Is that what you think?  Remember my son; you left this responsibility to him, even after he was gracious enough to allow you your honeymoon tour when it was the right of your sister.  He has often tried to ask me to assume the full rule, and to some degree, I have, because he respects the line of succession.  When he brought your letter that you and Lisendra had become pilgrims to Dibella, it was very difficult for him.  The Goddess herself had spoken to me and advised me to accept this fate, for as we have all seen, the Lokken people have come to need him to repair the damage of Ragnar.”

 

     “You know mother, I did things.  Great things, when I was turned into the White Wolf.  I traveled our lands trying to protect the people from whatever dangers assailed them.”

 

     “Yes, and these things he also took into consideration when he agreed for the honeymoon tour of a few months.  You had endured what others can only imagine, as did your sister and I.  Dandowin did not come to Lokken to claim the throne, regardless of how well he has managed it.  He came to find peace, and instead found troubles, a family, and earned a throne, yet to date, he has never sat on it.  Never.”

 

Wulfren was dumbstruck.  Never having sat on the throne?  Perhaps he misjudged his brother-in-law.  Still, he wondered how he could rule in his stead after the people have come to depend on Dandowin.  Then there was Lisendra.  He loves her madly, and knows taking the throne will further drive a wedge between them. 

 

     “Tell me Wulfren, honestly, why did you rush to marry Lisendra so quickly?  She was not with child.  She had no official suitors, just those she hunted and drank with.  Was the need so great in you both that you could not court her in earnest?   If you don’t mind me saying, I think that you still love the Lisendra that you remember from the few times you were both in the frame of mind for love.  You have been parted by the most terrible of circumstances, and perhaps were both needing time to adjust, than to just rush into marriage straight away.”

 

Wulfren was bothered by the truth.  Hearing his own heart from his mother’s lips didn’t make it any less painful.

 

     “Was Laurenna any more prepared for love and marriage?  She is as much a country girl as I am an unproven warrior.  What makes their marriage any more stable than what I can have with Lisendra?  So Lisendra doesn’t want to live in the castle.  The castle isn’t the most comfortable home in Lokken, is it mother?”

 

Sigrid stopped stirring pots and closed their lids.  She wiped her hands on the kitchen rag.

When she turned, she was the most serious Wulfren had ever seen.  Not since they were children had he seen such seriousness.  Instinctively, he knew that if there was a line in the snow not to cross, he had crossed it.  He braced for what he surely was not prepared to hear.

 

     “My son.  I read your heart as plainly as the scrolls on my table.  I know that life has not been the easiest, and that the murder of your father and curse of Ragnar’s mage was the most terrible thing in the world.  I knew in my heart, as did your sister, that you were not the murderer of your father.  She defended you every single day, and for that was banished from the castle by Ragnar.  Every day she stood vigil to give me strength, even though in shame I almost faltered when he threatened to never restore you.  She cut her beautiful hair in protest, and kept it that way until the family was restored.”

 

     “I know this mother.”

 

     “Hear me.  Yes, you know this, and now hear what you seem to have forgotten.  All that your sister ever wanted was for our family to be restored.  It was by divine providence that the very person who would free our family, nay, our peoples from the tyranny of Ragnar also is the person who has freed the entire lands of Vvardenfell from ruin.  You call Dandowin a “legend”.  I call him my son.  You have not been here to see the man that married your sister.  You were not here to see the weight of fame on this simple man’s heart.  I have seen into his heart and know that he would gladly trade all the fame and title to live the life as the Klangs or Njorns do.  Let me ask you this, my son.  Do you love your sister as much as I do?  Would you not want the man she would chose to spend her life with, love and cleave to, raise children and honor the rights of our people, be worthy of such as the daughter of Wulfgar the White?  What Dandowin lacks in family line, ancestry, or heredity, he has made up for in deeds worthy of song.  It is a gift to your sister and boon to our people that these deeds have humbled him, and not turned his heart to stone and his mind to vanity.”

 

     “Your truth shames me mother.  For I wasn’t thinking of Laurenna when my mind was filled with doubts.”

 

     “You are a son of Wulfgar the White, as she is a daughter of Wulfgar the White.  Nothing in history will take that away from either of you.  If it is our fates to join our proud family and peoples to a man that will add songs to it, then it is the least we can do in return for his defending of it.”

 

Sigrid grabbed her son by the shoulder and led him back to the door to the throne room.  He seemed more assured, and that was good.  He will work out the problems with his wife, and whilst her son-in-law faces his destiny, her daughter will be soon mother to their heir and protector of their people.

 

     The Dark Brotherhood operative chased after Solveig with fierce determination.  He was undone, and by a child no less.  Sorely regretting having depleted his supplies, he knew that it was either silence this child, or quickly leave the island with the job incomplete.  Try as he could, she was just too fast.

Her screaming was resonating off of the walls in the inner passageway, and he hoped that they were not discovered.  The navigating of this secret passage proved interesting, yet limited.  One avenue lead to the master bedroom, one to the throne, the other, to a guarded tower keep meant for a prisoner too soft for the jails below.  Looking at his hand, he stopped cold.  She had severed the nerve in his palm and his thumb no longer could hold things properly.  To make this matter worse, she had cut deep enough to cut the escape scroll he had in half, rendering it useless.  His blood saturating it was also no help.  The Night Mother will be most unpleased with him, and he was sure that there would be repercussions for such failure.  At least he had stabbed the wife of the Nerevarine in the abdomen, deep enough for the acidic poison to enter her entrails as well as dissolve any child she could have hoped to bear. 

     The screams stopped.  This was not good.  She must have breached the throne room and will surely report what was done.  It is too cold to risk going outside, and his blood will leave a better trail in the snow than it does in the passageway.  Better to reach the grotto, then double back to either the tower keep, or find some corner to prepare.  At least he still had the ability to remain chameleonic.  This would prove useful.  He could spirit away to either a healer’s room, or the kitchen.  Kill those within, and then bind his wounds as best he could until escaping, or enclave himself until the attacking force arrives soon.  Leaving this unfortunate child her win, he swore that she would also never see another moon.

 

     Ingred shouldered the door to the master bedroom and the pain was intense.  It didn’t matter at all, because she couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible has happened in this room.  Did Laurenna lose the baby?  Were one of the children hurt?  Her mind couldn’t stop preparing scenarios and she grew angry at the lack of focus.   There was a terrible smell of blood and burnt human flesh in the room.  It raised bile in her throat at the onset.  When she hobbled up the short stairway, she stopped in her tracks at the scene before her.

Lisendra lay on the floor, blackening blood spread all about her abdomen as well as the floor.  Blood leaked from the corner of her mouth, and one of her eyes had clouded over.  She was still alive, but in unbearable pain and suffering.

 

     “Please…help…me.” 

     


 

Chapter 13

 

 

     For the first time in her life, Solveig was afraid beyond anything she had ever experienced.  She had heard of Drauger.  She had seen the spirits of those that passed in Skyrim.  But a creature to go from nothing but mist to being whole, and to kill Lisendra!  WHY?  Was it waiting for Laurenna?  Or Dandowin?  It was now after her, and she was terrified.  She ran as fast as she could with tearing eyes and burning breath.  She jumped two to four steps at a time down the spiral staircase, and never let go of her dagger.  She stabbed it!  It bled!  What was it?  Its voice was so deep, so terrifying!  It was black as the night itself from head to toe.  It had no eyes!  How did it see me?  Could it hear my screams?

When she saw the latch and door to the throne room, she dove with all her might right through the opening and cut her arm on the metal latch as she pushed through.  Light filled her eyes, and she tumbled past the throne to land smashing onto the table right in front of Lena.   The room spun, and the roar of the fireplace filled her ears.  She was dizzy. 

All she could hear was her cousin screaming.

 

     Laurenna was feeling so much better than she had felt in months, after her hot bath with Dandowin.  It was not just the pampering, or the lovemaking that followed from the relaxing hot water and her husband’s touch.  It was the sense of finally feeling that they would survive whatever life threw at them.  Her mother was right, we are a family and we will be strong for the whole of Lokken. 

     In her long fur dress, she looked down at her belly feeling the life within move about.  That was her favorite part of being pregnant.  These moments when the child was most active gave her so many things to think about.  Is it a son?  A daughter?  Will it have the silver-white hair of the Wulfgar line?  Will their eyes be as blue as hers, or as brown as Dandowin’s?  So many mental puzzles of how much of each of them will be present in their child.  Time will tell, she reasoned.

Holding Dandowin’s hand, they walked the halls of their home.  Cold and drafty as it was, it was still home.  The only home she ever knew, the only home she would want her children to ever know, and the only home for her and her husband.  Yes, Dandowin owns his share of homes across the lands as well as his castle in the far north, but it was Lokken, that he chose to call home, and she was never more thankful.

     As they passed the armorer, an emerging Sven Schmidt who was his usual smiling self met them.  He had something for Dandowin.

 

     “Ho!  Castle Master!  I bring your new and improved Snow Bear shield.” 

Dandowin took the shield from Sven and noticed the reinforced straps that he asked for.  It was such beautiful thing, forged steel covered with hard leather and the soft, white pelt of the local snow bears.  Hefting it, he noticed that it was still quite light, and of course offered extra protection from frost attacks.  Sven just slapped his arm and walked away, leaving the happy couple to their day. 

     Turning up the spiral steps on their way to the throne room, Dandowin helping Laurenna navigate the hardest movements, they were cresting the last step when they heard the loud piercing scream of Lena break from the throne room.  Laurenna instinctively grabbed his arm, and vaulted herself from the last step.  She shoved him to run ahead of her.

 

     “My love…Go!”  She panted.

Dandowin didn’t hesitate, and closed the last few feet from the stairs with a jump.  He shoved the throne room doors open just as Sigrid and Wulfren were entering through the kitchen entry.  Sigrid’s smile immediately left when she saw that Dandowin had burst through the door, as they all turned in the direction of the scream.  Laurenna was not far behind, her fist stopping the closing door with a loud thud, her other hand protectively covering her belly.  When Dandowin turned to the scream, he found Lena standing on her chair as Solveig was lying on top of Sigrid’s desk.  A rend in her tunic on the arm and a gash seeping blood all over their homework, she didn't seem to be moving.  He closed the distance in a second as the guards had snapped defensive positions around the children.  One of them ran to the secret passage, and entered with sword drawn.  Scooping up Solveig, he checked her arm and head as Sigrid moved to join them, checking her all over.  Lena stopped screaming but was crying loudly as she ran to Laurenna, who even with a baby within scooped up Lena and held her protectively close. 

Wulfren was at their side, looking about and all at once wondering where Lisendra was.

Solveig was coming around.  She was shaking, and out of breath.  The wound on her arm was not fatal but would need stitches, and the guard noted that there was a piece of her tunic on the latch.  He picked up her Nordic dagger from the platform…there was blood upon it.  When she opened her eyes again, she grabbed Dandowin about the neck and cried aloud.  He rocked her back and forth, each time trying to bring her face to his face, which she resisted.  After a few moments, she didn’t, and he was able to question her.

 

     “Solveig.  What has happened?”

 

     “Dandowin.  A…demon!  It…it…it…Lisendra!” 

Sigrid gasped, and yelled to Wulfren and the outer guards who had drawn within the room.  The kitchen staff was all at the door, worried faces and fear spreading amongst them.

 

     “TO THE MASTER BEDROOM!  NOW!” 

 

Sigrid took over as Dandowin handed Solveig to her. She was sobbing with eyes wide and her heartbeat was so fast; Sigrid felt it through her own robe.  Throwing down the snow bear shield, Dandowin went to the throne and drew one of the axes from the wall.  As he turned to the throne doors, the guards were backing away slowly as Ingred limped into the throne room, her tunic front to her bare feet covered in blood.  In her arms was a ghostly pale and limp Lisendra.  Blood and vomit bubbling from her mouth.   Ingred struggled with the effort but was otherwise intact. 

     Wulfren charged past everyone and knocked a guard to the ground.  He snatched Lisendra from Ingred’s grasp so hard she fell on her backside.  He laid her on the fur rug. Sigrid immediately gave Solveig back to Dandowin and rushed to his side to help.  When she knelt to her body, she noticed that Ingred had stuffed the linen sheets from Dandowin and Laurenna’s bed into the wound.  Dandowin walked over to Ingred and lifted her up while still holding Solveig in his arms. 

 

     “Thank you, Ingred.”

Ingred smiled weakly.  Her face was as hard as stone as she looked about the room.  Laurenna immediately took her place at Dandowin’s side still holding a crying Lena.  Sigrid carefully removed the sheets from Lisendra’s abdomen and she gasped aloud.  Lisendra just moaned deeply in torment.  The sight before them caused them all to close their eyes in shock.

     Lisendra lay on her back as Sigrid observed the damage.  A glaring gash was cut in her abdomen just above her womb.  It was an upward slice at an angle.  The flesh around the gash was burned, and blackened.  The tunic and leggings that surrounded the wound were but ashes, and her entrails were showing.  Her stomach was pierced, and all the mead she had previously drunk was saturated around her flesh and the wound.  The smell was a mix of burned flesh, potent acids, and faint honey from the mead.  Some of her entrails were dissolved, but most of them were still whole.  The worst of the damage was lower.  Her womb was utterly destroyed.  There was a small whole in the gash where one could see a glint of her backbone.  Whatever the poison was, it had traveled so fast into her blood that it clouded one eye.  This was beyond the help of Sigrid.  She felt this was beyond the help of Solveig as well.

 

     Wulfren was enraged.  There was no sense to this attack.  He looked at his wife as he held her hand and listened to her ragged breath.  Just then, Granny Torunn entered and immediately ran to the scene.  She pulled a small vial from her tunic and poured it into Lisendra’s mouth.  Immediately Lisendra sputtered and vomited again.  When she did, she seemed to be breathing steadier.  Granny Torunn wasted no time.  She barked at Sonja for fresh water, and was about to call for Solveig until she noted her crying with wide eyes in Dandowin’s arms.  All she could do was ask what everyone wanted to know.

 

    “What in Sovengarde is going on here?” 

 

     Dandowin put Solveig down and tried again to get some form of answer from her.  Ingred knelt to join him, and held her hand hoping it would give her some strength.  The guard who found the dagger brought it to Dandowin, and he handed it to Ingred.  The blood on it was red, no doubt about it.  This was no animal that either of them knew.  It was not black blood, as one would expect from the Daedra.  They needed answers, and quickly.

 

     “Solveig.  What did this?  You said a demon.  Tell me, what did this demon look like?”

Solveig was still shaking terribly, and talking was taking such an effort.  She looked at Lisendra and would just start to cry again.  When she spoke, her voice was as meek as her cousin Lena’s.

 

     “I don’t know.  I don’t know.   It wasn’t there at f…first, when she opened the c…closet, then it appeared.  It was b…black all over, with no eyes.  It s…stabbed her, and she f…fell.  I s...screamed.  It t…tried to g…get me and I c…cut it!”

 

Solveig started to cry aloud again and grabbed at Dandowin who just looked at Ingred and Laurenna in bewilderment.  Black?  No eyes to see?  It couldn’t be an ash zombie.  Those were far too slow and would have been noticed by smell alone.  They also could not be cloaked.  If it were a Dreamer, that wouldn’t make sense because all Dreamers are now like blank pages…form with no substance within.  Why was Lisendra opening our bedroom closet?  This was a puzzle that needs to be solved.  This was an attack that was calculated, precise, and already inside our home.

 

Ingred spoke then, producing something from under her tunic, stuffed in the back of her leggings.  It was Laurenna’s wig.  All eyes stared in bewilderment and shock.

 

     “When I found her, she was wearing this…I think this attack was meant for you.”

She turned to Laurenna who’s eyes were wide and full of tears.  The realization hit her home and she clutched Lena tighter. 

 

     Suddenly, Wulfren roared and stormed at Solveig and Dandowin.  He punched Dandowin in the jaw knocking him with a spin to Sigrid’s desk.  Solveig fell to the ground and he roughly grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her fiercely. 

 

     “WULFREN!”  Laurenna screamed. 

 

Wulfren, enraged by grief and worry, was like a man possessed.  His eyes were wet with tears yet wide with fury.  He gritted his teeth as he spat daggers of hate at Dandowin.

 

     “THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!  IF YOU HAD NOT COME TO LOKKEN, LISENDRA WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ATTACKED!  All this ruin, YOU bring to our home!  If she dies, IT WILL BE BECAUSE OF YOU!”

 

     “WULFREN!  HAVE YOU GONE MAD?  YOU PUT THAT CHILD DOWN THIS INSTANT AND BE SILENT!”  Sigrid commanded. 

She shot a glance to Ljot who just emerged into the room and he knotted his brow at this unkind sight.  Laurenna gave Lena to Sigrid, who picked her up and was giving her reassuring kisses and trying to calm her.  Laurenna ran to Dandowin’s side; he was stunned but otherwise fine.   Laurenna was incensed. Family or no, this was not going to stand.

 

     “IF IT WASN’T FOR MY HUSBAND YOU’D STILL BE THE WHITE WOLF!  YOU PUT SOLVEIG DOWN!  HAVE YOU LOST YOUR SENSES?”

 

Wulfren was unchanged.  He glared at everyone in the room in between heart wrenching glances at the damage done to his wife, who was being worked on feverishly by Granny Torunn.  Her hands were so soaked with Lisendra’s blood and viscera; it was amazing that she still lived. 

 

     “NO!  I AM GOING TO GET ANSWERS FROM THIS BRAT IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO!  SHE WILL TELL ME WHO DID THIS, OR I SWEAR-“

Wulfren didn’t finish the thought.  While everyone was yelling in alarm, Ingred had quietly snuck up around the chaos and with the very same bloodied dagger Solveig defended herself with, brought the blade up with blinding speed to just under his left ear.  She pushed the blade so deep that it split his skin but not his artery.  He gritted his teeth angrily but still would not release Solveig who was squirming weakly and in deep pain since Wulfren was pressing on her injured arm.  No one spoke, no one moved, save Dandowin who was immediately on his feet to snatch Solveig from Wulfren’s hands.  Laurenna then grabbed Solveig and whisked her away to stand behind her mother.  The words Ingred spoke were slow, quiet, and deadly.

 

     “Prophetic speech Nord, because if you didn’t put that child down right now, this would have been the very last thing you did.  You’re upset.  I get that.  You are worried about your wife and I get that too.  But Solveig did not hurt your wife, and neither is it Dandowin’s fault.  Every minute you embarrass yourself is a minute we could be out looking for the thing that did this.”

 

Dandowin stood to face Wulfren, who was still looking at him with rage.  Ingred still didn’t relax her hold of him, but she did look extremely tired.  It was clear that she was not fully healed and she would need to be looked at after Lisendra and Solveig.  When Dandowin spoke, it was with a sad voice and a heavy heart, but it was also a stern one.

 

     “Wulfren.  By the Gods I wish it were I and not Lisendra.  I have no doubt that she was not the one they wanted.  But know this-it was your sister and our baby they wanted to kill!  Whoever did this, mistook Lisendra for Laurenna when she put on her wig.  The answer you seek I will find out, I swear it.  Ingred...let him go.”

 

Ingred removed the dagger slowly but still kept it level with his chest.  She was not taking any chances with this one, family to Dandowin or no.  Wulfren wiped at the blood on his neck, closed the distance to Dandowin so that they were practically nose-to-nose.  When he spoke, it let Dandowin know that this was an issue that there will be no forgiving.

 

     “I wish it were you as well.”

 

Kneeling now to Lisendra, he looked pleadingly into Granny Torunn’s eyes.  Her look was just as grave, but compassionate.

 

     “I have done all I can.  Whatever poison, whatever evil did this, is beyond my help.  I have sealed the wounds to her exposed insides, but it is clear, and the Gods help me for saying it, she shall never ever bear children.  I do not even know if she will walk again.  Her eye may clear, or it may not.  She must not stay here.  My cousin Solgerd on the mainland is better skilled to help in this.  She has experience with things of this nature, as well as the temples that abound there.  Take her there, and make haste.”

 

Dandowin walked to them and Laurenna joined him with Solveig.  Ljot took a defensive position to their side, as Sigrid also stood near Granny Torunn with Lena, who was now quiet but breathing in upset gasps.  There would be no restful slumber for any of them.

 

     “I will have Helmer take us to Fort Frostmoth, where we can get quick passage to the mainland.  We’ll get her straight to the Pelagiad, and Solgerd.”

 

Wulfren rose and spat at Dandowin’s feet.  He glared at him and spoke with nothing short of gritted rage.

 

     “I would rather burn in the fires of Oblivion, than ever ride a ship with you.”

 

Laurenna stood protectively in front of Dandowin, and leveled her gaze at her brother. 

 

     “You speak not right, dear brother.”

 

Wulfren snorted as he looked at everyone around the room.  Sigrid’s eyes were full of sadness and shame for her son.  They were pleading, as she felt in her heart that her world was being rent from her again.  He just glared, looked again at Lisendra, and spoke lowly.

 

     “If she dies, you are all dead to me.”

 

All everyone could do was look at him in shock.  He then turned and stormed out of the throne room, barking orders to the outer door guards to prepare the ship at the docks for a long voyage.  He then barked more orders about until distance and the closed doors silenced him.  All inside were still.  Solveig looked exhausted, and Ingred checked on her wound. She herself was bleeding through her tunic and her legs and feet were a sticky, bloody, mess.  Laurenna turned to put her head on Dandowin’s chest, and she sobbed openly.  Dandowin looked to Granny Torunn who was looking up at Sigrid.  Sigrid still held the sniffling Lena in her arms, but her eyes were wide and tears were flowing down her cheeks.  She just stood there, looking at the closed throne room doors and crying without a sound. 

 

In the kitchen, under the table, the wolf Lucky started to howl.

 

 

     

Chapter 14

 

 

     The whole world changed at Lokken castle.  What light and peace it had known during the healing from Ragnar’s reign was short lived.  Now, guards patrolled each hallway and torches were carried into every secret passageway in the entire castle.  Everyone was armed, and the kitchen staff was busy with the terrible task of cleaning the floors and rooms of blood.  Fresh herbs were brewed to help rid the rooms of the stench of violence, but it was already etched into everyone’s memory. 

     Helmer came to the castle after mooring his ship and noticed that Skullum and Dagfeal were outfitting theirs practically for war.  He noted Wulfren barking orders to them as if he was the chieftain, and there were ill faces everywhere.  After stopping to check on Leilana, whom he had taken a soft unspoken affection for, he walked into the castle to see Ulfgrun and Svinghammar armed to the teeth.  What had happened here since he last dropped off Dandowin and they rescued that dark haired beauty?

Opening the doors found more guards at station at the throne room doors, their hard faces alert for anything.  Gone were the smiles and chuckling that he had come to appreciate on the times he would rest at the castle before getting the ship underway again.

    

     In Sigrid’s room, she sat looking down at the sleeping Lena.  She chose Arinbjorn of Ljot’s Berserkers to be her personal guard because he was newly fathered.  He, like all fathers here, had that extra interest in protecting Lokken’s citizens, and he would slay the beasts of Hell itself before letting anyone harm any child.  The occasional sniffing and catching of breath from Lena’s crying was keeping Sigrid from sleep, but in truth, no sleep would come as she thought of her son.  To lose a son to death or destruction, that is more than any parent can bear.  But what can a mother do when she is losing her son to the flaws in himself?  Would that Wulfgar were here, she wept inwardly.  So much is not as it should be.  Attacking her son-in-law, for something that was clearly meant to kill not just her only daughter, but also her grandchild?  The enormity of the viciousness of the attack just made Sigrid cold inside.  Right now, all she could do was sit on the bed and watch Lena sleep.  She knew that she should be attending to Solveig’s wound, but she couldn’t do it.  This precious child who bears her husband’s eyes was all that she could stand to be near now.  She needed this, and so did the sleeping Lena. 

 

     Granny Torunn was attending Solveig’s wound when Helmer walked into the kitchen.  The dark haired beauty was there as well, as the throne room was a mess of activity with the cleaning of blood, the burning of the bear rug, and the sealing of the passageway behind the throne.  Seeing the wee child getting bandaged was bad enough. But when Helmer saw that the dark haired woman was washing her feet of dark blood, the curiosity was far too much.

 

     “The Castle Master?  Is he here?”

 

Ingred spoke first, as Solveig was silent and clearly very upset.  Her red eyes and nose betrayed that something happened here that has touched everyone. 

 

     “You’ll find Dandowin in the master bedroom.  Have a care Nord, this has not been a good day for anyone.”

 

Helmer backed out and walked upstairs to the master bedroom.  So many thoughts ran through his head and none of them were to his liking.  When he got to their door, Ljot was standing outside of it and looked as if he were ready for war. 

 

     “Shipmaster.” He nodded solemnly.

 

     “Warrior.  What in Sovengarde has happened here?”

Ljot knocked on the bedroom door and announced Helmer’s presence.  Before opening the door, he leaned to Helmer and spoke in a whisper.

 

     “This is best asked of the Castle Master.”

 

     Laurenna and Dandowin found no comfort anymore in their bedroom.  The thought of not just the attack, but what could have happened if it were Laurenna played over and over in their minds.  For Dandowin, it was the realization that they didn’t just want to kill him, but anyone who was attached to him.  This was the very worst, because it made him feel as if all the things that Wulfren said in his rage were true…this was his fault.

There was no time to spend in self-hatred.  Laurenna was the one who needed him now.  When he looked at her, all she could do was sob uncontrollably.  Not just for the violation of their bedroom and the sanctity of their home.  The reality that they would even go so far as to kill their unborn child brought the most horrible images to her mind.  Combined with all of this fear, was the utter shame she felt at having teased, angered, and

hurt Lisendra all these years.  In her mind, the reason she was still alive to love her husband and carry their child was because of Lisendra.  She was deeply sorry, and she vowed if Lisendra were to live, she would never hold her in contempt again.  Her brother, that brought the most sadness.  She had believed in him from the start.  She defended him to the world at large, and it was her love, her Dandowin, that restored both him and their family.  To strike her Dandowin was one thing.  To wish what had happened to Lisendra, were him instead, was another.  Deep in her heart, she knew that he was just grief stricken.  She had to believe that.  But there was something else, the feeling that she felt betrayed.  What she yelled at him was true.  They all owe their lives and their land restored to her husband who never asked for anything in return.  All Dandowin tried to do was the very best he could do given how all of this was placed in his lap.  These feelings overwhelmed her.  She felt shame for her treatment of Lisendra, but she felt her love of her brother slipping away because she was realizing how single-minded he truly seemed.  What of their mother?  The terrible look of loss in Sigrid’s eyes tore her heart to pieces.  To witness all of this, from his rage, to manhandling and threatening a poor child who lived to report what she saw?  It was as if he was somehow more like Kreikan than himself.  The thoughts bombarded her, and all she could do was cry and hold Dandowin.

When Helmer appeared, she nearly screamed.  Not in anger, but in fear he would soon take her love away, never to return. 

 

     Fridgeir was assigned to protect Solveig, even though Ingred never left her side.  The bond that was developing between Ingred Rems and Solveig was strong, and Sigrid was thankful without words for it.  It was proven time and again, that her son-in-law seems to choose people of such character to befriend, that her trust in the Goddess’s wisdom was sane.  Most everyone would look at Solveig, but none dared to speak.  She felt exposed.  She knew none of this was her fault, but the looks were bothering her.  It was not her fault Lisendra was stabbed.  It was not her fault she could not kill the demon.  She is just a girl after all, she thought. 

     Sensing this, Ingred lightly grabbed her chin and brought her face up from the staring of her shaking hands to meet her eyes.  She spoke calmly, and with purpose.  Time was running out, and the searches had proved unsuccessful.  She needed to help these people the best way she knows, and that means thinking like the soldier she once was.  Reaching into the fireplace, she withdrew a small shard of burnt wood and blew off the ember.  Next, she grabbed one of Sonja’s cookbooks and tore out the first page.  Sonja started to protest, but was silenced immediately when Ingred frowned at her.  There was already enough excitement for this evening.

 

     “Solveig sweetie.  Look at me.  I need you to do something for me as best you can.  I know you don’t want to think about it, but everyone here is depending on you.  The life of not just Laurenna, but the baby and everyone depend on what I am going to ask you.”

 

Solveig wiped at her nose with her only good sleeve and bit her lower lip in response.  She knew what she was going to ask, and she was very afraid.  Ingred continued, with care.

 

     “I know sweetie, I know.  Even I don’t want to think about it, and I found her.  So please, I am begging you.  As best you can, try and draw me a picture of what you saw.”

 

Very carefully with shaking hands Solveig took the shard of charcoal and put it on the paper.  She immediately broke it in half with her shaking, and Ingred just put her arms around her, pressing herself into her back to steady her with a hug.  She held her free hand and Solveig grabbed it so hard that the color left both of their hands.  With slow movements of her fingers, Solveig traced the outline of a human form.  Good, Ingred thought, this was a human after all.  Next Solveig filled in the arms and legs, coloring them with the stick until they were all black.  Finally, she drew a pattern in the chest area of armored plating, and when she drew the head, she just drew lines across the face until the whole head was blackened in, except for one, small, round thing like an eye, but not.  When she finished, Solveig brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms about them, rocking back and forth.  She shoved both paper and charcoal away from her. 

Ingred kissed the side of her hair and rose.

 

     “Thank you sweetie.”

 

Ingred didn’t have to look at the paper long to know this was trouble.  Big trouble.  She yelled at Fridgeir to stay with Solveig and if harm came to her, she would drink mead from his skull.  Solveig protested and rose, grabbing Ingred’s hand and staying close.  Ingred smiled, and just told Fridgeir that he had better keep up with them.

 

This was something that Dandowin needs to see.  Immediately.

 

     “An assassin?  You’re certain of this?”  Asked Sigrid.

 

Dandowin held the paper of Solveig’s drawing in both hands, before crumpling it and throwing it into the fireplace.  The look he had was not only grave, but also enraged to the point of distraction.  They had all gathered into her room the very minute Ingred brought him the drawing.  After the incident with Wulfren, there was no way he was going to let the rest of the family become fractured.

 

     “Not just any assassin Sigrid, but this is the Dark Brotherhood.  They are the eyes, ears, and hands of Sithis, and the Night Mother herself.  Their reach is long, and their methods are relentless.  This is an evil from my past, and I fear that Wulfren was right.  This is all my fault.”

With great sadness Dandowin told all of the assassination attempts from the Dark Brotherhood, and of their source, the current King of Morrowind itself.  He spoke of exacting his revenge, in locating their enclave in the Mournhold underground and of the totality of his actions, leaving nothing alive.  Judging from the evidence that he was given by Ingred, it would appear that this is personal indeed.  With an even greater sadness he spoke of his deeds that the Lady Azura asked of him in becoming Hortator of the three Great Houses.  He told with closed eyes of the slaying of Bolvyn Venim, in a duel of his challenging, and threats of revenge from members of the house of Venim.  The list of deaths by his hand was long, and seemingly, without an end.

 

     Sigrid rose from the bed, Lena in her arms.  She looked at her son-in-law without judgment, but was clearly tired and determined.  Dandowin stood before her; head bowed and tired as well.  Laurenna stood to his side, her arm about his shoulder, stroking it back and forth.  When Sigrid spoke, the entire room turned to hear her.

 

     “My husband Wulfgar once told me, “violence may solve one problem, but it often sows the seeds for many others”.  His wisdom was never more evident than it is now.  As the Great Lady of my Lokken peoples, I have seen what violence has done, in robbing me of a husband and hurting the whole of our peoples.  But as a mother who loves her children with every fiber of her being, I know that it was violence that freed our people from the same tyranny.  As your Great Lady Dandowin, I command you to do whatever you can to save my family and our people, which are your family now.  I command you also to see that my son finds the best care for his wife, and that he is protected.  Do this in secret if you must, since his grief has robbed him of his fealty to you.  May the Gods protect him as best they can.”

 

Dandowin bowed again, and was just about to leave when she stopped him with a firm hand on his own.  The seriousness in her look was tempered with a love that was only  dwarfed by the love his wife. 

 

     “As your mother, for in truth, you are my son now as much as my Wulfren, I beg you to also do whatever you must to return to us.  Give my home their Castle Master.  Give my daughter her husband.  Give my grandchild their father.  Take with you the love of your family, and return to us so that we may return and share our love until Sovengarde sent.”

 

     Sigrid kissed her son-in-law, and carried Lena to a meal with Arinbjorn shadowing them.  She stopped before Laurenna, who she kissed as well, and shook her shoulder knowing that her daughter would be as strong as she.  To Ingred, who was standing behind Solveig with arms about her shoulders, she bowed and smiled, in which Ingred bowed as best she could to the Great Lady.  Laurenna hugged Dandowin, and with her arm still about his waist, they stood before Ingred and Solveig.  Ingred was teary eyed, to which she just wiped at them with her rough knuckles.  She mock punched Dandowin winking at Laurenna simultaneously.

 

     “To you Ingred and Solveig, I leave the protection of my family.  You share this with Ljot and Fridgeir, who will serve you both as they have served me.  Ingred, use whatever you can to ferret out this assassin.  Something tells me that he has not left, and all evidence shows that he is still cloaked.”

 

Ingred saluted him with the sign of fealty.  He next knelt to Solveig so that he could be nearly eye-to-eye.  She was smiling weakly, but looked as if she could break down and cry at any moment.  He put his arms on her shoulders as well, lifting her head high.

 

     “You.  You have done great things I will never forget Solveig.  You have saved the life of my Ingred, and for that, I am in your debt forever.  You have helped to save our whole family, and our whole people.  If you had not sought to protect Laurenna’s things, and fought with this assassin, we would never have truly known what had happened to Lisendra.  You have and continue to protect my Laurenna, and our baby, and I love you always for that.  You, Solveig, are the daughter I would have always wanted.  If it would please you, and if you would honor us, I would like you to be our daughter.”

Laurenna also knelt with help from Ingred, who was also in front of her.  They both knelt before her, and with pleading eyes and clasped hands, they bowed to Solveig.  She was shaking lightly, her eyes all wet as tears ran down them to wet her tunic.  Looking before her at Dandowin and Laurenna on their knees with their heads bowed, she was a flurry of emotion.  Ingred then shook her with a weak punch to her uninjured arm, bending to whisper in her ear.

 

   “Well, say something!  Don’t have your aunt Laurenna sit like that too long!” She whispered amiably.

 

Solveig just smiled and cried, her eyes and face a wet mess as she wiped at it with her tunic sleeve.  She then rushed at them both, an arm about their necks sobbing and speaking with a broken voice filled with such love, even Ingred had to turn her head to hide her welling emotions.  They hugged her fiercely in return.

 

     “YES!  Oh Yes.  I would be honored, to be your daughter.”

 

Solveig and Ingred helped Laurenna rise.  She took her husband out the door to their master bedroom, where she would help him pack.  Ljot followed behind, pausing to wink at Ingred who slapped Fridgeir’s arm to keep up.  They then headed downstairs to the throne room, to the kitchen and then to their charges at hand.

 

     Wulfren couldn’t get Skullum and Dagfeal to move fast enough.  If he had a whip, he would have been tempted to use it, so great was his concern.  The townsfolk stood around the ship to watch as Wulfren barked orders and moved things himself.  When the ship was ready to sail, he ordered Ismir, Kolbein, the town guards and Lisendra’s hunting partners Karl and Stephann to help him carry the unconscious Lisendra who was wrapped tightly in several furs and blankets.  Even though he protested most embarrassingly, the rest of his family walked behind them to see them all off.  Granny Torunn made the decision to travel with them, to make sure that Lisendra’s condition did not worsen.  She knew that Sigrid was a good healer as well, and with Solveig, they could handle any emergency until she booked passage back to Lokken.  Wulfren would not look at his family,  just kept his eyes on Lisendra.  When the mooring lines of the great longboat were pulled, he turned to face them finally.  There was no focusing on anyone but Sigrid.  He looked at her, with no emotion.  Sigrid looked at her son in return.  No smile, but raising her hand to him in salute.  Behind her eyes and deep in her heart, she sent all the love a mother could possibly have for her firstborn.  She  turned when he turned, and walked back up to the castle, with Lena in hand and Arinbjorn in protective tow.

     Helmer emerged from Leilana’s trading house, with a small package.  He turned just as she appeared as well, leaning against the doorframe looking as if the sight of him was sweeter than the Lokken mead.  Laurenna turned to Dandowin then, tapping his arm and motioning with her nose at the sight.  Dandowin felt hopeful.  When love can develop in the face of tragedy and the unknown, there is always hope. 

    

     “My friend, we’ll leave on the morrow.  There has been already too many departures this day.”

 

Helmer was pleased to hear that, and he winked at Leilana.  She just smiled, shook her head and closed her door.  Everyone at the dock then dispersed, those of the castle returning, and those with homes in town preparing to leave them to stay at the castle, until the crisis coming was put to rest.

 


 

Chapter 15

 

 

     Ingred didn’t bother to join the family to see Wulfren off.  To her mind, it wouldn’t be proper and personally, she didn’t want to look at him.  For her, this was not her family so she had no emotional investment in Wulfren.  Her loyalty began and ended with Dandowin,  but she admitted that as of late, she has gotten quite fond of Laurenna, and even more so of Solveig.  There were so many similarities in their lives, and upon first glance, one would swear they were sisters.  She knew that the day would come when Solveig would grow and surpass her in height, as is the way of Nord women.  For now, she  enjoyed having someone to train and the trust from Sigrid to whip her guards and others into a cohesive defensive force. 

     The itching of her wounds was incessant, but like wearing wool Imperial tunics, she was learning to ignore it.  Sitting in the throne room, she sat at Sigrid’s table and ate her meal of meat and fish while pondering the next move.  She had seen the armory, and spent many of her nights wandering the hallways taking stock of weapon stores.  There were plenty of axes and swords, and shields of all kinds.  Typical.  There were stations with bows and complements of arrows, and that she liked.  Ranged weapons were essential to defending any castle.  What surprised her the most was that Dandowin had restocked the empty weapons display room with some of the finest enchanted weapons from all over Vvardenfell.  There were Daedric weapons, glass weapons, bows of all races and an entire shelf devoted to throwing weapons. 

Protection was her primary concern now, and the thought that the assassin was not only still on Lokken but concealed in the castle gave her no peace.  Chameleon spells and enchantments were difficult to deal with.  While they masked an opponent more than totally conceal them, they did not suffer from the same drawback as full on invisibility, which was revealing the user upon action.  Turning in her chair, she looked about the room.  The guards at station stood looking ahead, and that was the first thing she was going to change.  You can’t guard a room if your nose was pointed only in one direction.

But how was she to protect the most important part of this castle, its inhabitants?  That they were guarded at every  moment was helpful, but not enough.  An arrow shot from the darkness or a dirk thrown from the shadows could easily penetrate this type of protection.  No.  She would have to institute some sort of extra-protection for the family here that was not as noticeable.  But what can be done?

It was then that she spotted Dandowin’s new Snow Bear shield on the floor.  It was quite beautiful, and an idea hit her immediately.  Getting up and wiping her hands on her leggings, she walked over to the shield and hefted it.  It was light as leather, but fine silver infused steel.  Excellent. 

 

     “Dandowin, you’re just going to have to forgive me.”

 

With a nod to the guards, she sped from the throne as best she could and limped her way down to Sven Schmidt, Lokken’s smith.

 

    The Dark Brotherhood operative had evaded the impossible.  He noted with nothing short of glee how guards had passed and probed all around him yet never saw him.  It helped that he was lying in the water of the grotto, flattened to the rocks but totally concealed.  The cut on his hand and the damage done bothered him greatly, and it took nothing short of laying his hand on the one of the passageway torches to cauterize it.  He didn’t yell out, such was his training.  There were dark thoughts though.  He could try and leave in the cover of night but his tracks would be seen and followed.  His escape scroll was as he feared, ruined.  The death he planned for the spying brat that witnessed his attack was the only thing that still drove him on.  Even if he were to be caught and killed, he vowed that before that, he must silence forever the brat who undid him.  It was not professional, but it was comforting.  His life was vengeance.  So personal vengeance was no conflict of interest.

     There were some sobering realizations though.  He had failed.  From the talk of the guards that pursued him, he had simply killed or harmed some insignificant family member.   Served the bitch he thought, to place herself in harm’s way being in the master bedroom.  There was no sympathy from the operative.  Sympathy was for weak-minded people, as was compassion.  His purpose was death.  His trade was vengeance.  If he killed some lesser Nord woman, the world would be better for it.  In his mind, he hoped it would radiate outward to whoever loved her, so they would know that this was a fate that was waiting for them all, in time.  The water was surprisingly cool, not freezing.  There must be some volcanic veins in this land.  Too bad they weren’t close enough to extinguish the entirety of this Nord land.  One less Nordic land would be of no consequence. 

     When he heard the last lock of the passageway door, he emerged and sat amongst the rocks.  A small crab scuttled out of the rock where he put his hand, and he immediately mashed it with his fist.  Scooping up the mess, he immediately ate it and licked his fingers clean.  It would be time to probe the locks soon.  They were foolish, to believe that mere locks and chains could secure this passageway as well as keep him from killing anyone he wanted.  The child will die, and then he will see to it that the right female was killed.  He didn’t have any more poison, and his blades were gone, but none of it mattered.  The entire castle was littered with weapons right at hand in every hallway.  If nothing else, these stupid Nords were careless to display items that could be used to kill.

 

     “Night Mother forgive me, I will not fail again.”

 

     Laurenna and Solveig helped Dandowin pack for the voyage.  They laid out his old clothes, hunting leggings and the Shirt of the Noble Heart.  Solveig brushed his snow wolf boots while Laurenna saw to his weapons.  She gathered three of his bows, one wicked looking Daedric one that shimmered with some unknown magic.  When Laurenna inquired about the shimmer, Dandowin placed it into her hands and  helped her draw it back.  As she did so, her eyes flashed in an instant, and she looked about the bedroom as if she were an animal.  She could see the shimmering heat of Solveig’s body, Ljot just outside the door, Lena and her mother down the hall, and the guards pass by in the hallway.  When she returned the bowstring to normal, her normal vision returned.

She liked this bow, a lot.

Giving Solveig a key, she unlocked their bedroom chest and withdrew three locked boxes.  They weren’t very big, but they were unusually warm to the touch.  It was as if whatever was within, was thrumming with some inhumanly life.  These he took from her hands, and placed into a larger sack.  When Solveig inquired what they were, he knelt to her, and whispered.

 

     “These will be a gift for a friend.  What they are, were the tools and weapons I used at Red Mountain.”

 

     “You mean-!”

 

     “Shhhhhhhhhhhh.  Yes, they are the very ones.”

 

Solveig wanted to see them, but Dandowin politely refused.  These things were dangerous to hold, which accounted for why they were under lock and key.  With everything nearly packed, Dandowin turned to kiss his wife.  She looked up at him from sitting on the bed.  She was confident, with no trace of the doubt and sadness of before.  He thought to apologize again for what transpired between her brother and he, but decided against it.  Looking at his hands, he stared at his wedding ring, and his birthright, the fabled Moon and Star ring of Nerevar himself.  He started to remove them, but Laurenna rose to her knees on the bed and grabbed his hands tightly.  Solveig peered over their shoulder not wanting to miss anything.  She was their daughter now, and what her new mother and father did, she would do too.

 

     “Don’t even think about it, my love.” 

Laurenna was serious as she frowned her disapproval of his intended action.  There was no way he was going to face any fate without the ability to contact and keep her informed.  She threatened to jump in his gear bag in earnest if he even tried to leave his wedding ring home.  Solveig nodded her agreement, and he smiled to both.

 

     “These could be used against me my love.  Especially the Moon and Star.  It is a death sentence for anyone to wear this ring other than myself.”

 

     “All the better, don’t you think?  If it gives you the power of persuasion, then don’t you think now more than ever my husband needs to be persuasive?  What do you say, daughter?

Solveig loved the sound of that, and in no way did it make her feel as if she was betraying the memory of her mother, Yrsa.  She felt in her heart that if her mother were looking down on her from Sovengarde, she would be delighted that her new parents were the likes of Dandowin and Laurenna.  She thought about the question,  weighing the options and just glad that someone thought her opinions would be valuable.  She had an idea.

     With a dagger from the table, she cut a small square of cloth from her tunic.  Over by their dresser was some needle and thread.  Taking Dandowin’s leggings, she started sewing the square on the underside of the front waistband of his leggings.  Laurenna was puzzled.

 

     “But what are you up to young lady?” Laurenna inquired.

 

Dandowin got the idea immediately.  Solveig’s solution pleased both parties. When she was nearly done, he removed the Moon and Star and placed it carefully into the new concealing pouch.  With care and caution, Solveig sealed the Moon and Star into the pouch, not visible at all from the front of the snow wolf hair leggings.

 

     “Problem solved.”  Solveig said with confidence. 

 

     The armorer door was closed to the castle at large, but all the guards who patrolled up and down the length of the hall heard the sound from Sven Schmidt.  None took note of the wounded Imperial guest as she knocked on the door with shield in hand, but they took note that he was yelling.

 

     “You want me to do WHAT?”

 

Sven Schmidt was beside himself with shock.  When Ingred came to him with the Snow Bear shield in hand, he thought that there was something wrong that needed to be adjusted.  What she was asking was well, unbelievable.  Droning on about disgracing the memory of his father, Ingred listened until he had winded himself with his protestations.  Standing just to look at her, he just huffed until she spoke.  Instead, Ingred just looked at the collection of swords on the table before her.  She ran a finger along the sharpest of them, then lifted it with deft speed to hold the point of it directly under his chin.

 

     “Nord, you do excellent work.  I salute you, and your dead father.  Now if you don’t want to join him, and give your pretty wife an excuse for a younger man, you’ll hear me.  Don’t speak again until I have finished, and remember that every minute you delay you risk lives, my job, and worst of all, my patience.”

    

Sven listened as if his life depended on it, which in all honesty, it did.  When she was done, he nodded his approval, and saw the wisdom of her idea.  Before Ingred turned to leave, she picked up one of his hammers. 

 

     “I’ll be needing this.   I’ll return in a moment and then we’ll get started.”

 

     Wulfren spent the voyage within the tented confines of the end of the longboat.  Granny Torunn tried in vain to get him to speak, and open up, but he shut her out with a glance.  Rather than upset him further, she attended Lisendra, who was going in and out of fever.  She could keep no solid food down, so Granny Torunn just kept her drinking.  Water, mead with water, and some of the children’s herbal juices rotated, so that she could hopefully flush the poisons out of poor Lisendra’s body.  Poor Lisendra, she thought.  Granny Torunn was old enough to remember Lisendra’s birth, and how she had grown to be the feisty hunter of bears and the focus of attention from the boys.  Life wasn’t the greatest for her, and this reflected in how she got along with others.  Wulfren and she were always fast for each other, until Laurenna came to join and then conflicts arose.  Their wedding was not really a surprise, given how Wulfren always loved Lisendra.  His timing for it, well, even to Granny Torunn that seemed far too impetuous. 

   Wulfren was always the one she worried about.  Even Wulfgar himself felt his son needed to perhaps leave the island occasionally to learn the ways of others, as well as see that there are other women in the world besides Lisendra.  Such tragedy, this family suffered.  Having witnessed the births of so many of Lokken’s citizens only to see how they have struggled so both during and after Ragnar, it made Granny Torunn tired.

 

     “You should rest Wulfren, and let this child rest too.  Lisendra will be fine, and when we get her to my cousin, we will get her back to the peak of health.  She’ll be ready to come back to Lokken in no time, you’ll see.”

 

Wulfren looked at Granny Torunn as if she was an enemy.  There was such hatred behind his eyes that it made her so uncomfortable, all she could do was turn her gaze back to Lisendra.  His voice was hard and devoid of any affection whatsoever.

 

     “We shall never return, old one.  Lokken is nothing to me, and there is nothing I feel for those there.  He who rules has hurt the only woman I have ever loved and will ever love.  I will never go back.  Never.”

 

Granny Torunn was insulted at his tone and even more so at his selfishness.  Given that they are on a ship, and far from shore, she felt there is nothing to risk in speaking her mind.  She was there when this brash young man was born, and by virtue of that, royal or no, she will not fear him.

 

     “So, the only woman you will ever love is that it?  Nothing for you back home, and no one?  You are a selfish boy.  That’s right, you’re acting like a boy Wulfren.  Your mother risked her life over and over to protect you when you were turned into the White Wolf.  Your sister was even banished for defending you.  Every citizen, from Kielreen to this poor dear here, sought only to find you and have you restored as chieftain.  The man you hate so much, this Dandowin Castle Master, came to me more than once to fetch the necessary items to not only save your life, but to restore your family.  Never once did he shirk a responsibility that was asked of him by your sister, or the townspeople.  When he married your sister, at least it was clear to everyone but you that he is in love with her.  He protested loudly the title of Castle Master, but by the Gods he has done great by it.”

 

Wulfren yelled in defense.  He was so very tired of the Dandowin worship.

 

     “YOU CALL THIS GREAT?  LOOK AT MY WIFE!  SHE BARELY CLINGS TO LIFE BECAUSE OF HIM AND HIS ENEMIES!”

 

Granny Torunn was not afraid of Wulfren, or his tirades.  You don’t live to be her age letting people step on you, especially selfish ones.

 

     “It wasn’t his hand that wielded the blade that stabbed your wife, but it will most likely be HIS blade that ends the life of the one who hurt YOUR wife!  Let us not forget, that the blade that hurt Lisendra to near death was meant solely for your sister Laurenna, and their unborn baby!  Oh I forgot, you don’t care about your sister or their baby, which is to be your niece or nephew!  You “have nothing there” anymore by your own words, even your poor mother.  You know what I see, boy?  I see a man who continually is being asked or left to do things that you yourself should have done, and instead of being thankful that he does it out of love for your sister, mother, wee ones, and you, you just whine like a jealous, spoiled brat because people remember him for it.”

 

Wulfren heard enough and roughly grabbed Granny Torunn’s arm and thrust her from the tent.  Taking her shawl and wrapping it around her head and shoulders, she stormed off to the bow of the ship to where Skullum stood.  He immediately handed her his mead and she took a drink.  They both exchanged a hurtful look and shook their heads.  There was really nothing else that could be said, and they let the wind wipe their ill thoughts from them.

 


 

Chapter 16

 

 

     It was the early morning hours for Lokken castle, the Night Watch.  A snowstorm had come in from the North and what first started as a light snowfall, was now the typical howl of a Lokken snowstorm.  Logs were throne on the fireplaces throughout the castle; furs were shaken and then left by the fireplaces to warm.  With dinner long over, and the bar station closed, most were on their way to guard duty, or bed.  Sigrid retired early, and dined in the private of her room with Lena.  Dandowin, Laurenna, and Solveig ate their first meal as husband, wife, and newly adopted daughter.  The Berserkers and castle guards ate both together and singularly, each keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings.

     Two of the castle’s inhabitants, one a guest, the other a tradesman, were still up and about at this hour.  Sven Schmidt was at his forge, bending a great plate of his new silver and steel metal over a small empty barrel that was brought to him by his apprentice for the day, Ingred Rems.  With her tunic top off, she worked the hot forge covered in sweat as Sven averted his eyes to the obviously ample gifts her heritage gave her.  With hammer in hand he banged and banged, stopping only for the mead that Ingred was kind enough to line up for him, a row of seven tankards along the table.  Their third one in, they had been working since dinner on the request she made.  With a length of thin leather in hand with markings at every foot, he would call for Ingred to stand with the barrel in her hands as he measured, then marked.  This he did several times, one of which was his most nervous as he measured her breasts and back, trying not to look and sweating far more than if he worked the forge.  This amused Ingred to no end, and she would further his discomfort with the occasional wink.

They both worked the leathers and furs, each taking turns with the ship’s needles and smaller hammers.  What puzzled him greatly was why she came downstairs with nearly all the plates, platters, and bowls from the kitchen in a cloth sack.  He didn’t have long to wait for the reason, as she took the fourth tankard, took a long drink, then with the large hammer she took earlier, started to smash the dishes in the bag with great determination.  Sven stopped banging when she started, but she insisted that he continue banging and not stop until she had practically powdered the contents within.  Shaking his head, he did as he was told.

     In the hours that passed, Sven was soaked with sweat and Ingred was scratching her stitches raw, but when they looked at their finished product, Ingred shook his shoulder like a fellow guard in praise. 

 

     “Your father would be prouder than you imagine, Nord.  This…is your best work yet, I think.”

 

Sven gave a tired smile, to which Ingred handed him another tankard.  Toasting their achievement, they both drank a full draft.  They were done at least, until Ingred produced Solveig’s dagger.  It was dull and bloodied still.  Remembering the day of the incident, Ingred swirled the dagger into Sven’s cooling barrel until it was clean.  Sven produced a whetstone and Ingred used the oils from her own sweaty skin to prime the blade.  She then worked it back and forth for several minutes, not stopping until she was able to split the some of the stitches on her sword arm with one pass.  This she tucked into her leggings, and put her tunic back on.  With a salute, she grabbed the bag of ground ceramic dishes, and then their handy work before heading upstairs. 

    

     Sigrid was plagued by the worst nightmares a mother could have.  Part deepest fears realized, part a revisiting of the harshness of the previous day, she snapped up from her bed and sought out Lena.  She was sprawled as usual all over her legs and thighs, a gentle snore replacing the shudders and cries from the night before.  Sitting up, she was alert to every sound in the room and without.  Footsteps up and down the hallways.  Guards mostly, the occasional booted feet of their Imperial guest, all these she would single out as she sat up in bed.

     Lena reached up to grab the folds of Sigrid’s robe.  Looking down at her, she remembered when it was Laurenna who did such things, and Wulfren before her.  She missed her son already, and heaviness plagued her chest whenever she revisited that day of Lisendra’s attack.  She silently prayed for the Goddess to watch and care for them, until her son-in-law can get those earthbound to do so as well.

The howling winds outside told her of another full day.  Today, Dandowin will leave for the mainland, and she and her daughter will rule in Lokken.  The Imperial bodyguard that came for her son-in-law has proved quite resourceful, and Sigrid planned to spend a great deal of time in her presence.  It was not unknown to her that the early morning hours were spent teaching her newly adopted grandchild to wield a sword.  This has done much good for Solveig, and her daughter and husband officially adopting her relieved all her inward fears of being discarded.  Were it not for the vicious attack and her son’s rage, this would almost be considered the castle’s golden times.  This and other things she pondered until a light knock on her door broke her concentration. 

 

     “Great Lady, may I disturb you this morning?”

It was the very person of her thoughts.  Sigrid lightly moved Lena to rest on her lap and offered the end of her bed to Ingred, who politely refused.  Her refusal seemed odd until it was clear that it was much more than manners, her sweaty scent assailing Sigrid’s nose immediately.

 

     “It would appear that you’ve been working hard all morning.”

 

Ingred sniffed at her own arms and bowed apologetically.  She then bent to Sigrid so that they could whisper and not risk waking the wee one.  Sigrid noticed that she was not only sweaty, but also rather dusty as if she were baking bread as well.  This was becoming more curious with each minute.

 

     “I have a request of you and the castle Great Lady.  I would ask that the morning fireplaces not be lit.”

Sigrid’s eyes were wide.  This was most unusual, and with the storm outside, she was beginning to think Ingred was losing her mind. 

 

     “Perhaps you should tell me what this is all about first?”

Ingred smiled very wide.  Her sweaty face and dusty hair could not dull the gleam that her eyes seemed to be giving off in the dimly lit bedroom.  This made Sigrid even more puzzled.

 

     “Great Lady, I wish to catch a rat.”

 

     Dandowin and Laurenna were lightly resting when the knocks were starting at the bedroom doors.  As they vaulted awake and at the ready, Ljot walked in to allow both Ingred and Stormann inside.  Stormann walked to the fireplace, and collected all of the logs by the mantle.  Dandowin looked to Ingred quizzically, who just slapped Stormann’s back in thanks.  When Laurenna started to point out the window and protest, Ingred just put her finger to her own lips and shushed her.

Dandowin and Laurenna looked at one another.  She hugged at her chest, noting how the cold of the morning was really stinging her already milk soaked chest.  Dandowin just gathered the furs to her, and was about to rise when Ingred stopped him.

 

     “Not yet you two.  I have something for you.”

 

Again exchanging looks, Ingred snapped her fingers and a wide-awake Solveig entered holding something.  When she got closer, both her new parents looked in pleasant shock.

In Solveig’s hands was a cuirass of Snow Bear armor that was formed for a very pregnant Laurenna.  It was gleaming silver at the breasts, with great Nordic scrollwork.  The belly was not too much bigger than Laurenna’s now, and was covered both outside and on the inside with pure, white, Snow Bear fur.  There were leather straps that were covered in White Wolf fur to provide comfort, which fastened at the sides and at the shoulders.  It was the most beautiful piece of armor that they had ever seen.

 

     “With my compliments, well, Dandowin’s as it was his shield and all.”

 

They both smiled from the bed, Laurenna getting out of it almost immediately to try it on.

Ingred sent Ljot to the door and Solveig and Laurenna marveled at this creation.  Dandowin rose from the bed and grabbed Ingred’s shoulder.

 

      “Well done, Ingred…well done indeed.”

 

     The longboat ride to the mainland took less time than they had hoped.  The storm surge that blew them towards the mainland most surely is whipping Lokken fiercely.

     They were able to hire a Guar pulled cart to carry the sleeping and ill Lisendra whilst Wulfren and Granny Torunn walked alongside it in silence.  Having made good connections from their Silt Strider passage from docking at Dagon Fel, they blew through the island chains of Sadrith Mora via boat, and traveled through the Mages Guild directly to Balmora without stopping.  The healers of Balmora offered to help with Lisendra’s recovery, but Wulfren ignored all pleas.  His purpose was to get both Lisendra and Granny Torunn to her cousin Solgerd and that is exactly where he was headed. 

     Along the roads leading from Balmora to the Pelagiad, they encountered no threats, which all were thankful for.  A single rat pursued them briefly until Wulfren threw a rock in anger and split its skull.  Granny Torunn was shocked, but said nothing.  The walk alone was tough enough.

They reached Fort Moonmoth and stopped briefly to inquire about Solgerd, and Granny Torunn insisted that they stock on healing supplies.  Wulfren started to protest but she just walked inside and left him to stew.  Inside, she gathered as many potions and raw materials that were available from the fort sellers.  Wulfren was silent again as they started towards the Pelagiad.  The blasted pathway and teeth-like rock formations howled their disapproval of the weary travelers, and they were never so thankful when vegetation finally appeared at the fork in the road and the signpost that read “Pelagiad”.

When they pulled up to the doorway of the Halfway Tavern, fortune favored them when Granny Torunn’s cousin Solgerd was leaving with a package.  Like her cousin, Solgerd was a tall and stately Nord, hair as white as the snow they left behind, and a face that was all full of lines.  Seeing her cousin lit her face immediately, as it had been ages since they parted sadly in Lokken.

 

     “Solgerd!  By the Gods, it is great to see you again!  I was quite saddened to hear of your husband’s passing.” 

They hugged but briefly.  Solgerd immediately noticed the cart and Wulfren standing next to it, quite agitated.

 

     “Is this Wulfren?  Young Wulfren?”

Wulfren immediately grabbed the blanket covering Lisendra and revealed whom they carried.  Solgerd immediately went to her, bending low.  She felt her head, and asked her cousin the needed questions.

 

     “This Lisendra?  Little Lisendra?”

 

     “She’s been attacked.  Something wicked and deadly did this.  The damage is quite severe, and there was some sort of poison involved.  Ate away some of her insides, but I healed what I could and sealed the stomach well.  See her eye?”

 

     “Mmm.  There are some poisons made from the spit and stomach acids of these local vermin.  The eye will heal, and that it went cloudy lets me know at least what we are dealing with.  But why risk coming all the way to me?  Surely you passed a few temples along the way here that have fully stocked potions.”

 

Granny Torunn said nothing.  She just touched her arm, which in one movement told her that this was more than a poison at work, but a matter of rifts best not discussed in the open.  Solgerd understood perfectly, and grabbed the other end of the cart.

 

     “Let’s get her to my home here.  I will need both of you to fetch what I need as well as strong stomachs to help with the coming dirty work.  Don’t worry Wulfren, your wife is in good hands, and we will get right to work.”

 

     There was not a single person in Lokken castle that didn’t think Ingred Rems had lost her mind.  By the time all logs were collected and piled outside, snow was already forming on the floors everywhere there was a window.  To make matters worse, she had insisted that they all meet in the throne room.  The only ones absent were the guards that she posted at every entryway into both the amorer’s room, and the armory display room, which had been not only guarded but locked with chains as well.  Everyone was dressed as if they were walking outside.  Sigrid was dressed in full robes, wolf skin boots, and shawl.  Lena was fully dressed as well, and was held very close to Sigrid.  The main guards were now positioned not at the walls but at the corners, and moved their heads in all directions under Ingred’s orders.  Sonja was shivering and muttering all manner of curses, as Anneliese just sat on the floor in front of the kitchen rubbing Lucky’s fur.  Everyone was so cold, that their breath was visible, coming out in puffs with each word spoken.

     By the time Laurenna, Dandowin, Solveig, and the Berserker’s Ljot and Fridgeir behind them entered, it was then that Ingred reappeared, just quickly scrubbed and uncharacteristically pleasant.  As soon as she entered the room, a very angry Sonja charged at her finger waving.

 

     “You!  What have you done with all my dishes?  Are you INSANE?  Are you TRYING to kill us all?”

Ingred just smiled at her and shoved her to sit on the floor with Anneliese.  Sonja sputtered like a boiling teakettle but Ingred just covered her mouth with her gloved hand and shushed her.

 

It was then that she walked over to Sigrid’s table, took one of the chairs, and sat it directly in the center of the room.  Everyone was puzzled and shivering, Sigrid turned to Dandowin with a puzzled look to which he just shrugged.  He had his satchel, several bags and boxes, and a quiver full of arrows.  Oddly, Laurenna was dressed in her fine Wolf Fur robes and boots, which strained with the full roundness of her belly, also with a quiver full of arrows strapped to her back.  She winked at Dandowin, who had just placed his weapons bag behind her.  She let out a surprised gasp and slapped him, everyone noting he just pinched her bottom.  Ingred walked over to Solveig, took her hand, and placed her in the chair in the center of the room.  Everyone looked to Dandowin who again, just shrugged.  All who thought Ingred was insane now felt confirmed of it when she next spoke.

 

     “In honor of Solveig’s new adoption, I would like to bestow to all a little song that I learned from my own mother.”

Ingred cleared her throat and removed her gloves.  Unlike all in the room, she was without a robe, just her tunic, leggings, and boots.  She winked at Solveig who was so nervous; her breath had almost obscured her face entirely.  Moving in the room with arms wide and a huge smile, Ingred began to sing a childlike song.  All muttered and she shushed them, walking to face everyone and Solveig as she spoke the lines slowly and with a melodic tone.

 

     “This little Nix-Hound went to maaaarrketttt…

 

Ingred twirled slowly and stopped, looking at all in the room again.  No one smiled, but Lena was giggling at the silly song and at Ingred’s behavior.  Sigrid looked to Dandowin pleadingly again who was also looking around the room slowly.  Laurenna stood in front of him, her hands behind her back holding Dandowin’s, looking at Solveig, smiling.

 

     “This little Nix-Hound stayed hooooooommmmmme…

 

She then walked in front of each guard, making a silly face that had them immediately grabbing their sword hilts and looking to Dandowin.  She then walked to Solveig who was looking left and right, still breathing heavy.  She kissed her head and tugged at her ears.  Twirling again, she walked to the throne, sat for a second, and then got up again, walking in a slow circle around the room.  Sigrid was just about to protest this nonsense when she noted that Laurenna was fumbling with the front of Dandowin’s leggings.  How dare she!  Has this whole castle gone mad?  What makes this insanity even remotely stimulating?  She shot glances at everyone, then back to Ingred with anger.  She was just about to end this with a word when Ingred raised her voice uncomfortably loud.

 

    “THIS LITTLE NIX-HOUND HAD ROAST SCRIIIIIIIIIIIIBBBB…

 

Just then the entire room erupted.  Ingred drew Solveig’s dagger from her leggings back and lunged at Solveig.  The guards jumped at the ready but were too late.  Ingred dove at Solveig, who immediately leapt from the seat and landed at Laurenna’s feet.  Ingred slashed at air just behind Solveig’s neck, and there was a great roar, stopping the guards in place.  Before any could register a thought, Laurenna was standing with Dandowin whispering at her ear, his Daedric bow in her hands and an arrow nocked.  She shot an arrow immediately at Ingred to the horror of all present. As they stood shocked, the arrow stopped directly in front of her, blood pouring from the very air as breath was also seen.  Ingred slashed at the air from a crouched position and the chair tumbled forward.  Laurenna shot another arrow and more blood appeared.  Dandowin took his short sword from behind his back and cleaved the air in front of him, which sent a gloved hand to spiral to the guard’s feet.  Immediately the Dark Brotherhood assassin was visible, crawling to a stop as Ingred kicked him onto his back.  She then removed his mask, showing the heavily tattooed Dunmer face that glared at everyone with red eyes, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth. 

 

     “And this little Nix-Hound had none.”  She spat.

Solveig ran to stand behind Dandowin, and Lena screamed.  Sigrid just stood with eyes wide as Lucky growled and strained in Anneliese’s grasp.  Sending Solveig to Sigrid, Dandowin, Laurenna, and Ingred stood before the dying assassin.  He bled from his wounds, and gasped wet air in his dying lungs.  He looked at each of them with contempt, but settled his eyes on Dandowin.

    

     “You…have won nothing…Nord.  It is…already…too late.  You are all dead.”

 


 

Chapter 17

 

 

     It took all morning and afternoon to explain to all what just happened in the throne room.  First Ingred spoke of how she spent the previous nights with Sven Schmidt.  Laurenna lifted her robe to show the newly created Snow Bear cuirass, which Sigrid walked to immediately with Lena in arms, feeling the construction and marveling at the beauty.  Next, she walked to Sonja and apologetically explained how she needed every single ceramic plate, bowl, and platter to pulverize into fine grains.  That morning was also spent in powdering the floors and corners of the castle.  She knew immediately that the locks on the secret passages were ineffective, as evidenced by the pattern of the assassin’s footsteps that had left a clear track from the grotto to the weapons display room.  Knowing that killing the caretaker within would give away his intent as well as his trail, he just helped himself to more poison blades from Dandowin’s stores, and left to the shadows.

Ingred continued, and spoke of how she devised the plan of removing the logs in case any hardheaded Nords would insist on warming the place up.  She needed the castle freezing, because Dandowin and Ingred suspected that the assassin was either using a chameleon enchanted item, or access to consistent spells.  The cold would make its breath visible, which she depended on.  The reason everyone was called to the throne room was a matter of safety.  With everyone in their rooms or about the castle, it would have been impossible to safeguard their safety with a cloaked assassin.  She then explained painfully that she knew from the vicious attack on Lisendra, that the primary target was Laurenna, but now Solveig as well because she had undone the assassin. 

 

     “But what was all that singing and dancing for?” Asked Sigrid doubtfully.

 

Ingred and Laurenna both spoke then.  They explained that with everyone cold and annoyed, they would most likely want to keep their distance, if Ingred showed herself to be clearly unsound of mind.  This was a terrible risk to Solveig, who was asked to place herself in their trust to ferret out the assassin. 

     “I knew if I could get the castle cold enough, eventually, his breath alone would show where he was.  When I walked around the room singing, Dandowin, Laurenna and I were watching the room for his breath.  In the event that didn’t work, there was always Dandowin’s bow, which Laurenna can tell you about.”

 

Laurenna produced the bow, which was loosely put into the weapons bag that Dandowin kept between them.

 

     “We kept it hidden until the last moment because had we had it at the ready, it would have signaled to the assassin the nature of our trap.  The bow has an enchantment that gives the archer wolf-like vision.  In essence, you see the body’s heat.”

 

Ingred walked over to Solveig and stood behind her with hands on her shoulders.  She patted them as she noted to the room the risks.

 

     “It was a terrible risk, but I wanted to make sure that when your Castle Master left, his home was free of the danger.  We’re still not out of this yet, if there is any truth to his dying words.  But for now, the castle is secure.  What we all must do now is fortify this place and make sure there are never any uninvited guests.”

 

Ingred kicked the corpse for emphasis, and hugged Solveig a long time. 

 

Sigrid was silent.  This had been a most exhausting morning, and suddenly she felt the weight of all her concerns on her shoulders.  She walked to Dandowin and Laurenna, who she just smiled weakly.  More of a bit lip than an actual smile, but her eyes told them both that she was tired.  Walking to Ingred next, she put Lena down who walked to her cousin as they held one another.  Sigrid stared at the children for a few moments, before settling her gaze again on Ingred.  When she spoke, it was tired, but full of intent.

 

     “Ingred.  I thank you for securing our home.  I shudder to my bones to think of what this assassin may have planned for my family, and the people of the castle.”

Ingred bowed, the hint of a small smile on her face.  When Sigrid spoke again, it was Ingred’s turn for a tired seriousness.

 

     “Know this, Ingred.  If you ever place any of these children in harm’s way again, friend or no, fealty or no, I will end your life myself.”

Sigrid left, leaving both children and adults to ponder her words.  This was but a small victory for those involved, but the risk was great.  None were angered by Sigrid’s words…perhaps shamed a bit.   Dandowin gathered the children as Laurenna slapped Ingred’s back in friendship.  They all left for a meal, and the preparation of Dandowin’s departure.

 

     For two straight days, with little rest, Solgerd and Granny Torunn worked on Lisendra.  Wulfren was helpless but to watch, but Solgerd insisted that he hold her hand during the entire healing and helping.  Wulfren was torn to pieces with every movement of these two healing women.  They had their hands in the very body of the woman he loved more than life.  They touched parts of her that he could only imagine, and his heart was breaking with each comment they made about how lucky she was to be alive.

     When it was done, they all looked down at Lisendra’s body.  She was no longer pale.  Her eye, which was clouded over was now starting to clear.  The gash that had been rent into her abdomen was sealed and sewn, and Wulfren lost count of exactly how many stitches were placed into the wound.  Poultices, herbs, and wrappings were wrapped about the wound, and Solgerd prepared a series of special potions that were designed to help her not only heal, but to help Lisendra regain her blood loss.  It was going to take a long time, but that is what they now had, time.

     Granny Torunn pulled Wulfren from Lisendra, and he was seated in a chair across from the two women.  Their look was sympathetic, but was also stern.  He had no idea what they had planned to talk to him about, but it was clear that he was expected to pay attention. 

 

     “We’ve dodged the Arrow of Death, lad.  Lisendra sleeps, and will get better, with time and with love.”

Wulfren began to breathe deeply, as if doing so would prevent the tears that he was holding back.  He never took his eyes off the two women, and they him.

 

     “You will have to take full care of this child now Wulfren.  Her recuperation will be long, and when she regains consciousness, we are sure there will be moments of terror, memories, and reflection.  You will have to be stronger than you have ever been, but more than that, you will have to learn to be patient.”

 

Wulfren nodded.  He still didn’t take his gaze from them.  Granny Torunn cleared her throat, as the next sentences were difficult to repeat again.

 

     “Young master Wulfren, while we were able to save her life, only time will tell if she will be able to walk again.  During her healing, we tried to stimulate her to move her legs, but from this early stage, not a wiggle was noticed from a single toe.  You will have to carry her everywhere she needs, and that also means when she must relieve herself.”

 

Wulfren’s eyes were fixed at nothing now.  He seemed to look through them.

 

     “Lastly, and this pains us both to share, you know the damage to her was substantial.  So much so, that it has destroyed her ability to bear you children.  Her womanhood is still intact, and we both feel that she, in time, will still be able to enjoy your love between one another.  But the part of her that would keep your seed and grow your child has been destroyed completely.  We are both, very sorry.”

 

There were no words.  No questions asked.  Wulfren just looked straight ahead as the first tears just fell from the corners of his eyes.  He then breathed heavily, put his head upon the table, and wept loudly.  Granny Torunn and her cousin Solgerd just stood, put their arms about his shoulders, and held him as he cried.

 

     Logs were set ablaze again in Lokken fireplaces, the warmth of their fires brought welcome heat again to rooms, halls, and citizens within.  Ingred and Dandowin saw to the body of the assassin.  He was originally to be dumped outside, and left for the wolves and bears, but Ingred thought that his armor might be of some use in the coming trials.  It was she who had stripped him like a camp follower and actually sewn the knife gashes shut.  These were then taken to the grotto and washed in the waterfall, and now hung drying over the grating of the throne room fireplace.  The throne room, now clean of blood and empty of violence, was the place where the family now sat at dinner, the last meal they would share as Dandowin and Helmer were to leave directly after.  All were surprisingly hopeful.  Perhaps it was the death of the assassin.  Perhaps it was true hope.  Whatever the reason, faces were light again.  Sigrid sat eating her meal, taking time to fork pieces of meat for Lena, who whilst she could feed herself, just loved to be fed by Sigrid.  Solveig and Ingred sat facing one another, eating and kicking each other’s feet in a playful test of wills.  Laurenna, who was originally silent but fell into a bout of silliness as she teased Dandowin with her fork of food, leading him closer and closer to steal a kiss, before eating her meal.  It was pleasant, but it was not missed by anyone the empty two chairs at the end, where Wulfren and the brooding Lisendra would sit.  They would face one another with looks that ranged from purely naughty, to outright disdain.  All, even with the distraction of a family meal, felt their absence.

     The meal done, all bundled up in their robes and boots, while Ingred and Dandowin shouldered the supplies.  It was a solemn affair, the guards Ulfgrun, Esbjorn, Svinghammar, and Jorgen ringed the little family procession with armor and torches.  Many who lived around the castle were outside, bundled and waving their goodbyes.  None wanted any of this, none held Dandowin in judgment, but all wondered inwardly when these tough times would finally come to an end.  Laurenna held Dandowin’s hand, but she looked straight ahead towards the longboat.  Deep inside, she was as rattled as a broken glass, and fearing that one look at her husband would shake her resolve.  Their child within was a mess of movement, as if in direct protest to its father leaving to face an uncertain fate.  As they passed by Leilana’s trade house, Helmer appeared, waving his arm in greeting as a set of robed arms gathered about his waist from behind him.  Laurenna broke from her longboat stare to turn in their direction.  Smiling widely, she hazarded a glance at her husband who was looking at her with pure love.  His smile was reassuring, and he drew her so that they were arm in arm, their steps nearly in unison. 

     At last they reached the longboat, which was already rigged for departure by Skullum and Dagfeal, giving their fellow shipmaster Helmer a chance to spend a few hours in quiet with his newfound admirer.  The majority of the family held back some, and Dandowin turned to face each one.  He went to Sigrid first, who was a rock of strength.  Not knowing what to say, she just smiled and grabbed his ear as she was fond of doing and shook his head.  She hugged him, taking a second to whisper into his ear.

 

     “Come back to us, my son.  Remember your promise, and see that Wulfren and Lisendra are well cared for.” 

He bowed in promise, and then bent low to Lena, who was sad, but strong as her half-sister.  She just hugged him and kissed his cheek, preoccupying herself with her teddy bear after.

     Solveig was next, and he scooped her up and lifted her clear off the ground.  They hugged fiercely, and Laurenna felt herself getting emotional.  Very soon, she thought, you will have a new baby to lift to the skies, one of many, if she has her way.  When Dandowin put Solveig down, he turned to Ingred who immediately handed her share of the supplies to Helmer, who winked and started to stow them on board the ship.  Leilana didn’t join them, preferring to remember their time in the quiet of her own environment.

They were at arms length, and Dandowin put his arms on her shoulders.

    

     “Again, it seems, I owe you more than I can repay my friend.  You saved my family, have saved my home, and now I leave you to save my whole world here.  What can I possibly do to show my good friend how much I love her and appreciate her?”

Ingred just smiled, and nodded slowly.  She then turned in the direction of Laurenna who was smiling, but clearly on the verge of tears.  Her nose red, a clear sign that tears soon would follow.  In a moment of pure mischief, she winked at Laurenna and planted a loud smooch on Dandowin’s lips.  Ingred pulled his ear to her lips and whispered as well.

 

     “We’re even Dandowin, but hear me good.  Don’t make me come after you.  If you break this family’s heart, or leave these children without their father, I will have a necromancer drag your ass right back from Sovengarde!”

To that he just hugged her like a fighting comrade, and turned to his wife.  She was looking at Ingred as she passed her by, with a cocked eyebrow and a half smile.  Ingred immediately slapped Laurenna on the backside to let her know that nothing was meant by the faux affront. 

     There the two of them stood, the family quiet as they watched Laurenna and Dandowin say their goodbyes.  Solveig thought to join them as was her right as a daughter, but she was sidetracked by Ingred’s placing snow upon her ear.  They shoved and giggled a bit, then turned to the couple.

 

     “So, you go to meet your destiny my husband.  I trust you will meet it as the man that freed my family and drove tyranny from my land?”

 

Dandowin held her close, staring at her deep blue eyes catching the light of the torches and the moons above.  He kissed her deeply, but briefly, to not keep his family in the bitter night cold too long. 

 

     “I go to fix what is broken, and to see to it that I never have to leave your side again.  Would that I didn’t, because our child is soon to be here.  Now is the time for my Lady of Lokken to lead her people.  The songs you write, our children will sing until Sovengarde sent.”

Laurenna grabbed his face, and looked in his eyes with a seriousness that was deeper than the Lokken cold night.  When she spoke, it was a desperate voice that gripped Dandowin by the soul.

 

     “Come back to me my love.  I will not bear our child without their father.  You keep your promise to me, so I won’t keep this promise to you.”

 

Dandowin stared at her with equal seriousness.  Without a word, his look deeply reiterated his intention.  He will return.  He must return.  There can be no other choice.  Bending to her belly, he kissed her belly and rose to kiss her deeply once more.  With a smile, he boarded the longboat to the welcome face of Helmer. They gripped arms, and Dandowin looked upon the assemblage before him.  A family.  A people.  A home. 

 

     “I will do whatever must be done Azura.  But I beg you…let me come home to my family.”

 

     The tall mountains of Lokken were still visible from the ship’s stern, and Helmer and Dandowin ate a small meal as the first rays of morning’s light touched the uttermost peaks of the island.  They were hopeful, and still worried.  What was to come, and what he can circumvent, only Azura herself knew.  As the ship dipped and rose, the steering board held firmly in Helmer’s grasp, Dandowin was reassured by his friend’s perpetual smile.  Perhaps Helmer too, made and was given promises to keep.  That his interests were now in his new homeland as well, gave them both a sense of purpose.  We will ride these seas to save our loves, and the Gods help any fools careless enough to try and stop us.

 

Off in the distance, on the Solstheim shore, Dandowin noted the large Imperial ship moving slowly along the coastline.  Perhaps the Emperor had some help to spare after all?  For the first time in a long time, he allowed himself to be confident in their chances.

 

  

 

 

Chapter 18

 

 

 

     The seas were friendly for a change, for the two men from Lokken.  The sky held a blue comparable to Laurenna’s eyes, and the wind whipped about the sails as if the Gods themselves had decided to push them ahead.

     Dandowin manned the steering board, while Helmer checked their position via his maps and charts.  He knew these seas well, and really had no need of them, but to his mind leaving anything to chance with so precious a cargo would be foolish.  Dandowin wasn’t just his Castle Master; he was his friend as well.  The time would come when he would have to board unknown ships to seas that even Helmer never sailed, and that bothered him.  Knowing Dandowin as he does, he knew he would never ask him to accompany him to Akavir.  Few sane people traveled there.  But for now, their destination was a short run to Tel Mora, the odd town where men such as they were most unwelcome, yet secretly desired.

     They were coming in view of the Tel Island chain, a long labyrinth of jagged rock formations and shallows surrounding small islands of the Telvanni ownership.  Dandowin had traveled these chains before, in both friendship and as an adversary.  His destination, the coastal town of Tel Mora, and the great Mistress Dratha herself, awaited him.  He is coming unannounced, which is a bad idea, but he hoped he could exert a little of his Hortator pull just this once.  Lord Vivec would be incensed if he knew he was seeking the very same people he vehemently protested, but it was evidently clear that he could expect little to no help from the last of the God-Kings. 

Looking to Helmer with his usual smile and tall stance, Dandowin thought about what he and his family noticed the day of their departure.  Leilana the Trader always seemed more business than one to entertain a love interest.  Perhaps his smiling friend was able to melt her icy heart enough to share the warmth of her fires, both in the store and under her furs.

 

     “Try to behave yourself in Tel Mora, Helmer.  You wouldn’t be the first Nord to have fallen for the charms of the Bosmeri women there.  Not to mention, Leilana would probably test her axes out on you.”  He chuckled.

Helmer laughed aloud, and walked up to where Dandowin was steering.  He grabbed his hand and they swapped places, Dandowin sitting on the plank in front of his amused friend.

 

     “You know my friend, I would almost welcome an axe, instead of these-“

Helmer lifted the front of his Snow Wolf-hair tunic, and exposed his side.  There were two large bites near his stomach and a series of deep red scratches on his side.  Dandowin’s eyes went wide with shock and amusement, and both men laughed raucously.

     The shoreline to Tel Mora was in sight, the great large mushroom dwellings coming into view through the mist of early afternoon.  There were guards and shipmasters on the shore, and Dandowin rose to lower the main sail.  Tonas Telvanni, a right fine shipmaster in her own right, saw the longboat and waved from shore.  Her sharp Dunmer features shone brightly from the sunlit shore, hair pulled back with long bangs to the sides of her head.  Her family was the one who founded the small city, and it was a wonder that she hadn’t carved a larger standing for herself with the local hierarchy.  The sea, they reasoned, was her true calling, even though she admitted she was a bit clumsy. 

     Helmer slowed the longboat to a stop as the mooring lines were tossed to the shipmasters on shore.  It was decided that while Dandowin attended the unpleasantness of political fencing with Mistress Dratha, Helmer would restock their supplies from the local shops.  In one of his many bags on board the longboat, Dandowin pulled out his fine Robe of the Hortator.  It hadn’t been worn since the day he stood before Vivec himself, and received Wraithguard as well as instructions on how and why Dagoth Ur had to be destroyed.  The smell of it was of old leather, having been wrapped in furs to keep it from the vermin of old castle.

 

     “Well, don’t you look official?”  Helmer laughed aloud.

 

Dandowin smiled and bowed with a flourish.  He then grasped his arm in friendship and handed him a small bag of gold for expenses.  Helmer refused, but Dandowin slapped him on the battle scars he hid underneath his tunic from his lovemaking with Leilana.  This made him yelp as well as laugh aloud, and he acquiesced.

     Tonas Telvanni strode up to Dandowin and threw her arms about his shoulders.  It had been ages since he was through here, the last time to book passage to Tel Vos to go on a clothes-shopping spree for the castle household as well as Anna, Lokken’s clothier. 

His friend noticed the robe immediately and backed away slightly.  Her look turned into an immediate look of apprehension, and this startled Dandowin.  She had seen this robe before, so what was the cause of such concern?

 

     “Dandowin.  I…it’s so good to see you.  Please tell me you’re not here to see Mistress Dratha.”

Dandowin noticed the look in her eyes, and saw it as deep fear.  What has happened to this town since last he was here?  He pressed her for an answer, but her look remained fearful and she just avoided a direct answer.

 

“It is better if you just see for yourself.  She turned to walk away, but ran to him again and just brush-kissed his cheek.  Next thing he knew she was busying herself with knots and deck supplies, carefully glancing his way for a few seconds at a time.

Whatever this was, he wasn’t going to find out standing on the docks.  With a wave he turned to walk up the long ramp to the main quarters of the Upper Tower.

 

     Laurenna and Ingred wasted no time fortifying the castle proper.  Most of the citizens of the town had moved into the castle, but a few, such as Anna the clothier, Aunt Gwen and Borka of the brewery, and of course the locals who were usually found in the Main Hall refused to move.  They figured, that anyone crazy enough to interrupt a Nord and his mead would be sorry in the trying.  Laurenna protested, but Ingred let her know in a whisper that she’d see to it that everyone would be shadowed and protected.  The only citizen of Lokken that gave them both the hardest time of it was Anneliese.  She would adorn herself in her wolf’s head embroidered cape, and disappear in the woods behind the castle, red cloak and all.  It was a complete mystery to them both.  Once, Ingred shadowed her and lost her near the now empty cottage where Granny Torunn lived.  What were stranger were the footprints that walked beside and behind her.  Some were wolves clearly, but one set was unlike anything Ingred had seen before.  Yet, each evening and morning there Anneliese would be, serving breakfast and clearing away dinner dishes.

They decided to give up.  In this, she was definitely the wiser of the two.

  Sigrid stayed in her room most of the time, and only withdrew to eat meals and tend to the children while checking on Laurenna’s progress.  Laurenna noticed the change in her immediately, because she no longer slapped her backside in affection after the examination.  She also did not smile anymore.  They all knew what was wrong, but none bore the courage to talk to her about it.  The absence and words of Wulfren replayed in all of their minds.  It was hard not to think of it.  Laurenna, usually in a corner of the throne room conversing with Dandowin via their wedding rings, would be found crying about it after making sure her husband was safe.

     Solveig on the other hand had taken to an immediate depression since Dandowin left.  When busy, such as her sword lessons with Ingred or eating, she was attentive though silent.  But when at rest, or walking about the castle grounds, she would be in a foul mood and unapproachable.  Ingred tried to speak to her about it in friendship, but Solveig would run away, disappearing into her room.  Once, Ingred heard the sounds of crying from outside the door and thought to intervene, but decided not to.  Everyone in this castle had a reason to feel whatever he or she wishes, and there was still much work to do.

     All weapons such as bows and arrows were removed from the walls, and placed in the towers and in marksman chests on the castle roof.  It was best to keep these at hand.  Under great protest from Agnete, Ingred emptied the entire armory and trophy room of its weapons in preparation for whatever was to come.  Commanding a handful of castle guards they carried these to their stations, as well as placing some of the more lethal glass daggers about and behind certain innocuous items such as flowerpots.  Ingred’s reasoning was that in the unlikely event that another assassin got inside, those who knew were these weapons were could defend themselves stealthily. 

The actual training was surprisingly easier for Ingred.  She took guards in groups of twelve, starting with sorting out the swordsmen from the archers.  Archers were then given the task of both fine-tuning the bows and fletching the arrows.  Only two among them, Bore and Njordgrun, had experience in fletching arrows.  Fowl were scarce on Lokken, but quill pens weren’t.  To the delight of the children and the grimace of the adults, Ingred commandeered all writing quills for use in fletching more arrows.  Before long, Bore and Njordgrun had started training other guards as well as some of the children like Joar and Agnes, to fletch.

     Standing outside in the early morning Lokken snowfall, Ingred stood at the edge of the castle wall and looked out at the expanse of the Lokken land.  There were mountains to the East of them, a dense forest to the South.  Their Northern and Western sides were water and land locked, with the channel of Lokken separating them from the Solstheim shore.  In short, there was no place to escape a large force if they came at them with legions or armies of beasts.  In her heart she knew she would do her best, not just for Dandowin, but also for all of these people that she had come to respect and care for.  It pained her the distance between Solveig and herself, but she understood.  To gain new parents, only to be separated from them by terrible circumstances, it reads worse than any saga she could think of.  There was the crunch of snow behind her, and she was pleasantly surprised to find Solveig walking up to her.  Ingred nodded her respect, and watched as Solveig just took a standing position next to her, also staring out at the expanse of the Lokken land.  She spoke, but didn’t look at Ingred, just the land before her.

 

     “I want you to promise me something.” 

 

     “What is it Solveig?”

Solveig kept her eyes on the land, but was eerily cryptic. 

 

     “If it looks as if we will all be killed, I want you to kill me, and take my cousin away from here however that it may be done.  I don’t want her to see whatever would happen to us, and I want her to live.  She is all the family I have left in the world.”

 

Ingred was angered.  She leveled her gaze at Solveig who she noticed was starting to cry silently.  This softened the anger, but she was still put off by such a request.  Ingred knelt, and on her knees was nearly as tall as Solveig.  She grabbed her shoulders and held her firm, enough to cause her to wince in the pain of it.

 

     “What would your new mother and father say if I were to do such a thing?  Have you no faith at all in Laurenna’s skill?  Or better yet, our Dandowin?  I have known Dandowin far longer than anyone here on Lokken, and if he promised that he would stop whatever was coming, and come back, he will keep that promise.  Your new mother has faith in him.  I find it hard to believe that his new daughter does not.”

 

     Solveig was shaking a bit and the enormity of their situation struck home.  Perhaps she had not been given enough time to get past the assassination attempt, and for that, Ingred was sorry.  But now was the time for this family to show how strong they can be, and of all times, they need one of its strongest members to stand to.

 

     “This I will promise you Solveig.  If it seems that our cause is lost, I won’t give up.  I made a promise to your father that I would protect all of you, and I keep my promises.  As the new daughter of Dandowin and Laurenna, I would of course see to it that you, and the rest of the children here would be either secreted away somewhere or removed from the island somehow.  Would that it could have been done already, but time was surely against us from the start.”

 

Solveig wiped her face with her sleeve and removed her dagger.  She turned it end first and shook it at Ingred.

 

     “Here.  For luck.”  She smiled weakly.

Ingred took the dagger and unsheathed her short sword, the enchanted one that was given to her by Dandowin upon their first meeting.  He had drawn it from a stone they found walking along the shoreline just outside of Balmora, the very day he bought their home.  The next day he took it to the Mages Guild and had it enchanted with the ability to shock all who are struck with it.  It was heavy, but when Solveig grabbed the handle immediately the hair on her young arms stood straight up.  Ingred smiled; a wide-eyed smile full of mischief.

 

     “For luck.” 

 

     The Pelagiad was bathed in a great sunlit morning.  Birds chirped amongst the very active sounds of tree frogs, while children’s voices could be heard laughing and teasing one another in earnest.  Squirrels, active from hunger or play, scurried across the roof of the small cottage just outside the main road of the town.

     It was during this, that Lisendra awoke from a weeklong bout of unconsciousness.  She thrust herself upright with a loud scream, only to fall back down again on the bed. Wulfren was seated nearby on the floor, and immediately rose to check her.  Her eyes were still closed, the effort to keep them open too much for her.  Her breath came and went in long gusts, but she was only just barely lucid. 

Wulfren checked his wife with tender care.  Solgerd heard the scream and went to her doorway from her room, to see Wulfren kneeling again to poor Lisendra.  He carefully pulled down the covers from her to check her dressings, which were lightly seeping.  She had soiled herself, wetting the gown she was dressed in.  Turning to Solgerd, she just withdrew for a moment to reappear with a fresh gown.  Granny Torunn was still asleep, the long voyage and the effort of keeping Lisendra alive had all but taken every bit of her strength.  Handing the gown to Wulfren, Solgerd closed her own robe and drew a bowl full of clean water and a piece of mucksponge.  Helping Wulfren remove her gown, Lisendra moaned and shook as they carefully sponged her forehead, then her chest.  With even greater care Solgerd instructed Wulfren how to sponge the area around the dressing, which would be changed the next day.  She slowly and carefully parted Lisendra’s legs so Wulfren could sponge away her soiling, and then they put her into a new gown that was fastened with small lacings in the front, instead of pulled over her head.  This would allow them to change her dressings and clean her without too much distress.  Solgerd then cut an odd hourglass shaped piece of mucksponge, and told Wulfren to cover her womanhood, as this would help with future soiling. 

     She was covered again, and Wulfren stroked her forehead.  She was warm, but not feverish as before.  Her feet were exposed, and Wulfren raised to cover them, taking one toe in-between his fingers and pressing it firmly.  There was no response.  The women had warned him that it was too soon, but he had to try and see for himself. 

     Solgerd came from the kitchen with a mug of Flin and some apples.  Wulfren ate hungrily and looked to Lisendra and next to Solgerd.  She just shook her head “No”.  No solid food for Lisendra for a while.  When her cousin would rise, they would prepare together a few healing soups and gruels.  That was best right now.  Wulfren started to rise when Lisendra in her sleep grabbed his wrist, murmuring.

    

     “Mm…Love you.  Love you Wulfren.”

 

Wulfren fell to his knees and started to cry.

     

 

 

Chapter 19

 

 

 

     The walk up to Mistress Dratha’s quarters was longer than Dandowin remembered.  There were twists and turns, all the while passing the dimly lit interiors of the Telvanni hollowed out mushroom buildings.  Familiar faces came into view, rather, familiar shapes.  Passing the three armored Bosmeri sisters; Gelduin, Elphiron, and Nathien who patrolled the Upper Quarters, each in turn saluted him with the sign of fealty.  None spoke, which was odd.  Remembering the last time he was here, they were far chattier than they are now.  Something was definitely not right here, as if the whole man-hating thing was ever right to begin with.

     The main ramp to Mistress Dratha was in sight and Dandowin took it up.  Immediately a woman in Bonemold armor wearing a Telvanni Cephalopod helm spun him about, grabbing his shoulder.  The gruff Dunmer voice within he recognized at once.  It was Sadela Areth, the personal guard to Mistress Dratha herself.  A long time ago, he was privileged to see the woman underneath the helm.  They spoke at length of their pasts, which were similar to one another as well as their current dispositions.  Both were tired of taking lives, and both were longing for a simpler life.  Dandowin found his, but he wondered if his friend bothered to look for hers.

 

     “I’m afraid Mistress Dratha is no longer seeing visitors, even one as important as the Nerevarine.” She said quietly as she released him.

 

Dandowin straightened out his robe and grasped Sadela’s hand in friendship.  In a return gesture she removed her helm.  There, with tired eyes that were still deep set in her mature yet beautiful Dunmer face, she smiled.  Her short red hair was plastered to her skin by nervous sweat.

 

     “I come on a matter of great importance, my friend.  It cannot wait, for lives hang in the balance.”

 

Sadela was not moved; instead, she looked as if she were in great haste.  Whatever was going on, it must be directly involving her Mistress.  Looking past her shoulder, he could see that Mistress Dratha’s room was completely dark.  Not a single candle.  Not a single lamp.  Nothing.  This was more puzzling than everyone’s odd behavior.

 

     “She will not see you.   She will not see anyone.  You must go.  NOW!”

Sadela’s face was of pure panic now.  Never in a million years would Dandowin believe that a former assassin such as she would be prone to such fear.  He did not understand, but he respected her care.  It would seem that it was not out of fear for her Mistress, but out of fear for Dandowin’s safety.

 

     “Is there no way?  Who leads in her stead now?  I need her help desperately!”

Sadela was insistent.  She grabbed Dandowin’s arm and started to shove him back down the ramps when a roar came from the darkness of Mistress Dratha’s room.  It was otherworldly, disembodied, and in great pain.  It shook the walls of the surrounding rooms and made Sadela release Dandowin and back away.

 

     “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIT!!!!!”

Dandowin stood prone and ready.  Whatever it was, he would face it.  He protectively moved Sadela behind him but was shocked to see her move in front of him instead.

 

     I will see him.  Please.  Please.  I will see him.”

Dandowin recognized the voice, but could not believe it.  It was Mistress Dratha, but it was changed, echoed, as if she spoke from the bottom of a deep chasm.  Sadela turned to face Dandowin, bowed her head and closed her eyes.  Her eyes were wet, as if she was suppressing tears.  When she opened them, she handed him a single candle from within her armor.  She lit it, and moved aside.  Dandowin moved toward the darkness of Mistress Dratha’s room, taking very slow steps.  As he reached the archway, the candle brought the barest light to the room.  A large shaped shuffled from one part of it to another. 

     Dandowin stood at the archway.  Waiting. 

 

     “Come.  I will not harm you, Dandowin Nerevarine.  I...I...I need your help.”

Dandowin moved a few steps forward.  He stretched out his arm, raising the candle.

 

      “BY AZURA!”

 

     In a small room in the large Nordic structure known as the Thirsk Mead Hall, a newly wedded young woman sweated with frantic breathing in the cool of her room, the Chieftain’s Room.  Long were the months since its former owner, the absent chieftain known by song as Dandowin Nerevarine, had warmed this very bed alone.  In the low light of a single candle, Svenja Snow-Song moved her head to and fro, her legs jerking with the effort of whatever chased her in her nightmares.  She was nude, beautiful as the Maiden of Snow itself, but in complete terror.  To her side, snoring lightly was her husband and new chieftain, Agnar the Unwavering.  Their ceremony was a loud one, with much drinking of mead and carousing in the lower level of the Mead Hall.

     Few could blame the young warrior woman for her action.  A handful felt it improper, without at least contacting the previous chieftain.  But Svenja argued with her dissenters that their former chieftain made a choice when he wed the princess of their neighboring island, Lokken.  There are no secrets on the wind, she argued, and it was clear that he was not going to return and rule.

Now, in the low light of their room, the new spent young chieftain and his troubled wife shared a room and a responsibility for their people.  It was a responsibility that proved to be quite tiresome, at least for her Agnar.  As fair as he was, and as brave as his words, he had little experience with the day-to-day running of an entire community.  The days were mostly the realm of Svenja, as she broke up fights, settled disagreements, doled out the Mead Hall profits to her people.  She kept contact with the Skyrim Mission in Ebonheart as well as the elders in Skyrim itself.  But her nights were not her own, as she spent each one in complete terror, often ending with her vaulting from bed grasping shadows about the room.  This particular night, their wedding night, she had hoped would be different.  Sadly, their ardor was shorter than the candle on the table and her husband fell out cold exhausted from the simplest movements of her body.  Now, she moved in fear, and was trapped in a nightmare that repeated over and over each night.