Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter 2


Straag Rod Book 1: Fate Goes Ever as it Must, Part 1

Chapter 2: The Cart Ride

17th of Last Seed, 4E 201; Falkreath Hold, Skyrim, near Helgen

“Your honor will be your undoing...”

He remembered Rynandor’s words of warning in their final somber moments together. Hushed, emotional whispers  before Rynandor boarded a ship bound for Anvil, joining the ranks of Aprax that would never again feel Summerset’s golden sands upon their feet.

He died, and so will you. But if Honor is what kills me, then so be it, Äelberon thought while he gazed upon the pine tree-lined road, interspersed with scatterings of snowberries and blue mountain flowers. The sun had barely peaked above the horizon.  At least I still have Honor.

And Faith, though neither are serving you well right now, he noted with a wry smile. Still, despite the odds, the years of wandering, he had sought the old demon out, knowing full-well the outcome. You only ever bested the Mer once in combat, Old Mer. That one fateful moment where his whole future was unlocked before him, a spar between two friends on a warm Spring day, the deal sealed between roast duck and orange cakes…. His stomach growled, the sharp pangs letting him know how much it was indeed missing orange cakes. Any sweets, any food for that matter. How long have you gone without food? At least five days?

But he did the right thing for both the Imperial soldiers escorting them, and the Stormcloaks in the cart with him, though he was not certain they would live long enough to enjoy the benefits of the dark fate he had helped them escape from.  Who are you kidding, Sovngarde, to a Nord, is a fantastic place, an endless party with more food and drink than you can imagine. Certainly, beats Coldharbour. You did the Nords a big favor, Old Mer.

All of the prisoners had expected a return to Cyrodiil, but with General Tullius' sudden appearance two days ago, the party turned unexpectedly again towards Skyrim, going West away from Darkwater. There would be no trial, just the sentence.

As dire as his predicament was, Äelberon still had enough life in him to appreciate the beauty of the land. It was lovely. Typical Altmer with your bloody love of plants. The landscape ‘twould make for a fine painting.

Dense forests and steep, fern-covered ravines gave way to snow-covered peaks lined with pine trees when they made the turn toward the mountains in the South. Skyrim was a wild country, very different from the rolling hills of Cyrodiil and vastly different from Summerset. The Northern breeze was a sharp one, a reminder that cold ruled Skyrim, but a part of him really liked the snap of it. The cart jostled and groaned on the uneven road, aggravating his injuries, and every once in a while, a stray rain drop fell.. Äelberon sighed as he continued to stare down the path.

No regrets.

Nah, that is not true, lying Old Mer. You have several. Might as well bring them to light and reflect on them, you do not have much time to make your peace.  

Of the past. The Stormwatch family signet ring that was no longer on the little finger of his left hand. What it would mean for his dearest sister of their Order when it was returned to her grand house back in Alinor. That he was finally dead. The Mer she had tried to protect for so long. Gah, better for her that you are dead. They will not bother her anymore.

And the future. He could not help the smile that found his worn features when he thought of her, gangly like a long-legged filly, with copper hair and a pair of dancing blue eyes that he knew all too well. She was brought by her noble mother, the Countess of Bruma, to the Tap n’ Tack for “dancing” lessons. His final pupil, his final legacy. A ruffian of a girl. Ah, young Lisette, stubborn and ugly, at least by Cyrodiil standards. Another like him who could not just sit and be like everyone else. Wanted to know the way of the sword instead of the ways of needle and thread, batting eyelashes, and good manners that were expected of her. And because he was always indulgent to those who were intrepid enough to nudge open the door into his heart by even a wee crack, he verily taught the lass how to dance, remembering their final spar in the barn of the Tap ‘n Tack. Just like how he had taught her father before her…

And you would be coming back to Lisette, to Bumph, to Decimus, to all you left behind, your mission successful, had it not been for the piece of shit sitting kitty corner to you. Äelberon gave a dark-haired Nord a glare that would make a bear piss. I had him, you shit. I had the creature within my blade stroke, and you took it away. The Human had ruined everything. The plan. Äelberon’s vengeance. The Nord looked away, squirming to make himself look smaller in the wagon, but it still gave the old Mer no satisfaction.

Bah, you would not have come back, you would have died, but the Nord took even the flimsy chance of survival from you.

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake…” A voice interrupted Äelberon’s fuming.

Äelberon shifted his gaze from the road to Ralof, a young Nord, also with his hands bound. His face and blond hair were caked with dust and dried blood, but his bright, blue eyes were clear and focused. “Was never asleep.” He grumbled.

Ralof gave the other Nord a side glance and grunted. “Still can’t believe you followed that across the border. Not worth the trouble in my eyes.”

“He was not my original target.” Äelberon’s eyes found the Nord again. Aye, I am going to make ya piss yer paints, ya shit. For Reman.

“The Justiciar was.” Ralof observed.

Äelberon tilted his head to the side at the keen observation, narrowing his eyes. “You saw a lot from your campfire, human.”

“Still, as much as I hate the Thalmor. Wasn’t worth walking into that Imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there.”

"Damn you, Stormcloaks.” Interrupted the thief angrily. “Skyrim was fine until you came along. Empire was nice and lazy. If they hadn't been looking for you, I could've stolen his horse and been halfway to Hammerfell. You there. You and me - we shouldn't be here. It's these Stormcloaks the Empire wants."

“Do not ever put yourself with me, thief!” He snarled at the Nord, making him start and shrink further into the cart’s corner. “That horse had a name and you got him killed.” His contemplative mood was now destroyed, and he could feel the anger simmering inside him, the frustration of endless failure, the grief for Reman. Was not his best animal, not by a longshot, but he was still a good boy, always did his best.

The Stormcloak raised his eyebrows. “I never knew it was your horse?”

“Aye, he was. Reman. My sweet dapple grey. And you killed him!”  He wanted to lunge at the thief, but he was too far and he released a growl that spoke volumes on what his bound body wanted to do to the Nord.

Ulfric Stormcloak, his noble clothes filthy from travel, suddenly leaned back against his seat in the carriage and kicked the dark thief hard in the shin, making him cry out.

“Thank you.” Äelberon managed. “If I could reach him, he would have gotten worse from me.”

The Jarl nodded and grunted something intelligible through his gag, but Äelberon understood the intent.

 “What’s going on back there?“

“Nothing!” Ralof barked. “Just stretching our legs.”

“You’ll be stretching them soon enough.” The guard responded.

“How ominous.” Äelberon rolled his eyes.

That was stupid, Old Mer. Old Marys really should not be smart arses around humans, not in Nord country, and especially not when they are bound and about to probably be executed.

The guard quickly rose from his place and took out his anger over Äelberon’s show of insolence with his fists. It was not his first beating, though it would probably be his last. True to himself, he took it like a Mer proper and when the guard was finished, he was pushed back into his seat in the cart, releasing a torrent of pain along his back that made him close his eyes as the blood left his face.  

“That’ll teach ya, Knife Ears.” The guard resumed his seat next to the driver.

Hearing that insult again almost made him laugh. 

A concerned grunt from Ulfric prompted Ralof to nudge his shoulder with his bound hands. “You alright? You match the snow.”

Äelberon’s eyes opened slowly and he gave a smirk for show, but he was still seeing the very Magna ge from the pain. “Not my first beating, son. You know that.” he gasped. 

He took a deep breath and assessed the latest injuries, focusing his mind and magicks as best he could considering his condition. Another cracked rib, and the right eye was beginning to swell. Otherwise, the injuries this time were superficial. That particular Nord hit like a wee lass. 

Currently, it was his back that was still giving him the most problems. The push back to his seat reopened several lashes, making more blood soak through his roughspun tunic and down into his trousers. Several of the lashes were now infected, the skin around them puffy and hot, and he could smell the forming puss.  He had lost a lot of blood. The blood and infection were not so easy to fix. He was working on it, but it took time and magical energy to rebuild his body and blood from the flogging he had endured since his capture. The lack of food and sleep did not help his recovery.

Äelberon turned to his right and nodded at Ulfric Stormcloak. “I am alright, friend.” A reassuring smile “You know I can take it. He hit no better than a wee Bosmer. Barely a tickle.”

The Jarl nodded, not looking much better than he did.

Ralof shook his head in disbelief. “I still cannot fathom how you two count each other as friends. A Nord and High Elf.”

“We seem to enjoy being miserable together.”

The gaggled Jarl’s shoulders shook a bit with resigned laughter. Aye! We know what’s waiting for us at Helgen. 

The news of High King Torygg’s death had hit Bruma like a warhammer. It was a city whose Nord population was a reflection of Skyrim’s current state. Divided. Some applauded the death, calling Stormcloak a hero, others called him a traitor, for challenging a  mere boy, ‘shouting him to pieces’ as they claimed. It explained the gag, Stormcloak was what Nords call a Tongue, apparently an old way of magic, from Äelberon’s understanding. He did some reading on Nord ways before he left, but was far more focused on killing the vampire. 

They exaggerated, as Nords typically do. Torygg was not really a boy, young, but not a boy. Boys do not have beards. However, his failure and death spoke volumes on the current state of the diluded Direnni line in Skyrim. How low they had fallen, from what had been such a mighty family in the day.  A real Direnni would have been more than a match for a Stormcloak, Tongue or not. But it was strange in Nord culture, as martial a society as they claimed to be, that they could produce both a High King Torygg and an Ulfric Stormcloak, and then willingly elect the former to be king. It left Äelberon scratching his head, showing a lack of common sense more typically reserved for a flighty Breton court or a room full of Altmeri matrons passing the hooka. It set them up for their current state and that smelled like rotten fish in a barrel to Äelberon. Rotten black and gold fish sporting fine Altmeri cologne, he frowned, knowing well the machinations of his own people.

Äelberon and Ulfric  had recognized each other from their shared time as “honored guests” of now First Emissary Elenwen during the Great War. Before the sack of the Imperial City and later Red Ring. She was their interrogator and as with all Thalmor interrogators, she had loved her job.

He remembered his time under Elenwen’s “gentle” care, the contraptions, the needles. Ulfric had broken under her torture. Understandable. The Thalmor were among the most dedicated at extracting information and manipulation in all Tamriel.  Even a Nord noble, educated, and proven in battle, did not stand a chance. They could make anyone believe anything, especially after the pain they put Ulfric through. Ulfric sincerely believed that he had overheard information crucial to his cause in the Great War. What they had not banked on was that after the Thalmor set the stage for Ulfric's "escape" from the compound, Äelberon managed to convince the Nord to free him too, and the two then did some damage.  Elenwen was grossly humiliated. It was a hollow revenge, considering the permanent damage she did to him, what the damage had ultimately cost him, but at that point, after seventy-six years on the run and on his path towards vengeance, he would even take hollow revenge when it came his way.

Seventy-six years...

Gods, it is now what, he thought, his eyes again turning to the road, his silver brows furrowing in concentration. Trying to remember these things would help him forget his injuries. Seventy-six, he mused, add to that Red Ring, Hammerfell, Dec, Lisette… Ah shit, Dec. You have not seen the boy in two years. He is in Skyrim. Probably already hibernating for the winter in that giant fort of his in the Rift, the big Imperial princess, with not a care in the world, a bottle of Surilie’s in each arm. Or a woman, or two. As it should be. Äelberon felt renewed grief threaten to tighten his chest and he took a deep breath to stop it from surfacing. That was another regret. It was worse than the others.  Worse because the Imperial Decimus Merotim, for all his crassness and vice, for all his roughness, of all those he had known since Apraxis, it was he who had managed to replace something of what Äelberon had he had lost since his exile. Had managed to diminish a bit of the sorrow. He hoped that Decimus would never learn his fate. Because the boy would lose it, kill every Old Mary in sight, and get himself into trouble or worse and Aelberon did not want that fate for the boy. Auri-El’s bow, he is over forty-five now, not a boy, not for a long time. You are acting like ol’ ‘Nandor now, thinking everyone a child—his eyes really started to sting—Think of something else, quickly, Old Mer. The total  years. So, one-hundred and three years. One hundred and three years of the Thalmor searching for someone who was already dead, already lost.  Apraxic in the worst sense of the word.   

And humans think Orcs have the worst grudges. No, hands down, it was the Altmer. No race holds a grudge, either personally or as a collective race, like the Altmer do.  Since the very Dawn Era. Himself included, he allowed himself a weak smirk, riding another wave of pain on his back.

He had read about his own death.  A funny thing to read about your own death when your heart still beats. The Thalmor-endorsed “official” and “truthful” account of the history of the Summerset Isles – whoops! Alinor, Old Mer, it is Alinor – which, of course, enjoyed wide publication throughout all Tamriel.  According to that account, he died sometime during the Void Nights, a victim of a vampire raid at his home city of Dusk. Other books said different things. Some tragic. Some plain silly, involving brothels and whatnot. But he was definitely dead. At least to his People. The Thalmor, another group entirely, knew the truth, and still hunted him, because it would be bad for them if dead legends suddenly lived.

So, deep down, he knew that the events of the last four days ago that resulted in this cart ride, was no Imperial ambush. This was a Thalmor ambush with Imperial trappings. The Stormcloaks were not the true prize in the wagon.

The last living Knight of the Crystal Tower was.  

At least to the Thalmor.

It was four days ago when he was finally captured, a little after the Imperial ambush. He gave Vingalmo credit, he had been outsmarted by that damn vampire. The prey knew the predator as well as the predator knew the prey. Knew his weaknesses so very well. So many years of near misses, escapes, disappointments... He expected no less from Vingalmo. He had wanted to confront Vingalmo directly with his vampirism; show the Thalmor what their “favorite son” truly was. He was told by numerous vampire hunters to simply shoot him in the back with a silver arrow and be done with it. One head shot would have been enough, his skill with the bow would have seen to that. Do it and go on living. It is what Decimus had told him to do, as well as Bumph, Nelecar, Isran, Falion, Kematu… 

Even young Lisette, during his last night at Bruma, knocked on his door and came quietly to his room at the Tap 'n Tack, understanding why he needed to go, but still begging him to make a quick end of it while she held him tightly. He hugged her back, kissed the top of her copper head and told her it would be alright and that she needed to keep practicing her swordplay, like a good daughter of the Count. He left at dawn without another word, left the friends he knew in Bruma and beyond, the life he had attempted to rebuild…

But there will never be a new life for you, while they still cry from their graves, and you know it.  A hundred and three years without peace. Better to die, taking Vingalmo with you. Besides, Äelberon did not want to do it that way, sneaking, cheating, like an assassin in the shadows. He wanted hand to hand combat, like their spars of old, knowing full well the odds were stacked high against him.  On the other hand, Vingalmo was alone and Äelberon seized the opportunity. It was stupid and he made a poor judgment call, but his emotions were high and Vingalmo had so much to answer for.

He had turned from his pursuit of the thief in the woods when he noticed the Justiciar by himself in a clearing. Ignoring the instinct that had served his survival for so long, Äelberon walked towards him, his head held high, his face painted white in a bold pattern, his calling card when he went into battle in Auri-El's name. His silver plate armor glistening in the sun’s waning rays. Made by his mother, the eagle’s etchings still fresh. He remembered how he bent his body to his will to fit into it again, put upon his two hundred and forty-three year old shell the armor last worn when he slew Bet. Just so the Bastard could see that he was still the same.

Koor, made to follow, but Äelberon bade him stay at the forest’s edge. 

The smile on Vingalmo’s face when he approached was vile.  Golden and perfect to everyone else. Blanched to Äelberon, save the dull orange orbs that were his eyes.

“Ah dear, old Ronnie, it’s been years.” He had said sarcastically, reclining on a tree stump, looking up at the old, grizzled Mer he had been hunting for so many years. “What brings you to Skyrim?”

Äelberon glowered, his blood boiling with fresh rage. Vingalmo dared use that name! 

He remembered snarling a “you.”

Äelberon then drew his weapon, a silver blade well-proven against vampires, but stopped dead when the sun disappeared into the horizon. It was not the sun, he had vanquished many vampires in complete darkness before, it was what caught his eye beyond where Vingalmo sat.

There was a sudden commotion.

One was not enough for the thief. He had to be greedy.

“Horse thief!”

“Grab him!”

The thief, riding Reman, suddenly barreled into the clearing, another horse followed by leather lead. Imperial soldiers stormed through in pursuit. An archer with a crossbow took aim and Äelberon held his breath, the aim was too low, too low to hit the thief.  

Reman screamed.

The thief fell with the horse and Äelberon’s stomach turned when equine bones broke. The thief rolled out from under Reman just in time, dazed, but alive.  

He heard his own hoarse cry, the shock of unexpected loss. But he faced Vingalmo again. One swing was all it would take, and he lifted his sword to strike.

It was then that he noticed the campfires behind the vampire’s provoking grin. Hidden from him in the trees until they glowed in the waning light.  

“Look at all those people, Ronnie.” Vingalmo purred.

Gods, so many of them. Time seemed to stop for him and he thought about what he was about to do as the auroras began to dance in the sky. He gazed at the Thalmor and Imperial soldiers that had now begun to take notice of the two former friends as they inspected Reman in his death throes and made to arrest the thief groaning in the grass.  The bound Stormcloak soldiers were also watching the growing crowd from just beyond the tree line.

How many would die to protect this monster, he had thought.

None knew what Vingalmo really was. To them, he was a Grand Justiciar, an Altmer of great importance to the Empire, an Altmer to be protected, lest the Aldmeri Dominion get wind of his death and shatter an already weary peace.  And if Äelberon lost, how many more would die so that Vingalmo could guard his secret? They were oblivious to the danger, to the power of the creature before him. Vingalmo was nearly unstoppable in that other, monstrous winged form, perfectly capable of killing everyone here to maintain his Illusions. No one deserved to die that way, be they Imperial, Stormcloak, or even Thalmor. No one deserved Coldharbour. This was the trap Vingalmo had sprung and it was indeed Äelberon’s honor that would be his undoing.

“Them or you. Decide.” The vampire whispered, his smile broadening. “You know what I am capable of, Ronnie. You’ve seen it yourself. I’ll kill them all, and then you last, and I will be blameless. You know it.”

Their dialogue played out in Äelberon’s mind as if it had just happened. The harsh cruelty that is Altmeri memory, especially his own. The vampire barely concealed his fangs, shrugging his slender shoulders incredulously. No, Äelberon would not sacrifice these people for revenge. He kept to his tenets too dearly. The vampire had him.

Äelberon had heard a faint rustle at the edge of the woods and turned his head just enough to see. His little boy. With eyes like the Summer skies. His Koor. He dropped his sword to distract the vampire and gazed at the pensive husky, while at the same time trying not to give the animal’s presence away. “Go.” He mouthed. Before Vingalmo finds you and does to you what he did to your family. Instinctually, the dog left, like a ghost, understanding. Or… maybe he remembers more about that dark day than you think he does, Old Mer.

He then fell to his knees and surrendered, further turning Vingalmo’s attention toward him. Koor will live, ya shit and maybe, just maybe, the snowberry will tear off yer throat while ya sleep.

That night, the Thalmor stripped him of his armor and weapons and had him bound to a tree with a sturdy thick trunk. The Stormcloaks were then brought to him and forced to sit down. Vingalmo himself appeared and at first, Aelberon thought the vampire was going to finally shear his priestly hair, the ultimate punishment one can enforce upon a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, but no, the Justiciar took great care to move his long, thick plaits over his shoulder to expose his back.

“Later.” Vingalmo whispered almost seductively in his ear as he gently let go of the final plait, his gloved fingers lingering on the contour of the braid, before tracing the muscles of his shoulder and further down to his ribs. Äelberon instinctively recoiled, making the vampire chuckle. “Don’t like that, do you? You reek, Dusken, but the hair is still beautiful, soft, as thick as it ever was…” It was murmured in a way that made Aelberon’s stomach turn, made Aelberon think on Vingalmo’s wife and children back in Alinor. Did they even know the perverse thing Vingalmo had become? “Only part of you that ever was…”  

The expression on Vingalmo’s face was cold and the vampire faced the Stormcloak soldiers, giving them the smallest of smiles, before turning Aelberon around to face the tree as he drew his eight-pronged lash from his belt.

What was then done proved too much for human eyes and the Imperial Captain had to step in, stopping the Justiciar. Hurried words spoke of her soldiers’ growing discomfort and Vingalmo obliged, apologizing profusely, but reassuring that this was indeed a terrible enemy to the Empire and the further punishment was necessary in accordance with the rules of the Aldmeri Dominion. Punishment indeed! The poor, poor tree! Äelberon was still spitting out little bits of bark from how hard he bit that tree to not cry out, putting everything into his powerful jaw muscles to not give Vingalmo the satisfaction of his pain. He bore the beating in complete silence, only moving from the momentum of each blow.  It was a battle of wills and though Vingalmo had made him bleed, it was Äelberon’s victory. The Nords saw that, and from then on, he was treated with a measure of respect among the Stormcloak prisoners.

Äelberon’s eyes again scanned the path to what he guessed was Helgen, imagining Skyrim’s map in his brain.  What was done, was done.

“Where are they taking us? The thief was now beginning to realize his predicament. Good riddance to you for killing my Reman, may Auri-El forgive me for my continued anger.

“I don’t know where we’re going, but Sovngarde awaits.” Said Ralof, answering the thief’s question.

“I’m not ready to die!”

“Where are you from, thief?” Ralof asked.

“Rorikstead. I’m… I’m from ‘Rorikstead. Why does it matter where I’m from? Why do you care?”

“A Nord’s last thoughts should be of home.” Ralof explained.

“I don’t want to die.” The thief repeated, looking around the wagon for a way to escape.

Äelberon gave him another glare. “Should have thought of that before you took my horse.”

Ralog gave Äelberon a look. “Have a little care, friend, not everyone is as prepared. Thief or otherwise.”

Those words were answered by a bitter smirk. “Youngling, you know nothing about being prepared.”

“Hmph, well…” Ralof turned to Ulfric Stormcloak. “Told you there was an Altmer somewhere under all those muscles, my Jarl. Arrogant fuck.”  Ulfric’s shoulders shook in laughter. “Still, you can take a beating like a Nord, so we won’t hold it against you. So, oh wise old one, where do the Old Marys go when they die?”

“Not Sovngarde.”

“That’s obvious. They would nigh ruin the party up there.”

“Indeed.” Äelberon cocked an eyebrow, letting his finest Altmeri “snark” shine for all the Nords to see. “Cannot be sitting up in that golden hall with a nose in a book, now can we?” His expression turned cold, realizing that just maybe the Nords were smarter after all with their endless party in the heavens. “The dead are burned, becoming dust, and are put in tiny urns in dark stone tombs lit with yellow-orange crystals that are but a shallow semblance of Magnus’ glory. But only the best move on, only the worthy transcend. The rest, nothing, just dust…”

“Who are worthy?”

“The Praxic.”

“What does that mean?”

“The accepted.” Äelberon replied and the Nord fell silent, which is what Äelberon wanted, though he was conflicted by his own bitterness.  It was not who he was, but he could not help it. He had been in terrible situations before, but none felt as final as this. Save their deaths at Vingalmo’s orders, the event that caused all of this in the first place.

The old Mer scanned the distance behind the cart, his eyes traveling past his fellow prisoners, seeing his homeland, its golden shores, its great fruit trees, and clinging wisteria, heavy with blooms. Seeing the golden flowers born from his Lenya’s ashes in her coastal tomb. Smelling their heady fragrance in his mind one last time, feeling the salt breeze upon his face. As if he had been there only yesterday… A flash of black and white suddenly moved out of the corner of his eye and the memories of his Homeland again became the snowy forests of Skyrim’s Jerral foothills. He blinked when he caught the twitch of a tail and his chest tightened anew.

His boy was following. Keeping up, despite the hardship. The display of devotion and hope moved the Elf greatly and he blinked away his despair. If your boy is seeing this through to the end, then you will, with back straight, like the knight-paladin you are. He turned to Ralof, finding the priest deep within himself. “But, if we have lived well, and are lucky, we go to Aetherius. Otherwise, we wait in the Dreamsleave until we are sent back to Mundus to try again.” Äelberon managed a half-smile, laced with his brand of sarcasm. “I am fairly certain; I will be sent back to Mundus. Too many sins from this old one, youngling.”

That made Ralof chuckle and Äelberon nodded. Job well done, you old priest, ya still got it. The cart hit a hard bump, making Äelberon see the Magna ge again, as they approached the gate of a small Imperial settlement. A soldier called out to the General, informing them that the Headsman was waiting. The thief then proceeded to pray to every bloody Divine, while Äelberon, Ralof, and Jarl Ulfric watched an Imperial in fine dress armor, General Tullius, ride his charger towards First Emissary Elenwen, who was also on horseback, flanked by her Thalmor guards. Vingalmo and his men had also broken from the envoy and rejoined the Emissary’s small company.  Äelberon observed the General speaking with the two head Justiciar. Elenwen gestured with her head towards Äelberon’s carriage and Tullius looked back towards them, setting his jaw. Ulfric grunted and turned away angrily. Ralof instinctively tried to cross his arms over his chest in frustration, but the binds didn’t let him and he ended up pounding his fists upon his thighs. The horse thief gulped. Äelberon was sorely tempted to give the pair of Justiciars a big, fat juicy raspberry while staring at them cross-eyed, and he felt his tongue really want to escape his mouth, but the beating in the cart was enough for today. Besides, show some bloody dignity, old Mer, though he suspected ol’ Lilandtar would have been pleased with the gesture.

Ralof muttered angrily, “Look at him. General Tullius, the Military Governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn Elves.” His eyes found Äelberon. “Present company excluded.”

“I have called them ‘damn elves’ plenty of times in my day too, lad.”

The carts drove past the town's citizens who had paused their daily activities to watch the proceeding.  It was not every day a Jarl of a major hold was being escorted to his death, nor was it every day so many High Elves were seen at Helgen, Äelberon imagined. His keen Altmer ears picked up bits of conversation along the way, mostly coming from a small home to his left. A Nord lad, perhaps ten or eleven winters, was sitting cross-legged on a wooden deck adjoining what Äelberon assumed was his home, his face wedged between the wood beams of the deck’s railing.

“Who are they, da? Where are they going?”

Äelberon saw a stout red-haired Nord put a hand on the lad’s shoulder, though he kept a wary eye on the procession of prisoners. “You need to go inside, little cub.” 

“Why? I want to watch the soldiers. They have prisoners…” Äelberon was briefly caught off guard when the boy’s eyes actually locked with his. The boy was curious, studying him. The lad then turned to his father. “Look at him. He’s all white, da. Like snow. Never seen one like that before. And look at his eyes!”

“Inside the house.” The Nord pulled up his son to a standing position. “Now.” Äelberon heard the muttered “demon” before the door to the house slammed shut as they drove past. Well, it is not the first time you have been mistaken for a vampire or a demon.

The cart made an abrupt stop at Helgen’s far wall and Äelberon could sense the thief’s growing dread. He was going to run; all the signs were there. The last act of desperation when one is no longer rational in the face of death. He had seen soldiers cross that line plenty of times in his long life. The thief pleaded to Äelberon, now bloody forgetting everything that had transpired between them.

“You’ve got to tell them! We weren’t with them! This is a mistake!” He begged.

“Bloody Oblivion.” Äelberon scowled. “You took my horse!”

“Shor’s bones!” Ralof barked. “Face your end with some courage, thief. Taking a man’s horse is like taking his life. Face up to it like a proper Nord.” He glanced at Äelberon. “Besides, they beat that Old Mary worse than any of us. What makes you think they would listen to him?”

Äelberon was about to speak when they began the roll call for the prisoners. They were dragged roughly from the cart and forced upon their knees.  Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak was called first, pulled up roughly and dragged towards the General, followed by Ralof, who hailed from the town of Riverwood. Äelberon imagined his mental map again. Ah, Northeast of Helgen, a small village.

Then they called the thief and as the guards approached the man, Äelberon was right; Lokir of Rorikstead, killer of his Reman, in an act of utter desperation, attempted the impossible...

To flee.

He was struck down with a better aimed arrow before he even reached the gate, and no, Äelberon was not sorry. Justice had been served, at least for his poor Reman. Fitting that an arrow took him and that he too knew fear when he died. Reman had never been a brave animal. Dutiful and loving in his own way, but skittish and possessing a frail spirit to the point of being neurotic. His former master had been abusive, breaking the animal, and despite Aelberon’s gentle care, Reman never fully recovered mentally.  The Nord fell close to where Koor was hiding, spooking the dog in the process. The husky responded by retreating again to the shadows to observe the proceedings, shifting positions nervously as he was prone to do when conflicted or agitated. Äelberon felt sorry for the damn animal. Hopefully, he would survive his master’s demise. Find the young boy maybe? That could be a sound match, he thought as he was forced to a standing position by two Imperial guards. Your turn.

“Wait.” Spoken by a young Imperial guard. Well, a Nord wearing Imperial armor. He appeared to be scanning the prisoner lists. Aye, I won’t be on that list, son. My dossier’s much, much thicker than that wee little book you are holding there. "You there. Step forward. Who are you?”

The Altmer straightened his shoulders, easily adding to his already impressive height, ignored the agony that was his back and stepped forward. Alright, time to show these humans how a real Elf conducts himself in the face of death. He squared his jaw in defiance and gave the First Emissary a sidelong glance when he spoke. “I am “Äelberon of Dusk, Knight Paladin and Priest of the Holy Order of Auri-El, Slayer of Bet, and a Hero of the Summerset Isles.”  He lowered his head in a noble bow.  

Watching the old bitch and the vampire seethe on their horses was priceless because the younger Mer around them were suddenly doing serious double takes, their faces contorted with confusion and with some, recognition. Aye, that is exactly who they are about to kill, younglings. The very Mer from your childhood storybooks.  They dinna tell ya that, did they? Äelberon was enjoying every moment of it. Aye, I am going to die with the truth on my lips, a fire in my heart and freer than the damn lot of you.

The Imperial guard looked questioningly at the Captain. “Captain. What should we do? He’s not on the list?”

For a moment, the Captain also looked confused while she checked the guard’s lists. She then gave a quick look to General Tullius, who then turned to Elenwen and Vingalmo, tall on their horses. Elenwen reached for a thick leather—ah there it is, that fat old dossier, gonna show Tullius how I ate whole babies raw, worshipped all the Daedric princes while fucking goats, and practiced necromancy naked under a full moon, eh? They both seemed unemotional, cold, while Tullius skimmed through the dossier, especially to the humans, but Äelberon could see the discomfort. Altmer could see emotions that no human could understand. The complexity of putting a former friend to death because of their absolute lies. As rotten to the core as both were, he could still see it, the hesitancy, even after all they had done to each other, after all the years, there was a measure of guilt.  Do it, ya shits, he dared them with his eyes, his stance, nostrils flaring in defiance. I am ready to die. I have been from the very beginning, ever since you took everything from me.

He was, and that was what poor Lisette ultimately did not understand. There was never any intention to return to Bruma. Like an old Orc seeking “Good Death”, he wanted to die and maybe take Vingalmo with him. Give himself and his family the peace they all sorely needed. The First Emissary caught his hard glance and then nodded to the General as he returned the book, who finally nodded to the Captain. Äelberon nodded and squared his shoulders, unbroken by the Thalmor. It is done, good riddance. I am ready.

“Forget the list,” The General ordered. “He goes to the block.”

“Yes sir.” Nodded the Captain. “You heard him, soldier.”

“By your orders, Captain.” The soldier turned to Äelberon. “I am sorry, we will make sure your remains are returned to Summerset Isles.”

“No.” The First Emissary suddenly spoke, making the solider’s head turn. “The Apraxic do not ever go back.”

“But the hair!” Äelberon heard Vingalmo hiss under his breath.

The Emissary’s face became pinched and she took a moment to think, her brow furrowing. She exchanged hurried words with Vingalmo that Äelberon could not make out. When they finished, their Altmeri demeanor had returned in full force and she faced General Tullius. “When he has been beheaded, keep the body and do not disturb it. High Justiciar Caemal and I will return after some pressing business that we must attend to. We trust that you will complete this simple task for us, General. As a  gesture of good will between the Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion.”

Aelberon’s mouth dropped open, cursing his prior surge of pride. They were going to kill ones who recognized his name, or at the least do dark magicks upon them. Take memories from their minds, make them forget. No one would know and no one would care. He looked at the Emissary, shaking his head in revulsion. What happened to you, Lennie?  

The General nodded. “I’ll carry out your sentence, but why keep the body?”

“There is a ceremony to be done for such a grievous criminal against Alinor.” She replied.

Ralof leaned towards him. “What are they going to do to you?”

“Castrate me and cut off my hair, preserve the pieces, and deliver them to the High Justiciar in Alinor personally.”  Aelberon shrugged. “They are being merciful, usually that is done while you are still quite alive.”  

“Ysmir’s beard!” Ralof swore under his breath and the young Nord guard gave them a look. He had heard as well. “What the fuck did you do?” Ralof quickly asked.

Äelberon looked to the distance, seeing again his golden shores, the clear waters, his beloved city by the Sea and he managed a smile.

“Loved my Homeland.” 


Chapter 1 * ToC * Chapter 3

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  • I quite like the idea of an older Dragonborn. The assumption in a lot of stories is to have a young hero who comes into their own, but there's something more interesting about someone who's already lived a long life with its share of triumphs and regrets. And, in the case of a Mer, that life can be very long indeed.

    There is a lot of exposition in this chapter but you handled it in a narrative fashion, so it flows well. The storyline of Skyrim is actually pretty interesting from an Altmer perspective, since the Thalmor are so heavily involved. To what degree would an Altmer Dragonborn be comfortable going against their people? Though in Äelberon's case, his people have long since turned against him. Good insight onto how totalitarian regimes tend to edit out those whom they think are problems.

    Äelberon's personality is well-realized. He's seasoned, a bit jaded but not cruel. It seems like he used to be somewhat pro-Empire though I'm not sure if that would still hold, given that he's being executed on their orders (and the Empire is at least pretending to play nice with the Thalmor). Though as I recall, the Stormcloaks are more indebted to the Thalmor than are the Empire in some respects.

    Look forward to reading more!

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