Straag Rod, Book 1: Fate Goes Ever as it Must, Part 1
Chapter 8: The Scars
Warning: This chapter is for mature audiences. Includes caste discrimination, implied homoerotic fantasies, cannibalism, and cultural acceptance of non consensual sex in Altmer society.
That being said, I had a fantastic time giving Vingalmo a perspective in the grand scheme of Straag Rod and I'm glad his voice found a place in the Tower Chapters. So what's one chapter more in that saga, eh?
He was ruined.
Vingalmo studied his friend’s features as the older Mer watched the lights of the Daedric camps flicker and dance between the stumps of the charred forest near the battlements. Ronnie had never been handsome. His face was not the correct shape, not the coveted inverted triangle, his nose far too hawkish, but it had been a noble face, arresting at times. Though deep set, the eyes were not squinty. Instead, they were almond-shaped with a keen, often warm, expression, that Dusken twinkle. The mouth possessed a becoming shape, almost sensual, especially when he smiled. But now?
He was ruined.
Vingalmo couldn’t help staring, feeling his anger and sadness simmer anew. None who knew Ronnie in the Tower really could keep their eyes away from his face. Even the Archmagister’s golden eyes on occasion, during meetings, during lessons, could be seen staring at the now jagged thin lines of raw pink flesh that streaked across Ronnie’s snow-pale face. Healers tried desperately to help, but to no avail. The scars simply didn’t heal properly, it had been too late, he took too long to seek care. He wanted to make sure they were ‘alright’, Ronnie had said. He was being a Knight.
Ronnie had stopped an attempted robbery by a group of soldiers against peasants, resulting in a violent skirmish. Tower Knight against Altmeri soldiers, grunts, but still trained to the lofty standards of the People. He was blocking a peasant from injury with his body when he was slashed in the face by a soldier wielding a dagger, nearly losing his left eye. Two slashes. The first began just below the left eye, cutting a jagged line across the bridge of his nose, ending just before the middle of his right cheek. The second cut diagonally across his left cheek, intersecting with the first , close to his nose. But, still, despite the great crime committed against him, he fought to subdue the robbers, taking no life. The Mercy of Auri-El , Vingalmo thought with a bitter smirk.
The soldiers were publicly flogged and then held for final judgement. Protect the innocent , Ronnie had sworn . They were fucking peasants! Look what protecting them has gotten you, Ronnie. The Knight-Paladin of Auri-El protested vehemently and did not want to press charges, citing that the Mer were under duress, that they needed help, guidance. They indeed seemed repentant, so shocked that he, a Priest and member of the Wise, had not killed them outright. He wanted to show mercy in accordance with his Tenets, and he was simply a kind Mer, but what Ronnie wanted the moment Vingalmo’s conjured blade slid through the offending Mers’ chests at the Archmagister’s stern command didn’t matter. Ronnie didn’t understand, but he and the Archmagister did, Magister Lilandtar as well, even his own lenya.
He was ruined.
All understood and they cried for vengeance. Vengeance for their beloved Eagle who was good and true. Ronnie was a Priest and a member of the Wise. To strike one of that echelon. It only meant one thing. Death. The law was transparent, clear. And Vingalmo was glad to strike the blow for his brother in arms. Because it wasn’t just for the pride of the Wise and to maintain the proper social order in this time of great uncertainty. His friend had been destroyed. His sweet, kind, dear friend who, for all his oafishness, had been somehow beautiful in his own special way. There would be no marriage now, no house, no legacy for him. Because no She-Elf would ever take him as husband with a face like that.
The revenge for Ronnie was worth the Priest shutting down in a brooding grief for several days afterwards, not communicating with any of them beyond acknowledging and following orders. Not understanding what all the fuss was about. Lamenting the waste of life. ‘It is only my face and not worth killing for’, he had said.
Only his face, Vingalmo frowned. All was forgiven eventually and they were fine again. Better even, at least in Vingalmo’s eyes. Because the Tower finally seemed to acknowledge who Ronnie was. They looked past his Fishermer’s heritage and saw what he had achieved. He was a member of the Wise and it served the soldiers right. You do not strike a member of the Wise. You do not ruin such a promised life so flippantly.
But he was still ruined all the same, Vingalmo released a tiny sigh, unable to gaze anymore upon Ronnie’s ugliness.
Ronnie turned at the sigh, furrowing his brow when he observed what was in Vingalmo’s hand, his mouth slightly agape with amused shock. “Galmo, does Master Lilandtar know?”
Vingalmo took a defiant bite from a sweetroll, savoring the sweet icing and putting away his melancholy. Stolen, straight from Master Lilandtar’s heavily guarded and booby trapped private stash. Illusion magic is a wonderful, wonderful thing, bless my teachers forever. “No, and I don’t care if he finds out. Besides, if I’m going to die, I’ll have the memory of something delicious in my mouth.” He broke off a piece and offered it to Ronnie. “Want some?”
The Dusken wrinkled his nose, shaking his head. “They are too crumbly and dry.”
Vingalmo burst out laughing. “Crumbly? Dry? Compared to what? That sawdust bread you’ve been eating? The rat jerky? You must be so sick of rice by now? Rice without even salt. Or even dried wisteria for seasoning. Now, that’s absolutely wretched.”
Ronnie’s lips thinned to a line of disapproval. “At least I know what I am eating.”
“I’m eating a sweetroll, Ronnie. There is no dispute on that.” Vingalmo grinned, relishing another bite. “And yesterday, the beef was particularly excellent. Very juicy, Ronnie, so pink and tender. You’re missing out. The mages in the Tower have outdone themselves.” He gave Ronnie a once over and aye, the firm cheeks were more defined, and an ever so slight hollow was starting to form under his clear, red-orange eyes. It made the scarring worse and Vingalmo's soul railed against the tragedy of it all. “You’re going hungry, my friend, when you don’t have to.” He observed, his tone growing serious. “And so is your lenya.”
“We have gone hungry before.” The Dusken countered.
“They know what they are doing. After all, they are only beasts and we are the People. Should we starve? Should the People die when there is a way for us to live? We have already eaten the horses. We have no cavalry. Our soldiers must remain strong, so we can fight. Is that so wrong?”
“No.” Ronnie conceded after some thought.
“There you have it.” The argument was won. “At any rate, tastes just like a fine steak, a red meat, very much like beef, at least once the mages have worked their magicks. Remember your first steak, Ronnie?”
“Like it was yesterday.” The Dusken closed his eyes briefly, his face blissful. Bet you’re tasting it, eh?
“Was the day we met.” Vingalmo continued, enjoying the memory. “Can’t believe you had never had steak before.”
“Well, I am from the coast and it is not an allowed food for my station.”
“True, but you like your steak. I distinctly remember you putting away two large ones, such a piggy Dusken...”
“But, no one should die, Galmo.” Ronnie suddenly shuddered, facing the Daedric camps again, his mood growing quiet. “It is wrong. To kill them is wrong.”
“Surprised you’re so squeamish, rat eater.”
“I would rather you ate rats.” Ronnie replied emphatically.
“Beasts all the same.”
“No, not the same.” The Dusken shook his head in total disgust, his forehead gaining creases of worry, as if he was afraid for Vingalmo’s mortal soul. The look from his friend made the Kinsmer want to forget the whole conversation before Ronnie started another argument and they would spend another few days not talking to each other. They didn’t agree and that was that. Besides, it wasn’t like they were being cannibals. They were eating the meat of beasts. Nothing more. Ronnie was being extremely unreasonable, stubborn. And he was hurting for it. How was he supposed to fight properly if he was starving?
Vingalmo took a lick of frosting from the sweetroll, enjoying the rush of sugar into his system and decided to change the subject. “How is your Lenya, by the way?”
“Exhausted. They ran out of supplies late yesterday. I will need to tend to her rheumatism again. Her joints are badly inflamed, she did too much.”
“She is Dusken, what did you expect?”
“Well, at least she doesn’t have to kill herself at the forge anymore.” Vingalmo relaxed, leaning against the wall of the battlements, breathing in the rather fresh night air. For the first time in many days, they could tell it was nightfall, see the moons through the burning sky, like a teasing veil. There was even a gentle breeze. To him, it felt like the cool summer rains that would fall upon his ata’s coffee plantations at the foothills of Eton Nir. “I honestly don’t know why the Archmagister sent the smiths to make weapons in the first place. It seems to me an exercise in redundancy. Unless they are making weapons for you!" He allowed himself a peal of laughter, enjoying his sugar buzz. "You are the only one who uses them anyway. What? Is Äelberon of Dusk, the mighty Eagle of Auri-El, going to break his blades on the armor of every Daedra he meets?”
“I have my weapons.”
Vingalmo moved closer to his friend, his golden-armored hand finding the Mer’s forearm. “I’m teasing you, friend, you know that, right?”
“Even a dunce like me can figure that out, Caemal.”
The Kinsmer relaxed when Ronnie called him by his House name, meant he was in a funning mood and Vingalmo liked that. It made the scars on his face fade a little before Vingalmo’s eyes and his friend wasn’t so ruined.
“But I truly don’t understand the Archmagister’s motives.” Vingalmo mused after a few moments had passed, now standing next to Ronnie, though he chose not to face the Daedric camps and the burning skies. “We do not need them. Our conjured weapons serve us well.” Feeling the energy, he allowed his hand to gather in the deep, cold purple light of Oblivion. He raped from the unholy plane and brought forth his own prisoner in the form of a jagged sword. Bound to serve him, bound to kill for him. A slave. Ronnie’s nostrils flared in response, his eyes narrowing and there it was, a faint lavender-gold upon his right hand, his instinctual reaction to Vingalmo’s spell. The Priest’s mystical counter. Banish.
Vingalmo chortled at Ronnie's righteous display, enjoying the subtle heat that the Dusken’s glare brought to his cheeks, and swung his Daedric sword several times, watching the unnirnly blade’s light slice through the night air. So light, so perfect. Ronnie eyed him carefully. “What?” He leaned closer, whispering in Ronnie’s ear. “You think it’s going to turn and bite me?”
“They are Daedra.” Äelberon smirked, cocking an eyebrow.
“No. I am in complete control it. It is bound to me. Now, imagine if you had a bound bow at your side? They are lighter, faster, you never run out of arrows...” His eyes locked with Ronnie’s. “No one in the Tower matches you with a bow, my dearest Dusken. You would be as Auri-El upon this very world and I?” He smiled warmly, the sugar in his body reducing his inhibition. It was not like any of his house could see or ridicule his informal conduct anyway. “I would be your ever devoted Trinimac, sword in hand, ready to cut out hearts for the great cause of the Blessed Isles!”
Ronnie shook his head. “Xarxes’ arse, ya are buzzed on sugar, Galmo. Be careful or Boethiah will eat ya up and crap ya out too.”
Vingalmo laughed, savoring the last bite of his sweetroll. “Always with a shit joke. I’ll say my penance to the Five on Sundas.”
“Galmo, I am not joking.” The playful Dusken accent was suddenly gone. “It is against the true faith of the Five and the People must not give in to false pride. There is no truly controlling the Daedra. They are the others.” There was a darkness in Ronnie’s voice and Vingalmo frowned at his friend's persistent stubbornness, his religion. He tilted his head to the side while his eyes scrutinized the blade before them, not understanding how the grand Priest, the Knight-Paladin before him, could tolerate being perpetually inferior in combat. He was serving the Five just as much by being victorious, by being his best for the People, while Ronnie settled for being something much less.
“We are using their own against them, Priest. It is fitting.”
Ronnie sighed. “Galmo, I really don’t want to fight, not today.”
It was a sore spot between the two. In that sense, they were paired with the correct Tower Mages, for Vingalmo and Lord Larethian had similar views on summoning while the Archmagister and Ronnie avoided it. Not liking the look on Ronnie’s face nor the awkward silence between them, Vingalmo relented and sheathed the blade. The older Mer’s eyes returned to the Daedric camps, saying no more.
Vingalmo ran his fingers through his hair, feeling the sweat at the roots. He would need drink soon, for he was hot, his light golden skin uncomfortably sticky with sweat under his Elven cuirass. And it wasn’t just from the Daedric fires or the sugar in his system.
“It doesn’t matter anyway.” He suddenly said.
That got the Mer to turn. “What makes you say that?”
“I don’t think they are coming.” He pointed to the sky. “Look at the sky, the moons appear, the Magna ge. They are afraid, Ronnie.” Vingalmo chuckled and put a hand on Ronnie’s broad shoulder, giving him a good shove. “Afraid of you, I think.” The large Mer barely moved, both hands resting on the wall of the battlements, fingers spread, almost like talons. “Perhaps they’ve seen our great Eagle perched on his aerie one too many times. Ya do stick out, ya know, all silver an’ shiny, with yer pretty long war braids.” He added with a teasing wink.
He got a chuckle from the Dusken. “I do not fucking sound like that at all, Caemal.”
“You need to relax. They’re not coming. We are going to be alright.” Vingalmo eyes lingered on Ronnie’s right profile, the only time the scars could not really be seen. He almost looked like himself again. Vingalmo took a deep breath and leaned closer to the Mer. “Why don’t you come with me?”
“I am at my post.”
“They are bloody not coming!” Vingalmo gestured with his head towards the doorway leading to the tower’s interior. “Come, we can go inside, where it’s cool, raid the rest of Master Lilandtar’s stores like a bunch of naughty bandits. Your ata told me stories about you, Ronnie. Once a thief always a--”
“I am no longer a Mer of seventeen, Galmo.”
Vingalmo grew bold. “He’s got a bottle of Shimmerene wine from 389, 389 , Ronnie. Come on, enjoy a taste with me.”
“Galmo, what is this silliness? You know I don’t drink.”
“You would love it. It’s sort of sweet and you like sweet.”
“I do not drink.”
“You sure? Not even a wee drop? On my honor, Ronnie, I will not tell Lord Auri-El.” Vingalmo smiled as he placed his right hand upon his heart, feigning a solemn oath. “You can keep your hair bound and everything!” He leaned in closer to Ronnie and whispered against his ear, his lips close to the warmth, because despite the scars, there was still something there, something he could not help but like. “Come inside. It can be our little secret.” He finished with a low purr.
“Secret? What are you talking about?”
Ronnie was right, he was too buzzed from the sugar, and he quickly pulled away when he saw the flash of intense confusion on Ronnie’s face, straightening immediately. “That’s right, my friend, you don’t drink,” He quickly added, adjusting the fastening of his own cloak before he bowed, “My apologies. Tenets of the Order will be respected tonight!”
Drinking wasn’t the only thing Ronnie didn’t do and Vingalmo felt such shame at his overtness, though he kept it hidden, letting out a gust of air. Thank Auri-El Ronnie was clueless as to what had just happened. It didn’t help Vingalmo, however, that Ronnie immediately put a palm on his forehead, taking his damn temperature like the priest that he was. Then the healing magicks flowed from his hand, flooding Vingalmo with their soothing intensity, because he tries to fix everything. Because naturally, when you act like that, he’s going to think you are actually sick and not anything else. It’s not like he knows that it would or could be anything else.
“Galmo, are you alright?” The Mer pressed, continuing to work, to search with his magicks for what was wrong with Vingalmo.
He dismissed Ronnie’s fussing and magicks with a wave of his hand, using his other to push the strong hand with their wonderful magicks away to rub his forehead. “We’re all just tired and you’re right, too much sugar.” Vingalmo let a wry smile find his features. “See, the Five did indeed punish me for stealing. I will have to counter this sugar.”
“Aye, that’s the truth. But ya won’t be punished, I’ll say me prayers for ya, Caemal.” Ronnie replied, turning to Vingalmo. “Ya can count on that, always.”
“Even if we disagree?”
“Even if we disagree.” Ronnie’s lips formed a good-natured smile, though the charming Dusken accent was now gone, replaced by something far more priestly. “Such mundane things cannot stop true friendship, Galmo. Look at Master Lilandtar and the Archmagister, for example. They are nearly opposite in every way, they fight all the time, and yet, more dear friends I have seldom encountered.” He nodded. “And we are the same.”
And perhaps it was better that way. Like any youngling, he was perhaps just feeling hard his youth. That everything could suddenly end and, and he only wanted closeness, some sort of release from the darkness of their circumstances. The finality of what war can bring. It was that way with the young, or so he was often told. They were restless, even wanton, before the marriage pool eventually called them, settled them down to do their honorable duty to Summerset. Until then, there were many dalliances, many experiments in pleasure, many dirty depravities that the young indulged in, and subjugated others to. Vingalmo hated himself then, the feelings, the erotic images and scenarios playing in his mind that often made his cheeks run hot when he looked at Ronnie or when they sparred. And Vingalmo knew Ronnie did not have those same thoughts.
Because Ronnie was chaste and that made him too decent a Mer for a mere dalliance, though it was, sadly and ironically, all that he would be good for now. No, far better for Ronnie if he kept to his chastity. He could then be seen by the People as a great pureness. Silver-white, like the fresh snows of Eton Nir. It fit the noble, stoic aesthetic of his Order, it would be easy to maintain and Ronnie would not ever be hurt, which was something Vingalmo did not want.
“So, friend , what are you going to do while I’m off drinking myself silly?” He finally asked, clearing his throat a second time.
Ronnie chewed the inside of his lip in thought, though his eyes were still on the camps, so unaware, so focused on the Daedra. “My lenya is expecting me at the end of my shift.”
“Ah.” He nodded.
“We have not seen each other much lately, she has been so busy at the forges. It will be good for her to finally rest. I missed her, Galmo. I miss him too.”
Vingalmo rarely thought of his parents. Were they even alive? He had no idea and he didn’t really care, yet he did care about Ronnie’s parents.
“I am glad she is finished. You can finally enjoy a decent meal.”
“I know. She can make anything taste good, even what we’re eating now. Whereas I can make anything--”
They laughed together because it was definitely true.
“Aye, a hot meal.” Ronnie continued. “And perhaps some music later. Rynandor is, I think, coming. He likes to visit. And then I shall settle down with a smoke and read. I will finish tonight, Galmo.”
“The entire Tower library?”
“Tongue of Xarxes.” Vingalmo cursed under his breath, in complete awe of the Mer before him. To have read every book? Madness, total madness. But that was maybe the reason for the now perpetual shadow under Ronnie’s luminous eyes. “So who won? The bet?”
“I believe Lord Larethian stands to collect the purse from the betting pool the Tower mages and Knights endeavored to conduct at my expense.”
Vingalmo snickered. “We couldn’t help it, Ronnie. We didn’t think…”
They didn’t think he could actually do it. The country Dusken, simple and stupid. At least that was the impression two years ago.
“He wagered it would take me two years, and he was correct. I was expecting him to bet that it would take me centuries.” Ronnie’s brow creased. “Took me by surprise. He sometimes makes me feel the weight of my former caste and his Lenya, the Grand Kinslady, utterly despises me. My steps are far too big and I am too ugly. Probably won’t even let me in her house now…” a melancholic chuckle and his eyes grew wistful. “I will miss the Magister’s younglings deeply. Lilamia, she is walking and talking now, such a sweet little chatterbox, like a wee bird, did you know that?”
He didn’t know. And Master Liladntar was his own Tower Mage.
“And Lillandril? His last visit was well, ha! All I can say is that the aican nut doesn't fall far from the tree with that one. I will miss them, but I understand. It is for the best that they do not see me like this. That they remember me fondly.”
Vingalmo blinked. It was the first time Ronnie dared acknowledge his disfigured face in front of him. It took him by surprise.
“Ronnie, that hag hates everyone.” He argued. “Besides, it’s your damn long legs. Even your tiny steps are not tiny. She’s just too daft to see that Phynaster’s steps are relative to the size of the person taking them.”
“True. But it’s not just my steps anymore now, is it?” He said quietly and Vingalmo could only imagine what Ronnie was thinking. How many great houses would he now be barred from? Would he be required to wear a mask or helm at all times? How much would being among the Wise cancel out his physical deformity? Vingalmo was beginning to think that perhaps he had been too merciful to the offending soldiers and that perhaps he was wrong about Ronnie’s station among the People. There were repercussions from the action of Ronnie's scarring that would only be felt once this Crisis was over and it was clear that Ronnie had thought about them, and was already preparing for them in his mind. Vingalmo shrugged away the dark thoughts and took it upon himself to shake his dear friend of them too.
“At any rate, Master Lilandtar is a mad, crazy, Mer for betting. He already has too much money. And you!” He grinned, pointing at Ronnie. “Crazy, mad Mer!”
“Me?” The eyebrows went up. “Why?”
“Crazy, mad Mer for actually finishing.” Another shrug of his slender shoulders. “Oh well, at least I did not bet much, Tower Knight salary and all.”
“So Lenya then?”
“Aye, when my shift ends.”
“When you see her, give her a big kiss from her Galmo.”
“She will like that. She has missed you too, my brother. You do not visit much anymore.”
Brother, that’s how he sees you , Vingalmo smiled at the innocence.
“You can join us, you know. Do not drink so heavily, have a different sort of night for once, a night where you do not show up the next morning needing me to bloody heal you so you have your head on straight when Master Lilandtar barks orders at you. We’ve a fine meal planned…” He faced Vingalmo and gave a most beguiling, mischievous beam, white teeth on full display. “Rice.”
Vingalmo laughed, giving the shoulder another pat. “No, no, no. No rice. I’m quite happy with my steak, thank you very much.”
“Aye, that you are. But you can still visit.”
“Maybe some other time.”
“The door is always open, brother.”
"I know it is." Ronnie faced the camps again and Vingalmo walked away, trying to figure out how he was now going to spend his night. You could just join them, he thought. Why not? They were good people, giving him more love than his own family ever gave.
He passed several soldiers while he walked and he noticed the mood of the battlements. So much lighter than when Ronnie was ruined. The morale so much higher. No more skirmishes. Laughter and jokes, armor already half off. Tower banners slouching as they waved in the breeze. The two moons could be finally seen through the thin veil of fire, and they guessed that it would be over soon. The Daedra would not come, stopped by their fear and by the Tower. He could smell the wine in the air, the joy of celebration. The glory of Summerset, for all time. The glory of their beloved Mantia Miscurin. Now and forever, Auri-El Adonai.
“Kinsmer!” He heard a feminine voice and paused his walking to turn towards it. From the Golden coast by her accent. One of a group of soldiers. She was golden and fair with green eyes and a dainty face, her raptor’s helm off and tucked under her right arm. A goblet full of alto wine in her left hand. Offering, her eyes dancing seductively in the torches of the battlements, asking him without words. She was joined by others, all golden and fair as well.
He looked back once more over his shoulder at the lone Dusken standing sentinel at the wall of the battlements, his eyes on the Daedric camps, silver and proud. They were eyeing him too, only he didn’t like their faces.. The leering sneers, the winks, the flushed cheeks with their streaks of cologne-tinged sweat. One She-Elf whispered to another and with a nod, she began to saunter towards Ronnie, clearly drunk. Only it wouldn’t be a question of the Dusken, but a demand. He knew the culture of his People and he now knew what Ronnie was to them. Not truly of the Wise, he realized with a heavy sadness, no never. That had been an Illusion, his Illusion.
She was about to speak.
Vingalmo suddenly flashed his teeth at her, grabbed her goblet like a tease, and took quickly what was being offered, joining the group, ushering them to the depths of the Tower with a roar of laughter.
So that Ronnie wouldn’t be forced to.