Heart of Honor—Chapter Five
Stronger Than Battle
My duties within House Redoran kept me very busy for the next several months. During that time, I rescued and cleared the name of Athryn Sarethi's son, Varvur, rescued the daughter of a mad nobleman, and rescued some poor lost pilgrim. House Redoran's Rescue Girl: that was me.
Still, it paid off quite nicely, not only in terms of money and advancement within the House, but in terms of weapons (I now owned a fine ebony long sword), armor (a suit of enchanted adamantium), and sundry magic items: an amulet that allowed for both mark and recall, a ring that boosted my strength, and a scroll that would allow me to summon a Golden Saint to fight for me.
It was well that I had also accumulated good armor and weapons. Most of the money I had gained went towards hiring mercenaries to assist Shal'ir with his problem. These men and women were highly skilled, heavily armed and armored, and very expensive. The offer was the same each time: 500 gold down with an additional 2000 upon successful completion.
None of them ever returned.
The latest one, a massive, heavily scarred Argonian who would not tell me his name, had gone out three days ago. Something told me that should I deign to visit the trapped Dremora again, that I would find the Argonian's corpse along with those of the Nord Barbarian, the Breton Warmage, the Khajiit Nightblade, and the Imperial Knight.
That decided it for me. Though I still hurt inside over our exchange of words, I would never again consign another mortal to death at the Markynaz's hands. It was time that I took on the promise I had made to him myself.
"So," my grandfather said when I told him that at last I knew what needed to be done. "You have either run out of money with which to hire mercenaries, or you have decided that you are no longer quite so angry at your friend."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "He is not my friend, Grandfather. He made that abundantly clear when I was there last. What I do, I do out of honor. I made a promise, and I will keep it."
My grandfather turned away, but not before I saw the smirk on his weathered face. "Oh no, certainly not friendship." He was making tea again, as he always did when I came to visit. I suddenly realized that if—when—his time came, how deeply I would miss him, even though at the moment he was being a pain.
"And what does that mean?" I demanded, hands on my hips.
"It means, what it means, Alaunel. You have the answer within you. You always have. Yet you insist that for him to be defeated in battle is the only way."
"He has said so himself, Grandfather. I figure that if anyone should know, it would be Shal'ir. He's the one under the curse, after all."
"Ah, of course." He nodded his graying head sagely. Reaching into the cupboard, he pulled out the small limeware jar that held his tea. "I had thought we would have tea out on the porch, but I sense an ash storm coming."
"You seemed like you were going to say something," I prodded.
"Perhaps." He put a generous measure of tea into the limeware teapot. "But perhaps you do not wish to hear it. What do I know? I am a doddering old fool, unknowing of anything of use to someone young and wise." He smirked at me again.
"Grandfather…if it can help Shal'ir, then I want to know."
He added hot water to the teapot and said nothing.
"Please tell me."
"Are you willing to answer a simple question, honestly and to the best of your ability?"
"All right. Look me in the eye and answer." When I looked at him, he said, "Do you love him?"
"Answer the question, or stop wasting my time and make some sandwiches"
I forced myself to keep his gaze, even though the stone tiles of the floor beckoned. "Yes," I said at last. "It's why he hurt me so deeply. It's why I haven't been back since. For a mortal to love a Daedra, it is foolishness."
Grandfather nodded. "Aye, and yet it happens. Daeinde sometimes has funny plans for us. Though the love aspect is really more Mara's sphere."
I eyed him. "This…doesn't bother you at all?"
"Well, of course it bothers me. You're my granddaughter, and I love you. I do not wish to see you hurt, or dead. On the other hand, you are an adult now. You can make your own choices and find your own way in life."
He paused. At last he added, "Love is stronger than battle. Think on that while we have our tea."
I thought on my grandfather's words for the next several days. I had indeed fallen for Shal'ir. It was not unheard of for a mortal and a Daedra to fall for each other—the Hero of Battlespire was rumored to be descended from such a union—but it was highly frowned upon by both sides.
I didn't want to love him.
One-sided love almost invariably ended in heartbreak. Yet love him I did. Knowing this, I also knew that I had to face him once more. Neither my honor nor my feelings would allow anything less.
"You have returned," were his words to me when I showed up at the shrine a few days later.
"Nice to see you again, too," I said with a lightness I wasn't really feeling.
Shal'ir nodded. The relaxed pleasure he'd shown after laying with Karator had worn off. He wasn't back to his usual surly self, but he wasn't exactly turning cartwheels at the sight of me, either. I couldn't blame him.
"I—I wanted to apologize for storming out on you."
Shal'ir studied my face intently with his lava-hued eyes. "Your words are true, and you speak with honor. It is accepted." A remnant of the warmth I'd begun to see months ago crept back into his gaze. "I likewise wish to make amends. I should not have taunted you so."
I blinked. "No, I take myself far too seriously at times, Shal'ir."
He raised a hand to cut me off. "It is done." His eyes took in my new weapons and armor. "You have done quite well for yourself, Alaunel Mithryr."
We fell silent for a moment. At last he spoke saying, "Regrettably, your hired warriors were unable to assist me in my problem. Is that why you have come?"
I'm here to tell you that I love you, I thought, consequences be damned. But all that would come out was a strangled squeak, accompanied by my nod.
He turned away, but not before I saw something in his eyes. "I will not fight you."
Swallowing hard, I drew my ebony long sword. "I fear that you have no choice, my lord." I lunged at him.
The sword never even got close. Faster than I'd ever seen anyone move, the Markynaz drew his own blade and whirled to block my swing. "I said that I will not fight you," he snarled. He batted my weapon aside with his Daedric claymore.
"Why not?" I demanded. "Everyone else I have sent to you is dead!" I lunged in, lower this time, with the same results.
"And you would bring this fate upon yourself as well?" He parried my attack with as much effort as it would take to swat a fly.
Undeterred, I stepped in again. Shal'ir knocked me back, using only the flat of his massive blade to do so. "Are you deaf or merely stupid, mortal?" he roared. He did it again when I charged in, feinting to the left at the last second. This time he knocked me across the room.
I lay on the cold tile floor, stunned. I heard his booted footsteps approaching as I struggled vainly to make my legs move up underneath me.
The footsteps stopped. The Markynaz hunkered down next to me, eyes blazing. "If you insist upon it, we will continue this fracas to its ultimate stupidity. You will give me one good reason that you insist on attacking me yourself. If I find it to be a worthy one, we will do battle, and I will kill you, as I have killed all the others."
He stood, and yanked me roughly to my feet. "I would have your answer!" He shook me hard enough to rattle my teeth in my skull.
"Because…I love you." I closed my eyes, waiting for either his derisive laughter or that massive claymore buried in my guts.
Neither of those things occurred. Instead, Shal'ir crushed me to his chest in a fierce embrace, his mouth seeking mine.
Startled, I could only stand there as he kissed me with far more gentleness than I expected. I had seen him coupling with Karator a few months ago, seen the pleasure that both Dremora had derived from the rough, almost brutal lovemaking.
Shal'ir pulled his mouth away. "This, I know. I wanted to hear it from you yourself." He kissed me again.
There was no going back now. Somehow in the midst of all the kisses, Shal'ir made short work of my armor. I lay back upon my cloak, shivering in the shrine's warm air, watching as the Markynaz removed his own armor. I let my eyes roam over him, taking him in much more boldly than I had all those months before.
Shal'ir grinned wickedly. Joining me on the cloak, he gathered me into his arms. "I will be gentle," he told me, before kissing me again.
Shal'ir was as good as his word. He loved me with an exquisite gentleness that took me utterly by surprise. I had not known that a Dremora could be this way, much less with a mortal. Though he had not said his much, his actions and the look in his deep scarlet eyes told me his feelings in turn.
Every now and then, Shal'ir would simply hold me tightly to him, shuddering and breathing hard. Even with what little experience I had, I knew that it took every ounce of his self control to not simply have me then and there.
I traced my fingers over the tattoos on his face before stroking back the strands of hair that had come loose from the tail he wore it in. He rumbled low in his throat, a sound that I understood to be one of pleasure before kissing me again.
"Please," I panted softly as he slid one finger inside me. "I need you."
"Not yet. Trust me, little mortal." His thumb rubbed lightly at a deeply sensitive spot, making me jerk suddenly in his arms. He smiled, then kissed me over and over, his mouth muffling my cries of pleasure.
The fumbling attempts of the local Dunmer lads had left me cold. It had never felt like this: the maddening sensations of heated wetness flooding his big hand, his other arm holding me close as I writhed against him. The ache within grew stronger and more fierce, I felt close, so close to something that I didn't understand but sought out instinctively.
Shal'ir slipped in a second finger to join the first. He carefully pushed me open, thrusting with them against the tight flesh. I felt him move his fingers deeper still, then rub them in a beckoning gesture against something deep inside me. I cried out, startled at a sudden intense surge of pleasure, though I still had no idea what it was that my body needed from him. "Now," he growled, biting with sudden sharpness into my shoulder.
I shuddered against him, crying out as the tension broke. This, I thought, knowing somehow that this was what I had needed. I quivered madly, thrusting my hips into his hand, wanting more, but Shal'ir would not give it.
Instead, he slowly pulled his fingers from me and moved to kneel between my thighs. Taking his hardness in hand, he looked deep into my eyes. "I will not lie to you. There will be some pain, but I will do my best to not hurt you."
"Yes," I said softly, not caring if there was pain or not, if only I could have him. The Dremora covered my body with his own big one: I felt his hard length probing briefly against me.
Shal'ir pulled back and took me in a single thrust. I cried out as waves of hot, sharp pain flared within me, tears stinging my eyes. "Just the one time," he assured me. "It will not hurt you again." Saying this, he began to move within me, taking me with tender strokes.
The pain did not fade away entirely, but now the blissful sensations I'd enjoyed earlier returned. The two blended deliciously together; I moaned and writhed beneath him as we coupled on the stone floor of the shrine.
My body was simply too inexperienced to find release in this way. The pleasure continued to build, however, in slow, dark waves. One moment Shal'ir kissed me breathless, in the next, he bit with tender firmness at my neck and shoulders. His soft growls of pleasure grew louder, more harsh now, he moved upon me faster until at last he could hold back no longer and shuddered atop me with a loud, snarling cry that might have been my name.
We lay entwined on the shrine's cold floor for some time. My eyes were still closed, and Shal'ir kissed my eyelids saying, "I trust that I did not break you."
"I'm terribly sore, but broken, no. And I still, umm, ache." I blushed as I said it.
He nodded. "That is to be expected. It will take time for your body to understand what it must do." Suddenly, Shal'ir's head jerked up. He blinked, gasping slightly.
"What is it?" I asked, alarmed by his strange behavior.
He did not answer at first. He closed his eyes tightly, as though savoring something, and smiled. "You may not believe me if I tell you this. But I can sense Oblivion once more. I feel…the connection to my home, and my Kyn."
"Truly? My grandfather hinted at something, when I spoke with him." I told Shal'ir what he had said about 'love is stronger than battle'." I hadn't wanted to believe him, and at first, I could not face what I felt for you. That is why I tried to fight you instead."
Shal'ir nodded. Kissing me once more he said, "Have I not often said that your grandfather is very wise?"
I sighed. "I know that you must return to your home. It is hard for me to let you go, however."
Shal'ir nodded. "Eventually, I must. But you have my word on this, Alaunel Mithryr: I will return. You cannot escape me so easily."
He kissed me once more, and my last coherent thought as I gave in to pleasure was that he had me right where I wanted him.