Dovahkiin: The Hunt

by M'jai

First Edition: March 2012

Last Revision: April 2013

Disclaimer: The following is a Skyrim fan-fiction. There are minor spoilers for a side quest.

All Skyrim material belongs to Bethesda. The character Thane Vindrstag belongs to me.

))((

As Thane Vindrstag scanned the plains beyond Whiterun, he took a deep breath of fresh air and admired the beauty that surrounded him. This was where he belonged. This was what he should have been doing, not attempting to talk politics with jarls and generals or Graybeards and Blades. He had to get away from the stress of the politics for a short while—clear his thoughts on something that was second nature to him—a simple hunt. Tracking deer for meat and pelts would do him a world of good, he decided. Someone had told him that Clearpine Pond had something interesting worth hunting, but he intended to make the most of the journey along the way, as well.

He would have taken Meeko along, but his faithful hound had been badly injured in their last outing together. His faithful house carl volunteered to accompany him, instead. Lydia, though she had been in dozens of scraps in dark caverns and bandit camps, had never been on a deer hunt before. Vindrstag wasn't sure he wanted her along for this task, but she had insisted. Dragging up multiple arguments about how everyone was depending on the Dragonborn to help resolve the situation with Alduin, she refused to allow him to venture off alone right now. What if a dragon attacked in his sleep? What if an avalanche buried him? What if someone talked him into a drinking challenge and carted his ass off to a troll pit somewhere?

Vindrstag reluctantly agreed.

"There's one over there," Lydia whispered and pointed across the plains toward a large deer.

So far, the housecarl had surprised him. She kept pace without being too noisy, in spite of her heavy armor. He offered to let her borrow some of his light leathers, but she had declined, not willing to take the risk of wearing less protection like he did. She watched his back while he did all the tracking. And he knew she was a good shot with the bow if he needed back-up.

"Too far away to hit it from here," he whispered in return. "And it has to go down with one arrow because otherwise, it will run. Then we'll never catch up to it. Even if it eventually bleeds out somewhere we'll never find it again. Let's try flanking it. Don't run, but see if you can chase it toward those trees. If it hears or sees you, it will try to run for cover. I'll head over there and try to catch it on its way in."

"As you wish, My Thane," she whispered, confident that she could run the skittish creature in the right direction.

He crept away in one direction while Lydia crept away in the other, both hiding as much as possible behind the tall grasses, shrubs, and scattered rocks that dotted the field. As soon as Vindrstag drew closer to the pines, the deer gave a start and took off running. Grinning at the ease with which this plan should play out, he readied an arrow in his enchanted bow and sighted down the shaft. The deer charged toward him without realizing it was running into a trap, but its race ended up startling a second grazer behind a rock. Now a deer and an elk were running toward him. Too bad he could choose only one target. He decided the elk would probably go down easier.

Zing! The arrow whistled into the elk's flank to make it stumble. A second shot in the throat was enough to take it down completely without damaging the pelt.

Lydia rejoined him from the other side as Vindrstag sized up their game in terms of steak cuts and leather. "Please don't tell me we have to lug that thing all the way to Dragon's Bridge and back," she said as she came to his side.

"If we do the cuts now, it will be easier than carrying it over my shoulders or between us. And look over there near the rocks. There's the other one." Thane drew his dagger and prepared to start dressing his kill. "If we stay quiet enough, we might be able to bag a second one to sell in Rorikstead."

"Wait," Lydia grabbed his wrist as he crouched over the elk.

He paused, but wasn't sure why.

"Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I heard something that sounded like …" Lydia looked over her shoulder. "Giants!" she hissed.

Two giants were lumbering side-by-side across the field, heading straight toward them. But they were still far enough away that they hadn't seen the hunter and his house carl yet.

Lydia was already sneaking back toward the trees to make sure they weren't seen at all.

"Oh, shit. Oh, shhhit …" Vindrstag muttered under his breath. He was torn between following her into the trees and attempting to drag the elk with him.

"What are doing?" Lydia hissed in a scolding manner. "You don't have time to cut it."

"If you grab the hind quarters we could—"

"No!" Lydia grabbed his arm and pulled him with her.

Vindrstag started to protest, but the giants were too close for argument. Half-running, half-sneaking, he followed the housecarl to a safe distance behind the trees and hid behind a large evergreen trunk to watch and wait. To the hunter's dismay, the giants sniffed the air and followed the scent of blood to his elk. Snarling and knocking another arrow in his bow, he took aim at the giant closest to his deer. Zip!

Lydia's eyes nearly bugged out of her head, and her hand lashed out to catch the bow and ground it before he could shoot again.

He gave her a thin-lipped argument since he couldn't vocally protest without giving away their location, but she continued to hold onto the bow and frowned.

Oblivious to the missed shot sent their way, the giants decided they had stumbled upon good fortune, and one of them scooped up the elk's hind leg to drag it behind him as they continued on their way.

Vindrstag quietly groaned at the loss of his catch.

As soon as the giants were out of hearing range, the housecarl promptly smacked the hunter's shoulder. "What in Oblivion were you thinking?"

"They took the elk!" he hissed.

"You're alive!" she argued in return.

"I've killed one with a bow before. It was too stupid to notice where I was hiding, so it just stood there stomping in circles while the flame arrows burned him."

"That doesn't mean it would have worked this time. There were two of them, and no safe place to run if they sniffed us out. Thank the gods neither of us had blood on us yet, or they could have found us for sure."

Frustrated, and taking one last look at the distant giants dragging away his hard-earned elk, the hunter sighed and crawled out from behind the trees to quietly, carefully slink away in the opposite direction.

Lydia stayed close on his heels.

When they felt they were clear, they sprinted toward the road, then slowed to a walk as they drew close to Rorikstead. Breathless, tired, and hungry, they had nothing to sell and nothing to eat for their entire day of hunting.

Stopping for the night at the Frostfruit Inn, Vindrstag paid for two bowls of cabbage stew and stirred it with a dour expression as he ate.

Beside him, Lydia dipped a chunk of torn bread into her bowl. "About earlier … I shouldn't have spoken to you like that."

He sighed. "It's okay. We walked away alive, and that's your job, right? To keep me alive. We'll just … try to find another elk tomorrow."

"But I didn't follow orders."

"No, you didn't. And you hit me. You're lucky I haven't given orders for your execution yet."

"I …" She started to deny it, then realized he was right. Lydia was suddenly mortified. "My Thane, I am so sorry."

"It's alright. That was me being sarcastic. I do have a sense of humor, you know," he dryly assured her. In the short time they had known each other, he supposed that the only emotion she had seen him express was worry. She had not known him before all this Dragonborn business.

"Then … you're not … angry?"

"Angry at two thieving giants, yes. Angry at you, no." Pushing his bowl of stew toward her, he grabbed his bottle of mead and stood to check on renting a room for the night.

))((

They woke the next morning to a gray, stormy day with misery written all over it. Rain poured from the gray sky, lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled in the distance.

"Maybe we should hold off until the rain lets up," Lydia suggested, rubbing the damp chill from her arms.

Vindrstag glanced at her in response, then stepped out into the rain and headed up the north road.

"Or not," Lydia muttered and fell into step behind him.

"You are welcome to stay here, and I can pick you up on the way back through," he offered.

"Then that would defeat the purpose of my coming along."

"I could hire someone else to assist me."

Lydia looked indignant at the idea. "Begging your pardon, My Thane, but a mercenary's sword is no substitute for a housecarl's oath. A mercenary would have let you shoot the giants, then robbed your cold, dead body after letting them beat you senseless."

Her response left Vindrstag quietly amused at how seriously the woman took her duty. "Except that giants don't beat you senseless. They send you flying into the side of a mountain … if you're lucky."

"And if you're unlucky they send you flying into one of the moons," she added with a light laugh.

The rain continued throughout the day, but they managed to find another deer close to the road on their journey. Lydia stood guard, on the lookout for more giants, bandits, wolves, or anything else that could pose a threat to her lord while he skinned, gutted, and cut the venison he shot.

It was a lengthy task, but as soon as he was finished, Vindrstag rose and scanned the wilderness to see how far they were from the river. The rain was not enough to wash the bloody mess clean, so they detoured from the road to the water's edge before continuing north.

When they finally reached the small hamlet of Dragon's Bridge, the rain showed no sign of stopping. Thunder continued to rumble in the distance. Vindrstag and Lydia stopped under the overhang of the Four Shields Inn, and he set down his bag of venison to study the sky.

"Are we stopping for the night?" the housecarl asked, sounding hopeful.

"According to the map, Clearpine Pond is just northwest of here. There's enough daylight left that we should keep going."

"But … wouldn't it be better to rest for the night and have all day tomorrow to explore the area?"

"We're hunting deer, not exploring an ancient barrow. This shouldn't take long if we don't waste our daylight. Wait here." Picking up his bag of venison, he took it into the inn and paid for a room for the night. Then, after taking his bag into the room and setting it in the corner, he rejoined Lydia outside.

They took the road north and west into the snowy hills, yet rain continued to fall from the sky, turning the ground into a slushy, slippery mess. Vindrstag detoured off of the road into the wilderness, where he crouched and scanned the ground for tracks. Drawing his blades, he proceeded in the direction that his senses and memory of the map indicated. A few minutes later, as they walked down the back side of one of the hill slopes, he slowed his pace and spoke in a hushed tone. "I think I know what we're hunting now. And I think I know why."

"You mean it's not deer?" Lydia drew her sword and peered through the forest's rainy mist. "You came here not knowing what you were hunting? Who told you about this place?"

"I don't remember who recommended the location, but he must have wanted me to kill some spriggans. Look at those trees."

The clearing ahead was just that—cleared. The stumps of some very large, trees dotted the land, while piles of large logs had been stacked and then abandoned not far from where they were cut.

"Big trees like that … they're sacred to spriggans. Either Dragon's Bridge was planning on expanding, or the Empire decided this would be a good location for new fortress … or something. They must have pissed off the spirits around here. It doesn't take much to do that, but cutting down ancient trees is a sure-fire way to make an enemy of them."

"My Lord …" Lydia pointed to the island in the pond just beyond the clearing. Sure enough, two vine-wrapped spirits stood on the shore watching them.

He started toward them.

"Should we be engaging them up close?" the housecarl asked as she followed.

"It's the only way to talk to them."

"Talk to them? They don't talk to people. They kill people. They may look like nothing but a bunch of walking twigs, but they're monsters."

Vindrstag turned on her, but kept his voice calm and low. "Before I was thrust into all this Dovahkiin business I was a woodsman, Lydia. I came from a little island called Solstheim, and when the Empire started ripping up the ancient forests to build mining towns, they angered the spriggans there, as well. The tree spirits started killing people in the nearby village, killing the miners ..."

"There are lots of other trees in Skyrim for the spriggans. Humans have to live somewhere, too."

"That's not the point. How would you like it if a bunch of strangers came into your home with axes and started chopping up your furniture and walls for firewood without giving you any say in the matter. To them, these aren't just trees. They depend on them for their very existence."

Lydia sighed.

"I know it's not safe, and it's probably pointless. But regardless of what happens with dragons, jarls, and the Empire, I'm still a woodsman. So, I can't kill them without offering to hear them out first." The thane turned back toward the spriggans, but kept his weapons drawn and ready. Wading through the icy water, he gritted his teeth until he was on the island and face to face with one of them.

Her glowing green eyes regarded him with caution. Another spriggan stood behind her, but neither of them attacked.

Vindrstag glanced at Lydia to make sure she wasn't doing anything that might be misunderstood as a hostile gesture, but his housecarl was staring at the body of a woman on the ground. The woman was apparently an alchemist because she had a flower basket with her and had been gathering wild mushrooms. She had strayed into the spriggans territory and paid a heavy price for her blunder.

"We don't want to harm anyone," Vindrstag told the spriggans. "Your trees … Someone cut down your sacred trees, but we are not the ones who did this. And I'm guessing this woman meant you no harm either. I can try to help you find the ones who did this, but you can't keep harming innocent people."

The spriggans said nothing, but continued to stare at the humans with ethereal, glowing eyes. Their wooden fingers snapped and crinkled as they seemed to caress the small green fire flies that buzzed around and within their branches.

"May I identify her things so that her family doesn't wonder about her anymore?"

The spriggans remained silent and continued to scrutinize the humans in their midst.

"I don't think they're interested in talking," Lydia whispered.

"But they're not attacking, either." This was odd. Why were they not attacking? He dared to draw close to the woman's body. Scanning for some sort of identification, he lifted the book she once held.

Suddenly, the dominant spriggan screamed and lashed out at him. Vindrstag immediately dropped the book and brought his enchanted axe down on the arm that held him. So much for talking.

Lydia ran behind them, and Vindrstag plunged his flame-enchanted orc sword into the mother spirit's gut and hooked his axe into her arm again. As thin as they were, spriggans were as difficult to chop through as the trees they lived in. A third spriggan came out of nowhere and attacked him from behind, but all he could do was continue chopping. He gave them no chance to conjure other animal spirits to their aid. He gave them no chance to heal themselves.

Between the fire-sword and the enchanted axe's blade, he helped Lydia take down the two smaller spriggans, and eventually a clap of thunder jolted the axe handle in his grip to signify that he had trapped the soul of the mother spirit. Standing guard over the mother spirit, he scanned the island to make sure a fourth spriggan wasn't going to surprise them. "Are you okay?" he asked of his housecarl.

"I'm okay. Are you okay?" she nervously answered.

"I think so. Coast clear?"

"As far as I can tell," she confirmed from her viewpoint.

Vindrstag stabbed into the chest of the wooden creature beneath him and pried out the taproot that took the place of her heart. Tucking it into a pouch, he then did the same with the other two. After collecting the alchemist's ingredients and a few more mushrooms that she missed, he walked around the small island to make sure he wasn't missing anything. But as he rounded a rotten tree trunk, he spotted something unexpected—a chest.

"What have we here?" Pulling out his picks, he began attempting to jimmy the lock. "They were guarding something they didn't want the alchemist or us to get too close to."

"Or maybe they're just psychopathic nature spirits that don't know how to distinguish between friend and foe," Lydia muttered.

The woodsman cast her a tolerant glance for her criticism, but as the lock clicked, he pushed open the lid. Inside was some money and a beautiful bow that shimmered and snapped with an electrical enchantment. He lifted it for her to see.

"A magic bow."

"An Imperial bow. They must have been holding it hostage hoping the owner would return, so they could seek revenge for chopping down their tree." Straightening, he held it out to Lydia. "I'm too attached to mine. It's yours if you want it."

The housecarl's brow quirked. "Are you setting me up as spriggan bait?"

"These are the only spriggans who know its origins. I think it's safe to use it as you wish now."

Lydia accepted the beautiful bow and ran her fingers along its smooth enchantment with appreciation. "Thank you, My Lord."

He gave a small nod, then looked around the island. "I think we're done here."

Wading back through the water to the mainland shore, the hunter and his housecarl headed back to Dragon's Bridge. When they returned to the inn, the rain was still pouring down, and daylight was still visible through the breaks in the saturated clouds. Vindrstag headed up the old, wooden stairs to stand under the thatched roof and stare up at the sky.

"Let me guess," Lydia said as she stopped beside him. "We need to keep going and not waste our daylight because it's possible to reach Rorikstead by nightfall."

Cold, wet, and tired, the thane looked at the way the clouds drifted over the mountains and listened to the thunder in the distance. "It's possible, but not probable."

Lydia blinked as if she misunderstood. "You mean …"

"Let's hold off until the rain stops." With a brief smile, he patted her shoulder and went inside. Vindrstag went straight to the large fire pit in the center of the mead hall to warm himself. Any attempt to dry out his fur and scale armor was a lost cause, but even a thick-skinned Nord could appreciate a roaring fire on a damp day. As Lydia ordered their dinner, he checked their room to be sure his bag of venison had not been disturbed. Then, he returned to the fire to thaw while their meal was being prepared.

One of the village men approached, introduced himself, and basically told them not to come looking for trouble with the Imperial law. It was the wrong thing to say after what had just happened in the woods.

"Sir, with all due respect, I just killed three spriggans in the clearing north of here where someone was logging ancient trees. They had already killed a woman who was collecting mushrooms on their land, and chances are they planned on coming after everyone else in this town next. I'm not looking for trouble here. But if the Empire is pushing your jarl to expand the town our build a legion outpost in those woods, all you're going to find is trouble."

Their food was placed on the table, so Vindrstag left the confrontation to sit down and enjoy his meal. But as he sat down to eat, his thoughts drifted to another time and place. All he could think of was the spriggan attack at home in Solstheim.

"Is everything okay, My Thane?" Lydia asked, sitting down beside him.

He picked up the bottle of wine and poured some into his mug. "Just thinking of home."

"I had no idea you came from Solstheim. Is it anything like Morrowind?"

"You mean before or after the Red Mountain catastrophe?"

"It probably has more Dunmer refugees than Windhelm," Lydia quipped.

"And it has more frost giants than Dunmer or Nords," he boasted. "Do me a favour and get me some salt."

"The salmon is already salted," she advised having taken a few bites from her plate.

"It's not for the salmon steaks."

With a sigh, Lydia stood and returned to the innkeeper.

Finishing his dinner, Vindrstag opened his alchemy pouch and removed a few of the items he had collected during their hunt. All in all, he supposed it hadn't been such a bad trip. He had bagged an elk, even if his first one had been stolen. He collected a lot of alchemy ingredients for making potions when he got home. He had safeguarded a village from some vengeful spriggans. And now Lydia had a new bow. And it was nice to have the time to talk to her for once, instead of always worrying about dragons. The dragons were still there, of course. And they still had the civil war's politics and Alduin to cope with as soon as they returned to Whiterun. But getting away from that to stress over something else had been … almost fun. Okay, maybe not fun, but at least it was different.

Lydia returned with a small bowl of salt. "Will there be anything else, My Lord?"

Vindrstag stopped picking through his ingredients and lifted a small weed to chew on. "That will be all, Lydia. Thank you." He sorted a few other ingredients from his alchemical pouch onto his empty plate, but after a few minutes of silence, he realized she was not setting the salt on the table. Glancing over his shoulder at her, he wondered about the delay.

"You're … eating the thistle?" she asked with a wince of doubt. "Isn't that …"

"Prickly? Yes. But it's got a certain bitterness to it that I'm trying to remember where I've tasted it before." As he chewed the thistle sample, he stared at the bottles of wine before him. "You know what goes good with thistle? Wine. Lots of it." Grabbing a bottle he poured himself another mug. "Sit down, Lydia. You should help me taste some of the roadside herbs I picked along the way. You might learn something from it. Have you ever studied alchemy?"

"No, Sir." The housecarl sat back down beside him, placed the small bowl of salt on the table, and looked over the assortment of strange leaves, flowers, and other things on his plate.

"Did you know that it's possible to develop a taste for which plants have the ability to heal and which plants have the ability to harm. This flower, for example, can make a restorative."

"Isn't that part of the spriggans?" She indicated the wooden, heart-shaped thing.

"Tap root, yes."

"And all you have to do is taste it?"

"If it's poisonous, it will be bitter or sickly sweet. But never taste too much when trying to identify something or you can make yourself very sick."

"What's the salt for?"

"To make it taste better if it's absolutely awful." He gestured at his plate for her to try something.

Lydia smiled at that reasoning, then looked again at the strange items, as if trying to envision them as foreign delicacies, rather than roadside discoveries. "This one looks interesting. Is it some kind of grape?" She popped the sample into her mouth.

The woodsman tried to keep a straight face. "That would be the eye of a saber cat."

The housecarl cupped a hand to her mouth, climbed out of her seat, and rushed outside to spit it out.

Vindrstag laughed out loud. Yeah, he probably should have warned her about that one, but the expression on her face was worth the surprise.