Well I haven't updated this for a while. I wasn't sure about chapter sizes, then I got involved with the whole student finance thing for uni. Anyway...
Let it be noted that the last chapter was the last big battle in quite a while. The next major conflict that will occur will be with the Aldmeri Dominion and the Great War. Unless of course I check the lore and find that there's something else going on that's important. Therefore all battles for several chapters will be between tens and hundreds of people, rather than thousands.
Till then we'll be exploring Skyrim, particularly in this chapter, a little bit of world building. I always felt being Dragonborn should mean so much more than just 'oh hey, stop shouting'
(there will be action though, I am abundantly aware that it's what I'm best at writing)
Michaelsuave: Alas, the mechanics of the Gates aren't ever really mentioned. From what I can tell of it during the Oblivion Crisis the Mythic Dawn, as the 'recon unit' somehow marked the locations for the Gates to materialise and the Daedra to invade. As such, treat it as Harry having gotten one of his captured Daedra to do the same to Oblivion. I think of it less of a Stargate network, but more of a teleporter, you just need coordinates and your set. Then Rhal did some magic stuff to make sure the next teleport happened where he wanted it to. As for the Baldes spy…he's a spy? You're not meant to know where he is (cue James Bond music). Meanwhile Siva got caught up in other stuff, I don't really know how to write romance, though I'm sure I'll work something out.
Mangahero18: Yea, I think given Harry's back story it would be quite easy to write a Fallout crossover for him. Might be an interesting side project.
Nothing much happens in this chapter, it's mostly set-up, but it thought it was a good holding point
Harald was participating in brudlaup.
That is to say, he was being the best man at the wedding of Haestan and Aaja, the daughter of the Jarl of Dawnstar.
The weddings of the Nords were, in Harald's humble opinion, very complicated. First Haestan had had to tip-toe around the various customs and social niceties that ran through Nordic culture to actually find out whether his prospective bride would be amenable to a marriage (luckily she was) and they were planning just to elope. However her father, Grelof, the Jarl had eventually found out and insisted that they be married properly.
This, Harald later learned, was somewhat surprising. Firstly, the offspring of what equated to Skyrim's secondary tier of chivalry would usually never be allowed to marry a mere Thane of a different Hold, most likely being married off to another Jarl who needed a wife in a different Hold to cement a marriage.
This was not to say that the Nords forced their children into marriages, they just encouraged certain matches, and the sense of duty most Nords had made them follow into the marriages if they were asked to.
So Haestan had to go through everything properly. Because of the bride's rank, Kjark had to open negotiations with the father, given they were both Jarls. This went fine; Haestan was rich from his new command as the admiral of Winterhold's navy as well as the ebony. Also, he was Thane of a prominent Hold that was rapidly becoming the eastern trade and economic centre of Skyrim and therefore Tamriel. Windhelm was still strong, but they didn't have the capacity to expand that Winterhold did.
Also Harald lived in Winterhold. Which gave it a sort of prestige in and of itself.
After the two Jarls had negotiated, Haestan had to send his friends to woo the bride. It was seen as improper for the groom to do it himself, as he might be trying to cast a spell on the bride by singing to her. Reciting poetry was also frowned upon. One could not talk about how white the bride's legs were without actually seeing her legs and their whiteness, which implied 'improper relations' had taken place.
Harald had been the last of the three friends to go a-wooing. His job had actually been to deliver the dowry to the bride's father and then escort the bride's family and the bride herself back to Winterhold to get married. He was also a sort of sponsor for Haestan's honour as a man, he would vouch that Haestan wasn't a Daedra-worshipping cannibal who ate children or something.
After that there had been a feast for three days where the two families mingled. Haestan's father had been shipped over from Falkreach and his sister from a small fishing cottage in Riften. Any feast less than three days was seen as paltry and indicated that the families were too poor to provide for each other, meaning the marriage would be cursed.
That being said, the bride and groom already knew each other, and Grelof's only motivation on insisting on the wedding seemed to Harald to be an excuse to dress up and have a party.
Eventually they all gathered in a little clearing in the hills above Winterhold. A priest stood under a carved wooden archway and rows of logs had been set out as benches. Harald was standing, sword unsheathed and tip on the ground with Haestan on the right of the aisle while the Thane's sister was sitting on a bench to the side of the altar.
Grelof slowly led his daughter down, her arm in his. Grelof was wearing a sky-blue tunic and thin silver circlet. All the bride's family had blue cloaks with little golden broaches pinning the two sides of the material together. In contrast Haestan and his group wore a sort of tawny yellow cloak over their shoulders, with a silver clasp. If the colours were significant Harald didn't know them.
Various dignitaries from around the Hold were gathered, each in their respective finery, the predominant colour being green however, as it signified the hope that the married couple would 'grow' to love each other as plants, which were also green, grew.
The bride arrived quickly and took up her station next to Haestan, who leant in to whisper something in her ear. The Jarl of Dawnstar looked on with a benevolent smile.
"We are gathered here, under Mara's loving gaze and before these witnesses, to join Haestan Dragonaxe and Aaja, daughter of Grelof in eternal companionship." Began the priest from the front, bringing his hands out from his sleeves and holding them up to the clear sky. "It was Mara, the handmaiden of Kyne, who gave birth to all of creation and pledged to watch over all of us as her children, it is from her love of us that we learn to love one and other. May they journey forth in this life and the next, in prosperity, in health and in joy."
The priest regarded them both, "Do you agree to be bound together, in love, now and forever?" he asked, first looking at Aaja.
"I do." She said, her voice not betraying a hint of nervousness, "Now and forever."
"I do." Haestan repeated somewhat strongly, "Now and forever."
"Under the authority of Mara, the Divine of Love," the priest said looking up and holding his hands out again, "I declare this couple to be one." He took a green ribbon from his sleeve and passed it around Haestan and Aaja's hands, tying it in an unsolvable knot.
This, Harald assumed, was the 'handfasting' that was the etymology of the term 'tying the knot'; the couple now would have to do everything together to further solidify their bond.
Haestan and Aaja held up their tied hands and the clearing erupted into clapping and cheers. Harald sheathed his sword and clasped Haestan's untied hand and patted him on the shoulder. Then Grelof shook the groom's hand as well.
Harald allowed the crowd to sweep round him to offer congratulations. Instead he went to stand at the edge of the clearing, looking out over one of the many valleys that lead to the Pale. The pines and conifers for once a deep green rather than their usual snow-covered orange as the sun reflected off the canopy.
"Will you join in the festivities my Thane?" asked Harald's Housecarl Garth as he came to stand behind him.
"I will." Replied Harald quietly, admiring the greenery. "But not yet." He said.
"'Not yet' my Thane?" asked Garth.
Harald, after living in Winterhold for the almost two years he now had, found himself to prefer quiet solitude than the revelry of the Nords.
Perhaps not solitude, he enjoyed the company of his friends, Savos, Siva, with whom he could have interesting discussions several subjects, also there was Neloth before he went back to Solthstheim, and Harald supposed the Lord Fyr should also be added to the list. Jergen, Haestan and Garth would naturally fall in the same category, as well as Sigurd and a few others.
However the large feasts and parties that frequented Nordic culture were most definitely 'not his thing'.
It was perhaps a relic of his childhood, that or the mind-set necessary for serious Occlumency, but Harald found himself to be a rather reserved person when not in the company of those he knew well.
As such he usually only made a courteous appearance to the various events, then slipped away to either a dark corner or one of the Aren's rooms.
"I must consider recent events." Harald finally told his Housecarl, "If you would, give my regards to both the Jarls and ask them to meet me after the feast."
"Of course my Thane."
And with that Harald was left alone, he stood erect, head slightly held upwards, hands clasped behind his back.
Several important things had happened of late that had become gossip in Winterhold. Harald had been thinking about them for the last few weeks before Haestan's wedding had come up and distracted him.
First, High King Uthred was dead. The Ex-King had apparently fallen off the battlements of the Blue Palace during a stormy night. Some spoke of assassination and treason but an investigation had uncovered no signs of foul play.
While Harald knew the Guardsmen and Guardswomen of Skyrim did not have fingerprinting or forensics, he could think of no one in particular who might benefit from the King's death.
Apart from himself that was.
It was rather ironic really. The station of High King of Skyrim, since the Empire grew to strength had been firmly held by the Jarls of Haafingar and its capital Solitude. This was because virtually all trade and therefore new, interesting things came through the city. The largest temple of the Divines was in Solitude, the largest docks and the headquarters of the Imperial Legion in Skyrim were all set there.
Unless something momentous like a civil war, the Kingship basically defaulted to the new Jarl of Solitude after the old King (or Queen) died.
There was some resentment among the older and more traditional Holds over this, they complained that the Jarls of Solitude always got too greedy on Imperial coin and the benefit of trade never reached the eastern Holds.
However, something momentous had happened.
The Dragonborn had come.
This was somewhat awkward for Harald. He did not particularly want to rule, it would take up far too much of his time, just as he had never contested Kjark's claim as Jarl of Winterhold. He wanted to be a leader but not a ruled he had decided. This relied on him being a heroic enough figure to follow, but not restrained by all the governmental red tape and responsibility that came with authority.
However a clamour had arisen in Winterhold and Eastmarch that he should present himself at the Moot to decide the new King and claim the throne.
Harald had denied this, explaining that as Talos had served Cuhlecain of Falkreach, so Harald would serve Skyrim.
Savos had a good laugh about this, explaining that according to the Arcturian Heresy, a conspiracy theory regarding Tiber Septim's rise to power, Talos had assassinated Cuhlecain and usurped his throne.
Luckily this theory had been proscribed and was therefore not well known.
Regardless, the power was shifting in Skyrim.
Secondly, the Archmage Deneth was very sick, reportedly being unable to feed or wash himself. The healers of the College were tending to him but could not find any way to restore him to health. As such his trusted lieutenants, Atmah and the recently promoted Savos had taken over most of the duties.
Looking south, spate of violence had spread through the southern Holds. The Reach was inflamed over some new outrage committed on the native population by their Nordic overlords, the citizens of Falkreach were scared to leave their homes in the night as there were 'unnatural things' creeping about in the forest. The Companions were there trying to hunt down whatever it was. Finally another revolution had swept through the Rift. The cronies of the old Jarl had put together their own militia and routed the garrison of Riften, burning the new council buildings and doing a lot of what they called 'setting the place to rights'.
Much to his regret, Harald could do nothing.
Usually it was simple. Harald would see a problem and go fix it, this usually relied on him killing the bad bandit, malevolent mage or despotic dictator who was in charge. In short, neutralising the threat.
But Harald had to think long term. If he went to the Reach and deposed the cruel Nordic overlords there and gave power back to the people then all the little tribes and social groups with blood feuds as long as your arm with all their neighbours would flare up. In this case, rather depressingly, tyranny really was the best option; it forced people to cooperate in fear of one person.
It was like the Romans. When Rome fell and the Roman Empire collapsed the Dark Ages happened. Hundreds of years when all the individual previously subjugated kingdoms got up and remembered they hated each other.
So on Tamriel, Pax Romana, or rather Remana, reigned, and had reigned for many centuries. It had been weakened by the loss of the outer provinces but still held relatively strong.
This was not to say Harald was pleased with the methods of the Nords there, he just knew that the ensuing power struggle if he took away the Nordic influence was worse than the current state of affairs.
Harald had come to this realisation when considering the Thieves Guild of Riften. Much as he was loath to admit it, they did provide a stabilising influence from the somewhat Bolshevik 'Council' that had ruled the Rift after the rebellion against Hosgunn Crossed-Daggers.
If Harald went and killed all the Thieves (or whatever the punishment was in Skyrim for theft was), the economy of Riften, supported by the Guilds activities would collapse, leaving thousands without a way of feeding their families, then driving them to crime and other social disorders and finally leaving the whole of the Rift a melting pot of villainy and general nastiness.
The only solution that was vaguely useable was that of minions.
The Dragonborn, the messianic figure could not be seen going about killing Nords. Not if said Dragonborn wanted the support of the people.
But if Harald used minions to go about and subtly affect events he could direct the fortunes of Skyrim without being personally present.
This too related back to the Arcturian Heresy, which was where Harald had gotten the idea from.
Tiber Septim had grown tired of the politicking about his newly conquered Empire and had tasked his Battlemage Zurin Arctus, or possibly Wulfharth the Underking, or possibly Shor himself (accounts were unclear) to run the Empire for him.
Harald needed to keep his personalities separate. It reminded him much of the figures of legend. He was Lancelot, the virtuous knight, Arthur, the wise ruler, and Merlin, the manipulator all at the same time, corresponding roughly to the Dragonborn, the Stormcrown and James Moriarty respectively.
At first he had taken on the persona of the 'Napoleon of Crime' as a joke, but he soon thought of a use for it.
Instead of destroying the Thieves Guild he would turn it to his own devices, thus preserving the stability of the Rift and doing some good with a previously opportunistic and immoral organisation.
Perhaps they would all go live in a forest together and find a Sheriff, a Prince and a Guy to annoy.
Though if he wanted to do that Harald might have to brush up on his archery… and get some tights.
Harald was hoping that the two Jarls would address his concerns at the Moot; he did not want to go himself as it would bring question into everyone's minds about Istold's right to rule after his father.
The two Jarls would apparently depart shortly after the feast, meeting up with Balgruuf the Lesser, the Jarl of Whiterun, as well as the Jarl of Falkreach whose name Harald did not know. What kind of messenger or emissary would come from Riften was anyone's guess.
A few birds spluttered up from the treeline, aroused most likely by a predator prowling below. The hills and mountains of Winterhold held not only wolves but sabre cats and trolls as well, and the small flock could have been frightened by any of them.
With a smile he turned on his heel and disappeared with a sharp crack.
"Time for your breakfast Archmage." Said Savos quietly to the bedridden man before him.
The circular chamber of the Archmage stank with the smell of sickness, vomit and other foulness, the pale but harsh light of the specially set globes of Magicka above.
With a supreme force of will not to wrinkle his nose the Dark Elf approached, holding a wooden spoon and a bowl of healthy broth in his hands.
As he slowly spooned the viscous liquid breakfast into the Archmage's mouth he reflected on how amusing all the ministrations of the healers were when the cure to the Archmage's affliction grew not three feet from his bed in the little garden in the middle of the chamber.
Or rather, it would have grown there had Savos not ripped all the leaves up and burnt them a few weeks ago.
"Stupid old man." Savos whispered triumphantly into his patient's ear.
A murmur came from the other's lips in answer to his boast. Savos knew the Archmage could hear and comprehend everything that went on around him, but the concentrated extract of the Crimson Nirnroot Savos was poisoning him with would keep him just sick enough to be silent and aware, but the real beauty of the weed was that the ingester would be unable to cry out or call for help because of the mild soporific and paralytic aspect of the plant.
All the healers were baffled. Especially that egotistical Breton Dunlain. The idiot still thought that Wards were part of the Restoration school.
And the Archmage had promoted him for it!
It was all well and good for Dunlain to become professor of Restoration, but did any such promotion come to Savos? No it did not.
Well there was a reason Boethiah was one of the patrons of the Dunmer. The Daedric Prince of conspiracy and treachery had served Savos as well as Azura served Siva.
Or rather was served by. It was moot really, Daedra inspired mortals to do things, mortals worshiped Daedra for doing so, thus giving them power. It was all quite arcane in any case.
Partly it was revenge for being scorned over the Professorship that Savos craved, partly it was frustration at the Archmage's refusal to move with the times, and partly it was Harald's influence.
The Nord had seriously scared the Archmage with his soul-sucking trick. After that the Archmage had gone straight to the capital to complain to the King, that last King that was, Utgert or some equally barbaric name.
Regardless the King had been too caught up in the Skooma and whores he was rumoured to busy himself with and the Archmage had been turned away.
So Deneth had directed his anger at back toward those friends of Harald's that were in his power. Namely the Arens.
Of course Savos would never stand for this. Once the Archmage had begun making motions to alienate them from the rest of the College, particularly when the rumour had gone round that they would be expelled Savos had acted.
A brief visit to Sinderon the Alchemist down in Blackreach had secured the plants, then a session with calcinator and alembic had refined the Crimson Nirnroot to greater potency. Then all that was needed was for Savos to order one of the servants to bring Deneth a late night warmed wine and the game was set.
Whilst all this effort was ultimately Harald's fault, the Dragonborn had also enabled Savos to gain greater position for himself and Siva.
After all, what else was there than the advancement of oneself and one's family?
Siva was doing her own part, in her own way of course.
She was planning to seduce Harald. But this was old news to Savos. History in fact. Any Dunmer who could read had at one point in their lives gotten a hold of a copy of the banned books of The Real Barenziah series knew the story of the Dragonborn Emperor and his Dunmer lover.
Savos grinned wryly at the thought. He could be brother-in-law to the ruler of all Tamriel.
With a final viscous barb at the Archmage Savos departed.
Atmah, now Savos' only obstacle to power, waited outside. He would have to do something about her soon as well.
"How is the Archmage?" the Redguard woman asked hesitantly.
"He rests." Replied Savos gently, laying a hand on her shoulder in a gesture of comfort. "I think it would be good if he tried to sleep some more."
"Perhaps later?" the simpering girl asked.
Savos nodded kindly, "He knows the sound of your voice I think, he is more at ease when you're there." Said Savos, then had a thought: Given that you're not the one poisoning him. "We can only pray now that the Healers have found nothing."
Atmah agreed sadly and left with a little sniffle.
After that he went to his chamber, taking the passageways through the walls to shield himself from the blizzard raging above the Hold. Eventually he came out in the Hall of Attainment and his quarters.
As usual Siva was curled up at the headboard of his bed, catlike, with all his covers and several of his robes wrapped round her. This was a usual state of affairs for his sister. Savos would arise with the sun and go about his business about the College. Meanwhile Siva would awaken from her new room in Saarthal, don a robe and stumble through a magic door to his room and fall asleep in his bed. She complained that her own room was cold and that his was warmer.
Savos never bothered to point out that their rooms were most likely the same temperature, and that it was mostly her feeling lonely that she came to his room. But Savos didn't complain. He wasn't using the bed after all.
"Arise sleeper." The Dunmer commanded as he strode in, poking his sister in where he assumed her back would be.
Siva recoiled slightly, then pushed herself upright, and yawned cavernously.
"Manners sister." Savos chided, it was his opinion that Siva had been far too influenced by Winterhold, "If dear Harald wanted a Nord he could have his pick of any in Skyrim."
Siva merely smirked at him, her crimson hair, even ruffled from sleeping, cascading magnificently about her shoulders. "However." She replied confidently, "Nor does he want some prissy Imperial socialite."
Savos tilted his head slightly, turning his back to her and sitting down at his desk. "Perhaps." He acknowledged.
"How is the Archmage?" Siva asked, and Savos heard the rustling of blankets as she adjusted her position.
Savos felt under his desk for the secret panel he had installed to hide his poisons. He brought out a small jar sealed with wax containing a sum of pink powder.
"Alas he does not seem to be getting any better." Savos said in fake sadness. Naturally Siva knew about his schemes, just as he did hers, she had even used him as a sounding board on a few of her ideas to deal with the Dragonborn.
"What a pity." She said in a tone that conveyed that it was not a pity at all.
Savos set about preparing the Archmage's evening 'medicine' whilst Siva lay face up on his bed. He glanced backwards to see her turning over a chunk of Daedrium in her long fingers. In comparison with the gem at her throat, a gift from Harald, the Daedrium was a sicklier colour, exuding a sense of uneasy around anyone who touched it. It held none of the lustre of rubies but was valued a lot more highly as there were only a few pieces in the world, given that it was actually a synthesised mineral generated by some arcane process which Harald held the secret to. Presumably Aetherium was involved somehow, but Savos was hoping to replicate the results.
"When will you be departing for Cyrodiil?" inquired Savos after a while.
"Tomorrow by the earliest, the end of the month by the latest." Replied Siva, putting the chunk of crystal down.
"And do you have any particular plans when you're down there?"
"We're probably going to break into the Imperial Palace." Said Siva casually.
Savos actually spluttered. "What?" he gasped and turned to face her.
"Well…" explained Siva, not bashfully, but with a sort of contriteness, "I told Harald how his armour looked too dark to be the whole 'heroic Dragonborn' thing he's trying to get across to all the Nords."
"Nonsense." Scoffed Savos, he had very definite ideas on such things. "People should fear their masters."
"You're thinking about them like elves." Siva said shaking her head, "These Northmen like their freedom you may have noticed, they don't respond well to threats. Too stupid to do anything but charge. Like bears actually. Large, powerful, but rather stupid."
"Bears tend to wash more though." Savos pointed out.
Siva's lips twisted in a small smile. "Be that as it may, for the image Harald wants to put across he can't look like a vengeful warrior clad in the bones of his enemies. Getting back to why we're breaking into the Palace, I told him about the Imperial Dragon Armour."
"Ah." Said Savos in realisation, "Of which there are only two sets in existence and both are held in the Palace, yes I see now."
Siva nodded. "Also I assume we will be stopping via Bruma to see the Blades."
Savos nodded agreeably, that seemed logical, "I seem to recall something of that nature begin discussed a few months ago?" he asked, "Just after we came back from Solstheim."
"Yes, but then things got in the way." Confirmed Siva, "Like invading Oblivion."
"You invaded Oblivion," pointed out Savos, "I am far too sensible for such things."
Siva grinned at him, "Well we got to see a Daedric Titan and you didn't." she said meanly.
Savos' lip curled. It did seem in hindsight that he would have been better served going with Harald on his jaunt rather than remaining behind.
"Krex and Tolfdir won't stop talking about it." Continued Siva, "You might have to worry about your scheme to become Archmage at the rate they're accumulating favour."
Savos scoffed. "Festus Krex's only redeeming quality is that he uses magic rather than muscle for his brutality, either he'll join the Legion as a Battlemage or he'll go on a rampage and burn down a town somewhere then be killed by the Guard."
Siva shrugged, a little smile playing across her face, she enjoyed teasing him about the other students that might get in the way of Savos' plans. "And Tolfdir?" she asked eventually.
"Please." Said Savos scornfully, "He has no ambition. He's like a piece of coral."
They both laughed. It was true after all.
"Does coral have ambition? It's a rock isn't it?" Siva eventually asked.
"Actually it's some kind of fungus I think, if you do a Life Detect on it there's a glow, but regardless I doubt every piece of coral wants one day to grow up to captain a ship or open a flower shop or something."
Siva made some noise of agreement and settled back against the headboard.
"Get me something interesting when you break into the Palace will you?" asked Savos as he went back to mashing the Nirnroot into a pulp, ignoring the pitiful chimes that the plant let out every time his mallet came down on the leaves.
"Like what?" asked Siva, "I think the crown would be a bit much."
"Well I actually meant an interesting book or somesuch, I assume there are a few there that the general public have no access to."
"No doubt," agreed Siva, "But we weren't planning to loot the place, just go in so Harald can get some ideas about new armour."
Savos waved his mallet around airily. "Whatever." He shrugged, "Come hold this bowl for me while I pour will you?"
"This Dinvine-damned saddle's been cut short." Complained Kjark grumpily.
Sigurd sighed. That was the sixth time his father had spoken on the same subject. To Sigurd's eyes the saddle's stirrups did not look short, and he doubted that anyone in the stables would have bothered to deliberately mess about with the Jarl's riding gear.
"I'll get one of the men to take a look at it when we stop father." Sigurd told him, only a variation of what the Jarl's son had been saying all through the journey.
After Thane Haestan's wedding the party of the two Jarls of Dawnstar and Winterhold had departed the town.
City he should say. For the first time in years Winterhold was up to the levels it had been before the Great Collapse. Sigurd had been out on the southern marches when the clifface had given way and he returned to great devastation and havoc among the people. Many hundreds had died and other moved away afterwards because of the Collapse. One among them was Sigurds grandfather, a mere memory of a great bear of a man who'd lost a leg in a whaling accident.
But for the first time in a long time the citizens of Winterhold could stand up and be proud of their Hold. No-one went hungry anymore and the patrols from Dawnstar had developed into a strong alliance between the two Holds.
If Haestan had not married into the nobility there Sigurd himself would have most likely been packed off to make a home with some woman of the Pale.
Not that he would have minded though – as long as it wasn't some salty old fishwife.
Sigurd clasped the shaft of his spear; the one Harald had given him the same day he got his name.
Sigurd the Unyielding! Slayer of Dragons!
Well, not slayer, or indeed more than one dragon really. 'Stabber of dragons' would be more accurate.
Still, Sigurd had felt like a king that day, some great hero of old like Ysgramor and the rest.
The only thing wrong with it all was that the new name, the new status of the Hold and seemingly most things nowadays that were good, could all be traced back to one man.
Harald Stromcrown! Slayer of Dragons!
Now that was a true title.
The Atmoran had come through Skyrim like a tempest, which come to think of it matched his name, so was not to be wondered at.
Harald was almost solely responsible for the new fortunes of the Hold's people, his battle-strategy and his Voice had taken the ebony from Solstheim, injecting more coin into the economy that had been seen in living memory. His magic had thrown up buildings like the Winter Keep in mere hours.
This wasn't to say Sigurd was ungrateful; the man had saved his life in Morrowind after all.
He just felt somehow that this blessing would be a fickle sort. After a while Harald would tire of their little white land and go off back to civilisation where men didn't dress in pelts and got meat stuck in their beards when they ate.
He knew at a word his father the Jarl would relinquish his position in favour of Harald. That was just the sort of man his father was. Honourable and godly enough to recognise the influence of the Divines and to accept it.
Yet Harald was also a man of honour. He would not ask for the position, even were there no claimants already.
This was decidedly a good thing. Without morals a man of such power would be terrible indeed.
The party rounded the last outpost of the northern mountains at the Yorgrim Overlook, a relic of when Winterhold was at war with the southern Holds and watchers would stand at the Overlook at monitor the south for enemy movement. Nightingale Inn was ahead of them, and perhaps they would stop there, however Sigurd doubted it. First the Inn was far too small for the twenty or so people in the group, but also his father had great distrust of Inns for some reason that he never talked about.
"Where do we make for now Jarl Grelof?" asked Sigurd, given that they had passed into the Pale now he looked to the Jarl of that Hold for information. As Sigurd saw it they could either make south, skirting Yorgrim Lake and going through Tumble Arch Pass, then along the White River to Whiterun, or they might make east along the road toward Whitewatch Tower and the northern most farms owned by the powerful Battle-Born Clan.
"For Blizzard's Rest." Replied the Jarl, "There will be shelter there."
"You think a storm's coming?" asked Sigurd's father.
"Maybe." Said the other Jarl. "The sky is clear now, but is the season for it."
The rode on for a while in silence, the mixed bodyguards of the Jarls after their charges in two long lines.
The land about them was the brown of late summer, when the leaves of trees began to grow papery and dry. Soon those leaves would fall and decay, covering the road in a carpet of mulch that would give new life in the spring. The trees of needles rather than leaves, the pines and spruces that grew mainly in the west of Skyrim, would keep their greenery, each successive year bringing a new growth till the boughs of the trees cracked and strained under the weight.
After a few hours they reached Blizzard's Rest, a depression in the rock around it to form a slight cove, the northern 'wall' rising up to stave off the cold winds out of the north. To the south and east the snowy plains opened out into the tundra of Whiterun, and in the distance they could see the very top of Dragonsreach, the high hall of the Jarl of Whiterun. Slightly to the west of Whiterun but closer, there seemed to be a structure, conical, tall with a thatched roof it looked like a watchtower, however what it may have in fact been Sigurd did not know.
The guards checked around to make sure no clan of bears or wolves had made their home in the caves around them the Nords settled down, deadwood was collected from the forest and set in a circle of stones and soon a merry fire kindled. Sigurd, his father and the Jarl of Dawnstar sat at it while the other men unfolded their bedrolls beside their own fires.
Food was brought out and served on rough wooden slates. Sigurd took bread in a hand, then put some of the crumbly white cheese on it and ate it whole. The bread was tough, and perhaps salt would have benefited the meal, but it was enough. One of Grelof's retainers started up a stew on the fire, lamb, potatoes and tomatoes with small pulses, lentils Sigurd thought. Eventually the water bubbled and frothed and the servant took a long iron ladle and served them all.
The stew was good, a hearty meal, and more importantly warm, though the rock wall took away the fast winds that stole away a man's heat, they did nothing for the biting cold. Many of the Nords wore fur or woollen caps with large ear flaps. This impeded conversation, but it stopped frostbite, which was more important.
"What do you think will be the issues at the Moot?" asked Sigurd to the two Jarls, there was a customary period of time before each ceremony in Solitude where the Jarls could discuss matters of importance to the whole country.
"Certainly not your Stormcrown friend." Scoffed Grelof.
Sigurd laughed, that was true, he doubted that the new king would want to talk about someone who had the greatest and most legitimate claim to the throne.
Kjark did not smile; he was looking into the middle distance, his eyes clouded over.
"Father?" asked Sigurd.
Kjark shook himself. "The trade relations with High Rock will certainly come up." He said slowly, obviously still thinking.
Grelof swallowed the last piece of bread on his plate. "I do not understand such mercantile matters." He said, "Taxes and trade have never, in my lifetime at least, been of great importance to Dawnstar."
Kjark gestured for his son to explain. Sigurd smiled, his father had been delegating more and more of the duties of a Jarl to him as Winterhold had grown, Sigurd liked the new work, he enjoyed it, but he thought it was overly cautious of his father, after all, it wasn't as if he was going to die any time soon, only being fifty or so years old.
"It all leads back to the Aldmeri-Empire divide really." Sigurd began to explain, "Each is made up of provinces, Skyrim, High Rock and Hammerfell for the Empire and Valenwood and Elsweyr for the Dominion. Recently, I say recently, it's been going on for years really, but anyway, recently even though the respective provinces owe allegiance to each of their heads, they don't necessarily have the best relations with them. So what my father was saying was that High Rock has recently been having trouble trading with the Empire, they can't transport goods through the Reach, because there are bandits all over there that attack trade caravans, and they can't go around the Cape of the Blue Divide, around Hammerfell because of pirates."
"When you say pirates…" asked Grelof.
"A mixture of Redguard raiders and Elvish privateers, they're dangerous waters I hear."
"Ah." Said the Jarl of Dawnstar. "So what are the Bretons doing? They need grain and such do they not? It's not the biggest of provinces."
Sigurd nodded, each of the provinces in the Empire had a set of exports and imports, Skyrim for instance was the second largest province, and sparsely populated, having a great many mines and forests for natural resources that it could export to Cyrodiil in return for finished craft goods. High Rock meanwhile had few assets but a great capacity for making things.
"That's the problem, if they can't give them to the Empire they have to go to the Aldmeri, who have a great deal of timber and other such things from their southern states." Sigurd continued.
"But I was under the impression that we, that is, Skyrim, traded a great deal with them?" asked Grelof, "Many a time has my steward come to me with the latest totals from the Stonehills or Anga's Mill."
"Aye, we do." Confirmed Sigurd, "But we trade separately as individual Holds, rather than as a country as the Aldmeri do, that means they can sell lower and buy higher than us, so the Bretons go to them."
"But that makes no sense?"
"Not normally," said Sigurd, and shifted his weight onto one elbow, half lying down on his bedroll, "I've spoken with a few merchants who've been to Firsthold on the Summerset Isles, they say that any ship from any port in the Empire that docks there is given preferential treatment and doesn't have to pay as high tariffs as all the other ships."
"But the loss of coin?" asked Grelof, "Surely that cannot be profitable."
Sigurd shrugged, "Tell the Aldmeri that, I think it's deliberate though, I think the elves are trying to draw trade away from the Empire, especially the Bretons, that lot are half-elf already, and that's what the Moot will discuss, the East Empire Company are making a mess of fixing it so father's going to try and get a trade guild or something started."
"Is that legal?" said Grelof confusedly; evidently international politics were not the Jarls strong point.
"It need not be official." Said Kjark, reassuring him, "Simply a… 'League' of concerned merchants or somesuch."
This was another part of Kjark's schemes to bring power to Winterhold. There was a struggle in Skyrim, not visible to the casual observer, but an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, ready to spring up around a flashpoint.
It was a great deal like Morrowind's situation before the eruption of Red Mountain Sigurd observed. There were the old traditionalists of the Great Houses, but then there was the Empire's influence, coming in from Ebonheart.
In Skyrim it was the same, the Old Holds of Winterhold, Windhelm and the Rift were railing against the intruding (and truthfully, unwelcome) interference of Solitude and the Imperial influences stemming from there. It was Kjark and Sigurd's plan to set Winterhold up as the main power of the east, to advance ahead of Windhelm and the Rift and unite the whole east of Skyrim.
They thought that a reasonable goal. After perhaps they might challenge Solitude or Blacklight, and perhaps after that a Jarl of Winterhold would sit in the Blue Palace as High King.
That day was far away though, if ever, the High Kings and Queens had always been chosen by the Emperor.
But then again, Talos' bloodline had died out; the Empire was at its weakest since the Oblivion Crisis, furthermore, an Atmoran had come out of the North, a Stormcrown challenger.
That could certainly change things.
Sigurd shrugged, such matters were the province of the gods, and the gods did not tell their pawns the whole plan all at once.
The Jarl's son settled down into his furs, all he knew for certain was that the winds were cold and the night long, and that was enough.
He closed his eyes and drifted off into sleep.
The Harbinger stuck forward, pushing Harald back toward the wall, huge axe whirling past in a cut that would have bisected the Wizard had he not leapt to the side.
Harald swept his own sword up, first rapping the ghost on the wrist and then driving the sword forward past the axe-haft raised to block him.
On the other side of the chamber Jergen parried another spirit's sword strokes, then the man span to block a second Companion's attack in time to put in his own strike.
Harald got in close with his combatant, he gave the ghost a shove and brought the lower half of his blade up under the throat of his enemy.
The spirit looked down, then up, smiled at Harald, and walked away back into his coffin.
"I'm done." Harald called out.
"Well I'm not!" Jergen growled, hacking down the guard of one of his opponents, "A little help here?"
Harald grinned and pulled his sword up into the guard position, "Over here Companions!"
One of the ghosts turned away from Jergen and toward him, clashing an axe and spiked mace before him, then running forward.
Harald conjured a shield for himself and moved his grip on his sword closer to the hilt.
The spirit roared something in Nordic at him and swung the axe down, Harald blocked with his shield and jabbed forward, the spiked mace knocked the sword aside and sped on towards his side, Harald stepped forward into the blow, knocking the ghost back and allowing the handle of the mace to strike ineffectually against his ribs.
A curved axe-head hooked over Harald's shield and pulled it down, the mace came over to try and brain him, Harald wrenched the shield up, pulling the axe away from his enemy's grip and sending it flying away.
The Companion was left with only one weapon which he tried to bludgeon Harald with, the blows were blocked easily and Harald's sword cut the mace into pieces and rest its tip under the Companion's chin.
The ghost nodded once, then disappeared.
Harald walked over to Jergen, who was trying to get his sword out of the soft iron that encircled most shields.
"I thought you said this was supposed to be 'honourable combat'?" Jergen grumbled.
"It is." Replied Harald, "They just want to make sure we're worthy."
"Two on one isn't fair, also, since when do you use a shield?"
Harald dropped the offending object, "I don't." he said, "But it's better than just the sword against a dual-wielder."
"So just use your magic?" asked Jergen and gave the sword another tug, it snapped in two and he fell back on the floor.
"That goes against the whole point of the exercise." Harald pointed out, he had even painted another magic inhibiting seal on his stomach, he pulled Jergen up by a grasped arm, "You want me to repair that?" he asked, gesturing to the broken sword.
Jergen regarded him with slightly narrowed eyes.
"Can I have a go with yours?" the Companion asked hesitantly.
Harald glanced to his sword where Jergen's eyes had been drawn. He wordlessly passed the blade over.
Jergen gave the sword a few twirls and they set off further into Ysgramor's Tomb.
Harald had (finally) got around to sorting out his 'furry problem'. Though having increased hearing was useful, as well as the strength increase that came with lycanthropy, the lessened vision and increased growth of his hair and beard, as well as an uncomfortable feeling every full moon was not equal to it. Therefore he had summoned Hircine and gotten him to explain how to cure the condition.
Hircine had demanded recompense, so Harald had given him an amulet enchanted with a Supersensory Charm as well as giving the wearer infra-red vision. The Hunstman had been pleased and told him where to find the Glenmoril witches, whose heads had to be burned in a basin in the depths of Ysgramor's Tomb.
Jergen had decided something similar, though Harald suspected it was more to do with him wanting to go to Sovngarde when he died, rather than being one of Hircine's hounds.
As such they took a small boat out to the island Ysgramor was buried at and had made their way inside.
The ghosts of the previous Companions, as well as what Harald thought to be a significant proportion of the Five Hundred who sailed with Ysgramor from Atmora, had greeted them inside.
As Harald said to Jergen before, there was no spite or malice in the Companion's hostility, they just wanted to make sure Jergen and he weren't graverobbers.
The Tomb of the first Harbinger was almost exactly the same as the other Nordic ruins Harald had visited, except that it had absolutely no Draugr in it. There were embalmed bodies, but no actual undead.
There were however hundreds of spirits, thousands perhaps, all of them injured in some way, some with large gashes in them and others carrying their heads under their arms.
There came an inhuman skittering sound from the darkened doorway before them.
"Spiders." Growled Jergen. "I hate spiders!"
Harald considered a set of eyes that had appeared in the darkness, eight deep orange orbs glowing gently, or seeming to. Given that the spiders were technically not part of the obstacles to Ysgramor's resting place, he thought he could bend the rules a bit.
"Stand ready." He told Jergen.
The Companion brought his sword up, "What are you doing?" he hissed as Harald walked into the darkness.
Harald drew his hand across one of his sharpened incisors, courtesy of Hircine's curse.
The scent of blood wafted around the chamber, immediately new sets of eyes popped out.
Though these spiders had evidently never seen, or heard of a basilisk, Harald thought they could probably still smell blood through which the venom of such a snake had coursed.
"The King of Serpents has come." He hissed in Parseltongue, "Flee if you value your lives."
The orange eyes a few feet ahead grew comically wide. Then Harald was almost knocked over as over a dozen arachnids the size of pigs skittered past him, trying to get as far away as possible.
"So what was that?" asked Jergen, walking casually up.
"I speak snake." Replied Harald equally casually.
"Oh." Said Jergen, his eyebrows furrowed. "I see."
Harald grinned, then slapped Jergen on the arm, "Come on."
They passed rapidly through the webbed corridors further down into the tombs, Harald allowed Jergen to go first and have a go with his sword.
"Jergen," he called during one lull in the fighting as they navigated their way along a thin stone walkway. "It comes to mind that I will soon need a sparring partner."
"Yes I'll spar with you." Jergen replied without a thought, "How come though? You've been fine so far."
"I am becoming human." Harald replied. It was true, his soul had begun to reform his body, and over the next few years he would probably get less broad and bulky, but no less tall, which was good. He also would have to start eating normal food rather than existing solely on magic as he did now. That meant without regular exercise his muscle mass would decrease to unacceptable levels.
"What are you now – a shrub?" asked Jergen, turning round.
"Let me explain it in words you will understand-"
"I'm not stupid!"
Harald laughed, "Nor are you a mage," he thought for a moment, "A spell was cast on me to make my body stronger, however the spell is fading and to keep up my strength I need regular exercise."
"Ah." Replied Jergen. "Fair enough, you coming to live at Jorrvaskr then?"
Harald shook his head, "I'll meet you every morning in the courtyard."
"Whiterun then? Don't see why you'd live there instead of with us lot."
Harald shook his head again, then appeared with a sharp crack in front of Jergen, "No," he said, "I'll do that."
"So you can teleport." Said Jergen, "Not bad."
"'Not bad'" echoed Harald incredulously.
"Well I don't see it being that useful really, considering you could shoot lightning out your hands or whatever."
Harald cocked his head to the side, regarding Jergen, in deference to their conversation the next group of spirits ready to test them were waiting patiently. "Alright," said Harald, ready to teach another lesson, "Try and hit me with the sword." He told Jergen, and then put his hands behind his back, smiling unsettlingly at the other Companion.
Without warning Jergen stabbed forward.
"And now I'm here!"
Jergen attacked once more, Harald sidestepped and caught the blade of the sword between his arm and his side, then Apparated away, splinching the sword with him so that he stood behind Jergen, the tip at his back.
Jergen turned slowly. "I see what you mean." He said in grudging admiration.
Harald laughed and handed the sword back to him.
The spirits, seeing them approach, took up arms and charged.
"I'll take these." Harald told Jergen, and with a thought his armour rippled up his forearms and hands.
With a leap off a large urn Harald flew forward, kicking out with both feet onto the shield of the first spirit to rush him, he rolled over his shoulder onto the floor, dodged left, a spear passing over his body, then spinning back and striking under the chin with the heel of his palm. He rolled over the body of the now downed opponent and onto the next one.
This former Companion came at him with an axe, but Harald was too close and the Nord tried to bash him in the face with the wood, using it as a staff, Harald punched him hard in the stomach, the small spikes on his gloves piercing his armour and sending him flying backwards. Harald grabbed the dropped axe and threw it with both hands at the first Companion, smashing his shield in two and sending him to the ground.
Harald then clutched his side where he'd sprained one of his muscles.
"Damn." He swore, "It's been a while since I did that."
"Well…" said Jergen in amazement, having just watched his friend take down three armed and armoured fighters with only his fists. "What actually was that?"
Harald did a few stretches to alleviate the ache in his side. "A mixture of a variety of martial arts," he began, "I used to be what you might call a guard, except that I was a guard in a country populated only by mages."
"So, you fought necromancers and other bad mages right?" asked Jergen.
"Pretty much," agreed Harald, "Only I was the best mage around. Meaning they couldn't hope to match me in magical combat."
"So they got in close? So you couldn't use your spells."
Harald nodded, surprised he understood so fast. With Wizards guns were actually less dangerous than fists, if you could get close to someone with a wand you could knock it away. Harald didn't need a wand, but he couldn't cast any of his more dangerous spells with someone close to him, otherwise he'd be caught in the blast as well. There was no such thing as an 'minimum arming distance' with spells.
"We had to adapt our tactics to include hand-to-hand combat. Which was never my strong point."
"Tell them that!" exclaimed Jergen pointing with the sword to the three Ex-Companions.
Harald shrugged, "I trained with the finest masters of what you'd call Akavir."
"Can you teach me?" asked Jergen eagerly. "I want to see Rollo's face when I crumple up his armour with a single punch."
"That might be a good idea actually." Said Harald, "Not the punching, but I'll probably be in combat a lot more soon so I'd be good to refresh my memory."
Jergen would never be able to use some of the Wizard only moves, as they required one to internalise magic. There were sages in Asia hundreds of years old and insanely strong because they kept their magic all bottled up.
Harald preferred actual spells himself, but he respected tiny old men who could shatter stone with their strikes.
"Want to see something else cool?" he said, and began conjuring a more exotic weapon.
Jergen looked on sceptically as Harald wound a robe around his arm, at the end of the rope, clutched in Harald's hand was a metal ball.
"I fail to see how that is a weapon." He said pointedly, he was expecting something vaguely pointy at least, rather than this… whatever it was.
"What you fail to see would fill the pages of many books." Replied his Shield-Brother without missing a beat.
Jergen scowled, then smiled himself, a good joke should not go unlauded.
"Just one of you this time." Harald called to the ghosts.
At first Jergen had been apprehensive of fighting spirits, thinking it some kind of sacrilege. However the spirits in question didn't seem upset at their presence, if anything they appeared to be appreciating the fight. Jergen had begun to think of them only as see-through people.
One Companion stepped forward, his armour deeply inlaid with runes and carved in images of battles long past. On one hand he held a long sword, the blade written with runes, and on his other arm a shield bearing a rampant bear on a dark background. His helm had two curved horns rising above the ears.
The Companion clashed his shield and sword together a few times, then began to circle, Harald following his steps. Their footwork was good, both of them, each steady and carefully placed.
Harald slowly twirled the rope he was holding, then, when the other warrior rushed forward Harald threw the metal ball forward, the rope around his arm uncoiled in a perfect spiral the ball struck the upraised shield of the Companion, stopping him in his tracks.
The spirits around them look confused, this was something they had not encountered before.
Harald twirled the rope again, wrapping it around his elbow and hand, then twisted so it went around his waist.
The Companions rushed in again.
And again the rope whipped out, this time smashing and overhead blow that would have broken the spirits arm if he had been alive. Harald led the ball drop to the floor, twisted his ankle and foot around the rope, then he kicked at the Companion, sending the ball at his knees, the Companion jumped to the side and Harald flicked the rope, sending the ball back to him. Harald twisted, still pulling the rope which sent the ball on the end flying round, perilously close to Jergen's nose.
The mace-ball flew back around the other way, this time wrapping around the Companions knees, he fell, and the tangled rope pulled back, then forward, wrapping again around Harald's arm and then smashing into the stone floor, where the Companion would have been had he not rolled to the side at the last second.
Harald began spinning again, each time he struck with his hammer being repulsed by either the shield or the sword of his opponent. The spirits around them looking on in amazement at the spectacle.
Then, in the midst of a very complicated manoeuvre where Harald first wrapped the rope around his arm, torso, and finally his thigh, he miss stepped. He tripped over a rut in the floor and toppled to the ground.
The Companion was on him in a flash, swinging with his sword and trying his best to bash with shield and head as well.
Harald rolled aside, smacking the swordblade aside with the mace, then he danced backwards, using the threat of the hammer flying rapidly about him to ward off any advance.
The fight continued for several more minutes, Harald not being able to retreat any great distance to do his more fancy moves, but the Companion not being able to get close enough to use his sword.
Then Jergen realised something. There appeared to be some method in Harald's apparently random attacks, this was because Jergen had observed the metal ball almost wrapping around one of the Companion's limbs, but not quite. However, Harald had moved his hand up the rope, leaving some of it trailing on the ground. There was a loop just where the Companion's foot was about to fall.
Then Harald gave the rope end an almighty tug, sending the Companion tumbling to the ground. Harald's hammer knocked the sword out of his hand and drove the shield away. Then the hammer smashed down on the Companion's face, or would have, had he not faded away into nothingness.
"Sloppy," Jergen heard Harald chide himself softly, "Very sloppy."
"This is how they fight in Akavir then? With… rope-maces?" asked Jergen as the weapon faded away.
"No, I hightly doubt it at least." Replied Harald, "And it's called a Meteor Hammer."
"Hm." Grunted Jergen, "I can see why."
It was certainly an impressive weapon, and Jergen could well imagine that it might be good in single combat, but he couldn't see it being used in larger battles, not unless everyone on each side was equally skilled with it.
They walked on through the ruin, the Companions had apparently grown bored of watching them so they faced no more opposition until they reached a very large chamber with a stone basin burning with a strange blue flame.
"How do they fight in Akavir then?" Jergen asked as Harald presumably read the runes around the edge of the basin.
"Much the same way we do really, except without shields." Harald replied.
"Really? How do they block?"
"Well you don't really use a shield to block melee weapons do you?" Harald asked rhetorically, "You just deflect them, as to leave whoever you're fighting open to a counter attack. Correct me if I'm wrong."
"No no, carry on."
"Well in Akavir they have better metallurgy techniques, but worse bows, and no crossbows, which means that they never needed shields, who's primary purpose is to prevent arrows and things isn't it."
"So they just use swords?" asked Jergen, having trouble imagining a battle without formations and such.
"That and spears, and bows. Combat in Akavir though is based more on duels than massed troops." Explained Harald, "They have a culture of honour."
"So you've been to Akavir?"
"Hai." Replied Harald in what Jegen assumed to be the language of the eastern continent.
Eventually Harald straightened up, "Basically it says to burn a head in the basin, then defeat your inner wolf."
"So you want to go first?"
"I think you should, yours will be stronger."
"What?" Jergen asked in confusion, why would either of the wolf spirits be stronger than the other?
"Well the way I see it, you've actually embraced yours." Explained Harald, fishing a bloody head out of a sack he had stowed somewhere. "On the other hand, I've been supressing mine, therefore I'll keep the strength to kill yours, and we can both team up on mine. That being said, I'm magically stronger than you so it might have been feeding off that, which would make mine stronger. " Harald paused in thought, "No," he said after a few moments, "We can do it your way."
Jergen shrugged, "Fair enough, let's get this over with." He took one of the heads and cast it into the fire.
"You got anything?" asked Harald, regarding him as if he were about to fall over.
"Um…" said Jergen "No, not really… Actually wa-"
Then Jergen was violently sick as something large and red flew out of his chest. He felt as weak as a kitten, unable to get up and help Harald kill the spectral wolf that had appeared.
"Wuld!" Harald Shouted and he flew forward, sword pointed outwards, in a flash and a crash his sword and his arms were elbow deep in the wolf's mouth. But the tip of his blade had reached the wolf's heart before its jaws could close and the spirit shuddered and fell dead.
Jergen shivered, coughed a few times, then took Harald's proffered arm.
"You good?" asked his Shield-Brother.
"Give me a minute." Replied Jergen, and shook himself. "Alright, go."
Harald threw another head into the fire, then doubled up in pain.
The wolf spirit came out of him and Jergen tried to decapitate it with a single strike. The wolf dodged. But this one seemed smaller than Jergen's, weaker, like Harald's first prediction.
However, Harald quickly got to his feet and joined in, throwing himself over the wolf's body and stabbing at it with a dagger he had gotten from somewhere, Jergen slashed at the wolf's flanks while Harald had it pinned and they quickly finished the beast.
"Well." Sighed Harald, climbing to his feet, "You feel any different?"
"Stuff's brighter." Jergen replied, looking around, the world seemed to have taken on a more vibrant tint.
Harald was checking his teeth, Jergen thought that a good idea and lifted one hand to run the pad of his thumb over his canines, they were still longer than before he became a werewolf, but not so long as to be abnormal.
"Is that it?" Harald eventually asked, looking around them.
"Presumably. What were you expecting?"
"Something more complicated," replied Harald exasperatedly, "I was expecting to have to drink the blood of a Half-Orc, Half-Redguard virgin woman over fifty under a sickle moon whilst dancing a jig."
Jergen laughed, he could quite imagine some strange coven of mages doing just that. "Hircine isn't the most complicated of patrons though is he?"
Harald shrugged, "I suppose not. Anyway, shall we get back to Whiterun?"
"You going to magic us there?" asked Jergen, looking apprehensive.
"Yes, brace yourself."
Neloth looked quizzically over the enormous corpse before him.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" he asked, turning slightly.
The Lord Fyr shrugged. "I suspect it is much the same as a dragon, and I dissected one of them before."
Neloth walked forward and peered through a large whole in the Daedric Titan's chest. The insides were rent and burnt, with several large shards of ice sticking from them, kept from dissipating by the unnatural coldness of the corpse. A blue sludge trickled from the beast's mouth, staining the ground.
Fyr stepped up next to him. "With creatures such as these," he began, then turned to Neloth, "That is to say, bearing many similarities to reptiles and the common lizard, I find it best to harvest the horns and teeth first. The blood, being cold, maintains none of the alchemic power that other fluids do."
Neloth nodded, that seemed reasonable, "What of the glands? Naturally occurring poison can be a useful ingredient."
"They tend to be difficult to remove without first taking away the teeth, given that fangs are fed by glands above the teeth." Replied Fyr.
"Would it not be good to remove the head then?" asked Neloth, at the moment it was bent back from the body, lying limp where the Titan had fallen after Fyr had burst out of its chest.
"Excellent idea young Neloth." Agreed Fyr, and summoned up a Bound Battleaxe, and with a single swing cleaved the thing's head from its body. Fyr dispelled his weapon and walked to the head. "Why don't you start with the chest cavity? Remove as many of the major organs as you can first, we wouldn't want them to be punctured by some errant knife stroke now would we?"
The younger Telvanni frowned, he did not enjoy the condescending tone Fyr was using, however he did as Fyr bade, pulling from his sleeve a large knife and beginning to enlarge the hole in the Daedric Titan's chest. The skin was tough and covered in small black scales but Neloth knew enough of the biological studies to know how to avoid this slowing him down. He skilfully separated the skin from the layers of muscle beneath. When he finally got a reasonably sized part of the skin away from the body he looked at the other side, noting the diamond shaped indentations where the scales connected. The first layers of muscles were a light pinkish, but further in they became redder, still saturated with dark blood.
Neloth caught a glint of blood over a hard substance, he reached in, first rolling up his sleeve, and pulled forth a gauntlet of an unknown metal.
"Lord Fyr," he called over, "Is this yours?"
Fyr glanced up, the older Dunmer had already removed all the teeth, the eyes, tongue and most of the horns from the head, and had them lying neatly out a few feet away. "I belive so, I lost a spaulder as well when it swallowed me, I would be grateful if you would keep an eye out for it as well."
Neloth turned back to the body. If he had found a gauntlet that had been swallowed that meant the digestive system of the beast had already been compromised, that was unfortunate. He pushed a coil of intestine out of the way with the blunt side of his knife. He found one large tube leading from a series of smaller veins around the stomach, or what was left of it. Fyr must have broken out before he was even half way down the throat. Following the larger tube upwards through the broken chest he found the heart. It was, Neloth estimated, at least as large as his head; it would have to be, in order to pump blood all the way through its body. Among the sentient races of Tamriel the Orcs had the largest hearts, followed by the Altmer and the Nords in second place, the only race Neloth had not yet made an anatomical study of was the Bosmer, and he wasn't particularly interested in them, given their similarity to the other Elven races.
There was a sickening crack and Fyr stumbled back, having pulled the last horn from the head of the Titan. "Ah," Neloth heard him breathe, "Here's the Thimbel."
"The what?" asked Neloth, abandoning his inquiry into the stomach and going over to Fyr.
"The organ that produces a spark of energy, which is then added to using the creature's natural Magicka and exuded in the form of a breath attack. I theorised that as this Titan is so similar to a Daedroth it would have a similar organ." Explained Fyr, tapping a small dangling piece of flesh at the back of the roof of the mouth. At both sides to keep the upper jaw open Fyr had propped a small stick.
The creature's blood had grown even darker, into a sludge-like mess that oozed from the ravaged holes where the teeth used to be.
"Is this 'Thimbel' alchemically powerful?" Neloth asked, investigating into the Titan's mouth with his dagger. He had virtually no interest in alchemy, outside what was necessary for a few useful potions, he had far more interest in the living matter than dead.
Fyr frowned, "Only to the most skillful of practitioners." Replied Fyr, "The effects are usually vexingly contradictory and useless. Invisibility and Fire Damage for instance. But I should be able to make something of it, we must extract it, then I can present it to the Council."
Neloth gave his elder a quizzical look. "The Council Lord Fyr?"
"Indeed, I can summon the rest of the Telvanni to Soluthis, there are protocols for this kind of situation."
Neloth grew slightly apprehensive. He was aware of the procedures for summoning a Council, whenever something interesting or important happened each of the Great Houses of the Dunmer would meet in their own holdings, Neloth vividly remembered attending the last Telvanni Council at Sadrith Mora when the Nerevarine had emerged.
But then, perhaps Fyr didn't know…
"I can look up Mistress Therana, and I suppose Lord Aryon will turn up at some point, detestable little fool..." Fyr was mumbling on, "Young Neloth," he asked, "Do you know where Mad Maryon has secreted himself? Even I had trouble getting message to him down in Necrom."
Neloth's worry grew, someone like Divayth Fyr, how could somebody like that be so badly misinformed?
"My Lord of Fyr," he said hesitantly, leery of angering the old elf, "You have overestimated House Telvanni's strength, since the Red Year and the Second Arnesian War, we…that is to say… there are not many of us left."
Fyr paused in his thought, looked straight at Neloth with unflinching gaze. "What do you mean 'not many of us left'." He inquired coldly.
Neloth recoiled, remembering just why Fyr had been so feared in Morrowind. "We were unprepared, for both disasters, our House has never been large, and a disaster and a war weakened us further, The Argonians took everything up to Shadowgate Pass in what they called reparations, for the slave trade, but then Vivec sent two armies against them."
"Crushed." Said Neloth simply, "Sucked down into the dark muck of Black Marsh, House Dres lost all their holdings in Northern Deshaan to the Argonians, Indoril almost extinct, Hlaalu proscribed, and the Telvanni. Well, we were the largest slaveholders in the region, so naturally a whole Argonian fleet was sent to Port Telvannis to burn it to the ground."
"What of our defences?" Asked Fyr, looking like he didn't believe Neloth, "I help set some of them up myself, they should have been activated."
"We were severely weakened!" replied Neloth, he had been at Port Telvannis, they had fought hard. "And many of the Council had decided to decommission most of them after the Dagon Crisis."
"Why was I not notified?" demanded Fyr, "I would not have allowed the greatest House in Dunmer history to go extinct!"
"We thought you dead." Explained Neloth, "The whole eastern side of Red Mountain exploded, and Tel Fyr was right in the path."
"Evidently I was not."
Neloth shrugged, "About a hundred of us escaped in the remnants of the fleet, I sailed on the Pride of Tel Vos , but we were followed and the ship began to take on water a few leagues off Solstheim. I made for the island, knowing there was a Redoran enclave at Raven Rock. The last I heard the ship sank somewhere between Winterhold and Windhelm."
Fyr's face twitched. "And just how many Telvanni still yet live then?"
"Only one of the true blood, Brelyna Maryon, the daughter of Mad Maryon, Lord Thorel and the other Councillors all perished in the war, while I heard Lymdrenn Telvanni was assassinated by a Shadowscale. I know his son was on the Pride of Tel Vos."
"I imagine however that some of the lesser branches survived?"
Neloth noted Fyr had calmed down slightly, now that he knew that the Telvanni had survived somehow. "Several," he answered, "I have five members at Tel Mithryn and there are perhaps two dozen in Winterhold including the Arens. As well as some in Windhelm. Perhaps a few had managed to make their way across the other provinces, but they're not making themselves known."
"The Arens…" said Fyr quietly, "Yes, one of them came to Oblivion with us."
"Siva Aren, the sister of Savos Aren, soon to become the Arch-mage of Winterhold I believe."
Fyr stroked his white beard. "I must think on this and speak with you further, but for the moment, leave me."
Neloth waited till Fyr's back was turned, then gave a little mocking bow and walked away.