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Saturday, April 6, 2013

XIV - Aftermath

It was very cold. All she could think about was the cold and the wet. Slowly, Fen cracked her eyes open and felt herself shiver. Her vision was bleary, and she slowly sat up and realized she was covered in snow. And it was so bright…

Fen rubbed her eyes, letting the snow slide off her back. The sun. It was morning. The sky was a cloudless blue and the sun had just risen past the horizon. Huge chunks of ice jaggedly rose out of the snow all around her, a few of them smoking and embedded with bits of stone and masonry. Fen slowly got to her feet, staring around. She was near the coast, she could see that, but that was all she could seem to gather from her surroundings. The smell of rotting horker flesh permeated the air.
She found Trueflame, burning bright as ever even in the damp snow, and sheathed it, glancing down at herself. Her nightclothes were torn and seared and blackened and coated in dry, crusted blood. She felt her hair hanging in a wild tangle about her head. She felt strangely empty.
Unsure of what to do, Fen made her way through the smoking chunks of ice and rock to the coast, where she turned east and began to walk. Her feet were long bare, and they had grown so cold that she failed to even notice them.
As the sun rose, Skaal Village came into view, the wooden cabins perched high upon a snowy hill, and Fen climbed up and saw the village was quiet, only a few people out.
“Fen? Is that Fen?” She turned and saw two of the Skaal Honour Guard watching her, eyes wide. “Go and get the shaman,” one of them said quickly, and the other dashed away. “Lady Fen, we…we thought you’d died.”
“I came awfully close,” Fen replied, and the second guard came racing back with Korst Wind-Eye at his heels.
“Thank the All-Maker,” Korst breathed, leaning heavily on his cane. “Then…the Bloodmoon is over, and it shall not return until long after we are gone from this earth.” Despite the stares of the Skaal, Fen accompanied Korst back to his cabin, where he insisted she sit while he shakily put a kettle on the fire. “No one slept last night, not even the children,” he told her, settling in his chair and leaning his cane by the mantle. “I had everyone move to the Greathall near midnight, to be safer, and when I sent someone to fetch you they said your home was a mess and you were gone. We feared the worst.”
And so, haltingly, Fen explained all that had happened since her capture, deciding to leave out Julan’s appearance.
“I had heard whispers on the wind of the fate of Heart-Fang,” Korst said as Fen finished. He rubbed his beard, his eyes mournful. “He has been tempted by dark magic and was corrupted by it. I can only hope that our next leader will not suffer the same fate.”
“I’m sorry,” Fen muttered after a while. Korst gave her a puzzled look. “It just seems like…wherever I go, this sort of thing happens. Something goes wrong and people get hurt. I can’t help but feel like I brought this on the Skaal.”
“No, no, of course you did not, Lady Fen,” Korst said quickly, shaking his head. “No, the Bloodmoon Prophecy would have happened with or without your presence. In all honesty, I believe we are very lucky that you came to us when you did. Had you not been there during the werewolf attack, I fear we would have lost many more.” Fen leaned back in her seat, exhausted. Korst was speaking, but she felt warm for the first time in years, and she couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of contentment. A sense of peace with everything around her, like her soul could finally rest easy…
“Fen.” She forced her eyes open, realising that she had been dozing off in the warmth of the fire, and smiled apologetically at Korst.
“I’m sorry,” she told him wearily. “I’ve just…had a bit of a long evening.”
“Of course,” the shaman told her. “You should rest.”
“I can’t,” she insisted, getting to her feet. “I’m needed back in Mournhold. I need to take the first ship back.”
“Always in a rush, young folk,” Korst said with a smile, pushing himself up with his cane. He went to his desk, cluttered with leaves and books and scrolls, and drew an amulet from one of the drawers. “Know that you are always welcome here,” he told her firmly, taking her hand and letting the amulet coil into it. Fen brought it up to see it clearly in the dim cabin light – a small charm, round and red with a black wolf’s head inside. “You have saved us all from a great and terrible threat. Without you, we would have suffered a great deal more.” He smiled slightly, weary behind his greying beard, and curled her fingers over the amulet. “Our hearths will always be open to you, Blodskaal.”
It seemed as if the entire village had lined up to watch her departure as she closed the door on her small cottage, wrapped in furs with her hair plaited down her back. The Skaal smiled as she moved through them, clutching her hands and thanking her, saying she had the touch of the All-Maker and asking her to bless their weapons. Risi Ice-Mane hugged her tearfully while her other children looked on in wonder. Svenji Ice-Mane tugged at the end of her cloak, and Fen knelt in the snow to see the little girl.
“Are you a god?” Svenji asked quietly, and Fen smiled.
“No, child,” she told her, and the girl looked relieved.
“Will you come back?”
“Someday, I’m sure.”
Korst insisted that a few of the Skaal Honour Guard accompany her to Fort Frostmoth, and they traveled well enough, the sky clear and bright and the warriors friendly and easy to talk with. They told her of the history of Solstheim and the Skaal as they walked, and Fen was surprised to find that she might miss the frigid island and the hardy, kindly Skaal.
As they neared the docks of Fort Frostmoth, a great shouting drew their attention, and the Honour Guard glanced at one another, their hands moving to the pommels of their blades. They went around the fort to the dock, where a crowd of soldiers stood in a knot before the small skiff, jeering.
“What’s going on?” Fen asked one of the soldiers, who stood back, leering and eating an apple. He only laughed. Fen glanced at the Skaal that had accompanied her, though they looked just as puzzled.
“I’m telling you, she’s here!” The voice rose sharply out from the cluster of soldiers, younger and distinctly different, hoarser.
“That’s a Dunmer,” Fen muttered, and she quickly stepped forward, shoving the soldiers aside.
“Get back to your pretty tiled city and your yellow goddess with the big tits,” one of the soldiers said, and the others laughed.
“No, no let go of me, you brutish – Princess!” The Dunmer stuck in the middle of the group had noticed her, and he pushed the guards aside, struggling to get to her. They knocked him back, laughing.
Enough!” Fen shouted, and when they ignored her, she snapped her wrist into the air, a silence spell flying from her fingertips. The soldiers fell abruptly silent and stumbled back, puzzled. “Get back to your fort,” she told them coolly, and the soldiers started back up the hill, glaring darkly at her.
“Princess,” the Dunmer said urgently, hurrying across the dock to her. “Oh, thank the gods I’ve found you, these n’wahs were no help at all.” Merill glanced down, recognizing the seal on his cloak as that of a Mournhold page. “You – you have to come now, Princess,” he told her hastily, still trying to catch his breath.
“What’s happened?” she asked, taking hold of his shoulders to steady him. Why would they send a page all the way to Solstheim to get me? Barenziah’s face flashed in her mind and anxiety overwhelmed her. “Is it my grandmother?”
“No, no, Princess,” the page went on. “Your father. King Helseth.” Fen felt her stomach drop. No. No, I’m just now getting to know him. Please, no.
“What –” She took a deep breath. “What happened?”
“He’s been poisoned, Princess. He’s dying.”

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