Mercy for the Chosen – Ch. 2 – 3: Lying Before a King

  • The sun was setting.  The sun was setting and the inhabitants of Dragon Bridge were turning in for the night.  Merchants put their wares away, leaving their most valuable pieces out for the last-minute buyer.  Children hurried home at the calls of their mothers; those shrill cries cutting the air like birds and mingling with the barking of dogs and bleating of goats.  Creaking and leaning, the small houses overshadowed the street, some roofs caving dangerously from the weight of snow.  Nevertheless, light spilled from the windows and burned with the fire of the late sun--the entire town was cast in bronze flames.  A few flakes fell, then there were no more.

    "Flowa for your horse?" said a small girl bearing a withering bunch of frozen mountain violets.  Ponks nosed her hand, then continued walking.

    "No, thank you.  Seems he doesn't want one."  They laughed, Arnau sounding as if nothing unusual had just happened.  As if he hasn't dumped a body off a cliff after destroying the life inside.  Of course, the girl wouldn't know; not for some days yet.  When next Loredas came and the family headed to the Temple for the holiday service and festival, the girl would find the body.  She's see the cloud of winter-starved birds first.

    Arnau walked on, passing the miners heading home from the hills.  Already, tiny fires flickered in the higher climes where the remaining prospectors set up camp until the end of the year.  As the day faded, the wind picked up sped, sending a bone-chilling blast into the gaps of his armor.  The knight hunkered down, drawing his limbs as close as possible to his body.

    With his knees, he turned Ponks north, tracking toward the marsh and the forests that bordered the southern end.  The horse's hooves crunched through the thick layer of snow coating the road.  Here, few two-legged beings had tread, leaving the road difficult to follow.  All that was visible was a shallow depression that wound in an eastward bend like the trail of a serpent or crawling dragon.  Briefly, Arnau pictured the dragons that had plagued Skyrim not two years before, and even then, it had been many more since he'd heard their thundering roars over the mountains while he worked in Jehanna.  So many hours spent toiling on that farm, working like a slave and being treated little better than such, only to hear the possibility of chaos and subsequent escape roaring too far away.

    Oh, his father could have such an ironic sense of humor, convincing the court of Wayrest to send him to such a far-flung corner of High Rock.  Why, he sent him far enough away that Arnau's mother would not have to bear the shame of housing a failed knight, but he also sent him far from under his protective gaze.  While in Jehanna, Arnau's thoughts on his sentence were free to fester and grow.  He had done no wrong.  Committed no crime.  The Jurard family was honored through his actions.  After all, had he not single-handedly revealed the corrupt families in the slums, who actively quartered Corsairs like whores?  He had.  It was the court of Wayrest that failed to recognized the importance of his discovery.  As if the Greenskins had been contributing much anyway.  They were a danger to the port, and the Breton delivered them from a torturous trail and interrogation.  He'd done better.  He sent them away in their homes, weeping with the mothers and the children, praying for their safe passage when even they fell silent.  Arnau had done them a service.

    Snow began to fall in earnest, shrouding the dusky evening in a fog of white.  The long shadows of the trees melted into the snow, becoming buried with everything else.  Ponks shivered and quaked.  He was a horse of High Rock, not Skyrim.  The weather always chilled his joints and pained his hooves.  How he longed for the sweet, green gasses of Jehanna and even the soft soil fields cradled in the mountains.  Now that he was here, he found he missed the hard work of plowing endless rows of crops, though he did not dream of going back.  Not while he was needed by his rider, and though he wished to be somewhere else, Ponks would take him wherever he needed to go.  Or die trying.  Though, he really hoped it wouldn't come to that.

    Arnau tensed in the saddle. Something out there was moving, though he only made out vague shapes in the swirling white. If he didn't know any better, he could have sworn he heard something growl. Eventually, he relaxed, knowing that his horse would alert him more obviously if some creature was coming. They passed under a tree, and a gobbet of wet slush slipped from a branch, falling onto his head and trickling down his back. I hate winter. As he was distracted, a lower bough slapped him across his helmet. And nature.

    Nature: uncultured, untamed, and uncouth. The whole lot of it. If it wasn't growing in a garden or obeying someone's commands, Arnau wanted no part of it. Yet, he put up with this slow form of travel through the wilderness, if only to have some time away from he city. The knight also knew he needed to disappear for a while. In a way, he felt pained to leave his beloved Solitude behind as it was the only place he'd been to that reminded him of Wayrest. "Once I gain enough influence here, I'll go back home. They won't be able to keep me in exile for long. Mother will surely help me."

    Light fell around him, and eventually he relented and removed his lantern from his saddlebag.  With a spark he lit the wick.  Now the snow stood stark white against the darkness.  He couldn't see more than a few feet in front of him.  Struck with an idea, he unhooked his sear and hung the lantern on the cross-guard, then held the weapon aloft.  In the faint, flickering light, the road stretched gradually uphill.  Silhouetted against the sky was a low rise bare of trees.  Arnau made for that spot.

    It was exposed, but there was thin grass that Ponks set his teeth to as soon as they'd stopped.  As the Breton looked back, he saw the dark ribbon that was the road.  Others would be able to see him, especially once he had a fire going, but he could just as easily see them.  He liked those odds better than squatting in some damp hollow.

    In a few minutes, he found enough deadwood to support a fire for several hours, and he took a risk in removing his helmet and gauntlets to warm his skin.  To his dismay, his face was stiff with dried sweat, the remaining moisture freezing his head.  When the horse wandered off, he followed it to a stream that churned over a short drop, where it disappeared under the road.  The water felt frigid, but refreshing, and when the knight returned to the fire, he felt a little better for it.  Once dry, he extracted his tent, pitched it, then sat under the heavy furs.  From here, he could still see the road, and, as a precaution, Arnau lay his weapon nearby--not that a spear would be of much use in such tight quarters.

    At last comfortable, the Breton pulled the scroll from pocket.  No one was around, so he wasted no time in being overcautious.  With a tug, he pulled the wax seal completely off the paper and unrolled the message.  It was, of course, addressed to Jarl Ulfric of Windhelm.  As Arnau's eyes traveled further down the document, he felt increasingly more confused.  Then, he reached a line and froze, his face going from pink and snow-burned to a sickly, bloodless gray in seconds.

    "What have you done, Aquillius?"

    *     *     *

    "We have reason to question him, sir.  He was present the night of the incident, and the very fact that you're keeping him from us is grounds for suspicion!  Arnau Jurard will appear here by noon the day after tomorrow, or he will be presumed the primary suspect!" Captain Aldis shouted.

    "Captain, don't be so hasty!  Have you evidence to prove my dear servant is responsible?"

    "We have enough witnesses, Aquillius.  But I will not discuss the particulars with anyone outside of the investigation.  He's in hot water.  That's all you need to know."

    "Very well, Captain.  I will bring Jurard to you by the appropriate time."

    "See that you do."

    The Imperial noble left Castle Dour, home of the Legion Headquarters and guard barracks, and headed for Angeline's Aromatics.  Already his skull was pounding along with the old injury to his back, and Angeline always had a vapor for him to soothe such aches and clear his head.  If he was lucky, Vivienne might be available to soothe other aches.  Though, as his mind whirred at high speed, he realized there was no time for a game of healer and patient.  There was a way out of this mess, he was sure.  He couldn't risk Arnau being tried, or even being publicly accused, much less executed--there was still so much he needed his prowess for.

    In the dark, he almost ran into one of the many beggars on their way home to sleep in whatever dark corner those urchins inhabited.

    "Watch where yer goin'" it barked.  Aquillius started and glared crossly at the beggar, who only shoved a powder-caked finger rudely into his mouth and scrubbed his gums.  The ragged, dark-haired Breton shivered, his eyes drooping lazily until they nearly closed.  Then, he woke up and became aware of the noble once more.

    "What're you starin' at.  Keep that up and I'll re'range yer face."

    Rearrange my face?  Honestly...  Then, suddenly, he ran the thought through his brain again.  Glancing at the beggar, he saw he bore some resemblance to Jurard.  Maybe at a distance...

    "How would you like to become rich enough to drink yourself into a grave?" Aquillius plied, laying a hand very gingerly on the beggar's filthy shoulders.

    "What're you playin' at?"

    "Just step this way, my friend."  The lord aimed a spell discretely at the man's back, and the pauper followed obediently.  Aquillius made a last-minute turn down an alley ad knocked on the back door of Radiant Raiment.

    *     *     *

    The day started off on the wrong foot to begin with.  Arnau slept poorly and awoke with his neck twisted such that even holding his head upright ached every moment.  Clouds rolled in through the night, bringing thunder and the tell-tale tension of a storm.  By the time daylight broke, the temperature dropped to something dangerously low.  In fact, it was so cold, that when Arnau relieved himself, his piss froze before it even hit the ground.  He owned a cloak for colder weathers, a luxurious wolf skin lined with mink, but it did nothing to block out the wind and snow.  Bitter flakes stung his face and soaked his collar, cramping the muscles in his neck even more.

    Against all precaution, Arnau decided to continue on anyway, wrapping his bedroll over Ponks' back and going so far as to bury himself in the lining of his tent.  As he trudged around the road, he looked more like a cocooned larva than a person.  His food was hard and dry, and all it did was lay in his stomach like a dead thing.  Still, he pressed forward.  The storm would blow itself out soon.

    The forest continued for some time, taking most of he day to cross, and all the while, things lurked among the trees.  The knight felt certain that whatever was out there could no more sense him than he could them.  Not that he would be able to wield his weapon, wrapped as he was.  In the afternoon, he found a mine nestled in the foot of a mountain.  Here, he stopped and usurped one of the miner's tents for the night.  The bedroll felt as hard as a stone slab under him, but the hides kept him warm through the evening and well into the early morning.

    Distantly, Arnau hoped he would wake to find the storm gone at first light, but when morning came again, the snow still fell in thick clumps.  The wind still cut the air like a blade.  The world still hid in a fog of white.  Arnau's hatred for all things cold and wintry escalated.

    Though he kept the mountain to his right, the Breton managed to wander in circles over the snowed-in paths.  Mid-morning brought a coughing and wheezing to Ponks, who shuffled ungainly through the wet and cold.  Loathe as he was to do so, Arnau wrapped his fine linen cape around his horse's nose, hoping it would ease the burning sting of the frigid air.

    Sometime in the afternoon, they saw the bright blaze of a fire.  Excited, the Breton dismounted, meaning to give the horse a rest, but the moment his feet touched the snow, he sank up to his knees. No amount of twisting and shuffling could get him very far, and he was too tired and cold to use the magic necessary to lessen his weight.  Why didn't father ever train me in lighter armor?  Then, the thundering of the wind gave way to the thundering of footsteps.  A giant figure rose over the snow drifts and stood near the fire, scratching its crotch and grunting in appreciation.  Bitter disappointment stained Arnau's mouth, and he begrudgingly climbed back onto Ponks and turned back to the trench they carved in the snow.

    Slowly, they walked in an easterly direction, turning south as the mountain loomed on their right.  Before the knight knew it, the sun sank towards the horizon.  At this rate, he might reach Windhelm by next spring.  Just as he was considering curling up in his tent for the night, a shape emerged out of the white and the snow began to abate.

    The tower of the fort flickered its glowing eyes out onto the road, and all Arnau could think about was warm fires and jovial company.  They'd be soldiers, of course, bound to have supplies and mead aplenty.  It never occurred to him that the fort might be deserted or full of bandits.  That the stores might be empty, and the inhabitants starving or living off of resentment and skooma.  All he saw were those flickering lights that warmed the edges of his frozen brain.


  • Olaf
    Olaf   ·  June 29, 2013
    This chapter is quickly becoming my favorite, keep up the good work!
  • Vazgen
    Vazgen   ·  June 29, 2013
    That's an amazing chapter, the description of the winter made me feel the cold myself! Love the last line, "the flickering lights that warmed the edges of his frozen brain" - awesome!