Mercy for the Chosen – Ch. 3 – 1: Where Even Death Can Die

  • The afternoon sun glared brightly on the snow-covered walks and buildings, casting equally dark shadows across the city.  Whether by design or by chance, the eastern section, commonly called the Gray Quarter though previously it was the Stone Quarter that housed the city's working class, lay shrouded in deep shade.  In the tiny alleyways that passed for streets, the dark-skinned Dunmer inhabitants shuffled in a haze of exhaustion, for they were still the working class.  Yet, they were paid less than any snow-skinned Nord and treated little better than livestock while on the job--more than one of these elves possessed the odd bubbled burn scar on his arms, or the chicken scratch of time spent under the lash.  Still.  They had it better than the Argonians on the docks; they were allowed to purchase property, even if it was the most useless dirt in the driest part of the hold or the most ramshackle of houses.  It didn't matter.  They owned property, while the lizard folk, true to the end to their lot in life, remained barely better than slaves, and it was this fact that made their pitiful lives tolerable.

    Most Nords in Windhelm knew this and encouraged the Grayskins, as they called them, to be grateful for what little Jarl Ulfric saw fit to spare them in such hard time.  However, just because the Dunmer tolerated such treatment, they had no where else to go after all, did not mean they appreciated bullying, beating, and the negligence of the city guard in such matters.  Malthyr in particular wouldn't stand for it.  So, when yet another hapless Nord barged into their part of the city, ready to shove his face into the slush, he called to his neighbors, Revyn and Ambarys, who called to their neighbors, Belyn and Suvaris, and the five of them rush the idiot from the shadows.  Malthyr knew this strawhead as the pathetic coward who couldn't be arsed to save his own family from trouble and readily jibed and ribbed the boy.  This made the Nord's resulting attempt to beat Malthyr into the dirt all the more loathsome.

    "You're in the wrong part of town, son," growled Revyn as soon as the guard's back was turned.  If they saw a Dunmer even touching one of the Nords' precious hairs on their heads, they'd be more than happy to toss the gray body into the river with stones tied to its feet.

    "Shut it, grayskin."

    "Big talk coming from a coward," said Suvaris.

    "Oh, help me!  Help!  I'm scared to save my auntie!  The big bad Dunmer has her locked away!" mocked Ambarys.

    "You filth are all the same!  Every last one of you."  Golldir ploughed into the nearest Dunmer, Revyn, who held a knife at the ready.  With a screech, the weapon skidded off this iron cuirass and clipped the strap holding the piece in place.  It snapped.  The Nord and Dunmer hit the ground with a crash.

    "Get off me, oaf!"

    Before Golldir could do much more than attempt to restrain Revyn's thrashing arms, a boot connected with his exposed side.  it was shortly followed by another.  And another.  Frantically, the Nord covered his head and curled into a ball on the ground.  Somewhere above him, a knife was drawn, then cold fingers groped at his neck and shoulders, turning him over.  A blade pressed to his skin.

    "I ought to make you bleed for all the trouble you've caused us."

    "That's enough, Ambarys!  A guard is coming!"  Suvaris gripped her neighbor's shoulder in warning.

    "Get off me, woman.  Let me handle this.  I want a guard to see this."  Ambarys stared into Golldir's face with popping, red eyes that almost glowed with hate.

    Suvaris drew herself up to her full height and pursed her lips.  Snarling, she seized the elf by the ear and twisted ruthlessly.  The prone Nord held his breath as the blade haphazardly dug into the side of his neck, wincing as it slid in a whispering sting that drew blood.  For a moment, the neighbors grappled, the other elves pinning his body to the ground and sniggering at the sight.  A shadow fell across the group, and the blade clattered to the ground.

    "Problem, gentleman?" said a measured voice.  It didn't sound Nordic or Dunmeri or even Imperial.  Craning his neck, the young man tried to see the owner of the shadow, but all he could make out against the sun was a dark, heavily-armored shape.  He couldn't hold the position long and collapsed, gripping his side where he knew his ribs were already beginning to bruise.

    'What's it to you?" sneered Malthyr.

    "Five against one aren't terribly fair odds, especially when the one is cowering on the ground like a child.  Now, unhand this man before I call the guard."  Golldir felt a chill of shame crawl down his spine when the man turned to look at him.  It was hard to tell, but the could have sword up and down that the eye staring at him was a cold blue.  He gritted his teeth and clenched his gloved hands closed.  With a shove, he stood and unbalanced the Dunmer almost standing on him.  They glared and readied to counter his attack, but the Nord turned instead to the stranger.

    "I don't need your help."  His teeth ground together as he said it.

    "Come on, Ambarys, Revyn.  Let's get out of here before these two draw anymore attention."

    "She's right.  I don't want more hours added to my work day.  My back's aching enough as it is," hissed Belyn in his quiet and inconspicuous way.

    The two hesitated, then turned and straggled off to their homes and jobs with their neighbors.  The strange man stepped down and offered a shoulder to the staggering, and bleeding, Golldir.  Golldir, in turn, shoved him away.

    "I said I don't need your help!"

    The stranger smiled, and he looked incredibly familiar then.  Silently, he cast some sort of healing spell on Golldir's ribs, while the Nord struggled away from the bizarre itching and pinching on his side.  That man with the axe.  Him.  That's him.

    "Seems to me you're nothing but a whelp." He heard the man say.

    "What was that?" he growled.  Confusion clouded the man's face.

    "I said, 'Seems to me like you needed help.'  I heard you in the square earlier, but had an appointment with the Jarl."

    Instantly, the phrase "appointment with the Jarl" evaporated most of Golldir's hostility.  Here was a man, no knight by the looks of it, who bartered with power.  He could use a man like this on his side.  Especially now.  "You're right," he admitted begrudgingly, "I was asking for help, but no one's been willing."  A low laugh down the alley had the Nord glaring at the retreating backs of the Dunmer.

    "Well, why don't we discuss this over some mead."

    "But I don't have any--"

    "My shout.  You look done in and in need of a drink."  With a smile the reached one eye, but not the other, the stranger took his shoulder and steered him toward Candlehearth Hall.

    *     *     *

    Humans of all kinds milled around the upper floor of the inn.  Most, however, clustered around a magnificent fireplace, open on both sides and filled with merry flames.  On the north-facing side, where the window looked out at the palace, squatted a candle that guttered and sputtered in a great pool of wax.  From what Arnau recalled, the innkeeper boasted of the candle's superior longevity, having burned constantly since his childhood without ever being changed.  Such tall tales were often the fair of inns and taverns, including the ubiquitous story of the haunted room or bed or chamber pot.  In this instance, the hearth was supposedly haunted by he spirit of a long dead king.  The patrons, mostly Nords, liked to boast that their inn housed the likes of Ysgramor or Wulfarth, though the few Altmer in the city shivered in disgust at the idea of either.

    Arnau instinctively chose the southern half of the building where a ruffled, aristocratic man hunched over a table, writing furiously.  He seemed somehow familiar.  Reaching out a hand, the knight meant to tap the writer's shoulder to clarify the matter.

    "Honningbrew mead for you, warm beer for me," chirped a voice, startling Arnau.  A heavy tankard pressed into his hand, and he fumbled it, sloshing the sweet-sour drink on his gloves.  With a twitch of his head, he recovered and turned to his new companion.

    "My thanks, Golldir."  He took a swig of the golden-brown drink and held it in his mouth for a moment, savoring the taste.  Sweet ambrosia of the gods, he thought.  Shifting, he leaned against the buttress dividing the window in two and regarded the young man before him.  Aside from the typical Nordic gold hair and ice-blue eyes, he had an awkward turned up nose and down-turned mouth that made him look perpetually annoyed or morose, in spite of his seemingly positive demeanor.  Golldir stared out the glass apprehensively, the incessant repositioning of his weight giving away just how nervous he was.  Suddenly, the image of a woman acting coy came unbidden to Arnau's mind, and he felt a little like a wolf sizing up a brainless lamb, too frightened and fascinated to run away.  It made him sick.

    "So, you need help rescuing your aunt from a tomb.  If I heard correctly, of course."

    "Yes."  The Nord came to his senses and panic began to ride him.  "We have to hurry!  I know where she is--I--"

    "Stop!  Just stop before you hurt yourself, hm, Golldir was it?"

    "Sorry, I just-- I'm worried for her.  She's getting old and ornery, and she's always been hot-tempered anyway.  Ever since that Dunmer showed up, there's been trouble."

    Across the room, a quartet of lutists started their number, much to the delight of the more inebriated patrons.  Both men glanced in the direction of the raucous.  Nils, the cook, shuffled a few steps with a plump merchant, managing covert squeeze of her bottom before she half-heartedly slapped his hands away.

    "He's still got it, that old goat!" roared Brunwulf, clapping the elderly man on the back so hard he stumbled.

    "I think you'd best start from the beginning," said Arnau.

    The young man sighed, drained his tankard, and worked his tongue around his teeth.  "All right.

    "A few years ago, an elf by the name of Vals Veran moved into my village at Darkwater Crossing.  At first, he wasn't so bad--smelled funny but seemed nice and hard-working like Sondas.  I didn't like him, but Annekke did, so I tried to ignore him as best as I could.  Aunt Agna took a shine to him and started teaching him all about our ways, our land...our ancestors.  She'd take him on evening strolls to our family's tomb, which he'd shown great interest in visiting.  Still, I didn't trust the bastard.  He had this look on his face when he gazed at Agna.  Nothing affectionate, no.  It was the kind of look those khajiit merchants give you when you purchase their wares.  Like they've set you up, but you don't know it."  

    Grimly, the Nord slammed his tankard against the sill and the inn quieted for a beat.  Several eyes turned toward them.  In a huff, the Imperial writer stood and shook his head.  "I should have stayed in Solitude," he said before slinking down the stair to the first floor bar.  A part in the smoke followed him before closing in gray and white eddies.  Then, someone coughed, a tired man with a hangdog expression smoking a pipe, and the inn resumed its chaos.

    "Continue," Arnau said.  He took a long drink from his mead, finally hitting the bottom.

    "Last week, Agna went with that slimeball to the tomb, and she didn't come back out.  I waited for her, but after a few days, I had to go up there.  In the end, I couldn't do it alone.  At night, I'd hear screams so terrible my hair would stand on end.  Which is why I came here."  Golldir shuffled his feet expectantly.  No matter what he suspected from the intimidating Breton, he felt better just telling the story, the whole story, to someone.  Arnau contemplated the tale for several long moments, reaching his decision quickly, but pausing a little longer just to watch the cowardly Nord sweat.

    "How far is it to your family's tomb?" he said at last.

    "A day's ride, but...  My horse was stolen from me on the way here."

    "Fate just isn't kind to you lately, is it?  Relax, I'm only teasing.  We'll walk."  Arnau could afford the delay of returning to Solitude, anyway.  Let Aquillius stew on his ridiculous ideas for a while.

    "So, you'll help me?"

    "I wouldn't still be here it I wasn't," the Breton smirked.

    Half an hour later, they stumped across the bridge spanning the Yogrim River.  The sun was on its way down its westerly descent, burning like burnished bronze as it neared sunset.  Golldir covered his head with a fur hood and short cape.  Already, he had a spring in his step and a confidence that reminded Arnau of a small puppy that just found a bone bigger than its body.

    The knight stopped, turned, and stared transfixed by the several hundred-foot drop to the river below.  The rusted axe weighed heavily on his back.  No one will find it down there.  Let it be washed away by the current, he thought, scambling up onto the low ledge lining the walkway.

    "What are you doing!" the Nord cried.

    "Getting rid of some trash."  With that, he unhooked the weapon from his back.  "Stand back, Golldir.  Don't want to cleave your head in two by accident."

    The axe went sailing out into space, where it tumbled end over end until it hit the river with a splash.  Arnau sighed, glad to be rid of the thing.

    "Why'd you do that!  Now you're without a weapon."

    "You thought that was my weapon?  No wonder you need help," he replied, gently shoving the young man's shoulder in jest.  His eyes, however, held little merriment, only derision.

    "I didn't mean it that way!"  Golldir hustled to catch up with Arnau, who stepped down from the ledge and was headed toward the stables.  To his dismay, he had a hard time of it, his ribs still aching whenever he heaved a breath.

    By the time the Nord caught up with his hired hand, though now it felt more like Arnau had hired him, the man was already waving down the stablehand.  Arnau heaved a sigh when he caught the young man casting furtive glances at him, and counted backwards from ten.  This would make it the fourteenth round of doing so in an attempt to convince himself that this was a good idea.  If I don't help him, he'll get killed trying to confront something he isn't ready for.  Besides, whispered an insidious part of him,  I could shape him, mold him into the squire I need.  The stablehand arrived with Ponks and handed the reins to Arnau, who handed the reins to Golldir.

    "I have to send a message to my lord.  Wait here.  I'll be back in a moment.  Oh, and by the way, that is my weapon."  He pointed to the spear strapped to the horse.  Golldir's eyes went wide.  He imagined the knight skewering that blasted Dunmer's head while squashing the body under the horse's hooves with glee.

    In truth, Arnau had no idea what to say.  Was Ulfric's reaction what Aquillius wanted?  Surely, the lord didn't actually think the Jarl of Windhelm would accept such a ridiculous challenge to his legitimacy.  Unless...  He sent me here to get me as far away from Solitude as possible.  It seemed likely.  With that in mind, he drafted an honest, if short-sighted reply, playing up the idea that he hadn't read the missive.  That he was bewildered and hurt by the Jarl's response.  He left it to the stablehand, a pleasant Altmer by the name of Ulundil, who promised to give it to the next courier to leave town.

    Finally turning to the waiting, would-be warrior, he grinned.  "All right, let us go save Auntie dearest.  Lead the way."

    "Of course!"  They started down the hill, Arnau's helmet gleaming in the sunlight, Golldir's armor rattling with his shuffling gait.  The young man kept hold of the horse's reins, patting Ponks' nose with a heavy hand.  All the while, he chattered in an endless stream of unfortunate tales and mishaps.  Not for the first time did Arnau wonder how this man could possibly call himself a Nord.


  • Nemanja
    Nemanja   ·  October 19, 2015
    Hang on,have you abandoned this story or something?
  • Vazgen
    Vazgen   ·  September 1, 2013
    Ah, Golldir. I think I'll save the next parts of this chapter for later, I have never done his quest and don't want to spoil it :P Awesome work as usual! Great description of the Grey Quarter, captures the feel and the life there beautifully!