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  • LoudOwl
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    Post count: 14

    Hey guys, so I’ve been working on this fic for a few months now. I’ll be updating it on both A03 and Wattpad but I thought I should probably post it chapter by chapter here as well.  If you like it, I’d love it if you could send me a like or kudos on either of the platforms above.  I’m always open to criticism and would love to know what you think. 🙂

     

    Chapter 1 – Forged in Ice

    The weight of her clothes dragged her downward, drowning her in water so cold it threatened to flay the skin from her bones. She jerked and flailed, the needle-sharp frigidity of the water searing her lungs as she took in mouthful after mouthful of the salty liquid. She kicked and writhed, struggling to the surface, only to be sucked back down as her head found nothing but the solid wood of the ship’s hull above her.

    In a last attempt at self-preservation, Aellana kicked out, colliding with a beam below and pushing off to the side hoping to find fresh air at last. Relief washed over her as she felt the harsh slap of the icy air as her face broke the surface, her hands grabbing for purchase on a passing piece of debris. Below her she could see the remains of the galley, curiosity turning to horror as she saw the body of the ship’s cook under the water, trapped beneath a table he’d been working at only a few moments before.

    Dragging herself through the bowel of the ship Aellana tried desperately to get her thoughts in order. The shock was still raw, and her mind fuzzy. All she knew was that she had to find the crew and get off this vessel. She was a Nord, but even this water pushed at the limits of her tolerance for the cold. But the Breton crew she’d sailed with? Her father? She didn’t hold out much hope for their survival.

    Aellana summoned a mage light to illuminate the oppressive darkness. The silence was eerie, punctuated only by the tortured groaning of the capsized ship’s wooden hull as it was buffeted by waves. She tried to create a flame in her palm to stave off the creeping cold, but her shivering limbs and growing sense of panic made it difficult to concentrate on keeping it lit. Three years of training, failing her now, in this first test of her endurance. She could have cried with the futility of it.

    The longer she stayed in this wooden tomb, the more likely it was that she’d never escape it. Three years away from home, training as a mage in High Rock, only to die on shore, drowned in the very vessel meant to carry her to safety. Even in this dire situation, she could appreciate the poetic irony it.

    A magical ability like hers was rare in Nords, but her father, Tynand Ereland, was a Breton, a people known for their magical aptitude. They’d been returning from High Rock where Aellana had chosen to pursue her studies. She and Tynand had travelled together, spending time with his people and getting to know his culture before settling down to life in Skyrim where she would complete her studies at the College of Winterhold. It had seemed like a sound idea at the time, but one that now seemed ill advised.

    It felt like hours had passed in the freezing waters, but it was likely only minutes. Time appeared to have lost all meaning as she searched her surroundings, desperate to find a way out of her predicament. Finally, she found a hole in the hull where the ship had run aground. Breathing deeply she pushed herself below the icy surface and out into the open waters, swimming to shore as if her life depended on it, which, given the numbness spreading through her limbs, it likely did. With the last of her strength, Aellana pushed herself onto the snowy shore and looking around, realised that she was alone, the lone survivor of a crew of 30 souls. Her friends, gone. Her father…she couldn’t dwell on that yet. Tears pricked behind her eyes, falling onto her cheeks and freezing where they fell, and as grief overtook her, everything faded to black.

    ***

    Her whole body ached. Aellana’s feet and hands felt red hot, yet still numb, and her head was pounding. But most surprisingly, despite her physical discomfort, she was warm. It took a moment for her to come to terms with her surroundings, the last events in her memory seeming more like a nightmare than reality. But as awareness returned she found herself sitting up with a start, panic threatening to overwhelm her.

    “Hush child, hush” came a soothing voice from her side. She whipped her head around, raising a hand, filled with flame to ward off any would-be attackers.

    A woman sat at her bedside, a calming smile on her face, making soothing sounds, and wordless pleas for calm. Aellana tried to speak, but her voice came out as more of a croak than any audible sound as she let the flame die down, embarrassed at her show of aggression.

    “Don’t try to talk yet. You’re still half frozen. It’s a wonder you survived.”

    Survived? A shipwreck. Yes. It hadn’t been a dream. The panic rose in her belly and threatened to overwhelm her once again.

    “The ship…my…father…” she managed to croak out.

    “Was your father on that ship?” the kindly voice enquired. “I’m so sorry my dear,” the woman soothed, placing a comforting hand over hers. “You were the only survivor.”

    “No….not…..possible.” The panic was rising and rising. Her father, dead? Tynand was her world. They confided in each other, did everything together. They were two peas in a pod, more alike than different. Where her mother was all spikes and anger, her father was gentleness itself. He’d fostered her love of magic, had made her childhood the happiest it could ever have been. He couldn’t be gone. It just wasn’t possible.

    “I truly am sorry,” the woman’s face showed genuine concern. “I wish I could have seen you wake to happier news.”

    Aellana turned her head away, ashamed to let the woman see the hot tears that stained her cheeks and holding back the sobs that threatened to wrack her already sensitive body in waves of misery.

    The woman retreated, allowing Aellana her privacy, leaving her alone in the darkness and alone with her thoughts.

    ***

    “You’re awake!” The woman behind the bar started in surprise as Aellana emerged from her room. The noisy inn overwhelmed her senses at first, and she felt herself sway on her feet, trying to get her bearings amid the strange smells and sounds. The pain was slowly fading. The physical at least. The emotional scars would take far longer to heal.

    “I wanted to thank you for your kindness,” Aellana said after a moment, taking her time to collect herself. “I don’t know how I got here, where I am, or who you are, and you must know even less about me. But you took me in, and I thank you.”

    The woman smiled kindly. “I’m Elda Early-Dawn, and this is my Inn, Candlehearth Hall. You’re in Windhelm.”

    Windhelm. Stronghold of the Stormcloaks, the rebel faction intent on continuing the worship of Talos and keeping Skyrim ‘pure’ for the Nords. With a Breton father, Aellana had always hated the Stormcloak’s attitude to the other races of Tamriel. Being here now felt like a disservice to his still raw memory.

    She’d grown up South East of Whiterun and had very rarely ventured as far North as Windhelm. She’d certainly never visited the city itself. Her Breton blood craved the warmth, and the never ending winter of Windhelm seemed like a life of torture in comparison to the milder climates of the South.

    “Aellana Evensnow,” she said, holding out her hand to the other woman in companionship. The look of surprise on Elda’s face didn’t escape her notice as the other woman realised who her family was, and who her father would have been. “How did I get this far North?”

    “Your ship wrecked not far from here.”

    Their ship must have been sent off course and overshot Winterhold in the storm. She remembered it clearly. The ship being tossed about like a child’s toy at the mercy of the elements. She’d been frightened, and her father had held her close on the bed, stroking her hair, trying to soothe her fear by telling her everything would be alright as he had done when she was a little girl suffering from night terrors. But he was wrong. He was dead. Nothing would ever be alright again.

    “How did I come to be in your Inn?” she asked, pushing down the tears that threatened once again.

    “A passing rider stumbled upon the wreck. He went down to look for survivors and found you passed out in the snow. You’re lucky he found you when he did. A few moments longer and you’d have been dead.”

    “Yes, lucky.” She didn’t feel very fortunate. She would happily have traded places with her father, to know that he was alive and well. But instead, here she was, in a city that hated him, being looked after by strangers.

    “I know it’s hard. I lost my own father a few years ago.” Aellana cursed herself for letting her thoughts show so clearly on her face. “The pain, it doesn’t go away. But you will learn to live with it.”

    She nodded at Elda in thanks. Platitudes were not what she needed right now, and she appreciated the older woman’s candour.

    “Do you think word could be sent to my mother? I feel well enough to travel, so should return home. But she should know as soon as possible what has happened, to make,” Aellana swallowed past the sudden lump that had appeared in her throat, “arrangements.

    “Of course my dear. Whatever you need.”

    Aellana had never had a close relationship with her mother. She doubted that a three-year separation would have improved it much. Her parents had been very much in love once, but over the years her mother had become much more invested in status and wealth than in genuinely caring for her husband or child. It was a relief to all of them when Aellana and Tynand and taken their leave to spend some time in High Rock. But still, to expect a reunion after three years and only to find one’s family torn apart by death? Even someone as hard as her mother would be touched by the tragedy of it all.

    She didn’t allow herself to dwell on the reunion with her mother overlong. That her mother remained in the South, living in luxury, spending her father’s money, while Tynand himself lay mouldering in a watery grave was almost too much to fathom. Instead, she turned her mind to the practicalities of the moment.

    “If I could trouble you for some travelling clothes?” The older woman nodded in quick assent. “I have no money. I suspect it’s all at the bottom of the ocean right now, but I will be sure my family reimburses you for all you’ve done for me.”

    Elda waved her hand dismissively in Aellana’s direction. “Nonsense. It’s the least I can do. I’m sure I have something for you to wear, and I’ll happily give you some coin for the journey.”

    The tears came hot and fast then, not tears of pain, but tears of gratitude. She fell into the woman’s arms, allowing herself the solace of her warm embrace, letting the pain of the last few days stream forth in loud, angry waves. Elda held her, stroking her hair as her father once did, and for the first time since running aground on the shores of Skyrim, Aellana didn’t feel alone.

    Altra
    Participant
    Post count: 4

    That’s lovely so far. You are playing with frostfall and alternate start mods, I take it?

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    Thanks for the encouragement!  🙂  Yes, I am playing with both those mods.  When I first started writing I was sticking pretty much to my gameplay, but I’m playing more with how I write and represent things now.  After all, you guys all know the game, so I have to bring something extra to it to make it interesting.  Chapter 2 incoming.

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    Chapter 2 – A Hazardous Reunion

     

    The soft light of the lanterns lit the Manor house like a faery bower, the muted tones giving it a wistful, peaceful air. The stillness of the night, punctuated only occasionally by a chirping cricket and the rustle of the wind through the trees played in stark contrast to the turmoil raging in Aellana’s mind.

    Three years was a long time to be away. The house looked the same, but she knew that once inside, everything would be different. The courtyard was bright and welcoming, the statue of Dibella towering majestically over the entryway, reminding visitors just who lived here. The patron saint of artists, standing guard over her most devoted adherents.

    Historically the Evensnows had been painters, sculptors and artists, or craftsmen and smiths creating expensive commissioned works for the noble houses of Skyrim, including a few High Kings. Their work could be seen in almost every temple and Royal house across the land, and even now the wealthy and ambitious vied to become the owners of a work created by an Evensnow. The family had slowly grown in wealth and status over the years, and their manor houses now dotted the landscape like glittering jewels in the crown of Skyrim.

    Aellana herself had trained as a sculptor and painter but had found that while she had some talent, she would never be sought after in the way that the rest of her family were. She’d taken after her father, with abilities that leaned more to the magical than the artistic. But where her creative talent failed, her talent for enchantment shone brightly. Being able to supplement the work of her extended family with a well-placed enchantment had made her an asset in a way they’d never considered, and her cousins, uncles and aunts would often call on her expertise to drive up the price of their own already expensive commissions. With that, Aellana was able to carve out a niche for herself in a family that prized their artistic legacy above all else.

    Sigrund Evensnow, Aellana’s mother, despite being possibly the most talented sculptor of her generation had given up her vocation before Aellana had ever been born. Ever a flighty youth, Sigrund had instead chosen to travel and see the world. She’d paid her way with small commissioned works here and there, but never anything that would take her more than a few days to complete. It had turned out to be a shrewd business move at the time, as the rarity of her work had driven up prices. She’d used the funds to wander from city to city, living lavishly and gaining quite the reputation as a beauty and a socialite.

    And a beauty she was. Sigrund’s skin was as smooth as finely cast porcelain, and despite her impending middle age was still flawless with only the slightest lines showing near the creases of her eyes. She was the kind of woman that other women envied, and men craved to be near. Aellana had inherited her mother’s thick, snow-white hair, a traditional Evensnow trait, grey-blue eyes and pale skin, but that is where the similarities ended. From her father, she’d inherited a slightly smaller stature than was usual for a Nord, a thin frame and a smattering of freckles across her nose that always made her look younger than she was.

    Her father Tynand Erelund on the other hand, had been a highly sought after Jeweller, with a specialisation in enchantment, when he’d met Sigrund. She’d appeared in High Rock, carried on a cresting wave of infamy and acclaim. She’d come to him with a commission, a piece of her own design, a circlet of interwoven leaves set with garnet and peridot created in filigree so fine that only the best craftsman could do it justice. The finished piece was a wonder, sold at auction for a small fortune, and it wasn’t long before the Breton and the Nord were inseparable. Together they were a sensation, a designer of Sigrund’s talents combined with a smith of Tynand’s? Working together they became very wealthy, very quickly.

    That their business arrangement had turned to a more romantic one came as no surprise to anyone. The couple were already the subject of court gossip. Tynand was handsome, with deep-set brown eyes, a muscular physique and sandy hair that fell about his soft and friendly face in unruly waves. He was as warm and deep as Sigrund was icy and shallow. Fire and Ice they called them and everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the two would become more than just friends.

    The proof of the rumours came sooner than expected as Sigrund fell pregnant. Overnight she was whisked back to Skyrim by the Evensnow clan hoping to preserve the family’s reputation before news of the pregnancy spread. But the damage was done, the rumour mill had ensured it. Tynand was brought to Skyrim, and he and Sigrund were forced to marry to preserve the family’s honour. He took the Evensnow name, as was traditional for anyone marrying into the family, and a few months later Aellana had been born into a family with a father who loved her, and mother who resented her.

    They’d been happy at first, but as the reality of their situation had finally sunk in, Sigrund had turned to drink and gambling, squandering a huge portion of the family’s wealth on frivolities. It was only Tynand’s skill as a jeweller that had kept the family out of financial trouble. Now, Aellana assumed, that burden would fall on her.

    Taking a deep breath, she steeled her nerves and entered the large stone Manor house, ready to face what lay ahead.

    ***

    She’d expected anything but this. The wave of sound hit her with full force as she pushed open the heavy oak doors. The smell of sweet wine, bitter ale and roasting meat permeated her nostrils, and she was almost overwhelmed by the whirlwind of colour and glittering jewels that accosted her senses. In the middle of it all wove her mother, resplendent in a pale blue gown trimmed with fur and dusted with pale pink pearls at the neck and hem. She looked like a snow queen presiding over her court, and Aellana looked down in dismay at her own travel stained shirt, breeches, riding boots and dusty cloak.

    Sigrund looked over as the opening door let in a gust of cold, night air.

    “Daughter!” she exclaimed, running to embrace Aellana in a show of feigned affection.

    “Mother?” Aellana looked around the front hall. “What on earth is going on?”

    “Just some friends,” she said, sweeping her arm over the crowded front hall where Aellana only recognised one or two faces. “To celebrate your father’s memory.”

    Celebrate was right. Everywhere Aellana looked people were laughing, dancing eating and drinking. There was music coming from the ballroom, with distant sounds of dice being thrown from the salons just beyond. She knew that meant her mother was gambling. She could barely contain her anger, her whole body trembling with rage.

    “Father is barely two weeks dead, and you throw a party?”

    The room fell silent, and Aellana realised she’d been shouting. But she barely registered the reaction as she stared defiantly into her mother’s eyes, a small twitch in the corner of Sigrund’s eye the only outward indication that Aellana’s words had had any impact.

    “Do not disrespect our guests Aellana,” she ground out between gritted teeth. “I’ve had your room prepared and a dress laid out. Go upstairs, and I will speak with you presently.”

    And with that, Aellana found herself dismissed in her own home. She made her way up the stairs in stunned silence and locked the door without lighting any candles, shutting out the sound and embracing the cooling calm of the dark interior. Her respite was short lived however as there was a sharp knock on the door and before she could respond to please be left alone, her mother had forced her own key into the lock and entered.

    “For the sake of the Gods Aellana, you’re back five minutes, and it already smells like a stable in here. And do light some candles.”

    “Good to see you too mother.”

    “Don’t take that tone. I wasn’t the one who left for three years.”

    “To study mother. You of all people should understand wanting to travel and discover yourself.”

    “Yes, well look what it’s come to. Me, a widow!” she cried, throwing her hands up in mock despair.

    “Have you spared a thought for anyone but yourself?” Aellana found herself shouting again. Her mother had always been selfish, but this woman that stood before her, she hardly recognised. From the smell of stale wine Aellana inferred that she was drunk, and from the wild look in her eyes, she also inferred that the gambling tables had not been kind to her tonight.

    “You’ve lost a father Aellana, and I’ve lost a husband. Do not think that you are the only one to grieve.” She turned back toward the door. “There is fresh water in the basin, a dress on the bed and dinner will be served in an hour. Don’t be late,” and with a brusque slam of the door, she was gone.

    Aellana stood in stunned silence for a few moments before she busied herself lighting the room. It was just as she’d left it. On the nightstand lay a small silver bracelet with the Ereland family crest that she’d had since she was a baby, to remind her that despite the name Evensnow, she would always have a place with her father’s family. The tears threatened once again at the memory of her father, and Aellana forced herself to turn away lest she once again succumb to grief.

    The dress lay on the bed, just as her mother had advised. The fabric was beautiful, a mix of shimmering silks creating shifting hues like a peacock’s feathers. She had to admit, her mother had excellent taste. Dark lace spread from the hem, fading into a black pearl belt where the skirt met the bodice. Lifting it off the bed to take a closer look, Aellana gasped as she saw the bodice itself. Surely her mother could not expect her to wear this? The dress was cut low, dipping even further in the centre in a small V which would accentuate her cleavage. Aellana was not ashamed of her figure, but to wear something like this at her father’s memorial? She simply couldn’t.

    She started at another knock on the door. One of the servants let herself in and busied herself preparing the wash basin.

    “Let me help you dress, Ladyship.”

    “No need.” Aellana moved toward the wardrobe where she kept her evening dresses for formal occasions. “I won’t be wearing this.” She would be happy to meet her mother half way and dress formally. But the cupboard was empty.

    “I’m afraid the lady of the house was most insistent. She has removed all other clothing from the room assuming you might object.”

    “She what!?” Aellana stared at the girl in shock, who at least had the decency to look thoroughly ashamed.

    “I’m sorry, ladyship.”

    With nothing to wear to dinner but her dirty riding clothes Aellana realised she had no choice. Surely even a dress like this was better than coming down to dinner naked?

    ***

    The table fell completely silent when Aellana entered the room. She felt her cheeks stain red as she tried in vain to cover herself and considered that fact that it may indeed have been less shocking to appear naked.

    At first, she thought the silence was judgement, but as she looked around and noticed the approving looks she straightened herself and decided to make the best of an awkward situation. The shifting turquoise hues of the dress accentuated the contrast of her almost-white hair and brought out the colour of her pale blue eyes. The plunging neckline, revealing almost more than it concealed, was unadorned allowing her pale skin to shine like alabaster, and drew the eye of almost everyone in the room.

    A servant led her to the seat on the opposite end of the long table to her mother, who cast her a quick glance and an appreciative nod, which Aellana returned without humour. She recognised only half the people at the table and wondered whether any of them had actually known her father, and even more telling noted that some who should have been here we absent. She retreated into her memories once again and let dinner pass her by in a haze.

    A few people stopped to tell stories and anecdotes about their time with Tynand, but they were shallow tales, told by individuals who didn’t know or understand what a great man he really was. He deserved better than this, and Aellana wished more than anything that she could be with the Erelunds in High Rock to mourn with them. There would be no funeral as his body had not been recovered. The best they could do was celebrate his memory. One day, Aellana determined, she would return to High Rock and truly grieve with the people she now realised she considered her true family.

    When the meal was finished, she was whisked into the parlour by her mother and introduced to a number of lords, ladies, Jarls and various other nobles that she couldn’t have cared less about. She smiled, nodded, made small talk, but her mind was elsewhere, beyond herself, watching her own movements from afar and wishing she were anywhere else until she finally found herself blissfully alone by the fireplace in the drawing room.

    “You beauty was not exaggerated.” A male voice came from across the room as she heard the door click shut, frightening her half to death.

    “Thank you, sir…?” she said whirling around, trying to see to whom the voice belonged.

    “Gunmar Jurgarinson at your service.” The man bowed low, but Aellana noticed that his eyes never left her breasts. She found herself unconsciously covering herself with a hand. There was something about the man that made her exceedingly uncomfortable.

    Gunmar Jurgarinson was not unattractive. He was in middle age, but well built with a thick head of dark hair, piercing blue eyes and a full beard. But there was something in his gaze that made her feel like a rabbit must feel when faced with a fox about to tear into its throat. There was something predatory about him, and Aellana took an unconscious step back as he took a step toward her.

    “I am sorry about the death of your father.” His words conveyed sympathy, but his tone was bored, as if he knew his words were expected, but didn’t care about what they meant.

    “Why? Did you know him?”

    “Not personally, no. I am more an acquaintance of your mother’s.” She wasn’t surprised. Her father had surrounded himself with close friends, and had shunned the company of those wanting only to trade on the Evensnow name. “A remarkable woman, your mother, who has bred a remarkable daughter.” He took her hand from where it covered the plunge in her dress, and held it to his lips, letting his gaze linger just a little too long.

    “I am surprised we have not become acquainted before now, I’m sure I would remember.” Aellana did her best to be polite, while every instinct was telling her to run.

    “This is an injustice which I already plan to remedy.” He had backed her into the fireplace, and with nowhere to retreat, she found herself pushed uncomfortably into the mantle trying desperately to keep the back of her dress out of the flames. “Perhaps a more intimate acquaintance is in order?” he whispered into her ear, his breath, stale with ale, making her gag in disgust.

    “This is highly inappropriate.” Aellana tried to sound forceful as she sought to sidestep out of the man’s embrace, but instead, he grabbed her hand, wrapping her in one arm and guiding the other to the growing bulge in his trousers. As her palm made contact with the fabric straining around his already engorged cock, he let out a low, animal growl, pushing her to the wall beside the fireplace, one hand forcing her to paw at his breeches, the other clawing at her skirts, trying to raise them above her hips.

    Aellana struggled against him, but the harder she struggled, the harder he pushed, his fingers exploring up her thigh as he lowered his face to her breasts.

    “Ah, good, you two have met!”

    Aellana felt relief as Gunmar’s weight was lifted off her as he spun around at the intrusion. She went to call her thanks and retreat from the room when she saw who her saviour was. In the doorway, pushing it closed behind her once again, stood her mother.

    “Your ladyship.” Gunmar bowed low as her mother entered the room. “Your praise of your daughter was not exaggerated. I am content with our arrangement.”

    Sigrund laughed heartily. “My good Sir Jurgarinson, I could not be more pleased,” the, glancing at his prominent erection she added, “Nor it seems, could you! We couldn’t be happier with the match. Could we Aellana?”

    Aellana stared dumbfounded at her mother, completely at a loss. She had no idea what was going on. She looked between the two trying to make sense of this bizarre conversation, when suddenly realisation dawned.

    “Match?” she managed to squeak out, afraid of what the answer would be.

    “Of course Aellana. This man is your fiance. We’ve made all the arrangements, and you will leave with his household tomorrow. I’ve already sent your things ahead.”

    “My…things?” Of course. It all came to ther then. The empty cupboards in her room, the ridiculous dress she was forced to wear tonight, all in a ploy to entice this one, abhorrent man who thought he could own her, and to please a mother who believed she could sell her. “But….why mother?” She could hardly keep the betrayal from her voice.

    “It’s a matter of necessity dear, one day you’ll understand.” She waved her hand dismissively as if this were any other business transaction and hardly worth her time. “I’ll leave you two to continue your acquaintance.” And just like that, her mother left the room, leaving her to the mercies of Gunmar Jurgarinson whether she was willing, or not.

    He started toward her once again, the lust in his eyes showing plainly. She kept retreating, trying to get to the door, but he was fast and strong, and before she knew it he had her in an embrace, forcing his mouth over hers, his tongue pushing his way between her lips. She tasted old ale and stale tobacco and gagged as his tongue floundered and explored every inch of her mouth, yelping as he bit at her bottom lip.

    “Please…” she whispered.

    “You should be grateful to me.” His voice could barely conceal his lust. He pushed himself against her, spreading her legs below her skirt running his hands up and down her leg, teasing himself, allowing himself time to enjoy his new plaything.

    “Grateful?” she spat. “For what?”

    “Don’t you know my dear?” he grumbled out as his mouth left sticky wet tracks down her neck to the rise of her breasts as he attempted to kiss his way toward them. “Now that your father’s dead, you’re broke,” he panted. “Your mother’s gambled away all your money. Without my generosity, you’d be destitute, selling your charms on the streets.” His hand once again began bundling her skirts above her hips, hooking under her leg to lift it closer to his throbbing crotch which he began to push against it like a dog on heat.

    “So, she sold me to pay off her debts?”

    “Think of it more of a business arrangement. I need a woman to be the jewel in the crown of my empire,” he increased the speed of his thrusting, moving her leg painfully as pushed himself against it, the fabric of his trousers burning at her skin where it made contact, all the while keeping her hands pinned behind her back. “In turn, I am saving you from a life of poverty.” His lust made his voice ragged, and his words came out in hot, dry panting syllables. “I’d hate to see a beauty such as you fall so low. Surely submitting to me is preferable fate?”

    Aellana couldn’t think of anything less preferable. His weight eased off as his thrusting stopped so he could lift her skirts once more. With her hand free Aellana did the first thing she could think to do. She created a flame. Her hand was at her side, and she saw the flame sputter and go out. No, no, no! She willed the fire to stay alight. Her magical ability had already failed her in her first test of strength, if there were ever a time she needed it to work, it was now. She needed to control herself. She forced herself to calm, ignoring the pawing, sweaty man whose hands were already making their way inside her smallclothes. She retreated into herself, focusing her magic and her energy until she felt the heat take form, until with relief, the flame leap to life.

    “Get off me. Now.” She growled, drawing her hand back, ready to unleash a stream of fire into her assailant.

    Gunmar stood back, shocked to his core, hot, white anger pulsing behind his eyes. He took a step toward her, hand raised as if to strike, but Aellana let the fire in her own hands spark upward, sending a wave of heat his way until he stopped in his tracks. Keeping the flame lit, she smoothed her skirts with one hand and backed toward the door, slamming it behind her as soon as she was through. She quickly retreated up the stairs, extinguishing the flame in an effort not to draw any attention to herself. If she was going to get out of here, she had to do it now, without delay.

    She locked the door to her room as she entered and ran toward the bed where her dirty riding clothes lay discarded. She threw them into a pack, picked up the silver bracelet from her father, the only thing portable she had to remind herself of him, and pried up a floorboard that held a secret stash of septims she’d kept aside for emergencies. She’d always assumed an emergency would constitute paying a workman if she were short on coin. Never had she assumed it would be a midnight escape from a forced marriage, arranged by no one less than her own mother.

    Taking one last look around the room she assumed she’d never see again, she threw on a cloak, gathered up her skirts and escaped through the window, climbing down the tree she’d used to escape this room ever since she was a child. The frivolities of youth seemed so far away tonight. But there was no time to dwell as she retreated into the darkness, leaving the Evensnow manor far behind her without so much as a single glance farewell.

    Altra
    Participant
    Post count: 4

    I just caught up on Wattpad. That’s some good writing. Solstheim is an excellent choice, since it gets far too little love.

    I rather enjoy  your take on Bishop and Company, although Aellena strays into Mary Sue-Territory. Still, that’s sort of the definition of the Dragonborn in SR, hm? Everybody wants her, because she is perfect. So that’s ok 🙂 And I like the beta-couple a LOT.

     

    Please continue.

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    That was quick!  I hadn’t picked up on the Mary-Sue aspect of her character, so it’s great to see her through someone elses eyes.  I’ll be putting another chapter up in the next hour or two, and I’ll focus a bit more on her characterisation.

    Glad you’re enjoying it so far  🙂

    Altra
    Participant
    Post count: 4

    I am a fast reader. As to Aellana: nobleborn, stunning looks, capable mage, white hair (take a look at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MysticalWhiteHair if you dare), no faults I have found so far. There you are 😉 Still very human for all that and thus I am fine with her.

    Without wanting to spoiler the story for everybody else: I liked the part where someone compared her hair to that of another and actually found hers inferior. Thumbs up for that scene.

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    Ooh, I actually didn’t know about the white hair trope!  I only picked it because I’d dyed my own hair white at the time for a change and liked the way it looked.  I think some more trope research might be in order for the future.  Thanks for picking that up.  Every day’s a school day.

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    Chapter 3 – The Road to Whiterun

    It was dawn before Aellana stopped running. She’d fled through the night, trying to put as much distance between herself and the place she had once called home as she could. The night air chilled her to her bones, but she had nothing with her save a few coins, the dress she still had on and the dirty riding clothes in her pack to keep the cold at bay. As the sun crested above the trees, she allowed herself some respite, collapsing in a heap of exhaustion, grief, and betrayal.

    She’d run all night with no direction. No sense of purpose other than self-preservation. She knew she had to get away but had given no thought to where would be best to go. Aellana attempted to take in her surroundings, hoping she could find something familiar which would let her know just how far she’d managed to run. There was smoke curling above the treeline in the distance and she forced herself to her feet to investigate, and hopefully enlist some aid.

    She’d not run far enough it seemed. She recognised the farmhouse up ahead as belonging to one of her family’s tenants. As she stepped out into the clearing she briefly considered simply running on, but her exhaustion and bleeding feet won out, and she limped to the welcoming porch to knock on the door.

    A plump, middle-aged woman with large eyes and a kind, open face came to the door. Aellana felt a twinge of recognition. They’d most likely met years ago when she was a child and still travelled to visit tenants over the holidays with her father. She cursed herself now that she’d not taken the time to continue the tradition, as she would have liked to be able to call the woman by name. The woman’s eyes widened, however, immediately recognising her and bringing her hand to her mouth in shock.

    “Your ladyship! What…?”

    “Please,” Aellana begged. “I need your help.”

    “The whole house is looking for you, my lady,” she said, gesturing in the direction of Evensnow Manor, “I had riders on my doorstep late last night asking if I’d seen you. They’ll be so relieved to hear you’re safe!”

    Well, her mother certainly hadn’t wasted any time.

    “Please. I can’t go back,” she said, panic making her words rushed and pleading. “If you’ll let me in, I’ll explain everything.”

    “Of course, of course,” the woman waved her inside, and Aellana breathed a sigh of relief as she sank into a chair by the hearth, kicking off her heeled shoes.

    “Thank you, mistress…?”

    “Greta, ladyship,” she curtsied quickly, shooting a concerned glance at Aellana’s battered and bleeding feet. “Begging your pardon, ladyship, but have you been out in the woods all night?”

    Aellana nodded, and Greta took pause, looking over the rest of her. She could only begin to imagine how she looked to this woman, hair dishevelled, face and dress streaked with dirt, breasts spilling out of an inappropriately low bodice and ridiculous shoes that she really should have stopped to change earlier.

    “I have some riding clothes and boots in my pack, but I didn’t dare to stop,” she said by way of apology, although she wasn’t quite sure what she was apologising for.

    “Well, you must be starving. I’ll prepare some bread and cheese for your breakfast while you get out of that dress, and I’ll heat some water for you to wash.”

    “Mistress Greta, I cannot thank you enough.”

    Greta disappeared into a back room, returning with an oversized nightgown.

    “This’ll do for now while I see to your clothes.”

    Aellana disrobed putting the dress in a neat pile with her filthy riding clothes, exhaling with relief as she divested herself of her too-tight bodice, only realising now how difficult it had made breathing for her. No wonder she’d made such poor time in her escape. It made her wish even more that she’d taken the few minutes to change her clothes earlier. Her feet certainly would have thanked her.

    True to her word, Greta returned with an ample supply of bread, butter, cheese and fruits and Aellana tore into it ravenously. She waited patiently for Aellana to eat her fill, busying herself by attempting to rub the worst of the dirt from Aellana’s dress and riding leathers.

    “If you’ve had enough to eat, ladyship, I suppose you should be telling me what brought you to my door in the early hours, and why you’ve no wish to return.”

    She told the woman everything. Greta already knew about Tynand’s death, of course, expressing her sympathies. Aellana’s father had been a good man she said, always fair to his tenants. He would be missed, and Aellana couldn’t agree more. That her mother had gambled away the family fortune came as no surprise to her either, but even she was shocked that a mother could sell her own daughter to pay off her debts.

    “Begging your pardon, ladyship, but I never did like Sigrund, and now I know why. What kind of woman allows a man to force himself on her daughter, at her own father’s funeral!”

    “Do you see, now, why I can’t go back?”

    “I’ll help you in any way I can, but I fear you can’t stay here ladyship.”

    Aellana nodded, she already knew as much. Despite her exhaustion and pain, she’d have to keep moving if she wanted to escape the fate that awaited her at home.

    “I’ve some coin, perhaps I could buy a cloak and a change of clothing from you?”

    “Take what you need ladyship. I have a cloak that belonged to my late husband. It’s not stylish, but it will keep you warm.”

    Greta once again disappeared to the room in back and reappeared with some good quality riding leathers and an oversized pack filled with food, a map and supplies for the journey. Tears of gratitude sprang into Aellana’s eyes as she embraced the older woman. She changed quickly, the soft leather making a pleasant change from her restrictive bodice, and bandaged her damaged feet, slipping them into her soft, leather boots. Her dirty clothes she put deep at the bottom of the pack. They were her only belongings, and despite their state of disrepair, she couldn’t part with them yet.

    “Mistress Greta, there is no way I can ever thank you enough.” They stood in the doorway, and Aellana pressed her bag of coins into the woman’s hands.

    “Keep your money, ladyship.”

    “Please, I insist. If my family is now truly destitute, then I foresee a hard winter ahead for you. I can’t bear for you to suffer on my account.”

    “We’d not wish to see you tied to the likes of Gunmar Jurgarinson, mistress. He has quite the reputation. And not a good one.”

    As she embraced the woman goodbye, she resolved to send whatever coin she could back to Greta. She couldn’t marry Gunmar, but she also wasn’t willing to let hardship befall the people who had helped her in her hour of need.

    “Goodbye Greta, and thank you for everything.”

    “Where will you go, ladyship?”

    “Whiterun. And from there, who knows?”

    ***

    She kept mainly to the back roads and away from settlements, not wanting to be spotted. In these parts, she was still well-known, and she didn’t want word of her whereabouts to get back to her mother and Gunmar. Greta had given Aellana enough food for three days worth of travel, and with careful rationing, she’d managed to eke it out to four, but by the fifth day she was running short on supplies. She managed to forage for berries, and steal an apple here or there from nearby orchards, but it was hardly enough to sustain her, and it wasn’t long before she realised she’d have to search out a nearby hamlet or farm to try and barter supplies now that her coin was gone.

    She was heading to the main road into Whiterun as dark began to settle, hoping to mask her progress under cover of night when she heard the cries. Someone in the distance was calling for help, apparently in pain. Aellana ran toward the voice, hoping to make it in time to lend her aid.

    She burst out of the woods to find a man by the side of a bridge, slumped over and seemingly wounded. She could see his possessions strewn about the road but there was no sign of his attackers. She rushed to his side, gathering pots, pans and other tinkers’ wares as she went.

    “What happened? Are you alright?”

    The man grunted in pain and tried to sit up, wincing as he did so and clutching at his ribs. Aellana looked at him with concern, but he waved it off.

    “My caravan,” he gasped. “We were overrun by bandits. Bastards,” he spat, ” they stole everything I own. I’m ruined.”

    “Please, let me help you. Is there anything I can do?” Aellana hooked her arm around the man’s waist, helping him to rise.

    “My camp’s not far off, just up in the ruins of Nilheim. Would you help me get there?”

    “Of course!” The man limped off ahead, and Aellana followed, packing the last of his strewn belongings into a bag and carrying it along with him.

    “It’s not far. Just over the bridge, at the top of the hill.” Aellana could see a campfire and some guards up ahead. “I’ll go up and let them know you’re with me so they don’t shoot us down. With bandits around, we can’t be too careful.”

    Aellana couldn’t agree more. The last thing she wanted right now was to run afoul of bandits. It would be a cruel irony if she’d escaped the clutches of a man who wanted to force her into marriage only to fall afoul of ruffians who would likely do worse to her, 1000 time over.

    A few minutes passed before she saw the man returning with the guards from the camp in tow. With surprise, she noticed his limp was gone, and as he saw the realisation dawn in her eyes, he gave her a cruel sneer. Irony it is then, she thought to herself.

    “There’s a fool born every minute.” He laughed, a harsh sound in the silence of the darkness.

    One of the guards gave her a once over and clapped his hands with glee.

    “Telrav,” he turned to the man that Aellana had thought to rescue, “you’re a bloody genius.”

    “Um, thank you?” he asked, obviously confused.

    “Do you know who this is? It’s Sigrund Evensnow’s daughter!” Aellana cursed her cruel luck. “Gunmar Jurgarinson’s paying a pretty penny for her return. You’ve just made us all rich men.” So, a bounty then. A few short weeks ago she’d not have thought to be such a valuable commodity.

    Telrav’s face contorted into a cruel sneer. “So, she’s more valuable to us alive than dead. At least we’ll have a pretty thing to play with tonight,” he came close, holding her face in one hand, turning it this way and that as if inspecting livestock. “We have to return you alive. That doesn’t mean we can’t have our fun.” He began to drag her up the path to the camp, and something in Aellana snapped. With a roar she let flames leap to her hands, incinerating the bandits before her.

    The men screamed and ran, their movements only encouraging the flames to leap higher and higher. The air filled with the scent of charred flesh, and the screams of pain slowly turned to whimpers, then ragged breathing, and then, finally, silence.

    Aellana could only stare. What had she done? She’d only meant to frighten them away, but she’d lost control, and now five men lay dead at her feet, still smouldering and twitching. She knew that magic was deadly, but she’d not trained to fight with it. She’d wanted to mend, to heal, to enchant. She’d never wanted to use her magic to cause harm, but now, she supposed she was a murderer, despite never before having taken a life. But there was no going back from this. She sank to her knees in the dirt, shaking and sobbing until finally she turned her face up to the stars, and shouted her grief and anger at the very heavens themselves.

    ***

    It was still dark when she composed herself. That someone had heard her screams earlier she was sure, so she had to keep moving. Aellana glanced down at the bodies at her feet once more wondering if she should dispose of them, deciding against it due to the time she would lose. Bandits ran afoul of each other every day in the wilds of Skyrim, and with the bodies burned there was nothing to tie her to their deaths. She moved up the hill and into their camp, which she was surprised to find was neat and incredibly well stocked.

    She considered leaving everything as it was, but she was hungry and needed coin. She took all the food with her, commandeered a sword and a spare set of riding leathers, a few coin pouches and enough small valuables that wouldn’t weigh her down too much but would fetch a decent price. If she were already a murderer, it wouldn’t hurt to add thief to her repertoire. If she were caught by the guards her life would already be forfeit, so what was one more charge?

    As she walked away, she spared a glance backward at the scene of destruction. It was all about survival now. She wasn’t just running away from home anymore. She was on the run, pursued by anyone desperate enough to need the coin for her bounty, which in Skyrim, was just about everybody.

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    Chapter 4 – Friends and Companions

    “No vagrants!”

    A Whiterun Guard stood menacingly in front of her. She looked down at her stained and torn riding clothes and tattered cloak and supposed she did look a little worse for wear.

    “Please, I must get into the city.”

    “Not my problem, love. The city’s got issues of its own. We don’t need to add any beggars to the mix.”

    “I’m not a beggar,” she countered, trying to think of a way to bluff her way in, “but I completely understand,” she replied, doing her best to mask the anger as the answer came to her. “Please pass my regards onto Eorlund Gray-Mane.” She turned to leave, affecting a casual air.

    “Eorlund? Wait!” She turned, hiding her satisfied smile.

    “Yes?”

    “Eorlund Gray-Mane, you say?”

    “Yes,” she nodded, affecting a bored air. “I did some enchanting for him a few years ago and wanted to give him my regards while I was passing Whiterun.” It was only a partial lie. She had done some enchanting for him a few years ago but had never met the man in person. She’d been commissioned by one of her cousins rather than Eorlund himself. He’d know her name, but she’d not been to Whiterun since she was a child so he’d definitely not recognise her face.

    “Well, I suppose we could make an exception this once. A friend of the Companions is a friend of ours,” The guard nodded to his companion, “right?”

    Aellana nodded her thanks and flashed her sweetest smile as the two men let her pass, breathing a sigh of relief as the gates swung shut behind her. She’d finally made it. It was the safest she’d felt in over a week. The sun streamed down, despite the early hour, and she could feel the sweat building up under her already sweat-stained leathers. She was desperate for a bed and a bath, so picked her way through the winding streets to find the Bannered Mare. She’d stayed there with her father as a child, and the city had changed very little since then, and she was sure she could find the way.

    It was behind the market square, just where she remembered it was. The stall owners were setting up their wares for their first day of trade and barely spared her a glance. She didn’t dare put the hood of her cloak up as with the heat of the day it would look suspicious but she also knew that her shock of white hair would be a dead giveaway as to her identity if there were any bounty hunters ready and waiting.

    But the streets were quiet, and as she entered the inn, no one gave her a second glance. It was still early, so the tavern was quiet, with only a few patrons gathered around drink and conversation at the tables dotted around the central hearth. She recognised Hulda, the proprietor from when she was a girl, but saw no recognition in the woman’s face, which she was thankful for.

    Approaching the bar, Hulda gave Aellana a disdainful look.

    “You look well travelled,” she said, stating the obvious.

    “I’ve had a long journey,” Aellana countered, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment at her dishevelled state. “If there is a room available and some water to bathe I would be very grateful.”

    “Aye, we’ve room. The cost is 100 septims, and I’ll not charge you for use of the washroom.”

    Aellana’s face fell. 100 septims. That was more money that she’d left the manor house with, and what few valuables she had with her wouldn’t fetch anywhere near that amount.

    “I….maybe I’ll just have some ale,” she stammered out, and Hulda looked at her with pity.

    “I tell you what,” she countered, “I can’t give you a room, but feel free to use the washroom at no charge. When you return you can talk to me about finding work over that ale.”

    Aellana looked at the woman gratefully, thankful that she’d so deftly saved her from a potentially embarrassing situation. She gathered her pack and headed in the direction that Hulda had pointed, gratefully stripping off her filthy leathers as she entered the washroom where a bath was already filled and waiting.

    She sighed in relief as the warm water ran over her body, washing away the stink and grime of a week’s worth of road dirt. She’d managed a cursory wash in rivers and pools under the cover of darkness, but she’d never let herself linger. She’d washed for hygiene only, rather than enjoyment. She sank into the tub, letting the tension ease from her body, letting her long hair flow free in the water, massaging her scalp with her fingers.

    “Lana?”

    She sat up in the water, quickly wrapping her arms around her to hide her nakedness. She kept her back to the voice, the colour rising in her cheeks.

    “Can I help you?” she managed to squeak out.

    “I’m so sorry I came for a wash, and I didn’t know anyone was in here. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

    She glanced over her shoulder at the hulking Nord that the deep male voice had come from. Her eyes trailed up, until they alighted on his face and recognition dawned.

    “Thaiden!” She leapt up out of the bath, only remembering too late that she was completely naked.

    Thaiden laughed and handed her a towel to cover herself. There was no embarrassment between the two of them. They’d been friends since childhood. He’d grown up on a neighbouring plantation, the son of a family with enough wealth and stature to ensure they were educated together. They’d dated for a few years as teenagers, but life had taken them to very different places and any romance they had was long in the past.

    He had always been handsome. Thaiden was tall, broad shouldered and muscular, with kind, blue eyes and a boyish grin. But the man before her now was so much more than the boy she used to know. He’d filled out, grown into his physique. Where his ash-blonde hair used to hang impishly into his face he now kept it neatly tied in back with a leather thong which accentuated his high cheekbones and full lips. She’d not seen him since a year or two before she had left for High Rock, but the easy companionship between the two was immediate.

    “By the Gods Lana, what are you doing here? Your mother’s sent word all over Skyrim. There’s people looking for you everywhere.”

    She told him the whole story. Every emotion she’d experienced over the last week played clearly on his face as she recounted her tale. He hurt when she hurt, he feared when she feared, and when she told him of the bandits in the forest he gathered her into his arms into an embrace so fierce it nearly knocked the breath from her. There, in his arms, was the safest she’d felt in what felt like an age.

    “They found the bandit camp yesterday, he said releasing her. “You’re actually in luck,” he grinned, “there was a bounty out on their leader.”

    “You mean, I won’t be arrested?”

    “No,” Thaiden laughed, “the opposite in fact. You’ll be paid!” Aellana breathed easier than she had in days as she looked at him gobsmacked. She wasn’t a murderer then.

    “That’s the first bit of luck I’ve had since I returned home from High Rock,” she gasped out, practically laughing with giddy relief.

    “Do you have anywhere to stay?”

    “I had planned on staying here, but I’m afraid my coin disagrees with that. I’m going to talk to Hulda about some work.”

    Aellana quickly dressed again and exited the washroom with Thaiden in tow. Hulda raised he eyebrows a little at that, but said nothing. What individuals got up to in her inn was not her business, so long as it didn’t interfere with the running of things.

    “So, you’re here to talk about work?” Aellana nodded gratefully. “The Jarl has some bounties if you don’t mind mercenary work, and there’s some rumours of activity up in Helgen which may net you some coin.”

    She’d never considered mercenary work. She knew how to fight, but it had been for reasons of tradition more than to ever see combat. Before a few days ago she’d never killed anyone, had never seen battle, but the reality was, she needed coin, and she needed it fast. She thanked Hulda and turned to Thaiden to discuss her options. He saw the uncertainty in her eyes and before she could say anything, he moved toward the door.

    “Come with me, there’s some people I’d like you to meet. How would you like to join me with the Companions?”

    ***

    The mead hall of Jorrvaskr was as glorious as she’d heard. She knew of the Companions, an elite group of fighters who leant aid all around Skyrim in exchange for coin. As they entered, a Bosmer and a Nord were engaged in a close combat fist fight, surrounded by a crowd of people cheering them on. They fought well, and Aellana watched, entranced as the lithe, female Nord expertly ducked and twisted just out of reach of the male Bosmer’s well-placed punches. It was over in minutes, the Nord emerging victorious, and as the crowd dispersed, Thaiden called over a dark haired, musclebound Nord with a severe scowl and penetrating gaze.

    “Vilkas,” Thaiden said, clapping the large man on the shoulder in a show of companionship. “This is my friend Aellana. I was hoping she could stay with us for a few days?”

    “Aellana?” Vilkas looked her up and down, lingering on her hair, reaching out to touch a strand as it floated around her face. “Ah, yes, the Evensnow girl.”

    She looked up with a start. How on earth did this man know who she was?

    Vilkas turned to Thaiden. “She’s worth a lot of money you know.”

    “We strive for honour, Vilkas. There is no honour in giving her over to the likes of Gunmar Jurgarinson, no matter how high the bounty.”

    “Don’t worry, little pup,” Vilkas soothed. “We won’t turn her over. But we’re not a charity either. If she stays, she joins, but,” he looked up and down her petite frame once more and snorted with incredulity, “I don’t hold out much hope that she’ll make the cut.”

    “She’s tougher than she looks.”

    “We’ll see about that.” Vilkas turned on his heel, speaking over his shoulder. “Let’s head down and talk to Kodlak, and if he’s in agreement, she can show me what she’s made of.”

    Aellana didn’t appreciate being spoken about as if she weren’t present, but Thaiden gave her a knowing wink and pressed his finger to his lips. He leaned in close and whispered in her ear as they took some stairs down to the Jorrvaskr living quarters following Vilkas.

    “Vilkas is full of his own bravado. Let him underestimate you.” Aellana nodded in agreement seeing the benefits of the plan.

    They entered an annexe, just off the main hallway where an old man sat alone, engrossed in one of the many tomes that dotted the shelves surrounding him. As they entered he glanced up, surprised to find his peace disturbed.

    “Thaiden, Vilkas, what can I do for you?”

    “This young pup,” Vilkas sneered, pointing at Aellana,” think she has what it takes to be a Companion.”

    The man who Aellana supposed was Kodlak looked up at her face, taking her in.

    “And why do you wish to join?” he asked her. Aellana considered which answer to give for a moment, but decided that honestly in this case would serve her better than an impressive story of a drive for heroism.

    “I’ve had some recent tragedy in my life and have had to flee from my family. I have no money, no belongings, no home, but I do have skill with magic and a blade. The Companions are honourable. If I’m to fight for money I would like it to be in aid of something good, that will serve Skyrim, and not for self-gratification.”

    Kodlak nodded sagely. He seemed impressed by her words, and she could hear Vilkas grumble in incredulity beside her. As she looked toward him he rolled his eyes.

    After only a moments consideration Kodlak replied. “Very well. Vilkas, please test our new recruit.” Turning back to Aellana he added, ” If he’s impressed with how you handle yourself you may join us.”

    “Kodlak?” The disbelief in Vilkas’ voice was obvious. “Are you sure?”

    “I see great potential here, Vilkas. She may yet surprise you.”

    ***

    A small crowd gathered in the training yard as Vilkas led Aellana and Thaiden out into the sunshine. From the corner of her eye she could see clandestine bets being taken. She was sure most would be betting against her and was not surprised when Thaiden excused himself to join one of the groups in the corner, a grin splitting his features as he learned the odds. He’d seen both Vilkas and Aellana fight, he knew where he’d be putting his money.

    “No magic allowed. If we fight, we fight man to man.” Aellana raised an eyebrow. “So to speak,” he added.

    Someone from the sidelines threw her a sword. It was light, evenly balanced and she was not surprised to see that it was Thaiden who’d thrown it to her. He knew how she fought best.

    Like the children of most of the noble houses of Skyrim she’d been taught to use a blade. She and Thaiden had had the same instructor and had trained together at every opportunity. While she had assumed she’d never need to use the skill, she’d enjoyed the physicality of it, learning the movements, just like a dance. She and Thaiden had sparred together for most of their childhood, and while he was bigger and had more power behind his arm, she was faster, lighter on her feet. More often than not she’d emerged victorious. But this was not a friendly sparring match. This was a fight for her very existence. If she failed to impress here, she had nowhere else to go. She’d not handled a blade in years, choosing instead to focus on her magical training, and she could only hoped the skill had not left her.

    Without warning Vilkas lunged, and Aellana only just managed to jump out of the way of the blade as it slashed beside her ear. He circled her, with predatory laughter bubbling from his lips. As he circled he jabbed in her direction at regular intervals, hoping to spook her into lunging too soon. Aellana smiled, she knew the tactic and needn’t have worried, this was going to be easier than she thought.

    Thaiden had been right to let Vilkas underestimate her. He was sloppy, and wasn’t taking her seriously which left him wide open to attack. She observed his lunges for a few more moments, memorising the movement of his arm as she expertly ducked away from his blade every time it swung toward her. Once she had an opening she quickly spun around his body, and before he’d registered where she’d gone, she swept his leg out from underneath him, winding him as he landed heavily on his back, holding her blade to his throat from her vantage above him. The fight was over in less than a minute, and she’d barely needed to raise her sword.

    The crowd that had gathered were silent for a few moments before erupting into cheers. A number of them walked up to Thaiden, angrily shoving coin pouches into his hands, and as she looked over to him he gave her a wink.

    Aellana reached down to offer Vilkas her hand, which he took, a squeezing a little too hard.

    “Welcome to the Companions,” he said curtly, turning on his heel and stalking off into the hall.

    “I knew you had it in you, Lana,” Thaiden grinned as he offered her half of the winnings. Aellana took it gratefully, sinking down onto the bed behind her.

    Thaiden had taken her straight back down to the living quarters, realising how exhausted she must be, showing her where the new recruits slept. The room was rather spartan, but the bed was clean and more than she’d had in over a week, so she was grateful for it.

    “I don’t think Vilkas is any more predisposed to like me because of it.”

    “Don’t worry about Vilkas. He doesn’t like anybody.”

    “I can certainly imagine that’s true,”Aellana replied, laughingly. Thaiden allowed himself a chuckle as well, before sobering and sitting down at the end of the bed and looking pointedly at her.

    “You’re a Companion now Lana, and we look after our own. But you still have a bounty on your head, so please, be careful out there.”

    “I will Thaiden, don’t worry.”

    He took her hand in his own, considering something for a moment.

    “Would you let me come with you, wherever you go next? We could split any payments we receive and I can help keep you safe.”

    “Are you sure you want to do that? I wouldn’t want you to be saddled with a damsel in distress.”

    Thaiden laughed at that. “You are not now, nor will you ever be a damsel in distress.” Aellana smiled despite herself. “To be honest, I’d welcome the company. It’s lonely on the road alone, and a cut in my earnings will be well worth staving off the boredom of days alone in the wilderness.”

    “Well, if you’re sure it’s what you want, then I accept.”

    Thaiden smiled and moved to the doorway.

    “Where to first?”

    “I thought we could follow up that lead in Helgen.”

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    Chapter 5 – Return to Helgen

     

    “Aellana Evensnow, eh?” Eorlund Grey-Mane looked her up and down. “I thought your hair would be…whiter.”

    She’d dyed it raven black that morning with the help of Aela, a senior member of the Companions who she suspected knew a thing or two about remaining anonymous. The two women had giggled and gossiped as they waited for the colour to set, the sound drawing out Farkas, who had lumbered into the room to see what all the commotion was about. Aellana had started up, thinking the man entering was Vilkas, but Aela had explained that they were twins. Despite his size, Farkas was gentle and kind, and seemed genuinely interested in their conversation. She had the feeling that he didn’t have many people to talk to here, as his personality seemed so at odds with that of his brother.

    As Aela had washed the excess colour out of her hair over a basin, Vilkas had stormed in, obviously looking for his brother. As Aellana had sat up he’d gone silent, staring at her. The silence had stretched on for an uncomfortable length of time, and it took Aela clearing her throat and asking what it is that he wanted to break it. He’d barked an order that Aellana was needed at the Skyforge and had promptly escaped the room, Farkas following him quickly with an apologetic shrug.

    So here she was, standing before Eorlund in the world famous Skyforge, receiving a non-ceremonial set of armour made for the first time in her life.

    “I remember your work, Aellana. You have a fine talent for enchanting.” She inclined her head in thanks at the compliment.

    “Good morning!” a cheery voice sounded from behind her, and she turned to see Thaiden striding toward them. As he saw Aellana he dropped dead in his tracks. “You look….”

    “Different?” Aellana laughed.

    “I was going to say, amazing!” She found herself blushing at the praise.

    The armour that Eorlund had made hugged her figure closely, but allowed her plenty of movement. She was clad head to toe in soft, black leather, a reinforced bodice protecting her vital organs and accentuating her figure over a simple, white shirt. It was comfortable, and sturdy.

    Thaiden walked up and took a strand of her hair in his hands, turning it this way and that, letting the light catch it as he surveyed the colour.

    “It brings out your eyes.”

    Aellana found herself blushing again, until Eorlund pointedly cleared his throat behind them.

    “If that will be all?” he asked, raising an eyebrow, leading Thaiden to stifle a laugh behind his hand and Aellana to blush an even deeper crimson.

    “Sorry, Eorlund,” he said with a laugh, turning to Aellana. “You ready to go?”

    She sheathed her sword at the expertly crafted weapons belt at her hip and nodded assent. Helgen was days away. The sooner they left, the better.

     

    ***

     

    The silence was deafening as they approached Helgen. The closer they got, the more the silence had grown until the only sound for miles was the crunch of their boots on the crisp, new snow.

    “There’s no animals, no birds,” Aellana remarked, worry creeping into her voice.

    “Something odd is going on here, and I don’t like it.” Thaiden pushed on ahead, but as he spoke, he raised his sword, preparing for the worst. Aellana found herself doing the same.

    As they neared the gates a roar shook the ground beneath them, and they both looked up in horror as a dragon launched itself up and out of the keep, disappearing into the sky. The flapping of its powerful wings nearly toppled them off their feet. They looked at each other in open-mouthed awe before running full pelt toward the entrance to Helgen. There couldn’t be many survivors of a dragon attack, but if there were, they’d need help, and fast.

    The keep stood before them, quietly imposing. Its gates were shut fast, and it took a fair amount of strained pushing from both of them to open the heavy oak doors just wide enough for them to slip through. What met them on the other side left them speechless. The courtyard of the keep was gutted. Buildings had been incinerated, reduced to nothing but smouldering ash and rubble. Bodies lay strewn about, burned beyond recognition. Men, women, children, it didn’t matter. All had perished in a flame and fire. The dragon had been thorough.

    “The escape tunnels!” Thaiden was already back out the gate and circumventing the walls. “My father told me about them years ago, from his days in the Imperial Army,” he panted, clambering over rocks and sliding through snow drifts in his hurry to find whatever it was he was looking for. “If anyone got out they’ll be coming through…there!” he shouted, and Aellana saw it too. A concealed cave entrance that led directly under the walls of Helgen keep.

    The cave system was as silent as the keep itself had been, and that spark of hope that had been present in Thaiden’s eyes fizzled out as quickly as it appeared. They were so on edge that they nearly tripped over the man who lay crumpled on the path before them. It wasn’t until Aellana felt a weak hand grab at her ankle, frightening her nearly to death, that they even noticed him.

    “Why are you here?” the man coughed weakly.

    “We heard rumours of dangerous activity in the area and came to lend aid.”

    “You need to get to Riverwood, now. They need to know what happened here. Please,” he stuttered out. “You need to warn them!”

    “I’m not leaving you here. You need help,” Aellana countered as the walls of the cave shook suddenly, the ground trembling beneath their feet.

    “Leave me,” the man screamed. “Go! You have to warn them!”

    “We’re not going anywhere without you.” Aellana shoved a healing potion into the man’s hand which he downed in a single draught, while Thaiden lifted him up, draping the man’s arm around his shoulder.

    “Try to walk as best you can. Between the two of us we’ll get you out of here.”

    They stumbled back to the cave entrance, dodging falling debris, dragging the wounded Imperial Guard with them. The keep above must have been collapsing, bringing the entire cave system down with it. The tremors increased in magnitude, a rumbling roar building from above them as they stumbled into the white snow outside the cave’s entrance not a moment too soon. Rocks and debris tumbled down behind them, blocking the entrance, completely sealing the tunnels.

    They barely had a moment to breathe before the guard was forcing them on their feet again.

    “The dragon, did you see the dragon? We have to go!”

    Aellana put a comforting hand on the man’s arm. “Shh, it’s alright. We saw the dragon fly off just as we arrived. I don’t think it’s coming back.”

    “My uncle’s a blacksmith in Riverwood, it’s the closest town. We have to warn them about the dragon.”

    She nodded her assent, “We will, but you need a moment to rest and recover. We’re not leaving you here and we’ll make better time if we don’t have to carry you.” She passed him another healing potion which he took gratefully.

    “Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome….?”

    “Hadvar. My name’s Hadvar.”

    “Well Hadvar, take your time. While you recover, why don’t you tell us what happened?”

    He took a deep swig from the flask of potion, and Thaiden handed him his water skin to drown down the bitter taste. When he continued his voice was calmer and more measured.

    “We’d caught Ulfric Stormcloak and a small contingency of Stormcloak rebels.” He took another swig from the water skin. “Just as we were about to execute him, the dragon attacked. It can’t have been a coincidence.”

    Aellana doubted very much that the Stormcloak rebels had control of a dragon, but she wasn’t going to shut down Hadvar after what he’d just been though.

    “I’m sorry you had to see that,” she said instead. “It must have been terrible.”

    “It came out of nowhere, destroyed everyone,” his voice broke as he spoke, “showed no mercy. Myself and a few rebels made it into the caves, but they were picked off, one by one. If you hadn’t come, I’d have died there too.”

    Neither Aellana or Thaiden could disagree with him there. They’d come to Helgen, expecting to find work but there’d be no payday for this trip. Neither of them were sorry they’d come, however. This man, his tale and the huge dragon they’d just seen in the sky over Helgen would change everything. There was something coming. They could all feel it.

     

    ***

     

    It was night by the time the trio made it to Riverwood. The blacksmith’s forge was near the city gate and they found him working late. Hadvar’s uncle, Alvor, looked up as they approached, his beaming smile turning to worry as he saw how haggard his nephew looked, and how he winced in pain with almost every step.

    “The dragon,” he said by way of greeting, “you saw it.”

    Hadvar nodded his assent.

    “Your rescued him?” Alvor asked, turning to Aellana and Thaiden. “My family is in your debt. I thought I’d imagined the winged beast flying to the South, but now that you’ve confirmed it…” He shook his head in disbelief. “Riverwood is defenceless, we need to inform the Jarl of Whiterun to send aid!”

    “We’ll go,” Aellana comforted the panicked Nord. “We’re heading back that way as it is.”

    “Again, we are in your debt.”

    As they left the two men to their reunion, Thaiden reached out to stop her short.

    “The Jarl?” he asked carefully. “Lana, are you sure?”

    She nodded but felt far from sure. She’d wanted to avoid the Jarl of Whiterun. Going to him was a risk, and it could see her right back where she started, in the arms of Gunmar Jurgarinson. Her escape, joining the Companions, all of it would be for nought. But she had no choice. The threat of a dragon was bigger than her personal problems.

     

    ***

     

    “You come to me, a fugitive from your own family, and expect me to believe this insane story of dragons attacking Helgen?” Jarl Balgruuf, the Greater of Whiterun, boomed out so loud that everyone in the great hall of Dragonsreach fell silent to listen to him chastise his goddaughter.

    Despite not having seen him for years, and her drastic change in appearance, he’d recognised her immediately and made no secret about how he felt about the fact that she’d run away from home. This is exactly why Aellana hadn’t come to him to begin with. He’d always been close to her mother. The two had grown up together, and there had even been rumours of a betrothal before Sigrund had fallen pregnant. While he’d accepted her explanation, and after fifteen minutes of precious time wasted pleading he’d agreed not to tell her mother where she was, believing her story about the Dragon seemed to be the last straw for him.

    “The story is true, my liege,” Thaiden interjected. “Alvor, the blacksmith at Riverwood, will confirm it.”

    “I am disappointed in you, Thaiden. Neither you nor Alvor is usually given to such flights of fancy. Are you sure this wasn’t just some Stormcloak raid gone wrong?”

    “We saw the dragon with our own eyes, Uncle Bal. It’s real.” He whipped his head in Aellana’s direction, opening his mouth to speak.

    “My lord, if I may interject?” A petite Dunmer stepped forward, interrupting their proceedings.

    “What is it, Irileth?”

    “It wouldn’t hurt to send a small contingent to Riverwood to determine the truth of these stories. It will ensure that those in the town know we take their well-being seriously, and won’t deplete our forces too much in case of an attack on the city. And if there is a dragon,” she looked pointedly at Aellana, “then the townsfolk will need as much protection as we can offer.”

    “A sound plan Irileth. Send a detachment to Riverwood at once.” The Dunmer bowed low and strode purposefully from the room. “And you, goddaughter. If your words are true then you’ve done Whiterun a great service, and my people are in your debt. You took a great personal risk to bring me this news in person.” Aellana bowed and moved to excuse herself. Balgruuf held up a hand to stop her. “But, if your story proves false, so help me, I will drag you back to your mother’s house myself and host your wedding to Jurgarinson in this very hall.”

    Aellana nodded curtly and strode from the hall, eager to escape the stares that followed her. So far her attempts at concealing her identity were coming to very little. But she trusted her godfather, and he trusted his household. If he promised not to reveal her whereabouts, she would choose to believe him.

    As they neared the door, she and Thaiden were halted by a Nord in mages robes who beckoned for them to follow. They trailed after him in confusion as he entered a study crammed with books, soul gems, and alchemy and enchanting supplies.

    “I have a task for you,” he said absent-mindedly. “There have been rumours of dragons for some time, and your story has just confirmed it. I haveto know where the dragons went so long ago, and where they’re coming from now.”

    “And how does this involve us?” Aellana asked in confusion.

    “There is an ancient Nord burial site not far from Riverwood called Bleak Falls Barrow. In it, there is a tablet called the Dragonstone. It is rumoured to be a map of dragon burial sites.”

    “I can see why that would be important.”

    “It is invaluable to my research, even more so now that a dragon attack may be imminent. The Jarl will reward you once you return, I’ll make sure of it.”

    And that was that. They found themselves on the road back to Riverwood, seeking out dragon artefacts. This was a turn of events that Aellana could never have predicted a few short weeks ago, but it gave her purpose. Despite the hardships she’d endured until this point, she felt like her life had meaning, and she revelled in it.

    The snow had started not long after they’d left Riverwood. It fell in thick, wet flurries concealing everything other than what stood just a few metres in front of them. Aellana pulled her cloak closer, trying to keep out the chill, and she could see Thaiden beside her, shivering in his furs.

    They climbed higher and higher, the snow getting heavier until she heard Thaiden gasp beside her. She’d been keeping her eyes downcast to keep the snow from blinding her, but as she looked up, she widened her eyes in awe.

    Towering above them was a tomb, unlike anything she’d ever seen. A large stone staircase plunged upward into an interlacing network of crumbling pillars and arches, creating a sense of space bigger than even the great hall of Dragonsreach. Ancient Nord statuary stood guard along the outer edges, and Aellana snuggled further into her cloak, blaming the cold, but realising her unease was due to more than just the weather.

    The barrow was as silent as the grave, which seemed appropriate since that’s exactly what it was. Even the snow flurries seemed to mute their sound in the presence of this hulking monolith, and Aellana felt a profound reverence for the artistry of a culture that could build something like this. Burial practices now were simpler, less monumental, and she could see why. It would have taken a lifetime to construct something like this.

    They approached the entrance, their path blocked by two imposing iron doors, intricately decorated with an intertwining pattern of dragons and Nordic runes. The doors creaked open slowly at the slightest touch, almost as if the barrow had been waiting for them, letting them into a large, crumbling entrance hall. Despite the decay in the room, it was warm, and the snow seemed not to settle here. She and Thaiden shared a look and swallowing their fear, they crept down into the bowels of the tomb.

    But they weren’t as alone as they thought. In a matter of minutes, they’d come up behind a group of bandits who seemed just as shocked to see them as they were. They froze for a moment, one group staring at the other, and Aellana found herself unable to move. She flashed back to the bandits and Nilheim and began to tremble.

    “Easy Lana, you’ve got this,” came Thaiden’s soothing voice from just behind her. But she couldn’t do it. She was frozen to the spot.

    One of the bandits noticed it and began to laugh, his lip curling in a sneer as he jabbed his companion in the ribs to let him in the joke.

    That was all the push Aellana needed, and with a cry, she ran forward skewering the first bandit before he had time to react. Thaiden wasn’t far behind, beheading the second in one practised swoop of his sword, wiping the blade clean on the dead man’s furs. She calmed herself, doing the same, and took a few deep breaths.

    “Does it ever get any easier?” she asked quietly.

    “The killing?” he enquired, looking at her pointedly. “I’d like to say it doesn’t, but that would be a lie. It’s easier every time.” He sighed deeply.

    “Good,” she replied with steely determination, stopping to loot the coins and other valuables from the bodies of the dead bandits, before striding off into the cave system in search of the Dragonstone. Thaiden sighed and followed after her. This is not a life he would have ever wished on his dearest friend, and he prayed to the gods that it wouldn’t change her.

    They moved deeper into the cavern, dispatching Bandits as they went along and looting what valuables they could. They managed to avoid traps, and Aellana proved herself resourceful at finding her way through even the most complicated of locking mechanisms. Thaiden had to admit to himself that he was impressed. For her first dungeon raid, she was doing very well, her confidence growing the deeper they went. The dirt, skeevers and spiders didn’t seem to bother her, and she took them all in her stride, hacking and slashing her way expertly through the winding corridors. By the time the dead began rising, she was shooting fireballs at them with ease, incinerating them before they even got close. As he came up beside her he saw her eyes gleaming with an inner fire, and she smiled at him, revelling in the overwhelming joy of being alive.

    Her enthusiasm was infectious, and it wasn’t long before Thaiden found himself enjoying the feeling of freedom that came with doing something important. They were explorers, delving into places that few would ever see. They were liberators, ridding the world of one evil at a time. They were relic hunters, bringing Skyrim’s history back to the people. He thanked whatever Gods were out there for bringing Aellana back into his life. She’d renewed his sense of purpose and had given him pride in his work that he’d never felt before.

    Finally, they reached their goal. The sanctum lay behind a complicated lock that Aellana made light work of using a dragon claw shaped key they’d looted from the body of a thief who’d fallen prey to the many spiders that inhabited the barrow. The door creaked open and when they entered they both stood awestruck at the scene before them.

    The room was cavernous, so large you could likely fit all of Riverwood inside it. Giant pillars rose up to the crumbling ceiling through which light filtered down, setting the dust particles in the air to sparkle like little diamonds. Ancient carvings adorned the walls, and burial urns lay scattered about, ripe for looting.

    “Wow,” Aellana heard Thaiden whisper with awe from her side, and she couldn’t have agreed more.

    They slowly made their way to the back of the cavern. If the Dragonstone were to be anywhere, neither of them were in any doubt that this would be the place, but as they got deeper and deeper into the cavern, Aellana felt something stirring at the edge of her consciousness. She heard voices, ancient whispers that seemed to be drawing her forward.

    “Lana?” Thaiden asked, his voice thick with concern.

    “The voices, can you hear them?”

    He shook his head. “I can’t hear anything. Are you sure you’re alright?”

    But she wasn’t listening. The voices were getting louder, pulling her further and further into the cavern, toward a light that seemed to be glowing on a far wall. She lost track of her surroundings, the voices filled her, and she had eyes for nothing but the light that was drawing her toward it. The closer she got, the brighter the glow and the louder the voices until it was all she could hear, or see or feel.

    Suddenly they reached a peak crescendo, the light pulsed with a blinding brightness that left her dizzy and subsided as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving only one word in its place. FUS.

    Thaiden was at her side within moments, concern showing on his face.

    “What just happened? Are you alright?”

    Aellana shook herself, shaking her head from side to side to push herself through the hazy blur that seemed to have taken over her brain.

    “It was nothing,” she shrugged off her companion’s concern. “Let’s get what we came for and get out of here. I think I’ve had enough of the stench of death for one day.” She gave him a reassuring smile, which he seemed to accept.

    They rummaged through the last of the chests in the cavern, finding the Dragonstone on the body of a Draugr Overlord who almost managed to sneak up behind them. As they prepared to exit the cave, Aellana allowed herself one, last look at the place where the voices had overwhelmed her.

    She couldn’t quite place it, but she felt somehow different. Expectant. Something big was coming, she could feel it in her bones. Something within her had shifted. She was now more than what she had been just a few short hours ago.

    As the pair headed back toward Whiterun, she felt a sense of her own destiny. Skyrim is changing, she thought, and I’m going to play a part in it.

    LoudOwl
    Participant
    Post count: 14

    Chapter 6 – Rise of the Dragonborn

     

    “You’ve returned!”

    Farengar seemed genuinely surprised as Aellana and Thaiden strode back into Dragonsreach. Neither of them was sure whether to be offended or amused by that, so they shared a wry look, Thaiden arching his eyebrow at Aellana while she suppressed a giggle. The mage barely gave them another glance as he took the Dragonstone, muttering to himself as he looked over its ancient and weathered surface, eyes glowing with excitement.

    Jarl Balgruuf joined them in Farengar’s study as he made his way to the desk to inspect the stone more closely. Farengar’s movements were erratic in their excitement, and Balgruuf had to reach out a hand to still the trembling mage and get him to focus.

    “What have they brought us, Farengar?”

    “It’s everything I had hoped, my Jarl! My research was right, this gives the locations of all of Skyrim’s dragon burial mounds.” His eyes were moving quickly over the surface of the stone, covered in ancient writing that looked like chicken scratchings to Aellana but seemed to have a profound effect on the mage.

    “What does this mean?” Aellana asked, pointing at the text.

    “It’s written in the ancient Dragon Tongue,” Farengar explained. “See here?” He pointed at the first patterns of lines and indents. “Each block is a word; the letters are represented by a pattern of lines and niches. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.”

    “But what does it say?” Aellana clarified.

    “Oh, of course, my apologies.” Farengar began sounding out the words slowly, concentrating as he tried to decipher the fading script. After a few moments, he seemed to have worked it out. “Here lie our fallen lords until the power of Alduin revives.” Farengar furrowed his brow in confusion as he read the text out loud.

    “Do you know what that means?”

    “No, I’m sorry. I’ll need to do more research before I can make sense of its meaning.”

    The Jarl opened his mouth as if to speak, but was interrupted by a commotion from outside in the great hall. The doors were pushed open letting in a gust of cold air, while screaming could be heard in the distance and shouts of concern and worry rang through the crowd that was slowly gathering to see what all the fuss was about.

    “The Jarl, where is he?” Aellana recognised the voice of Irileth, Balgruuf’s Housecarl. A spectator must have pointed her in the right direction as it was only a few moments later that she burst into the study with a young guard in tow, falling into a hurried bow.

    “Irileth? What is the meaning of this?” The Jarl’s concern was tinged with annoyance as he frowned at the scene being created. Whatever it was, it looked serious, and Irileth’s means of entry was sure to cause a panic among the populace who were already on edge, expecting a Stormcloak raid any day.

    “I apologise for the intrusion, Jarl, but this young man has grave news.”

    The young guard bowed deeply, but his eyes were wild, and his body trembled as he straightened, his head darting to and fro as if looking around him for danger.

    “Well, boy? Spit it out!”

    “D-dragon,” the young man stuttered. “Flying up from the South. It attacked the garrison stationed at the Watchtower.”

    “Are you sure?” The Jarl stared in shock at the young man’s words, unwilling to countenance the return of the dragons, especially after he’d so publicly chastised his goddaughter for what he thought were wild tales created in an attempt to weasel out of an unfavourable marriage.

    “Please, my lord, send help. The other men,” the young man swallowed, keeping his panic in check, “they’ll be overrun if you don’t send aid.”

    Balgruuf hesitated only a moment longer before he began barking orders. He summoned his advisers and sent Irileth to gather the guards before turning to the young man who’d brought the news.

    “Head down to the barracks for some food and rest. You’ve earned it.”

    The young man nodded in gratitude, walking away as Balgruuf finally turned to Aellana and Thaiden who were already making themselves ready to join the guard at the watchtower.

    “I owe you an apology Aellana. If the dragons truly have returned you did me a great service by bringing me that news. I am sorry to have doubted you.”

    “It’s not important,” she shrugged off his concern. “Your city is your first priority.”

    Balgruuf inclined his head in thanks at Aellana’s graciousness.

    “We’ll join the guard. We’re the only people in Whiterun who have seen a dragon so far. Maybe we can help.”

    “I am in your debt,” the Jarl enveloped her in a huge hug, before turning to Thaiden and pumping his hand enthusiastically in thanks. “I have a property here in the city that is yours when you return,” he added, turning back to Aellana. “You have the protection of this city now, and your mother will never hear of your whereabouts from me or any of my subjects on pain of death.”

    They both nodded their thanks as they gathered their weapons and headed for the door. Irileth wasn’t far in front of them, but they’d have to hurry if they were to catch up with the other guards.

     

    ***

     

    Aellana had never considered that stone could burn so hot, or so brightly. The watchtower was reduced to rubble, flames still burning in patches here and there. But there was no sign of the dragon.

    “Spread out!” Irileth called to the guards. “Look for survivors.”

    Thaiden and Aellana braved the tower itself which still smouldered at its base but seemed to have remained largely intact, clambering over the broken staircase to reach the doorway.

    “Get back,” a voice shouted at them from just inside the entryway. “Please, it took Tor. It will be coming back!”

    Almost as if on schedule, a great roar sounded in the distance. They looked up into the sky, dropping down from the tower entrance as the guards below scrambled to find some rubble to take shelter behind.

    “There!” one of the guards shouted, pointing into the sky as the beast descended on the remains of the watchtower. The powerful beat of its wings nearly blew them all off balance as the darkly scaled monster circled teasingly just overhead.

    Some of the guards had already readied bows and arrows and were futilely shooting them at the dragon’s armoured carapace. Most of the shots missed, but the few that hit bounced harmlessly off the creature’s hide, and Aellana could have sworn she heard it laugh.

    Focusing herself, she let her power centre, her hand crackling with electricity as she readied a lightning spell. She poured all her strength into it as she let the beam of lightning burst from her hand. It flew straight, colliding with the belly of the beast, making it rear up with a cry of pain and anger.

    The fight had begun. The dragon ducked and dove, spitting fire at the ground in great arcs, leaving the earth pitted and scarred wherever it touched. Men and women dove out of the way, sending arrows flying into the dragon’s hide as they went. One guard was too slow and was incinerated where he stood, his body engulfed in white, hot flame and disintegrating to ash within seconds. Aellana threw bolt after bolt of lightning into the dragon’s flesh until finally, through a combined effort, they weakened it too much to remain airborne.

    The dragon landed with a loud thud as it collided clumsily with the earth, its wings flapping uselessly at its side. Another guard who was foolish enough to run directly at the dragon’s face was incinerated by a blast of fiery breath. Everyone else learned quickly that to approach the dragon head on meant death, and Thaiden and Aellana ran at the dragon from the side, swords raised and voices crying out for battle.

    Thaiden ducked as the Dragon whipped its head toward him, nearly toppling him with the force of the movement. It thrashed and spat, trying to fight off the rest of the guards who had fallen upon it with swords and axes. Aellana swung herself onto the creature’s neck, holding on as it bucked and twisted, trying to dislodge her. She barely registered Thaiden’s cry of alarm as she righted herself, pelting full force toward the creature’s head, and plunging her sword right between the dragon’s eyes.

    The dragon cried out in pain, shaking its head so violently that Aellana nearly went flying. She hung onto the sword still embedded in the creature’s flesh for dear life, and as it stilled she wrenched it free and plunged again, and again, and again until the dragon quietened, it’s breathing becoming shallower.

    As they all watched, the beast began to glow. Thaiden and the guards slowly backed away, and Aellana removed her sword and leapt from the creature’s head. The glow intensified, and rather than retreating with the rest, she found herself drawn forward as her head filled with voices, just as it had in Bleak Falls Barrow. As the glow reached its peak, and the dragon burst into flame she could have sworn she heard its death scream.

    “Dovakhiin? No!”

    She reached out a hand toward the flame, and as she did, the voices in her head screamed in unison as the heat rushed directly toward her, engulfing her completely. It should have been painful, but it wasn’t. The heat was there, but it barely seemed to register as she felt filled with some unknown force. It made her skin tingle and her breath hitch in her throat as she filled with ecstasy so beyond anything she’d ever experienced that she cried out the only word that came into her head at that moment.

    “FUS!”

    It was over in seconds, the feeling leaving her as quickly as it had come. Thaiden was at her side almost immediately, checking her over for burns or other signs of hurt. She waved him off, assuring him she was alright and as she stood, she realised that instead of the celebration she would have expected to hear at their victory, there was nothing but silence.

    Aellana turned toward the soldiers behind her.  They stood staring, dumbfounded at what they’d just witnessed. The look in their eyes was a mixture of fear and awe, and Aellana looked at Thaiden for an explanation. But even he was looking at her as if this were the first time he’d ever seen her.

    “I can’t believe it,” one of the guards started forward. “You’re Dragonborn!”

    “Dragonborn?” Aellana looked at the man in confusion. “What do you mean?”

    “The tales are ancient, from a time when dragons were still seen in Skyrim. The Dragonborn would slay them and steal their power. That’s what you did, isn’t it?” The man looked back to the dragon, of which only bones were left. “Absorbed the dragon’s power?”

    “I don’t know what just happened to me,” Aellana countered, her heart fluttering as she remembered the feeling of the dragon’s heat flowing through her.

    “I heard you shout,” another guard said as he stepped toward her. “If you can do it again we’ll know for sure.”

    She looked at Thaiden who just shrugged. He didn’t understand any of this, but he could see that something in Aellana was different. She turned back to the guards and turned her mind to the moment of ecstasy, trying to recall the word that had come to her then. It flickered at the edge of her consciousness at first, just out of reach, but she focused her mind, concentrated and then it came. She opened her eyes, and let the shout release.

    “FUS!”

    The guards directly in front of her staggered, hit by the force of her voice. They began to whisper, staring at her as they did so, voices slowly rising in excitement. Snatches of conversation came her way. Words like dragon and legend. There hadn’t been any dragons in Skyrim in living memory, so all the tales were old. Aellana didn’t know what to think or believe at that moment.

    Thaiden leaned close and with a whisper suggested they should go back to Whiterun. With a nod, she acquiesced, and the two picked their way over the debris, leaving the remaining guards to their gossip.

    As they neared the road leading back into the city, Thaiden suddenly burst out laughing. Aellana turned around in surprise at the sound, which only made him laugh more. Her heart was still hammering in her chest and her thoughts whirling through her head at such a pace that his laughter confused her and she looked at him quizzically.

    “We just killed a fucking dragon!” he panted out between fits of laughter. Then it dawned on her too. They were lucky to be alive. They’d taken on one of the first dragons seen in Skyrim in living memory and lived to tell the tale. Her eyes widened, and she was flooded with relief at the thought of making it through a defining moment that had brought them so close to death.

    “We’re alive,” she breathed, stepping closer and putting a hand on Thaiden’s chest to steady herself. His laughter stilled almost immediately, and he stared at her for a split second before he took her head in his hands, crushing her to his mouth in a desperate kiss.

    Aellana gave a surprised yelp as his teeth grazed roughly against her bottom lip, and he quickly pulled away, blushing with embarrassment.

    “I’m so sorry, Lana. I don’t know what came over me.”

    But Aellana knew. She felt it too. She felt light, and free, and desperate to affirm her continued existence. They’d just survived a dragon attack, and she’d never before felt so alive! Every nerve was strung as tight as a bowstring, ready to release at any second, the adrenaline coursing through their veins accentuating every need.

    Without a word, Aellana pushed herself back into Thaiden’s arms. He needed no further prompting as his mouth met hers, still hungry and greedy to taste her and feel her against him.

    Locked at the lips, they slowly backed away from the side of the road toward a rocky outcropping a few steps away from where they stood, shedding their clothes as they walked, not caring who might pass or how much noise they were making. Their kissing was frantic and demanding as they gave in to their more animal instincts, guided by need alone.

    Aellana grunted as Thaiden slammed her against the rock wall as they approached it. He moaned against her mouth as he lifted her legs to circle his hips, raising his hands to tear at her bindings, letting her breasts tumble free and into his waiting palms. She felt his cock stiffen beneath her as she bucked her hips forward, tightening her legs to pull him closer, taking in his taste and his scent as she tangled her hands in his hair.

    With a disappointed sigh, Thaiden disengaged from the kiss, pushing her harder against the rock wall, holding her in place with the pressure of his body alone. She mewled with pleasure as he bent his head down to take one of her breasts in his mouth, flicking his tongue against an already hardened nipple, lowering her just long enough to divest themselves of the last of their clothing.

    They stood before each other, naked, bodies pressed as close as possible as Aellana reached between them to take his pulsing shaft in hand, hooking a leg around his waist again and guiding him toward her hot, wet entrance. He sheathed himself inside her in one quick, forceful thrust and she cried out in pleasure as his length filled her. Taking her other leg, he lifted her once more, settling her down on top of him. Her back slammed against the rocks as Thaiden hurriedly thrust into her, again and again. She steadied herself by placing her hands on his shoulder, matching his rhythm as they both took their pleasure with each other.

    Her breathing came fast and ragged as she reached her climax, hearing Thaiden do the same. She gave him a quick squeeze to let him know that she was ready, and they both screamed their desire in unison as he spilled his hot seed deep inside her with one last, forceful thrust. As she crested the wave of her orgasm, she could have sworn she felt the world shake, the air crackling with the lingering sound of one word: Dovahkiin.

    As Thaiden withdrew he collapsed against her, leaning his forehead against hers as they both caught their breath.

    “That was…”

    “I know.”

     

     

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