The story of Cael’s parents. Part 1 of 5
“No, Charlize, that is not how you do it!” A cry echoed off the mountainside and into the Sea of Ghosts beneath the cliffs as parade of horses and a cart carrying more luggage than an army ascended Skyrim’s blinding white roads from High Rock.
The most comfortable rider in the convoy rolled her eyes. How could her sister not be able to ride the practical draught horses of Skyrim? Considering the show horses they were raised with, they should be at ease on even a skittish elk.
Clucks of disdain cascaded down the ranks like falling pebbles. The offender of etiquette, Charlize, was shifting uncomfortably and trying to ride her horse side-saddle like she did at home. The lack of a side-pommel or stirrups would have resulted in her slipping buttocks-first into the snow if the family’s manservant hadn’t caught her first.
“That isn’t how these Nord saddles work, mi’lady.” He explained sheepishly as he helped her back into the correct position. His hands were on far too many private parts for him to know where to look.
“Look to how your sister rides! Adilia, show your sister.” The mother cried out while sniffing in repulsion. “She may be uncomely but at least she knows what she’s doing.” After a momentary pause she sniffed harder, realising she’d summarised her daughter’s life.
“Where? I can’t see her in this blasted blizzard! She’s too blonde.” Charlize replied heedlessly.
Adilia rolled her eyes again into her ridiculous fur hat, the tip of which was flopping into her green eyes. She could be seen perfectly well.
“Just ride, Charlie.” Their older sister sighed as she clutched her horse’s neck in a vice to stay in the slanting saddle. “It’s freezing here.” She added self-consciously. The attempt to justify her strange riding position didn’t go unnoticed but Adilia shuddered, she had a point. The six Bretons were completely bedecked in furs. Skyrim had a climate she could never see herself adjusting to.
“You alright, Brady?” The unstable sister winked from her horse’s neck as he scurried past to return to his mount.
The man blushed so hard his cheeks were a beacon among his black hair and robes. “Perfectly, Lady Rona.”
“She is not a lady yet, Braden. None of them are.” Their father reminded him. His horse was no higher than the others’ and yet instead of a matted fur saddle his posture made him appear as if he sat on a throne. Braden instantly bowed before it and busied himself in checking the straps of the cart to hide his embarrassment.
“We should be reaching Solitude soon, Lord Martel.” He pointed out in a hurry to change the subject as he mounted his horse.
“Then do continue.”
As they continued their harrowing journey, Adilia turned her gaze to the bulging cart in boredom. Braden’s attempt to tighten some of the straps resulted in the opposite occurring, several boxes flew free and plummeted into the piles of snow. To her amusement some made it to the cliff edge where they rolled into the abyss of the sea. Bringing along dozens of boxes because they all needed twelve different outfits for one week in the city of shops was one of the most ridiculous things her family had done so far.
“How soon is ‘soon’, Brady?” Charlize complained. “These horses are so slow.”
“Err… Should be the other side of this mountain.” Braden deliberated.
“How do you know it’s a mountain when you can’t see the top?!” Charlize squeaked to compete with the howling wind.
They’d gone the long and cold way round and they all knew it. Adilia had watched her family look to the sea the entire journey, hiding from any acknowledgement of the mountains they’d come this way to avoid. Journey’s end was near but as both the weather and the incline thinned out to make way for the forested road that led to civilisation, the exhausted women cried out.
“Is that, is that grass?” Lady Martel asked in disbelief. “And oh look, a little pathway!” She turned her horse in direction of it rather than the road where Braden stopped in conflict of where to go.
“Othella, the ways of the wild are not familiar to you.” Her husband warned. She began to pull her horse back but it was too little too late, the interest of their daughters was caught. With the absence of the wind they began to hear the faint clashes of battle.
“Is that…” Rona murmured as she and her youngest sister edged forwards to get a closer look.
“The barbarians?” Charlize whispered with eyes as wide as they would have been if she was telling the scariest tale in the world. By the way her mother paled, she might as well have been.
“This far north?” She clenched her horse’s reins like they were a lifeline and looked to her husband. “But you said…”
“Impossible.” Lord Martel replied astutely. His wife began to relax, then an arrow flew into a tree next to them. Her scream scared all the bird flocks out of the area.
Braden was the first to react to the pandemonium of rearing horses. He grabbed the bridle of Rona’s first, even though the panicking Lady Othella was right next to him. It quietened instantly once it realised the only threat was Othella’s whimpering. Rona nodded at him, shaken but unharmed. Charlize’s horse was even faster to calm. She seemed to have enjoyed the sudden change of altitude, even though it almost de-seated her again.
“I’m here, my lady.” Braden finally reassured Othella after checking on all her daughters. She nodded in between dramatic breaths.
In the midst of all this Adilia was attempting to make her blasé horse move past the bushes of the fir trees to get a closer look at these supposed barbarians. Then the battle-hardy creature began to snort at something that disturbed the foliage.
In a flash of gold the arrow’s true target revealed himself among the spooked horses and dived into the field with the assailants. His accomplices soon followed but their slower pace allowed Lord Martel to grab their leader’s attention in the confusion.
“What is going on here?” He demanded as lightning sparks fizzled in the hands of the towering elf.
The Justicar’s head turned very slowly. When his ethereal yellow eyes met the Breton’s with a sneer, there was no doubt as to who was looking down on the other. “Bandits have interfered with official Thalmor business.”. Each word dripped with so much detesting that exactly who he was calling bandits was unclear. “We suggest you be on your way, half-breed.”
The Breton lord turned red but the Thalmor was ready with a sky-reaching eyebrow that was somehow more threatening than the battle behind them. The sparks flickered in his hands again.
“Father, maybe this isn’t the right man to be asking for directions.” Adilia rushed forward between them, abandoning her quest for a better point of view.
“Ah, look at that!” The Justicar remarked dryly. “One of the mutts has a brain.” The sparks that had died down burst forth to electrocute a bandit who’d crossed the path in an attempt to sneak up on a Thalmor soldier.
“Let us go before they return, my lord.” Braden pleaded as he’d calmed Othella and her horse down enough to get back on his own.
“Then…Yes.” Lord Martel said idly as he glared at the diminishing back of the Thalmor Justicar. “Why are you delaying, Braden? We are expected before nightfall.” He snapped his fingers at the man and they practically bolted forwards at a trot until they were out of sight of the clearing.
Adilia followed them at a glum pace. Half-heartedly she cast a look back over her shoulder and was surprised to find she briefly had the clearest view of it. The bandits and Thalmor had moved on too far to see how the tide of the battle had turned but some things were left in its wake. The fallen bodies of two gleaming gold Thamor and a bandit for example. Only one of them groaned and tried to crawl away to cover. A cascade of lightning suddenly came from behind a hollow in the ground and was abruptly cut short. No more sounds of battle were heard and the fallen bandit’s allies came out of their positions for him. Adilia frowned, she’d never seen bandits like them. The fur they wore was scant and copper-coloured, and they had adorned themselves with skulls. She was over fifty metres away and yet one of the bandits tensed up and looked directly at her. She wasn’t sure if he squinted or scowled at her through his feral face-paint, then he reached for the spiked bow on his back.
An army at her heels wouldn’t have made her flee back to her family faster.
The sun had set by the time the Martel family made it to Solitude’s gates. The sky burnt orange but the city glowed. After so long in blizzards with only a torch to guide them, lanterns were like a warm bed to their eyes. Almost blindingly so.
One by one they dismounted at the gates to the inner courtyard. Gradually they realised that they’d come across the rarely heard guard gossip.
“I told you, these fancy milk-drinkers in their fine furs drop the tankard in front of you on purpose, I’ve seen it myself!” The guard shut his mouth as soon as Lord Martel scowled at him. Deep inside he was thanking the Divines that their helmets hid their faces.
Adilia stood by the Khajiit camp her parents refused to acknowledge and exchanged amused glances with the leader. Her parents had refused to dismount their horses at the stables so a young apologetic guard was being forced to play stable-boy with Braden. They were trying to get all the horses away before Lord Martel turned into a Dwarven Centurion with all his sighing.
“A pretty trinket for the lady?” Said a purring voice from behind her. Adilia turned to see the caravan’s leader holding out a deep green pendant shaped like a tooth.
“What’s it worth?” She asked warily.
The Khajiit grinned. “Not ‘how much?’ Dar’jiin thinks the lady is wise.” He then shrugged from his sitting position and spun the pendant by its black string from his claw. “What is it worth? Nothing. Pretty, though. It is a gift, Dar’jiin likes those who can smile with him.”
He held it out to her. It swung and glinted in the orange light of the many lanterns. There were something underwhelming about it that drew her to it more than all her gold jewellry. “Then thank you.” Adilia smiled and quickly tied the pendant under her fur cloak and green robes so it would stay unseen.
“May the road deliver you to somewhere warmer than this cold bird’s nest, Breton of High Rock.” He said to her and returned to his wares like nothing had happened.
“On that we can agree on.” She grumbled back. Dar’jiin laughed, her mother frowned at him but found nothing untoward; she thought he was coughing on a hairball.
“Are you sure that was wise?” A female of Dar’jiin’s camp asked him quietly from the firepit.
“Eh, what’s the harm? Dar’jiin was given a token he can’t sell but was more than happy with just his life. The fools think they actually compensated him.” Dar’jiin replied. The female sighed in dissatisfaction but left it at that.
Charlize was already blowing a raspberry at a guard behind a nearby tower’s slit window when Braden and the young guard returned in record time, only to be turned into cart horses to pull the luggage up to the city doors.
Their mother managed to look more appalled at her youngest daughter’s behaviour than she had at nearly being shot with an arrow. “That is not how a young lady acts!” She gasped and propelled Charlize into the opening doors of Solitude. She ranted all the way, purposefully not mentioning her daughter’s name to keep it from the guard who was now snickering.
Rona and Adilia shrugged at each other, following them side-by-side. Neither looked back at the guard their father tipped to watch over their cart until Braden sent somebody to collect its contents. Nor did Adilia pay attention to the borderline racist glare of distrust he sent the Khajiit she’d been laughing with. It would seem more out of place if it didn’t happen every time they went to a city.
“You’ve got to stop doing that for every family who comes here, Howard.” Muttered the guard who’d taken the bribe to the young and breathless one.
“But they’re noble!” Howard hissed back.
They shut the doors behind the family and the guard shook his head in shame. “Don’t pick up the tankard, Howard. Don’t pick up the tankard.”
Oddly they found the inside of the city less blinding to their eyes than the outside, though the momentary relief was put off by the sheer amount of smoke in The Winking Skeever.
“We’ll only have to stay here for the night, Braden will have our proper rooms sorted tomorrow.” Lord Martel told them as he, too, tried to stem the stream of tears from his eyes. “Go to the largest room you can find, I’ll sort it out. An inn at night is no place for Charlie.”
The women didn’t hesitate for a moment before making their way to the stairs with forearms over their eyes and noses, flinching every time they went past a smoking candle. Charlize coughed dramatically but she got no sympathy from the soldiers and manual laborer patrons of the inn. Adilia, however, stayed in the shadows behind her father. The flying spittle, raucous laughter and staggering drunks supporting themselves on every passing female would have to be coped with, the talks that were going on at the bar Lord Martel strode up to were far too interesting to miss.
Four Imperial soldiers still in their Legion armour were huddled over the bar in deep talks with the owner of the inn. The conversation was apparently reaching a stagnant point because when he saw the lord fresh in from the street he beckoned him over with a new vigour in his eyes.
“Did you see the amount of lanterns they have out there?!” The innkeeper asked in hushed whispers, cloth and tankard in hand.
Lord Martel stiffened at being addressed so directly, but his urge to grumble was stronger than the one to reinforce decorum. “They almost blinded my family and I.”
“I don’t even know why they’ve got us down here.” A soldier to his right mumbled over his untouched drink. “Who in Oblivion would be coming to the capital when they’ve got Markarth at their heels?”
“The High King’s men need to let us prepare, did you hear about Hammerfell? They cast out the Dominion, they’ll be coming over here next.” Another soldier put in.
“We came across some Thalmor on our journey here. On the North road.” Lord Martel added nervously. The soldier concerned over the Dominion grunted to further his point.
“You came here from High Rock using the coastline?!” The innkeeper asked in disbelief. “Still, I can’t blame you for wanting to avoid the Reach. You won’t have heard anything good come out of there for a few years.”
A man so sagged down in his chair that nobody had noticed him straightened his Redguard uniform and rose. “Let’s be straight here, Corpulus.” He slurred at a point behind the innkeeper’s ear. “We just got back from fighting those knife-ears. You think everybody’s suddenly going to play nice? Nuh-uh.”
“Shhh, I have elves in here!” Corpulus hissed and frantically scanned his patrons for elves in earshot. He nervously smiled at those that were.
The guard continued as if he’d never been interrupted. “We need to be preparing our city. Using up all the oil to see bandits that aren’t there is…” He waved his hands wildly, thinking that was enough to convey the insanity of it. “Think of all the barrels we could be making. This city has one hill. Roll enough fire barrels down it and poof!” His hands flew up again. “The knife-ears love fire barrels.” He faded into bitter chuckles. The few elven patrons began to scowl over at his raising voice. Corpulus gave up polishing tankards and used the cloth to wipe his own brow.
“Shut it, Pion, we have no need for your war stories here.” The most sober of the soldiers chastised.
“Says the Legionnaire.” Pion mumbled as he sank back into his chair.
The innkeeper turned back from giving a young boy instructions and seemed to be suddenly reminded Lord Martel was there. “I’m sorry, what did you need?”
“Uhh…” The lord tried to remember through a confused frown but one matter kept resurfacing to his mind. “What do you mean by bandits?”
A soldier butted in before the innkeeper could tell every last rumour that had come through the inn. The hour was late and he had no time for stories. “You heard of the Reachmen down in Markarth? Now they call themselves Forsworn and they’re angry. A few were supposedly spotted further north than they should be and bandits have been more active than usual. Somehow the two were put together and now we’re wasting resources waiting for them.”
“So somebody told the High King it was a good idea to put the Legion on goddamn guard duty.” Said a red-faced soldier who’d been silent until now. He poked the near-snoring Pion in the ribs as he did so.
“They’ve never cared about anything but the Reach for centuries,” said the soldier who’d shut Pion up. “Gods, I got better taxes from them than I did any Jarl! They just needed a goat once in a while.”
Adilia’s eyebrows raised at this new information, but her father tensed up like a volcano that was about to erupt. “Now you listen here and listen well.” He quietly seethed to all of them at the bar he placed his hands on. “The ‘Forsworn’ are savages and witches. They took my son as they took all of Markarth. I don’t care for Talos but Ulfric Stormcloak cast them back out into the dirt they belong in. That’s a sight more than the Legion ever did.”
The soldier’s hackles began to raise. The lord’s glare sat them back down, but Pion returned to the conversation much too late. “Hey now, we were out fighting the Great War while you… What do you high folk do?” The soldier next to him stuffed a bread roll in his mouth.
Corpulus was the one to take the job of smoothing things over. “Now I think of it… We were told to look out for some nobles from High Rock. That was over a week ago now though. What was it, Martins?”
“Martel.” Adilia’s father corrected him. “We took the long road.”
“Ah yes, so you told me… Well, the Bracken-Thrones won’t be able to see you tonight, they’ve got some trouble with a lost boy, but I’m afraid I don’t have any rooms…” The pouch of gold that was placed on the table was larger than soldiers’ yearly salaries. “Of course the largest room we have should suffice.” Corpulus laughed nervously and pocketed the pouch before anyone could get a good look at it. Lord Martel leant back off the bar in satisfaction, allowing Corpulus to see the young woman behind him for the first time. “Oh, look!” He cried apologetically. “All our jabbering and I’m getting a queue–”
“Adilia, I told to go upstairs with your mother!” Lord Martel barked and behind his back Corpulus rolled his eyes at the drama of nobles.
“Will you be needing anything?” Corpulus smiled, interrupting the argument he was so used to seeing unfold with his own children.
“No. Thank you.” Lord Martel replied curtly. With a sigh he guided his daughter to the stairs at the other end of the inn with a hand on her back.
“Good night sir!” Corpulus called after them and decided it was his turn to slump against the bar.
“Bracken-Thrones,” The sober soldier snorted derisively. “He’ll be lucky to get an audience in a month. They’ve got us combing the city for this kid. How are we supposed to find anyone with only ‘a green tooth necklace’ as a description?! Do we get royal edicts to look down people’s necks next?!”
Adilia was so startled she stumbled over her own feet and would have fallen if her father hadn’t caught her. The pendant went flying out of her robes, thankfully nobody seemed to notice but it still made her heart skip a few beats.
“I wouldn’t mind that.” One of the soldier’s inebriated companions chortled.
“I’ll be needing your muscle tonight, boys.” Corpulus informed them gravely. “I just gave them Borrinjar the Bull’s room.”
Father and daughter went to their rooms with the echoes of the soldiers’ guffaws following them.
The soldier was right. Braden went out and returned with the news each day, the Bracken-Thrones would not see them. The “one night” in the inn turned out to be many, for without the acknowledgement of the Bracken-Thrones their claim to the guest rooms of Castle Dour didn’t exist.
Their father’s mood became more foul with each rejection, as did their mother’s, but at least she spent as much time away from the inn as possible. Rona haunted the market whereas Charlize fooled around the guards’ and bards’ courtyards whenever she could slip away from her mother in the Blue Palace. When Braden wasn’t pulling every string in Solitude with Lord Martel he was purchasing groceries with Rona. Adilia was left to somehow fill her days alone. At least she thought she was.
The boy she’d seen helping the innkeeper drank and laughed with the patrons every evening, then appeared just as cheery and bright eyed sitting next to the fire in the morning. He hadn’t given her one glance but on the second day of her bored traipse through the inn his mischievous grin caught her eye.
“Hey, lady!” He called from his adopted seat in the corner in a rapid and lilting accent she didn’t recognise. Some parts she did but it was far coarser than her own. “You ever been to Solitude before?”
She paused and slowly turned to him on her heel. “Of course.” She replied uncertainly, not sure what he was trying to insinuate.
“Nah you haven’t.” He replied and got to his feet in one swift motion, hands behind his back. “You’ve been to stately manors and emissaries and courts, all with servants running about to keep you happy until you return to your own.” He listed them all with a boredom that was reflected in his slow steps, then he stopped in front of her and the mischief returned. “I can show you another side of Solitude.”
Adilia backed away from him instinctively. He wasn’t the cleanest of boys she’d come across. “So you can hold me hostage in your band of little orphans in the woods?” She asked, only half joking.
The boy’s top lip curled up in confusion. “What? First, I’m no little kiddie, and second, I was going to show you where to get the best honey nut treats. You want to know how the rest of the world lives don’t you? I saw you trying to hide in the shadows when you came in that night, you would have gone upstairs if you weren’t the slightest bit curious.”
She pursed her mouth as she considered it. Her answer was to cross her arms at him and raise an eyebrow. “How old?” She demanded suspiciously.
The boy folded his arms in return and replied with just as much force. “Fifteen. And yourself?”
Adilia was so taken aback at the direct breach of courtesy that she grinned. “Twenty-two.” She responded obstinately but without her former hostility, she wouldn’t deny that the casual revelation of the personal information felt liberating. At home she would be treated as though she exposed her undergarments if she’d said it aloud.
“Good. Well now we’ve got that little factoid over can we go? Treats are awaiting!” He exclaimed quickly as he rushed for the doors.
“I don’t recall saying yes.” She reminded him skeptically. Curiosity drew her to the doors anyway.
“Who says no to honey nut treats?!” He asked bewilderedly, all the while glancing nervously over her shoulder. “Can we hurry it up please? Or do your folk only know how to stride?”
“They know how to kick your shins in.” She mumbled as she went through the door he held open.
A mix of pleasant surprise and amusement crossed his face, that turned to fear when he looked back through the door again. He slammed it behind them and jogged down the steps. “Alright alright I lied, I needed an escape and I used you. I’ve got this… Rivalry with Corpulus’s son, Sorex. I don’t know if it’s because I’m ginger or what, but the kid hates me.”
“Maybe it’s because you take away his father’s attention from him?” Adilia asked.
“Oh yeah, yeah that might be it…” The boy pondered.
“I had an older brother once.” She admitted, then a bottle smashed against the inside of the door they’d just run out of and they both flinched.
“Might be because I stole his honey nut treat.” He said and whipped out a honey-stained stick from his tunic. “Can we run?” He asked when they heard the roar of a little boy come from inside the inn.
He took off towards the market without waiting for a response. He didn’t need one. The first honey nut treat they ran past was swiped off the stall before the baker knew they were there. “Here you go.” He said as he ran backwards in order to pass it to Adilia. “Kale keeps his promises. I’m Kale by the way, and yes I was named after the cabbage.” He sighed as he span into the tower that spiralled down to the docks and went up the stairs instead.
“Why would your parents name you after a plant?” Adilia panted as she tried to keep up and lick dripping honey at the same time.
“They didn’t.” Kale replied. “My…uh…family started calling me that. Apparently it was the only thing that I’d eat while I was recovering from being poisoned. I don’t really remember it.”
“Your ‘family’?” She asked, picking up on the hesitant tone. “Are you part of a thieves guild?”
He laughed as they came to the top of the tower and paused at a small door in the alcove that looked out on the bridge to Castle Dour. “No, nothing like that.”
“Then why did you steal the treat?” She asked while eating it.
It took him a while to answer. “Where I come from there isn’t so much value on, uh, ownership. You take what you need. ‘Sides, I’m getting out of this place. They won’t miss one bit of food.”
“If you’re leaving then why are you still here?”
Kale stared at her wearily. “Because I haven’t found a way to get out yet.”
“Have you tried the front doors?” Adilia returned apathetically.
“They have guards!” He protested. Quickly he turned and opened a small door disguised as another piece of the stone wall.
“Scared of guards? I thought you said you weren’t a thief.”
“I’m not. You coming or not? They’ll probably brick this over soon. It goes into the walls, nobody goes there anymore and you can spy on everyone through the cracks.”
“You can get into the city walls but you can’t find a way to escape?” She asked, even more skeptical than before.
He was too busy looking over his shoulder to respond. “You know it was probably a bad idea coming out here…” He made eye contact with a guard on the Castle Dour ramparts and paled. “So let’s get on with it!” He then disappeared through the door and down the drop behind it. She barely had a chance to look bewildered before his head popped back up again. “I never caught your name.” He pondered.
“Adilia Martel.” She replied without the pomp and circumstance that would usually accompany an introduction.
“Well, Miss Martel who may or may not be known as lady, let’s show you how the other half live.” His proffered hand was taken in an instant.
Over the next few days that was exactly what he did. Though he never left the Winking Skeever again, Kale used his free time to show the tricks of the trade to the young woman he’d abruptly taken a shine to. Despite their attempts at subtlety her mother noted how nice it was of her to be spending time with the serving boy. She expected her daughter was heightening his low life experience through virtue and decorum, not the other way around.
Within a week she knew how to drink like the best of them without actually drinking.
On the seventh night she heard screams. Adilia lay incredibly still as her eyes opened and she found that what she was hearing wasn’t a nightmare. Her body shot up with the terrified leap of her heart but she clung on to the window’s frame to keep low. There was no use as the glass was so dirty and clouded that the only thing she could make out was quivering carried torches.
“You hear it too?” A petrified whisper came from the bed at the end of the room. Adilia looked over to find a ghostly Charlize wrapped in the sheets and looking half her age.
“Get up.” Adilia told her sister, flinging the covers off her own bed. “We need to move.”
“But why?” Charlize whined. “Whatever is happening it’s out there, not–” Something thudded against the window so hard she shot up in time to catch the fur cloak Adilia threw her. “Never mind.” She squeaked.
“Where are the others?” Adilia asked as she sat on Rona’s empty bed to pull on the plimsolls she’d become fond of wearing in the warm inn. She was completely dressed by the time Charlize remembered how to fasten a cloak over her nightgown.
“I-I don’t know…” She spluttered only to cut herself off with her own scream as the door slammed open.
“You two are up, good.” Rona nodded after bursting in, rubbing the ear closest to Charlize’s scream. She looked at Adilia’s state of dress and smiled. “Not remembering the time Peter tried to burn down our barn are we?”
Adilia shrugged. “I see a lot of fire out there.”
“You were more prepared than the guards that day.” Rona smirked.
“Where were you?!” Charlize asked and struck the most obstinate pose one could in a nightgown.
Rona was doing everything she could to keep a sheepish look off her face, but she never was the most adept liar. “I went to get some water…” She said haltingly. Their father ran in before she could attempt to finish.
“All of you get yourselves outside, we’re moving to the castle.” Lord Martel said around the door frame. “Bandits have reached the gates. Half of them came from the docks and are moving towards the houses.” He sounded puzzled at his own anecdote but Charlize gasped and rushed to his side in an instant.
The other two sisters followed her lead and hurried after their father. Once they got to the ground floor of the inn, however, it was chaos. In the rush for the door a flaming arrow had flown in and landed on the bar. Since nobody knew whether to stay inside or not to stay safe they ran around like a coup of headless chickens. Corpulus was trying to direct them all outside but he wasn’t finding much success between the screams and trying to put out his bar. As well as stop the flames jumping onto the furs of everyone who ran past.
Braden was the first to make it through the throng. “Rona!” He panted as he avoided someone barrelling straight for him. “Your mother’s outside, we don’t have much time before she gets lost again.” Rona grabbed his hand before the crowd could suck him back in and beckoned for her family to follow.
They all did, Charlize was clutching their father’s cloak for dear life already, but as Adilia was about to join them in the dive through panicking patrons she was pulled in the other direction.
Momentum dragged her to fireplace before she could look back but when she did, her family had vanished. In despair she turned to the person who had grabbed her hand and found herself face-to-face with a head of ginger curls and enough freckles to keep demons busy.
“You can’t go with them, if we’re going to escape it’s now or never.” Kale told her as he charged at a window with a barstool.
She laughed at the absurdity of it. “And why not?!” Nobody took any notice of the breaking glass, if they even heard it over their own panic.
“Because you’re wearing the pendant they’re looking for!” Came the muffled cry as he leant through the window to check for where the glass has fallen. The time it took for him to wriggle through was time enough for Adilia to take it in.
“But how do you know… You’re the boy they’ve been looking for, aren’t you?” She asked and hid the pendant more firmly in the collar of her dress.
He looked back through the window from the other side and held out his hands for her. “Look, you can’t go out the front door. They’ll see you–”
“And the inn is about to burst into flames.” She finished and took a deep breath before diving through the window. She was lucky her dress coat was so thick because she could swear she felt some snags of glass that would have gotten through to her skin otherwise.
Kale grinned as he safely pulled her through and took her hand to guide her through the very narrow alley behind the Winking Skeever. “If we wait for the right moment we can make it to the tower next to the execution block. It’s a risk but it’ll take us to the city walls.”
They shuffled through the coarse stone alley so quickly that Adilia was sure she’d just said goodbye to two layers of skin. It was too quick. Rather than stopping at the end of it, the woman ran into the boy and they both stumbled out into the street. Straight into the path of a guard.
“Hey!” He scowled at them.
Kale cowed and grinned nervously but Adilia stood tall and straightened her dress, drawing attention to its finery. The guard looked her up and down and adopted a more civil tone. “Ma’am, you and your son need to get to Castle Dour.”
Adilia could only nod as her ‘son’ crept around to the deserted execution grounds and picked up a rock the size of his head. The silence allowed the guard to look at her more closely, and he focused on her neck. His eyes widened at the jade tooth hanging there.
“You…” He never got to finish as he crumpled to the floor in front of her. Kale dropped the rock he’d thumped him with and looked down at him in disgust.
“I have never been so offended.” He rebuked the unconscious man.
“The tower is right behind you.” Adilia pointed out and Kale remembered his surroundings.
“It’ll only be so long until his pals realise he wasn’t hit by a bandit. We’d better hurry this up.” He told her as he took off at a run and bounded up the stairs. He would have taken them two at a time but his legs couldn’t reach. Instead he went up them one at a time with what looked like a very rapid jog.
“Weren’t we doing that already?” She asked in despair and tried to keep up. “Why are they looking for you anyway?”
“I don’t know.” Kale replied casually. “Maybe it’s the freckles. Everybody hates on the freckles.”
Adilia raised her eyebrow at the rebuttal but continued nonetheless. “Well what’s waiting for you on the other side of these walls? You can’t be trapped here for nothing.”
He paused to get his bearings on the seemingly never-ending spiral stairs. “My people, hopefully.”
He began again just as she caught up. “Your family? You said you weren’t a thief, does this mean you’re a bandit?” She asked.
“No!” He responded in an appalled tone. “I have no idea who these guys attacking the city are, but I wouldn’t put it past my family to be involved. I told them to stay back but do they listen? No. Not this year, not the one before it, not–”
She smiled strangely at the boy who she still wasn’t sure of if he was her kidnapper or accomplice. “You know, you don’t act like any fifteen year olds I’ve met.”
“Yeah, well where I come from we don’t get much chance to do anything but grow up quick.” He smiled as natural light began to appear around the next bend.
“Where do you come from?”
He grinned. “South.” That was all he would say as they finally came to the final step and the top of Solitude’s walls stretched before them.
Adilia fell silent. He didn’t notice the disturbed look on her face until he spun back around to flatten against the wall next to the tower’s opening. He hadn’t expected guards to be making patrols on this part of the city when bandits were attacking the north.
“That brother I had…” She said while frowning at the ground.
“The one who died? Really sorry about that but this probably isn’t the time to be reminiscing…” He said and frantically tried to peer around the wall. The guard appeared to be aiming at something.
“He didn’t die.” Adilia said and looked straight at him. “To our parents he did but that’s not what happened. He joined a tribe south of Solitude. The Forsworn.”
It didn’t take long for Kale to realise why she’d brought it up. He also saw that she was eyeing up the guard too. “Ah.” He said. Any energy he had sunk down in his eyes, making him look like a penned animal. “What’s his name?”
“Sean.” She replied, looking out at the walkway in front of them.
“I… never heard of him.” Kale sighed as the only thing that could have saved him flew from his grasp.
“Why did you start being friendly to me?” Adilia asked. The question had been bothering her all along but he looked just as puzzled at it.
“When you tripped that night, I saw the pendant… They did give it to you, didn’t they? That was the signal?”
“Who?” She looked so confused now that her eyebrows were knitting together. “A Khajiit trader gave me this at the gates, he told me it was worthless.”
Kale laughed until it dissolved into a sigh. “Well, we’re here now.” He said and gestured to the opening. “You know what I am. You’ve got your chance. That guard can’t be passed without him seeing me.”
Adilia leaned to look out of the opening again, wondering what he meant. When she realised he thought she was going to sell him out she smirked wickedly. “I don’t know… If we go along the ledge of this tower we could drop to the wall below it. We’re out of Solitude then.”
Kale’s eyes widened to finally make him look like the child he was. He leant out of the opening too and regarded the ledge with a nervous grin. “Well it won’t be the wisest thing I’ve ever done but…”
The woman he was close to outright jumping into the arms of smiled. “And what’s that?”
“Giving my pendant to a Khajiit trader it seems.” The cheeky grin returned and he leapt out of the tower to carefully step up onto the wall edge and flatten against the tower wall. Adilia joined him when he was close to the corner.
They watched the guard carefully but his attention had been drawn by bandits flooding into the city. The road was open and free before them. Going around the corner of the square tower was almost a deadly problem but both pushed their palm against the other’s chest to steady them.
When it came to jumping down Kale landed like a lithe cat. It took a few moments of evaluating and reliving her life’s best moments but Adilia did the same, mostly unharmed. Her landing was a little off to the side though so her shin scraped against the raised side of the walkway she landed on.
“I knew I should have worn boots.” She grimaced and winced further when she pulled her hand away to see it was covered in blood.
“Come on, the mountains are right there!” Kale enthused as he helped her up, almost giving her a hug before he remembered he was supposed to be mature for his age. “My people will be waiting!”
He took off at an enthusiastic run without her. She had to amble slightly to keep up but didn’t think she was doing half bad. He turned the corner before her but she was in the walled turret at the corner before he could leap up to the mountain rocks at the end of the walkway, framing her sight of him.
A perfect frame for seeing an arrow lodge itself deep in his throat.
Adilia’s amble became a full-out run but he was gone before she could reach him. His eyes stared at the sky, a little puzzled at how his attempts to breathe resulted only in gurgles of blood. His legs twisted around as if dizzy rather than dying. Then he fell.
“No! No no no.” She could only whisper as she staggered to a stop in front of him, now it was too late she had no idea what to do. Over at the rocks Kale had been aiming for three warriors were approaching. They all wore the strange copper coloured fur armour she’d noted on her journey to Solitude; Forsworn. Not one part of their faces foretold anything but her death. Especially in the cold steel eyes of their leader. Muscles almost the width of his head flexed as he made his way down the rocks. When he saw Kale he was shocked only for a moment before he glowered at her with pure hatred, his eyes framed by feral muddy brown face paint that crossed from his ear lobes to meet at his forehead in a point.
In vain she turned to the arrow’s source, hoping to get at least a glimpse of the archer who might now save her from the Forsworn he targeted. Instead she found the killer was simply staring right back down at her.
He smirked, a sickening out-of-place expression that made his stiff black moustache twitch. He was about thirty and his fine quilted coat was a deep blue. “Your family can see us now.” His voice carried down to her even though he didn’t raise it from a smug, cool tone. He fondled the tip of his bow and left.
All she could do was stand there with one name going through her mind: Bracken-Throne.
Then a bone sword was drawn against her throat.
To be continued…