Camp Argentum: Complications.
It only took a few minutes at full speed for the airship to reach Camp Argentum.
It appeared to be platoon in size with a command tent, covered latrine and wash-room, covered mage and medical centre and covered mess. There was only one entrance protected by a tower and two other towers in the far corners. The design was elegantly simple and could easily be expanded to company and battalion simply by duplicating this one like tiles next to each other.
Even a few of this size could not be ignored by an enemy. Several platoons of Imperial Legionnaires aren’t something you want harassing your supply lines.
I stopped the airship very low and just outside the entrance. Rigmor, Falk, Nelkir and Elisif soon came on deck and I followed them down the ladder.
General Tullius and a captain were waiting to greet us. As per military protocol they both saluted me and held position.
- Wulf: At ease.
- Elisif: It is so good to see you General Tullius. Anybody would think it was hundreds of miles between Castle Dour and the Blue Palace so few are your visits.
- Tullius: Too many of your banquets were costing me a fortune in getting my armour’s girth increased.
- Wulf: In all fairness Elisif, Rigmor and I have been keeping the Imperial Army rather busy before and after we took the Ruby Throne.
- Tullius: Let me introduce you to Captain Valus Rosel. He is in charge of this outpost even though it is currently only platoon sized. He supervised its construction and will be overseeing its expansion to company size. We are eager to see if that it is as easy to accomplish as it seems on paper.
I heard Rigmor gasp and she stared intently at Captain Rosel. Then she smiled and asked him, “What happened to all your curls?”
He replied, “What happened to your bald head?”
They moved to each other and hugged and I could see tears in both sets of eyes. Rigmor stood back and the conversation continued,
- Rigmor: Wulf and Elisif, Valus is a childhood friend from Bruma. He used to live two doors up from us. His father’s name is Aferic and he was a captain in the Sons of Talos. He fought beside my father Ragnar throughout the Great War and in Hammerfell after. The last thing I saw before being bundled into an enclosed carriage was his father holding him back from attacking the Thalmor taking us into custody.
- Valus: My father and I were headed for your house for the twice weekly sword lessons Ragnar was giving me. I was gaining in confidence and knew it wouldn’t be long before I could beat his skinny fourteen year old daughter in a sparring match. Such are the impossible dreams of an eighteen year old covered in bruises from the thrashing you gave him days earlier.
- Rigmor: I see you persevered with the two handed sword. You have done well to reach the rank of Captain in how many years?
- Valus: After watching your family get dragged away I rode to the Imperial City and joined the legion. So less than nine years.
- Tullius: It must be in his family’s blood. There is a long list of exceptional soldiers he is related to.
- Rigmor: How are your father and mother?
- Valus: They moved to mother’s home town in Skyrim a few years after your family was taken. Father died about a year after returning from the Battle of Whiterun and Blacklight Tower. Mother was killed during a bandit raid on her village a few months later.
- Rigmor: Oh, I am so sorry Valus. They were like an Uncle and Aunt to me. My mother will be deeply saddened.
- Valus: And your parents were like Uncle and Aunt to me. You were my annoying little sister!
- Rigmor: Aferic fought beside us in those battles? I didn’t know! Why didn’t he let me know he was there?
- Valus: He told me many stories of those days with the reformed Sons of Talos. He described in detail how you walked through General Yngol’s camp surrounded by old men swarming you and yelling how they fought beside your father and calling out your name and trying to grab your attention. He did not want special treatment. He was happy to be a rank and file soldier once more and let others worry about command.
- Wulf: Did he tell you about her speech?
- Valus: He said it was like listening to Ragnar once more. That even the Guardian General stood in Rigmor’s shadow. He said by the way you looked at her and treated her it was obvious you loved her deeply. He never did understand why you stayed in Skyrim when Rigmor left to become Countess of Bruma.
- Wulf: You are a soldier and know how duty can stop you doing what you desire most. My duty was to The Divine. They did not want me to follow Rigmor into Cyrodiil for many reasons. We would not be having this conversation if I had.
I could see by Valus’ face he knew very well what I was talking about. He was not there to protect his mother.
- Wulf: Why don’t you join Rigmor in the airship? Sit and catch up for a while. I can look around by myself. I am sure Queen Elisif would rather not be dragged around either.
- Rigmor: I would like that Valus.
- Tullius: I wouldn’t mind have a look inside that thing if that is okay?
- Elisif: Of course it is. We can have a chat as well my good General.
Nelkir came up to me and said, “I wanna have a look around the camp!”
“Come along then and you can watch me try something with the airship as well!”
With that Rigmor and guests climbed the ladder and entered the cabin while Nelkir and I inspected the camp.
After sticking our noses in some tents, climbing the towers and talking to a few soldiers I really knew as much as I needed.
I wanted to give Rigmor and Elisif a bit longer to speak to their guests so I decided to try setting up a temporary airship beacon.
I dropped it and it hovered then embedded itself in the ground. I then activated it with my mind. It started to glow and I summoned the airship.
Nelkir was fascinated by the whole thing and was amazed when a bell rang and the ladder automatically retracted. Then the airship manoeuvred itself till a white beam shot up from the beacon indicating it was in place. The bell rang again and the ladder dropped down.
As we wandered around the camp I noticed some of the tripods that had confused me in Evermore. Turns out they are used by some Imperial Legions and not others. Mystery solved.
I had a good look at the Dovah skeleton attached to the airship. It looked complete to me. I know the Khajiit had attached it as a mark of respect and was pretty sure Dov would appreciate the gesture.
We climbed the ladder and watched the hive of activity in the camp from the airship’s deck.
After a while Nelkir said, “I know Dagny can seem a bit spoilt at times but I was very proud of her and Frothar last month. I asked them if they would do ‘Kyne’s Sacred Trial’ with me and they agreed.”
“And your father let you?”
“Dagny was brilliant at convincing him. When father talked to Froki about it he explained that the challenge adjusted itself to the skills of those taking it. It was dangerous but the three of us doing it at once meant the Guardian creatures would be deadly if we did not work as a team.”
“What weapon training have you had?”
“For several years uncle Hrongar has been teaching us the sword, axe and bow. We are what he calls ‘board and sword’ warriors.”
“What finally convinced your father?”
“The fact that Dagny was showing interest in Nordic culture and others our age had been doing it. He wanted us to undertake Jarl duties for him and he could not ask us to do so if he treated us like little children.”
“So how did it go?”
“After the wolf, skeever and mudcrab Guardians we thought we were pretty tough. Surprisingly Dagny did not care we were smelly and dirty from the travelling. It was strange seeing her in anything but an expensive frilly dress with equally expensive hairstyle. She even helped gather firewood and pitch the tents. She never helps the domestics at home! About the only thing she really expressed hate for was using a small shovel to dig a hole to go to the lavatory.”
“She was doing this to impress some young man wasn’t she?”
“That is what Frothar and I thought but she refused to confirm or deny.”
“What about the next three Guardians?”
“The sabre cat and bear were a lot harder than the first three Guardians. We almost ran out of arrows bringing the mammoth down. None of us had really felt at risk to that stage and we felt we were invincible.”
“That is one of the lessons of the trial. The last Guardian, the Champion Troll, is so much stronger than the previous and is surrounded by normal trolls. It is meant to punish those too arrogant.”
“So we discovered! We found a ledge near where the Guardian was and started firing arrows at the three normal trolls with it. We knew they were pretty stupid beasts and sure enough they just looked up and started bellowing at us and beating their chests rather than trying to get to us. We were clapping and cheering when the last fell. We hadn’t noticed the Guardian was no longer with them. It came crashing through the under-brush behind us and if it had not made so much noise we would have been killed. We turned and realised our error but did not have any time to plan. Frothar leapt and rolled one way, Dagny the other and I stood my ground for a second trying to knock an arrow. I started back-pedalling to make some more distance totally forgetting the ledge behind me. I fell eight feet onto my back and was winded. The Guardian jumped down and approached me slowly and I swear it was smacking its lips in anticipation of young Nord for dinner.”
“As you said before, trolls are not very smart. It ignored the two enemies behind and above!”
“Frothar was raining arrows down on it but still it slowly advanced. I was curled up gasping for breath and could not defend myself. Dagny leapt onto its back and started frantically stabbing it in the neck with her dagger whilst swearing like a sailor!”
“It is amazing what people can and will do when defending friends and family.”
“Yes and the Guardian reached back trying to grab her and when that did not work it started bucking and weaving and turning in circles hoping to dislodge her. I was finally able to stand and when the opportunity arose I plunged my sword to its hilt into the Guardian’s belly. It bellowed and its movements slowed quickly. It then fell face first and Dagny was flung a good distance before she landed awkwardly and rolled a few times before coming to a halt. She wasn’t moving and as Frothar carefully lowered himself down the ledge I ran towards her frantically calling her name. I knelt down next to her fearing the worst. She rolled over and started laughing. Frothar ran up, stared at her then he too started laughing. I soon joined in. It was like we had all heard the funniest joke ever told.”
“I have seen that many times. The relief of survival expressed as spontaneous joy and laughter.”
“Dagny was covered in blood, I had a good amount of troll guts on me and Frothar was all scratches and bruises. We slowly made our way back to the orphanage to report our success to Froki and did not say a word to each other during that long trek. He presented us with tokens of Kyne and asked a guard to go to Whiterun and inform our father we were alright. We slept in the guest rooms overnight and the children sang to us and asked a million questions over breakfast. When we got back to Whiterun everybody who saw us cheered and our father was so proud.”
“Each person who undertakes the trial learns something from it. That is why I helped Froki preserve it.”
“We all learnt a lot. Two days after getting back Dagny came storming into Dragonsreach screaming about how the boy she was keen on started wooing some ‘harlot’ while she was putting up with her smelly brothers and doing that stupid Kyne trial thing.”
We were both laughing when we heard shouting and a clash of weapons just outside the front gate.
“You are to stay aboard the airship Nelkir. That is an order from your Emperor! Understood?”
“Y…Yes your Majesty. Should I tell the others there is a problem?”
I scrambled down the ladder and dashed for the front gate.
Imperial soldiers were engaged in a fight with several Morag Tong. It looked like they were trying to escape after disposing of their target who lay at my feet.
I knelt down to see if there was anything I could do when he opened his eyes and whispered, “Please my Emperor…take this…keep it safe…away from…”
The last thing he did before his soul left his body was to open his hand and reveal part of a ruby. I gently removed it from his hand and gasped. I dropped the shard and fell backwards with the shock of what I felt. An arrow flew past where my head was half a second before.
While the soldiers were chasing two or more Morag Tong another had been hiding and had the cheek to take a shot at me! As he was knocking another arrow I used Whirlwind Sprint to close on him. Too late he drew his sword and could not parry the blow that severed his neck. In two heartbeats he was dead and his blood covered the rocks. I touched my lucky coin and thanked father once again.
I searched him and there was no writ. I have never heard of a Morag Tong assassin operating without a writ on them even if an illegal or ‘Grey Writ’ as they call them.
I walked up to a second assassin and despite being vastly outnumbered and peppered with arrows he had still managed to kill one of the soldiers. He must have taken some potions or performed some ritual to be able to survive such punishment and still fight. He had no writ on him either. His weapon was superb. It was a katana with a dragonbone hilt and dragonsteel blade. These were not low level assassins. That blade was worth a fortune!
The two other Morag Tong the soldiers had killed were also void of writs.
I rushed back to their victim, gently closed his staring lifeless eyes and searched his pockets. I found the following note:
“The hope of the Empire and that of Mundus itself lies in part in your hands good Byron. I fear that even now our enemies prime their machinations against us, but these shards cannot fall into their hands. Reforming the Chim-el Adabal is of the utmost importance if the rumours are true!
Guard this shard well, and may Akatosh protect you.
I used a handkerchief to pick up the shard without touching it. I then placed it in my journal’s magic case. I had touched the shard before and had been overwhelmed by the presence of Lord Akatosh. This made no sense to me. I have never heard nor read of the Chim-el Adabal surviving in any form.
Things were complicated enough with Pilvi’s Ring and the new Red Diamond. I really did not want a third gem to worry about!
As I was contemplating this new twist Tullius, Valus, Elisif and Rigmor came running up to me with the four Sentinel and two College Mages surrounding them. I looked up to the airship and Nelkir was hanging over the side trying to see what was happening.
- Rigmor: A lieutenant said this man came running to the front gate screaming for help. What is going on Wulf? Why do you look like you have seen a ghost?
- Wulf: This man’s name is Byron. He was carrying something of vital importance and enemies of the Empire wanted it.
- Rigmor: What is it?
- Wulf: It concerns Lord Akatosh. I need to think about it a bit more and do some research before I draw any conclusions.
- Rigmor: Does that mean we are not going to High Hrothgar?
- Wulf: We will go there as planned. The Greybeards do not often ask people to visit. I was the first since my father!
- Elisif: Who are these strange men Wulf?
- Wulf: Morag Tong. They are assassins from Morrowind or Solstheim where they can be legally hired. They usually carry a writ on them saying why the victim was targeted. These ones didn’t which is more than strange.
- Tullius: I suppose we may see more of these since you wiped out the Dark Brotherhood in Skyrim and that Blackwell fellow did the same in Cyrodiil.
- Rigmor: They are citizens of Morrowind. Can’t we put pressure on them to control their own people?
- Wulf: Any senior politician who tried to tell the Morag Tong what to do would soon find a rival hiring them to shut the interfering busy body up permanently. They are a vital tool in their game of politics and highly respected. Mephala is their chosen deity although, like the Dark Brotherhood, it was originally Sithis. Funny enough both guilds hate each other and often kill their rivals on sight. The Empire actually sanctioned them when they first occupied Morrowind and it would take quite a bit of legal mumbo jumbo to get them outlawed.
- Elisif: Perhaps severe penalties for working outside those two provinces?
- Wulf: We could certainly charge a penalty on any goods being imported as a form of fine. One thing politicians fear more than assassins are angry merchants.
- Rigmor: You have blood on you Wulf. Why didn’t you leave the killing to the soldiers? That is not exactly a suit of armour you are wearing!
- Wulf: See that arrow stuck in the ground just there. That missed my head by inches. One agent had hidden himself and the soldiers ran right past him. I think he was hoping to take care of me so he could retrieve the item Byron was carrying. I do not think being Emperor made me any more of a target. I was just an obstacle.
- Valus: I thought assassins would have better aim than that?
- Wulf: He would have skewered me properly if not for my lucky coin.
- Valus: Without disrespect Majesty but surely you do not believe in such things as luck?
- Rigmor: When the coin is handed to you by Talos himself you do.
- Valus: Oh!
- Wulf: General Tullius, can you please arrange to have Byron’s body taken to the Temple in Solitude. Tell them he is to be given full rites and interred in the catacombs. He lost his life serving The Empire and I have a suspicion he is one of many who have been protecting a secret from our enemies since the Oblivion Crisis.
- Tullius: Yes majesty, I will accompany him myself. It sounds as if this man deserves our respect.
- Rigmor: Has this to do with Kintyra’s prophecy?
- Wulf: I do not know. It may be that my rise to Emperor has started a chain of events outside of that prophecy. This man was seeking me. Why not approach the previous Emperors? Like I said I will have to think on the matter. Come my Queen, let us go visit those dusty old men in their even dustier fortress.
We said our goodbyes to Tullius and Valus and boarded the airship.
Elisif, Falk and Nelkir headed below deck while I looked over the side as Tullius organised men to tidy up Byron and inter him in a coffin. It is not unusual to see them stacked in the corner of a military camp, especially during hostilities.
I could hear Valus barking orders as his men gathered their dead comrade and placed him in a coffin. The young captain would soon be writing a letter to the soldier’s loved ones. No matter how you word such letters they always seem formulaic and inadequate. The Morag Tong would be taken a distance from the camp and burned and their ashes placed in urns before internment. Even our enemies deserve a burial as close to their beliefs as possible if time permits.
Rigmor came up and kissed me on the cheek.
“Valus was a pleasant surprise for you!” I said.
“For some reason I had never asked Colin or any Bruma locals what had happened to Valus and his family. Yet that last view of my home stayed with me for all those years.”
“Who knows how our minds work sometimes. I am just glad another friend from your past has been found.”
“So am I dear.”
Rigmor looked around to make sure that nobody was within ear shot and asked, “Okay Wulf. Exactly what was Byron carrying?”
I took out my journal case, opened it removed the shard still covered by my handkerchief. I revealed it to Rigmor and asked her to place her hand near it but not touch it.
She did so and exclaimed, “It is the same feeling I get from Pilvi’s Ring!”
“It may be a part of the original Red Diamond.”
“Oh Dragonborn, it is bad enough having two of the damn things to worry about!”
“My thoughts exactly but you know how I work. I will occupy myself with other things and somehow my brain will have an epiphany and I will suddenly know what to do next.”
Rigmor smiled as I put the shard away again.
“Okay my beloved, with what are you going to distract me with?”
“Do you think Tullius is too old for Elisif?”
That was certainly not something I was expecting and I answered, “Ask yourself what Lady Mara would say.”
“She cares not for gender, species or age. Love is good and right in all its forms.”
“There is your answer. Perhaps if they have feelings for each other Tullius has been staying away out of a sense of protocol or some weird social stigma he is afraid of. Remember he is from Cyrodiil. They are a strange lot I have heard. Those barbarians from Bruma are the weirdest!”
“Ha de ha! It is okay for me to pray to Lady Mara to give them guidance if there is a spark isn’t it?”
“Of course it is!”
“I might have a bit of a sleep while you do your magic mumbo jumbo. Kintyra might not be showing much externally but she is taking her toll physically. The Priestesses, Cerys and Serana are not concerned and assure me it has nothing to do with her being a Dragonchild. Senior Mara Priestesses can check on the health of babies in utero and visualise them! Did you know that?”
“Maybe you can ask one of them to try and sketch our daughter for us?”
“Apparently there is one particular priestess who is an excellent artist. Maybe after eight months when she is fully formed?”
“Sounds like a plan. Come on then, let us make our way to High Hrothgar. I am more than a little curious as to what the Greybeards want.”
We went below deck and Rigmor headed straight for our bedroom. As I walked towards the map room I saw Nelkir getting some sword and shield lessons from Borgakh. Trish and her may be female Orsimer but the contrast is extreme. Trish is rather beautiful in a greenish sort of way. She is still very feminine but absolutely 100% Orsimer Warrior. Borgakh is rather brutish looking although deemed a great beauty amongst her people. Her ferocity in battle is frightening and she can go into a berserker state when she wishes. She towered over Nelkir and was not being overly gentle with the lesson. He will come away with bruises and more skill I am sure.
I set the course for High Hrothgar with an alarm and headed on deck. I estimated we would get to that ancient citadel at around 6:30PM.
TO BE CONTINUED…