Middas, 21st Morning Star, 4E 202
After dealing with Harkon, I had spent the afternoon with the children. I needed their laughter and to forget about the evil of the Volkihar clan.
My relaxation was interrupted by yet another Divine Task, and an urgent one, ruining my plans. It was not hard to tell where The Divines wanted me. All I had to do was look almost vertically from Silverpeak Lodge.
I ignored The Divines and enjoyed a sit-down meal with The Sentinels. Then I teleported to High Hrothgar.
My compass pointed to the Kynareth’s Temple, so that is where I headed.
My prayers were rewarded with two new Shouts. Then the compass moved to my bedroom within the temple.
I stood in front of my father’s statue and said out loud, “A bit of a break would be appreciated!”
A familiar voice replied from behind, “I have always hated the way they give me Crow’s Feet on these statues. I don’t have Crow’s Feet! And that sword is two-handed and doesn’t have a crossguard. I would never use such a weapon! Some historical accuracy would not go astray.”
I turned and approached Talos with a smile on my face. My compass vanished once he spoke to me.
The Ninth Devine said, “It warms my heart to see you greet me with a smile and not suspicion.”
“The fact I now receive more aid is partly responsible for the smile. But yes, I am pleased to see you.”
“The Liminal Barrier has been weaker since Alduin returned, and some Daedric Lords are taking advantage of that fact.”
“Do The Nine know of more than one imminent danger from Oblivion?”
“We are aware of plans, some that have taken decades to come to fruition, that are entering their final stages. They must be stopped! You will be asked to deal with things more disturbing than anything you have so far experienced.”
“Is there any preparation needed on my part?”
“Simply deal with the problems as we allocate them. Some, no doubt, we will come as pleas from Jarls and even the Emperor. We ask that Rigmor accompany you where she can.”
“Rigmor needs more experience with The Nine and Daedric Lords. It is knowledge that will be of benefit when she relies on the advice of others and not you.”
“That is not comforting!”
“You do not need soothing words and platitudes. It will not be easy for either of you when the separation comes. You know I can’t tell you when contact with Rigmor must end or for what length. But I couldn’t do so, even if I was allowed, as we do not know.”
“And my mother still battles the adversary?”
“Yes. Your mother gained strength when Lord Akatosh reconstructed the Red Diamond and Amulet of Kings. Let us hope it allows her to endure. How long she needs to keep fighting is unknown to us.”
“I can understand your desire to assist me, but why have the others agreed to more cooperation?”
“We do not know the entirety of our foes’ plans as Oblivion cannot be scried by us. Daedric Lords have conflicts amongst themselves and access to some information that we do not. This circumstance may result in Daedric Lords offering more obvious and immediate assistance than we but rarely without selfish motives. You may feel manipulated, betrayed and misused by The Nine. Understand that we will assist when we can, but there is still a need for you to investigate and discover what we cannot. Your understanding of the nature of Daedric Lords will ensure your caution.”
“You must be worried that my love for The Divines will be tested. I dread what could generate such concern. Are you also worried that Rigmor might call on Azura’s help more often than that of The Divines?”
“That matters not as long as she still places trust in The Nine.”
“Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Your knowledge of the Liminal Barrier is flawed. When the Dragonfires were extinguished, Mehrunes Dagon manifested on Nirn. Yet no Divine manifested to combat him. Even when Martin Septim harnessed the immense power held within the Red Diamond, only an avatar of Lord Akatosh came to defend the mortal realm. Think, my son. Why would this be?”
I do not have an ego. However, being told I was wrong about one of my fundamental beliefs was a blow to my confidence. I had to put strong emotions aside and think. When I did so, the revelation was frightening.
“The Divines have never been able to manifest on the mortal plane!”
“Correct. Not since The Convention, and if you read accurate accounts of that event, you will understand why. The Liminal Barrier has one purpose, to separate Oblivion and Mundus. It does not bar The Divines as that limitation already existed. Only avatars of The Divines have manifested on Nirn since The Convention.”
“The Divines can die, be eliminated. Is that correct?”
“Any Divine who lose in battle to a Daedric Lord could be ‘killed’, for the lack of a better word. The demise of a single Divine would start to unravel what was created.”
“It disturbs me I could get such a fundamental aspect of metaphysics so wrong.”
“My son, you will find very few knowledgeable texts on the Liminal Barrier. If it were easy to understand, it would be easy to unravel.”
“You obtained apotheosis thousands of years after The Convention. Can you physically manifest on Nirn?”
“I was a mortal, and so was your mother. We can manifest in our mortal forms but not as the beings we now are. Those mortal forms can also be killed, and the aftermath of such an event cannot be predicted.”
“Some et-Ada lost their lives and became the Earth Bones, the laws of nature. Others became our mortal ancestors, the Ehlnofey. And then we have The Eight, now The Nine, who guide and aid us. Suddenly I find that after all that sacrifice, my gods could never visit their child, their creation. Yet those who sacrificed nothing, the Daedric Princes, could roam this mortal plane at will if not for the Liminal Barrier. Lord Akatosh did not knowingly deny The Divines access to Mundus when he made the concordat with Saint Alessia. But the sacrifices made are still real and not diminished even if I misplaced the timing of some. How could I ever lose trust in The Nine knowing this?”
“We manipulate. We accept collateral damage. We do not always justify our actions to anybody, even our mortal champions. Things may happen rapidly and apparently out of our control. Chaotic if you wish. Your faith in us will be tested. Remember, I understand mortal emotions.”
“No, father. Please place the same level of trust in me as I place in The Nine. I may show anger and even blaspheme on occasion, but I will never lose faith!”
“I believe you. Know that your parents will never lose faith in their son.”
“It is no use hugging you, is it?”
“This form is not warm or in any way mortal. I don’t know what you would experience when touching this avatar, but I doubt it would be pleasant.”
“It makes me smile to hear my gods don’t know it all.”
“Farewell, for now, my son.”
“Father, may I ask. What is my name?”
“You have already been using it as your surname. Your forename is Valdr. That is as close as our tongues can pronounce the Nedic name for wolf.”
“Wow… more memories leaking through, do you think?”
“Yes, and when you chose that name months ago, Lord Akatosh became very nervous.”
“What is the fascination with wolves?”
“Your mother and I admire the way they share parenting duties and defence amongst the pack. We are also touched by how they look after older pack members who can no longer hunt. Many societies revere the wolf. Now, I really must leave.”
My father vanished, and I was left with a burning question. What could be so terrible it would make me question my faith?
“You were speaking to him, weren’t you?” asked Rigmor.
“How did you know?”
“Well, I know you suddenly went from Silverpeak Lodge to High Hrothgar and then our rings went weird for a few minutes. Not like when you go into a different plane. I could sense you but not your emotions. So, using that logic thingy you go on about, it makes sense that you were speaking to a god and either Kynareth or Talos. I guessed Talos.”
“Can you join me for a few days? I know you have guests you are entertaining tonight.”
“Do you have a Divine Task?”
“Not yet, but I get the impression they are going to come thick and fast. There is so much I want to talk to you about.”
“Yes, of course. I wish I could be with you tonight. Mum and the others don’t even ask questions anymore except for, “How long will you be gone?” At least the two Counts and their wives we have visiting don’t have sons they want to thrust upon me. So, all I have to do is dodge their sly and probing questions about my past.”
“What are the latest rumours about your instant promotion?”
“I think most believe it is compensation for the treatment of my father. Mede told me the Thalmor ambassador also believes the daughter of a war criminal has been unjustly compensated. But there was one rumour that Colin, the proprietor of my favourite inn, found amusing. According to reliable sources, I have had a bastard to Mede, and the child is hidden away at the moment.”
“And to think I was a young and innocent maiden until molested by that pervert, the Guardian General!”
“I wonder what happened to that immoral cad?”
“I know what is going to happen to him tomorrow night!”
“Will you join us in the morning for the dig?”
“Yes. I will tell Malesam that I will be away for at least three days. Make sure there is some hot food left for me. The children and The Sentinels are like ravenous beasts when breaking their fast!”
“Good night, my love. Have a good meal, and I am glad you won’t have to pick your nose to scare away another young man.”
“Yes, now I can do it for pleasure, not work! Good night to you, my Dragonborn.”
I decided to sleep in my room in Kynareth’s Temple rather than return to Silverpeak Lodge. Despite countless thoughts trying to intrude, sleep came quickly.
When I awoke, I teleported to my room at Silverpeak Lodge. When Rigmor joined me, I was worried she was going to ravish me. After finally extricating myself from her arms, we laughed and made our way to the main room for food and conversation.
Lestat must have been listening to The Sentinels that helped me against the vampires. He came running up and said, “That lady who was with you the other day is a vampire. Her name is Serana, and soon she won’t be a vampire anymore!”
“Yes, Lestat, that is what she wants. If the process works for her, we can talk about if it is suitable for you.”
“I hope so. I would love to sit and eat normal food with my friends.”
Hroar came up to me, laughed and said, “Not saying the porridge is a bit gluggy this morning but watch!”
Hroar let go of the ladle, and it stuck to the bottom of the pot. He walked away giggling to show his trick to others.
Olette faked anger and whined, “So, Cap’n, you have time to dance with the milk-drinkers but not to spar with your favourite!”
“Oh, I didn’t know Meeko wanted to spar. I will have to apologise to him.”
“Inigo is here. Maybe he will adopt this poor, neglected orphan?”
“Well, you both hate Skooma dealers and have fleas, so that would make sense.”
“Are we moving to Solitude?”
“Maybe some of us. I think the other children will stay at Dragons Keep, and you can live in the Bards College after we get you enrolled.”
“I would feel out of place. They are all much older than me.”
“How about we deal with that if and when it becomes an issue? You should go in feeling more positive and just imagine, access to all of those great bards twenty-four hours per day, every day!”
“What would be great, Cap’n, is if you joined the Bard’s College and we could perform together.”
“I would love to. Inigo might join us as well. We could become the most famous trio in Skyrim!”
“I have heard Inigo sing. It is like somebody stomped on his tail.”
“I said we would be famous, not good.”
“People might pay us not to perform. We could make a fortune!”
Of all the people currently living in Silverpeak Lodge, Cairine is usually the quietest. However, this morning she was pretty animated and enthusiastically discussing many topics, which seemed to change every few seconds and were unrelated to each other. When I approached her, I could see the reason for her behaviour. Cairine was drinking coffee and probably the more potent blend preferred by some Sentinels. I can’t recall her ever drinking the bitter liquid previously.
“Good morning, Cairine. Are you enjoying your coffee?”
“I always drink tea, but Ashni said I should at least give coffee a chance, so I did, and wow, it is delicious, and I think I might like it more than tea! What do you think? Oh, did you hear that some prince from High Rock has been wooing High Queen Elisif? And what about the price of fish in Whiterun’s market! Anybody would think we lived thousands of miles from the sea. The vampire attacks around Skyrim have suddenly stopped. Was that because you killed the boss vampire? The children have been leaping from the high platform into the water. Should we let them do that? I can’t even get the courage to try that. But maybe after breakfast, I will give it a go.”
I laughed then replied, “Maybe you should wait some time and let the effects of the coffee decrease. You might leap too far, and it is a very long way to the bottom of the mountain.”
When breakfast was over, the children headed in different directions to do their morning chores.
I approached Rigmor and asked, “Are you ready to go? The excitement of a Dwarven Puzzle Door is too much for me to bear much longer!”
“I have promised young Erika here to help with her sword stances. She wants to become a Sword Maiden and one day a Sentinel.”
I said to Erika, “That is a fine ambition.”
Erika replied, “Jordis and others help me, but I am sure Rigmor will have different ideas. They all say she is the best two-handed warrior they have ever seen.”
“Yes, I once saw her take on a very angry Skeever. It only took Rigmor half an hour to defeat it!”
Erika tutted then said, “Wulf, you are trying to be funny and that never works.”
Rigmor added, “Forgive him, Erika. He had been hit in the head many times and is not all there if you know what I mean.”
“Well, lucky you are with him today to protect him.”
“I know! Now, if we could stop him dribbling all the time!”
Erika laughed, and Nirn was better for it.
We made our way outside.
- Rigmor: Wulf, where is Bostin?
- Wulf: Docked in Solitude.
- Rigmor: So, you will summon the airship, and we will go back inside and warm our toes for two hours.
- Lydia: Ah, I think we are walking to the dig. It is downhill!
- Rigmor: Wulf, can’t you teleport down there and then summon us?
- Wulf: And miss out on a beautiful walk? Think of it as a chance to fix those flabby, sitting on a throne all day, thighs.
- Rigmor: I DON’T HAVE FLABBY THIGHS!
- Wulf: I suppose when compared to your buttocks, they are not all that flabby.
- Jordis: Rigmor, can you wait until Wulf has paid us this month’s wages before you chop him in two?
- Rigmor: You ladies can always come work as Bruma Guards. Good wages and less chance of a horrible, violent death.
- Urdr: That is an appealing offer. The children would be upset if they came out and found Wulf in pieces, so we had better move further down the mountain.
- Rigmor: Yeah, they might slip on the blood and entrails. I suppose I should give Wulf a chance to grovel and ask for forgiveness.
- Wulf: Rigmor, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever met, and I love you with all my heart.
- Rigmor: Well, ladies, what is your verdict?
- Lydia: The offence needs a gift as well as an apology.
- Jordis: It is a shiny, jewel-encrusted gift type of offence.
- Urdr: With a matching outfit.
- Wulf: I promise to take Rigmor to Riften market where she can choose these items of compensation.
- Rigmor: Okay, let’s get going and hope Wulf has learned a valuable lesson.
- Wulf: Oh, I have. A valuable life lesson, indeed! Never group four women together that have no sense of humour.
- Rigmor: We have a sense of humour. You fail miserably at being humorous.
Despite her initial complaint, Rigmor enjoyed the walk along the mountain path from Silverpeak Lodge.
Once we reached the dig campsite, I headed straight for Professor Marassi and Madras.
- Wulf: Good morning, Professor Marassi, Madras.
- Marassi: Guild Master! I am glad you arrived. We have been guessing what is behind that puzzle door for days!
- Rigmor: We usually find lots of Draugr with sharp weapons and foul tempers.
- Lydia: If we are fortunate, we will find a Nord animal totem puzzle. Wulf adores those almost as much as Dwarven Puzzle Doors!
- Jordis: And if that led to a long maze of some sort, Wulf would be ecstatic!
- Madras: I fail to see anything remotely interesting about Nord ruins.
- Urdr: It is a wonder you can see anything at all through those idiotic goggles!
Marassi laughed. Madras’ mouth moved, but nothing came out. He was at a loss for words.
- Marassi: Young lady, you should become a diplomat!
- Urdr: How much does it pay?
- Wulf: Madras, please let those who want to watch the grand unveiling know we will be leaving in ten minutes.
- Marassi: While he does that, I had better continue working on a half-finished translation.
Kyre approached and asked, “Do you think we will encounter any more barriers?”
“The amount of earthquake damage we have encountered makes it almost inevitable.”
I asked Eriana, “Are you joining us to see what is behind the puzzle door?”
“No. Auryen and I will guard the camp. Not that I could stop a bandit, but Auryen is a fine swordsman. I can yell loudly for help, though!”
It is always a pleasure to see Latoria. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious.
“We are finally going to open the puzzle door. Latoria is so excited!”
“Latoria, you are always excited about something.”
‘Inigo jogged down here and invited me to a few days in Riften after the dig is finished. Latoria is very excited about that!”
I walked up to Auryen. I knew he would be too polite to ask where we have been.
- Wulf: How would you like to explore Falmer ruins that are virtually untouched since their war with the Nords?
- Auryen: That could be one of the most significant discoveries in archaeology! So little is known of them, thanks to a determined effort by two other races to eradicate them.
- Wulf: I will have to ask him, but I am sure Knight-Paladin Gelebor would enjoy giving you a tour.
- Auryen: A Knight-Paladin of Auri-El?
- Rigmor: Wulf, stop teasing Auryen!
- Wulf: Okay, Miss Grumpy!
- Rigmor: Wulf and The Sentinels with him discovered living Falmer in a massive valley with an immense temple of Auri-El.
- Wulf: We have been asked to use the terms ‘Snow Elf’ for them and ‘The Betrayed’ for the cave-dwelling Falmer.
- Auryen: I assume we are to go to great lengths to keep their existence and location secret.
- Wulf: Yes. For their safety and also that of The Betrayed, who are unique. Their isolation has enabled them to turn their minds to art and religion instead of violence.
- Auryen: You have seen that with Clockwork Castle, we can show respect and keep secrets whilst still discovering previously unknown history.
- Wulf: I trust the guild members implicitly.
- Rigmor: There were also some relics that Auryen might wet himself over.
- Wulf: What? Auriel’s Bow and his shield. The ones used in his fight with Lorkhan at The Convention? Nah, boring stuff!
- Auryen: You have found Auriel’s Bow? I have been searching for that for well over six hundred years, and then you casually tell me you found it.
- Wulf: The bow, shield, two additional Elder Scrolls and some untranslated Snow Elf texts are in the College’s storage. Copying the quality of the bow and shield will take your best artisans several months and several practice runs, I would say.
- Auryen: I am sure there is a good story behind all of this, but that will have to wait. I know you hate Dwemer Puzzle Doors, but Latoria and the others love mysteries.
- Wulf: It doesn’t help that I do not regard Windcaller as a hero or worthy of admiration. To me, The Way of the Voice is blasphemy. Lady Kynareth gifted The Voice to mortals as a weapon, not as an aid to belly-button contemplation.
- Lydia: Warning! Wulf is in danger of falling into lecture mode.
My reply was interrupted by a Divine Task grabbing my attention. I stepped outside the tent and did a bit of a walk around.
Rigmor came up and asked, “A Divine Task?”
“Yes, but I can’t tell exactly where it is. Maybe when we come out into the valley, I will be able to triangulate better. I am pretty sure it is somewhere in Markarth.”
We gathered the archaeologists then quickly made our way through the entry caves.
Just before we entered the unexplored caves, I stopped and triangulated.
- Rigmor: So, where are have The Divines sent us next?
- Wulf: The Temple District of Markarth.
- Kyre: Ahh, did you say gods send you places?
- Wulf: The Divines let me know where I am needed. You have seen how compasses work. They always point to the magnetic north. Well, I have a sort of compass in my head that points to where I need to go. If I move around enough, I can triangulate the location. When I get close to the location, the more accurate the compass will be.
- Latoria: You talk about this as if it is ordinary and not miraculous.
- Wulf: Following the Moonpaths was miraculous to me, yet our Khajiit guides found it natural and not anything spectacular.
- Latoria: This Khajiit understands.
- Wulf: Now, we must concentrate on what we are doing. We do not know if there are any hostile creatures in these caves, so keep close and keep quiet.
We entered the caves and stood quietly for several seconds. Then I turned and said, “I can hear trolls, but they are distant. Remain quiet and close.”
We approached the Dwemer Puzzle Door, and I handed the Jade Claw to Latoria. I told her, “To open the door, you need the correct claw and set the Nord animal symbols in the correct order as shown underneath the claw.”
Latoria looked underneath the claw, then commented, “So two things are needed, but they are both together. This Khajiit thinks this is a bit silly.”
“That is an understatement. Anyway, the symbols, bottom to top, please.”
“Ah… snake, then whale and finally bear.”
I set the symbols and asked Latoria to insert the claw.
Latoria excitedly inserted the claw and watched fascinated as the door began to lower.
I said to the archaeologists, “The Sentinels will enter first. Wait out here till we call you. When allowed to enter, do not touch anything! There may be traps.”
The puzzle door led to a long, narrow room carved from the surrounding rock. No coffins were hiding Draugr or any other sign of enemies.
At one end of the room was a table upon which sat a small casket and something I had never seen before.
Floating vertically was something that looked like an icicle. There were no visible traps, so I cast Detect Magic, and, as expected, there was a weak telekinesis field allowing the item to float.
I took the item and could detect no dweomer on it. What it is made from is a mystery to me. Auryen will probably know.
There were no traps on the small casket, and Detect Magic did not reveal any dweomer. Deciding it was safe, I opened it and retrieved two items.
The first was an amulet in the shape of a dragon’s head. It has a reasonable strong dweomer that decreased the time required between Shouts. It was nowhere near as powerful as the amulet of Talos I obtained in Kynareth’s Temple.
The second item was a ring made from Dragonbone with a dragon skull on top. It has a very powerful dweomer that increases unarmed damage.
I called the archaeologists, who wandered in wide-eyed and excited.
Professor Marassi approached, and I held out the three items, then said, “I think the jewellery probably belonged to Windcaller. I have no idea what the shard is. While we continue searching, I will ask Latoria to take them to Auryen.”
“Okay. Let us press on, with you leading, of course.”
Latoria was enjoying herself immensely.
“Sensing any ancient magic down here, Latoria?”
“There is the presence of The Voice down here and many other magicks as well. Latoria finds it all to be exhilarating.”
“Can you please take this jewellery and weird crystal thingy to Auryen for identification?”
“If she returns the way she came, nothing will try and eat Latoria, so she is happy to do this, Guild Master.”
“Nothing would dare try and eat Latoria!”
“I hope Inigo does.”
“It is amusing how Man and Mer can change their skin colour so quickly. You have turned a lovely shade of red.”
“You would think I would be used to Khajiit by now, but no, they still surprise me.”
“Okay, Latoria goes now. Right at the intersection and not straight ahead where the troll sounds are!”
As Latoria headed for the camp, we stopped at the intersection to inspect a wayshrine.
The plaque read,
- I, Jurgen Windcaller,
- Dedicate this Temple
- To Ice and Time,
- For they had forged my Land
I grumbled, “It is a wonder he didn’t dedicate it to belly button fluff and bullshit. That is all he studied for years before inventing his false religion.”
As we approached the sounds of trolls, I used heat vision.
I put my fingers up to denote three trolls then prepared a Lightning Bolt spell.
Three spells later, there were three dead trolls.
In the cavern with the trolls, our progress was halted. An ancient column had fallen on its side and blocked the passage beyond. Kyre placed some lanterns, and we stood back to discuss the situation.
- Marassi: Bah! That looks like a lot of work. What do you think, Kyre?
- Kyre: Well, it looks pretty dense. Limestone with granite. It could take a few days to get through.
- Rigmor: That sounds like hot, sweaty work. Chop, chop, Wulf. Grab a pickaxe and get on with it while I supervise.
- Wulf: Sorry to disappoint but we are going to Markarth. Right now.
- Marassi: We’ll work on this as quickly as possible, but it is a couple of days work at least.
- Wulf: We will check back in two days if we can.
- Marassi: There was a lot of Atmoran carvings and glyphs in the room we found the jewellery. That will take several days of study, so we will have plenty to do until you return.
Rigmor said, “So there might still be some hot, sweaty, topless work for you when we return?”
“Don’t get any weird ideas, young lady!”
“I am no lady! Hurry up, zap us to whatever that house is you own in Markarth.”
“It is called Vlindrel Hall and has quite a spectacular view if you like Dwemer architecture.”
“So, you hate it?”
As the archaeologists started their back-breaking work on clearing the granite column…
… I teleported to Vlindrel Hall.
I summoned Rigmor, who quickly looked around, then commented, “This is quite a nice house, you whiner!”
“I didn’t say the house was bad, just its views.”
I summoned The Sentinels then we stepped outside.
Rigmor exclaimed, “Wow! There is nothing wrong with these views! You are absolutely a whiner.”
“We had better head downstairs before I leap off the edge after going insane from utter boredom.”
“Land on your head. It might improve things.”
“I love you too.”
As we headed to the Temple District, I pointed out somebody in the distance and asked Rigmor, “That man, Reburrus Quintilius, is an Imperial who sided with the Stormcloaks. Unfortunately, he is yet to give me sufficient reason to cut his head off. Do you know anything of him?”
“Yes, the Count of Chorrol likes to tell the tale. One of his most prominent nobles was caught in a compromising position with a sheep. I do believe that Quintilius was the name mentioned, but it was hard to make out between the Count’s guffaws.”
“He is arrogant enough not to have changed his name.”
We approached Quintilius, who looked at me with his customary scowl.
- Wulf: Gooday to you, Reburrus. Markarth is looking particularly beautiful today, don’t you think? It must be all the good work the Imperials have done.
- Quintilius: Why are you bothering me, kinsman? Go and find something useful to do.
- Lydia: Keep a civil tongue, civilian. Commander Valdr was polite and did not deserve such vitriol!
- Wulf: It is okay, Inspector Lydia. I have heard Citizen Quintilius’ lover is not feeling well. We must show compassion in such times.
- Urdr: Oh, what is wrong with her, or him, as the case might be?
- Wulf: Scabby Mouth. It is pretty common in the flocks around here, and people can catch it from close contact with sheep.
- Urdr: Oh my! What are the symptoms?
- Wulf: The sheep get ulcers around their mouth. People who contract it tend to mouth off at those vastly superior to them in wealth, status and popularity.
- Lydia: I apologise, Citizen. Maybe you should pray at The Temple of Dibella? I am sure she would understand your preference for woolly companionship.
- Rigmor: Don’t you mean companion-sheep?
- Lydia: That sort of behaviour can get you baaared!
- Jordis: What would ‘ewe’ know?
- Quintilius: I don’t have to stand here and take this!
- Wulf: We can move somewhere more comfortable if you wish.
Quintilius stormed off accompanied by a chorus of sheep calls.
As we got closer to the Temple District, I told The Sentinels, “My compass is pointing to Dibella’s Temple.”
We ascended steep, winding steps to the entrance of the Temple and then entered.
One male and four females entered. A priestess headed straight for me, the lone male. Some men in need of female company mistake the services offered by the priestesses. You can find temple run brothels dotted around Tamriel but not in Markarth. I awaited the tongue lashing coming my way.
- Senna: I am Priestess Senna. While the Temple isn’t taking any new students at the moment, perhaps you wish to rendezvous at the inn for a more…personal lesson?
- Rigmor: What? No way, Wulf! Don’t you even think about it!
- Senna: There is no need for jealousy! You could join us if you wish. There are so many creative things Lady Dibella has invented for our pleasure. If you two are an item, some lessons and practical demonstrations of the Divine Arts may improve your relationship.
As Rigmor turned red, the other ladies burst out laughing.
- Senna: Are you all together? I would have to consult some tomes to find suitable arrangements that please so many at once.
- Wulf: I don’t think that is a good idea.
- Senna: Don’t fret. Many males worry needlessly about their ability to maintain the required um, attention. We have potions and poultices to assist with that.
- Wulf: Your presumptions are wrong, Priestess Senna. I need to speak to Mother Hamal.
- Senna: Oh, that is disappointing. Maybe another time, then?
- Rigmor: Lady, priestess or not, you are gonna have your lights punched out in a second!
- Wulf: I must speak to Mother Hamal.
- Senna: The Temple is closed, and Mother Hamal is busy. You will have to return another time.
- Wulf: For your safety, we will make our way to Mother Hamal without your assistance. I know where she is. Divines bless you, Priestess Senna.
The door at the back of the Temple was locked. It took me seconds to pick it.
Rigmor laughed, then said, “I can see the news sheet front page. ‘Champion of The Divines breaks into the inner-sanctum of the Markarth Temple of Dibella. Finds Mother in compromising position with worshippers.’”
“If Mother Hamal is like you, we would have heard her practising the Dibellan Arts from outside.”
Poor Rigmor turned beetroot red once more as The Sentinels failed to stifle their laughter. So far, this Divine Task has been fun!
The only noises we heard were female voices in earnest discussion. Therefore, we felt it safe to proceed.
Two priestesses saw us approaching and stood. One came storming over with a very unwelcoming frown on her face.
- Orla: What are you doing here?
- Wulf: I am here to see Mother Hamal.
- Orla: Stay where you are! Mother Hamal will deal with you.
- Wulf: Why the hostility? Are you Priestess Orla or Priestess Anwen?
- Orla: Knowing our names does not lessen your insult!
- Hamal: Priestess Orla, let me deal with this.
- Orla: Yes, Mother Hamal.
I faced Mother Hamal, who was not pleased to see me.
- Hamal: Who are you, and what are you doing in here?
- Wulf: Currently, I am waiting for one of you to speak with the tone required of a representative of The Nine.
- Hamal: Unfortunately for you, we don’t allow men into the inner sanctum. You have committed a breach and must pay the penalty.
- Wulf: Oh, and what kind of penalty would that be?
- Hamal: A quick death!
The Sentinels and Rigmor started to laugh. I was livid.
- Wulf: Since when do any of The Divines demand such a thing? If any of you had bothered to speak to me with respect, you might have discovered who I am before making me doubt your suitability for the positions you hold.
- Hamal: How dare…
I used my Thu’um, and the walls shook.
“HOW DARE YOU!”
Rigmor placed her hand on my shoulder, and our quiet enveloped me. I took a deep breath and buried my anger.
- Wulf: Mother Hamal, I do not care how many idiot males have made you so bitter but to threaten my life simply because I have a penis is blasphemy at its worst!
- Lydia: Mother Hamal, this is Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of The Divines.
- Hamal: Oh, I…
- Wulf: NO! I do not want to hear some pathetic excuse. The Divines sent me here, so there must be something that needs my talents. What is it?
- Hamal: The ceremony you interrupted was the Exalted Protocol of the Dibellan Sybil.
- Rigmor: You were not in the middle of a ceremony.
- Hamal: The Ceremony we had just finished was the Exalted Protocol of the Dibellan Sybil. I don’t expect you to know what that means.
- Wulf: There was no Sybil on the designated seat in the Temple. Something has happened to her, and you contacted Lady Dibella to find her chosen replacement. If you have finished making a fool of yourself with your assumptions, you might take time to tell me how I can assist.
- Hamal: Yes, our Sybil passed on last night. Through the Protocol, we have seen the home of the next Sybil. It is to the north, in a small village pressed against the stone. It may be a hazardous journey for us priestesses. If you can travel there and retrieve our young Sybil, you would be worthy of Lady Dibella’s blessing.
- Lydia: Wulf is having trouble controlling his temper. Therefore, I will reply on his behalf. He has the blessing of The Nine as he continuously does their bidding. Who do you think defeated Alduin? That is just one of many times he saved your life and freedom. He will find this Sybil because The Divines asked him to, not for a reward.
- Wulf: The town you described is Karthwasten. How old is the new Sybil, and what is her name?
- Hamal: Her name is Fjotra. She has recently had her eleventh name day.
- Rigmor: A little girl! Is she an orphan?
- Hamal: No, but her parents will consider it a great honour Fjotra was chosen. Their daughter will never know hardship, and our goddess will bless them with a great bounty.
- Wulf: Relax, Rigmor. Dibella speaks through the Sybil. Fjotra may not even be aware of most things she says. Fjotra will be taught much about art, music and poetry. Her knowledge of the Dibellan Arts will progress as naturally as any other young woman’s. Only when of suitable age will she advise on intimate matters. Until then, Dibella will do so. But she can speak freely on the arts and crafts of which Dibella is the patron.
- Rigmor: And her parents?
- Wulf: They will be given a generous stipend believing it to be a gift from Dibella herself. In reality, it is simply a portion of the donations made to the Temple.
- Rigmor: I visited the Great Chapel of Dibella in Anvil. I do not recall any Sybil there.
- Wulf: This Temple is run by The Cult of Dibella. Other temples are similar to the Temple of Mara in Riften, whereby priests and priestesses get guidance directly from the Divine. They do not have to go through an intermediary.
- Hamal: The child is selected and blessed by Dibella. We could argue all day about the merits of our methodology compared to lesser centres of Dibellan worship.
- Rigmor: The Great Chapel of Dibella makes this place look like a poorhouse. And it is not full of women so far up themselves they can’t see where they are walking!
- Wulf: We shall go and speak to Fjotra and her parents. If there is any hesitancy from any of them, I will not bring Fjotra here, and Lady Dibella will have to pick another.
- Hamal: You cannot deny the will of the gods!
- Lydia: That is the worst possible thing you could have said to Wulf. We shall leave quickly before he reduces this place to a pile of pebbles.
Rigmor grabbed my arm and dragged me away as my Dovah threatened to issue a string of expletives of epic proportions.
We exited the Temple, and my mood was most foul. I told the group, “I will teleport to Dragon Bridge and summon you from there. I know of a shortcut across the mountains to Karthwasten. There is a lot of climbing involved, and I don’t want to hear any whining about that!”
I teleported to Dragon Bridge, not caring who saw me appear out of thin air, then I summoned the others to me.
My compass had shifted, and the urgency of the Divine Task changed to severe.
I immediately started walking towards the new destination.
We passed a patrol of Dawnguard at the end of the bridge. I hope Isran heeds my warning, or I will enforce the law quite vigorously.
A bit further on, I stopped and triangulated where the compass was pointing. I decided to take a shortcut across the river to make sure I was correct.
When positive I had it right, I turned to the group.
- Wulf: We are not heading for Karthwasten. My compass is now pointing to Broken Tower Redoubt. I don’t know if it has been cleared of Forsworn or is still held by them.
- Rigmor: Do you think they have Fjotra?
- Wulf: The Forsworn have lived there for many years and have not caused any problems. But if one of their matriarchs, a Hagraven or witch, knows of Fjotra’s blessing from Dibella, the child may be in danger. The nature of that danger depends on which Dark Lord the matriarch worships.
- Lydia: Do any of them worship Molag Bal?
- Wulf: Yes, some do, but I think the local ones are more likely to be worshippers of Hircine.
- Rigmor: But if their matriarch is a worshipper of Molag Bal…
- Wulf: Then we can guess what ceremony they would have planned for Fjotra. The Divine Task has become urgent so let us hurry before something untoward happens to the child!
The countryside was beautiful and very steep. Usually, I would have enjoyed such a walk, but now, I felt a sense of dread. Any interaction with Forsworn would be terrifying for a child.
I was well ahead of the others by the time I reached the old fort. I approached with weapons sheathed.
Some Forsworn recognised me, and instead of the truce their king declared, I was met by violence.
I used mid-strength Unrelenting Force to knock the Forsworn over.
I then used my Thu’um to demand, “IF YOU HAVE THE GIRL, RELEASE HER TO ME. OTHERWISE, I WILL KILL EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU!”
I was answered with a rain of arrows. Lydia ran past, and the slaughter began.
Dozens of Forsworn threw themselves at us and died. We almost ran through the fort on our way to its roof.
We burst into what would have been the fort’s prison when in use by the Imperials.
On the floor was a Lightning Rune. In a barred cell stood a girl child, and before her was a Briarheart. To the left was a desecrated Shrine of Dibella.
I said, “Urdr, take care of the rune. Nobody else is to approach. The Briarheart is mine!”
The Briarheart turned and was preparing some Reach Magic. Before he could cast, I used Whirlwind Sprint to place a column between him and me.
I then charged him and cut him down with a series of sword strokes.
I grimaced at what they had done to Dibella’s Shrine.
I approached the cage and almost cried out at what they had done to Fjotra.
Jordis stood behind me and whispered, “They have dressed her similar to the concubines in High Rock.”
“You mean expensive prostitutes.”
“Concubine makes the profession sound more appealing to young men and women considering joining it.”
Rigmor came running up to the cage and cried out, “Wulf, get this damn door open. Now!”
I quickly picked the lock, and Rigmor pushed me out of the way to stand before the young girl.
- Fjotra: Are you with them? Please, don’t hurt me!
- Rigmor: Gods no, Fjotra, we would never hurt you. We are here to take you away from these savages!
- Fjotra: Yes, I can see you are not like them at all. My parents will be so worried about me. Can we hurry home?
Rigmor stepped back. I turned to her and Lydia and could tell the same thought had crossed their minds. What if the Forsworn had killed her parents or even wiped out Karthwasten altogether?
I turned back to Fjotra and knelt before her.
- Wulf: I am Wulf. The ladies are Rigmor, Lydia, Jordis and Urdr. Before we decide what to do next, I need you to tell me what happened. How did you end up here?
- Fjotra: My father, mother and other miners were working in the mine. I had made their noon meals and waited for them to emerge. When they did, the Forsworn came rushing into Karthwasten and surrounded everybody with their weapons drawn. The Silver Blood guards ran back into the mine! My father called them rude names. If I had said such words, I would have been scolded till my ears turned red!
- Rigmor: Oh my! You don’t have to tell us exactly what happened if it is too scary or upsetting, but did the Forsworn hurt anybody?
- Fjotra: No. They told everybody they have always lived in peace with us and will still do so if they let them take me without resistance.
- Rigmor: I bet your father was none too pleased with that.
- Fjotra: Mother pleaded for him to do something. But father and the others explained they would not risk the life of me or others in a suicidal attempt to stop the Forsworn. Mother cried and pleaded, and it took my father and another big strong miner to hold her as she tried to reach me.
- Rigmor: I know that feeling of helplessness, Fjotra. But in my case, it was big strong men holding me back as they dragged my father away.
- Fjotra: Is that why you are crying? I am sorry I made you cry.
Rigmor moved away, and Lydia followed her. I could hear muffled sobbing, and I knew Rigmor had buried her head into the much taller woman’s shoulder. I wanted to comfort my beloved, but the child was my responsibility, so I concentrated on my task.
- Wulf: Fjotra, you did not make Rigmor cry. The memories of what she endured did, and the people responsible for those memories have been punished.
- Fjotra: Good. People should always be happy and never have to cry like that.
- Wulf: The Forsworn took you from Karthwasten without anybody getting hurt, is that correct?
- Fjotra: I could see that many wanted to fight, but I understand why they didn’t. I am glad as I would have been upset if people got hurt for my sake.
- Wulf: Were the Forsworn nice to you?
- Fjotra: Only lady Forsworn attended to me when we reached this place. They kept telling me how lucky I was and that I would be married to their new mistresses’ god. I tried explaining I was too young to get married and hadn’t even got my menses yet, but they said it did not matter. They said I was touched by the gods and would be blessed by another.
- Jordis: Hello Fjotra, I am Jordis. Were you scared?
- Fjotra: No. I did not think The Nine would let anything bad happen to me. I pray to them every night. I was confused about this touched by the gods stuff. What did they mean?
- Wulf: We can discuss that in a minute. Did they hurt you in any way?
- Fjotra: They bathed me and then dressed me in these horrible clothes. Then one of them got a sharp bone and put a hole in my belly button. That really hurt, but I did not cry. I think some of them would have liked it if I had cried!
- Jordis: Did they pierce your ears as well?
- Fjotra: No. I am glad because my mother promised that I could get them pieced next name day.
- Jordis: But they made you wear that pearl?
- Fjotra: They thought it made me look pretty. I hate it!
- Wulf: Their mistress was not here. Did they tell you when she was coming?
- Fjotra: Oh, their mistress was not coming here. They were going to take me to a place called The Fens.
- Urdr: Wulf, isn’t that in High Rock?
- Wulf: Yes, the western part. It is mostly swampland and home to a coven of Glenmoril Witches. I don’t know if they are Hagraven like the local Glenmoril Witches, but I know the Reachmen regard them with the same awe if in mortal form. According to reports written by the few who have escaped their clutches, they are worshippers of Molag Bal.
- Fjotra: I heard that name mentioned many times. Lord Bal, Master Bal and Molag Bal. I assumed they all referred to the same person.
- Wulf: He is a god. Not one of The Divines but a Dark Lord. Have you heard that term before?
- Fjotra: I have heard of them, but only when my friends tell scary stories. Mother and father refuse to talk about them. They said that even mentioning their names can attract their attention.
- Jordis: When did the Forsworn take you from your parents?
- Fjotra: Midday yesterday.
- Wulf: How long has the strange man been guarding you?
- Fjotra: Only a few hours. He ordered the lady Forsworn to leave, but they were reluctant. He was going to get violent with them, so they eventually left. They warned him I was to remain pure. What does that mean?
- Wulf: That you were to remain a maiden. You know about menses, so I assume you know what maiden means. If you don’t, I am sure your parents will explain if you ask them.
- Fjotra: Oh, we have already had that funny talk. My father was so embarrassed I couldn’t help but laugh. Why did that man have a hole in his chest?
- Wulf: A witch or Hagraven removed his heart and replaced it with a briar seed. That is why we call them Briarhearts. It makes them a lot stronger, but they become slaves to the witch who performed the ritual.
- Fjotra: He kept speaking in a strange voice and threw blood over the statue of Dibella and all over the floor. I did not like the way he kept staring at me. He thought I was scared and told me not to worry and that he would obey his mistress even if I were beautiful. I wasn’t frightened but curious. He was so different from the other Forsworn.
- Wulf: Do you know what a Sybil is?
- Fjotra: Oh yes, she is the chosen of Dibella. The goddess speaks to her Priestesses through the Sybil. I have always wanted to talk to her and find out what that is like. It sounds wonderful! But we have never visited the great Temple of Dibella in Markarth. Maybe one day I will.
- Wulf: The old Sybil has died. I believe she had lived much longer than most people. But now they need a new Sybil, and Lady Dibella has chosen you.
- Fjotra: Then it is true what they said, and the gods touched me?
- Wulf: You have been blessed by Lady Dibella. I am also blessed by one of The Nine. It can be a burden as they will need you to do things for them.
- Fjotra: I am willing to live at the Temple in Markarth and be their Sybil. It is my choice to make, isn’t it?
- Wulf: Yes, Fjotra. The Divines do not impose their will upon us. Some people who should know better say they do. Those people are nincompoops.
- Fjotra: Nincompoops? I like that word!
- Wulf: Yeah, it is not as good as Albatross, but not bad.
Rigmor had recovered and came back to us.
- Rigmor: I am sorry for being a big cry-baby.
- Fjotra: Oh, don’t be sorry. Wulf said you had sad memories. I sometimes cry when I have sad memories. Like when I remember my cat that died or my grandparents who also died. But then I think of good memories, like playing with my cat or sitting on my grandad’s lap while he told me a tall tale. Then I smile instead of crying. Perhaps you can try that?
I found myself fighting back the tears. If everybody had the wisdom and compassion of children, I could put my weapons away and never wear them again.
- Rigmor: That is a great idea, Fjotra, and I shall try that the next time I have sad memories. You are very wise, and I think you will be the world’s best Sybil!
- Fjotra: There is only one Sybil at a time, so even if I gave terrible advice, I would still be the best.
- Wulf: Very true! Now, Fjotra, I know your parents and the others in Karthwasten might be worried, but I think we need to take you to the Temple. They will send soldiers to guard your parents and bring them to the Temple so they can stop worrying.
- Fjotra: The Forsworn might try and take me back, and that would put my parents in danger again. So, I think that is the best idea as well.
- Wulf: The Forsworn tried to hurt us, and we had to kill them. I am sorry you will have to see them as we leave this place.
- Fjotra: Will Arkay look after their souls?
- Wulf: The Forsworn have their ways of protecting their dead. They will soon discover what has happened here and take care of their people. I know their king, and although fierce, they are good people who have been poorly treated.
- Fjotra: My father always tells me that. That we are on their lands and that some people forget the truth. The dead ones will not be made into Briarhearts?
- Wulf: No, that needs a willing male. They can’t do that to dead people or living ladies.
- Fjotra: If you hold my hand tight, I can make it outside with my eyes closed.
- Rigmor: Oh, you can hold and squeeze my hand as tight as you want. I won’t let you trip over anything.
- Fjotra: Okay, I am ready.
Rigmor held Fjotra’s hand and guided her outside. As they walked, Rigmor asked Fjotra about her favourite things. I was so absorbed in what was being discussed I was in more danger of tripping over something than the little girl was.
We made it outside then Fjotra said, “I want to see some of it. I need to remember what happened. I think it is another lesson for me.”
The girl opened her eyes and studied the bodies, one after another.
When she was satisfied, we moved away, and I asked her, “What did you learn from viewing such carnage?”
“That people are willing to kill and be killed for their beliefs. And that the price they pay would not be what their gods want. I discovered that a body is not the person who once occupied it. None of them looked angry or fierce when they died. All I could see was regret and fear.”
I heard the roar of a dragon and looked in its direction. I did not recognise the Dovah.
- Wulf: We are deep in Forsworn territory, and that dragon is challenging any others nearby to battle him. We can’t wait for Bostin to arrive, and I do not know Fjotra enough to summon her. Plus, the travel through the ether is not pleasant. So, I will do a double teleport.
- Rigmor: A what?
- Urdr: Wulf and Celestine have been practising the spell. If you are a powerful enough mage, you can teleport yourself and another person as long as that person is touching the mage’s flesh.
- Wulf: With enough practice, and Magicka, you can teleport many people at once. With that skill, I would not have to teleport then summon individuals.
- Fjotra: What is teleport?
- Wulf: Using magic, I can take you to Markarth without walking or riding a horse or carriage.
- Fjotra: Does it take long?
- Wulf: It takes about two seconds.
- Fjotra: And that dragon and the Forsworn could not follow us?
- Wulf: No, they can’t. Teleporting can be a bit scary the first time that you do it.
- Rigmor: It will be blacker than anything you can imagine and the coldest you will ever experience.
- Fjotra: But only for two seconds? I can be brave for two seconds.
- Rigmor: You have been very brave since the Forsworn took you from your parents. That is a lot longer than two seconds.
- Fjotra: What do I have to do?
- Wulf: You have to hold my hand very tight and hold your breath. You can close your eyes if you want.
- Fjotra: No way! I want to see the blackest black!
- Rigmor: Should I be worried that I find sense in that sentence?
- Fjotra: Maybe you still have some child in you?
- Wulf: I think you are right about that, Fjotra. Rigmor often sees wonder and beauty in the world that other adults miss.
- Fjotra: And Rigmor loves you a lot. But you already know that, and The Nine know that. I am starting to hear her voice. It is beautiful.
- Wulf: Lady Dibella’s?
- Fjotra: Yes. But I think I need to be taught how to, I dunno, not tell her to shut up. That would be rude and probably blasphemy. But I should give her permission to talk to me. It is only polite, like knocking on the privy door before opening it.
Fjotra went silent for a few seconds then had an attack of uncontrollable giggles. We watched, amused as she struggled for control. After some time, she looked at us sheepishly and took a deep breath.
- Fjotra: Sorry. Dibella said I had compared my head to a privy. I found that quite funny.
- Rigmor: Oh my, that is funny. I might have a giggling fit as well.
- Wulf: We had better get going, Fjotra. If Rigmor laughs too much, she pees herself.
- Fjotra: I think that was a fib, Wulf.
- Rigmor: Ha, you can never fool a child. You should know that by now.
- Wulf: Okay, I fibbed, but it was only a joke. I think The Divines will forgive me.
- Fjotra: Dibella says your father lets you get away with too much. She also said we should hurry to the Temple. Her priestesses are like headless chickens without a Sybil.
- Wulf: Okay then. Hold my left hand and don’t let go. If you do let go, you will reappear back here and not in my house in Markarth.
- Rigmor: Fjotra, you will like teleporting. It is so cool!
- Fjotra: You said it was going to be really cold, not cool.
- Lydia: Ha, she’s gotcha there, Rigmor!
Fjotra gripped my hand with surprising strength. I stared into her eyes and asked, “Are you ready, Fjotra?”
“Yes, Wulf. Dibella said that I could trust you. I told her I already knew that. She said that I would make an interesting Sybil with my confidence. I think she is right.”
“You are a wonder, Fjotra! On the count of three. One, two…three!”
I did the required hand movements and incantation. A couple of seconds later, we appeared in Vlindrel Hall. I had to prize Fjotra’s hand from mine as she stood with wonder on her face. Then she said, “Rigmor was right. That was cool!”
Rigmor teleported herself by using our rings. I summoned The Sentinels.
- Fjotra: Wulf, do you have any children’s clothes here? Even if they are boy’s clothes, I would feel more comfortable.
- Wulf: I don’t think so. The ladies can take you to have a look if you want.
- Fjotra: Is it a long walk to the Temple from this house?
- Wulf: Only a couple of minutes. You are with these ladies and me. We are well known, and nobody would dare say a word out of place.
- Fjotra: What about this thing they stuck in my belly button?
- Urdr: I can take that out and fix the hole.
- Fjotra: That would make me feel a lot better. I am not sure why Forsworn thought it was a good idea.
- Rigmor: It was not an appropriate idea. One day you will understand.
- Fjotra: Okay. This won’t hurt, will it?
- Urdr: Not at all.
The girls walked to the bedroom area, and I could hear them searching cupboards and drawers for clothes.
After a few minutes, they returned. Fjotra was still in the same clothes, but she smiled and pointed to her belly. She said, “Look, Wulf. A normal belly once more!”
“You feel a bit better now?”
“Yes, I feel like a little girl again.”
We made our way outside, where Fjotra exclaimed, “Wow, I didn’t know Markarth was so pretty!”
Rigmor replied, “Only smart people can see its beauty. Wulf thinks it is ugly.”
“That was a funny joke, Rigmor. Not like Wulf’s one about peeing yourself.”
The last person I wanted to meet on the way to the Temple was Thongvor Silver-Blood. It seems my lucky coin failed me this time.
- Thongvor: Ah, the murderer of my brother and Forsworn lover. Your time will come!
- Fjotra: Your brother had innocent people murdered, including a devout follower of Talos, inside his temple. He unlawfully imprisoned the Forsworn King and placed the most honest person on Nirn, Wulf, into the same prison. He sold weapons to both sides of the Civil War, thereby profiting from the death and destruction. He shed not a single tear when his wife was assassinated. There was no love in that marriage but only political gain. You are now in charge of the family business and have placed thugs, including those in Karthwasten, that bully the miners, harass the women and run away when danger appears as they did yesterday. If you hate the Forsworn so much, perhaps you should hire men who don’t soil their pants when they visit Karthwasten. Wulf was lawfully and morally entitled to execute your brother. You just threatened him. As a Commander of the Penitus Oculatus, with four Inspectors as witnesses, he could slice you in two and not even have to fill in annoying paperwork explaining why.
- Thongvor: Wulf, your little tart has a big mouth.
- Fjotra: This is not the little girl speaking the truth.
- Wulf: If I thought you had insulted the girl, I would have sent you to The Void.
- Thongvor: What… who are you then?
- Fjotra: I am Dibella. I advise you to stop pretending to be a follower and defender of The Nine and become one in reality. Otherwise, you will be spoken about with the same distaste your brother earned upon his demise.
- Thongvor: This is a trick!
- Fjotra: Edijard Laggard. You told her she was the one and promised to marry her. The fifteen-year-old girl believed the handsome and rich Thongvor Silver-Blood. When she fell pregnant, you paid to have a thug beat her so badly, she lost the child and would never be able to conceive again. Months later, she threw herself off the parapet over there. You shed fake tears at her funeral when silently congratulating yourself on how cleverly you avoided the problem of a pregnant child confessing her love for you to the world. That was over thirty years ago, and I don’t think you even remembered Edijard till now.
- Wulf: I can see by the paleness of your face that you thought that was a long-buried secret. Go, Thongvor. Thank The Divines there is a child present. Prey to them that you do not cross my path soon.
Thongvor hurried away without a look behind.
- Fjotra: Umm, why are we standing here staring at the back of that man?
- Rigmor: You don’t remember?
- Fjotra: Oh, Lady Dibella said she wanted to say something, so I let her. But it wasn’t to Wulf, was it? It was to that man.
- Wulf: He has done terrible things. Lady Dibella advised him to change his ways.
- Fjotra: If Dibella wanted me to know the details, I would. So enough of him. I am eager to see the Temple.
We entered the Temple, and I asked Fjotra, “Well? What are your first impressions?”
“The presence of Dibella is not as strong as it should be. The priestesses need to remember the teachings of our gods and practice them instead of just preaching them.”
“That was Fjotra speaking, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Dibella chose me because I analyse things quickly and can see through the bull…droppings. I am still a little girl but must speak with authority on occasions or be treated like one. When with other children or my parents, I can be a little girl once more. I have accepted this as necessary.”
“We don’t allow children to make some decisions till they are of a particular age. Such a life-changing decision at age eleven may be regarded as immature and not well thought out.”
“Yet I have been given options and weighed them against each other. You cannot have the blessing of Akatosh removed. I cannot have this blessing removed. Therefore, I will always be a target for necromancers and others such as those Forsworn. Even if I desired it, I could not return to being Fjotra, the little girl of miners. I am marked, and that is why the Forsworn knew about my blessing before I did.”
‘You need to be a little girl before you can become a wise adult. Life experiences are what allow us to assess a situation and have more than one possible solution.”
“When I sit in my chair, I will hear problems if Dibella deems it appropriate. Then if the answer is also appropriate for me to hear, I will learn from it. Slowly I will become knowledgeable enough to answer most questions and solve problems from that accumulated experience.”
“Okay, let us find Mother Hamal. She will be waiting in the inner sanctum.”
Mother Hamel and Priestess Orla were in the middle of a meal. They stared in disbelief as we approached, with Fjotra walking confidently beside me.
- Fjotra: Mother Hamal, I am Fjotra, and I accept the blessed role of Sybil.
- Hamal: Forgive me if I look taken aback. We will all have to adjust to a Sybil so young.
- Fjotra: Have faith that Lady Dibella will guide us all through the transition and my training.
- Orla: Child, did this man dress you like that?
- Fjotra: Priestess Orla, I understand your apprehension around males, but you must stop treating them all as lustful beasts and rapists. Wulf is beloved by The Nine. Do you think they are poor judges of character?
- Orla: Of course not, Sybil.
- Fjotra: Do you have Robes of Dibella my size. I desire to remove this attire. It is not appropriate for a little girl.
- Wulf: The Forlorn kidnapped Fjotra from Karthwasten. Nobody was hurt. They planned to take her to High Rock and place her with a witch who is a devotee of Molag Bal.
- Hamal: Oh! Um…ah…
- Rigmor: I can see you are in dire need of Fjotra’s wisdom.
- Fjotra: Come, Mother Hamal. Let us find a robe, and I will tell you the tale of what occurred.
- Hamal: Yes, of course. Priestess Orla, please attend and assist.
- Orla: Yes, Mother Hamal. But first, let me say to Wulf, I apologise.
As they led Fjotra away, she was full of a child’s curiosity and was asking questions in rapid succession. This appropriation of a child is undoubtedly a test of my faith. It is easy to say that The Nine have their reasons for such things and accept their wisdom. But their initial plan to separate Rigmor and me was wrong. They make mistakes.
I fear Fjotra’s childhood and innocence are collateral damage for something not essential. Why not force the Priestesses of Markarth to behave like those in Anvil and other Temples of Dibella?
I need to talk to Rigmor at length. To discuss things while enveloped in her arms and our quiet. That might help me clarify things but will also highlight a simple fact. We will both struggle when forced apart.
Rigmor walked across and held me. She said, “Let us go back to Silverpeak Lodge and have our meal with the children and others. Then we can retire to our room and talk as long as you need to.”
“What about your plans to ravish me?”
“That can wait until I have all of my Dragonborn’s attention. A snuggle and a talk are what we both need at the moment.”
“Rigmor, can I ask you an important question?”
“Of course. What is it?”
“At which inn did Senna say she will meet us?”
Rigmor looked livid, but my smile made her realise how easily she had taken the bait. She laughed that laugh, and it was like a healing potion for my soul.
After twenty minutes, Mother Hamal returned with Fjotra. The girl skipped away to show Rigmor and The Sentinels her new robes. Mother Hamal said, “Fjotra explained everything. I have asked Priestess Orla to request the attendance of the garrison captain. We shall have a squad of Legionnaires sent to Karthwasten, where some will remain for a few days as a precaution against the Forsworn deciding to cause further problems. Some will return with Fjorta’s parents before midday tomorrow. Do these plans meet your approval, Champion of The Divines?”
“It sounds like Dibella managed a few words of advice in between Fjotra’s questions.”
“Lady Dibella was quite cross. I could tell that even when expressed via the voice of a child. We must teach Fjotra through example, not just words. That is what we will endeavour to do.”
“What you propose is acceptable. I doubt the Forsworn will bother Fjotra again, but there will be others who may want a Divine blessed child for whatever reason.”
“We will ask for guards to be posted outside the Temple. Some will be posted inside when we have retired to the inner sanctum as night.”
My discussion with Mother Hamal was interrupted by a familiar-sounding pleading voice. All children seem to have the skill and use it when manipulating adults. They all sound the same no matter their gender or race!
“Wulf… come and look at my new robes. Pleeeeeaaaasssse!”
Mother Hamal gave a small smile as I turned my attention to Fjotra.
“So, Wulf. What do you think? Should I display my new Amulet of Dibella outside or leave it tucked inside?”
“I think every person who enters the Temple will realise who you represent. But sometimes, I touch my Amulet of Talos for assurance. It comforts me. That would be easier for you if your amulet were on the outside.”
“Rigmor said you were smart. She also thinks you are incredibly handsome.”
“Did she tell you that?”
“We might not understand some of the ‘ask when you are older’ aspects, but children recognise love in all its forms. We don’t need things spelt out to us. Rigmor watches you, and the love is powerful. And the same when you look at her. I am lucky that my parents share the same looks. Not all children are so fortunate.”
“How do you think your parents will react to this news?”
“They will be relieved I am safe. But they will cry and tell me how much that they will miss me at home. They love The Nine and will accept. The stipend they receive will help all my friends in Karthwasten. The Silver-Blood family is not generous when it comes to wages.”
“I think Mother Hamal needs to start your training. She is hopping from foot to foot with an anxious expression on her face.”
“Maybe she just needs to pee?”
Fjotra ran to Mother Hamal and said, “Come Mother Hamal, tell me what is needed so I can be your Sybil from the morrow.”
Mother Hamal replied, “It is custom for me to lead you into the Temple proper as our new Sybil. Then you can wander around and have a look by yourself. Then I will answer any questions you have. Familiarising yourself with the long history of this Temple will help your acceptance of it as your home. There is also a Priestess in Training of your age who will be pleased to meet you. Samenca and yourself can be little girls as often as duty allows.”
“Can I have a cat or two? I believe white ones were quite common in the past.”
“Of course. They were spoilt things, but I have also wanted them to become part of the Temple once more. Together we can choose them and become their slaves.”
“Mother Hamal, you are truly a mother when you let your guard down.”
‘I will find it difficult deciding when you are Sybil and when you are Fjotra.”
“When I sit in my seat, I will always be your Sybil. The rest of the time, I hope to be your friend.”
“Dibella has made a wise choice.”
I stopped and knelt briefly at the holy font. I took a drink then teleported to Silverpeak Lodge.
Being amongst my friends and the children worked its usual magic. Rigmor and I enjoyed a good meal and many laughs.
When we retired to our room, Rigmor and I snuggled and talked most of the night.
When Rigmor thought I was worry-free, she pounced, and we made energetic but quiet love. It doesn’t matter how isolated I have made the room as there is some etiquette to be observed!
I know not what time I fell asleep. I know it was in a tangle of sheets and limbs.