Shield Brother

Middas, 5th Sun’s Dusk, 4E 201

After teleporting to Sky Haven Temple, I didn’t want to get bogged down, so I waved to the recruits and did not stop to talk.

We quickly made our way to the gardens, where Esbern and Delphine were training several recruits. Once again, a quick wave was all I gave as I headed for the cliff edge.

Looking down, I saw some bandits rushing towards unsuspecting, unarmed pilgrims.

I Blinked to intercept the bandits and summoned The Dragonguard.

A bear and Sabre Cat aided us as we quickly dispatched the bandits. Unfortunately, the bear did not survive.

The pilgrims ran when the melee started and were far away when it ended.

A few minutes later, a belligerent Orsimer blocked my progress.

I said, “Excuse me, please move out of my way.”

“What’s a milk drinker like you doing out here? Go home to your mother.”

“I would love to visit Mother, but she is busy fighting a god.”

“Well, I ain’t moving aside, so what are you going to do about it?”

“Surely you are too young to be seeking a warrior’s death? Take a good look at my armour and think on how long you would last and if any glory is to be found here.”

“Wait…You’re The Dragonborn!”

“Yes, I am, but even if I wasn’t, you have no idea what capabilities a well-armed and armoured stranger has. If you seek battle, become a caravan guard or hire your services to travelling pilgrims. We just eliminated a bandit gang minutes up the road that would have diced you into pieces.”

The Orsimer moved aside, and we continued.

Old Hroldan Inn’s roof came into view.

A squad of Reach Militia passed by, and their leader saluted me.

I Blinked to the other side of the river and summoned The Dragonguard.

As we approached the inn, remnants of the ancient wall that once protected Old Hroldan could be seen.

  • Taku: How powerful was Talos’ Thu’um?
  • Wulf: Are you asking because of this shattered wall?
  • Taku: So, he did blow it down?
  • Wulf: Father told me he blew down the gates, which is still beyond my strength in The Voice. I think the wall has been picked apart by those needing building materials.
  • Bashita: This is where your father earned the name Talos.
  • Wulf: Yes. He used a Shout that surrounded him with a rotating wall of air, like a whirlwind. The Shout created a circular cloud revolving around the crown of his head. When he casually walked towards the battlements, the enemy fired hundreds of arrows at him, but none could penetrate the air wall. That is where the title Stormcrown came to be. Talos is ancient Nordic for Stormcrown. He went from being Hjalti Early-Beard to Hjalti Talos. He kept that name and variations thereof until he became emperor. Then he changed it to Tiber Septim.

Until recently, the only building for miles was Old Hroldan Inn. Recently a small settlement has grown around it. A single guard stood before the gates of the settlement.

“Greetings, I am Wulf, The Dragonborn, and these are my friends, The Dragonguard.”

“I am Tobias, and am honoured to meet you. We all owe you and The Dragonguard our lives and freedom.”

“How did this place fare during the civil war?”

“Both sides left us alone. Old Hroldan has no military value. It is The Forsworn that we worry about.”

“This was a sacred site to them. Tamriel would be safer and fairer if The Reachman were given back part of The Reach as a Hold or independent nation.”

“My father fought beside Ulfric Stormcloak when he retook Markarth. Then he resigned in disgust after he witnessed what Ulfric did to the citizens and surrendered Forsworn. Father taught me there is no glory in war. That is something they tell soldiers, so they’ll risk their lives.”

“A soldier will defend their country and people without the need for false glory. It is invaders who need the motivation to kill the innocent.”

“If your friends truly are Dragonguard, then this place is one of shame for them.”

“They are Dragonguard, and the momentary shame earned here is insignificant compared to their sacrifices for the citizens of The Empire ever since.”

“I did not mean to judge the present from the actions of the ancient past.”

“Although The Dragonguard seized hostages from here and Markarth, they only selected those who showed interest in being trained. Most of the hostages joined the ranks of The Dragonguard and were defenders when Emperor Kastav besieged Sky Haven Temple. He besieged that holy place as The Dragonguard refused to obey further orders and suppress The Winterhold Rebellion.”

“You are well versed in history.”

“Yes, and that is why my museum in Solitude is important to me. There, the true histories can be taught, and the false narratives extinguished.”

“Dragonborn and friends, welcome to Old Hroldan.”

Tobias stood aside, and we entered the settlement.

A Reach Hold Guard was patrolling the streets. I was surprised as they are usually reserved for areas of interest to The Silver-Blood Family.

It was good to see the young settlement was home to several species.

I approached somebody who looked like a barkeep. Behind him, I could see the remnants of ancient ruins called The Hroldan Ring. It was a neutral ground where Reach clans could parley in the Second Era.

I said, “Greetings, I am Wulf, and these are my friends, The Dragonguard.”

“Eydis will be pleased to have such famous guests. Head on inside, and Eydis or Skuli will take care of you.”

“Eydis is the innkeeper?”

“Yes, I work for her. Skuli is her son.”

“And your name, good sir?”

“Leontius Salvius. Born in Skyrim to Imperial migrants who gave up the good life to work themselves to death on a farm. Idiots.”

“Some would say that running a farm is a good life.”

“Like I said, idiots.”

I laughed as we made our way to the entrance of the inn.

Bashita said, “I don’t think you and Rigmor are idiots wanting a simple life on the land.”

“We wouldn’t have the continuous worry about failed crops or natural disasters. On the other hand, farmers live on the edge of disaster.”

“Did you notice what is on the inn’s sign?”

“Yes, Hjalti Early-Beard’s helm is at the foot of the tree. Father only attached the wings to it after the battle here. They represent Lady Kynareth, for she gifted mortals the Thu’um.”

We entered and were greeted warmly by Eydis.

  • Eydis: Ah, visitors. Old Hroldan Inn has hundreds of years of history, friends.
  • Wulf: Greetings. Are you Innkeeper Eydis?
  • Eydis: That I am.
  • Wulf: I am General Wulf Welkynd, The Dragonborn, and these fine people are The Dragonguard.
  • Eydis: The Dragonborn! You can use The Voice like Tiber Septim! Are you here to rent Tiber Septim’s room?
  • Wulf: Please, tell me about the room.
  • Eydis: In the Second Era, Tiber Septim led the army that conquered Old Hroldan from the barbarians of the Reach. Septim would later create The Empire that united Tamriel, but his first known battle and victory was right here. And this inn has the very bed the great general slept in on his first night as Old Hroldan’s liberator. As good as it was hundreds of years ago.
  • Wulf: Hjalti Early-Beard fought many battles against The Reachman. Please, do not refer to them as barbarians. He fought those battles and countless others elsewhere before the one here. That is why he was a general and not a lower rank. Also, he was not called Tiber Septim till after he became Emperor.
  • Eydis: Do you regard yourself as an expert on Talos?
  • Bashita: Wulf speaks to Talos regularly, so he is an expert on Talos.
  • Eydis: Oh!
  • Jin: Referring to The Reachman as barbarians is racist. They are no more primitive than Nords! The Dominion regard Nords as barbarians!
  • Eydis: I did not mean to offend.
  • Wulf: Relax, Eydis, we are not offended. You have probably only ever heard them called barbarians. The demeaning of a race allows atrocities like those committed by Ulfric Stormcloak when he conquered Markarth.
  • Eydis: Tobias told me about that. There was nothing civilised about what Ulfric did, and he dared say it was in the name of Talos.
  • Wulf: Ulfric Stormcloak cared nothing for Talos.
  • Eydis: As you let everybody know on more than one occasion. We might be in the middle of nowhere, but we still get the news sheets, and customers are always full of gossip.
  • Wulf: I don’t need to rent a room, but could you please show us Hjalti’s room?
  • Eydis: After saving our bacon from Alduin, and probably others we don’t know about, how could I say no? Follow me.

Eydis stood before a bed and declared, “Here you go. This bed is the very one that Tiber…oh…I mean, Hjalti Early-Beard, slept in after the battle of Old Hroldan.”

“Wow, I wonder how many generations of bed bugs pass on that story?”

“Beg yours?”

“Junior, your fifty times great grandad feasted on Hjalti Early-Beard when he slept here.”

“We don’t have bed bugs.”

“I am jesting, Innkeeper Eydis.”

“Oh, then, hahaha.”

“Tough audience!”

Eydis chuckled as she left the room.

Jin asked, “Well, can you feel your father’s presence?”

“No, Jin. Father didn’t leave holy residue on everything he touched.”

“But you can tell when he has used or worn some things.”

“Deeply personal items, such as armour, weapons, jewellery and so on, resonate with me. I can tell they were Lord Talos’ and used quite often. But that is not restricted to him, for I can do the same with any relic of The Nine.”

Our conversation was interrupted by a high-pitched scream from downstairs.

We rushed to the common room, and I saw a spirit dressed in ancient Colovian armour.

A young girl came up to me.

“Hello, young lady, I am Wulf.”

“I’m Unaia, and I bet you wonder what that scream was?”

“I assume somebody saw the soldier’s spirit.”

“You can see him! Grownups usually get a brief glimpse, then scream!”

“Do you know who he is?”

“He never says his name. All he says is that he is waiting for his friend, Hjalti Early-Beard. He has been waiting a long time because I remember seeing him when I was five years of age!”

“Wow, he has been waiting a whole year!”

“I am eleven, thank you.”

“Perhaps I should speak to him?”

“Well, perhaps because you can see him properly, he might talk to you.”

The spirit sat next to a kimono wearing Khajiiti.

I asked her, “Excuse me, are you one of the travel writers?”

“Yes, you have met others?”

“I see them all the time. I did speak to Kud-Ei a few weeks ago.”

“Yes, that one mentioned meeting The Dragonborn at Fort Fellhammer. Very messy, that one said.”

“A few bandits got in our way.”

“This one is called Anbi. What can Khajiit do for you, Dragonborn?”

“Have you ever seen a spirit or ghost on your travels?”

“No, but Khajiit thinks that would make an excellent chapter in a travel guide.”

“What if I told you that a spirit is sitting next to you?”

“Khajiit would wonder why only one person screamed and why this one cannot see such a thing.”

The spirit looked at me and then quickly stood.

I said, “Excuse me, Anbi, but the ghost has stood and wants to talk to me.”

Anbi and my friends watched as I spoke to thin air, flanked by two children.

  • Ghost: Hjalti? Is that you? I’ve been waiting.
  • Wulf: You think I am Hjalti Early-Beard?
  • Ghost: You promised me, Hjalti. You promised that when we sacked Hroldan, you would make me your Shield Brother. And I’ve waited. Even after the enemies’ arrows dug into my chest, their hammers crushed my bones. I’ve waited. Give me your sword, Hjalti. That we may become Shield Brothers as you promised.
  • Wulf: Sorry, but I cannot give you the sword I carry. It was a gift from my Swordmaster.
  • Skuli: I don’t think he means that sword, you idiot.
  • Wulf: And what would you know, you little runt?
  • Skuli: Watch your tongue, stranger. We don’t take backtalk in this inn.
  • Unaia: Shush, Skuli. You are being rude to The Dragonborn!
  • Skuli: Oh, so that is why the ghost thinks this idiot is Hjalti. He can also use The Voice.
  • Wulf: If you don’t mind shutting up, I want to speak to whatever his name is.
  • Ghost: You don’t remember me, Hjalti? Two campaigns we served together. You saved my life time and time again.

Father rarely contacts me without his avatar appearing, but he did this time and sounded distraught.

“Son, this was not intentional.”

“Father, I need your help! Who is this man?”

“I did not know Captain Nirtufus Cheneius’ spirit was stuck on Nirn. I promised to make him my Shield Brother, but he was killed during the siege of Hroldan.”

“Where is the sword?”

“I gifted it to another whom I made my Shield Brother. He died when we fought at Broken Tower Redoubt. Perhaps it is still there.”

“Perhaps it wasn’t healthy wanting to be your Shield Brother?”

“It would seem that way in retrospect.”

“Broken Tower Redoubt is crawling with Forsworn, and so is the way there. But I will look, for Captain Nirtufus deserves his afterlife.”

“Nirtufus will understand when he reaches Aetherius. Becoming what I am has erased many parts of what I was, including some memories.”

I returned to my conversation with Nirtufus and the children.

  • Skuli: Well, der head, do you remember him or not?
  • Wulf: Captain Cheneius, my sword is elsewhere. I will have to fetch it and bring it back.
  • Nirtufus: That is good, for I cannot go into battle without a sword, Hjalti.

Nirtufus’ spirit wandered away, leaving me with the two children. My friends came over with amused looks on their faces.

  • Skuli: Why is the only adult to see the ghost a moron?
  • Wulf: Perhaps being a moron is a prerequisite for seeing the ghost. Hence your ability to do so.
  • Unaia: I think The Dragonborn is way more intelligent than you, Skuli.
  • Skuli: If so, he is an excellent actor. I would swear he is a moron!
  • Wulf: Skuli, have you seen somebody with a sword like mine?
  • Skuli: They are called katana and are the preferred weapon of The Blades.
  • Wulf: Well, have you seen somebody with a katana?
  • Skuli: Yes.
  • Wulf: Who and where are they?
  • Skuli: He is Sir Stupid, standing the same place you are. What a surprise, it is you!
  • Wulf: That person’s life might be in danger.
  • Unaia: Tell The Dragonborn what happened, or I will!
  • Skuli: Okay, sheesh! Three weeks ago, a Thalmor squad burst into the inn and tried to arrest our resident drunk. They accused him of being a Blade and that his life was forfeit. Said resident drunk drew his katana, and within seconds, I had hours of work mopping the blood from the floor and helping others carry four dead Thalmor into Forsworn territory. We made it look like the savages had killed them.
  • Wulf: What was the man’s name?
  • Skuli: He said his name was Daiko, but I don’t think it was.
  • Wulf: No, I don’t either. Daiko means coward in another language.
  • Unaia: The Dragonborn seems to know a lot, Skuli. Perhaps some civility is in order?
  • Skuli: Why are you asking about Daiko?
  • Wulf: My friends accompanying me were once Blades. I heard rumours of a Blade hiding near this inn. I came to investigate and would take them to safety if I found them. As The Dragonborn, I am the leader of The Blades and am helping them regroup and rebuild.
  • Skuli: If he wanted to remain hidden, he should not have worn his katana.
  • Wulf: They used to be rare, but many now carry them. However, a Blade’s katana is distinctive. Somebody might have noticed it and sold the information to The Thalmor.
  • Skuli: Daiko apologised, left payment for his board and liquor, and ran. He was no longer a drunk but a frightened rabbit.
  • Taku: The Thalmor would take a long time killing him, young Skuli.
  • Skuli: Are you speaking from experience, Sir Stupid’s friend?
  • Taku: I have many scars from my experience.
  • Skuli: Don’t offer to show me your scars. Mother told me men like that are usually perverts.
  • Taku: You are not related to a girl called Olette, are you?
  • Unaia: Please, forgive Skuli. He is getting grumpier by the day.
  • Wulf: Is there a reason for your surliness, Skuli?
  • Skuli: Why? Is the mighty Dragonborn going to find my father? No? Then leave me to my surliness, whatever that is.
  • Unaia: It means you are being an insufferable brat.
  • Skuli: Not insufferable enough. Sir Stupid and friends are still bothering me.
  • Bashita: Wulf, we listened to your side of a conversation with a spirit we could neither see nor hear. I gather we are to search for a sword that once belonged to Hjalti.
  • Wulf: Yes, and let’s hope The Forsworn are not aggressive.
  • Bashita: You can fill us in on the details as we go.
  • Wulf: Okay, Skuli and Unaia, we shall help Captain Cheneius. When we return, I expect some civility from you, Skuli.
  • Skuli: Prepare to be disappointed.

I placed a Mark just outside the entry gates so we could Recall to it later.

It is a long trek to Broken Tower Redoubt. We decided to walk as Forsworn are experts at setting ambushes, and we have a better chance of detecting them on foot. I did not summon a dragon to scout for us, as The Forsworn would inevitably be hostile to them. There is a chance they will let us pass unmolested.

I told my friends of my talk with Father and the circumstances around the unfulfilled promise. My friends were content with the theory that Father and I were Dragonborn. I didn’t discuss my other theory on why Nirtufus thought I was Father. It concerns what I think Father and I are. I will have to determine if my suspicion is valid, but I am terrified it is.

We could see the mining settlement of Soljund’s Sinkhole in the distance. It is a rich source of Moonstone and exists on the edge of Forsworn territory.

As we made our way to Soljund’s Sinkhole, we came upon a camp

A young Breton woman lay dead, savaged by a bear. Next to her was a journal with Karan Willowbrook inscribed on the spine. I read the relevant parts to my friends.

“8th of Frostfall, 4E 201

Oh, Talvur Baruvam! Dear sweet Talvur! I can’t stop thinking about him! My heart was lost from the first moment I laid eyes on him in the marketplace. But Father would never allow me to marry a commoner, much less a poor Dunmer miner. Lady Mara, I pray to thee, what to do?

1st of Sun’s Dawn, 4E 201

I received another letter from Talvur, the third this week. He says he can’t live without me, that he’d rather die than lose me to another. Oh, I feel the same way!

I can’t abide this any longer. Something will slip. Father is sure to discover eventually – the maids are all aflutter over my ‘secret love.’ Talvur and I must be long gone before discovery, or Father will have all The Reach up in arms against him.

3rd of Sun’s Dawn, 4E 201

I’ve convinced Father to take me on his next trip out east. When we reach the inn at Old Hroldan, I’ll slip out at night and meet Talvur in the hills above Soljund’s.

Talvur says he’s been saving his wages for the last few months, stowing them away in the old stump. With that, we should be able to buy passage to Riften and our freedom. Oh, love, I can’t wait another hour!”

In a satchel next to Karan was a simple silver wedding band.

  • Wulf: Why do people come unprepared for dangerous territory?
  • Bashita: They were eloping, Wulf. They were more afraid of Karan’s father than Forsworn or wild animals.
  • Wulf: It shouldn’t have happened! Lady Mara gifted us love, which should be revered in all its forms! Would her father object to a commoner, a Mer, or both?
  • Taku: Wulf, nobles scoff at the idea of marriage for love. It is nearly always marriage for political or financial gain.
  • Kogo: Or both.
  • Wulf: The wrongness of that concept plagues me. Let us look for Talvur.

We found Talvur behind the couple’s tent. He, too, was killed by a bear. In one of his pockets was a matching silver wedding band. The couple must have shopped for them together.

I carried Talvur over to Karan and lay them side by side. Then I performed Arkay’s Rights.

After the rights, I placed a dweomer over the couple to keep carnivores away.

I told my friends, “We shall return later and bury them. I shall ask somebody in Riften’s Temple of Mara to inform Karan’s parents. I don’t think I could do so with tact or diplomacy.”

A bear with bloodied maw came down the path. It stood on its hind legs and roared a challenge. How dare we steal its meal?

Unrelenting Force killed the bear and hurled it hundreds of yards away.

I growled, “We are done here for now.”

As we entered the mining settlement, a Reach Hold Guard was battling a Spotted Sabre Tooth.

I Blinked to fight and then killed the cat.

As my friends ran toward us, the guard thanked me for my help.

Then Jin yelled, “Idiot approaching!”

A suicidal bandit ran at the guard. She managed to fire her bow once before the bandit was upon her.

As the guard drew her sword, I stepped forward and killed the bandit.

The guard thanked me once more, then continued her patrol as if two near-death encounters in minutes were to be expected within The Reach.

I heard somebody ask, “Are you The Dragonborn?”

I turned and saw that the person asking was a Reachman.

I replied, “Yes, I am Wulf, The Dragonborn. And these wonderful people are The Dragonguard.”

“Can you help us? We have a problem.”

“Who are you, and what kind of problem?”

“I am Perth, the mine’s foreman. We accidentally tunnelled into an old Nordic crypt. The whole mine is now crawling with Draugr. We ran, but one of our miners did not reach the sunshine with us. We can’t mine any ore with those undead around and are waiting for the Jarl’s men to arrive. However, this mine doesn’t belong to The Silver-Blood family. Therefore, help might be some time coming.”

“We will eradicate the Draugr for you.”

“But we have asked for an entire regiment!”

“We shall return soon with good news.”

We entered Soljund’s Sinkhole and could hear many Draugr.

After disposing of a few weak Draugr, we came to a collapsed well. Below were the tunnels of the Nord crypt.

We leapt into the crypt and were immediately set upon by Draugr. They were more powerful than those above.

After eliminating a few of the Draugr, we came upon a deceased Breton miner.

We killed more Draugr before arriving at a lowered portcullis.

There were three levers. Surrounding candles made the centre lever obvious, and dart holes pointed to it. The levers to the left and right were in shadow and easily missed.

  • Wulf: Duh! Do I pull this brightly lit central lever or the two levers on either side?
  • Bashita: That depends on whether or not you want to be peppered by poisonous darts.
  • Kogo: Who lit the candles?
  • Wulf: The invisible candle lighters of Nirn.
  • Kogo: Really?
  • Jin: Really, truly!
  • Kogo: What do they look like?
  • Taku: They are invisible. DUH!
  • Kogo: Oh, of course. But why do they light them?
  • Wulf: They want to make your tongue wag.
  • Kogo: I am not going to get a sensible answer, am I?
  • Wulf: That was sensible!

I pulled the side levers, and the portcullis rose, giving us access to a spiral stairway.

We climbed the stairs and arrived at a short passage with double doors at the end.

The doors opened to a room with water down the centre and long tables on either side.

There were plenty of Draugr in the room, and all of them could Shout.

After clearing the room, we exited into a winding corridor.

That corridor led to a large chamber where a very powerful Draugr waited for us. A Nord totem on the right was glowing green.

I yelled, “Kill it quickly. That glowing column will keep healing the Draugr. I have seen similar.”

Full strength Unrelenting Force staggered and almost destroyed the Draugr, but it survived and instantly healed.

A Nord totem on the left glowed red.

I yelled, “The totem on the left will hit you with cold based spells!”

I closed on the Draugr. So quick and devastating were my sword strokes the Draugr could not be healed quickly enough by the Nord totem.

When the Draugr fell, we made our way to a tunnel leading back to the mine and an exit.

We entered the miner’s lodgings, and I talked to Perth.

“Perth, the mine is now clear of Draugr.”

“Thank you. Please, accept this reward.”

“No, Perth, we do not take payment. We are not mercenaries.”

“Oh, well then, you have our thanks again.”

“Not a problem. Blessings of The Nine on you and your miners.”

We exited, and I warned my friends, “We will now be entering Forsworn territory. Keep your weapons sheathed until they show aggression. If they attack, we kill quickly and efficiently and make them think twice about continuing their aggression.”

The Reach has a beauty different from The Rift, which is different from Whiterun Hold. I was enjoying the walk and the murmuring of the stars.

We approached some stairs.

  • Wulf: That is Red Eagle Ascent. I want to climb to the top so we can approach Broken Tower Redoubt from above.
  • Bashita: Are the Forsworn likely to be hostile?
  • Wulf: If one of them has Red Eagle’s Sword, then aggression is inevitable. But this lot of Forsworn are likely to attack anyway, as anybody outside their clan is an enemy. We can try approaching peacefully and hope for the best.
  • Kogo: For us of ignorant disposition, who is Red Eagle?
  • Wulf: Oh good, a chance to lecture.
  • Taku: Good on you, Kogo.
  • Kogo: You can stick your fingers in your ears and remain ignorant if you wish.

I recited a quick tale of Red Eagle.

“Red Eagle’s real name was Faolan. He earned the name Red Eagle partly due to the flaming sword he wielded. When Empress Hestra of The Alessian Empire threatened to kill their people, the ten kings of The Reach agreed to surrender control to her. Faolan objected to this and was banished for his refusal to obey. Faolan gathered many Reachman who agreed with his resistance, and they fought a successful gorilla campaign against the invaders. However, their zeal was not enough.

A devotee of Molag Bal in the form of a Hagraven offered to make Faolan into a Briarheart. He accepted this offer and became a spirit of vengeance. He and those that followed him were ruthless and without remorse. Faolan’s actions caused The Reachman to be regarded as barbaric savages. A generalisation that still exists.

So devastating were the ruthless tactics of Red Eagle and his followers that the Alessian Legions eventually retreated from The Reach. However, the peace was only temporary, as Empress Hestra returned with a much larger army.

At the top of those stairs is Red Eagle’s stronghold called The Sundered Towers. One of history’s largest armies sieged the stronghold for over two weeks. Eventually, Red Eagle emerged, naked and alone, and attacked those laying siege. He killed hundreds of the enemy before he was overwhelmed.

He is a god-like entity to some Forsworn. They believe that if The Reach is once again freed of foreign control, Red Eagle will return and govern their new nation. An undead God-King of sorts.”

  • Taku: Why don’t we find another route to Broken Tower Redoubt?
  • Wulf: Two reasons. First, this is the quickest way to get to Broken Tower Redoubt. Secondly, and more importantly, this is not their land. It is land governed by High Queen Elisif, and anybody living on it is subject to Skyrim’s laws. We are not trespassing but merely walking where we have every legal right to be. If they attack us, that is an illegal act, and I will retaliate accordingly.
  • Bashita: Wulf sympathises with The Forsworn, but he will not accept a rebellion that targets the innocent.
  • Wulf: If they attack a heavily armed and armoured group that shows no aggression, they will not hesitate to attack a group of pilgrims or travelling merchants. Forsworn have attacked Ri’saad’s caravans, which is something that even desperate bandit groups won’t do.
  • Bashita: The Reachman, and not just The Forsworn, have to prove once again they are capable of living peacefully with other citizens of The Empire.
  • Wulf: They did that in Markarth, and His Imperial Majesty was close to allowing them to establish a new Hold. Ulfric Stormcloak ended that, and his barbarity made The Forsworn mistrust all, even other Reachman. So yes, they must prove they can live peacefully, but The Empire must also regain their trust.
  • Taku: Okay, I understand.


My Thu’um echoed for several seconds, and there was no doubt all Forsworn upon Red Eagle Ascent would have heard my words.

I used Zoom-Vision and Heat-Vision to ascertain where the first Forsworn were.

Before we placed a foot on the first step, The Forsworn chose to attack and die.

As I warned, no mercy was shown, and we carved our way to the foot of Broken Tower Redoubt.

Upon an altar was a book titled Red Eagle’s Rite. I read it to the group.

“Having bathed the blade in human blood, present it at Rebel’s Cairn together with your sacrifice and intone:

Lord Red Eagle, ancient one, first and foremost among Reachman, heed your people’s call! Still, we fight for freedom! Still, our blades are dark with blood! Turn your gaze upon us, and grant us your blessing anew!

I renew the ancient covenant: When at last our lands are free, we shall return, your sword of victory in hand. Then arise, O great one, from your honoured tomb! Reclaim thy stolen throne! Rule over us, High Lord of the Reach, forevermore!”

  • Taku: Is Rebel’s Cairn where Red Eagle is entombed?
  • Wulf: Yes. I would think even the most heedless tomb robbers wouldn’t risk an encounter with Red Eagle. Therefore, the cairn has probably never been ransacked.
  • Bashita: Knowing how things work with you, Wulf, we will probably have reason to visit it sometime in the future.
  • Wulf: Doesn’t that sound exciting?
  • Jin: Exciting must have a different meaning in Roscrea. A synonym for terrifying, perhaps?

A short, steep climb led us to a cliff overlooking Broken Tower Redoubt.

  • Wulf: Father’s sword is in that taller tower to our left.
  • Kogo: How do you know?
  • Wulf: This is one of those ‘Wulf just knows!’ moments.
  • Kogo: Okay.
  • Taku: So, even if the Forsworn here are nasty, we will enter that tower, retrieve the sword and head back to the inn.
  • Wulf: No. We shall sweep through the place and eliminate them if they are aggressive. This fort controls a significant crossroad. I am sure it is on General Tullius’ list of places to cleanse, but since we are here, we will do the cleansing if they attack.
  • Taku: I knew you were going to say that.

I scrambled down the cliff and onto the roof. Two Forsworn watched me descend.

I said, “Hello, ladies. It is a nice night for a stroll through The Reach, don’t you think?”

Instead of a polite reply, they attacked me, and their warcry alerted their clan members.

After killing dozens of Forsworn in the rest of the fort, we arrived where the slaughter had begun.

  • Wulf: Not one of you noticed the aberration, did you?
  • Bashita: I did. Every Forsworn we killed was female.
  • Taku: Yeah, I knew that.
  • Kogo: Truly, Taku?
  • Taku: Okay, I didn’t notice. Wulf didn’t pause and killed the Forsworn before I even saw them!
  • Jin: Wulf, what will be inside that tower, apart from your father’s sword?
  • Wulf: A Briarheart or two. I think this is a breeding harem of a larger clan.
  • Jin: It is no longer a breeding harem. That is assuming Briarhearts can’t breed with corpses.
  • Bashita: Having so many children from a single or a few sires risks genetic mutation.
  • Wulf: Briarhearts are not mortals. Who knows the genetic makeup of their children? I don’t.
  • Kogo: Once again, Wulf, you have brought us to a lovely place ideal for family picnics.
  • Wulf: You are welcome. Let’s get the sword and bury the eloped lovers.

We entered a round chamber. A single Briarheart was in front of a blood-soaked area surrounded by candles. Sacrifices had been performed, but it looked like goats were the victims, not people. Stairs led to a lower level of the tower. A Lightning Rune was between the Briarheart and us.

Unrelenting Force triggered the rune and threw the Briarheart against metal bars.

I ran to him and sliced across his chest half a dozen times as he got to his feet. Jin and Bashita hit him with Ice Spears.

He died with his blood pooling with that of the sacrifices.

The Forsworn had desecrated a Shrine of Dibella.

I growled, “This atrocity supports the idea of a breeding harem. The Forsworn have corrupted the beauty of physical love. I would not be surprised to find this clan is allied to Molag Bal.”

I turned to Taku, who said, “I could almost hate these people as much as I hate The Thalmor.”

“We have had trouble with two clans. The Reach has dozens of clans. Not all of them will be as aggressive as the two we encountered today.”

We went down a set of stairs to a living area and discovered several small rooms, including one with a bed and a large chest.

I picked the lock on the chest.

I lifted Father’s sword. It was identical to one he used when teaching me at home in Roscrea. It had no dweomer but was of superb craftsmanship.

When I exited the room, Father’s avatar stood before me.

“Father, I have your sword.”

“Son, you knew where it was when you got close to it, didn’t you?”

“Yes, from many feet away and through thick stone walls.”

“Another mystery that the other eight can’t explain. Another is that I knew the moment you touched it. I am glad that the word gobblygook exists.”

“Will giving the sword to Nirtufus allow him to enter Aetherius?”

“He has always been able to. He simply refused till my promise was kept.”

“The aggressive Forsworn clans are doing their cause no favours.”

“Ulfric’s actions in Markarth set them back generations. I should have granted The Reachman a nation when I ruled. I should have made Dov citizens. I got many things right, so I should not dwell too much on the failures.”

“I thought that death removed regrets.”

“Not when you ascend to godhood. I can worry about past decisions as much as I desire.”

“I should tell Olette about you and Mother.”

“That is your decision, Son. You know Olette better than anyone and can gauge her reaction. Has she asked about your childhood?”

“Yes, and I told her it was miserable with terrible parents.”

“I yearn for the simplicity of that little shack and us three.”

“Only later in life have I realised how special many of our visitors were.”

“You continue to meet extraordinary people. But your love for the common folk is heartening. When you return to bury Talvur and Karan, you will witness the strength of Lady Mara’s gift. For now, remember The Nine are with you always.”

Father’s avatar vanished, and I turned to my friends.

  • Taku: Wulf, that is the first time I have seen Lord Talos.
  • Bashita: None of us in this squad have seen him before, Taku.
  • Wulf: I sometimes forget that speaking to Divines is a rare privilege.
  • Taku: He seems so normal.
  • Wulf: He can appear however he wants. His avatar changed as I grew older. He made it appear as if he had aged over the eighteen years of my time in Roscrea. Mother never changed.
  • Kogo: What did he mean about Lady Mara’s gift?
  • Wulf: I don’t know. Let’s have a look!

I Recalled to the lover’s campsite and summoned The Dragonguard.

We looked long and hard where the camp had been, and there was no sign of it. Talvur and Karan’s bodies were gone. A Shrine of Mara was on the rock where Karan had leant in death.

I turned to a confused Taku.

“Can you explain this, Wulf?”

“No, Taku, I cannot. Accept it for what it is and forget the how and why.”

“Will you ask Lady Mara?”

“No, because some things should remain mysterious, don’t you think?”

I said a silent prayer of thanks to Lady Mara. I then Recalled to just outside Old Hroldan’s gates and summoned the others.

We entered the inn and then headed for the common room.

I stood in front of the spirit. Skuli watched with another male child. Unaia was nowhere to be seen. The Dragonguard also watched. Luckily, only a few patrons were in the room as I addressed a spirit they could not see.

I said, “Captain Nirtufus Cheneius, please accept the sword of Hjalti Early-Beard and know he is proud to call you Shield Brother.”

I held out the sword, and Nirtufus reverently took it from me with a look of awe. As soon as the sword left my hand, it became transparent, like the spirit who now held it.

The patrons might not see the ghost but gasped when the sword vanished.

Nirtufus said, “It’s been an honour to serve you, Shield Brother. Remember our lessons from the Swordmasters of Alcaire? Let me show you a few things you may have forgotten before we leave Hroldan.”

I drew my sword and let Nirtufus teach me a stance and sword form already second nature to me. Father had taught them to a keen eight-year-old Valdr Septim.

When finished, I said, “Lord Arkay will greet you. Then Lord Talos will welcome his friend and Shield Brother. Farewell, for now, Captain Nirtufus Cheneius, it has been an honour.”

Nirtufus gave the ancient Colovian salute of his right hand in a closed fist over his left breast. He smiled as he vanished.

Father said, “Well done, Son. Lord Arkay is greeting Nirtufus, and I shall soon grasp his arms in welcome.”

“I meant it when I said I was honoured to meet Nirtufus. Does he have family in Aetherius?”

“He has a wife and three children, though all were adults when they entered their afterlife.”

“I hope to talk to you again soon, Father.”

My father’s presence left my mind, which always feels like our last goodbye in Roscrea. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to Mother before she tackled Molag Bal.

  • Skuli: Thank you, Dragonborn. Nirtufus had waited a long time for a stupid sword.
  • Wulf: It wasn’t the sword but the promise that was important. Lord Talos didn’t know Nirtufus’ spirit hadn’t moved on to his afterlife.
  • Skuli: And how would you know what Talos knew?
  • Wulf: I talk to him quite often.
  • Viricai: You would have known The Dragonborn speaks to gods if you bothered reading the news sheets.
  • Skuli: And you, Viricai, would be wiser if you didn’t believe everything they report.
  • Wulf: It is a pleasure to meet you, Viricai.
  • Viricai: Oh, yeah, hi there, Dragonborn. It would have been nice if Skuli bothered to introduce me.
  • Skuli: Nag, nag, nag. You are as bad as your sister.
  • Viricai: I have told you, she only nags because she likes you very much. Don’t be surprised if she stops waiting for you to realise that, grabs you and kisses you.
  • Skuli: Wouldn’t your family object to Unaia’s interest in a bastard?
  • Viricai: You are abandoned, maybe, but not a bastard.
  • Wulf: What has happened to your father, Skuli?
  • Skuli: I have no idea. When I asked Mother last, she said he was fighting for Ulfric. Another time she said he was fighting for The Empire. Well, the civil war is over, so he is either dead or can’t be bothered coming home.
  • Wulf: It can take some time to be demobbed, Skuli. I wouldn’t give up on his return just yet.
  • Skuli: Why don’t you ask one of the gods where he is?
  • Wulf: It doesn’t work like that. I have to figure out things for myself most of the time.
  • Skuli: Earlier, I said The Blade you are looking for ran away immediately after killing those Thalmor. He did, sort of, but whispered something to me before fleeing.
  • Wulf: And you waited to see if I returned with Hjalti’s sword before trusting me.
  • Skuli: Yeah, maybe you aren’t as stupid as you look.
  • Wulf: Ahh, thanks. What did he tell you?
  • Skuli: He was worried that The Thalmor would think we were allied with him. So, he provided information we could give The Thalmor. Information that would prove we are not loyal to him and remove suspicion.
  • Wulf: Did he tell you where he was going to hide?
  • Skuli: Yes. We were not to even hint that we suspected he was a Blade. His real name is Fultheim, and he will stay at another remote inn called The Nightgate.
  • Wulf: Thank you, Skuli. The Thalmor will not stop hunting him. There are probably many Blades still in hiding. It is a relief when we can provide them with a safe home.
  • Skuli: Well, I hope you help Fultheim. He was drunk most of the time but seemed very sad and lonely.
  • Wulf: Most of his fellow Blades were killed. His loneliness is understandable. You develop a special bond with the people who fight beside you.
  • Skuli: A bond like Nirtufus and Hjalti’s.
  • Wulf: Yes, and it comes from shared experiences. It is hard to describe the chaos and fear of battle. When somebody has fought beside you, there is no need to describe it. You can more easily discuss other topics because of a common perspective.
  • Skuli: Are heroes scared?
  • Wulf: All those who fight in battles and more minor melees are scared of something. It might not be a fear of dying. Sometimes you fear failing an objective or your comrades or leaving loved ones behind. You can’t be brave if you are not overcoming fear.
  • Skuli: That makes sense. Are you afraid, Dragonborn?
  • Wulf: I dislike killing even though I am very efficient at that task. Therefore, I fear having to kill many who want to harm my friends or me. It is like the worst chore you can imagine. I constantly fear failing to protect those who rely on me.
  • Viricai: My mother says we all owe you and your friends for more than defeating Ulric and Alduin. She says that people don’t know of all the things you and The Dragonguard do for them.
  • Wulf: Everybody will know one day, for I write it all down in books to be published.
  • Skuli: Well, we had better finish our chores for the day.
  • Wulf: Farewell, Skuli, Viricai. Please say goodbye to Unaia for me, Skuli.
  • Skuli: I will when I am sure she won’t try and kiss me. Yuck!

I was weary and teleported us to Silverpeak Lodge.

My friends knew we could discuss today at the dining tables tomorrow. They said goodnight and headed for the kitchen to prepare themselves a quick meal.

I crawled into bed, held my Amulet of Talos tightly, and contacted Rigmor. She could tell something was worrying me and would not let me avoid revealing what it was. I had never discussed my fear of what Father and I are. The concept of Shezarrine was not easy to grasp. Rigmor finally understood and was horrified.

What I didn’t explain to Rigmor is my biggest fear. Shezarrine don’t stay after they complete a task. They are renowned for leaving all behind in search of their next service to mortals. They are also defenders of Man against Mer. I have always thought I fight for all mortals.

For Father to be Shezarrine, I would have to accept concepts I dismissed. I would have to accept that he was not once a single mortal but is an oversoul of several. I would have to accept that when I visited The Hall of Valour in Sovngarde, Father was watching from the seemingly empty throne of Lorkhan. I have chosen to ignore the truth in the typical depiction of Father, where he stands atop a serpent. I prefer the statue in Kyne’s Temple because it doesn’t challenge me to accept that uncomfortable truth.

Rigmor’s soothing words allowed me to fall into a troubled sleep.

In Aetherius, a Father feared for his Son. Talos had to keep secrets and manipulate and coerce. His only consolation is he never lies to Valdr Septim. Talos sought ascension. To achieve it, he did things Valdr would find difficult to forgive. Talos feared that Valdr might learn to despise the Ninth Divine.

A god surrounded by billions of souls felt alone. His beloved wife was not there to soothe his fears and convince him he did the right thing. In a few years, in the blink of an eye to a god, he will know if his choices were right and just. If a god is wracked by guilt and uncertainty, a few years is not a blink of an eye. It is an eternity.

4 thoughts on “Shield Brother

  1. Another mystery. Shezarrine has been mentioned in your old journals as well. I will have to wait for enlightenment. Thank you again Mark.

  2. As usual, an enlightning reading. I wait for your journals like water when I am perched because of the lore you pour into it and now even because I deleted skyrim.=_=
    Fascinating the Shezzarine thing. Could you explain more?

  3. A Shezzarine is a mortal aspect of Lorkhan. That mean’s Wulf’s soul would be almost identical to those of Pelenial Whitestrake, Wulfarth, and Zurin Arctus. If Wulf accepts he is a Shezzarine, then he must consider some of the theories of Talos’ path to godhood might be possible. Legacy of The Dragonborn hints at The Last Dragonborn being one of seven Shezzarine.

  4. Trying to understand what the gods think is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Each piece of straw removed brings you closer to finding the needle but it is a long and patient filled task. You won’t know if it was worth it till you complete it. Thank You Mark

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