Sand, Swords and a SparrowEarly morning, 15th of Midyear, 4E208
The oasis, Alik’r desert, Hammerfell
Gregor had watched and listened to Raelynn’s song with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. She looked like she had a lot on her mind, however, and so did he. Talking with Zaveed the day before and Sirine just then had served only to infuriate and annoy him and he decided he had had enough of the new arrivals. He wanted a breath of fresh air before the sun had a chance to heat up the sands outside enough to make it deeply uncomfortable again and so Gregor made his way to the mouth of the cave, staying as far away from where Zaveed had set up camp as possible.
Just outside he saw the young Redguard girl, Shakti, practicing with her sword. The sight amused him as it reminded him strongly of himself, though he could immediately see that their styles were very different. He leaned against the wall of the cave and crossed his arms, content to observe her movements for the time being. It was relaxing. His eyes busied themselves by following the gleaming edge of her impressive blade, which normally would have served to let his mind wander, but he was so tired that his thoughts were blank. The few minutes of tranquility were welcome and Gregor eventually realized that he’d barely spoken a word to the girl. It seemed only reasonable that he should properly introduce himself now that she was to be their guide through the Alik’r, and Gregor approached with his hands clasped behind his back.
“Practice makes perfect, doesn’t it?” he said and smiled. “I’m sorry I haven’t introduced myself sooner. My name is Gregor. You are Shakti, correct?”
Shakti halted her movements midswing and twirled to face the man addressing her, sheathing her blade in one motion. “That is what they say. And yes I am called Shakti, of the Alik’r. It is good to finally make your acquaintance Gregor of the….” Her voice trailed off, not knowing where
he was actually from.
Gregor thought about it for a second. Shakti had used the entire geographical region that she called home. “Of the Niben,” he finished, deciding to use the body of water that Bravil was situated on. It was a reasonably accurate way to categorize himself, if unusual by Cyrodiilic standards, as he was technically a Nibenese Imperial. “My family name is Sibassius. We hail from Bravil in Cyrodiil.” He gestured towards the girl’s sword, now sheathed. “You’re quite good with that blade. I’m a swordsman as well, though I suspect that you have far more talent for it than I do. My father was a Legionnaire and he taught me as well as he could but I wasn’t a natural. What’s the philosophy behind your style?”
“Gregor of the Niben,” Shakti said, trying out the sounds, “A fine name. Though I have never heard of Niben or Bravil.” She looked down at her sword as Gregor of the Niben gestured to it. “It was my father’s and his father’s before him. Passed down to the eldest child, and that ended up being me.” The Redguard shrugged at his compliment, “My father and mother thought I should live up to the blade, so I’ve been practicing since I was very young. As for the style…” She considered her words carefully, trying to call the proper terms up from memory, “It’s a mix, a blend of old and new Redguard styles. The new I was taught by my mother and father. The old I learned from, well ghosts. And books. Lots of books.” She laughed lightly at her own joke and shrugged again.
It made sense that the desert nomad wasn’t worldly enough to know Tamriel by heart. “Bravil is a port city on the shores of the Niben bay,” Gregor explained. “South of the Imperial City, which is the heart of the Empire. Very different from this.” He chuckled. “I was raised surrounded by water.”
He stroked his beard and thought about what Shakti had said. “Live up to the blade, eh? Hold on, I have something I think you might like to see. One minute,” Gregor said and he smiled before turning around and heading back the way he came.
True to his word, he returned about a minute later, holding his prized claymore. It was longer and heavier than Shakti’s sword and perfectly straight, though the edges of the blade itself were rippled, and the crossguard was ornate and complex. “This is my sword, a claymore. It’s a Cyrodilic design pioneered at the beginning of the Fourth Era.” Gregor wondered if the desert nomads used the same calendar as the rest of the world. “About 180 years ago. The blade is flexible enough to bend if struck, making sure that it never shatters,” Gregor continued. It was obvious that he enjoyed talking shop about weapons and he held out the sword for Shakti to inspect. “What do you think?”
Shakti’s eyes went wide as Gregor showed her the large and well-crafted greatsword. “Was it passed down to you as well? It looks like something that would stand up to many years of hard use, especially if it is as flexible as you say.” She leaned it to examined the ornate crossguard, being sure not to touch it. “Beautiful. They must have skilled craftsmen in Bravil-on-the-Niben. I’m sure your children will be glad to inherit it when the time comes.” Children.
Gregor’s smile faltered and the shade of melancholy was reflected in his eyes for a split second. To sire any would just pass on his family’s curse. He blinked and cleared his throat and the moment passed. “I actually purchased it ten years ago from a smithy in Bruma. Another city but to the north. I was on my way to Skyrim to start a new life as a monster hunter. You are right that it is durable. I have used it to slay more vampires, Hagravens, necromancers, Daedric cultists and draugr than I can count,” he said and realized it sounded like he was boasting. “Not all by my lonesome, mind you. I worked with a group of Vigilants of Stendarr.”
He grabbed the claymore in a two-handed grip and dropped into his combat stance. “And then there’s this,” he said with a smirk. Gregor raised the sword over his head and brought it down with as much strength as he could muster. It sliced through the air and its enchantment was triggered, creating arcs of lightning along the blade’s trajectory. “I’ve enchanted it with shock magic. The electricity seizes up muscles and drains the magicka of anyone it strikes. Good against mages.” He straightened up and stabbed the claymore blade-first into the sand, tired of holding it, and rested his hands on the pommel. “Is your sword enchanted?”
Shakti ooh’d and aah’d at the sparks that Gregor’s sword sent flying as he swung it. She could certainly see how that could be useful, especially against all those deadly creatures of the night. She was no expert, but her gut told her that not many things could stand up to that much steel and sparks. She had no idea what the Vigils of Stendarr were, but if they were helping to slay said monsters of the night, they probably were okay in Shakti’s book.
She patted her sword. “No magic here. At least, none that I know of. Just pure steel and the girl behind it!” She giggled at her own bravado. “So how are you liking the Alik’r?” She had asked others what they thought of Hammerfell, yes, but this was her true
home. She was eager to see what outsiders thought of such a wonderful place.
Gregor blew a raspberry and laughed at the question. “Let me put it this way,” he began sheepishly. “I am thirty-eight years old. I have spent all my years in much colder places than the Alik’r. It is too late for me to get used to this heat now. So, in all honesty, it makes me miserable. But,” he said and held up a finger while he gazed out over the dunes and the deep blue sky, “it is very beautiful. Such ever-changing emptiness… there’s something magical about it.”
Thinking about it some more, Gregor found words to express what he meant. “Magnificent desolation. Like the home of a god.”
Shakti grimaced slightly. At least he was honest about how he was feeling. Still, she could see how the heat could demoralise someone who wasn’t used to it.
She did have to smile about the second part of his answer. It was heartening to know that she wasn’t the only one who appreciated the stark beauty of the sands. “Thank you, I am glad that you can see beauty in a place that brings you misery.” The Redguard girl responded as sincerely as she could muster.
“I didn’t take you for a poet, Gregor.” Called out a voice from behind the pair, further into the cave. The morning sun had cast its warm rays onto Calen as it rose above the sandy horizon, giving his blonde hair and orange sheen under its light. He put his hand up to cover his eyes from its brightness, though part of him couldn’t help but watch the sunrise. “I suppose it’s natural though,” he added with a hint of jest in his voice, “being a noble knight
He gave him a boyish smile and his attempts at hiding a wink from Shakti as he protects his eyes from the sun resulted in a somewhat awkward attempt on his part. He sighed deeply, breathing in the cool, morning air. Gods know it wouldn’t last long. He wasn’t done bantering with Gregor yet though.
“But frankly it’s offensive,” he continued, turning his glance towards Shakti and gesturing to her with his hands, “why look to the dunes for beauty when you’ve got one right before you?”
Shakti let out a nervous giggle as Calen approached, unsure of whether he was making a jest or not. “You flatter me, Calen the Nord, but there is no mortal beauty that can compare to the Alik’r. At least, in my opinion.” The Redguard girl shot back, her voice taking on the air of sincerity she was known for. However, she continued in an uncharacteristically timid tone of voice. “You come pretty close though.” Shakti added after a moment, kicking some sand down the slope of the hill they were all three standing on.
“You flatter me!
” Calen insisted. “Not once, but twice -- Calen the
Nord? Why, I know a handful of men back home who would disagree with you!”
He finished his sentence with a bout of nervous laughter and rubbing his neck. Indeed, the men he spoke of would probably call him the worst Nord in Skyrim. Hell, ol’ Gregor here was probably a better Nord than he was, even for an Imperial. Speaking of…
Calen dialed back his boyish charm a bit before setting his hand on the man’s shoulder and looking into him with a somber glint in his eyes. He finally asked, “How are you holding up, my friend?”
Gregor smiled at the banter of the two youngsters and shook his head in amusement. He did not fail to notice how Shakti responded to Calen’s compliment and his gaze flitted between the two of them briefly before it settled on Calen. When Calen asked him his question and stared into his eyes with a sincerity that caught him off guard, Gregor faltered when he opened his mouth to speak. How was
he holding up? It was a complicated question, and it pained him that he could not tell Calen the half of it. He looked down at his hands. As long as they rested on the pommel of his blade, as long as they had something to grip, his fingers were still.
He raised his left hand for Calen to see and splayed his fingers. Predictably, they resumed their trembling. “I’ve been better,” Gregor admitted and he was surprised by the knot in his throat. “It’s been a while since we talked, regrettably, and I don’t know how much you heard, but I fought with Zaveed after what he did to Raelynn, Dar’Vasora and Roux. Almost killed him, too. But somebody intervened on his behalf and poisoned me. I haven’t…”
Looking away, Gregor cleared his throat. “I haven’t been the same. And now he’s here.” He looked back at Calen, something desperate and intense in his eyes, and he was almost overcome by the urge to tell the Nord about his and Raelynn’s secret assassination attempt on Governor Rourken. But since they failed and presumably only made matters worse for them, he couldn’t. “Ah, well,” he said and blinked as his smile returned to his face. “I’ll be fine. I’m glad Daro’Vasora is back. Enough about me, how are you, my friend? And you, Shakti? You were both at the palace, right?”
“Well, I wasn't shot this time.” Calen said half-heartedly, his eyes still transfixed on his trembling hands. Whatever it was he's been through must've been particularly harrowing, if a veteran of a scene was able to be so shaken, but that being said, Gregor hunted monsters and evil people. From what he understood, he was never a soldier. He wanted to ask how Raelynn was doing, but a quick glance in her direction at the mention of her traumatic experience would've shown everything he needed to see, even if she was good at hiding it. She was on her own, quiet and withdrawn, and apparently avoiding contact with the most of anyone here. He looked back to Gregor and smiled.
“But our friend here, miss Shakti of the Alik’r
, is quite good with a blade! She handled herself quite nicely. All I
did was pathfind.”
There was a moment of silence that passed as he mulled over his feelings some more before a more soft-spoken and vulnerable side of his personality came to the forefront as he muttered, “I’m… worried about Rhona. If she left, she left -- that's fine, I can live with that -- but I hope she's safe.”
Shakti suppressed another giggle at Calen’s mention of her skill with a blade, suddenly hyper-aware of how many times she was laughing. Did she always laugh this much? “I promise I’m much better when I’m using my own blade and not stuffed into a servant’s dress.” The Alik’r girl promised, half-jokingly. “By the way, who is Rhona?” She added, almost as an afterthought.
“Brynja always struck me as smart and capable,” Gregor said softly to Calen. “They weren’t killed in the hotel, which to me means that they made it out. We escaped too, right? I’m sure Rhona is safe now, under her protection.” He left the explanation of who Rhona was to Calen. It wasn’t Gregor’s place to talk about that.
Calen nodded and then looked to Shakti and began to explain, “She…”
Only to find that he couldn’t find the words. Were they really an item? They had a fling back in Skingrad after a talk, and then she began avoiding him. When they arrived in Gilane, they got back into touch, but being one not so involved or committed to the group as a whole, she kept to herself. Now she left again with Brynja. But based on what he knew of her story, hadn’t she always been a free spirit? She traveled the roads for years and had her various interactions with others, romantic or not. Had they been all that different, after all? He found himself regretting not appreciating the kindred spirit in her sooner. Finally, Calen was able to find the words.
“Rhona was a fleeting romance.” Calen admitted with a loving tenderness in his voice as he looked out into the desert. “You ever meet someone you care about and know it wasn’t going to last long?”
His mind went back to the journal in his bag, always double checking that he didn’t forget or misplace it somewhere. It was in his saddle-bag, the pony to which it was affixed to currently drinking from the groundwater -- only minutes ago, he was rolling around in the cool sand. The journal itself, though, had so many memories of people over the years. He’d have to update it soon.
“Oh, by Dibella, I’ve loved a lot of people,” Calen said, thinking fondly of that journal, “and I still do. I don’t love any of them less for not being here, you know? They all gave a piece of themselves to me, so I’m forever grateful for that. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.”
Shakti realised that Calen was talking about a sensitive subject, or at least one that was near to his heart, and she considered her next words with that in mind. “I… have not. Not really. All of the other children in my tribe were younger than me. And once I left, I guess I’ve been caught up in my task and what the group has been up to. You guys are the first real friends I’ve made away from my tribe.” She smiled as she said the last part, her happiness evident on her face.
“I am sorry to hear that this Rhona Romance did not last long. But beautiful things are fleeting, that’s why they are beautiful. Except the Alik’r. I’m sure it’ll be here long after we are dust.” She tittered at her own joke, hoping to lighten the mood somewhat. Riding along with Shakti’s changing of the conversation’s mood, Calen pitched in.
“Beautiful is fleeting… like the dunes?” He agreed before adding the last part with a wink, both suggesting that he was quick to pick up on her predilection for the desert sands and referencing part of her conversation with Gregor earlier. Though part of it was also to contradict her with a different framing of her own logic, but it was teasing and in good nature.
Shakti grinned at Calen’s good-natured teasing and bowed her head in mock deference. “Like I said, there are… exceptions. How about we compromise and say most mortal beauty is fleeting? Unfortunately elves will be around forever.” Shakti made a face when she got to the word elves and the let out another laugh.
Gregor smirked at that. “It’s even worse than that,” he said. “More of them keep cropping up. What’s next? The return of the Snow Elves?”
He looked at Calen again and wondered what it was about him that let the young man accept things as they came so readily. It was a skill that he envied. Gregor was a man of deep passions and roaring fury and these things gouged scars in him that took ages to disappear. He thought about Briar and how it had taken him ten years to finally let her go, and he glanced down at the tattoo of her raven hair.
“I haven’t either,” Gregor admitted. “It’s all or nothing with me. My wife back then, Raelynn now -- if I had ever thought it wouldn’t last, it would have never began.”
“I follow the teachings of Dibella.” Calen explained, showing the amulet around his neck by pulling it out of his shirt with his thumb. “Love is beauty, and love comes in many different forms. My love for you, Gregor, despite its difference in form and nature to my love for Rhona, isn’t any less valuable because of that. Not to get all preachy, but ‘no matter the seed, if the shoot is nurtured with love, will the flower not be beautiful?’
“Your love for me?” Gregor asked. “I know what you mean, but… well, I’m touched.” The same pained expression that had flit across his face before did so again and he wrapped his fingers around the hilt of his sword a little tighter. That Raelynn loved him was easy to accept. It seemed natural. Gregor did not think himself unworthy of love. And yet he still found himself feeling like he didn’t deserve Calen’s trust and admiration. “I guess you’re right. It’s not something I often think about. I’ve been focused on destruction and extermination for so long…”
He sighed and looked like the blue skies above him weighed on him like a tonne of bricks. “It’s good that you’re here, Calen.”
“Thank you for that.” He replied, before his voice went gentle again. “Just… don’t lose track of what’s important, alright? You don’t have to talk to him.”
As if to elaborate, he glance shifted toward the section of the cavern Zaveed’s group resided in.
“I already did,” Gregor said and smiled wryly. “Went about as well as you might expect.”
“That’s what I’m saying!” Calen said, playfully punching him in the arm. Surprisingly enough, it packed more strength than either of them were expecting, though Calen didn’t seem to notice. “You gotta stop.
Shakti watched the two men talk back and forth. She understood some of what they were talking about, but a decent amount went over her head, mostly the between-the-lines meanings. She did feel a slight pang of what might’ve been jealousy at Calen’s mention of his love for this Rhona. It was silly. She had nothing to be jealous about. Still, the unusual feeling stuck around in her stomach far longer than her demeanour would admit.
“I too am glad you are here, Calen the Nord. And Gregor of the Niben, if what I am hearing is true, hold on to Raelynn and you can make it last, no matter what.” She declared with a sense of finality, as if that advice was all Gregor of the Niben ever needed to hear to be successful.
Gregor nursed his bruised arm with a sheepish smile. Calen had a point. Perhaps they had indeed reached a point where it was better to just let it go and ignore Zaveed as best he could. The Khajiit himself had made it abundantly clear that he was willing to do just that. So why not Gregor? He’d already bested him in combat. His point had been made.
He turned to look at Shakti when she gave him her advice. It was endearing. The certainty with which she declared his love for Raelynn to be important enough to cling to, without having ever had such a relationship herself, was both naive and beautifully innocent. Shakti had no way of knowing that she was right, but she was. “I will,” he said in earnest. For the first time in gods only knew how long, Gregor began to feel at ease. Both Calen and Shakti were easy to talk to and uncomplicated people. It was nice to just… converse, like this, without hovering hostility or an ulterior motive. “Thank you both. I shall heed your advice.”
“Good.” Calen said, setting his hands on his hips. “Because I feel too exhausted to punch your arm again. I don’t know how you do it Shakti, enduring the desert like that. Or that merchant woman. The Alik’r feels like the only place in the world where Stendarr doesn’t exist.”
Shakti shrugged, “I suppose you just get used to it. It might be more pleasant if we travel at night, but there are unfriendly things that travel at night as well. As for Stendarr, I am not sure he is here, but there are other gods of the desert that will watch over you, I am sure.” The Redguard girl put on her beamiest smile to back up her assertion.
“The experiences throughout my
many nights have usually been rather accommodating!” Calen replied with a boyish smirk as he crossed his arms and tipped his head. “With Dibella as my patron, I have faith that the coming nights will be no different.”
She returned his smile and replied, “I am glad the night has treated you well so far.” Shakti continued, completely serious. “But who is Dibella? Are they the Divine of nights?”
Bemused, Gregor realized he knew nothing about Shakti’s culture. “You don’t worship the Divines?” he blurted out.
“Me? No, not personally. Some Redguards do, usually in the cities. Here in the Alik’r most worship the old Yokudan gods. Some people see them as two sides of the same coin.” Shakti explained matter-of-factly before giving a mild shrug, “I’m not a priest though, so don’t ask me about that.”
“What?” Calen questioned, one part incredulous, and another part visibly shaking with eager excitement. “She’s Dibella.
The Queen of Heaven? The Blessed Lady? The Passion Dancer?”
When he was met with a blank stare, he offered Shakti his hand as he continued, “She’s the Goddess of Beauty, Love, and Affection! The Lady of Art and Music! Why, she teaches us that there is beauty and art to be found in all things.”
“Well she certainly seems to have her hands full with all those things.” Shakti observed, taking Calen’s hand. “Is she four-armed like Morwha?” The girl asked, struggling to call to memory anything she had ever heard about the Divines.
Upon taking his hand, Calen twirled her around slowly and gently like he would in a dance and, once she was at the end of his reach, he cast a sweeping gesture with his other hand toward the desert outside the mouth of the cave, “Oh no, if my studies haven’t failed me, Morwha is the Yokudan parallel to Mara.
Dibella, we were only just discussing her doctrine but a minute ago. Mara is what you would call the Divine of love and family, but Dibella? Of love and pleasure; to enjoy life, not just creating it. I could tell you all about it!”
Shakti felt her hand tingle slightly as she was twirled by Calen, her heart being even more acrobatic inside her chest. “Oh. Mara, right. Sorry, I’m not so familiar with the Divines.” She offered, a bit distracted. “Yes I would very much like you to explain Dibella to me!” The Redguard girl tacked on quickly.
Gregor had to resist a smile at the sight and the tinge of breathlessness to Shakti’s voice. “You kids have fun,” the Imperial said and pulled his sword free from the sand. He was smart enough to see what was going on. “I’m going to check on Raelynn.” With a wave and a wink to Calen when Shakti wasn’t looking, he turned around and sauntered back into the cave.