The Bard and the Bear@MacabreFox
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A handful of days of nothing but shit and this is what she came home to? Vurwe dead? That drunk bastard Leif picking fights and losing them with cats? At least her father hadn't entertained Leif's drunken challenge, or his loss might have ended in his burial. And if her father ever found out about that Altmer's death, no matter his past dealing with her kind, there would be bloodshed. Speaking of the man, she hadn't seen him among the crowds at the inn. She walked about town with a furrowed brow that managed to keep people away from her while she searched for the huge man. She must have searched for an hour before she gave up and settled for Mire and Brittle. “Little Sister.” Mire's skull-grin made her want to rip it off his jaws.
“Piece of shit.” She nodded, before greeting her old friend Brittle, “Piss stain.”
“I'm glad you've made it back alive.” Mire said, over Brittle's high laugh.
“I'll be glad too once I find my father. Where is he?” She asked, and Mire's shrug was not the answer she wanted.
“I've no good idea.” He frowned.
“I thought you two were the ravens on Black Sutt's shoulder, or the two flies that buzzed around that sack of shit.”
“You have such a way with words, Little Sister.” Mire smiled.
“Let me rephrase myself, Mire, I want to know where my father is or I'll be cutting chunks of you off over tonight's fire like a fucking hare.” She stepped closer to the two mangy fucks her father had a history with.
“Easy now, Little Sister, I told you everyone sleeps-”
“I sleep pretty light nowadays, and not often. Why don't you just act like a fucking man and find me while I'm wide awake.” She jabbed a finger in Mire's chest and her hand was already on her knife when she Brittle twitch toward his. Luckily- for Brittle- Mire held out a hand to keep the cur of a Nord at bay.
“Fine, fine, Little Sister.” Even Mire looked a bit forlorn, and already Solveig knew she was not going to like this news. “Your father never came back. It was told he was taken by the Kamal.”
Her father was dead. She stepped back from Mire and Brittle and turned on her heel. She walked away without a word, hard ones or sad ones. She just walked, because that was the only thing she could do. Putting one foot after another, over and over and over. She didn't even have to think about it before those feet of hers took her to the tavern, and then to her mother, and now she was on the beaches.
Her mother's howling and weeping almost made her do the same, but she hadn't cried since she was a girl, and it wouldn't do to start again now that she was a woman. And a warrior. Instead, she stared at the sand and the waves reaching out to touch the toes of her boots before she swallowed and sighed and took another swig. She looked at the bottle of Wayrest whiskey and realized it was already almost half-finished and suddenly, an irresistible urge to vomit gripped her.
She was already salivating too much and she closed her eyes to try to fight it back. It was no use. Closing her eyes made her lose all sense of balance and feel like she was rolling back, only to find she was. Before she could step backwards and attempt to gain her balance, she was on her side in the wet sand and she was sick all over the ground. She grimaced, tried to move away from the puddle of her own past rations, and then retched again, but dryly. And again, until the muscles in her stomach were strained and she gave up, rolling onto her back. Giving up, she mused, is this all you can do any time life throws something in your face? She was all too happy to challenge anyone who called her honor into question, but when the Gods are the ones heaping shit onto you, how do you challenge them? You don't, she guessed, you only accept it and hope that you regain the blind, dumb happiness needed to smile at the heavens and thank them for it.
After quite a while lying on the ground, she decided to struggle to a less pitiful sitting position.
"Care for some water?" A hoarse voice broke the silence, towering over her stood Leif, with a newly acquired shirt. Much like the old tunic, albeit, without the blood and holes. He extended a water skin to the fiery haired woman, a friendly gesture to say the least. Moments ago, he had left the Courtesan
after visiting Captain Atgeir and his old shipmates. He discovered that Atgeir had had the ship repaired, and now it was seaworthy again. As he departed from the ship, he spotted the Red-Bear's daughter emptying her stomach. Perhaps she could use some company after the heart-breaking news over her father.
She held a hand over her mouth as she hiccuped, feeling something come up that wasn't air. She made no move to hide herself as she spat a stringy mess on the ground, wiping her mouth on her forearm. Wordlessly, she grabbed the water out of the man's hand, glancing at him before taking a moment. She finally drank, and deeply, while staring at the man. Her vision was becoming blurred and she felt tired to her bones. Finally, a hint of recognition crossed her, "I heard about your fight with-" She stopped herself, wondering if she really wanted to antagonize a man who'd been through something so recently. Perhaps the news about her father made her a bit more sympathetic, "Your fight with the Kamal captain." She let the silence grow pregnant, Leif probably knowing what she was going to say at first. "That was brave of you."
"Mmm." He grunted, settling down next to her. "Don't know if I would call it brave. Reckless, maybe. But not brave." For awhile, he said nothing, just stared at the rolling waves washing over the sand. So much had happened. His talk with Niernen helped, but at the present moment, he wanted nothing more than to forget about what happened. "Same goes with my fight. With Do'Karth." He added at the end. Leif heard it in her voice, he knew what she was going to say. Most folks had, and if they hadn't, well they were blind, deaf, and dumb.
"Made a damn fool outta myself then. Don't know why I bothered. I guess. It's not like she
cares." He said, digging the heel of his boot into the sand. A heavy sigh rolled over his lips, his shoulders drooping as if under an invisible weight.
"I see you and Sadri have something between you two." Oh boy, what was he trying to say? He scrambled to regain control, move the conversation into a more positive note. "I'm happy for you both. Love is precious." Ok, so not much help there. Leif felt like a damned fool. Why not just say what was on his mind? His small talk didn't help, so he thought.
"I'm sorry about your father." Leif said, there, now it was out in the air.
At the mention of her father, her mood crashed down from where it was when Leif had her thinking about Sadri. A deepset frown cracked along her face and she grasped the bottle of whiskey at the neck and threw it at the waves. She was on her knees and let the silence fill with her heavy breathing before her head began to swim again and she settled back on her arse. "So am I." Her frown softened a bit, "I want to strike out on my own to find him... or his body. Give him a good burial. I want to smack Do'Karth for following me like a mother hen instead of standing at my father's back like a true Shield-Brother... but what would that do?"
She shook her head, "Your fight with Do'Karth, your... situation with..." She sighed and rolled her eyes, "She cares. Because if she did not, she would have nothing to do with you and she would be far more cruel in pushing you aside like a fly buzzing about her face. But how can she care for a man who can not step back and care for her happiness as much as he cares about his own, Leif?" She was nothing if not blunt, "Do you love her or do you want her? Because there is a difference. If Sadri acted out in such a way with someone else, it would scream so loudly that he thought it would be fitting to ruin all happiness other than what happiness he thought I should have. And a Nord should know that a man who tells a woman what is good for her is no man."
"Trust me, I've drawn Circles for many a man like that and I've left all of them." She frowned. "Raven-Stone is not the Name of a fool, Leif. Don't make it one. For what it's worth, even though the last words you spoke to me were that you were going to pollinate my flower," she giggled at the last part, "You've proven yourself to me and all the Company that you are much more than just a foolish sailor with a weakness for anything with tits and a nice arse."
Leif regretted the last sentence he uttered, the expression on her face crushed him. How could he be so dense? His mouth fell agape, though no words came to pass his lips. What she said... that resonated deeper with him than what everyone else had tried to tell him. Why? Was it because he saw a bit of Sevine in her? His teeth sank into his bottom lip as he reflected on the meaning of her words. Though he believed Sevine had not a care in the world toward him, perhaps what she said was true after all. His stomach twisted into a series of intricate knots, and now, his stomach threatened to upheave. Regret filled every fiber as a hand covered his face in shame. He stifled a groan, though it came out sounding much like a strangled cry.
"I'm sorry. I..." The hand fell away as he turned to look at her, "I don't know why I do the things I do. I can't justify it, reason it away or give an excuse. I suppose..." His head tipped back to gaze at the night sky, his eyes lingering on a passing cloud, "I've always wanted what I've read in eddas and ballads. A noble love, or, no, I guess, someone to love me despit all of my faults." Why was he saying all this? Most of all, to Solveig? He knew that the words he spoke were true, and perhaps baring his soul to someone like Solveig, who didn't look at the world through a rosy haze, would bring him to some type of reconciliation with himself.
Solveig nodded, there was a time when she dreamed of a handsome Jarl's son coming to swoop her away at the head of a host of his finest warriors and handmaidens, but those dreams stopped when she was too old for her mother to read her to sleep and old enough to learn that Jarl's sons married Jarl's daughters and that most men only wanted her because they hadn't had her yet. Her shoulders drooped before she drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, "There's but one thing this world of ours shares with the eddas and ballads, Leif." Her mind went back to her father, and she felt tears building up over her eyes, "They're both filled with men who never learn from their mistakes. And the only thing it ever gets them is a decent burial or a good pyre. Bjorwulf's Edda, and a hundred-hundred others."
Her hand wiped away a tear that ran down her cheek before it crossed the distance between her and Leif, she squeezed the back of his arm reassuringly, "Love is precious, as you say. Who knew a woman from Markarth would fall for a mer scarred from head-to-toe." She shrugged, "It happens, though. We
don't make it happen, though. At least I didn't. Remember that." She sighed and nodded, "But she does care, because that is what a Shield-Sister does. A Shield-Brother should make amends for any wrongs he's done, it's what good people do, much less good men. My father did that when I forced my way back into his life. If the stubborn, blood-thirsty, fearsome Red-Bear could do that... well, I'm sure the Raven-Stone can."
Her words of how a Shield-Sister and Shield-Brother acted rivoted him to the spot where he sat, his gaze never left the spearwoman sitting next to him. 'A Shield-Brother should make amends...'
"Aye." He started, "You speak the truth. I suppose an apology is in order." Leif nodded more to himself than to Solveig. "I was upset... Those long years of fighting by her side, looking after her every time she got hurt... and now, for fuck's sake, she nearly died on me, and neither Do'Karth or me were around to help her." He shook his head at his own words, realizing immediately what he said, "Do'Karth was right... Sevine is her own woman. And you're right, as well. I think... all this time, I've wanted her, and loved her." He fell silent, picturing the towering Red-Bear making amends for his actions, so why couldn't he? He swallowed a hard lump in his throat, talking about this after opening up to Niernen was like holding a burned hand over a flame. He didn't want to talk about Sevine anymore, and why should he? She had her own partner now, and any words he spoke of her from here on out would only cause him further pain.
"I'll help you find your father." He meant that, dead or alive, he would help her find him. Part of him held fast to the idea that Jorwen might still be alive. After all, those that survived the assault at Nightgate hadn't really seen whether or not he died at the hands of the Kamal. The company simply reported him as missing in action, so there was a fair chance Jorwen had survived. Talos protect him.
Solveig fell quiet. Leif's words were not what she expected, no matter how much she'd never thought Leif would utter those words, nor anyone. She even doubted Sadri would follow her if she took up the task, and now the man who'd told her that he'd pollinate her flower was pledging his loyalty as Shield-Brother in her quest. She had to remind herself that she was the one who was drunk, and she saw a conviction in his eyes she'd never thought she'd find there. She swallowed, squeezing her legs tighter to her before letting them out straight in front of her and resting back on her hands, feeling too much like a little girl doing that.
She glanced sidelong at Leif a couple times, not knowing what to say at first, "Truly?"
"On my honor, my word binds me as your Shield-Brother." He extended a hand for her to shake, Leif didn't pledge himself often to tasks, but when he did, the Gods be damned, he wasn't a liar. "You say the word, and I'll leave at the drop of a feather."
Perhaps it was the Nord blood coursing through his veins, or perhaps it was the conviction of comraderie that binded him to his fellow kinsmen during the war. Whatever the cause, there was no reason for a respectable man such as Jorwen should be left to the devices of the Kamal, Name or no Name. He reflected on the rescue mission for the frigate. Later onboard, he overheard about the mysterious oven-like device where the prisoners were being fed into to fuel a massive soul gem. He prayed that that wouldn't be the fate Jorwen would come to suffer, were he still alive.
"Leif, you may be a foolhardy bastard hells-bent on proving whatever to whoever..." Solveig struggled to her feet without much grace and almost fell back down at one point, "But by the Gods, I'm starting to like you more."
She extended her open hand and forearm for Leif to clasp like a true Shield-Brother. It may have been the drink talking, but in that moment, she felt like she could strike out now. Well, that was the drink, but she could definitely strike out in the next couple of days with Leif in tow. She'd test his resolve and his sincerity, there would be little chance for breaks in their march towards wherever they took her father. Any time spent idle was time wasted and time in which they could kill her father. And that just would not do.
He clasped her forearm and gave it a firm shake, a laugh rolling over his tongue at her words. "I suppose that's good to hear. If you're headed back to town, I'd be delighted to walk with you." Leif paused in his words as he gazed into her frigid blue eyes, his heart sank again, how many more times it would take the plunge in the days, weeks, months to come, he could not fathom. Jorwen had done the same for him, though Solveig wasn't anywhere near as drunk as he was on that night he challenged the Red-Bear to a fight.
* * *Windhelm...
...a bear has awakened
All was dark in this place. All was silence in this place. All was nothing in this place. All was hell in this place. He could not remember what brought him here, only snippets of a battle, and even then, he only remembered some sounds and smells. Was he in the Great Forest still? How was Carpi? Was Fangelmo still torturing him with his fear spells and white-hot bars of metal? How long had it been since he had come to this place? A day? A day and a night? A handful of both? He knew not the answer to his question, but he was still a man of right mind to ask them, and that he took some comfort in. The piss-skins would not take that from him. They could take his fingernails, they could keep breaking his bones only to heal them again for the next breaking, they could cast whatever hellish mind-magic they could on him but he would not break.
It still remained to be known what purpose their torture was for, and it seemed all the more likely as the sessions went on that they were simply doing it because it was something to do. A punishment only for being human, a round-ear. But soon, soon he would slip free of his binds and he would show them what Jorwen the Bear could do. Suddenly, a spear of white-hot light shot forth from the darkness and stung him in the eyes. He recoiled and turned his face away, and he heard a voice that was very much not an Altmer's. But it was Mer. “Up, Red-Bear.”
As his eyes burned to adjust to the light, he saw ashen-skin and chitin plates through a film of wetness. This did not make sense, he was a Legionnaire fighting the Dominion, why was an ash-skin spitting orders at him? He rose, nonetheless. The ash-skin had to look up to meet his gaze, and at least that was something he took comfort in. The lack of fear, though, that would not do. Had his hands not been bound, he would have broken the mer's eyes out of their sockets with a fierce and violent clap on either side of his puny, shaved head. He would correct this. After a few moments, the spear of light grew to a doorway as the metal door keeping him sealed away in that dark place opened. They should not have opened the door. He rushed towards it, a fierce and single-minded grin on his face, or baring of teeth more like. Then his chains stopped him in his tracks, snapping taut and sending him tumbling forward to a hard landing on his side.
He felt the metal cut into his wrists and things shifted around painfully in his right hand. The Dunmer burst out laughing before regaining himself after a long while, “You should watch your step, Red-Bear, have you forgotten how to walk in only five days, you old s'wit?”
The only thing Jorwen did was struggle to look up at the mer, who only kicked dirt in his face. Jorwen spat and gave his baring of teeth again, seeing the plate of food tossed at him break along the ground, the thick slime that would be his meal made up of Gods knew what now on the stone floor. He looked up at the mer again, who smirked, “Enjoy your meal.”
Jorwen only gave a growl of a laugh, “I will come for you one of these nights.”
“Sure you will-”
“Sleep light!” And with a sudden violence that made even the mer flinch and his smirk waver, Jorwen took another vane lunge toward him, “I'll have your throat for a fucking meal!”
“Fuck you, you barbarian!” The mer slammed the door shut, leaving him in darkness once more, but still he screamed.
“Do you have kin? Have you sons or daughters? I'll be looking for them!” He screamed with such fury it made him cough and heave, strings of thick spittle hanging off his dry and crusting lips. He whiled away his time slurping the thick soup off the ground, having no shame left after the things done to him over the past days. He lay there, still, his hand throbbing, until he grew tired of it and yanked at his shackles. He felt his bloody wrist slip a satisfying millimeter out of the metal cuffs and he bared his teeth once more. He would have his meal soon...
Hours passed. He did not sleep anymore, for he found no rest in it, only sat with his eyes closed, biding his time, but with a purpose now. A glorious, fulfilling, bloody purpose. One he had not had in a very long while, the binds of a peaceful life in Whiterun struck loose. Vengeance may be in the hands of the Gods, but they had given him the means as he had begged and prayed for. Finally, the spear of light came again, but he kept his eyes shut, “What's with that fucking smirk?”
“Get the hell up, Red-Bear, food's here.” So, the first one was shaken so strongly he had to bring a comrade to taunt him with, if only they could grasp the irony as they laughed at him, “Your favorite.”
One of them stepped forward, the dull rasp of a blade sliding free of its sheath was heard. All the good it did him. Jorwen listened, counting the steps, his smirk growing to a baring of teeth. He roared once the footsteps got close enough, making the mer freeze. He barely had time to lift his sword before Jorwen reached up and had his grip on his neck. He squeezed so tight, growling and snarling and smiling, he felt middle finger almost touch his thumb around the scrawny knife-ear's neck. He tossed the short thing aside. Standing and gawping at him, the other mer, the one with the shaved head from the day before was rooted to the ground. He quickly came to his senses and tried to run, but only tripped himself up and found himself on his back, looking up at Jorwen.
“You should watch your step.” Jorwen's grin cracked his lips again, making them bleed, it grew so wide. He flexed his hands into fists, “I told you I would have mine.”