You know someone up there’s angry when the clouds threaten to scream the incoming storm.
The clouds had been turning into iron warriors over the past few days, showing off their billowing cloaks as they gathered for battle over the swamps. All colour had trickled out of the town, and the nip of an upcoming blizzard was in the air.
Was it starting already? Were snowflakes leaking from the clouds? Could be, and the heat of the forge melted them before they got to me. Would explain the white speck spiralling down on an updraft, twirling and gliding down towards the forge.
That’s no snowflake! I stretched up and seized the feather from the sky, cupping it in my palm. It seemed even whiter against the ash grey of my palm, and a lot more delicate than the hawk feathers I used for fletching.
“If the storm comes today, you’ll be wanting this.” The familiar Nordic purr came from behind me, as the soft weight of a fur cloak wove over my shoulders with Hawk’s arms.
No, sorry, Vincinere. He said he’d leave thievery behind for me. Make it easier for me to forget if there were no links to anything surrounding…that. “Thanks. If only it snowed hot coals.” I chuckled, leaning back into his chest.
“Wouldn’t it be coaling then, instead of snowing?” He chuckled, fingers brushing the fluffy ends of the white feather. “Though it looks more like feathering. Did this fall from the sky?”
I nodded, letting him pick it up and stroke the white fluff. “Caught it in one go.”
“Not bad. You know, if a white feather falls from the sky, then it means someone is thinking about you from beyond the grave.”
And of course there would be a lot of people thinking about me from beyond the grave. Though from where beyond the grave is another story completely.
“The afterlife must be boring if the dead have time to think of me. Besides, that’s only true if the souls of the dead have been commended to Aetherius. Nobody dead that I know has been granted passage to the realm of Magnus.”
“It’s still a nice thought, that even if we leave our homelands and everything that we once knew, the dead are always thinking of us. Anyway, I thought you said you wanted to get away from the heat. Settling into cooler pastures.”
Nice go at changing the subject. “Of course I did.” I replied, settling as his hand brushed the leather of my apron; thieves’ fingers teased and played with the worn patch on the stomach. “You did great picking here.”
“You mean that?”
“Of course. You always make good choices. It’s one reason why I love you.”
Vincinere’s cheeks were turning pink, and it wasn’t just from the chill pacing around us and the forge. “I love you too, Savil. I love you no matter what.”
He shifted, pulling us both sideways against the side of the hunting lodge as he went for my cheek, brushing it first before leaving a kiss. “My little flame atronach. You promise you’re gonna be ok out here? I’ll probably be busy all day skinning those deer I brought down.”
My smile couldn’t help but appear as my hands wove between his fingers. “My warrior. I promise, I’ll be fine today. This flame atronach can’t be melted by a little snow.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Savil…if you want to go over all of that-”
“I promise, I’ll wait until you finish skinning the deer and harvesting its venison first.”
“That’s good. I want to be there for you every single time.” Vincinere whispered, slipping in another kiss this time on my neck. “You have a good day now, my little flame atronach. I know that everything you do, you’ll do great.”
“Just like you.”
Again with his laugh. The quiet amusement as he turns with me, leaning me in the corner between wall and fence, brushing his lips across my cheek to meet my lips so we melded together. “I love you.” He whispered once our lips parted. “My Silence.”
We parted, my arms needy for his embrace once more, and my hands left empty and cold. “Stay safe, darling.”
“I promise I will, my little flame atronach.”
A blast of dry cold flooded me as he left for inside, hunting knife at his belt. Honestly, if he manages to skin those deer by twilight it’ll be a miracle. Even more so if he can do it without the blood making his stomach twist into knots. Thank the Gods I do the field dressing.
Not just all that I do for him. Tugging my cloak around me, I headed down to the stream by the mill, the bucket in my hand rattling at every step. Jarl Joric still wanted a new quiver and fifty glass arrows for his granddaughter’s wedding, and as the only fletcher in Morthal, Ormhilde Sylwensdottir’s gift was my responsibility. The liquid malachite crouched in its crucible in the forge, and the hawk feathers were ready to be trimmed. All I needed was more water for quenching the malachite-filled mould, then the arrowheads would be ready for separation, grinding down and mounting onto their fletched shafts.
Only another five goes of that cycle to finish the set.
“He loves you, you know. If you need an amulet of Mara, I’ve still got mine from when I married my Nannek.”
Ah, there was nobody quite like Morthal’s own Thaumaturgist, Safma. Like a bard that only knew three songs. If she wasn’t cooing about alchemy, she was cooing about her son, or any budding couples here in Hjaalmarch.
“Thank you, but I haven’t really got the time from now until Sun’s Dawn. Can’t really take the week off to head to Riften and back.” I replied, approaching the stream and hitching my skirts up.
“There’s always time for love. I take it you’ve got a busy day ahead, Savil?” Safma asked, kneeling by the water next to the lumber mill, plucking swamp fungal pods out by the root and dropping the slimy things in a basket.
“Finishing off Jarl Joric’s wedding gift, and the usual order, so yeah, pretty busy. You?” I replied, wading in to my knees and dunking the bucket.
“Just a restock of the local ingredients. I sent Shadro to the Moorside Inn for wheat. Getting to be quite the little alchemist. Gets that from his mother.”
Belle was quite the little alchemist. Training herself to use poisons with blackberry juice, and learning about the real thing from her mother, Rosette. Bet she’d love sneaking into the Thaumaturgist’s Hut, or playing with Shadro. That’s what a kid her age should have been doing. Playing and discovering the world, not…not...her doll shouldn’t be in the chest under the bed, singed at the edges. Sybette should still be having her woollen hair braided, and being tucked into the dolly bed made of a flower basket. Not hiding away from the outside world, and certainly not burned at the edges.
She loved that doll. Always playing assassins with it and her other dolls, or begging us to make sandmen with her. Hard to resist her pleading sometimes, and impossible to forget that lisp when she lost her front tooth. “I promise, Savil, once we build it, I’ll send that sandman’s soul to Sithis and it’ll be the best soul he’s ever received.”
“Belle, sandmen don’t have souls.” I whispered.
“This one will be so good it gets a soul. Please, Savil.”
“Well alright.” I replied, before the cold pierced me again, and the grey winter came back to me with Safma shaking me by the shoulder. Morthal swam around me, rippling like sand dunes and pulsing between blackness and reality. My leather apron stuck to me through the thin dress beneath it, the hem was dripping from being dropped in the water, and one of the Hjaalmarch guards stared at me through his patrol over the bridge.
“Savil, you doing ok?” Safma gasped, letting go once I blinked back into reality.
“Huh…oh, yeah I’m fine. Just had a bit of an ice wraith-brain moment.”
“Savil, you were talking to nobody.”
I groaned and forced myself up, holding the cloak to me. “It’s nothing. Just had a sudden thought about the mist here.”
First thing I could see, but better than nothing. Don’t want Safma freaking out about my past. “It’s so pretty. Made me think of wedding veils. Do you know if there’s any mages that can conjure artificial mists? That would be beautiful, don’t you think? Especially if they get some candlelight spells going and they glow through the mist like torchbugs.”
Safma had this soppy grin on her face, hiding girlish giggles behind her hand. “And he’s there waiting for you at Mara’s shrine. I get you. Want me to help you plan? If you ever get any more ideas or feel strange about things for your wedding, just yell for me. You know where I am.”
Yell when I felt strange again. So every second of every day spent out here by the marshes, where ice glittered on the water and frost suffocated the ground even in the middle of Sun’s Height. Where the sun was a rubbing in the sky’s canvas, peering through the branches of scribble trees, and the whispers of home came from everyone seeking a quiet life in Morthal.
“Don’t worry, I will.”
Even through she’d wrapped herself in furs, I could still tell the Redguard was watching me as I hauled the bucket it back to the forge, dripping all the way. Might invest in a leather dress just for water gathering at this rate. Only the Gods know how many trips to and from the swamps it’ll take to finish off this wedding gift.
Jarl Joric better pay me well for this. Dropping the bucket in the corner, I began tugging on the pull-rope as I reached for the tongs. The crucible had been in there overnight, so the malachite had better be molten by now.
“Oh-oh, trouble coming over the bridge.”
The tongs clattered to the floor, skidding across the wood as I looked over. True to Safma’s word, there across the bridge in a fur hood and cloak, a courier came running, clutching a leather satchel full of papers with a steel sword at his belt.
“Hey…Hey, is this The Stolen Kill?” He wheezed, leaning on the wooden strut holding up the porch. Beads of cold sweat ran down his brow, and his chest heaved like the sea.
“Yeah, this is it. Who you looking for?” I replied, picking them up and aiming again for the crucible. Who’d Vincinere annoy this time? Or…no wait, bet his sister’s reminding him about Heart’s Day, or his mother’s begging him to invite her to the Temple of Mara for something that’s never gonna happen.
“A ‘Muthsera Savil Felaano’, Dunmer fletcher living and working at The Stolen Kill hunter’s lodge.”
Muthsera…must be another Dunmer, but there’s no other Dunmer that would have a reason for sending me a message. “That’s me.”
“Excellent, I’ve got something I’m supposed to deliver – your hands only. Let’s see here…yeah, got this note.”
The courier handed me the scrap of parchment, sealed with a blob of red wax. “Who from?” I replied, snapping the wax seal.
“Don’t know. Creepy fella, black robe. Couldn’t see his face. Paid me a pretty sum to get that into your hands though.”
Black hooded robe, creepy, and rich. Sounds like every Thalmor on Tamriel. “Where’d you pick this up from him?” I asked, before the note dropped from my fingers.
No! No…not them. “Vincinere!” I yelled, stumbling and scraping the letter from the ground. A Black Hand, like a bloodstain on the frost, scarred the page, and beneath it in small scratches, the words ‘We know’.
“Just inside Solitude. Ma’am, are you ok?” The courier replied, as I shuddered and dashed inside, coming back with a quill, ink, and fresh parchment.
Solitude…that’s quite close. Too close in fact. I could walk to Solitude in a few hours. “I’m fine. How much did he pay you to deliver this?” I asked, writing something at the bottom of the parchment, then dipping the back of my right hand in ink and slamming it onto the paper, creating an upside-down V shape with my fingers.
“Three hundred septims.”
Three hundred…steep but possible. “I’ll pay four hundred septims for you to deliver this back to him.”
My hands were shaking as I added the final mark. A finger, crossing the upside-down V, making a print of slicing the between-finger tendon. Four hundred septims was all I had saved up, but if it meant the Dark Brotherhood never bothered me or Vincinere again, so be it. I can get the money back another way.
“For four hundred septims I’ll follow him to Riften and back. Who shall I say it’s from if he asks?”
“Say it’s from his worst visit to Vaermina’s realm.”
A shiver ran through the courier as I said that, and it wasn’t just from the cold. “Got a bit of a past with the creepy guy then?”
Oh he had no idea. If he read the reply – a black hand slicing the between-finger tendon, with ‘Then come at me, Dark Brother!’ written underneath – he’d only freak himself out. The Dark Brotherhood still acts like an ice spike in the spine after all these years.
“You can only imagine. Here, make sure it gets to him. It’s…pretty important.”
I handed over the gold and note, bidding the courier farewell before he turned and ran back over the bridge and through Morthal. If he kept up that pace, the Dark Brother would get my reply in a few hours. Vincinere and I should be long gone by then. After that…
After that, I’ll think of something. There are ways of avoiding the Dark Brotherhood. Trapped contracts, secrecy, blackmail, it can be done. There was one about three hundred years ago that wiped them out in Vvardenfell. Being fair, Red Mountain’s eruption would have done the job for them, but the point is they still did it. Little by little, until the Speaker for Vvardenfell lay dead. Even wiped them out in the old capital city where they lived in the sewers of Old Mournhold. Takes a set of balls like the twin moons to do that.
The Dark Brotherhood should get the message to leave us be after that. If they don’t…well, let them come.